A team national championship was on the line Thursday. Fort Lewis College of Durango was in pursuit of its 24th USA Cycling Collegiate national cycling title, while Marian University of Indianapolis sought its 39th. The two powerhouse cycling programs put it all on the line in Reno, Nevada.
Tied with 177 points after Wednesday’s men’s and women’s varsity cyclocross races, the two-horse race was set for Thursday in the team relay event.
Marian jumped out to a lead after the first lap with FLC right on its wheels, but Brevard College of North Carolina took a strong lead after the second lap and grew that lead to 51 seconds going into the fourth and final lap.
Brevard held on to win the team relay title in 28 minutes, 22 seconds, but the omnium national championship went to Marian after it finished in second place 10 seconds behind Brevard. Fort Lewis faded to third in the relay and was 17 seconds behind Brevard.
Marian’s team score of 260 earned the national title. FLC finished second in the omnium with 250 points, and Brevard finished third with 214 points.
FLC’s relay team was loaded with Durango-based talent, as Ellen Campbell, Stephan Davoust and Katja Freeburn joined forces with Carbondale’s Henry Nadell. A day earlier, Nadell won the men’s varsity cyclocross national title as he edged Davoust by four seconds.
Nadell finished in 48 minutes, 58 seconds to edge Davoust.
Caleb Swartz of Marian was third in 49:40, as the two top FLC riders blew away the competition.
“I was really tired, but Stephan and I were talking on the last lap with people saying it was us bringing it home 1-2,” Nadell said.
“It gave us a little more edge being off the front bringing it home together. We crossed the line, and I collapsed I was so tired. I got up so excited, gave Stephan a hug and thought about how cool it was. We had a plan, and all the pieces fell together so perfectly. It’s not often in bike racing that it happens like that.”
Nadell and Davoust worked perfectly together to maximize each other’s strengths and minimize each other’s weaknesses. Davoust said it felt like they were racing at home in Durango. But, in the final moments of the race with both riders in strong position, it was an all-out race between the two to the finish, with gold on the line.
“When you’re racing your friends and having fun, you can work together,” Davoust said. “Once we got separation, we knew it was game over for the rest of the competition because we do ride so well together. With any race, the strongest man wins, and we both kind of knew that and went into the finish giving it everything we had.”
Freeburn and Campbell were FLC’s top women’s finishers in the women’s varsity cyclocross race Wednesday.
Hannah Arensman of Brevard was first in 44:28. Lindenwood University’s Samantha Runnels was second in 44:59, and Marian’s Emma Swartz took bronze in 45:28. Freeburn placed sixth in 47:05, and Campbell was eighth in 47:05.
FLC’s Kelsay Lundberg of Salida was 10th in 49:01. Anna Schehrer, also of Salida, was 17th in 51:37, and FLC freshman Kira Payer of Housatonic, Massachusetts, placed 28th.
Also in the men’s race, FLC’s Harrison Buckley of Colorado Springs was ninth in 51:05, and teammate Skyler Mackey of Tulsa, Oklahoma, was 10th in 51:29. Skyhawks rode together well in the race, as Durango’s Thomas Gauthier and Ian McPherson of Boulder finished 13th and 14th, respectively, for FLC. Gauthier crossed the finish line in 51:51, and McPherson finished in 52:07.
Jonathan Anderson of Topsfield, Massachusetts, finished 22nd for FLC in 54:52.
Nadell said the course set up well for his strengths. After some moisture in the Reno area the two days leading into competition, Nadell was able to show his technical prowess in muddier sections, and his mountain bike skills came up big in some climbs.
“It’s a sweet course,” Nadell said. “The mud added an aspect where we could get away, and there was a big climb that suited me pretty well coming from a mountain bike background. Climbing is more natural for me than hammering around flat corners, and a headwind played a big factor and made false-flats more of a climb. In that headwind, people were more reluctant to pull on that. If I felt good, I hit it into the wind and got a gap on the other guys.”