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!