Bike race a model example for Austin

Published 7:01 am Sunday, September 27, 2015

Partway through my coverage of the Minnesota State High School Cycling League race last Sunday just west of Austin’s Todd Park, Belita Schindler took my notebook and pen and turned the tables on me, as she asked what I thought about the event.

I’ll admit to feeling a tad awkward being placed in the position of interviewee for a change, but it helped me step back and take stock of the event.

Not only was it a beautiful day to cover something outside, but it was also a new experience for me to see how a cycling league race works.

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I’ll admit to having a bit of apprehension before race day. For starters, it required me to come in on my day off. But after stopping out at the trail the Wednesday before pictures, I wondered where the estimated 700 cyclists, their families and other staff would go during the race. And then I wondered where I’d find everybody during the race.

Easing my worries, Herald photographer Eric Johnson and I arrived to find no problems finding any of the many Austin people involved in the race.

I’m not sure what I expected, but I found rows of several dozen tents lined up in an open grassy field just south of the Northeast Power Plan a bit southwest of the Wind Drift Lounge. I had neglected to see the area my first trip out to the trail, mainly because I was more worried about finding a good spot to wait for and photograph the cyclists.

The site proved an ample staging area, with plenty of expansion room for future years, and it offered a long stretch of straight trail from north to south to start the race on flat ground before the riders took a turn in a wooded area and then weaved toward and alongside the Cedar River on the 3.2-mile route.

For a race that featured about 700 cyclists, it was surprisingly organized, and seeing rows of tents, cyclists, their families and racks of bikes stacked up for pre-race repairs/storage was quite the site.

On race day, most of the Austin folks appeared proud and pleased to be hosting the first cycling race in Austin, especially after several volunteers had spent the late summer clearing debris and brush from the trails. In fact, Minnesota High School Cycling League co-founder Gary Sjoquist admitted to having doubts when he’d visited in the site earlier in the summer about it coming together in time.

But the Austin folks all appeared motivated and proud of making the race a reality.

They had plenty of motivation. Belita’s husband, Dr. Richard “Dick” Schindler, played a vital role in starting Austin’s cycling team, and most Austin folks at Sunday’s race were pleased to fulfill his dream of hosting a home cycling race.

Surely, he would have been happy to see the racers, parents and fans lining various points of the trail to cheer on the participants during the races.

The cycling league is growing in Minnesota, but it’s hard to imagine a race attracting a local crowd the size of a home football game. But that’s because cycling is a different animal. It’s less about school/community pride and more about building a healthy hobby, which was clearly visible by the many families with moms and dads all wearing racing attire.

It made me think back to my past cycling experiences. I’ve been mountain biking on a trail once. To be honest, it wasn’t a pleasant experience. On a high school church trip to Atlanta, mountain biking was one of our group activities on a stop-off in Tennessee. It was unpleasant because I was not in mountain biking shape and because I was following my friends’ pace on land I didn’t know.

Had I been given the opportunity to learn and practice on a nearby course, my high school mountain biking experiences may have been vastly different.

It’s nice to know that Austin’s cycling team members will get that opportunity.