Over thirty young cyclists strapped on their helmets for a criterium-style race May 10th in West Fairmount Park. This was the second race of the spring season for our Cadence Cycling Foundation program, which seeks to engage youth through the sport of cycling.
The competition was comprised of five teams, representing a wide swath of Philadelphian and suburban neighborhoods. Girard College and Mastery Charter Shoemaker featured athletes from West Philadelphia. KIPP and Pickett riders hailed from North Philadelphia. And cyclists from the Neighborhood Bike Works squad came from locales as disparate as Abington and Cheltenham.
This was the first five-team race of the season, and many of the athletes didn’t know each other. So before taking to the track, CCF program manager Cy Maramangalam ran them through a 30-second icebreaker exercise. Then camaraderie gave way to competitiveness as they mounted their bikes for the races around the half-mile street course loop near the Mann Center.
Per criterium-style racing tradition, riders were grouped into three categories based on their ability. Group A, the most advanced group, rode ten laps around the course. Groups B and C each did two coach-led practice laps before embarking on 6 and 4 lap races, respectively.
Donyell Brock of Neighborhood Bike Works took home the gold (and a speedometer) for the Group C race, with representatives from KIPP Charter School (Khayla Bundy, 2nd; Courtney Hayes, 3rd) filling out the rest of the podium.
In Group B, Taevon Oliver took first prize just ahead of his Mastery Pickett teammate, Allen Williams. Zhizhen (George) Cao of Neighborhood Bike Works finished third.
Neighborhood Bike Works capped off an impressive day by placing two riders, Ryan Breslin (1st) and Robert Taylor (2nd), on the Group A podium. Girard College’s Sam Bellinger came in third.
After the athletes raced came a special competition. “We had our first coaches race, which is an idea I have been suggesting for a while now,” said Justin Thompson, the KIPP team coach. “We wanted to show the students that coaches know what they are talking about. The coaches race showed them bike racing techniques up close like drafting and turning with their inside foot up.”
Wanya Cave, the assistant coach of the Neighborhood Bike Works team and himself a CCF graduate, was part of the coach’s race. “The first three laps were pretty calm, but once we hit the fourth lap it was every man for himself. That is when Justin started to attack Brett. The last lap, Justin broke away and I stayed on Brett to ensure I got third place.”
Reflecting on the day’s events, coaches had nothing but praise for the young cyclists’ efforts and the maturity they were displaying.
“Saturday was awesome. It was one of the safest and most enthusiastic Cadence events I have participated in,” said Wanya. “My NBW kids put on a show and they did exactly what I coached them to do… There was an NBW kid in every podium spot. I was so proud!”
Justin Thompson was impressed by how the CCF cyclists, who are still in high school, took it upon themselves to learn some of the technical nuances of bike racing.
“The students I coach are very excited about racing. They are competitive. Even the students who didn’t win were excited that their teammates represented their squad on the podium. They are happy they can compete with the other teams. They want to be the best, but know it takes time and they have things to learn.
We have been working on pace lines and drafting and riding behind people to conserve energy. Some of the students have even taken their own time to watch videos about bike racing online to learn more. I saw this new knowledge shine while they were racing on Saturday.”
Although both coaches lauded the track’s difficulty and their students’ unwavering competitiveness, coach Thompson kept everything in its proper perspective. “I saw a lot of students who really enjoyed what they were doing. It is all about fun!”
The CCF spring season continues until school’s end in June. For information how you can get involved in CCF, visit its program page.