(October 28-30) ANGEL FIRE, NM - On Thursday night, nearly 200 collegiate cyclists gathered in a small room in Angel Fire, NM for final pre-race instructions for the 2011 Collegiate Mountain Bike National Championships. Schools from around the country traveled to the small mountain town to compete for stars and bars jerseys in cross country, short track, downhill, and dual slalom. In addition to the individual disciplines, riders would compete for the individual omnium title and teams collected points for the team overall omnium title. With the base elevation of the event at 8,600 feet, teams from the Rocky Mountain Conference raced with a distinct advantage.
Racing began with the women's XC on Friday morning. While temperatures were above freezing at the base, they dropped significantly by the top of the track at 10,000 feet and the 8-inches of snow deposited by a storm on Wednesday further cooled the ground temperatures. The women took to their two laps of the 5.5-mile course with 1,400 feet of climbing while it was still frozen and were able to ride much of the climb that wasn’t covered in hard-packed snow. In the DI division, Lauren Catlin (Fort Lewis College) took an early lead halfway through the first lap and took several risks on the descent to open up a gap on her chasers. Afterward, she said she spent much of the race laughing at the absurdity of racing around in snow in spandex. In the DII field, Alexis Skarda (Colorado Mesa University) put her running skills to good use on the snowy parts of the climb and pulled off an unexpected victory ahead of Rebecca Gross (University of Denver).
By the time the men took to the course 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 and opened up an insurmountable lead over teammate Rotem Ishay. Many riders were off their bikes and walking significant portions of the climb with the track getting increasingly torn up as the day wore on. While Grotts finished in just over two hours, riders continued to trickle in for over an hour after on a course that took no prisoners. 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 short track, raced early Saturday morning, also saw the women racing on frozen ground. For the DI women, it was Fort Lewis domination again as Sarah Sturm took the victory ahead of teammate Lauren Catlin, who slipped a pedal on the start and then was involved in a crash with another rider halfway through the 30-minute race. 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).
Saturday afternoon held the downhill on a track that was under a foot of snow at the top and under six inches of mud at the bottom. 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) added yet another stars and bars jersey to his collection of three in the DI category and Alex McAndrew (Clarkson University) took the win in the DII category with the fastest time of the day of 7:35:89. For the women, Andrea Napoli (University of Nevada) took the win over Brittany Clawson (Fort Lewis College). Clawson had suffered a shoulder injury just a few weeks prior and had just received her doctor’s clearance to race days before Nationals. Coleen Pacurariu (Air Force Academy) posted the fasted female time of the day to win the DII category.
Racing concluded on Sunday morning with the dual slalom. After having to cancel all slalom practice due to mud and snow on the track, racers were given an hour and a half to practice on the course on Sunday morning. Many sleepy-eyed gravity racers took to the hill at 7:30, long before the sun could clear the surrounding mountains and melt the course. Qualifying started at 9:30 and racers made their way down for their first seeding run on an icy course. Halfway through the racers on the second run, the 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 as those watching took note of the slick berms. Qualifying times quickly rose three to four seconds causing many to qualify lower than expected.
With the sun beating down on the course and several timing delays due to riders crashing into the finish laser and malfunctioning gates, riders were treated to a wide array of course conditions which seemed to change by the minute as the sun worked its way across the sky. With riders having to contend with frozen ground, dry dirt, and mud, all within the same run, the course favored those who could ride in any conditions. After the gate failed and a backup generator couldn't be found, officials started with an old fashioned, one-foot on the ground, starting technique. This leveled the playing field and put gated race specialists at a further disadvantage. After nearly eight hours of racing, Joey Schusler (University of Colorado) beat Timothy Price (University of Virginia) 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) defended her DII mountain cross title by beating the Rocky Mountain region's Coleen Pacurariu (Air Force Academy) and Crystal Kalogris led the Lindsey Wilson charge by beating her teammate Stephanie Barragan for the title.
Fort Lewis College took the overall team omnium for DI over the University of Colorado by only 8 points and Union College took a dominating win over Warren Wilson College in the DII category.