The Fort Lewis College cycling team rolled into Utah on Friday and stunned the field on the opening day of the USA Cycling Collegiate Road Nationals.
While the Skyhawks annually rank among the nation’s leaders in cycling, the team time trial at the road nationals hasn’t been where FLC built its reputation.
The Skyhawks changed that image Thursday when the FLC men’s team won the Division I team time trial on windy Antelope Island northwest of Salt Lake City.
“The time trial was on an island. And, first of all, it was beautiful,” Durango senior Rotem Ishay said in a phone interview Friday with The Durango Herald. “But because it is an island, there is a lot of wind. It was really gusty (Friday).”
Ishay, a two-time collegiate mountain bike national champion for FLC, said the out-and-back course started with a huge tailwind.
“Going out, we averaged ... 35 (mph). (Top) gear, as hard as we could go,” said Ishay, the current Israeli national mountain bike champion.
“Coming back, there was a headwind, a crosswind. It was like we were in a hurricane or a tornado,” Ishay said.
Beaten and battered by the vicious wind, he said the Skyhawks didn’t think they rode very fast.
“We didn’t feel like it was that fast, but we rotated really good. We had trained so much, we were in tune with each other,” he said.
Griffin Easter, Willy Zellmer, Payson McElveen and Ishay alternated pulls in the challenging conditions. The Skyhawks finished the course in 41 minutes, 34.06 seconds.
Stanford University was second – 4 seconds back (41:38.52).
Marian University of Indianapolis, with a dominating women’s victory Friday, finished third in the men’s race (42:43.53).
The Colorado State University’s men’s team was fourth (42:54), with Appalachian State fifth (42:02).
The University of Colorado was seventh.
“No one here (at nationals) expected us to win the (team) time trial,” said Ishay, who only last year added the team time trial to his college studies.
In fact, he said, three of the Fort Lewis riders primarily are mountain bikers.
McElveen, a freshman mountain biker from Austin, Texas, is in his first season as a road racer. Zellmer is a mountain biker from Missoula, Mont. Easter, a veteran of all disciplines, is from Claremont, Calif.
“The guys put it all together on the right day,” FLC cycling director Dave Hagen said.
“The guys knew they could do it, but they hadn’t beaten CU or CSU all year (in the team time trial).
“Both squads rode amazing,” he said. “The ladies, of course, had a tough task with that Marian team.”
The FLC women’s team finished fifth in Friday’s team time trial.
Marian University, with three road racing professionals, won (48:00.75) by a huge margin.
Heather Fischer of the University of Colorado, who won the criterium and the road race at the Squawker Road Classic in Durango last month, led her team to a second-place finish Friday (49:30).
The University of California-Davis finished third (49:43).
Midwestern State of Wichita Falls, Texas, was fourth (51:24.54). Midwestern State edged the FLC women by .37 of a second.
The FLC riders for the team time trial were Missy Erickson, Sarah Sturm, Lauren Catlin and Meghan Kane.
In the Division II men’s team time trial, Colorado Mesa University finished fourth behind Duke, MIT and Mars Hill College of North Carolina.
Colorado Mesa is coached by former FLC coach Rick Crawford.
The collegiate road nationals will continue today with criterium races in downtown Ogden, Utah. The road races Sunday, featuring significant climbs, will conclude the racing collegiate nationals, which are being hosted by Weber State College.
The top-ranked Skyhawks are pedaling for their 18th national cycling championship – and their first in road biking.