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National collegiate cross country champions crowned

The cross country competition kicked off the USA Cycling Collegiate Mountain Bike National Championships on Friday as nearly 200 collegians raced through the campus of Lees-McRae College in Banner Elk, North Carolina, for the second year in a row. The first day of competition set the stage for an old-fashioned shootout between host Lees-McRae College and last year's overall team winner Fort Lewis College in Division I, while riders from nearby Brevard College and Appalachian State earned the Division II men's and women's crowns respectively.

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The men's DI cross country gets the competition started on a five-mile course on the Lees-McRae campus.

The men’s DI cross country gets the competition started on a five-mile course on the Lees-McRae campus.

Photo: Went Knipe

The cross country competition kicked off the USA Cycling Collegiate Mountain Bike National Championships on Friday as nearly 200 collegians raced through the campus of Lees-McRae College in Banner Elk, North Carolina, for the second year in a row.

The first day of competition set the stage for an old-fashioned shootout between host Lees-McRae College and last year’s overall team winner Fort Lewis College in Division I, while riders from nearby Brevard College and Appalachian State earned the Division II men’s and women’s crowns respectively.

Despite a strong challenge from Lees-McRae’s Scott Stewart, Division I favorite and defending champion Ben Sonntag of Fort Lewis College was able to overtake Stewart on the final lap and repeat his victory from a year ago. Lees-McRae’s Brad Perley was able to grab third in the DI men’s race after another favorite, Rotem Ishay dropped his chain at the gun, leaving him playing catch-up throughout the nearly 25-mile contest. The University of Oregon’s Justin Finn rounded out the podium as the only non-Lees-McRae or Fort Lewis rider in the top five.

“It was harder than last year,” said Fort Lewis’ Sontag. “Lees-McRae controlled the race from the start with a rider in right in front and behind me. I would make up some on the inclines, but I’d lose that on the downhill. My broken right index finger really affected my control on the descents. It was a good fight; Stewart ran a great race.”

The DII men’s race saw Midwest conference champion Zach Winn from Union College lead a hard charge out of the gate before succumbing to Brevard College’s Tristan Cowie in the fourth of the five-lap affair. After practicing on the course for the past several days, Cowie used his technical expertise to take the win over a talented DII field including podium finishers Logan Wetzel, Matthew Williams and Alex Hannah.

Jamie Dinkins came in second in the DI women's contest after a hard-fought battle with Lees-McRae's Swart.

Jamie Dinkins came in second in the DI women’s contest after a hard-fought battle with Lees-McRae’s Swart.

Photo: Went Knipe

The DI women’s contest was a battle between multiple-time collegiate national road and track national champion Carla Swart of Lees-McRae and the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga’s Jamie Dinkins. Dinkins, who finished 19th at the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships U23 race in June, showed superb strength but in the end Swart used her home field advantage to take home another crown by more than two minutes. The University of Colorado-Boulder’s Eszter Horanyi took third while a pair of Fort Lewis riders, Teal Stetson-Lee and downhill specialist Sage Wilderman added to their team’s point total.

“The course was pretty muddy, but it was easier and a lot more fun than last year,” said Swart of the once-again wet Lees-McRae terrain. “I told myself to stay relaxed because when I get too fired up I can make mistakes.”

After missing the race start, Appalachian State University’s Rebecca Tomascewski came roaring back to take a slim victory in the DII women’s race. Tomascewski narrowly out rode Melissa Marts and Katherine Harris in the rain shortened 15-mile race.

With parts of the Lees-McRae cross country course once used for conference downhill competitions, there was a substantial amount of climbing on the just under 5-mile loop. Even though off-season modifications were made on the Lees-McRae course to make the wooded loop more navigable in wet conditions, Friday’s steady rains made the surface increasingly slick as they day moved forward. As the inclement weather became more and more of a factor, the afternoon’s scheduled downhill seeding runs were cancelled. Saturday’s finals are planned to continue as scheduled.

Ben Sontag crosses the line victorious in the men's DI race.

Ben Sontag crosses the line victorious in the men’s DI race.

Photo: Went Knipe

With four national titles already decided, racing will resume Saturday at 8:00 a.m. with the short-track race on the campus of Lees-McRae College. Action will then move to nearly 5,000 feet on top of Grandfather Mountain at Sugar Mountain Resort for the downhill competition slated for 2:00 p.m. The USA Cycling Collegiate Mountain Bike National Championships will wrap-up on Sunday morning with the dual slalom competition.

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Results

USA Cycling Collegiate Mountain Bike National Championships

Banner Elk, N.C.

October 24, 2008

Division I Men’s Cross Country

1. Benjamin Sonntag (Fort Lewis College)

2. Scott Stewart (Lees-McRae College)

3. Brad Perley (Lees-McRae College)

4. Rotem Ishay (Fort Lewis College)

5. Justin Finn (University of Oregon)

Division II Men’s Cross Country

1. Tristan Cowie (Brevard College)

2. Zach Winn (Union College)

3. Logan Wetzel (Western Washington University)

4. Matthew Williams (Warren Wilson College)

5. Alex Hannah (Appalachian State University)

Division I Women’s Cross Country

1. Carla Swart (Lees-McRae College)

2. Jamie Dinkins (University of Tennessee-Chattanooga)

3. Eszter Horanyi (University of Colorado-Boulder)

4. Teal Stetson-Lee (Fort Lewis College)

5. Sage Wilderman (Fort Lewis College)

Division II Women’s Cross Country

1. Rebecca Tomascewski (Appalachian State University)

2. Melissa Marts (Colorado School of Mines)

3. Katherine Harris (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)

4. Rachel Millshop (Union College)

5. Joanna Tuttle (Brevard College)