The finale of the US Gran Prix of Cyclo-cross takes place in Portland, Oregon for the fourth year in a row, and there is no more fitting place for the championship round than the Pacific Northwest's heart of cyclo-cross.
While the weather predictions call for an uncharacteristic lack of rain, that doesn't mean there will be a lack of the mud that makes the region famous. Recent rains will have saturated the low-lying portions of the course, so there will be plenty of mud on the first day. Once the hundreds of amateur riders and the elite fields churn up the track on Saturday, the course should set up into perfectly tacky, fast conditions.
Either condition suits the men's series leader, Tim Johnson, who is looking to take home his second overall series title after last claiming the top prize on the same course in 2008. His only real competition comes from his own teammate Jeremy Powers, who is just 16 points behind.
In third, another Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld teammate, Jamey Driscoll, is a distant 108 points behind and cannot threaten for the win as each race earns only a maximum 50 points.
"Jeremy and I have the opportunity to fight each other because we've done so well this year," Johnson said, downplaying the rivalry to come. "There's nothing negative at all, but we both want to win.
"I like it like that - road racing is usually dictated by tactics, but in this situation it will be whoever has the better races both days who wins."
Johnson took the overall USGP series with a victory on the first day in Portland two years ago, and the conditions of the course and the weather predictions look nearly identical to 2008.
"It would be nice to have a replay of that, but it's going to be tough. Jeremy is riding really well and I will have to beat him in order to do that."
The US champion said he wasn't sure there was anything about the course that would give him an advantage over Powers. His recent trip to Belgium for the Superprestige Gavere and Koksijde World Cup took its toll, but he hopes to have recovered sufficiently to be at his best this weekend.
Powers, on the other hand, stayed in the USA this past week to secure the overall series title in the North American Cyclo-cross Trophy, but is looking forward to battling with his teammate for the USGP win.
"The NACT win was really just Tim not racing the last weekend, so this is where we can really duke it out. We're both fit, neither one of us is sick, so really it's just a matter of putting it all together and the strongest guy will win," Powers said.
"It's not just us out there, though - Ryan [Trebon] or Todd [Wells] might bring a lot to the table, but my goal is to win the overall series and to do that I have to win both days.
"There's definitely a lot of pressure, but I'll try to keep it low key and treat it like a normal day of racing."
Oregon resident Ryan Trebon has more USGP Portland victories than anyone else, and although he has had a dry spell this season, having failed to secure a single USGP victory, he will be looking for revenge on his home soil.
The rest of the field is riddled with strong contenders, including Driscoll, 2009 race winner Todd Wells and round 5 winner Geoff Kabush.
On the women's side, Georgia Gould (Luna) looks like a safe bet to take home her second career USGP title. The Luna rider leads Katie Compton by 58 points, but the US champion Compton will be taking the weekend off to rest up for her title defence. In third, Meredith Miller is a distant 79 points behind, and as long as Gould stays in the top 10 her series win will be secure.
"I am hoping to clinch the USGP overall this weekend," said Gould. "The USGP is always a big goal for me - the series consistently combines the most competitive fields with the most professional organization. For several years now, the USGP has offered equal prize money for the top 3 men and women in every race, and I am always proud to support promoters who value women's racing."
The series isn't the only thing on the line, and the pride of victory and the prize money will be fought over with vigor. Miller will be looking to banish the bobbles which have plagued her in previous races and come away with her first USGP win of the season.
Gould's teammate Katerina Nash will be on hand, and having won the races in Portland and the USGP series for the past two years, she will be a prime contender for the win.
Hudz-Subaru rider Kathy Sherwin could be a threat, while youngster Coryn Rivera could well surprise in one of her few forays into the UCI 'cross circuit this year.
U23 series leader Luke Keough will have to play it safe to fend off the challenge from Cody Kaiser, who is tied for second at a manageable 60 points behind in the rankings with Jeremy Ferguson.
In the junior men's series, Boulder resident and German citizen Yannick Eckmann will not be racing, but has already sewn up the series after winning the first six rounds.
The battle for second will be between Jeffrey Bahnson, Bjorn Fox and Gunnar Bergey as third placed Luke Haley and fifth placed Andrew Dillman choose to sit the weekend out.
USGP Past winners
2009 Ryan Trebon (USA) Kona-FSA, Katerina Nash (Cze) Luna Chix
2008 Tim Johnson (Cyclocrossworld.com/Cannondale), Katerina Nash (Cze) Luna
2007 Ryan Trebon (Kona-YourKey), Georgia Gould (Luna)
2006 Ryan Trebon (Kona), Lyne Bessette (Cyclocrossworld.com)
2005 Barry Wicks (Kona), Lyne Bessette (Cyclocrossworld-Louis Garneau)
2004 Ryan Trebon (Kona), Ann Knapp (Kona)
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