Conti Cycling of Mt. Vernon Exclusive Interview

all together for the start

I first met Doug VanGilder at the Kiwanis Fun Day Ride last year in Mt. Vernon.  Even though this was a standard charity tour most of the riders there were in matching Continental Cycling Mt. Vernon kits.  I attended the ride with fellow East Side mountain bikers Eli and Joe, along with my Mom and Wife, but I was familiar with several of the riders through mountain biking.

I didn’t have to worry about looking out-of-place, I was quickly given a jersey by the club and included in their train for the ride like I was a long time member.  For the next 60 miles I was party to Doug leading over 20 riders of Conti Crew, reminding faster riders to control their pace and encouraging the slower riders to hang on and move through the double paceline that they had going.

Since Doug only knew me through mountain biking and the SMBA Forum, he assumed that I was a beginner road rider.  Early in the ride he approached me and complimented my paceline skills and said, “We’ll make a road biker out of you yet.”  I got a big kick out of this since I’ve always considered myself a road biker who mountain bikes in the winter.

This was the 2010 group, the 2011 group was at least twice as large!

I’ve been in their gmail group ever since and watched as most Saturdays a group or multiple groups form up to ride.  My own experience with leadership of a bike club seemed to be the opposite of Mt. Vernon’s club and that got me curious how Doug and the Conti riders have had so much success.  I decided to email Doug and get some answers, leading to the first Barn Door Cycling interview.

Matt: What’s your background in cycling, had you been involved in a club before conti?

Doug:  When I moved to Mt. Vernon in 1993 Bernie Dickneite the owner of the local shop invited me to compete in a biathlon in Hillsboro, IL.

To my surprise I came in second place for my age division which was 18-25. I was hooked, I kept riding with the local shop for many years and joined the local club, Little Egypt Bike Club.

Matt: About how many members would you say you have?

Doug: We currently have 38 active members with about 60 area riders on the forum using Conti Cycling to keep informed of cycling resources in Southern IL.

Matt:  How did you get the club off the ground?

Doug: Conti Cycling was started to fill a void in the area. Benny Harmse moved here from South Africa, and was looking for a local club to join. When he learned that our local club had fell apart after the shop closed, he began spreading the word to Continental Tire employees looking for riders to start a club. I was currently riding with a few LEBC riders and I invited him to ride a century with us on Memorial day in 2010. On that ride we only had four riders, and began to lay the ground work for Conti Cycling. My job in the beginning was getting the word out. It all started by word of mouth then mass email, finally, forum and website. As we grew and Benny had many travels for Continental Tire, he nominated me captain of the team and the riders voted to back that up. In 2011 we partnered with Bike Surgeon racing team and SMBA to give our riders an outlet for racing and mt. biking. Since then we have decided that Conti Cycling is cycling for fun, and we will have resources for riders who want more.

Matt:  How is Continental Tire involved with the club?

Continental Tire has been a great help, in the beginning CT helped us get the word out. We had advertisements for the club in the CT newsletters and on the Closed Circuit TV’s in the break rooms. CT has blessed us with gear and discounted tires. In turn we advertise for them and represent the standards of CT in the community.

Matt:  I was really impressed when I rode with the club how everyone stayed together and a worked as a group, how do you get riders of so many skill levels to work cohesively like that?

Doug:  This was Benny’s vision from the beginning. By the time I took a hold of the vision we had been riding together for almost a year. I learned that my job on the team is more coach than captain. I evaluate every rider on the road and place them beside like style riders. Some of the guys had never rode in a group, but after about five miles in an organized group the riders love it. Our organization took time for all of us to learn. Each experienced rider gave me advice along the way and I just convey what I’ve learned back to the group. Our number one goal on the road is to protect the riders. If I see a rider with a sporadic pace I will quickly correct them as it can hurt the riders behind. We have many miles together and we know our weaknesses and we work through them together.

Matt:  Have their been any hiccups or problems?

Doug:  Oh yes. In 2011 the club almost fell apart because we didn’t really have a home. We were outgrowing our meeting location (Jaycee Lake) and we were bouncing around everywhere for start locations. Finally, we found Summersville Grade School. Plenty of parking, on the edge of town, access to the roads we love to ride. Since we moved there our numbers have doubled and become more stable.

Matt:  As far as I can tell conti mtv seems to have a very informal club structure that focuses on fun over administration and stuff like that, which I think is great.  Do you ever see that changing in the future?

Doug:  Our administration is all done behind the scenes. The riders and onlookers should only see the fun.  We have one administration meeting in January to set the goals and fix problems from the previous year. That meeting is followed by a Conti Club meeting open to anyone in Feb. At that time we inform the riders of any changes in the club or administration. We became more structured in 2011 as I ran the club and Matt Gudermuth overseen the mt. bikers and Benny Harmse managing. In 2012 we expanded our administration to six members. We don’t make any major decisions without discussing within the admin.

Matt:  Finally what do you see for the future of conti mtv?

Doug:  We would like to see our numbers increase in the lower speeds. We would like to see another group formed in the less than 15mph riders. No matter what our numbers are, we want to continue encouraging cycling and outdoor activities in the southern IL. area, along with our partners.

Some myths to be dispelled… You do not have to be an employee of Continental Tire to be a member. And you don’t have to ride 20mph.

Thanks, Doug VanGilder


About Matt Gholson

Cycling, school teaching, husband.
This entry was posted in Barn Door Cycling, lifestyle, Rides, Stories and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Conti Cycling of Mt. Vernon Exclusive Interview

  1. Steve says:

    An exclusive interview – VERY impressive! It sounds like a great organization and I believe there are several clues in there for someone wishing to start a club in any activity. Thanks for landing this fish for us; it was a very interesting read.

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