For the UCSB cycling team, whose road race season doesn’t officially begin until January, things are looking good.

Rider Erik Barton qualified for nationals in the omni event for the mountain bike. The mountain bike season is usually looked upon as an enjoyable opportunity to warm up and get ready for the Santa Barbara’s real stretch: the road season. An impressive showing like Barton’s, though, is not something to be brushed aside. Barton’s top-five finish at the Parkfield race, hosted by Cal Poly, clinched a spot to the national race and gave the Gauchos a good sign for the rest of the year.

“He’s always been a very consistent racer, always near the top of the pack. He just had one of the best performances that I’ve ever seen out of him,” sophomore co-president Karl Nielsensaid.

The team performed well at the Northstar Ski Resort in Lake Tahoe, a race sponsored by University of Nevada, Reno. Alhough Tahoe was another mountain bike event, the early season cohesion bodes well for a team that returns quite a few outstanding racers. Even more impressive has been the ability of the Gaucho riders to quickly get back into racing form, both mentally and physically.

“It’s pretty hard. We have our first race the third weekend of fall quarter, and we don’t practice with each other in the offseason. So as soon as school starts we get thrown in,” Nielsen said.

Santa Barbara can boast two strong racers in Barton and Nielsen for race season. Some other notable performers include Philip Chang, who in tandem with Nielsen, manages the team as co-president, and Casey Stephenson.

“Casey is looking absolutely phenomenal so far,” Nielsen said. “We’re all expecting big things out of him.”

Lana Eriksson returns to lead the female cyclists. She has clearly been the leader of the pack this year and will undoubtedly lead the women with some top finishes.

The Gauchos cannot get complacent with their early success, though. Once January and the start of the road race portion of the season arrive, UCSB’s riders will see almost constant competition in a long and draining stretch. Ten major events comprise the road race season, with each of those events involving two to three races each. The eventual goal will be to make it to nationals.

The team of twenty strong has been training about four days a week, with each stretch lasting an hour or more. Training rides tend to last 30-40 miles, though certain days the Gauchos will ride as much as 60 miles in a given practice.

“I think we’re going to do really well. We have some good, solid racers, and we’ve been training hard. Everybody wants it to be January already,” Nielsen said.

UCSB cycling will be holding a fundraiser race during the second week of March, either in Isla Vista or at Research Park.