North Carolina Cyclocross – Asheville Finale at the Biltmore

Last two races of the 2014/2015 season – I was hoping to make it to Asheville for the finale and thankful everything worked out.  The weather turned out fairly nice too – for January!

We arrived Friday night at Wilson’s RV Park just outside of Biltmore for a convenient drive in for Saturday morning.

This campground gets some so-so reviews because of the proximity to the interstate.  That much is true.  But it is super convenient for the Biltmore and if you like Greenways there’s one that goes right through the campground.  We’ll visit again.  Just bring earplugs if you’re a light sleeper to deal with the road noise.  The owner was even nice enough to let us come back in the afternoon after Sunday’s racing to empty the tanks before we headed home.  With normal check-out times about 11am or so this was a nice gesture.

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View both ways down the French Broad River Greenway.  In between all the racing activities the kids did get out for bike ride time on the greenway.

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Up and at ’em early enough to get to the course for a pre-ride before the 10am CX 4/5 Master’s race.  Had I been able to get up early enough, I think I would have preferred this group!

NCCX staff/volunteers and Biltmore staff did an excellent job of pass pickup and directing traffic.  I was concerned about driving a big rig into the estate but they had a spot for us – RV parking just off to the side of the main parking area.

Below is where most everyone was parked.  Beautiful day with the mountains in the distance.

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Here’s the guys lined up ready to go for the first race…

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After Start/Finish is a left turn for the holeshot and then the course twists and turns through part of the field.  Then it returns to pass from left to right in front of The Barn in the distance below.

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Next you pass closer to the winery, over sidewalks…

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And then this off-camber section back in front of The Barn – which will make you hope you got your air pressure right!

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Behind The Barn are some mud and low barriers, and then you climb up a few sections to reach the worst run-up of the course.  I don’t know what to call this hill (to the right in the distance) but it was tough.  Hike-a-bike is my term for it I guess.  No running for me here!

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Some guys were even strong enough to ride it!

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Here’s a video of the Elite guys killing the run-up…

After this is a technical section literally “dropping in” (like a half-pipe move it seemed) from the top of the hill, a gradual descent for speed fun, flat sections through the field and then uphill charge to the finish line.

But I get ahead of myself – Saturday mid-day was the Men’s CX 4/5 race.  This time I came with the family and prepared…

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Yes I admit this isn’t the hardened cyclocross racer image for sure.  I felt for the guys getting ready in the cold and wind.  But if you had an RV I’m sure you’d want to bring it too!  Why not have access to a hot shower after a cold race?

Saturday’s race started out like my last two – just hang off the back and see if I can keep up.  No desire to mix it up just yet – still learning.  I was a bit surprised that I didn’t have to work nearly as hard to not get spit out of the back.  One theory for that is two equipment changes in the week prior to the race.  I had a bottom bracket that had been close to seizing up for months – can’t be a good thing for power!  I finally got around to replacing it before this race.  Additionally, the two races prior I had forgotten to remove my Stop Flats (tire liners) from my tires.  I use these on my home trails because there are so many thorns – but they can’t be a good thing for rolling resistance.  This time I remembered to take them out pre-race.

So placebo effect or reality – whichever – I found that I could take small “breathers” here and there on the course this time.

I even had a great cheering section that got photos of me in “action” as well!

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I hope my little guy wants to get out on the race course someday (actually both kids did during the youth race)

 

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Day 1 Race Strava link

The end result was at the back of the pack again, 63rd out of 64 guys racing.  However this time I finished feeling like I had a good effort and some left for Sunday.  A good sign.  I’ve got to hand it to Dave Cassen from Team REEB for sticking it out to the end.  I’ve been last, my friend, and I know how it is!

Sunday morning we made it to the course in time for the start of the first race again.  I thought about a pre-ride again but assumed that the course didn’t change (oops – will find out later)…

Master’s men CX4/5 had to deal with a weak front coming through and a few sprinkles.  Thankfully the sun came back out quickly!

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Another nice touch by the event staff.  Multiple warnings for pedestrians at crossings to look out for racers.

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After the first race I took a quick look at the course at the run-up and found that they had re-routed it through the woods (apparently this was another experiment for testing out different courses for CX nationals next year).  It was nicely done with folks running leaf blowers before the first race to get things in order.  The re-route also looked to play towards my strengths this time around.

This is part of the climb after the run-up.  From what I saw I knew I had to leave a little left after the run-up to get up to this.

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Last bit of the climb to the peak of the course…

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And then a fast, fast descent out of the woods…

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Sharp right hander into “chicanes” on the grass, more gravity fun…

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Then out onto the gravel road where you can get some really good speed, before another tight chicane and re-joining the original course layout in the field.

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Once again, lined up for the start of the Men’s CX 4/5.  I saw a few guys from yesterday’s race and a couple juniors and masters as well.  Looks like a few people were making the most of the last day to get racing in.

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Once again we were off at the starting bell, but this time I knew to hold some back for after the big run-up.  At the top I hopped back on my bike and took the opportunity to weave and pass a few guys who were dismounting for the next steep transition.  I must have done well because no one yelled at me for getting too close and a spectator even gave me props for a nice move.

Hoping to keep up the effort I settled into the climb, following a few more guys to the top.  This was new territory for me … actually racing with people for positions, instead of being alone!  At the peak of the course, I made my move again and passed one or two guys in the descent.  That is quite ego-inspiring to take positions at that rate – having some skill to let gravity do the work for you and enjoy the drop off of the hill.

The second lap was similar … holding back a little for after that run-up, charging the next transition, surviving the rest of the climb and taking positions in the descent.  Happier than a pig in slop…

Late into the second lap after the descent I found myself working to catch and then stay with a guy in orange.  I have no idea who he was … whomever you were it was fun racing with you for a little while.  With the very windy day I drafted him as much as I could, wondering if I could set up a pass.  Through the field we went and I was still hanging with him but my technique at the first run-up out of the field faltered, and he pulled away.

I thought I still had a chance as I could catch him after the descent like last time, so I repeated my same strategy of holding back a little for after the biggest run-up in anticipation of the long and fast drop out of the woods.

Up I climbed towards where I would dismount, and I could still see him ahead.  Hopping off the bike, picking it up for the big hike and … WHAM!  Both quads cramped up.  Not good.  I went limp, fell into the grass and thankfully the cramps mostly let go, but any effort to walk signaled their return.  In my head was a long “Nooooooo!” as I struggled to find a way up the hill.  One guy watching gave me the one tip I needed – being totally out of my mind I couldn’t even think of what to do next.  He said “push your bike up, don’t carry it!”  Of course!  I dropped it and slowly made it to the top, using my bike to pull myself up like a cane, then pushing it up higher, then again … over and over.

At the top of the run-up I knew I couldn’t make the next steep transition on the bike.  So I rolled up to it, dismounted, and gingerly made the climb on my feet.  Next up was the long but less steep climb and I managed to make that pedaling with my hamstrings, just begging my quads to give me some life.

At the top I gave thanks for the descent and the break and made good time with the help of gravity.  Then I had to survive the field section and get over the barriers somehow.  Once I got into the field my quads were having nothing of it and my pedaling motion was all pulling.  I started to see more guys I’d passed catch up to me.  I lost a few places.  Where was I going to finish?  Am I going to finish at all?

Pull, pull … pull, pull I pedaled through the field section one turn after another.  Now my left leg was giving up.  I reached the barriers, not able to do any jumping off and on.  Just stepping over them one at a time I re-mounted my bike slowly and knew I just had to make it one more turn to the finish line.

Except now my left leg was blasted.

So there I was, pulling with only my right leg, trying my best just to get up the hill and finish.  This must have been humorous to watch.  At least I hope so anyway!

Closer and closer I got and louder and louder the crowd became.  Are they cheering for me?  Or are they….

Whoosh!  As I had almost reached the finish line, here comes Dave Cassen of team REEB again!  He sprinted off of the last turn and passed me right at the finish!

That’s racing folks.  No mercy.  It certainly was poetic that we flipped spots from the day before.  High-fives at the end – it was fun racing with you Dave!

Day 2 Race Strava link

This time I finished 51/59.  Could have been better, but could have been worse.  I’m happy I finished and had the fun I did for the first two laps!

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What I’ve come to really enjoy about ‘cross – although it does sound cliche – is the camaraderie.  Both race days felt like when you were a kid, and you’d go out with a few buddies and just see who was the fastest on the bike.  Of course we’re adults now and we have to make it a little more organized, with categories for those who are really good and deserve rewards for hard work and top results.  But regular guys like me can have a great time too.  Get out there and try cross!  You’ll slip, slide, and probably fall down.  But the fun factor is unbeatable!

Next year I hope to get out again, this time with my wife recovered from her bike crash and ready for CX season.  She had been planning to get out on the race course this season but those plans had to wait.  Next year I’ll have put some training in prior to the races and hopefully can get a little faster than last!

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