The women's peloton from this year's Redlands Bicycle Classic will donate part of the prize money from the Southern California race to the family of Erica Greif, a fellow competitor who died in an automobile collision while travelling to the race earlier this month.
Greif's brother told Cyclingnews on Monday that the family will use the donation to set up a USA Cycling Development Foundation scholarship in Erica Grief's name. The prize money from the women's teams will be the first donation to the new fund.
“I was definitely shocked to hear that they were going to be able to or would be willing to donate this money,” said David Greif, Erica Greif's brother. “These are women who already have enough problems with getting equal payout and all these things, but it really means a lot to us that they want to do that.”
Erica Greif, 23, was an elite racer for the ZOCA-Halo Sports team as well as a student at the University of Nevado-Reno. She took an exam on April 7 in Reno and then planned to drive through the night for the Redlands start at 8:45 a.m. the next day. She was involved in a fatal collision outside of Ridgecrest, California, in the early morning hours of April 8.
As news of Greif's death spread among the competitors and staff at the race, Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies director Pat McCarty put forward the idea of donating part of the overall prize money to Greif's family as a way to honour her life and passion for racing.
"Everybody heard the tragic news the first day of the race, and I don't know, I felt like we had to do something," McCarty said. "This was just terrible, just terrible. I think it was just a good thing to do for the race and for the women's peloton to make some kind of gesture. I thought that was appropriate."
McCarty quickly gained unanimous backing for the idea, with the teams agreeing to donate 15 per cent – or $2,250 – of the overall prize money to the Greif family. At the same time, the Greif family heard from USA Cycling that the governing body wanted to honour Erica Greif's memory with a scholarship fund. Greif was previously a recipient of USA Cycling's Edmund R. Burke Grant, which is given to promising junior and U23 racers.
"We're going to try and tailor the scholarship more toward individuals who show promise in cycling but have maybe an underfunded team," David Greif said. "We think it would be a really good opportunity to help someone or some people, some college kids or something like that."
Erica Greif first took up cycling as a way to make a living around her hometown of Reno, David Greif said, taking a job as pedicab driver for tourists.
"She started the pedicab like her senior year in high school, and it was just hilarious," he said. "She'd be out there all year, whatever, it would be winter and she'd be hauling massive guys around to different casinos. She would just do whatever it took."
Erica Greif discovered racing during her sophomore year in college and twice qualified for the USA Cycling Collegiate National Championships. Her passion for the sport and her location in Nevada often meant long drives to California and other far-flung locales in order to compete at the elite level.
"Anybody who races, at one point or another you've driven a long night or a long trip to make races that you wanted to go to – always sometimes in less that optimal conditions," said Redlands Race Director Eric Reiser. "But you do it because this is what you love and you want to do. Unfortunately, in this case it didn't end well. We've all been there, and we do it for the love of the sport, not because we're making a bunch of money."
For McCarty, Erica Greif's commitment to competition epitomised what many of the riders in the women's peloton face in order to compete at a high level with oftentimes little-to-limited support or financial reward.
"I think where a lot of women are at in cycling right now, they have to juggle a lot of things in their lives," McCarty said. "It's just sad. It's just too bad. But it sort of epitomises what a lot of these women are doing out here and humanises it as well. It's just tragic to see somebody fall."
USA Cycling doesn't currently have a web page set up for the Erica Greif scholarship, but David Greif said anyone wishing to make a donation can send it to the USA Cycling Development Foundation with a note directing the funds to the Erica Greif scholarship.