So, my 2013-14 cyclocross season is officially over! I was able to finish strong by racing the North Carolina Cyclocross series final races held on the grounds of the Biltmore Estate. Biltmore will be hosting the USA Cycling Cyclocross Nationals in 2016, so this weekend was the inaugural race to test out possible course design and features. Admittedly, I did get a sneak peak a week before since I do some work with NCCX. It was pretty exciting seeing the before and during, as well as hearing all the feedback and evaluating how things went and ways to take the BIltmore race experience to the next level.
As Saturday got closer I started to feel less and less motivated to race. I wanted to be at Biltmore, surrounded by bike racers and absorbing everything possible from the weekend, but I just wasn’t feeling racing. I knew that this was the final goal of my training plan, so obviously I had to race, but mentally I was not feeling it! Fortunately I was preregistered so at that was working towards getting me on the bike. Getting to the site early on Saturday morning was good. It had “snowed” a bit the night before, leaving a light dusting over the fields. The sky was pastel and the moon was still up. Biltmore is a beautiful place regardless of the time of year, but getting more of a winter feel while driving in was nice.
I started hustling to do what I could to help get everything ready to roll. While the Biltmore race was a big race, the day-0f prep logistics were fairly low (partially due to it being the first ever with little elements outside of NCCX). The course at Biltmore is located near Antler Hill Village. Since this is the first year a course has been marked out, it is shorter than it will be for Nationals, and there will be features added over the next few races to take it to the next level. The start was paved, up to a grassy section with several turns before hitting a set of barriers. Then it was back on to pavement before going into a chicane through more field, followed by another paved section, before moving towards the pits. The area around the pits was the roughest since it was a field area that had only been mowed the week of the race. After the pits the course moved onto a gravel road before dipping down to approach the run up. I loved the run up both days. It was super steep but not too long to absolutely kill every time. Plus I’ve been feeling better about the short running sections lately due in part to circuit training. Then there was more grassy up and down before climbing up a gradual climb to the most popular race feature: the drop-off! It was a steep dirt drop-off behind the bike rental barn, that took you out around the corner of the building. The drop-off was a little slick on Saturday, but that made it more fun! Sunday work was done to dry it out, which made it too simple, in my mountain bikers opinion! The drop-off was followed by a grassy off-camber section that dipped down into a wooded area. The off-camber was fast and I was able to take a low line and make up time on this part of the course. After the wooded area, the course worked around some gravel turns (never my favorite) and then into more grass with another barrier that most riders had to dismount to get over and then run up. The remainder of the course was made up of the return to the puts through the field and then back onto the pavement to the finish (here’s a video of the course from BikeRumor!).
Saturday was cold! Add in a nice chilling wind and it was bitter out! Thankfully it was dry and sunny all day. As the morning progressed and the first races went off, I started to get ready to race. My warm-up was poor, I didn’t even get a pre-ride in (granted, I knew the course), and I wasn’t excited. It was cold, I knew it would hurt, and traditionally, flat, power courses like the Biltmore course have not been my friends.
The start line is a unique place. There you can find pure focus, motivation, nerves, excitement, terror. It is all about the race in that moment as you get ready to start. It was only there that I started to get out of my head that was telling me that I shouldn’t be there riding my bike. I had a descent start, nothing great, nothing terrible. The start was fast! It’s always fast but this course was a fast course all around and it started right off the bat.
My legs were tired and racing below freezing is not something my body responds well to. All the doubt about being on the bike came back for the first lap. I was lagging and was not feeling good. I knew it was all mental. That was the frustrating thing, it was all up to me and I was letting myself down! Coming through the finish on the first lap something clicked and I started to pull it together. The rest of the race was hard, I had to keep changing my mindset, grinning even though I didn’t feel like it, and pedaling as hard as I could whenever I could. I finished, I raced, and by the end my mental block was gone and I was excited to redeem myself the next day!
Sunday was a little warmer. It was right around 40 degrees for my start. I like racing at 40 degrees. It’s just cold enough to keep me from over heating, warm enough I can get away w/o a base layer or arm warmers (gotta have the knee warmers to keep that funky knee of mine happy). I had a good warm-up, I knew the course, and I was ready. The field was larger by one for Sunday, with a different mix of racers. Another fast start, before jumping into the grass and working across the barriers. Typically with the combined field of races in the women’s race the first lap is fast and furious with a lot of bunching before spreading out in the second lap. Usually these races end up with me being there by myself, maintaining my position and cruising along. But not this time! I guess it was the combination of this particular group of racers, the last race and great conditions that turned it into a hammer fest. For pretty much the first time in a combined field cross race I was being chased and chasing the entire time! It was amazing! It was hard, especially on the flat bumpy field sections with a headwind! My derailleur wanted to be difficult during the last 2/3rds of the race as well, causing some frustration as I tried to get in the gear I needed for the inclined sections. I actually kept telling myself “my bike does not define me” each time the chain would slip. For most of the race there was one racer in front of me who I kept almost catching and then she would pull ahead. I knew I had advantage in the technical areas but wasn’t so sure about the straightaways. After going through the finish line and seeing 2 laps to go, I was pretty much set on being where I was in the field for the finish. But the lap leaders passed me with about a half a lap to go. At that point I decided that I had to put the hammer down and see if I could catch the rider in front of me. It was the last race, I had nothing to do but leave it all out there! So I went! I rode hard and fast, and then I was running out of course! As soon as I hit the final paved section I put it all out there and once I could see the finish I stood up and sprinted as hard as I could. I just overtook the racer in front of me with just a few yards to go! It was so intense, I don’t even really have the words to describe it other than “yes!” and then “I’m going to die.” My place was 12 out of 15. It’s one of the best finishes I’ve had in the Pro1/2/3 field, and I had to do work to get it. That race was one of the hardest due to how the field was spread out, but it also made it that much more memorable and fun.
I’m satisfied with the way I ended my cross season. It had been a little touch and go all weekend, but Sunday’s race really did end things well. I want to thank my coach Hugh Moran, my shop Beer City Bicycles, North Carolina Cyclocross, and all you awesome racers out there that I’ve raced against this season!!