The CincyScenes staff ventured a little further than usual this past Saturday, as we made the journey downriver to Louisville, KY, for the aforementioned USGP Cyclocross race, a two-day event dubbed the Derby Cup. As we ventured down the I-71 corridor, the weather did not look promising, with looming skies and the occasional shower. (Some would call this perfect cyclocross weather, but we weren’t certain that our 14-month-old junior member would feel the same.) Once we cleared I-275, the rain became more sporadic, and we were able to enjoy the beautiful fall colors as we rode the roller-coaster of northern Kentucky hills. Well, Carole and I were able to enjoy the fall colors; the youngest staff member decided this was an ideal time for a nap.
During the drive it became clear that Carole was struggling with something – specifically, how to pronounce the name of the city we were driving to. Her research had informed her that locals called it “Lo-uh-vull,” and other denizens of the Ohio River Valley referred to it as “Loo-uh-vull, whereas outlanders (like her) would take the all-too-literal approach of saying “Loo-ee-vill.” Eventually, her efforts so frustrated her that she began referring to it simply as “that place we’re going to.”
Our plan in “that place we went to” was to take in the women’s and men’s Elite races, and head back to the comforts of home in the late afternoon. We pulled into Louisville a little in advance of the women’s race, checked out the exterior of Water Tower Visual Art Association and, um, other riverfront scenery. Then we took advantage of the extra time to drive down Main and Market Streets, making mental notes of features for future visits – I am particularly eager to check out the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory.
We made it back to Champion’s Park in time for the start of the women’s race, which featured an elite field of current and former champions from road, mountain, and Cyclocross. No matter – current US Champion Katie Compton, as she had done two weeks earlier at Harbin Park, put the hammer down early and rode away from the field to win by over a minute. The exciting race was for second, as a trio of Canadians tried to hold off a surging Georgia Gould, and failed.
Between the women’s and men’s races, we wandered through the tent area, checking out a podium presentation, the pro’s bikes, and the various sponsor’s promotions. I looked longingly at the Bluegrass Brewing Company’s outpost, and made a mental note to sample their wares at a time when I wouldn’t be driving home again so soon. Carole is especially fond of the Crank Brothers’ logo, as I am of their pedals, but we were here to watch the races and managed to avoid succumbing to the mercantile temptation.
The men’s field was even more stacked, featuring the deadly one-two Kona team punch of US Champion Ryan Trebon and Harbin Park winner Barry Wicks, Jeremy Powers and Tim Johnson, and a host of talented racers from across the country. Tour de France veteran Chris Horner showed up, trademark smile and all. Our personal rooting favorite was former Junior National Champion Bjorn Selander, whom we’ve seen race numerous times in our days in the Upper Midwest. For both the women’s and men’s race, we were treated to a little local flavor as riders were literally called to the post by the official bugler of Churchill Downs – a very nice touch.
The race started fast and just got faster, as riders navigated the European-style flyover (a set of steep stairs with a down ramp on the other side), barriers situated after a sharp turn, and a sand pit that took more than one rider down. The crowd was excited, clanging cowbells and tooting on big plastic horns. The course was designed so spectators could get two or even three different vantage points on the race without moving far – it was one of the most spectator-friendly courses for a spectator-friendly sport that I’ve ever seen. A big shout-out to the folks on the PA system, too, who managed to narrate the exciting action from various points throughout the course.
And the racing was exciting, with the two Konas and Powers and Johnson establishing themselves early and hitting each other repeatedly until Powers and Johnson emerged, and Powers finally rode away from Johnson for the victory. Horner showed his strength (if not his handling skills), recovering from at least one wipeout that I saw to move from a mid-20s start and finish 11th. Bjorn rode very impressively, heeding well my admonitions to “close that gap” and “keep it up”; he started in the 8th row – in almost 60th place – and raced strongly enough to finish 23rd overall, and 3rd in the under-23 class. Kudos to the nice young gentleman from Hudson, WI, who would go on to finish 19th in Sunday’s race.
A race weekend of this caliber is a special thing to have in the region – there are only two other weekends like it in the United States. And while Louisville can rightly claim it as its own, the Derby Cup is surely close enough – and big enough — to be part of the Cincinnati bike scene.