ASHEVILLE, North Carolina—As day broke it was clear that the course racers faced over the first three days of the 2016 National Championships was nowhere to be found. A light but steady overnight rain had fallen and greasy mud replaced what was primarily dirt and dust for the first race of the day, the Collegiate Men D2 event. Even as the riders stood on the grid, a very light drizzle was still falling.
At the start it was Robert Rimmer (King University) that led the 43 racers up the paved start and through the first turn. But within seconds Cooper Willsey (Furman University) moved from third wheel to the front of the race. And by the time Willsey reached the first off camber section leading to the first pass through the Bike Barn, he had a solid gap over chasers Andrew Lints (Rochester Institute of Technology) and Casey Hildebrandt (University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point).
But there was a long way to go after Willsey's first lap of 8:13. Collegiate races are 50 minutes long and the anticipated 6 lap race came to be for the leaders. Despite the muddy course lap times were quick as the skies started to clear and the sun started to shine down on the riders.
Going into the second lap Willsey's lead was 17 seconds over Hildebrandt and 22 seconds over Lints. Rimmer was still near the leaders a further 8 seconds in arrears after his solid start. It appeared Willsey was on the move then, but at the end of lap two the lead was just 15 seconds and it seemed like the leaders might come back together.
It was on that second lap that Willsey had his one spot of bother. Passing a lapped rider on a descent there was some commotion of sorts and Willsey had resulting bike trouble. The apparent slow down for Willsey was due to a bike change, and a clean bike and a cool head kept him at the front. From there it was all Willsey, growing a lead that went from fewer than 20 seconds to 2:29 by the finish.
Behind the hard charging Willsey it was carnage, even for the other podium finishers. Hildebrandt, Rimmer and Lints all chased, but each on his own as they were strung out in Willsey's wake. Somewhat quietly, Willsey's teammate Brendan Rhim rode to an impressive fifth place.
Willsey's squad at Furman University is school supported, and the program had 4 other riders in the mix aside from Willsey and Rhim, with Charlie Hough and Jake Thompson both riding into the top 20 in 13th and 17th, respectively.
Speaking with Willsey after the race he said his plan was to "start hard, but not blow up and create a gap so I wouldn't have to deal with anyone's mishaps and just build from there." Without a doubt, Willsey's collegiate race went to plan. He also said that he saved a little as he plans on lining up for Sunday's U23 race. With his dominating ride today, he's a rider to watch Sunday.
See Willsey's interview and see the full results, below.
2016 USA Cycling Cyclocross National Championships Men's Collegiate D2 Full Results
|1||Cooper WILLSEY||Furman University||52:40.|
|2||Casey HILDEBRANDT||University of Wisconsin-Stevens||54:49.|
|3||Robert RIMMER||King University||55:09.|
|4||Andrew LINTS||Rochester Institute of Technolo||56:09.|
|5||Brendan RHIM||Furman University||56:42.|
|6||Michael LANDRY||Yale University||56:48.|
|7||Andrew BAILEY||Milligan College||57:38.|
|8||Ian GIELAR||Rochester Institute of Technolo||49:45.|
|9||Nolan TANKERSLEY||Milligan College||49:50.|
|10||Kyle ELLIS||King University||50:04.|
|11||Andrew GINIAT||DePaul University||51:04.|
|12||Tristan MANDERFELD||US Military Academy||51:43.|
|13||Charlie HOUGH||Furman University||52:42.|
|14||Kenneth DAILEY||US Military Academy||52:54.|
|15||Jon OKENFUSS||Washington University in St Lou||52:56.|
|16||Grayson BROOKSHIRE||Milligan College||53:32.|
|17||Jake THOMPSON||Furman University||43:44.|
|18||Robert LEESON||Warren Wilson College||43:44.|
|19||Andrew BALDWIN||Milligan College||43:50.|
|20||Andrew KOCH||University of Notre Dame||43:54.|
|21||Kevin WOOD||University of Massachusetts - D||44:18.|
|22||William GUILLEN||King University||44:26.|
|23||Andrew HALL||Furman University||44:37.|
|24||David BERG||Dartmouth College||44:46.|
|25||Zach HOSTETLER||Baylor University||44:49.|
|26||Nolan GARON||Wentworth Institute of Technolo||44:51.|
|27||Andrew ABBOTT||University of Louisiana-Lafayet||44:56.|
|28||Samuel MORKAL WILLIAMS||Warren Wilson College||45:26.|
|29||Connor REARDON||Rochester Institute of Technolo||45:31.|
|30||Brian SUTO||Furman University||45:39.|
|31||Fletcher LYDICK||Milligan College||45:59.|
|32||Daniel FORQUER||US Military Academy||34:58.|
|33||Anthony OTT||DePaul University||34:59.|
|34||Kenneth ENGLERT||US Military Academy||35:33.|
|35||Samuel WENTWORTH||Milligan College||35:46.|
|36||Adam RUFF||US Military Academy||36:12.|
|37||Mark ZALEWSKI||DePaul University||36:31.|
|38||Gregory COOPER||Prescott College||36:40.|
|39||Harris WAGNER||Warren Wilson College||36:44.|
|40||Daniel SERRANO||US Military Academy||37:11.|
|41||Erich MESQUITA LIMA||Mars Hill University||39:10.|
|42||Dillon HUVAL||University of Louisiana-Lafayet||26:58.|
|43||Ben CORK||Baylor University||27:38.|