Riders love experience of racing through Colorado Mesa campus
Mountain biking through a building?
Sure, why not?
As the federal government shutdown and a court decision put a damper on what was supposed to be a weekend of mountain bike racing in Grand Junction, Saturday proved to be a fun race day for collegiate cyclists.
Riders were a little bummed that the cross-country and downhill races for the Rocky Mountain Collegiate Cycling Conference Mountain Bike Championships were canceled, but the short-track race on the Colorado Mesa University campus provided plenty of thrills.
Riders zoomed around the campus, through sand pits, down stairs, through a construction site, around trees, through rocky drainage areas and then right down the middle of the University Center. After popping out the other side, riders went up and over a retaining wall via a wooden ramp.
Two-time Division II mountain bike national champion Alexis Skarda, who dominated the women’s race, said it was disappointing the downhill and cross-country races were canceled, but the short-track course made for a special race.
“It was really cool to have a race on campus. Just being able to walk out my front door to do a race was a really cool experience,” the CMU senior said.
Racing through the University Center was a unique experience for all.
“I’ve never done a course that went through a building,” Skarda said with a smile. “It was a good obstacle course.”
The race cancellations were tough on a number of the collegiate teams that made the long trip hoping, then expecting, then ultimately being informed there would be the short-track race only.
A federal judge Friday told CMU it couldn’t use public lands for the other two races. University officials were told the Bureau of Land Management permit given for the races depended on certain conditions the BLM couldn’t meet, so the races had to be canceled.
“I think everybody is disappointed because those were terrific courses,” said Rick Taggart, CMU’s executive director of marketing and student recruitment. “The athletes really wanted to compete, so we wanted to make sure we did the short track for them.”
Fort Lewis College’s Payson McElveen, who won the men’s race, said when the team left Durango, the cyclists were told the races were a go. About two hours later, they heard the court had thrown up a roadblock to the races.
“It would have been nice to have done those races, but the short track was fun,” he said.
CMU coach Patric Rostel and a few volunteers were out at 4 a.m. getting the short-track course ready. He said canceling the other two races was a downer.
“It’s frustrating, but it is what it is. We tried our best, but the decision was made, and we had to accept it,” he said.
Seven collegiate teams competed Saturday, including a couple of Air Force Academy riders who had to pay their own way to the race because of the government shutdown.
Jeff Sikes is in his first year on the CMU cycling team and placed fifth. The Oklahoma native found the course to his liking.
“It kind of reminded me of home because it was flat,” he said with a laugh. “Usually short tracks have a big climb in them, but we don’t have a big climb on campus, so you had to go really fast on the open, flat sections.”
CMU’s Zach Bryant competed in the men’s B race.
“My favorite part of the race was going through the UC, (University Center). We went through there so fast, then you had a jump over the wall outside and you flew over that. It was just a ton of fun,” he said.
CMU’s Morgan Ryan zipped through the first lap in the lead, but the course proved to be a major physical challenge.
“Normally short-track courses are held in the forests and on ski resorts, so it was pretty unique to have a short-track course on campus,” he said. “There were no hills, it was flat, so it was pretty painful.”
As he zipped around the course, cheers of “Morgan” could be heard from CMU students.
“Being at home, I invited all my friends to come out, and they supported me, so it was great to have the home folks cheering me on,” said Ryan, who finished in 10th place.
Taggart said CMU tried to find different courses that weren’t on government land for the downhill and cross country races, but with a triathlon going on at Highline Lake State Park and snow at Powderhorn Mountain Resort, they didn’t have a lot of other options.
CMU now will prepare for the USA Cycling Collegiate Mountain Bike National Championships in North Carolina on Oct. 25-27.