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Big wheels in bike racing descend on Jackson Park

The top three U.S. professional cyclo-cross racers are among several hundred professional and amateur bicycle racers who will converge on Jackson Park this weekend for the North Carolina Grand Prix, a part of the USA Cycling Pro CX Cyclo-Cross tour.


"The last couple of years we've had about 400 racers," said Tim Hopkin, the Henderson County parks director and a racer himself. "Whether we have exactly the same, or a little bit more you never know. It might be 500. It keeps changing."
Top ranked USA Cycling racer Jeremy Powers, no. 2 ranked Timothy Johnson, third-ranked Ben Berden and U23 (under 23) USA Champion Yannick Eckmann are all registered. Zach MacDonald, who took second place at the USA Cycling 2013 Cyclo-Cross Nationals, is also signed up.
Riders in both professional and amateur races will cover a course that loops through fields, woods and parking lots on grass, dirt and pavement through.
Racing starts at 9 a.m. Saturday and Sunday. The featured Elite Women race is at 10:50 a.m. and the Elite Men start at 1:45 p.m. There will be a free youth race with prizes each day at noon.
"We set up a course that's about three kilometers," Hopkin said. "The racers will do multiple laps in 60 minutes. We'll have announcers, food vendors, six or seven vendors" of racing gear. "It's just really spectator friendly. You can stand on one or two spots and see 90 percent of the race, I'm told."
Here is a video of a Grand Prix race in November 2010 at Jackson Park. http://vimeo.com/17067020
The race is free for spectators.
The North Carolina Grand Prix is a bit of a warmup for Asheville and Hendersonville organizers who are preparing a huge event in 2016, when the Biltmore Estate hosts the national cyclo-racing championship. Hopkin is working on the national championship event as well.
He described cyclo-racing as the steeplechase of competitive bike events. Racers climb off their bikes and carry them a short distance through hazards and hop back on. The event is exciting to watch, he said, even for people unfamiliar with cyclo-racing.
"The announcer kind of explains what they're seeing," he said. "It is a multiple lap race. The racer that completes the most laps in 60 minutes wins. The exciting part is watching the start of the race because it starts as a full-out sprint."

Riders tend to race in a pack, drafting on the leader.
Hopkin recommended that novice fans seek out fans dressed in brightly colored Lycra.
"The best way to watch it is talk to people that look like they know what they're doing," he said. "People are really good about sharing their knowledge or their passion. The amateur race is just as exciting as the elite races."
The 2013-14 North Carolina Cyclo-Cross Series is sponsored by Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., which is opening its new brewery in Mills River next year. Based in Chico, Calif., Sierra Nevada is a major sponsor of many types of bicycle racing.
Hopkin said the event should boost visitor spending for the entire week.
"There's people in hotel rooms," he said. "They're spending gas money. Some of these are coming in for a week and they will be around town shopping, eating, buying gas. As far as spending, there's definitely an economic impact. They definitely don't come just to camp out. They definitely spend money."