The Fort Lewis College mountain bike team had the home field advantage at the Collegiate Mountain Bike Nationals, or so they thought, until all of sudden, Durango got hit with a snowstorm.
The major race was at the local Durango ski slope, Purgatory Ski Resort, on October 14-17, two days after the mountain received an estimated 6-inch layer of snow.
The snow didn’t dampen the FLC riders’ spirits though, instead, the team and other local volunteers worked together to shovel the trails and ensure that they would still be race ready.
“The home crowd came out in force, all the shoveling was super motivating and really showed how much support was behind us as a team,” Kellen Caldwell, a freshman mountain biker who raced over the weekend, said.
Even with the shoveling, the snow made the trails very muddy and altered their difficulty and predictability.
“The mud made everything slippery, the roots, the rocks, and the dirt. Being able to keep balance is so much harder,” Fiona Dougherty, a junior on the team who placed 6th in the women’s downhill race, said. “I really have to choose a line, and not be afraid to stick a foot out to stabilize me. I have to stay focused and not slam on the brakes. If I do, it's all over.”
Every rider and their bike that came down from the mountain were covered in mud.
At a bike race, there are different events that play into different riders' certain skills.
In a downhill race, riders get shuttled to the top of the course and then go down the mountain, opposed to a cross country course where the riders do laps going up and down on the trail, Dougherty said.
“Downhill and Cross Country feel like two very different sports,” she said. “They are both so intense, but downhill is focused on speed and honing yourself to be short and quick, whereas Cross Country is more about endurance.”
The downhill course was changed from its original trail because of the conditions and the new course was less technical than a usual downhill race.
Ethan Wright, a sophomore downhill rider from Fort Lewis, said the new Downhill course felt more like a Cross Country course. It was more about who had the most endurance and the strongest legs, he said.
Other courses were altered due to the weather too, and the riders had to work with worse conditions which made the courses more difficult than usual.
“The Cross Country course was shortened. It was still super gnarly, had tons of uphill climbing, and the descent was full of snow and icy corners,” Caldwell said. “The short track course was similar, just shorter, every lap got harder because the trail kept getting more blown out.”
Even with all the changes to the national events, the Fort Lewis College team placed second in the overall standings, coming in behind Colorado Mesa University.
At a nationals race, the teams come from all across the country, which is different from other races where teams are only competing with the people in their own state or region.
“It’s an unreal feeling seeing all these different types of riders from all these different states come together and race the same things and have a good time. I love it,” Wright said.
A lot of the riders across many different teams were talking and laughing with one another at the base of the mountain. As racers came through the finish line, they congratulated each other.
“Biking is competitive, but it has more camaraderie than other sports,” Dougherty stated. “Once we’re on the course we want to beat the person in front of us, but off the course we are cheering for every team because we’re all just college students who like to ride their bikes.”
Even with the changing conditions of the courses, the teams were able to race and be there to support each other and have fun doing what they love to do on a national level.