Blue skies and cool temperatures greeted the racers in Hendersonville, North Carolina the host of the only UCI ranked cyclocross race in the country. The course was 3.1 kilometers long with two sets of barriers, a mix of gravel, grass and asphalt. One section of the course ducked into a forested area and then quickly brought the racers back out onto the grass field. From the start/finish area a good portion of the race was visible for spectators. Racers called the Jackson Park course quick and the groups were clocked at speeds approaching 30 miles per hour on the flatter asphalt sections.
The women’s race quickly determined a pecking order. Four riders gaped out the pack almost immediately: Nicole Thiemann, Ashley James, Kristen Gavin and Deidre Winfield. The lead women were timed at 8 minutes a lap which caused Gavin and Thiemann to drop off the front. At that point it was Weinfield and James, the reining U-23 national champion, leading. As the laps clicked down in the 40-minute race Weinfield seemed to be doing the majority of the work. With a gap of over 12 seconds between the duo and third place the winner was going to be one of those ladies.
As the pair came through on the bell lap it was still Winfield leading. However with half a lap remaining disaster struck.
“I rolled my front tubular and I couldn’t get it back on,” said Winfield.
Coming around a sharp turn the tire came off and she went down. Winfield deflated her tire hoping that she would than be able to slip it back onto the rim. With the tire back on she rode to the pit and swapped to her spare bike.
However by the time she rode to the pit and swapped out her bike she was passed by Thiemann. “Then I just tried to maintain by position. I’ve never had this happen before.”
All that separated James from victory was just a half a lap. Charging up the “Wall” one more time she glanced back and there was no way anyone was going to catch her.
“I respect Deidre a lot and was happy to be on her wheel,” said James. “I was excited to have a race with her, but she went down and I had to go because it was the last lap.”
When asked if she felt confident for tomorrow’s race Winfield said, “You can’t count on anything. Anything can happen.”
The men were facing 60-minutes on the course and the talk among the riders before was the finish was going to end in a group sprint. Will Black (Moots) is the current North Carolina series leader and had some insight into how the race might play out.
“I think it’s going to be a big group in the beginning and then the pace will shake it out.”
For the first laps that’s exactly how it played out; a fast pace with no sudden attacks. However the speed of the group did shed riders one by one. Finally with two laps remaining it was a group of 11 riders snaking their way through the course. Behind them were groups of two and three riders struggling to stay in the top twenty.
With one lap to go the riders had conceded that the winner was going to come from a sprint. Out of the forest the race favorite Davide Frattini led the charge. As the course navigated it’s way around the fenced off tennis court it looked like the Team Hudz/Subaru rider had the race under control. On the final push up the “Wall” Frattini led, but nipping at his yellow Mavic shoes was Brian Matter (Gear Grinder) and Ryan Knapp (BikeReg.com). Around the final turn and into the final 300 meters to the line Frattini gave it all he had. However tucked behind him and kicking hard was Matter. Coming out from behind the Italian rider with 20 meters remaining Matter accelerated past taking the win.
“There was nothing to break up the group,” said Matter about the race. “There was some long section on the back side that when we did get a gap everyone would get back.”
“I wanted to be on Frattini’s wheel that last lap and hopefully pass him on the “Wall” but he went up it pretty good. At that point all you can do is try not to crash in the last corner and go for it in the sprint.”
Knapp sprinted across for third.
Matter is continuing his racing in Iowa, Portland and than the nationals in Bend, Oregon. From there he’s embarking on a Belgium campaign which will include two World Cups.
For Frattini this weekend will be the conclusion of his ‘cross season. He transferred to the Unitedhealth Care team for 2011 and his road season starts in January with racing in Argentina.
The racing continues tomorrow in Jackson Park on a different variation of today’s course.