by Molly Hurford
Since USA Cycling took over control of the UCI Cyclocross World Championships coming to Louisville, USA, in just a matter of days, a lot of questions have been swirling around. How and why did the takeover happen? How much will it cost? What kind of spectacle can we expect in Derby City? Is this our first and also our last cyclocross Worlds on US soil? And maybe most important, will there be enough beer?
Fear not, because Micah Rice, the USA Cycling VP of National Events in charge of the event’s operations, assured me in an interview yesterday that, “We have a lot of beer.”
Aside from just the beer, they have everything else under control, despite this being the first World Championship that USA Cycling has ever operated. “We’ve always run Nationals,” Rice points out, “But never Worlds.” To that end, Rice continued, USA Cycling wasn’t prepared – logistically or financially – for the commitment of hosting the race, but when push came to shove, and it seemed that there were only two options on the table – host or see the race head back to Belgium – USA Cycling CEO Steve Johnson knew that the race simply had to stay in the US.
“We weren’t planning on running the operations for Worlds,” Rice says. “We aren’t set up for it in terms of staffing and equipment.” But everyone in the organization agreed that it had to happen, and pulled together to make sure that it would.
“Everything is pretty much under control,” Rice says, and seems relieved. After all, an event of this magnitude hasn’t just cost USA Cycling an arm and a leg – $300,000 from their ’emergency budget’ for the event– it’s also cost them plenty of money in terms of manpower. “We have a lot of staff working on this.”
The takeover seemed abrupt when a press release came out in December explaining that USA Cycling would be taking on a much larger role with the race, in conjunction with the Louisville Sports Commission. “They’ve been great,” Rice explains. “When it seemed like the event might be cancelled, they came through with more money, as did several other local businesses. People want the race here.”
People also want to spectate here. At last count, Rice tells me that there have been 4000 tickets sold, and roughly 1000 of them have come from European sales. And he doesn’t think that the market has been tapped out yet. “A Dutch race director Eric Kersten, who’s running Worlds in Holland next year, has been a big help. He’s come to Louisville a couple of times now to help tell us what still needs to get done, and when you talk to him, he says the Euros are coming. A lot of them. He says they’ll mostly buy day-of tickets, so we won’t know until then.”
But USA Cycling is prepared for however many people show up. “We’ve got 1200 VIPs on top of the 4000 general admission tickets, and we needed caterers for all of them. They’ll also be doing the food for the general admission people, but they know how to deal with shifting numbers of people there.” And we’re back to the beer thing: there will be enough. Rice also points out that tickets are available up to and including the day of the event, and hotel rooms in downtown Louisville – a city largely designed around hosting big events like the Kentucky Derby – are still incredibly easy to find, even if the Galt House is full.
And for racers still on the fence about actually racing in Masters Worlds, that’s also a USA Cycling venture. “We took over Masters Worlds first,” he explains. “When we first heard that there were some financial difficulties and the future of the events was uncertain, we stepped in and said, ‘We’ll take Masters Worlds off your hands.'” And the event is simply more familiar for USA Cycling than planning the big event. “It’s like Nationals,” Rice explains, “Racers can sign up, even the day before, for the races, and because there’s an entry fee, we’ll break even on the event. It’s also already ready to go: the stakes are in the ground.” He seems more confident about this event, saying, “This is what we’re used to.”
The 40 person TV crew hired to help broadcast and live stream the Worlds Elite races, though, isn’t as familiar to USA Cycling. “That’s expensive,” Rice laughs. “We tried to find a network to broadcast it, but they all wanted obscene amounts of money.” Instead, perhaps even better, the event will stream to the USA Cycling YouTube channel and then the UCI will be picking up the feed – and the tab – to transmit the races so that the Euros can watch them, uninterrupted. It’s bits and pieces like this, “the event, not the race itself,” that are foreign to USA Cycling, but they’ve been learning as they go. “When we came in, things were in pieces and we didn’t know how they fit together. That’s where Joan [Hanscom] has been extremely helpful.” Hanscom, part of the original duo who made the bid for Worlds, has been taken on by USA Cycling to make sure the event runs smoothly, since she’s been a part of it since day one.
And that’s helped with one of the biggest challenges that USA Cycling has faced: coming into an event that was in serious financial jeopardy, that had been mostly planned but still needed a lot of work and a lot of reworking. “It’s gone smoother than I expected,” Rice admits.
Rice can take credit for the event, but not the US racer side of things. “I’m not on the selection committee, so I don’t know how the process worked,” he tells me. When I ask about some of the more road-oriented choices made, he adds, “I’m excited to see names like Jade Wilcoxson and Danny Summerhill on there – they had great rides at Nationals.” [See our interview with Worlds Team member Meredith Miller]. He also believes that the domestic nature of the race only changed the racers selected in terms of who could accept versus who’d have to turn down the spot: a roadie like Summerhill may not have been able to devote the time to going to Europe, but a quick trip to the South wasn’t out of the question. We’ve seen the same with the Canadian team: Geoff Kabush can race Worlds, despite mountain bike season closing in, since the travel for Louisville is simply easier on the North American racers, as opposed to every other year.
In fact, Rice laughs at that idea. “Tim Johnson was joking with me the other day,” he says, “And told me we should just pick the Euro racers up, drop them off at the hotel and just take them to one fast food restaurant. This will be the first time that our racers will have the advantage of feeling at home with their own grocery stores, restaurants and hotels.” The US racers are all invited by USA Cycling to stay in the race hotel, the Galt House (which is sold out of rooms for the weekend), and have all of their food and lodging expenses covered. “Some of the big teams have their own houses,” Rice explains, “So, someone like Jeremy Powers probably won’t stay with us, but there’s a room reserved for him if he wanted it.” This is helpful to even the high-level racers like Wilcoxson and Summerhill, who won’t have large team presences at the event, and therefore are happy to be entrusted into the care of USA Cycling for the days leading up to the race.
As far as his picks for the podium, Rice defers, saying that this isn’t his area of expertise. “I can only say the usual suspects,” he admits. “So, Katie Compton and Logan Owen.”
Speaking of Compton, when asked about the petition being circulated to promote women’s cycling by prompting a change in UCI rules, Rice had a diplomatic answer. The basics of the rule would make it so that in the women’s field as well as the men’s field, if a rider is ranked in the overall top 50 riders in the world and wants to go to Worlds for his or her country, the country must allow it. Not pay for it, merely allow it. Racers like Julie Krasniak and Caroline Mani, despite their willingness to pay their own way, will not be attending Worlds, and at a glance, the women’s field this year is looking decidedly small. “The US is far ahead with women’s equality in cycling. I’m not sure what to say about that rule, because we’ve always sent as many women as possible, when possible, to Worlds,” Rice replied. And he’s correct: the US consistently fields large Worlds teams, and within the US, many series’ and races including the USGP and the upcoming Kings CX in Cincinnati offer equal prize purses.
Speaking in terms of development, the figure of $300,000 spent by USA Cycling on cyclocross Worlds made me question if the money would eventually come from the budget laid out for cyclocross development. Rice was quick to reassure me, saying, “No. That’s from an emergency fund, not from any operating budget.” However, he did add, “But – and I’m sure you’ve heard this a million times – because cyclocross isn’t an Olympic sport, we don’t get USOC funding to help the USA Cycling operating budget, despite the fact that we are putting money into developing it.” He explains that USA Cycling is thrilled though, since the sport has done a great job of developing and growing even without a huge amount of money going into it. And who knows: maybe with Worlds making a huge splash in the US, USA Cycling will want to push for more growth in the sport, domestically.
I asked Rice what, for him and USA Cycling, the most rewarding part of the race planning has been so far. While I think he’s tempted to say, “None of it!” because the planning has been so much unplanned for work, instead, he excitedly says, “We get to have Worlds. In the US.”
And as far as the future of the event goes, while next year, Worlds is already slated to happen in Holland, it is uncertain whether we’ll see it on US soil again. A lot is riding on this event, and how smoothly it runs. We’ll be holding our breath: a good showing, and we might see it back again someday.
What is Rice looking forward to most about Louisville? “There’s a lot of great stuff to do in the town,” he says, and I can imagine the wry smile on his face when he adds, “But I won’t have time to do much. It’s going to be nose to the grindstone.”
We at Cyclocross Magazine know the feeling.
Don’t miss our LIVE STREAMING VIDEO of the 2013 Cyclocross World Championships. And for all the latest news, results, photos and videos from the 2013 Cyclocross World Championships and Masters World Championships in Louisville, KY, keep checking our 2013 Cyclocross World Championships page.