Alejandro Rivera joins Red Zone Racing Team
In less than two months, cyclocross competitors from around the world will pedal into Louisville, KY, for the 2013 UCI Cyclocross World Championships. This is the first time the 50-year-old event has ever been staged outside of Europe. And…Louisville is ready!
Alejandro Rivera pulls ahead of other cyclists in a recent race.
So… what is “cyclocross”? Cyclocross developed in the early 1900s, primarily in Europe, as a way for road racers to squeeze in off-season training, and events still traditionally take place in the fall and winter. Riders do laps, usually almost two miles long (3 kilometers), often through mud, sand, grass and even creeks. They dismount and carry bikes over manmade or natural barriers. Races typically last between 30 to 60 minutes.
According to USA Cycling, cyclocross is officially the nation’s fastest-growing two-wheeled discipline. Over the last five years, participation jumped from 32,000 to 72,000, and many of the new riders are women and juniors.
And that’s where this story begins. More than five years ago in 2007, several local bike enthusiasts got together to figure out a way to get kids on bikes and into bike racing. A year later, more than 30 and sometimes almost 50 kids began converging on River Road Country Club on Friday evenings to learn the sport of cyclocross from local racers. As a result, Red Zone Cycling was born. Its results already include podium finishes at several Cyclocross National Championships by both male and female Red Zone cyclists.
Red Zone works one kid at a time. Its results already include podium placings at the 2007 Cyclocross National Championships. Just as important, perhaps more important, Red Zone’s results include lots of kids who have taken up cycling and gone from sedentary to active, and these kids are spreading the word to their friends. As a result of their success, Red Zone has helped put Louisville on the national cyclocross map. People have taken notice of both the team’s race results and its participation level.
John Haley is the head coach for the Red Zone Cycling team. He has been involved in cycling for more than three decades. One of the reasons for his involvement in the program was the opportunity to introduce cycling to kids who otherwise may not have had the opportunity to learn the sport.
Last year, Red Zone Cycling partnered with Bike Louisville, Jefferson County Public Schools, Metro Parks, and the Louisville Bicycle Club to create a program called Bike Sense, which is aimed at teaching riding skills, bike maintenance and basic repair, and bike fitness and fun to kids in two elementary schools – initially at Rangeland and Wellington Elementary Schools. John Rolf Eisinger, an Engineering Technician
for Louisville Metro Public Works with a focus on Bicycle Infrastructure, heads up the Bike Louisville Program.
Haley met up with Eisinger earlier this year to discuss how Bike Louisville might be involved in a program they created called Friday Night Middlecross. Haley, who has known Eisinger for many years, has always wanted to help kids. What evolved was likely more than what Haley had envisioned. Eisinger was able to bridge a gap by connecting Louisville Metro Parks and kids from several of their community centers with Red Zone Cycling’s Friday Middlecross program. Red Zone kids got the opportunity help demonstrate/teach cyclocross.
“This learning experience not only benefited the kids from the community centers, but also our Red Zone Racing kids by giving them the opportunity to give back to our community. In fact, “giving back” is the core value of our organization,” said Haley.
One of the participants of Red Zone Cycling’s Friday Middlecross program was 15-year-old Iroquois High School sophomore, Alejandro Rivera. Rivera has been participating in programs at the Beechmont Community Center for nearly seven years. In 2003, at the age of six, Rivera, and his mother Olga Rodriquez and his sister Marian, moved to Louisville from Camaguey, Cuba. Soon after arriving, Rivera started hanging out at the Beechmont Community Center, and participating in the programs.
Alejandro Rivera is pictured above leaning against his bike with Charles “Chaz” Bullard at the Beechmont Community Center.
Charles Bullard, better known as “Chaz”, is a Recreation Assistant at the community center. He fondly remembers meeting Rivera not long after he regularly began coming to the center.
“Alejandro is a great kid! He stops by the center almost every day,” Bullard said.
During the summer, Bullard began recruiting kids to participate in the Middlecross program. Rivera, who began riding BMX bikes at the Louisville Extreme Park, was one of the kids asked to participate.
“Chaz asked me to go, but I really wasn’t that interested. I was more focused on baseball.” Rivera said.
Bullard continued to encourage Rivera to participate.
“Chaz was like, man, just try it one time. I believe you’ll really like it,” Rivera said.
He went on to say that Chaz was like a big-brother to him, and that he’d always listened to his advice in the past.
“This is the guy who first encouraged me to try baseball, which I did, and now I love it, and I’m pretty good at it. Maybe I should at least give it a try,” Rivera said.
Haley remembers the first time he really noticed Rivera. Haley and Mike Hewitt, owner, 2WheelSports, an Events Management company which also promotes cycling events in Louisville, Kentucky, and throughout the area were watching some of their junior level cyclocross riders leading the new participants in some cycling drills. Haley recalled, “Both of us first looked at Rivera, and then we looked at each other and said, WOW! We have to get this kid in the program!”
Rivera was only a bikes-length behind one of Red Zone’s national level cyclocross riders during the drill.
A week or so later, Haley offered Rivera a spot on the team.
On Sunday October 14th, Rivera travel to Cincinnati with the Red Zone Racing team to compete in a cyclocross event. With only a few weeks of practicing, Rivera finished 50th out of 75 in a race that also included adults.
“This is amazing,” said Marty Storch, Assistant Director, Louisville Metro Parks. “One of our community center kids is one day just riding his bike around the neighborhood, and literally a few weeks later he’s competing in a national cyclocross competition. This is truly exciting!”
Haley and the Red Zone Cycling team are equally excited. Following Rivera’s introduction to the team, one of the Red Zone Cycling team parents stopped by Eva Bandman and offered to let Rivera use one of their very expensive, specially-equipped cyclocross bikes.
“This is definitely an example of the sort of large-hearted giving I’d hoped for,” said Haley.
For Rivera, cycling is quickly moving up the chart. While his first love is still baseball, cycling is making a mad dash near the top of the list. Rivera competed in the 2012 USGP Derby City Cup this past November. Expect to see Rivera and other members of the Red Zone Cycling team to continue to compete in the future.
Join us at the 2013 UCI Cyclocross Championships at Eva Bandman Park in February - It’s going to be fun!