North Carolina\u2019s impressive cycling scene is old news. For years, mountain bikers and road cyclists alike have relocated to The Old North State for its varied and technical terrain.\r\nBut this week, western North Carolina is attracting national attention from a lesser-known subset of the cycling community.\u00a0 The city of Asheville is hosting\u00a0the USA Cycling Cyclocross National Championships at the Biltmore Estate through January 10.\r\n\u201cHaving the Cyclocross National Championships in Asheville is really an honor,\u201d says men\u2019s masters racer and Sylva-based rider Josh Whitmore. \u201cIt recognizes the growing energy of the sport in this region and the grassroots efforts to provide high quality events.\u201d\r\nAt the core of those grassroots efforts lies North Carolina Cyclo-Cross (NCCX), founded in 1997 by Tim Hopkin. During the late \u201890s, Hopkin, who was born in England, raised in Brazil, and transplanted to the hills of North Carolina, says he was always interested in racing cyclocross, but simply couldn\u2019t find anywhere to do it.\r\n\u201cI decided I was going to fix that problem,\u201d Hopkin says, and he did, despite the fact that the entire western North Carolina region had, at best, two or three legitimate cyclocross bikes to even ride. \u201cThere were maybe 20 people, mostly on mountain bikes, at the first event we did.\u201d\r\nNow, nearly two decades later, Hopkin says NCCX events bring upwards of 400 racers on average. Though cyclocross hotbeds on this side of the pond have historically been in New England and the Pacific Northwest, there\u2019s an increasing number of competitive cyclocross racers who are cutting their teeth right here in the Southeast, claiming western North Carolina as home.\r\n\u201cCyclocross was kinda used as an off-season training for road cyclists back in the original days,\u201d Hopkin says. \u201cNow, it\u2019s its own bonafide winter sport with its own racing season,\u201d which typically runs from early fall to the end of January.\r\nSo what is cyclocross? And why the upsurge in popularity?\r\n\u201cThe easiest way to compare it is a mixture of cross-country racing and steeplechase with a little bit of NASCAR thrown in,\u201d Hopkin says.\r\nCyclocross races are typically short, both in course length and the duration. Juniors may race only 20 minutes while Elite men may race for an hour. The course, which ranges from a mile-and-a-half to two miles, covers a wide variety of terrain, including gravel, grass, sand, mud, dirt, and pavement. Oftentimes, sections of the course can become so heinous, riders are better off dismounting to \u201crun-up\u201d the obstacle with their bikes in hand. For spectators, this equates to entertainment\u2014that is, until the winter weather sets in.\r\n\u201cSometimes it\u2019s dry, wet, muddy, snowy, windy, cold, and hot,\u201d says women\u2019s Elite racer and Mills River resident Ally Stacher. \u201cAnything can happen in a \u2018cross race.\u201d\r\nOf course, veteran spectators know this and have come to expect it of cyclocross races. The muddier, the better, truth be told. Yet with the upcoming National Championships to be held at the Biltmore Estate, which is privately owned and operated, concerns as to the entry fee for the event ($11 for the week) have some locals worried about the turnout for the traditionally spectator-friendly (and often free-to-watch) sport. With onsite parking and discounted rates for tours of the estate, however, Hopkin argues that, really, the deal is a steal.\r\n\u201cHaving an entry fee is not uncommon,\u201d Hopkin adds. \u201cAt the World Cup Cyclocross race in Las Vegas, I paid $13 or $14 for just one evening.\u201d\r\nGiven the dedicated following of family members, friends, and fans in western North Carolina alone, attendance numbers for the National Championships are expected to reach 6,000 with anywhere from 1,600 to 1,800 competitors throughout the week.\r\nThe Biltmore\u2019s course will be one for the books. Spectators will be satisfied with easy access and onsite amenities like restaurants and hotels, while racers will endure steep elevation changes, barriers, and likely lots of mud. For western North Carolina riders, this is simply par for the course.\r\n\u201cThere is a bit of suffering involved but that suffering is short and quick and very satisfying,\u201d adds Hopkins.\r\n\u201cEveryone loves to play in the mud at least on some level,\u201d Whitmore says. \u201cThe classic analogy that people use is that cyclocross is like a mullet. Business at the front and party at the back,\u201d which translates to a community of cyclists who ride hard to play hard and take their beatdowns with a smile.\r\n\u201cCyclocross is really cool because it combines the best elements of all forms of cycling,\u201d says Hopkin, \u201cthe tactics of criterium racing, the skills of mountain biking, and in general the great camaraderie and friendship amongst all of the racers.\u201d\r\nDiehard fans looking to get the best view of the course can start with course-side lodging at Biltmore, which is being offered at a group rate. For the rookie cyclocross spectator looking to get a taste of what\u2019s to come in 2016, check out the NCCX\u2019s marquee event, the North Carolina Grand Prix, which takes place from December 12-13th at Jackson Park in Hendersonville, N.C.\u00a0\r\nStay tuned to BlueRidgeOutdoors.com for real time updates on the\u00a0USA Cycling Cyclocross National Championships.