The Fort Lewis College Cycling Team raced to their 24th national title in team history at the USA Cycling Collegiate Mountain Bike National Championships in Missoula, Montana Oct. 19-21.
In addition to the team title, Skyhawk mountain bikers were victorious in four individual events and the team relay race. Cole Paton won the men's cross country and short-track cross country races. Savilia Blunk won the women's short-track cross country, and McCauley Smith won the women’s downhill race.
The Independent sat down with Cole Paton to learn more about what it’s like being a national champion.
Editor’s Note: The following interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
How was your confidence going into the national championships?
I felt good. I was more confident in our abilities as a team. I knew we had the strongest cross country boys and girls squads and our downhill squad definitely were going to step up, so I was really stoked on that. I definitely was a little worried about my individual results just because my season’s been so long. After the world championships, I was pretty burnt out on racing so that was a little rough for me. The last few weeks I’ve been training, and I wanted to have a pretty solid peak for nationals, so it was just kind of a gamble--I was either going to be feeling good or not. And yeah, it happened so that I felt good, and that was sweet. Our team definitely stepped up to it. Yeah, it was really cool.
What was the biggest challenge over the course of the weekend?
I think team relay was definitely the event with the most pressure. I was the last rider from our team so it’s way more pressure, at least for me. Not only am I just going out and racing but I’m racing for the three people that were in front of me and for the entire team. So I was so nervous watching Nash Dory, and Savilia and Ellen Campbell go. I think we were 40 or 50 seconds back. We had a little bit of a different rider order than the other teams so that’s why we were behind, but I’m sure if you looked at all of our lap times they would all be the top ones. We had a really strong team. On the climb, about three-fourths of the way up I made the pass into first.
What’s the story behind the a haircuts that some of the team members had?
It’s kind of been a tradition to do goofy haircuts before nationals. Last year Stephan Davoust kind of stepped it up with his bowl cut and dad mustache. Initially, we were just going to shave our heads, but when they got to shaving my head they were like, ‘you got to be an airbender.’ So somehow we’ve all convinced each other that we look good with airbender arrows on our heads and now I’m wearing a hat to school everyday. It was just kind of a way that we all got together before we left. I think that’s what’s really cool about our team this year is that we’re all so close and that kind of symbolizes it.
What makes collegiate mountain biking unique compared to other races that you do?
The team aspect for sure. At any other race that I do, you’re only worried about your result. That can be cool, but it’s such a family when you’re racing collegiate and everybody is out there cheering you on no matter what. Everyone’s results count towards each other, and so that’s when we really start to care about each other. When we all get back from the races at dinner we’re all making sure everyone has everything they need. It’s just really cool.
What do you think makes FLC one of the top mountain biking schools in the country?
I think it’s the Durango cycling community. What’s really special about our team is we have so many people to choose from. You look at the 20 people we selected for nationals, and there’s 20 people that had to stay home that could have done amazing over there. Our team is just so deep, and I think that’s why we do well. The community attracts all the cyclists that come here - we have so many people from different states on our team. I think that’s what’s really special about it. The coaching staff really kind of fosters a family to it with our club teams and our varsity teams, it doesn’t matter, we’re all part of the team. There’s no difference, so that’s what’s cool.
In September, you competed at the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships in Switzerland. How do you balance school with international competition?
It’s been really tough this semester. Right off the bat I missed almost two weeks of school, and then I missed another week for nationals. It’s tough, I’m taking 18 credits too. I don’t really have much free time so it’s go to class, train, eat, sleep. I think what helps me is having people to train with. I think if I was going out by myself every day it’d be a lot harder. That kind of helps me keep my head on straight. Definitely there are a lot of days where you just have to put your head down and grind out, mostly on the school work is what I’ve been feeling lately.