Nine years after the Louisville World Championships, the battle for the rainbow jersey in cyclocross returns to the United States, to Fayetteville to be precise: a town in northwestern Arkansas, nestled in the heart of beautiful green hills of the Ozarks. However, the conservative region has a dubious reputation: the rest of America considers it backward, and poverty is higher there than in most other states. So how did the World Cup end up here in this bastion of Donald Trump?
Brook Watts can say he brought the world championship to Fayetteville. Colorado, 65, promoter of many cyclo-cross races in the United States, docuseries viewers Nys DNA recognize it without a doubt, received a call from Fayetteville about six years ago. If he didn’t even want to come take a look around the area. The region’s reputation had him scratching his head: he had held competitions all over the United States, but the Ozarks had never occurred to him as a place for a sport that America considers a past. -europhile time for educated city dwellers.
Nevertheless, Watts accepted the invitation and what he saw excited him. The mountains around Fayetteville were deserted and beautiful, perfect for gravel racing and mountain biking. The race organizer didn’t have to think long about whether he wanted to bring cyclo-cross here and decided to change his mind when he learned that money was no object: behind attempts to open the Ozarks to bicycle touring were brothers Tom and Stuart Walton, heir to the famous department store chain walmart. They turned out to be cycling enthusiasts who had invested $70 million in the development of cycling in their home region.
An opportunity like this doesn’t come around often for a race promoter, so Watts went all-in when he sat at the table with the Walton brothers. “We can worry about a series of regional races, but why not go to the World Cup?” And so the ball began to roll. The Walton brothers brainstormed, Watts hatched a plan and in early 2019 it was announced that Fayetteville had been awarded the World Cup. For Watts, it was a dream come true. In the 1970s he was one of the pioneers of cyclo-cross in the United States. With other students, he tries to establish this sport so popular in Europe, on the other side of the Atlantic.
success world cup
In the mid-1990s cyclo-cross took off in the United States and in 2013 the growth peaked with the world championships in Louisville. The fact that the event had to be reduced from two days to one day due to the risk of flooding did not hurt. Timothy Johnson, a gifted cyclocross racer at the turn of the 21st century, continues to be impressed. In German Tower Shop he says, “When I started in the 1990s, I had to explain to everyone what motocross was.” But in Louisville, tens of thousands of spectators cheered loudly. “I didn’t have the best result of my career at that time, but it was definitely the best day of my career.”
Since then, interest in the sport has slowly but steadily declined. Experts disagree on the cause. Many attribute the decline of cyclo-cross to the rise of gravel racing, which has grown in popularity in recent years. Watts, on the other hand, thinks the American cross has simply declined to sustainable levels. “It’s like triathlon and mountain biking in the 1980s. At first there’s enthusiasm for newness, then it drops.” In that regard, Watts doesn’t believe this World Cup will bring another revival.
“I’m sure the hardcore fans will come to Fayetteville,” Watts said. “But it probably won’t be a festival like it was eight years ago. There are now multiple opportunities during the World Cup to see the international stars in action in the United States. But off the stage, he thinks the World Cup will hardly impress. He believes the Walton brothers’ calculation will be correct. “I can imagine people thinking: I’m going to watch the World Cup and then spend a few days exploring the Ozarks on a gravel bike or mountain bike. And for me it’s good. At the end of the day, it’s about getting people off the road on a bike, whatever it’s called now.”
It is now extremely difficult for American cross-pros to find international connections. Local and regional competition series have become rare, a national series only returned this year and consists of only four competitions. Additionally, domestic trips to the races are expensive and for many young American racers, a trip to the races in Europe is unaffordable. The only remaining professional team, Cannondale Cyclocrossworld, only supports four pros and four young riders. The budget is not enough for more. The support of the American federation is also not sufficient to allow talents to express themselves regularly.
When someone jumps to the top of the sport, it’s more by chance. Clara Honsinger owes her breakthrough to her own initiative and the support of her family. After two years of study, she gave herself a year to fully immerse herself in cycling and find out if she had what it took to turn professional. A luxury few can afford. At the World Cup on the World Cup course in Fayetteville, Honsinger finished third, but she mostly had the opportunity to try out the much-discussed course that Brook Watts had laid out on a football field with Tim Johnson .
For Watts, designing this circuit was his last contribution to the World Cup. After designing the course last year, he retired from organizing the event. He must have experienced the painful inconvenience of working with organizers from this American hinterland. When Arkansas became the first state to ban the treatment of transgender youth, it sparked outrage in American cycling circles. A state that effectively bans transgender athletes from participating in sports, critics have complained, should not be allowed to stage a world-class sporting event.
Since Watts was the face of the World Championship for the cycling community, he mostly got wind. He should either force a boycott or demand a relocation, which is far beyond his control. The longer the stories went on, the more personal the threats against him and his family became. Watts approached the organizing committee and the Walton brothers with a request to make it clear that they distance themselves from these laws in order to limit damage to the image of the World Cup and to him personally. But he got zero on the bill. When he then personally distanced himself via Twitter, he was fired.
Still, Watts hopes the event will be a success. If only because it’s good for cycling in the country and for sports people. And because he doesn’t want to deprive those involved in the planning of the fruits of their labor. He also hopes that the trial version of the Mixed relay becomes a success: after all, it was his idea to include the new song in the program, after no contest director dared. The prominent American is staying away from Fayetteville and Arkansas this week, he previously announced: Watts is watching all the action on TV during a European outing with his wife.
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