Crawford goes back to college

Rick Crawford is going back to college.

Crawford, the longtime Durango-based cycling coach with an elite international clientele, is shifting coaching gears and returning to his cycling roots.

One of the founding forces in the development of the powerhouse Fort Lewis College cycling program, Crawford has signed on to lead the cycling team at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction.

“It was really serendipitous,” Crawford said in an interview with The Durango Herald.

He said more of his professional coaching duties with a cycling development team were scheduled to move to a base in France this year.

With a maxed-out travel schedule that featured 150 travel days last year, Crawford said he and his family started to explore options.

“I started looking for something else to do ... something else in cycling,” Crawford said.

“And collegiate (cycling) is what I like ... it’s what I do best,” he said of the timely offer from Colorado Mesa and its fledgling cycling program.

A former assistant cycling coach who worked for Crawford and who had attended then-Mesa State College, contacted Crawford about the program opening and Colorado Mesa’s hopes to expand collegiate cycling.

Crawford, who has coached such cycling stalwarts as Olympian Todd Wells, international pro Tom Danielson, current national cyclocross champion Jeremy Powers, Shonny Vanlandingham, Willow Koerber and Teal Stetson-Lee, among others, also talked to officials at Fort Lewis College about its program opening.

“But the schedule ... wasn’t there. I couldn’t wait six months,” Crawford said.

“The next thing I knew, I was in Grand Junction meeting with Tim Foster, the president, and Butch Miller, the athletic director (at Colorado Mesa),” Crawford said.

“They are very familiar with what cycling has done for Fort Lewis College,” said Crawford, who outlined an aggressive five-year plan to take the Colorado Mesa program from Division II status to Division I to join national powers like Fort Lewis, Marian University and Lees-McRae College of North Carolina.

“I knew their president was a real go-getter,” Crawford said of Foster, who has led Colorado Mesa’s recent growth in enrollment and facilities.

“There’s something about the confidence and charisma that Tim Foster brings into a meeting,” Crawford said of the ambitious former state legislator who oversaw the school’s elevation from Mesa State College to Colorado Mesa University this year.

“The campus there has really transformed. It’s bustling. There are new buildings everywhere,” Crawford said, including a state-of-the-art swimming complex.

Foster, also an avid cyclist, is a regular in the new Colorado Mesa pool.

“Tim Foster is a visionary. He’s done a lot for Mesa,” Crawford said, adding that Foster envisions a growing Colorado Mesa program to match a growing cycling community in the greater Grand Junction area.

“They are a solid Division II program. With the support of the school, they have the ability to be a top Division I program,” said Crawford, who spent last week in Grand Junction completing paperwork and orientation for his new position.

“The hardest thing about this ... is the move. We’ll always be part of Durango. We love Durango,” Crawford said.

But the opportunity to grow a cycling program was too tempting, he said.

“I’m ready to settle in at that level ... to work with these young people, mold these young cyclists,” Crawford said.

“And Grand Junction ... what a great place to ride bikes,” he said of the vast network of road rides in the Grand Valley from Palisade to the Colorado National Monument and beyond.

He said he’s also looking forward to time on the famed Fruita mountain bike trails.

His first major project at Colorado Mesa will be organizing the Mavericks’ collegiate road races set for March 24-25 – a downtown criterium, a road race and a team time trial.

Crawford and his new Mavericks will race in Durango on April 21-22 at the annual Fort Lewis College Squawker Road Classic.

dstrode@durangoherald.com