Nick Bax rides for Team Rio Grande at the Tour of Tobago race in Trinidad last October. Team Rio Grande will officially relaunch this spring after it folded in 2011. Photo courtesy of Trevor Connor
Nick Bax rides for Team Rio Grande at the Tour of Tobago race in Trinidad last October. Team Rio Grande will officially relaunch this spring after it folded in 2011. Photo courtesy of Trevor Connor
Team Rio Grande

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T here’s a Winston Churchill quote that Rio Grande Mexican Restaurant owner Pat McGaughran is partial to: “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”

In September 2011, McGaughran made the tough decision to disband Team Rio Grande, the elite development cycling team the restaurant sponsored.

For the restaurant chain, times were tough financially. Then the doping bomb dropped.

But this spring, McGaughran is bringing the team back. Things are looking up for the company, and McGaughran decided to help fix cycling’s doping problem rather than run from it. Team Rio Grande will officially be reborn on Monday during a launch party at Boulder’s Rio Grande Mexican Restaurant, 1101 Walnut St.

“I’m not sure it can get much worse in terms of pro cycling,” he said. “So (the quote has) been a mantra for us.”

McGaughran, who says he rides his bike for sanity, founded the then-Fort Collins based development team in 1999. Prominent Team Rio Grande alumni include U.S. pro tour rider Tejay Van Garderen and 2010 U.S. champion Mara Abbott.

The newest Team Rio Grande will push a fiercely anti-doping message. The six-man team will work with the Boulder Center for Sports Medicine to show its riders, whose careers are still young, sports science as an alternative to doping. McGaughran said they he hopes to create a culture where riders discuss morals, tough decisions and their responsibilities to the sport.

“You read all the stories of doping, it was right when they were going pro when they were presented with the choice of ‘Do you want to dope?'” said team manager Trevor Connor. “This is an opportunity to get in and encourage the right attitude in cycling.”

While recruiting last fall, Connor and McGaughran focused on “guys who are on the cusp” of racing professionally, but aren’t quite there. They also placed a heavy emphasis on riders who fit with the team’s mission, and would hold each other accountable when it came to riding clean.

“The first thing they did was to find out who we are as people,” said Team Rio Grande rider Kennett Peterson. “It wasn’t strictly results, but how well we would mesh together and whether we were honest and good people.”

Peterson, 27, came to the sport late, racing seriously only after he graduated from the University of Oregon. Connor and McGaughran also decided not to cap the age for the team at 23, like many development teams, because they wanted to give older riders who were new to the sport a chance to succeed.

When the team met for training camp, Peterson said the conversation “inevitably” led to how dirty the sport is. This openness was a sign to Peterson that a larger cultural shift around doping had occurred.

“At least now, it’s seen as something bad,” Peterson said. “Before it was seen as more of a necessity, something maybe you had to do to succeed. It’s not something (cyclists) can joke around with their teammates that they’re doing.”

University of Colorado-Boulder sophomore Colt Peterson (no relation to Kennett) is one of the team’s youngest members. He started riding to improve his fitness as a high school soccer player in southern California.

Colt Peterson said he sees himself, and Team Rio Grande, as part of a new wave of cyclists who will erase the stigma surrounding cycling. Where older cyclists use doping, the new wave of riders uses physiology, bike fits and science to push past them.

“I like to look at it like there’s this new generation of young, clean riders who are coming up through the ranks that are beating the older riders that could be doping,” Colt Peterson said. “The older generation is realizing, ‘We need to change something.'”

–Follow Sarah Kuta on Twitter: @SarahKuta.