While the Durango DEVO, Fort Lewis Cycling and other organizations have been helping develop strong bikers for years in Durango, Rotem Ishay noticed one piece of the puzzle was missing here that would help the area’s top cyclists go pro.
That missing piece is why he founded Team Durango Segment 28, a regional pro development team focused on mountain biking, in 2021.
Ishay said the athletes would get to a certain level and then have to find another team to represent, like the Bear National Team in California.
“They would still ride here and develop here, but then they would go to national races and wear the colors of California or different states,” he said.
Ishay said the team’s vision goals are twofold: to promote cycling in the region, specifically mountain biking and competitive racing. Its second goal is to support fast and dedicated riders to become professional athletes and professional human beings.
Team Durango Segment 28 started with a pro development team, but this year it added a bridge team for younger riders, 15-18 years old. Its pro team races in the U23 division.
“The young kids are just sponges and soak everything up,” said team director Keiran Eagen.
Eagen was one of the team’s original members and after graduating out of the program last year took over as the team director this year.
“It makes for a pretty amazing experience,” Eagen said. “As a racer to have that support from local businesses and people you know is so amazing. It really gives kids hope they have an option to have a team they can get on. It creates a really good pathway.”
Its pro team currently has four members: Ivan Sippy, Michaela Thompson, Dane Grey and Carson Beard.
Beard, an FLC racer, recently represented the USA at the World Cup race in Nove Mesto in the Czech Republic. Beard finished 16th in the men’s U23 cross-country Olympic race.
“He was the top American in the U23 race,” Eagen said. “Sixteenth is a pretty incredible result. It’s really exciting.”
The bridge team has five members: Riley Huston, Kai Lokey, Liam Bezek, Emmett McManus and Max Johnson. Sam Vickery coaches the bridge athletes, Ishay coaches the pro team while Eagen focuses on logistics to make sure everything goes smooth for the team here and at races.
The bridge team recently joined forces to compete in the 12 Hours of Mesa Verde, by Cortez, and won the open team category by about 40 minutes.
“The bridge racers have been crushing it,” Eagen said.
“It’s cool that us pros are able to work with the young riders on the bridge team,” Thompson said. “It adds so much to the energy; they have so much stoke and it really motivates me.”
Thompson also races for FLC and said riding for both the Skyhawks and Segment 28 works out “super well” because they’re both “incredibly supportive” and the schedules don’t overlap.
“At the beginning of the year we each meet with the director and plan the season out,” Thompson said. “It’s very goal oriented.”
Her current goals are focused on the national championships, but long term she said she wants make a career out of cycling.
Grey, meanwhile, has had such a strong early season that he had to go back and make some bigger goals.
“He’s been on a really good roll,” Ishay said. “He’s made a massive jump.”
Team Durango Segment 28 has a team calendar, featuring the U.S. Pro Cup stops, some UCI races and also some regional races. The athletes can then do personal races, and get some support in those events as well. Thompson, for instance, also plans to do some longer endurance gravel races this season.
Having not only the terrain that Durango has, but also the teammates to ride with is another huge part of the team.
“It’s extremely important, and highly motivating,” Eagen said. “That's why Durango has so many great cyclists: we have the community, and Segment 28 fits right in.”
“The best training is working with others, especially in mountain biking,” Ishay said. “When you ride behind a fast kid, that’s where you improve your handling skills.”
The team, however, doesn’t seek to be a professional World Cup team. Instead, it wants to provide the bridge for the athletes to spend a few years developing and then get on a factory or other pro team.
Lauren Aggeler, for instance, rode with Team Durango Segment 28 last year. After winning a junior national title and then two club collegiate national titles for Northern Arizona University, she signed with a pro team: Trinity Racing, Durango Olympian and short-track world champion Christopher Blevins’ former team.
“She’s got an amazing opportunity to race with a world class level team,” Ishay said.
Besides Beard, who is still in Europe racing, the rest of the team will race in at least one event this week during the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic.
Thompson said she’ll do the short-track race on Friday at Chapman Hill, the road race on Saturday and then the mountain bike race on Sunday.
A concussion kept her out of the events last year, but she did the Iron Horse two years ago.
“I think it’s great; the atmosphere is incredible,” Thompson said, noting that more people participated than she thought there would be.
Isham called the Iron Horse the “Durango World Championships,” saying that it’s a lot more competitive than other local races.
“I was a pretty good racer when I moved to Durango 15 years ago, but I remember the Iron Horse was like a World Cup feeling,” Ishay said. “Seeing the town colored by cycling is just beautiful.”
“In terms of racing, it’s just as intense as anything else,” Eagen said. “From a team perspective, it’s a little more relaxed. It’s a fun weekend to show off the team and represent our local sponsors.”
Eagen said they’ll have a team tent set up at Chapman Hill on Friday and Sunday and invited the community to stop by and meet the team’s riders.
“We don’t bite,” he said.
After the Iron Horse, the team will next race together at a UCI event in Missoula, Montana.
Then, before the USA Cycling national championships in Bear Creek Mountain Resort Pennsylvania July 5-9, the team will spend a week preparing in Bentonville, Arkansas, to acclimate to the heat and humidity.