A collegiate cycling program used to creating champions will soon add a couple of local mountain bikers who already know well the feeling of finish line celebrations.
Durango teenagers Riley Amos and Cobe Freeburn both announced this week they would join the prestigious Fort Lewis College cycling team when they begin studying at their hometown college in Durango this fall. They will join a stacked group of incoming freshmen from around the country and will look to make an immediate impact in a Skyhawks cycling program that boasts 24 national championships across all disciplines combined.
“Riley and I go way back to preschool and have been riding bikes together forever,” said Freeburn, son of Jana and Mike Freeburn. “It’s going to be great to have him up at the Fort with us. When you look at Fort Lewis and the people like Howard Grotts, Payson McElveen, Todd Wells and Stephan Davoust and some recent guys there like Cole Paton and Henry Nadell, following their footsteps and also getting to be surrounded by them is a really positive thing to be part of.”
Amos attended and raced for Animas High School before he finished his high school diploma early through Southwest Colorado eSchool. Freeburn is a Durango High School senior.
Both have won a Colorado High School Cycling League varsity boys state championship, as Freeburn won in 2018 and Amos claimed the title in 2019. Amos is a Bear Development Team rider, while Freeburn has competed the last two years for the Rouleur Devo team. Both are a product of growing up in the Durango Devo system, where they first got a taste of interacting with the FLC cycling program, one of Devo’s top sponsors.
Amos, in his second year at the junior 17-18 level, is the defending junior men’s short-track and cross-country mountain bike national champion and was part of the USA team relay squad that claimed silver at last year’s International Cycling Union World Mountain Bike Championships in Canada.
“Going through the whole process of considering schools and looking everywhere, I couldn’t find a reason I wanted to go anywhere else than Fort Lewis,” Amos said. “I didn’t feel I needed to get out of Durango and experience a new place. I’m happy at home, and I see all the people around the country coming to the Fort for that reason. I’m super excited to be around lots of new, fun faces during this upcoming chapter of life.”
The two Durango riders also will be joined by friend Kye Cordes from Oklahoma, a teammate of McElveen’s on the Orange Seal Off-Road Team. Montana state champion Caden Means and Texas’ Kyle Brunken are among other announced additions to FLC cycling’s men roster for the 2020-21 season. Longmont’s Michaela Thompson, who has world championship cyclocross experience, will also join the FLC women’s roster for mountain bike, cross and road racing.
FLC cycling director Dave Hagen said he expects the team to have roughly 125 to 130 members next school year, another year over year increase during a time in which FLC president Tom Stritikus said FLC’s enrollment numbers could drop by 10% because of the new coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s a credit to so many of our coaches and all of their hard work,” Hagen said of his program’s ever-growing popularity. “It’s been such a great recruiting year in a year in which we are losing some really good ones to graduation. We’ve obviously got some good mountain bikers coming in but also some road and cross racers from back east, some transfers and all these really good freshmen. It’s good to have some good news in these times.
“Cobe and Riley will be really strong freshmen who could contribute to our nationals campaign their first year to go with some super strong guys we have coming back. Having a couple of guys who are hometown products with bright futures ahead of them on and off the bike, it’s good to have them part of the team.”
Amos and Freeburn both always thought of the possibility of becoming Skyhawks and adding their names to the loaded list of FLC cycling alumni. They grew up going to local races such as the Squawker Road Classic hosted by FLC each spring. Freeburn’s older sister, Katja, also completed her third year with the FLC program this season.
FLC is scheduled to host the USA Cycling Collegiate Mountain Bike National Championships at Purgatory Resort in 2020. Both local boys aim to be there to help FLC reclaim the national title away from Colorado Mesa University on home soil.
“They have a lot of really fast riders on the team,” Amos said of FLC. “We will bring some fresh blood into the program and, hopefully, give Colorado Mesa some more competition. Nationals at Purgatory, that’s kind of the biggest dream race anyone could ask for. To compete for a national championship on a day in which you wake up in your own bed and to have that home advantage in such a big, prestigious race, it’s so cool. We will definitely showcase our riders the best we can.”
Amos has been coached by famed FLC cycling alum Todd Wells, a three-time mountain bike Olympian. The next generation of Durango rider who was inspired by Wells’ accomplishments as a young athlete hopes to follow in those footsteps and make his coach proud. Hagen has no doubt he will be able to do just that.
“The word on the street is that (Amos) is one of the strongest guys in town at the Tuesday night worlds rides,” Hagen said. “He’s got a good chance to win a lot of races considering the level he rides at. He’s pretty focused.”
With no racing this spring because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the future Skyhawks were happy to have something to look forward to as they received their new FLC jerseys. They hope to get back to racing sooner than later and are eager for another chance at the national championships this summer before beginning collegiate careers.
And FLC will hope to host mountain bike nationals as scheduled this year with another opportunity to attract class of 2025 athletes when Durango once again hosts the high school state championships for a third consecutive year this fall.
“Getting kids to Durango, whether it is through camps or the high school state championships we’ve had the last few years, it helps our program a lot,” Hagen said. “Bringing in great talent, it also helps draw more kids because of the notoriety involved. We’ve done a great job of getting good kids who represent our program and the school well, and kids want to become part of that. The new athletes we have coming in this year will continue doing that.”