BICYCLE RACING RETURNS TO BOONE April 7th & 8th

Dozens of thin rubber tires scrape against the city streets. The mechanical cacaphony of shifting rear derailleurs reverberates off of brick walls surrounding the roadway; a nearly orchestral statacco . “One to go- one to go- one to go!”- the announcer’s voice becomes as frantic as the cyclists are aggressive, as all enter the final lap of the race. The cyclists, seeing themselves as modern day gladiators, if only for a moment, shove their shoulders and fight to position their wheels in the perfect spot in the pack, battling for the best position on the last lap. Anxious spectators peer over the metal barricades, keenly waiting to see which racer will hurtle out of the final turn in best position. The cheers of the spectators and the exhortations of the competitors has reached a fever pitch. At long last, criterum racing, the most quintessentially American form of bicycle racing, will return to downtown Boone.

 

Appalachian State University, and by extension, Boone, has a reputation of attracting talented and dedicated outdoor athletes, looking to hone their craft in the mountains. The cyclists the university and town attract are certainly no exception. Appalachian State University boasts a cycling team that is intensely competitive in both their local collegiate circuit (the Atlantic Collegiate Cycling Conference), and on the national collegiate scene. For example, road cyclist Kyle Ellis earned a top ten at 2017 varsity collegiate road national, and the team won both the Men’s “A” level criterium and road race at 2017 conference championships. ASU Cycling, being no “boy’s club”, boasts incredible female competitors as well. Senior Annie Pharr earned second place at last year’s conference road championship, as well as second place at short track mountain bike collegiate nationals! However, it’s not just racing and training for these dedicated student-athletes. To participate in the ACCC, they must also put on a hometown race, and this year, they will have the privilege of hosting it in Boone itself, rather than on its outskirts, as they have in the past.

 

“It’s been, what, nearly two decades since there has been a race in downtown Boone?”, mused Matt Jones, one of the key student race organizers. We sat in the back of a Subaru Outback in the parking lot of a team sponsor, discussing the upcoming race weekend. “What’s happening in Boone feels like a new thing, and this race weekend is about bringing cycling back to the forefront of people’s minds,” added Clinton Marsh, the community and club liason of the Boone Area Cyclists. As a member of that local nonprofit, Clinton is tasked with the promotion and creation of recreational and competitive events that showcase cycling in the Boone area. The race organizers, whether students or community members, know that the race weekend will be an incredible way to get the word out about the cycling team- which many town residents and ASU students don’t know about. They can showcase all of their hard work and dedication to the student population, and concurrently give the larger student body the ability to support their classmates as they compete against other collegiate race teams from the eastern seaboard.

 

The first event of the weekend will be a road race in the Cove Creek area, on the morning of Saturday, April 7th. Road racing is the most “traditional” form of road bicycle racing- think a single stage of the Tour De France. The road race will start at Old Cove Creek school, and will follow old 421 for nearly three miles before entering a hillier circuit around Silverstone Road. All of those roads are, according to Clinton, components of classic rides in this area, due to their low- traffic nature, as well as the hilly, yet not impossibly steep nature of the terrain. David Burstein, another key student race director, is particularly excited about this course because, “most races in North Carolina are relatively flat, and end with the whole group finishing all together in a sprint. This race is going to allow for a lot of separation and will be super tactical.” Differing categories of racers, each of which are based on racer’s experience and results, will have to do differing numbers of laps on course, with the more experienced categories racing nearly eighty miles! Despite the fact that the race course is not overtly mountainous, it still fits the High Country equation for a hilly ride, which is 1,000 feet of elevation per 10 miles, according to David. Matt believes that the course could favor either a hills-oriented rider, or a rider who is better at flat terrain, based on their preferred tactics. “If you’re a climber, going towards the climbing section of the course, you could break away.If you’re a sprinter, maybe you could make your move on old 421, towards the end of the race.” No matter what happens, the Cove Creek Road Race is likely to be packed with excitement from start to finish.

 

Although the Road Race will be exciting for racers, the Criterium on the following day will provide the best options for spectators. While Road Races occur over a broad expanse of roads , and take several hours, Criteriums take place around downtown circuits, and take an hour or less. The different race categories have to race for certain amount of time- halfway through their allotted time, an average lap time is taken, and the timing switches to a lap count. This type of racing is all out straight from the beginning, and due to it’s sometimes technical nature, requires excellent control of a bicycle. These elements lead to a high - speed and thrilling race- and frequently crashes. This has led many to nickname Criterium racing, “NASCAR on two wheels”.

 

The P-Shaped course, which winds it’s way through River, Depot, Howard and Water Streets will offer thrilling opportunities for racing and spectating. Many course elements of the race will provide excitement, but the 180 degree turn on River Street stands out to David as the most interesting course element. “We will have all four lanes open, so it shouldn’t be too technical, but riders will have to come in very fast...you don’t see that feature in many races in the region. It could enable a group to ride away, because a few riders will be able to go faster through the turn.” Matt added that another exciting course element will be the speed, saying that, “anyone who rides in Boone, who has ridden down River Street, knows that it is slightly downhill. I’d imagine riders going down the finishing straight will go at least 35 miles an hour.”

 

Not only will April 8th be excellent for racers, but it could be a boon for downtown businesses. Community organizers with the Boone Area Cyclists, such as Clinton, have been working hard to tie the two together. “We’ve been incredibly fortunate to have a lot of support from the businesses on course,” Clinton said. “Not only have they decided to let the race happen, but they have agreed to provide prizes for race premes (A preme is a race within a race, where the rider to finish the lap on which the preme is announced wins a prize- a fantastic marketing opportunity for businesses offering the prizes.), but also race discounts as well. We’re really excited for the chance to work with the town and the school to really showcase cycling.”

 

As one can imagine, organizing two races that will likely attract over a hundred competitors is no easy task . David and Matt, in doing the bulk of the race organizing, have had to work hard at time management. “We’re both full time students,” David said. “There have been times that it’s been hard to pay attention during class, because I’ve had to think about making sure everything for the race weekend is flowing smoothly.” Matt added that organizing the race weekend as students has also been challenging because, “we all ride bikes. It can be like a part time job. Not only is it school and race promotion all the time, but we also want to be in shape to race!” Matt, David, and Clinton are admittedly first time road race organizers. The response from the town has, as Clinton intimated, made the process much easier for them. “I can’t thank the Town of Boone, the Fire Department, the Police Department, everyone we’ve connected with, for being incredibly helpful in helping us make this thing happen. The Students have done an incredible job juggling their school work while making this race weekend a reality.” Due to the hard work of these volunteers, it appears that the dream of bringing competitive cycling back to downtown Boone will, at long last, be a reality.

 

The weekend of April 7th and 8th will, it seems, be an incredibly exciting one for cycling in Boone. All residents and students of the town should consider coming out for an exciting afternoon of competition. Best of all, cycling, unlike most sports, is completely admission free for spectators! For more information about race times, locations, restaurant specials, please visit www.hcccyclingclassic.com and for more information regarding how to volunteer and promote cycling in our community, please visit www.booneareacyclists.org

 

by Ian Broadhead