The word on the street is that the US is probably going to move its National Championship races to the first week of January to align with the rest of the world. The plan is that KC Nationals ’08 would proceed as scheduled and the next Nationals racing would be in January of 2010. I believe the rationale for the change is to bolster the appearance that US ‘cross is on par with European cross. Personally, I think the change is a bad idea, at least for the present.
Currently the US cyclocross calendar stretches from September through December with the bulk of the races taking place in October and November. In many areas of the country, it’s feasible to assemble a schedule of ten to twenty races each season over about three months of racing without extensive travel. Typically there are some early season races in September with the traditional season openers occurring on the last weekend of September. Most of the big races have been contested by the weekend prior to nationals with a few races scattered through the holidays. After the National Championship races, the big guns (men and women elites, U23, and juniors) head over to Europe for several weeks of serious racing to prepare for the World Championships in January.
If the US National Championships are moved to the first week of January, what will most likely happen is that the domestic cyclocross season will shift several weeks later in the year. The prestigious regional series will want to offer races up until Nationals but I doubt the promoters will find additional time, energy, and resources to add two to four more races to the end of their traditional schedule. The obvious choice for them will be to start their racing schedule later in the season. In order for the season to run from late August through the first of January, some new race promoters will have to step up and fill the gap. So what’s the problem with more races covering a longer period of time? I think people will get racing fatigue and the rapid ride in popularity will certainly crest and perhaps head downward.
Even if intrepid promoters step up to offer new early season races, it’s going to take a couple of seasons to fill in the calendar. The early season races are the driest and warmest. Thus, they are very appealing to folks just trying out the sport. By the time the crappy weather rolls around, a bunch of the first timers are converts and will race in anything. However, not as many first time racers are going to turn out for cold and wet conditions — the kinds of conditions found by the later part of October and the time of the season where the big series will be kicking off under the new plan.
This year, the USGP had a compressed schedule that saw all the races contested within five weeks and the final date was two weeks prior to Nationals. In order to preserve the same sort of schedule, the first date would be in the middle of November and the final weekend is going to compete with Christmas travel. The USGP series has been great for building national interest in cyclocross and has attracted the best talent in North America. Delaying the start until the later half of the season or extending the schedule will detract from its preeminent place on the schedule. Such a change might affect sponsor dollars.
Speaking of sponsor dollars, either promoters will have to find more sponsors or the pool of money will have to stretch over a larger number of races. If races can’t attract sponsorship, then they can’t remain viable year after year. Generally, one-off races (those not on the calendar from season to season) don’t attract as many racers and are consequently more likely to not be around for the next season, a definite Catch-22.
Lastly, by moving the National Championships to January, the US elite racers don’t have that several week window where they can travel to Europe to race in preparation for Worlds. Sure, they can still go to Europe to race but the logistics get trickier. In order to spend several weeks racing in Europe, US riders would have to travel to Europe, return to the US for Nationals, the return to Europe to compete at Worlds. That means purchasing two round trip tickets. Even scheduling a week or two to race in Europe will be problematic since important series dates, including the USGP, may interfere.
I think you can say goodbye to the cross camp if the US moves Nationals to January. It’s going to be difficult for the junior and U23 Worlds team members to attend camp, return to the US for Nationals, then head back to Europe for Worlds. And there would be fewer senior racers at camp to mentor the younger riders.
Count me in to list of people opposed to moving US Nationals to January.