If you need proof of the growing popularity of cyclocross on this side of the Atlantic, look no further than the upcoming Pan American Continental Cyclocross Championships. For the first time ever, cyclocross will will be included in the Pan Am Continental races and it’s all going down just two hours north of the 2013 Cyclocross World Championship venue.
Already established for road, track, and cross country racing, the Pan Am series is a competition between the 43 nations in the Pan American Cycling Confederation or COPACI. The confederation includes any country with a recognized cycling program from North or South America as well as any island nations.
The stage is set and the first ever Pan American Continental Cyclocross Championship looks like it will take place on one of the most challenging ‘cross courses we’ve seen. We got a sneak preview of the course and interviewed Race Director Mitch Graham next…
To be held at the beautiful Devou Park in Covington, this is the hot spot for cycling in Northern Kentucky. As the home to one of the area’s best mountain bike trail systems, it has also played host to world class cyclocross racing since 2009. Located between the picturesque golf course and Drees Pavilion, the venue is not only spectator friendly but offers some incredibly difficult terrain.
On the map above the skull and cross bones make it pretty clear – that means challenging. So challenging that only the pros will race the full circuit. After a pavement start into some fast sweepers, riders will have to make it through the Tundra Twister or a section of switchbacks where calling it off camber is putting it lightly.
About halfway through the course racers will come up to another off camber section along an old stone wall.
Often times we hear of cyclocross courses having “technical” sections, which are little more than a blip on skilled riders’ radar. The course at Devou is actually challenging. And super fun.
As usual the pictures don’t do it justice, but riders drop into a very steep downhill turn that Mitch claims is about 30% off camber. Currently the section is dry and crumbly and still challenging to ride. Any rain leading up to the race will make this section very interesting. Anyone concerned about safety – don’t worry. If it gets too bad Mitch has contingency plans to keep the course just as challenging, but safe.
Once safely at the bottom riders will be greeted with a monster run up that may or may not be rideable. This section was still being tweaked, but it’s steep and wide enough to do some passing if you get it right.
If that wasn’t enough, after riding on the pavement through all of the team tents for some easy heckling, you come up on the steepest run up I’ve ever seen. Another spot that will get some changes before the race, you will definitely want some toe spikes for this one. Overall the course is said to have 150 feet of climbing per lap which always makes it one of the most challenging races of the season.
The layout of the course will make it easy for spectators to get from the steep downhill and right over to the run up while still being centrally located where you can see most of the course. In addition to hosting the Pan American Continental Championships the venue serves as the final stop for the Toyota Cincy3 Cyclocross Festival weekend (Oct. 31 – Nov. 2) with racing starting at 8am with Cat 5 and continuing all day with men’s, women’s, and junior racing capped off by the UCI CC Women’s U23 at 12 noon, Men’s Junior UCI CC 17-18 at 1 pm, U23 at 2, the Elite women at 3, and the Elite men finishing the day at 4pm.
Ride along with Race Director Mitch Graham and local cross monster and 15-16 USA Cyclocross National Champion Spencer Petrov (Element Cycles).
Talking Cross with Race Director Mitch Graham of BioWheels, and BioWheels Racing
Bikerumor: Tell us about the race itself, this is the first time the Pan Am Championships have been in the U.S.?
Mitch Graham: This is the first time there has been a Pan Am Championship for cross, period. There has been road, track, mountain for years, just no cross. There is just so much growth going on that the UCI has basically said “you seem to know what you’re doing, so let’s see what you can do.” So they gave it to us for a couple years to see what we could do with it. I’m pretty happy with getting [Catharine] Pendrel for the women from Canada, and [Geoff] Kabush to come down, that kind of legitimizes it in our eyes.
Bikerumor: How big is the pro field so far for Sunday?
Mitch: 50+, but super deep. The quality of the riders we have coming out is insane.
Bikerumor: To race on Sunday for the Pan Am Championships, do you have to be from the Americas?
Mitch: Yeah, so Katerina Nash, Gabby Durrin, and Ben Berden will be sitting out Sunday since they’re all European. *UPDATE: the Pan Am Champs race on Sunday will not include any Elite men due to UCI restrictions. See comment section below for more info.
Another new thing for Cyclocross worldwide is a women’s U23 category. This is the first year where it’s official. For men there is 17-18, U23, and Elite, but now women will have at least the U23 category as well as Elite for the first time. So we’re rolling out the first UCI U23 Women’s race here.
Bikerumor: I already know the answer, but is it equal pay for men and women?
Mitch: Yeah, oh yeah. We’ve been equal pay since 2008 here. It’s a line item in our budget that doesn’t go away. It’s not something we ever would think to take out. Paying women equally is very, very important to us. We’ll cut out other things before we would change that.
Bikerumor: How many people are involved in putting this race weekend together?
Mitch: 50-60. That’s our strength is strength in numbers and it’s because the Lionhearts Junior program is so strong here. The other clubs around here are sponsoring juniors as well like Team Dayton and others. That brings out parents that are motivated to give back. That’s how you get stuff done is people that are willing to give back.
You know Corey [referring to Director of Operations Corey Green], Corey’s a parent, that’s a perfect example right there. The Petrovs… it goes on.
We also have 75 athletes being host-homed that weekend, that’s gotta be some kind of record. It really points to the support network we have going on here.
Bikerumor: Did you learn anything particular putting on the pre-worlds race before the World Championships in Lousville?
Mitch: Yea! Just how we handled the press coverage, I mean it was legit sports coverage. Sporza was here, it was like ESPN was here. That’s what the UCI wants to see to make the sport more mainstream. But yeah, it was just one important moment in the history of cross here in Cincy and provided us a snapshot of what really goes on at that level.
Bikerumor: Based on your experience is the cross scene here as good as anywhere in the U.S.?
Mitch: I think so. I think it’s top 5 legitimately, for sure. Anyone who moved here from any part of the country would definitely not be disappointed in the cross scene here. Between the time trials we have, the permanent courses where you could train 24 hrs a day if you wanted to, you have world class venues for racing, you could race UCI events locally and still get a ton of points, and with the OVCX series you can race a solid field all season long. I think Cincinnati has been underrated for the past 10 years, but I feel that anyone who doesn’t recognize Cincinnati at least in the top 10 for cross in the nation is not paying attention.
Bikerumor: Anything else?
Mitch: Just the weekend is going to be so good. Harbin is so dialed, I mean I haven’t gotten to race it since I started organizing it all, but between Harbin, Kings, and the new course here? It’s going to be a lot of fun.