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Collegiate MTB National Championship - Weekend Wrap Up

Posted by: Shannon Boffeli |November 28, 2011 2:27 AM
Collegiate Mountain Bike Championships - Angel Fire, New Mexico

Fort Lewis and Union College Take Team Titles - Nationals Weekend Wrap-Up

Written by: Eszter Horanyi

Located at 8,600 feet, the base of Angel Fire Resort, New Mexico, already boasts some thin air.  With the top of the cross country course at 10,000 feet and the top of the long downhill even higher, athletes living at high altitudes had a distinct advantage at the 2011 Collegiate Mountain Bike National Championships.  When a winter storm dumped 8-inches of snow at the base area and even more at the top of the mountain, racers were left with courses covered in mud and packed snow.  After course inspections on Thursday afternoon, cross country racers braced for a 1,400 foot climb that had the potential to be a very long hike and downhill racers were talking about finding saucer sleds to strap to their bodies for some of the fall-line chutes filled with snow.

The women’s XC kicked off the three-day event on Friday morning. The women raced two laps of the 5.5-mile course while it was still frozen and were able to ride much of the climb on the first lap before it started to melt and deteriorate on the second. In the DI division, Lauren Catlin (Fort Lewis College) climbed with an elite group of five and then put her descending skills to good use, as she was able to open a gap on the slick and treacherous descent.  Afterward, clearly thrilled at her victory, she couldn’t thank her coaches and program at Fort Lewis enough.  In the DII field, Alexis Skarda (Colorado Mesa University), an elite cross country runner with a foot injury, made use of her running skills on the snowy parts of the climb and pulled away from Rebecca Gross (University of Denver) for an unexpected win. 

When the men started at noon, the ground had melted considerably and the frozen dirt had turned into soupy mud.  Howard Grotts (Fort Lewis College) quickly worked his way to the front of the 81-man field and opened up an insurmountable lead over teammate Rotem Ishay.  The two-minute gap after the first lap swelled to nearly 5 minutes by the end of the two-hour race.  Many riders were off their bikes and walking significant portions of the climb with the track getting increasingly torn up and slick as the day wore on. Riders continued to trickle in, for over an hour after Grotts, on a course that took no prisoners and wreaked havoc on bikes.  In the DII contest, Matt Schiff, a Fort Collins native racing for Humbolt, made the most of the muddy situation and bested the rest of the men’s field by 15 minutes.

The DI women started the racing early Saturday morning with the short track, a 0.5-mile course with 80 feet of climbing, part of it through a pump track, per lap. It was Fort Lewis domination again as Sarah Sturm took the victory ahead of teammate Lauren Catlin. Catlin slipped a pedal on the start and then was involved in a crash with another rider halfway through the 30-minute race.  After having to readjust her seat, the XC National Champion fought back valiantly to finish second.  In the DII race, it was Gross (University of Denver) narrowly getting the win ahead of Friday’s XC National Champion Skarda (Colorado Mesa University).

With downhill course conditions considered dangerous by many racers, race officials elected to make seeding runs for the downhill optional on Friday afternoon. On Saturday, they decided to run the riders in reverse order with the fastest riders down first to avoid traffic jams on the long course that many were scared to walk their bikes down. Crash-free runs were rare and many riders freely admitted to getting off their bikes and sliding on their rears down the many snow chutes.  Joey Schusler (University of Colorado) stayed mostly upright and added yet another stars and bars jersey to his collection of three previous downhill titles in the DI category and Alex McAndrew (Clarkson University) posted the fastest time of the day of 7:35:89 for the win in the DII category. For the DI women, Andrea Napoli (University of Nevada) took the win over Brittany Clawson (Fort Lewis College). Clawson, Fort Lewis’ only female gravity racer, had suffered a shoulder injury just a few weeks prior and had just received her doctor’s clearance to race days before Nationals.  Her points were key to keeping Fort Lewis in contention for the overall team title.  Coleen Pacurariu (Air Force Academy) posted the fasted female time of the day to win the DII category.

With only a handful of points separating the top schools in the team omnium competition, several titles came down to the dual slalom raced Sunday morning. Racers were given an hour and a half to practice on the course on Sunday morning after race organizers decided to cancel practice on Saturday afternoon due to the sloppy conditions.  Gravity racers took to the hill at 7:30 in the morning, long before the sun could melt the ice on the course.  Qualifying, which consisted of a run down each course and the combined time used for seeding, started at 9:30 and racers made their way down for their first run on an icy course.  Halfway through the racers on the second run, the generator powering the start gate failed and qualifying was stopped for nearly half an hour while the generator was fixed.  By the time qualifying resumed, the sun had melted parts of the course into a muddy mess and the first several racers failed to stay upright through the greasy berms and those watching took note.  Qualifying times quickly rose three to four seconds compared to those before the delay, especially on the blue course, which now featured a large mud pit at the bottom, causing many to qualify lower than expected.

With the sun high in the sky and several delays due to riders crashing into the finish timers and malfunctioning gates, riders faced a multitude of conditions, which seemed to change by the minute as the sun traversed the sky. The conditions favored those who could ride mud, ice, and dry dirt, all within the same run. Halfway through racing, the generator failed again forcing officials to revert to a one-foot on the ground starting technique.  This leveled the playing field, taking the gate-start advantage away from former BMX racers.  After nearly eight hours of racing, Joey Schusler (University of Colorado) beat Timothy Price (University of Virginia) in the big final for his first gated race DI national title and Paul Mayes (Michigan Technological University) beat defending National Champion Blake Carney (California Lutheran University) for the DII title.  Essence Barton (California Lutheran University) rode smoothly all day to defend her DII mountain cross title by beating Coleen Pacurariu (Air Force Academy) and Crystal Kalogris led the Lindsey Wilson charge by beating her teammate Stephanie Barragan for the DI title.

Fort Lewis College took a narrow 8-point victory over the University of Colorado for the overall team omnium for DI.  Union College took a dominating win over Warren Wilson College in the DII category.  

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