OGDEN, Utah – In the team's first ever appearance at the USA Cycling National Championships and in just its third year of existance, King Cycling took the podium in the overall team standings. The Tornado placed fifth overall in the Division II Team Omnium for the right to take the podium at the largest and most prestigious event in collegiate cycling of the year. More than 90 teams between the Division I and Division II representing the most recognized institutions in the United States took to the courses in Ogden, Utah over the three-day event.
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The championship began on Friday morning when 49 total teams took to roads of Ogden, Utah for the Team Time Trials. The men placed seventh overall in the Division II standings with a time of 44:28.90 by the quartet of Alex Jensen, Zach Nave, Julian Cabra, and T.J. Killelia. The trio of Caroline Gentry, Stephanie Cucaz, and Amanda Komestat earned the team points with its sixth place finish in the women's team time trial, clocking in at 1:01:48.53.
Day two took the racers to the streets of downtown Ogden where the criterium course provided for some exciting finishes and a host of wrecks. The women opened crit action in the 60 minute timed race and was highlighted by freshman Stephanie Cucaz. After making a break for the front pack, the Lawrenceville, Ga. native dropped back into the main field but kept to the front. On the final lap, Cucaz made a break for the front of the field and finished the crit in sixth place, just one spot away from taking a spot on the podium. Amanda Komestat finished one lap down and in 25th place.
In a field of over 90 riders, King's men had impressive rides in its criterium but a few of its team members but also had some unfortunate luck preventing it from higher finishes. Alex Jensen (Tampa, Fla.) led the Tornado in the men's criterium with a 13th place finish after staying in the front of the main field for the duration of the run. Brent Baker fought through a crash sustained midway through the race when he was taken out going into the first turn of the course midway through the crit. After receiving a new bike and given a free lap, he worked his way back into contention to finish in 30th place.
Julian Cabra (Greenville, Tenn.) was well on his way to a top-10 or better finish but inside the final six laps of the race a rider in front of him blew out a tire going into one of the late corners and took down Cabra. Without a free lap to allow him to catch the field, he pedaled his way to a 71st place finish.
Senior Zach Nave (Gray, Tenn.) was involved in four different altercations that opened up in front of him as he rode through the back of the pack but was never seriously affected. He missed taking away points by just one position, placing 51st.
Both teams arose early Sunday morning for the 9 a.m. women's road race where the 30-women field took off north of Ogden, outside of Eden, Utah. King entered the final day in fifth place in the Team Omnium (road race, criterium, team time trial) ahead of Duke University and with a chance to jump at least one place on the podium.
Stephanie Cucaz again led the Tornado women's riders. Representing the model of consistency, the freshman stayed with the field all the way through the three-lap course that took riders through the country, around windy bends, and up one long and gradual climb. Cucaz finished strong with one final push to place her 15th overall. Komestat survived the ride that is well known for breaking even the best of riders, finishing 21st overall ahead of riders from Yale and Tulane University.
The men's road race began with a devastating pileup through the feed zone in just the first lap of the race. One rider in the front of the pack went down while making an early attack and began a domino effect behind those that broke away from the incident. Involved in the accident was Alex Jensen who was anticipated to cash in a good showing. A defective helmet plus no remaining support bikes forced the freshman to drop out of the race. Despite being at the bottom of a pile of riders and entangled bikes, he escaped serious injury with just a minor case of road rash and a few scrapes.
Also in on the crash was T.J. Killelia, who was racing with a fresh set of legs. The wreck dropped him back behind the main field but the sophomore willed his way back into contention before going through the feed zone a third time. All the remaining riders were riding among the main field coming through the feed zone the fourth and final time before branching out onto the course's climb.
As it had in the women's road race, the climb broke up the field as the racers rounded the staging area and came through the final stretch of raceway to the finish line. Leading the Tornado was Killelia, who sprinted his way to a 38th overall finish.
Brent Baker (Kingsport, Tenn.) concluded his career at King with a top-50 spot, finishing 46th overall while Julian Cabra rounded out the top 50 as the last to take away some of the final points available of the race.
The team waited anxiously to have the points calculated in order to find out if they had done enough to take the podium in just their first appearance at Nationals. The top five individuals in each race, individual omnium, and top five team omnium point getters take the podium in their respective categories.
Just before the post-race ceremonies, King learned it had attained the fifth overall placement in the Team Omnium. It is King's inaugural visit to the USA Cycling National Championships and just the program's third year of existence.
The Team Omnium combines all the points from each of the three races on both the men's and women's side and combines them.
Head Coach Dan Kreiss said of the team's fifth place finish, "I am incredibly proud of this group. We faced a lot of adversity this weekend and are still a very young group. The team never got discouraged and was so determined to finish in the top five. They raced their hearts out and earned what they deserved."
King finished fifth with 238 total points between the six total events given points to. They held off Dke University, who had four of its five men's riders crash out of the road race, and the University of Denver by 36 points. Three schools from the Southeast Collegiate Cycling Conference (SECCC) finished in the top five, including Mars Hill (2nd) and Cumberland University (4th).
"Having that many teams from our conference really shows that we compete against the best week in and week out. We've been racing against a tough field all year long which helped us a lot this weekend."
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) finished first overall in the Team Omnium, taking the overall National Championship.