The ambulances at the USA Cycling Collegiate Road National Championships were running all weekend long and so many riders had crashed over a rain-soaked two-day period, that by the time Sunday’s varsity men’s criterium rolled around in downtown Augusta, Georgia, the Fort Lewis College cycling team had almost run out of gauze. Fort Lewis senior James Hilyer managed to avoid a major crash in the final two turns and won the criterium on a borrowed pit bike to pull off a stunner on the final day of racing.
Hilyer won the criterium in 1 hour, 18 minutes and 29 seconds, and crossed the line first ahead of fourth other riders with identical times, but Hilyer won by a wheel. Scott McGill of Brevard College was second, Hugo Scala Jr. of Marian University was third, while Nolan Vanderzwaag of Lees-McRae College was fourth and Lance Abshire of Belmont Abbey College took fifth.
“There were a lot of nerves out there today,” said FLC cycling director Dave Hagen. “It was a lot of anxiety, and a lot of aggressive racing, too. Everyone was nervous and it meant a lot to everyone to have a strong finish. With the rain and the slick pavement in both crits, it made for an interesting final day of races. With all the weather, it was so unpredictable, but I was still proud of how we finished.”
Marian University, based in Indianapolis, won its 10th consecutive road racing national title, and also won its 45th title across all disciplines after it wrapped up the team omnium on Sunday. Milligan College of Tennessee took second overall, while Colorado Mesa University took third. Hilyer’s win helped FLC jump Lindenwood University, and finished fourth.
On Sunday, heading into the final two turns of the men’s criterium, there was a crash and the rider directly behind Hilyer wiped out and took a large number of riders out with him, and Hilyer was able to ride home to a victory.
“He is a super smart racer, has tons of experience and just knew that he wanted to win it,” said FLC coach Sarah Sturm. “Everyone celebrated like we’ve all won, and it feels like we’ve just gone to battle out there. We kept losing warriors left and right, and for James to come out of this on top was unbelievable.”
It was Hilyer’s final race of his collegiate career and he wanted to finish out strong.
“Heading into the backside, I knew I had these two Marian guys on me, and I came on the right, and one of them, it was Hayden Strong, who let me have the wheel,” Hilyer said. “There was a headwind and the guys at the front gave me a good draft and I knew one of the Marian guys was a good sprinter, but I caught him in the final 100-meters or so and rolled past them. The crash happened so fast, and all of a sudden, I saw that I was all alone in the lead and knew I had to hang on.”
Hilyer said the weather definitely impacted the race, but since he had raced in the rain plenty of times before, even on the borrowed bike, he felt good.
“Racing in the rain, your tire pressure has to be just right and it’s the same with the way you make your turns, so if you’re not confident, you’ll be toward the back of the pack,” Hilyer said. “I had everything on my bike tuned just right and had it that way all year. So coming into today, I wasn’t sure what to expect on the borrowed bike. I’ve raced in the rain enough to make the right moves and every corner was going to be different because the conditions were changing so much.”
In the women’s varsity criterium, a severe crash on the first lap of the race meant it had to be temporarily stopped. Three of Fort Lewis’ six racers dropped out, including Kira Payer, Sophie Russenberger and Katja Freeburn. Ava Hachmann was the highest finisher for FLC in 1:14.25, despite crashing in her final lap. Tristen Musselman was 22nd in 1:16.34, and Charlotte Backus rode to a 28th-place finish in 1:16.35.
Savannah College of Art and Design’s Olivia Ray won her third race of the weekend, as she crossed the finish line in 1:13.25, Alijah Beatty of Marian was second, while Judah Sencenbaugh of Savannah College of Art and Design – Atlanta was third.
“Two of our strong women, Sophie and Kira, who are solid, they both called it and said it was the scariest crit they’ve ever been involved in,” Sturm said. “They are the two that I’d say would never do that. That’s sometimes what you have at nationals just because it’s a mix of girls that have either pro raced, or this will be the biggest criterium of the year. ... The ladies rode super strong. ”
On Saturday in the women’s road race, Ray won again after she also won Friday’s individual time trial. She finished the road race in 2:52.10, Madeleine Bemis of Milligan was second, while Samantha Runnels of Lindenwood University was third.
Payer was Fort Lewis’ highest finisher after she took eighth overall in 2:52.12, Freeburn was 10th in 2:52.14, while Backus had a 15th-place finish.
“Saturday was clean, we just didn’t have the numbers in the final push for the finish,” Sturm said.
In the men’s race, Marian’s Cade Bickmore won in 2:15.12, McGill was second, while Jonah Meadvancort of Lindenwood was third. FLC’s Nick McKey finished in 13th, Andre Bos 14th while Nikolas Johnson took 29th.
Fort Lewis will look to defend its mountain biking national title next fall, when it will host the collegiate mountain bike national championship races at Purgatory Resort.