Dual cyclo-cross World Cup rounds raise the game for US

With the announcement that Jingle Cross has joined CrossVegas as part of the 2016-2017 UCI World Cup calendar, the United States now plays host to the first two rounds of the nine-race series. Five countries will organize a World Cup as Italy and German rejoin the series and the mainstay countries of Belgium and Holland return. Cyclingnews spoke with riders, CrossVegas race director Brook Watts and vice president of events at USA Cycling Micah Rice to understand what the globalised schedule means for the sport, in general, and North American cyclo-cross specifically.

“I think the new calendar looks fantastic,” said British cyclo-cross champion Nikki Harris (Boels-Dolmans), who has twice finished in the top-five at the Cyclo-cross World Championships. “If our biggest goal is to make ‘cross an Olympic sport, the only way we can do that is to truly make ‘cross a global sport. For me, the news of World Cups in new nations is very welcome.”

While Harris didn’t race CrossVegas last September, she plans to race both CrossVegas and Jingle Cross at the start of the 2016/2017 season.

“I opted out last year because my team [Young Telenet-Fidea] refused to pay my costs,” said Harris. “I love racing my bike, but I can’t accept having to travel half-way across the world to a race at my own expense.”

“I’m in a much more professional environment right now [at Boels-Dolmans],” Harris added. “I’m quite certain I’ll start next year in the USA.”

Meredith Miller (Noosa CX) calls the addition of Jingle Cross to the World Cup schedule an important step forward for North American cyclo-cross.

“It shows people that we’re serious about ‘cross and serious about bringing ‘cross to the United States and not having to always come to Europe to race at the highest level,” said Miller.

Miller closed out her professional cyclo-cross career at the World Championships in Zolder over the weekend, but her career began at CrossVegas eight years ago. She won CrossVegas in 2014 – the year before it joined the World Cup calendar.

“CrossVegas has a special place in my heart,” said Miller. “To be able to race it last year as a World Cup was pretty awesome – particularly because we had a reasonable turn-out from the Europeans, which was a bit of a question mark after Montreal was cancelled. Now with Iowa stepping up as a second World Cup in the United States, I think that will be incentive for even more Europeans to come over and experience what ‘cross is like somewhere else.”

CrossVegas enjoyed an international flair well before its inclusion in the World Cup calendar. In 2104, the year Miller won the elite women’s race, riders from 21 nations flocked to the desert to race the fast, flat course. Race director Brook Watts echoed Miller’s sentiments and has promised “exciting additions and developments” for his race.

“We have had current and former world champions like Vervecken, Wellens and Nys racing before the World Cup was awarded,” noted Watts. “Guys like Van Aert and Van Der Haar raced, and in Lars’ case, won CrossVegas in the pre-World Cup days. Counting on my fingers, I’ve had riders from six nations as winners of either the elite women’s or men’s race so clearly CrossVegas has been an international race since year one.”

Watts maintains that North American cyclo-cross has benefited from a higher profile internationally since hosting the first World Cup last September. His race also offered a unique opportunity for American racers to race against the best on home turf – an opportunity Jingle Cross race director John Meehan has said that he hopes his race is also granted.

“I specifically asked the UCI for a derogation for a second team of eight riders in 2015,” noted Watts. “They agreed, and this meant that an additional eight racers could line up. But more importantly, US fans could cheer for more of their home-grown racers. I’ve requested that same derogation for 2016 and I anticipate it will be granted.”

Because Europeans typically drive only one or two hours to races, Watts worked tirelessly to ensure the athletes would have smooth travels despite the international flight. He’s confident that the positive experience in 2015 will encourage teams to make the trip in year two.

“As you know, European racers are not accustomed to travelling long distances,” said Watts. “We worked diligently to make our event racer-friendly. All of that paid off when riders in 2015 experienced no issues with travel, no problems with hotels or any of the hundreds of other logistical things that could cast a negative light on an international event. That was in no small part a result of the preparation and communication we had with the foreign teams and the personal relationships that have been built over years.”

Watts spoke with a number of teams at the UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships in Zolder, Belgium last weekend. He noted that they are excited at having two opportunities to race in the US next season.

“At the same time, they have expressed their concern about the tight travel schedule that results from a Saturday event only three days after CrossVegas,” said Watts. “Clearly the vast distances in the US are a challenge for both domestic and international teams.”

Like Meehan’s bid to include races for elite women, men, U23 men and juniors, Watts confirmed that both events would only include races for the elite women and men.

“We have taken the input from US and European teams and will not have U23 and Junior categories in the early season,” said Watts. “Most believe that travel for these younger racers in the early season should be limited.”

Micah Rice, vice president of events at USA Cycling, worked closely with Watts and Meehan in support of their bids for World Cup ranking.

“We worked with Brook almost a year out to support his bid, and I’ve been working with Dr. John Meehan for almost three years on his bid making suggestions and recommendations on what to include,” said Rice. “He has a fantastic group of people working on this event in Iowa City and they are going to create a spectacular event that we are all going to be proud of. And from an athletic standpoint, I love having the Europeans travel to us instead of our riders travelling to Europe!”

“Having two World Cups in the US speaks volumes about how cyclo-cross has progressed in the United States,” Rice added. “CrossVegas is turning into its own world-renowned classic race and now Jingle Cross brings another quality venue and organization to the world stage.”



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