As the Brevard College Cycling team has matured from a club with a few dedicated riders to a full-on program that attracts athletes from all over the world to fill its ranks, many of those students are finding ways to stay in Brevard and make lives for themselves.
That’s new for Brevard College. Over the years, most of its student body has gone on to larger job markets, while typically the students who stayed in Brevard were part of the Wilderness Leadership and Experiential Education program, a small group of students who appreciated this small mountain town’s unique qualities.
Access to public lands in Brevard is better than anywhere else on the East Coast. That’s not hyperbole: with a temperate climate, hundreds of miles of singletrack and thousands of miles of roads for cyclists to explore, it’s no wonder the program has grown. Coach Brad Perley believes the success of the program is simply because the riding access here is so good.
“I have students who turn down better scholarship packages at other schools simply because they want to come to Brevard,” he said. “The riding is that good. I think a conservative number would be 50 percent of the graduates of the program. These young folks are finding ways to stay in the area, and it’s interesting to see how many of the students are still here. It’s a snowball effect too. It’s being seen by the younger students, and it plants a seed and keeps it going that way.”
And it shows in the team’s success. Collegiate cyclists at Brevard College compete at the Division I (DI) level, while the rest of the school has scaled back and competes at the Division III (DIII) level. The team’s coaches not only compete against schools with more students, but they are racing at the same level, and winning against teams with substantially larger budgets.
Brad said he has seen a shift in the vibe of the team since the move to DI athletics because the athletes who want to come to Brevard College for the cycling program want to race against the best athletes in the country.
Brad said that a top 15 result in Division I is elite company, as many of the riders racing at that level are sponsored already, with support from large brands that help them with gear, travel and, for some of his former athletes, paychecks. Collegiate cyclists can collect a check or receive compensation in other ways because USA Cycling is the governing body for collegiate cycling, not the NCAA. Brad said if the NCAA governed collegiate cycling, he would probably not be able to do his job.
“I couldn’t even approach potential recruits,” he said. “You wouldn’t believe the rules and regulations they have in place. For example, there has to be a designated off-season, and there are a maximum number of hours you can spend with the students. We race mountain and cross in the fall and road is in the spring. Just the time alone in the van with them to get to races would be a violation of the rules. I couldn’t even text with them about last-minute details or join them on training rides. I couldn’t do my job as a coach.”
Brad is the third full-time coach that the Brevard College Cycling program has had, and his hands are full year round trying to make the program work and uphold the foundation laid by the previous coaches. Highlights of this past season include Tyler Orschel, who earned the title of DI omnium champion. The Southeast Collegiate Cycling Conference introduced a conference leader’s jersey, which Tyler held onto all season and wore at each new race.
The team didn’t capture the overall mountain bike title this season, but they did win the cross nationals team relay, which Brad said amps up the team and spectators more than any of the other events, so the win was that much sweeter. “In my personal opinion, that’s the event our students get the most excited about, and take the most pride in. There’s a mountain bike relay and a cross team relay, but there’s a different level of focus at cross nationals. They’re pressured but there’s more excitement and incentive to do well,” he said.
The team is in a transition period right now as some of the senior riders are graduating and moving on from the program. Brad said he had 15 new riders this last mountain bike season, with a lot of younger kids with less experience, but no less determination. He’s excited for road season this spring because he will be traveling to nationals just down the road in Augusta, Ga., with a full road squad for the first time in five years.
Brad said this last year has been the first time in many years where he has been able to make a distinct separation between the race team and what he calls the “club team,” which is a group of students who probably don’t shave their legs or wear heart rate monitors. Brad said the addition of these students to the team creates a nice balance and forms a kind of glue between the more aggro racers and the kids who just want to have fun riding bikes at the collegiate level.
“It’s really promoted the health of the program. Bike racers tend to be kind of crazy,” he said. “They can get high strung and sometimes too focused. So, having some students that just like having fun and being positive is a great balance. It’s brought the team closer.”