Banner Elk, N.C.--Not only did Lees-McRae host its second conference championship of the year when the South Eastern Collegiate Cycling Conference Road Race Championships rode into town this past weekend, but they also captured their second conference title of the year and secured an invitation to the 2008 Road Race National Championships to be held in Fort Collins, Colorado May 9-11.
The Bobcats added another first in their seven year history this weekend when sophomore Carla Swart (Buford, Ga.) and sophomore John Doyle (Mattawan, Mich.) claimed individual overall titles in Women's A and Men's A. Although the Bobcats have taken other individual titles, they had never taken both at the same time
The Road Race Conference Finals featured both a team time trial and a criterium on Saturday and a finished with a road race on Sunday with competition from top contenders like the University of Florida, Furman and Cumberland. The Bobcats, with the conference lead heading into the weekend, battled against both cyclists and mountainous weather conditions to take the win and guarantee participation in their fourth national championship event of the year.
The weekend opened up with time trial competition where the Bobcats swept all time trial categories, winning at Men's A, B and C and Women's A. The Men's A set a new course record of 38:26 over the 17 mile time trial.
The criterium, held on an exciting course on a private road thanks to Hugh Fields & Associates, began Saturday afternoon with the rain-slickened roads adding to the difficulty of the race. First to take to the road was Men's C where Matthew Owen (Banner Elk, N.C.) rode the race of his life. After going down early when another rider crashed ahead of him, Owen got back up and rode to within twelve seconds of the leader to finish in second place overall. Thomas Cockerton (Irvington, N.Y.) also rode the best race of his young cycling career with a very strong twelfth place finish.
As the criterium continued with the B races, Women's B racer Rebecca Conklin (Cincinnati, Ohio) rode away from the field with Chloe Jackson (East Hampton, Conn.) and Kaylie Henne (Plainview, Ark.) sprinting it out for second and third for a one-two-three sweep of the race. In the Men's B race Chris Consorto (Landberg, Pa.) took off early and led most of the race only to be caught by his teammates, Brad Perley (Kennebunk, Maine) and Nick Dale (Raleigh, N.C.). Perley rode to the win with Dale finishing second, Consorto third and Chris Pickerell (Harrisburg, Va.) pedaled to fourth. The team just overwhelmed the field as only one spot of the top eight riders was not claimed by a Bobcat when Randy LaPrairie (Warren, Mich.), Austin Simmons (Greenville, N.C.) and Mike Rozelle (Norfolk, Va.) finishing sixth, seventh and eighth respectively.
As the afternoon wore on, the Women's A cyclists took to the course looking to continue the Bobcats' winning ways. After Swart and Kacey Manderfield (Davisburg, Mich.) rode away from the rest of the field taking first and second respectively, Kristi Henne (Plainview, Ark.) and Jo Markham (Colliersville, Tenn.) pedaled their way to fourth and fifth to give the Bobcats four of the top five places in the race.
Next was the men's A race which featured a few pro cyclists that also race in college. Early on sophomore Sam Keesler (Huntersville, N.C.) rode away from the field and lapped everyone on the course except his teammates John Doyle and Scott Jackson (Chatham, N.J.) to claim his first A race victory. Doyle finished in second place while Jackson pedaled to third to complete the sweep of the top three places for the Bobcats. The whole team rode extremely well helping out their teammates to victory. To complete the domination of the race Sean Condron (Pittsfield, Mass.) finished eighth, then Kevin Holldber (Idyllwild, Calif.), Went Knipe (Sheffield, Va.), Preston Anderson (State Road, N.C.), Gonzalo Escobar (Falls Church, Va.) and Christian White (Virginia Beach, Va.) grabbed the tenth through fourteenth positions respectively.
Sunday morning brought cooler temps but the rain moved out for a dry and cool day for the road race portion of the championships. The course, a grueling 10 mile loop with 1500 feet of climbing, varies in length for each level.
In the sixty mile Men's A race Bobby Sweeting took out early with a solo break away in an attempt to win the conference title. The course proved too tough for a solo rider to maintain his lead, and Sweeting was eventually brought back by LMC riders John Doyle, Scott Jackson and Furman rider Chris Butler. In the final sprint Butler took the win with Doyle taking second and Jackson third. Sam Keesler, who had an impressive weekend of racing, finished sixth while Sean Condron grabbed ninth. Gonzalo Escobar, in his last collegiate race, finished very strong to secure a tenth place finish. Kevin Holldber stayed in the race finishing fourteenth while Preston Anderson finished nineteenth.
In the Women's A race, a forty mile contest, Carla Swart rode away from the rest of the field to take a commanding first place finish. Jo Markham rode a great race as well pedaling to a strong second place finish with Kristi Henne taking third for another top three sweep.
Another forty mile race, Men's B, saw Chris Consorto once again take an early lead. Consorto held the lead until the final lap when his teammates caught up to him. This time it was Chris Pickerell claiming the victory with Brad Perley taking second while Consorto finished fifth. Other LMC cyclists finishing for the Bobcats are Austin Simmons who took sixth while Nick Dale, still recovering from his hard race on Saturday, held on for a tenth place finish.
In the twenty mile Women's B race newcomer Sarah Anderson from Mars Hill surprised everyone with a victory with Bobcat riders Rebecca Conklin and Kaylie Henne finishing in second and third.
In the Men's C race, another two loop race, Matthew Owen rode most of the race in second place only to be caught and passed in the final descent to finish with a strong fourth place. Thomas Cockerton once again rode a good race for a fourteenth place finish.
The Bobcats proved once again why they are fast becoming one of the premier collegiate cycling programs in the country with another dominating conference performance. The Bobcats are well on their way to having their best mountain bike season in the school's history and hope to use the experience they've gained to secure a spot on the podium at the 2008 College Road National Championships as they compete against the country's best collegiate cyclists. For the next few weeks the student-athletes will be dedicating their time to their studies, completing their exams, and of course, getting in the necessary training to compete at the national level.
Congratulation to the entire team for an amazing season and the hard fought victories.
Pictured: Carla Swart