Last month the organizers of the Cincy3 Cyclo-cross Festival announced that they would be turning their Sunday November 2 race at Devou Park in Covington, KY, into a continental championship race. The first ever Pan-American Continental Cyclo-cross Championship will be held for Elite Women, U23 Men, and Junior 17-18 men. Organizers are also planning on including a women's U23 category, which was first run at last years European Cyclo-cross Championship.
A championship race will not be offered for Elite Men in 2014, who will instead be eligible to compete in a UCI C2 event on Sunday's course. Cincy3 organizers expect to add an Elite Men's race to the event in 2015, which will be the first time the category is available for a continental championship title.
Bringing a continental championship race to North America has been a long time goal for CrossVegas race director Brook Watts. Because Cincy3's event has grown rapidly in recent years, and the race fell within the time frame mandated for continental championships, Watts approached Cincy3 race director Mitch Graham, about putting the event on in the U.S. Watts was originally inspired to put on a continental championship after watching American cyclo-cross riders scramble for UCI points.
"About a decade ago, when I saw this continental championship designation, and I was familiar with it from the road and mountain biking, my sense was ‘My gosh, I can't believe we are leaving all these points on the table,'" Watts recalled. "Our guys and gals go to Europe and they are already struggling to for UCI points to get that key start position. Why are we disadvantaging them even further? That's when my wheels started turning."
For Elite Women, the race offers more points than a national championship race, and for U23 and Junior Men it is on par with a World Cup. The women's race offers points 15 places deep, for a total of 350 UCI points. Compared to 308 points available at a national championship race, the Pan-Am Championship race will be a windfall for eligible riders. With a C2 race Friday October 31st, and a C1 race on Saturday November 2nd, it will be a lucrative weekend for riders looking to improve their starting grid position.
Accumulating UCI points early in the season is crucial, especially for riders looking to race in Europe. "When you are over in Europe, and you are on the start line, the number of UCI points you have is even more critical," said 2013/14 Pro CX winner Elle Anderson (California Giant-Specialized) about the advantages of a continental championship race. "To have an opportunity to race in the U.S. for more UCI points helps me compete in Europe that much easier. "
Cincy3 has offered a three-day race weekend, with two C2 races and a C1 event, for several years now. With the support of title sponsor Toyota, and Pan-Am Championship designation, the Cincy3 Cyclo-cross Festival is poised to become the centerpiece of several Midwestern cyclo-cross races that run from the end of October to mid-November. Other Midwestern races on the Pro CX calendar include the Trek CXC Cup (Waterloo, WI) in September, the Gateway Cup (St. Louis, MO) in October, and the Derby City Cup (Louisville, KY) and Jingle Cross (Iowa City, IA) in November.
As a first of its kind event, Graham and Watts are still working through the logistical and administrative issues involved in setting up a continental championships. While much of the work is dealing with the regional federations, the biggest open question hanging over their heads is rider eligibility.
"There are really two ways championship can be conducted," Watts explained. "Using national teams, in which national federations submit the names of who would compete, and then those national teams would compete wearing their national uniforms. The second version would be an open championship, in which any athletes from the eligible federations, would be able to compete wearing their trade team uniforms. It's our feeling, Mitch and I, that we want to see it in that second version, an open championship. Since the race is in its initial years, we don't want to see it limited to eight riders per nation, in which case the fields would be extremely small. "
Despite a long history of world-class cyclists from South and Central America, cyclo-cross is still new to the region, with a few hot spots in Argentina and Brazil. Katie Compton (Trek Cyclo-cross Collective), who sits on the UCI Women's Commission as a cyclo-cross representative, said the Pan-Am Championship offers a unique chance to raise cyclo-cross' profile outside of North America.
"When you have a world class event, it brings more attention to the sport, and other countries will pay attention to it more," said Compton. "Track and road is fairly big [in Central and South America], and then they have some good mountain bikers too. The interest is there, it's just a matter of having the opportunity."
Race Director Mitch Graham feels that his team's work over the last several years, building a large host housing network, sponsor support, and close partnership with local organizing body Ohio Valley Cyclo-cross – OVCX, has served the region well in preparing them for an international event. With many of the pieces in place, organizers have started to look at additional funding sources to ensure that riders from Central and South America will make the trek to Ohio to compete at the first ever Pan-Am Cyclo-cross Championship.
Peter Van den Abeele, the UCI cyclo-cross coordinator, feels that a continental championship will be a good conduit to help spread North America's enthusiasm for cyclo-cross. "Cyclo-cross is very popular particularly in the U.S. They are ‘addicted' to cross and also follow the scenery in the ‘heart' of cross, Belgium, attentively. It's only by taking the first step, in this case the organization of the Continental Championships, that the development process can, and will, start," Van den Abeele wrote to Cyclingnews.com. "Continental Championships have shown their development importance in other Off-Road disciplines such as MTB and BMX."
Though still seven months away the Cincy3 weekend is shaping up to be one of the important weekends of cyclo-cross racing in the western hemisphere.