This weekend's US Gran Prix of Cyclo-cross rounds, set to take place in Louisville, Kentucky, will provide the first glimpse at the venue for the 2013 UCI world cyclo-cross championships.
The Derby City Cup will move to the brand new course at the Eva Bandman Park, the site which will play host to the first non-European 'cross world championship in two years' time.
USGP organizer Bruce Fina told Cyclingnews that riders will be challenged by a course with an array of obstacles including a natural sand pit and double sand dunes, a fly over, single track trails and plenty of off-camber corners, but it won't be the exact same course used in 2013.
"It is a freshly paved start straight," Fina said. "The venue has endless features to use to make a challenging cyclo-cross course. We have natural embankments, hills and run-ups, elevated terrain. It is such a fantastic course that I can’t wait to see the field race it. It’s a dream of a course."
At the beginning of this year the International Cycling Union (UCI) announced that the USGP co-organizers, Fina and Joan Hanscom, would host the 2012 UCI Masters Cyclo-cross World Championships followed by the 2013 Masters and Elite Cyclo-cross World Championships at the Louisville venue.
Fina hopes to use the USGP rounds as a valuable tester to fine-tune the Worlds course over the next three years. "There are elements of the course that will be used for the USGP but it is not the World Championship course," Fina said. "The reason is that there are elements that still need to be finished that will make up the world championships course."
Top contenders fight for the Derby City Cup
The nation’s top ‘crossers will battle for UCI points and the USGP series overall standings this weekend. Ryan Trebon (Kona-FSA) and Katerina Nash (LUNA Pro) won their respective races in the opening round last year. Nash went on to capture a second consecutive victory in the women’s round two race while current US National Champion Tim Johnson (Cannondale p/b Cyclocrossworld.com) nabbed a win in the men’s race.
Johnson is currently leading the men’s standings, tied with his teammate Jeremy Powers. "There are two things that are important for me," said Johnson who competed in the opening World Cup in Aigle, Switzerland last weekend. "One is to get those C1 points on Saturday, because I am at the max on C2 points and the other is to maintain the series lead. To win the USGP is definitely a huge goal."
Johnson will have his hands full containing his two teammates Powers and Jamey Driscoll along with other strong riders like teammates Trebon and Barry Wicks (Kona-FSA), Christian Heule (Champion System), Todd Wells (Specialized-Cal Giant), Tristan Schouten (Cyclocrossracing.com-Blue-Rolf), Davide Frattini (Hudz-Subaru) and Geoff Kabush (Maxxis-Rocky Mountain). Riders in the top ten that will not be participating in the weekend’s race include Jonathan Page (Planet Bike) and Francis Mourey (FDJ), who both have returned to Europe.
"It is going to be good to race on this course because we will be able to see the elevation changes, the venue, what it’s like," Johnson said. "So much of racing, at such a high level like the World Championships, is dependent on all the little details like where you are going to eat, how to get to the course and we will have such a head start on all those things. We are talking about a one hour period three years from now, but that one hour means so much."
Noticeably absent from the women’s field is the series leader Katie Compton (Planet Bike), who won the World Cup in Aigle. Also missing are the second and third placed riders in the series Katerina Nash (Luna Pro) and Sue Butler (Hudz-Subaru), respectively, who are currently in Europe preparing for the second World Cup in Plzen, Czech Republic.
"The Louisville courses are new this year, but in the past, they have been super fun and flat, and I feel they suit my strengths," said Butler who will potentially let go of her third place spot in the overall standings in order to take on a world-class field in Europe next weekend. "I think consistent podiums in the USGP is a great goal, but the next set I will attend are at altitude in Fort Collins and living at sea level has certain disadvantages."
"I was disappointed when I was forced to choose between the World Cup and Louisville, but with my current UCI ranking, I have a great opportunity to get a good World Cup result this weekend," she added.
"I really wish I could be there and try to hold on to my top 3 ranking in the series. Life is sometimes hard and you have to make choices."
Meredith Miller (Cal Giant-Specialized) is next in line in the standings and hoping to use the opportunity to snag a USGP victory and move ahead in the overall rank. Other riders in close contention include Amy Dombroski (Luna Pro), Kathy Sherwin (Hudz-Subaru), Teal Stetson-Lee (Cal Giant-Specialized), Sally Annis (Crossresults.com p/b JRA Cycles), Andrea Smith (LadiesFirst Racing) and Ashley James (Kenda).
"It is a great pro field but some of the women are staying in Europe to do the World Cup," Fina said. "Most of the men will be here and I think both events will have great, hard and exciting racing. It will be the kind of race where the strongest rider wins. It is just too hard of a course."