The UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships has left Europe for the first time in the 64 year history of the sport. In recognition of the enormous growth the sport has seen in North America over the past decade, the 2013 world championships will take place in Louisville, Kentucky, a southern U.S. city more usually associated with horse racing, as the home of the world famous Kentucky Derby, than with cycling.
However, the event has had more than its fair share of drama even before the start of racing tomorrow. After losing its title sponsor, USA Cycling had to scramble, taking over the event organization and pulling together sponsorship. Then, in the past few days, the weather gods have been playing havoc with plans - from 18 Celcius three days ago, Louisville has cycled through tornado warnings, heavy rain, snow and sub-zero temperatures last night and today, and as the final kicker, flood warnings.
Torrential rain that has affected Ohio directly north of Louisville means that a surge of water that is expected to crest over ten feet above normal is heading downstream, with the crest to hit Louisville on Sunday, when the Elite Women's and Men's events were scheduled.
The UCI hastily convened a press conference this morning to announce that all four races will take place tomorrow (Saturday). The organization has been placing sandbags and waterbreaks along the shoreline, but the water has visibly risen, with the water now at least four feet further inland at the end of training (4:00 pm local) then it was at the start this morning (10:00 am). Potentially, tomorrow's final Elite Men's race could turn into a race against wet feet...
The new schedule will begin with the Junior Men at 9:45 am, the Elite Women at 11:00 am, the Under-23 Men at 12:30 pm and the Elite Men at 2:30 pm (all times local). The podiums will all be held together at the end of the day.
For Belgian TV - which considers this event to be the equivalent of the seventh game of the Stanley Cup Final - there is a huge scramble underway. The live coverage originally scheduled for Sunday evening in Belgium had pre-empted prime time television, so they are now rearranging television schedules across the country.
The course is considered to be on par with European ones, drawing comparisons to the 2010 Tabor world championships circuit, in the Czech Republic. Team Canada's Mike Garrigan says the course is similar to what he experienced in his first European Worlds. [Note: We have video interviews with Mike Garrigan and Geoff Kabush below]
Riders are expecting it to be a fast circuit and a hard surface, although it will be warmer than today's -11C. The only pavement on the 2780 metre circuit is on the ridge where the start and finish are located. From the pavement the riders head down onto the grass and the lower (flood prone) field where the majority of the course is located. The vast majority of the interesting sections of the course take place on and around the ridge, with tricky technical hairpin turn traverses, climbs and descents.
The feature capturing the most attention is a set of large stone block steps that a few riders, including Sven Nys (Belgium) and Jeremy Powers (USA), are riding, which could be a tactical advantage in a small group late in the race. The long sand section is not proving to be terribly difficult, with Geoff Kabush commenting that it is almost rock solid.
As always, Belgium is one of the strong favourites for the Elite Men on Sunday, after sweeping the podium last year (actually finishing first through seventh). Defending world champion and newly crowned World Cup champion Niels Albert and former champion Sven Nys are both riding well, with Kevin Pauwels also a good chance for Belgium. Others to watch include Lars van der Haar from the Netherlands, or even Olympic mountain bike bronze medalist Marco Fontana of Italy, who excels on fast courses. Jeremy Powers, who has spent much of the past month training in Louisville could easily post a top-10 result.
Canada has lost two riders in the Elite Men's field even before the racing started - Aaron Schooler is out with injury, while Chris Sheppard pulled out to retire. Sheppard finished second in the Nationals to Kabush, and planned to end his career in Louisville, but felt he did not have the form to represent Canada.
Canada's Elite Men's squad is down to three - Kabush, Garrigan and Craig Richey. Kabush, a multi-time national champion and mountain bike World Cup winner, is racing his first cyclo-cross worlds, and says he has good form, and hopes to do well (see our interview with Geoff below).
For the Elite women, it will likely be a battle between local favourite Katie Compton of the USA, who just won the 2012-2013 World Cup title, and perennial favourite Marianne Vos of the Netherlands, who will be looking to add a fifth straight title. Other podium possibles include Katerina Nash (Czech Republic), Helen Wyman (Great Britain) and Sanne Cant (Belgium).
Canada has five women to start, led by national champion Mical Dyck. She is joined by former champions Emily Batty and Wendy Simms, plus Pepper Harlton and Julie Lafrenière.
In the U23 Men, it will likely be a battle between Belgian team mates, who swept the World Cup series, while the Junior Men is equally dominated by the Dutch. Canada has four riders in each category:
U23 Evan McNeely - National Champion Andrew l’Espérance Michael van de Ham Connor O’Brien
Junior Men Peter Disera - National Champion Trevor Pearson Isaac Niles Neil Symington
l'Esperance has been riding particularly strongly in training, clearing the rock steps on more than one occasion.
Canada has three other important connections with these Worlds - Louise Lalonde is the anti-doping official, Pierre Blanchard is the UCI race doctor, and Lyne Lamoureux is the Press Officer.
Canadian Cyclist will be providing live coverage both through the website and Twitter.
Related Photo Galleries
Cyclo-cross World Championships February 1/13 - February 2/13, Louisville, Kentucky USA