By Jackson Weber, in West Dover, Vermont
The Northeast welcomed its riders home for the USA Cycling Mountain Bike National Championships. Already renowned for trails dominated by roots and rocks that break rhythm, bikes, and even riders, this weekend, the Mount Snow venue added mud. Thick, greasy, wheel-sucking mud - the kind that turns easy sections into danger zones and transforms what was in past years rideable climbs into long, painful hikes and runs. In short, it made the already-difficult Mount Snow course into a rider-slaying monster.
Local boy Adam Craig (Giant) looked to be at home in the sticky Vermont terrain as he romped his way to his first ever men's cross country national title. Well behind him, Jeremiah Bishop (Trek/VW) showed surprising power to take second only weeks after struggling with illness that kept him from racing the Canadian World Cups. Another local Mike Broderick (Kenda/Seven), rounded out the top three, putting his New England-bred technical skills to good use to hold off the chasing Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski (Subaru-Gary Fisher) and Todd Wells (GT Bikes).
The mud seemed to slow down everyone but Craig, the Maine native for whom Mount Snow might as well be an extension of his own backyard. "I rode a couple laps Wednesday evening in the pouring rain and was like, 'This is awesome.'" While other riders looked concerned with the prospect of an already technical course being turned into a mud bath, Craig was beaming like a kid in a candy store.
Of the pre-race favorites, the only one who ever came close was Bishop, who even by his own admission, was surprised to be there after having missed both Canadian World Cup races that preceded the Nationals. "I had a lower respiratory tract infection," said a glazed-looking Bishop after the race. "I was so sick I didn't want to walk outside of my room." Bishop rode an unconventionally outfitted bike, with a single 32 tooth front chainring.
Third place finisher Broderick, said, "I've raced here probably 10-15 times in the past, and I just look forward to when the conditions get tougher. It was pretty boggy and I could just hang in there on the climbs and make time on the descents."
It was Broderick's partner Mary McConneloug (Kenda/Seven), who would use a combination of speed and finesse to leave the rest of the women's field far behind on her way to her third national title. McConneloug defeated 2006 national champion Georgia Gould (Luna).
"This course was really hard to get in any kind of rhythm - there's no real sustained climbs...so that was more the problem for me," said Gould after the finish.
After the first, smaller loop of the course, it became clear that it was going to be a three-woman race. McConneloug, fresh of her silver at the Pan Am Games last weekend, was the first into view, followed by Willow Koerber (Subaru-Gary Fisher) and then a hard-charging Georgia Gould. McConneloug's lead appeared only a temporary one as both Koerber and Gould seemed to be reeling her in as they moved back out of sight and into the back single track of the course. It turned out that was the closest they would get to the on-form McConneloug.
Instead of letting Gould and Koerber back into the race, McConneloug shut the door, thriving in the muddy singletrack that she would bubble about after the race - terrain which her fellow riders had very few positive things to say about.
McConneloug crossed the line in near tears with a smile breaking through her mud-blackened face. "This is my focus race of the year," explained the new national champion. "To come here and get the national championship title back, it was my season goal." Gould and Koerber took second and third.
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