Chaos ensues at Jackson Park Cyclocross. Bill Draper

Chaos ensues at Jackson Park Cyclocross. © Bill Draper

by Barron Gira

We recently caught up with Jason Knauff, series director of the Chicago Cross Cup (CCC) since 2009, at a ’cross practice he was leading in a Chicago park.

Cyclocross Magazine: Tell us a bit about yourself and how you started in cyclocross?

Jason Knauff: I’m originally from Baltimore and lived in Boston before moving to Chicago in 2006. While in Boston, I helped run registration for the GP of Gloucester, which was my first glimpse into cyclocross. It wasn’t until I moved to Chicago that a road riding buddy of mine suggested I check out the Chicago Cross Cup website. I’ve been involved with the CCC for the last five years and heading it up for the last three.

CXM: What is the history of Chicago Cross Cup?

JK: The CCC started in 2004 with four races. This year we will have 12 races over ten weekends. The series has evolved over the years with the help of the entire Chicago ’cross community.

CXM: What has been the evolution of the series?

JK: We have matured a lot, but we are still the relative new comers to cyclocross compared to New England and the West Coast. One thing we like to do that has really fueled our growth is to get everyone involved in the development of the series. We encourage crowd sourcing and much of what the CCC is today is from implementing suggestions that somebody, be that a racer, spectator, parent, etc, had along the way.  We have gotten better, smarter and more organized … which we’ve needed as there are so many more racers than in 2004.

I try to model what we do here based on what I learned at Gloucester, which I still go back for every year to help out at (and I’ve still never raced there). If we could get our entire series dialed in like Gloucester, people here in Chicago would be amazed how professional a race like that can be.

CXM: What can we expect to see this year?

JK: It’s going to be fast! For the past few years we have focused on the Cat 4s to build our rider base (we still sell out two 100-rider fields), but this year a lot of those are graduating to the Cat 3s. We’re also hoping to see continued growth of our women and Junior fields.  We had multiple requests for a 60+ category, so we have added that to the schedule as well. Overall, I want to be sure it the series is run well and people really have a good time.

CXM: How does the Chicago ’cross scene differ from what you have seen elsewhere?

JK: People on the East coast have been racing ’cross for what seems like forever. It is a hyper-competitive race scene first and foremost, whereas on the West Coast, it seems like having a good time and dressing up seems to be the main thrust. I think here in Chicago we find a happy medium with fast guys and girls, but we’re still incorporating fun into the mix. What many people don’t realize is that cyclocross scenes all across the country are not homogenous. ’Cross is a localized phenomenon where each little pocket has its own identity and vibe.

CXM: We understand you have some exciting plans for New Year’s racing. Can you tell us what you have planned?

JK: We are hosting a two-day UCI sanctioned race at Indian Lakes Resort on 12/31 and 1/1. We’ve been talking about hosting a UCI race for years, and with my work at Gloucester I knew what it would take to pull it off. With Nationals up the road in Madison only a week later and Masters Worlds in Louisville two weeks later, it was a no-brainer to host this event in early January.

We have a good relationship with the Indian Lakes Resort, which is a normal stop during the CCC season, so we know what to expect with course layout and accommodations for racers right on site. We will not run exactly the same categories as we do during the CCC series since we will have to add women’s and men’s pro classes, along with building in times for a course inspection.

We are going to try to pack in as many races as possible, not only for the pros but the amateurs as well. Since the Worlds Masters is soon after, our Masters classes will be a highlight. We will run all categories both days, but we will likely add a Singlespeed category at least one of the days.

CXM: Have you heard about any pros committing to this race?

JK: It was April the last time I spoke directly to any pros about this event. Many have indicated they will race if their calendars work out. I think a lot will depend on where they are in their season. If someone has an injury, they are more likely to go to California to train for Worlds.

CXM: What can we expect in course design and setup to accommodate the pros?

JK: Definitely a professional setup all around with a stage, finish line truss, professional timing for the pros (same company the USGP uses), PA (announcing by Richard Fries) and staging area. Plus we’ll have full use of the Indian Lakes Resort indoor facilities including the restaurant, bar, bathrooms with showers, pool and hot tub. Riders will be able to roll right out of bed and onto the course. Parking is right next to the course, and we’ll have a club row set up for the pros and locals who want to set up tents. Discounted room rates are available here.

Weather more than anything will dictate what the course is like (wet vs. icy), but we plan to use as many sand traps as possible – at Tim Johnson’s request, to get the pros ready for Worlds in Koksijde. Per UCI course specs, we’ll have staging and the start/finish on the pavement and the finish line will be at the top of a small rise right in front of the golf pro shop, where the restaurant and registration will be located. We’ll also use the fairways, rough, the main hill several times and lots of trees. The staging area will be right next to the parking lots and club row, and the pit, where we’ll also have SRAM NRS, will be a very short walk from staging. Final details are still being worked out, but we do have a tentative event map on our site.

CXM: What are your thoughts on the Nationals moving to January, particularly in Madison?

JK: I think the cold is no big deal, it’s cold everywhere in December and January. Last December’s race in Bend was freezing and Kansas City and Providence have also been cold years past in December. The other considered location was Traverse City, Michigan, which is further north than Madison. When Worlds come to Louisville in January 2013 it should be to the USA’s advantage.

CXM: Which local CCC racers do you expect to excel at the New Year’s Resolution event?

JK: It’s a ways off, but if last year and what I’ve seen this year are any indication, I would expect the following men and women to do well:

  • 30+ Lou Kuhn, John Gatto, Walid Abu Ghazaleh, Eric Drummer, Brandon Elliot
  • 40+ Brian Conant, Chris Lombardo, Tim Boundy, Bryan Rheude, Erik Enyedy
  • 50+ Wayne Simon, Allan Thom, Vitor Alexandre, Scott Ross, Danny Warner
  • Women 1/2/3 Sam Schneider, Jessica Hill, Katie Isermann
  • Men 1/2 Mike Sherer, Mike Hemme, James LaLonde, Scott McLaughlin, Kevin Klug, Jason Rassi, David Sachs
  • Junior 15-18 Dave Lombardo, Gage Rodriguez, Ryan O’Connell, Mitch Bogardus, Nate Labecki

CXM: Lastly, are there any après-race plans to ring in the New Year?

JK: Nothing officially organized yet, but you’re not going to have hundreds of ’cross racers at a golf resort with a bar called “The Cave” in the middle of winter without some sort of party happening!