When the Fort Lewis College cycling team heads to the Collegiate Mountain Bike National Championships at Angel Fire, N.M., this week, they’ll take a lot of blood, sweat and tears with them.
And those are just from the coaches.
“Picking our team for nationals is horrible, just horrible,” FLC cycling director Dave Hagen said.
“We have so many kids worthy of going to nationals. And we get to send four men and four women in endurance (cross country) and four men and four women in gravity (downhill, dual slalom). And that’s it,” Hagen said as the Skyhawks seek their eighth consecutive national mountain bike title.
FLC will be after its 20th national cycling title when the USA Cycling Collegiate Mountain Bike Nationals open today with cross country practices at Angel Fire Resort.
The cross country races for the collegiate men and women will be held Friday.
The short track mountain bike races will be Saturday morning, with the downhills Saturday afternoon.
The dual slalom races will conclude the national championships Sunday.
Hagen said he and coaches Chad Cheeney and Elke Brutsaert had to make difficult choices in selecting the Skyhawks’ squad.
“The level of a couple of freshmen is amazing,” Hagen said. “Their consistency has been excellent ... and they are good team players.”
One of those FLC freshmen – Garrett Lundberg – was placed on the prestigious cross country roster for Friday’s national championship race.
“He’s done plenty of racing, and he’s done well. We feel lucky he decided to come to Fort Lewis,” he said of Lundberg, from Salida, a veteran of the Colorado High School Mountain Bike League and scores of USA Cycling races.
“I’m sure he could have gotten more scholarship money somewhere else,” Hagen said. “But he came here because of the (FLC) program. He came here because of the community resources of Durango as a cycling town.”
Lundberg will be joined on the FLC endurance squad by former national collegiate champion Rotem Ishay, the reigning Israeli national mountain bike champion. Ishay actually will do the gravity races as well as the endurances races in New Mexico as he contends for the overall omnium title.
Howard Grotts, the former Durango DEVO cyclist and the only American to win a Junior World Cup mountain bike race, will ride with Ishay and Lundberg.
They will be joined by Payson McElveen, the FLC sophomore from Austin, Texas, who won the Squawker Mountain Bike Classic cross country race in Durango earlier this season.
Ishay, Grotts, McElveen and Lundberg will form one of Fort Lewis’ strongest contingents at nationals, Hagen said.
A veteran core of cyclists will represent the FLC women’s endurance racers, led by Lauren Catlin, Kaila Hart and Sarah Sturm.
Hart, another former Durango DEVO cyclist, will go for the women’s omnium. She’ll also race downhill and dual slalom.
Brittany Clawson, Sophia Gomez and Meghan Kane will race in the endurance events for the Skyhawks. Clawson also is the top downhiller for FLC. Kame will race downhill and dual slalom.
With a deeper downhill team than usual, the Skyhawks also will send out Leila Carillo and Heidi Nakaoka.
“It’s not a situation where Brittany Clawson has to stay up (to score points),” Hagen said. “She’s got three other quality girls.”
That depth could be crucial in the Skyhawks’ quest for MTB No. 8.
On the men’s side, FLC senior Taylor Borucki will lead the downhill/dual slalom team. He’ll be joined by Phil Cowan, Adam Digby and Zach Graveson.
The FLC riders are expecting tough competition from the likes of cycling powers Lees-McRae College of North Carolina and Marian University of Indianapolis, as well as the other Rocky Mountain Collegiate Cycling Conference teams such as the University of Colorado.