Reigning national champions and 2008 Olympians Adam Craig and Mary McConneloug showed their readiness for Beijing only weeks before the opening of the Olympic Games winning the men's and women's 2008 USA Cycling Mountain Bike National cross country titles on Saturday.
After four consecutive podium appearances, including his 2007 national title, Craig put on a dominant performance to take his second consecutive Stars-and-Stripes jersey in the pro men's cross country race at Southern Vermont's Mount Snow Resort, while McConneloug defended her national title by less than a wheel over fellow 2008 Olympian Georgia Gould.
Craig has a history of strong performances in national championship races. Just missing a national title with a second-place finish in the first single-day national championship in 2004, Craig followed up that performance with a third-place effort in 2005 and a fifth-place effort in 2006 before taking the title on the Mount Snow course last season. The newly named 2008 Olympian looks to be on good form heading into the Aug 23 Olympic mountain bike race in Beijing.
"This one is better than last year," said New England native Adam Craig. "It's always hard when you have a target on your back. This race was good prep as it offers some good power work riding up steep hills like we're going to have to do in Beijing."
Competing over four laps of a five-mile circuit, Craig took the lead from the gun and held off the strong 58-rider men's pro field to win the title in 1:43:39. At the conclusion of the first lap, Craig had opened up a more than one minute gap on his closest competition, including the top-rated American in the World Cup standings and fellow Olympian Todd Wells and last year's national championship silver-medalist Jeremiah Bishop. Craig continued to ride strong finishing 1:37 ahead of silver medalist Ryan Trebon and more than two minutes in front of a surging Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski who took third place. Carl Decker and Sam Schultz rounded out the podium finishers.
McConneloug repeated her Stars-and-Stripes performance from a year ago, outsprinting Gould to the line by less than a second as the two Olympians showed their dominance in Saturday's pro women's cross country contest. With her victory McConneloug becomes the first woman to win back-to-back national titles since the single day national championship format was adopted in 2004.
Finding herself initially off the pace in the 15-mile contest, McConneloug quickly closed the gap on the early leaders to force a sprint to the finish with Olympic teammate Gould. With only hundredths of a second separating the two, McConneloug's winning time of 1:33:07 was just enough to earn her a third Stars-and-Stripes jersey. Her first title came in 2005 in Mammoth Lakes, California and the most recent on the same course in last year's competition.
"I was really conservative on the first lap. I didn't want to go down, that's when she passed me," explained McConneloug. "We were riding together the whole race. Every climb I'd pass her and on the descents she'd pass me. I knew I needed to catch her on the final climb and I did."
That final pass by McConneloug set up one of the most exciting pro cross country finishes in the short history of these national championships as the pair sprinted down the final straight to give the crowd a near photo finish.
How the race unfolded
Cyclo-cross champion Katie Compton gunned it out of the start, but the pair of Olympians kept their composure and with one lap of the three-lap affair complete Gould and McConneloug established a strong lead over the 38-rider field. Heading into the final lap McConneloug found herself nearly 20 seconds off Gould's leading pace with Heather Irmiger, Willow Koerber and Leah Davison in third, fourth and fifth, over a minute behind. McConneloug closed that gap on the final five-mile loop earning her not only a fourth overall national cross country title, winning the overall points classification in the now-defunct National Championship Series in 2003, but also posting her fourth win in as many tries on the Mount Snow course.
Irmiger slowed her pace on the final loop, but was able to improve on last year's fourth-place-finish, holding onto the bronze, 3:02 down. With the crowd cheering her through the woods on the backside of the course, hometown hero Davison was able to surge into fourth place while Koerber, in her first contest since the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships in June, rounded out the top five, 5:48 back.
In the other major pro event on Saturday, 38 year-old Eric Carter descended to his 11th national title in the men's dual slalom, while 2008 World Champ Melissa Buhl captured the women's crown. Carter outrode eighth-seeded Geritt Beytagh, recent overall winner of Mount Snow's SoBee Energy Downhill and Dual Slalom Series presented by e.thirteen, in men's final. Number-one-seeded Buhl took out the number-two-seeded Kathy Pruitt in the women's final.
In other open competition on Saturday, Travis Livermon and Betsy Shogren earned national titles in the men's and women's singlespeed event. Also,Mike Steidley and Brian Yezierski won the stock and modified trials competitions respectively.
The 2008 USA Cycling Mountain Bike National Championships will conclude on Sunday as both the pro men's and women's downhill and the men's and women's pro short track national championships highlight the schedule.
2008 USA Cycling Mountain Bike National Championships - Mount Snow, Vermont
Pro Men's Cross Country
1. Adam Craig (Bend, Ore.) 1:43:39
2. Ryan Trebon (Bend, Ore.) 1:45:17
3. Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski (Boulder, Colo.) 1:45:47
4. Carl Decker (Bend, Ore.) 1:48:02
5. Sam Schultz (Colorado Springs, Colo.) 1:49:01
Pro Women's Cross Country
1. Mary McConneloug (Chilmark, Mass.) 1:33:07
2. Georgia Gould (Fort Collins, Colo.) 1:33:08
3. Heather Irmiger (Boulder, Colo.) 1:36:10
4. Lea Davison (Jericho, Vt.) 1:38:01
5. Willow Koerber (Asheville, N.C.) 1:38:55
Men's Pro Dual Slalom
1. Eric Carter (Temecula, Calif.)
2. Geritt Beytagh (Fletcher, N.C.)
3. Chris Van Dine (Park City, Utah)
4. Ross Milan (Arvada, Colo.)
Women's Pro Dual Slalom
1. Melissa Buhl (Chandler, Ariz.)
2. Kathy Pruitt (Lake Almanor, Calif.)
3. Darian Harvey (Durango,Colo.)
4. Jessica Vogt (Boulder, Colo.)
Men's Semi-Pro Dual Slalom
1. James Patterson (Burlington, Vt.)
2. Carl Marcum (Meridian, Idaho)
3. Steve Avery (Amesbury, Mass.)
4. Amando Stuchenfeld
Men's Open Singlespeed
1. Travis Livermon (Winterville, N.C.) 1:29:37
2. John Foley (Sturbridge, Mass.) 1:35:10
3. Ryan Alex (Winston Salem, N.C.) 1:35:21
4. John Mylne (Riverside, Calif.) 1:35:48
5. Thom Parsons (Somerville, Mass.) 1:36:25
Women's Open Singlespeed
1. Betsy Shogren (Morgantown, W.Va.) 1:57:54
2. Kylie Krauss (Asheville, N.C.) 2:10:08
Observed Trials - Men's Stock
1. Mike Steidley (New Haven, Conn.)
2. Vaughn Micciche (Baltimore, Md.)
3. Ken Cleveland (Hollis, N.H.)
Observed Trials - Men's Modified
1. Brian Yezierski (Middleton, Conn.)
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