Back on the Road
Release Date: 02-24-2009
Cyclocross rider and UVM senior Will Dugan won the national collegiate championship in December, marking the third consecutive year a UVMer has won the race. (Photo: Mitchell Clinton)
Nicknames are badges of honor in the European cycling world: "The Cannibal," Eddy Merckx; "The Badger," Bernard Hinault; "The Professor," Laurent Fignon; "The Pirate," Marco Pantani, to name a few. The monikers are usually bestowed by fans, the press, fellow riders. But riding in Europe earlier this winter, UVM senior Will Dugan came upon his own Euro-cycling nickname through a non-traditional source — a typo. After one race posted his results under the name William Dragon, "The Dragon" was born.
Back in the states, Dugan smiles when he mentions the nickname in conversation and jokes about it in the listserv banter with his UVM Cycling teammates, but still, he's got "The Dragon" going for him, which is nice.
A more tangible athletic honor came Dugan's way last December when he won the national collegiate cyclocross championship, a race held in Kansas City, Missouri. That victory marked the third consecutive year a UVM rider has won the race. Jamey Driscoll '10, who finished second in the men's elite race at this year's championships, was collegiate national champ in 2007 and 2006.
Cyclocross races are held off-road on grass/mud/pavement circuits with barriers that force riders to hop off and on their bikes mid-race. The frames and tires are beefed up cousins of road gear; and the top riders are often road cyclists with strong bike handling skills and the leg, lung, and cardio power to prevail in a race that is usually more about sheer aerobic endurance than tactics. Dugan sighs quietly when asked about the rigors of the 2008 championship. "It was the hardest `cross race I've ever done," he says. "I definitely pushed a lot harder than I usually do."
Dugan's cyclocross success and sponsorship support from Richard Sachs, a custom bike frame builder, gave him the chance to train with other promising young American cyclocross riders at a European camp over the semester break. He also tested himself against international competition in the U23 World Championships in Hoogerheide, Holland. "It wasn't my greatest race," Dugan says of his mid-pack finish. "I had some mechanical problems and the whole nervous energy from Worlds."
Dugan is back on more familiar terrain now, concentrating on his final semester of classes and training for his last season as a collegiate racer. Hard to fathom in snowy Vermont, but UVM Cycling's first race weekend of the year, March 7-8 at Rutgers University, is fast approaching. By season's end, Dugan is hoping he can add a national championship on the road to his cycling CV, improving on a third place finish in the championship his sophomore year.
Studying bio-behavioral psychology with thoughts of attending medical school, Dugan is frank about the challenges of handling academics and a sport that demands nearly year-round training.
"It's not only the four hours of riding, you've got to recover, do bike maintenance," Dugan says. "Trying to balance that freshman year was difficult. I think I failed at balancing. I got more A's in bike racing than I did in school."
But Dugan feels he's gotten the situation under control since that first year. Though the lead-up to the cyclocross nationals admittedly took a toll on his fall semester finals, he maintains a solid A/B grade-point. The discipline of planning out his own racing and training schedule has carried over into taking care of business in the classroom.
Brian Gilley, assistant professor of anthropology, is faculty advisor to UVM Cycling, a sideline to which he brings passion for the sport and serious credentials from several years competing as a sponsored mountain biker in the 1990s. Gilley has come to know Dugan during his years at UVM and credits the young rider's success, in part, to his maturity. "Will has the ability to check himself, check his ego, which is key to development," Gilley says. "When you look at juniors, it's the ones who listen and learn who continue to improve." Down the road, Gilley sees a chance for Dugan to earn a spot on the national development squad, a rarity for cyclists from the Northeast, and perhaps one of the surest paths to a career in the sport for an American rider.
Post-UVM, expect that Dugan will spend ample time turning the cranks on his bike and studying up for MCAT exams. But if medical school is in his future, it will have to wait a bit, he says. Dugan is determined to first test the full reach of his potential as a cyclist. Road or cyclocross, Europe or the United States, he's open to seeing where talent, hard work, and opportunity lead.
"I feel like I've made a lot of accomplishments in the cycling world while I've been in school," Dugan says. "Putting all my energy in one place will give me a chance to make it in the sport."