Thomas Barnett, in front of the field during the Men's A race at Bard College

Teams of ECCC: Friars on Tires

So how do people break into bike racing? A lot of teams here in the ECCC are established teams that rely on experienced riders and war chests from a wealth of sponsors to support race weekends. A successful race starts with a good team and better support. But what if your school has not started a team yet?

This is the challenge Tom Barnett of New Jersey faced last year . Barnett has been racing since high school and he came to Providence College looking to join a bike team. At the time a USAC Category 2 rider, Barnett just got picked up by new team Lupus Racing Team and is a part of the branch group based in New York. So joining the collegiate racing scene would be a great way to prepare for a summer USAC race, right?

“ECCC absolutely got me in shape for racing.” Says Barnett. “Other pro riders were telling me to come down south with them to do spring racing, and to not waste time with collegiate racing.” Clearly these naysayers are overlooking graduated powerhouses like Robin Carpenter and Cameron Cogburn, both of whom are now on professional teams. Some are even coming back for more suffering, if people remember Erik Levinsohn’s breakaway win during the opening weekend for the 2014 season.  Levinsohn first came to ECCC as a Williams College undergraduate, and after a year of professional bike racing, he is now a graduate student at Yale. Barnett could also recognize the value of spring collegiate racing. “People care about you more here to fully develop as a bike racer”

Thomas Barnett, in front of the field during the Men's A race at Bard College
Tom Barnett leads the Men’s A field during the Bard Criterium this season (Photo by Tom Nguyen)

So with no team at Providence, what’s a rider to do? “I talked to administration [at Providence] to get funding, but they said to do a trial season- go with a nearby team to the races for help with travel and race support.” So Barnett traveled with RISD and Brown for the 2013 racing season as the solo Providence rider. With no school outfit of his own, Barnett just wore an unmarked black and red kit and became known as “Big Red” in the Men’s A field.

“RISD and Brown were instrumental in gaining the insight to form my own team.” Says Barnett. “I am so grateful for their friendship.”

While Barnett was more than grateful for the chance to race, his major breakthrough came with a second place finish at the Rhode Island road race. That, he said, was a strong enough case to finally convince administration that he- and potential others- would be ready for more collegiate bike racing.

Not only did Providence administration help send Barnett last year to Collegiate Nationals in Utah, but they promised him several thousand dollars of support funding if he got at least ten riders. The first guy to contact Barnett was a sophomore runner named Liam Sullivan, who kept asking about this ‘biking’ thing Barnett was doing. With the help of administration, Student Life and ClubSports at Providence, Barnett and Sullivan got together 25 signatures at the semester Involvement Fair. The final count that showed up? “We got seven riders to regularly show up.” Says Barnett. “That brought down the admin’s money down.”

Five of the seven "Friars on tires." Tom Barnett, Nick Thomas, Liam Sullivan,  Nick Przekurat, Kevin McNeil (Photo by Tom Barnett)
Five of the seven “Friars on tires.” Left to right are Tom Barnett, Nick Thomas, Liam Sullivan, Nick Przekurat, Kevin McNeil (Photo by Tom Barnett)

So the self-proclaimed “Friars on Tires” are in it for a first, lean season. They are not doing too bad: Sullivan, now the vice president of the team, won his first set of races in the D field during the opening weekend. Still, to cut costs the Big Red Friar is the ‘adult supervisor’ for the team. Even though he’s just a sophomore, Barnett convinced admin to let him be in charge, saying his race experience would be a better bet than trying to find and pay for a single adult to commit for two months of coaching for just seven kids. Barnett is fully committed to keeping the seven regularly racing. For now, they have just three sponsors, and RISD has offered to help them build a team website. Currently they have mandatory practices- miss three and you miss the next race weekend. It seems harsh, but Barnett insists it’s a necessity to build the team in its first year- the presence of every rider counts. As it is, one of their D riders was in Texas last weekend as the Providence mascot for the NCAA March Madness. His cycling teammates had to drive down to pick him up Saturday night so he could race on Sunday.

“I will forever be indebted to the ECCC- its executives and riders- for enabling me to bring my love of cycling to [Providence]” Says Barnett. “Because that’s what the ECCC is about. Sharing the love of two wheels and each other. Now, I hope to pay it forward to a Johnson and Wales University rider I met with last week.”

“The love that started this team and fuels this conference may continue to grow not only at Providence, but at all schools touched by its big red heart.”