UCI cyclocross racing kicks off on September 1 and 2 at Virginia’s Blue Ridge GO Cross Race presented by Deschutes Brewery in Roanoke, Virginia. Cyclocross Magazine and the GO Cross race have partnered to highlight the unique aspects of the new UCI race, including its setting at a dedicated cyclocross park and free entries for pre-registered women racers.
For Virginia’s Blue Ridge GO Cross p/b Deschutes Brewery race director Wes Best, hosting a UCI cyclocross race in Roanoke, Virginia has been a goal of his since the city first hosted a local cyclocross race in 2003.
On September 1 and 2, UCI cyclocross racing finally comes to Roanoke’s Fallon Park for the first time.
In addition to hosting the first UCI racing of 2018, GO Cross has a number of unique aspects worth checking out. Best’s East Coasters Bike Shop partnered with Trek Bicycle to offer free entries for all women who pre-register for the race.
The race takes place at Fallon Park, which is Virginia’s only dedicated cyclocross park.
We chatted with Best to learn more about GO Cross, Roanoke and what cyclocrossers can expect from their trip to Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains.
Interview with Wes Best, 2018 GO Cross Race Director
Cyclocross Magazine: Can you tell me how your bike shop got involved with GO Cross and how it started?
Wes Best: It’s a very long and involved story, but I won’t bore you with all the ins and outs. Basically, there was a group of us who got together and decided that we wanted to build a bike park here in Roanoke. We wanted to do it at Fallon Park, where the race is because it has cool terrain, it’s underutilized and it’s in a part of the community that’s sort of underserved by some of the other things that are going on in the city.
We formed something called the Virginia Cycling Center, which was a board that was going to build this bike park. In talking about what we could do to build awareness of the whole concept, we decided that the first thing we wanted to do was put on a cyclocross race. I threw out, hey, let’s do a cyclocross race. I put the first cyclocross race on at this park back in 2003.
When we had to decide what to call it, it was the same weekend as the Go Outside Festival here in Roanoke that’s called GO Fest, so I’m like, let’s call it GO Cross. It’s no longer as the same weekend as GO Fest, but we’ve kept the name because we’ve kind of built a brand around it.
I remember when we were talking about it back then, it was probably the second year this came up. By the second year, the cyclocross race had kind of become its own animal. The bike park concept sort of moved to another place in Roanoke. But the cyclocross thing caught on, and the city sort of let us use this park for cyclocross.
The second year we were sitting around and I said, “Okay guys, in five years I want a UCI race.” And everyone said, “You’re insane. There’s no way. We’re in Roanoke, Virginia, we’re not going to have a UCI race.” I’ve been racing cyclocross since 1996, it’s a dream for me. I want to see this happen. And here we are, basically five years later.
CXM: Why was it a dream for you to have a UCI race?
WB: Because I’m a ’cross geek. I started racing ’cross back in ’96. I cut my teeth down in North Carolina in their series. I used to go down every year for the North Carolina UCI races in Hendersonville and just feeling that atmosphere and level of competition and being around it and what it brings in in terms of vendors and spectators. And the excitement.
Local cyclocross is awesome. They’re great races. But when you up it to that level, that feeling is magical to me, and I wanted to see that here because I think it’s cool.
It happens that a lot of things have fallen in place locally. Deschutes Brewery is planning on building its East Coast location here in Roanoke. The ’cross team we built around the Virginia Cycling Center and GO Cross from the members of the board became the Deschutes Brewery East Coast team. I got to know the folks at Deschutes, and instead of sponsoring our team, they asked us to just become their East Coast team. They’ve put a lot of effort and energy into helping build the race.
That opened the door to talking with Virginia’s Blue Ridge tourism board because of the people cyclocross can bring into town and the buzz around the race. We have Virginia’s only permanent cyclocross course. All of these things fell into place. We had everything we needed to put on a killer race last year. We had a National CX Calendar race last year that went well, and we got good feedback.
This year we asked, should we go UCI, and here were are.
CXM: It seems like the partnership between the Roanoke Outside Foundation and your bike shop has worked really well. What about your partnership has helped make Roanoke such an exciting place for cycling?
WB: I’ve been at the bike shop for 22 years, and I’ve spent a lot of energy and effort on all kinds of bike advocacy, including cyclocross. That kind of moved along on a nice, slow trajectory until Roanoke Outside came to town. Having Julia Boas and Pete Eshelman, who is the head of the organization, having someone here whose entire job is promoting the outdoors, really just pushed us over the edge to where things really took off. It started getting a lot of energy the outdoors in general and cycling in particular because we had already been building cycling infrastructure. We had great places to ride, we have great mountain biking. We have fantastic road riding.
Having somebody whose job is to get that word out there, obviously that makes a huge difference. Again, having Deschutes move into town, when the CEO of Deschutes came here and gave a talk about the top ten things that brought them to Roanoke, I think number seven was cyclocross. The fact we had a growing cyclocross community.
All of a sudden, that puts focus on ’cross in particular, and our tourism board started seeing the value in all this. They were willing to put their time, effort and money into it. The ball just keeps rolling.
CXM: Probably the coolest thing your race is doing is free entries for women racers. How did that come about and how did you make it happen?
WB: It was really an off-the-cuff remark by one of the guys on our Deschutes team that started it. We were talking about the race and building it and what cool ideas might help bring some focus to this particular race. What would be exciting? He said, “What if we made it the ‘Women’s Festival of Cyclocross’ and all women race free?” We talked about that and decided that branding it as the Women’s Festival of Cyclocross might be confusing, so we let that go.
But the idea of women racing for free, looking at the sport and what gets talked about a lot in the sport, at that time there was a lot of talk about equal prize money at the World Cup level. It really stuck with me that it was a really cool idea. I decided that we would underwrite it. East Coasters would write a check to cover all the women racers. Last year, it was off the hook. The Women’s fields we had were fantastic. The racing was fantastic. The feedback was great. Seeing new people get out and try the sport, that was huge.
This year, we decided what the heck, let’s do it again.
CXM: Oh wow, so this is the second year of doing it?
WB: Yeah. Last year we did it, and it was just really good. One of my things about my shop’s involvement in bike racing is I want to see bike racing be much more appealing to everyone. Runners understand that you go out and run your local 5K and do your best, maybe set a PR. You just get out there and do it. Chances are if you’re a runner, you’re going to go out and do a 5K, 10K or maybe even a half marathon. You’re going to go out and race.
In the bike community, that’s not that case. I want to see more people get out there and do it for the sake of doing it because it’s fun and it’s a great way to be fit and have a blast. Cyclocross is the gateway drug for that. Doing everything we can to support getting new people into it is huge. To me, the path of least resistance to that was doing offering women the chance to race for free. So far it’s been a success, and it looks like it’s going to be this year. Our Women’s fields are pretty amazing.
CXM: I think the dedicated cyclocross course is another exciting thing about your race. What does the park have? Why is it a great venue for a race? Can I go there and ride any time?
WB: Yes, you can go there an ride anytime. We do a lot of the grooming of the actual course in spring and early summer. There are features there that are permanent. We built the set of stairs specifically for the cyclocross course. There’s a sand pit specifically for the cyclocross course. Those elements are there all the time. We have a map at a kiosk that shows what the general course is. And people ride it year-round.
Terrain-wise, it is an amazing place. It’s got plenty of rolling hills. It’s got steep hills, long hills. We’ve got some greenways, there are pavement sections if we want to use them. There are different ways to tie all this stuff together. This year this course is going to be different than it was last, which is different than it was the year before. We’re able to change things up pretty much at will thanks to the city.
Right now, we started cyclocross practice out there at the beginning of August. We go out every Wednesday night. We’re doing a practice race this Wednesday to do a shakedown of the course. It has perfect terrain, and we have lots of support from the city Parks and Rec Department. They go out and mow stuff for us. And it’s just a couple of miles from downtown, which is awesome. Our practices meet at the Deschutes Brewery tasting room, and then we ride the seven minutes to the course, practice and ride back to the tasting room and have a beer. It’s something pretty special.
CXM: It seems like you have a lot going on with the race to make it enticing to make the drive to Roanoke. What are some of the events folks can look forward to for themselves and their families?
WB: For the racers, Friday night we’re having a course pre-ride and inspection. Some of our top UCI racers are going to help lead a course inspection, and we’ll have early packet pick-up out there. On Saturday we have a running race on the cyclocross course before the racing starts called the Run Cross. We did that last year and that was a big hit. The runners really dug it, and we’re hoping it grows this year.
We’ll have games out there during the day. We’ll have cornhole, slacklines, we have the Deschutes beer garden and a couple of food trucks. We have a local ice cream company called Blue Cow Ice Cream. We are 99-percent sure that the pool on the property will be open for the racers. It’s Labor Day weekend, it’s most likely going to be hot, so having access to the pool will be nice.
We’re literally a couple of minutes away from downtown Roanoke, which has fantastic restaurants. We have the Deschutes Tasting Room down there, and there’s a couple of other breweries down there as well. There are music venues and art galleries. There’s a museum. It’s a cool active and thriving downtown. It’s going to be a good weekend to be here.
CXM: We’ve been focusing on what amateur racers can expect, but you’re also going to be kicking off the UCI calendar for the season during your first UCI race. Feeling any pressure with that or are you just excited?
WB: Yes and yes. We thought we were going to be on the same weekend as Toronto. The news [of the race cancellation] was kind of a bummer when it first hit, but then we were like, come to think about it, that’s really not so bad. It gives us some time to do a shakedown because we want to continue to grow this thing.
We were going along, and we reached out to some of the higher-level pros, but unfortunately, because Toronto had some oomph behind it in terms of a race director who’s well-known and who has a lot of connections, a lot of the racers we were talking to said they were going to be in Toronto. We figured we’d try to get folks who did not want to make the trip up to Toronto.
When that race got canceled, that changed things, obviously. If it was just me and my co-race-director Frank Deal trying to put this on and that happened, I would have probably had a heart attack. But the fact that we’ve got all these people who are helping out with it, we’ve got Roanoke Outside who has the set-up of the event dialed.
At this point, we’re just really excited. We’re excited and honored, really, that we’re kicking off the UCI calendar. In my geekiest cross geek dreams 5 or 10 years ago, I wouldn’t have imagined that. It’s going to be good. We’re going to see some good racing.
CXM: Thanks for your time. We’re excited for your race.
WB: Thanks. We’re looking forward to it.