Most of the top cyclo-cross racers in North America are heading to Portland, Oregon this weekend for rounds seven and eight of the US Gran Prix of Cyclocross (USGP). Reigning US national 'cross champion Ryan Trebon (Kona-FSA) will go head-to-head with Tim Johnson (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com), the defending USGP series champion, in what should be the most exciting racing of the season. Each currently has two wins in the series thus far.
Trebon will bring a modest 36-point lead over Johnson to the Portland event. Both will need a perfect weekend if they hope to walk away with the USGP title. Trebon's wins have been on wet, boggy grass courses that require massive power, while Johnson has had the edge when the courses are faster.
Trebon has made no secret of the fact that he considers winning in Portland crucial to his season. Johnson, on the other hand, is having the most dominating season of his career. On many occasions he has been untouchable.
Over the past few years, these Portland races have emerged as the most prestigious of the cyclo-cross season. This year's event is even more important due to the fact that the US National Championships are being held the following weekend in Bend, Oregon.
Jesse Anthony, a seven-time national champion at Junior and U-23 levels, said, "Everyone wants to do well in Portland because it is the end of the season. Some people may be trying to peak for nationals the following week, but others may be able to hold the peak for both events. I have been training hard and am hoping for my best races of the year."
Trebon has been lamenting on Twitter that the Portland weather forecast lacks much precipitation. Johnson, known as a "mudder", is also not likely to get the conditions he favors either. But, the weatherman has been wrong before. In 2007 the races were held as a Pacific hurricane bore down on the Oregon and Washington coast. Often the mud has been so prevalent that riders took new bikes twice a lap for the entire race. Pit crews are tested at this venue almost as much as the riders.
The Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld team, known as the "Green Machine", has been dominant all season with Tim Johnson, Jamey Driscoll, and Jeremy Powers all capable of winning on a given day. But, more importantly is how they do it. In nearly every race, the three riders have gotten themselves to the front and then have dispensed with challengers with savvy team tactics. Even the powerful Trebon has found himself in a green sandwich at times.
Once the Cannondale team is alone on the front, the real battles begin. All three can be counted on to attack each other relentlessly. There has been contact, crashes, and even laughter as these close friends off the bike go at each other.
Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld teammates Driscoll and Johnson hold second and third overall, 30 and 36 points behind Trebon respectively, while Powers holds seventh overall and is mathematically out of taking the USGP title. It will be interesting to see how the trio's tactics unfold given that both Driscoll and Johnson each have a chance to unseat Trebon from the USGP lead.
Other racers who we may see on the podium this weekend include Geoff Kabush (Team Maxxis-Rocky Mountain), Adam Craig (Giant), and Todd Wells (Specialized). Kabush, fourth overall in the USGP series and one of the best mountain bikers in the world, has looked strong all season and feels at home in the Pacific Northwest. Wells, who Tim Johnson calls "the domestic dark horse for nationals" has been slowly ramping up his cyclo-cross season after taking a break during the first half. He logged impressive wins last weekend at the Jingle Cross races in Iowa.
America's most recognizable international racer, Jonathan Page (Planet Bike) is on his way back from Europe for nationals but is not expected to compete in Portland. Likewise for Katie Compton (Planet Bike) who is currently ranked number one in the world and has endured a heavy travel schedule. "As much as I would like to do it (Portland)...last time I had a sucky weekend and got sick," said Compton. "It just wasn't good. I want to have a good race at nationals."
Katerina Nash (Luna Pro Team) has simply been on a different level from the other domestic women racers when Compton has been off in Europe. She has won four straight USGP events coming into the Portland weekend and holds a commanding 72-point lead over teammate Georgia Gould.
Nash, the top mountain biking short track racer in the world, typically has won those races in tactical battles followed by a one or two lap attack. What is different this cyclo-cross season, however, is that she has been leaving the field behind on the first lap. Her speed has made tactics unnecessary.
Nash, a citizen of the Czech Republic, is focused on winning a world championship on home soil in Tabor, just south of Prague. As a former Olympian and national champion, the fans in the Czech Republic certainly will be on her side.
Luna teammate Georgia Gould normally provides some stiff competition for Nash but has decided to end her season. After a long stretch of racing, going all the way back to the Olympics, she appears to need a break.
The diminutive twenty-two-year old Amy Dombroski (Clement-Primus-Mootry), third overall in the USGP series, has been a revelation this season. Appearing on multiple podiums and taking back-to-back wins at the NACT races in Southampton, she has improved almost every weekend. The fact that she beat Georgia Gould twice there turned a lot of heads.
After a mid-season change of teams, Dombroski started riding 15.2 pound Primus-Mootry bikes. She now seems to have more of an ability to respond to attacks and even launch her own. With Gould bowing out of the series finale, Dombroski will likely finish the series in second overall.
Meredith Miller (California Giant Berry) is coming off a three-peat at the Iowa Jingle Cross races. As the reigning road national champion, she has not been known for her abilities in the mud. She may have put that knock on her riding to rest while winning in horrifically muddy conditions last weekend.
Kelly Emmett (Giant) has shown flashes of brilliance this season, particularly at CrossVegas and in Southampton. While a win would be a huge upset, she is quite capable of riding with the leaders and making a podium appearance.
Finally, former national champion Alison Dunlap (Luna Pro Team) has come out of retirement with the goal of winning a seventh stars and stripes jersey. Fourth overall in the USGP series, Dunlap has frequently has been on the podium this season and could do so again in Portland.