By Mark Zalewski North American Editor and Kirsten Robbins
It is official: cyclo-cross is here to stay in North America and is as popular as ever. More and more riders are choosing to spend their fall and winter hopping barriers and plowing through mud baths and sand pits, and the level of competition has gone up steadily. There are now 40 races on the USA Cycling National Racing Calendar, the list of events which earn valuable UCI points, nine of which are category 1 UCI (C1) races which have the highest point value of any North American race. There are also a few UCI races in Canada and a healthy amount of un-rated races around the country for all levels of racers.
The large number of UCI races allows riders to become more competitive in international competitions, where racers are lined up at the start by their UCI ranking. In 'cross, like mountain biking, a front row start is critical for a high placing, especially when it comes to national championships, World Cups and the World Championships. C1 races earn 60 points for the win, while C2 races yield 30. By contrast, World Cups (which are only held in Europe at this time) have 300 points on the line, giving European races a huge advantage.
With the number of riders from the USA and Canada heading to Europe for the World Cups and World Championships increasing, the competition for points on this side of the Atlantic has become increasingly fierce, but UCI ranking isn't the only prize on offer. Prestigious series rankings, a US national ranking and more prize money than ever is on the line this year.
Two major series make-up the bulk of the North American cyclo-cross season this year; the US Grand Prix of Cyclo-cross (USGP) and the newly-formed North American Cyclo-cross Trophy Points Championship (NACT). The number or races in the US alone are more than any other country in the world. The racing is already hot and heavy: the opening weekend saw UCI-ranked races in Washington state, Michigan and Pennsylvania.
The NACT series continues in October with the Grand Prix of Gloucester in Massachusetts, then with two weekends in November with the Boulder Cup in Colorado and finishing with the Super Cross Cup in Southampton, New York. The series also boasts $40,000 in cash prizes and an additional $7,000 in bonuses for the top three men's and women's season finishers. And the series is adamant that it is all cash.