Course changes on eve of US elite 'cross nationals

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.

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