by Laurie O'Brien
On July 28th and 29th, while most of the world had their eyes trained on London and the opening days of the Olympics, some of the best young cyclists in the western United States and Canada converged on Elma, Washington for the first ever Rapha Northwest Classic Juniors Stage Race. Riders came from Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Utah, California, and British Columbia to test themselves against their peers.
The brain-child of Rad Racing Northwest director, Jim Brown, and Washington race promoter, Erik Anderson, the goal of the event was to support the growth and development of junior riders in the region.
For years, Brown had been the driving force behind the Rad Racing Grand Prix, a September cyclocross race that drew national and international athletes to the area. In 2011, personal events caused him to shift his focus. "Last summer when my dad died, I had to pull the plug on doing the cross race," said Brown. "I was just too consumed with taking care of family stuff. While on a bike ride last August I was reflecting on where I wanted to put my energy in 2012. It seemed that the UCI Cross thing might not be a fit anymore for our club. There was a great need to make better racing opportunities for juniors on the road. We needed to do a stage race. The second I got in the door from my ride, I called Erik."
Anderson jumped on board from the get-go. Both men recognized that all too often, junior categories are added as an afterthought to adult races, and those young riders strong enough to race senior categories, never really get the chance to compare themselves to other juniors except at national championship events. The Northwest Classic would focus only on juniors.
Brown was responsible for financing the event. "Response was great, but we were selling an unknown product," he explained. "In the end, we were able to put together a great event with support from sponsors. We wanted to make it very special for the kids who came. I was able to produce a prize list that rivals many adult races in the area. Now with a year in the books and a known product to sell, I think there will be companies clamoring to get on board in 2013." He estimates that it took upwards of $13,000 to run the race this year. Rapha, Hammer Nutrition, Giro, and other corporate sponsors provided the bulk of that by donating over $10,000 in cash and prizes. The rest was covered by registration fees.
Anderson was responsible for all the logistics, securing permits, and hiring U.S. A. Cycling officials to monitor the race. All three stages - The Giro Time Trial, The Hammer Nutrition Criterium, and The Jim Brown, Sr. Memorial Road Race - were held in the shadow of the abandoned water cooling towers at the Satsop Development Park in Elma.
Brown and Anderson were modest with their first year goals. "We wanted 75 riders, and we wanted everybody that came to the event to walk away glad that they had attended. We registered 92 riders, and I have heard essentially nothing but good feedback," said Brown.
Revel-Rad riders fared well at the inaugural race. Twelve-year-old Croix Cameron won both the time trial and criterium to secure the overall GC in the 10-12 age group. Brown was particularly impressed watching his youngest riders protecting their GC leader, "It was awesome to see kids that young 'getting it,'" he said.
Also in the 10-12 group, Scott Funston took 2nd in the time trial, 3rd in the criterium, and 3rd in the GC. Another Revel-Rad rider, Ben King pulled off 2nd in the road race and secured the 5th place GC spot.
Thirteen year old Lewis Whiley was consistent in all three stages and ended up 4th in the 13-14 GC, the highest finisher from Washington state. The riders in front of him came from Idaho and Utah and have a number of national championship medals between them. For Whiley, only in his second year of racing, it was exhilarating to test himself against national caliber talent.
While the 15-16 and 17-18 boys' fields were combined for the criterium and the road race, they were scored separately. Brown was pleased with how his older riders performed. "They rode so solid as a team. They were aggressive and covered everything that went."
The plan for the older riders was to attack, attack, attack, and they did just that. In the criterium, sixteen year old rider David O’Brien went off the front multiple times picking up a couple hundred dollars in product from Giro and Schwalbe Tires during prime laps. Tyler Tangen also picked up a cash prime and took 2nd in the 15-16 criterium.
Fresh from his two wins at Junior Track Nationals, Conor Klupar kept it very consistent and was always near the front in the 17-18 group. He took the pack sprint in the criterium earning a 2nd place and also placed 2nd in the road race. He secured 3rd in the GC for 17-18. In the girls' 15-18 combined group, sixteen-year-old Andrea Casebolt rode "solid as usual" and finished second overall in the GC.
During Sunday’s Jim Brown, Sr. Memorial Road Race, the goal was once again to ride aggressively as a team. " Our 15-16 GC rider, Tyler Tangen, broke his chain in the road race, but the team kept it together," said Brown. After a 52-mile race, it came down to an uphill pack sprint for the finish. O’Brien timed his sprint perfectly and came away with the win in the hotly contested 15-16 race.
For Revel-Rad director and race visionary Jim Brown, the moment was a weekend highlight. He named the stage after his late father and explained to the riders at the start line that a year ago, on that very day, he had been speaking at his dad’s funeral. To have one of his own riders win the first ever race was a sweet victory.
Brown and Anderson are already in the planning stages for 2013 and hope to expand the race to four stages over three days. They'd also like to add an expo area and up the number of registrations by at least 50 riders. “This event was my shining moment with regards to my cycling career,” said Brown. “I’ve never been prouder of anything that I have helped make happen.”
Complete results of the Rapha Northwest Classic Juniors Stage Race can be found here
GC Winners were:
- Boys’ 17-18: Max O’Neal – Herriott Sports Performance – Seattle, WA
- Girls Combined 15-16/17-18: Tessa Pinckston – Devo – Vancouver, BC
- Boys’ 15-16: Diego Binatena – Team Specialized – San Diego, CA
- Boys’ 13-14: Michael Hocking – BYRDS – Boise, ID
- Girls’ 13-14: Hannah Green – BYRDS – Boise, ID
- Boys’ 10-12: Croix Cameron – Revel Consulting-Rad Racing NW – Seattle, WA
- Girls 10-12: Grace Green – BYRDS – Boise, ID