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    May 16, 2016 Marshall, N.C. RSS |

    Sophomore cyclist Jake King gave Liberty University a podium finish in its first season as a Club Sports team at Friday's USA Cycling Collegiate Road Nationals. He placed fourth out of 64 Category A qualifiers in an extremely competitive 115.5-kilometer Division II road race that started and ended in Marshall, N.C., north of Asheville.

    Jake King (left) stands in the fourth spot on the podium.

    King, based out of North Garden, Va., south of Charlottesville, finished fourth in a pack of 11 cyclists, a split second behind Navy's Ty Mechling, who was third in 2 hours, 57 minutes, 36 seconds. East Tennessee State University's Nolan Tankersley and Delaware's Glenn Ferriera crossed the finish line first and second, respectively, in identical times of 2:59:30.

    "It came down to a small group," King said. "There were some breakaways and then the peloton (lead pack) got smaller and smaller as the race went on. The stars and stripes (for first place) were in reach, but it comes down to a little more than just strength in the end and it didn't come out perfectly."

    King (left) is close friends with East Tennessee State's Nolan Tankersley, the winner.

    Saturday's USA Nationals Collegiate Criterium was held on an extremely technical course with plenty of uphills and downhills and a hairpin turn at the bottom of one of them that led to a climb in downtown Burnsville, N.C. That was the site of an early crash that forced 10 of the lead cyclists to restart.

    "About halfway through the race, there was a breakaway that I realized was going to be the winning breakaway," King said. "Whoever was going to win was going to come out of that group, so I attacked the peloton and caught it, but hadn't recovered yet since bridging the gap when they made another breakaway and I got dropped."

    Out of approximately 60 who started the criterium, only 10 finished the 70-minute plus three-lap race.

    "He put in a huge effort to close the gap between the peloton and the breakaway and he used up all of his matches and ran out of energy," Flames Head Coach Parker Spencer added. "He fell back to the group and then the chase group. He was disappointed."

    Liberty sophomore Marie Sonnery-Cottet (back center) started Friday's women's USA Cycling Division II Road Nationals near the front of the pack.

    Liberty, which was also represented by Marie Sonnery-Cottet, another sophomore pursuing a degree through its online program, placed 17th in the final team standings. Sonnery-Cottet, a former member of the French National Junior Team, had to pull out half-way through the 77-kilometer women's Division II road race due to a migraine headache that made it difficult to focus on the course. In Saturday's criterium, she also got dropped as the pace picked up and the race progressed.

    "What they've been able to accomplish this year has been pretty incredible, working more than full time and being full-time students and cycling at a high level," Spencer said. "It was tough to try to peak and not burn out at the end, with the combination of all they had on their plates."

    Spencer hopes the Flames can build off of King's success heading into their second season as an official team.

    "A podium finish in a national championship race is definitely something to celebrate," he said. "I couldn't have been happier with how this first year as a program went and I'm really optimistic about the future and some of the athletes we have coming into the program."

    King, who raced professionally for Cal-Giant's developmental team this past year, signed with Team Jamis-Sutter Home Pro Cycling last month.

    "It's a very good professional team that's an honor to be on," King said, noting he will make his debut with that team at the USA Professional Road Championships, May 22-30 in Winston-Salem, N.C. There, he will also have the first chance in three years to race against his older brother, Ben, who is vying to qualify for his second Tour de France.


    By Ted Allen/Staff Writer