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ANGEL FIRE, New Mexico (VN) — Fort Lewis College dominated the Division I cross-country races as the 2012 USA Cycling Collegiate Mountain Bike National Championships got under way at the Angel Fire Resort.
In men’s racing, Howard Grotts won his third national title and led a Fort Lewis sweep of the podium. Grotts opened a 30-second lead at the top of the first climb and kept building on it over four laps of the 18.8-mile course.
Grotts took the victory by 7:24 over teammate Rotem Ishay, while freshman rider Garrett Lundberg completed the Fort Lewis sweep by taking third a further 1:34 down.
“I wanted to test the waters and see who else would be up with us,” Grotts said. “Once I got that initial gap, I decided I would just try to keep it if I could.”
The women’s race saw Lauren Catlin — who also won the women’s under-23 race at the 2012 USA Cycling Mountain Bike Cross-Country National Championships —repeat as Division I cross-country champ.
The Fort Lewis rider opened a large margin on the first of three laps, leaving the field to fight for second. She took the victory by nearly two minutes over teammate Sarah Sturm, with Deidre York (University of Colorado-Boulder) crossing third only 47 seconds behind Sturm.
“It’s been a really long season for me,” Catlin said. “I impressed myself today because I thought I’d be totally burned out. I’ve been racing since March with a big break over the summer. I just hoped I could last until now.”
The Division II men’s cross-country race was the most competitive race of the day. Richard Cypress Gorry (Brevard College) battled teammate Lewis Gaffney, a hometown favorite throughout the four-lap race before pulling away late on the penultimate climb and staying away for the win.
Gaffney held on for second at 1:17 with Michael Burleigh (University of Denver) third at 5:53.
“I was feeling really good today,” said Gorry. “It’s nice to have the support from a great coaching staff from Brevard to make the trip really easy for us. We (Gaffney and Gorry) were riding together all week here. It really helped a lot having him show me the lines and whatnot.”
The highly anticipated Division II women’s race was rich in talent. Defending national champion Alexis Skarda (Colorado Mesa University) needed a strong performance to hold off other talented riders like Erica Zaveta (Brevard College) and Rebecca Gross (University of Denver), the reigning short track cross-country national champion.
After the first of three laps, Skarda and Gross took the lead with Zaveta charging hard in third place. Gradually, Skarda and Gross pulled away, making it a two-woman race for the stars-and-stripes jersey.
During the last climb, Skarda attacked Gross, who could not follow, and the Colorado Mesa rider coasted to victory with more than a minute’s advantage. Gross hung on for second with Zaveta placed third, nearly six and a half minutes off the pace.
“It was a really good battle,” Skarda said. “I think we were both just hanging on for dear life for most of the race and challenging each other throughout the race. I would try to pass her and she would speed up and we would throw in random surges. Finally I got a little bit of a lead and surged up a hill and got a little bit of a gap.”
After sweeping the top three spots of the men’s race and winning the top two spots of the women’s race, Fort Lewis College has 188 points and a 22-point lead in the Division I team omnium competition. The University of Colorado-Boulder is in second with 166 with Lees-McRae College third with 129 points.
Brevard College holds a narrow lead in the Division II team omnium contest with 167 points. Union College-Kentucky is just one point back while Colorado Mesa University is in third with 143.
Saturday’s racing features the short track cross-country races in the morning and early afternoon and the downhill competition later in the day.