Moving a CX World Cup out of Europe, particularly northern Europe, is a big deal. Northern Europe OWNS cyclocross, after all. Well, until now, that is.
Ten years ago, a rabid cyclocross fan, Dr. John Meehan, thought it’d be cool to host a cyclocross race on the cross country course at the University of Iowa, where he worked as a surgeon. (Quite an accomplished surgeon, leading the world in pediatric robotic surgery practices).
As a fan of cyclocross, he had to either get to Europe to watch the biggest races or see the best racers and he thought “Hey, we could do this. (bring a World Cup to Iowa City)” So, he did. It took 10 years, an armored car full of money and a whole state of volunteers, but he did it. On Sept. 24, 2016, the world came to Iowa City to race the UCI Telnet Jingle Cross World Cup. One of only nine in the world this year.
Then, it rained. Torrential rains. Cedar Rapids-flooding type of rains. And everyone in Iowa City smiled. (Except, maybe, the bike mechanics who try to keep the racers bikes working through hell and high water).
Three days of racing were held at the Johnson County Fairgrounds. On Friday, amateurs and age-group cyclists tackled the fresh mud, working it into a rich, deep, thick peanut butter for the elite professional races late in the evening. British national champion Helen Wyman and German Marcel Meisen won the women’s and men’s races in front of thousands of mud-hungry, beer-happy fans who defended upon Iowa City from across the globe to watch the best in the world tackle the infamous Mount Krumpit and good old Iowa mud.
On Saturday, the sun broke free of its grey blanket and temperatures rose into the 80’s as riders from France, Belgium, Italy, Argentina, Canada and even Australia took their final practice laps on the hilly, muddy course.
Meanwhile fans spent the morning and early afternoon riding through picturesque eastern Iowa, trying to ride up Mount Krumpit or riding in the Build-A-Bear kids race with the Grinch himself!
Mid-afternoon, the elite women lined up – the front row sounded like an international roll-call: French, Belgian, Italian riders, as well as a couple of Americans. Iowa’s own Amanda Miller (Burlington), took her spot in row two. In a moment, they were off for a 40-minute lung-busting, leg (and bike) breaking race through the Johnson County fairgrounds. Mud, sand and no fewer than three times up Mount Krumpit on each lap.
Making her home state proud, Miller rode near the front, friends and family going crazy as she ran up through the crowds on Mount Krumpit and took the lead through a long, sandy stretch.
Making all of the U.S.A. proud, American Katie Compton finished first, and was joined on the podium by fellow American Kaitlin Antonneau, and just behind another American, Ellen Noble in fifth. Amanda Miller hung on to finish in tenth. Great result for the U.S.
In the men’s race the world champion Wout Van Aert did what world champions do – find a way to win. After some early stumbles, bumbles and crumbles, he found himself far behind the leaders. And the leaders? All pretty much from Belgium. Except for that one dude from the Netherlands. And, eventually, that red-headed guy from the U.S., Stephen Hyde.
While Wout found a way to win (by breaking the legs of every competitor out there and putting nearly a minute on the second placed guy), Hyde turned himself inside out to maintain contact with the lead group and found himself in a sprint dual to the finish with Toon Aerts (yes, Belgium), finishing tenth – a great finish for the American rider.
So the racing was exciting and some Americans did well, but who cares if that was in Iowa City, Louisville, Kentucky, Portland, Oregon or Augusta, Maine?
Well, we do. Or should anyway.
The fact that a doctor from Iowa City could dream this big – big enough to shift a world paradigm – keep the dream alive, invite others to share his dream and then make it all happen – is a great lesson for all of us living between two rivers.
This state has proven time and time again that it’s worthy of greatness, not just flyoverness: The richest triathlon in the world, The world renown Drake Relays, The incomparable Bix 7. And, of course, that little ride across the state in July.
When Iowans put their heads together, great things happen. World Cups happen. Dream big Iowa. They will come.
You know we can do it.*
*What is “it”? That’s up to you to decide!