Austin CX Nats

15 01 2015

By Jack Drake

This year’s cyclocross national championships in Austin combined every category racing, from the youngest juniors up to the elites as well as the collegiate championship and even single speed. Mars Hill riders raced in four events during the week, claiming a number of top results including a podium in the team relay.

For someone who has had a predominantly track and criterium based background, the prospect of racing CX was always appealing and luckily enough there was room on the Mars Hill squad for me to ride. The team consisting of myself, Hunter, Barry, Alex, Paige, Rachael and Erich all piled on the team bus Sunday evening after the UCI Kingsport race for the long journey from East Tennessee down to Austin, Texas.

After a late night layover in Chattanooga, we woke up early on Monday to continue the drive. Along the way we stopped at a national park in Jackson, Mississippi to do a short gravel ride and flush out our legs as sitting the on the bus was definitely turning us all stir crazy! After driving into the night once again and another layover, this time in Shreveport, we arrived in Austin excited and ready to test out the course.

Even for the more experienced riders the 2015 CX Nationals course proved to be quite challenging, with some very technical off camber turns as well as two treacherous sets of limestone stairs. A very fast top half of the course, which many riders were calling a grass crit, promised to provide a fast-paced race across all categories. We got a few pre-ride sessions in over the next few days and the whole team was feeling good and quite confident on the course. However, the weather forecast of freezing rain promised changing conditions.

The team’s race schedule kicked off on Wednesday as Alex rode to an impressive 19th in the open women’s single speed race. Next up was the collegiate fair on Friday where we got a chance to meet and speak to a host of prospective students and tell them about the team.

That afternoon started the collegiate races with the team relay, a highly exciting and crowd friendly four lap dash around the course. The four laps were to be completed by at least two female laps and two male laps, not consecutively. The Mars Hill entry consisted of Hunter, Paige, Alex and the final lap again by Hunter. All three riders gave it everything and rode out of their skin to place 5th and onto the podium. A very impressive effort.

Saturday was game day for the team and everyone woke up raring to go after openers the day before. Unfortunately, overnight rain and a number of races had turned the course into an absolute mud bath. With such slippery conditions we were all forced to run a good chunk of the course especially the off camber turns. This made for many mistimed dismounts and some hilarious viewing. To add to this a slight drizzle and freezing temperatures made for a testing day of racing. As competitors we were all kept on our toes the entire race as the slightest misjudgment meant sliding out almost immediately. Despite this the entire team rode very solid rides with the girls placing 10th (Paige),  16th (Alex), and 32nd (Rachael).


The boy’s race started with a chaotic sprint for the hole shot and Hunter handled it well starting out in the top 10. From then on the field split to pieces with many mechanicals and riders being pulled early on. Luckily enough Hunter navigated the course without major troubles, a testament to how hard he has worked this season. For myself, a flat early on the second lap put a dampener on proceedings, but thanks to the pit crew I was back in the race with minimal hassle. Unfortunately Barry was caught behind a crash entering the hole shot, but managed to ride through the early setback and powered on. All in all the boys rode to solid finishes, notably Hunter with a 7th place finish. I finished in 23rd and Barry finished 46th.

We all can’t thank the sponsors enough as we were kitted out in some new gear and looked and felt the goods on race day. Brand new Kask Infinity helmets along with new Defeet socks, gloves, and warmers kept us warm in the frigid conditions, and the latest Smith Optics kept the mud out of our eyes. All of our sponsors played a role in supporting our efforts. Finally, I think I speak for the team when I say our biggest thanks goes to coaches Hugh and Matt who worked incredibly hard all week doing numerous jobs to make our lives easier. We all appreciate it so much and could not have got it done on the day without you guys.

[A few of these photos are credited to photographers who shared their work with Mars Hill riders. Sorry but don’t know your names, but thank you!]


CX Racing Update from Alex

23 12 2014

Reports on SECCC Championships at Clemson University and the UCI North Carolina Grand Prix from team rider Alex Christofalos:

Alex and Paige at NCGP

Alex and Paige at NCGP

Building for the future at MTB Nats

5 11 2014

During the last weekend of October, the team traveled up to nearby Beech Mountain for USA Cycling’s Collegiate Mountain Bike Nationals. With half the team freshmen, our goal was to simply give our best efforts, gain experience, and build for the future. We did have one very experienced rider, Alan Hudson, who we pinned hopes on for a medal in the dual slalom. Here are some of the highlights:

The course for Friday’s short track was rather one dimensional: straight up a ski slope road, climbing grades up to 20%, and then a bermed descent back down. With all time to be gained on the steep climb and no way to make up time on the descent, this was one for the climbers. Hunter Resek, a great climber and cross racer, was primed for success here, but a collision with another rider at the start damaged his pedal and he was unable to clip in for the entire event. He would eventually finish 32nd. In the women’s short track, Alex Christofalos and Rachael Freeman got solid starts. Alex was 12th after the first lap, moving up to 9th by the finish. Rachael road a strong and steady race to finish 21st.

Saturday’s cross country course featured the same climb from the short track, just about twice as long. At the top the course went into fairly non-technical singletrack before descending the back to the start on the bermed descents. This course favored the exact same riders as the short track and every race saw the winners from the short track repeat their wins in the cross country. In the men’s event, Hunter finished 32nd again. For Mars Hill’s women, Alex finished a solid 12th, just outside of the top 10. After the dual slalom, she would finish in 10th overall. Rachael had another solid and steady cross country race and finished 21st again. Watch for these women in the future; they will be podium contenders next year.

Sunday racing included the team relay and dual slalom. The team relay is a coed event of four laps of the short track course with a different rider racing each lap. We were in 3rd with one lap to go but got caught by a few on the steepest part of the climb and eventually finished 7th. The dual slalom was a highlight. In women’s qualifying, Alex finished a solid 16th in her first dual slalom event ever and moved on to the afternoon finals. Alan Hudson finished a very strong 5th in men’s qualifying. Alex was out early after having to race the number one seed in her first matchup and finished 16th.

Alan made quick work of his first two opponents and moved into the top eight. His third opponent was quicker though, and although Alan had the lead in the first of two runs, a slight bobble near the bottom had him finish .26 seconds behind. In the second run, Alan would have to win by .26 to advance to the semis. He crossed the line ahead, winning by .21, just a few hundreths of a second slower than needed. So close! Alan would finish 5th overall, his first individual podium at a collegiate nationals. After bad crashes and protested DQ’s at previous dual slalom nationals, Alan’s medal was long overdue and very well earned. Watch out for him at next April’s BMX nationals in Atlanta.

Overall, it was a great weekend with five top tens, a podium, and lots of confidence built for the future. Thanks to all our sponsors and supporters for helping make these lifetime experiences possible. And to photo ace Weldon Weaver for a couple of these pics. See more of his pics from nats HERE.

Hudson joins coaching staff

15 10 2014

Pleased to announce another addition to our coaching staff. Alan Hudson will lead Mars Hill’s BMX team as a rider-coach overseeing training and coaching for BMX and other gated events like dual slalom and four-cross. Alan brings seventeen years of racing experience to the table, including nine as a professional, and has worked with many multi-national champions including: Dominique Daniels (5-time USA BMX Girl Pro Champion); Dani George (2011 USA BMX National Number One Girl and 2016 Olympic Hopeful); and countless others throughout various classifications and skill levels via clinics, camps, and demonstrations. Alan trains and coaches at the Weaverville BMX Track ten minutes from campus

Team scores bronze at track nats

1 10 2014

The MHU cycling team competed at its first national championship of the 2014-2015 school year last week, USA Cycling’s Collegiate National Track Championships, where we earned a third place in the team omnium. Along the way we set numerous team firsts and personal bests, including seven top tens in individual events.

By far our best track nats in the history of the program, we’re already planning and looking forward to next year’s event where we plan to contend for the gold. Here’s a recap of how it went:

Day 1: Sprints and Points Race Heats. John Croom and Josie Ritchie competed in the sprints. In the qualifying 200M time trial, Croom was sitting 2nd with an 11.8 after 40 heats. He ended up qualifying a strong 11th. Ritchie had the fastest time after 20 heats with a 13.8 and ended up qualifying 12th. Both won their first round match sprints, advancing to the evening’s 1/8 finals. In the evening session, Croom narrowly lost his round two sprint and would compete for 9-12 place, where he would win each successive round  over the next day to claim 9th place in the match sprints. Ritchie won her round two sprint and advanced to the quarterfinals. Her jump from BMX racing was blowing doors off.

In her first ride in the quarterfinals (best 2 out of 3) Ritchie outjumped a rider from Colorado Mesa University and and handily won. In the second ride, it was clear that CMU was trying to neutralize Ritchie’s jump by going early, but Ritchie reacted and they were together at the bell. Anticipating each other, both tried to jump first in turn one, with Ritchie slotting into the sprinter’s lane first with CMU moving down into the lane on top of her, forcing Ritchie off the track and continuing on to win the second ride. Immediately we protested the ride and after reviewing an iPhone video that demonstrated our case, we took the video to the chief referee. At stake was a podium at the national championships! After a lengthy review of the ride, officials decided to let the ride stand. In the final and deciding third ride, CMU got the jump on Ritchie and moved onto the semifinals. Ritchie would end up 8th in the sprint tournament, an impressive accomplishment for a freshman at her first track race ever.

In the first men’s points race heat, Corey Davis was 2nd and Jack Drake was 11th, both qualifying for Friday night’s final championship event. Hunter Resek and John Croom weren’t as fortunate, but Croom would go on to finish 3rd in Friday night’s minor finals.

Day 2: Individual Pursuits and Men’s Points Race Finals. In the morning session’s pursuits, we had four men and four women competing and nearly every rider set a personal best time. Davis posted a 5:04 to lead the men in the 4k event, with Croom a few seconds slower at 5:07. Alex Christofalos led the women with a 4:32 and Rachael Freeman had a 4:38 in the 3k event.

The men’s points race finals started very well for Davis, who picked up 11 points in the first few sprints and was sitting in 2nd place. When a breakaway group of four coalesced with another group of four, the group of eight had enough representation and power to lap the field. Davis missed the move but still ended up a strong 9th place. Drake placed 16th out of the 30 riders competing in the final.

Day 3: 1K and 500M Time Trials, Men’s Scratch Heats, and Team Pursuits. In the women’s 500M, Ritchie was a favorite based on her practice times of 39.5 seconds, which would guarantee a podium spot. Ritchie had a solid ride, posting a 40.25, which was good enough for first place and held up for some time. That time ended up being 6th place, one spot off the podium with 5th being a 40.24, less than one hundredth of a second faster. So close. Freeman was next for the team in 46.21 with Paige Shook right behind in 46.24.

In the men’s kilo, Croom crushed it with a 1:10.41 which initially put him in the top three. After all riders had gone, it was good enough, again, for 6th place with 5th and the podium at 1:10.29. Drake also had a strong early ride of 1:13.2 which would end up 24th out of 65 starters.

In the men’s scratch heats, Croom, Davis, and Drake all made it through to qualify for Sunday’s final championship race.

In the team pursuits, the women’s goal was to focus on technique, smooth exchanges, and set a PR, which they did by nearly 20 seconds! Watch out for them in the future as they are motivated to return next year at another level of experience. All of our women had never raced on the track before, so this was a big first step. In the men’s event, we were also focused on pacing and technique, but also knew that we could go quite fast. In practice, the fastest time the men had done was a 4:57. We put them on a 4:50 schedule, knowing that this would likely be good enough for a podium. They paced very well, posting negative splits for each kilometer, and finished with a 4:52, another PR and a ride that everyone was proud of.

Day 4: Mixed Team Sprint and Men’s Scratch Race Finals. The mixed team sprint is unique to collegiate cycling. It’s six laps of the track with a woman required to do at least two of those laps. We started strong and ended up with a 2:23, which eventually put us in 7th and very close to the podium. In the men’s scratch race finals, Davis was aggressive from the gun, making a leading group of four that included the race’s eventual winner. As the move got pulled back in the last few laps, we still had Davis and Drake in good position. Both had to avoid a crash in the last 200M with Drake able to finish a strong 6th and Davis in 10th.

When all the points were tallied, we ended up the 3rd DII team overall, a solid spot on the podium and our best finish at a track nationals ever. A large part of our renewed interest and success in track racing can be credited to newly hired track coach, Kyle Knott, who’s been working with the team since August. Knott will continue to be involved with the program as we continue to dedicate resources to our current track team and make an effort to recruit more track specialists so we can return to nationals next year aiming for stars and stripes jerseys.

Thanks to all of our SPONSORS who make these amazing lifetime experiences possible.

Halfway through season, mountain bike team on the rise

16 09 2014

The Mars Hill mountain bike team has been throwing it down over the past three race weekends: improving, gaining confidence, and making a name for themselves more so with every race.

We started out with a bit of a bumpy start at the Brevard race — adrenaline and excitement were at a high for some of the racers in the XC race, leading to a few gnarly crashes. Such can be expected for the first collegiate race of the season, not to mention the tough course of long climbs, and steep descents. Most of the riders finished around mid-pack in their races, ranging from A`s to C`s. The next day the team gave great efforts in the STXC with Hunter Resek placing 11th in the Men`s A, Rachael Freeman placing 9th in the Women`s A`s, and everyone else giving valiant efforts regardless of the mechanicals that inevitably caused three of our riders to DNF. It was a weekend full of excitement, fun, and learning experiences to say the least

A little wiser, and determined for improvement, the team competed at ETSU with Alex Christofalos tearing it up on the downhill and STXC course, Barry Wilcox taking the first big win in STXC for the team in the Men`s C`s, and Scott Davis taking 2nd in STXC in the Men`s B`s. The XC course, known for its reputation of DNF`s, did not disappoint as many riders on each of the teams fell victim to the rooty terrain. However, Barry Wilcox had a strong finish of 10th in the Men`s C`s, and Rachael Freeman powered through the familiar terrain to grab 7th place.

The trend of improvement did not stop with ETSU, with riders showing their potential at this race. Alan Hudson and Alex Christofalos showed off their cool downhill skills in the Men`s A`s and Women`s A`s. Later that day, Scott Davis, Alex Christofalos, and Rachael Freeman shredded the STXC course with aggressive starts and a little cyclocross skills action in the tricky/unrideable mud sections. Even in the rainy, monsoon like conditions, Alex and Rachael placed 7th and 8th in the Women`s A`s. The real excitement took place on Sunday during the XC race in which all of the Mars Hill riders that raced placed top 5 in their categories. Clemson was a course of long climbs and fast single track, and a whole lot of fun for the team. Rachael and Alex rode a strong A race to place 4th and 5th, while Scott placed 3rd in the Men`s B`s.

The team will switch to cyclocross racing at Kolo Bike Park this Saturday, and then a final dress rehearsal for track nats on Sunday at the Giordana Velodrome in Rock Hill. Next mountain bike race will be at Georgia Tech on October 4-5, then conference champs at Lees-McRae on October 12-13, capping the mountain bike season with nationals at Beech Mountain, NC, on October 24-26.

As always, a big thanks to our sponsors who help make this all happen.

— Rachael Freeman, MHU Cycling freshman

Knott joins coaching staff

3 07 2014

Kyle Knott joins the Mars Hill Cycling coaching staff this summer as the assistant coach responsible for track cycling. He will share his knowledge and experience from being the Programs Coordinator at the Giordana Velodrome and an elite racer on both the road and track. Knott is a Mars Hill graduate and member of the National Championship winning team in 2011 and was Mars Hill’s first national champion winning the criterium and individual omnium that year. Knott knows exactly what it takes to go from an underdog to the top step and looks forward to coaching the Mars Hill Cycling Team to both individual and team national titles in the future.

Knott’s quality over quantity coaching philosophy focuses on creating an atmosphere where riders can develop both on and off the bike to become better leaders in sport and life. He can be reached at

Welcome back to the team, Kyle!


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