North America’s longest-running road cycling stage race will return to Central Oregon in 2018 — but with a new date and new management.

Bart Bowen of Bend-based Bowen Sports Performance and the Visit Bend staff have teamed up to begin planning the 39th annual Cascade Cycling Classic.

The new dates will be May 31 to June 3, Bowen said Wednesday, pending approval from USA Cycling. Over the years, the CCC typically has been staged in mid-July.

The Cascade was previously operated by Mt. Bachelor Sports Education Foundation as a fundraiser, but increasing costs, traffic concerns and other conflicts in the heart of summer forced MBSEF to look for another owner of the popular race. Also, 11-year race director Chad Sperry stepped down after the 2017 CCC. But Visit Bend stepped in, and Bowen will serve as the new race director.

More important, there will actually be a CCC. The race’s future was in limbo after the 2017 event, as the prospects of bringing in a race promoter from outside Central Oregon appeared slim.

“Had Visit Bend not stepped in, I believe the race would be gone,” MBSEF events director Molly Cogswell-Kelley said Wednesday.

The 50-year-old Bowen, a prominent cycling coach in Bend for the past 10 years, is a two-time national road race champion and won the overall title at the Cascade in 1993. His said his main goals for the race are to engage new cyclists, spectators, junior racers and the local cycling community as a whole.

“He has so much energy around it, and he is so excited,” Cogswell-Kelley said of Bowen. “This is exactly what the race needed. It didn’t make sense for us to run this event anymore as a fundraiser, especially running the race in prime tourism season. It was so difficult with so much tourist traffic this year. It just gets worse and worse every year. We had more complaints than ever.”

The race, according to Bowen, will include pro, amateur and junior categories for men and women, but it will not be sanctioned by the International Cycling Union (UCI) as it was this year for the pro men and the past two years for the pro women. Instead, the Cascade will return to a USA Cycling-sanctioned event.

The new-look race will include four stages instead of five, according to Bowen, and will feature some version of a road race, a criterium, a time trial and a circuit race.

“One of the reasons I moved to Bend was because the Classic was here,” Bowen said. “I had raced it previously. I remembered it then, and I wanted to move somewhere where there was a race, and Bend was high on my list. Now it’s kind of come full circle. I want to try to keep the race going. And we want to try to get back to more of the grass roots of why we love racing.

“One of my big goals with the Classic is to introduce a junior aspect to the race. That’s a big goal to make it sustainable in the future.”

Bowen said he expects that the new dates will create scheduling conflicts for the first year of the change, but he still expects a top-tier field of pros. The draw for racers will be substantial prize money — equal for men and women pros — rather than UCI points, he said.

“Our goal is to draw those aspiring pros,” Bowen said, “and put more on the line every day in prize money. How do we make this exciting every day for those on both sides of the fence, people watching and people racing?”

Bowen said to expect some significant changes from the long-distance road stage emphasis of years past, but he still plans for some version of a road race with a mountaintop finish. He has not ruled out races on McKenzie Pass, Cascade Lakes Highway and Three Creeks Road. The new dates of the Cascade could present a challenge with lingering snow — and possibly with weather in general — but Bowen said, “I’m pretty confident that what we put together will attract riders who like to race in Bend. (The mountain roads) will potentially have snowbanks, but we really feel that’s going to be a cool aspect of the race.”

The new race director said he is working on a modified version of the long-standing Downtown Criterium, which each year has drawn thousands of spectators to the streets of Bend for an evening of racing excitement. He is also looking at a more spectator-friendly version of the Awbrey Butte Circuit Race in northwest Bend.

Bowen said he is taking into account the recent challenges of organizing the Cascade.

“We’re trying to make the event work better with what’s out there now,” he said. “It’s not like it was in the ’90s.”

Visit Bend is a nonprofit economic development organization that promotes tourism for City of Bend, so making sure the CCC continues is in line with Visit Bend’s goals.

“The Cascade Cycling Classic has always been an outstanding tool to introduce potential visitors to our city, and to get them thinking about returning with their families for vacation,” Visit Bend president Kevney Dugan was quoted saying in a news release announcing the CCC changes. “In the past, the mid-summer timing of the race could pose challenges for community members who were already seeing an influx of peak-season visitors. By moving the race to an earlier date, we’ll be addressing those community concerns and working to make this an exciting and enjoyable event for visitors and residents alike.”

Cogswell-Kelley added that moving the dates away from the height of summer tourism season will help bring more local focus to the CCC.

“I think moving it is really awesome,” she said. “It’s always been a community and a locals’ race, and an event that the local community really understands — the tourists don’t. It’ll kind of go back to its roots.”

—Reporter: 541-383-0318, mmorical@bendbulletin.com

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