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Cyclocross

Why the next three weekends of U.S. cyclocross racing matter

At Go Cross, Rochester, and Charm City, 'cross riders will be going on a points-acquiring bender to increase their chances of World Cup qualification.

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It’s go-time for American ’cross racing, and the action starts this weekend.

On Saturday, September 18, the start line for the UCI elite cyclocross race at Virginia’s Blue Ridge Go Cross will be more stacked than it’s ever been, and we can expect to see an outpouring of attendance from the pros at two more subsequent North American UCI ‘cross races.

So, what’s up with all the attention?

Last November, the UCI announced modifications to the world cyclocross rankings due to the plethora of races canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. One change was that riders’ rankings would include points from the 2019-2020 season if the 2020-2021 version of the same race was canceled. Another change was that for the 2021-2022 season all points would be reset to zero (points earned at the 2021 world championships are the only exception; those will carry over).

This weekend marks the latest turning point with the new provisions.

“Call-ups for Roanoke [Go Cross] will go on last year’s points,” explained USA Cycling’s cyclocross director Jesse Anthony. “After that, they will go back to zero. But anyone who races this weekend will then keep those points as they go on to try and qualify for the World Cups.”

Therefore, riders gunning for the upcoming World Cup races have a heavy incentive to do well in the U.S.’ first three UCI races — Go Cross, Rochester Cyclocross in New York, and Charm City Cross in Baltimore.

Sunny Gilbert, who is based in Boulder, Colorado and races for Blue Competition Cycles p/b Build said she’ll be spending the next two weeks on the East Coast in a quick blitz of points-chasing.

“Currently I’m ranked 62nd in world,” she said. “So I get to start in Roanoke as if I were 62nd in the world. I get to try and get as many points that weekend and next, and then that’s it. The only points I’ll have for my ranking are from those two weekends. Anyone who raced at worlds in 2021 gets to keep their worlds points, so they have a slight advantage.”

Of the myriad ways for an American rider to qualify for a cyclocross World Cup, one guarantee is a top 50 seed in the overall UCI rankings. If World Cup spots remain after the UCI top 50, there are other criteria for selection by USA Cycling.

For the first three World Cup races of the season held in Waterloo, Fayetteville, and Iowa City, respectively, the U.S. will enjoy the hometeam benefit of sending 12 men and 12 women to each race, making the stakes for riders at Go Cross, Rochester, and Charm City even higher. Currently, only U.S. national champions Clara Honsinger and Gage Hecht have automatically qualified.

Another obvious advantage to having three early-season races in the U.S. is that local riders don’t have to travel to Europe to acquire UCI points — and Europeans won’t start the season with more opportunities to race. Jeff Pierce, the director of elite athletics, road, and track at USAC, said that while historically North American ‘cross racers had opportunities to compete and earn points at home, over the past few years they’d been forced to travel.

“More than ever, we’re starting on a level playing field with Europe,” Pierce told VeloNews.”In the past, we’ve had a lot of UCI races so athletes could stay here and earn points versus heading to Europe where the field is deeper, and this year is more like that. That’s great for our athletes to give them a chance to qualify automatically. It’s a huge opportunity for our athletes to earn some points because Europeans will have their own races.”

Another opportunity presented by the early season races is that two of them — Rochester and Charm City – will be streamed live on the GCN+ platform. Both of those races, as well as Jingle Cross and Kings CX, are part of the new USCX Cyclocross Series, which unites the four beloved U.S. races.

Anthony said that he’s thrilled with the sport’s upcoming exposure.

“One of the coolest things to me is that with Rochester, Baltimore, Waterloo, Fayetteville, Iowa, and Kings CX in Cincinnati, you have six races all live-streamed,” he said. “Which means people can watch U.S. ‘cross racing for six weeks in a row.”