This year will, technically speaking, be without a US National Championships, as for the first time the event has been moved from December to early January.

While both excitement and concern over Wisconsin’s January weather have been brewing, there have been few details available to those interested in making the trip. We pinned down race director Tom Schuler to bring you some salient info.

by Kenton Berg

Cyclocross Magazine: You’ve had an impressive history in road racing and putting on road races and managing mountain biking teams … what was the catalyst to putting on Cyclocross Nats?

Tom Schuler: When I was with 7-11 I did some ’cross just for fun, as training. We had Nats here in Milwaukee, back in the days of Lawrence Malone and maybe Tilford … there wasn’t much ’cross, it was really in its infancy, but we did it when we could. I was also a runner in high school and I’ve continued to run, so it made ’cross fun. But in the end, when you are trying to achieve the highest level of something you need to specialize and that is what I did with road cycling. (Other pros used ’cross back then as fitness work.)

I still do some racing … I’m doing a triathlon next month, and I’ve done some road races, but I still get a lot of satisfaction out of putting on races. I’m often asked if I miss racing, but by being involved in either managing teams or putting on races I’m still constantly involved in racing. Like when I was running the Volvo Cannondale team: we were involved in helping many racers, whether financially or otherwise, we were involved in racing and there’s a lot of satisfaction in helping those racers achieve their goals.

Regarding running the Cyclocross Nats … I’ve been involved in this sport (cycling) since I was 16 and have always worked within cycling. What I have done is stretched myself within the sport. We ran road teams, the Volvo Cannondale team, we ran  the top rollerblade team in the country, we  ran Xterra events, so we’ve kind of stretched ourselves within cycling and cycling related sports. The common thread is the endurance athlete. Its kinda the same no matter what the activity. Most all of what we’ve done involves two wheels.

CXM: The ’cross scene in Madison and the surrounding area seems to be very strong. What info can you share about racing in the area and are there any local riders we should keep our eyes on come Nats?

TS: On the men’s side we have two local riders – Tristan Schouten, who I believe is from Sheyboygan, and Brian Matter, a triathlete, are ones to keep your eyes on who. On the women’s side there’s Katie Antoneau, who’s family I’ve know for years and who had a great year last year. Also there’s Ashley James, who I believe won the collegiate nationals and I think was second in the U23. Both of those girls are young and ones to watch.

As far as the scene, Madison has to be one of the busiest bike scenes around, and then you’ve got Chicago which, as a big city, has been pulling in something like 600 riders per weekend race for their series. Then there’s Minneapolis which is strong, and Wisconsin, with a series more centered on Milwaukee, but has three or four  races around the Madison area. Our series travels around a bit here in Wisconsin. So overall, the whole area has a strong presence in cross and in cycling in general.

CXM: How are plans coming for Nats at this point?

TS: Good, the course is designed and we have a great partner with the Dane City park group. The city of Verona has really stepped up to work with us and help use their facilities. Things are moving forward and we are working closely with the Madison Area Sports Commission. We (TSI) have had other events this summer so we’re really beginning to focus on the Nationals event now.

CXM: Regarding the venue, I understand that it’s a revamped park and may end up being a permanent ’cross course. Is this the case and has it been raced on before?

TS: We will be having a “test” event, Badger CX, on December 10th and 11th at the venue. This is the final race weekend in the race series and should be a great preview of the course. We expect by that weekend that the ground might be frozen and people can expect to have similar conditions come Nationals time.

The venue is at Badger Prairie, a Dane county park. It’s had mountain bike trails developed on it and is fairly hilly. The attitude of the Dane county park people is that they love bikes and its not hugely used by the mountain bikers but they love bikes so they were like, “Cyclocross, yah!” The park has been used for ’cross races previously, for about the past 15 years.

This year, the course will be different. We’ve shifted it to the other side of the park where we are closer to services, where the expo will be and where you can see a good portion of the course from on the hillside. We’re going to try and utilize this hillside quite a bit and we also need a good stretch of asphalt for the start / finish and this side of the park has that. In fact, they are putting in some new asphalt in the next month to give us some  more asphalt sections. The park across the street will be used for parking and there is a library right on site, overlooking the park, which has the atrium we will use for awards. The city of Verona, where this park is, has really rolled out the red carpet for us.

The course has been laid out (designed) and we started doing some work on it so it will start really taking shape.

The Dane City park system has approved this as a permanent cyclocross park and over the next few years we’ll phase in some new features. We hope to continue to run Badger CX here and will have this for both training and races.

Renee Calloway and John Ericcson are the course designers

CXM: Is there any real defining features of the park or the venue that the racers can expect to face.

TS: My hunch, because we haven’t really even ridden the course yet, its only been walked, is that there are two things that will be determining factors. One is the weather: the ground and snow conditions, and the other is the hill. If it’s icy or snowy, the hill will be difficult … it won’t be muddy, it will be solid ground. I think we do three passes of the hill per lap, not all the way to the top but a good way up. The hill is much more significant than anything that was seen in Bend.

CXM: So the hill is the big “feature” and the weather will determine how hard the riding or running may be on it?

TS: Yes, the hill could end up being really hard, both in terms of riding or running and also in that the ground will be solid. This should be a great viewing area and where there will be a lot of action.

CXM: The weather seems to be what everyone is talking about regarding Madison in January. What plans are in place if there is snow … will you plow the course or snow blow the course if the snow gets to a certain depth?

TS: I’m not entirely certain what the regulations are regarding this and we are prepared to plow or clear this course if necessary. One of my former 7-11 teammates has a plowing business locally and has signed on to be our chief plower. We hope the bulk of his work will be plowing the parking areas but if we have to snow-blow out some areas of the course, we are prepared to do it. We are prepared to do what we need to do to work with the snow. As a rider, I’d be betting that you won’t have a “clear” course. As an avid cross country skier I know that by early December there is “skiable” snow on the ground and this event comes a month later. What is likely is that with the course being ridden after Badger CX by the locals training you’re likely to have a better center line and the wide lines may have more snow or packed snow on them. We have also had warm ups that time of year so a wide variety of conditions is possible.

CXM: With average high temperatures in the 20’s and lows in the single digits for that time of  year how do you plan to help the riders and spectators manage the elements?

TS: We will be bringing in circus-like tents to house the expo vendors we envision we’ll have an “Octoberfest-like” atmosphere or vibe working. Much like the swampy area in Bend, where the food and beer was, we’ll be looking to have that type of atmosphere going on. As far as the riders go, the trainer companies are interested in helping to provide an environment for the riders to warm up in and we’ve also had retail shops and others ask about this. Absolutely we’ll have something, some space, for the riders. I envision we’ll have multiple areas like this for the riders.

We’ll also have bonfires going on around the course for the spectators, we have a shelter right at the start/finish for the officials  and others so we’ll have lots of ways to help people manage the elements.

CXM: What advice would you give the riders, and spectators, regarding managing the cold especially those who aren’t used to it, on what to bring?

TS: I think the most important thing for the riders is managing the cold in the day before they race and then after. Don’t just focus on what you need to wear to race! If the riders get cold the day before, the body has to work so much harder and that energy loss could be critical for the race. That being said, having a good set of boots: Sorels are what I’d recommend and are what I use along with a down jacket, layers underneath, and good gloves and a hat. For racing, I’m sure most racers know how to dress for colder races, but again, layers are key. Some guys I know can race in short finger gloves but long fingered gloves, or thermal gloves would be good. Once the riders are racing, the body heat will help, so again, I think managing to not get cold the day before while out training or hanging at the course is really important. The good thing is that it won’t, or isn’t likely, to be both wet and cold. I know that in Bend the first few days was pretty cold and with the snow melting it was also wet, and I heard from many that it was really hard on the body. The drier cold of this area should be much easier on the racers if they stay warm up until race time.

CXM: You mentioned Bend and some of the things they did, will you try to emulate the post-race activities as well? Parties, events, what can people look forward to?

TS: We will definitely be having several events, the Saturday night party and Sunday night rider party for example, and they are in the planning stages right now. A lot of that will take shape over the coming months and we are looking to make it fun both night and day. The other aspect of this is trying to make sure we celebrate winter out at the venue. There is a pond next to the course that we’ll have ice skating on and other things around the venue. We’re also working on doing some things to help connect downtown Madison and Verona where the venue is to get people out and walking around seeing the area.

CXM: Lodging options?

TS: There is lodging in both Verona, near the course, and in Madison. There isn’t enough capacity in Verona so both areas will need to be utilized. Madison offers more restaurant and entertainment opportunities so that may appeal to some.

CXM: Can we expect to see the streaming video for the Elite races like last year?

TS: Yes, we hope to have the same type of coverage in conjunction with USAC like last year. I think that was delivered in conjunction with

CXM:  We’re interested in how you think the move to January (of Nats) will impact participation.

TS: Its a very good question … we made our bid to get Nats before this was finalized and we knew the race might end up being in January. One of the factors that convinced USAC was a survey of the riders and a good majority supported the move to January, irregardless of where it was held. The second weekend in January, no matter where it’s held other than the southern US, can offer cold and snowy weather. Rhode Island, Kansas, Oregon, they all offer opportunities for cold weather. That being said, the riders seemed to be in favor of the January move and we expect to see pretty good participation. The masters racers have their Worlds race the week after in Louisville and many will want to race to be sharp for that race. It will likely change how riders prepare for their season, maybe even starting in later into the season. It definitely means rider’s seasons now must go through the holidays, so it changes a lot and so this is very new to everyone.

Madison is so cycling-friendly and the people around here are so knowledgeable and interested so this should be a great event. If there is anyplace that can pull in a good crowd, for both racers and for spectators, Madison is it. We’re looking forward to hosting the event and to showing off our city.

CXM: Thanks, Tom, for your time and the insights in to what we can expect for Nationals. Keep us informed with any new information.

TS: Thanks, I will.

The crowd, including Panda-man and Mr. Gumbi goes crazy as local racer Ryan Trebon tries to bridge up to race leaders Tod Wells (Specialized) and Jeremy Powers (Cannondale/Cyclocrossworld) at 2011 Nationals © Joe Sales

The crowd, including Panda-man and Mr. Gumbi goes crazy as local racer Ryan Trebon tries to bridge up to race leaders Tod Wells (Specialized) and Jeremy Powers (Cannondale/Cyclocrossworld) at 2010 Nationals © Joe Sales