Pulling up to the last cyclocross race of the season at Northern California’s Rockville Cyclocross Series, I noticed an old faded Planet Bike trailer behind a van. On top of the trailer were a cantilever brake Blue Competition Cycles cyclocross bike, a Cervelo road bike and other fine rides, with two Trek cyclocross bikes leaning up near the van. The whole setup certainly stood out at the grassroots race, where pit bikes are a rarity and team tents and vehicles are nonexistent.
Seeing the Planet Bike, Blue and Cervelo brands, I first thought of Jonathan Page, who has ridden for all three brands. Could he be in the area? He promised to never race cyclocross after retirement, so it seemed unlikely.
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Could it be Bob Downs? Downs owned Planet Bike, and backed Page for several seasons of cyclocross racing.
At registration, Downs in his familiar hood-under-the-helmet walked up. The former National Champion and Worlds silver medalist (a description that also applies to Page) was in town for a late-season cyclocross fix.
I unsuccessfully tried to hold onto his wheel in the A race, but after Downs raced to a fourth-place finish and finished a cool-down ride with his girlfriend, I finally caught up with the speedy Downs to find out what brought him to the race. He also revealed a potential plan that racers 35 years and older might be interested in.
See our conversation below.
Cyclocross Magazine: We’re here Norcal, on February 23. The European UCI cyclocross season is already over, but here you are still racing cyclocross. What are you doing here?
Bob Downs: We’re up here enjoying this wonderful event, put on by great people, and having some fun. My girlfriend decided to pursue this sport after watching Nationals in Lakewood, Washington. When we saw there was some racing to be had, she was all over it. So here we are!
CXM: You are on your way from Socal to Oregon. But you’ve come to Rockville several times?
BD: We have a winter place in Southern California. My daughter has moved to Portland recently. We’ve been going back and forth delivering some things her for her new home, and Fairfield is about 10 miles out of our way, so it’s a natural for us to stop here and do the races.
CXM: What do you think of our little series here?
BD: It’s awesome. The course is a little different than what I’m used to. It’s Norcal racing, a little hardpack, and kinda mountain bike-y, which is not my forte. It’s super fun and the people are great. [Norcal has had a very dry winter, but Rockville is typically a mudfest.]
CXM: Is it a shock to the system, doing a little redlining this time of year?
BD: We’re in base mode right now, but yeah, when we found out about the races, we added a few intervals to our training.
CXM: We also talked earlier about Masters Worlds. You mentioned there might be a possibility of Masters Worlds coming to the U.S. in 2020?
BD: Well, I went over to Masters Worlds this year. My friend, Franky van Haesebroecke, Jonathan Page’s old mechanic, he was there, I stayed with him. His wife won Worlds this year. And so after the event, he told me because of the new UCI World Cup expansion, the Mol race was unlikely to take place. Without the pro race taking place and setting up the course and doing the heavy lifting, the promoters were not really interested in pursuing the Masters World Championships.
And so Franky told me it may not happen, and so I instantly contacted my friend Brook Watts to find out what was going on. He put me in touch with Christelle Reille and I sent her an email and told her if it’s not held in Europe, we’d be interested in promoting it in the Midwest, either through Trek, hopefully I can talk with people there and see if people they might be interested in promoting it, and if not, we would put together our old crew from the USGP / Planet Bike days and try to promote something at either Angel Park or Badger Prairie.
CXM: So Trek might be involved?
BD: Well, I know some people at Trek, I used to work there a long time ago. I’ll contact some people there in the cyclocross promotion. Obviously, with the World Cup, they can put on world-class events, it would be a natural for them. But, they’re also busy too, and if they don’t do it, we’ll put an organization together.
CXM: Would the idea be to pair it with Nationals so people stay in the Midwest?
BD: Yeah, I think that would be our ultimate goal. I’m not a fan of having Worlds before Nationals. That’s the way it is, flying over to Belgium, and then coming back you’re really tired for Nationals. I’d rather have Nationals in Chicago first, and then the following week have Worlds in the Madison area so people don’t have to coordinate too much travel or transporting things.
CXM: I understand this is a big year for you if we do get Masters Worlds?
BD: I turn 65 this year so I might even have a chance. I think a few years ago, when the Masters Worlds was not being held in Europe, there was talk of it being in San Jose, and San Jose couldn’t quite pull it off, so there was no Masters Worlds that [winter] so that was one of the years I probably had a chance of winning Worlds. I don’t want to see that opportunity lost. I don’t know how much longer I can do this. I want to strike while the iron is still hot.
CXM: Last question. We’re here in Norcal, it’s 65 degrees, it’s a pretty balmy, October-like day in Wisconsin. Do you think there should be more late-season cyclocross racing across the nation?
BD: Definitely. I don’t know why the season ever stops. When [USA Cycling] moved Nationals back to early December, I was disappointed because I love it to be a longer season. And last year, after Nationals we actually went over to Belgium. My good friend Jay Thornton and I did some racing over there to get our fill.
CXM: So the Bob Downs philosophy is more cyclocross racing is better?
BD: It’s just fun. That’s why we’re doing it right?
CXM: Yes! Thanks for coming out, and good luck on your road trip.
BD: Thank you very much.
Note: We’ve covered past attempts by U.S.-based groups to bring Masters Worlds to the U.S. that have failed, and Downs makes no promises for 2020 but is excited about the possibility. Downs has put on high-level races in the past, and racers interested in Masters Worlds and Nationals might want to wait before booking travel to Chicago.