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Course changes on eve of US elite 'cross nationals

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Two distinct lines have now been worn-in on the infield step-up with riders on the inside route deftly hopping up the ledge.

Two distinct lines have now been worn-in on the infield step-up with riders on the inside route deftly hopping up the ledge.
(Image credit: James Huang)
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A new section of hairpin turns has been added after the double barriers to add some length to the lap times.

A new section of hairpin turns has been added after the double barriers to add some length to the lap times.
(Image credit: James Huang)
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Yesterday's hard-packed snow and ice has given way to watery mud but if temperatures remain warm, the top layer of soil will thaw further and turn the course into a greasy mess.

Yesterday's hard-packed snow and ice has given way to watery mud but if temperatures remain warm, the top layer of soil will thaw further and turn the course into a greasy mess.
(Image credit: James Huang)
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Race organizers finally brought out the power washers for racers to use, though they're unfortunately located away from the pits.

Race organizers finally brought out the power washers for racers to use, though they're unfortunately located away from the pits.
(Image credit: James Huang)
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Yesteryday's run-up section has also been modified with an additional section added on across the slope of the hill instead of turning right back down.

Yesteryday's run-up section has also been modified with an additional section added on across the slope of the hill instead of turning right back down.
(Image credit: James Huang)
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The new descent is fast and off-camber and has generally been favoring riders who are willing to let their bikes run.

The new descent is fast and off-camber and has generally been favoring riders who are willing to let their bikes run.
(Image credit: James Huang)
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Waiting at the bottom, though, is a tight switchback turn that is at least reasonably grippy - for now

Waiting at the bottom, though, is a tight switchback turn that is at least reasonably grippy - for now
(Image credit: James Huang)
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What was once a snowy run-up is now rideable for stronger racers.

What was once a snowy run-up is now rideable for stronger racers.
(Image credit: James Huang)
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Numerous sections of standing water on-course will make racing messy and cold.

Numerous sections of standing water on-course will make racing messy and cold.
(Image credit: James Huang)

Faster-than-anticipated lap times have prompted USA Cycling to modify two sections of the US national cyclo-cross championship course in an effort to improve the level of competition for the top racers.

"We wanted to make sure the length of the course was appropriate [for the faster riders]," said USA Cycling director of communications Andrea Smith. "The masters riders were doing it pretty quickly - some of them with six-minute laps - so we knew that the elites, U23 and collegiate folks were going to beat that."

The first change occurs near the beer tent just after the double barriers. Whereas the course previously took a relatively direct path on to a short paved section, the route now doubles back on itself twice as riders tackle two 180-degree hairpin turns before hitting the tarmac. The transition to the pavement is also more level in contrast to the slippery off-camber entrance that claimed so many riders over the first two days of racing.

The second update comes shortly thereafter at the top of the run-up. Instead of immediately turning back down the hill, the race route now briefly traverses the slope then spits the riders down a fast, slippery and off-camber descent. Racers will have to check their speed carefully, though, as a tight hairpin turn is precariously placed at the bottom before hitting the pavement again.

In spite of USA Cycling's efforts, the changes have only extended lap times by about 20 seconds on account of improving weather conditions. Temperatures crept up to about 2°C (35°F) by midday Saturday and most of the snow and ice that was on the course the previous night has turned to increasingly sloppy - but fast - mud and numerous sections of shallow standing water. In addition, what was once a snowy run-up is now being ridden by most of the riders on course.

Tonight's forecast calls for a greater chance of rain, snow and sleet, but temperatures will remain above freezing tomorrow so expect the elite races to stay fast and messy.