Sam Morris during the XC course
After a long season of racing in the Rocky Mountain Conference, the University of Colorado Nationals Team traveled south to Angel Fire, NM for the 2011 Collegiate Mountain Bike National Championships. The team had some of the strongest riders and most depth that it’s had in years and was gunning for both individual national titles as well as trying to dethrone Fort Lewis College in the overall team omnium competition. Racers were greeted with a winter snowstorm on Wednesday night that dumped nearly 8-inches of snow on the mountain. This immediately turned buff trails and a rocky downhill track into a giant slip-n-slide. With sun forecasted for the weekend, racers were ready for all conditions, from snow to ice to mud.
The women’s team was the first to line up for the XC on Friday morning. The 5.5-mile course was still frozen for the first lap as Katie Sodergren, Claire Bensard, and Diedre York all stayed within striking distance of the leader, Lauren Catlin of Fort Lewis. Disaster struck Sodergren on the second lap when a crash on the slippery course led to a lost contact from the eye and lost contact from the lead group. York and Bensard continued to chase and ended up on the podium in 4th and 5th. Racing in her senior year, this was Bensard’s first Nationals podium, and as author of this article, I’d like to point out that four years ago, I totally pointed to Claire as doing big things in cycling in the future. Ashlee Wilson, newly upgraded to A’s placed 10th. She will also do great things in the future. I’ve got my money on it.
The boys lined up on a rapidly melting course that was quickly turning into a giant mud pit. With some of the best riders in the world lining up, the field quickly blew apart and riders were left battling a course that took no prisoners. Sam Morrison finished a strong 8th with Peter O’Donnell, in his Nationals debut finished just behind in 9th and Brad Berger, a newly upgraded A-rider learning how to ride gears instead of a single speed was 10th.
In the short track on Saturday morning, conditions were similar for both the women and men. Women faced a frozen 0.5-mile course with 80 feet of climbing per lap. The non-technical course put many of the women on the team, who are good technical riders, at a disadvantage. Bensard made her second podium of the race placing 4th while York, Sodergren, and Abbey Mickey were 6th, 7th, and 8th.
In the men’s race, O’Donnell decided to make the most of his Nationals experience of playing in the mud and rode very solidly in the top five of the race for the first half. A mishap with a ditch in the course sent his seat askew and ended his chances of a podium finish but he fought back to finish 10th. Morrison made the podium with a come-from-behind 4th place finish.
The gravity team took to any icy and muddy hill Saturday afternoon. Even after getting caught up in traffic, Joey Schusler added a 4th National title to his collection after a relatively clean run down the course. Michael Larson also rode the race of his life to finish 3rd on a course that terrified many. The women, none of whom were downhill specialists survived the course with York narrowly missing the podium in 6th. Bensard perfected the butt-scoot down some of the icy chutes to finish 8th.
The dual slalom on Sunday was an 8-hour affair due to timing and gate difficulties. The course, changing from frozen to muddy as the sun rose in the sky, rewarded the rider who could handle variable conditions each run and be able to adapt their riding style each run as conditions changed. Schusler, who’s name was mispronounced by the announcer all day, rode away with his second National title of the weekend and Nick Caron narrowly missed the podium, finishing 6th.
For the women, York found her second podium of the weekend finishing 5th and Bensard rode solidly to finish 8th. York finished 2nd in the overall omnium and Bensard finished 3rd, the perfect way to cap off her senior year. The team finished 8 points behind the powerhouse of Fort Lewis, the closest the team omnium contest has been in years. With the proper leadership, this weekend should just be a glimpse of what the team is capable of in the future.