Marian University of Indiana got one step closer to a USA Cycling Collegiate Cyclocross National Championship team victory Friday in Louisville, Kentucky.
Marian backed up its team win in Thursday’s women’s race with another win Friday in the men’s race despite another strong chase from Fort Lewis College. Led by men’s varsity race winner Caleb Swartz, the Knights closed in on a 43rd national championship in program history, while FLC will need a victory in Saturday’s team relay and another team to send Marian back to third place to win a 25th title in the Skyhawks’ cycling history.
Marian currently had 188 points, while FLC has 166. Colorado Mesa University is a distant third with 122 points, while Brevard College of North Carolina has 120.
“Marian has a strong lead heading into the team relay,” FLC coach Chad Cheeney said. “We have to get first and Marian third to take the title. The team relay could be muddy and rainy, so that could shake things up a bit.”
The men saw plenty of mud Friday after the women had more favorable race conditions Thursday. A hill-filled backside of the course at Joe Creason Park had cyclocross athletes running more than cycling.
Wisconsin’s Swartz mastered the mud to win the race ahead of Colorado Mesa’s Scott Funston of Washington and Colorado Mesa’s Brannan Fix of Fort Collins.
FLC’s top performer was the defending collegiate cyclocross national champion Henry Nadell of Carbondale. Nadell finished fourth.
“After hearing from the coaches and everyone who has been around collegiate nationals for a while, that was probably the craziest conditions for a collegiate cross race anyone has ever seen,” Nadell said of the muddy course. “It was absolutely crazy. (Swartz) was killing it running-wise, and that’s where he had an advantage on the rest of us. Props to him, he’s a super cool kid, and I stoked to see him take it.”
Jonathan Anderson of Durango was sixth for FLC, while Harrison Buckley of Colorado Springs gave FLC another top-10 rider with his sixth-place finish.
FLC also took 12th through 14th with Nash Dory of Phoenix, Keiran Eagen of Durango and Thomas Gauthier of Durango, respectively.
“The biggest thing for us is that we have the skills to ride the mud,” Nadell said. “Our team works on that with (Cheeney) and everyone all the time. But the running, that’s just insane. There were sections we were running for over a minute straight, then ride a little and get off and throw the bike over the shoulder and do it again. It was nutty, probably the most I’ve ever run.”
Kobi Gyetvan of California placed 17th for FLC, and Durango’s James Hilyer was 18th for the Skyhawks.
“Today’s race was something out of a dream for most of our riders,” Cheeney said. “Besides the running, the (technical) bits proved fun loving for all the Skyhawks, leading to our eight riders landing in the top 18 out of 55 riders.”
Every rider had at least some trouble. Nadell said his seat got loose on the penultimate lap, and when it slid down his feet shot straight in the air.
“Everyone was gonna flip out in those conditions,” he said. “No one comes out of that race clean. It was about who can keep it upright the most with everyone going down that sloppy, insane mud.”
FLC will put together a team of two men and two women for the team relay. FLC likely will be led by women Ellen Campbell and Sophie Russenberger, who finished ninth and fourth in Thursday’s varsity women’s race, respectively, along with Anderson and Nadell, though a decision will come down to who recovers the best and has fit legs Saturday.
Also Friday, Bayfield’s Caleb Thompson placed seventh in the men’s Category 1 race for masters men age 35-39. He finished in 48:30, while Virginia’s Gret Whittwer won in 45:46.
Cheeney finished 21st in the Category 2 men’s masters age 40-45 race.
FLC cycling director Dave Hagen raced and finished 33rd in the Category 2 men’s masters age 50-54 race
Saturday, many more Durango-based athletes will compete in the junior races as well as the men’s and women’s single-speed championship races. Sunday will cap off the week of racing with under-23 and professional races.