Friday, December 5, 2008
Top pros, Portland tifosi ready for USGP showdown
When the Crank Brothers U.S. Gran Prix of Cyclocross returns this weekend to Portland International Raceway -- the scene of 2007’s epic finale, when snow, rain and heavy winds battered spectators and riders alike -- you can be sure of only a few things: Mud will fly, beer will be spilled and the series winners will eventually be crowned.
But everything else is up for grabs Saturday and Sunday at the 2008 Portland Cup presented by Stanley, the finale of the three-weekend, six-race series that started Oct. 25-26 in Kentucky.
This time around, the racing is expected to be equally fierce, but the weather should be a little less so, according to KOIN Local 6 meteorologist Bruce Sussman.
“It's going to be a lot drier than last year,” Sussman said. “In fact, Saturday looks dry. Then on Sunday a system from the north will bring some rain at times, but nothing major.”
Fans of the deep mud can hope for a downpour Sunday, Sussman added, but he’s not expecting it.
The course at Portland International Raceway — featured in both the 2007 USGP and the 2004 national championships — includes plenty of trees and roots, and can become quite difficult in foul weather. Brad Ross, promoter of Oregon’s eight-race Cross Crusade series and the USGP’s local organizer, said Berms from a motocross track at the venue may be used as run-ups.
“It’s kind of ‘rolly,’” he said. “It’s not a super physically demanding course with huge climbs or anything. But if it gets muddy it will get very difficult. The pro men and pro women can handle whatever we throw at them. The mud out there, there’s no clay in it. It’s nice mud. You kind of slice through it. It’s not the kind of mud that piles up on your bike and makes it weigh 100 pounds.”
ELITE WOMEN'S OVERALL
After starting things off with a modest third-place finish on Day 1 of the opening weekend in Kentucky, last year’s elite women’s USGP champion Georgia Gould (Luna) has looked unstoppable in her quest to repeat, racking up three consecutive wins coming into the Portland finale.
Nevertheless, she isn’t taking anything for granted.
“I’m feeling good, and I’ve been racing well,” Gould said. “But I never like to be overconfident. I have a really strong teammate, and there are a lot of other strong women in the field. I’ve found that it’s best not to count anybody out.”
Indeed, Gould's teammate Katerina Nash has been her toughest competition. She finished in the top spot on Day 1 in Kentucky, but has had to settle for second the past three races.
Gould said she and Nash work well together.
“Katerina and I, we race together a lot,” she said. “We are pretty similar in fitness, which is an advantage. We can ride together, and if we do manage to get off the front together, it’s sort of everyone for themselves then. Once you finish racing everyone else, then you’ve got to race each other.”
Under the best-five-of-six scoring system that will determine the series winner, Nash could pull off the overall win — but she’ll need some help. if she wins both races and Gould finishes second the Luna pair will be tied. To win outright, Nash has to win both races and then hope Rachel Loyd (California Giant Berry Farms/Specialized), Mo Bruno-Roy (MM Racing/Seven Cycles), Sue Butler (Monavie/Cannondale.com) or Deidre Winfield (Velo Bella/Kona) can bump her Luna teammate into third place or worse.
ELITE MEN’S OVERALL
Forecasts for relatively mild weekend weather didn’t necessarily please current national champion Tim Johnson (Cyclocrossworld.com-Cannondale), who’s sitting third overall in the Elite men’s series behind Todd Wells (GT Bicycles) and Jeremy Powers (Cyclocrossworld.com-Cannondale).
“I like it nasty,” said the Massachusetts native who’s known for his ability to conquer the deepest muck.
Johnson won Day 2 of the series-opening weekend in Kentucky and claimed the overall lead three weeks later with a win on Day 1 in Mercer, New Jersey. But he quickly lost that lead to Day 2 winner Wells when he was unable to start because of bruised knee suffered in the previous day’s win.
Now, he says, the knee is ready to go.
“It’s much better,” Johnson said. “I’ve been riding and training on it recently. It’s a bone bruise, so the pain sticks around a little longer but the damage is already done. It’s just up to me to deal with it.”
Johnson said his hopes for an overall win are buoyed by the series points system, which scores the final overall results on the best five finishes out of the six races. If you look at the series leaders' best three scores out of the past four races, Johnson is leading Wells by three points and Powers by 21.
“Hopefully I can keep things going this weekend,” he said. “I still have a chance if I have two very good days. I can hope for Todd or Jeremy to have a tough day. But Todd is an Olympian and Jeremy is my teammate, so I’m not counting on that. It’s up to me to have a couple of good days.”
Johnson said he also isn’t counting out last year’s USGP overall winner, local favorite Ryan Trebon (Kona). The Bend resident won last year’s finale in Portland despite snow and brutal winds.
“Ryan is one of the most dynamic riders in the states,” Johnson said. “It all depends on whether Super Ryan shows up or just normal, human Ryan.”
And which of the "two" Ryans does Trebon expect to appear this weekend?
"I've been training a lot," he said. "More so to get ready for nationals and then I'm headed over to Europe. But I still think I can do a good race this weekend. I really would be disappointed to not win the series again. But I pretty much have to race to win both days to lock it up."
The Kona rider said he believes the comparatively dry conditions might give him an edge over Johnson, whose knee problem makes him something of an unknown quantity.
"It'll be a pretty big change from the last 400 years of Portland weather to be dry in December," he said. "It will make the race faster, which tends to favor me a little more. But who knows? I've never really ridden that course when it's dry.
"Todd's racing really well right now. With Tim being injured, I don't really know how well he'll be able to ride. Jeremy's been doing some pretty consistent races also. I think Todd will probably be the one I'll be looking out for most this weekend."
Trebon said a win means a lot to the team.
"It will be interesting if we (Kona) don't win," Trebon said. "I think it's been me or Barry (Wicks) who have won the race the last four years. Nobody else has won it but us. But that's a tall order to keep winning."
Meanwhile, Powers said he’s looking forward to his teammate Johnson’s return to the series, adding that his main goal for the weekend is to beat Wells, the overall leader.
“The gloves are definitely going to be off. Everyone, Ryan and Tim, are going to be going for it,” he said. “Most of all, I’d just like to have a strong weekend and put some finishing touches on my form for the nationals.”
But it’s Wells – a two-time cyclocross national champion who climbed into the series lead for the first time in his career after finishing second on Day 1 in Mercer and a win on Day 2 – who leads coming into the final weekend, placing the seasoned GT rider squarely in the driver’s seat to win the series.
Local promoter Ross said he expects the “usual suspects” from Portland’s cross-crazy fan base to show up in force.
“It’s going to be more typical cyclocross weather, maybe a little rainy,” he said. “That doesn’t scare people away. What scares people away is when it’s like it was last year – hurricane! It’s going to be a good party. The beer will be flowing. This race has a little bit more of a hype and visibility level than Cross Crusade because of the top pros being here and the advertising we’ve done.”