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By Neal Rogers
“A 60 percent chance of snow before 10 a.m., then rain and snow likely. Cloudy, with a high near 36. South wind between 8 and 18 mph, with gusts as high as 23 mph.”
Welcome to December cyclocross in Portland, Oregon, host city to the2007 Crank Brothers U.S.Gran Prix of Cyclocross finals. The forecast for this weekend’s events,a pair of races that will determine the series winners, is wet, cold andmuddy.
It’s going to be a sloppy weekend. Saturday appears to be the harsherday of the two, with colder temperatures bringing the possibility of snow.Sunday is predicted to be nearly 10 degrees warmer, but still the chanceof precipitation is now rated as 100 percent. Given that the skies alreadyopened up all Wednesday and Thursday, there is a 100 percent chance ofepic Oregon mud for both days and all amateur and professional categories.
The races, collectively titled the Toyota Portland Cup, will be organizedby Cross Crusadedirector Brad Ross and held at the Portland International Raceway, homeof the 2004 national championships.
Those elitenational championships were won in muddy conditions by Jonathan Page,his third consecutive title, and Katie Compton, her first title. Page hasnot won a national championship since, while Compton has not been beatenat nationals since, bringing each of their totals to three. Page, who iscompeting in Europe, will not race in Portland, while Compton has returnedto the U.S. and plans to race.
With participant numbers soaring near 1000 at some events, the CrossCrusade series is one of the most notoriously rowdy and animated in theU.S. This weekend should be no exception, with amateur racing expectedto wear paths into the mud and tear the course up prior to the elite racing.
“We are using the same course as the 2004 nationals,” Ross wrote onthe race Web site. “It’s relatively flat and offers spectators a wide-openview of almost the entire course from the infield at Portland InternationalRaceway. There are rolling sections and lots of trees. There are bermsthat we’ll be using as run-ups and trees and roots to navigate. The riderwho handles the slippery, muddy technical sections the best is the personwho will win the race. Even a little mistake on the technical climbingsections could cost somebody the race. It’s happened before.”
Current men’s national champion Ryan Trebon (Kona-YourKey.com) is leadingthe series and hopes to secure his third USGP title in four years thisweekend. Trebon leads Tim Johnson (Cannondale-Leer-Cyclocrossworld.com)170 points to 164.
At lastyear’s sloppy wet final USGP event in Portland, Trebon, who alreadyhad the series title locked up, had a difficult time in the slop whileJohnson — a northeast mudder — excelled to take the win.
Trebon said it would be unwise to read too much into last year’s seriesfinal result. Now living in Bend, Oregon, Trebon said he’s been trainingin cold, wet conditions for the past month, and pointed out that he beatJohnson in New Jersey in what he described as “greasy” conditions.
“I’ll have to race pretty well this weekend to win the overall,” Trebonsaid. “But I’m planning on winning both days.”
Race winners are allocated 50 points, with 40 going to second place,34 to third and 30 to fourth. In determining the overall series winnersin each category, each rider’s final points tally will be based on thebest 5 of 6 race events. That rule could come back to haunt Johnson, shouldhe and Trebon trade off wins this weekend. Johnson’s worst finish out offour races was third place, while Trebon’s was fourth place.
It wouldn’t be the first time Johnson has found himself up against thethrow-out rule. The Health Net-Maxxis roadie finished second overall inthe 2005 series to Kona’s Barry Wicks, even though Wicks had dropped outof a snowy race in Gloucester, Massachusetts. Johnson completed all sixevents that year, and was instead forced to throw out his lowest scoreof 26 points, eventually losing the competition to Wicks 190 to 174, thoughhe’d actually scored 200 points to Wicks’ 190.
Johnson finished second to Trebon three times out of six USGP raceslast year and again finished second overall with 210 points to Trebon’s230. In order for Johnson to avoid finishing second overall for a thirdyear in a row, he’s going to have to beat Trebon both days and hope Trebonhas at least one bad day.
Johnson’s teammate Jeremy Powers — the race winner at round 1 in Louisville,Kentucky, and the rider Trebon called “the most improved rider this year”— sits in third overall with 148 points. With Wicks in a distant fourthat 112 points, no other riders are realistically in the running for theoverall series title.
However one man everyone will be watching is two-time national championTodd Wells (GT), who was sick for the opening round USGP round in Louisvillebut tends to come on strong in the build-up to the mid-December nationalchampionships. Without the series title to worry about, Wells and Wickscould play wild-card roles in the battle for race wins.
Trebon added that given the weather forecast, tactics might not playmuch of a factor.
“I don’t know if we are going to see a tactical race,” the nationalchamp said. “Mud races aren’t usually like that. It just comes down towhoever can ride the fastest.”
Also racing in Portland is Bend, Oregon, resident Chris Horner, whorecently announced he had signedwith Astana to ride alongside Tour de France champion Alberto Contadorand podium finisher Levi Leipheimer. On a UCI race weekend when both Trebonand Compton swept a pair of races, Horner recently placed fifth inBoulder, Colorado, against a USGP-caliber field on a dry, non-technicalcourse that favored Horner’s power; conditions in Portland are expectedto do the opposite. However top-level pros have reported that Horner’stechnical skills are improving, and that while he sits only 20th in theseries, his strength is unquestioned.
Compton, who is coming off of an incredible showing in Europe that includeda win at the Pijnacker World Cup and a second place last weekend at Koksijde,Belgium, is the hands-down favorite to win both races this weekend. Howeverit is worth noting that Compton had a bad race in the mud at last year’sseries final in Portland and finished fifth on the day behind winner KaterinaNash (Luna).
“Last year I just had a bad day,” Compton said. “I just didn’t havethe legs, I didn’t have the power, and once I started going slower I justkept going slower.”
Compton said that she picked up a head cold on her return from Belgiumand is not in optimal shape, adding that she might sit in with the leadgroup rather than go on an early attack — a tactic that has becomeher trademark.
“It could turn out like it did last year,” Compton said. “I want towin, that’s always a goal. But more than anything I just don’t want tosuck.”
As with last year, Compton missed one round of the USGP series and willnot take the title. Defending the women’s leader’s jersey will be Luna’scross-country phenom’ Georgia Gould, who carries the dubious distinctionas the second-best American woman in cyclocross. Gould holds a 180 to 132point lead over three-time world cross-country champion AlisonSydor, who, racing her first season of cyclocross at the age of 41,has shown she can compete with the best in North America. However the RockyMountain-Haywood rider has not yet finished better than third, and barringcatastrophe Sydor will not take the series title from Gould.
The wild card in the women’s races will be two-time USGP overall winnerLyne Bessette of cyclocrossworld.com, the only Canadian to have won theoverall series title. Bessette started the season out strong with a winat the Excel Sports Cross Vegas UCI event, beating Compton, but was sick in Kentucky and has only recently found her legs. At New Jersey’s round 2 Mercer Cup two weeksago Bessette finished second twice behind Gould. Last weekend at the KoksijdeWorld Cup Bessette finished 12th, showing that her form is coming around.Last year, their first of head-to-head competition, Bessette was oftenthe only woman in North America who could stay close to Compton. However2007 has seen an even stronger Compton and Bessette has been strugglingwith illness lately and has had difficulty finding her form.
“I’d put money on Georgia for the series, Compton said. “But given theconditions, the race win could go to Katerina, Alison Sydor, me or Lyne…Georgia is strong but her technical skills aren’t as great. But she isso strong that her strength makes up for that. It should be a good weekendof racing. It could be any one of the top five women winning on eitherday.”
The tightest competition of the weekend will be for the U23 series title.Two-time junior series winner Danny Summerhill could be the first USGPrider to win the title in more than one category — a feat that would bemore impressive given that this is Summerhill’s first season in the U23ranks.
The throw-out rule will come in handy for Summerhill, who was leadingthe series with two wins and second place before he was disqualified inNew Jersey for exchanging bikes with another teammate outside of the mechanic’spit area after he broke a chain. Summerhill slid to third in the serieswith 140 points behind last year’s U23 series winner Jamey Driscoll ofFiordifrutta, who has 150 points, and 2004 junior series winner Bjorn Selander(Ridley), who has 148 points. With the three riders separated by only 10points and Summerhill ready to throw out a zero-point day, the racing shouldbe fierce.
“I don’t have a back-up plan any more,” Summerhill said, referring tohis zero points from the last USGP race. “I’m pretty upset about what happened.I’ve been training on anger.”
Summerhill said he is most worried about Driscoll, adding, “Jamey’sgot the biggest edge on me. I’ll need to say with him, or keep him in mysights. If he gets away from me, [winning the series] could be a lost cause.”
In junior racing, Luke Keough (CL Noonan-Coast to Coast-KAM) is theonly undefeated series leader, good for four 50-point performances and200 points. Steve Fisher of Rad Racing Northwest has finished twice threetimes and seventh once for 140 points. Safe money is on Keough for theseries win.
Elite racers will attend a numbers pick-up ceremony Friday night atRiver City Bicycles. Racing begins on Saturday and Sunday at 8:45 a.m.,with the elite women’s race at 1:45 p.m. and the elite men’s race at 3p.m.
Crank Brothers USGP of Cyclocross standings
(after 4 of 6 races)
1. Ryan Trebon, Kona-YourKey.com, 170 points
2. Tim Johnson, Cannondale-Leer-Cyclocrossworld.com, 164
3. Jeremy Powers, Cyclocrossworld.com, 148
4. Barry Wicks, Kona-YourKey.com, 112
5. Adam Craig, Giant, 89
6. Jesse Anthony, Jamis Bicycles, 83
7. Geoff Kabush (Can), Maxxis-Litespeed, 64
8. Todd Wells, GT, 56
9. Christopher Jones, Nerac, 54
10. Matt White, FiordiFrutta, 45Elite women
1. Georgia Gould, Luna, 180 points
2. Alison Sydor (Can), Rocky Mountain-Haywood, 132
3. Lyne Bessette (Can), cyclocrossworld.com, 120
4. Wendy Simms (Can), Kona-YourKey.com, 104
5. Rachel Lloyd, Proman-Paradigm, 101
6. Katie Compton, Spike Shooter, 100
7. Kerry Barnholt, Tokyo Joes-Van Dessel, 83
8. Sue Butler, River City Bicycles, 67
9. Wendy Williams, River City Bicycles, 52
10. Katerina Nash, Luna 51U23 men
1. Jamey Driscoll, FiordiFrutta, 150
2. Bjorn Selander, Ridley Factory Team, 148
3. Danny Summerhill, Clif Bar Development, 140
4. Chance Noble, California Giant Berry Farms-Specialized, 126
5. Nicholas Weighall, Rad Racing Northwest, 98
6. Mitchell Peterson, Devo, 78
7. Jerome Townsend, Ridley Factory Team, 67
8. Adam Mcgrath Maxxis-Litespeed, 63
9. Nicholas Keough Jittery Joe’s-Sonic Cyclocross, 61
10. Brady Kappius, Clif Bar Development, 48 Junior men
1. Luke Keough, CL Noonan-Coast to Coast-KAM, 200
2. Steve Fisher, Rad Racing Northwest, 140
3. Gavin Mannion, Hot Tubes Junior Development, 131
4. Eric Emsky, Rad Racing Northwest, 97
5. Andrew Llewellyn, Papa Johns, 80
6. Clayton Omer, Papa Johns, 74
7. Jeremy Ferguson, Team Spine, 66
8. Zach Mcdonald, Oh Boy Oberto-Redline, 65
8. Ian Terry, Rad Racing Northwest, 65
10 Jacob Rathe, Redline, 52