Cycling club finishes season in top 10
By Tatum Rochin
The Northern Arizona University (NAU) cycling club rode strong at the Collegiate Mountain Bike Championships in Angel Fire, N.M. this past weekend, finishing in eighth place overall.
Junior Alex Winkler, club president, was very satisfied with his team’s performance. In lieu of competing himself, Winkler went as a coach and supporter.
“It was the best nationals I’ve been to,” Winkler said. “I got to watch my teammates really excel and do well.”
There was also no lack of spirit at the tournament from the NAU team, as the club stayed positive and constantly cheered for their teammates.
“It was a lot of fun, especially on our parts,” Winkler said. “I was actually dressed up in a sexy girl’s Halloween costume while I was cheering. I can’t believe I still have my voice now because I was screaming so hard.”
Everyone in the group benefited from the encouragement of their teammates, especially junior Erik Nelson, who finished with excellent results at the tournament.
For Nelson, this was not just another national competition. This was the solidification of a comeback. On Sept. 1 this past year, Nelson was competing in the World Championships in Switzerland and crashed while traveling at a very high speed. He dislocated his right hip and shoulder and broke his pelvis and L3 vertebrae.
According to Nelson, “It was a bit of a disaster.”
The national tournament was the first time Nelson competed in a downhill or slalom event since the accident.
Out of the 64 people competing in the downhill competition, Nelson placed 12th; of the 60 racers in the slalom event, Nelson claimed seventh place. One of his biggest accomplishments of the tournament came in the omnium division, an event that is similar to the decathlon in track and field.
“I did a tremendous amount of preparation for omnium at nationals,” Nelson said. “I got really excited about it while I was recovering from a big injury and just never really stopped all the physical therapy and training.”
A rider competing in omnium races in all of the individual events: short track, cross country, downhill and slalom. Nelson’s results in these races were able to secure him fourth place.
“The omnium competition is intended to crown the overall individual national champion, rather than specialist national champions in specific events,” Nelson said. “I’m pretty happy with it, but of course, I would have liked to do even better.”
Nelson credits his success in the omnium division to his injury.
“I have no doubt that if I hadn’t experienced that injury last year, I wouldn’t have done as well as I did this year in the endurance events,” Nelson said.
Racing in all four events was challenging to say the least. Nelson had to overcome physical and mental fatigue to stay in the competition.
“By the last day I was really working hard to keep my head in the game,” Nelson said. “The three day omnium event was more of a challenge of mitigating exhaustion. I’m pretty sure I fell asleep within an hour of finishing the last event.”
Winkler also immensely appreciates his teammate’s intensity and effort.
“The entire time he really had no time to rest,” Winkler. “For me, he’s one of the most inspirational bikers I’ve ever met.”
With an admirable finish at nationals behind them, the NAU mountain biking team is done with collegiate racing until next fall. They will, however, still be going on group rides and heading down to Sedona when it starts to snow.
“The nice thing abut this year is that the team is getting built up pretty good,” Winkler said. “I feel like this year’s a really good base and next year’s going to be even stronger.”