Jerry McBride/Durango Herald photos
Jerry McBride/Durango Herald photos
With a few of their big sluggers out of the lineup, the Skyhawks turned to a new designated hitter Sunday.
Payson McElveen of Fort Lewis College stepped up to the bike, clicked into his pedals and responded with a resounding home run – a home-field victory in the cross country race at the annual Squawker Mountain Bike Classic.
“I felt like I had a bit of an obligation with Rotem (Ishay), Howard (Grotts) and Skyler (Trujillo) gone,” McElveen said of his FLC teammates who missed the race because of prior obligations – notably the U23 World Mountain Bike Championships in Austria later this week.
“So I was happy I was able to hold down the Fort,” McElveen said while his teammates howled nearby, enjoying his pun.
McElveen, who matriculated to Fort Lewis from Austin, Texas, led from the start of the 25-mile men’s A race that featured five laps on a five-mile course of singletrack and dirt roads that circumnavigated the FLC campus.
“This is one of the hardest courses that we do,” McElveen said. “It’s really tricky because there are a lot of tough climbs ... but there’s almost no recovery (on the short descents).”
The course started on the Factory Trails behind Bader Hall. It included a descent and a climb up to the Rim Trail for some high-speed rolling and a short descent of Chapman Hill before a hot, dusty climb up the Lion’s Den.
McElveen said he knew his familiarity with the course would be a huge advantage.
“One of the things I focused on was trying to get a good start and get a gap right off,” McElveen said. “I knew Sam (Morrison of the University of Colorado) would benefit if he could follow my line, so I wanted to establish an early gap ... so he couldn’t see my line.”
Morrison, a mechanical engineering/cycling major from Pittsburgh, finished second for the Buffaloes, who fielded a large team for Sunday’s Squawker Classic cross country races.
Garrett Lundberg of Fort Lewis, a freshman from Salida, rode across in third place.
Ryan Ellis, a CU student from Zambia, finished fourth.
Rebecca Gross of the University of Denver, who won Saturday’s short track in dominating fashion, repeated Sunday by winning the women’s A cross country race over Katie Sodergren of the University of Colorado.
Kaila Hart of the Skyhawks, who started racing with the Durango DEVO program when Gross was one of the coaches, finished third.
“I love this course,” Hart said. “My favorite part is we actually race around our college, which is super unique for our races.”
Hart, who raced with Gross on the women’s pro mountain bike circuit this season, said she expected a fast start from the former world cyclocross champion.
“I tried to stay with her, but she’s super strong,” Hart said. “But it’s always nice to have a challenge like her.”
Hart said she was a bit surprised by her fitness at the Squawker Classic.
“I haven’t trained on my bike in about two weeks,” she said. Her last pro race was in Wisconsin. With a heavy academic load this semester, the first week of classes was particularly “crazy,” Hart said.
“It’s nice to not have to travel on the first week of school,” she said, grateful that the first collegiate race of the season was right outside her front door.
“Since we had the rain (Saturday) night, the trails were wicked fast. It’s so fun to ride fast along the rim,” Hart said.
Gross said she knew she had to be aware of the Fort Lewis girls on the downhill sections early in the race.
“The collegiate girls are so strong (on the downhills),” said Gross, a pro. “Kaila was catching me on the descents.”
Gross said she enjoys the environment of collegiate cycling.
“I feel really privileged to race collegiate (events),” said Gross, who lives in Golden, near where the Colorado School of Mines hosts a race.
Cyclists from Mines, CU, DU, Colorado State, Colorado Mesa, Western State Colorado University (formerly Western State College), the Air Force Academy, the University of Wyoming and Adams State rode in Sunday’s Squawker Classic.
They pedaled a course that crossed Eighth Avenue, the road up the Front Hill where the cyclists of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge kicked off the 2012 race two weeks ago.
Cadel Evans of Australia, the 2011 winner of the Tour de France who first visited Durango 18 years ago, is one of several cyclists to ride in a mountain bike race that used several of the same trails the college cyclists used Sunday.
Complete individual and team results for the Rocky Mountain Collegiate Cycling races in Durango will be available later this week.