Banner Elk, NC--The USA Cycling Collegiate Mountain Bike Championships opened today on the campus of Lees-McRae College with four grueling races over a rain-slickened cross country course. Both men and women in Division I & II battled not only each other, but a technically demanding terrain which forced many a rider off his bike. The Lees-McRae men finished the day with four of the top sixteen spots, while the women gained two of top 13 finishes.
The Men's Division I race started out after a last minute course change to avoid a small "lake" in the first quarter mile. Lees-McRae led the race at the one mile mark with junior Scott Stewart (Oxford, MI) in front and freshman Mike Anderson (Alpena, MI) right on his tail as they headed into the woods to start the first of four treacherous five mile loops.
However, after the first lap three riders had forged ahead of the Bobcats, with Fort Lewis College's (Durango, CO) Benjamin Sonntag taking a commanding lead of the field of muddy cyclists. Sonntag never looked back, finishing in 2:11:16, a full six minutes ahead of teammate Adam Snyder. Spencer Paxson of Middlebury College (Middlebury, VT) clinched third place.
Sonntag, a native of Germany and the reigning World Winter Triathalon Champion (which consists of biking, running and Nordic skiing), had this to say about his performance today on the grueling course, "I just tried to go as hard as possible. That was my technique today." When questioned about the terrain of muddy climbs and descents that forced many riders off their bikes he added, " I am a good runner and that was an advantage today."
Although Lees-McRae did not finish in the top three, they did manage to place in four of the top sixteen spots, a feat only duplicated by Fort Lewis College on the day. Crossing the finish line first for the Bobcats was Scott Stewart who rode to eighth place. Senior Aaron Bradford (Auburn, WA) took tenth, a solid place for the only LMC rider competing for the omnium title. Junior Randy Laprairie (Warren, MI) and Mike Anderson finished 15th and 16th respectively.
In Division II action, Colin Cares of Colorado College (Colorado Springs, CO) forged through the mud and grime to capture the national title in USA Cycling's Collegiate Mountain Bike Championships finishing in a time of 2:23:57. Second place finisher, Tristan Cowie of Brevard College (Brevard, NC), came in at 2:28:35 while Andrew Freye of University of Southern Maine Portland, ME) finished in 2:33:33 for the third spot on the podium.
In a race of fifteen mud-filled, grueling miles through tough technical terrain, it was University of Arizona (Tucson, AZ) cyclist Chloe Foresman who dominated the field in Women's Division I. After claiming the national title Foresman commented, " It was so hard and so fun out there. The course was very challenging. I probably ran more today than in the last year." Amanda Miller of Colorado State University (Fort Collins, CO) battled her way to a second place finish beating out narrowly University of Tennessee-Chattanooga rider Jamie Dinkins.
Lees-McRae sophomore Carla Swart (Buford, GA) competed fiercely and came across the finish line in fourth place with a giant smile and a mud-covered bike. Standing with her legs bloodied and muddied from the race, Swart said, "I am glad I raced the flats. This race was the hardest thing I've done." Ally Stacher (Etna, CA) hung on to finish 13th after crashing into a boulder early in the race. Teammates Kristi Henne (Plainview, AR) and Chloe Jackson (East Hampton, CT) both dealt with broken chains during the course of the race, but finished 21st and 34th on the day.
In Women's Division II action it was Kylie Krauss of Warren Wilson College who rode her way to victory in the fifteen mile cross country race. Kate Chapman of Western State College of Colorado (Gunnison, CO) grabbed second while Mesa State College (Grand Junction, CO) cyclist Naticia Slusher pedaled to third place on the tough course.
More cycling continues tomorrow as the cyclists hit the slopes of Sugar Mountain for the Down Hill Championships at 8:00am. A kid's race will be held back at Lees-McRae on the Short Track course at noon followed by the Collegiate Short Track races beginning at 1:00pm. Sunday will wrap up the USA Cycling Mountain Bike National Championships with Dual Slalom competition beginning at 8:00am.