Biltmore CX

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.

Saturday Morning
Saturday Morning

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.

Photo by Torrenti Cycles, Inc
Coming out of the off-camber — Photo by Torrenti Cycles, Inc

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!

Photo by Torrenti Cycles, Inc
Run up — Photo by Torrenti Cycles, Inc

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.

Corner into the fenced passage -- Photo by Torrenti Cycles, Inc
Corner into the fenced passage — Photo by Torrenti Cycles, Inc

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!!

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Cx Nats Report

I said I’d give a full report on our adventures at cx nats! I wrote up the team report, which you can check out here!

Cyclocross Thank You’s

I am so blessed to be surrounded by so much support and encouragement over the past few months as I have trained and raced ‘cross this winter, starting from racing just for fun with not-so-great results, to my best personal race to date.

I want to acknowledge the people, sponsors, and products that helped get me and the rest of the Mars Hill Cycling team to cyclocross nationals and get that team gold!

Spin-Tech Training — I can’t say enough about Spin-Tech. They are just awesome! Without Spin-Tech I really doubt that I would have made it to two national championships, upgraded from category B to A within a few weeks, or have the confidence to race at the level I’m at, all within six months of starting to ride for Mars Hill Cycling and seriously start training.

Thanks to O’Neill for the heart-throbbing, lung-bursting, muscle-screaming workouts and to Frank for the refreshing, feel-good about riding workouts! Spin-Tech also loaned us two Scott cross bikes (one for me, one for Mariske, they also served as pit bikes during the guys race), and trainers to warm-up on. Thank you so much for the equipment!

DeFeet — DeFeet has become one of my go-to favorites for anything wool-related. As a picky sock-wearer, I’ve been delighted with everything I’ve tried, be it the thin Wooleator or the thick Woolie Boolie (This is my fave sock). They also make amazing gloves what can be worn as a liner or on their own. At nats, I wore the glove by itself and it was perfect for keeping my fingers warm in the 34 degree temps of my race while offering a little cushioning for all the bouncing over ruts. The arm warmers also are amazing, warm but perfectly regulating body temps. I think everyone needs to have a pair of DeFeet armwarmers at least!

Raw Revolution is always present at Mars Hill Cycling events. They are a great sponsor and make organic raw food bars. We got to try the new Super Greens bar in Tropical Banana. I loved it! While I don’t care for some of the flavors with more nuts (it’s just me, I don’t like peanuts or cashews in any form, no matter how healthy), I really like the banana. A couple of these after racing are the perfect thing to to start the body on recovery and fill that space between racing and eating a real meal.

A huge thanks to our hosts for the week, Brian and Carolyn Cassel. They were more than welcoming, and it was so amazing having a house to come back to after racing. I felt so at home, and Brian even gathered a group of their friends to cheer for us as we raced!

And of course, thanks to our awesome coach, Hugh! Without his hard work, direction and encouragement, we would not have made it to the top of the podium!

And thank you to Mars Hill College for supporting the team!

And check out all our other sponsors who have donated funds, gear, and their time to help get us where we are… National Cyclocross Champs and the Number One ranked DII team in the nation!

And I can’t forget my wonderful husband, who encourages me and puts up with me taking off for days to race with my team. I love you Kyle!

I’m so excited for what 2012 brings, I’ve definitely had an amazing start to the year. With such wonderful support, an awesome team, incredible sponsors, I’m only looking to go up!

Mars Hill Cycling: DII Cyclocross Champions!

What an awesome weekend!

After an intense men’s race this morning, we found ourselves in first place in the team omnium for Division II! The rest of the day was spent in giddy excitement as we watched the elite men and women’s races, cheering and heckling with attitude.

This morning us girls swapped roles with the guys are they prepared for their race and we played the role of support team. The course was drastically different from yesterdays conditions, starting out frozen and fast.

Tim had a great start despite a early mechanical, and made his way up to 2nd place. Corey had the misfortune of being wrecked in the first turn but came back with awesome power to take 8th after breaking his shifter on one of the climbs and having to finish out with one of the spare bikes. Micheal battled the slick and muddy conditions and performed well for a roadie with a 24th place finish. It was intense watching the race from the pits and seeing the course start to deteriorate into a slick muddy mess.

After the awards ceremony, we also chased down Jeremy Powers and Ryan Trebon for a photo with the team! They are both super nice guys and a huge shout out and thanks to them both for posing with us!

Jeremy Powers, USA National Cyclocross Champion
Ryan Trebon, Cyclocross Nationals 2nd Place
MHC Cyclocross Team
With our amazing hosts for the week, the Cassels!

It feels so great getting the national championship as a team! I get to ride with the most amazing kids ever, and being a part of this has been incredible!I’m also really pleased with my performance this weekend and am coming away from this nats weekend hungry for my own successes and podium finishes, eager to keep training and gaining skills!

My deepest thanks to our amazing Sponsors! Without you we would not be here, getting all sorts of awesome results! Thank you to our amazing hosts this weekend, the Cassels! Having such a wonderful place to stay for sure influenced us for the better!

All photos by Mikey Keith

Cyclocross Nationals: DII Women

Madison, WI doesn’t exactly sound like the ideal place to be for cyclocross nationals (cross nats) in January. However, everything has been wonderful! From the course which I was not looking forward to from the several preview videos that were made, to the weather that while cold doesn’t involve several inches of snow, to the amazing spectators, and of course amazing support and performance from the rest of the team.

We arrived on Thursday afternoon, and after meeting and greeting our newest member, Mariske who had flown in from South Africa to start the year at Mars Hill, we headed out to check out the course conditions. We’re staying about 1.5 miles away from the course, at the hospitality of the Cassels. They gracious opened their home to us and have been the perfect, no, better than perfect hosts.

It felt great to get back on the bike again and actually ride! We were able to get a feel for at least the design of the course, if not the conditions. It was extremely muddy, with frozen earth under all the mud. Definitely caused some mountain bike nationals flashbacks for sure! The course conditions have gradually gotten better over the past couple of days, despite being re-frozen every night.

Before leaving for cross nats, I had decided that my goal for this race was a top 10 finish. But after being out here and riding the course a good bit and feeling really excited and positive about the race, I decided that top 8 was a better goal.

The women’s race was Saturday at noon. The ground had thawed out nicely after the juniors and master’s races, leaving some really soggy icky spots, but also creating some areas that where compacted down and pretty fast.

The biggest part of my worry for this race was the start on a long paved section. I am a mountain biker, so long flat things aren’t my strong-suite (yet!). But I got a great start, and according to Hugh was in the top five for at least half a lap! There were a couple hard climbs, which I had made about 50% of the time during practice laps due to the lack of traction in the mud. But with the better conditions, I was able to clear each one easily. Not really quickly, but strong and steady. Maybe it’s because my roots (or wheels, ha ha ha) are in mountain biking, but I take climbs seriously. After all, that’s half of mountain biking right there, and I better do that well

Photo by Mikey Keith

I went out hard and kept the hammer down for the first two laps, settling in to bring it home on the final two laps. I did get pulled since the leaders where several minutes ahead, which kinda threw me off. I wanted that last lap to see what I could do and who I could catch!

I ended up 7th, which is amazing to me! It’s exactly where I wanted to be, and it feels so great knowing that I put it all out there and performed at the top of my skills and fitness! This is easily the best race of my short racing career!

Mariske took first in her first cyclocross race ever! We’re really excited about the strength she’s bringing to the team, not only in mountain bike, which is her specialty, but in all areas as has been proven today.

Photo by Mikey Keith

Stephanie and Lacey took 11th and 12th after battling the tricky mud and a mechanical.

Overall, Mars Hill Cycling is currently number 1 in the DII team omnium! We’re cheering on the guys tomorrow and will see where we are after that, though the top step of the podium is our goal for sure!

I do want to thank all of our sponsors, hosts for the week and everyone who has helped me and the rest of the team get here! It’s been amazing and I’m so lucky to be able to do this cycling thing!

Big thanks to Defeet which kept us all warm and dry today and Spin-Tech for the loaned bikes for Mariske and I, as well as all of the amazing training over the past six months!

And thank you to the crew here and USA Cycling for putting on this great event! The course and entire event has been amazing! Also, the spectators here are the best I have ever had the privilege of racing in front of!