After years of preparation, the stage is set this weekend for Fayetteville’s Centennial Park to host the Cyclocross World Championships. If there were any question as to whether the city’s venue is world-class, this answers it. We have a purpose-built bike paradise perched atop Millsap Mountain in west Fayetteville.
For three days beginning Friday, the cycling world will be focused squarely on Fayetteville. A global audience of more than 60 million people in 75 countries is expected to tune in to the Union Cycliste Internationale World Championships. To put that in perspective, the TV audience for this cyclocross event is four times larger than the audience that tuned in to CBS to watch Alabama and Georgia play for the SEC football championship in December. It’s fair to say this is truly the Super Bowl of cyclocross.
So what, then, is cyclocross? It’s a sport that combines several disciplines of cycling that involves elements of road cycling, mountain biking and steeplechase. Competitors traverse wildly different terrain that demands sprinting, cornering and navigating obstacles. Athletes are often forced to dismount and haul their bikes to climb stairs and muddy embankments.
The course is a closed circuit, making it ideal for spectators. Fans can enjoy food and drink and meander around the course to take in the various parts of the race from start to finish.
Cyclocross is growing fast in the United States, but the sport is much more popular in Europe. This is only the second time in its 72-year history that the world championships will be held in the states. This year’s championships will see more than 300 athletes from 25 countries and is expected to draw 15,000 attendees.
For us locals, this is a unique, perhaps one-time opportunity to see the world’s best cyclocross competitors in our own backyard. But the real beauty of this event is the investment that it has already brought. Public and private investments in Centennial Park of more than $11 million have built roads, parking, restrooms and more than 10 miles of hiking and biking trails.
Being in Fayetteville for an event of this type reminds me of past visits to Salt Lake City, Utah, and Vancouver, British Columbia in Canada. Both cities hosted Winter Olympics and still benefit years later from the major investment the games brought through infrastructure projects that will support their economies for decades.
While this single event is no Winter Olympics, it’s still a big win for our region. After the races have been run, Northwest Arkansas residents will be left with a world-class cycling park we will be free to enjoy for generations, as well as the prestige and the infrastructure to host large events far into the future.