Organisers of the Providence 'cross weekend in Rhode Island are planning a bid to host the World Cup in 2015, and while the idea is not new, a recent UCI cyclo-cross commission meeting which included representatives of the two major Belgian 'cross series, the Superprestige and bpost Bank Trofee, showed the concept is gaining acceptance and momentum.
Providence promoter Richard Fries confirmed to Cyclingnews his intent to use the 2014 race as a proving ground for the World Cup the following year; to prepare and develop sponsorship, the production team, and to hone their television production for 2015, even looking ahead at potentially hosting the USA National Championships in 2017 and the UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships in 2020.
"The Worlds in Louisville demonstrated that the market exists in the US," Fries told Cyclingnews. "Our biggest issue is the budget - it would cost upwards of $700,000 to host the World Cup. There is no way we could meet that without charging admission (US races, unlike Belgian ones, do not generally charge spectators). Louisville showed that if you bring in the best riders, there is a market, [people will pay to come to a race]."
Providence, Rhode Island's geographical location is also ideal, Fries said, to bringing in big crowds - up to 20,000 people for a World Cup. "The venue is along the I-95 corridor with easy transportation and plenty of lodging, and with the fan base - 44% of bicycles are sold in the Northeastern US - we're confident we can attract a big crowd."
Yet bringing in the best riders can be a challenge. US 'cross promoters have faced resistance in the past from the top European riders to having World Cup rounds here, because of jetlag and the fatigue of travel, but that seems to be changing. The recent meeting of the 'cross commission with athlete representative Sven Nys included promoters of the Superprestige and bpost Bank Trofee, and they discussed the idea of creating a string of races in the early season that could include the World Cup in Providence.
In the past few years, CrossVegas has attracted some of the top Europeans - Sven Nys, Sven Vanthourenhout, Bart Wellens, Rob Peeters and Lars van der Haar. The early season position of the CrossVegas, Providence and nearby Gloucester races could provide a perfect opportunity for the USA to put together a tempting package for European racers.
CrossVegas promoter Brook Watts confirmed to Cyclingnews that he communicates regularly with his Belgian colleagues, but would not comment on his race's plans.
Fries, however, said his ambitions to host the World Cup will not be tied to any other decisions - they will forge on ahead regardless of what the other races do.
"We're just trying to do the best job we can for ourselves, and we're not dependent on the other series," Fries said. "But if you want 'cross to be global, the entire organisation and culture needs to take a leap of faith. In Louisville, some of the riders who came from Europe had never had to pack their bikes in boxes to fly. They are used to flying to a race and the truck driving ahead and meeting them at the venue. We need to respect the riders and limit the impact on them."
Will Nys, who will be racing for Trek in 2014, be invited to race in Providence as part of the race's master plan?
"Aside from outreach with Trek, we have not had any direct contact with Sven, but we will make an appeal," Fries said.
One thing both Fries and Watts agreed upon was that the current courses in the US are too easy for the top racers.
"If we do a World Cup in Providence - although the riders love our course - it will have to be a lot more challenging, and stand up to Belgian scrutiny," Fries said.
"I also think our courses are too tame," Watts agreed. "We still have elite racers competing on the same courses the juniors competed on a few hours previously. Time to have some 'oh shit' sections reserved for the elites. Take the backstretch of CrossVegas coming out of pit 2, it climbs a grass hill that just kills everyone but the best elites - it's supposed to!"
Another factor that will have to live up to the high standards of the Belgians is television production. Providence marketing director Glenn Stilwell has a background in video production, and said the team will be stepping up in 2014 with an eye toward full UCI World Cup-worthy production.
"We have had live streaming for two years, this year we had 10 cameras, but to cover the entire course (per UCI requirements) we would need up to 22 cameras," Stilwell said.
His crew may need to bring in a producer from Belgium to oversee the live video. "Knowing the sport, for a producer and director, is key to bringing the story to the world."