ANTELOPE ISLAND -- Among the racers talking about their experience on the first day of the USA Cycling Collegiate Road National Championships, one superlative kept popping up.
Friday's time trial races at Antelope Island featured sunny skies, ideal temperatures in the low 60s, and plenty of praise for the 21-mile course along the east side of the island.
"The mountains and the weather -- it's just so beautiful," said Travis Monroe, an 18-year-old freshman from Lindsey Wilson College in Columbia, Ky. "Kentucky is nice too, but it's a different kind of beauty."
It was an ideal setting for the first stage of college road cycling's biggest event, said Tony Leko, National Events Director for USA Cycling.
"We were here on the same weekend last year, but it was a little chilly," Leko said. "The conditions are perfect today. We couldn't ask for more."
For all three days of the event, he said there are more than 400 registered racers from about 100 schools nationwide.
Things kicked off Friday with team time trials, in which teammates ride together and take turns at the front of the formation. In the Division I races, both the men's and women's teams from perennial powerhouse Marian University took first place.
The Lindsey Wilson men came in at 13th place, beating out larger schools like UC-Davis, the University of Arizona, and Utah State University, which placed 16th out of 19 teams.
"It went pretty well. There are some super strong teams here," Monroe said. "With the team event, it's so important to be fluid and smooth out there. It's all about conserving energy."
In the Division II team trials, the Duke University men and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology women came out on top.
While the team trials were the only event at Antelope Island last year, this year also featured individual trials. Monroe was the only one on his team who competed in both races, placing 23rd among the Division I men in the individual category.
"I was kind of hurting from the first one, but it turned out great," he said, noting that a highlight for him was seeing some of the island's resident bison.
"I got pretty close to one. A course official honked at it to get it to move," he said.
Madeleine Pape, a native of Australia and a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin, had high praise for the course. She placed seventh among the Division I women.
"It's really nice," Pape said. "It's tough. The hills are a good test."
While some specialize in one type of race, Pape said she will also compete in Saturday's criterium race and Sunday's road race. She and many others who arrived earlier in the week have already made a test run on the road course.
Individual winners included Spencer Oswald of Lees-McRae College and Jessica Prinner of Midwestern State University in Division I, and Michael Burleigh of the University of Denver and Jasmine Hansen of the U.S. Military Academy in Division II.
The University of Utah's Mitchell Peterson had the best showing of anyone from a Utah school, finishing third in the Division I race. Other Friday competitors from Utah schools included Nathan Asay of Southern Utah University, who placed 12th in the Division II race, and Utah Valley University's Teal Buchi, who took 21st among Division I competitors.
Dillon Caldwell of the University of Oregon, who took second place among Division I men, said the roles are reversed in the collegiate cycling world when it comes to well-known athletic schools like Oregon and smaller colleges that excel in cycling, but in many cases don't even field teams in more popular sports like football.
"It's interesting, trying to compete with the big boys like Marian and Fort Lewis," Caldwell said.
The only minor complaint among some competitors on Friday were the swarms of brine flies common to the island this time of year.
"They're all over," Monroe said. "I kept scratching my head."