[Editor’s note: This guest article was written by Pat Malach, editor of www.OregonCyclingAction.com, a blog covering competitive cycling in and around Northwest Oregon. Malach kindly agreed to help us get the word out about opportunities to race and learn in the Portland area for seasoned racers and novices alike. And there are a lot of them!]
Although Oregon’s hearty peloton has been braving torrential rains, unforgiving winds and sometimes snow-covered courses since February, the first week of May really marks the beginning of the non-stop onslaught of races around Portland and beyond, with racing opportunities nearly every day of the week.
Where to race in Portland
A robust and determined self-selected group of local stalwarts kicked off the 13th season of the River City Bicycles Monday Night Race Series this week at Portland International Raceway. The record-setting rainfall dampened turnout for the opener, but not the enthusiasm of the people who showed up.
The series caters to novice racers and those curious about jumping into the sport. Categories include Novice Women, an Open Women’s category for any age and ability, Novice Masters Men (30+) and two categories dividing Masters Men Cat. 1/2/3/4/5.
“Bicycle racing continues to grow in Oregon,” said race promoter Jim Anderson. “We see new racers each year trying it out, and PIR is a great place to learn about racing. We’re adding clinics for novice women and men who want to see what the sport is all about in hopes of seeing a growth in the novice category.”
Anderson said prizes will be awarded, but the emphasis is always on learning and having fun. The series will expand its efforts to reach out to new racers with clinics focused on the basics of how to get started racing.
Russell Cree of Upper Echelon Fitness in North Portland and Kendra Wenzel of Wenzel Coaching will oversee the clinics, which will run approximately 30 minutes before and after each race. Cree, who is currently putting together a schedule of weekly clinics, said topics will range from race tactics to group bike handling.
The traditional PIR Tuesday Nighters for three different men’s fields have been in full gear since early April.
This evening is a big night for the fixed-gear crowd, which gets its first chance to turn the pedals in anger at Alpenrose Velodrome in Beaverton. The track hosts three weeknight series on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays throughout the summer (weather permitting). Races start at 6:30 p.m. Show up early to register or rent a bike.
Thursday night races in May will focus on time trials and then move on to pursuits and eventually mass-start racing. Fast twitch Fridays are all about the top-end speed, featuring match sprints and motor-paced keirin racing, plus an omnium for beginner men and women. The Tuesday night series starting in June caters to masters and juniors.
The big kick off will be this weekend’s Erik Kautzky Memorial Track Race, in memory of the Rose City Cycling Club rider who was run down while on a Saturday morning ride in Washington County in 2006. Racing starts Saturday at 10 a.m. with the Kiddie Kilo and continues throughout the afternoon.
Portland’s dairy-sponsored bowl is a popular place even when there’s no racing. Team Beer’s clinics reaching out to inexperienced-but-curious track racers fill the spring weekend space between races. “Track Development 201” is scheduled for Saturday, May 16. The first of two Madison Clinics is the following Saturday.
The bike messenger Velocity Tour is scheduled for Saturday May 30. The top male and female messengers from each city will travel to New York City to compete in the Finals. The top male and female from the New York City event will receive round-trip airfare to Tokyo, Japan for the 17th Annual Cycle messenger World Championships.
The Alpenrose Velodrome Challenge will also return July 17-19 as well as the popular six-day event June 29-July 4. Racing at Alpenrose stays busy throughout the summer and wraps up at the end of August with national qualifiers and the Masters Championships.
Elsewhere in the region
While the intimacy of Portland’s challenging pint-sized track always makes a good venue for watching races, fans open to a little travel can catch some off the best professional racing in the country just a few miles down the road.
This country’s top pro domestic teams will be back for the popular Mt. Hood Cycling Classic June 3-7, this year starting and finishing in beautiful Hood River. The race features stages along the Historic Columbia River Gorge Scenic Highway that have been described by experienced international racers as some of the most beautiful they’ve ever ridden.
Not only is the Mt. Hood Cycling Classic a great chance for people to see a world-class race in their Pacific Northwest backyard, but cyclists of all ages and abilities can also get in on the action. New this year, the Tour de Hood runs June 6-7 and offers recreational riders and the general public a chance to ride two of the same courses that challenge the elite racers: the legendary Wy’East professional course (90 miles) and the Scenic Gorge Time Trial course (42 miles). Riders can go at their own pace and receive full mechanical support, plus food and drinks, along the route.
Further east, the Elkhorn Classic Stage Race in Baker City June 19-21 always provides challenging courses and a breathtaking venue.
The nation’s top pro teams will return to Oregon for the granddaddy of Oregon stage races, the Cascade Cycling Classic July 22-26 in Bend, which will be a hotbed of national-caliber cycling this summer and fall. Just two days later the USA Cycling National Road Race Championships begin there July 28-Aug. 2.
Thousands of riders will compete in a week of races to decide national championships in a variety of age- and skill-graded categories. Three cycling disciplines will be offered: time trial, criterium and road race. The U.S. Paracycling National Time Trial Championships will also take place in conjunction with the road championships.
Heck, if you’re going to be in Bend that long, maybe you should just rent a place there and stay for the Cyclocross National Championships Dec. 10-13, although the commute back and fourth each weekend for Portland’s endlessly growing ‘cross scene might become a bit of a hump.
Keeping up with shifting plans
As one would expect, cycling in Oregon isn’t without an occasional pothole or two. Promoters had hoped to spin an invitation-only, top tier pro stage race from their increasingly popular Mt. Hood Cycling Classic in 2009 but had to postpone the start until next summer.
The Mt. Tabor Circuit Race schedule for May 16 was canceled because of construction near the upper reservoir road. That same construction threatened to cancel the six-week June-July series as well, although it has been tentatively rescheduled as a four-race series for July 29, Aug. 12, 19 and 26.
Minor setbacks aside, Oregon’s definitely the right place to be if you’re a pro, aspiring amateur, weekend warrior, curious novice who’s just thinking about jumping into the peloton, or just a fan who likes to watch it all fly by.
This weekend will be a typical Oregon racing spring/summer schedule, with events beginning tonight at Alpenrose (weather permitting) and continuing there Friday evening through Saturday. Eugene hosts the Icebreaker Criterium (rain or shine) the next day, and people heading to Bend this Sunday can take their moms to see the knobby tires tackle the Cascade Chainbreaker, the 5th stop on the Oregon XC Series.
And then it starts all over again Monday night at PIR.
Throw in the many other weeknight racing and one-day and multi-day events throughout Oregon, and a motivated racer’s biggest worry around these parts becomes finding a chance to take a break.