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Ohio State cycling team gets a second wind

Jen Malik, a second-year graduate student in biomedical engineering, pedals during a competition as a member of the Ohio State cycling team. Credit: Courtesy of Jen Malik

Jen Malik, a second-year graduate student in biomedical engineering, pedals during a competition as a member of the Ohio State cycling team.
Credit: Courtesy of Jen Malik

The Ohio State cycling team is looking to build upon last year’s success, when it saw two of its riders qualify for and compete in nationals.

Riders Frankie Gonzalez and Jen Malik powered the club after reforming following a nonexistent season. Now the team is trying to grow the club and climb to greater heights. Gonzalez said he is hoping the team can accomplish even more than last year.

“I was happy to be able to get top five in a few of the races and be able to score enough points, along with Jen, to get the team to qualify,” Gonzalez said. “I’m definitely happy for that to happen, happy to participate in nationals, but I think the club has a lot (of room) to grow. There are a lot of aspects that we could do better as a club.”

Gonzalez, a second-year in mechanical engineering, has a strong cycling background in Florida, where he is from. He told The Lantern that he competed in the U.S. Junior National Championships the past four years and was the Florida state champion in the junior ranks in 2014. He said he picked up cycling at the age of 13 with his father as a way to stay in shape.

Now he is helping to bring back the OSU cycling club from the dead.

Malik, a second-year graduate student in biomedical engineering, is still relatively new to the sport, as she picked up competitive cycling in August 2014. Malik said she hopes the team can continue to add members, while staying competitive.

“I really want to grow the cycling community and cycling team at OSU,” Malik said. “We only have three competing members on the team right now. Helping people become more confident in racing and basically giving them the opportunities that I was afforded from people helping me race (are my goals).”

Malik said the team has worked hard to get to this point — earning sponsorships to pay for bikes, travel expenses and lodging — and even overcame some tough injuries. During one competition, Malik was tangled up in a crash.

“It was probably my worst wreck to date,” Malik said. “We were going downhill, and someone got a little nervous in the group and overlapped wheels and then went down. Five of us ended up going down. I was out for about a month. I hit my head pretty hard and got a pretty severe concussion.”

During the time she was injured, she said she was thankful to her professors and to OSU for allowing her to fully recover, as she had to miss a stretch of classes from severe headaches.

Now that the team has a full season under its belt, the members are moving toward the next step: finding a coach to help guide them.

Both Gonzalez and Malik said not having a coach has an impact on their team cohesion and focus, but it will not stop them from competing next year.

“Not having a coach makes it an environment that isn’t very disciplined,” Gonzalez said. “It makes the club feel very casual. I personally have a coach, that’s what keeps me disciplined. If the club does go the route that we’re going down, which is becoming more focused, I think that the club would need a coach.”

More riders would be a plus as well, Malik said, as she said that ideally she would like to see OSU bring eight riders to nationals.

“I would love to bring a full team to nationals. This year we only had two of us go, but it would be really nice to see four girls and four guys competing at nationals,” Malik said. “Our school is huge — there is no reason that we only have three people showing up. Really, it would be nice if we could just increase our presence.”

Malik said anyone who thinks they can help the team compete, or just has an overall interest in competitive cycling, should look into the club.

“Although it may seem intimidating, just show up and try it, everyone is really nice,” Malik said. “It’s a great ways to meet new friends.”

She said that OSU students who may be interested in joining the club can contact her at malik.87@osu.edu or visit the club’s table at the upcoming Student Involvement Fair on August 23.

Malik said there are different levels of competition, and new riders are rarely thrown into the fire against experienced riders. However, OSU does compete in the MidWest Collegiate Cycling Conference, which pits OSU against stiff competition on a regular basis.

“Our conference is one of the hardest conferences (to compete in),” she said. “Marian (University) is the national champion consistently. It’s actually really nice, because we are exposed to some of the most intense competition.”

Malik totaled 310 total points last season in Cyclo-cross for OSU, which was second highest in Women’s A’s, according to statistics on the MWCCC website.

She said Cyclo-cross takes place in the fall and is a hybrid between mountain biking and road biking, where riders compete off-terrain for 40 to 60 minutes, completing laps around a 1.5- to two-mile course. She competed in road races, too, last year.

Malik has another two or three years of competition left at OSU, during which she hopes to earn a pro contract for Cyclo-cross, which she said could happen soon. For now, however, she is focused on improving race results.

“I would really like, within the next year or two, to place in the top five at collegiate nationals for Cyclo-cross, and then have two top 10 finishes at collegiate nationals for road,” Malik said.

Gonzalez competes in several cycling events, too, but specializes in road races, which are typically longer, testing a rider’s endurance. He said that he has his sights set on continuing his cycling career as long as possible.

“My ultimate goal would be to ride in the European races, possibly the Tour de France, the highest level of the sport, but I know that being a cyclist and being in the world of cycling is definitely a road that is very challenging to go down,” Gonzalez said. “(I’m) going to school and getting a great education and having a good time at Ohio State, but I definitely want to see if I can push as far as I can go in the sport.”

Gonzalez has been training and competing over the summer in Florida, as he waits for road season to pick back up in the spring. He said he is hoping to build on last year and is looking to pick up a few wins for OSU.

“Personally, I want to qualify for nationals again, possibly win a race or two leading up to nationals and be a little more focused on the bike,” he said. “(I want to) be focused on training and also balance school — just, overall improvement and growing the club, for sure.”

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