Seven or eight times each year, the college town of Iowa City hosts a University of Iowa Hawkeye home football game. On each of those weekends, more than 100,000 fans descend upon the Big-10 town to enjoy the game, the revelry, the rivalry. Hotels are filled, restaurants are bustling, and the town is abuzz.
But is Iowa City ready for the UCI’s cyclocross World Cup?
“Absolutely,” said Jingle Cross race director John Meehan, who recently delivered to the UCI a proposal to host a World Cup in Iowa next September. “There is a football game with 80,000 spectators every other weekend in Iowa City. In fact they just held a wrestling match that set a world record with 42,000 fans. This city is very well-prepared for major sporting events, and they know what to do.”
Iowa City may be ready, but does the course stack up against others in the U.S., or around the world?
“I think it’s harder than a lot of World Cup courses — harder than Namur,” said national champion Katie Compton after racing up “Mt. Krumpit” at Jingle Cross. “There’s a lot you can do with it too. It’s a great venue with really good features, hard features. Going up Mt. Krumpit is very difficult with its super thick, heavy mud — then having to go up the backside, that just makes it harder. A great ‘cross racer is going to win, you need all the skills to go fast, so it’s a World Cup-worthy course for sure.”
I feel I have the best course and best crew in America,” said Meehan. “We were posed with some challenges this year that we have never had. We were stressed to the max, which was good. Between the city, the fairgrounds, our volunteers — everyone came together, and all the problems were solved as they happened. So as far as World Cup capability, I think we certainly have it.”
“This is my first time at Jingle Cross,” said former U.S. national champion Jonathan Page. “I’ve heard nothing but good things about it here, and I am really pleasantly surprised. The hill behind me here is a little slice of Belgium, like the Koppenberg climb, with mud. It’s really good — I like it here.”
Reigning American champ Jeremy Powers, who’s made Jingle Cross part of his routine for several years, agrees with Page and Compton. Mud and climbing make the course.
“This is a great prep for Namur, It’s got a similar flow to that race, in climbing and in running,” said Powers. “It is a proper cyclocross course. It has a lot of features, a lot of risk — you could crash on the off-camber section, and that could end your race and then it was definitely the strongest person winning, and that’s what you want, a combination of all those things — it’s a well-rounded course and pushes all of us to the max.”
All the U.S.-based riders said they would look favorably upon another World Cup date in America, eliminating the challenges of traveling to Europe, easing budgets, and elevating the sport of cyclocross in North America, making it accessible to the rabid ‘cross fans stateside.
“I think it’s super important [to host a World Cup in the U.S.],” said Compton. “If we could have two World Cups next year with Vegas then this race, it would be really great. ‘Cross is growing, and for the North American racers, it’s stepping up the racing. It would raise the level of ‘cross here and make us all better and stronger. It can raise the level of women’s racing, get more sponsors, more money, more video, that kind of thing, it all helps ‘cross in general, so I’m all for it.”
With riders singing the venue’s praises, a willing host city, and challenging course, the rest, it seems, is up to the UCI.
“I think the World Cup needs to be exactly that — a World Cup,” said Meehan. “Right now the UCI World Cup has been isolated pretty much just in Europe, but I think the UCI has the right vision, and I have to congratulate them on trying to move this outside of Europe into Asia and North Americas and other places. We are willing to help them, when you look at the venue and the ability we have here, we can make that happen.”
No decision will be made on the final schedule of the 2016-17 UCI cyclocross World Cup until after the world championships at the end of January. But if Meehan’s plans pan out, Iowa City will have an international flavor next September, and the best cyclocross racers in the world will be challenging each other to the top of Mt. Krumpit.