Benefield: Santa Rosa High grad Xander Sugarman picking up speed on collegiate mountain biking circuit
By his own reckoning, Xander Sugarman hasn’t won a bike race in a while. Not unless you count the summer dirt crit series at Howarth Park in Santa Rosa, which admittedly can be pretty fierce.
Well, the Santa Rosa High grad and sophomore at the University of Colorado made up for that drought mightily last month, sweeping the cross country, short track and team relay events at the USA Cycling Collegiate Mountain Bike Championship in Missoula, Montana. And for good measure, his Buffs won the club team title.
“It was awesome,” he said. “I didn’t win any collegiate races through the season. I guess the last race I won was Annadel in 2017.”
But don’t be fooled. Sugarman may not have won any races since the Annadel Classic in August of 2017, but he’s been getting results. Plenty of them.
Last spring he finished in the top 30 in the Subaru Sea Otter Classic, the U.S. Cup at Bonelli Park in San Dimas and the Bear Mountain Canada Cup in Victoria, British Columbia. He finished 14th at Baie Saint Paul Coupe Canada and ninth at VeloMotion Canada Cup in Mont-Tremblant. And at the USA National Championship in Showshoe, West Virginia, in July, Sugarman finished seventh in the men’s U23 race.
It was the fitness from all of those so-called non-wins that propelled Sugarman onto the national championship podium not once but four times in Missoula.
“I kind of went into the collegiate season … with a lot more fitness than I went into it last year,” he said. “I kind of came off pretty hot from the end of my normal season professionally.”
And, having a year of collegiate and international racing under his belt — as well as figuring out how to balance academics and athletics — put his sophomore campaign in high gear.
“Last year I got seventh in the cross, third in short track and I didn’t race the relay,” he said of the collegiate nationals. “That was my first year of racing elites. I was kind of shocked by the change in the level of all the people I’m racing…I was trying to get the hang of everything.”
I think it’s safe to say he’s got the hang of this elite and college-level racing thing.
In the cross country race, he finished in 1:39.35. Nick Lando, riding for the University of Vermont, finished second in 1:41:38.
To Sugarman, Lando is a competitor as well as a friend. So he knew how to read him during the race.
“That course is definitely more suited to my riding style — very long climbs, that suits me better,” he said.
Knowing he could hold rivals off on the climb, Sugarman tested himself on the descent. When he put a decent gap on the downhill on Lando and Zach Calton, who rides for University of Utah, his confidence rose.
It was just him and Lando at that point.
“I wanted to make him hurt as much as I could,” he said. “I could see he was fading. His body language on the bike, his head was bobbing. I was able to pop him off at the top.