Biltmore Estate, Asheville, NC
Weather: Sunny, upper 30s
This course was AMAZING. Long-time CX Nats racers were also raving about the challenging, technical, hilly, unique design. There was elelvation (220 feet per lap), sketchy off-camber, run-ups, a flyover, a bridge, steep shoots, lumpy step-offs — more than a few endo’s there — a little mud and a barn. All of this and still with plenty of room to pass throughout. I signed up for the Non-Championship race the day before in order to get some pre-ride laps that approached race speed. I went hard enough not to get lapped, but nothing that remotely fatigued me for the next day’s race.
Race morning broke a cold 18 degrees, but by my 11:30 race start it had warmed to a manageable sunny and mid-30s. The only drawback was that the ground had begun to thaw as well which made for some sneaky slippery sections that caught all of us off-guard at least once.
The call-up process as Nationals is unlike our local races. Rather than calling a block of numbers up 8 at a time, an official called the name and number of literally every racer in order of their USAC points. It does give a good sense of “pro”, even if you are in the 12th row. Being 40th in the points, I was happy to have a solid 5th row spot and I was able to set-up one slot in from the outside, just where I wanted to stage.
After loading 120+ riders into the gate, the starter’s whistle finally blew. I got a solid start and held position into the first corner. I kept to my planned outside line and avoided the pile-up in the first right/left off camber section. With so many fast guys in the race, every little bobble early is magnified. I stumbled one step on the run-up and 3 guys went around me. I stayed patient and picked up a few places on the tricky off-camber section around the barn, finding a nice groove on the high line.
That first lap I had to dab a few times, but never went down, passed a few and got passed by a few. I stayed consistent, worked my lines and slowly moved up. At the start of the 3rd lap, my brother in law, who was working the pit for me, said I was in 29th. I could see 5 or 6 guys just up ahead and I felt pretty good, so I thought a top 25 was possible. Unlike most CX races I have done, however, once passed, these guys didn’t just drop back. For every two guys I’d pass, one would come back around and keep battling. It was awesome!
As the pace settled in, I was happy to just get 1 or 2 places a lap and with 2 to go, I was hearing that I was sitting about 20th. I really started to battle at that point as “Top 20” feels a lot better than “21st”. Every pass was back-and-forth and I was still not sure where I was in the placing.
Climbing up Cemetery / Bonk Breaker Hill for the last time, I was being chased and I was able to pass another rider on the way up. Once we got down to the long, flat stretch to the finish, this guy came MOTORING by me. I just jumped on his wheel and tried to stay close enough that he’d tow me away from my chaser. I got over the barriers smoothly, got into my pedals quickly and went hard. As I approached the finishing turn onto the pavement, I realized I was closing down the guy who motored past me, so a few seconds before the last left hander on the pavement, I opened up whatever sprint I had left. He was caught flat-footed and tried to respond, but never even made it as far as my shoulder. As we bore down on the finish line, we swept up another rider who was soft-pedaling in thinking he had enough of a cushion to do so. A very satisfying 18th place.
And so, cyclocross is truly done for the season. For me it was, despite a few trying races in the middle, the best season I’ve had. Many thanks to the VWS team and all its sponsors, as well as the race promoters who work so hard to allow the racers to play on our bikes each weekend.
Now, did someone say #roadiscoming?