Race Preview: Cascade Cycling Classic

The NRC takes to the mountains of central Oregon this week and VeloNews will be there.

The second half of the U.S. road season gets underway in earnest Tuesday when the 31st annual Cascade Cycling Classic starts in Bend, Oregon. Cascade is a marquee event in the National Racing Calendar this year; overall winners in the men’s and women’s races will walk away with 160 NRC points and a share of the respective $25,000 and $12,570 purses. Also on the line is the Women’s Prestige Series title; Cascade is the final of four events on the calendar in 2010.

Peloton climbs McKenzie Pass in 2003 | Neal Rogers file photo
McKenzie Pass in 2003 | Neal Rogers file photo

NRC leaders Luis Amaran (Jamis-Sutter Home) and Cath Cheatley (Colavita-Baci) will both be on hand to defend their leads. Mara Abbott (Peanut Butter & Co.-Twenty12) leads the WPS and will be in Bend.

Fly V Australia’s 2009 VeloNews climber of the year Phil Zajicek is the only rider on the startlist to have worn the final leader’s jersey at Cascade. Last year’s men’s winner Oscar Sevilla has not raced in the States this season, while women’s champ Evelyn Stevens (HTC-Columbia) just finished the Giro Donne and will not be in Bend.

While the list of returning winners is short, the list of GC contenders is anything but. On the men’s side, the top favorites include Zajicek and teammates Ben Day and Darren Lill; the Rabobank U23-turned UnitedHealthcare-Maxxis tandem of Marc de Maar and Rory Sutherland; espoirs Caleb Fairly and Alex Howes (Holowesko Partners) and Andrew Talansky (Cal Giant-Specialized); Carter Jones (; and the Bisell pair of Ben Jacques-Maynes and Paul Mach.

V Australia and UHC have shown up in a big way at stage races in 2010. The former has taken the final GC at the San Dimas Stage Race, Redlands Classic and Tour de Beauce (Day) and has won the Gila Monster stage the last two years (Zajicek and Lill). Sutherland landed seventh overall, the top U.S. Continental spot at the Tour of California in May, and de Maar led Beauce when he lost time at the start of the TT due to an official disallowing the saddle he had ridden all season to that point.

Not a favorite for the overall, but a notable inclusion in the startlist nonetheless is 2010 Olympic gold medalist Billy Demong (Cole Sport-High West). National ’cross champ in 2008 and Bend resident Ryan Trebon (Kona) also confirmed that he’ll forego the remainder of the mountain bike season and will be at his hometown race, though he does not appear on the early roster. Trebon’s rival in the mud, Tim Johnson (UnitedHealthcare) continues his return from a broken ankle as well.

In the women’s race, Mara Abbott (Peanut Butter & Co.-Twenty12) is the number one favorite. The rail-thin climber last week won arguably the most difficult women’s stage race in the world, the Giro Donne. She also took the overall at the Tour of the Gila in May and the parcours at Cascade suits her well.

Other contenders include Cheatley, who won the Gila Monster stage this year; NRC second-place Alison Powers (Vera Bradley Foundation); Tibco-To The Top’s all-rounder Joanne Kiesanowski; and Webcor tandem Katheryn Mattis and Erinne Willock. Powers had a disappointing trip to Bend for the national road championships in June and will look to make amends this week, while Willock rode at the front at Gila.

With two climbing heavy road stages and a challenging out-and-back time trial, this year’s race should be every bit as selective as years past. The bulk of the time differences in the GC will be made over the first four days of the race, when riders face more than 8,000 feet of climbing in the McKenzie Pass and Cascade Lakes stages, as well as a 16-mile time trial that opens with a long, gradual climb before turning back and descending the sometimes wind-swept Skyliners Road.

Preliminary Start List

Prologue: Tuesday July 20 6:00 p.m. (women) / TBD (men)
Old Mill Prologue – 2 miles

A brand new prologue opens Cascade Tuesday night in the Old Mill District, home to the national cyclocross championships. The flat, two-mile time trial favors the explosive specialists and the sprinters like David Veilleux (Kelly Benefit Strategies), Kyle Wamsley (Bissell) and Andrew Pinfold (UnitedHealthcare). Theresa Cliff-Ryan (Colavita-Baci) and Brooke Miller (Tibco) are well suited to the opener, though Miller is not a fan of the individual test.

Stage 1: Wednesday July 21 10:00 a.m. (men) / 10:10 a.m. (women)
McKenzie Pass Road Race – 74 miles

The McKenzie Pass stage returns in 2010, but this year climbs the 20-mile ascent from the wineries of the Willamette Valley to the west. The long grind to the pass starts at mile 28 and tops out at nine percent gradient through a series of early switchbacks before leveling to five-to-six percent above treeline. From the summit of the race’s first KOM, riders will descend to the first sprint point in Sisters before reaching the base of the summit finish at Three Creeks Snow Park. The six-mile climb to the finish offers an average gradient of six percent and what is left of the peloton should thin out considerably in the first half of the climb.

Sevilla and Stevens locked up their overall wins when the penultimate stage finished at Three Creeks in 2009. Tom Danielson and Lynn Bessette did the same in 2003, when riders climbed the west side of McKenzie Pass en route to a summit finish outside of Sisters. Ben Jacques-Maynes (Bissell) won the McKenzie Pass Road Race over Chris Baldwin (UnitedHealthcare) in 2007. The GC favorites will want to use the summit finish to distance their rivals and should compete for the stage win in an elite group.

Stage 2: Thursday July 22 10:00 a.m. (men) / TBD (women)
Skyliners Time Trial – 16 miles

Alison Powers finished 3rd in the 2009 TT | Pat Malach
Alison Powers finished 3rd in the 2009 TT | Pat Malach

The stage 2 Skyliners Time Trial is back on Thursday. The 16-mile out-and-back course has been a Cascade staple since 2007 and has been the site of the elite/U23 national championships the last two years. The route gradually climbs more than 800 feet toward the Deschutes National Forest over the first eight miles.

Zajicek won the stage in 2007, when there was no women’s race. Day, Baldwin, Lill and Jeremy Vennell (Bissell) have each podiumed at Skyliners. Scott Zwizanski (Kelly Benefit Strategies) and Gila TT winner Jesse Sergeant (Trek-Livestrong) are always near the top of the conversation in a long TT now, while Talansky won his U23 national title here in June.

Arguably the strongest time trialist in the women’s field, Powers has struggled somewhat on the Bend course. She finished third behind Stevens and Alison Starnes (Tibco) last year and twice failed to repeat her 2008 national title. Abbott surprised at nationals and finished third in the TT and Starnes is showing good form – either could take the stage.

Stage 3: Friday July 23 10:00 a.m. (men) / 10:40 a.m. (women)
Cascade Lakes Road Race – 84 miles (men) / 71 miles (women)

The Cascade Lakes stage is another climbers’ day, with the 2,300-foot ascent of Century Drive coming from mile zero for the men. The guys will come to the start early and warmed up if they hope to stay in the front group over the climb. The women start at the Wanoga Snow Park near the summit of the KOM and won’t contest points on the first climb.

The stage finishes atop the 10-mile, stair stepping climb to Mt. Bachelor Ski Resort. With 45 miles of down time between the climbs, the race  should not be ultra selective for the top of the GC. Strong all-rounders with the ability to finish fast uphill will look to snatch a stage win here. Riders like Andrew Bajadali (Kelly Benefit Strategies) and Andrea Dvorak (Colavita) could have a crack at the stage in the end.

Stage 4: Saturday July 24 5:45 p.m. (women) / 7:00 p.m. (men)
Downtown Criterium – 50 min (women) / 75 min (men)

The penultimate twilight Downtown Criterium stage is a flat, fast, four-corner affair. The finish straight is four city blocks long and starts with a slightly downhill right-hand corner. Brooke Miller was devastated after she crashed in the crit at nationals; she and Cliff-Ryan were among those to go down in the final corner headed for the bell lap and they’re the favorites for the stage 4 win. Pinfold, Wamsley and the Jamis trifecta of Ivan Dominguez and the Borrajo brothers will be favored if the men’s race comes down to a bunch kick, but a criterium four days into a difficult stage race is an unpredictable beast.

Stage 5: Sunday July 25 1:00 p.m. (men) / 1:05 p.m. (women)
Awbrey Butte Circuit Race – 83 miles (men) / 52 miles (women)

The peloton rides back into the daylight for stage 5 on the Awbrey Butte circuit. The loop has been used in the race every year since 2003 and features the short, punchy KOM at Archie Briggs Road, which, on the final lap comes just over two miles from the finish. The circuit is built for Amaran and Sutherland. If either is near the top of the overall, they’ll look to light it up on the climb and their teams are strong enough to control the pace in the field. Amber Rais, who is guest riding for Colavita, has won here twice. Abbott, though, secured her second national title last month on the circuit – Starnes, Mattis and Janel Holcomb (Specialized D4W) all looked good that day and if they can stay with Abbott (sans teammate Shelley Evans) over the climb, they could pull the win on the closing day.