HENDERSONVILLE, N.C. — The final two days of racing on the East Coast for the USA Cycling Professional Cyclocross Calendar (ProCX) take place this weekend, Dec. 8-9, in Hendersonville, N.C. with Category 2 events at the Hunter Subaru North Carolina Grand Prix (NCGP). Like the grand finale in 2017, cold temperatures and frozen precipitation made Saturday’s contests wet and wild at Jackson Park.
Jackson Park offers varied terrain and a new climb this year. Hendersonville is located on a plateau between the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Great Smoky Mountains. Blowing into the mountain town just in time for ProCX races on Saturday was Diego, a one-name storm packing a punch for several days of big snow, expected to be measured in feet.
Lily Williams (Asheville, N.C./The Pony Shop), last year’s silver medalist in the Saturday contest, took her first ProCX win of the season in the Elite Women’s contest. On the Elite Men’s side, Kerry Werner (Birdsboro, Penn./Kona Maxxis Shimano), who is the overall ProCX leader, gained his eighth ProCX victory of the year. He won both days at NCGP last year.
The temperatures hovered just above freezing Saturday afternoon, with dry conditions for the course pre-rides. At 2,200 feet above sea level, snow began to fall about one hour before 23 Elite Women took the course, making the track greasy.
“It was cold and snowy and the conditions deteriorated throughout the race,” explained 21-year-old Emma Swartz (Madison, Wisc./Trek Cyclocross Collective), who has finished in the Top 10 the last two years in Hendersonville. “Compared to past years, they added a section near the finish line so that it goes through the woods. It’s muddy and has some rooty downhills and then a little sandy going onto the cement again. That was pretty technical. I think that made a difference for some people.”
On the first spin through Jackson Park, changes in the course conditions were evident from pre-ride when several riders at the front crashed, including Erica Zaveta (Brevard, N.C./Renewed Cyclocross) and Hannah Arensman (Brevard, N.C.). Williams was able to gain distance at the front by lap two.
“I got out of the traffic pretty quickly. It was getting slippery as the race went on. There was a little group of us at the beginning of the first lap. We were just working together,” said Williams, who finished second in this same race last year. “I think in the woods is where I got separation. I don’t really know how it happened, but I just kind of rolled with it. Just being able to go one speed the whole race is really good for me. And staying upright. I didn’t go down once! That was very nice. Not falling was definitely a plus.”
Williams extended her lead with two laps to go. Behind her, Zaveta would work her way back into contention, passing Swartz and Arensman.
“I had a good start, then I crashed immediately once I got onto the dirt, the second turn,” Zaveta explained. “My body was just sliding away for a long time. I got back up and it took me maybe a minute to sort out. Everything seemed to be fine. Then I just had to work my way up (to the front). As the laps went on, I was taking better lines and more relaxed.”
Zaveta said the new Wall section of the course was a decisive feature of the race. She was able to make up time in the woods and on the Wall.
“Every time I was riding it (the Wall). I think Lily was running it. I definitely moved up with Hannah and Emma because I was riding it.”
Williams would take a solo victory in 47 minutes, 11 seconds. Zaveta would take second, 30 seconds back.
“I was hoping to win, because I live near here. I always wanted to win this race,” said Zaveta, who had two wins early in the ProCX season, both at Nittany Lion Cross in Pennsylvania. “Mostly, I’m really happy that I feel like I’m competitive and I’m racing. I feel like I rode a good race, minus crashing. That’s always the best feeling, I had fun.”
Third place was taken by Swartz, 57 seconds off the pace. She would finish 17 seconds ahead of a charging Arensman, who would take fourth.
“We were slipping, and she (Lily Williams) was faster through some of the technical parts. The gap went from there,” said Swartz. “I was having trouble over the run-up hill, the one near the finish line. A lot of people were able to ride it. My tires weren’t quite gripping as well as the course got icier. I was having to dismount and run while Erica and Hannah were both able to ride it to the top.”
The snow fell heavier during the Elite Men’s race, but melted on all surfaces. It seemed to be the colder air temperatures from Winter Storm Diego that caused issues late in the day.
“It wasn’t super soupy out there, just a constant spray from the snow melting in the tracks,” said Werner. “My body was good too, it was mostly just my hands. Every straightaway I was swinging them, trying to get the pendulum effect and get some blood down in them. It wasn’t too bad until the last two laps and then it got real cold.”
Werner and Cooper Willsey (Hinesburg, Vt./Cyclocrossworld) would go toe-to-toe down the start chute to battle right from the start for the front. Werner said he went around Willsey on the grass to take the holeshot. From there, they continued shoulder to shoulder for the next four laps.
“I just didn’t want anybody in front of me with the conditions as they were,” said Werner, who lives two hours away from the course in Advance, N.C. “There was a lap and a half of a learning curve for sure. A couple of sections I was trying to ride the line I did in pre-ride, which was not maybe the line with the most grip. For the most part, I knew it was going to be slippery. I tried to be patient those first couple laps and just see how everybody else was riding.”
Willsey stayed with Werner, and did much of the work out front. Behind them, the reigning Canadian U23 Cyclocross National Champion Gunnar Holmgren (Orillia, Ont./Hardwood Next Wave) chased with Eric Thompson (Shoreview, Minn.) and Alex Ryan (Lewisville, N.C.).
“I was feeling good in the group,” Holmgren said. “Kerry and Cooper were pushing it pretty good. Then I just had a little bike issue (change tire pressure) and had to pit. I didn’t quite make it back to them. Then Eric Thompson fell back from that group and we battled for a bit. It ended up being close in the end between Coop, myself and Eric.”
Holmgren and Thompson traded positions a few times trying to grab a third-place spot midway through the contest. With three laps to go, Thompson fell back and could not battle back. It was that same lap that Werner made his move.
“With there being quite a bit of pavement and flat straights here, it was pretty obvious early on that he (Willsey) wanted to separate from Gunnar and Eric,” said Werner. “I think I put a dig in on the second or third lap (to go) and put a little bit of daylight between us. Maybe he realized that the fight was for second. In my head, that is what I was thinking for him.”
Werner’s winning time was 59 minutes. Following 50 seconds back for second place was Willsey.
“We went out full guns, and full gas. I knew that Kerry would be very fast,” said the 21-year-old Willsey. “Gunnar loves conditions like these, being Canadian. I tried to put myself in a good position, trying not to be caught by anyone. Paid for it a bit in the end, and got pretty cold. The body shut down in the last two laps. But it was a fun race and I love conditions like this. It was a blast.”
Holmgren finished on the podium in third place, 57 seconds behind Werner. In fourth was Thompson, another 34 seconds behind Holmgren. Ryan would finish seventh.
“The Governor declared a state of emergency, so I don’t know what that means for cyclocross racing,” added Werner after another podium presentation and some time by a fire to warm his hands. “Last year I felt like we raced in pretty adverse conditions as well. I feel like the biggest issue is just people getting here. Last year there was eight inches of snow. By the time we raced, there was a pretty solid line that was 6 to 12 inches of just mud and ruts. It will be interesting. Then when that happens, the best line you might want might be out in the snow and that may not be the best idea.”
Now in its 14th year, the NCGP returns Sunday final ProCX showdowns, and large amounts of snow expected. It is also the final race weekend for the 12-race North Carolina Cyclo-Cross Series. Henderson County Parks & Recreation Department partners with North Carolina Cyclo-Cross to host the family-friendly event in.
Scheduled to start in Hendersonville on Saturday was reigning U.S. Cyclocross Elite Men’s National Champion Stephen Hyde (Easthampton, Mass./Cannondale p/b cyclocrossworld.com). He did not make the trip to N.C. based on the weather forecast, and will next race at the USA Cycling Cyclocross National Championships next week.
2018 North Carolina Grand Prix (NCGP) Day 1 Results: Elite Women - UCI C2
|1||51||Lily||WILLIAMS||The Pony Shop||47:11.4|
|3||52||Emma||SWARTZ||Trek Cyclocross Collective||48:08.7|
|5||77||Emily||CURLEY||Corner Cycle Cycling Club||50:01.9|
|17||71||Laura||RICE||Happy Tooth Women's Racing||54:22.9|
|19||65||Kimberly||FLYNN||Happy Tooth Women's Racing||55:47.5|
|20||72||Evie||EDWARDS||Happy Tooth Women's Racing||57:12.8|
|21||70||Katherine||SHIELDS||Hearts Racing Club||58:41.3|
|22||66||Anna||SAVAGE||Northampton Cycling Club||1 Lap|
|DNS||55||Natalie||TAPIAS||JAM Fund / NCC|
|DNF||56||Emily||WERNER||Amy D. Foundation|
2018 North Carolina Grand Prix (NCGP) Day 1 Results: Elite Men - UCI C2
|1||1||Kerry||WERNER||Kona / Shimano / Maxxis||00:59:00.80|
|14||18||Andrew||GINIAT||The Pony Shop||01:03:51.87|
|16||11||Nicholas||DINIZ||NCCH Elite p/b MGCC||01:05:01.32|
|17||14||Allan||SCHROEDER||High Desert Hustle||01:05:16.64|
|20||13||Ian||GIELAR||JAM Fund / NCC||01:06:46.97|
|23||38||Andrew||DIETZ||Trek Cyclocross Collective||01:08:38.95|
|24||41||Paul||MYSKO||Centurion Next Wave||01:08:57.33|
|25||31||Frederick||JUNGE||Base Media Racing Team||1 Lap|
|26||32||Jon||OKENFUSS||L5Flyers Cycling Team||2 Lap|
|DNS||17||Trent||BLACKBURN||JAM Fund / NCC|
|DNS||20||Alec||DONAHUE||JAM Fund / NCC|
|DNS||16||Byron||RICE||Storm Racing Team|
|DNF||9||Caleb||SWARTZ||Trek Cyclocross Collective|
|DNS||19||Kale||WENCZEL||JAM Fund / NCC|