One year before the United States hosts the UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships in Fayetteville, Arkansas, the country's federation is sending a quarter of its usual contingent to this year's Worlds in Oostende, Belgium, with no riders in the junior women or men's events or the U23 men's race because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Six riders will represent the United States on January 30 and 31, with four elite women, one U23 woman and one in the elite men's race although the country could have fielded up to 30 riders.
North American riders have been at a distinct disadvantage amid the coronavirus pandemic, which stopped all of the UCI races on the continent.
A few intrepid riders based themselves in the Netherlands over the winter, and all six of the riders racing Worlds come from that group: elite women's national champion Clara Honsinger - the silver medallist at the Namur and Dendermonde World Cups, 15-time national champion Katie Compton, Rebecca Fahringer and Kaitie Keough will race the elite women's event. Last year's junior bronze medallist Madigan Munro will be the sole competitor for the US in the U23 women's race, while Curtis White will be the sole American in the elite men's race.
"The six athletes who qualified for the World Championships this year are on track for very strong performances despite the significant challenges they faced to compete in Europe this year," said Jesse Anthony, USA Cycling's Cyclo-cross Manager.
"It's been truly inspiring to see the resilience and determination demonstrated by all six of these athletes, and the US cyclo-cross community can be very proud of all of them. I am excited to see what they do in Ostend, and podium finishes are a realistic goal for this team."
Cyclingnews asked Anthony and Director of Athletics Jeff Pierce why the team was so small despite there being a few more US riders competing overseas.
"The situation in Europe presented a lot of challenges with COVID testing requirements differing from country to country," Pierce said. Less than ten riders made the trek to race in Europe for the 'cross season and back home those who might have petitioned chose to focus instead on other disciplines and whatever races might take place this summer.
"Circumstances dictated a huge part of the selection - there were very few athletes that petitioned - but there were also clear differences between the [selected and non-selected] athletes."
Pierce added that the selection took place under higher standards for Worlds that were recently put into place for cyclo-cross.
"This year we raised the standard for cyclo-cross Worlds, bringing the criteria to a much higher standard and more in line with other disciplines - mountain bike, road and track."
The US won its first Worlds medals in cyclo-cross in 1999 when Tim Johnson won bronze in the U23 men's race and Matthew Kelly won the junior men's title. The country's most successful year was in 2007 with three silver medals: Katie Compton and Jonathan Page in the elite races and Danny Summerhill in the junior men's.
Since then, Compton has landed on an elite Worlds podium four more times, Ellen Noble was second in the U23 women's race (2017) and Munro bronze (2020).
Pierce hopes that by raising the selection standards and sending high quality, medal-capable teams to Worlds, the medals will come more quickly.
Anthony said it is a more efficient use of USA Cycling's resources to focus on the development pipeline such as the one supported by the non-profit MudFund than to send more riders to Worlds.
"We are making the most of what has been a difficult year," Anthony said. "That we even have six athletes at Worlds is a miracle - we'll take what we can get."
In just over 12 months, the US will host the Cyclo-cross World Championships for the second time in Arkansas, and Pierce hopes that by this fall the development pipeline will be back in full swing.
"We trust by this fall we will see a more 'normal' world and have events and a more normal pathway to selection."
USA Cycling for the 2021 UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships
U23 Women (January 31): Madigan Munro (Trek Factory Racing)
Elite Women (January 30): Katie Compton (KFC Racing/Trek/Knight Composites), Rebecca Fahringer (Kona/Maxxis/Shimano), Clara Honsinger and Kaitie Keough (Cannondale Cyclocrossworld)
Elite Men (January 31): Curtis White (Cannondale Cyclocrossworld)
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