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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Back to the Race

I finally feel as if there’s some sense to my training and racing this cyclocross season. After hitting several potholes at the beginning of the season, in addition to having to adjust my expectations and race schedule due to the time and energy that my final year (!!) of grad school is requiring, I was left feeling a little lost. But there’s something about racing that motivates me, even in the midst of everything else.

As soon as soccer ended I headed 4 hours east to race #3 of the North Carolina Cyclocross series in Southern Pines, NC. My usual race range is 2 hours, but I was excited to start racing and lined up a carpool. Southern Pines is famed for its sandy course, and I was ready to experience something new. The weather was hot and yes, there was a lot of sand! With only a couple weeks of consistent training in I had no great expectations but just wanted to race. The paved start was fast and I had a smooth transition from stop to start, powering into the first couple of turns. THe pace at the front was too much for me and I maxed out my HR pretty quickly. The course was a weird combo of fast and slow with fast paved and grass sections punctuated by deep slick sand. I started suffering pretty quickly, and it wasn’t a good suffer either. But as I kept reminding myself I was there to ride in the sand. So that’s what I did! I worked on my technique into the sandy pits, tried different gearing to try and make it up the sandy run-ups, and hammered/recovered on the grass. In the end I was 13 out of 14, and had accomplished my goal of racing somewhere new!!

The next weekend was spent investing some quality time into my data management class.

On November 9th I was able to travel to Salisbury for one of my favorite NCCX courses. The weather was beautiful, warm and sunny. The course was fast. There was a great turnout, making it the largest NCCX race of the year so far! I was feeling better on the bike after a great Saturday mountain bike ride with Kyle in Bent Creek. I was a little worried that I’d gone too hard in Bent Creek but didn’t care as long as I was racing. The course in Salisbury is wide and fast with lots of turns and kickers to run up or power up. A couple slick off camber sections and fat wooded section add excitement. This time my start was terrible. I was too slow and ended up on the 3rd row, but worked to get mid pack by the first turn. Then I got too impatient and tried to take the second turn tight but was pushed to the back. From there I hustled, enjoying the course, focusing on putting the hammer down when I could and keeping my performance consistent.

Photo by Don McEwan
Photo by Don McEwan

This race was good for me in that I was able to not only RACE but work on technique–higher cadence, less smash and chasing the 50+ masters who were on course with the elite women. In the end I was 13th again, but this time out of 18. Given that I essentially started in the back I’m happy with the result. It was awesome being on a course I enjoy, actually racing and not just suffering in my head.

School requirements again got in the way, making last weekend the first weekend I could head out to race again, this time in Statesville. In the past it’s been a very flat and twisty course, two elements that I am not a fan of. But knowing that it had been so long since my last race I decided to go anyway. I was happily surprised to find out it was at a new venue, and even more excited when I realized it was a mountain bike park! While there were some mountain bike features that weren’t used in the course the course was interesting with some kickers, good straightaways and fun descents. The weather was great, a little chilly to stand around in but perfect to race. I was excited, this is the last race of 2014 that I’ll race without working the event (NCGP is this weekend, and working an event takes away from the racing part a bit). I had a good warm-up, had my strategy mapped out and was ready to rock. The start was crowded and there ended up being a wreck just behind me. I was in control, avoiding the carnage and getting into the first turn with the lead pack. Things felt great, a little sluggish but I could handle that. Then something just broke. I couldn’t focus, couldn’t keep or build intensity. It sucked. And I couldn’t pull out of it. There was no reason, just a lack of focus. Given that my brain has been all over lately between school, work, the Grand Prix and bikes it’s not surprising that something had to give. I just wish it hadn’t given out in the middle of a race where I was doing well and set to finish in the low middle of the pack. But, live and learn, and turn over another pedal stroke!

Now we’re at the time for my favorite cycling event of the year! The North Carolina Cyclo-Cross Grand Prix! Not only does it take place on my home turf it’s a fun event to prepare for, work, and see all the accomplishments that take place this weekend. Follow along with the fun on the Facebook and Twitter as we get ready and put on the bike race of the year!

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!

Almost Full Circle: N.C. Cyclocross Grand Prix

Once upon a time, there was a young girl who was exploring the world and learning about possible career paths. In her meandering, she learned about an event that was the product of a recreation employee at a park who had graciously taken time to talk to her about recreation. So, one sunny Saturday in November she headed off to a park and was exposed to the coolest thing ever: cyclocross.

Even though she wasn’t aware of the impact it would have on her life then, that day marked the planting of a little dream that seemed very out of reach.

Several years later, after being at many such events, each fueling an admiration of the sport and desire to be amazing, that girl got the chance to race cyclocross.

Super happy!

Cyclocross is ground zero when it comes to bike racing for me. It was the first competitive cycling event that I was exposed to outside of the Tour du France. While I love mountain biking and have had an absolute blast racing, cyclocross has been at the back of my mind. I was super excited to race my first cyclocross race in October and have been looking forward to racing at the North Carolina Cyclocross Grand Prix (NCCX GP), where I watched cyclocross in amazement for the first time years ago.

I love the Grand Prix. I love working it and being an observer. And finally, I can add participant to my list. In addition to the awesomeness of racing, the Grand Prix is held at Jackson Park, my own local park! This year was the largest GP to date, with over 700 racers! Several pro cyclists also came down to race the elite races and get UCI points. All the races were fun and amazing to watch.

I raced the ACCC collegiate race both days. This is the first year (that I’m aware of) that collegiate races have been held at the Grand Prix. Since I haven’t been training for cyclocross specifically since returning from nationals, I decided to do the collegiate race, even though I wouldn’t get any points for myself or my team, instead of the regular series categories.

Saturday was cloudy and a little on the chilly side. I didn’t get a great warm-up and didn’t even get a chance to pre-ride the course. I felt like I had a decent start and went hard for the first lap. It hurt, so on the second I lost a lot of time. By the third however, I was ready to go hard and finish strong, but got pulled as I started my fourth lap. There were only three B girls racing, but all the collegiate riders raced at the same time. I ended up 2nd, which is technically a podium finish!

Now, for anyone who is familiar with the NCCX GP, they know about The Wall. The Wall is a steep bank that is incorporated into the course every year. Some people ride it, others try valiantly, and still others fail miserably. As a mountain biker I was pretty confidant that I could handle it, after all, climbs are a big part of mtb! Well, I failed. It was sad, so I ran the bike up following my disheartening attempt. If I had one goal for my racing, it was to ride the wall!

Sunday was sunny and warm, perfect racing weather in my mind! I know there are many cx-ers who will disagree with me. I got a great warm-up and got to pre-ride the course, which had some additional curves and fun stuff thrown in. My start wasn’t great, but I caught up with the main group as everyone turned off the road and into the twisty-turny things. I felt strong and good! I found a great cadence and settled in. The added turns and lessened straight-aways were great for me, I loved swooping and cornering up and down. I settled in behind a guy from VT, and while he would drop me on the road/straight-aways, I would catch up in the turns. I didn’t have the strength to pass and maintain a lead, so I camped out behind him for the remainder of the race. I didn’t get pulled, and even lapped some chick from App! However, the greatest moment for me came on the second lap, when after failing to ride the wall my first time around, I charged up the wall with all my might and with a lot of effort made it up and over the top! Booyah baby!

I’m not sure of my place on Sunday’s race, but it doesn’t really matter. I made it up the wall, felt strong and fast and had an amazing time!

I cannot wait for next year when I’ll be officially racing cross and can say that I have indeed made it full circle!

Thanks to Spin-Tech for the use of one of their baller demo Scott bikes! I cannot say enough good things about these guys….they are generous with their time and equipment and some of the nicest people you’ll meet. They go above and beyond just sponsoring the Mars Hill team, and I am eternally grateful!

Check out Cyclingdirt.org for amazing footage of the races!

Weldon Weaver Photography for awesome photos