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By Ben Delaney
Cyclocross fans are familiar with most of the initials. UCI, signifying a big race; USGP, the nation’s premier series. But KY?
The U.S. Gran Prix of Cyclocross begins its six-race romp this weekend in Louisville, Kentucky. The weekend represents the first UCI ’cross race ever held in the state.
The city is behind the event, hosting two days of racing in Champion’s Park just east of downtown along the Ohio River.
“Louisville has developed into a great cycling town, and along with a great corporate partner in Papa John’s, we are proud to be able to host the premier cyclocross series in the Unites States,” said Diane McGraw, executive director of the Greater Louisville Sports Commission.
Although the venue may be unfamiliar, the big names on the starting list certainly aren’t. National champion and two-time USGP victor Ryan Trebon is in Kentucky along with Kona teammate and former USGP champ Barry Wicks, currently the best UCI-ranked American male in 9th.
Despite a nagging problem with his left leg, Trebon said he doesn’t expect Kona to be toppled from its three-year ownership of the series.
“Why would it change?” said Trebon a few hours after landing in Kentucky from Belgium. “I don’t think we’re riding any slower, and I don’t think anybody else is riding any faster.”
Hoping to prove otherwise will be another two-man tag-team crew of Tim Johnson and Jeremy Powers, who traded wins at the November 13-14 UCI weekend in Gloucester, Massachusetts. Also in the mix: Troy Wells, Danish national champ Joachim Parbo and Chris Jones.
In the women’s field, Katie Compton is the hands-down favorite. The three-time national champion just returned from Belgium where she scored second place at the opening round of the World Cup. She now stands atop the UCI leaderboard – the first American woman to do so.
The world silver medalist will be skipping the middle rounds of the USGP in November to hit two more World Cups in Europe, and therefore won’t be in contention for the series title. Last year that honor went to Compton’s perennial rival Lyne Bessette, who will be in contention this weekend along with Georgia Gould, Katerina Nash, Canadian champ Wendy Simms and Kerry Barnholt.
The under-23 and junior fields should produce quality racing, too, with world silver medalist Danny Summerhill the marked man in the espoir category.
Also encompassing race weekends in New Jersey and Oregon, the USGP offers more than its own rewards — USA Cycling grants the overall male and female winners automatic spots on the world championship squad.
With persistent rain all through the week, the course should be soft if not muddy under predicted sunny skies this weekend. Designed by USGP executive director Bruce Fina and local ’cross guru Bob Bobrow, the course features grass, sand, several run-ups, a flyover, and a section dubbed the “Trail of Tears” before the flat, fast finish.
Trebon and Compton both rode what was set up of the course Thursday.
“It was fun; pretty fast,” Trebon said. “You’re on and off the bike a lot. Some stairs. It’s a good mix of things.”
Compton said the long straightaways could mean more recovery for riders sitting in the draft. And although she would prefer a tighter, more technical course with more explosive accelerations to break things up, Compton is happy to help make the race on the course at hand: “It’s cyclocross – we can make it as hard as we want.”
Check back with VeloNews.com throughout the weekend for complete race coverage.