Category Archives: Interviews

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.”

Not A Lady

This is collegiate cycling, and we’re all pretty smart. The day before the season kick-off, many of you read the announcement and blog post about transgender cyclists. Yes, I am such a cyclist, and for now the most public and visible. It took a week or two for most ECCC’ers to start asking questions or making comments and then they started trickling, and then rushing, in. I can’t and won’t answer each individually but I do want to clear up a few details, and to help the community learn how to best interact with and include transgender riders.

It’s Not What You Think

First, I want to thank and congratulate you, ECCC, on your generally positive response and support of my racing in the women’s field this year. Together we are proving that we as a community are able to welcome and include everybody, including transgender athletes. As a whole, you have bowled me over with your efforts to demonstrate acceptance. The last few weeks a fair number of you have approached me and voiced your outright support for my racing, the new ECCC policy on transgender racers, and USAC policy revisions underway. Thank you. Your support means a lot to me personally and it gives me great hope that cycling as a sport that can be accepting of all identities and bodies.

Second, I want you to know that I do not identify as a woman. I am not transitioning from male to female, which is a logical conclusion that many of you have assumed. I still truly and sincerely appreciate the effort from those of you who have made attempts to clearly and loudly demonstrate the application of “she,” “woman,” “girl,” “lady,” and other feminine identifiers to me when you thought that was what I wanted. Thank you for making the effort to validate what you thought was my identity.

I was born female. I transitioned to living as a guy because I find it to be the most comfortable and best fit on a day to day basis. I present as a guy in my academic and professional life as well as socially. For personal reasons, years ago I opted not to follow the traditional, linear, route of physical transition, and have no intent on engaging in any physical transition in the future. After extensive medical expert review and testimony that I have no competitive advantage, and a change in its previous policies on this issue, USA Cycling granted me a license to race in collegiate women’s A and category 3 non-collegiate races. I requested recategorization in search of a level playing field: Despite extensive training, and racing for several years now as a guy, my physiology would otherwise consign me to forever struggling to hang on in lower category men’s races, rather than enjoying a safe, well-matched, experienced pack where I can continue to develop my abilities as a racer – just like everyone else.

Identities are complicated. There are a wide range of gender presentations beyond the binary. I’m a guy, although not a particularly masculine guy. I prefer masculine pronouns and other gendered words: He, his, him, guy, man, boy, dude, and so on. Even though I’m racing in the women’s field, because that makes the most sense for me in athletics, that does not change my identity. I’m not asking for everyone to get it right all the time; good intentions count for more than perfection. Nor am I asking the women’s field to change for me—I’m the one who asked to be here, and I can’t express how honored I am to race alongside a group of truly talented, fast, elite women. I’m also not asking for the positive cheering from the road side to change. But I am a guy, and efforts to remember that when you interact with me are appreciated. I realize it’s complicated and trans identities are a new concept for many people, but words & behaviors do matter.

Turn 2 in the 2014 Temple Crit.  Photo by Matthew Hall Photography.
Turn 2 in the 2014 Temple Crit. Photo by Matthew Hall Photography.

Boundaries, Respect, Privacy

Being such a new concept to much of our community, and perhaps the first time you’ve met a trans person, many of you want to ask questions. Many also simply want to express your support. In doing so, please remember that I’m a person too, and my reasons for being at races are the same as yours: I’m here to race bikes, talk about bikes, cheer for people racing bikes, eat too many cookies after doing bikey-things, and other antics involving bikes and people who race them. I like making new friends, especially smart ECCC people who can talk medicine/chemistry/art/linguistics/physics and freely relate those topics to bicycles. I find all of those topics far more fun and compelling than gender issues.

Moving forward, it’s worth making a few points about interacting with transgender people, including me and any other such members of the community in the future:

  1. We cannot be your gender studies class. We cannot be your source of information about trans people, and it’s not fair to ask us to be. There are many great books and Internet resources available. Increasing your awareness and being a better ally is an awesome goal. But you shouldn’t place that burden on the individuals you hope to support.

  1. Being transgender is not an open invitation for anyone to discuss or scrutinize your body, or for strangers and acquaintances to ask intensely personal questions. All of the same personal boundaries and limits on what’s polite and appropriate to ask or discuss apply to transgender people as they do to everyone else. We all deserve the same respect and privacy; as much as spandex will allow.

  1. Despite what TV and pop culture imply, transgender people are not all hypersexual creatures placed on earth to satisfy your curiosities. It is not ok to tokenize and sexualize us just as it is not ok to do the same to women, minorities, or any other group at a bike race or elsewhere. Again, everyone deserves to be treated respectfully, regardless of gender, identity, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or any other trait. All of the same rules apply as with approaching any other person that you think is attractive: Check your motivations, remember that attraction may not be reciprocal, NEVER touch without consent, and “no” means no.

  1. Not all spaces are equally safe. Do not assume that because a trans person is publicly so in one environment that it is acceptable to transfer that visibility to other parts of their life, or to draw attention to them in other contexts, particularly less-than-safe places. There may come a time when the ECCC becomes the very first place where a new trans person feels comfortable in presenting as their gender identity, but you shouldn’t then export that knowledge outside the community, such as by announcing it at that truck stop diner on the way to/from a race. Not all environments are equally accepting and safe.

  1. If you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all.

All of those boil down to one basic point: Transgender people are people, and all people should be treated with respect, courtesy, and kindness.

Bigger Than Us

Most importantly, I asked for this recategorization because it was time for a new precedent to be set. I want all people to be able to experience competitive cycling, collegiate or non-collegiate, regardless of their gender identity or how it matches their body.

I confess to not being very brave. It took me 6 years, including an undergrad degree and most of a masters degree, to finally show up at a cycling club meeting. So much ECCC time lost! It makes me incredibly sad, frustrated, and angry to remember the feeling of looking in from the outside, scouring the internet for a policy that didn’t exist, or ANY sign that thinking I’d be welcome at a race wasn’t laughable. Thankfully, the world has come a long way in six years. Cycling is now ready.

This is important. It’s not about me, and it’s not about the ECCC. It’s about making cycling accessible to all people. Remember the first club or team ride you went on, or your first race? Remember the butterflies in your stomach? The feeling of insecurity and fear of being too slow/out of shape/new/whatever insecurity you have? Maybe how self-conscious you were the first time you wore cycling spandex? These and all of the other social issues that come with sports are even more daunting for gender minorities.

You and I both know how cycling has changed our lives, our bodies, and maybe even our souls. Everyone should have an equal opportunity to experience joy, speed, and suffering on a bike. Simply by continuing to make the ECCC the awesome, inclusive community that it is becoming, with respect and welcome for all genders, colors, religions, and orientations of people, you can help make that happen.

The 2013 squad for Yale Cycling, a traditional ECCC women's cycling powerhouse and diversity advocate. Photo by Jan Valerie Polk.
The 2013 squad for Yale Cycling, a traditional ECCC women’s cycling powerhouse and diversity advocate. Photo by Jan Valerie Polk.

Headline photo by Matthew Hall Photography.

An MTB Pro Has Been Asked!

Steven Hopengarten of the ECCC News Network recently caught up with Prestigious ECCC Alumnus Spencer Paxson, who had a break out year on the Professional Cross Country Mountain Bike Circuit, claiming a top 10 at the 2010 US Pro XC  National Championships, was selected for the 2010 UCI World Cup Finals team as well as the 2010 UCI Mountain Bike World Championships team. The full interview can be found here.

Hair Bear to Pro

At an ECCC News Conference Conference Director Joe Kopena announced a new competition.

This competition was prompted by accusations of former ECCC Conference Director Mark Abramson,  “The Conference just has way too many hairy legs now.  I never would have tolerated so many Intro, D, C, B, and Even A racers (for pete’s sake) to roll up to a start line with ‘natural leg warmers.’ I will tell you, this place has gone down hill….”

Immediate, prompt, and decisive action was taken.  This competition will take place on the Saturday of Easterns.  Racers must show up before the fun race during the crit with their hairiest legs.  These will be photographed.  Later that night at the banquet the racer that has seen the greatest ‘hair bear to pro’ transformation will receive a free ECCC 2010 tee shirt in the color of their choice.

Get out their and get pro.