LMC and ASU get muddy in Oregon
Lees McRae College and Appalachian State University stood atop the awards podium for the USA Cycling Cyclo-cross National Championships in Bend, Ore., on Dec. 12.
An estimated 10,000 spectators were present during the electric five days of collegiate, amateur and professional racing. Many fans donned ridiculous costumes, such as Gumby, the Easter Bunny and a cow - with udders and all. One professional rider said he couldn't hear himself think because fans were screaming and yelling, all the while ringing cowbells and blowing horns.
"A lot of cross races look like Halloween," Ashley James, an ASU cyclist, said. "It is an incredible atmosphere with thousands of spectators, kind of just a big party. We raced at 8 a.m., so it was pretty quiet then. But later in the day, watching the elite racers, it was wild."
For the second year in a row, James, 20, who transferred to ASU last year, was the top collegiate rider in Division I women's cyclo-cross. Her performance helped ASU earn fourth place once the men's and women's results were tallied together. Women raced for 45 minutes, and men raced for an hour.
"Even though cyclo-cross is an individual effort, doing well as a team was definitely the sweetest thing about heading out there," she said.
The two-mile course was slick, with ice and mud, and "grippy" in other areas. Each corner required a different approach. Traditionally, cyclo-cross is a fall and winter sport, so these sloppy conditions were expected.
"It was kind of brutal in some spots, but that's what cross is," James said. "You go with it and have fun."
The course included obstacles, such as short steep hills, which were impassable riding on a bike, as well as manmade obstacles, such as stairways and knee-high barriers, which riders hurdled as they carried their bikes.
This is all legal, of course, because cyclo-cross is a sport like no other, a hodgepodge of biking and track and field.
As ASU stood on the right side of the podium, Lees-McRae College stood dead center, winning their fourth cyclo-cross title in five years. The head coach of LMC, Luke Winger, wasn't surprised.
"Honestly, I knew we had a good chance going into it," he said. "The team morale was great. By the time nationals came around, the team was so tight-knit."
With two schools in the High Country placing in Division I and Mars Hill College placing in Division II, Western North Carolina continued its excellence in collegiate cycling.
Maybe it's the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Lance Armstrong once said of the High Country, "It's a great area for riding, very hilly, but I'd say it's the best area for training in the whole United States."
Winger agreed, more or less.
"It couldn't have hurt, that's for sure," he said. "The fact that you can get out on roads without traffic for hours on end makes training enjoyable and very effective. The hills are as challenging as anything you will find in the country."
Early last fall, LMC created a cyclo-cross course for training.
"We set it up in an area that never dries out, making it one of the nastiest courses you will ever ride," Winger said. "When we got to nationals and the conditions were literally the same, it gave us an advantage."
ASU has dominated in cycling, too, over the past few years in Division II. With a '08 championship in mountain biking and back to back cyclo-cross championships in '08 and '09, the ASU cycling club has as many national championships as the ASU football team.
Because of increases in student enrollment, 2010 was its first season in Division I. "For us to (place) as a club in our first year in Division I was significant," Sean Weddell, ASU's coach/club advisor, said. "I was extremely impressed, but not so much surprised."
The ASU cycling team is a club, not a varsity program.
"Varsity programs, they have scholarships for cycling," Weddell said. "They pay kids to race their bikes. The three schools that finished in front of us were all varsity programs."
Since they are a club, they pay dues to join the team and must pay their own way and stay at competitions.
"I stress this (because) it is very significant how much out of pocket these kids are paying to compete on their bicycles, hundreds of dollars spent by each individual to go out to Bend and race," Weddell said. "Basically, they are paying to torture themselves."
For more photos of the championships, click to http://www.pacificcreststock.com.