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Pro XCT calendar focuses on fostering strong domestic circuit

The early start to the Pro XCT series will force some elite MTB riders to shorten their off-season, and puts 'cross worlds berths in doubt

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado (VN) — American mountain bikers intent on racing the world cyclocross championships in Kentucky will face an abbreviated off-season as USA Cycling on Monday announced a March 2 kickoff for the Pro Mountain Bike Cross-Country Tour (Pro XCT) calendar.

The 2013 world cyclocross championship concludes February 3 in Louisville, while the Pro XCT opens March 2 with the Mellow Johnny’s Classic in Texas.

“With there being a [UCI Cateogry 1 race] in Texas early in the season we’ve kept it as a small off-season for some people, but we really have to look at the big picture of mountain biking as a discipline,” USA Cycling vice president of national events Micah Rice told VeloNews Monday evening.

Last year the Pro XCT calendar also launched the first week of March, forcing top American mountain bikers like Luna rider Georgia Gould to end their cyclocross seasons before the national championships in order to focus on cross country in the Olympic year.

U.S. cyclocross nationals take place January 9-13 in Madison, Wisconsin, meaning that the ‘cross season could be prolonged nearly another month for riders like Gould, who focus on mountain biking but also face qualification for ‘cross worlds.

For some, the exodus has already begun. Todd Wells (Specialized), the national ‘cross champion in 2001, 2005 and 2010, has already announced that his cyclocross season is over as he turns his focus to cross-country with a eye toward defending his Pro XCT overall title in 2013.

The distinction between the two disciplines, and a lack of favoritism, or scheduling leeway, toward those focused on cyclocross, are aimed at rebuilding the foundation of American mountain biking from the dirt up.

“We always try to take a hard look at what our top pros are doing and there’s that ability to attend the World Cups and other international races,” said Rice. “But we have over 400 domestic professional riders and we really want to make a strong domestic circuit a focus for 2013.”

Toward that end, Dripping Springs, Texas, will once again host the first stop of the Pro XCT, the Mellow Johnny’s Classic. Mellow Johnny’s Classic communication director Ted Arnold confirmed to VeloNews Tuesday afternoon that, for the second year running, the race will be held on the Flat Creek Crossing Ranch, owned by nonprofit organization Child, Inc. The previous venue, Juan Pelota Ranch, last hosted the race in 2011.

“Lance (Armstrong) sold the old property, so we ended up at a new venue, the Flat Creek Crossing Ranch,” said Arnold.

“We were able to convince the property owners to re-open it to mountain biking,” he added. “What it offers really is better trails, and then better logistics, especially for the teams.”

In addition to the series title, the Pro XCT provides American riders with valuable UCI points that can influence world-championship selection, and is well-attended by top pros.