The Greenware US Gran Prix of Cyclo-cross series will kick off with the first two rounds of high-caliber rugged racing at the Planet Bike Cup held at the Angell Park Speedway in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin on Saturday and Sunday. American champ Katie Compton (Planet Bike) is expected to put on a show in front of her sponsors while French champ Francis Mourey (FDJ) will attempt to continue his streak of consecutive Stateside wins.
The USGP will host eight rounds of UCI sanctioned cyclo-cross races held over four weekends from September to December. "I think that 'cross is such a unique experience because it's short, spectator friendly, fun and it has a lower intimidation factor than perhaps road or mountain biking," said Joan Hanscom, co-organizer of the USGP series.
"I think the USGP has done well over the years because we've committed to giving the amateur athlete and the pro the same quality race day experience and Bruce [Fina] has particularly been focused on offering the athletes and the fans the opportunity to experience the head-to-head competition between the sport's top athletes week in and week out. This has been great for the fans, to see that level of competition at the same races they do but also great for the level of competition between the pros. Plus, it's helped raise the level at which the sport is contested here in US."
The USGP has traditionally hosted many of the nation's top cyclo-cross talents. It also attracts a handful of European professionals who use the American racing scene to pick up early season UCI points before heading back overseas to start the European calendar.
One such rider is reigning French 'cross champion Francis Mourey (FDJ) who is the odds-on favorite to win the opening double header of the USGP after taking back-to-back wins at StarCrossed and Rad Racing Grand Prix held last weekend in Washington. He followed those winning performances with a third victory at CrossVegas on Wednesday night.
Mourey will receive strong opposition from Planet Bike's marquee rider Jonathan Page (Planet Bike-Blue). Other strong contenders include USGP defending champion Ryan Trebon (KONA-FSA), US national champion Tim Johnson and his teammates Jeremy Powers and Jamey Driscoll (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com), Swiss champ Christian Heule (Champion Systems LBS), Rene Birkenfeld (Harvesterhude Rv-Stevens), Tim van Nuffel (Van Goethem-Prorace), Todd Wells (Specialized), Troy Wells (Clif Bar), Davide Frattini (Hudz-Subaru), Chris Jones (Rapha Focus), Luca Damiani (Kenda-Geargrinder), Geoff Kabush (Maxxis-Rocky Mountain) and Jesse Anthony (Cal Giant-Specialized).
Despite a lingering knee injury, Katie Compton (Planet Bike) is expected to highlight the women's race along with Meredith Miller (Cal Giant-Specialized), Georgia Gould and Amy Dombroski (Luna Pro Team), Sue Butler (Hudz-Subaru) and Mo Bruno Roy (Bob's Red Mill-Seven Cycles). Noticeably absent from the weekend's racing is two-time USGP winner Katerina Nash (Luna Pro Team).
In 2009, Compton made her sponsors proud by winning back-to-back races in the women's category. In the men's race, Jeremy Powers (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com) won the opening round while former world champion Erwin Vervecken won round two.
A peek at USGP rounds three through eight
The series will continue with rounds three and four at the Derby City Cup in Louisville, Kentucky on October 23 and 24. The event well be held on a brand new course at the Eva Bandman Park. At the beginning of this year the International Cycling union (UCI) announced that the USGP organizers, Hanscom and Fina, would host the 2012 UCI Masters World Cyclo-cross Championships and the 2013 Masters and Elite World Cyclo-cross Championships at the Louisville venue.
Ryan Trebon and Katerina Nash won their respective races in the opening round of the Derby City Cup last year. Nash went on to capture a second consecutive victory in the women's round two race while Tim Johnson nabbed a win in the men's race.
"The 2010 USGP Derby City Cup will run at this new venue and we do expect to be continually refining the venue based on racer experience and feedback provided between now and the Worlds," Hanscom said. "We are very excited about the new venue at Eva Bandman Park. The city of Louisville has already done a tremendous amount of work to craft a new venue that will be world championship caliber and yet offer residents of Louisville a place to ride their bikes year round. The venue is roughly a half mile closer to downtown than the previous venue at Champions Park."
The New Belgium Cup will host USGP rounds five and six in Fort Collins, Colorado on November 13 and 14. The inaugural venue replaced the former Mercer Cup held at the Mercer County Park in New Jersey. Race organizers were forced to move the venue due to the large amount of damage that the cyclo-cross races left on the Mercer County Park grounds under rainy conditions.
Last year, Nash again captured double victories in the Mercer Cup weekend and Trebon and Johnson won rounds five and six respectively.
"Despite a concerted effort to locate a new venue, we were unable to find something that was suitable and met UCI and USGP specifics that was also available on the date we had inscribed for the race," Hanscom said. "We are still actively searching for a new east coast venue for the 2011 season in the Northeast, while still planning to return to the same four venues we are running in 2010. The support from Fort Collins thus far has been tremendous and we have an excellent crew on the ground there who have been doing their very best to ensure a smooth transition to the new venue."
The series will conclude with rounds seven and eight at the Stanley Portland Cup on December 4 and 5 in Portland, Oregon. As noted in the recent Cyclingnews feature, ‘A Taste of American ‘Cross', the event is ranked amongst the most epic cyclo-cross races in the country mainly due to the harsh and unpredictable weather conditions and the series' close point standings.
"It's more than the weather," Hanscom said. "It's the last USGP of the season and it has more than once come down to the last day, a tie-break type situation that determines the winners in the Elite fields so the racing is always intense."
Todd Wells and Katerina Nash won their respective events on the first day. Nash repeated her win on the second day and Jeremy Powers (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com) topped the men's podium. Ryan Trebon topped the podium as the overall series winner.