By Denis House
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
BEECH MOUNTAIN, N.C.—For the past four years, Josh Patton has had one goal: To be a national champion in cycling.
Recently, that dream became a realization as Patton, riding for Lindsey Wilson College, took home the national championship in dual slalom at the USA Cycling Collegiate Mountain Bike National Championships, held Oct. 24-27 at Beech Mountain in North Carolina.
“It’s always been a goal that has been in me deep for the past four years,” Patton said. “My first year at Lindsey Wilson I wasn’t fast enough to go to nationals. I had only raced BMX until college and was not fast at racing mountain bikes my first semester. The next three years after I have made the team, but over the years I have worked hard and kept my focus and in the end it paid off. Six years ago I would not have expected to be a national champion, professional mountain bike racer, but I am.”
His former coach at Lindsey Wilson, Dave Grigsby, praised Patton’s hard work and dedication. Grigsby recently retired from coaching at Lindsey Wilson.
“Josh came in as a freshman and though he worked hard from day one, he actually didn’t make our nationals team his first year,” Grigsby said. “So over the four years he earned his way onto the national team, and each year got faster and faster culminating in his winning the national title. On top of this he has consistently been one of those students who put his studies before leisure and others before himself. He is easily one of the most dedicated and inspiring student athletes I have ever had the pleasure of coaching. And most people don’t realize I coached Josh from the time he was 8 years old as a BMX rider on our local development team.”
Patton, a graduate of North Laurel High School, competed in both dual slalom and downhill in Division 1. There were 60 riders in the D1 category of downhill and 35 advanced to the finals.
“I qualified fourth with a time of 2:42.720,” Patton said. “That kind of surprised me. I knew I would have a good shot at the top 10, but during the qualifying run I felt slow. So when I ended up in fourth it really surprised me a bit. After seeing this I realized that I have a shot to bring home a medal, so Saturday I knew to lay it down.”
During the finals on Saturday, Patton placed fifth with a time of 2:30.43.
“I felt good in my run, just wished I would have pushed it harder in a couple of spots,” Patton said. “After getting through those sections I realized that the tires would have held traction in the mud. I just didn’t trust those sections much going into them, and I didn’t want to fall and it cost me my time. I am happy with fifth. It’s a big accomplishment to finish fifth. There were a lot of really fast riders in the race.”
Then came Sunday morning and qualifying for the slalom.
“I qualified second behind my teammate JD Swanguen,” Patton said. “We both had very fast qualifying times. Later in the day was racing. We had 54 who ran qualifying, but only 32 made it to the brackets to race.”
Dual slalom is a head-to-head bracket system where the first and second qualifiers won’t meet until the finals. The first round the No. 1 qualifier raced No. 32, the No. 2 raced No. 31, and so on. Riders race one time on each side against their opponent. Whoever is on the positive side of time difference moves on.
“I raced a total of five rounds,” Patton said. “Winning all of them which lead me to the national title. I knew all day that I had a good shot at this. I liked the course, I felt amazing on it, I had the right tire choice, I had my coaches motivating me, my parents were there supporting and encouraging me and my teammates were helping out with water, food and helping me get back up the hill without wasting much energy. I knew it could happen and I wanted it bad.”
The finals came down to teammates Patton and Swanguen.
“It was intense,” Patton said. “The first lap I won by about .1 of a second. The second lap I won by less than that. Extremely close racing.”
When Patton crossed the line in the second run he knew he had won a national championship. He threw his hands in the air in excitement, slowed to a stop and sat down on the ground.
“One of my teammate’s dad were the first to me,” Patton said. “He shook my hand and gave me a hug. I was starting to tear up, I’m not going to lie. I exited the course area and went over to the sidelines where the rest of my team was at, as well as my parents and sister. Everyone was saying good job and giving hugs and handshakes. It was amazing. It was really awesome to see the excitement in people because of my victory. I was just so thankful for everything that my parents had done for me over the years and so happy that they were there to witness me with the title. That really meant a lot and I am so thankful for that. It made the win a lot better.”