By ASHLEY ANDERSON
The gritty, high-energy outdoor cycling competition hosted annually in Europe is heading, for the first time in history, to the U.S. â€“ making its debut in none other than Louisville, Ky.
Held for more than 60 years, the UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) World Elite Cyclo-cross Championships will make its way to Eva Bandman Park, 1701 River Road, on Feb. 2 and 3, bringing in 500-700 international athletes, coaches and staff and an estimated crowd of 4,000 each day.
Louisville became a prime location for the first-ever U.S.-based World Championships with the construction of Eva Bandman Park, a premier cyclo-cross venue, and a rapidly growing cyclo-cross community. â€œIt really, locally, comes down to a great cycling community,â€ said Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer. â€œCyclo-cross is really growing rapidly. (The World Championships event) showcases the cyclists in the community, and the fact weâ€™re the first host outside of Europe … it puts the spotlight on Eva Bandman and brings a bunch of tourists here in town.â€
One of the forefathers of the local cyclo-cross community is Bob Bobrow, an attorney with Boehl Stopher and Graves, LLP. A former road racer, Bobrow has watched his favorite pastime, once explored mostly in the upper east coast and part of the west coast, increase exponentially in popularity over the last decade in Louisville. â€œ(Cyclo-cross) kind of started to grow in (Louisville in) â€™01, and there were a couple races around here,â€ he said. â€œThere were just a handful of folks racing â€™cross back then around here, at least, and I started doing it and sort of became a cheerleader for the sport. … It went from a very grassroots, literally 10 or 15 folks that would ride around Seneca Park at night on their cylco-cross bikes, to a local race to a regional race.â€
And, now itâ€™s international. In 2010, U.S. Gran Prix of Cyclocross (USGP) promoters Joan Hanscom and Bruce Fina won a bid to host the 2013 World Championships in Louisville from the sportâ€™s international body, the UCI. The Louisville Sports Commission, USA Cycling and several individuals, including John Schnatter, founder and CEO of Papa Johnâ€™s International, Inc., David A. Jones Sr., co-founder of Humana, and Sam Swope, founder of Sam Swope Auto Group, then stepped in to help make the event possible.
â€œItâ€™s a great example of public private partnership with Metro Parks converting a piece of an under-utilized property into a championship course and promoters that are experts in the cyclo-cross event having the knowledge and understanding of how to go about the bid,â€ said Karl Schmitt, executive director of the Louisville Sports Commission. â€œAnd (it was) UCI cycling having an interest in the world championship in the United States, and all those things came together.â€
The sport of cyclo-cross features a fast-paced mix of hard bicycle racing and a party-like atmosphere held in the fall and winter in all types of weather: snow, rain, mud, ice or dust. Described as a â€œbike race mixed with steeplechase,â€ the event involves athletes battling through a course comprised of pavement, wooded trails, grass, steep hills and obstacles â€“ or features, as theyâ€™re known in cyclo-cross â€“ that require a quick dismount, running and remount.
â€œCyclo-cross racers are a little bit crazy in a good way and cyclo-cross fans are a little bit crazy in a good way,â€ said David Loignon, cyclo-cross enthusiast and owner of the television production and production management company Big Red Kong LLC. â€œ(The sport is a) fun, muddy, dirty way to play on your bike like you did as a kid. … Itâ€™s a very relaxed, fun type of racing. The other great thing is you can pretty much watch most of the race standing in one place.â€
Unlike some bike races, itâ€™s typically easy for attendees to move from one spot to another to see most of the cyclo-cross action. Fans line the 1.5- to 2-mile course of the race, which can last between 40 and 60 minutes, depending on the age and expertise of the racers. Food and drink (adult beverages included) are also available throughout the experience, and fan interaction with athletes is not uncommon.
â€œYou go to a bicycle race that might be a road race and youâ€™re kind of there and see them zip by real quick,â€ said USA Cycling Vice President of National Events Micah Rice. â€œIn cyclo-cross, people are out there, wearing crazy costumes, clanking cowbells, heckling the riders, drinking beer. Itâ€™s a huge party to come and spectate at these races, and I think thatâ€™s something completely unique about it.â€
The Cyclo-cross World Championships will not only be witnessed by the mass of crazed fanatics at Eva Bandman, but also those watching from all across the world. Under N2Productions, Loignon will help produce the world feed of the event, which will be shown on YouTube, Google Live and television stations in such countries as Belgium, the Netherlands, France and the Czech Republic.
â€œI think itâ€™s the best sport in the world, so to speak, but I also think that the reason it has so much appeal is because anybody can watch it and appreciate whatâ€™s going on,â€ said Bobrow. â€œI would make an appeal to folks that have never heard of it to come out and take a look and watch. … The bigger the crowd, the better, the more energy there is. … People are just excited to come, and there are going to be people from all over the U.S. (and the world). I think people would be surprised if they came out and watched.â€
Gates will open 9 a.m. at Eva Bandman Park on Saturday and Sunday for the Cyclo-cross World Championships. The UCI Cyclocross Masters World Championships will take place Jan. 29 through Feb. 1 at Champions Park at River Road Country Club.
For tickets, callÂ +1 877.725.8849 or +1 404.897.2388 to book by phone. Saturday- or Sunday-only tickets are $25 general admission; $15 for ages 21 and under; free for children 10 and under; and VIP admission is $125. Two-day tickets are $40 general admission; $30 for ages 21 and under; free for children 10 and under; and VIP admission is $250.
For more information on the UCI World Elite Cyclo-cross Championships, visit www.louisville2013.com.
Cyclo-cross Comes to Main Library
In light of the upcoming UCI Cyclo-cross Elite World Championships in Louisville on Feb. 2 and 3, the Louisville Free Public Library will host a new exhibit, “The World of Cyclocross,” in the Bernheim Gallery of the Main Library. The exhibit features a collection of photos, â€œThe Hardest Hour,â€ by Wil Matthews, as well as information and examples of cyclo-cross.
Matthews, a California-based photographer,Â has covered cyclo-cross for the past three years for Velo Magazine, Velonews.com, major bicycle brands, the U.S. Gran Prix of Cyclocross and other media outlets in the U.S. and abroad. The photos on display explore the sport from all angles â€“ from the quiet moment before the start to the intensity of the competition, the joy of those headed to the podium and the sorrow of those who came up short in the race.
The library will host a public reception with Matthews and organizers of the UCI Cyclo-cross Elite World Championships from 7 to 9 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 31.
For more information, call 502.574.1611.