Jake Kildoo, Staff Writer

If there is one person on campus I envy above all else, it’s the guy who cruises by me at about 800 miles per hour on his bike while I’m out walking around campus at a mere fraction of his speed in the freezing cold and wind.  I envy the convenience his bike provides him.  In fact, many students on campus own bikes for that very reason—convenience.  However, this is not the case for the Fighting Irish Cycling Team.  With training sessions consisting of rides up to 4.5 hours, their bike rides are considerably less enviable.

The Notre Dame Cycling Team is a coed group of club athletes, representing the Notre Dame community in the Midwest Collegiate Cycling Conference. The Irish compete as a D-II program and race during the fall and spring seasons.  There are various sorts of cycling races—track, mountain, cyclo-cross and road.  The former three disciplines hold their competitions during the fall, whereas road racing takes place during the springtime.  A few of Notre Dame’s cyclists compete in mountain biking and cyclo-cross races, and the majority of bikers compete in road races (none compete in track races).

Sophomore John Pratt and junior August Kunkel, members of the cycling team, graciously agreed to share their enriching experiences as part of the team with the Rover.

Kildoo:  What is training like?  What would a typical week of training involve?

Pratt:  A week of training for me during the season involves about 19 hours of riding, racing, and weight lifting.  On our off day, we do simple leg/core workouts to promote overall strength. The four other days during the week, I’ll typically ride between 1.5 hours and 4.5 hours in a day.  On a race weekend, I’ll do about five hours of racing in the time trial, road race and criterium.

Kunkel:  One of the great things about collegiate cycling is that athletes of different skill levels can travel and compete.  On our team we have athletes of varying skill level, so we put in varying amounts of time into training.  A typical week for our top cyclists would consist of 20 hours of training during season.  We do some weightlifting but the majority of our training is done on the bike or stationary bike.  We usually try to train together but because of schedule conflicts some of it is done on our own.

Describe what it is like to be in the middle of a cycling race.

Pratt:  For me, being in a bike race is a thrilling ride.  I am personally extremely competitive, yet I also struggle with the fear of the ever-present danger of crashing.  Once the race begins, almost every other thought goes out the window, and most every effort is directed toward remaining near the front to avoid trouble and be there if any riders decide to try to form a breakaway.  When the finish line approaches at the end, it becomes extremely intense and the stronger riders prepare for the final sprint.  The last few 100 meters are breakneck speed and every racer puts forth an all-out effort to try and win the race.  One strange aspect of bike racing is that it is frequently the best tactic to remain calm and draft in the peloton until the last few 100 meters, and then simply sprint as fast as you can.  This is not always the case, but frequently going hard early is the secret to disaster and fatigue.

I simply love the thrill of being on a bike and competing for a win.  For me, there is hardly a thrill that compares to being able to raise my arms in victory at the finish line.  A hard-earned victory is indescribable.  When it is crunch time in a race, the sole thought on my mind is simply to stay with the riders at the front and try to limit the pain.  When the pace is extremely fast, there is no time to admire scenery.  I don’t know how to describe it. I love it, biking as a whole just sings to my soul…

Kunkel:  A bike race in a word is exhilarating.  It is one of the greatest feelings I’ve ever felt.  Bumping elbows with other cyclists to fight for a better position, flying down a descent going 40 mph, organizing a chase group to bridge a gap, sprinting the final 100 meters of a 50 mile bike race until your legs feel like they are going to explode—that’s a bike race.  And right after the race is finished, you’ll want to race in another as soon as possible.

How did you get into cycling?

Pratt:  The short answer is I watched the Tour de France back in 2003 and said, “I want to do that.”

The longer answer is that friends of mine have encouraged me to ride bikes and encouraged me in my interest in the sport.  I was given my first road bike shortly before doing my first race.  I began racing in high school back in 2010.  My younger brothers quickly started racing with me and having a whole family of racers has only increased my love of the sport, but that’s a whole other story.

Kunkel:  Personally, I started cycling with my brother during the summer after my freshman year at Notre Dame.  When I returned to campus in the fall I decided to join the team, a decision I’m glad I made.  I started as a beginner and learned a lot my first year.


Clearly, these two athletes have a great deal of passion when it comes to riding a bike in a competitive atmosphere!  And can you blame them?  It surely requires intense dedication to spend 20 hours training weekly.  As a club team, Notre Dame cycling does not have the benefit of recruiting athletes from high school like varsity sports do.  This means that the cycling team has to rely on eager walk-ons from around campus, and getting the word out about cycling on its own.  In response to a question about recruiting new teammates, Kunkel remarked, “as a club team we welcome riders of all ability and even riders who wish to only ride recreationally.  We often have riders who join the team as beginners and progress to top cyclists who regularly win races. If a student is interested in cycling and shows a commitment in training, we allow him to compete with our team.  We do, though, encourage our athletes to train harder to become top competitors.”

Jake Kildoo is a sophomore and in addition to his contributions for the Rover, he is also a member of Notre Dame’s track and field team. Contact him at jkildoo@nd.edu.