Time is right for collegiate cyclists

Squawker Classic hits Durango and leads the Skyhawks into nationals

Collegiate cyclists from the Rocky Mountain region will roll into Durango this week with the clock ticking.

Fort Lewis College will host the annual Squawker Road Classic on Saturday and Sunday in Durango’s customary showcase of road cycling.

The collegiate cyclists as well as USA Cycling citizen division racers will take on a team time trial and a criterium Saturday. The road race component will take off Sunday with a start/finish on the FLC campus and a loop course that will feature climbs up the lung-busting front hill.

And time is of the essence.

The season’s clock is ticking with the Squawker Road Classic the final event before the USA Collegiate Cycling Road Nationals on May 4-6 in Ogden, Utah.

“This is the culmination of our season, and it’s the conference finals as well,” said Dave Hagen, FLC’s director of cycling.

“The timing is crucial. These are the same three disciplines we will be racing at nationals,” Hagen said.

“This is a chance ... for us to select the cyclists we’ll take to nationals,” he said of the deep Fort Lewis College team ranked No. 1 in Division I cycling.

“Plus, we have to decide who will race what. Do we want to save someone for a different discipline or whatever,” Hagen said of the all-important team strategy with nationals approaching.

The Squawker also serves as a chance to refine the Skyhawks’ team time trial riding.

The races also will be the final home appearance for the Fort Lewis College seniors, including Missy Erickson.

“Missy graduates this semester,” Hagen said. “She’s been such a great rider for us ... in every discipline. I know she’ll be ready.”

Likewise Laura Catlin and Sarah Sturm.

The two veteran cyclists have more eligibility remaining. But this likely will be the last time the three FLC cycling sisters race together in Durango.

“Those three are our top ladies,” Hagen said.

Megan Kane, a top collegiate mountain biker and budding road racer, will join Catlin, Erickson and Sturm for the FLC team time trial.

“She’s (Kane) really solid ... steady. This will be the ladies’ last chance at working together,” Hagen said.

They’ll also have a chance to work together in the criterium, which will follow the team time trial Saturday downtown Durango. The Specialized Neighborhood Criterium will use Fourth, Fifth and Sixth avenues and Eighth, Ninth and 10th streets.

The half-mile course features six turns and covers eight city blocks just east of downtown Durango. The start/finish will be at the corner of Ninth Street and Fourth Avenue.

Erickson is the defending champion in the Collegiate Women’s A crit at the Squawker Road Classic.

The schedule calls for the Collegiate Women’s A riders to race at 1:30 p.m. Saturday. The Collegiate Men’s A will race at 2:20 p.m. Saturday.

Sunday will mark the return of the popular Coca-Cola Road Race with a start/finish on the FLC campus.

“Yes, we’ll climb the front hill (in the road race),” Hagen said of the fan-friendly uphill. “The A men will climb it nine times.”

The front hill (Eighth Street up to FLC) long has been a popular spectator area for cycling events.

“It’s going to be a great time,” Hagen said. “The Fort Lewis pep band will be playing on the front hill Sunday. That will really add to it.”

The road racing will start at 8 a.m. with the Collegiate Women’s A cyclists. They’ll climb the hill six times on the 6-mile loop course around the campus. The Collegiate Men’s A riders will race at 10 a.m. Sunday.

USA Cycling divisions will wrap up the road race Sunday afternoon.

The Fort Lewis men’s team will feature multi-talented Rotem Ishay, a former collegiate national mountain bike champion.

“He’s really good on this course,” Hagen said in reference to Ishay’s climbing skills.

Russell Brown also will be a key rider for FLC.

“And Griffin Easter has had a good season. That kid has real natural talent,” Hagen said.

Durango native Howard Grotts will miss the 2012 Squawker Road Classic, however. Grotts is scheduled to race this weekend in the famed Sea Otter Classic in Monterrey, Calif., for his professional mountain bike team.

The Squawker road race is even more important this week, Hagen said, because the road race at the Air Force Academy was snowed out last Sunday.

“Everyone’s eager to race,” he said.

Cycling teams are expected from Air Force, the University of Colorado, Colorado State University, the University of Wyoming, Colorado Mesa University, Colorado School of Mines, Metropolitan State College, Western State, Northern Colorado, University of Denver, UC-Colorado Springs and Colorado College.

“It should be a fun weekend,” Hagen said.

dstrode@durangoherald.com