Sponsorship is the backbone for professional cycling, and the annual Cascade Cycling Classic—the longest consecutively running stage race in the United States—is no exception. But it is a different type of sponsorship than, say, the U.S. Postal Service or Volkswagen ponying up cash; it is something much more grassroots.
"The fact that we have local sponsors and a community that embraces the event is the reason this event has continued for the past 35 years," explains the event's sponsorship coordinator Molly Cogswell-Kelley. She adds that local residents house some 300-plus riders (200 men and 100 women) each year. "It makes it possible for them to come here," she says. "It saves them a lot of money, and bike racers are not rich. They race because they love it; definitely, not for the money."
From July 22 through 26, the five-stage cycling race will once again traverse Central Oregon with some 300 riders. The race itself is enmeshed in Central Oregon's landscape—literally. Each stage samples from very different terrain. Stage One—which Cogswell-Kelley calls "hard!"—covers 124 miles on the McKenzie Pass (82 for the women), finishing with a particularly punishing 2,000 foot climb over five miles to Dee Wright Observatory at the top of McKenzie Pass.
"The courses are all incredibly scenic," exclaims Cogswell-Kelley. "I don't think there is any other place in the U.S. that has views like we do! And the courses are tough!"
The most spectator-friendly stage loops around downtown Bend, with some 10,000 spectators lining the streets (and sitting at sidewalk cafes).
"I believe it's probably one of the busiest days for restaurants on Wall Street," says Cogswell-Kelley. "Many of these spectators do not follow bike racing at all, but they love experiencing the excitement that is involved with a criterium race."
Although most elite riders are wrapping up the Tour du France, the Cascade Cycling Classic pulls riders from the tier just one cut below, with riders like Lance Armstrong launching his infamous comeback from cancer with a victory at the Cascade Cycling Classic in 1998 and, more recently, local Chris Horner holding top spots. While American riders dominated the top position for the event's first two decades, Spanish rider Francisco Mancebo won back to back events in 2011 and 2012, and Romanian Serghei Tvetcov held the top spot in 2013 and 2014.
In 2002, women were included in the event, and the top spot has since been dominated by Americans, with only one year won by a Canadian. This year, two-time gold medalist Kristin Armstrong will be a top contender.
Cascade Cycling Classic: Twlight Criterium
5:45–8 pm, Saturday, July 25