December 10, 2017 (Hendersonville, NC) – Temperatures had just creeped above the freezing mark and 12 inches of new, powdery white snow glistened throughout Jackson Park when the Elite Women and Men took the course at the Hunter Subaru North Carolina Grand Prix (NCGP). Canadian Ruby West (Cannondale p/b Cyclocrossworld.com) won her third consecutive event on the USA Cycling Professional Cyclocross (ProCX) calendar on Saturday for the Elite Women. It would be the fourth win of the season on the men’s side for North Carolina resident Kerry Werner (Kona Factory CX Team), who is second overall in the Elite Men’s ProCX standings.
In addition to ProCX points as the penultimate races of the season, the Hunter Subaru NCGP events are part of the North Carolina Cyclo-Cross Series powered by OrthoCarolina. All racers faced some degree of tricky travel due to the snowfall that belted the Appalachain Mountains to reach Hendersonville, located just south of Asheville, and then faced muddy and slippery conditions on the course.
West would move to the front first and be the first in a long single-file procession to navigate the off camber sections. There would be lots of dismounting and remounting of bikes to complete a circuit.
“I think the first half of the course I liked a little bit better. It was more about staying smooth and following your own lines,” the 18-year-old said about the race. “The second half was so much running and so miserable. I like running, and I think it is one of my strengths, but it was just so slippery and so muddy that there was almost no hope in moving there. I was making mistakes there every lap. So, I was just trying to minimize mistakes and get up fast when I fell.”
Among the contenders in the top six in early laps were North Carolina residents Lily Williams (Pony Shop CX Team) of Asheville, Hannah Arensman (.A. King P/B BR’c) of Rutherford College and Emily Shields (Kens Bike Shop) of Advance.
“It stayed pretty close together in the beginning,” said Williams, who would score her third podium of the ProCX season. She said the separation came on the back side of the course. “It had the off camber sections, the “w”, where it (the course) split with a high line and a low line, on the back side. A lot of people in front of me took the low line, which was slick. So I was able to make up some ground on the high line on the first lap. And then coming to the start/finish the first time, after the first lap, it kind of filtered out and that is where it stayed.”
She was correct about the final placement. Williams would finish second, but it would be Shields working her way from sixth to a third place finish, her first podium at a ProCX event this year.
“I really like the mud, so I really liked today. It was ideal,” said Shields, who finished second earlier in the season at the Deschutes Brewery GO Cross in Roanoke, Virg., part of the USA Cycling American Cyclocross Calendar. “It was kind of hard to pass people, because there was just the one rut. But I just kept slowly moving up and ended up in third.”
Arensman would slip back to fifth. Fourth place was sealed by Cassie Maximenko (Van Dessle/Atom Composite Wheels) of Watertown, Conn., who is seventh overall in ProCX standings for women.
“I was excited to race in the snow,” West added. It was her fifth ProCX podium of the season. “I actually hadn’t raced in the snow since the World Championships last year in Luxembourg. Canada has been unseasonably warm so far this year, so most of the races I have done have been warm or no precip.”
Midway through the Elite Men’s contest, five riders had separation over the other 25 competitors. In the mix was Werner, who now calls Advance, N.C. his home.
“I was a little worried at first that it wouldn’t be ridable,” Werner said about all the snow that fell overnight in Hendersonville with Winter Storm Benji. “But then I saw some of the amateur racers riding around and you could see mud, so that was a good sign. By the time we rode, after Noon, it was fun. I ran super low (tire ) pressure because the speeds were pretty slow today and also there wasn’t anything to hit. We don’t always get the opportunity to do that. I felt really good out there today on the tricky bits. Kind of my forte is the slip and slides.”
In the mix with Werner were Eric Thompson (MSPEEDWAX.COM) of Shoreview, Minn., Cooper Willsey (Cannondale p/b cyclocrossworld.com) of HInesburg, Vt., and a trio of Tar Heel state riders – Travis Livermon (Maxxis/Shimano) of Winston-Salem, Tristan Cowie of Mills River and Merwin Davis (Cycle-Smart Inc.) of Boone.
“Three laps in, I gapped Eric (Thompson) off the back, and Cooper (Willsey) was chasing for a few laps,” Werner added. He would not only have his fourth ProCX win, but a 10th podium for the year. “I put an emphasis on hitting it hard in the power sections. I knew he (Willsey) was holding it together and wouldn’t hit those sections super hard. So I built my gap and from there it was just trying to stay smooth, taking a bunch of bike changes and making sure there were no mechanicals were happening.”
Werner would ride solo to the line for this victory. The sprint behind him was for second, which was taken by Willsey.
“There really is only one line around the course, there’s so much snow,” Willsey said. “I knew the start would be super important. So I focused on getting a good start and clean first few laps. I went out hard and rode at the front. I saw Kerry and Eric coming up to me, so I knew they would make it. So I waited up a little bit and we were a group of three working well together.
“Maybe on the third or fourth lap I got caught up in the tape, while running. It as my fault. The gap opened up to them and I went pretty deep to close it. I almost got back to Kerry. I paid for that effort Eric got back in front of me. I surged on the last lap and get him in the sprint.”
It would be the third ProCX podium for Willsey, and the first time for him to secure a silver medal. It would be the sixth ProCX podium finish for Thompson.
“I was trying to scheme a little bit and get Tristan and Kerry at each other so I could come up from behind,” Thompson said about early tactics. “Both of those guys are strong, plus all the rest of the guys, Cooper and Travis, and everyone else. I just tried to have a smooth race. Really, that’s all you can have out here with these conditions. Anything can go wrong. I recovered from a crash out there, then came back to Cooper finally with two to go. Then I was able to recover. But at the end Cooper came back and took me in the sprint. So he rode really strong. We did our best just to stay upright.”
Livermon would finish fourth, followed by Cowie in fifth and Davis in sixth. Racing should prove to be challenging on Sunday, after overnight temperatures will dip to 18 degrees.
“If you are a good bike handler, you are going to be in the mix. If not, it doesn’t matter how strong you are,” Werner said. “It’s about who can hold it together mentally. Tomorrow will be even more crucial. We might be dealing with frozen ruts and maybe more of a slip-and-slide situation. We’ll see. I think tomorrow I think the group will break apart earlier. I’m looking forward to it.”
The 2017 ProCX season concludes on Sunday with races at Resolution Cross Cup, as well as the Hunter Subaru North Carolina Grand Prix (NCGP) in Hendersonville, N.C.
1. Ruby West (Cannondale p/b Cyclocrossworld.com)
2. Lily Williams (Pony Shop CX Team)
3. Emily Shields (Kens Bike Shop)
1. Kerry Werner (Kona Factory CX Team)
2. Cooper Willsey (Cannondale p/b Cyclocrossworld.com)
3. Eric Thompson (MSPEEDWAX.COM)