Although the Collegiate Varsity race took place on Thursday, the field assembled at the start line had more of a Sunday vibe.
Sammi Runnels (Lindenwood University), Emma Swartz (Marian University), Hannah Arensman (Brevard College), Laurel Rathbun (Marian University), Sophie Russenberger (Fort Lewis College) and many more talented riders lined up to race for their schools.
Not surprisingly, the Collegiate Varsity women brought a Sunday-level intensity to Thursday’s race.
At the end of the first lap, January’s Reno podium was at the front—Runnels, Swartz and Arensman. The stage was set for a classic midterm before Sunday’s final exams.
In the second lap, Runnels opened up a seven-second lead on Swartz. The measureable—but small—gap stayed at seven-seconds into the bell lap. Runnels’ final push was a bit stronger than Swartz’z, and the Lindenwood rider captured the win after finishing second earlier this year in Reno.
“I had a small gap going into the second lap, and I just held onto that and really tried to keep it steady and not make any mistakes,” Runnels said. “I know Emma Swartz is super strong and so is Hannah, Hannah won last year. Just keep the gas on and keep going. I didn’t make any mistakes and held onto it.”
Class is in Session
The Collegiate Varsity race was the last of Thursday’s championship slate, so the course had plenty of time to continue to dry out before Friday’s predicted rain arrives. With the course dry and fast, the Collegiate Women responded by getting out to a blazing start.
Turner Ramsay (Colorado Mesa University) took the holeshot, and then Runnels soon took over the lead spot.
“I just kind of went from the gun,” Runnels said. “I didn’t get the holeshot, but I came around the girl before the sandpit. I just knew I wanted to get to the sandpit first because I wanted to be able to make a clean shot through.”
Runnels led the way into the bowl with Swartz, Rathbun and Arensmen right behind her. When the race leaders cleared the final climb out of the bowl, Runnels, Swartz and Arensman—the Reno podium—was at the front.
In the second lap, Runnels continued to lead the way, forcing the other two women to follow her blistering pace. When she dropped into the bowl, the Lindenwood rider had a small gap on Swartz and Arensman. She extended the lead from a few bike lengths to seven seconds after the second lap.
Swartz opened up space on Arensman to take over solo second. The stage was set for the rest of the Varsity race.
The next two laps played to a draw. Runnels appeared to gain a few seconds on the chicane descents, but Swartz picked them back up on the second and third climbs. When Swartz and Runnels got the bell, Runnels still held a seven-second advantage.
“It came back with three to go, I had six seconds or something,” Runnels said. “I think I just tried to go hard every chance I got and just keep it steady.”
In the first race of the day, Swartz’s fellow Wisconsinite Holly LaVesser closed a gap in the last lap, and now in the last race, Swartz would have to channel some of that cheesy magic to roar back to the front.
Runnels was stronger on the top part of the course and carried her lead into the bowl for the final time. Even though she was stronger on the climbs earlier in the race, Swartz was unable to find the extra gear to bring Runnels back.
Runnels’ efforts got her a win she strongly desired.
“I definitely really wanted [the jersey] this year,” she said. “I’ve been riding pretty good, so I felt really confident.”
Swartz took a strong second and Arensman held on to take third.
For more from the Collegiate Varsity race, see the winner interview, photos and results below.
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Sammi Runnels: Winner Interview
Photo Gallery: Women’s Collegiate Varsity, 2018 Louisville Cyclocross Nationals