Millions of global spectators will tune into the OZCX UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup in Fayetteville from Friday through Sunday.
Cyclo-cross is a blend of road cycling, mountain biking and steeplechase. Athletes compete in a short, spectator-friendly course in which they overcome different obstacles, said Brannon Pack, director of cycling tourism in Fayetteville.
“They have to do stairs or barriers that require them to get off their bikes and run over these features,” Pack said. “A lot of times there's sand pits. It's a variety of challenging features throughout a short course that makes it a unique cycling discipline.”
Cyclo-cross is an audience-engaging sport by design, with multiple-lap races that last about an hour. In one race, attendees can follow the athletes around to take in all the action along the unique race courses, Pack said.
The event includes both amateur and professional races. In the professional races, national, world-class and Olympic athletes from over 25 countries will be competing during the three-day event, Pack said.
The championships will be televised to over 75 countries, with a global audience of over 50 million. It will be an opportunity for UA students and Northwest Arkansas residents to see high-caliber athletes compete while getting right next to the action.
Sam Nepomuceno, a recent UA graduate, said that although he has never been to a cycling event like this one before, he is looking forward to the new experience.
The race will be held at Fayetteville’s Centennial Park, just across the interstate from campus. The venue is built for cycling, with both an Olympic-style mountain bike race course and a cyclo-cross race course.
The championship course will be just under 2 miles in length, starting in traditional Ozark fashion at the top of a mountain. Eventually, the course will drop down into the woods on Millsap Mountain before it reaches a powerline climb, Pack said.
One major obstacle includes a series of stairs, where athletes must dismount and climb up 38 steps with their bikes over their shoulders, Pack said. At the top of the mountain, the athletes will jump back on their bikes and ride down a treacherous dropoff.
The university is sponsoring the non-profit event, and all donations will go toward the Arkansas Children's Northwest Hospital. The event is completely student-friendly, with free parking, shuttles and admission. Attendees can park at Baum-Walker Stadium. The free shuttle service will take attendees on a 2-mile drive to Centennial Park.
“One thing that is unique about this event is that it's a cause event itself,” Pack said. “The foundation putting these events on is the Ozark Outdoor Foundation. Its mission is to elevate these community opportunities and at the same time identify partners to raise meaningful funds for those in Northwest Arkansas.”
The university’s cycling club will host a fundraiser for the event, running a bike valet all three days.
“There's a ton of bikes there, so a key part of this event is keeping the bikes managed and tucked away so they aren't lying all over the place,” cycling club president Gavin Williams said.
The championships will continue rain or shine. One unique aspect about cyclo-cross is that no matter the weather or conditions, events will still take place. In fact, extreme weather conditions can make the sport even more enjoyable.
“The fans favor the rain because then you get these wildly muddy conditions that just make it much more spectator friendly, and that much more challenging for the athletes themselves,” Pack said.
Many vendors will be available as well, including cycling and outdoor retailers. The entire expo has also been turned into a trick-or-treat venue for kids, Pack said.
In addition to vendors, activities have been planned with the UA marching band and spirit squad.
Williams attended the event last year and described the atmosphere as lively with lots of cheering.
“Last year was a ton of fun,” Williams said. “We just watched the men's elite. We were set up on a slick corner and saw a couple of people go down. We were just having a good time.”