Local biker wins collegiate national title in short track
Even though he could barely see, Alex Hagman knew he couldn’t stop pedaling. The Aspen local didn’t need his eyes to know that with less than a minute remaining on the clock last Friday, he was leading the men’s short track cross country race at the 2005 Collegiate Mountain Bike Championships at Seven Springs Resort in Champion, Pa.”There was a finishing downhill straightway,” Hagman said. “They just ran us through this grass field. A lot of mud was flying in my face. I just said, ‘Whatever you do, stay on your bike.’ I was just feeling my way through.”Finally, the whistle blew signaling the end of the race. Hagman, racing as a member of the Fort Lewis College team, finished ahead of instate rivals Joshua Bezency and Chris Jung of the University of Colorado to claim the individual national title. The win also helped propel Fort Lewis – the defending national champion in Division I – into the early points lead in the three-day, four-event team competition, which took place Oct. 28-30. The CU team eventually edged Fort Lewis on Sunday with wins in both the men’s and women’s downhill competition. The Buffs’ final tally was 695 points to Fort Lewis’ 685.The collegiate national championships, which are organized by USA Cycling, drew club teams from all over the country.In Friday’s Division I men’s short track race alone, there were more than 60 racers competing from a total of 27 different schools.Hagman’s win came after what could have been a disastrous fall midway through the 30-minute race. Short track racing at the collegiate level does not have a set finish line. Racers circle a loop for a set amount of time; the win goes to whoever is in front of the pack when time expires. At the national championships, the loop was three-fourths of a mile, Hagman said, with a 30-minute time limit.After taking the lead at around the 15-minute mark, Hagman lost control of his bike on a muddy section of the course and crashed. The only rider at the front of the pack to escape the ensuing pileup was Jung, who used the miscue to take a commanding lead.Hagman, knowing that there was still plenty racing left, didn’t get discouraged.”It was actually perfect because it gave me a little carrot to chase the whole time,” he said. “I was waiting for the time until there were only 2-3 laps to go. Then I attacked.”After reeling in Jung, Hagman had to hold off Bezency. Bezency, who opted not to make a push while his teammate led the race, tried to stay with Hagman in the frantic final minute of the race, but couldn’t keep up.”It came down to me and him mano a mano,” Hagman said. “On the last hill, he cracked first. He couldn’t go anymore. This was with no more than 50 seconds left.”The hill was followed by the final slippery, muddy downhill section. Hagman said trying to stay upright on his bike while not being able to see was a little like reading Braille with his bike tires. But he couldn’t stop pedaling – not when he didn’t know how far back Bezency was and the final whistle still having not sounded.The win preceded a disappointing 10th-place finish in Saturday’s cross country race. Hagman was with the early leader at the start before being derailed by a flat tire. The flat took him seven minutes to fix, which put him completely out of contention.”It was a disaster,” Hagman said. “Some of my tools didn’t work and it just took longer than it should have. By the time I got that all fixed, I just had to start chasing super hard. My cleats on my shoes also fell off later in the race. It was a pure disaster.”The individual national title in the short track race, however, made up for the disappointing finish Saturday. Hagman said the win was the “capstone” of his college season – his fourth at Fort Lewis.Now, the sports administration major plans to rest until December before starting his training for the upcoming spring and summer seasons.”This is the time of year to recoup,” Hagman said. “I’ll make a training plan for the next year. Then I’ll start doing some slow miles in December getting ready for the season.”During the summer, Hagman, who is sponsored by bike manufacturer Cannondale, splits time between competing in National Off-Road Bicycle Association (NORBA) mountain biking events and road races. He said he is still uncertain as to whether he will return to Fort Lewis for a fifth year next fall.”I guess I’m a senior, but I’m probably going to be on the five-year plan,” Hagman said. “Whether or not I race [at the college level] is still pending. It’s really nice on one hand because it’s relaxed. … Eventually, I think I want to be a professional cyclist in one realm or the other. I’m looking at a lot of road teams for next year. Whether it’s mountain biking or road cycling, if I would be able to race professionally in one of those realms, that would be great. Or both.”Nate Peterson’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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