It was a scenario nobody could have predicted: maybe it was global warming, vengeful Belgians poking voodoo dolls or simply the winds of fate, but the Ohio River was going to flood the venue for the UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships in Louisville, there was no doubt.
The cause was an unusual storm system that dumped heavy rain in the northeastern United States where normally there would be snow in early February. The water was coming from hundreds of miles upstream, slowly but surely swelling the river and pushing it up the banks and into the carefully planned, UCI-approved circuit at Eva Bandman Park.
Without quick thinking, without teamwork and without rapid deployment of all available resources, the racers would have needed snorkels and fins to race at the scheduled time on Sunday. But thanks to the city of Louisville, its Mayor, Parks Department and Metro Sewer Department, the mighty Ohio was held back by what can only be described as The Great Wall of Louisville.
Three feet wide, three feet deep and four feet tall, the sand-filled bins were erected along the water’s edge in the lowest lying section of the course, keeping the water at bay during the four championship races on Saturday. In the end, four worthy champions who were crowned, the bigger than expected crowd of 10,000 had a blast, and USA Cycling’s Micah Rice was overjoyed that the event had been pulled off so well.
“I think that considering the hand we were dealt on this event, it couldn't have gone better. It was a heck of an event today and I could feel the excitement from the fans and riders alike,” Rice told Cyclingnews
Still sporting mud on his coat courtesy of a post-race bear-hug by Louisville local Andrew Dillman, who raced the U23 event, Louisville Metro Parks and Recreation deputy director Marty Storch was clearly enjoying watching the elite men’s race after two intense days of reacting to the sudden prediction of floods.
Storch explained that the initial forecast on Wednesday was for a river height of 15 feet, 9 inches. The crews went down to the lower part of the course and marked the elevation on trees and decided the race would be fine. But then, the prediction changed on Thursday at 1pm - to a level almost two feet higher for Saturday, even higher on Sunday.
“I walked down in the woods and looked where 17’6” was, and decided we were absolutely going to be in trouble. That’s when I called the UCI, and Micah Rice and said we need to have a meeting.”
The team met, formulated a plan to hold back the water for Saturday’s racing, and decided to reschedule the Sunday elite races to Saturday in order to be safe.
“We were looking at 19’8 [for Sunday. When it peaks out on Monday or Tuesday the entire basin will be flooded. We could not have raced Sunday. In some areas it would have been waist high. I feel very good about the decision that had to be made. It would have been horrible if we hadn’t,” Storch told Cyclingnews.
“It wasn’t just me, there were a lot of people who made this happen. If Metro Sewer Department (MSD) didn’t step in, if my crew, the volunteers and the Army Corps of Engineers didn’t step up, we wouldn’t be here. That’s what it took to avoid a catastrophe. That’s the best part, nobody ever panicked.”
He was able to call upon the MSD, which is responsible for the watershed control, and mobilize a team of crews to begin erecting an impromptu, temporary dam built from fencing and wooden posts, each bin filled with 1750 pounds of sand.
Even with the wall, the course had to be altered slightly to remove the lowest portion, and several inches of mulch spread on the sloppiest part of the course. It was all in the name of pride so that Louisville could put on a top notch, world-class event.
“It’s been a lot of sleepless nights, but now I’m feeling really good about it, and I’m able to enjoy it and relax.”
Rice was also proud that the USA showed it can not only put on a professional event despite all adversity, it could attract a wildly enthusiastic crowd of knowledgeable fans. “I definitely think it was a worthwhile investment and from my conversations with the UCI I feel it has opened doors for more international events in the future. I am really proud of American Cyclo-cross right now!”