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Published July 23 2012

Cycling has strong base of support in region


Pretty much all of the stories sound the same.

This is all part of the goal to make sure others keep telling the same old story.

“I’ve always liked riding bikes for the joy of it,” said 56-year-old Fargo resident Brian Dahl. “That’s how I got started.”

Speak with an area cycling enthusiast and they’ll tell you in so many words that’s how they got started.

These stories, over time, have helped construct a cycling community which has a grip within Fargo-Moorhead and beyond.

Cycling has built a strong following to the point where its effect is felt everywhere.

Grand Forks is home to the University of North Dakota’s cycling team, which won a Division III title in 2012.

Back in June, there was a race “Bike the Border” which was a trek across northwest North Dakota for riders of all skillsets.

Other races have included the UND-North Dakota State bicycle race, a 27-year venture which is used for a charity fundraiser and a way to continue a rivalry between the state’s two largest schools.

Though the race featured all types of riders, it was a platform for a few of the area’s more serious riders to compete.

“There is a trophy that is given out and it does have the winner’s name at the bottom of it,” race organizer Tonia Splonskowski told The Forum in 2011. “Then there’s bragging rights too.”

Businesses have also taken the need to make sure cycling grows.

Companies such as Dakota Cycling are based in Theodore Roosevelt National Park where they host tours through the park.

There’s also the Great Northern Bicycle Company in Fargo, which hosts rides nearly every day.

“Most of us here in the community, we want to foster getting people involved,” said Larry Skaggen, a manager at the Great Northern Bicycle Company. “We are not elite sales people trying to promote bikes, but we are cyclists trying to promote a green environment, good health and the rides are an extension of that.”

Summer Fun

Though cycling is an Olympic sport, it finds itself in a different situation than most of its counterparts.

Other sports such as fencing, judo and gymnastics use the Olympics as a chance to showcase the best their sport has to offer.

Cycling has another summer-based medium in the Tour de France which does the same thing.

“I think it is a part of our culture and we enjoy it and get involved,” Skaggen said. “The Tour de France, it is like soccer with the World Cup and it is a big deal.”

Even with the Tour de France being the sport’s marquee event, the Olympics and cycling have formed a partnership.

Cycling has been an event at all but one Olympiad since modern Olympic Games began in 1896, according to the International Olympic Committee.

The United States has won 14 gold medals in cycling, the fourth-most of any nation.

Cycling-crazed France, where cycling is only second to soccer in national prominence, has won the most gold medals.

“I think as far as the Tour de France being annual, it is certainly a big thing,” said Jeremy Christiansen, who is president of the Fargo-based Great Plains Cycling Club. “The Olympics are great. A lot of people watch the Tour but I think the Olympics maybe are broadcasted more and more and as a cycling event, there are some unique things to see more than the road races.’

Road races – like the Tour de France – are what most typically think of when it comes to competitive cycling.

Cycling actually has four categories at this year’s Olympics.

There is road cycling; track cycling, mountain biking and BMX, which is making its second Olympic appearance.

In all, there will be 444 participants (331 men; 113 women) who will compete in cycling during these Olympics.

“Races like the Tour and the Giro (D’Italia) get more press coverage and it’s driven more,” Christiansen said. “But the Olympics are great and do have some unique features.”

A perfect cycle

It was back in the 1970s when the state started to have more people take an active interest in cycling.

One of them was a youth in Grand Forks, who started out doing a few fun rides here and there.

By 1988, that same youth turned into the man known as Andy Hampsten, the only American to ever win the Giro D’Italia.

The Giro D’Italia is part of cycling’s Triple Crown.

If the Tour De France is cycling’s crown jewel, the Giro D’Italia is certainly the second largest and nicest stone there is.

“(The interest in cycling across North Dakota) has broadened a bit,’ Hampsten said from his home in Boulder, Colo. “It is really cool if you can go do the Tour De France and be famous if the road leads you there. But if someone doesn’t want to be a racer, it is still a really good activity.”

Hampsten is the living embodiment of how cycling in North Dakota has progressed.

International acclaim aside, he and his brother created a cycling brand with a store in Seattle.

Who knows? There could be a chance the next big North Dakota cyclists could be riding one of his bikes right now.

There’s certainly a good chance of that.

Different cities across the state have provided multiple outlets for cyclists.

Fargo, for example, has the rides from the Great Northern Bicycle Company and Great Plains Cycling Club.

“We started off as a strictly competitive club, mostly on the road racing side of things,” Christiansen said. “We are still racing-focused, but we are becoming a place people can use as a resource if they want to race or try something else.”

Christiansen, who also works at Great Northern Bicycle Company, said the GPCC was founded in 2004.

Since then, it has tried to foster the interest for cyclers in the area.

Skaggen moved to Fargo in the early 1980s and raced into the 1990s.

He said there were a few races here and there but now it has expanded.

“You have community races from Fertile to Park Rapids to Detroit Lakes,” he said. “Today, it is more structured. I think it is just more widely accepted and a lot more people are doing it and there is more of a diverse crowd.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Ryan S. Clark at (701) 241-5548.

Clark’s Force blog can be found

at slightlychilled.areavoices.com