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The sun has set and the lights are on. Out on course, the peloton is a dark mass of colors, but one team in particular sticks out. The hot pink jerseys of theLevine Law Group team are easy to spot, no matter the speed or how dark the course.
The team out of the Mid-Atlantic is fielding both men’s and women’s squads for the 2018 USA CRITS season. Their hot pink jerseys fit right in with squad’s vibe, led by team manager Frank Cundiff’s ethos of ‘let’s just have fun racing our bikes.’
The women’s and men’s teams work seamlessly as one. They travel together and sometimes share housing. It’s all for one and one for all. At the Athens Twilight, Cundiff booked a farm just outside of town for the squad so that everyone could meet and get to know each other. Many on the team realized quickly that they are all quite alike — grinding through a full-time job Monday through Friday to enjoy the endorphins of bike racing on the weekends.
“We just enjoy the sport and just want to have fun with it. That’s where the ‘get rad’ mentality is,” Cundiff said, explaining the team’s motto. “It is just go out there and have fun with it. There’s no expectation. Do we all want to win? Yeah, it’s a competitive sport and we want to go out there and do our best and try to win as much as the next person, but we don’t base our team philosophy around just the results. We want to have fun with a good group of people, travel with a good group of people, and just enjoy bike racing and the atmosphere of the American crit scene.”
After racing solo last season, Cundiff came to the conclusion that stage racing was out of the question for him. He has a full-time job, making the stage-race schedule unbearable. But he realized criteriums suit him well. He didn’t just want to do local criteriums; he wanted to target those big races on the national stage. The races with prestige, exposure, and top-end competition.
Not surprisingly, there are many other riders just like Cundiff — those who love racing, especially the adrenaline-filled criteriums, but on weekends only.
When Cundiff was putting the finishing touches on his men’s squad, he thought it only fair to develop a women’s squad as well. He went back to Mike Levine of the Levine Law Group and asked for a few extra dollars. Immediately everyone was on board with the idea of having a women’s program as well.
“I called Lauren LeClaire, who travelled solo last year for all the big events and I said, ‘Hey, do you want to put a women’s squad together and be part of our team?’” Cundiff explained. “She said ‘Yeah,’ so I said ‘All right, let me know how many women you want and then I’ll put the budgets and schedule together.'”
The women’s squad, which came together just prior to the start of the season, has four riders — LeClaire, Emma Bast, Sam Fox, and Christy Kelly. The men’s side of the program has 10 riders, which include 2016 Athens Twilight winner Ryan Aitcheson and young-gun Kyle Penny.
Thrown into the deep end
Cundiff’s experience running a cycling team prior to this year was next to nothing. He’s learning it all on the fly, figuring it out as he goes. He handles all the travel and lodging logistics for the entire squad, approaching it as a project manager would. His plans are outlined on multiple spreadsheets that he analyzes before and after each weekend race, finding ways to streamline costs without compromising the experience for the program.
However, when it comes to race tactics, Cundiff put LeClaire in charge of the women’s squad.
“I don’t know women’s racing well enough, and I don’t know the field well enough to be able to give them tactics and feel like I’m not mansplaining bike racing to them,” Cundiff said.
LeClaire and Cundiff work together prior to each race weekend to determine who is going to the race and what travel and lodging they will need — how large of an AirBnB rental they need to book.
Not surprisingly, not everyone is available to go to every race weekend. Aitcheson has a full-time job running a bike shop in Canada, and Bast is a full-time law student at Georgetown University in Washington D.C. When life gets in the way for these guys, sometimes race weekends need to be missed.
Cundiff has learned = quickly that being a team manager and director is no easy task. “I want to apologize to every DS out there for over-simplifying the job, because I have learned very quickly it’s extremely stressful and tough,” Cundiff said. “It’s insane how quick, how difficult, and how stressful it is to manage travel and logistics for eight to 11 people. For the multi-day crit series, the weeks are just insane to manage because you’ve got flights, you’ve got lodging, you’ve got rental cars, you’ve got bikes and bike boxes, you’ve got food — the list grows very quickly.”
Cundiff has learned that it’s not easy being a team manager, but his “take things as they come” attitude helps him keep things under control.
Cundiff’s team may be flying under the radar in terms of talent, but he’s got a few tricks up his sleeve — and one of them is Bast.
“Emma is hands down, in my opinion, one of the best bike racers in the mid-Atlantic, maybe the east coast,” Cundiff said.
Bast started racing in 2008, but after a couple of years, she stopped to go to college. She just finished her second year of law school at Georgetown and after racing a little last season, she is ready for more action in 2018. At the Detroit Cycling Classic last September, Bast jumped out of the peloton to nab a $250 preme. She came around the next lap with the same gap on the peloton, waving and smiling to Cundiff, who was in the pit helping her with tactics. Cundiff, LeClaire, and Bast had all travelled to the race together.
“I was like, you have 15 seconds on the field,” Cundiff remembers yelling at Bast. “She goes, ‘oh shit,’ and puts her head down. She ended up soloing the last nine laps to win the race.”
What makes Bast’s win even more impressive is she did so with only once- or twice-weekly training rides due to her school schedule. She’s riding a bit more this year, so look for her at the top end of the race results.
It’s not all work and bike racing for the Levine Law Group. The squad is also involved with the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, whose work focuses on mentoring inner-city youths through bike racing. Cundiff and the rest of the members of the squad use their expertise and connections to help get sponsors and investors for the Coalition’s scholarship program. Cundiff and team also work to help provide and source equipment, helmets, and kits for those in the program.
The Levine Law Group team is truly multifaceted and multidimensional. Bike racing isn’t the job that pays the bills, but it’s certainly not just a hobby either. The team’s men and women love racing and the adrenaline rush that comes with it. The love “getting rad.” It’s an addiction, but a healthy one.
2018 Levine Law Group Men’s Roster
Ryan Aitcheson, Zac Carmel, Frank Cundiff, John Grasely, Charkie Huegel, Devin Jones, Kyle Knott, Jesse Kooistra, Cliff Mueller, Kyle Penny
2018 Levine Law Group Women’s Roster
Lauren LeClaire, Emma Bast, Sam Fox, Rachel Canning
[ct_highlight_box_start]CyclingTips is the official media partner of the 2018 USA CRITS series. Race coverage of the series will include pre- and post-race stories on each event and feature stories on each D1 Team.[ct_highlight_box_end]