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By Neal Rogers
Heading into its sixth season, the U.S. Gran Prix of Cyclocross kicks off Saturday in Madison, Wisconsin, with The Planet Bike Cup, a new event to the series.
The timing of the addition makes it possible for riders such as Katie Compton and Jonathan Page, both sponsored by Planet Bike, to participate in the USGP — an opportunity both have had to forgo in the past due to their World Cup racing schedules.
Also able to race due to the event’s spot on the international calendar are European stars Erwin Vervecken (Revor-Baboco-Champion System), a three-time world champion; Belgian Tim Van Nuffel; and Swiss star Christian Heule (Rendementhypo), winner of the <a href="/article/98006/"Starcrossed season opener in Seattle last weekend.
All the top domestic pros are expected, including defending USGP champion Tim Johnson and three-time USGP winner Ryan Trebon (Kona), as well as Johnson’s Cannondale-CyclocrossWorld.com teammates Jeremy Powers and Jamey Driscoll.
Driscoll, the under-23 national champion, took the biggest win of his career Wednesday at CrossVegas, the UCI event held in conjunction with the Interbike trade show in Las Vegas. Johnson, a two-time national champion, abandoned CrossVegas midway through, favoring the shoulder he injured in a final-lap crash at Star Crossed.
Other top domestic pros on the start list include Geoff Kabush (Maxxis- Rocky Mountain), Jesse Anthony (Jamis), Andy Jacques-Maynes (Bissell), Barry Wicks (Kona), Troy Wells (Team Clif Bar) and CrossVegas runner-up Christopher Jones (Champion System).
On the women’s side, look for a duel between Compton, a five-time national champion, and her rivals on the Luna squad, 2008 USGP champion Katerina Nash and 2007 USGP champion Georgia Gould. Also competing for Luna is out-of-retirement Alison Dunlap, a six-time national cyclocross champion as well as the 2001 world cross-country champion. Dunlap placed third at Starcrossed and second at the following day’s Rad Racing GP but did not start CrossVegas.
Other top women expected in Madison are Canadian Alison Sydor (Rocky Mountain-Maxxis) and Portland’s Sue Butler (Monavie-Cannondale).
The Planet Bike Cup course, located at Angell Park Speedway in Sun Prairie, near Madison, will consist entirely of grass, with very few flat sections. The course has been used for local races and features small hills and off-camber corners, and typically remains relatively dry in September. However the forecast for this weekend calls for rain Friday night into Saturday, with clouds clearing late Saturday afternoon. If it does rain, the already challenging course will likely become a slow-going mud pit.
For those in Madison, Williamson Bicycle Works, a local sponsor of the weekend’s racing, is hosting a number-presentation party on Friday, from 6 to 8 p.m.
Amateur racing begins at 8:30 a.m., the elite women race at 1:45 p.m. and the elite men race at 3 p.m.
A full list of confirmed Planet Bike Cup riders can be found here.
In 2009 the USGP of Cyclocross will race across the country, featuring: The Planet Bike Cup, September 26-27 in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin; The Derby City Cup, presented by Papa John’s, October 24-25 in Louisville, Kentucky; The Mercer Cup presented by Knapp’s Cyclery, November 14-15 in West Windsor, New Jersey; and the Stanley Portland Cup, December 5-6 in Portland, Oregon.
Series sponsors include SRAM, Fuji, Clif Bar, Selle Italia, Bob’s Red Mill and Stanley Gear.