MSU Cycling Takes Silver in Nationals; 7th Year to Reach Podium

The MSU Cycling Team raced to a silver medal at the 2016 USA Cycling Collegiate National Championships in the Division 1 varsity competition - its seventh year to reach the podium. This year's second place behind Marian University follows up on a silver in 2012 and bronze in 2013-2015, and on the heels of a third place team finish in the road national championships, their highest ever. In each of those competitions, Marian claimed gold.

The team of nine riders participated in six sessions of racing over three days, with medal opportunities for both men and women in the following events: sprint, time trial, individual pursuit, scratch race, points race, team sprint, and team pursuit. The team placed at least one rider in the top five in all but the women's time trial and women's sprint. Additional awards were given for the top individual omnium rider - a rider who finished consistently high in both individual endurance and sprint events.

The women's team kicked off Thursday's competition with a silver medal ride in the team pursuit, riding with just three of the four allowed riders, Hannah Ross, Maxyna Cottam, and newcomer Amy Floyd. Marian won with a time of 5:15, while MSU was 8 seconds back at 5:23 (27.7mph). Third place Colorado Mesa completed the 4km ride in 5:30.

The men's team of Josh Buchel, Bill Ash, Garrison Horton, and Kyle Anderson also placed second in their team pursuit, riding a 4:39 to edge out host school Belmont Abbey's 4:45, a time set at the start of the competition that would withhold challenge after challenge until MSU. After last year's second place team Fort Lewis College could only manage a 4:52 for fifth, Marian University once again was able to top MSU by 3 seconds - the same amount of time they bested MSU by in the 30km team time trial at the 2016 road national championships - with a time of 4:36, matching what they'd done at altitude the year before when they won by a 14-second margin. 

In the six-lap team sprint where MSU's squad of Ross, Cottam, Jake Lanoux, Garrison Horton, Anderson, and Buchel looked to improve on its 2015 silver medal, a poor start had them in fifth place after one lap, but they clawed back with the best final four-lap time to finish within 3/100 of a second behind early leader Piedmont College. In the end, riding last as defending champions, Marian won with a time of 1:41.92 to Piedmont's 1:44.82 and MSU's 144.85. Fort Lewis was fourth, 2 seconds in arrears.

In the individual events, Buchel, a sophomore from Johannesburg, South Africa, was MSU's most consistent performer, medaling in nearly all his events. In the time trial, unlucky winds in his final heat slowed him and defending Marion champion Connor Klupar could be blamed for their failure to best the fastest times put up by the Marian duo of Jordan Marhanka & Zachary Carlson just a heat prior. Buchel had the measure of Klupar this year, but it was only enough to ride into third, the only non-Marian rider in the top five. Carlson would take gold, followed by Marhanka in second, Klupar in fourth, and Daniel in Nesbitt.

Over three sessions of match sprinting, Buchel would show a wicked turn of speed. After falling in a close battle to the eventual champion, Belmont Abbey's Nick Ostereich, Buchel was set for a one-on-one battle between time trial national champion Zach Carlson in a match for bronze. Buchel was simply too much, demolishing Carlson in two straight rides, cruising across the finish line with time aplenty to celebrate.

The women's races proved to be a showcase for MSU talent, as MSU's defending points race champion Hannah Ross paired with sophomore standout Cottam in a 16-woman final that in the end felt more like a 2-on-2 battle with MSU business graduate and now MBA student at Piedmont Jessica Prinner and her teammate, former multi-time track national champion from Penn State Erica Allar. In the end, Prinner and Allar were able to capture the most sprints to go 1-2, while Ross and Cottam went 4-5. Marian's Riley Missel snuck into fourth with some cagey riding as the other four ladies butted heads.

The women's scratch race was more of the same, as Prinner and Allar attacked the field one after the other with only the MSU duo doing anything to chase. Ultimately, Allar would take the sprint for first and the German professional rider Arianne Horbach was able to outsprint Cottam for second. Ross was hot on Cottam's heals for fourth, and MSU graduate and current graduate student for Lindenwood Ashley Weaver placed an impressive fifth.

In the women's individual pursuit, it was once again Prinner, Allar, Cottam, and Ross among the fastest. Prinner, who won the event with MSU in 2013 and repeated gold just hundredths of a second ahead of Ross last year, beat her teammate Allar with a 4:01.5 over 3km, with Ross claiming bronze at 4:04. Cottam came in sixth with a 4:08.

It was more close calls in the individual pursuit for the men, as Ash claimed his second consecutive silver medal with a 4:45.25, just two tenths of a second behind champion Zach Carlson. Anderson, a local Wichita Falls racer new to MSU this year, set an early best mark of 4:58 that would ultimately land him in sixth.

In the points race, the MSU trio of Buchel, Ash, and Anderson qualified for the final after a challenging preliminary round. Ash would lap the field with two other riders, Marhanka from Marian and Mauro Rato, a Spanish professional at Colorado Mesa, ensuring his top three standing, but they unfortunately both proved better sprinters than Bill as he had to settle for third. Marhanka, who beat Ash by just one point last year, would repeat his 2015 gold medal ride. Anderson would once again finish just off the podium in sixth, with Buchel just behind in 8th.

The final mass start of the event was the men's scratch race. All four MSU riders, Ash, Buchel, Anderson, and sophomore Pablo Cruz, qualified for the 24-man major final. Looking to capitalize on Ash's endurance and Buchel's speed, Kyle Anderson and Pablo Cruz took command at the start of the 60-lap race, repeatedly pulling back attempts to lap the field on the 250 oval. With 10 laps to go, Ash quickly bridged up to a break attempt by a rider from Virginia Tech, and the two would gain half a lap's advantage entering the final kilometer. With 750 meters to go, Marian's Marhanka set about a furious chase. Sensing the danger as Marhanka made the catch with half a lap to go, Ash attacked the Virginia Tech rider, setting up a one-on-one sprint with Marhanka. In the end, a photo had to decide the winner, with just Marhanka holding a 19mm lead at the finish line. Buchel would come in just behind Carlson in the sprint for third, setting up yet another men's podium dominated by MSU and Marian.

"We keep hacking away, knocking on the seemingly locked door and it's starting to budge," said MSU Cycling team director Charlie Zamastil. "Marian's won 11 straight national titles for good reason. They're a huge team, twice as many riders as us. They have a velodrome on campus to practice. They've great support, great funding, several coaches and most importantly a tradition of excellence. But we're building something equally impressive here, I think, and doing it for less. It's only a matter of time before we break their stranglehold on the top step."

The MSU Cycling team will next compete in the South Central Collegiate Cycling Conference Mountain Bike Season, which has already begun in the midst of track season. The national championship is in late October at Snow Mountain West Virginia. Last year, Ash was the team's best finisher in the short track XC competition, placing 12th. He would get a flat tire and not finish the cross country race. The team's main goal each year is a road national title, the quest for which begins with racing in January. Their home race is tentatively scheduled for mid-March.

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