From Nicholas Lemke – As a cyclocrosser, my primary goals for the ‘off-season’ are to build base fitness and improve the bike-handling skills off road. Throwing myself into some summer road and MTB races seems to be a great way to motivate and measure my progress.

I’d attended USA Cycling’s USPRO XCT in Colorado Springs last summer and briefly led the race on the first lap, but the 100 degree F weather on an exposed sandy mountainside with zero shade left me pretty well cracked-up by midway through the 6 lap race and I faded to 5th. This 3.3 mile ‘World-Cup style’ course has a mixture of bermed gullies where the rider dives in without seeing the exit, technical climbing over rocks (610 feet per lap, though not all technical), screaming fast descents over loose soil, and a hike-a-bike section that even the Pro’s must walk.

The 2015 course was run in reverse of last year, but largely the same in regards to its mix of features and challenge level. My goal was a podium spot and improvement upon last year’s finish, with the possibility of a strong result leading to a Pro upgrade in the back of my mind. Since I started a bit too fast in last year’s heat, my plan was to follow wheels for the first lap or two (of 5.5 laps) and attack later in the race as needed.

Second into the holeshot and out of trouble for the first half of lap 1 and things were going to plan. It got a little dicey in and around the hike a bike section, which was followed by the most technical part of the course on a bench cut single-track trail high up the escarpment, when we started to run into Junior riders who were staged 2 minutes before us. Our lead group of 5 kept things pretty civilized and worked our way through the younger riders. An attack came from our group at the beginning of lap 2 which split our little pack. As this rider rode away I assumed that, given his strength, he would be eventual race winner (unless he would bonk as I had the year prior). I followed the wheel of another rider who was going strong and we kept the gap to the leader at about 10-15 seconds for the remainder of the lap.

Beginning of lap 3 and the leader was about out of sight, while we were still working our way through more Junior traffic, making for a confusing and pass-heavy race. I got gapped in one of the technical sections when the rider I was following snuck in front of a couple juniors and I wasn’t able to follow. I brought him back with my ‘cross running skills on the hike-a-bike section while noticing some reasonably close lightning strikes in the distance. He again distanced me on the technical bench cut, but I assumed I could real him again near the finishing straight.

Amusingly, I had told my feeder that I wanted a bottle at the end of this lap and as I came through he stood in a great hand-up position but sans bottle. Given he was a volunteer and the father of a friend I didn’t get too upset to not get a bottle and moments later I crossed the line under the impression I had 2 laps to go, but was promptly stopped by several USAC officials. The race was over due to lightning strikes.

So, a bit anticlimactic and I assumed I was third. After 20-30 minutes of milling about, results were posted and it turned out I had won my age group. The first guy to attack our group was a Single Speeder (what a nut!)! And the other gent I was close to was in the 19-29 age group. Given I’m 32, I’d won the 30-39 age group and placed 3rd overall in the Cat 1s. I’ll take it!
Cheers to my Kona Big Unit, HiFi Session Carbon wheels, and Wolf Tooth drop-stop chainring. Whipping this ride around in the gullies and soft sand comes so natural to the Big Unit that I’m still able to smile a bit while racing, despite being well into the pain cave. The scandium frame is light and with a respectable build of mixed Shimano parts and Carbon wheels, the bike comes in right at 23 lbs. Race worthy, reliable, and fun!