Queened and kinged in Angel Fire

Fort Lewis off to a fast start Day 1 at mountain bike nationals

Fort Lewis College’s defense of its title at the Division I Collegiate Mountain Bike National Championships couldn’t have started any better.

Lauren Catlin and Howard Grotts won the women’s and men’s cross country events, respectively, leading the Skyhawks on Day 1 of the three-day event in snowy Angel Fire, N.M.

Grotts, the first American junior ever to win a World Cup title, overcame a flat on the last lap to take his throne. He won in 2 hours, 4 minutes and 44 seconds, seven seconds ahead of teammate and last year’s champion Rotem Ishay.

“This was awesome,” Grotts said, quoted on www.usacycling.org. “This is the first time I’ve raced in conditions like this. I was pretty happy with my race. I came by Rotem on one of the switchbacks. I kept it in a low gear and was spinning a lot. I opened it up and settled in.”

Grotts, a Durango native, rode for Colorado School of Mines his freshman year before returning to his hometown and the FLC program. He finished fourth in this year’s Iron Horse Bicycle Classic road race.

On Friday, he paced a 1-2-3 finish for the Skyhawks. Greg Carpenter finished third for FLC, and acccording to the FLC cycling Twitter feed, Colton Anderson finished fifth.

Catlin traversed the icy, muddy, snowy course in 1:53.31, more than a minute ahead of second-place Ashley James of Appalachian State. Jill Behlen of Colorado finished third.

FLC’s Twitter feed placed Sarah Sturm sixth in 1:58:33 and Brittany Clawson 16th in 2:18:22. Anne Cheeney rounded out the Fort Lewis riders in 29th in 2:39:00.

Alexis Skarda, a former All-American cross country runner at Colorado Mesa, continued her impressive transition to mountain biking. She won the Division II race in 1:50.23, more than three minutes ahead of Durangoan and University of Denver rider Rebecca Gross.

“This is my first year cycling. I had no idea what the competition was,” Skarda was quoted on the cycling website. “I was just going to come out here and grind it and see what happens. I was hoping for top three in D-II.”

Matt Schiff, a Fort Collins native riding for Humboldt State, won the Division II men’s race.

On today’s docket are the short-track cross country races and the downhill finals, and nationals will wrap Sunday with the dual slalom.

Ishay, the two-time Israeli mountain bike champion, is the defending national short-track champion.

heraldsports@durangoherald.com