The countdown is on to the 2013 US Cross Country Mountain Bike Nationals on July 19-21, and organizers have been busy preparing the course for the thousand-plus racers expected. Cyclingnews spoke with Bear Creek Events Manager Gary Kline about this year's course. US Cross Country Nationals will be held at the Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania venue both this year and again in July of 2014.
As in recent years, the elite riders will race a shorter course than the amateurs. With nationals making its first trip back east since 2008, racers can expect very different course and weather conditions from the past four years in Colorado and Idaho. Rocks, roots and plenty of heat and humidity are in the forecast.
"It's going to be a technical course. We're famous for our rocks and our downhill switchback trails. The downhill, technical trails make us unique," said Kline to Cyclingnews. "It will be challenging. Skills will play a big role in the outcome of the race."
Kline said, "The pros will race a shorter, UCI-style lap. We're going to combine a little bit of what we already had here at Bear Creek, including the sections which make us unique like our old mining roads switchbacking up one hillside and the rocky, technical singletrack going down the other side of the slope."
Bear Creek added some features into the ski slope area to make the course more spectator-friendly. Some of the ski slope features include a flat rock that was filled in with dirt and made into a rock drop, the signature feature for the pro course. Following the drop, riders fly around a berm-y turn before crossing another ski slope, riding over a triple log crossing and dropping off one more rock ledge.
Last year's cross country course in Sun Valley, Idaho featured a long steep, fireroad ascent before descending a swoopy, smooth singletrack descent back toward the finish.
When asked to describe this year's course, Kline said, "You go up the hill and traverse the ski slope across the mountain toward the descent. It's a not a big climb by some standards. The mining road switchbacks made the climb a little easier. The descent is very technical. There are a lot of rocks and narrow singletrack. It's not that steep. The pro course is about three miles."
"USA Cycling wanted a 15-minute elite course lap so spectators can see the pros a bunch of times," said Kline.
Amateurs will race a longer course - about 6.5 to 7 miles, which will also include the uphill mining road section, but it will then head out on the backside of the mountain on some singletrack before heading back around to descend the technical singletrack. The amateur racers will enjoy more singletrack and the longer course gives them more room to spread out and not get lapped.
Reflecting on the 2013 and 2012 Nationals courses, Kline said, "There are several big differences compared to last year. In Sun Valley, the amateurs did a 19-mile lap, and there was something like 8,000 feet of elevation and cooler temperatures. It was as completely different climate. Here we are a shorter lap. The Cat. 1/2/3s will do 3/2/1 laps, respectively. Pros will race 90-105 minutes. They won't have the altitude issues to deal with because we're not that much above sea level. It will be hot and humid. It will be much more technical."
Bear Creek Resort has hosted the Mid-Atlantic Super Series finals for the past 10 years as well as the Pennsylvania State Championships for the past four years. Those races have given them plenty of organizing experience and a collection of existing trails - a big help in the lead-up to the resort's first-ever national championship event.
The courses are made of a combination of existing trails and new trails. "I worked with [pro racer] Aaron Snyder, who came up and pointed out some of these features in the open that we created. Jeremiah Bishop also came up one Sunday and made a few suggestions that we did add. He suggested making it more like a European-style race course that would be better for spectators."
Bear Creek Resort's own trail crew, including Paul Dietrich, Dustin Kapustiak and Eric Fosbenner, has been responsible for building and maintaining the course.
Testing the cross country courses
Bear Creek Resort ran a test event on both the pro and amateur courses during the first week of June.
"We raced both courses at the Bear Creek Challenge, which was the Pennsylvania State Championships," said Kline. "It was a Mid-Atlantic regional series. We modified the amateur course a bit since it was taking too long for them to do it. It took 2.5 to 3 hours for the Cat. 1s to complete three laps. We wanted to get it to 1.5 to 2.0 hours. The pro course is going to stay the same."
For racers looking to pre-ride the course before nationals, all trails are currently open at Bear Creek. "The courses are not yet marked, but there are maps on the USAC website. We'll mark them the week before nationals."
Super D and short track
US Cross Country Nationals also includes super D and short track races.
The super D course will including the mining road switchbacks. "It does have some fairly rocky sections up top. There will be some moderate climbing - nothing steep but definitely some pedalling up top and closer toward the finish," said Kline. "It will be really flowy and probably pretty fast on the mining roads. It will take 7 to 8.5 minutes to complete."
The course was raced as part of the early June race weekend. "We modified the course slightly. We've been running the same super D course for the past three years, but we changed the finish to the front of the resort for nationals," said Kline.
The resort's short track course has also been used for the past three years, but with much of it off to the side of the mountain, the course is being modified to bring it more out in front of the resort and to tie in with the nationals start/finish area.
"There will be more twisty turns and some ski slope sections plus a few singletrack sections through treeline crossings. There is one section of gravel road. We're shooting for 2 to 2.5-minute laps."
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Sue George is an editor at Cyclingnews. She coordinates all of the site's mountain bike race coverage and assists with the road, 'cross and track coverage.