The two-race Derby City Cup USGP in Louisville, Kentucky, is just days away, and we managed to track down USGP series director Joan Hanscom and executive director Bruce Fina to see what’s happening with the races, how things are shaping up for Masters Worlds in 2012 and Elite Worlds in 2013, and how all of this buzz is impacting Louisville. As Hanscom is quick to point out, Louisville’s success in landing the biggest cyclocross event hinges upon the confluence of an exploding cycling scene, dedicated folks behind the scenes investing their time and energy, and a city that sees the potential in supporting cyclocross and the event. Let’s hope it’s a model that spreads!
CXM: Tell me about the new venue, Eva Bandman park. I heard it was tentative whether you’d be using the park for this race because of the new grass and since it’s been so dry. Is it all systems go for Eva Bandman? I know it’s the first USGP there, but is it also the very first ’cross race at the venue? Is part of the USGP course also a permanent cyclocross course at the park? Is it a very different course from the old River Road Louisville course?
Joan Hanscom: We are racing at the new cyclocross venue at Eva Bandman Park. Metro Parks has been pulling out all the stops to make sure it’s race ready. And yes, first race at new venue. It’s a venue, not a course. The Park has been constructed so that there are many course options available to many different users – not just the USGP. It’s about having elements and features that can be combined in a variety of different ways for different users to create unlimited course options. It is very different from River Road Country Club.
Bruce Fina: Joan has said it perfectly. There are a lot of features that were built for the course and thus we we’ll be testing some of them this weekend. I assure you, it’s a hard course with some sharp climbs as well as some great technical features, such as a natural sand dune that must be ridden across and then down.
CXM: How similar is the USGP course to the course we’ll see for Masters Worlds and Elite Worlds in 2012 and 2013? I assume the Worlds course will be quite a bit more technical than a course suitable for beginners. Will you alter the USGP course at all between morning amateur races and Elite afternoon races? How does it differ from Saturday to Sunday? Still have the run-over/fly-over stairs with the ramp descent?
Hanscom: The Worlds course will be made before Worlds. Up to that point it will be a work in progress, figuring out which course elements to use and how to combine them, seeing how the terrain changes over time. The course we are racing this weekend is designed for the USGP user group, ranging from ten year-olds to top pros. There are no plans to dramatically alter the course from morning to afternoon, if at all. We always change from Saturday to Sunday to mix things up a little; this weekend will be the same.
Fina: We will use the Worlds course for Masters Worlds next season – at least a very close match. The course will differ from Saturday to Sunday. With so many possible features, it will be easy to make some bigger changes overnight. The Louisville Bicycle Club/Bike Clicks “Green Monster” [the fly-over] is back and an important feature on the course.
CXM: Now that the cyclocross world is focused on Louisville, what are your registration numbers looking like? Are you seeing many more out of town Masters or Elites making the trip? Any discussions starting yet with Euros that want to come out in 2011 to check out the course?
Hanscom: Participation is up – a testament to the growth of this market and increasing interest in the sport. I am certain that the fact that we are racing on the new venue has driven some of that, but we’ve seen the largest growth in grassroots categories – Juniors, Cat 4, Cat 3/4 women, Cat 2/3. I think this speaks to a continued growth in interest in the sport in general. It’s great to see more folks racing, getting interested in the sport. Hopefully it means that there is a next generation of Tim Johnsons coming up and an ever greater pool of talent to draw from too.
CXM: Has all of the attention helped you to get more sponsors on board? You have regional support in the form of Metro and the Greater Louisville Sports commission – have they been long-time partners? Tell me how that came about.
Hanscom: We have been lucky to have had long and steady relationships with several long-term sponsors. SRAM, Clif Bar, Selle Italia, Bob’s Red Mill and STANLEY have all had long relationships with us and we are tremendously thankful for that on-going support. This year we’ve brought some new sponsors on board: Greenware®, most notably, as title sponsor. We provide a good value and ROI to our sponsors; it’s nice that we’ve picked up a few more – and certainly greater awareness of the sport has helped with that. We have been working with the Greater Louisville Sports Commission since meeting them at conference in April of 2006. They are a great organization and saw early that there was value in bringing the USGP to Louisville. And as soon as we made the decision to race the USGP here, Metro Parks became involved. We began working with them because we’ve always run on Parks property, and they’ve always been supportive. Both organizations, along with the Mayor’s office, have been great to work with and are a large part of the reason why the bid to bring the Worlds here was successful – because the will to do it existed not just with the bike racing side of things but with the community as well. We couldn’t do what we are doing here without them.
CXM: You and Bruce Fina are obviously behind the whole USGP series – but this is right in your adopted backyard. Are you much more hands-on involved in this event that the rest of the series? How do responsibilities break down between you and Bruce?
Hanscom: All the USGP events require a lot of attention. We have great regional staff in each of our markets – Louisville is no exception, and we’ve been very fortunate to work with Mike Hewitt here over the years, along with Barbara Saive. They have done a tremendous amount of work here to establish the property and make it a success along with countless others – Steven Webster, the Louisville Bicycle Club, too many to name. Obviously I live here, so I can’t help but be a bit more involved – just because I know folks too. I race here, have teammates here, so I’m a bit more in the mix, but I definitely still rely heavily on Mike and Barb.
Bruce and I share some responsibilities and split others. We both are constantly on the hunt for sponsors, for example. But I am much more focused on client services, sponsorship delivery and the media and communications side of things, and Bruce is much more focused on the technical. I do the bulk of the day to day work – you know, the glamorous detail work like booking hotels and flights for staff, making signage orders, while Bruce does a great deal more than I do on the “field of play” aspects. I, for example, would not be the one to lay out the course – that’s completely beyond my skill set. But I can keep track of the details like when ad insertion deadlines are like nobody’s business. So it works, I have one skill set and Bruce another. Together it works.
CXM: What’s the buzz been like in Louisville? I suspect cyclists of all types are excited about cyclocross – are non-cyclists getting in the swing too? Where do you see all of this growth leading for Louisville, for the US and for the sport?
Hanscom: The buzz is great. People are excited to see the new park. And I think with the attention, more folks are getting curious. Hopefully they turn out in droves to watch. My hope is that all of this leads to more people getting into the sport. I think everybody should ride a bike – or many bikes. I think both Bruce and I hope that as the sport starts to get more attention and more people are racing that it becomes viable for the pros to actually make racing ’cross their primary focus. And we’ve already started to see that happening a little bit – Tim Johnson and Meredith Miller have both said that ’cross is their main focus right now, and I think there are others who will follow. If we can get riders focusing on excelling at ’cross, we will start to see more US riders having success at the international level – something that’s already happening. And the more people who get into the sport means more potential stars of the sport in the future.
We’re also hopeful that in the run-up to Worlds that we’ve gotten greater exposure for the sport and the athletes so there is interest in their success. We want folks to know who Jeremy Powers is and to be cheering for him course-side in 2013. We need to grow the fan base. We want cyclists and non-cyclists alike to want our athletes to win on the Worlds stage and cheer them along doing it. If the sport grows, if the athletes become known figures, then there’s more reason for companies to support cyclocross and everybody wins.
CXM: Do you know if Americans be able to watch Worlds live on TV?
Hanscom: The Worlds should be televised here. It is a requirement of the World Championships to have television production. Who the broadcast outlet will be is negotiated by the UCI, not us. They negotiate the contracts for ALL World Championship events.
CXM: What can folks do to help make sure the event is a success?
Hanscom: Volunteer, come cheer, support our sponsors. Get a bike and come down and race. Convince their marketing departments back at work to sponsor us! We need all of it. The sport only succeeds if we have all those things.
CXM: The USGP is the oldest ongoing national series – and one of two major national series. How is the USGP evolving, and what do your races offer to competitors?
Hanscom: We’ve tried to focus on consistency of experience for all our riders and sponsors. We’ve invested a lot to make sure that the course has a certain look and feel, that our sponsors get great value each and every weekend. Having series sponsors makes that a lot easier. Everybody knows – or we hope they do – that SRAM is going to be in the pits providing neutral support every weekend to riders of all ages and abilities. That an athlete – be it a cat 3/4 woman or Ryan Trebon – gets the same quality experience every time they come to the USGP from registration through racing and results. We have also been committed to creating the best opportunity for head to head competition in the US amongst the top Elites because we have always felt that in order to succeed against the tough competition in Europe our pros need to have opportunity to race against each other here. Good, deep competition is what will make for better results internationally. And good, deep competition locally is what grows up the next generation of pros – we want to provide a platform for all of that.
Fina: The USGP is the only Official UCI Series in the US and joins the Super Prestige and the GvA Trophy as one of the only three UCI Cyclocross Series in the World. We set our first stakes at the USGP a full week before the race begins and work the entire week to get the course and infrastructure in place. Our goal is always to make our races have the same setup as a World Cup. We have a UCI technical delegate assigned to each race in addition to the UCI Commissaires. That technical delegate is there to help us to ensure that the course is of the highest standard and suitable for a World Cup. If you check the details such as start grids and pit length and shape, you will find that the USGP is always exactly to UCI Spec. We have added One to Go Result services this season with a Lynx camera so that riders not only get results ASAP but get lap times as well. It is amazing info for a rider and for a fan. Check the lap times and see what a small mistake or a small recovery makes in the result of a race.
Thanks for your time, Joan and Bruce. Look forward to following the race this weekend!