This past Sunday the North Carolina cyclocross state championships were contested in Salisbury at the Salisbury Community Park. The course was described as a good mix of grass, dirt and pavement which favored a roadie rather than a pure ‘cross racer. All the usual suspects were lining up on the grid for the men Pro/1/2 race. Will Black (Moots) who is often almost twice the age of his competition had to be considered a favorite. Black has already had an impressive ‘cross season to this point in the season. He was on the top step of the podium starting in September at the Cross Parts race and his latest win was at the Hawksnest Crossfest in October. Jonathan Hamblen made his yearly transition from a road season with Team Khakis Fueled by Jittery Joes to cross racing for Ken’s Bike Shop. As expected Hamblen had already racked up several wins so far this season. Scott Frederick of the strong Inland Construction cyclocross team also has had a stead cx season and looked to be coming into form with a win at the Lion Cross race and a third at Hawksnest Crossfest. However the rider who has the honor of wearing the state champion jersey would be someone who got a late start to his ‘cross season.
Eric Thompson had spent the last couple of months racing mountain bikes for his college, Lees McRae and in October the team placed third at nationals. Now that the collegiate knobbie tire season was over he was racing ‘cross for the Maplelag Resort/ Paramount Sports squad.
As expected the race was fast from the beginning and the selection was made early. The top regional ‘crossers had made the break: Hamblen, Black, Thompson, Frederick and Nathan Wyatt. This group worked together but it was Hanblen who looked the strongest. He was often at the front taking long pulls. Watching and waiting was the Maplelag Resort/ Paramount Sports rider.
“My plan was to feel out the race and be conservative because there were a lot of strong riders,” said Thompson.
With the laps ticking down, Thompson knew where on the course he was feeling confident – the “S” turns. A quick transition through that section would immediately open a gap and that’s what Thompson was hoping for. With just one and a half laps remaining Thompson attacked before the “S” turn and powered through. He got a slight gap – just about five seconds. The course contained a long straight away section that favored a group working together. It was here that the gap started to close between the solo break and the chase group of four riders.
With just a quarter of a lap before the finish line Frederick leapt across to Thompson – it was now a two-man race.
Thompson lead through the barriers one more time and kept the pace high. Around the final turn the young rider peered under his arm to check for his companion’s position and punched it toward the finish line holding off Frederick for the win.
“I went as hard as possible and jumped on the pedals,” said Thompson
The Lees McRae rider’s next big goal is the upcoming UCI ranked Hendersonville weekend.
The women’s state championships not only offered a jersey, but in a rarity for women’s races an equal prize purse with the men. For race winner Robin Farina this was her first ‘cross race of the season.
“I am preparing to do the El Tour de Tucson next weekend,” said Farina. “I wanted to throw in some intensity.”
And that she did. Attacking from the gun Farina relied on her road fitness to get her through the race. However, it wasn’t all clear sailing for the Uptown Cycles racer.
“The barriers gave me the most trouble but I put it in high gear and tried to keep it there the entire race.”
After the El Tour de Tucson she is dusting off her ‘cross skills again for the Charlotte Cyclocross race at Veterans Park.