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Not Quite a Wash-Out 

Rain and local controversy threaten national cyclocross races

Cyclocross is a messy sport, one in which riders seem to thrive on dust and dirt, and when it rains, mud and slop. But there is apparently a limit to just how messy a race can be.

Last week, the annual Cyclocross National Championships were scheduled to be held in Zilker City Park in Austin, Texas, over five days. But on the second day of racing, a half-hour before the women's 30-34-year-old race started, rain turned the course into a muddy slip-and-slide. And, by Sunday, the final day of the event and the day when the bulk of junior races were scheduled, the Austin Parks & Recreation Department stepped in and canceled the races. It was a stunning and frustrating announcement.

"We dialed in tire pressure, had our spare equipment all ready to go and the riders were doing their warm-ups when people started spreading the word that the Parks and Rec District was stopping the event and closing the park," explained Bill Warburton, cycling director at the Bend Endurance Academy, who had traveled with a group of nine eager local junior riders and their parents for the national championships.

Apparently, though, more than the weather was to blame. According to local news reports, the Austin Heritage Tree Foundation had filed complaints and requests for injunctions with the City and Parks and Recreation that, with the soft, muddy conditions, the cyclocross races were packing down soil and damaging tree roots—and by Sunday morning, those requests to shut down the races were granted. The City went so far as to dispatch police officers to the park to turn away spectators and threaten any riders on the course that they faced arrest.

Over the course of Sunday, host organization USA Cycling responded by saying they had $100,000 set aside to repair any damage, and had all the appropriate permits—and re-scheduled Sunday's races for the following day. But most of the Oregon riders, coaches and parents were scheduled to fly back home on Sunday, so it presented a troubling proposition: The whole trip may have been, well, a wash-out. Many teams did pack up and leave.

But Warburton explained to the Source that Alaska Airlines generously worked with the Oregon corps of riders, and most were able to adjust flight plans to extend their stay. By Monday, the course and controversy had dried up enough for the junior races to go forward.

Unfortunately, the slightly dried-up course was nearly unrideable, with thick and sticky mud. Many riders ended up running the majority of the course either because it was too slick to ride, or their bikes became jammed. Henry Jones, an eighth grader at Seven Peaks Middle School, explained, "My wheels wouldn't even spin. I had to run pretty much everything."

Even so, Bend junior riders did salvage some races, including a strong sixth place finish in the girls' 17-18 category by Sophie Russenberger, a senior at Summit High School, and a third place finish in the boys' 17-18 category by Cameron Beard, in what his coach described as a "determined" ride.

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