This article was published in the Lenoir News-Topic.
While most of Caldwell County was inside on Jan. 31, staying out of the rain, Jeff Welch of Lenoir was outside slogging through mud and ice on his bike in Louisville, Ky.
Welch, the co-owner of Luna Cycles downtown, was a contestant in the 2013 UCI Masters Cyclocross World Championships.
Cyclocross is a form of cycling over a mix of terrains. Sometimes its racers hoist their bikes over their shoulders to make it up a slope.
“It’s kind of like steeplechase on bikes,” Welch said. “It’s a combination of road, dirt, a little grass, a little trail.”
In those conditions, weather plays a huge role. That was the case in Kentucky last month, where more than 2 inches of rain and a sudden drop in temperature combined to create a thin crust of ice over mud.
“At one point during the race, I couldn’t feel my hands,” Welch said.
In Cyclocross, racers are allowed to swap out their bikes at intervals throughout the race. That’s especially important in messy conditions like those at this year’s World Championships. As mud cakes on, a 16-pound bike can gain another 20-plus pounds of heft, Welch said.
“During our final, it was so muddy that every half a lap I was exchanging (bikes),” he said.
The Cyclocross World Championships travel around the globe in two-year cycles. Last year they came to Louisville, Ky., their first appearance in the United States. Welch wasn’t able to make it then, but knew he wanted to try while the championships were still in the U.S.
“I knew before it left, it was going to be one of those things I needed to do,” he said.
Welch placed 19th in his age group, with a time of 37:56.
“The experience of it was a kind of once-in-a-lifetime event,” he said.
Welch has been on two wheels since age 10, when he started racing BMX. He has co-owned Luna Cycles with Shawn Moore since 2006.
Welch — and Luna Cycles — are part of a Caldwell-area cycling culture some might be surprised to learn exists.
“If you were out on the main arteries of cycling on a given day, you’re gonna see 25 to 30 people,” said Welch, who lists Zacks Fork Road and N.C. 90 through Collettsville as some of his favorite local cycling spots. “It’s a pretty big thing in our area, without a doubt.”