The third edition of the North American Cyclocross Trophy (NACT) series will kick off with the first two rounds at StarCrossed and Rad Racing this weekend in Seattle, Washington.
The overall contenders will compete in eight UCI-sanctioned races, but new rules for the 2010 season will see riders top six placings tallied toward the overall series standings and a chance to wear the championship heavyweight belt.
"The goal from the beginning has been to link the classic ‘cross races in North America, I think we've done that with great races from coast to coast," said NACT Director Brook Watts. "As some newer races have begun to attain that status over the last few years we may need to add new markets and venues, especially if we see a post-Christmas ‘cross fever take hold in the US.
"We're interested in a slow, gradual growth that maintains a high level of integrity. The NACT trophy will retain the distinctive heavyweight belts, they've become an iconic image of the NACT final podium."
The changes to the rules were made to help riders buffer themselves from bad weekends and to award the most consistent finisher.
"We want each race to benefit from the best field of competitors possible, especially for the spectators sake." Watts said. "Everyone has an off day or weekend because of whether and illness, injury or a mechanical so we felt the fields may have suffered from riders who couldn't attend every weekend. This may have been the case in the women's field in particular. By giving everyone an option to drop the worst performances you don't penalize them for that off day or the ill-timed mechanical."
Last year’s series winners were Tim Johnson (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com) and Natasha Elliott (Garneau Club Chaussure Ogilvy) who will both return to defend their respective titles.
The NACT series will also offer equal prize money across the elite women and men’s categories. "The series overall prize list was boosted slightly, but more importantly it was made the same for men and women, a long overdue move," Watts said.
Strong contenders on the women’s side include Katie Compton (Planet Bike), Georgia Gould, Katerina Nash, Alison Dunlap and Amy Dombroski (Team Luna), Wendy Simms (KONA-FSA), Kelly Emmett (Giant), Maureen Bruno Roy (MM Racing p/b Seven Cycles), Sue Butler (Hudz-Subaru), Laura van Gilder (C3-Solay) and Meredith Miller (Cal Giant), among others.
"I think having equal prize money is great," Dombroski said. "I’m an advocate for equal race money between men a women but I think everyone is at this point."
Series contenders on the men’s side include Ryan Trebon and Barry Wicks (KONA-FSA), Chris Jones (Rapha-Focus), Jeremy Powers and Jamey Driscoll (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com), Jonathan Page (Planet Bike) and Christian Huele (SUI/Rendementhypo Cycling Team), Davide Frattini (Hudz-Subaru), Andy Jacques-Maynes (Bissell), Jesse Anthony (Cal Giant), Geoff Kabush (Rocky Mountain-Maxxis), among others.
"The early events certainly benefit from the European talent that hits the US during the first few weeks of the season," Watts said. "Of course we recognize that it's difficult to attract the top riders once the various series start in Europe.
"I think the unexplored area for US races that fall in the middle of the European season, that period when the top riders simply cannot travel over, is how to get Under 23 or development racers over here to test themselves against our homegrown talent and to learn how to adapt to the rigors of travel in advance of the 2013 Worlds in Louisville, Kentucky. We've talked with teams who recognize that this is a something to look toward."
The NACT begins on the west coast at the StarCrossed p/b Stanley/PMI on Saturday, September 18 in Seattle, Washington. The UCI C2 level event is held after sundown in the King County’s Marymoor Park Velodrome. Last year Swiss Champion, Christian Heule and British Champion Helen Wyman won their respective categories.
"I like StarCrossed because there's always a good atmosphere and it's fun to race at night for a change," said Jonathan Page (Planet Bike) who will start his American ‘cross season at the StarCrossed and Rad Racing weekend.
Round two, the UCI C2 Rad Racing Grand Prix p/b Hammer Nutrition will take place the following day on a brand new course located at Lake Sammamish Park in Issaquah, just outside of Seattle.
One of the most significant changes to the course is its lengthy sandy beach run, that replaced the steep hillside run up that was a part of the old circuit. Jonathan Page and Sue Butler won the men’s and women’s events respectively.
The series moves to the east coast for rounds three and four at the Great Brewers Gran Prix of Gloucester p/b Addison Gilbert Hospital held at the Stage Fort Park in Gloucester, Massachusetts on October 2 and 3. The double UCI C2 races have a history in attracting some of New England’s finest cross specialists.
Jonathan Page and Natasha Elliott won their respective events in the Gran Prix of Gloucester’s first round. The following day Elliot repeated her win in the women’s race and Johnson topped the podium in the men’s race.
The racing continues at the popular Colorado Cross Classic held at the Boulder Reservoir on October 30. The UCI C2 event is a sharp contrast to the mud and grime of New England 'cross and instead provides participants with a traditionally fast course held on undulating sand and gravel terrain.
Round six will take place at the Victory Circle Graphix Boulder Cup held in Broomfield, Colorado on October 31. The UCI C1 event has found a new home at Flatirons Crossing, a stadium that provides a 360 degree view perfect for the spectators to enjoy the bike race. Johnson and Compton won the back-to-back events in Boulder last year.
"I really like the Boulder Cup since it's relatively close to home in Colorado," said former national champion Todd Wells (Specialized). "The crowds are huge and full of current and former cycling legends. The course is fast and there is usually quite a big group racing since the weather is usually great and course in perfect condition."
The series will conclude rounds seven and eight, a pair of UCI C2 events at the Whitmore’s Landscaping Super Cross Cup held on November 20 and 21 in Southampton Youth Services Park, New York. The top riders will continue to race in the final battle for points where the winners of the traditional heavyweight trophy belt will emerge. Amy Dombroski and Tim Johnson closed the NACT series with double victories last year.