North Carolina Grand Prix Trip Report

We’re pretty lucky to have such amazing cyclocross racing throughout New England. However, when in pursuit of “points” one must eventually travel beyond the comforts of a 1-2 hour drive, the collection of essentials in the back of their “race mobile” (know to me as my Yaris) and their social circle of bike friends. I decided to head to the North Carolina Grand Prix, happy to embrace a new comfort of warmer weathered racing as the end of November neared.

Good friends of mine, Scott and Liz, recently moved to Asheville, NC, a small city just 30 minutes from the Hendersonville race course. Allison and I boarded there on a couple of “aero beds” (we hear the triathletes really like these) and enjoyed the sights of the city between racing. Scott and Liz introduced us to some fantastic restaurants, beautiful mountain views and the “drum circle”, which is a regular form of entertainment for the locals (Its just as it sounds; a bunch of drummers in a circle). The people of Asheville are, well, hippies. Most of the restaurants clearly appreciate local foods and healthy eating and there is no shortage of bars and restaurants that offer craft beers. I like hippies, good food and beer. So I  had a great time! It was a treat to hang out with Scott and Liz, too.

Back to bike racing…

With a collection of unfamiliar racers, who we had never contested, Allison and I were not certain about what to expect. There were some familiar faces including Deirdre Winfield, Team CF (Nikki Thiemann, Kristen Gavin), Carolyn Popovic and Linda Sone. As I prepared for the race, I tried to become comfortable with having to fall out of normal race routine. I had to eat a little different given the availability of foods and the earlier race time. I was without a trainer. No pit bike. I tried to stay focused on the race and told myself that these things didn’t matter. I stayed calm, got a good warm up in on a nearby bike path and was ready to race.

I lined up on the front row, with Allison in row 2 behind me. We gave our usual fist bump, which covered all the words we wanted to share with one another and waited for “go.”

I had a great start and settled in with Deirdre, Nikki, Carolyn, Linda and Ashley James. The first lap presented itself as more of a “power course” than I expected it to be. Eventually, Deirdre motored ahead of our group, taking Ashley and Nikki with her. The rest of us chased behind, in a super aggressive fashion. Every corner was a battle, every straight away was a fist fight. Everyone just seemed riled up and ready to do what they had to do to get what they traveled for.  Up ahead, Nikki fell off of the lead group and I stayed focused with a plan to chase her down. The course’s points of interest included a set of barriers, a forced run up with two LARGE steps on the way up, a short trip through the woods and a steep ride up, which turned into a run up if you screwed something up.  At the top of the steep ride up, there was a sharp 90 degree turn.

Coming into the ride up on the second lap, I stayed towards the right to prepare for the quick right hand turn. I was leading the group. Someone tried to sneak in on my right, a little too close for comfort, so I veered right to let them know I had control of my line. She had to put her foot down and whoever it was didn’t sound very happy about it. The battle continued and it was three to go.  I felt good. My legs felt strong and I was determined to catch the three spot. The battle continued just as aggressive as it started. As we approached the barriers, I swung my right leg over the saddle. Just as my foot hit the ground, I felt someone’s bike check me on my left. My legs buckled, I heard my hip pop and down I went crashing into the first barrier. I scrambled to get back up onto my feet, but my right leg was useless and unwilling to take my weight. Using my bike as a crutch, I hobbled off of the course, watching my train ride away. Ouch…

I turned spectator at that point, cheering Allison on for the rest of the race. Ali took 11th after a technically smooth ride.

I spent the day limping and feeling sorry for myself, but enjoying my time with Allison, Scott and Liz.  As a physical therapist, I couldn’t help but continually evaluate and diagnose my hip pain. I came up with all kinds of diagnoses and considered the best and worse case scenarios.

Day 2 came and there was no way my body was going to let me race. I continued to limp with pain, but was happy to find that I could spin without too much trouble.  That gave me hope for sanity anyway.

So, Day 2 was Allison’s day. I watched her warm up and saw her off at the start. She had a fantastic start and settled into a group with some competitive women. Allison continued to nail the technical sections and landed 14th. She finished feeling proud of her hard race efforts.

I used my day 2 of spectating as a mental and visual training day.  Deirdre, Ashley and Carolyn rode at the front of the race the entire time. Dierdre and Ashley shared the work, while Carolyn tagged along behind. I watched what Deirdre and Ashley did up front, learning from their techniques. I envisioned myself up front and saw myself riding as flawlessly as they did.  Watching the sprint to first place made the whole NC trip worth it.

Deirdre, a well established and talented cyclcoross racer, was expected to win the day 2 race. A rolled tubular the day before got her second place and she was ready to come back with a vengeance.  Ashley is 20 years old. ‘Nough said. Carolyn and I have been competitive this season, so I was proud to see her up front with Deirdre. The trio crashed together coming into the final turn and Carolyn was left far enough behind to be out of contention for the sprint. So, it was Deirdre and Ashley. I watched the two come towards the finish line with a bike length between them and Deirdre up front. The finish appeared to be decided. Deirdre looked calm and confident coming into the finish. She seemed to expect the win. I peered back at Ashley and saw a face of pure determination. Her face told her story perfectly. She wanted that win so badly and clearly did not consider for a moment that she could not beat the established rider in front of her. To her, that was her spot up front and she was not about to let it go. From her twiggy looking legs, she fired up something fierce and found a few more watts, which was enough to pull in front of Deirdre, taking the win. I could have cried I was so happy for her.

Back in September, our team had a training session with Tim Johnson. Tim described how most racers don’t actually think they can win, and that’s why they don’t. “You have to know you can win,” he told us. Ashley had never even finished top 5 in a UCI race. Nobody watching that race thought she had any business winning, but she certainly knew she could win. And she did.

So, I left the NC Grand Prix without any points or money, but I took home some very good lessons.

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