Steve Lewis/Durango Herald
No wonder the Skyhawks pedaled so fast; they had a plane to catch.
The Fort Lewis College cycling team, led by a pair of riders who are heading to the World Mountain Biking Championships in Austria, started the college season Saturday morning with a fast and furious short track on the FLC campus.
The Skyhawks, the three-time defending national mountain bike champions and the top-ranked Division I program in the country, finished a dusty and dominating 1-2-3 in the men’s A race at the Squawker Mountain Bike Classic on the Factory Trails behind Bader Hall.
And Lauren Catlin of the Skyhawks finished a close second to a former world cyclocross champion in the women’s A race.
“That was really fun. It was a good compilation of the Factory Trails’ best spots,” said Catlin, who finished second to pro mountain biker and former Durango resident Rebecca Gross.
Gross, also a world cyclocross champion, is a graduate student at the University of Denver, riding for the Pioneers. Pros are allowed to race in college cycling.
“It’s a good experience to race against a professional rider ... it’s good for all the girls,” said Catlin, who’s contributed to the last three Fort Lewis national mountain bike titles.
“It was really fun ... I was impressed with the size of the women’s field this year,” she said.
“There were over 20 A women,” said Catlin, who hustled off to get ready for her next race – the U23 World Cross Country Championships on Friday in Europe.
“I’m leaving for Austria (today). I’ve got to go home after this and pack my bag,” she said.
Catlin will be joined at Worlds by teammate Skyler Trujillo, who finished second to the Skyhawks’ Rotem Ishay in Saturday’s men’s A race.
They’ll both be joined in Austria by a third FLC cyclist, Durango native Howard Grotts, who didn’t race Saturday.
“We have three people from the Fort Lewis team going to Worlds this year,” Trujillo said. “Howard and I fly out (today), and so does Lauren ... we’re excited.”
Trujillo said racing in the Squawker MTB Classic against an experienced pro such as Ishay will help prepare him for the international field in Austria.
“Rotem’s definitely a unique racer because he doesn’t race like Americans,” Trujillo said of Ishay, the reigning Israeli national mountain bike champion.
“Americans accelerate nice and slow and just try to keep their power high through the whole race,” Trujillo said. “Rotem throws an attack every chance he gets.”
Ishay attacked on the final lap of the 25-minute short track race Saturday morning after he had reeled in Trujillo and FLC teammate Payson McElveen, who had broken away from the men’s A field.
“Payson and I got away,” Trujillo said.
They could tell by the crowd that Ishay was catching up.
“Then, when he (Ishay) pulled in front of me ... coming out of every corner, he hammered it. He would stand up and hit it really hard,” Trujillo said.
The two FLC teammates pulled side-by-side for a gravel-sprint finish down the final 30 meters of the course with Ishay pushing his bike ahead for the victory.
“My advantage is that I have so many years racing on this course,” said Ishay, a former collegiate cross country national champion.
“I know the corners so well. I can keep a little more speed into and out of the corners,” Ishay said.
“I was definitely eating some rocks (at the end),” said Trujillo, the FLC cyclist who called himself a “New Belgium native of Fort Collins.”
Ishay said the Skyhawks take pride in their Squawker Classic. They enjoy the racing, he said.
“But it would be a bit of a disappointment if it wasn’t a full (Fort Lewis) podium,” he said after the Skyhawks swept the men’s race.
Gross, the women’s A winner, said returning to Durango inspired her.
“I lived here for awhile; it’s good to be back,” she said. “(Chad) Cheeney is phenomenal at making courses. This definitely had his signature to it,” she said of course designer and Durango DEVO coach Chad Cheeney.
“It’s great to see some of the DEVO kids racing college now ... some of the DEVO kids I used to coach,” said Gross, a pro mountain biker also pursuing a master’s degree in sports psychology at DU.
She said she’s excited to get back on the mountain bike for today’s cross country race, which will feature trails and roads surrounding the FLC campus.
Racing will begin at 8 a.m. with the men’s A race. The women’s A race will start at 10:30 a.m. The start will be at the Factory Trails where Saturday’s short track was held.
The five-mile cross country course will include the Rim Trail, Nature Trail, Chapman Hill, Lion’s Den and portions of the Front Hill to the college. The Front Hill (Eighth Avenue) will be closed today during the cross country race.