Ever dreamed of racing a USGP? So has Mike Garner. Recently, the Alabama resident got the chance to compete in USGP Derby City Cup at Louisville, as a Cat 4 racer. Read on for his experience of racing the biggest event of his life. To find out how the Elite races played out, read about Powers’ wins on Day 1 and Day 2, and Compton’s race domination on both Saturday and Sunday.

By Mike Garner

Mike Garner bringing home the bacon...err, waffle...on day two of the USGP. © Carissa Garner

On my spin over to Eva Bandman Park on Friday, I really was not sure what to expect. I was super excited and it took every ounce of my being to keep from sprinting all out to get to the park for the pre-ride. When I got to the park the sheer spectacle kind of overwhelmed me. I sat up in the first corner and surveyed the course. It was an awesome sight. I had set a goal at the beginning of the year to race here. I was at a USGP! I was going to race the same course as the Pro’s! I wanted to take a picture but I fumbled around and was taking forever trying to get my I-phone out to do it. I was actually nervous. I heard, “Garner”, and it snapped me out of my daze. Will Fyfe rolled up; we shared a laugh and took off to recon the course.

The course was awesome. Fast, technical, sand, sand, and more sand. The green monster was everything that I thought it would be. My first shot at it was comical and I am glad no one was there to see me smack myself in the face with my handlebars when I did not get my front wheel to clear the steps. The steps were a lot steeper than they look, and the pro’s make it look EASY getting the bikes up them. As I rolled around the course I was starting to wonder if the pro’s got out to pre-ride. As I tried to focus, Ryan Trebon rolled past me the in the opposite direction.   Then on the next lap, my cyclocross hero, Tim Johnson, was right in front of me. Yep, I was a little star struck.

I just could not pass him. It was funny, though, watching everyone behind me turn themselves inside out to pass him. I ended up riding the course nine times in my pre-ride. I ran into my teammates, Mike Herring and Mitch Moses, and Ken Burst from Momentum. I did not want to leave, but I knew that I still had two days of racing ahead of me. I rolled back to the hotel, showered up, and took the family to the Sport and Social Club to pick up numbers. We met up with Sam Porter from Bici Coop for dinner. It was pretty cool evening to chill with friends, and star watch.

5 A.M. Saturday came early. I texted Sam, just to make sure he woke up. “Rise up.  Win Races.  USGP’S BABY!” The reply “WOOT, WOOT”. I am not sure either of us needed an alarm clock to get up. I got the family pointed to the car, we loaded the gear, and we were on our way…except for the road closures for a half marathon going on. I had everything planned down to the minute, and this was a major SNAFU.  I was leading a train of about ten panicked cyclists as we wove around unlit streets in the dark hoping to hit River Road. Finally, we got to the course. It was a mad scramble in the dark to get everything set up so that I could get on the trainer to get warmed up. This is the biggest race that I have ever entered. I knew I needed to be up at the start early because of call-ups. As I sat there freezing my butt off I kind of took stock of the group around me. No matter what, this was going to be a blast. We got called up in groups of ten. I heard my name, and made my way through the gates. I took a spot on the outside. The UCI officials gave their final instructions.  Two minutes, 1 minute, 30 seconds, bang. We were off.

I had a crummy start on Day 1. It was like I was standing still while doing 30 mph. We made the transition from asphalt to grass, down the hill, through the quick left-right-left, over the knoll, around the 90 degree turn, and then into the barriers.  Thanks to my bad start I came to a complete stop at the barriers. There was nowhere to go, 80+ guys trying to get to the same spot. I passed a few guys and then ran into the same problem at the green monster. We came over the top of the green monster and gaps had already formed. I took a bunch of deep breaths as we flew past the pits, and calmed myself down and set to work catching people. The course was fast and flat on the front side and was perfect for winding the Cronus up to start redeeming myself. We made our way to the front side where it became incredibly technical. I was able to ride all of this section in the pre-ride, but on race day, I was at the mercy of who was in front of me. By the end of the first lap I had picked off quite a few people and actually found a groove. I was able to ride three of the five sand pits, my ankle was holding up incredibly well, and I was actually able to pass people running. I really was at my best in the technical sections and the woods. With one lap to go, I had already died a hundred deaths on my bike. I rode every ounce of energy and strength out of my body. When I crossed the finish line I was totally blown, but really happy. I did not get lapped, I did not get pulled, and I felt like I held my own. I found out I finished 46th. Not to shabby when there were 86ish pre-registered riders.

As the day grew into night I started to feel pretty bad. Based on the way I felt, I had no regrets and knew that I left everything out on the course. As soon as we got back to the hotel I got the gear ready, went back over the bikes and fell asleep. My wife, Carissa woke me up to put my number on so I would be ready to rock when I got up. I don’t really remember much of that conversation. The fire alarm and subsequent evacuation of the Galt House at 11:30, however, I do remember. That sucked. I was deep, deep into my sleep. We spent 15 minutes wedged in the stairwell trying to evacuate. Looking back, if there was a fire, it would have been a disaster. We only moved 4 floors before people started coming back up saying that it was a false alarm and someone was smoking a cigar in there room. At that point I pretty much felt like I had been run over and all I wanted to do was sleep for a week.

5 A.M. came quick. The excitement from the day before was replaced by quietness made up of fatigue and focus. I broke the tension bolt on my trainer the previous day and had to warm up in the dark on the ride over. I remembered my red blinkies, but forgot my headlight so Carissa followed me in the car to light my path. There is something peaceful about riding through a city in the dark on a bike. We made it over to Eva Bandman without incident; I shed my backpack, and headed straight out onto the course.

I was a lot calmer lining up for Day 2. Maybe it was fatigue, or maybe I learned from my mistakes the day before. I knew that this was the moment that I had worked all year for and it would be over in an hour. No matter how bad it hurt, leave nothing. Two minutes, heart rate normal. One minute, heart rate coming up. 30 seconds, heart pounding, legs throbbing to be unleashed. BANG. I do not know what was different on day two but I had a hell of a start. I was in great position in the top 30 heading into the barriers, then for some reason the guy in front of me came to a complete stop, and I ran smack in the back of him. Momentum shot, people dashing by me, and instead of turning right to head over the green monster, it was a long drag up a gradual grade, sharp right, technical left to right, then a 90 degree turn up a 15% grade. I recovered, still holding my own, came over the monster and onto the flats. The wind was howling and for a big guy, it was drilling me in the open spots of the course. I could do was hold on. I got through the sand, made it past the pits, and everyone was shouting to slow down going into the mud.  I drilled it anyways and had no issues, but by the sounds of the splashing behind me, others were having problems. The front part of the course changed some, but I still loved it. It was probably my most favorite part both days. The rolling, tight, off-camber turns were a blast. I even got a “nice” after catching a guy on the steep climb up to the flat part before we transitioned back onto the pavement. I will admit that with a lap to go, I was gapped bad and I had gapped the guys behind me pretty good too, so I kind of sat up a little, let my beard down and took it all in. I took in the sights and sounds. I wanted to cherish every inch of that last lap. I gave the green monster a pat with my hand on my last run-up, kind of like a “good game” pat that you would give a fellow competitor. I even took a waffle hand up, which coincidentally tried to kill me. The thing basically turned to cement in my mouth. For whatever reason I decided to carry it in my mouth, like a bird, to my kids. They got a kick out of it when I rounded the last turn before the steep climb and handed it off to them. As I was rumbling down the finishing stretch I sat up, looked over to the announcers and gave them two thumbs up and yelled thanks. It was pretty cool hearing my name called, and getting the team and hometown recognized. I took a really slow roll back to the car. I finished 44th, lead lap, out of 80ish. Smiles all around.

Man, what an awesome time. I cannot believe I ever got the opportunity to do this and it is something I will cherish forever. My wife and kids are the best pit and support crew I could ask for. They were so stoked for my opportunity. I also think what made the experience so cool was how all the teams from Alabama come together to support each other. It was awesome to have the support when you are out there dying on the bike. So thanks to Sam Porter from Bici-Coop and his girlfriend Theresa O’Fallon, Mike Herring and Mitch Moses from Team CCR, Ken Burst from Momentum, Will Fyfe, JD Vibert,  Gavin Lansden, and Matt Burks from BBC. It really did not make a difference whose name was on the jersey, we all brought it big time for the state of Alabama.

This report is an entry into the Cyclocross Magazine Community Contributor Contest, sponsored by KHS Bicycles. You can win a $1800 payday for showcasing your local race while helping Cyclocross Magazine highlight cyclocross racing across the country. Submit your own video or race report for your chance to win a CX300 KHS cyclocross bike!  Read the official rules here.