National cycling races a boom for Bend

by Heidi Swift, Special to The Oregonian

Friday April 24, 2009, 1:00 AM

In December, USA Cycling announced that Bend had been awarded the Cyclocross National Championships for 2009 and 2010. With a lineup of local pros, including Chris Horner (Team Astana), some think central Oregon could replace Boulder, Colo. as the nation’s cycling mecca.

Tucked along the Deschutes River on the eastern edge of the Cascades, Bend is surrounded by some of the West Coast’s most rugged, breathtaking and adventurous terrain.

From skiing and boarding on Mount Bachelor (22 miles from downtown), to road cycling, kayaking, mountain biking, fly-fishing, rock climbing and hiking — it’s got a little something for everyone.

Named “Best Adventure Town” by Men’s Journal in 2005 and one of Outside magazine’s “Best Towns” in 2007, Bend has steadily drawn national attention as a premier adventurer’s playground. And this year, bicycle racing will get its moment to shine in Bend’s high desert sun.

USA Cycling announced in December that Bend will host the Cyclocross National Championships in 2009 and 2010. The competitive bidding process took 13 months.

Road warriors

Vital statistics for 2009 USAC Road and Cyclocross Nationals in Bend

Road Nationals
When: July 28-Aug. 2
What: Six days of cycling action covering three disciplines: criterium, road and individual time trial
Who: Racing categories include Juniors, Under-23 and Elite men and women.
Why: Epic battles for national titles — history in the making!

Cyclocross Nationals
When: Dec. 10-13
What: 1,800-2,000 competitors duking it out for the nation’s top honors and a weeklong celebration of the cylcocross lifestyle (get ready to party).
Who: Racing categories include Junior, Under-23, Collegiate, Masters and Elite divisions for men and women.
Why: Because Cyclocross is the most fun you can have on two wheels — and Oregon does it better than anyone.

— Heidi Swift

Just a few weeks later, Bend was selected as the site of USA Cycling’s Junior, U23 & Elite Road National Championships for 2009 and 2010 — making it the first city to host two USAC national championship events in the same year.

The double appointment prompted VeloNews, the veritable bible of pro cycling news, to declare Bend “the cycling capital of the United States for the next two years.”

National fame aside, the wins also represent a huge economic payoff. At a time when many families and individuals are cutting back on leisure travel spending, group and event travel become even more important to economic vitality. Visit Bend President and CEO Doug LaPlaca describes the bidding process for Cyclocross nationals as “a full community effort.”

Community together

“We worked very hard to secure that … it’s testimony to what we can accomplish when the community comes together to support a cause,” LaPlaca said. He expects 1,800 to 2,000 competitors, along with their friends, family, and staff, to flock to Bend for the 2009 Cyclocross National Championships in December — a month that is traditionally challenging for tourism-driven economies.

The aggressive bid by Visit Bend, an economic development organization empowered and funded by the Bend City Council, played a major role in USA Cycling’s selection of Bend for the six-day Road National Championships (July 28 to Aug. 2).

In addition to Bend’s top-notch race venues and nationally renowned race directors, the committee was impressed by what USAC CEO Steve Johnson referred to as a “long tradition of communitywide support and passion for cycling.”

Also key: Bend’s ability to quickly put together the financial backing: a $30,000 hosting fee required to secure the two-year contract. LaPlaca describes it as a no-brainer. “The return on investment for these national level events is outstanding. It will be very hard to duplicate this type of (return).”

Cycling disciplines demystified

Stage race: A multiday race (anywhere from three days to three weeks long) consisting of a series of separate races of various types (road race, criterium, time trial), usually held one stage per day. The rider with the lowest cumulative time at the end of all the stages wins.

Time trial: Cyclists race alone against the clock and start at equal intervals, usually one or two minutes apart; the rider with the fastest time wins. This discipline is also called the “race of truth” because victory depends only on individual strength and determination — drafting or helping teammates is not allowed.

Road racing: What most people think of when they think of bike racing — competitors start at the same time (called a mass start) and travel over a set course on roadways.

Criterium: Traditionally held on a short course on closed-off city streets (usually less than 5K), this is one of the most spectator-friendly forms of bicycle racing. Competitors race laps for a set amount of time, usually an hour. The first rider (who hasn’t been lapped) to cross the line wins.

Cyclocross: Similar to a criterium in structure, participants race laps on a short course for a set amount of time. However, cyclocross courses are mostly off-road on gravel, grass, dirt and mud, and competitors are required to dismount and then carry their bikes over natural and man-made obstacles.
— Heidi Swift

And the payout will be realized in more than just dollars — the high-visibility events round out a list of credentials that catapult the town directly into the heart of the national cycling scene and reinforce Bend’s growing reputation as a first-rate outdoors destination.

Top cycling town?

The recognition from USAC, coupled with a strong grass-roots bike racing community and an impressive lineup of local professional cyclists have caused some to contend that Bend is now poised to replace Boulder, Colo., as the nation’s cycling mecca. Local cyclists include Chris Horner (Team Astana), mountain biker Adam Craig (2008 Olympian), and cyclocross champ Ryan Trebon (2006 and 2008 CCX national champion).

Either way, the next two years will be pivotal — and two men will be crucial to ensuring that Bend takes advantage of the time in the spotlight.

Chad Sperry of Breakaway Promotions will be the race director for the 2009 and 2010 Road National Championships, and Brad Ross, producer of the Cross Crusade (the biggest cyclocross race series of its kind in the world), will direct the cyclocross national championship events.

Both men were influential partners during the bid processes. Sperry, longtime race director of the Tour of Utah and Mt. Hood Cycling Classic, is also the force behind Bend’s Cascade Cycling Classic which, in its 30th year, is the longest-running elite stage race in the country.

Spanning five days and requiring competitors to tackle three cycling disciplines (see sidebar), the Cascade Classic had 565 participants in 2008 — the largest turnout Sperry has seen during his tenure.

Running from July 22-26, two days before Road Nationals, the convenient timing of the Cascade Classic will give fans a reason to settle in and stay for a while. And Sperry has promised to make nationals a good show.

Competitors across age and gender categories will battle for the national titles in the individual time trial, road race and criterium disciplines. All courses will be within 10 minutes of downtown.

And if the criterium event, which will be held over the weekend to draw in more spectators, bears any resemblance to last year’s Cascade Cycling Classic Stage 4, the crowds will be rabid and the racing second to none.

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