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Snow cannons and innovative new test events are set to take center stage in the back half of this winter’s cyclocross season.
The first-ever World Cup round in Val di Sole is ready to roll out the fake snow as the UCI pushes for cyclocross to become an Olympic sport, while the Fayetteville world championships will test a six-rider mixed relay race.
The two quirks are part of the UCI’s push to promote the appeal and inclusivity of the long-niche discipline of ‘cross, and an arm of its wider effort to bring innovation to the world of cycling.
So, what’s the deal?
Fake snow for Val di Sole?
The UCI’s leading World Cup competition will see its inaugural event in Val di Sole on December 12, and organizers are committed to seeing snow, whether it comes from the sky or a shooter.
Top brass at the UCI have long been pushing for cyclocross to be included as a discipline in the Winter Olympics, which mandates all its events be contested on snow and ice.
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The UCI wants to prove snow is no stopper for cyclocross by staging a race in the Italian resort made popular by its hosting of mountain bike, biathlon and XC ski races.
Set at some 1300 meters altitude in the Italian Alps, Val di Sole has already seen some snow this winter and is likely to get a fresh coat in coming weeks. World Cup officials told Wielerflits this week that they’re ready to roll out the big guns should the powder be running dry mid-December.
“If there is not enough snow, it can perhaps be perfectly supplemented with the available snow cannons, as is also the case with cross-country skiing or biathlon competitions,” said Chris Mannaerts, manager of race organizers Flanders Classics.
While the Belgian and Dutch winter regularly sees plummeting temperatures and pouring rain, snow is less a feature of the ‘cross calendar.
“Not many organizers usually venture into a ‘cross in the snow,” said World Cup leader Eli Iserbyt. “It says something about the direction they want to take with cyclocross.”
Next up, koopa shells and banana skins.
Mixed relay test event for Arkansas worlds
The world championships in Fayetteville will open up with an innovative new mixed relay race bringing male, female, elite and U23 racers into one team.
The new event will be held January 28 ahead of the marquee races in the following two days.
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While it has long been known that the Arkansas worlds will play host to the first mixed team relay, the UCI only this week confirmed how it will work.
National teams will comprise one elite male and female racer, and two riders from each of the U23 or junior male and female ranks. All six participants must already be selected for their standalone races.
Each racer will complete one lap before tagging in a teammate in an exchange area, and each nation is able to select its own start order.
“This test event will be evaluated with a view to potentially integrating the team relay into the program of the UCI cyclocross world championships in the future,” read a UCI statement earlier this year.
The road worlds have already introduced a mixed relay time trial, which served to replace the now-abandoned trade team TT.
Expect to see a lot of Belgian blue and Dutch orange at the front of the action January 28.