Sarah Sturm hadn’t zipped up a USA Cycling national championship jersey since her days at Fort Lewis College, where she won a collegiate short-track mountain bike national title for the Skyhawks. Six years after she graduated from FLC, she stood atop a national championship podium once more, and she was surrounded by her family, boyfriend and the FLC cycling team she called a second family.
Sturm, a day before her 29th birthday, took the holeshot at the USA Cycling Cyclocross National Championship women’s singlespeed race Saturday at Joe Creason Park in Louisville, Kentucky. Once she was alone in front, she quickly established a large lead that wouldn’t be relinquished, as she refused to use her breaks on the muddy downhill portions of a technical and demanding course.
The Durango woman from Albuquerque finished second at last year’s singlespeed national championship in Reno, Nevada. Still, Sturm wasn’t sure if she would race in this year’s singlespeed event until the day she registered. She finished Saturday’s race in 36 minutes, 57 seconds to beat Boulder’s Meredith Miller, last year’s champion, by 37 seconds.
“It’s pretty special. It kind of sunk in when I zipped up the stars and stripes jersey on the podium,” said Sturm, who received a big hug from her father Roy Sturm after the victory. “I’ve worked really hard and ridden my bike a lot this year.
“It’s been really sweet having the Fort Lewis team here. They’re my extended family, and they were all around the course cheering for me, giving me time splits on how close everyone was. It’s really special to get to win with everyone here. I’ve also never been so nervous.”
With the course full of grueling mud, Sturm wasn’t sure how hard she would push in the singlespeed race with the women’s professional national championship less than 24 hours later. In Sunday’s race, with the luxury of full gears, Sturm finished eighth in 1:00:25. Colorado Springs’ Katie Compton won in 52:23, as she smashed the competition. Sunny Gilbert of Missouri was second in 54:35, and Maine’s Ellen Noble was third in 55:01.
“If I had a mechanical or wasn’t in contention, because there was so much running and it was so technical, I was going to take it easy and not really give everything to save legs for (Sunday),” Sturm said of Saturday’s strategy. “Obviously, that wasn’t the case. I tried pretty hard to win.”
After sprinting to the front of the field at the start, Sturm held an 18-second lead after the first lap. That lead eventually grew to as much as 40 seconds.
She gained much of her separation by not running her bike through mud and avoiding her brake levers on descents.
“I really wanted to go out hard and make sure I was in the front,” Sturm said. “Honestly, I think the fact that I have experience mountain biking in messy conditions and technical descents like that really helped. I didn’t have any extreme bobbles. I just didn’t touch my breaks. I knew if I touched them, it was so slippery and so heavy muddy that if you made a little mistake it would take so much to get back on your bike. You had to be careful to pick up your bike on your shoulder to carry it and not run it through that super thick peanut butter mud. I was picking the spots that were watery mud to run it through.”
Last year, Sturm raced at nationals without a sponsor attached to her name. This year, she was part of the Specialized – TenSpeed Hero team for which she competed all season on the UCI circuit, including the Pan-American Games in Canada, where she finished 11th. Specialized was at the cyclocross nationals to lend support, and the company set up her boyfriend and mechanic, Dylan Stucki, with everything he needed to help Sturm succeed. Sturm also credited some of her downhill prowess to Stucki, an enduro racer who has had Sturm tag along for races all year.
“Specialized and TenSpeed Hero came on board for this project, and it’s been amazing,” Sturm said. “We have full support at these races, and they set Dylan up to be my mechanic, which has been really huge. In a race with conditions like they are here, it can make the difference between winning and not if you don’t have a solid mechanic and equipment. I had two bikes, and Dylan set up both bikes for singlespeed and then switched them both back over to gears for the next race. In a proper muddy cross race, having a mechanic and a team is as important as your training and performance.
“I was kind of the rookie on my team, and my teammate races for Canada and is a super experienced cross racer. It was kind of cool to get my moment.”
A year that started with a win in the women’s Iron Horse Bicycle Classic pro women’s road race from Durango to Silverton was capped off with a national title for Sturm, adding to the long list of current national championship jersey holders in Durango.
“This race suited Colorado people,” Sturm said. “It being such a technical race, it was big coming from Durango where we ride technical mountain bike trails, and I had been doing a lot of trail riding on my cross bike to prepare this year. When a lot of women were having bobbles, I was able to keep it smooth.”
Under-23Fort Lewis College cyclists competed in Sunday’s under-23 races and turned in stellar results.
Sophie Russenberger, an FLC athlete from Bend, Oregon, improved upon her fourth-place finish in the collegiate varsity race Thursday with a third-place finish in the women’s under-23 race Sunday. She finished in 42:50. Clara Honsinger of Portland was first in 39:35, while Katie Clouse of Utah placed second in 42:09.
Durango’s Katja Freeburn, another FLC rider, placed 11th in 49:24. It was the third race of the week for Freeburn and Russenberger, who also competed in Saturday’s team relay event for FLC. FLC’s Kelsay Lundberg was 14th in 51:34, and Durango’s Ellen Campbell, also of FLC, placed 16th in 52:17.
Durango’s Christopher Blevins did not race this year after he won the men’s under-23 national title a year ago in Nevada. Texas’ Spencer Petrov won the title in 44:47. FLC’s Henry Nadell placed seventh in 48:15, Durango’s Keiran Eagen was 19th in 54:58, Harrison Buckley finished 25th, and Nash Dory rounded out the FLC team riders in 27th.
Durango had one more result Sunday in the junior men’s 17-18 age division, as Cobe Freeburn, the younger brother of Katja, finished 32nd while he represented the Top Club team. Alex Morton of Michigan won in 45:03.
Troy Wells of Durango did not start the professional men’s race, which was won by Stephen Hyde of Massachusetts. Hyde claimed his third cyclocross national title. FLC senior Jon Anderson competed in the pro men’s race and finished 29th.