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Kurt Hamblin rids behind the cyclist in blue, with Matthew Cherian on his right.

UMBC cycling officers pedal to top five finishes

The UMBC cycling club’s competition season began at the 12th annual Tidewater Winter Classic in Williamsburg, Va., hosted by The College of William and Mary cycling club. The 8:00 a.m. race for their Collegiate D category, set within York River State Park, was 20 miles total (10 miles per lap) on a mostly flat loop with two uphill climbs in their season’s debut on March 4.

The United States Naval Academy, University of Maryland, College Park and Drexel University were among the schools in attendance. Vice president Matthew Cherian, a sophomore computer science major, crossed the finish line in third place and president Kurt Hamblin, sophomore physics major, placed fifth.

“This was actually my first race ever.” Hamblin began. He explained further that while he had never participated in neither fast nor group rides before, he has cycled long distances of up to 100 miles. Hamblin said he’d been riding pretty actively for the past couple of months now to prepare for the race.

“In the beginning of February, I started riding harder and got some more dedicated training sessions in” Hamblin said. “All in all, I was really ready for it.”

The competitive cycling life is more familiar to Cherian, as he said that he “raced last season. I did a criterium (a one day bike race on a circuit road course) at the Naval Academy and I used to lead group rides at where I work, which is performance bike.” He often rode with Hamblin to prepare for this race.

Despite Cherian possessing competitive experience over Hamblin, both men began cycling and riding road bikes around the same time, just over two years ago. Cherian began when he did not possess his drivers license and wanted freedom. Hamblin began cycling as a way to commute during his senior year of high school.

Their category in the Tidewater Winter Classic had approximately 45 other male cyclists. In a cycling race, everyone starts off together in a big pack going relatively the same speed. Throughout the race, the goal of a cyclist is to make a move and try to break away from the pack with a few other stronger bikers to pull ahead. This was a big goal of Hamblin’s during this competition, who ended up setting the whole pace of the race for the other cyclists. He was also consistently one of the primary leaders of the pack.

“In this race, no one really tried anything. And when anyone tried anything, it didn’t really work, the whole pack kind of just sped up,” said Hamblin. “For instance, there was one point at which I tried to break away. I managed to go past the front and I wanted a handful of the strong guys in the front to come with me. But I ended up getting way down the road. The guys in the front sped up, they didn’t really chase… I ended up speeding the whole pace of the pack. For the second half of the last lap, I sped the pace a couple of miles an hour.”

Cherian managed to stay relatively close to Hamblin during the race. He did not have time to fill his water bottle before the beginning of the race, and stayed close to Hamblin to get water from him when needed. At the final descent before the finish line, he used his remaining energy, directed Hamblin to move over to the left and was able to pass him at the last second.

While the race went well for the Retrievers, there were challenges to face. First was the harsh weather. It was under 27 degrees that morning and hard for them to feel their hands and toes. The second challenge was the possibility of crashing. Six UMBC cyclists competed in the Tidewater Winter Classic in the past and every single one of them crashed. In this year’s race, there was one crash, which Cherian nearly fell victim to.

“There was a junior racer, and he crashed right in front of me to my right” Cherian recalled. “He took out the guy to the right side, he took out the guy to the left side. The kid actually washed-out, so he hit the ground and his bike went out under him to the left side where I was, so I actually ran over his bike. And yeah, I did lose contact with the ground there for a few seconds.”

Cherian and Hamblin consider the race to be a huge success and will bring their cycling passions to other competitions this season with other members of the UMBC cycling club, including those being held at Virginia Tech, the Naval Academy and Johns Hopkins University.

Reflecting on UMBC cycling, Cherian explained that he would like to see more people get into cycling on campus. He would like to see the community flourish in that way since he and Hamblin see so many bikes around campus and know many people around UMBC love riding.

“When I’m out on my bike, nothing else in my life matters,” said Hamblin.