Whether you realized it or not, the past week has been a big one for the Roanoke Valley. Virginia’s Blue Ridge, the local tourist board, has taken another step in a series that seriously boosts Roanoke’s profile among outdoor recreation enthusiasts.
This one involves Roanoke College, the Lutheran-affiliated private school in nearby Salem. Well known in NCAA Division III athletics for its lacrosse, soccer and basketball programs, Roanoke College is turning to competitive cycling.
For the first time in its history, the 180-year-old institution will field men’s and women’s cycle racing teams, initially as a club sport. The plan is for the program to fit into full-fledged varsity teams competing in the Atlantic Collegiate Cycling Conference.
To lead the new program, the college hired Shelley Olds, a 2003 graduate and exercise physiologist from Arizona. Olds, 42, was a star soccer player rather than a bike racer during her college days at Salem, and she captained the Maroons women’s team for two years.
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But after college, at age 26, she injured herself training for a marathon. That’s when Olds started riding bikes. Since then, she has participated in and won some of the greatest cycling races in the world.
Here are some excerpts from his long racing CV:
1st place, Challenge Madrid 2015 (Vuelta España).
1st place, 2010 Pan Am Road Race Championships.
1st place, China 2012 World Cup.
Also in 2012, Olds won Stage 4 of the mountainous Giro d’Italia, arguably the second most famous (and toughest) cycling race in the world. Winning even a single stage of this is a giant moment in any racing cyclist’s career.
That same year, Olds placed 7th at the London Olympics, after flattening and falling back towards the end of the women’s road race.
Now she lives near Carvins Cove, which offers 10,000 acres of premier mountain biking trails just minutes from downtown.
The college and the tourism board arranged a meet and greet with Olds Thursday morning at the Roanoke Hotel with area media.
“We are very excited to have Shelley come to Roanoke,” said Tom Rambo, dean of students at the college. “She is living proof that Roanoke College is a place where students can grow and find their purpose.”
“No matter what we build, I bring serious biking and the biggest dreams possible,” Olds told me. “We are a team, we work together.”
Olds is also the athletic director of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Twenty24, a professional women’s cycling team that moved its headquarters from Boise, Idaho, to Roanoke earlier this year. This was another stop by the tourist board which highlights the recreational opportunities of this area.
Owned by Nicola Cranmer (who also moved here), the team has won more national recognition, World and Olympic championships, and medals than any other sports development team in America.
The tourist board announced the team’s move in January. And in June and July, dozens of racing cyclists traveled here from across America for the 2022 USA National Amateur Road Cycling Championships. Roanoke will also host those championships next year.
In 2021, the tourism board sponsored the first Carilion Clinic Ironman 70.3 Virginia’s Blue Ridge, the only official Ironman triathlon event in Virginia that year. Over 1,900 athletes showed up for this three-sport event, and the number was 2,500 this year. Nearly 3,000 competitors have already registered for a planned 2023 Ironman.
Adding a varsity bike racing team to such a mix “is kind of a validation that we’re on the right track,” said Pete Eshelman, who has worked with the Roanoke Regional Partnership to organize events. outdoor sports and entertainment venues in Roanoke for over a year. decade.
Eshelman founded the Blue Ridge Marathon in 2010, which has earned a reputation among distance runners as one of America’s toughest foot races. It was one of the first steps towards changing the city’s identity from a former railway town to a place known for the outdoors.
“What he’s saying is that a local college realizes the beauty of the area we live in and having access to the outdoors is a strength not just for the community, but for the college,” said Eshelman. Basically, the college takes advantage of outdoor opportunities in the Roanoke Valley to attract students.
The faces of these bike race maroons will change each year as some racers graduate and leave the area. And as they spread across the country, they’ll talk about their college bike racing careers and West Virginia’s great cycling opportunities.
This word of mouth serves as a sort of organic marketing effort for the region.
Having a professional team in Roanoke raises the profile of cycling in the Roanoke Valley, but it also does more.
The really big accolades come from how he raises the profile of the Roanoke Valley in the outside world of cycling, both nationally and internationally. There’s a lot of money out there – biking is a $56 billion a year sport.
These riders travel the world and tell other international cyclists about Roanoke. This telegraphs the message that the Roanoke Valley is a great place to ride and train.
“It’s all part of a giant puzzle,” Eschelman said. “Over time, we plant seeds that transform the DNA of the community into an outdoor recreation destination. Ten years ago, the outdoors was not something anyone paid much attention to.
This gradual shift in identity has benefited Roanoke residents in big and small ways, Eshelman noted. One such manifestation is the growing number of dedicated bike lanes on Roanoke roads where none existed before.
These are important as they help less experienced local cyclists feel more comfortable on the city streets. (City drivers, meanwhile, feel more comfortable when cyclists are also in dedicated lanes.)
Another is the gradual expansion of the Roanoke Valley Greenway System, which is a huge reality today compared to the mere idea it was 25 years ago.
And yet another is the impressive network of trails at Carvins Cove, which officially opened for cycling around 20 years ago and has been gradually improved since.
In other words, our new identity seems to be firming up quickly. And Shelley Olds is here because of it.
“It’s so exciting,” she told me Thursday morning. “I haven’t felt that passion for something in a while.”
Contact Subway Columnist Dan Casey at 981-3423 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter:.