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Brevard College Heading into 2023 Collegiate Mountain Bike National Championships with Homefield Advantage

By: Jim Rusnak, TORRE  October 11, 2023

Brevard College is heading into this weekend's competition with a homefield advantage and the hopes of gaining the top step in the Team Omnium classification.

On paper, the Brevard College cycling team shouldn’t necessarily be the favorite program heading into this week’s USA Cycling Collegiate Mountain Bike National Championships. But with a little grit, luck and some homefield advantage, the Tornados will be in a position to defend—or even improve on—their third-place team omnium finish at last year’s Nationals.

The event will take place Oct. 12-15 at Ride Rock Creek, N.C., about a 45-minute drive from the Brevard College campus.

“Just seeing how much work the team has been putting in, we’re looking forward to being able to see students perform, and hopefully be able to see the hard work come to life,” Brevard coach Brad Perley said.

Perley will bring 16 or 17 athletes (depending on injuries) on the short trip to Ride Rock Creek. In addition to their third-place finish in the team omnium last year, the Tornados also boasted the individual omnium winner, Cole Punchard, and podium finishers Cameron Mader (downhill) and Owen Clark (XC, short track XC). All three riders have returned this year, though Punchard’s status for this week’s Nationals is still up in the air. He is recovering from surgery on a broken hand.

Competing at Nationals with a relatively small roster, Brevard riders will be racing in multiple events this weekend. And while last year’s third-place team finish and multiple podiums were a huge success for the Tornados—and still very much on the team’s mind in terms of goals this year—Perley says success isn’t about results.

Instead, he wants full commitment and an all-in mentality from each rider.

“If each student in each of their events – each discipline – really gives it 100 percent and their best shot, and lays everything out there and leaves it out on the track, then that’s going to be a success,” Perley said. “I think that when that happens, results, of course, will follow that.”

One thing Brevard has working for it heading into this week’s competition is a homefield advantage. Ride Rock Creek is just a short 23-mile drive down the road from campus.

Perley says all the Brevard riders have ridden the venue at least once this season. A few riders competed in the Enduro race in August at the USA Cycling Gravity National Championships. And though the XC and downhill courses will be new for this year’s Collegiate Nationals, they’re used to the humidity levels and the rocky, rooty, loamy soil conditions. Hopefully, they’ll also see their school’s staff and student body come out to cheer them on.

This year’s Nationals will be the first time since 2017 that the USA Cycling Collegiate National Championships has been held on the East Coast.

“One of the biggest things will be not racing at altitude,” Perley said. “That levels the playing field quite a bit. Not having to travel across the country is a huge deal.”

Among the biggest challenges the Tornados will face this week will be the size of its roster. Many of the top teams they’re racing against have larger rosters that allow their riders to specialize in one event or discipline, whereas Brevard riders will race four or even five times throughout the week. Also, the Tornados have a few more riders recovering from injury or illness in addition to Punchard.

“Hopefully they’re going to be over the hump in time for their race start,” Perley said. “We definitely need to see those students get healthy, and Cole (Punchard) and his hand – being able to race without any governor on it.”

Beyond that, Perley says the team is going to need some luck and avoid crashes. A little bit of rain wouldn’t hurt, either.

“For us, if it rains, it would be a really good thing,” Perley said. “I think the nastier the conditions, the more excited the team’s going to be about that, and it’s going to fall in our favor, I believe.

“Luck is, for better or worse, a pretty important thing in bike racing, especially when you’re talking about a collegiate team with this many students, this many races and this many days. There will be crashes. There will be incidences; there will be stoppages, bottlenecking on the courses, things like that. So, for full success, we need to be on the luckier side of things in that regard.”

Luck or no luck, the competition would be wise not to underestimate Brevard. Perley says they’re coming into this year’s Collegiate Nationals with more depth than they’ve had in a long time.

“We’ve had a number of standout athletes in recent years that have done really, really well – won titles, been on podiums, or top 10,” Perley said. “But this is the first time in a while that we’ve had more depth to back that up, which, of course, you need if you’re going to score well overall.

“I’m really proud of the group of women we have on the team this year and what they’ve been able to do so far this season. It’s definitely an improvement over the recent years. The depth applies to that side of the program, too.”

Learn more about Collegiate Mountain Bike Nationals