The US team surprised themselves and many watching on Wednesday afternoon at the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships in Hafjell, Norway when they finished in fourth place in the team relay. After a bronze medal at the 2007 Worlds in Fort William, Scotland, the day's performance was the second best team relay finish ever for the US.
"I couldn't believe we came in fourth - that's so amazing!" said Lea Davison to Cyclingnews after the finish. "Todd Wells and I were just standing there watching after our laps. It's a great way to start off the Worlds and set a good tone for the rest of the week."
The team's elite male rider and US cross country national champion Wells led out the squad for a solid first lap, putting the US in seventh place. Next up was junior rider Neilson Powless who crossed the line for the US after lap two in 12th place.
Then US cross country national champion Davison did the honors as the team's elite woman and the third rider to go, and she gained four spots.
"When I started my lap, I was with Katerina Nash and Annika Langvad, and Jolanda Neff was right in front of me," said Davison to Cyclingnews. "I figured [World Cup overall winner] Jolanda was the perfect wheel to hang on. I tried to maintain since I couldn't close on her. I hung solidly in there and then Keegan did a great job firing it up on the last lap."
Under 23 national champion Keegan Swenson took off on a mission for the final lap, and while he was passed by the Czech Republic's Jaroslav Kulhavy, he also passed a bunch of other riders to move the US into fourth.
"I just tried to stay on Jaroslav's wheel for as long as I could," said Swenson of his effort to hang onto the 2012 Olympic champion.
US coach Mark Gullickson explained the team's strategy to Cyclingnews. "We tried to put our four fastest riders out there in each of those categories. Over the years, it seems like for most teams, the right order is a fast rider first and a fast rider last. We stuck to that formula. It's super exciting racing because you never know - like today at the end, Keegan came through a whole bunch of riders."
"We had a good day. A lot of the US riders want to do the relay because it's fun. It's good for Olympic ranking points, too."