Fayetteville built it. Now the town is waiting for pro cyclists and spectators from around the world to come.
What's happening: The city's new cyclo-cross course at Centennial Park is mostly complete (except for some amenities like the bathrooms). It will soon host its first major Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) events: a World Cup competition on Oct. 13 and the World Championship on Jan. 29.
Why it matters: The World Championship only has been held in the U.S. once before — in Louisville, Kentucky in 2013.
- Though it's a relatively small sport, holding the championship in the U.S. is the equivalent of moving baseball's World Series to Belgium for a year.
- As many as 6,000 European spectators and athletes are expected to attend in January.
Flashback: These events have been in the works for two and a half years, when UCI first announced Fayetteville as the host for the 2022 World Championship.
- The Walton Family Foundation (WFF) provided a 50-50 matching grant with the city to acquire land for the park in 2018.
How it works: Cyclo-cross is often compared to NASCAR. That's because riders can take pit stops, where they might trade out a bike that's too muddy.
- Races are about an hour, and the track is just under two miles.
- The average time for the first two laps determines how many laps that race will require.
- They race rain or shine. If the track is too muddy to ride, competitors hoist the bike and run.
- There are women's and men's elite and junior categories.
The big picture: The permanent features at the 228-acre Centennial Park will have a long-lasting impact on cycling in NWA, Brannon Pack, director of cycling tourism for Experience Fayetteville, told Axios. Those features include the cyclo-cross track and a separate mountain bike trail.
- Several features — like a double-horseshoe and pedestrian tunnels — were built to host cyclo-cross events, and there is no other course like it in the U.S.
- The park will be open to the public. Although, the city and organizers discourage people from riding it while the sod takes root.
What's next: Hazel Hernandez, vice president of marketing for Experience Fayetteville, told us there are conversations with UCI about future events, but no deals have been inked.
Bonus: What makes cyclo-cross worthy of your time
The intrigue: There are five things that set cyclo-cross apart from other cycling sports.
- Fans get a front-row seat. Spectators are encouraged to move around the course — even inside the track — while races are underway.
- The track is made of what is native to the host's geography. In Fayetteville's case, the track is grass. Yes, grass.
- The track is wide, so riders are often three or even five across. There's lots of passing and action. The turns aren't gentle — they're usually 90 degrees.
- It's a winter sport, so it's part of year-round training for some pro cyclists, including Tour de France competitors like Wout van Aert.
- Organizers and riders want it sloppy. The worse the conditions the better, so bring on rain or snow. And since Centennial Park is on Millsap Mountain, biting wind is almost guaranteed.
Note: Axios was given a first look and full tour of the soon-to-be-completed cyclo-cross course in Fayetteville. This is the first of three stories about the sport and what it means for Northwest Arkansas.
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