By Fred Dreier
Some 400 collegiate racers are expected to descend upon Lawrence, Kansas, this weekend for the 2006 USA Cycling Collegiate Road Nationals.
The three-day event, hosted by the Kansas University Cycling Club, includes a team time trial, road race and criterium, awards national-championship jerseys to individual race winners, and crowns team and individual champions in a points-based omnium.
Schools with 15,000 students or more compete in Division I, while smaller schools race Division II. Last year’s DI team winner was the University of Colorado-Boulder, which ended the University of California-Berkeley’s three-year hold on the national title. Bobby Lea (Penn State University) and Amber Rais (Stanford) took the individual omnium titles.
In DII, Washington’s Whitman College took down cycling powerhouse Lees McRae College, with Whitman’s Mara Abbott and Nicholas Clayville of Western Washington University winning the road race.
This year’s championships use the same courses as in 2005. Racing begins Friday with a 12-mile team time trial in Lawrence. Saturday brings the road race in Lake Perry (84.6 miles for men, 56.4 for women). Sunday’s finale is the criterium in downtown Lawrence (65 minutes plus three laps for men, 55 plus three laps for women).
Picking a clear victor is difficult at collegiate nationals, because no one is sure just who will show up. Sometimes the winner is a strong regional rider. Other times it is a top-level pro, many of whom attend colleges and universities while racing the pro circuit.
One rider favored in the Division I men’s races is Chris Stockburger. The 19-year-old freshman at the University of Colorado-Boulder is an 11-time junior national champion, the reigning junior time-trial champ and the youngest member of the Toyota-United pro team. He finished 15th at the world time trial championships last year and won Canada’s prestigious Tour L’Abitibi, the “Tour de France for juniors.”
Stockburger took both the road race and criterium at the 2006 Rocky Mountain collegiate cycling championships. A few days later, he was helping teammate Chris Baldwin secure the overall victory at the Tour of the Gila in Silver City, New Mexico.
“I was totally working for the team at Gila,” said Stockburger. “It was a good opportunity to get some experience and learn from guys like Baldwin and [Chris] Wherry. But I definitely sat out in the wind a lot. Me, Stefano [Barberi] and Chepe [Garcia] did a lot of pulling.
“But I’ve had some down time after Gila and the legs are feeling recovered. We’ll see.”
Racing at the collegiate level is part of Stockburger’s development plan.
“Too many guys when they’re 19 and 20 try to go pro full time and not go to school, and they burn out when they’re 23 or 24 when they’re the fastest,” he said. “College racing keeps me low key.”
If Stockburger is low key, Sara Uhl is positively laid back. Last year, while racing as a pro for Quark and as a collegian for Penn State, the former track junior world champion didn’t have the best collegiate nationals, failing to crack the top 10 in the road race.
This year, Uhl is taking a year off from the pro scene. She just wrapped up a degree in kinesiology and is taking the collegiate competition more seriously.
“I’ve been focusing more on just finishing school this year,” said Uhl. “I wanted to be able to focus on school without having the nagging temptation to fly off some place during finals week to race.”
Her results reflect that shift in focus. Uhl won both the road race and criterium at this year’s Eastern collegiate cycling championships. And this time around, she’s not thinking about her next pro race — she’s all about collegiate nationals.
“Last year I was a little aloof. I was concentrating on pro racing more and probably didn’t take the collegiate race as seriously as I should have,” said Uhl. “I’m definitely bringing my A-game this year.”