Bicycling-crazy Durango – where else would a national powerhouse of division I collegiate cycling rise?
FLC Cycling has left an indelible mark on collegiate cycling since its founding in 1994. That year, the young, new team -- wearing t-shirts donated by the Durango Diner, where club members would gather before their morning training rides -- won the first-ever collegiate mountain bike national championship title.
Since then, the cycling world has come to know FLC Cycling – and the team's now-official jerseys. That's because FLC Cycling has continued its roll. Today the team competes in five disciplines -- track, mountain biking, cyclocross, BMX, and road – and has won national championships 20 more times in mountain biking, cyclocross, and road racing. They were again crowned Mountain Biking National Champions last October. FLC Cycling has also finished at #1 in the nation in USA Cycling's Division I in 2007, 2009, 2010, and 2011.
That legacy of championship cycling will be celebrated this weekend at the annual Fall Blaze Bicycle Tour, when FLC Cycling team members, alumni, and supporters gather to see friends and savor the beautiful San Juan autumn weather with – how else? – cycling tours around southwestern Colorado.
The Fall Blaze offers three fully-supported group ride options of 37 miles, 60 miles, and 100 miles, all in the beautiful San Juan Mountains at the peak of autumn foliage season. The event also features a celebratory lunch at the finish line in the center of campus, afternoon cycling events, and the “Bikes & Bands Bash” at the Community Concert Hall on Saturday night. All proceeds benefit the Cycling Scholarship at Fort Lewis College.
That spirit of cycling camaraderie on display each year at the Fall Blaze is indicative of the FLC Cycling spirit. As a club sport, anyone with a bike, a helmet, and a love of riding can participate in the FLC Cycling experience. And that experience is one of friendship and teamwork, as much as training and competition, since in collegiate cycling each person rides to earn points for the whole team rather than just for themselves. It's that unique spirit that forges connections among collegiate cyclists that last well after their college riding days are over.
To have world-class riders, though, you need world-class places to ride. Which is why it's no surprise that the team from a college in Durango would excel. A "gold"-rated Bicycle Friendly Community by the League of American Bicyclists, Durango is surrounded by dozens of legendary mountain-bike and road rides across the region's mountains, deserts, and valleys. The community has produced several professional and amateur national champions, as well world-class and Olympic riders.
For Durango, it began in 1895, when the Durango Wheel Club brought cyclists together to push for better roads. Nearly 120 years later, the Wheel Club is still a social cycling club, sponsoring rides and hosting competitions, including Durango's premiere cycling event, the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic. After more than forty years, the IHBC today attracts 2,500 riders, racing the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Rail Road's steam train over the San Juans to the mining town of Silverton.
Cycling at FLC goes way back, too. In the 1960s and '70s, the FLC ski team would organize informal off-season training rides that roamed the mountainous southwestern Colorado countryside. In the 1980s, some student aficionados of the then-new sport of mountain biking formed an intramural mountain bike race program. An on-campus race course was created, and a three-event race was held that included a cross-country race, hill climb, and road race. The champions were awarded pizzas.
The 1990s, though, is when the legacy of champions that people think of when they think of Fort Lewis College Cycling was born. The decade opened with Durango hosting the first-ever professional mountain biking World Bicycle Championship, held at Purgatory Ski Area. That fever spread to FLC, where in 1993, a dozen students created a loosely formed FLC cycling club.
In 1994, the first official FLC Cycling team was born when the FLC student body voted to allow activity fees to support the Cycling Club. That year, in its first intercollegiate competition as a club sport, the new team won the inaugural National Collegiate Cycling Association mountain biking national championships in Castaic Lake, California, defeating perennial national cycling powerhouses like the University of Colorado, Stanford, and Cal Poly.
And they haven't looked back since. Except once a year, at the Fall Blaze Bicycle Tour.