The healing begins here, now.
After its summer of discontent, the world of professional cycling needs to put a fresh, fair-play face on a sport that 100 years ago was America’s national pastime.
Just when road racing started to take hold again — names like Armstrong, Hincapie and Leipheimer brought the U.S. international stature — a far-reaching doping scandal took pro cycling back to square one.
However, if the bright, young riders — like those emerging through the Davis Bike Club Junior Team — have anything to do with it, cycling in America could be back on track sooner than most think.
“It’s really unfortunate that (Lance Armstrong) felt he had to dope,” 12-year-old Kennedy Hill told The Enterprise just before a recent workout. “It’s sad when you have role models and you find out they’re actually doping. It really sucks.”
Hill — whose whole family rides — is doing her best to control the damage. She’s letting her “clean” rides speak for themselves; renewing interest and confidence in this up-and-coming generation of cyclists.
A 2012 four-discipline California champion — taking time trial, criterium, road race and track titles — Hill is one of 19 riders who make up the largest contingent of junior competitors in DBC history.
At the helm of the ever-expanding youth program is development director and coach Kristen Hill.
Married to Ken Hill (one of the original DBC Junior Team’s riders more than 30 years ago), the Hills’ offspring Kennedy and Samuel understand first-hand what kind of repair the sport needs.
Last winter, at a team retreat, Santa Rosa’s Levi Leipheimer talked and rode with DBC kids while counseling them on healthy riding and fessing up to past indiscretions.
“I’ve met him a lot,” Kennedy Hill said of the three-time Tour of California champion (and former Armstrong teammate). “He’s a really nice person and I thought it was nice of him that he apologized to us.
“He’s overcome a lot to get where he is.”
Kennedy thought it was especially big of Leipheimer to “come clean” and not dodge the accusations — “to start over with kids like us.”
Kristin Hill says the local junior team has a three-pronged mission:
* Give aspiring junior cyclists “access to local and national-level racing.”
* Contribute to making these riders “well-rounded, community-minded” individuals.
* Develop lifelong healthy lifestyles.
On average, DBC juniors compete in 22-25 races annually, according to coach Hill. Workouts are two or three times a week and those rides typically average 20 miles.
David Leon, 13, has been riding for about a year. A neighbor lent him a bike for a family ride and he was hooked.
He and best friend Sam Hill used to be involved in other sports, but each has since focused only on cycling. The demands of the road work and frequent races don’t allowed for that kind of cross-training.
“I had Achilles tendon problems,” Leon explained. “I played baseball, football, soccer, basketball. They were all too painful. Cycling is all I do.”
Adds Kristin Hill: “If kids are going to do cycling and another sport, it doesn’t work. If kids are going to be serious as competitors, they have to train. They miss one training ride, they miss a lot.
“They miss two training rides, I can tell. That’s how fast these kids are getting better.”
Davis club member Kyle Fiori, a 13-year-old from Folsom, is the 2012 cyclo-cross age-division champion, while Taylor Kuphaldt (Yuba City) and Chris Stastny (Vacaville) are two recent DBC juniors who have gone pro.
Hill says others are waiting to break through.
So why cycling?
“It’s a social activity. It’s a way to get or stay healthy,” Sam Hill explains. “Now it’s a part of my life … I get to meet new people all the time.”
West Sacramento’s Jack Hargrove began riding after his father lost 120 pounds by taking up the sport.
“I got my mom’s old road bike, found the Davis team and started riding a little,” the 12-year-old Ridgeway Island Elementary School student says. “I found I really like it.”
Hargrove, who won several races over the past couple of seasons, said he was moved by what Leipheimer told him …
“We saw all the things that Levi gave away. He basically told us not to dope … he was going downhill (imagewise). But at the same time, I have a new-found respect for him just being there. He wasn’t like he thought it was unfair he got (a six-month suspension). He owned up to it.”
Coach Hill echoed Hargrove’s assessment, adding “It was great of him to take the time. It was the highlight of the kids’ weekend. They made posters and cards, took pictures and rode with him.
“(Levi) talked about doping and how it affected his life. He is a good guy. (What happened) is disappointing, but I feel like he’s trying to repair (his image and that of the sport).”
And what about Kristin as a coach?
“She’s a real good coach who works us hard, makes us all better,” Hargrove said.
Notes: Key sponsors for the DBC junior squad include Cedaron Medical, Brooks Painting, Bell Helmets, Ken’s Bike & Ski, Wheelworks, Wiscombe Funeral Home, Pactimo, Ink Monkey (where Hill works), Stockton Optometry and Davis Bike Club. … In addition to Fiori, Hargrove, Leon, Sam and Kennedy Hill, current team members include Sullivan Hargrove, Teo Tezcan, Nathan Fiori, Magnus Bush, Anil Su Tuli, Hawk Kring, Will Kanz, Aley Abdel-Ghaffar, Sam Ruhe, Julian Bumpus, Zachariah McClendon, Matthew Dailey, Curtis Trueblood and Ross Kelly. … Learn more about the DBC junior team at www.dbcraceteam.org/team-programs/juniors-program.
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at [email protected] or 530-747-8047.