What’s Happening to the USGP Races? Part 1 of 6

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Powers celebrates a win at Day 1 of USGP Derby City Cup, along with Trebon and Summerhill. © Cyclocross Magazine

Powers celebrates a win at Day 1 of USGP Derby City Cup, along with Trebon and Summerhill. © Cyclocross Magazine

[Ed. Note: two small changes added Monday, June 22.]

by Molly Hurford

Louisville, Kentucky. Eva Bandman Park. Racers, international and home-grown, rocket around the course. The smell of frites in the air. The malty whiff of barley in the breeze. Screaming fans. Focused racers. A kit change that inspired stories and gossip.

It wasn’t Worlds, but it was certainly a dress rehearsal. Welcome to the US Gran Prix of Cyclocross, Derby City Cup.

When we heard the news that the USGP series would be discontinued in 2013, the question everyone was asking was, “What happens to the races?” The series has had its fair share of trouble in the past, almost getting cancelled back in the 2012 season before being saved by Trek. The promoters, in their final press release, cited financial hardships as the reason for the cancellation. Bruce Fina and Joan Hanscom, the duo behind both winning the bid for Worlds to come to the US and the USGP series, have been involved in the cycling scene as promoters for years, and admit that it’s often been difficult just to make ends meet.

Since leaving the USGP behind, Hanscom has stayed involved in the cycling scene, and we’ve heard that she’ll be around during the upcoming cyclocross season working with other promoters.

The four race weekends in the USGP series: Sun Prairie, Wisconsin; Fort Collins, Colorado; Louisville, Kentucky; and Bend, Oregon, are all, at this point, still planning to remain as they were: with one day of UCI C1 racing and one day of C2 racing, with the exception of Bend, which may only host the C1 day. Since the series worked with local promoters, and united those four races under one umbrella with title sponsors like Trek and Exergy, the main problem for the local promoters who now own the races is simply raising money to plug the gaps left when the USGP announced its cancellation.

At Cyclocross Magazine, we’ve been speaking with each of the promoters, as well as influential riders and event coordinators at USA Cycling about what will happen now that there’s no overall title to be won. Across the board, no one is happy to see the series go, but everyone understands the reasons why Hanscom and Fina made the decision to stop promoting the series.

We spoke with Micah Rice at USA Cycling about the USGP, and while USA Cycling has contacted each of the promoters and offered their help with the races, it’s unclear what exactly each race will need, as last minute sponsorships are still being decided on. “USAC has been very supportive of the move, but they certainly needed to be assured that we could logistically pull off a C1, and I think the UCI was in the same boat. They’re maybe a little gun-shy from Worlds, and I can see where they’re coming from,” Joe Czerwonka, the promoter from Louisville tells us.

The problem faced by racers and teams now is deciding which races to attend, when there’s no series overall win on the line. Rice has spoken with some of those racers and managers and says, “Our entire calendar is the race schedule in our minds and we can’t be in the business of pushing rides toward some events and not others. That being said, we are looking at ways to create value in the pro cyclocross as a whole.” What, exactly, that means, is still unclear.

A big fear brought up by many teams and racers is that without the USGP as a national series, top riders would be scattered across the country, not racing against each other. The hope is that the big teams and top racers can agree to focus on certain races, so the spectator value is raised, and so the pros have some top competition in the US to get ready for racing in Europe. However, getting teams and racers to commit to a similar schedule is a nearly impossible task.

The promoters themselves haven’t had much contact with each other since the series was cancelled. “I’m sure I’ll get some calls soon though, when they realize I still have all their stakes from Worlds here,” Czerwonka jokes, adding, “Right now, we’re just focusing on our individual races and making sure we keep our C1’s up to the high standards set by the USGP.”

This is the first in a multi-part series, but here are some highlights from individual promoters about their races for 2013 include:

Sun Prairie:

The first of the races is also the one that is perhaps the hardest to maintain as a C1. Set the weekend after CrossVegas, it’s a difficult race for many of the pros to get to, especially now that the finale for the USA Crit series will also be the week of Interbike out in Las Vegas. This is also one of the few UCI races in the Midwest, which puts the race in a unique position, especially since, after two years right outside of Madison, Wisconsin, Nationals will be moving on to another locale for 2014.

Promoter Renee Calloway tells us, “We are moving forward with continuing a UCI race here in Wisconsin, as we feel it is important to keep opportunities at that level available in the upper Midwest. We hope to one day be C1 but we are still working on sponsorship and won’t know if that will be possible until we get everything finalized. It’s obviously a very large financial commitment to go from C2 to C1 and we don’t want to commit to that until we are sure that we have the necessary sponsorship.”

Calloway adds that one of the most important things for the race is still equal prize money for women, which was a tenant of the USGP series as a whole. “Even before our event joined the USGP, we were committed to offering equal prize money for women and we still feel that way but, of course, that makes keeping our C1 status just that much more challenging financially.”

Fort Collins:

Promoters Jason Trujillo (yes, U23 Worlds team racer Skyler Trujillo’s father) and Rob Noble were the first to announce that despite the USGP cancellation, their races would continue. The USGP first came to Fort Collins in 2010 as the New Belgium Cup. New Belgium again sponsored the races in 2011 with FCBikes and Smartwool taking over sponsorship in 2012.  Rob Noble says the hunt for 2013 sponsorship is just now getting started.

According to their press release, Jason Trujillo and Rob Noble, along with the help of the Ciclismo Youth Foundation will keep the Fort Collins Cup alive in 2013.  The races will be held as UCI category 1 and 2 races on Oct 12th and 13th at the well-received course on South College Ave.  Jason and Rob will be looking to the local business and cycling communities to help make the 2013 race a success.

Louisville:

With a permanent cyclocross venue that only months ago hosted the World Championships, it makes sense that the Derby City Cup would continue, and that it would be coming back better and stronger than ever.

According to promoter Joe Czerwonka, “The community support in Louisville has been outstanding since Worlds, and awareness for the sport is through the roof, so there’s no possible way we could not host this race and build on that.  It’ll be a C1 on Saturday, C2 on Sunday, and it’ll still be very much up to the high standards that were set by the USGP.  In fact, Keegan Schelling will be back as chief course designer, so you know it’ll be as pro as it gets.”

He went on to add, “One thing the USGP always stressed was the importance of equal payouts for elite men and women, and we’re planning on offering equal prize money a minimum of 10 deep for elite women both days.”

The event has joined the OVCX series, and the Louisville-based Sophisticated Living Magazine has come on a sponsor, prompting a name change to the Sophisticated Living Derby City Cup race.

“As far as any alternative plans, we’ve primarily been working to transition the race into a truly unique event that can stand on it’s own legs, post-Worlds.  In addition, establishing roots in the community is very important to us.  We realize how critical it is to build strong ties with the teams, clubs, and shops here, as well as local businesses and government, in order to keep this premier event going strong in Louisville.  It’s great to say ‘Worlds was here,’ but I’m just as excited to say ‘the Sophisticated Living Derby City Cup is here.’”

Bend:

The Deschutes Brewery race in Bend has been a hotbed for cycling politics in past years, and will be even more so this year thanks to the debates raging about “unsanctioned racing.” That said, the race in Bend is on, though the OBRA (Oregon Bike Racing Association) vs USA Cycling clash will probably be exacerbated now that promoter Brad Ross is working on pushing a larger association, NABRA, as an alternative to USA Cycling.  While Oregon races are almost all under OBRA rather than sanctioned by USA Cycling, a UCI race needs to be sanctioned under USA Cycling.

USA Cycling’s Micah Rice explains, “They must be all USAC on any particular day. Brad understands (and has understood) this since last year. They can’t mix OBRA and USAC events on the same course on the same day. I have suggested to Brad that if he wants he can cancel his C2 for Sunday and run all OBRA events on that day, but not on the Saturday C1 day. We have also discussed the option of working out some sort of deal where we can issue a bunch of one-day USAC licenses to make it work so it would be all USAC. I think it comes down to what Brad wants to do in the end.”

We asked if he was surprised by the news that the USGP wouldn’t continue as a series, and we were surprised ourselves when Ross told us that the discontinuation of the series didn’t come as a shock. He told us that funding was tight, but more importantly, the initial goal of the USGP was to one day bring the world championships to the US. With the Louisville race, that goal was met so they didn’t attempt to revive the series.

Those nervous about missing out on the C1 weekend in Bend can stop worrying though: Ross will still be hosting it because the licensing and fees were already paid and race plans were put together before the series was cancelled. The races will simply go back to what they were pre-USGP. They were all individually funded/promoted. He was essentially contracted to put on the USGP races so he was paid regardless and didn’t have to worry too much about profits.

Lastly, we wanted to know: was it all worth it? It was, Ross says, adding that it was very rewarding because he got to see the entire process from start to finish, especially because the World Championships were hosted here.

In coming weeks, we’ll be posting the full interviews with each promoter and with USA Cycling, so stay tuned!

What do you think this means for the state of ’cross in the US? Let us know below in the comments.

 

 

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2 comments
BruceFina
BruceFina

Hi Molly. I am sure both Joan and I are available for fact checking anytime. The USGP and all of it's race were owned and operated by our company. It was this drive towards production and consistency that made the series special. When we made the decision to stop we sought out each of our local organizers to try to continue. We certainly want the sport to grow and succeed. Each and every group in Madison, Louisville, Ft Collins and Bend has what it takes and knows how to run a world class event. They have each been in the sport for a long time and as a group we have all been fortunate to learn from one another. The US has the greatest cross racing in the world. We just need to stop looking at Europe for justification. We are unique. Just look at women's racing. Big fields and lots of fun. Our men's field may not compete with the Super Prestige. But do we really want to see races with 30 starters? Careful what you wish for. I think US cross is great like it is. Cheers Bruce

Roxanne King
Roxanne King

They need to charter a plane from Las Vegas to Madison for Sun Prairie, or move it back a week.

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