UPDATE: Cyclist faces tough conditions at first nationals
April 28, 2017 | Grand Junction, Colo.
This past weekend's USA Cycling Collegiate National Championships did not go according to plan for Liberty University sophomore cyclist Gabe Morgan, the Flames' third representative in their second season as a program.
Cycling in altitude ranging from 5,000 to 6,000 feet in Mesa County in Western Colorado for Saturday's road race and in a tight pack of cyclists in downtown Grand Junction, Colo., for Sunday's criterium, Morgan did not finish either race.
"It was a tough weekend," Liberty Head Coach Parker Spencer said. "Altitude got to him on Saturday and he had to get oxygen in an ambulance, so it played a bigger role than expected. And Sunday, he got caught up in a crash."
Morgan was one of 21 cyclists to pull out of the 106-mile Division 2 road race, with three others not starting and only 46 finishing, and one of nine DNFs for the 70-minute plus four-lap criterium on a 1.3-kilometer course, which had 54 finishers.
Complete results are available online.
Morgan hopes to sprint past field at nationals
Knowing when to make a break is a critical component in high-level cycling races, including this weekend's USA Cycling Collegiate National Championships in Grand Junction, Colo., where sophomore Gabe Morgan will be Liberty University's third representative in two years.
Morgan, a residential student from Richmond, Va., has been racing competitively for Kelly Benefit Strategies, a domestic professional racing team, as well as for the Flames. He and Liberty Cycling Head Coach Parker Spencer will do a run-through of the road and criterium courses today to familiarize themselves with the turns and terrain, so Morgan will know when to make his move.
"From a skill and fitness standpoint, Gabe's definitely where we he needs to be this week," Spencer said. "We have a pretty good strategy for him, but we'll see. He'll be out there by himself, with no domestic. He's got to be at the right place at the right time. It'll be a bit of a gamble throughout the race, but if he can get in a breakaway, he can make things happen."
Liberty Assistant Coach Van Phillips, who traveled with the team to all of their regular-season races, providing mechanical support and technical expertise, believes fitness will be in Morgan's favor, but he will be at a disadvantage as a solo rider.
"This kid's got a swimming background so he's got big lungs and a good VO2 max," he said of Morgan's maximal oxygen uptake, which relates to his endurance, especially at high altitudes. "He's a great all-around rider, but it will be tough because he's by himself, so he might get in a break and he might not."
At last year's USA Cycling Collegiate Nationals near Asheville, N.C., Liberty online students Jake King finished fourth among men and his now fiancée, Marie Sonnery-Cottet from France, also competed for the first-year program. Morgan should have more team support — allowing him to draft off of them and rest during the race — next year when at least three other men's cyclists are planning to move up from Category B to A to be eligible to compete at nationals.
Temperatures were in the upper 20s in Grand Junction when Spencer and Morgan woke up on Friday. The weather will warm up to the mid-50s by the time he enters Saturday afternoon's road race and Sunday afternoon's criterium. The possibility of rain on Saturday and the elevation of over 5,000 feet — which is only slightly greater than that atop Wintergreen Mountain in nearby Nelson County, Va. — could be factors. Elevation gain and loss will be negligible, meanwhile, something Morgan might have exceled in from training in the Lynchburg area and on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
"There are tons of mountains around us, but there's surprisingly not too much climbing on the course," Spencer said.
Morgan will compete against a field of 71 cyclists in the Division 2 varsity road race and 62 cyclists in the Division 2 varsity criterium, though there will be a total of 194 competitors overall in the road race and 163 in the criterium including Division 1 club cyclists.
"We're classified as a varsity cycling team, with only 23 other schools classified that high, but we're Division 2 because we don't offer scholarships," Spencer said. "It'll definitely be the best collegiate cycling competition Gabe's ever gone up against."
Cyclists will race four laps on a 26.3-kilometer course for a 106K total (65.9 miles) with elevation ranging from approximately 5,000 to approximately 6,000 feet. Sunday's Division 2 varsity criterium will be a flat 1.3K course in downtown Grand Junction with six 90-degree turns. Cyclists will race for 70 minutes and then go for three more laps to determine their placings.