Jeremy Powers likes American cross. You should too. - Chris See
Belgium is the motherland for cyclo-cross, but the sport is growing dramatically in the United States. So how does the year look on this side of the pond?
I will admit, the US cross scene started over a month ago at Cross Vegas. The European season is just now beginning with one race from each of the major series occurring in the past month. But in the US? almost half of the major races of the season have already passed. We love cross so much we just can't be patient. But! that means there is still half a season to go! More, if you include the world championships in February. So, I present to you the American version of the comprehensive schedule GS puts up every fall for the Euro season.
If you're just starting to tune into cross, here's the schedule. If you're a Euro cross fan and wonder what we do over on this side of the Atlantic? Got you covered. If you want to see videos from the races that have happened this year? CHECK.
So what about the methodology? With dueling UCI races 2,000 miles apart on some weekends, how do we choose the important ones? First, all weekends with a UCI C1 status race are included because those are the biggest prizes. Then there is (are) the major series. The US Grand Prix (USGP) of Cyclocross is the biggie, the races that every domestic pro worth his salt targets. Each of the four USGP weekends has a C1 race on Saturday and a C2 on Sunday. I also left out World Cup weekends because most of the big boys will be playing in the European sandbox on those dates.
About half of the big races are streamed live, though sadly not at the quality of Sporza broadcasts of races in the homeland. Cyclingdirt usually has the stream if anyone does, or at least has a link to it. So, without further ado...
19: CrossVegas (Las Vegas, NV)
Type: Field, short barriers and steps
In America, every cross race is a party. The top professionals, they may not partake in the beer and donut and bacon handups, but most others do. Yes, that's right. Beer, bacon, and donut handups - those things you never, ever, ever see in the very serious world of European cross racing. And what better way to celebrate the party atmosphere than to... party in Vegas where there is no such thing as a dead hour? The race is run under the lights at night between the first day of interbike shindigs and the first day of interbike parties. The course is fast. FAST, people, so you'll see lots of tactical racing. It's rare to see a solo win - instead, a sprint out of a large-ish group like when Lars Van der Haar won last year is the more likely outcome. Oh, and some of the Euros come over to play and make the sponsors happy.
2012 Video: Full Broadcast of Men's Race
22-23: USGP Planet Bike Cup (Sun Prarie, WI)
Type: Field, barriers plus a run/ride-up with steps
2011 Day 1 Podium: Trebon, Wellens, Powers
2011 Day 2 Podium: Wellens, Page, Trebon
Hardly any time off for our American stars and the Euros who came to play at Cross Vegas with a mere two days to travel to Wisconsin and settle in for the first full weekend of racing. The course changes some from day one to day two, but it is a field race with a few trees thrown in. The most entertaining section of the course is a hillside with sunken railroad ties at the bottom. Bunny hop them and you can accelerate up the hill faster than anyone can run, but that is easier said than done. Sometimes, there are amusing failures here.
26-27: NEPCX Gran Prix of Gloucester (Gloucester, MA)
Type: Hilly, lots of stairs
2011 Day 1: Heule, Powers, Fields
2011 Day 2: Powers, Johnson, Berden
Belgium has Koksijde, Zonhovan, and the Koppenbergcross. America has Gloucester. A fixture since the early days of cross in America, Gloucester is known more often as the New England World Championships. Situated along the ocean, the course corkscrews up and down the hill that rises from the sandy beach. When it rains, it is rarely thick mud - Gloucester is essentially atop a very large rock. The segway from a fast descent to the beach section before the stairs back up the hill is always good for hilarity - at least in the lower categories. And as if the course weren't hard enough, the uphill paved drag to the line takes eons to pass on the last lap.
6-7: NEPCX Providence Cyclo-cross Festival (Providence, RI)
Type: Park/field, roller coaster, ride-up with steps
2011: Not a "big" weekend back in the day
In years past, Providence has conflicted with a weekend of USGP racing, most recently the New Belgium Cup. This year, however, the promoters have worked together to put the races on different weekends, allowing Providence to upgrade Saturday's race from a C2 to C1 and attract the top riders in the country. The course is through a park in Providence and rollicks over little rises, though nothing large enough to be called a proper hill.
13-14: USGP SmartWool Cup (Fort Collins, CO)
Type: Hill, with a flyover
2011 Day 1: Trebon, Kabush, Powers
2011 Day 2: Powers, Trebon, Kabush
Down the hill. Back up the hill. That is the essence of the USGP course in Fort Collins. When dry, the course is bumpy and rough, particularly in the corners after a day or two of amateur and professional racing. When wet? It takes forever to make it back to the top of the hill. Nothing too crazy on course, just barriers and a flyover. Oh, and it's at altitude (5,000 feet / 1.500 m). Take that, Belgium.
2-4: Cincy3 Darkhorse Cyclocross Stampede (Cincinnati, OH)
2011 Day 1: Powers, Driscoll, Trebon
2011 Day 2: Trebon, Johnson, Powers
2011 Day 3: Powers, Trebon, McDonald
Three days of racing! Sunday is a C1, the other two days are C2 races. I don't know much about the courses - the venues are different for each day. Some guys will be coming back from the first two weekends of World Cup racing so might have travel in their legs. This kicks off a three-week domestic block of racing for guys like Powers and Johnson.
10-11: USGP Derby City Cup (Louisville, KY)
Type: Field, flyover, sandy, twisty
2011 Day 1: Powers, Trebon, Johnson
2011 Day 2: Powers, Wells, Kabush
Pay attention! Worlds will be here in Eva Bandman Cyclocross Park in a mere three months. Worlds, in the United States! This has been a perennial USGP stop for some years now. The course is typically American - twistier than Euro courses, though not necessarily more technical. There are sand pits, evil sand pits atop a steep hill, a trickery-filled run/ride-up, and the Green Monster, the venue's venerable flyover. I can't recall a muddy USGP race here, but it was a total slog-fest at Masters Worlds last February. Nasty, derailleur-eating mud, but the organizers have improved drainage since then. Boo.
16-18: The Jingle Cross Rock (Iowa City, IA)
2011 Day 1: Driscoll, Jones, Johnson
2011 Day 2: Wells, Jones, Schouten
2011 Day 3: Johnson, Driscoll, Wells
Want to get a pre-emptive start at working off that Thanksgiving turkey dinner(s)? Try Jingle Cross Rock, which until this year was held the weekend after Thanksgiving. That is the weekend of Koksijde, though, and perhaps the move was to not clash with a World Cup. There isn't video - or I didn't see much last year besides recaps from around the course - but I do know the course has a hill. And on Friday night, the course has a series of logs very close together that make riders stutter-step like footballers through a line of tires at practice. The C1 race is Sunday, so expect the bigger names to cool their jets a bit for the first two days, allowing a rider like Jamie Driscoll or Chris Jones to win. Or Zach McDonald if it is as muddy as it was last year.
8-9: USGP Deschutes Cup (Bend, OR)
Type: Field, assorted CX obscacles
2011 Day 1: Powers, Johnson, Summerhill
2011 Day 2: Powers, Driscoll, Kabush
Holding any event in Oregon in December is an open invitation for horrible conditions, be it week-long rain or slushy snow. The result? A perfectly enjoyable cross race, except for last year when it was dry and dusty and totally non-Oregon like. The course, which was the site of the 2011 National Championships, is situated in and around a natural bowl next to the Deschutes brewery. That means lots of off-camber sections and but little climbing. There are barriers and stairs, but nothing too crazy. This isn't Belgium, after all.
5-6: Chicago Cyclocross Cup New Year's Resolution (Indian Lakes, IL)
Type: Golf Course. Literally.
2011 Day 1: Trebon, Powers, Jones
2012 Day 2: Trebon, Powers, Jones
Last year Jeremy Powers joked that New Year's Resolution should be renamed the Ryan Trebon Invitational. The course is perfectly suited for him with long power sections and a high possibility of slop - it was muddy as snot last year. There is no C1 event this weekend, but don't let that fool you - everyone who is someone will be here and on their A-game. Coming the weekend before Nationals and a mere three hour drive from Madison, only Johnson and Page were notable exceptions from last year's fields. And who wouldn't enjoy the spectacle of racing in the midwest in January? Helloooooo snow.
13: National Championships (Madison, WI)
Type: Hill. Needs more craziness, though a distinct possibility of blizzards.
2012: Powers, Trebon, Page
Putting Nationals in Madison is like putting the World Championships in Tabor in 2010 - there is almost guaranteed snow, which should make for an amusing race at the least. Last year the weather gods held off, gifting us temperatures in the 40s with only some tacky mud to deal with. I doubt the same conditions prevail this year. The average high in Madison on January 13 is 27F / -3C. Sounds like either ice or muddy half-frozen ruts to me. The course seems non-technical at first - there is a stout climb up a hill, replete with barriers at the top, and then a long descent and some flat before doing it all again. At speed, though, the rough surface makes sections much trickier than they initially appear. Also fun about this race is it is one of the few that Jonathan Page may do in the US after spending his season in Belgium.