Thanks in part to the eminently quotable Stephen Hyde, this weekend’s Rochester Cyclocross can be viewed as the “first day of school,” with riders leaving the road, gravel, mountain bike and e-mountain bike scenes to convene on the cyclocross course for the first time.
With the event held the weekend before the U.S. World Cups in recent years, the first day has school has taken on the intensity of a midterm exam, with riders looking to be on top form heading to Iowa City and Waterloo.
“Because Rochester is early in the U.S. season and has a high international rating, it draws a lot of big names,” Rebecca Fahringer (Kona Maxxis Shimano) said. “Also, some Europeans are in the U.S. getting ready for the World Cups in the weeks after. So fans can see firsthand how racers are going after the offseason and can see talents that may not usually race together go head-to-head.”
The Rochester weekend has also taken on additional importance because it is one of just 3 UCI C1s in North America this season after the cancellation of RenoCross. With fewer C1 points available domestically, the field reflects the added importance of Saturday’s race.
“I’m thrilled Rochester puts on a C1 year after year,” Tobin Ortenblad (Santa Cruz / Donkey Label Racing) said. “The points are invaluable, especially so early in the season. Being a C1, it attracts every top racer in the nation, which means we get to see who did their work and training over the summer. I’m excited to see where the cards fall.”
The reduced number of UCI C1s in North America is the result of the decision by the UCI to begin enforcing its rule requiring races to have at least 10 international riders and 5 countries represented to apply for C1 status the following season.
With its U.S. setting, Rochester has 23 international riders signed up (thanks Canadian friends!) and 7 countries represented—U.S., Canada, France, Belgium, Switzerland, Denmark and Australia—meaning it should be able to return as a C1 in 2020, provided flights and all that go well.
Rochester Cyclocross was first held in 2008, and the event moved to Genesee Valley Park beginning in 2016. Set along the banks of the Genesee River and the historic Erie Canal, the venue and layout have historically produced fast September racing and a number of exciting sprint finishes, including a duel between Stephen Hyde (Cannondale p/b CyclocrossWorld) and Jeremy Powers (GCN Masters Team) in 2016 that foreshadowed Hyde’s ascendency that season.
The layout is a mix of fast, open sections and tight technical features that have received names such as “Double Trouble,” “The Wall,” and “The Funky Off-Camber.”
“There are so many tricky features. Of course, there are the long straight horsepower drags, but the hidden forested and river sections really complete the course and make it a great season kickoff for most racers,” Ortenblad said.
“(It) really lets you flex every bit of your skillset, or identify areas of weakness to work on moving forward,” Fahringer added.
Rochester Cyclocross is put on by the Full Moon Vista bike shop, led by race director Scott Page. Another of the features on the course is the Belgian steps, which Page built himself for the event.
Page told Cyclocross Magazine that his goal with Rochester Cyclocross is to bring a pro-level event to American cyclocross. In a testament to how he has met his goal, some of the continent’s top riders have taken notice.
“From the charging stations to the amazing venue, to the world-class staff of smiling faces. With such an open venue it really adds a great visual experience for the fans to be able to watch almost the whole race from one spot,” Stephen Hyde (Cannondale p/b CyclocrossWorld) said.
“The event crew do such an amazing job at presenting a Class 1 event for the riders to be challenged. It really sets the tone for the rest of the season.”
Racing in Rochester kicks off for UCI categories and amateurs on Saturday and continues Sunday. The Junior Men race at 11:50 a.m. EDT, the Elite Women at 2:20 p.m. and the Elite Men at 4 p.m. each day.
In previous years, Rochester has offered live streaming, with varying levels of success, but this year, video coverage will be provided by Cyclocross Television.