News>Cadets excel at national collegiate mountain biking championships
Junior Zeb Hanley, #223, and freshman Karl Schroeder, #225, compete in the cross-country race during the 2011 USA Cycling Collegiate Mountain Bike National Championships in Angel Fire, N.M. Oct. 28-30. Hanley placed 17th in the race, while Schroeder had to drop out of the race due to a mechanical problem. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Gino Mattorano)
Junior Zeb Hanley finished 17th out of 40 collegiate competitors in Division II of the cross-country race Oct. 28. The cross-country course covered more than 17 miles and about 1,400 feet elevation gain per lap, over three laps. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Gino Mattorano)
Air Force Academy Sophomore Coleen Pacurariu heads for the finish line on her way to winning the women’s downhill mountain biking national title at the 2011 USA Cycling Collegiate Mountain Bike National Championships in Angel Fire, N.M., Oct. 28-30. Pacurariu won the downhill race on Saturday, and placed second in the dual slalom race on Sunday. She completed the downhill race with a time of 10:42, besting her closest competitor by 32 seconds. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Gino Mattorano)
Sophomore Coleen Pacurariu takes a breather after completing the downhill seeding competition Oct. 28. Pacurariu, of Cadet Squadron 08, won the downhill race on Saturday, and placed second in the dual-slalom race Sunday. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Gino Mattorano)
Muddy, snowy conditions added an additional challenge to the racers participating in the 2011 USA Cycling Collegiate Mountain Bike National Championships in Angel Fire, N.M. Oct. 28-30. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Gino Mattorano)
by Gino Mattorano
Air Force Academy Public Affairs
11/3/2011 - ANGEL FIRE, N.M. -- Many children enjoy playing in the mud, but most outgrow that urge by the time they reach college. But for mountain bikers, playing in the mud never gets old.
Three cadets from the Air Force Academy's cycling team braved the mud and the snow to put in a gritty performance at the 2011 USA Cycling Collegiate Mountain Bike National Championships here Oct. 28 through Sunday.
Sophomore Coleen Pacurariu, of Cadet Squadron 08, won the downhill race on Saturday, and placed second in the dual-slalom race Sunday. She completed the downhill race with a time of 10:42, beating all Division 1 and Division 2 women and besting her closest competitor by 32 seconds.
Junior Zeb Hanley, of CS 37, finished 17th out of 40 in the cross-country race, Oct. 28, and placed 33rd in the short track race Saturday.
Freshman Karl Schroeder, of CS 19, had to drop out of the cross country race Saturday due to a mechanical problem, but returned strong Saturday to finish 17th in the short-track race.
Angel Fire received nearly nine inches of snow Oct. 26, and while the weather had warmed up by the start of the race, snowy, muddy conditions added an additional technical challenge to the racers.
As a team, Air Force placed 12th in the nation against 21 Division II schools.
All three racers agreed that cycling helps them to excel as cadets, and that the rigors of cadet life make them better cyclists.
"We make the most of what we have to work with, but it's a rigorous daily schedule," Hanley said. "We wake up, go to class, work out, do home work, and do it all over again the next day. It teaches you a lot about time management, but it also attests to our dedication to do everything we can to get in the hours we need to ride."
Pacurariu has had a stellar year, winning 10 of 12 events she entered, and she's only in her second year racing mountain bikes. In the downhill race, she was one of the only riders to stay on her bike throughout the course.
"It was very icy on the top, but it also made it a lot of fun" Pacurariu said. "It all came down to who fell the least, versus who had the most technical skill, although I guess those things go hand in hand. By the end of the race, you just have to pedal your heart out to gain those few extra seconds as you cross the finish line."
Pacurariu grew up in Santa Cruz, Calif., but didn't discover mountain biking until midway through high school.
"I did a lot of skateboarding with my guy friends, and one day they said they were going biking, so I went with them," she said. "After following them down a few trails I decided I liked it even better than skateboarding."
Pacurariu never thought she would have the opportunity to practice her newly learned skills at the Academy but was pleasantly surprised to discover the Academy had a cycling team.
"I had never raced before I came to the Academy, but once I heard there was a team I signed right up," she said. "It has been awesome."
The cross-country course covered more than 17 miles and about 1,400 feet elevation gain per lap, over three laps. Adding to the challenge, mud and snow wreaked havoc on the racers' ability to change gears, a crucial part of the sport.
A fall in the first lap, combined with the mud and grit, caused Schroeder's chain to break, eliminating him from the cross-country race, but he came back on Saturday to put in a strong performance in the short-track race. Schroeder credits his success, in part, to the training he's received at the Academy so far.
"In basic (cadet) training, you learn that your mind can push your body beyond what you thought it could, and you really don't realize that until you're in that situation," he said. "There's a point in any race where there's a hill and you're out of energy, and you just have to push yourself. You see guys get off and walk the hill, but you decide to go ahead and ride it, and it turns out you can do it. So it definitely helps."
This was Hanley's first national mountain bike competition, and his strong performance in the cross-country race set him up for the short-track event. The muddy goo limited him to only a third of his available gears, however, and he placed further back in the pack than he would have liked as a result.
Despite this setback, Hanley said he was happy to be competing in the nationals and believes the experience will help him as a cadet and as an Air Force officer.
"One thing they stress here at the Academy is the whole-person concept," Hanley said. "I think it's essential to be in good shape and to be a well-rounded officer. I try to tailor everything I do here at the Academy to benefitting myself as much as I can, centered around the whole-person concept."
And so far, it's working. The scholar-athlete is a two-time Dean's Ace, which means that he was one of a handful of cadets recognized for having a 4.0 grade point average on two separate occasions.
Lt. Col. Len Cabrera, the officer in charge of the cadet cycling club, said he was very happy with the cadets' performance.
"We're obviously disappointed with the mechanical issues in the endurance events, but it was a good experience for our riders, both of whom were at their first national competition. I hope their experience and Coleen's success will motivate them, and the rest of the team, and get them hungry for next year.
"For Coleen, I expected great things based on her racing over the last two years. She dominated all the regular season races, scoring more points than every other gravity rider, male or female. It's great to have her on the team," he continued. "I wish I could take credit, but she developed those skills before coming to the Academy, assisted somewhat this year by our volunteer coach, Shannon Ambrose."
The cadet mountain bikers racing season is now officially over, but they'll continue to train and be ready for the next racing season.
"Regardless of what career path they take, the leadership lessons they learn from these efforts will help them in their careers as Air Force officers," Cabrera said.