US cyclo-cross nationals: surprise January thaw creates muddy mess

It wasn't supposed to be muddy for the 2012 US National Cyclo-cross Championships, held January 4-8 in Madison, Wisconsin. The championship has moved to Madison for 2012 and 2013, where the average high temperature is normally just 28°F (2°C) at this time of year. But three days of unseasonably warm weather, with highs in the 40s F (4.5°C), and the 4,500lbs of magnesium chloride ice melt the promoter dumped on the course to melt a slick layer of ice, warmed the top layer of the frozen ground to create a muddy mess.

Yes, it's true 'cross conditions, but it overwhelmed the UCI regulated 15-stall pit and two power washers the promoter provided.

After those two power washers ran out of water during the first lap of the master men's 55-59 race, the last of the day on Thursday, elite team managers took notice. "There's no reason we should be at a national championship with two pressure washers, and a pit that's completely inadequate," said Stu Thorne, of "You'll have us in there trying to fight over a pressure washer, and I don't want to deny the guy in 60th place from a pressure washer, but it wouldn't be an issue if they had enough. And we shouldn't be in the position that we have to go over there with our own stuff, but we're going to be ready for it."

Mark Legg-Compton, Katie Compton's husband and one-man pit crew, hadn't seen the pit when we reached him, but the rumors of issues already had. "It's easy to complain," he said. "We just need to find a way to get them [USA Cycling and the promoter] to understand our needs so that it's fair for all."

If the course doesn't dry out or the situation isn't remedied before Sunday, Compton, who is working out of a rental car and without her own power washer and water source, could face issues.

The UCI rules mandate 8 pressure washers, minimum, for World Cup and world championship events under article 5.1.034 in their cyclo-cross rule book. However, the rules offer no specific mandates for pressure washers at national championship events.

Thursday, the race promoter, Team Sports, supplied two power washers to the pits with one 280-gallon water tank. On Friday, race barricade contractor Big Shark pitched in to help adding a 550-gallon tank to the pits, along with ferrying the tank back and forth between fills.

Jack Hirt, Team Sports' course director, hadn't heard from anxious team managers when Cyclingnews questioned him about the pit and power washing issues. "A lot of teams bring their own power washers with their own water," he said. "They generally take care of themselves. This race we made it ok (junior men 13-14), people were able to get their bikes washed and get back in; so it's just going to have to be watched as we go forward."

USA Cycling officials explained the promoter was prepared for snow and ice removal, but had not set up contingencies to deal with excessive mud. "I think everyone was banking on snow," said Kelli Lusk, USA Cycling's national events director. "It was a complete sheet of ice on Monday."

When the mud showed up on Wednesday it brought in anxiety for both the promoter and team managers.

Late Friday afternoon things seemed to smooth, slightly, when Team Sports successfully negotiated for the local Verona, WI fire department to refill the power washer tanks. "They have a fire truck coming in to provide water for each day of racing," said Lusk. "We're aware of the situation, the race organizers are addressing it. I did talk to the race organizer about getting a couple more power washers in there, too."

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