Reports of the imminent demise of the Cascade Cycling Classic appear to have been greatly exaggerated. After losing its longtime title sponsor earlier this summer, the 35-year-old US stage race announced today it has signed a three-year deal with Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Oregon, the state's largest health insurance provider.
The race was in jeopardy of cancellation when the Bend Memorial Clinic, which had been Cascade's title sponsor for the past nine years, did not renew for 2015. The nonprofit Mount Bachelor Sports Education Foundation, which owns the race, was looking for a $50,000 commitment from a new sponsor.
“We are thrilled, because it was looking kind of grim,” said Molly Cogswell-Kelley, events director for MBSEF. “We were probably going to have to end the Cycling Classic if we didn't come up with a title sponsor. There is no way we could do it without sponsorship, especially with the increased costs that creep up every single year.”
Regence BlueCross BlueShield was previously a title sponsor of the race from 1995 to 2000, said Scott Burton, director of community and business relations at Regence. The company was excited to step back into that role to help keep the race afloat.
“When we heard that Cascade Cycling Classic was in jeopardy of not coming back, it was one of those things where I picked up the phone immediately and called the team there at the Mount Bachelor Sports Education Foundation and said, 'Lets's talk,'” Burton told Cyclingnews. “This is a 36-year tradition going on into this year that needs to stay where it belongs. This is a community event, and the thought of seeing it go, we just couldn't let that happen.”
A new title sponsor won't be the only change for Cascade next year. Organizers announced this summer that the race would drop out of USA Cycling's National Racing Calendar in 2015, citing a lack of return on investment as the driving factor in the decision. But the mid-July stage race sits at an important spot on the domestic calendar for the men's teams, which count on it to prepare for the August and September UCI races in Utah (2.HC), Colorado (2.HC) and Alberta (2.1).
Cogswell said for 2015, the Cascade Classic will take place a week later in July, putting it closer to the Tour of Utah start in August. She said Cascade's organizers have been considering other ideas that would continue to draw top US domestic squads, including the possibility of introducing a team time trial for pro teams that want to test their TTT set ups in advance of the 2015 world championships in Richmond, Virginia.
Jelly Belly-Maxxis General Manager Danny Van Haute told Cyclingnews in July he believes teams will continue to travel to Bend for Cascade even if the race is not part of the UCI America Tour or the NRC.
“In July, [Cascade] is the only great stage race that you have, so teams are coming anyways,” he said.
The Cascade Cycling Classic is the longest running professional stage race in the US. Past winners since the race started in 1980 include Dale Stetina, Alexi Grewal, Jonathan Vaughters, Lance Armstrong, Levi Leipheimer, Tom Danielson and Mike Creed, among others. Serghei Tvetcov, riding for Jelly Belly-Maxxis, won the last two editions of the men's race.
Former winners of the women's race, which began in 2002, include Lyne Bessette, Kristin Armstrong, Evelyn Stevens and Mara Abbott. Team Tibco-To the Top's Lauren Stephens won the 2014 edition, which consisted of a prologue time trial, three road races, an individual time trial and a criterium.