race report by GROM Racer Jay Fesperman
This past weekend my Mom and I made the trip up to Windham, NY for the Gravity East race and the UCI World Cup race with my teammate Ben Calhoun. Ben rolled into my hometown of Davidson, NC on Tuesday so we could get our stuff organized and packed in the Pontiac “Man Van” for our departure early Wednesday morning. While my mom was finishing up at work on Tuesday, Ben and I and our buddy Graham Kiley went for a nice swim in beautiful Lake Norman, tripped to Walmart for some last minute grocery shopping and purchasing our patriotic apparel to show our support for team America at the World Cup. We had a nice goodbye dinner with Graham, as Ben and I wouldn’t see him until National Champs. We hit he sack early Tuesday night so we would be energized for our 10 hour drive on Wednesday.
We left Davidson around 9 AM on Wednesday morning and headed up I-77 towards Pennsylvania. The drive went smoothly with no accidents or heavy traffic. We rolled into Hazelton, PA around 7 PM and ate our dinner while we got a good dose of laughter watching The Hangover 2. Our practice on Thursday started at 4:30, so we left Hazelton around 11 AM so we could get to Windham in time to get ready for practice at 4:30. We rolled into Windham around 3:30, which gave us a perfect amount of time to get registered, dial in our bikes, and get suited up for our first practice. Ben and I took our first day of practice relaxed, and just cruised over our lines to get the feel of the track. The track was dusty, fast, and rocky. We ate a nice dinner in our hotel room at the Winwood Inn (we saw Specialized riders Brad Benedict and Curtis Keene in the restarant along with many other Specialized cross country riders at the Inn), while we bled our brakes and tweaked our bikes for practice on Friday.
On Friday morning Ben and I drove over to the resort to meet up with Team Billy Goat Bikes to set up the pit, as they generously let us pit with them for the weekend. Thanks BGBMK! Ben and I rode in the first practice taking 3 practice runs. We stopped and checked out some lines, and worked on getting up to speed. After the first practice we rode up the lift and did a course walk to check out the lines we had been riding, and to find some new, faster lines. Our course walk was very helpful and we had some new things to try out during the second practice at 4:00. The second practice was where we dialed in our lines and got pinned. The roost started flying and we were making some quick runs. The lift lines were very long and there were a lot of riders on the track so it was hard to make practice runs on the fast course. We felt good after our second practice of the day and we were ready for race day on Saturday.
Practice on Saturday didn’t start until noon so we got time to sleep in and have a big breakfast before we headed out for the day. The weather clear and sunny for the whole weekend and the track was covered with moondust. I took two solo practice runs before my finals to get the flow going and to know how hard to push in my race run. My start time was at 6:00 so Ben and I headed back to the hotel for a swim in the pool and some relaxation before we had to get focused. My awesome Mom brought my trail bike up to the top of the lift so ben and I could warm up on it and get our muscles flowing before we raced. My race run was going great and I was flowing through the track and railing the loose, rocky corners. I was riding really well half until half way down the track. I exited a woods section at a super high speed and blew through the tape. I kept going and got back on the track, but the tape was wrapped around my handlebar. I was riding fine with the tape flowing behind me, looking like a total goon, but I kept giving it everything I had and payed no attention to the tape wrapped around my bars. I was bombing through one of the last long rockgardens and my front end washed out and I went face first into a tree. I hopped up and got back on the bike with the blood pouring out of my nose. Thankfully my Smith goggles protected my eyes and my nose when I hit the tree. Even though I was hurting pretty bad and the blood was running down my face I gave it everything I had on the rest of the track and rode strong through the finish. It was one of the toughest race runs of my life, and I made a lot of mistakes, but I definitely learned a lot from it. I ended up finishing 5th in Junior Expert, which was not where I wanted to be, but I was happy with my finish for how my run had gone.
We stayed over Saturday night so we could watch the UCI World Cup finals on Sunday afternoon and be a part of the cool event. Ben and I caught up with our buddies Noah Fairburn and Shane Leslie to walk the World Cup track and watch the racing. It was super cool to see all the World Cup guys and see their crazy lines and speed. It was definitely motivating and made me want to work hard so I could be racing the World Cups next year when I’m old enough. Before we knew it the top ten guys were ready to drop in and the crowd was getting stoked. We wanted to be at the bottom to see the guys come across the line, see their times stack up, and we could watch their runs on the big screen. The crowd was sick and everyone was getting super loud and rowdy making it fun for everyone to feel a part of the racing. The suspense was insane as the top ten guys crossed the line and before we knew it the legendary American Aaron Gwin was in the start gate. When he dropped in everyone was cheering, clapping, banging their cowbells, and going crazy for Gwinny. When he crossed the first split with one second on Steve Smith everyone went crazy. Aaron came through the last jumps and crossed the line in first place with .9 on Steve. It was probably the rowdiest thing I’ve ever been in. Everyone was screaming, jumping and chanting “USA USA USA.” It was really cool to see. Gwin was really happy and he walked around the fence and gave all the crowd high fives. It was definitely a race event to remember. Even though our race runs didn’t go as well as we would have liked, Ben and I had a great time in Windham and we’re looking forward to National Championships in Beech Mountain, NC in a few weeks!