Mr. Collegiate Cycling – an interview with Jeffrey Hansen
By Kyle Bruley, ECCC News Network Chief Editor
New Brunswick, NJ – It was the first weekend of the 2010 Road Season for the Eastern Collegiate Cycling Conference and the atmosphere was a vibrant one. The snow and rain had stopped as the sun came out to inevitably burn a large number of unsuspecting racers throughout the weekend. With techno music thumping Jersey Shore-style in the background as the Men’s C circuit races zip by the start/finish, I caught up with a man who lives, breaths, and peddles collegiate cycling. His name is Jeffrey Hansen, Manager of the USA Cycling’s Collegiate and High School Cycling Programs.
Jeffrey, a native of the windy Chicago, IL, found himself at the gates of Colorado College a number of years ago. Having worked in a bike shop all through high school, he had idea that he would want to race in college. Every year the Colorado College Cycling Team holds a three-day ride from Colorado Springs to Aspen. It was this ride that galvanized Jeffrey’s commitment to the Colorado College Cycling Team in the fall of his freshmen year. Eventually, his involvement grew to running the team for more than a year.
In July, 2009, Jeffrey further expanded his investment into collegiate cycling and began current management of the Collegiate and High School Programs. He works out of the offices of USA Cycling in Colorado Springs, CO and thoroughly enjoys his work. The dynamic nature of the job and travel associated with the position both add to the enthusiasm Jeffrey has for the job.
The Rutgers Cycling Classic marked the first race weekend Jeffrey had visited a collegiate conference this road season. While he would like to visit all eleven of the collegiate conferences this season, chances are he will only be able to go to six or seven conferences. Jeffrey does plan on making multiple appearances at all collegiate conferences over the years. This inter-conference travel marks an increase in his position’s public visibility when compared to the past.
With Collegiate Cycling Nationals May 7-9, Jeffrey is thoroughly excited for the new Nationals location and the experience of the race promoter. The courses in Madison, WI, will offer some dynamic and very painful racing.
I continued our interview with some more specific questions, making it clear (at least to me) that Jeffrey is Mr. Collegiate Cycling:
Kyle Bruley: What is the atmosphere like working at USA Cycling in Colorado Springs?
Jeffrey Hansen: It’s a great place to work. I could gush on and on about it, really. I have wonderful co-workers, all of which work very diligently at their jobs and enjoy doing so. This is especially the case with the directors and executives. They’re passionate, open, down to earth and thoughtful. We have beautiful brand new offices that were donated to us (along with a now defunct bar [the Mile High Saloon] that didn’t pay its taxes… funny story for another day…) from a local development company with a work-out facility and bike lockers. We’re encouraged to ride our bikes, too, which is a nice fringe benefit.
KB: Many people don’t know that you also manage USA Cycling’s High School Program. How is that program developing?
JH: It’s coming along, but since most of the work is a matter of developing resources and infrastructure, both of which are time consuming, it’s a long process. It’s tough to split my work between collegiate and high school, especially when collegiate is something much more tangible at this point. We’ll be hosting a High School Cycling Summit here in Colorado this summer to bring some people in with good ideas and try to expand on some programs that are out there already. Right now High School Cycling is a clean slate, which is both a good and challenging thing. Having just started last July, I’d say I’m relatively recently settled into the job, and a lot of that settling involved getting my bearings with collegiate. My hope is this summer I will be able to devote more time and energy to high school cycling and have a definitive program to offer by 2011.
KB: Is there anyway current collegiate cyclists can help out with spreading the High School Program?
JH: Definitely! At this point, starting a high school club is just like starting a collegiate club. You just need to fill out two forms and it’s free. My plan for next year is to really appeal to collegiate teams to become kind of Big Sister clubs to area high school clubs. Collegiate cyclists are great ambassadors for the sport, especially for teenagers (obviously UVM is excluded from this), and I think we can harness some collegiate energy and send it in the direction of high school cycling. So if a college team wants to get involved with the community, approaching a high school is a great way to do it. Ask the school if you can host an after-school meeting for interested kids, and just see who shows up. If nothing else, just getting kids on bikes and riding with them, without even mentioning the word “race,” is a great start. Administrators can flip out about insurance, but that’s what USA Cycling is for. We offer incredible liability insurance for under $200/year. Ok; sales pitch over.
KB: You compared your alma mater collegiate team within the RMCCC, Colorado College, to the University of Vermont within the ECCC. After having experienced a weekend of ECCC racing, what are your thoughts of the team that won two Collegiate Cycling National Champion jerseys?
JH: After hearing some (horror) stories this past weekend about those green and yellow crazies, I might retract the direct comparison. The RMCCC is smaller than the ECCC, obviously, but it’s a lot more serious in a lot of ways. With teams like CU Boulder, CSU, and Fort Lewis in mix, there is no time for debauchery. You’re too busy getting shot out the back of the field on the way up some ridiculous climb. It’s all business all most of the time. Colorado College (CC) was more just the type of school to alternate from year to year between tiger stripes and plaid, host dance parties in the parking lot at time trials with crappy pop music, or roll up to races playing “**** Your God” by Deicide until someone asked us to turn it off because it was scaring people.
I also draw parallels because I’ve noticed the UVM-America theme, and my junior year of college I crashed in a crit, shredding my bar tape. The only replacement tape I had was some Stars’n’Bars stuff that someone gave me as a joke, and I was too poor to buy anything real. So not only did I use the star spangled handlebar tape, but I bought some American flags at a dollar store and taped them all over my bike. I also then dressed up as Captain America for a costume crit that year. Anyway, that was kind of typical CC.
KB: Did any other teams from the ECCC make an impression on you?
JH: There were too many teams to even realize what was going on! Really, though, I loved the diversity of teams, between the small one or two person jobs, to big, well oiled machines. Several teams made impressions on me in that way, that they all pulled it together regardless of size to compete, and do well.
KB: How did the atmosphere and culture of the ECCC strike you this past weekend?
JH: The atmosphere was magnificently positive. First race of the season, good weather, it couldn’t have been better and you could tell people were loving it. I wish I had mingled more with racers, but I’m a bit shy, so that was something of a non-starter. In a lot of ways, though, the atmosphere of collegiate cycling is universal. It’s why collegiate racers in the ECCC are just as crazy about it all as kids in the NWCCC or wherever else. You can try and look for differences between conferences but at a certain point you’re splitting hairs. While each conference is unique and does things its own way and has its own feeling, collegiate cycling is much more unified than I think many people realize.
KB: The ECCC likes to pioneer new directions for Collegiate Cycling. Are there any ECCC developments that you think could work well nation-wide?
JH: Well certainly the obvious answer is the off-course intro clinics. What I saw this weekend was incredibly effective and definitely helped riders get accustomed not only to riding and racing, but also to each other. That’s something that, given the proper numbers, can and should be replicated elsewhere. We’ll be distributing Collegiate Cycling posters to universities this fall, both those with and those without teams, and I’m excited to advertise the fact that almost all collegiate races have an intro race or clinic. It just helps lower the already-low barriers to entry in collegiate cycling.
I’d also be super excited to see the ECCC News Network copied by other conferences. It’s just a matter of finding the manpower that is so enthusiastic and readily available in the ECCC. The upswing is that collegiate cycling is beloved by all, and I think with some infrastructure, something similar could spring up elsewhere.
KB: Is there anything other conferences are doing that the ECCC might benefit from?
JH: The SCCCC will be introducing a year-long individual omnium this fall, and since the ECCC is the only other conference that supports all four disciplines, I think it could encourage riders to try something new.
Also, I think other conferences put a bit more emphasis on nationals than the ECCC does. I think part of that comes from how well the ECCC season is run; why travel all that way for a race that isn’t always run as smoothly? (I know there have been some disappointments in the past, but I couldn’t be more excited about the direction our national events are going. I’m super stoked for Road this year, MTB was fantastic in 2009 and will be even better this year, and CX was as close to perfect as an event can get, as far as I can tell.) It also comes from the ECCC’s emphasis on the lower categories. I wouldn’t discourage that emphasis in a million years, but nationals are an incredible opportunity that shouldn’t be passed up. (I also realize that cost is a HUGE factor; I don’t mean to imply that everybody that wants to go to nationals can. It is the nature of the beast, though.)
KB: What would your ideal Collegiate Cycling season look like?
JH: Let me answer your question in a round-about way. I’d say 85% of my job is focused on improving collegiate cycling: making it run more smoothly, increasing its visibility, growing the sport in college athletics. The other 15% is focused on just keeping it afloat as it is. It’s pretty low maintenance, though. So I get pretty caught up in how to change things, what to do to make it better, where to tweak and where to adjust and modify. So caught up, in fact, that I have to remind myself (and this past weekend was a GREAT reminder) that all in all, collegiate cycling is in pretty good shape. I never lose focus on what needs to be done, but I do like to have moments every now and then where I sit back and admire how great the program already is. This is in part due to my predecessor, Daniel Matheny, in large part due to the hard work of the conference directors, but it’s also largely just a product of all the positive energy and enthusiasm collegiate cycling receives from its members, and has for a couple decades now. When I look back at my collegiate racing experience, I wouldn’t change much at all. So it might look something like what is already there. A lot of the things that need work are more mechanical than what is visible and what truly makes collegiate cycling excellent.
KB: Five years from now, where would you like to see Collegiate Cycling?
JH: Excellent question. This is another thing I try to reflect on intermittently. It reminds me of what the big picture is, and where we’re heading in general. In a sentence (and I apologize that this is something of a no-brainer), I want collegiate cycling to be bigger. This means a few things:
- More members means the program is more financially solvent, and Conference Directors can get more financial support (maybe even compensation someday?!).
- When collegiate cycling becomes larger, it will be more visible, viable, and vital (sorry for the alliteration – pure coincidence), which means more funding for programs. It becomes more legitimate, professional (and I don’t mean the riders, I mean the operations and mechanics of the program – I still hope most of the ECCC is in the D category in 5 years!), and valuable (there’s another V!) to the public. College kids shouldn’t have to go broke getting to races. If a school values the program more, it will fund it better. Again, I could go on and on about all these points.
- The ECCC will hate me for saying it, but connected to that last point, a bigger program means more varsity teams. I think club teams are really what make collegiate cycling tick, and as I’ve said elsewhere, I wouldn’t trade my club experience for a varsity one unless there were large sums of money involved. Even then, I would have to think about it for a while. That being said, varsity programs help achieve a lot of the overall goals I have already mentioned for collegiate cycling, the benefits of which trickle down to all parties involved.
I could keep going; really, I could talk or type for a loooong time about collegiate cycling because I care about it a great deal. It gets me fired up, and I love that it does the same thing for a lot of other people out there.
Jeffrey Hansen is the Manager of the USA Cycling Collegiate and High School Programs. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Jeffrey can also be followed on Twitter at www.twitter.com/USACcollegiate.