Ghisallo Foundation Cycling Team: 2012 Div. III Club of the Year


 by Gus Grissom
The team helps out in various ways in all corners of the Austin community.
The team helps out in various ways in all corners of the Austin community.
“A lot of folks, especially if they are new to the sport, don’t realize that [Madonna del] Ghisallo is the patron saint of cyclists,” explains Christopher Stanton, executive director of the Ghisallo Foundation and director of its headlining cycling team. His foundation and team have embraced this idea of patronage and taken under its care both a diverse group of bike racers and – more importantly – the larger community of Austin, Texas. That is just one of the many reasons the Ghisallo Foundation Racing Team was named USA Cycling’s Division III Club of the Year for 2012. The team truly sets an example of what is possible when even a small group of like-minded racing enthusiasts comes together in the service of others.
Stanton explains what makes Ghisallo such a unique group of racers. “We’ve got a very diverse group of riders, all types from masters to juniors, women and collegiate riders.” This, he adds, provides nearly as many challenges as it does opportunities.

“Sure, it’s tough sometimes to get the whole team together for a coordinated training camp or a team meeting,” he explains, “but it gives us a broad range of experience levels” for mutual support. Marc Granberry, one of the younger Category 4 racers who also races at the collegiate level for the University of Texas, speaks in glowing terms of the more experienced racers and the way they influence his racing style. “Our team is a great place to grow,” he says, “because we have a lot of Cat 4s, but we’ve also got some Cat 2s and 3s who are not too proud or too elite to help new racers like me out.”
The experienced riders, according to Andy Erikson, a seasoned Category 2 veteran, don’t serve as official coaches, but “we do hang out a lot on race day to give our younger riders feedback and to discuss the tactics of the race, what worked or didn’t work, and what we could do differently next time.” Additionally, Erikson explains, the older riders are responsible for setting up team training rides during which there will be specifically focused racing drills. It’s not just “let’s drop the new guys and show them how fast we are,” he explains, and this is important for team building. Team cohesion and veteran leadership like this, according to Stanton, is just another way the group “incentivizes participation at every level of amateur cycling.” At the end of the day, Erikson laughingly adds, “we’re all amateur racers and, no matter how fast we think we are, we’re still pretty slow compared to international racers and professionals. So it’s just more fun to be with guys who like helping each other out.”
Stanton also explains that the diversity among team members provides a lot of potential for a broad range of community service options, one of the team’s hallmark components. The breadth of the members’ experiences and lifestyles “gives us a lot of options in terms of ways we can benefit the local community and help the city of Austin.” For instance, he continues, while some of the college students may not always be able to work with local middle-school children on bike maintenance workshops during the school year, their flexible summer schedules allow them more time to help clean up bike paths in the summer months. As a result community service takes many forms for the Ghisallo Foundation Cycling Team and is best described as something that has evolved “as the team has grown,” according to Stanton.
When the team first began, Stanton continues, “we were like every new team: just a group of friends who had been racing together and wanted to try something new.” Community service became part of that “something new” experiment. 

“In our first year,” Stanton says, “we decided not to make community service a required aspect of team membership but something we would just try to do whenever possible.” The program, however, was so successful that Stanton explains it was quickly incorporated as a requirement for new members. “We had so many racers taking part in all of our activities that we decided to make it a requirement for new members to keep the momentum going,” he adds.
The service takes many forms, but the overall concept is simple: every member is expected to do between 10 to 12 hours of some type of community service. While the team offers many structured opportunities, such as working with local middle school children to teach safe riding and basic bike maintenance or working together to clean up local bike paths, many members’ schedules dictate that they create their own opportunities for service.

“Some of our racers,” Stanton says, “help out regularly at our bike maintenance clinics. But others just sort of adopt a section of the trails near their homes or college and do what they can to keep it clean and safe for other riders.” The point, he adds, is that everyone is doing something to benefit the broader community of Austin.
Erikson enthusiastically responds, “It’s a lot of fun being part of a group dedicated to giving back.” He, personally, is especially excited about the opportunities the team provides to the local youth clubs and schools.

“Some of our bike maintenance classes are with groups of kids in less affluent sections of Austin. For these kids, riding a bike to school or doing any recreational riding isn’t really a focus or even an opportunity due to financial constraints. So we are giving them an opportunity to develop a healthy, fitness-based lifestyle.” Part of that opportunity, Stanton adds, is helping students “earn a bike” by taking part in regular maintenance classes. He explains that the team gets a lot of donations, items such as bike parts and frames, from local sponsors that allow kids to work with the team’s racers to build their own bike from these parts and learn how to maintain it.

“Once a student has worked with us for three or four weeks, maybe an hour and half every week, they have a complete bike that they know how to maintain. Then it’s theirs and they get to ride it home with a helmet and some other gear donated by sponsors. These students,” he adds, “generally come back regularly to help their friends fix their own bikes, simple stuff like changing flat tires and simple drive-train maintenance.”
It is this advocacy for community, according to Granberry, who has also earned the rank of Eagle Scout through the Boy Scouts of America, that makes this team such a perfect fit. “I learned the importance of serving others as an Eagle Scout when I was younger,” he explains, “and so it was a perfect fit when I found a group of friendly people who shared not only my hobby, but also my values and desire to continue serving a broader community.”

And so it is that Ghisallo Racing, which is at its core a racing team focused on putting together a cohesive squad of athletes at every possible racing venue, has established a benchmark to which other teams can aspire. By completing hundreds of hours of community service over the course of the 2012 racing season, this team has established itself as a powerful force for good in the Austin community. With experienced racers helping the younger ones learn the nuances of competitive cycling and those younger racers, in turn, helping local students develop their own healthy lifestyle and safe riding venues, the city of Austin and the reputation of amateur cyclists everywhere is better for their efforts. They are truly deserving of the honor of Division III Club of the Year.

This Article Updated April 22, 2013 @ 04:22 PM For more information contact: