Cycling ready for challenge of Division I

BREVARD, N.C. – One of collegiate cycling’s most successful programs will look to capture its first Division I national title in October as the three-time defending mountain bike national champions gear up for the 2015 season.

“We’re in a very select realm with all the success we’ve had over the last few years,” said head coach Brad Perley. “I wouldn’t say it’s unprecedented, but we want to go out and prove ourselves again. The way you do that as a program and a school is to have consistency and sustained results at all of these national events across disciplines, and that’s our goal.”

The Tornados have won eight total USA Cycling Division II national championships since their first crown in 2009. Brevard has twice been a runner-up at road nationals, the only discipline in which the Tornados have yet to win a championship. The team has captured three consecutive cyclocross championships, but its most successful run has come in mountain biking. Brevard will be gunning for its fourth consecutive championship, and sixth in the last seven years, when the collegiate cycling world converges on Snowshoe, West Virginia, in late October for USA Cycling’s premier mountain bike event.

The 2015 mountain bike season, however, will mark Brevard’s first competing at the Division I level of USA Cycling, a distinction that will bring both new challenges and new opportunities for the Tornados.

“We’re going to structure the whole season around trying to be at our best at nationals in Snowshoe,” Perley said. “The other schools are going to be as strong as ever this year, both in our conference, which is one of the strongest in the country, and nationally. Ultimately, we’ll be going to nationals and looking to do our best there and hopefully come out on top.

“Competition within the team is so hotly contested just to make the national roster,” he continued. “Then you get to the event and there’s a lot of great competition. I don’t have to motivate the team at all. Sometimes I have to reel them back a little bit [in practice] because they’re ready to go 150 percent. The motivation is certainly there already.”

The Tornados will return nearly all of their key riders from last year’s mountain bike championship team. Brevard turned in a dominant performance at Beech Mountain, winning eight individual national titles and capturing the team relay race. Cypress Gorry returns for his senior season after helping the team to the relay title and winning the short track and cross country races, just as he did as a freshman in 2012. Allison Arensman finished last year’s event with identical results and will compete in the fall as a second-semester junior.

Junior Zach Valdez has proven to be another valuable asset for Brevard during past mountain bike seasons. As a freshman in 2013, Valdez was on the title-winning relay team and captured the short track and cross country championships. He and Gorry completed the fastest laps of any competitors at the 2014 championship, including Division I riders, in the team relay event, and he earned a spot on the podium with a third-place finish in the cross country event.

Hendersonville native Walker Shaw won the overall omnium title as the top individual at last season’s championship after capturing the downhill and dual slalom events. The team will be significantly bolstered this season by the addition of his younger brother, Luca, who will be a freshman in the fall and has been described by Perley as “a surefire national contender” and a top-three rider at any level in North America despite his young age.

With so many important pieces coming back, Perley contends that a sixth national championship in seven years is realistic, but far from expected. “For us to win this season, we have to have a lot of things go right. There’s a lot to accomplish between now and October. Nationals have been right in our back yard at Beech Mountain the last two years, but this year we’re looking at an entirely different venue and the same strong competition that we always face.”

Other key contributors from last year’s team return in 2015. Sarah Hill, a member of last year’s relay team that won the individual omnium title on the strength of runner-up finishes in four events, will join Arensman in competing as a second-semester junior. Spencer Lowden, a senior, will also hope to string together solid performances in the fall along with road racing specialist Nick Jowsey, who is in his last semester of collegiate competition after finishing fourth in the individual road racing omnium in May.

Brevard’s schedule begins on September 5 with a race hosted by Georgia Tech. The Tornados will compete at races hosted by Lees-McRae and King before competing in the Southeastern Collegiate Cycling Conference Championship in Clemson, South Carolina on October 17 and 18. This year’s USA Cycling Collegiate Mountain Bike Nationals will take place in Snowshoe, West Virginia October 23-25.

Featured image courtesy of Kayla Leed.

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