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Q&A: Nationals course designer Webber recounts the story of Valmont Park

Pete Webber recounts the genesis of the Valmont Bike Park and its cyclocross DNA, and runs down the 2014 nationals course

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BOULDER, Colo. (VN) — On Tuesday in Boulder, the sun was up, melting the snow away from Valmont Bike Park, setting the stage for some very muddy category racing this week at the USA Cycling Cyclocross National Championships and perhaps a fast course for Sunday’s elite races.

Pete Webber, a fine racer in his own right and a member of the U.S. Mountain Bike Hall of Fame, helped bring the event to town and designed the nationals course, as well as Valmont Bike Park. VeloNews caught up with Webber as hundreds of riders began to explore his hillside creation on Colorado’s front range.

VeloNews: How was nationals brought to town, initially?
Pete Webber: Bringing nationals to Boulder has been an idea that people have had for probably 10 years or more and mostly, [Boulder Cup organizer] Chris Grealish has been working on it in his own way for a long time, but didn’t really have all the pieces together to be able to do it. In many ways, the vision and the creation of Valmont was fueled to a large degree by the idea of creating a place where we could have cyclocross nationals. Some people know but not everyone knows that the vision and creation of Valmont was fueled initially by cyclocross, because of the need to have a property where we could have racing in Boulder, so that’s where it started. That was more than 10 years ago.

VN: Were people in Boulder eager to help out?
PW: The volunteer sign up has been really successful and the turnout, I think about 300 different individuals, is enormous. For sure, the community in Boulder is the reason we have nationals. It’s the reason why Valmont was created, and it’s the reason why the event is going to be a huge success, because the local community is so passionate about it.

VN: The course is obviously largely set up, and the weather’s somewhat of a challenge. What do you make of the conditions out there?
PW: Everyone’s really excited that we got some snow and some classic mud and challenges that people like to see in cyclocross. That timing, the dry weather pattern that we were in, we’re excited that we got some moisture. I don’t foresee any difficulties or problems with the snow and the melting snow. The course can handle mud and snow really well, so it’s not a problem, and we’re prepared for it from a logistics perspective, and the only thing that sometimes happens is it’s freezing at night, and maybe later in the week, we’ll see some really challenging morning races if the track freezes overnight, and you end up with frozen ruts.

We were talking in the office. We think it’ll be super muddy, obviously, for the Wednesday races and the industry race and likely, same for Thursday, but do you think that by Sunday for the elite races that it will have dried out a bit?
PW: Yes. What I can say is, if the week progresses in the normal pattern that we’ve seen here in Boulder many, many times, that snow melts and dries incredibly quickly once the sun comes out, and so, if it follows the normal pattern, it’ll be pretty fast and dry by Sunday, but no one can predict the cloud cover and how much nighttime freezing will slow the melting. That’s the way I would say … the normal pattern would be, it’ll be pretty dry and fast by the weekend, but no one knows for certain how fast it’ll melt.

VN: Valmont seems to be a pretty unique venue in that it very much feels like it’s part-cyclocross race, part-BMX course. It seems like it’s very fun to design a course over there. Were you able to have a good time putting it together, and are you happy with what you came up with?
PW: Yeah, we’re really happy with it. One thing to understand is that when we designed Valmont, I was the lead designer of the park itself. We designed in permanent infrastructure to hold cyclocross races, so things like a long, straight start/finish, sand pits, and the two sets of stairs were designed many years ago, not for nationals, but for day-to-day cyclocross practice and races. The rest of the park, we have with singletrack so that it’s very fun to ride day after day, and the trails are durable and last a long time. For cyclocross, you don’t want to use too much singletrack, so when we designed the park, we left space between singletrack trails, where we could use temporary corridors for cyclocross, so that the [courses] could be on grass, with mud and stuff, and would not be all singletrack. It’s a unique thing.

VN: For the nationals course, what are you particularly excited about?
PW: We tried to create a course that has as much spice as possible. We used as much of the steep terrain as possible. One of those that’s new for this race that we haven’t used yet is, we’ve been calling it “Pete’s Plunge.” That’s a steep, off-camber descent.

VN: How long is the course?
PW: It’s almost maximum UCI legal length, so 3.5 kilometers is the maximum allowable length, and the course is 3.4 kilometers. … Not a huge amount of climbing, but there’s one good, long climb. That’s called “Escape Route.” That’s a fast, gradual hammer climb, and then there’s one really steep climb that we call “Rivet.” Then there’s a lot of punchy climbs throughout the course. … It’s very physically demanding.

It’s a very hard physical course. It’s not the most technical course in the world, but it’s definitely one of the hardest physical courses, and it’s also an all-rounder course. It’s sort of right in the middle of flavors for courses, with one end being extremely technical with maybe a huge amount of climbing, and at the other end, fast and flat. It’s a balanced course. It doesn’t favor one rider over another. I think it favors an all-around rider that has a good balance of strength and skills.

VN: Who are you picking then for the elite men’s race?
PW: Good question. No, I think that the safest choice would be [Jeremy] Powers, as over the past two years, being the most dominant rider, but I also think that Ryan [Trebon] has demonstrated that he can do really well in Boulder. … The Boulder Cup the two years that we’ve had it at Valmont, he won one and almost won the other, but he had a mistake, but he was in the lead [when it happened].

VN: Is there anything you’d like to add?
PW: What else? As far as the course, it’s a big topic because if people are like, “How long have you been working on the course?” In a detailed fashion, we’ve been working on it for about two years, as we used the Boulder Cup as a test event to refine the courses, but really, we’ve been working on it for about 10 years, the vision for Valmont, the fundraising, the lobbying, the behind-the-scenes work to get the park funded and built was when we started working on the course.