By Kimberly Back For the Times-Tribune
Click here to see the Aug. 15, 2008 Neighbors section in its entirety
Zachary Winn, an incoming junior and sports management major at Union College, is preparing for his third year as a member of Union’s award-winning cycling team. However, Winn’s return to Union this fall will not be like any other. He will begin the semester as a national champion cyclist.
Winn, 21, is the reigning National Collegiate Cycling Association (NCCA) Division II Omnium National Champion, and the first male rider to ever win the omnium for Union.
The 2008 NCCA Division II National Championships were held at Lees-McRae College Oct. 24-26, 2008 in Banner Elk, N.C. NCCA is a division of USA Cycling, and is independent of both NCAA and NAIA, both well-known collegiate athletic associations.
The omnium champion was determined by a combination of each cyclist’s scores based on where they finished in the following mountain bike events: dual slalom, short track, cross-country and downhill.
“Whoever has the most points after these events wins,” said Winn.
Greg Gibson, also of Union College, finished third in the omnium, while Rachel Millsop of Union’s women’s cycling team finished fourth in the women’s omnium. Union Cycling placed fifth in the team standings.
The overall best cyclist at the national championships is determined by the omnium. When asked about how it felt to be one of the best cyclists in the nation, Winn could not hide his excitement.
“It felt great!” Winn said of his victory. He continued, “Ten months of training and practice paid off and really made an already good season even better.”
Union’s cycling coach, Chuck Coffey, was also thrilled to see Winn finally take a national title.
“The year before he was very sick at nationals with a bad cold,” Coffey said of Winn. “He still tried to go out and help his team,” Coffey added.
Although Winn is an American national champion cyclist, he is actually a Canadian citizen. However, Winn proves that you do not have to live in Kentucky to be a country boy from a small town.
Born and raised in Port Hope, Ontario, Canada, Zach Winn is the eldest son of Will and Bev Winn. His father is a steel mill worker, and his mother is a social worker. Winn has two younger brothers, Bennett, 18, and Luke, 15.
Although cycling runs in the family, as Winn’s dad is a cyclist, Winn first became interested in cycling through an elementary school friend. Winn has since raced for ten years, but has only been serious about racing for the last six.
According to Winn, “I mostly do mountain bike races, but I have done road races in the past.”
It was Winn’s racing experience that first caught the attention of Union’s cycling team. A member of the women’s cycling team contacted Winn on the Internet about becoming a Union cyclist.
“Amanda McKay sent me a message on Facebook telling me about the men’s team and asked if I was interested,” Winn said.
You would think that making a move from Ontario, Canada to Barbourville would be a big change, but Winn said that the two places are not so different. He fit right in since two of his favorite interests are fishing and NASCAR.
“I live in a small town in a rural area in Canada, so it’s not a whole lot different in that aspect.” Winn continued, “I have noticed that the sports and foods that people enjoy are different. Kentucky is all about basketball and football, while Canada is 100 percent hockey.”
While it was Winn’s decision to attend Union College that led him to the Bulldog cycling team, it was hard work and determination that made him the NCCA Division II Omnium National Champion.
“I’m on the bike about five to six days a week, at roughly ten to sixteen hours a week,” Winn said of his training schedule.
The bulk of Winn’s bike training happens from January to October. Winn said that he usually takes a month off in November to rest his body after the national competition.
In addition to bike training, Winn also tries to eat healthy and avoid junk food during cycling season. Coach Coffey also appreciated Winn’s strong work ethic.
According to Coffey, “Zach is one of the hardest working athletes you will ever meet. He trains no matter how hot or cold, wet or dry, and his hard work pays off.”
All of Winn’s training has not come without a few injuries.
“I’ve had a few stitches, lots of road rash, some good bruises, and I got pretty beat up the time I got hit by a car.”
No matter what has come his way, Winn has had the strength and determination to overcome and succeed. Many of Winn’s greatest successes have come while being apart of Union’s cycling team. In addition to his national championship, Winn has won several other awards.
“To talk to Zach you would never know he is a two-time Midwest Conference Rider of the Year and a national champion,” Coach Coffey said of Winn’s humble nature.
Winn, who is also a 2009 NCCA All-American, is ready for another victorious season with the Bulldogs.
“I think we will be as successful, if not more successful than last year,” Winn said of the upcoming cycling season.
According to Winn, Coach Coffey is one of the keys to the success of the cycling team, and helps his cyclists become better athletes.
Winn said of his coach, “Chuck gives some good advice. He is good at keeping riders motivated, but still calm before races.”
As for Winn’s personal cycling goals, he wants to win another college national championship in either the cross-country or short track event.
Winn said that being a U.S. champion cyclist means as much as it would to be a Canadian champion.
He explained, “It takes a lot of work to win a national championship.” Winn continued, “Canadian schools don’t offer scholarships for sports, so being able to play any sport at a school in the States is a big deal.”
Winn does compete in Canadian cycling events in addition to U.S. events. He races in the Ontario Cup series, and the Canada Cup series. No matter where he races, he looks to his favorite professional cyclists Tom Boonen and Fabian Cancellara for inspiration.
For more information about Zach Winn and Union Cycling, please visit Union’s cycling website at http://www.ucbulldogs.com/sport/7/18.php.
Kimberly Back is married, a mother of one, and a resident of Barbourville. She holds a B.A. in criminology from Morehead State University.