The Mellow Johnny's Classic has been awarded UCI Category 1 status on the international mountain bike calendar. Coming up on April 30, 2011, in Dripping Springs, Texas, the race will again be run on the 450-acre Juan Pelota Ranch owned by Lance Armstrong. It is also a stop in the US Pro XCT series.
The UCI upgraded the status of the 2011 Mellow Johnny's Classic from category 2 to category 1 in response to requests by the race organization.
"Our idea was always to grow the event and to set a high bar that we'd hit or go past," the race's Media Liaison Ted Arnold told Cyclingnews. "We had been trying pretty hard to get this designation."
The Mellow Johnny's Classic came to be - in its first running in November of 2009 - after Lance Armstrong tweeted that he wanted to have a mountain bike event. The resulting race was run - with no UCI categorization - on the Armstrong's Juan Pelota ranch, located about one hour's drive outside of Austin.
"It all started because Lance tweeted. I was at Interbike and he was in Austin, and we were all able to jump onboard and make the connections needed to make it happen," said Arnold. "A lot of people don't know how much passion Lance has for mountain biking. We had a huge response and sold out the event and we decided to come back in the spring."
After a promoter dropped out of the US Pro XCT in 2010, Arnold's team saw the opportunity to take the race up a level. The second edition of the Mellow Johnny's Classic ran in May of 2010.
"We thought the right thing to do was to step up and pick up a Cat. 2 spot offered by USA Cycling for the Pro XCT series. That was our second year."
Run at the end of May, temperatures were scorching on race day, and many riders found the heat in conjunction with the humidity to be stifling. Fortunately for those negatively affected by racing in the heat, in 2011, the race is moving one month earlier on the calendar.
"Last year, we ran the race on the only date we could do. It was part of the Texas series, and we had to squeeze into that calendar plus we were limited on options as we stepped into the US Pro XCT," said Arnold.
"Rolling it back has assuaged some of the fears of the heat. For Texas riders, it's common to race in the heat, but we as organizers preferred an earlier date for more temperate weather. This year, we don't expect it to be nearly as warm." Arnold noted that organizers brought 10,000 pounds of ice to last year's event to keep racers from overheating.
The 2011 Mellow Johnny's Classic will feature a cross country race, like other US Pro XCT rounds. As in previous years, a short track will not be included in the weekend's racing.
"We looked at possibilities for a short track, but it won't be this year," said Arnold. "We tried to work out a way to re-arrange the schedule, payouts, etc., but it makes more sense to not have it this year, to put on the best cross country event we can, and add the short track for 2012."
As part of the US Pro XCT, the event is likely to draw some big names. Arnold reported that only the Subaru-Trek team, which includes riders like Heather Irmiger, Sam Schultz and Jeremy Horgan Kobelski, and Rabobank-Giant's Adam Craig are confirmed thus far, but he is expecting others to attend, too. The UCI category 1 designation should help attract racers interested in chasing UCI points as the 2012 London Olympic Games loom on the horizon.
Max Plaxton and Georgia Gould won the most recent edition of the Mellow Johnny's Classic in 2010.
Lance or no Lance?
With Armstrong having wrapped up his international, competitive cycling career and with the earlier date moving the Mellow Johnny's Classic away from the Amgen Tour of California on the domestic calendar, there is a possibility that the seven-time Tour de France winner could attend the race at his own farm, but Arnold thinks it's unlikely.
"Right now, I'd say probably not," said Arnold of the chances of Armstrong racing come April 30. "With his schedule, we never really know. Obviously, if he decided to show up and do the event, he could. It's always been his decision and a last minute thing. I'd never say never, but at this point he's got no plans that I know of."
Armstrong, who was not available for comment on this year's race, raced the first edition of the Mellow Johnny's Classic in 2009 although he flatted out. He did not compete in the second edition in 2010.
With or without Armstrong, the cross country race will be run on a loop taking advantage of some of the nearly 10 miles of trails on his 450-acre ranch. It will feature open, very fast singletrack with lots of ledges and some climbing sprinkled in. Some of the trails have been specially built for the race while others have existed prior to the race.
"Everyone really seemed to like the course," said Arnold. "The comments we got were that the riders didn't expect it to be as good at it is."