North Carolina Cyclo-Cross Grand Prix: Behind the Scenes and Race Report

The penultimate weekend of cyclo-cross for me (next to Nationals, which unfortunately I won’t be attending) has come and gone. The North Carolina Cyclo-Cross Grand Prix, was hosted on my home course was Dec 14-15! As if that’s not enough excitement, the close Pro-CX points rankings brought in Jeremy Powers, Tim Johnson, Zach McDonald, Yannick Eckmann, and many more pro cyclists to race for UCI points! In the weeks preceding the race, I thought I would explode from excitement as Tim let me know more and more top riders who had committed to come race!

This weekend is unlike any other weekend. Primarily because I get to be involved in the set-up, logistics, and preparation for the races. That’s part of what makes it so exciting, but also adds challenges on top of normal racing. The week before is spent revising and publishing materials, writing press releases, answering questions on Facebook and Twitter, and helping out Tim, the race promoter as much as possible. Then the fun of setting up the course begins! For three days we’re outside, setting stakes, painting lines, measuring pits, and then taping the course. So much work goes into a race, and luckily there is a lot of help! This year the weather, while cold, was at least sunny for set-up. We knew the weekend was calling for 100% rain on Saturday, creating the “perfect” cross weather. Then on Friday afternoon and into the evening are the final touches, making sure everything is ready to go, all the signs and tents and equipment is where it needs to be for first thing on Saturday.

Then I go home and prepare what I need for the weekend: layers of clothing both normal and bike, kits, gloves, make sure my bike is tuned and clean, I have the spare parts I need, oh and trying to get a good night of sleep before racing! I usually have trouble sleeping the night before a race, even more so the night before an event that I’m working!

My races were at 12:30 each day, giving time to work before I raced. There’s always such an excitement to this race weekend for me! The last minute rush to ensure that everything is ready when the first race goes off at 9am, seeing friends, and watching all the exciting racing. I feel like there’s a pressure for me to race well here too, it’s my home race, an event I’m involved in, and a special race since the Grand Prix was my first exposure to this thing called cyclocross.

On Saturday the weather was on point with rain starting in the morning and temps in the 30’s. I’ve raced in conditions like this before, so I knew it wasn’t going to easy, but I was ready to have fun and do what I could! It was still raining at the start of my race. My start was a little sketchy, but being a paved start helped me recover before heading into the mud. Since it had only been raining a few hours at that point the course was wet with a lot of standing water. The mud was there for sure, but it was fine and watery versus thick and sticky. I have mud tires on my bike, so I knew equipment-wise I was set. I had dropped my tire pressure to just below the min recommended pressure since I knew the lower the better. I can’t wait to get a tubular or tubeless set up for cross, I like to run a low pressure anyway and it can be iffy with tubes. However, there was a lot of standing water and even water-fill ditches on the course that splashed up the freezing water. On the first lap I lost feeling in my legs. I felt so slow and sluggish, but I was handling the mud fine, staying upright and chugging along. For once I didn’t get anxious and lose focus, it was awesome! The wooded hill was really slick, and the first lap through I got off and ran it since everyone in front of my was running it. Half way up I realized I could ride this! So the next two laps I rode that slippery muddy hill! The wall was another story! In the past years I’ve been able to ride it, but I had a feeling that the conditions this year with the rain and mud wouldn’t let that happen. Still, I tried every single time!

Playing in the mud on Saturday
Playing in the mud on Saturday

As you can see, it was slick!  But I was having a blast! I was were I knew I could be given the field size (only 9 in the combined 2/3 women), and I was having a good race! The rain tapered off near the end, improving visibility and taking one of the challenges out of the equation. My final result was 6th out of 10! My goal for this weekend was top 10, so it was easy to meet that one!

I was so cold afterwards! Once the focus and distraction of racing was gone I was miserable! I went to get cleaned up and had to just sit in front of the heater until I stopped shivering. Unfortunately I missed the start of the elite men’s race, but felt that my warmth was more important.

Post Race on Saturday
Post Race on Saturday

Getting back to the course and seeing the remainder of the elite race was amazing! Watching the handling, power, and seeing the determination of the elite racers was inspiring. JPow ended up with his first legit muddy race win!

Sunday brought sun, slightly warmer temps, but also cold gusty wind! The mud had turned into a thick, sticky mess that sucked all your power away. It reminded me of the conditions at CX Nats 2013 in Madison. I wasn’t looking forward to it at all. But I had signed up for this, and this is what cross is all about after all. By the time we staged, the wind had died down and it was around 40 degrees. My start was much better and I was doing great on the first muddy section, but it was so tricky having to avoid everyone else in the mud. People were wrecking everywhere, sliding out on the off-camber, eating it around the corners. I was going slow and steady, since staying upright is faster than ending up on the ground. I was about to make it out of the carnage when a lady slid out in front of me, right in the line I was trying to take. I attempted to go above her, but there was no traction and down I went. Boo. The mud was so thick at this point in the course it was better to run it and then remount. What I didn’t know at this point was that that would end up being the standard for the rest of the race. I tried to ride everything, but kept loosing traction, sliding out, and not being able to pedal with the insane amounts of mud caught in my fork, derailleur, and brakes. It was really frustrating, but at that point all you can do is finish! The lap times were 20 minutes each for the 2 mile course. Talk about ridiculous!

Slugging up the Wall
Slugging up the Wall, not having fun anymore.

We ended up with just two laps. I was so glad to be done! I ended up 7th out of 9, a little disappointing but I’m no runner. Especially with a bike that is triple its usual weight with mud! I hustled down to get my bike washed off before the start of the elite men’s race. I wasn’t going to miss the start this time!

Elite start on Sunday
Elite start on Sunday

There’s nothing like a start, both for the racer and the spectator. As a racer all your focus goes to being primed to explode off the line at the sound of the whistle. As a spectator, you’re waiting for the release that comes with the start. The tension is amazing, especially at a race where there is so much on the line. Once again, I was amazed by the speed and power put out. I know it takes time and commitment to the end goal, but I wanna be that fast!!

On Sunday, JPow once again took the lead and opened up a huge gap. It’s really cool that this race was such an accomplishment for him, not just for the wins that helped keep him in the #1 spot in the rankings, but as his first wins in true muddy races! As someone involved with the production of the races, that is a good feeling!

Once that last race was over, it was time to break it all down. The Brevard College Cycling team lent a huge helping hand in taking down the course. Members of the Crosstown Velo Team worked hard all weekend to make sure the course was safe and taped, including repairing a large portion of the course that got taken out by a fly-away tent on Saturday night, and retrieved the stakes from all over the course. It’s amazing all the people who come together to make things like this happen. It’s also great since with lots of help comes a quicker set up or break down!

Usually there’s a let down post-Grand Prix. But this year was a little different! Watching the response from the racers, spectators, and pros who attended was amazing! The compliments for the course, the pits, and the entire operation mean so much, especially when given under the increase scrutiny of having such high caliber racers on site. It was exciting getting to share the Facebook comments and Tweets with Tim, and seeing how happy they made him.

So, thank you to everyone who came and raced, and to those who volunteered in less than kind conditions. It means a lot to the people behind the scenes to know that you had a great time! Here’s a bigger and better North Carolina Grand Prix in 2014!

Personally, I want to thank my coach Hugh Moran. Having a set training schedule and plan have made my season one of the best yet. While my results aren’t near the top I feel better physically and mentally. Progress, a little bit at a time! Many thanks also to Beer City Bicycles! They really are the coolest shop in Asheville, and their support and advice have helped me out more than words can say!

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