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North America’s most popular participatory cyclocross series starts Sunday when Oregon’s eight-race Cross Crusade rolls onto the Alpenrose Dairy grounds in Portland for its 20th year.
Born in 1990 when cyclocross in this country was little more than a curious afterthought for many competitive cyclists, the sport and this local series have come into their own. More than 1,400 participants packed Alpenrose for last year’s series opener, and Crusade race director Brad Ross says he doesn’t see any signs of things slowing down.
The classic American cyclocross venue at Alpenrose has been the site of many UCI races, and it hosted the final weekend of the U.S. Gran Prix of Cyclocross for that series’ first three seasons. The venue, with its plentiful grass, a spin through the Wild West town and a loop around the 43-degree banks of Alpenrose Velodrome, is always a big draw in the ’cross-crazy Pacific Northwest.
UCI events in Southern California and Massachusetts will draw away some of the top local talent this year, but 2009 women’s overall winner Wendy Williams (River City Bicycles) should be on hand to start the defense of her title. Alice Pennington, second last year, will be there to renew her battle for the overall. Portland’s Sue Butler (Hudz-Subaru), who has four top-10 finishes this season at national events, is skipping the UCI races and will race at Alpenrose instead.
“Alpenrose is always fun, that’s why I didn’t want to skip it again,” said Butler, who missed the race last year. “I prefer it when it’s a bit muddy, but yet two years ago I went down hard and had sore ribs for a majority of the season.”
Butler described the course as tight, yet long, which makes it especially spectator-friendly. She said she’s really looking forward to racing in front of Portland’s rowdy fans.
“The sport is growing in other parts of the country,” she said, “but when you have 1,200-plus people racing in one day, even if only half stay to watch, that is 600 people on the course. But there’s usually more because people usually don’t come alone.”
Radio advertising for the series and local TV coverage might also drive more spectators to the race.
The men’s A race will definitely feel the effects of its UCI competition in California and Massachusetts. Alpenrose 2009 winner Ryan Trebon will be representing the West Coast and Kona-FSA at the North American Cyclocross Trophy (NACT) race in Gloucester, so he’ll skip the Crusade opener.
Sean Babcock, the 2009 Cross Crusade overall winner who signed with Kona this season, will head south to this weekend’s Krosstober-fest in San Dimas, California. So will teammate Barry Wicks, who finished second at Alpenrose last year. Molly Cameron, the independent pro who battled Babcock down to the wire last year, is targeting the California UCI race as well.
The absences should set the stage for a battle among some of the area’s veterans. Kona’s Erik Tonkin took third at Alpenrose last year behind teammates Trebon and Wicks. Also toeing the men’s start line Sunday will be Chris Sheppard, who’ll tackle the UCI race in San Dimas on Saturday and then be back in Oregon Sunday. Sheppard will have the full Rocky Mountain-Shimano ’cross team of Donald Reeb, Codie Peterson, Ben Thompson and former Bissell road pro Graham Howard.
“Graham’s a good roadie, but his cyclocross skills are still unknown, so we’ll just have to see how it goes,” Sheppard said.
Others who might be in the mix include 2009 third-place overall rider Shannon Skerritt, Michael Gallagher, Damian Schmitt and former road pro Aaron Olsen. With both of last year’s top-two contenders planning national campaigns, the race for the men’s overall is wide open, and week one on the classic Alpenrose course is the perfect place to start the battles.
Week two brings the series back to Rainier High School, where the beautifully set school grounds test riders with steep run-ups and plenty of off-camber grass turns. Sherwood Equestrian Center marks its second year as a Crusade venue as host of week three. The bumps and patties from last year’s debut proved difficult and popular.
The first change in the 2010 schedule comes during week four when the race revisits Portland International Raceway. Unlike last year, the PIR Crusade race won’t be followed by the Single Speed Cyclocross World Championships (SSCXWC), which move to Seattle this year. The Clatsop County Fairgrounds once again host the Halloween weekend double-header on October 30-31 for series races five and six. The Washington County Fairgrounds are back on the schedule for the penultimate week-seven races, and rocky Barton Park, the gravelly scene of last year’s final-race showdown between eventual winner Babcock and runner-up Cameron, will be back to sew the series up.
The Crusade-assisted USGP Portland Cup, the final weekend of the season-long national U.S. Gran Prix of Cyclocross series, hits Portland International Raceway on December 4-5. And just a few days later, the USA Cycling Cyclocross National Championships (produced by Cross Crusade) will be back for the second year at the Old Mill District in Bend on December 8-12.
Oregon’s Cross Crusade schedule
October 3 – Alpenrose Dairy, Portland
October 10 – Rainier High School, Rainier
October 17 – Sherwood Equestrian Center, Sherwood
October 24 – Portland International Raceway, Portland
October 30 – Clatsop County Fairgrounds, Astoria
October 31 – Clatsop County Fairgrounds, Astoria
November 7 – Washington County Fairgrounds, Hillsboro
November 14 – Barton Park, Barton