Cascade Cycling Classic
Central Oregon masters racers ser for CCC
They come from near and far to compete in one of the most challenging stage races in the country.
Some of the best cyclists in the United States converge on Central Oregon every year at this time — and many of them are, shall we say, showing some gray.
While the pro men and women tend to claim all the glory at the Bend Memorial Clinic Cascade Cycling Classic, the masters races always seem to draw incredible athletes and produce epic battles on the roads of Central Oregon.
“I think the CCC is the hardest stage race in the U.S. for masters,” says 50-year-old Roger Worthington, a part-time Bend resident and a three-time masters winner at the Cascade.
Masters categories 35-44 and 45-and-older compete in a four-stage race beginning with Friday's 71-mile Cascade Lakes Road Race. Saturday includes both the 12-mile Skyliners Time Trial and the 35-minute Downtown Criterium. The race concludes Sunday with the 67-mile Awbrey Butte Circuit Race.
Many of these same courses will be used in the 2011 USA Cycling Masters Road National Championships, scheduled for Central Oregon Aug. 31 through Sept. 4.
“This masters race is on everyone's map,” Worthington says. “This year is a really special year, because it's a preview of the races that will be at the masters national championships in September.”
Worthington is one of several locals who train to peak for the Cascade masters race. Bend's Mike Larsen, Bart Bowen and Eric Martin are among other longtime local masters racers who look forward to racing in front of their home crowd each July.
The Central Oregonians will face plenty of competition this year, as former masters world champions David Zimbalman, of White Salmon, Wash., and Thurlow Rogers, of Newbury Park, Calif., are entered in the 45-and-older field.
Rogers finished sixth in the road race at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, and Zimbalman won the pro Cascade Cycling Classic in 1985.
Bowen, 44, won the Cascade pro race in 1993 and was a two-time USPro champion. Now he races masters to show his 9- and 6-year-old boys what he used to do for a living.
“I had some exciting moments in my career at that (pro) level — and in Bend,” Bowen says. “There's so many people there (at the criterium). The masters race is a notch below that, but it's fun that my kids can watch me race. They haven't seen anything else.”
Larsen, 43, finished fourth overall in the 35-44 masters race each of the past two years. He is hoping to compete for an overall victory this year.
“It's going to be a war out there,” Larsen predicts. “This year it will be extra competitive with nationals coming. Everyone wants to come see the course. I can't say it's as competitive as the pro race, but within its own parameters it is.”
“These are strong guys in these races,” says CCC race director Brad Ross. “There are guys in these races that could do just fine in the pro races.”
Larsen is the older brother of Steve Larsen, an accomplished cyclist and triathlete from Bend who died unexpectedly of a heart attack two years ago at just 39 years old.
Steve Larsen won the overall title in the 35-44 masters race at the Cascade in 2006. Mike Larsen says that in each of the past two years he tried to win the criterium on a solo breakaway to honor his younger brother.
“I came up 200 meters short,” Mike says. “Steve won (the criterium) a couple times and I wanted to win for him. It's emotional with Steve, because I've raced with him and seen what he's done. I had opponents come up to me and say they wanted me to win. I felt like Steve was helping me out.”
While the crowds for the masters criteriums on Saturday afternoon are not quite as large and boisterous as those that turn out for the pro crits on Saturday evening, the local masters racers enjoy their fair share of encouragement from the Central Oregon masses.
“It's not what the pros get, but every corner there's somebody cheering you on,” Larsen says. “That race is just so exciting. The cheering for the locals is just endless.”
Worthington says masters athletes do not typically race for glory — instead racing for themselves and their families, and simply because they love the sport of bike racing.
Through injuries and creaky joints, masters racers continue to hammer.
“The old guard is getting older, and we've been with the sport since the 1980s,” Worthington says. “A lot of us feel the best is yet to come. A lot of us still feel like we're peaking. I've got a bionic hip and I've broken two collarbones. We're all walking wounded.”
But the older masters racers have the advantage of longer life experience to ease them through the physical and mental strain of training and racing.
“These older guys are mentally tough,” Larsen says. “They've lived lives and dealt with teenagers.”
Mark Morical can be reached at 541-383-0318 or at email@example.com