As summer starts to wane, the nights in Central Oregon are falling crisp and cool, though the days are still warm. School is back in session, and soon the leaves will change from green to gold and red and orange.
And to area cycling enthusiasts that can mean only one thing: Cyclocross season is here.
Though the heyday of the 2012 road and mountain biking race seasons is not long past here on Oregon's High Desert — the region did just host the masters road cycling and mountain bike marathon national championships over the past two weeks — their mud-loving cycling cousin is wasting no time in ramping up.
“ 'Cross is here, for sure," Bart Bowen, owner of the Bend training and coaching studio Powered by Bowen, said last week. “This week, I would say it's official. Last week, everyone was still kind of in the masters (road) racing mode, and obviously that was in town, so that was a big thing. But you can see this week, everyone's shifting, 'OK, pull your 'cross bike out.' "
The ninth annual WebCyclery Thrilla Cyclocross Series kicked off its four-week run in Bend's NorthWest Crossing this past Thursday evening — the day after Bowen made his observation — making it the first area race of the season. On Sept. 29, cyclocross racing is slated to gear up in Redmond with the Redmond Golf Cross event at the old Juniper Golf Course. And two popular series that made appearances in Central Oregon in 2011 — the Cross Crusade and the U.S. Gran Prix of Cyclocross — will return this fall, in late October and early December, respectively.
But aside from the next edition of the Thrilla series, a new cyclocross event in Bend will make its debut. And that event, Future Cross, with a local focus for its proceeds, is slated for Sunday at Seventh Mountain Resort west of Bend.
Future Cross is the brainchild of the folks at Powered by Bowen, who are not race promoters by trade but had an idea: raise money to help local junior riders defray the costs of attending the USA Cycling Cyclo-cross National Championships. The plan is for the race to continue to further that mission.
“Future Cross definitely has been on our calendar for a while, actually ever since last year," Bowen explained. “We did the 'CXmas' fundraiser evening, and we kind of sat down and decided: How else can we make some money for the juniors, and how else can we help send more juniors to nationals? That was kind of our first thought ... 'Let's do a race.' It helps everybody. It helps the community — another race on the calendar that's local. And it obviously helps the juniors."
The CXmas (a play on words combining an abbreviation for cylcocross — CX — with Christmas) fundraiser was staged last December at the Powered by Bowen training studio a couple of nights before the start of the U.S. Gran Prix of Cyclocross. The goal was to raise money for what has been dubbed the CXmas Junior Fund, which would provide scholarships to local juniors wanting to attend the cyclocross nationals. For a modest cover fee, those who attended the fundraiser were treated to an evening of entertainment that included a raffle and a silent auction.
The event raised about $1,400 for the fund, enough to provide four local junior riders with $375 scholarships for the cyclocross nationals, staged this past January in Madison, Wis.
“It was great. There was definitely a couple kids that got to go that wouldn't have gotten to go, and a couple other ones that definitely needed the help," Bowen said. “They probably could have got there, but having the help really made it doable."
As with that fundraiser, proceeds from Future Cross will go to the CXmas Junior Fund. Bowen's goal is to generate enough donations for at least 10 $500 scholarships for this season's cyclocross nationals, scheduled once again for January in Madison. Bowen is also thinking long term about this. The CXmas Junior Fund may grow, he said, to the point that it will help not only local junior riders, but perhaps others in the state or even beyond.
“For me, it's kind of like giving back, for one, to the sport that's done a lot for me," said Bowen, a former professional cyclist. “And it's also about getting the juniors to race outside of their home, outside of their region, take that big long trip and really experience that and get fired up. And see other juniors across the country.
“Because it's one thing when nationals comes here — it's easy," he added. “You get this huge spurt of the juniors getting into the sport. And it's easy for that to go away when we don't have continually the big events."
As for Future Cross, Bowen's goal is to put on a race that will stick around on the racing calendar. He said the course is a bit different from courses designed for previous races at Seventh Mountain Resort, and that the route is a nice mix of grass, dirt and pavement. Races will be staged for riders of all ages and experience levels: men, women, masters, Clydesdales, single speed and juniors. Thanks to a free kiddie cross race, even kids age 10 and younger will be able to try their wheels at cyclocross.
That fundraising event will be back this year as well. Details are still being finalized, but Bowen is again aiming for the Thursday before the U.S. Gran Prix, which is Dec. 6 this year.
Back to help Central Oregon youths explore the world — or at least a small bit of it — through cycling.
“What's great about cycling is, obviously, it'll take you a lot of different places," Bowen said. “It could take you to Europe, it could take you to Asia, it could take you to Africa — all these places all over the world where you can race your bike — and that's pretty amazing. And even if you don't race, you can still go there and ride."