Black Cyclist

Ask me about the athletic sport of cycling and all I can intelligently conjure are images of the renowned Lance Armstrong and a sad demise that stripped him of championship titles due to a shameless doping scheme. Couple that with loose familiarity of Tour de France and those fab spandex shirts stitched with multi-sponsor labels worn by white men balancing skinny bicycle seats and pedaling fast across European landscapes. That’s all I got.

Where are the Blacks? Like many sports considered elite, blacks remained historically absent from the scene until a barrier was broken (and broken) (and broken). In our May 20 edition, The Miami Times featured Simone Manuel, the first black woman to win a gold medal in swimming at the 2016 Rio Olympic games.

Jackie Robinson hit black barriers out ballparks for Major League baseball. Althea Gibson served ‘black love firsts’ in tennis and just five years ago, Wendell Scott was the first black inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Well cycling, too, had a black first, and he was a star.

Marshall W “Major” Taylor (1878-1932) was a two-wheeled trailblazer who in 1903, won 32 first places, 30 second places and four third and four fourth places, all during a four month stint in Europe. He retired from the sport in 1910 and later penned his own memoir titled, “The Fastest Bicycle Rider in the World.”

HBCU adds first cycling team

Taylor became the world's first black athletic superstar, and 120 years later, a historically black college and university (HBCU) is continuing his legacy

Saint Augustine's University, in Raleigh, North Carolina is forming the first cycling team at an HBCU.

"We're excited to be the first HBCU to formally have a collegiate cycling team," said Umar Muhammad, a professor at the university and a coach on the team, in a statement. "This team plans to pay homage to Taylor, as well as make its own mark on the sport."

In a sport dominated by white men, Taylor broke numerous barriers in cycling, despite facing racism and hatred. In 1899, he became the world cycling champion, only the second black world champion in any sport after Canadian-born bantamweight boxer George Dixon, according to the Major Taylor Association.

The Saint Augustine's university administration formally announced the formation of their first HBCU cycling team in the country in an April 29 press release. Representatives said the team has recently been approved and registered by USA Cycling  to compete in the collegiate club Atlantic division against dozens of other schools in the Southeast.

The team, which has been in the works since the summer of 2019, will be coached by professors Umar Muhammad and Dr. Mark Janas, both of whom teach in the business school at Saint Augustine's University. The team will begin competition as early as Fall 2020 and plans to start with a roster of approximately ten student-athletes, several of whom compete in other collegiate sports.

"We're excited to be the first HBCU to formally have a collegiate cycling team," says Muhammad who continues,  "What many may not realize is that while cycling might be new to most HBCU's, African Americans have made huge contributions to the sport of cycling.  In fact, cycling's first superstar, and arguably the sport's first international superstar, was a black athlete named Major Taylor. This team plans to pay homage to Taylor, as well as make its own mark on the sport."

Dr. Janas adds, "We have the opportunity with this team to be part of several 'firsts.'  In addition to launching the first HBCU cycling team, the virtual cycling events planned for the Fall will segue nicely into the new sports IT and esports management content offered in the business school."

The team has already been approved and registered by USA Cycling, and those interested can begin watching the team compete as early as this fall.

For now, the team plans to compete with a group of about ten athletes, and the school is also planning a number of virtual cycling events, too, -- something Taylor wouldn't have had. 

For more information about the Saint Augustine's University cycling team, please contact Umar Muhammad at utmuhammad@st-aug.edu or Dr. Mark Janas at mjanas@st-aug.edu.

 staugfalcons.com and cnn.com contributed content used in this feature.

Managing Editor

Penny Dickerson is a journalist joining The Miami Times following an Africa sojourn and 10-year freelance career in newspaper and magazine. She earned her MFA in creative writing from Lesley University, and B.A. in Journalism from Temple University.

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