Louisville, Kentucky is ready to make history by becoming the first non-European country to host the UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships in February, 2013. Tickets for the event go on sale on Thursday, and organiser Joan Hanscom is eager to see what the turnout will be.
"We don't know what to expect, in all honesty. It's so hard to say because it's never happened before. We know we won't be [like last year's Worlds in] Koksijde, we won't have 68,000 people, but hopefully we'll attract a bunch of local people who are excited to have a world championship in their back yard. We hope the US cycling community comes out in force as well," Hanscom told Cyclingnews from Fort Collins, where she is busy setting up the US Gran Prix of Cyclo-cross race weekend.
Balancing the four-weekend USGP series, which includes a test run of the Worlds course in November, and the upcoming world championships has meant a busy year for Hanscom, her partner Bruce Fina, and the rest of their crew. Despite the flurry of activity, Hanscom says everything is on track for the masters worlds from January 29-February 1, 2013, and the UCI junior, under 23, women and men's elite championships on February 2-3.
"It's going really well in Louisville, the nice thing is it's a venue we will be racing at the USGP in November, so we get to work the kinks out at least course-wise. With the rest of the logistics - we're lucky we have a lot of support coming from USA Cycling and other folks.
"It's a big endeavour having masters and elites happening at the same time. In terms of planning, we have a good crew. Louisville sports commission has been tremendous, they're devoting a lot of operational support on the ground as well. I think we're in good shape that way. With tickets going on sale this week, I'm expecting a surge of interest. It's going to feel a little bit more real."
Hanscom is hoping that the feedback she got from the Belgian fans when her delegation visited the Worlds in Koksijde turns out to be true.
"If you were in Koksijde last year and were wearing anything that gave you away as an American, they'd all yell 'Louisville'! They promised they were coming, but who can say?
"We have some travel companies that we're working with in Europe, they're hitting those supporter clubs and the Belgian fans. We have travel groups working to put together packages for folks to come out from the cyclo-cross hotspots in [the rest of] Europe as well."
"It's possible here"
It is likely that the majority of the fans in Louisville will be Americans, but can they expect to see one of their compatriots standing on the podium in February? After all, the Belgian men have taken three-quarters of all the podium placings at Worlds since 1998. There is a better chance for the women, especially Katie Compton, to win the rainbow jersey there, but Hanscom thinks the men could see some more success as well. Like Louisville's motto, Hanscom's opinion is, 'it's possible here'.
"I absolutely think so. We've seen the American riders do very well against the foreign riders when they come to the US. You can't underestimate the hometown advantage."
Riders in Belgium race the same courses from the time they first race as children to their professional careers, year in, year out. "That's an edge, when you know [the course]. The American riders will have an advantage [in Louisville] because they've ridden here before, they'll have their own team set up for the first time, instead of working from a suitcase. I think the American riders will finally enjoy a little bit of that edge the European riders have always had."
"This is an American style 'cross course. I would imagine the Americas would have a bit of an advantage there."
Although advance knowledge of the course will be key to success, Hanscom is not expecting a flood of European racers to come to the USGP in November to preview the course.
"Right now I don't have anybody that I know is coming, but typically we hear from them very late in the game. So it's possible. We'll see. I wouldn't expect to see too many, it's right in the middle of the World Cup season and that's a big trip to make."
A resilient course, tested in January
The same Louisville venue that will host the world's top racers in February was already used and abused at the 2012 Masters World Championships last winter. The course includes a few changes to improve the racing dynamic as well as some structural work to help the course deal with inclement weather.
"If you look at the map, you'll see one of the major differences is we'll be racing on River Road, which we've never done before. The road will be closed, the start/finish will be there. We utilized the pits going a different direction. We utilized the hill a little bit differently.
"What we've tried to do with the World Championship course is balance the wide open power sections with the technical sections. In the USGP past you'd see a lot of wide open fields and then they'd hit the technical section right before the finish. We are mixing it up a bit more.
"There are some new technical features that hopefully will force folks off their bikes and utilize the natural terrain really well."
When the masters championships were held, the Kentucky weather threw everything it could at the course, including a torrential downpour one day, which meant the course was churned up into ruts, followed by freezing weather that hardened those ruts into place.
Hanscom said the changeable conditions helped them learn ways to cope with anything mother nature can throw at them
"We learned a bit about the drainage, where it was looking like it might be an issue, Metro Parks has gone in and raised part of the ground and put in culverts so it drains better. Rain won't have a negative impact - it will make it slippery - this is definitely slippery when it's wet.
"What's beautiful about our venue is Metro Parks is really experienced with golf courses, and they have a great sense of how the grass works. We have a nice blend of grasses in the field and those areas should hold up very well. The only thing that will be an issue is if we have rain one day and then flash freeze like last year, where the ruts froze. But we learned how to smooth out the ruts. Last year's test with masters threw a lot of weather at us and we learned how to react to it."
With the course designed, and a flood of ticket sales about to set the race into motion, Hanscom is looking forward to the race and its final podiums, formulating a good, traditional Louisville celebration. Shots of the famous local bourbon for the winners?
"We're going to have to do something like that for sure - something traditional for Louisville. Maybe we'll throw a bouquet of roses around their necks [like the Kentucky Derby]."
For more information on the UCI Cyclo-cross elite and masters World Championships, visit the Louisville 2013 web site.