TRUCKEE, CA – I knew that Fort Lewis College had a good team going into the 2009 USA Cycling Collegiate Mountain Bike National Championships, but I had no idea how good.
The FLC riders led from day one and earned a dominating overall Omnium win with 671 points when all was said and done. The University of Colorado-Boulder came in second with 589 points and North Carolina cycling powerhouse, Lees-McRae College came in a surprising third with 555 points.
It was my first trip to a collegiate bike race and I came away with a whole new appreciation for the athletes. I found myself exhausted just hiking up and down the race courses at the beautiful Northstar-at-Tahoe resort near Truckee, CA. I almost can’t imagine braving the more than 20-mile Cross Country race or the white knuckle 4X Mountain Cross where spectacular crashes were common. For someone who thought he knew about cycling, the MTB National Championships were an education.
Day one of the Championships began with a heavy fog hanging over the Women’s Cross Country course. Each of the Division I and II riders would battle the 7.5-mile course over three laps and more than two hours. Chloe Forsman from the University of Arizona took the win with the University of Nevada-Reno taking second and Lees-McRae earning third.
Putting themselves in a great position for the overall Omnium race, FLC riders Sage Wilderman, Teal Stetson-Lee, and Kristina Dominic crossed the line in fifth, sixth and seventh, respectively. Finishing a particularly gutsy race, Skyhawk Magen Long earned the 23rd spot despite numerous flat tires.
The Men’s Cross Country race kicked off next. The course was the same as the women’s race, but with an extra lap, bringing the total distance to 30 miles of rocky, steep terrain. Earning his first title of the Championships, FLC rider Rotem Ishay blew the competition away, finishing 18 minutes ahead of the University of Utah rider in second place. Colorado State University came in third. Skyhawks Trevor Downing (sixth) and Greg Carpenter (19th) also had strong showings and added all important points to Fort Lewis College’s overall total. Greg also battled mechanical problems and ended up carrying his bike for miles before dragging it across the finish line.
At the end of the first day of racing, Fort Lewis College held a slim, ten-point lead over Lees-McRae College and CU-Boulder.
The second day of competition included two of the most exciting races to watch: Short Track and 4X Mountain Cross.
As before, the women started the day. The Short Track course was (obviously) much shorter than the Cross Country, but with riders bunched so close together and jockeying for position, the race was just as intense. The formidable Carla Swart of Lees-McRae took the top spot and the previous day’s Cross Country winner, Chloe Forsman finished second. Breaking into the top three for FLC was Sage with another impressive showing. The other Skyhawk riders also shined, with Teal finishing fifth, Magen seventh, and Kristina ninth.
Again besting his competitors, Rotem took his second title of the Championships by winning the Men’s Short Track. The crowd watching the race was understandably amazed. Right behind Rotem was Trevor in fourth, Greg in seventh, and Bryce Gordon in fourteenth.
The afternoon of day two brought on the 4X Mountain Cross competition. Four riders taking to the brutal course at the same time made for some fierce racing and spectacular crashes.
FLC’s Emma Millar was amazing as she fought her way to a first place finish in the women’s races. CU-Boulder and Lindsey Wilson College rounded out the top three. Chantel Coleman earned Fort Lewis College more all-important Omnium points with a fifth place finish. The reliable Sage came in ninth and Sabina Kraushaar finished thirteenth.
The Skyhawk men couldn’t quite match the ladies as the University of Nevada-Reno claimed the top spot in 4X Mountain Cross with Lindsey Wilson College and CU-Boulder coming in second and third, respectively. However, FLC rider Miguel Ramos earned a sixth place finish that added more points to the overall total. Taylor Borucki and Evan Elliott of Fort Lewis finished twenty-four and thirty-second, respectively.
When night fell on day two, the top three schools in the Omnium chase remained the same, with FLC holding its lead against Lees-McRae. It would all come down to the Downhill races the next day.
The final chance for any of the other schools competing to catch Fort Lewis College in the Omnium was in the Downhill race on day three.
Racers flew down the course, dropping 1,800 feet in about five minutes or less from the summit of Mt. Pluto. Skyhawk Emma Millar qualified in first place for the Downhill, but suffered a crash during her final run. Even so, she was somehow able to recover and finish second, just seconds behind fellow FLC rider, Sage Wilderman. Sabina earned the sixth spot and Chantel came in thirteenth, effectively locking up the overall Omnium title for the team.
Far from taking the Downhill race off, the FLC men competed hard and Taylor finished an impressive sixth place. Not far behind was Miguel in tenth, Evan in fifteenth, and Lucas LeMaire in twenty-second.
And that was it. The racing was over and all the hard work the FLC team had put in during the year had paid off. The remarkable Sage Wilderman capped off her Championships with a trip to the podium as the Division I Women’s Omnium Champion, a fantastic individual accomplishment.
But the loudest cheers came as the entire Fort Lewis College Cycling Team took the stage to accept their stars-and-stripes jerseys and medals for earning their fourth USA Cycling Collegiate Mountain Bike National Championships in a row.
Congratulations go out to not only the FLC riders, but also their coaches, Matt Shriver and Dave Hagen. Not only did they put together an amazing team, but I know they fixed a ton of flat tires and pushed their riders’ bikes up and down the mountain.
Up next for the team is the USA Cycling Cyclocross National Championships in Oregon in December. That event will decide the overall champion of the Rocky Mountain Collegiate Cycling Conference. Right now, Fort Lewis College holds the lead in the overall points race.
by Mitch Davis, Fort Lewis College