Cyclists tend to be soft-spoken, non-boastful types. So, it’s not surprising that CU Denver graduate student Cyrus Pearo, who recently won the USA Cycling Collegiate Road National Championships, summed up the race this way: “Good bit of climbing. Good bit of wind. It was a tough day.”

Tough indeed. The day also included a good bit of “pull” – to use cycling parlance – for Pearo. Against a significant headwind, the Business School student managed to outduel two CU Boulder racers who were drafting off him to become CU Denver’s first national champion in a club sport.

Cyrus Pearo of CU Denver wins cycling title
Cyrus Pearo is awarded the national champion medal at the USA Cycling Collegiate Road National Championships in Grand Junction.

“The odds were stacked against me for about the last 30 kilometers,” Pearo said. “The CU Boulder racers began tactically playing it to where I did 50 percent of the work in the wind, and they shared the other half. As the chase group began to catch us, I convinced them that unless we all worked together, none of us would win.”

A few minutes later, the gold-and-black trio reached the final climb “and I threw down as much of a sprint as I had left,” Pearo said. “By the top of the hill I had a few-second gap over the CU Boulder riders, so I put my head down and hammered the last 1.8 kilometers.”

With the end in sight, Pearo had about 24-second lead, enough time for him to savor the last hundred meters to the finish line.

The late-April road race covered 67 miles of rugged terrain just south of Pearo’s hometown of Grand Junction. He crossed the line at 2 hours, 50 minutes, 12 seconds, ahead of 123 other riders representing club teams across the nation.

Competing against the big teams

CU Denver launched the Club Sports program in 2012, and Pearo has been the cycling team’s captain and driving force since he put on a Lynx cycling kit in spring 2016.

CU Denver cyclist Cyrus Pearo
Cyrus Pearo crosses the finish line at the Collegiate Road National Championships.

At the Nationals, many large universities, including CU Boulder, Colorado State, Air Force and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, compete in the ‘club’ level along with CU Denver. Universities that don’t offer scholarships in cycling are classified as ‘club’ teams; institutions that offer scholarships in the sport compete in ‘varsity.’

Pearo finished third overall in points at Nationals, including fourth place in the individual time trial and 15th in the criterium. “It’s hard to compete with the big teams and end up doing well, especially since I was basically racing as a team,” he said.

Leading up to the Collegiate Nationals, Pearo finished second in his division at the Tour of the Gila stage race in New Mexico. He notched a stage win and several other stage podiums in the men’s 1-2 division – the highest competitive amateur level just below professional.

National champion cyclist Cyrus Pearo
CU Denver cyclist Cyrus Pearo outdueled two CU Boulder racers to finish first at the Collegiate Road National Championships in Grand Junction.

Pearo took up competitive cycling as a freshman at Denver University, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in 2015. He started taking the sport more seriously as a junior, and even qualified for the nationals as a Pioneer, but wasn’t pressing the top of the field like he is now.

Previously an avid weight lifter, Pearo switched to cycling when he threw out his back as an undergraduate. “It’s funny that an injury would lead to a sport, not out of a sport,” he said.

Building momentum at CU Denver

CU Denver’s cycling team is, to put it generously, a minnow. “We’re small and grassroots,” said Pearo, who is currently the lone male cyclist on the squad, while Jessie Gibbons competes in the women’s bracket.

The team has improbably produced a national medal winner who is glad the university offers an organized outlet through which cyclists can compete. Pearo would like to build up the Lynx team so that it creates momentum and perpetuates after he completes his master’s in finance. There is hope on the horizon as an elite female road cyclist – Manuela Escobar of Colombia – is planning to attend CU Denver next fall.

Pearo’s national title is even more impressive considering he works full time at TIAA-CREF in Denver in addition to pursuing a graduate degree. The Business School’s online classes offer much-needed flexibility for Pearo as his busy schedule includes 300-plus miles a week of training on the bike.

He intends to take advantage of Colorado’s strong cycling culture and continue to race at a higher level. He is not ruling out even loftier aspirations, including racing on an international stage.

“Long term, I’d love to see the world on a bike,” he said. “I want to push it as far as I can.”