For the third consecutive year, the Pan Am Continental Championships return to the hilly Devou Park located in Covington, Kentucky just over the state border from Cincinnati, Ohio this coming weekend. Devou Park is one of two "permanent" cyclo-cross parks in Kentucky, more than any other state.
In its first year, the course at Devou Park earned rave reviews from the racers, largely due to features made possible by the hilly terrain. There were steep run-ups, off-camber descents, and very few flat sections of track where riders could recover. The course was changed for last year's event and earned even more positive comments.
Stephen Hyde (Cannondale) who finished second last year in the Elite Men's race told Cyclingnews, "Honestly, at the time that we raced last year's course it was the best course on the circuit. I think the level of courses has certainly risen since then. However, it still remains one of the hardest and most technically challenging venues out there. They do a good job at listening to the riders and making things interesting."
This weekend's racing is likely to see repeats of the epic 2015 battles, both on the men's and women's side of things.
Elite Men's Racing
Jeremy Powers (Aspire Racing) has struggled for weeks due to a crash in Wisconsin but certainly will be hoping to win again in Kentucky. While at Gloucester a couple weeks ago, Powers made a prediction about the upcoming Pan Am Championships, "It looks like that is going to be the next big fight". It certainly appears that he was right.
Powers and Hyde put on one of the best battles of the year at last year's race. Powers won while a totally spent Hyde had to watch Jamey Driscoll (Raleigh Clement) pass him and claim second place in the final minutes of the race.
This year when both men have been healthy, Hyde has looked even stronger in head-to-head match-ups. Coming into this race, both men have had breaks in their schedules, partly for the purpose of training for this weekend.
Hyde commented the 2015 race, "Last year Powers and I went straight for the hand to hand combat and that opened up the door for Jamey to come back and capitalise on our dual. I don't like to lose spots but you can't argue that it was a great race. I think this year will be as exciting as any race has been yet."
Jamey Driscoll will certainly be a threat to win again this year. He is known for his ability to pace himself and ramp up his speed in the closing laps. Danny Summerhill (Maxxis Shimano, Michael Van Den Ham (Garneau Easton), and Jonathan Page (Fuji) are podium threats as well.
Elite Women's Racing
USA Champion Katie Compton (Trek Panache) won last year's race by over a minute ahead of her former protégé Kaitie Antonneau (Cannondale). This year, with the combination of reduced travel and better health, Compton has never looked stronger. She won last weekend at the DCCX race in Washington, DC while many racers including Antonneau made the grueling trip to race to the Valkenburg World Cup.
Antonneau finished 8th at the legendary Valkenburg World Cup but the top American woman was Amanda Miller (Boulder Cycle Sport-Yogaglo) who finished fifth.
Miller commented, "The course at Pan Ams is the most Euro-style course we have in America. It has everything; gnarly descents, off camber sections, and steep run ups. It is a super fun course. I hope Valkenburg was good preparation for this weekend!"
Rebecca Fahringer (Amy D Foundation) and Courtenay McFadden (American Classic), Ellen Noble (Aspire Racing), and Maghalie Rochette (Cliff Pro Team) are podium threats as well.
Rochette weighed in on Devou Park as well, "The course is one of my favourites because it is challenging physically, as well as technically, and it is super fun.
Rochette added, "In the past (2014), I had the honor of winning the U23 division of the Continental Championship. I am racing in the Elite category now, so the challenge is even bigger, but I am really looking forward to a great race, fun event, and big battles in Cincinnati!"
Curtis White (Cannondale) is the heavy favourite in the Men's U-23 race but can expect stiff competition from Gage Hecht (Alpha Bicycle), Spencer Petrov (Cyclocross Alliance), and White's teammate Cooper Wilsey.
On Sunday, most of the Elite racers will participate in the UCI-C1 races at Kings CX in Mason, Ohio located about thirty miles from Devou Park. The race promoters are expecting more than 1,400 amateur and professional racers over weekend at the eighth edition of the race. Powers and Compton each won their respective events there last year as well.
If Ellen Noble decides to defend her U-23 title, she will be the clear favourite in the race. However, since she is also registered for the Elite race, it is still unknown which race she will do.
Emma White (Cannondale) has had impressive results also this season and would be the favourite to win if Noble races only the Elite race. Ruby West (Cannondale) and newly crowned collegiate mountain biking champion Hannah Finchamp should also be strong podium threats.
The weather for the weekend is expected to be mostly cloudy with temperatures between the mid-60's and mid-70's Fahrenheit.
Check back with Cyclingnews for all the action from the Pan Am Continental Championships and Kings CX this coming weekend.