Wild fires force changes to Cascade Classic route

Wildfires in Central Oregon have forced organizers of the Cascade Cycling Classic to scrap plans for a brand-new stage 1 course and come up with an alternate route for Wednesday's race.

Instead of riding over the plateaus and rolling hills of the Warm Springs Reservation north of Bend as originally planned, riders will loop around Mt. Bachelor on a course similar to the Cascade Lakes stage that has been an annual part of the race.

Race director Chad Sperry told Cyclingnews Monday that proximity of the Warm Springs fires to Wednesday's original course made competing on the new route untenable.

"It's pretty close to the road," Sperry said of the wild fires. "But more importantly, there's only one road that goes up by the fire, and it's going to be completely choked with fire trucks and emergency response vehicles. You can imagine trying to run a bike race and weeding in between all of those. And that's if the fire doesn't spread all the way to the road."

The Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs reported Monday that multiple lightning-caused fires were burning on the reservation, with the two biggest consuming hundreds of acres and continuing to be spurred on by strong winds. Several roads had been closed as of Monday evening, including one that crossed the planned race route.

Wednesday's stage 1, which follows Tuesday's prologue time trial, had originally been scheduled to start near the tiny town of Maupin about 90 miles North of Bend. The 155.2km route would have taken riders through the mostly-treeless high desert, eventually tracing a narrow winding road along the Deschutes River on the way to the finish in Madras.

Instead, riders will circle Mt. Bachelor southwest of Bend in a clockwise direction and finish at West Bachelor Village. After starting at Wanoga Sno-park, the men will complete two laps for a total of 160km, and the women will cover one lap for 86km. The course is one that's very familiar to the race, and riders will compete on many of the same roads - in the opposite direction - during Friday's third stage.

"It's the only course that we could really pull together this fast," Sperry said. "It's definitely not optimal in any way shape or form, but I think it's better than not racing on Wednesday, which is the only other alternative we really had."

The last-minute change is a rough start for the oldest of American stage races, which had hoped to celebrate its 35th year by debuting a brand-new course and a longer, tougher parcours. The six-day stage race is the final stop for the women on USA Cycling's National Racing Calendar, and it's the final stage race and penultimate series event for the men.

Only the TTs remain the same

Even before the recent fires forced the changes to stage 1, organizers of the race had tried to switch things up from previous years with other tweaks and changes.

The race will once again start Tuesday evening with the 4.2km prologue time trial around Tetherow Golf Club. Gone this year, however, is the familiar McKenzie Pass stage, which in the past sent riders ascending through an old growth forest to the moonscape-like lava fields high in the Central Cascades. Also gone - as of Monday - is the new Warm Springs Road Race in favor of the more familiar, but less smokey, romp around Bachelor.

Stage 2 will take riders to the individual time trial outside of Prineville on the 25.6km Crooked River course that has been used for the past two years. Stage 3 is the familiar Cascade Lakes route again, with an added twist: riders will circle Mt. Bachelor in reverse direction from previous years and add on another 16 kilometers, approaching the summit finish on a longer, more gradual climb at the end of the 176km test.

Saturday night's criterium, which takes place on a long, rectangular course in the middle of downtown, is back again this year, but it will run in reverse direction. Sunday's finale, the Awbrey Butte Circuit Race, will get a slight tweak this year with a new start and a new finish. The race will take off from Central Oregon Community College and finish on a short, steep pitch that comes just a few kilometers after the final trip up the Archie Briggs climb.

Tvetcov returns to defend 2013 title

Aside from playing an important role in the NRC outcomes, Cascade has also become an important tune-up race for the men's squads that will be competing in the upcoming UCI America Tour stage races in Utah, Colorado and Alberta.

Following a mid-season break, Cascade is an opportunity for the Continental teams to tune their form before taking on the WorldTour competition in August's and September's UCI races. Most of the major domestic men's teams will send full squads to the Oregon race.

Jelly Belly-Maxxis will return with 2013 overall winner Serghei Tvetcov ready to defend his overall crown. He'll have plenty of competition from the Hincapie Sportswear Development Team, which is coming off an impressive performance at the Tour de Beauce in June. Hincapie's Toms Skujins won two stages and the overall at Beauce, and his team took the top GC prize as well. Bissell Development Team will also be on hand in Bend with newly crowned US U23 road race champion Tanner Putt, who won his second consecutive U23 title in June.

Men's NRC leader Travis McCabe (Team SmartStop) would like to clinch his first NRC title with a good performance in Bend, and he'll have help from 2014 US pro champion Eric Marcotte. McCabe currently leads Jamis-Hagens Berman's Ian Crane by 184 points and Optum Pro Cycling's Ryan Anderson by 230. Optum's Tom Zirbel is fourth, 290 behind McCabe, while Ryan Roth (Silber Pro Cycling) is fifth, another four points in arrears.

Big Euro races cut into pro women's field

Cascade was not originally scheduled as the women's NRC closer, but when plans for the Tour de Park City - which had originally been scheduled as the final race of the women's series - were put on hold indefinitely, Cascade assumed that role.

Although the top of the women's individual standings are much closer than the men's, competition with international races in Europe has taken a considerable bite out of the pro teams' representation in Bend. Of the four women's UCI teams from the US, only the Tibco-To the Top team of NRC leader Lauren Stephens will be there in force. Optum, Specialized-lululemon and UnitedHealthcare are skipping the race this year.

Stephens currently leads UnitedHeathcare's Mara Abbott by 30 points in the NRC standings, while Specialized-lululemon's Carmen Small and Servetto Footon's Flavia Oliviera each trail Stephens by 70. Optum's Leah Kirchmann, the newly crowned Canadian time trial, road race and criterium champion, is currently fifth overall.

But other than Stephens, none of the top five will be at the race. Abbott, a former winner of Cascade, was in Italy last week defending her 2013 overall win at the Giro Rosa and will miss the race, along with the rest of her team. Oliviera was also at the Giro, while Small and Kirchmann will be racing with their teams at the upcoming "La Course" on the Champs-Elysées in Paris during the Tour de France.

Despite the missing UCI teams, nearly 100 women will take the line Tuesday, including former world champion Amber Neben and her FCS/Zngine team. The Twenty-16 team of 2013 winner Kristin McGrath will be in Bend, although McGrath is not on the roster. Colavita-Fine Cooking is registered, along with DNA Cycling and a handful of other domestic elite teams.

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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.