In the beginning, Jeff Haase, the founder of many OBRA monument races, promoted a cyclocross series known as First Mud. When he retired in 1990, he doled out his races to his friends… with First Mud going to Rick Potestio…… who had only raced it twice but loved every muddy minute.
Rick enlisted the help of his friend Russ Humberston and his friend and arch-rival, Rich Slingsby to promote the races. At the end of the 1992 season, with barely 40 racers per race, Rick and Russ convened a beer-soaked meeting. By the bottom of the third pitcher, they had drunk their meager profits and had set forth a 20-year program to grow the series and the sport, setting benchmark goals of hosting the US Nationals within 10 years and the World Championships within 20. The series would henceforth be known as the “Cross Crusade”. It was a name that would provide endless thematic possibilities and hopefully provoke curiosity, controversy, and interest as it inspired fierce competition and hilarious antics.
The promoters’ main objective was to eliminate barriers to racing— not the wood type— but rules that discouraged people from trying the sport– particularly the requirement that racers use a cross bike. Counter to the norm, Rick and Russ allowed any bike: mountain bikes, single-speeds and (jokingly) unicycles.
In the spirit of fall harvest festivals (Rick and Russ bonded in a beer garden after crashing out of the Mt. Angel Oktoberfest Criterium), they envisioned race day as a fun-filled family event and community festival. A sunny afternoon at Blue Lake Park may be marked as the turning point when a team first hauled a bar-b-que and a cooler full of beers to the course sideline, and a gaggle of unicyclists arrived fully kitted up and ready to race.
A rag-tag team of mountain bikers started helping with set-up and tear down, in obvious hopes of a post-race beer thank-you…. notably Brad Ross, who later became Race Director, Jon and Rene Myers, who became the registration team, and Brian Johnson, who plotted the courses. Together with founders Rick and Russ they formed the original Board of Directors. Soon the Board was joined by Brian Witty, Andy Wilson, Kevin Blair, Sherry Schwenderlauf, Steven Beardsley, Tony Kic, and Joe Fields. OBRA officials Candi and Mike Murray, Terri Camp, David Roth and Melanie Rathe contributed mightily to the success of the series in organization and officiating.
The newly formed team of promoters desired a larger and more diverse participation, so they actively encouraged juniors, beginners, and most emphatically, women to race. By the late 90’s the women’s category itself had more competitors than most other races in the US. They partnered with running clubs to co-produce events and bring in athletes from other sports. They supported socially progressive organizations and teams. As participation grew, they added age categories and created new categories such as Kids Kross, SingleSpeeds, Athenas, Clydesdales and of course the one and only Unicycle Category.
With the goal of creating more winners than a podium allows, the promoters invented novel ways to compete such as the Joust, the results-skewing Single Speedo, and the Halloween Costume Competition. Off-course they held a Film Festival, an annual city-wide scavenger hunt called the Grail Hunt (the top prize was airfare to see the CX World Championships) and Team Competitions. A sponsor in Bend threw a full-blown Halloween Party in their brewery.
The flyers became much anticipated gag-filled posters presenting the year’s theme and somewhat un-decipherable maps and riddles as clues for the Grail Hunt.
Racers quickly caught on to the antics, arriving early to tailgate and cheer on friends and teammates and heckle everyone else. Soon cyclocross specific teams were forming and tents started popping up along the course. One team even brought a wood-fired hot tub to the races from which to recover and spectate. Seattle cross racers, envious of the great fun, comradery, and competition of the Cross Crusade, started racing in Portland… and their pumpkin latte sipping Seattle promoters reluctantly agreed to co-create the Grail Della Grunge Competition—a city vs. city battle scoring racers from both cities in co-sanctioned races to determine which city was the best. Local artisans created a trophy called the Grail della Grunge, to be both won forthright and stolen back, leading to legendary adventures that spanned the continent.
The promoters sponsored world champion stars such as Erin Vervecken and Daniele Pontoni to race the series. They hosted national level series such as the US Gran Prix of Cyclocross. They purchased all the kegs at US Nats in Napa and gave away the beer. Within 10 years the Cross Crusade achieved its goal of hosting the US National Championships, first in Portland and later in Bend. The US National CX Championships were filled with racers from the series some of whom became national champions and members of the US National team racing in the World Championships. The National Championships were opportunities to showcase the spirit of the series with its festival atmosphere and raucous fans. The promoters even brought a drum corps and marching bands to enhance the events.
Rick and Brad attended the 2004 World Championships in Pont Chateau, France and invited the UCI’s top officials to Portland to observe the US National Championships. From that year forward the Cross Crusade has sent a delegation of fans to the World Championships. These delegations are known to hold their own both at course side and in the beer tents. The Cross Crusade Flag has become a world-famous icon with an honored place in the international parade of flags. One Crusader was even married before thousands of beer sloshed fans in a World Championship tent.
As the series grew to be the world’s largest, so did its reputation. Local and national media wrote articles, including a full page spread in the New York Times.
Over the course of 30 years, the series has made history as it achieved its goals. It grew to become the largest cyclo-cross series in the world and today is the oldest continuously promoted CX series in the US. It has the largest women’s fields and has record fields across many categories. It achieved its benchmark goals as it grew the sport locally and nationally. It has set the standard for course design and construction and over-all event production. The promoters, officials, and participants have contributed to innovation in every aspect of the event from a potato-shooting start gun to call-ups and bib number-based staging, to course design, to novel categories, to endless strategies for improving registration and results, to the diversity of its participants, to the breadth of sponsorship, and of course, the extent of its irreverent antics and the variety of offerings as hand-ups.
In this, the 30th anniversary year of the Cyclocross Crusade, the team of Kevin Blair, Jon and Rene Myers, Sherry Schwenderlauf, Andy Wilson, Bret Berner, Jon and Shawna Pearson, Rick Potestio, and Jason Evans with OBRA officials Terri Camp, and David Roth, invite all to celebrate the cyclocross community’s achievements and set forth on new adventures. The website has this year’s poster, the Grail Hunt Map, the Team Competitions, and of course all the race information you’ll need to have a great 30th Season!
by Rick Potestio