Lees-McRae & Fort Lewis Colleges do battle at US Collegiate MTB Nationals

The cross country competition kicked off the USA Cycling Collegiate Mountain Bike National Championships as nearly 200 collegians raced through the campus of Lees-McRae College in North Carolina for the second year in a row. The first day of competition set the stage for an old-fashioned shootout between host Lees-McRae College and last year's overall team winner Fort Lewis College in Division I, while riders from nearby Brevard College and Appalachian State earned the Division II men's and women's crowns respectively.

Despite a strong challenge from Lees-McRae's Scott Stewart, Division I favorite and defending champion Ben Sonntag of Fort Lewis College was able to overtake Stewart on the final lap and repeat his victory from a year ago. Lees-McRae's Brad Perley grabbed third in the DI men's race after another favorite, Rotem Ishay (Fort Lewis College) dropped his chain at the gun, leaving him playing catch-up throughout the nearly 25-mile contest. The University of Oregon's Justin Finn rounded out the podium as the only non-Lees-McRae or Fort Lewis rider in the top five.

"It was harder than last year," said Fort Lewis' Sontag. "Lees-McRae controlled the race from the start with a rider in right in front and behind me. I would make up some on the inclines, but I'd lose that on the downhill. My broken right index finger really affected my control on the descents. It was a good fight; Stewart ran a great race."

The DII men's race saw Midwest conference champion Zach Winn from Union College lead a hard charge out of the gate before succumbing to Brevard College's Tristan Cowie in the fourth of the five-lap affair. After practicing on the course for the past several days, Cowie used his technical expertise to take the win over a talented DII field including podium finishers Logan Wetzel (Western Washington University), Matthew Williams (Warren Wilson College) and Alex Hannah (Appalachian State University).

The DI women's contest was a battle between multiple-time collegiate national road and track national champion Carla Swart of Lees-McRae and the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga's Jamie Dinkins. Dinkins, who finished 19th at the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships U23 race in June, showed superb strength, but in the end Swart used her home field advantage to take home another crown by more than two minutes. The University of Colorado-Boulder's Eszter Horanyi took third while a pair of Fort Lewis riders, Teal Stetson-Lee and downhill specialist Sage Wilderman added to their team's point total.

"The course was pretty muddy, but it was easier and a lot more fun than last year," said Swart of the once-again wet Lees-McRae terrain. "I told myself to stay relaxed because when I get too fired up I can make mistakes."

After missing the race start, Appalachian State University's Rebecca Tomascewski came roaring back to take a slim victory in the DII women's race. Tomascewski narrowly out rode Melissa Marts (Colorado School of Mines) and Katherine Harris (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) in the rain shortened 15-mile race.

Steady rains on Friday caused organizers to cancel the downhill seeding runs though the finals will continue as scheduled. The dual slalom, short track and downhill titles are still to be decided.

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