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Analysis: 5 things to watch over ’cross nationals weekend

The rise of American ’cross

As some of the country’s best athletes gather in the Midwest for a shot at the stars-and-stripes jersey, it’s the perfect time to reflect on the state of ’cross in the U.S. and celebrate the phenomenal growth it has seen. The sport has come a long way over the years, from a relatively obscure winter sport to a fully sanctioned discipline with a number of race series across the country backed by big sponsors.

According to USA Cycling, ’cross has been cycling’s fastest-growing discipline over the past several years, having seen the biggest boom since mountain biking took off in the 1990s. The U.S. has more ’cross races sanctioned by the International Cycling Union (UCI) than any other country — including Belgium.

Micah Rice, VP of national events at USA Cycling, told VeloNews that one of the things spurring the growth of cyclocross in the amateur ranks is its brevity.

“Riders can go out and get a great workout in the cold weather with some hard efforts in less than an hour of racing,” he said. “Even the men’s elite race this weekend is just an hour long.”

What’s more, a lot of riders coming into the sport say they feel safer on a ’cross course than, say, in a criterium.

“At a cyclocross event you can line up in the last row and ride your own pace and not worry about being in fast pack of racers all bunched together,” Rice said. “You can even get lapped and still enjoy it out there on the course as you hone your bike-handling skills and have fun.”

American riders at the pro level have risen to the occasion, too. Last week in Italy, Compton made history when she became the first American to win the overall World Cup title. For years, Compton, Johnson, Powers, Summerhill, Ryan Trebon and Jamey Driscoll (Cannondale), Jonathan Page (ENGVT), Logan Owen (Redline), and many others have gone to Europe and raced against the world’s top riders. In doing so, they’ve helped bring ’cross up a level back at home as well, and the Europeans have taken notice.

Also for the first time, the UCI Cyclocross World Championships are coming to the States on February 2-3 in Louisville, Kentucky, where Compton has as good a chance as any other rider to win the rainbow jersey and the U.S. men could crack the top five.

Now that’s progress.

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