The road team for Fort Lewis College cycling has its eyes firmly focused on the USA Cycling Collegiate Road National Championships to be held May 10-12 in Augusta, Georgia. This weekend, the Skyhawks have a chance to show home fans the caliber of team it has to chase a potential 25th national championship in program history.
FLC will host the Squawker Road Classic on Saturday and Sunday. Three races in two days between teams in the Rocky Mountain Collegiate Cycling Conference as well as USA Cycling category races are open to the public. It’s a fun weekend of racing every year, but the Skyhawks are laser-focused on taking another step to prepare for nationals.
“This conference season is one that going really well for the team so far with quite a few wins in the A men and A women categories,” said FLC cycling director Dave Hagen.
“It bodes well. We’ve got both seniors and freshmen winning races for us. That good youth mixed with senior leaderships is great. Really, this is all just training for us for the big dance at nationals, especially with one of the top competitors at nationals being in our conference, too, with Colorado Mesa University.”
The team time trial will kick off racing at 8 a.m. Saturday on the La Posta Highway, also known as County Road 213. The almost 20-mile course takes riders from the Ska Fabricating building, down County Road 213 with a turnaround 13 miles into the route. It will end at County Road 214. Waves of riders will begin every 30 seconds beginning at 8 a.m., and the USA Cycling open category races will start at 9 a.m. with riders taking off every 30 seconds.
The downtown circuit races, known as a criterium, will begin at 11:30 a.m. in the neighborhood just east of downtown Durango. The Collegiate A category women along with the pro/open women will start at 1:35 p.m. and last 45 minutes, while the Collegiate A men will race for an hour beginning at 2:30 p.m. The pro/open men conclude the day with a 50-minute ride at 4:30 p.m.
Sunday is the big road race around Rim Drive with grueling climbs up the 8th Avenue hill leading to the FLC campus. The Collegiate A men will begin at 8 a.m. and make nine laps of the five-mile loop. The pro/open men will start at 8:03 a.m. and complete eight laps. The Collegiate A and open/pro women will start a six-lap race at 10:33 a.m. Volunteers are still needed to help with the Sunday morning races.
Traffic may be delayed from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. on County Road 213 during the time trial Saturday, and the neighborhood criterium will have road closures from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. East 4th Avenue and East 5th Avenue will be closed between 7th and 10th streets, and East 6th Avenue will be closed between 9th and 10th streets. Also, 7th and 8th streets will be closed between 4th and 5th avenues, and 9th and 10th streets will be closed between 4th and 6th avenues. There is no parking on the course, and vehicles on the inside of the course will need to exit at 5th Avenue and 10th Street. During Sunday’s road races, the 8th Avenue Hill from College Drive up the hill will be closed to traffic from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.
FLC will enter the weekend second in the RMCCC road standings with 595 conference points. University of Colorado at Boulder leads with 739 conference points. The two conference foes compete in different divisions at nationals, but FLC will go toe-to-toe with the third-place RMCCC team, Colorado Mesa, which has 475 conference points this season.
A year ago, nationals were in Grand Junction, and the host Mavericks finished second in the Division I standings behind Marian University of Indianapolis and narrowly in front of Fort Lewis. The Skyhawks were third behind a dominant road race victory from the women and a second-place result in the men’s criterium.
FLC returned much of that talent. Sophie Russenberger was second at last year’s women’s road race at nationals, while Charlotte Backus was 10th and Kira Payer rode to 25th. This year, Payer has been a force in conference races. She won the road race last weekend in Fort Collins, won the criterium in Golden and was second in the road races at the Air Force Academy, Boulder and in Golden.
“Kira has been very, very strong in the races we’ve gone to this year,” Hagen said. “She rides smart, and her teammates believe in her. They’re willing to work for her to help her win. That’s what it takes to win at big-time races.”
At the races in Boulder, Russenberger was second in the road race, while Backus was seventh and Katja Freeburn placed eighth. Musselman added a fifth-place finish at the road races at Air Force and Golden. The team time trial team of Backus, Payer and Russenberger was third in the team time trial event in Boulder, too. Ava Hachmann also has been a dynamic racer, with a third-place finish in the criterium in Golden to go with fourth-place results last weekend in Fort Collins in the oval criterium and road race.
“They all bring so much experience,” Hagen said. “Hachmann goes to big races all over. Musselman is actually the women’s team leader, and she makes the whole thing work.
“Katja was excited to do some road racing with us this year, and she really found a groove last weekend up at CSU. She’s got a lot of horse power, and if she can sacrifice for the team, we will win races. If she’s lucky enough to get in a breakaway and stay away, let’s hope she wins the race. So, we’re really solid and deep as far as women go.”
This weekend, mountain bike stars Ellen Campbell and Savilia Blunk also plan to race for the FLC road team.
The Skyhawk men are once again led by James Hilyer. He was third in the criterium and fourth in the road race at nationals last year. In the fall, he won the collegiate track nationals points race. Another key returner is Andre Bos, who was top 20 at nationals in both criterium and the road race.
This year, Bos won the criterium in Golden. FLC also saw big-time racing a week ago when Kaden Hopkins won the criterium and road race in Fort Collins. They’ll all be working hard against Colorado Mesa’s Liam Earl.
“Hilyer has the most experience. The guy knows how to position himself to win races and has shown unbelievable form,” Hagen said. “At the Redlands, he finished top five of a very main bunch sprint that came in.
“Andre brings senior leaderships with huge horsepower. He’s the guy that really won the crit for Hopkins last weekend. He saw CMU setting up a sprint train, and he said, ‘No you aren’t.’ He went before they could get organized, and that controlled the race. Hopkins swings in, positions himself well and saw a CSU kid get a gap with one to go. Hopkins jumped on his wheel and it was over from there. He’s got a good kick. It was the same thing in the road race. It’s fun to watch Hopkins’ confidence soar.”
The FLC men also have Nick McKey, who has experience racing with some under-23 pro teams around the country. His ability to pay the team tactics required to win a race are a big benefit to the Skyhawks. He was sixth in criterium and seventh in the road race at Air Force.
With an experienced team and star-studded coaching staff that includes Ian Burnett, Chad Cheeney and Sarah Sturm along with mechanic Carson Jones-Wilkiins, Hagen is confident his team will put on a show the last few weeks of the season.
“I’ve got to hand it to our coaches,” he said. “They’ve done a wonderful job with the road team this year, and our mechanic is absolutely amazing at what he does.”