The USA Cycling Collegiate Mountain Bike National Championships are returning to Purgatory Resort Thursday through Sunday, welcoming roughly 300 athletes from more than 40 colleges to the bike park to compete in five disciplines.
“It’s pretty exciting,” said Fort Lewis College’s director of cycling, Ian Burnett. “It’s definitely a lot of work, but it’s all worth it when you (see) them all out there racing.”
Burnett said they made a few adjustments to make the event smoother this year. Heavy snowfall just before last year’s championships caused several courses to be altered, but the weather looks like it will cooperate with the championships this year.
“It’s looking cooler, but sunny and dry,” Burnett said. “The weather should be more spectator friendly.”
With no snow, FLC will be able to showcase some of Purgatory’s most famous trails. The downhill competition will take place on World Cup course, and the cross-country race will be held on the same course where Ned Overend won the first mountain biking world title back in 1990.
Burnett said the short-track cross-country course and the team relay course were changed a little from last year, so they’ll go through the center of the base village more.
The dual slalom championships, which will begin a couple hours earlier this year, will be in the same location as last year, but on a brand-new course.
“They completely rebuilt it and made it really nice,” Burnett said, comparing it to the dual slalom course that was built at Chapman Hill for this year’s Iron Horse Bicycle Classic.
“It will be fun to have dual slalom under the lights again,” Burnett said. “Even the short track and team relay should be fun because they’re so spectator friendly.”
Based on their performances throughout the year, FLC’s endurance team will include women riders Michaela Thompson, Madelyn Roberson, Natalie Quinn, Aleah Austin, Sabrina Hayes and An-Mae Ellisor and men riders Cobe Freeburn, Toby Hassett, Guy Leshem, Carson Beard, Kellen Caldwell and Beckett Ledger.
DHS 2021 graduate Bailey Cioppa also made the initial list, but is injured.
Fort Lewis’ gravity team, meanwhile, includes Fiona Dougherty, Ruth Holcomb, Sadie Schafer, Olivia Salter, Emma Artz, Kaia Jenson and reserve Hannah Sulas for the women. Keanu Smith, Cole Fiene, Brandon Weir, Ethan Wright, Luke Villars and Max Jackson will represent the FLC men in the gravity events.
Burnett said Quinn, who won a national championship on the track earlier this year, and Thompson, who has consistently been at the top of the A-field during the conference season, are two FLC women to watch out for. Holcomb, who competed in the U23 world cup cross-country races this summer, will race in the gravity events for FLC.
“She switched it up and ended up having a really good downhill and gravity season,” Burnett said. In general, he said the team’s gravity riders have been riding well. “Our gravity riders have really stepped it up, especially the women,” Burnett said. “I’m excited to see what they can do, especially on something as technical as World Cup; this is the top-end of downhill racing.”
On the men’s side, Burnett said Beard and Hassett are the men’s top-two riders, but “all those other guys are right behind them.”
Beard’s twin brother also races from Colorado Mesa University, and CMU will once again be Fort Lewis’ biggest competitor for the team omnium championship.
“First and foremost, this event is a celebration of the amazing bicycle and that special feeling we get when lining up with the nation's best student athletes,” said Skyhawks cycling coach Chad Cheeney. “With the goal of winning the team omnium title, we get to bring all the disciplines together and work as a team in this individual sport to sport the most points. That is special too.”
The start and finish for all the five events will be front and center at the resort’s base area, making spectating easy.
Dave Hagen, former team director at FLC, is serving as course manager for the event and helped bring back the World Cup downhill track.
The championships will begin Thursday with practice at 11:30 a.m. and the dual slalom qualifying rounds at 3 p.m.
On Friday, the cross-country championships will take place, with the male varsity race at 9 a.m. and the varsity women racing at 11:15. The dual slalom finals will follow at 3 p.m.
On Saturday, the downhill seeding runs will begin at 9:45 a.m. The short-track cross-country championships will start at 1 p.m., with the varsity races at 1:45 and 3:15 p.m.
Sunday will feature the downhill finals, beginning at 10:30 a.m. The team relays, which could decide the team omnium title, will take place at 2 p.m. (club) and 2:45 p.m. (varsity). The team omnium title is based on cumulative points scored over the week and is the most coveted title for the bigger teams.
Two men and two women from each team will join forces for the relays.
The event is free for spectators to watch. Food and beverages will available in the plaza all weekend. FLC alumni will have a booth at the event.
A few more volunteers are also still needed for the event; more information at https://bit.ly/3ErAJd4.