US could lose iconic cyclo-cross venue at Alpenrose

US cyclo-cross could lose access to one of its iconic venues after the Alpenrose Dairy in Portland, Oregon, which for more than 20 years has hosted the Cross Crusade, US championships and former USGP races, has been sold.

The dairy, which is located on 50 acres of land in southwest Portland and was founded in the 1890s, hosts multiple sporting venues and community events on the property, including the Alpenrose Velodrome used by the Oregon Bicycle Racing Association, a softball field that hosts the Little League World Series, a go-kart track, a Wild West town and an opera house, among other amenities.

As Portland has grown outward over the years, however, the dairy has been enveloped by a residential neighbourhood. The property value of those 50 acres, rezoned as residential, would be worth dramatically more to a developer than as a niche community dairy that at this point serves as a co-op for farms around the state. 

Questions about continued access to the property arose earlier this summer when the Alpenrose Dairy board of directors began negotiations to sell the dairy and its assets to a Seattle competitor, Smith Brothers Farms. 

Several descendants of Alpenrose founder Florian Cadonau tried to block the sale and made their own $7 million offer. But the board rejected that offer, and an Oregon judge recently ruled that the sale to Smith Brothers Farms could go forward.

The Washington company now owns the dairy, while the descendants of the original founder still own the property. Access to the community venues, however, is now in limbo beyond a vague promise that the groups will be able to use the venues for at least one or two more years.

In a statement released to media, Smith Brothers CEO Dustin Highland said he would talk with the community groups that use the facility.

“Even though the dairy facility we are leasing is a very small piece of the property, I want to be actively engaged with the community that has supported Alpenrose over the decades," Highland said. "From day one, we were attracted to Alpenrose because of its commitment to its community. That hasn’t changed.”

Five decades in the cycling community

Alpenrose Velodrome was quickly built in the late 1960s to host the national championships. At just 268.43 metres around, the track features 43-degree banks – some of the steepest in the country. The Oregon Bicycle Racing Association has used and maintained the track in that time, with a full summer schedule of races each week night and most weekends.

Nationally, however, Alpenrose is probably best known in the US cycling community as the cyclo-cross venue that hosts the traditional kick off the Cyclocross Crusade and was previously a staple of national calendar races like the US Grand Prix of Cyclocross and the national championships. Losing access to the venue would be a blow to American cycling at a time when interest in traditional racing is already waning.

Cross Crusade Race Director Rick Potestio said losing Alpenrose would be a huge  loss.

“This is my favourite venue, and I think it’s one of our best, so it’s going to mean a lot to lose it,” he said. “It’s difficult to find any venue anywhere in our region right now, so losing this is going to be tough.”

For the athletes, Alpenrose traditionally launches the series that has helped launch many careers in cycling. Chris Jones, a former road pro who lives in Bend, Oregon, travelled the three hours to Portland to catch the opening Cross Crusade weekend, winning the singlespeed and elite men’s races both days. He said the thought of losing the venue was unfortunate.

“I was talking to Barry Wicks last night about Alpenrose in particular, and he said the first bike race he ever did was here,” Jones said. “So you have guys like Barry and Ryan [Trebon] and [Eric] Tonkin, and without this maybe those guys didn’t have a career. So it would be sad to see the next generation not have this resource.

“When you think of cyclo-cross in Oregon, you think of Alpenrose,” Jones said. “It’s ingrained in our cycling community, especially our cyclo-cross community. It would be devastating to lose it, so hopefully they can work something out."

OBRA Executive Director Chuck Kenlan said all hope is not lost yet, and talks with the new owners have gone well.

“We’re pleased with how it’s progressing,” he said. “We’re making lemonade out of lemons, maybe. The property owners have been very gracious. It looks like we might have access for a couple of more years guaranteed. We don’t know that yet, but possibly beyond that.

“We’re planning already for 2020 and 2021, and the property owners, now that the case is over, have been able to communicate with us,” Kenlan said. “They couldn’t before because the litigation that was going on. And so now it seems like something positive could be coming out of this."

Kenlan said he can foresee a future where use of the Alpenrose amenities is no longer free as it has been for years, and he believes paying the dairy a user fee for access would be a reasonable solution.

“I think each user group is going to kind of come to an agreement with them on what it’s going to look like,” he said. “There may be a venue fee for races like this and fees for maintenance to keep things clean and working. OBRA has had a really good deal for all these years. I don’t think it will be outrageous, and they should cover their costs.”

Kenlan is also holding out hope that at some point the venue could become public property that could preserve the velodrome and the cyclo-cross venue.

“How many ‘cross races finish on a velodrome, and a really cool velodrome?” he asked. “So if that ever went away, it would break my heart.”

Repairing bridges with USA Cycling

The Cross Crusade opener at Alpenrose returned to USA Cycling sanctioning for the second consecutive year after several years absent from the US governing body, part of a simmering feud that saw the state create its own independent group and leave USAC in the late 1990s.

Both of this year's races at Alpenrose were part of USA Cycling’s American Cyclocross Calendar and offered points that go toward determining call-ups at the national championships in December.

Cross Crusade paid for a one-day USAC license for any OBRA member who needed one to race the USAC-sanctioned events. But Potestio told Cyclingnews the collaboration with USAC was about more than just making sure Oregon riders could earn call-up points.

“We see the value of being part of the USA Cycling calendar because it’s always been a goal of this series to develop riders who can race nationally,” he said. “In the past we’ve had that caliber of racers, but we can’t do that unless we participate on a national level. As well we need our riders to get points without having to travel as much. 

“And we feel like time has come to sort of bring the organisations together at some level,” he said.

Potestio also said he foresees the race jumping up to USA Cycling Pro CX Calendar.

“Absolutely we would love to do that,” he said. 

More importantly, the Cross Crusade crew has watched as the US continues to host UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup races, first in Las Vegas and now in Iowa City and Waterloo, Wisconsin, and the Crusaders would like to get in on the action. 

“We just got back from Waterloo and really networked with a lot of people there,” Potestio said. “So we’re doing everything we can to set the groundwork for being able to do a World Cup race in Portland. We’d have to combine our race weekend with a prior or post weekend in Seattle or somewhere. There’s got to be a critical mass of races of races on the West Coast to justify the expense of bringing Europeans over here. So that’s a big factor.

“So it wouldn’t just be us doing it, but a number of races that we could cluster together the way they do Jingle Cross and Waterloo,” Potestio said. “But yes, that’s a goal that I’d promote and something we’re thinking about.”

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Growing up in Missoula, Montana, Pat competed in his first bike race in 1985 at Flathead Lake. He studied English and journalism at the University of Oregon and has covered North American cycling extensively since 2009, as well as racing and teams in Europe and South America. Pat currently lives in the US outside of Portland, Oregon, with his imaginary dog Rusty.