After a full weekend of commanding individual racing in downhill, dual slalom, short track, and cross country, the Fort Lewis College cycling team clinched the 2018 USA Cycling Collegiate Mountain Bike National Championships title on October 21 after winning the team relay.
More than 60 schools were on Marshall Mountain in Missoula, Montana, vying for podium finishes from Friday through Sunday evening. FLC returned to defend the varsity overall omnium title, and with their win brought the team’s national title total to a hard-to-ignore 24.
“It went according to plan,” says Assistant Cycling Coach Chad Cheeney. “We did better than we thought we would, compared to other teams and to last year. Each day we went in with a good lead, so our riders on Sunday were more relaxed and knew they just had to have fun and get down the mountain safe to wrap up the title.”
Team rider McCauley Smith defended her own title, taking the Women’s Varsity Downhill win again. Cole Paton pulled in two national titles in the Men's Varsity Cross Country and Short Track Cross Country. Savilia Blunk also took the Short Track Cross Country title in the Women's Varsity race. Riders for the winning team relay on Sunday were Blunk, Paton, Ellen Campbell, and Nash Dory. In addition to the individual titles were many top ten finishes from other riders.
“We’ve improved on our depth in the disciplines, so we were putting a lot of riders in the top ten and took a step up from last year,” says Cheeney.
Drey Smith, Jaren Lockwood, and Benjamin Bennett took seventh, eighth, and tenth respectively in the Men’s Varsity Dual Slalom, and McCauley Smith and Elena Runyan took sixth and tenth in the Women’s.
Cooper Wiens and Hendry Nadell went for silver and bronze in the Men’s Varsity Cross Country race, making it a Skyhawks-swept podium, and Dory was fifth. In the Women’s race, Blunk was second, with Campbell in sixth and Kelsay Lundberg in tenth.
In the Women’s Varsity Downhill, Lacey Andersen took bronze and Runyan was fifth. Drey Smith, Lockwood, Bennett, and Asa McGill-Howe went for sixth through ninth.
Campbell took fifth in the Women’s Varsity Short Track Cross Country race, and Stella Sisneros was tenth. In the Men’s race it was Dory and Nadell in fourth and fifth.
“ We find great success because it's not a high-pressure environment to produce results. It's about having fun riding bikes, getting faster with the resources that you have here as a team, and getting a good education.
Cycling Director Dave Hagen
Cheeney and Cycling Director Dave Hagen both point to the program’s laid-back culture as cause for continued success. Riders enjoyed stress-free races with no mechanical issues to deal with, but beyond that they knew the focus was on fun.
“We find great success because it’s not a high-pressure environment to produce results. It’s about having fun riding bikes, getting faster with the resources that you have here as a team, and getting a good education,” says Hagen.
FLC cycling is operated as a club sport, open to any full-time students, who decide for themselves how competitively they want to ride. It’s a unique mix of cyclists taking different trails to Olympic-level competitions or to Horse Gulch for an afternoon spin, and everyone is encouraged to just enjoy the ride.
“It’s really challenging and fun to coach a team of this size, and it makes me get creative with trainings, to make them fun and specific to the athletes’ needs,” says Cheeney.
Fun has helped the team to win 24 national championships, and Hagen knows there will be more titles for the program, maybe as soon as this December at Cyclocross Nationals in Kentucky, or in the spring on the road.
“Last year we were six seconds from wining a cyclocross national title,” says Hagen. “We have been waiting for the right chemistry to win a road national title for many years and last year we thought we were really close to having that magic. This year we pretty much have all the same players back for both disciplines plus a couple that weren’t able to race for us last year. We also have a few more strong, dedicated BMX racers this year so we should fare better at BMX Nationals compared to previous years.”
All results from the 2018 Collegiate Mountain Bike National Championships are at USA Cycling. All photos are courtesy of Zach Graveson.