On May 5, 2017, the CU Denver Cycling Team burst into an elite field: Cyrus Pearo, the lone male rider on a tiny Lynx team (just two cyclists) sprinted to the finish in Grand Junction to win the USA Cycling Collegiate Road National Championships.
Almost a year later – on St. Patrick’s Day – the Lynx squad blazed into even greener pastures: Manuela Escobar, a new team member, joined Pearo among the top finishers at a collegiate race in Fort Collins. After the 44-mile circuit, Escobar, who hails from Colombia, tweeted a selfie: “I just got second at my first collegiate road race!”
So this spring, with the team up to eight members, the still-small-but-mightier Lynx are turning heads at competitions around the state. With Pearo and Escobar at the fore in the men’s and women’s divisions, cyclists in CU Denver black-and-gold are legitimate contenders for top medals at the season-ending nationals in May.
‘They know we’re good’
“It’s a small team, but we have a national champion and he gets to wear that jersey,” Escobar said of Pearo, who played a key role in recruiting her. “His championship gives CU Denver’s cycling team that importance, and people are afraid of us because they know we’re good. It’s really fun.”
Pearo expects to finish his master’s in finance in the Business School in May, so his collegiate cycling career is winding down. But he sees a bright future for the young Lynx team. “It’s awesome. Having more of a team, even if it is still small, is great,” he said. “Having Manuela come out and knock out a second-place is great. That’s top-tier already. Manuela has a long time frame in front of her; I’m near the end of mine.”
Escobar is a freshman majoring in international studies. She and her mother toured several universities in fall 2016, and they were impressed by everything offered by CU Denver. Escobar found Pearo’s email address online – he was listed as Lynx team captain – and arranged a meeting during her first-ever trip to Colorado.
‘CU Denver has everything’
“Cyrus told me that riding here was fun. He said, ‘We have mountains, and the team was trying to grow,’” Escobar said. “I like CU Denver because it’s downtown, but at the same time it’s easy to get out and ride my bike. So, CU Denver has everything – great training, great academics and great internship options.”
CU Denver launched its Club Sports program in 2012, and students across the athletic spectrum are excited the university offers an organized outlet through which they can compete in their favorite sport.
Escobar discovered cycling somewhat by accident. Her mother, a former triathlete, got Escobar interested in triathlons. “I wasn’t a very good swimmer, but in the cycling portion of the races I would pass everyone,” Escobar said. “I realized I enjoyed cycling and was good at it, so I decided to give it a try.”
Escobar, now 21, raced professionally in Colombia for 2 ½ years before coming to Colorado last fall. Escobar and Pearo double up on race weekends during the collegiate season: collegiate-division races take place in the morning, followed by open-division races in the afternoon. Pearo said the collegiate races remain a big challenge for CU Denver, because teams that are much bigger – such as CU Boulder, Colorado State University and even Colorado Mesa University – can tactically dictate each race’s outcome.
The national competition, which again will take place in Pearo’s hometown of Grand Junction, actually favors smaller teams such as CU Denver, Pearo said. Because so many more teams are represented in the field, each squad must be smaller, thereby reducing each team’s overall much tactical advantage.
‘Not able to fly under radar’
Pearo, a “semi-professional” who also rides for Team Rio Grande in Denver, said he’s been “in the mix” at races so far this young season. “I’m not quite where I’d like to be, but I’m not able to fly under the radar anymore like last year, especially when I’m wearing this thing (national champion jersey) on my back,” he said.
Pearo and Escobar each train about 15 to 20 hours a week. Pearo’s time is more constrained, as he works full-time as a retirement advisor at TIAA-CREF in addition to going to class. Their wish list for future cycling support includes a training studio on campus and a support vehicle to help transport riders and their expensive gear to races. Pearo and Escobar recognize that CU Denver is still in the fledgling stages of its Club Sports program, and they both look forward to this spring’s opening of the Lola & Rob Salazar Student Wellness Center.
The team has enjoyed the coaching of Michael Carter, a former professional who competed at the Tour de France. “He helps with training plans,” Pearo said. “It’s good to have a coach like him here.”
With great coaching, new talent and a perfect setting in the heart of cycling country – “Location-wise, we’ve got it pretty darn good,” Pearo said – the future indeed looks bright for the Lynx cyclists.
As if Pearo’s talent isn’t enough to worry about, the competition is quickly learning that CU Denver has another racer to fear. After that second-place finish in Fort Collins, Escobar said, “It gives me motivation to keep on working harder; I want to accomplish more!”
LYNX TEAM SPIRIT
First-year member Manuela Escobar loves the CU Denver Cycling Club’s team spirit. At a March race, she said, “Cyrus (Pearo) was my hero because I don’t have a car and he gave me a ride to Fort Collins. He also helped me get a place to stay overnight.” For the same event, first-year rider Jeremy Jacobs carpooled with teammate Jessie Gibbons, who, although too ill herself to race that day, generously offered to drive teammates to Fort Collins.
Gibbons, who will graduate this spring, placed first in her category at the season-opening race at Denver University. “She’s been instrumental – a real force to get this team going,” Pearo said.
Yet another bright spot is on the horizon: Lauren De Crescenzo, who used to ride professionally, may be competing for the Lynx at nationals.