Bobcats Claim Gold, Silver and Bronze in Mountain Bike Cross Country

Banner Elk, N.C.-Lees-McRae cyclist junior Carla Swart claimed another national title Friday, this time in cross country competition at the USA Cycling Collegiate Mountain Bike nationals. Swart, the reigning DI Women's Road Race Champion, also earned the DI Women's Track Omnium title this past September. On the men's side Scott Stewart and Brad Perley rode to second and third place finishes respectively in the first day of competition.

The 2008 USA Collegiate Mountain Bike National Championships got underway Friday morning as nearly 200 collegiate athletes competed under gray, drizzly skies for cross country bragging rights. Lees-McRae College, hosting the championships for the second year in a row, came ready to challenge defending DI Champions Fort Lewis College as did the University of Colorado-Boulder. Appalachian State University and Union College charged ahead of both the Colorado School of Mines and Warren Wilson in DII competition.

The DI men kicked off the championships with an 8:15 a.m. start with the DII riders starting minutes behind them. The men set off on a grueling five laps over a 4.3 mile loop through the backside of Lees-McRae's campus. Scott Stewart (LMC, Oxford, Mich.) took control of the race from the start setting the pace for last year's defending champion Ben Sonntag (Fort Lewis College) and continued to maintain that lead into the fourth lap. Lees-McRae teammate Brad Perley (Kennebunk, Maine) kept the pressure on Sonntag as well, hemming him in from behind. In the fourth lap of the 22 mile race Sonntag and Stewart each claimed the lead several times before Sonntag, determined to keep his stars and stripes jersey despite a broken right index finger, finally claimed the lead for good.

"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."

"This was the most emotional race I've ever done," said Stewart. "In the fourth lap Sonntag and I went back and forth. It was a battle."

The Bobcats claimed the silver and bronze with Stewart's and Perley's effort but did not stop there. They saw their team points adding up as Randy Laprairie (Warren, Mich.)claimed ninth, Aaron Bradford (Auburn, Wash.) 11th and Eric Thompson (Shoreview, Minn.)12th.

The DII men's race saw Midwest conference champion Zach Winn (Barbourville, Ky.) from Union College lead a hard charge out of the gate before succumbing to Brevard College's Tristan Cowie (Dawsonville, Ga.) 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 (Buford, Ga.) of Lees-McRae and the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga's Jamie Dinkins (Powell, Tenn.). 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 homefield advantage to take home another crown by more than two minutes. The University of Colorado-Boulder's Eszter Horanyi (Boulder, Colo.) took third while a pair of Fort Lewis riders, Teal Stetson-Lee and downhill specialist Sage Wilderman (Durango, Colo.) 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."
The Bobcats also had a strong finish here as well with newcomer Niki Dallaire (Louisville, Ky.)claiming seventh, Jo Markham (Collierville, Tenn.)ninth and Ally Stacher (Etna, Calif.)tenth. Kristi Henne (Plainview, Ark.)rounded out the Bobcats' efforts with a 16th place finish.

After missing the race start, Appalachian State University's Rebecca Tomascewski (Boone, N.C.) 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.

In the team omnium standings, Lees-McRae with 188 points found themselves with a slim lead over Fort Lewis (166) and University of Colorado-Boulder (146). In DII action it was Appalachian State University who emerged at the front after amassing 166 points. Union College garnered 143 points and both Warren Wilson College and Colorado School of Mines finished with 137.

With four national titles already decided, racing will resume tomorrow at 8:00 a.m. with the short-track race on the campus of Lees-McRae College. Action will then move to nearly 5,000 feet on top of Sugar Mountain at Sugar Mountain Resort for the downhill competition slated for 2:00 p.m. The USA Cycling Collegiate Mountain Bike National Championships will wrap-up on Sunday morning with the dual slalom competition with awards immediately following.

Race results from Friday, October, 24th

USA Cycling Site

Division I Men's Cross Country

1. Benjamin Sonntag (Fort Lewis College)

2. Scott Stewart (Lees-McRae College)

3. Brad Perley (Lees-McRae College)

4. Rotem Ishay (Fort Lewis College)

5. Justin Finn (University of Oregon)

Division II Men's Cross Country

1. Tristan Cowie (Brevard College)

2. Zach Winn (Union College)

3. Logan Wetzel (Western Washington University)

4. Matthew Williams (Warren Wilson College)

5. Alex Hannah (Appalachian State University)

Division I Women's Cross Country

1. Carla Swart (Lees-McRae College)

2. Jamie Dinkins (University of Tennessee-Chattanooga)

3. Eszter Horanyi (University of Colorado-Boulder)

4. Teal Stetson-Lee (Fort Lewis College)

5. Sage Wilderman (Fort Lewis College)

Division II Women's Cross Country

1. Rebecca Tomascewski (Appalachian State University)

2. Melissa Marts (Colorado School of Mines)

3. Katherine Harris (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)

4. Rachel Millshop (Union College)

5. Joanna Tuttle (Brevard College)