Crowds and racers alike converged on day two of the North Carolina Grand Prix of Cyclocross at Hendersonville, NC’s Jackson Park. Although the weather was warmer for today’s racing, the wide-open course saw winds move in overnight making today’s racing a little more challenging for the riders.
Sunday’s Elite Women’s race started with haste and it was clear today’s action was going to be as competitive as the previous days. With a first lap pile up between some of the elite women through the barriers on the first lap, the field dropped a few riders early. Attacks came frequently as the lead group of six attempted to drop contending riders. Cara Applegate (BMW-Bianchi) showed that she still has the power that carried her to a past national title as she repeatedly forced the pace on the long paved headwind section of the course each lap.
As the race ticked by it seemed that no rider had the legs to ride away from the field as they did the previous day. On the final lap as the lead group emerged from a slippery wooded double track section, Jenny Dellaire turned the screws going into a technical rooted dirt section of the course that plenty of riders found troublesome throughout the day’s racing. Putting the chasers behind her, Dellaire was looking like she had a win waiting for her at the line. Behind Saturday’s winner, Melanie Schwartz (Velo-Bella) took matters into her own hands and split out solo in chase of Dellaire.
Coming through the last technical off camber section leading into the notorious “wall” Schwartz was nipping at Dellaire’s heals. Dellaire was the first to hit the wall with Schwartz a few feet behind. The pressure proved to much for Dellaire as she bobbled atop “the wall” allowing Schwartz to slip by. Coming out of the final turn Schwartz opened the sprint for the win with Dellaire slipping through the finish clearly disappointed with the turnout of the day’s racing. Behind the race for third was also decided on “the wall” as Catherine Wallberg (Trek) made up for the previous days difficulties splitting away for the final podium spot.
After some strangely managed callups and staging on Saturday, the favorites were ready to battle for the important UCI points on Sundays edition of the NCGP. Taking the holeshot was John Baker (Vitamin Cottage). Sensing a few rivals were seeing their way through traffic because of bad starts, Baker quickly drove the pace splitting the field in half.
Most of the big guns were lucky enough to make the split and it was clear than no one behind would be bringing the group back from behind. On the third lap of racing, ‘cross legend Steve Tilford put in a big attack putting many behind on the defensive. Again finding good legs was the previous day’s podium finisher Russel Stevenson who reacted immediately to Tilford’s attack. The two gained a threatening gap and behind the remaining chase group headed by John Baker (Vitamin Cottage) took up chase.
Eventually Bishop worked his way across the gap to Tilford and Stevenson, and the three were well on their way to the win. With five laps to go Bishop saw trouble negotiating the tough off camber section leading into “the wall” and was forced off his bike. Quickly, Stevenson reacted putting a small gap between himself and Bishop. In tow was Tilford. Showing the determination that has earned him some great results this season Bishop worked his way back into the lead group and immediately put his group companions on the defensive with a powerful attack coming into the sweeping first turns of the course. Using his mountain biking skills to his advantage, Bishop quickly established a gap and set into his cruise control mode.
Behind neither Tilford or Stevenson showed the legs to bring Bishop back. As the riders worked their way through the final laps, Bishop finished with a sizable gap between him and his breakaway companions, and had plenty of time for a race winning salute as he crossed the line. Behind as Tilford and Stevenson made their way up “the wall” together and emerged from the final turn into the finishing straight, Stevenson showed he had the fresher legs jumping away from a clearly worn out Tilford for second.