Amateur events kicked off today at the USA cyclo-cross national championships in Bend, Oregon ahead of the weekend's elite races but on a course that is much more technical than listed on the official map.
Though the route generally follows the prescribed layout, race officials have substantially modified – or even truncated – at least half a dozen sections, adding a significant number of corners, abrupt elevation changes, and off-camber stretches to what was already expected to be a demanding course on account of the frigid temperatures and snow cover.
Racers will start out on a long, straight paved section before hooking sharply left on to the dirt and a short rise before taking another left through a long gradual downhill that levels off and sweeps around the pit area before heading uphill into the woods. Here, course designers have added a short and tight 'lollipop' in contrast to the straight line depicted on the map and then a more abrupt chicane before banking right along Columbia Street.
A sharp 180-degree corner and another immediate left (again, another modification) awaits riders at the end of the Columbia Street section before the course meanders up and down the side of a relatively steep embankment. A quick – and very steep – downhill chute then spits riders into another technical S-bend, a tough step-up at the top of another short, steep rise, then another set of abrupt rises and drop plus yet another sweeping S-bend before making a second trip through the pit area.
Four more corners – including one tight and sharply descending right-hander – brings the riders into a tough man-made stair section, more tight turns and a single set of double barriers. Racers will get a very brief respite afterwards from the sharp-radius bends but only just before a run-up section – which will likely be very slippery come Sunday. Afterwards, racers have only a quick jaunt on a paved path before a 90-degree right-hand turn brings them back on the finishing chute.
Depending on conditions, lap times for the elite men are expected to be well under six minutes.
As of Thursday morning, the course was still predominantly lightly covered in hardpacked snow over rock-solid ground but with a definite groove worn in – so much so that bare dirt was visible in several corners, suggesting that the course may be significantly snow-free by Sunday. Even so, properly equipped (and skilled) riders were offering very positive feedback and reporting surprisingly good grip overall but several sections of both dirt and especially pavement were still treacherously – and abruptly – slick in spots.
Temperatures are expected to rise over the next few days to above freezing (in contrast to earlier Arctic-like conditions) but forecasts are also calling for a possible "wintry mix" Friday night into Saturday. In either case, race day will likely favor more technically savvy riders and crashes may play a greater role than usual as the elite racers may have to contend with extremely slippery conditions if the upper layers of ground thaw and mix with remaining snow.
Check out Cyclingnews' walk-through of the course.