University of Arizona clinched the conference championship title for the Southwest Collegiate Cycling Conference with a 208-point gap over Arizona State University after a double-points battle last weekend at Javelina Chase in Duncan, Arizona.
UA’s Cara O’Neill and Adam Bryfogle maintained their winning streaks by taking the conference championship titles for individual riders, giving UA an overall top-step podium sweep.
It’s the third consecutive year that the Wildcats have won team and individual titles for men and women.
“It affirms our status as a powerhouse in the Southwest and showcases our ability to attract talent to our program,” UA Cycling president Joey Iuliano said. “It’s exciting, as always, but I wish it would have been a closer fight.”
ASU Cycling race director Alissa Albrecht said winning a conference championship isn’t a major goal of the club.
“I always aim to recruit as many new members as possible and show them how fun cycling can be at whatever level they choose,” Albrecht said. “Hopefully, winning a conference [championship] will come out of that eventually.”
The last conference championship for ASU came in 2015, when the Sun Devils took the overall team and women’s individual titles.
Northern Arizona University and New Mexico State University finished off the 2018 season in third and fourth, respectively.
Collegiate points results
With no out-of-state varsity challengers in Duncan, Arizona and New Mexico teams had license to truly battle it out all weekend long.
“The varsity teams are fun for us to test ourselves against, but sometimes it’s good to just beat up on ASU,” Iuliano said.
Sunny skies welcomed riders to a 25-mile lap course across the Arizona-New Mexico state line on Saturday, where O’Neill took the win solo in Women’s A after 50 miles, and Marcel Berger (NMSU) claimed the Men’s A podium (75 miles) after he and UA’s John Noonan broke away from the field.
UA, NAU, and ASU shared victories in Men’s B, Women’s B, and Men’s C, respectively.
Individual time trial
Just hours after the road race finished, winds began to pick up along the 12.9 mile out-and-back time trial course, with a vicious headwind on the uphill toward the finish.
Riders tested their already fatigued legs, and both Berger and O’Neill once again came out on top in Men’s and Women’s A. Men’s and Women’s B and C category wins were taken by ASU and NAU.
With double points on the line, Sunday’s technical criterium in Lordsburg, New Mexico, with multiple primes per category was a wild chase, especially for the Men’s A riders separated by only a few points.
But UA sealed the conference championship win with O’Neill again going in a solo break for the majority of the race in Women’s A and Bryfogle taking the Men’s A win.
“Marcel [Berger] kept the pace high,” Bryfogle said. “It got a little scary at times. The wind nearly scooped us up just before the 180 turn.”
ASU and NAU both claimed victories in Men’s and Women’s B and C.
Man on a solo mission
Despite being outnumbered and a lone wolf at every collegiate race this season, Berger fought tooth and nail for the podium.
Many times, the German-born Aggie outsmarted and outgunned a sea of Wildcats and accumulated points as he went.
When it was all said and done, Berger ended up on the podium in third for the overall men’s individual standings, just seven points shy of second place.
How did he do it? Berger said it starts with having performance- and process-oriented goals.
“You’re your biggest opponent,” Berger said. “It shouldn’t be all about the outcome, since the outcome depends on so many variables that you can’t influence, for example, weather, mechanical issues, opponents, etc.”
He called the collegiate racing in Arizona “amazingly strong.”
“I really enjoy racing here,” Berger said. “I think having to some extent luck helps, but also I try to get always the best out of any race situation and never give up.”
Headed for nationals
Results of the conference championship will dictate which teams can take the most riders to USA Cycling collegiate nationals May 4 to 6 in Grand Junction, Colorado.
Teams from across the country will gather to compete in a collegiate-only road race, individual time trial, team time trial and criterium.
Representing UA at collegiate nationals for the first time, O’Neill said she is looking to gain experience.
“For nationals I’m trying not to go in with any concrete expectations – just to help the team as much as I can in the overall category and see what collegiate racing is at the national level,” she said.
Photos by Clipped In contributors Sarah Muench, Cherry Niel and Katherine Wood
Sarah Muench contributed to this article.