At 5:30 in the morning they strap on their helmets, then fasten their cleats. Mounting their bikes, they ride to Belmont to meet their coach by 6 a.m. Forty miles and two grueling hours later, the members of the rejuvenated Harvard University Cycling Association return to Cambridge to catch some last minute sleep before class.
After a 50-year layoff, competitive biking has returned to Harvard. David "Deke" Smith '58, an official in the University Development Office, and he current Massachusetts Masters (45 years and older) Biking Champion, founded the organization in December.
"I knew Princeton, Yale and Boston University all had bike teams--I just figured that Harvard ought to have one too." A friend gave Smith a book about Harvard Clubs in the 19th century and he discovered that Harvard had had a University Cycling Association as 'early as 1890, dedicated "to the intention of broadening the sport into areas hitherto unattained."
"Since I had the same intention we're calling the club by its old name." Smith said, "So even though we've only been in existence a few months we are one of the oldest bike clubs in the country."
The squad's first meeting drew a surprisingly sizable audience, and the club now boasts 31 members, three of whom are women.
Some of the top-ranked cyclists in the Greater Boston area joined Smith's charges when serious practices started in March, and the Crimson workouts have been exceptionally high-caliber as a result.
"Working out with really good riders not only picks up the pace, but it gives us pointers in technique and experience in race conditions," senior John Swansey noted.
The team ran into its firs real difficulties while trying to find an appropriate race for its season opener. Smith called the director of intercollegiate Eastern cycling, who told the Harvard coach to start his own race.
So, last Sunday, the club, in conjunction with other Boston collegiate cycling teams, sponsored the first "Greater Boston Collegiate Criterium." The meet, held in Needham Industrial Park, drew 96 participants from 19 colleges, making it the largest American collegiate meet in recent history.
In the Criterium--a short (16-28 miles) race held on a circular course--the Crimson entered five men in the 28-mile mens "A" race, two in 20-mile "B" competition and two women in their 16-mile event Quite unexpectedly. Swansey finished second in the Men's B race, and sophomore Dove Scherr looked strong until she crashed late in the women's race.
Swansey who has biked before but spends most of his time rowing varsity crew, finds, bike racing a unique challenge.
"It's not like ordinary riding You've got to learn how to catch somebody's draft [known as drafting or "wheel sucking"] and how to ride full speed in a pack of people elbowing pushing and lighting to get ahead of you."
Future plans for the club include some scrimmages against MIT, trips to Princeton and the University of Vermont, and a lot of uncertainty.
But, says Smith, "It we can get 96 people to show up to bike in Boston in a sleet storm, I know this club can go far."