IN PRINT- Good Sport: A burgeoning hope for young cyclists

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by Jeff Laughlin

The sparse number of people who showed up for the Greensboro Fixed Gear Criterium stood shivering over their bikes, waiting for the 8 p.m. start time. Trevor Sanders, the race organizer collected their meager fees and complained a little that more people should have showed up.

“I mean, I rode to work today in colder weather,” Sanders said.

This rare flash of frustration should not be mistaken for Sanders’ attitude toward the fixed-gear scene in Greensboro. He explained, many times over, that the numbers do not matter so long as they race.

“It’s all about finding new people, like when I started, that get into it. It’s done so much for me, I want to help other people love it like I do,” Sanders said while peering around A&T’s Bluford Circle for late-arriving racers. “I got into the sport late, but I’m doing all I can to keep this scene alive.”

Sanders had expected 15-20 riders, but a mid-week race day, the cold snap and UNCG’s spring break foiled his plans. That said, the racers there stayed on their bikes, prepared to start.

Fixed Gear races come in several formats. Last year, Sanders organized an “Alley Cat” event where cyclists get several points on a map and choose their own path. This mix of cartography and speed makes for an intelligent debate among participants and plays to the nature of most cyclers’ jobs.

I stood in a group of messengers, deliverymen and practical thinkers. The shortest way does not always mean the fastest in their world, and they discover the back alleys and easy turns that make their ride more swift.

Thursday’s race marked Sanders’ first organizing of a criterium race. The 2.5-mile route had it all: climbs to slow pace, tight corners, hills to both curb and gain speed and a sprint to the finish. Sanders described the course as “Mario Kart on bikes, only without the powerups.”

Unsanctioned, the race held personal glory and prizes for the winner, but not public glory. Among his peers, the victor held his story above him rather than a trophy or televised speech.

For Sanders, this race copied other more prominent events in Red Hook, NY, but he also gathered intelligence from other races in North Carolina. He raced in Charlotte, Raleigh and, of course, Greensboro, where he first picked up the habit.

“I started biking in my sophomore year at A&T so I could go hangout with my UNCG friends. I like taking the bus and all that, but I liked being on my own schedule more,” Sanders said. From there, it became an obsession.

“Biking started as an easy way to get around, then an easy way to stay in shape, then it became a passion and a lifestyle. It’s part of my life — a way to have fun, meet friends and just go to the bar.”

Some of these athletes began riding out of necessity, some to look cool and stay fit, but they all believe what they do plays a huge part in their lives.

“There’s not a lot of events in Greensboro. If I can get more people in the urban cycling scene because of how it affected my life, then I’ve done something,” Sanders said. “The numbers are dwindling, but we still have some good people riding. People get older, grow out of it. That happens.”

Riding also provides competition. Though they were few, the riders still wanted to win. While they kept warm and discussed their expenses — cycling hats cost way too much — you could sense a change. When they left to ride the course, the excitement left and their instincts took over. Now their passion translated to skill and their scene’s miniscule following would be proven worthy.

Gabriel Payne won the criterium with Kevin Cassisi and Zack Easterling trailing him. Sanders knew, though, that the mere existence of the race mattered more than who bested the field.

His positivity bubbled back to the surface when asked about the race at hand. “Thanks to the racers who braved the cold weather because that’s who this is all for. And a big shoutout to all the sponsors who donated prizes, especially Merritt at Re.Cycles, and thanks to everyone who supported the project.”

Sanders did not race the event. Someone had to stay behind and declare the winners. Someone had to hand out the prizes. Someone had to make sure no one cheated or stole the bags everyone left behind.

Therein lies the predicament. Someone has to organize this thing. Otherwise we’re all just standing around in the cold.