US Collegiate Mountain Bike Nationals get rolling this weekend

The 2012 USA Cycling Collegiate Mountain Bike National Championships will begin on Friday at the Angel Fire Resort in Angel Fire, New Mexico.


The three-day event will open on Friday with the cross country races. The men will start the racing with the Division I competitors get going at 9 am, followed by the Division II contestants at 9:10 am. The Division I women's race will begin at noon, followed 10 minutes later by the Division II women. The cross country course has changed slightly from the 2011 track. There will be more doubletrack climbing and the course now goes counter clockwise.

Saturday morning's racing will feature the short track. Each race is slated to last 20 minutes plus three laps. The Division I men will start the racing at 9 am, followed by the Division II men an hour later. The Division I women toe the line at 11 am. followed by the Division II women at noon. That afternoon will pit the country's premiere collegiate downhill racers contesting the 1.5-mile course beginning at 2 pm.

On Sunday, the event will culminate with the dual slalom competition beginning at 9:15 am.

Riders to watch - Division I

Two of the top three finishers in the Division I men's omnium are back in 2012. The winner, Kerry Werner (Lees-McRae College), and the fourth-place finisher, Victor Alber (University of Florida), in that contest are looking to repeat their podium performances.

Fort Lewis College returns three riders who won different contests at the 2011 event. Skyhawks who won in 2011 and will be back in 2012 are: Howard Grotts and Lauren Catlin, who won the men's and women's cross country races, respectively. Their teammates, Rotem Ishay and Sarah Sturm topped the men's and women's short track podiums, respectively, in 2011. Rachel Byus (Lindenwood University) has enjoyed a stellar season. Byus is a rider to keep an eye on in the women's cross country and short track contests after winning every endurance race she started except placing second in the regional contest.

Another marquee defending national champion, Joey Schusler (University of Colorado) will look to retain the two gravity (dual slalom and downhill) collegiate national championships he earned in 2011. A bona fide threat to Schusler is J.D. Swanguen (Lindsey Wilson), who has won five of the seven gravity races he entered in 2012.

Swanguen's former teammate, Crystal Kalogris (Marian University), topped the women's dual slalom podium as a student at Lindsey Wilson College in 2011. She's hoping maintain her mountain magic as a member of Marian University's team in 2012.

Additionally, last year's women’s omnium winner, Jill Behlen (University of Wyoming), is back to defend her crowns.

Riders to watch - Division II

Division II podium possibilities are led by Eva Wilson (Colorado State University), who topped the women's Division II omnium podium in 2011. The bronze medalist in the women's omnium, Elisa Otter (Union College-KY), is hoping to improve on last year's finish this year. The Division II ranks features three more defending national champions hoping retain their Stars-and-Stripes jerseys. Rebecca Gross (University of Denver) is hoping retain her crown in the short track race while Paul Mayes (Michigan Technical University) and Essence Barton (California Lutheran University) topped the men’s and women's dual slalom podiums in 2011.

Among the top competitors in the men's cross country contests are Trevor DeRuise (University of Nevada-Reno) and Steven Pearl (Humboldt State University). Bobby Zidek (California State University-Chico) and Justin Graves (Humboldt State University) are solid gravity riders to be considered. Ariana Altier (California State University-Chico) has been on a hot streak in gravity races heading into nationals this weekend. Alexis Skarda (Colorado Mesa University) is hoping to defend her position as the top Division II women's cross country rider after earning last year's national title.

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