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By Fred Dreier
The Crank Brothers U.S. Gran Prix of Cyclocross celebrates its fifth anniversary this Saturday as the six-race series kicks off in Louisville, Kentucky. The October 24-25 Papa John’s Derby City Cup presented by Toyota will once again be held at Champions Park, a former private golf course just east of downtown Louisville. Both races boast UCI C2 status.
In 2007, Louisville debuted as a stop on the USGP, a move that brought Kentucky’s its first UCI cyclocross race. The decision to expand into an untraditional cyclocross market irked many riders and fans.
“People from the traditional ’cross scenes didn’t recognize it as much as they should have,” said Bruce Fina, the USGP’s executive director. “‘Louisville? There’s no cyclocross scene in Louisville.’ That was what we heard from the beginning last year. But in reality there is a groundswell of enthusiasm here for cycling and cyclocross. I think we proved them wrong.”
Indeed, the 2007 race saw big crowds, a challenging course and an all-star cast of the continent’s best cyclocross talent. Area cyclists from local cycling clubs helped with course construction. Local food celebrity John Schnatter — founder of the nationwide Papa John’s Pizza — showed up to watch the event his company helped sponsor.
This year, the pro fields are similarly strong, with the only notable absentees being Canadian Wendy Simms and American Katie Compton, winner of both 2007 Louisville races.
Simms hopes to defend her UCI No. 1 ranking at the second round of the World Cup, held in Tabor, Czech Republic. Compton, the four-time U.S. champ, is recovering from a chronic leg problem called metabolic myopathy, which forced her abandonment at the first World Cup of the season in Kalmthout, Belgium.
But returning to Louisville are defending USGP champ Georgia Gould and Katerina Nash of the powerful Luna women’s squad. Both are coming off successful cross-country mountain biking campaigns, which saw Luna grab the team classification at the UCI World Cup. Both riders appeared to have transitioned nicely to cyclocross at the September 25 ’CrossVegas event, where they finished second and third behind Compton.
Challengers include Sue Butler (Cannondale-Monavie), ranked ninth in the UCI rankings; American U23 champ Amy Dombroski (Velo Bella), who leads the USA Cycling cyclocross rankings after two impressive victories at the Erdinger Grand Prix of Gloucester; Rachel Lloyd (California Giant Strawberry), runner-up at the 2007 USA Cycling national cyclocross championships; and roadie Laura Van Gilder (Cheerwine), who has successfully transitioned from one of the country’s fastest road finishers into a ’cross contender.
Giants vs. elves
Many eyes will be on the elite men’s race, as the Louisville races mark the biggest battle so far between the powerful Kona and Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com teams. The 6-foot-5 giants Ryan Trebon and Barry Wicks historically have held the upper hand on the petite duo of Tim Johnson and Jeremy Powers; however, the playing field appears to be even this year. Powers defeated Trebon and Wicks at the Starcrossed season opener on September 20. Trebon won CrossVegas five days later. Powers took two victories at the ’Cross Stampede race on October 10-11, but Trebon answered with two impressive wins in Gloucester, Massachusetts.
“I think it’s become pretty evenly matched with Tim and I there — Ryan is still riding the same, tearing people’s legs off, but Tim and I are riding close to the same level,” said Powers, who leads Trebon in the USA Cycling rankings. “When we can hang with him it puts Ryan in a bad position tactically.”
Indeed, Trebon has found himself alone alongside Johnson and Powers on a handful of occasions this year, as his teammate Wicks is still building his fitness after embarking on the UCI World Cup of mountain bike racing. Still, the challenge posed by the Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com team — which also added talented up-and-comer Jamey Driscoll to the mix — doesn’t seem to have Trebon worried.
“I feel like I’m stronger, I think we’re all pretty close, but if it comes down to one or two laps I’m strong enough to get or keep a big gap on those guys,” Trebon said. “But if I’m riding normal and Jeremy is riding really strong, it’s hard to control that.”
The National Weather Service is calling for scattered showers and temperatures in the 50s for Louisville, which could favor Johnson, who took the 2007 U.S. championship in horrendously muddy conditions in Kansas City, Missouri.
Stay tuned to VeloNews.com for news and updates from the 2008 US Gran Prix of Cyclocross opener in Louisville, Kentucky.