Jurekovic, Forsman ride to U23 crowns
The 2007 USA Cycling Mountain Bike National Championships brought to you by X-Fusion opened on Friday as Mary McConneloug (Chilmark, Mass./Kenda-Seven) rode to a national title in the elite women's cross country race. With her victory, McConneloug became the first two-time winner of the event since USA Cycling adopted the single-day national championship format in 2004. Her last title was in 2005 in Mammoth Lakes, Calif.
Entering the event fresh off her silver-medal performance at the XV Pan American Games last weekend, McConneloug opened up an early lead over the remainder of the 43-rider field before finishing the 15-mile contest with a winning time of 2 hours, 6 minutes and 59 seconds. Defending champion Georgia Gould (Ketchum, Idaho/Luna) finished 1:17 off McConneloug's pace to claim the silver, while Willow Koerber (Horseshoe, N.C./Subaru-Gary Fisher) placed third, 3:57 back.
"I'm so excited, this was my main focus for the season," McConneloug said. "My primary goal was to get that national championship back."
Faced with three laps of a five-mile circuit at Southern Vermont's Mount Snow Resort, McConneloug immediately pushed the pace and had a 23-second gap over Koerber and a 30-second buffer over Gould after the first loop. One lap later, McConneloug's advantage had increased to 1:05 over Gould, while Koerber dropped slightly off the pace to third position, 1:30 back. Throughout the final lap, McConneloug's lead continued to grow despite the sloppy course conditions after overnight rain showers.
"Basically, from my previous title, I just remembered not to get caught behind anyone and just find the right cadence and ride my own pace," McConneloug explained of her tactics. "The conditions were good, the mud was so soft you could just sort of float right through it."
McConneloug's win at Mount Snow Resort was her second in as many years, winning the cross country race at the National Mountain Bike Series event in 2006. It was also her third-career national cross country title, winning the overall points classification in the now-defunct National Championship Series in 2003.
Heather Irmiger (Boulder, Colo./Subaru-Gary Fisher) finished fourth, 7:41 down, while recently crowned USA Cycling Mountain Bike Marathon National Champion Shonny Vanlandingham (Durango, Colo./Luna) rounded out the top five, 8:15 back.
McConneloug's victory will also earn her an automatic nomination to represent the U.S. at the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships in Fort William, Scotland in September, joining Koerber and Gould who have previously qualified with top-five finishes in World Cup competition this season. The top-three finishers in Friday's national championships also have the U.S. ranked number one in the world in women's mountain bike racing with Gould currently ranked fourth in the world ahead of McConneloug (7th) and Koerber (9th).
Under 23 men
Following the women's race, USA Cycling National Development Team member Sam Jurekovic (Colorado Springs, Colo.) dethroned defending champion Sam Schultz (Missoula, Mont./Subaru-Gary Fisher) in the U23 men's contest. Jurekovic clocked a winning time of 2:34:18 over the four-lap, 20-mile race to finish 2:58 ahead of Schultz.
After the first lap, it was clearly a two-man race as Schultz and Jurekovic were separated by only two seconds. After the second lap however, Schultz appeared to have the upper hand, opening up a gap of 25 seconds at the halfway point. By the end of lap three, the leaders' fortunes had suddenly reversed as Jurekovic came through 45 seconds ahead - a lead he managed to maintain over the last five miles to solidify his victory.
"I was right with Sam until the second lap when I went over my handlebars," Jurekovic explained of the 20 seconds he lost on the second lap. "When I recovered, I rode with Colin (Cares) for a lap, but rode away on the climb. It was a very hard chase, but when I finally caught back up with Sam at the top of the mountain on the third lap, I just rode right by him. I just didn't stop and tried not to look back."
Jurekovic's National Development teammate, Colin Cares (Durango, Colo.), also rode a strong race, finishing third, 2:13 off the pace of Schultz.
The 2007 edition of the U23 contest marked the second consecutive year that the same trio swept the top three podium spots. Then USA Cycling National Development Team teammates, Schultz, Jurekovic and Cares finished first, second and third respectively. Schultz secured a spot on the Subaru-Gary Fisher pro team for the 2007 season as the latest member of the program to earn a ride with a trade team. On Friday, he entered the event as a marked man in his last season of U23 eligibility, but couldn't quite defend his title.
"I felt awesome today," Schultz said, "I was leading for most of the race, but Sam just started riding really strong. Once he blew by me, I just tried to salvage my losses. He opened up a pretty good gap and then I started cramping pretty badly. I just didn't quite have the legs today."
In the women's U23 event, reigning Division I collegiate national champion Chloe Forsman (Tucson, Ariz./Luna) improved upon her second-place finish a year ago to win the national title. Forsman clocked a winning time of 2:32:19 to beat runner-up Caitlyn Tuel (Boulder, Colo./Trek-VW) by 4:27. Natasha Cowie (Dawsonville, Ga./Velo Bella) placed third, 6:09 off the pace.
In the junior expert categories, two athletes will also earn automatic nominations to the U.S. National Team for the world championships after winning their respective events on Friday - Ethan Gilmour (Ludlow, Vt./Devo-Okemo) and Stephanie White (Bedford, N.H./Velo Bella).
Pro women cross country
1 Mary McConneloug (Chilmark, Mass.) 2:06:59
2 Georgia Gould (Ketchum, Idaho) 0:01:17
3 Willow Koerber (Horseshoe, N.C.) 0:03:57
4 Heather Irmiger (Boulder, Colo.) 0:07:41
5 Shonny Vanlandingham (Durango, Colo.) 0:08:15
U23 men cross country
1 Sam Jurekovic (Colorado Springs, Colo.) 2:34:18
2 Sam Schultz (Missoula, Mont.) 0:02:58
3 Colin Cares (Durango, Colo.) 0:05:11
4 Chance Noble (Camarillo, Calif.) 0:11:17
5 Mitchell Peterson (Sandy, Utah) 0:11:43
U23 women cross country
1 Chloe Forsman (Tucson, Ariz.) 2:32:19
2 Caitlyn Tuel (Boulder, Colo.) 0:04:27
3 Natasha Cowie (Dawsonville, Ga.) 0:06:09
4 Jamie Dinkins (Powell, Tenn.) 0:07:02
5 Sabrina Kraushaar (Durango, Colo.) 0:25:25
Junior expert men 17-18 cross country
1 Ethan Gilmour (Ludlow, Vt.) 2:06:17
2 Greg Carpenter (Canton, Conn.) 0:01:16
3 Chris Peterson (Sandy, Utah) 0:01:55
4 Stephen Ettinger (Cashmere, Wash.) 0:02:39
5 Tristan Cowie (Dawsonville, Ga.) 0:03:17
Junior expert women cross country
1 Stephanie White (Bedford, N.H.) 1:46:35
2 Essence Barton (Thousand Oaks, Calif.) 0:01:05
3 Jill Behlen (Boulder, Colo.) 0:05:26
4 Lydia Tanner (Boulder, Colo.) 0:05:29
5 Deidre York (Indio, Calif.) 0:10:39