Editor’s Note: Christopher Jones is a member of the Rapha-Focus cyclocross team as well as the road racing squad Team Type 1. He is a true all-around rider, frequenting podiums on both the professional road and cyclocross circuits. This season he and his ‘cross teammate Zach MacDonald will share their journals frequently.
Let’s play a word association game. Say the first word that comes when you read each of these:
- Kentucky Derby
- Papa Johns
- Birth place of Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr.
- Base for UPS’ overnight delivery service
- Zorn Ave.
- Louisville Slugger
- J Gumbos
Until recently, all of these were the main things associated with Louisville, Kentucky. Going forward there is another event that will strongly be associated with Louisville: Cyclocross World Championships! How many world championship events from any sport does the USofA ever host? This year we will host the ‘World’ Series of Baseball (which by the time you read this the SF Giants will have won), WC’s of Karaoke, WC’s of Martial Arts, and a few others. Point is, that rarely are we the host of a world championship sporting event, let alone one that until recently was a Euro-centric sport.
As one would expect, within the cyclocross community there was much anticipation for the second stop of the USGP series for the Derby City Cup presented by Papa Johns. I came with an extra dose of anticipation, the weekend’s date coincided with the start of Number One’s birthday season. As an only child she celebrated her birthday season, birthday month, and finally her birthday. Ah, to be an only child. The method of choice to start the season’s festivities is a girls’ only shopping trip. I left for Louisville with some apprehension, wondering what kind and how much shopping bounty I would return home to.
There are many reasons why the USGP of Cyclocross is the country’s premier cyclocross series. One of my favorites is their Friday pre-ride session. This session allows us to get in a day early, inspect the course, and try out equipment in a low-key setting that isn’t available on race day. Normally there is a decent turn out for the pre-ride, but this Friday’s turnout was fairly large. People were excited, as everyone wanted to see the course and new venue.
When I rolled in for some practice laps I stopped and talked to a few people. A couple of guys, Doug and Brian, were stand-in pit guys and restaurant guides for Adam Myerson and myself a few years ago. Both hail from Louisville and their pride in the venue was evident. Brian offered to take me for a hot lap, so we took off around the circuit.
My first impressions were of a fast course without gimmicks that used much of the natural terrain features available. My second impression was the one my face left in the sand after I came a little too hot into the long sand pit. Mental note: pull up on the bars when entering sand.
After a couple more loops testing tire options and pressures the Rapha-Focus team called it a day and headed to the Friday night number presentation.
Race days usually follow the same rhythm: wake up, eat, spin, eat, pre-ride the course, eat, warm-up, race, cool down, and eat more. I knew that Saturday’s routine was bound to be slightly different since the Giants game was on late that evening, so I planned to sleep in so I could stay up later and watch the game. My plan was foiled by an early morning text from Number One. She was on West Coast time, so two hours behind me in Louisville, so it was too early to hear from her unless something was wrong. It turns out something was wrong, or right depending on one’s view, the text read, “Mall burnt down. No shopping . Worst birthday season ever.” I knew then that it would be a good day.
As we sat on the day 1 starting line I ran through my pre-race visualization of the course. Two sections early in the course would be critical: the first turn and the barriers. The first turn of a ‘cross race is always crucial, but this one was at the end of a long tailwind straightaway. Like a restrictor-plate race in NASCAR, we would mostly hit the first corner four-wide. True to form, the race started and as we entered the corner guys behind me went sliding. I took a deep breath and concentrated on the second crucial section, the barriers. Barriers early in a lap always cause a choke point as the front of the race slows to dismount and those behind grab a handful of brake to avoid rear-ending them. To add to the normal barrier section hazard, this barrier section was also a fielder’s choice; some would bunny hop, while others would dismount. I approached the barriers on full code-red mode and made it through unscathed. The rest of the race played out similarly to many races so far this year: a front group formed, the guys in green one-two’d us and took a couple of spots on the podium.
Upon my arrival back at the hotel, my phone started ringing, and the screen on my phone read: Davide Fratinni. Davide is Italian, my road teammate this season and next, and widely regarded as the nicest guy in the peloton, so I answered.
“Ciao Cris how are you? Would you like to eat with us tonight?”
“Sure,” I respond, “Where?”
“The Old Spaghetti Factory.”
“Yeah, they make’a good pasta.”
(Laughter on my end) “You might as well go to the Olive Garden.”
“You think they have Olive Garden here?”
“Dude, Davide we are in Louisville, not Italy, of course they have Olive Garden, but you can’t be serious.”
“Yes, the gorilla was on my back today, I need the never-ending bowl of pasta.”
“Gorilla? ?? What is that? Ah, nevermind. I’ll let you guys enjoy the OG, I’m going to check out the Halloween Street and watch Los Gigantes.”
“Molto bene. Let’s spin in the morning. Ciao ciao.”
For those who are curious about what a former winner of the Baby Giro di Italia eats at Olive Garden, he eats the Tour of Italy.
On my own for the evening I decide to cruise Zorn Ave., one of Louisville’s cultural attractions during the Halloween season. Every house on the street is decorated with a unique Halloween theme and it draws all kinds of viewers. The homeowners must be a dedicated crew, or have an iron-fisted HOA, because the decorations are much more intense than your typical triangle-nosed pumpkin, and they are there year after year.
One of great sponsors on the cyclocross scene right now is SRAM, so I was pleased to see Michael Zellman, of SRAM Road Diaries fame, hanging out at the Rapha-Focus compound on day 2. He was using us for our shade and solitude so he could complete the all-important SRAM vs. Shimano groupo count in the masters race. I didn’t see the finally tally but he had a smile on his face. Seeing the smiling I saw my opportunity,
“Hey Michael, do you want to take a lap of the course?”
“Nope, I don’t have a bike.”
“Perfect, Focus has an entire fleet of demo bikes here.”
Zellman responded with that look that is somewhere between an eye-roll and a mother’s knowing gaze.
“Trust me, you don’t have one in my size.”
“Next time maybe, eh?”
Another blank stare.
With C1 points up for grabs, the Sunday race started off with determination rampant amongst the riders. Everyone wanted those big points and payout. The course remained fairly similar to the prior day’s, including the abundant presence of dust. Back in my motocross days I remember using Smith Optics Roll-offs for their goggles; Sunday would have been a good day to have a set of their Roll-offs for my Piv-locs once the sweat and dust started to co-mingle on my lenses. Similar to Saturday’s race, the front group formed and slowly whittled down until halfway through the race I found myself alone with the previous day’s podium crew. Perfect. I hung in until an untimely mechanical led to me slipping back a few spots by the end. As we say in cycling, the sensations were good, so things for the Rapha-Focus team are headed in the right direction.
With business done for the weekend, it was time to head home. One hour and fourty-five minutes after the race I was seated on the plane headed for home to console the girl whose mall burnt down and ruined the beginning of birthday season.
Overall the worlds venue and course were fantastic and will only develop into a legendary course as we lead into January of 2013. The word about the sport of cyclocross is spreading in Louisville and throughout the country with the help of dedicated race promoters like Bruce and Joan of the USGP and through the partnership between VeloNews and CyclingDirt.org to bring live online coverage of the races. I can’t wait to toe the line with the world’s best in 2013.