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Chattanooga Times Free Press (Tennessee)


Collegiate-level cycling has been gaining traction over the last few years, with more and more schools offering the sport as well as scholarships for cyclists. Milligan College, for example, in the northeast corner of Tennessee, might not be a football powerhouse, but it is packing both a men's and women's team that have attended multiple national championships, and has offered thousands of dollars each to "players" in that field.

Morgan Miller is a junior at Milligan and one of the 10 women on the school's female cycling team. Growing up in Bradley County, she got experience in high school with the Velo Vixens, a women's-only multi-sport club team based in Chattanooga. Though already accustomed to the trials of competitive cycling, Miller says collegiate cycling offers much different challenges come race day.

"Our main goal is to get one of us to win," she says, emphasis on "one of us." Whereas most club teammates compete on a solo level, collegiate cycling is a true team sport.

The technical aspects of team road racing and the new challenges of cyclocross posed a steep learning curve when Miller joined Milligan's team as a freshman.

"We have to work together to get our person across first," she says. "While some girls' results might look poor on the sheet, it was a team effort."

That team effort is growing every single year, says Jack Nave, Milligan's head coach. When Morgan joined the team three years ago, she was one of three women. Now, the women's team is 11 strong, and Nave says several promising prospects have signed on for next year.

"We're one of the bigger women's teams in the U.S., and we're excited about the growth on both sides. We're seeing other college teams popping up and schools offering scholarships," he says.

Many of those prospects have a story similar to Morgan's. Her fitness level and skill in road cycling were excellent, but she wasn't grounded in team strategy or the technical skills related to mountain biking or cyclocross.

"There's a smaller women's field in Tennesse, and although numbers are growing, a lot of my recruits have raced on teams of just a handful or solo," Nave says. "Even though the men's teams are more diverse, I'd say most of my cyclists have road cycling backgrounds."

As cyclocross and competitive mountain biking become more widespread in the Southeast, Nave expects more high school programs to pop up to support the desire of young cyclists.

"I wish I had dates to give, but we're working on organizing camps over the summer to introduce some of these concepts to kids," he says. "We're very excited at what the future can bring."

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January 23, 2017


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