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Melissa Doherty had an expensive airplane ticket to Europe and a big problem.
The University of Wyoming club cyclist didn't have a team.
Less than two months after signing a contract with the European cycling team Rapha/Lifeforce to compete in a series of overseas races this year, Doherty was stunned when the team ceased operations, leaving her without a ride.
"I didn't know what I was going to do," says Doherty, a senior who is majoring in art with a minor in sociology.
Doherty had raised nearly $4,000 -- mostly thanks to the folks in her hometown of Gillette -- and she was worried about letting them down. One of the donations was a $1,000 round-trip plane ticket.
What was she going to do with the ticket now?
That's when Doherty's coach, Frank Overton, came to the rescue.
Relying on his affiliation with USA Cycling, Overton phoned Jim Miller, director of Endurance Programs for USA Cycling and, coincidentally, a UW graduate, and explained Doherty's distressing situation.
"It was Jim who had the great idea of just parlaying her airline ticket for USA Cycling and getting her some races," says Overton, who worked as an assistant coach with the U.S. women's team last year.
In a matter of days, Doherty went from a cyclist without a team to a member of the U.S. Women's National Team -- at least for four races this spring in Italy and France.
"This is so much better!" exclaims Doherty, the daughter of Patrick and Cathy Doherty of Gillette. "The team I was going to be on was a beginning International Cycling Union (UCI) team and the U.S. National Team is, obviously, more established and prestigious.
"After I ride for them," she adds, "I can probably get on any team."
Doherty begins her European cycling odyssey March 29 in the Costa Etrusca, a two-day elite race through Italy. Then, she heads to France to compete in three French Cup races in April. She returns home April 22.
"The racing will be incredible and I'm sure my adrenaline will be going crazy. It's going to be scary but exciting at the same time," Doherty says. "I've always wanted compete in an Olympic-style event and now I'm getting my chance."
The timing of the four races, however, will force Doherty to miss four weeks of classes. But, she says, her UW professors have been highly supportive. She is working ahead in some classes and will be allowed to make up laboratory work and two exams upon her return from Europe.
"They're going to help me out any way possible, because they know how important this is to me," she says of her professors.
While in Europe, Doherty plans to update her blog at http://cowgirlcyclist.happyjacksoftware.com with details about her travels and her races.
The 22-year-old Doherty, who took up cycling during her senior year at Campbell County High School, enjoyed a breakthrough 2007 season. She placed second overall in the Division I Rocky Mountain Cycling Conference, which includes Colorado State University, the University of Colorado and Fort Lewis College, and earned a pair of top-10 finishes at the USA Road National Championships.
A three-time qualifier for the Collegiate Nationals, Doherty is excited to gain experience on the European cycling scene, which she says features faster and more aggressive racing than in the United States.
"The racing will be great for my resume," she says. "Because right now, my resume is nothing compared to a lot of the other girls who will be cycling there."
Doherty won't just build her resume. She plans to build her list of contacts by networking with other coaches and riders in hopes of finding a permanent spot on a team "that can cover a lot of the expenses of racing," she says with a laugh.
Overton expects Doherty to take full advantage of what he calls "a tremendous opportunity to strut her stuff in front of all the right people." Doherty's passion for cycling, coupled with her work ethic, talent and youth, make her an ideal candidate for any team, he says.
"What I see in Melissa is just a really strong desire to compete and succeed," says Overton, a former competitive cyclist who operates Fascat Coaching of Boulder, Colo. "She's only 22 and when you look at the top women in the sport, they're in their early 30s. That gives her 10 years to develop into that caliber of a cyclist, and I think she can do it."
He adds, "I see just a tremendous future for her."