Cascade Cycling Classic Schedule

Wednesday: Stage 1, McKenzie Pass Road Race; pro men, 9 a.m. start, 108 miles; pro women, 10:20 a.m. start, 89 miles.

Thursday: Stage 2, Skyliners Time Trial; pro men, 10 a.m. start, 14.3 miles; pro women, start time TBD after men, 14.3 miles.

Friday: Stage 3, Cascade Lakes Road Race; pro men, 10 a.m. start, 108 miles; pro women, 11:30 a.m. start, 88 miles.

Saturday: Stage 4, Downtown Twilight Criterium; pro women, 5:10 p.m. start, 50 minutes; pro men, 6:30 p.m. start, 75 minutes.

Sunday, July 23: Stage 5, Awbrey Butte Circuit Race; pro men, 11 a.m. start, five laps, 82 miles; pro women, 11:50 start, three laps, 49 miles.

The level of professional competition at next week’s Cascade Cycling Classic could possibly be the best that cycling fans in Central Oregon have ever seen in the 38 editions of the event.

For the first time, both the pro men’s and women’s races of the CCC are sanctioned by the International Cycling Union (UCI), the world governing body of cycling. Because of that status, many more international teams and top U.S. teams will be in the field as riders and countries attempt to earn UCI points for positions in the world championships.

“It’s real important to a lot of the pro teams, not only here in the U.S., but also abroad, to gain points for world championships,” says longtime Cascade race director Chad Sperry. “The more points a country has for its riders, the more riders it gets into the world championships.”

The pro men’s field is capped at 200 riders, per UCI rules, and the pro women’s field will include 85 riders.

Racing starts Wednesday with the McKenzie Pass Road Race and runs through next Sunday.

UnitedHealthcare, a top U.S. team that also races in Europe, will field squads in both the men’s and women’s races, and teams from Canada, Mexico, Ecuador, Australia, New Zealand and Rwanda are set to compete.

“It’s a huge testament to how desirable this event is, based off of the quality of the stages and the roads, and then how many teams want to come race their bikes in Bend, Oregon, in July,” Sperry says. “We offer one of the smallest prize lists in the entire country on the U.S. pro circuit for stage racing, yet we’re going to have the deepest, strongest pro field in the country, probably only outside of the Tour of California. It’s literally one of the most stellar fields in the country this year for the men and for the women.”

But while the pro racing should be outstanding due in part to the UCI status, a side effect of that is the severe reduction of amateur races that have deep roots in the history of the Cascade.

Most years, the CCC has included several amateur categories that race separately but cover many of the same courses as the pros. Those categories have included Cat 2 Men, Cat 3 Men, Cat 4 Men, Cat 3/4 Women, Masters Men 35+ and Masters Men 45+, among others.

This year, the Cascade will include just one amateur race, the Cat 2/3 Men, meaning many local cyclists are left unable to compete in their favorite race of the year. The Cat 2/3 field is full with 132 riders, according to organizers.

Longtime Bend resident Eric Martin has raced in the CCC amateur or masters races for the past 20 years. He has accumulated several stage victories and has finished in the top three overall several times.

“I’m bummed that they’re not having it,” Martin says. “For me, that’s usually my main focus of the year. I’ve raced it for years and years. I had the option to race the Cat 2/3, but I waffled and I went to sign up and it was full. We’re just local guys. It’s not like we’re pro guys tearing it up. But you get kind of that empty feeling in your gut when you don’t get to do it.”

Sperry says that part of the reason for cutting the amateur races was a substantial decline in participation in those events over the past several years. Also, as traffic issues increase in Central Oregon, having fewer categories and fewer racers on the roads make organizing a UCI event much easier.

“It just came to the point where it was just not cost-effective or timewise effective to run those categories when they were shrinking to be so small,” Sperry says. “And that’s a trend not only here in the Northwest, but nationally. We’ve seen a drop in the amount of participation in the amateur categories.”

Sperry says he understands that cutting the amateur races risks upsetting the local cycling community, which has long supported the CCC. But he further explains that he must take into account the Central Oregon community as a whole, not just cyclists, and ensure that the race does not cause significant traffic problems at the height of the midsummer tourism season.

“We continue to feel the pressure of the traffic,” Sperry says. “By narrowing our scope down to just three categories, it is definitely helping us reduce the strain that you have seen the last three to four years, when it’s gotten crazy in the summers with traffic. We have to take into consideration all facets of the community. We can’t have an event that is counterproductive to the community. We’ve always tried to look for courses that would not cause huge traffic snarls.”

Martin says he understands some of the reasoning, and he does want to come off as bitter toward an event he has always loved. Still, he cannot hide his disappointment about not racing in the Cascade this year, a sentiment he says he shares with many other local masters and amateur racers.

“I’ve got to do this race since the ’80s and it’s been fantastic,” Martin says. “I almost want to say thanks for letting me have this race for so many years, but on the other hand, I’m bummed that I don’t get to do it again. It’s a fantastic race. It’s my favorite race of the whole year. That downtown crit (the Saturday criterium in downtown Bend) is so fun. The crowds are there to watch the pros, but they’re still there milling around when the masters are racing.”

In addition to dropping most of the amateur races, CCC organizers had to turn away several pro men’s cyclists because of the UCI’s 200-rider limit. Molly Cogswell-Kelley, events director for the Mt. Bachelor Sports Education Foundation, which puts on the race, says turning away a few riders and teams that have been regulars in the pro men’s field has been one of the most difficult challenges in the lead-up to the race.

“There were no exceptions with the UCI on the maximum number of 200,” Cogswell-Kelley says. “I had to tell some riders that they couldn’t come. That’s actually quite stressful. But everyone’s been great. Everyone’s been extremely understanding of the changes that we had to make going forward to pull off this high-level event, and have a pro men’s and women’s UCI race.”

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

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