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Durango overcomes adversity to host collegiate mountain bike nationals

Volunteers put in hours shoveling snow to make event possible
Riders compete in the USA Cycling Collegiate Mountain Bike Championships men’s varsity cross-country race Friday at Purgatory Resort. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

PURGATORY – After forest fires and a global pandemic forced cancellations of the last two attempts to host the collegiate mountain bike national championships in Durango, a snowstorm wasn’t going to stop the action this year.

With snow blanketing Purgatory Resort, however, a big effort from volunteers with shovels was needed to get the courses race ready.

“It was a huge effort,” said Fort Lewis College cycling team member Connor Gizinski, who spent hours digging the cross-country course out with a shovel. After working on the trails Wednesday, the team put out a post on social media asking for help, and about 50 people showed up Thursday ready to work.

“It was just cool to see everyone come together,” Gizinski said. “And not just bikers; people from Durango came up to support the Fort Lewis cycling team.”

Fort Lewis College riders Michaela Thompson, right, placed second; Natalie Quinn, center, placed third; and Ruth Holcomb placed seventh in the USA Cycling Collegiate MTB Championships women’s varsity cross-country race on Friday at Purgatory Resort. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

With the national championships taking place in October, snow isn’t uncommon at the mountain bike championships. Durango Devo Executive Director Levi Kurlander said there was snow at two of the three national championships he raced in for FLC, calling it “par for the course.”

The national championships are arguably the biggest races to take place in Durango since Purgatory hosted a UCI World Cup race in 2001. Purgatory was also the site of the first-ever UCI cross-country mountain bike world championships in 1990. The hope, said race director Dave Hagen, is that this is the start of big races coming back to Durango.

FLC cyclists also appreciated the support they received from the home crowd.

“It was amazing,” said Durango local and FLC freshman Ruth Holcomb. “I saw teachers and family and friends. It was amazing all of the people calling my name and cheering. Being at home is the most amazing feeling for racing.”

Riders take off at the start of the USA Cycling Collegiate Mountain Bike Championships men’s varsity cross-country race on Friday at Purgatory Resort. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

While the event is the collegiate national championships, cycling isn’t an NCAA-sanctioned sport. Instead, USA Cycling is the governing body. Instead of divisions I, II and III, cycling is broken into varsity and club divisions. FLC competes in the more competitive varsity division, along with traditional Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference foes Colorado Mesa and Western Colorado.

The University of Colorado, Colorado State University, University of California Berkeley and Colorado School of Mines, meanwhile, all race in the club division.

Teams from all over the country, however, are taking part in the national championships.

The championships consist of both cross-country and gravity races. There will be five different races contested at the event, including cross-country, short-track cross-country, a team relay, dual slalom and downhill.

Points from all of the events, both men and women, will be added together to decide the team omnium champions. FLC and Colorado Mesa dominated the top-10 places in Friday’s cross-country races to pull away from the competition. The team title will likely come down to the team relay on Sunday.

Riders had to deal with a lot of mud on the trail while competing in the USA Cycling Collegiate Mountain Bike Championships men’s varsity cross-country race Friday at Purgatory Resort. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Mud and ice, however, are also factoring into the results with bikes getting clogged and equipment breaking. FLC’s Michaela Thompson, who finished second in the cross-country race, said she felt like she was running up the slippery climbs more than riding during her race. Racing at home, however, she said she loved it.

“To be at our home mountain is special,” Thompson said. “We’ve been working our (butts) off to get it here.”

Tyler Clarke with Brevard College in North Carolina called the venue “awesome.”

“The long descent (in the cross-country race) is a ton of fun,” Clarke said. He did say, however, that he had hoped to ride earlier in the day when the course was more frozen than muddy.

After Friday’s cross-country and dual slalom championships will be short-track on Saturday and the downhill and team relay finals on Sunday.

colivas@durangoherald.com

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