The conference season is usually a good indicator of which team might have the upper-hand at nationals, but the Fort Lewis College cycling team isn’t concerned about finishing third in conference behind rival Colorado Mesa University.
FLC changed up its spring road racing schedule this spring. Still, a strong Skyhawks team finished third in the conference behind champion University of Colorado at Boulder and Colorado Mesa. The Skyhawks and Buffaloes compete in different divisions at nationals, but the Mavericks figure to be one of the big threats to FLC when the USA Cycling Collegiate Road National Championships are held Friday through Sunday in Augusta, Georgia.
“Our season was a bit different this year by attending a (Southwest Collegiate Cycling Conference) race in early March and some off weekends,” FLC cycling director Dave Hagen said in a news release. “We adapted by doing some inter-squad racing and practiced our team time trial quite a bit. We worked well together as a team during the season and are quite confident that we’ll see some stellar performances in Augusta.”
Hagen announced a loaded roster for this year’s championships a year after FLC placed third at nationals in Grand Junction. Marian University of Indianapolis claimed a ninth consecutive road national title, while Colorado Mesa placed second.
This year, the Skyhawks feel they have the team to compete with Marian and earn a 25th national title in program history across all disciplines.
The FLC men will be led by James Hilyer, who placed third in criterium and fourth in the road race a year ago at nationals. He will compete in both of those races this year as well as the team time trial along with Andre Bos, Nik Johnson and Nick McKey.
“Last year, I had a lot of weight on my shoulders every race because we didn’t have quite as strong of a team,” Hilyer said during this year’s home Squawker Road Race in Durango. “This year, the guys are strong and have improved so much. All the weight is off my shoulders in a way because we have three or four guys that can win a race. It’s a lot less stress, and we are in the moves that we need to, so it’s honestly such a good feeling having such a strong team around me.”
The depth of the FLC women’s team is what gives the Skyhawks high hopes of standing on top of the podium Sunday. The team is led by Tristen Musselman, while junior Kira Payer brings tenacious competitive spirit to the squad. Those two will be joined by strong forces in Ava Hachmann and Sophie Russenberger in the team time trial, while juniors Charlotte Backus and Katja Freeburn will compete in the road races and time trial. Backus, coming off a top-10 overall performance among under-25 riders at the Tour of the Gila, will be a contender in both of her races.
During the Squawker, th FLC women’s team time trial turned in a dominant performance with a 47-second win ahead of Colorado Mesa. That squad is hungry for a gold medal.
“Picking a nationals team out of so many deserving riders is one of the toughest parts of the job, but I think we did a great job of picking riders best suited to the courses and conditions while also working well as a team,” Hagen said. “Things have been coming together for the team this spring, and, if the breaks go our way, we have a good shot at the team title.
“Looking at the start list for the races, it is like an under-23 national championship with many of the top developing riders from around the country competing. We also have strong supporting cast that will help keep our strongest racers near the front and some (criterium) specialists that will perform well.”
Also riding on the men’s team are freshman Kaden Hopkins, who will do the road race and criterium, senior Jon Anderson, who will do the road race, sophomore Noah Schlosser, who is in the criterium, sophomore Kobi Gyetvan in the road race and criterium and mountain bike and cyclocross star Henry Nadell, a junior, will do the road race.
FLC will be supported by coaches Chad Cheeney and Sarah Sturm, who is fresh off her own win at the 140-mile Belgian Waffle Ride race in San Diego, as well as mechanics Carson Jones-Wilkins and Dylan Stucki. Cheeney gave special kudos to coach Elke Brutsaert for making all of the team’s food for the trip.
“We are really going to miss our road coach Ian Burnett this year, as he will probably be a father by the time we get back,” Hagen said. “We’ll try to make him proud.”