First Posted: 2/2/2009
Whether its cyclocross racing or dirt bike racing, local rider turned team director Robert Marion of Mount Airy has a passion for both sports.
Formerly just a mountain bike enthusiast, Marion has become a competitive mountain bike and cyclocross racer as well as team director for 2009 for Kenda/KMC/Hayes Racing.
Team Kenda competes in races in a pair of cycling disciplines, cyclocross and mountain biking. The team director races right along with three other team members Elite Junior division rider Chase Dickens, Pro female Anina Aaron of Oak Ridge and Philicia Marion, Robert Marions wife.
During the Winter Cup of cyclocross, Philicia Marion earned a third place, two fourth-place finishes and a fifth-place finish in Womens Pro CX1-CX2-CX3 division races in January.
Chase Dickens earned a pair of Mens CX4 wins in January for the Kenda team.
As a team director, Im involved in the hunt for sponsorship, selecting other athletes for the team, and directing workout programs and training camps for the team, Robert Marion said.
Marion said his goal in picking team members was to pick people who embraced a team concept.
In picking a team, I wanted riders who could really come together and benefit from one another, he said. To have a team where everybodys gonna be successful, you cannot have conflicting personalities. You must have riders with positive personalities, nobody whos gonna bring the team down with a bad day, because theres gonna be more bad days than good.
In mountain bike racing, Marions accomplishments as a rider include winning the 2007 National Series championship, also known as the U.S. Pro Tour, in short track and cross country racing. Marion, who earned his championship on a BMC mountain bike, is currently ranked 13th in the country as a Pro male in mountain biking in the Professional Men division.
On the cyclocross trail, Marion earned four top-three finishes in four races during the Winter Cup Series held at different locations in North Carolina.
In Race 1 held Jan. 3 at Salisbury, Marion finished third in the Mens Pro CX1-CX2 race.
He followed that with a first-place finish in Race 2 at Winston-Salem, and a pair of seconds in that division at Fayetteville in Race 3 and at Charlotte for Race 4. Marion finished second to Jon Hamblen of Winston-Salem in the points standings for this seasons five-race Winter Cup. Hamblen out-earned Marion in points, 724 to 560.
Winter Cup season went pretty well, Marion said. Our teams mainly a professional mountain bike racing team. We use cyclocross as training during the offseason. We were able to get to four out of the five races.
A sport growing in popularity, cyclocross is a form of bicycle racing that normally takes place in the autumn and winter months. Riders participate on courses that include several surfaces, including grass, pavement, wooded trails, hills and other obstacles. When obstacles are used on the course, riders generally have to dismount from their cycles and navigate their way around the object before they hop back on their cycles.
Marion said he uses cyclocross racing as one of many training methods for mountain bike racing.
We train by riding during the offseason, he said. We do weight training in the gym, we do a lot of core strengthening throughout season. It works on muscles like the abs, back and core body, not your arms and legs.
Marion said the key to being an efficient cyclist is to keep bodily movement at a minimum.
In order to be a strong cyclist, you have to have a strong body core, he said. You also have to minimize your upper body movement while your pedaling.
Cross country mountain biking is very similar to cyclocross according to Marion.
Each lap, theres a set of barriers where you dismount from the bike and then get back on, he explained. But during the course, you have to get off the mountain bike. It takes you through the woods, on trails.
Laps for mountain bike races are anywhere from seven to 15 miles, and some races are four laps long. An average race can last from two to three hours.
During a typical cyclocross race, riders travel between 2.5 and 3.5 kilometers and do 10 to 15 laps, with the average Pro Mens race lasting one hour.
Robert Marion introduced his wife, Philicia Marion, to the disciplines of cyclocross and mountain bike racing. In 2008, Philicia Marion finished second in the womens Category One for ages 19 to 29. This season, shes upgraded to Pro Division.
She likes it, Robert Marion said of his wife, Philicias interest in riding. She just turned pro. At first, she wasnt into the training, but now, shes getting some reward out of it. Being an athlete, shes motivated. Its hard for her, because all the athletes shes racing against have done it since they were 10 years old.
Robert Marion believes starting a team of his own has helped his wife break into racing.
Now shes on a professional team with women who have some of the same likes and dislikes as her, Robert Marion said. Its much easier for her to relate to them.
The Marions also prep for upcoming races at their home in Mount Airy.
Were getting ready for a three-hour indoor ride at my house, Robert Marion said. We have a studio that used to be a basement. Weve got TVs, radios, stationary trainers, everything you could need.
One things for sure, Marion is excited about the growth of cyclrocross in Surry County.
Cyclocross is growing all over the country as well as here, Marion said. Its not just for competitive cycling, but here, Dobson has a bike lane now and with the addition of the Lovill Creek Greenway, you see a lot more bike racks here in town.
A cycling enthusiast himself, Marion owns the shop Cycle Works located in Mount Airy.
I see a lot more people coming in excited about recreational cycling, Marion said.
Marion said hes one of those people, only he had additional reason to take up cycling due to a weight problem.
It wasnt that long ago I was big and heavy, and I wanted to lose a lot of weight, he said.
A 2000 graduate of North Surry, Marion remembers himself as a 5-foot-10, 250-pound young man. He was also considered a prospect as an offensive lineman by several universities, but he decided not to pursue a career on the gridiron.
Instead, Marion took on a strong interest in cycling and eventually shed 110 pounds. In 2004, he bought his first bike.
For his mountain bike races in the upcoming 2009 season, Marion will be mounted on a BMC bike hand-built in Switzerland, a front suspension bike that is light in weight and can be used on courses such as short track cross country and national races, including ski slope-style events. Marion enjoys ski slope-style events, even though they can be grueling.
A ski slope race is where you climb for almost an hour, descend and climb again, he said. You need to stay stiff to get up the hill.
Marion said he prefers mountain bike racing to cyclocross.
I prefer mountain bike racing, because its an Olympic sport, Marion said. Thats my plan, to someday get into the Olympics.
In 2009, Marion said his team is shooting for competition in the National Series Pro Tour, the Southeastern Regional championship series held throughout the southeast, the upcoming Nothing but Noodles Winter Short Track Series in Charlotte and in several cyclocross events. The Nothing but Noodles series kicked off Jan. 18 with a race at Renaissance Park in Charlotte. All four riders are currently competing in the series.
Our team will ride mountain bikes and cyclocross with mountain bikes being our main objective, Marion said of his teams strategy. The more we race, the more we get publicity for our sponsors.
Right now, were concentrating on the mountain bike racing series in Charlotte (Nothing but Noodles) for our short track sponsor, Marion said. Its five weeks total. Were using that as a tune-up. Its the first time our official team will be together, so well get things ready for bigger races to come in March.
One whos outside the world of bike racing may wonder what a typical week is like for a racer. Marion described a typical week on the National Series Pro Tour.
It starts way before the weekend, because you have to travel, he said. You try to finish bike jobs up by Monday night. Then, mid-Tuesday, you get in your trailer and head out. Philicia and I take turns driving, straight through North Carolina to wherever a race is.
The first race of the National Series Pro Tour this year is at Fontana, Cal., roughly 34 hours from Surry County.
Its a long drive, Marion said. The only thing we stop for is fuel and bathroom. We hope to get there by Wednesday night, set up tents, and get out on the course for rides. They always have courses set up by Thursday for athletes.
Friday, we do a training day on the course from two to four hours. Saturday or Sunday, we race.
Then, the team packs up and does it all over again at the next event.
Contact Justin Nuzzo at [email protected] or 719-1922.