ANGEL FIRE, N.M. – Collegiate mountain bike racing is a hairy sport.
And we’re not just talking about legs here.
We’re talking hairy, high-speed, downhill racing. We’re talking hairy, tricky, turny, high-speed dual slalom competition. We’re talking super-hairy (i.e. steep) challenges on the cross country and short track courses at the 2012 USA Cycling Collegiate Mountain Bike Championships at Angel Fire Resort.
Collegiate mountain bikers came from all over the country to test their mettle at the national championships in New Mexico last week.
Some came from what might be considered unlikely locations in terms of mountain biking, such as the University of Florida, Wake Forest, Northern Illinois, Florida State, East Tennessee State, Michigan Technological University, Duke, North Carolina State and Texas State.
Others came from areas steeped in the traditions and history of mountain bike racing, such as the University of Colorado, Lees-McRae and Brevard colleges of North Carolina, the University of Vermont, Union College of Kentucky, the University of California-Santa Barbara, California Lutheran and Nevada-Reno.
The cycling teams produced hairy numbers for the Collegiate Mountain Bike Championships. They create even hairier numbers for their respective institutions.
“We have a great model to follow in Fort Lewis (College),” said Dave Wiens of Gunnison, who this year was named director of the Mountain Sports Program at Western State Colorado University.
“We can’t all be Fort Lewis, but it is a great model for schools like ours,” said Wiens, a longtime Gunnison resident who is a legend in endurance mountain bike racing.
Wiens, hired to help bolster the Western State Colorado cycling program, among other tasks, won the Leadville Trail 100 mountain bike race six consecutive times, beating the likes of former cycling big wigs Floyd Landis and Lance Armstrong.
He said attracting cyclists, competitive and otherwise, can be crucial for schools such as FLC, Western State and Colorado Mesa – which expanded its program this year and added former FLC coach Rick Crawford as the program director in Grand Junction.
Collegiate mountain biking is a numbers game, Wiens said.
And clearly, schools are following the FLC example.
The Western State team finished third in Division II omnium (overall) scoring at last weekend’s USA Cycling collegiate nationals behind established Division II powers Brevard and Union.
Colorado Mesa University, riding the fast pedals of Alexis Skarda, who won her second consecutive national mountain bike cross country title at Angel Fire, finished sixth in the Division II omnium. And the Mavericks, led by Crawford, are taking their program to the Division I level.
Marian University in Indianapolis also is keeping a close eye on the Skyhawks. And they are following suit. Long a power in road and track cycling, Marian is expanding its mountain biking arsenal, coach Dean Peterson said.
And that should make for even hairier competition at the collegiate nationals, where – yes – the mustache is making a comeback. Along with the scruffy beard, of course.
From Clemson to Chico State and from MIT to Northern Arizona, hairy times are here again.