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Cyclo-cross feature, September 30, 2008

North American 'cross season bigger and better

By Mark Zalewski North American Editor and Kirsten Robbins

The US cyclo-cross peloton has grown
Photo ©: Jon Devich
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It is official: cyclo-cross is here to stay in North America and is as popular as ever. More and more riders are choosing to spend their fall and winter hopping barriers and plowing through mud baths and sand pits, and the level of competition has gone up steadily. There are now 40 races on the USA Cycling National Racing Calendar, the list of events which earn valuable UCI points, nine of which are category 1 UCI (C1) races which have the highest point value of any North American race. There are also a few UCI races in Canada and a healthy amount of un-rated races around the country for all levels of racers.

The large number of UCI races allows riders to become more competitive in international competitions, where racers are lined up at the start by their UCI ranking. In 'cross, like mountain biking, a front row start is critical for a high placing, especially when it comes to national championships, World Cups and the World Championships. C1 races earn 60 points for the win, while C2 races yield 30. By contrast, World Cups (which are only held in Europe at this time) have 300 points on the line, giving European races a huge advantage.

With the number of riders from the USA and Canada heading to Europe for the World Cups and World Championships increasing, the competition for points on this side of the Atlantic has become increasingly fierce, but UCI ranking isn't the only prize on offer. Prestigious series rankings, a US national ranking and more prize money than ever is on the line this year.

Two major series make-up the bulk of the North American cyclo-cross season this year; the US Grand Prix of Cyclo-cross (USGP) and the newly-formed North American Cyclo-cross Trophy Points Championship (NACT). The number or races in the US alone are more than any other country in the world. The racing is already hot and heavy: the opening weekend saw UCI-ranked races in Washington state, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

The NACT series continues in October with the Grand Prix of Gloucester in Massachusetts, then with two weekends in November with the Boulder Cup in Colorado and finishing with the Super Cross Cup in Southampton, New York. The series also boasts $40,000 in cash prizes and an additional $7,000 in bonuses for the top three men's and women's season finishers. And the series is adamant that it is all cash.

Tim Johnson, the US Champ
Photo ©: Mark Zalewski
(Click for larger image)

The USGP is back as a three series event, both for the men and women. That series begins its fifth year with the Derby City Cup in Louisville, Kentucky in late October. The Mercer Cup in New Jersey follows in November and it all culminates with the Portland Cup in December. The series is also used to qualify juniors and U23 for the US world championships team.

While four of the series races are UCI category 1 rated, there are five UCI C1 races not part of either series in North America. The first was Cross Vegas during the Interbike trade show on September 24. The Granogue Cross and Wissahickon Cross are back-to-back in mid-October around Philadelphia. Our friends north of the border also get in on the category 1 action with the Centennial Park Cross in Etobicoke, Ontario.

The culmination of the season, at least for the US riders, will be the US championships in Kansas City. Last year's race was a battle of the elements with a nasty winter storm covering the region in ice and cold. Ryan Trebon will be looking for redemption after crashing out of the race last year, while Tim Johnson could either be looking to repeat or help his teammate Jeremy Powers move up in stature.

Riders to watch

Jeremy Powers jumps the barriers
Photo ©: Mark Zalewski
(Click for larger image)

The number of front row riders competing for the hard-earned UCI points has grown steadfast since the American star Jonathan Page put his country on the map of world-class cyclo-cross. He was the first American to land a podium spot with a silver medal the elite world championships two years ago in Hooglede, Belgium.

The top five of the USGP last year are back in full swing, though with one coming a little later in the season. The reigning US national champion Tim Johnson, Ryan Trebon, Barry Wicks, Jeremy Powers and Todd Wells are the top contenders for both series' titles. Jesse Anthony is still recovering from a broken wrist sustained during the Superweek series, but should be back for the second-half of the season. Johnson and Powers traded victories at the first weekend of racing at Starcrossed and Rad Racing GP.

The NACT series kicked off outside Seattle with the FSA Star Cross and Rad Racing Grand Prix, and true to its reputation, the area provided ample rain, mud, crazed fans and chaos as the big names of North American 'cross re-emerged after their summer vacation. The Cyclocrossworld/Cannondale duo of US champion Tim Johnson and Jeremy Powers took turns toppling Ryan 'tree-farm' Trebon (Kona) while their east-coast teammate Jamey Driscoll dominated the Nittany Lion 'cross. Meanwhile, Jonathan Page (Planet Bike) quietly doubled up in the KTR Michigan 'cross weekend.

Trebon came back in CrossVegas, and punished Johnson with a blistering attack to take the win, while some guy named Lance Armstrong stole a bit of his thunder by making an appearance in the race.

Katie Compton, the US champion
Photo ©: Mark Legg
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The top women of the 2007-2008 season had their first show-down in Las Vegas. US champion Katie Compton didn't exactly waltz away with the win, but had to rely on some misfortune by Luna Chix teammates Georgia Gould and Katerina Nash to slip away on the final lap. Rachel Lloyd and Wendy Simms also began their seasons with strong performances, and will be riders to watch throughout the fall and winter.

Simms, the Canadian champion, won the Rad Racing GP, but got strong competition from American Sue Butler at Starcrossed and CrossVegas. Road sprinter Laura Van Gilder made her way onto the 'cross scene with a win in her first race in Pennsylvania, but then finished a distant 11th in Vegas.

Notably absent from this year's 'cross peloton is the former Canadian champion Lyne Bessette, retired after the previous season. Bessette has turned to race commentating in her post-racing career, and will still be making appearances at some of the series races.

Cyclingnews will feature full coverage of all of the series events as well as many more races from the North American 'cross season this year.

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