NCGP Report

Ah, it’s come and gone. The paramount weekend of racing in my cycling calendar, the North Carolina Cyclocross Grand Prix! This year has been a little more exciting than in years past since 2014 marks 10 years of UCI/Grand Prix race in the NCCX series. The series itself is 18 years old, so we’ll have another epic celebration soon! I’ve been involved in the NCGP for years now (although not even close to 10), but this year I’ve been able to be more involved with the series. Being able to help build the excitement through social media and help NCCX expand the fanbase has been really fun. The actual weekend of racing is always a bit conflicting from racer perspective. On one hand I want to throw down the best race of my season and have some truly great results (especially since I train on the course and feel a certain bit of home court pride). On the other hand, the days preceding that go into setting up the course and making sure all the details are covered, combined with early mornings and late nights during the actual race weekend make it difficult to race at the top of my game. This season has been challenging since my time and energy has been so limiting, but I’ve realized even more the importance of mindset and self-motivation. The race is more about what I do then who I beat or were I place (though those things certainly do effect the post-race mental state!).

The weather turned out to be absolutely beautiful! I know a lot of people were hoping for the sloppy mud fest like we had last year, but let me tell you, good weather really eases the preparation and execution of an event! When you’re outside for 12+ hours every day for days on end, you really appreciate it when it’s dry and not below freezing. This years course was very euro, with wide turns, choose your line options and a couple new features for day two. Fast courses are not my friends, but the advantage of setting up is learning every line, finding the trouble spots, and knowing the course by heart. It really is awesome seeing the course take shape in the days leading up to the race, and seeing and hearing how much it’s appreciated. There were more pre-riders out on the Friday before then ever, and the excitement was already filling the park. Race day number one came, and everything got started without a hitch! My races have been early afternoon this season, and the Grand Prix schedule was no different. Even with the time to get everything started and having breathing room before warming up I still struggled to get ready and have a proper warm up. But I worked with what time I had and felt pretty good at the start. I ended up on the front row (of two in the little 2/3 women’s field), which was a nice exception from the normal place I start in the elite races during the series. I always get nervous right before a race during call ups. It’s like the anxiety of being between warming up and racing is overwhelming, like I need to have a focus but it’s too soon to be that focused. Once I got into my start position though I can focus, relax and be ready to go. And this time, I was ready to go! The whistle blew and I took off! I clipped in, but lost one pedal a couple strokes in (old cleats are so slick!). Instead of working to get clipped back in I just kept pedaling, working to be the first into the grass off the paved start. Then the weirdest thing happened, I was alone. I couldn’t hear or feel anyone as I got closer to the grass. I remember grinning since I made the hole shot! I knew going into the race that I didn’t have much to give so I was going to give whatever I had at the start. It worked, I had a pretty large going into the barriers, and held on to the lead for half a lap. It was awesome. And then slowly I was reined back in and shuffled through the field to my normal low position. I struggled on the back climb in the mud, which was frustrating since usually I can handle the slickly icky. This time though my legs let me down, and I couldn’t do much more than walk up the hill. Despite adding running to my training this year, the week caught up with me and my legs just didn’t have it. But I sucked it up and did work to gain back the places I lost on the hill. In the end I finished strong, made it up the wall, and didn’t finish that far off of where I finished last year. That is the best part about my finish. It showed me that even with my reduced training time, increased stress, and lack of a formal training/coaching plan I was able to maintain and be pretty dang close to where I was last year.

Flat launch into the grass
Flat launch into the grass

After spending the evening moving the course around for day two, Janet and I enjoyed a quick beer and pizza. Then it was home to attempt some sort of recovery before doing it all again on Sunday! Sunday’s course had the most changes of any NCGP day two course that I can remember. The first grass section was reworked into a large sweeping turn before climbing back up and over, quickly descending into a fast launch across the road and into the grass towards the barriers. Then there was a quick little punch on the backside before moving into a long off-camber section that pushed you down to the run-up. The usual twists and turns were reworked coming out of the woods before the tennis courts and the wall. The most exciting change was a quick dog-leg turn at the top of the wall, with the option to ride off-camber along the hill or use the momentum from going to the bottom of the hill and propelling yourself up to the gates. It was great seeing the confusion and expressions of riders as they encountered the new feature for the first time! It was a great fun add to the course and allowed riders to choose whatever method of getting across that they were comfortable with. I had another great start, which was surprising as my legs were so sore and tight. I was also really tired, to the point that I felt like I could take a nap sitting at the start line for call ups. I hung in the top five for the first half a lap and just chugged away for the rest of the race. I ended up 9 out of 13 both days, which is a normal finish for me. Most of all, I enjoyed both races, was able to push and suffer and finish strong. You can’t ask for much more than that!

Suffering
Suffering

Overall, the weekend was great! We had competitive men and women’s elite races both days, with an intense sprint finish for the men on Sunday. The winner of the women’s race both days, BethAnn Orten had her first UCI win at the NCGP. I was able to wander around, tweeting and Facebooking the whole thing, watching great races, supporting my friends, and being surrounded by cyclists.

Even after the event ended it was exciting seeing all the pictures, the statuses and feedback from racers. There really is nothing like the racing community and I’m pretty stoked that I can be a part of it beyond just racing (which is awesome in of itself too!).

Now I’m looking towards the Biltmore CX race in January as we get one step closer to cyclocross nationals coming to Asheville in 2016! After that I’ll stretch out my season a little longer through racing the Charlotte Winter Short Track Series again. Then there are some other things I’ve got up my sleeve that should be pretty cool.

On the non-cycling front, the spring semester will be my final semester in my graduate program! I can’t wait to wrap up that chapter in May. And believe it or not Kyle and I will celebrate our 7 year wedding anniversary!

So I guess that’s my 2014 wrap up, 2015 look forward?

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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!!

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!

NCCX #3: Winston Salem Cyclocross Race Report

Yikes, I kept meaning to tell all my stories about Raleigh, and then something would get in the way, and then I was out of town, and so on and so forth. So here I am at last!

North Carolina Cyclocross Race #3 was in  Winston Salem, hosted by Mock Orange Bikes and held at the Children’s Home. It’s been a couple years since I raced in WS, so the venue was new to me. This was my first NCCX race of the season! I missed the previous weekend’s season kick-off due to work. Sad face for Laura, so I was ready to race!

My friend Josh rode down with me. It’s always nice to have company on the longer rides. We arrived with just under two hours to my race start at 11:30am. The weather was gorgeous! Sun shining, slight breeze, still a little nip in the air. I received my series race number: 321! I love it when my numbers are consecutive in some way or have a pattern. Last year I was 345. This thing of starting the season a couple races in works out in that regard.

I’ve been feeling good on the bike. This is largely in part to having a real training plan from Hugh Moran, as well as the motivation to make the best out of my season. Of course, there are bad training days and I wish I had more training time, but having an intentional plan of riding and racing is what I need. I got a quick pre-ride in on the course. It was a great mix of grass and dirt, with a paved start and finish area. It also had a little of everything: wide corners, descents, punchy climbs, and a lot of off camber stuff. The mountain biker in me loves the off camber, so I was feeling good about the course.

I had a great warm-up, and got to the start with plenty of time. This year NCCX has split the Pro1/2/3 field by creating a Master’s 2/3 35+ category that races at the same time. This reduces the Pro1/2/3 field, and makes it a lot faster! I didn’t make the mistake of my previous race, sitting solid on the second row since I didn’t have a call-up (call-ups are based on series points to date and I had zero.). The start was also paved and on a slight decline into the finish area before climbing up and into the grassy section. I had a great start and was in 8th or 9th going into the first turn. I lost a couple of places but settled in on the wheel in front of me. From then on it was pretty intense! I worked really hard to hang on to Genisis’s wheel, and managed to pass her at a couple points, but she always caught back on and would pass me again. This went on for the first few laps. However, my little bit of advantage came from the massive “run-up” that I was able to ride every time. I finally was able to start building a gap, but even then I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to maintain it on the grassy flat sections. We know how much I love grassy flat sections, which ends up to be not very much at all. But these areas all had some sort of descent going into them, allowing me to really build up my speed and keep a good pace through them. The corners were also wide, which helped me out tremendously. The end result was 9th out of 13. I will take that, thank you! It was hard, but I raced smart, I raced hard, and most importantly, I had a race I am proud of!

This weekend will find me in Durham repping Beer City Bicycles for the next NCCX race, followed by some time in Raleigh for work. Did someone say rest week?

I’m a Bad Cyclocrosser

I’m a bad cyclocrosser. At least, Sunday’s race left me feeling very unskilled and so not pro. Sometimes you feel great and just know that you’ll do great. Then something happens and it all goes to pieces. That’s the story of my race on Sunday.

The last Asheville Cyclocross race of the season was held at Pisgah Brewing.  It’s a fun venue and always a fun time! Going in, I felt rested and excited. Asheville CX self-insures and doesn’t mess with USA Cycling sanctioning, which takes the pressure off and lets me just race for fun. So there I was. I had a great warm-up and got a couple of pre-ride laps in on the course. When we staged, the A women started in front of the B men. This was a little weird since they started to catch women about half a lap in. Now, I KNOW the importance of a good starting position. But I figured being on the second row was fine and that I’d make it up with no problem. Well, ha on me. I had a rough start and ended up in the back of the field. I knew were I could be, and decided that I was going to get there one way or another. I think I got so focused on making up places that I lost focus on racing well. I ended up snagging a stake and tape, rubbing tires and falling, dropping a chain over the barriers, and failing to unclip fully in a crowded rush to the barriers again. Ugh. I was pretty annoyed with life. I did settle in and ended up making up 5 places from the end of the field twice, for a 14th out of 19th finish. I take that as a personal victory. I wouldn’t have been able to make up those places before. If I had raced smarter, then I would have been in the middle of the field, where I know I belong.

But, even with all that, I still had fun. I still smiled, I still felt great (once I got off the ground each time). I earned my delicious post-ride beer from Pisgah Brewing. I got to be surrounded by awesome people and get hoarse cheering on the Master’s and A men.

Here’s to hoping I got all my mistakes out of the way for the season and learned all the lessons I needed to learn before starting the NCCX series!!