Right before we start, lets get something clear here. Never in the history of British weather has it ever rained so hard, for so long, as it did in Portland last week, and if one more person had said to me "bet it feels like home huh?!" they would have a 34mm mud tread tyre inserted down aforementioned throat. I don't know about all those nice bike shops selling custom 'cross bikes, they should start knocking up a few arks and getting the animals together...
But back to the racing. This was the final two rounds of the USGP series, a series that has elevated American cyclocross to be competitive on the world stage, and which should be given massive credit for promoting and popularising the discipline, and raising the level at the sharp end. Bruce Fina and team, take a bow.
Alongside this were the supporting races comprised of the masses who take part in the Cross Crusade series every week in Portland and surrounding districts, and its pretty clear they do enjoy a 'cross race in these parts; I'm probably preaching to the converted here as most American followers have seen the pictures and read the reports, but for any stray Brits reading this you've got to check them out (cyclingnews.com, velonews.com etc); fancy dress, beer, waffles, girls (and guys sadly..) in hot tubs, tech areas with proper teams doing it right and putting on a show, merchandising, and more damn cowbells than in the whole of Switzerland. And good racing....
But its a risky business, putting two days of racing back-to-back on the same course with only a few daylight hours to make repairs and small changes. So racing started 8.30am on saturday morning just as first light had arrived. (I need to tweak the pre-riding/course inspection section of 4th Edition cyclocross to include how to do a course inspection in the dark and which lights work best), and there were virtually no breaks from then until the Elite Men finished at just after 4pm, just as it was going dark again. Repeat on Sunday.
I'm not sure how many riders raced and trained on the course on saturday but I'll guess at 400, and in constant wet and mud that makes for some pretty deep ruts and not a whole lot of grass left. All it needed was for Sunday to start drying out and it would have been one sticky running race; thank God for more rain so it kept the mud runny and the course all rideable!
Then there was the wind; too strong for banners on the barriers, and snapping or pulling the wooden stakes out of the ground that held up the marking tape, it also trashed a few easy-up tents and Kona discovered that a team tent isn't quite as stable as a Trebon in high wind.
The racing was good, but if you put 60 Elite guys or girls together its rare you get bad racing; the difference and uniqueness of this event (and from what I've read, countless others like it across the States) is the crowd support. I'll be honest here, if I hadn't travelled across a few time zones for quite a few hours to be there I would have been tempted to stay indoors, I mean you wouldn't throw the dog out in that weather would you? But if it did put anyone off, it didn't show. I guess Portland people are quite used to crappy weather and still going out to play in it, and they made it a special weekend for a visiting foreigner. I've been to hundreds of races in Belgium, Holland, Switzerland etc, and for the most part the atmosphere at those events is good, with large knowledgeable crowds, but given the choice between Igorre World Cup in Spain or USGP in Portland, I'm glad I chose the latter.
And then there was the after-race party... I reckon I could get Steve Peat and the other hard-partying Brit Downhillers to move over to 'cross if they knew they could get to play out all night after they had raced. The warehouse party was a nice way to end a series, but the follow-up at "Dantes" downtown was memorable! Too bad no cell phones were allowed which meant no photos, as no-one believes me when I tell them about the fire eating strippers, acrobat girl tying herself up in the curtains and the pole dancer doing push-ups with her feet by her ears. It was also good to see two of the Elite podium men, Trebon and Wells, out having fun and not being paranoid about staying out past 10pm and having a beer; there is life outside of bike racing, please pass the message onto your Euro colleagues.
To everyone who made my trip over so enjoyable, thanks.. I'll be back and will try and bring more with me!