The sun came out again today in the southern reaches of the Appalachians at Beech Mountain, which just happens to be the highest town east of the Mississippi. The elevation boded well for the Skyhawks as they gave a go at a new event at USA Cycling Collegiate Mountain Bike Nationals, the Team Relay. The format has been used before at the last few World MTB Championships and made for some great action.
The simplest way to describe the team relay is it is like the 4×400 relay in track and field, but the difference is that it is coed with female student athletes doing the same amount of laps as the men. FLC toed the line with Lauren Catlin, Garrett Lundberg and was anchored by Payson McElveen. Each team had it’s own strategy to which gender were to ride which lap. The Skyhawks started off with Lauren taking the first lap and she did a great job by being the first women to cross the line, but the teams with men had a pretty good cushion going into the second lap. Garrett Lundberg then took over and rode FLC right back into contention by passing quite a few riders to put FLC into 2nd crossing the line for the 3rd lap. Lauren then did another lap and 40+ time national champ Coryn Rivera of Marian threw down a gauntlet of speed that left even many of the men in her wake. Payson then took over with FLC in third place, shadowing Kerry Werner of host school Lee’s McRae up the initial climb. McElveen had something left in the tank though and with a jet-like burst flew by Werner on the longer, steeper second climb to bring home the Silver medal for the Skyhawks.
Next on the days docket was the Dual Slalom and with the team competition being a tight race between FLC, Marian and Lee’s McRae, was sure to be one of the most exciting events of the weekend. The Skyhawk gravity riders did a great job of qualifying for the race by all getting in the top half of the field which means that they wouldn’t have to race each other in the first round (Brittany Clawson-3rd, Sage Kitson-5th, Becky Gardener-8th – Phil Cowan-5th, Brain White-7th, Zach Graveson 8th, Michael Sampson-10th, Adam Digby 13th) – altogether, 32 men and 16 women made the cut. All of the FLC riders made it through the first round of racing and all but one male student athlete made it to the second. Graveson and Digby were the first Skyhawks ousted and finished 12th and 18th respectively – what that means is that FLC had 3 riders each in both the men’s and women’s final 8 riders and FLC was assured of getting a good amount of points towards the team omnium. Becky Gardner then had to go up against the top female qualifier and after some very close racing succumbed and ended up 8th. It was the same story for Sampson who also ended up 8th but impressively he made it that far on the same bike he rode in the endurance events. Next up for FLC was Sage Kitson, who was racing the fastest qualifier and in the second run went down hard in the middle of the course – medics were on site quickly, carting her off to the medical facility, but she returned to the hill fairly quickly considering she broke a rib and suffered a major contusion to her right knee – based off her qualifying time she ended up an impressive 5th. Next up was Brian White and he fought hard but ended up losing the two-run race by .05 seconds. The left only the soon to be married FLC duo of Phil and Brittany. Phil had to race against the second fastest qualifier, who is also a professional BMX racer, but held his own to apparently win the first run but an official on the hill called down to say his tire crossed the gate (he swears it didn’t and the official was on the wrong side of the course to see it, but protesting failed). Phil put in a huge effort on the second run and ended up winning it but couldn’t overcome the 1.2 automatic deficit for missing the gate on the first run. That meant he went to the race for 3rd and 4th and he took care of business to bring home the Bronze. That left Brittany as the only FLC rider to make the finals and she was going up against a BMX Olympian from Marian. The Knight took the first run by 2 tenths of a second but all day Brittany said she was saving her fastest run for when it mattered – and indeed she did by winning the second run by enough of a margin to bring home the second Gold medal for the Skyhawks on the weekend!
Another event that finished up Sunday was the individual omnium where riders compete in all the individual events, points are accumulated for each and the rider who scores the most is the champ. Based off his results in all 4 races, Michael Sampson ended up 4th in the men’s competition. Buoyed by her win in the Dual Slalom, Brittany Clawson finished 2nd in the women’s competition. after a very consistent weekend, including a Bronze in the XC, Sofia Gomez Villafane brought home the 3rd stars and bars for FLC for the weekend, yes!
After Sunday’s 3 second places that means that the FLC Skyhawks won their 8th consecutive (and 18th overall) Mountain Bike team omnium title! The final tally was: Fort Lewis College-732, Marian University-658, Lee’s McRae-646. Next up on the Skyhawk schedule is preparation for Cyclocross Nationals in January, BMX Nationals in March and Road Nationals in May.