CrossVegas will celebrate its 10th anniversary, hosting the UCI Cyclo-Cross World Cup for the second year in a row. Cyclingnews contributor Dave McElwaine looks back on the history of the event and how it evolved into one of the world's top races.
Ten years ago, Boulder race promoter Brook Watts brought cyclo-cross to Las Vegas, packaging it beside Interbike and the National Criterium Championships. The venue was as unlikely as you could imagine at Desert Breeze Soccer Complex, just a few miles west of the strip.
The large urban park was all grass, basically had only one small hill, and no other "cyclo-cross" features. The thick turf was routinely referred to as "shag carpet" by the racers, as it quickly drained energy from their legs. But, steps, flyovers, and a banked track were built, and tons of sand was brought in to make a legitimate UCI sand pit. The park was transformed.
To the surprise of many, the race was an instant success and went on to earn World Cup status in 2015. In it's first year as a World Cup, CrossVegas was voted the best World Cup race of the season. It was also the first time a World Cup had ever been held outside of Europe.
"The goal was to put on the best event we could," Watts told Cyclingnews. "It's gratifying to have been selected as the best, given that some venues have been around for 20 years."
In the early years, the race was dominated by North Americans that included Ryan Trebon, Jamie Driscoll (Raleigh Clement), Lynne Bessette, and Katie Compton (Trek-Panache).
Things changed dramatically in 2010, with wins by French Champion Francis Mourey and Czech Champion Katerina Nash (Luna Pro Team). Since then the only Americans to earn the top step of the podium have been Jeremy Powers (Aspire Racing) and Meredith Miller.
Katerina Nash went on to become the most successful CrossVegas racer of all time. To date she has four victories and eight total podiums, double her closest rival.
Powers, who has raced CrossVegas since it's inception, commented on its impact.
"It was a huge step in internationalizing the sport," he said. "I think that is a win. Races were always on (the Europeans') terms, but CrossVegas changed that….it built a brand that the racers could not ignore. Companies attending Interbike wanted to see their sponsored riders race."
When asked about his most memorable CrossVegas moments, Powers replied, "Two things. The first time I got on the podium in 2007 was my first race with Cyclocrossworld.com. I remember the excitement at that race. It was a really big result, and I was only 23.
"The second was when I won the race in my first year as national champion (2012)," Powers added. "I really wanted to win CrossVegas. That was in my head. I remember that Tim (Johnson) and I were locked in a duel. I was on the cover of Road Magazine for that win. I framed it and put it on my wall."
Professional mountain bikers, particularly the women, seem to have frequently brought residual fitness to CrossVegas. The powerful Luna squad earned a total of 12 podiums in the first nine editions of the race. This year may be no different with Nash, Catharine Pendrel (Luna Pro Team) and Lea Davison (Specialized) all having top 10 finishes at the Olympic Games in Rio.
CrossVegas also crossed a new hurdle in the US, proving that spectators will pay for entry to the race as they often do in Europe. Last year there were in excess of 10,000 paid spectators, plus the race was broadcast to a total of 10 million viewers worldwide. This year NBC will be airing live and re-broadcasted digital streams.
2016 Race promises even bigger spectacle
Last year, 13 countries were represented at CrossVegas. Even more are expected this year, partly due to back-to-back World Cups in the US for the first time. On September 24, just three days after CrossVegas, virtually all of the attending domestic and international racers will also participate in the inaugural Jingle Cross World Cup in Iowa City, Iowa.
Most of the racers who battled for CrossVegas Podiums last year are expected be back, including World Champion Wout Van Aert (Golden Palace Continental Team), Michael Vanthourenhout (Sunweb), Keven Pauels (Sunweb), and US Champion Jeremy Powers (Aspire Racing).
"The big goal for me is to get on a World Cup podium," Powers told Cyclingnews. "I see CrossVegas and Iowa as good opportunities for me."
Sven Nys, who made three CrossVegas appearances and had two victories, retired at the end of last season. Former world champion Mathieu Van der Poel (Beoban-Corendon) will miss the first two World Cups as he recovers from knee surgery. Two-time Cross Vegas winner Ryan Trebon announced his retirement via Twitter in August.
Katerina Nash, Eva Lechner (Luna Pro Team), World Cup overall winner Sane Cant, two-time overall World Cup winner and US champion Katie Compton, Georgia Gould (Luna Pro Team), and Catharine Pendrel are all expected to attend.
"I'm excited to see there are two world Cups in the USA this season," Nash said of the upcoming race. "It will make the fields more competitive, and more people will have to tackle the travel to the USA if they want to do well in World Cup overall ranking.
"It's nice to know that I have a large racing experience with both courses and I will use that to my advantage," Nash said.
Compton told Cyclingnews that she plans to race a new type of schedule in 2016, one that includes more domestic races, particularly on the East Coast, and somewhat fewer World Cups. Unlike in years past where she has used Cross Vegas almost as early season training, she will no doubt be looking to score big. That goes for Iowa City as well.
Major course changes have been made for the 2016 race. Four of those changes stand out:
1. The start has been relocated onto a section of the upper field that will only be used during the start.
2. A new climb has been added. "There is a much more severe hill on the backside. Riders will then come off a screaming descent," Watts said. "It will be a decisive area."
3. The long flat sand pit will be replaced with what Watts describes as a "Sand Dune". Whether racers will be able ride it has yet to be determined. However, given what the Belgians routinely ride at their course in Koksidje, the answer is likely to be yes.
4. Possibly having the biggest impact on the final results, a new set of four "Focus Stairs" have been added just 150 meters before the finish line. Racers who are able to ride those stairs could have a massive advantage in the final moments of the race.
Stay tuned to Cyclingnews for all the news, photos, and results from CrossVegas on September 21