On the Road to Fun and Fitness
The world’s top cyclists will compete in the prestigious Tour de France early next month. Leawood residents, however, can check out skilled road racers, mountain bikers and cyclocross competitors, and gravel grinders without ever leaving Kansas.
The Blue River Bicycle Club in southern Johnson County, formed in 1994, is one of the oldest and largest in the region. Members of all backgrounds, ages and skill levels get together weekly to hone their skills, motivate each other, promote safe cycling and simply have fun.
“The sport of cycling as a whole is growing at a rapid rate,” club president Leo Esposito says. “Kansas City is a fantastic place to cycle. The area is becoming more bike-friendly with the addition of bike lanes, cycling equipment has gotten much better, and we’ve even seen the rise of major cycling events locally such as the Dirty Kanza.”
The club has approximately 60 members, from ages 14 through their mid-70s, representing a range of riding disciplines and skill levels.
“We don’t have a formal mission statement other than that our goal is to promote the sport of cycling and support anyone who is interested in learning more about cycling and how to ride responsibly,” Leo says. “Membership is 100 percent open to anyone who wants to join. We really pride ourselves on embracing diversity on all scales. We have never turned anyone away who has reached out to us about becoming a member.”
The club holds rides every Thursday night and Saturday morning from March through September along with annual and quarterly meetings. Leo encourages anyone who is interested in learning about cycling to check out the club website, BlueRiverBicycleClub.com.
Retired Scientist and Senior Vice President of MRIGlobal, Age 70
Although Gil Radolovich retired as a scientist, he never stops exploring. He began riding in the summer of 1994 and since has owned eight different bikes and experienced all types of riding.
“What attracted me most about biking was the sense of freedom rolling over the rural roads of Johnson, Miami and Douglas Counties with the wind always against my face and the simple pursuit of speed and distance,” he says. “I was instantly smitten with the sport of cycling and the physical challenges it offered.”
He has served as treasurer since the club was founded by Ariel Mendez, former owner of the Leawood Bicycle Shop. Gil credits cycling with keeping him active and fit at an age when many other retirees would be content to sit in front of the television.
“As for my personal goals, they are simply to continue to ride as long as I can and help newcomers to the wonderful sport of cycling,” he says. “I’m pretty sure that if you give cycling a try, you could be smitten too.”
Regional Vice President of AXA Advisors
Rich Bort purchased a bike so he could stay in shape following a shoulder injury in college, and has rarely missed a day since.
“My passion is road cycling,” he says. “I have competed in sanctioned races for 30-plus years. My favorite places to ride are the country roads south of Kansas City, Colorado, California—actually, anywhere.”
Rich raced at a professional level for two years. He was Kansas state criterium champion several times, as well as overall state champion in his age group. He encourages others to give cycling a try, regardless of their skill level.
“Being a member is great for people just starting to get into the sport and cyclists competing at a high level,” he says. “Most of my closest friends have come from our club. Cycling is a great physical activity regardless of your age or skill level.”
Chief Financial Officer of SelectQuote, Age 42
After a long day of crunching numbers, nothing beats the open road for Raffaele Sadun.
“I love being outside, getting exercise and clearing my head,” he says. “I’m not always sure what I think about when I’m out on the road, but I always come back with a smile on my face and in a happier mood—my wife will attest to this!”
He started out as a mountain biker but later found road cycling more to his liking.
“I enjoy going south on Mission Road down to 215th Street,” he says. “It’s a beautiful ride, has fewer cars and it doesn’t take long from my house to really feel like you’re out in the country.”
He joined the club two years ago and enjoys the friendships as much as the rides.
“I like the sense of camaraderie and the fact that people have very different backgrounds,” he says. “We all share some level of passion for cycling, but we also have our other lives that are interesting to learn about.”
Mechanical Engineer, Age 31
Ethan Luebbe went into Leawood Bicycle Shop to purchase his first bike and came out of the store with a new passion after owner Ariel Mendez convinced him to give the club a try.
“It was a big help early on having experienced riders and racers like Tim Fisher and Freddie Timbrell around to ride with and get the basics down since I had zero cycling experience going in,” he says. “I’ve also enjoyed the easier-going atmosphere of the club. The best part of the club is it happens to be a great group of people.”
Although Ethan also does cyclocross and mountain biking, road cycling is his strength. He won the Tour of Lawrence as a Category 3 racer and has set his sights on now winning as a Category 2 racer. He encourages others to give the sport a shot.
“You will have the real sense you accomplished something for the day, and, if you’re open to it, you can meet some cool people along the way,” he says.
Wealth Management Advisor, Age 40
Ryan George enjoyed watching the Tour de France so much that he decided to try cycling for himself. His hard work eventually paid off.
“Earlier this year, I won my first real race,” he says. “It was only a Category 5 race, and yes, there were only six people in it, but it was a real race that I won! I would like to go up a couple of categories and maybe race a few more times per year. I also have a secret goal to be faster than certain guys in the club. They know who they are.”
Although cycling is an individual sport, Ryan credits his fellow club members for helping him succeed.
“All are welcome,” he says “No matter your background, age, occupation or riding level, the club has room for everyone. My favorite aspect of the club is the diversity of riders. I have been able to grow as a rider and find others to compete against but also engage socially with everyone no matter how strong a rider they are or what they do for a living.”
Owner of Small Haul Containers, Age 31
Robbie Gault grew up mountain biking in North Carolina. When he moved to Kansas, where mountains are in short supply, he switched to road cycling.
A club member invited him on a 40-mile ride three years ago, and he has been an active member ever since.
“We have amazing sponsors and skilled riders who make being a part of Blue River Riding Club an honor,” he says. “My cycling dramatically improved from the time I started riding with the club.”
Robbie has accomplished several of his goals while challenging himself with tougher ones.
“My biggest accomplishment to date is probably a 125-mile ride in the heat of July with temperatures above 95 degrees. The heat is a tough battle,” he says. “I would love to ride the Dirty Kanza 200-mile gravel ride soon.”
Whether it’s cycling or another activity, he encourages others to find their passion.
“Pick something that you enjoy doing and fall in love with it!” he says.
Project Manager, Age 47
Shawn Briggs’ parents gave him a road bike when he turned 13, and he still loves the sport more than three decades later.
“I like cycling because of the freedom to explore that it provides and the fact that it is me generating the energy to explore,” he says. “I primarily do road cycling but also enjoy getting on my bike and just exploring—pavement, dirt, gravel or whatever.”
A coworker invited him to the club, which connected him with the local cycling community.
“I just like the friendly feel of the group, the variety of the rides and the vision of taking on a larger role in promoting cycling in and around the Kansas City metro area,” Shawn says.
A lifetime of cycling has helped Shawn achieve important goals while striving for new ones.
“I had a severe accident a couple of years ago, and my love for cycling drove me to recover faster and better than was predicted,” he says. “I want to do a self-supported two-day gravel bike packing trip this year and a couple of road races in 2019.”