Course Preview: U.S. Cyclocross National Championships

Cross Feature Articles

With just 10 days until America’s top pro cyclocross racers descend on Boulder, Colorado, to decide who will carry the mantle of U.S. elite national champion in 2014, the course at Valmont Bike Park has taken shape.

Course designer and local ’cross honch Pete Webber calls it a true all-around test that includes everything from steep climbing, to tricky descending, to sand, stairs and a nasty little gully. All told, Webber says his team will use upwards of 2,500 plastic and wooden stakes to mark off the course.

Check out this video that includes some great footage of the track, plus more insight from Webber, who will be a contender for the master’s national title in the 40-44 race on Saturday. (Yours truly will be doing his best not to get lapped by Webber.)

I spun over to Valmont yesterday to get a first hand look at the nationals track. While much of it was roped off, it wasn’t hard to get a sense of where the key sections will be.

No. 1 on that list will be Pete’s Plunge, a nasty downhill, off-camber right-hand turn that comes immediately after the climb of the grueling 5280 Run Up stairs, which for sponsorship reasons is labeled the “Bonk Breaker Heart Breaker” on the map below.

Success here will require racers to delicately navigate this sweeping off-camber turn and keep speed in check so you don’t blow the exit, which is another right hander. In dry conditions, it will be tricky. If Ma Nature bestows us with a little moisture, cue up the Benny Hill Show theme song. It’ll be slip-and-slide chaos.

Here’s a look back up at Pete’s Plunge, a steep off-camber right turn that follows a long stair section.

Expect a few changes before race day, but this is generally what things will look like next week.

The north side of the course is also where all the climbing is. There’s a long steady grade coming out of the start/finish area, and then an ugly straight-up-the-fall-line section that leads straight into a small sandpit. My guess is many of the amateurs will have to run this section, especially in the early laps when giant fields are all still packed together.

On the opposite side of the course it’s all about power. There’s lots of time on flat, bumpy grass, plus a smaller set of stairs (labeled the Volkswagen Steps on the map). Keys here will be the large sand pit with a giant camel-hump in the middle. On the map the entry looks straight on, making it easy to hit it with speed. But during my ride-around yesterday, it appeared that the entrance will be preceded by a tight turn, which would slow things down considerably. The sand itself isn’t super fine, so it’s easier to maintain traction without bogging down.

There’s also a tricky down-up through a gully (you can see it near the end of the video). According to the course map, only the elites will have to deal with this, which is probably just as well.

Right now Boulder’s 10-day weather forecast is calling for a sunny and dry day with a high of 46. But as anyone who lives in Colorado knows, things could change between then and now.

If you can make it to Boulder, this is a not-to-be-missed event. Racing kicks off next Wednesday with a slate of non-championship tune-up races, plus a cycling industry showdown. Master’s national championship races get rolling Thursday, and continue through Saturday. Sunday brings a pair of men’s collegiate races, the junior men’s 17-18 race, and finally the big show, the women’s and men’s elites. You can find the full schedule at www.usacycling.org.

If you can’t make it to Boulder, USA Cycling will be live streaming all the action on Sunday. Learn more at www.usacycling.org/2014-cx-nationals-live-stream. And keep your eyes on RoadBikeReview.com all week for gear reports, racer interviews, photo galleries and more.

Finally, here’s a little more cyclocross stoke from the Valmont Bike Park. Most of this video was shot at last October’s UCI-rated Boulder Cup race, which served as a test event for the upcoming festivities. Hup, hup!

Course Preview: U.S. Cyclocross National Championships Gallery
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Reconn

Valmont Bike Park has been full of local riders all week, looking to get a bead on the Nationals course.
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Dropping In

Pete's Plunge will present a stiff technical challenge at next week's U.S. National Cyclocross Championships.
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The Crux

An uphill look at Pete's Plunge, the most technical section of the course.
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Steeper Than It Looks

Another look at the Pete's Plunge downhill.
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Exit Right

Carry too much speed out of Pete's Plunge and you'll have a hard time controlling momentum through the exit.
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Course Map

It's subject to change, but here is how things are shaping up.
About the author: Jason Sumner

An avid cyclist, Jason Sumner has been writing about two-wheeled pursuits of all kinds since 1999. He’s covered the Tour de France, the Olympic Games, and dozens of other international cycling events. He also likes to throw himself into the fray, penning first-person accounts of cycling adventures in British Columbia, Belgium, Brazil, Costa Rica, France, and Peru among many others. Sumner, who joined the RoadBikeReview.com / Mtbr.com staff in January, 2013, has also done extensive gear testing and edited a book on cycling tips. When not writing or riding, the native Coloradoan can be found enjoying the great outdoors with his wife Lisa.


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