Western rider takes third at National Championships

Team claims 10th place overall

By Jason Tullous, Head Cycling Coach

Fourteen student-athletes from Western Colorado University’s Mountain Bike team embarked on a journey Tuesday, October 10 to Zirconia, North Carolina for the highly anticipated 2023 Collegiate Mountain Bike National Championships. 

Upon arrival, the contrast in environment between Zirconia and Gunnison was palpable. The air carried a humid embrace, while oxygen levels were noticeably abundant. The forest, still cloaked in green, promised challenging terrain, with wet trails punctuated by roots and intermittent mud and creek crossings. Gravity riders were greeted by a brief, adrenaline-pumping downhill stretch lasting under three minutes.

On the night before the competition started, athletes were welcomed by a steady downpour, foreshadowing even muddier and slicker conditions that would greet them at daybreak. The first day’s agenda encompassed the dual slalom event and practice for the cross-country (XC) athletes. As athletes honed their skills, the terrain gradually dried and the course gained speed. Qualification for the dual slalom event hinged on timed runs on the blue and red courses, with the top 32 times in both women’s and men’s categories securing a berth in the afternoon finals.

Standout Mountaineer athletes Bree Jones, Tyler Baker, Joey Salat, Ethan Bergdolt and Brooks Hudson advanced to the finals. With each ensuing round, competitors were progressively eliminated, leaving first-year Mountaineer Ethan Bergdolt as the sole contender in the semifinal heat. Unfortunately, Bergdolt experienced a crash that led to a broken bike. With minimal time before the bronze medal race, the Western team rallied, borrowing Luke Slater’s bike and customizing it for Bergdolt. With commendable resolve, Bergdolt went on to clinch the bronze medal, triumphing over Colorado Mesa’s Jack Spranger. 

Ethan’s remarkable performance served as an inspiring prelude to the ensuing three days of fierce competition. 

Day Two was dedicated to gravity team practice on the distinct downhill run. The trail presented a refreshing departure from the team’s usual terrain, evoking smiles of delight from each rider, captivated by the exhilarating descent. 

For XC riders, Day Two marked race day. The course, a compact 2.2-mile loop, underscored the importance of first-lap positioning. Both the men’s and women’s teams delivered performances near their season best, though the course’s demands left a mixed imprint of satisfaction and strain. On the men’s side, Cody Conner took 45th place, Jack Fanselow secured 48th, Jackson Karls got 56th and Seth Tellinghuisen landed 68th. Among the women, Camden Mullens claimed 51st place. 

The following day featured qualifying runs for gravity riders, while XC riders engaged in the short track race, a condensed version of XC racing characterized by a brisk one-mile loop with races centered on time rather than laps. A strategic start was paramount, and first-year Cody Conner valiantly secured the 38th position, while Camden Mullens once again earned 51st place. 

On the climactic final day of the National Championships, the team vied in the Downhill finals and the XC riders competed in the Team Relay. The relay posed a formidable challenge, with Western fielding only Camden Mullens for both women’s relay positions. The team secured 13th place, garnering crucial points towards the overall team standings. 

In the Downhill event, all the Mountaineer athletes displayed commendable prowess, earning positions that contributed significantly to the team’s point total. Second-year student Hannah Garvey led the women’s category with an impressive 11th-place finish, while Brooks Hudson led the men’s category with a stellar sixth place. Chris Muething placed 35th. Tyler Baker and Luke Slater were 29th and 28th. Joey Salat was 20th, and Ethan Bergdolt was 18th. Bree Jones placed 28th and Camden Mullens was 33rd.   

As a side note, Camden Mullens was the team’s Ironwoman, racing in every event. As the sun set on the competitions, Western emerged with a commendable 10th place overall.

With this, the team now turns its attention to well-deserved rest and recovery. Gravity riders shift gears toward the upcoming ski season, while XC riders regroup before gearing up for endurance races in the spring. 

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