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THE BIG 5-0.

Written by Adam Spears

Well, I made it to 50. And with a final race at Cross Nationals in Asheville, North Carolina, it was definitely a great way to end a really fun season chasing the goal of 50 cross races.

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The author feeling fresh at 49.

Adam Spears reaches his goal of racing 50 cyclocross races in one season.

Words : Adam Spears / Photos : Theresa Francesconi

DONE.

Well, I made it to 50. And with a final race at Cross Nationals in Asheville, North Carolina, it was definitely a great way to end a really fun season chasing the goal of 50 cross races.

This wasn’t about trying to win a bunch of races, this was about a crazy idea that was hatched over the summer, having fun and trying to be a good ambassador for the sport and for Richardson Bike Mart. I had fun, though it hurt sometimes, I hope you all had some fun with it too. I think you did because I could hear your heckles and comments every race. Thanks for following along.

Before I get started on the recap, I’d like to send out some thank yous:

A huge thanks Woody and Jim at Bike Mart for supporting these endeavors and giving me the flexibility to work, train and race. Max, Sam, and the rest of the Matrix crew for making things happen and taking care of much of the back-end work. Barry for being there to wrench and be in the pits, Theresa for making the long trip in the van with all the bikes and gear. Jeff with Trek for all the Bontrager wheels, equipment and gear; Jesse with Sram and Felt; Chopper for keeping me fueled up with Clif product. To Carlson for his pearls of wisdom about how to attack a course and then how to attack SoundPony afterwards. TexasBikeRacing and Robert Wray for the opportunity to write about it all and share it with a much bigger audience. Jeff Lucido and all race promoters for the tireless hours in the heat, cold, dark and rain to put on events so we can all play on our bikes. To all the fellow competitors for words of encouragement and acknowledgement. And lastly to Annie, for making me look like a writer and like I know what I am doing when it comes to this blog thing, this would not be happening without her creative and editorial skills.

So, here is to a few quiet weeks for some easy spins and some really good beer!!  #willraceforbeer

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NUMBER 50 : RACE RECAP

The venue on the grounds of the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina was an impressive one. Save for some long walks getting into the actual race area from the parking lots, it was a beautiful place fitting of a national event like this. Trees, hills, cold temps, mud, barnyard animals, tradition and history — all made for a great cyclocross race course. As I write this, there’s not been a tree-related scandal.

The forecast was so cold and the fact I raced so late in the prior day, I opted not to go early and pre ride. I would have been riding early in temps in the teens, only to have to try and stay warm for nearly three hours until the start time. I opted for the same setup as the day before: Mud tire on the front for traction and a medium tread on the back for an attempt at some speed. Same air pressure. It had gotten cold enough to freeze and put a hard frost on the course, but as the sun was getting higher things were thawing. Creating some slick spots from the thawing moisture. I figured this to be a good set up.

A better call up than last year. 74th I believe. If I remember right, I was 88th last year. So at least one row better, maybe two. Although as I took my jacket and pants off and looked around, the guy next to me mentioned there sure were quite a few more racers in front of us rather than behind us. Very true indeed!

For what it is worth, the USAC rider ranking system seems to work fairly well. Rarely do you see someone move up 40-50 places in an event like this. Nor does someone fall back unless they crash or have a mechanical. Most of the time it seems that you will be racing with row you are in and the row or two in front of and behind you.

As the whistle blew, I clipped in and got right into the row in front of me. Just like yesterday, I was keeping a lookout for somebody to lock bars or cross wheels. Sure enough, as we came under the finish line to set up the first turn, one of the guys tried to channel his inner Mark Cavendish and sprint through a hole that wasn’t there. Fortunately, to the best of my knowledge, we all made the first turn safely.

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My plan was to get wide at that little drainage ditch that caused so much drama yesterday. I wasn’t the only one with that plan. I actually had to cut back down on the inside line to get through. I only think one guy went down, but he and his back were 15 to 20 feet past the lip and facing the wrong direction. He was trying to pick his bike up high and turn it around, but with more than 100 guys bearing down on him, I think his best option was to just stand still and not cause a massive pile-up.

Up and over flyover number one and to the first run up. A really good line had developed on the left side throughout yesterday and the early-morning races, but of course, everybody wants it. So totally brake check and wait in line or say whatever and take the steeper right side? Right side it is. A bit slower and steeper, but probably managed to get a position or two.

Heading up the gravel road and setting up to make the 180 onto the first serious off-camber section along the barn, I noticed that it was getting clogged up. As I made the turn I really wanted that high line. As luck would have it, a gap opened up and nobody else really made a move for it. I took a chance and cut over to it and made it stick. As we came off the hill into the barn I had managed to pick a few more spots up.

You know you are in a huge race when the leaders are screaming down the descent after already climbing heckle hill and negotiating the switchbacks on the way down. That meant I was at least 60-90 seconds down. Oh well, gotta keep pedaling, or in this case running. It didn’t even cross my mind to try and ride heckle hill. I know that it was being done off and on all day. I would really like to go back and try it again not during a race. Maybe with the right gearing I could pull it off? Oh yea, and when it rains this weekend, that hill, and all the others, watch out, it’s going to be extraordinarily challenging.

ICE ON THE COURSE

Hitting the bottom of the course after coming off the hill we found some frozen mud and ruts from the frigid temps. The sun hadn’t quite hit them just right so there was a bit of slip and slide in that turn. Onward and upward back to the cow pasture on the side of the hill. The lower part of this climb had gotten grooved in great and was very tacky. It would have been perfect mud for a high speed turn, but it was currently bogging us all down a bit. Making it through the switchbacks and onto the ridgeline it was time to set up for the drop-in into the woods.

Everyone around me had spread out enough that we all made it through without having to get off the bikes and with no crashes. As we were picking our way through the trees and roots, one of the spectators hollers out, “the corner at the bottom back into the grass is getting really slick.” I managed to hear and process all of that and scrub some speed but the guy in front of me didn’t. He had a nice crash as he and bike skittered across the frozen grass. As I picked my way around him, and down to the long backstretch, I tried to put some power down and get to the wheels of a small group in front of me. As we made the finish line I looked at the clock hit the 10-minute mark. Essentially right on pace with yesterday’s splits give or take.

I mentally prepared myself to do that three more times over the course of the next 30 minutes, full-well knowing I would get pulled and not finish on the lead lap, more on that in a bit.

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As I made my way around the course, I was able to stick that high line around the barn every time. And almost every time I either passed someone or closed down a gap by doing so. I am surprised that not very many of the guys I was racing with were riding that line. As most of you know, I am not a great bike handler, so if I can stick it….

Theresa managed to get a smile and a laugh out of me as I made my way back up to the woods for some more climbing. Up in the cow pasture things were starting to get a bit difficult. The climb up was hard and starting to wear on my lower back. Then the transition across to the drop in was starting to thaw and get slick, very rideable, just with a bit more caution. And I was able to ride that drop in every time but once. On what would be my last lap, I got to witness an OTB crash from the guy in front of me. Not sure where his bike was going to end up landing, I quickly dismounted, ran past and hopped back on in the trees.

ANOTHER RACER-PULLING HAPPY CREW.

Then I was just about to get back to the finish line and duke it out for one more lap. I took a peek up the road and they weren’t pulling anybody yet. This was maybe from 200 meters away. I saw 30 minutes on the dot as a fellow competitor and I came under the gantry. Five seconds later as we were hauling to head out for another lap, one of the volunteers or officials jumped on course and told us we were done. Another racer-pulling happy crew. I get it, cross it hard to score and you don’t want lapped riders interfering with the head of the race, but I looked at the splits after they were emailed to me and short of just sitting up and soft pedaling, the two of us would have made it around for another lap without getting lapped. That would be my only criticism of the weekend, is how quickly they pull racers deemed out of contention. Hell, if you aren’t in the first three rows at the start grid, you are already deemed out of contention, may as well start pulling racers right there.

I finished in 66th place, almost 20 places better than my 85th from last year in Austin, but I was honestly shooting for a top 50 and one more lap would not have made the difference. That would have been a big jump from where I was on the starting grid. Looking at the results and the score USAC gives you for each race, my results was much better than last year, but my best “score” of the season was yesterday’s race followed by the Sunday at Ruts and Guts, then the Sunday at Resolution Cross.

LESSONS LEARNED // NEW FRIENDS // CYCLISTS ARE THE BEST

I’d like to think I learned some this season. I think I’m getting better in the mud, I think I’m picking better lines, maybe a bit stronger, and I’ve learned that traveling long distances to race packing the right gear is tricky.

This season brought some great new people into my life and made existing friendships even stronger. As I wrote earlier this season about Carlson at the track, we all kinda come from different walks of life but the bike is common ground, and we all pull for each other while simultaneously trying to destroy each other, that’s something unique. One giant dysfunctional family.

Until next season, Hup, Hup.

About the author

Adam Spears

Adam is what we call a “perma-three,” a Cat 3 racer who admires the hard work and dedication it takes to compete at those elite levels … but with his penchant for a nicely crafted beer and a tendency to choose brunch over a hard 100 miles on a Sunday, he’s probably going to stay put with that perma-three classification. And he’s fine with letting his fellow baldies like Chris Powers stay super skinny – and much, much faster on the bike. However, he does love to ride, race, and even write about it. Many people know of Adam for his #QuestForFifty as he raced 50 cyclocross races in the 2015 season, culminating in taking the line at CX Nats in Asheville, NC. A lover of food, bourbon, brunettes and travel, there’s one thing Adam’s really committed to on the bike: he #willraceforbeer any chance he can. Recently he joined Mellow Johnny's Bike Shop in Fort Worth as the new GM.

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