A thin dirt trail wrapped its way through the forest while, scattered here and there in the weeds, people of all ages waited.
Like a railroad crossing signal, cowbells began ringing higher and higher up the hill as people frantically picked spots near the path, putting a tree between them and the oncoming rider.
A helmeted University student on a mountain bike swooped around corners, sailing like a plane over jumps, past the cheering groups of people and to the finish line.
The University cycling team hosted the 2006 Golden Gopher North Central Collegiate Conference Championships this weekend in Red Wing.
There were three races – a downhill race, a collegiate short track and a cross country race – over the two days. The University team placed first overall in each race.
Although geared toward local college cycling teams, the races were open to anyone and provided good visibility to a team that needs it, said Maria Stewart, the team’s travel coordinator and unofficial championship director.
“I think it brings the cycling club to the forefront of specialty club sports,” said Stewart, a nutrition graduate student. “And we hope that we are more recognized as a competitive group.”
The team brings together students who have an interest in racing, training or the cycling community, she said.
Stewart said membership in the club is flexible.
“It is really a very small time commitment,” she said. “You just need to have some sort of base fitness and learn how to handle your bike.”
Paul Stewart, a landscape architecture sophomore and Maria’s brother, said he enjoys the group.
“It’s a life sport where you’ll make lifelong friends,” he said. “It’s definitely a good group.”
In addition to cyclists on the University team, the championship also drew racers from
regional colleges as far as Kansas.
Kim Topp, an Iowa State graphic design junior, said she attended the championship for experience and the chance to try out Red Wing’s hills, a type of trail Iowa lacks.
Asked about whether she was nervous about making her downhill race debut, Topp said, “Nah, I’m just hungry.”
Although the championship drew students and nonstudents alike, parents, friends and supporters also contributed to the success of the event, team members said.
Team President Andrew Rosch emphasized the community aspect of the team, citing examples of how he and the Stewart parents helped by staffing booths and providing morale to the team.
“This is definitely a community-based group,” Rosch said.
The championship also helps garner visibility to the cycling team within both the collegiate and cycling communities.
“You’d be surprised how few people know that there’s a ‘U of M’ cycling team even within the cycling community,” Maria Stewart said.