October 29, 2013
Beech Mountain, NC - Despite warnings of snow in the forecast and the promise of tough competition from around the country, ten intrepid Cycling Owls made the trip…
up the steep switchbacks of Beech Mountain, NC and into the stubby forests of the North Carolina high country for the 2013 Collegiate National Mountain Bike Championships last week.
Located at 5600 feet, Beech Mountain is the highest town east of the Rockies, and it has a climate all its own. Last week freezing temperatures, snow, and high winds conspired to take what are already some of the toughest courses in the country into epic tests of rider's skill, endurance, and perseverance.
After two relaxing recovery days spinning around the sinewy flow trails of Dupont State Forest, the Warren Wilson Team arrived at Beech several days prior to Nationals to move into our trailside home and to start dialing in the tricky courses. Endless roots, massive rock gardens, and icy jumps all took several tries to get right, but the riders slowly but surely got comfortable and fast on the challenging terrain. Fortunately, everyone could slip back into the house after riding to relax next to the fire, eat home cooked meals together, and recover for the next day. Down the in the basement, our ace mechanic, Aaron Peet, labored all night and into the morning nearly every day to make sure everyone's race bikes were cleaned, polished, and working perfectly for the next days racing.
The festivities started on Friday morning with the Short Track. The hardest 25 minutes you'll ever spend on a bike, the Short Track race is a test of speed. Riders completed lap after lap on a short circuit around the base lodge of Beech Mountain, doing their best to maintain some semblance of feeling in their fingers and toes while enduring both the pain of the race and the 25 degree temperatures. Despite all of that, the riders from Warren Wilson had some of their best starts of the year, racing ahead of riders they'd been finishing behind all year. Junior Allison Jones had a superb ride, and was in contention for the podium until a late race crash derailed her chances. She rallied though, and passed two riders on the last lap to finish 9th.
Racers got a quick lunch and then headed to the top of Beech Mountain for downhill qualifying Friday afternoon. Despite playing things conservatively, all four Warren Wilson women qualified for the finals, while both Mike Flynn and Elias Grant made the main event for the men.
Saturday morning saw the arrival of some much appreciated sun on Beech Mountain, if not much of an increase in temperatures. The men drew the short straw and raced early on the still frozen trails. Sophomore Robin Crandall handled the ice, occasional mud, and competition beautifully and had his best race of the year. Thanks to a massive last lap effort, Robin went from 18th the 13th by the finish to lead the Wilson men. In the women's race, Allison again posted a top 10 finish, with senior Lilly Hacker and junior Tesa Anderson not far behind.
In Saturday afternoon's downhill the ice had changed over to mud, and massive crowds emerged to cheer riders through Beech Mountain's notorious rock garden. Mike Flynn laid down his best individual performance of the weekend and rolled across in 21st for the men. On the women's side, Allison again led the team. Senior Alessia Faverio also put in a great ride, despite technical issues. The mud was so thick during Alessia's run that her tires literally stopped spinning. Thanks to some help from spectators she was able to get enough mud off her bike to get it rolling again, and she finished with a huge smile on her face.
After a big family dinner at the house with the many parents who came to cheer on the team for the weekend (thank you!) the team settled in and got focused for Sunday. With the Owls sitting in 4th in the team omnium behind some very tough competition, the goal was to consolidate the team's podium spot with good rides in the relay and dual slalom. There was also some hope for individual glory as well. Junior Tony Mazza had been laying down some very fast practice runs on the Dual Slalom course, and Allison was in contention for the individual omnium.
Despite good recovery and Aaron's bike tuning magic, everyone was a bit tired on Sunday. Three races and downhill qualifying in two days were taking their toll. Nonetheless, everyone was ready to rally and lay down a couple of last hard efforts. After dual slalom qualifying, Robin, Allison, Lilly, and Mike got ready for the team relay. A first time event, the team relay saw each of the four riders complete a three minute lap. The rider order was decided by each team, which led to some interesting tactics. Send your fastest rider first? Or later in the race? Two laps had to be completed by men, and two by women. Robin led off with a great lap for the Owls, and put the team in contention for a podium. Allison, battling through pain from a wrist injury, kept it close and Lilly dug deep to keep Mike within striking distance of the podium. Several teams sent their second man out on the third lap, which gave Mike an advantage going into the forth and final lap. He had some ground to make up, but he put in a massive effort up the course's big climb and rode Warren Wilson onto the podium in 4th. It was an awesome result and another podium for the Owls.
In the dual slalom riders gave it everything they had left. Tony was unfortunately disqualified during his qualifying run on a questionable call, but Mike, Robin, and Rob Leeson all qualified for the finals, as did Allison, Lilly, and Tesa. In her final collegiate race, Lilly led the team with an 11th place finish, with Allison right behind.
In the end, their results on Sunday were enough to secure their 4th place overall in the team standings for the Cycling Owls. It was a well earned podium, and the team's 11th straight podium finish at Nationals! The team result went along with the 4th place finish in the team relay, and Allison secured a 5th place finish in the women's omnium. It was a great way to wrap up a phenomenal weekend of racing for the Warren Wilson Team. Many thanks to all the family, friends, and sponsors who came out to cheer on the racers and to our mechanic, Aaron Peet.
For more photos of the weekend view the Mountain Biking Facebook page
-Write-up by Head Coach Matt Williams