The 2019 USA Cycling Cyclocross National Championships will take place at Lakewood’s Fort Steilacoom Park, race officials announced Friday.
The December event will be five or six days and include about 2,000 cyclists from around the country, said Dean Burke, directer of the Tacoma South Sound Sports Commission, the organization that led the bid.
Burke said initial estimates indicate the event could have a $1.5 million economic impact on Pierce County.
“This is huge,” he said. “We are talking riders from all 50 states. They are going to fill up” the area’s hotel rooms.
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Seattle-based MFG Cyclocross will promote the event.
“This is such a win for the region,” MFG co-founder Zac Daab said. “It’s a validation of a community that really supports cyclocross.”
The bike racing uses courses that consist of grass, dirt, obstacles, steep hills, pavement, sand and other surfaces. Courses are short (less than 2.5 miles), giving spectators many chances to see the action. Races typically are muddy, and cyclists often have to dismount and carry their bikes.
Top cyclocross races in the Northwest often draw more participants and spectators than road and mountain bike events.
The South Sound’s bid beat out 20 others, including groups in San Diego, Utah and Oregon. USA Cycling also announced Friday that Louisville, Kentucky, will host the 2018 championships.
“The Cyclocross National Championships are one of our most prestigious and well attended events and we are excited to partner with two very strong cycling communities,” Micah Rice, USA Cycling’s vice president of National Events, said in a statement.
“Both areas are hotbeds for cyclocross and have the passionate grass-roots racing community, proven event promoters and supportive civic leadership to ensure strong, successful events.”
Burke calls Fort Steilacoom Park “the Wrigley Field of cyclocross,” and it has a strong reputation among cyclocross athletes.
In recent years the South Sound has welcomed the sport with open arms.
Washington’s two largest race series (Cross Revolution and MFG) are based in Seattle but last year held four of their 12 races in Pierce County. In 2014, the South Sound rescued a canceled Oregon event by scrambling to stage the international races at Spanaway’s Marymount Event Center and Fort Steilacoom Park. And in 2015, Fort Steilacoom hosted two days of International Cycling Union racing that included Olympic athletes.
While most Northwest races aren’t USA Cycling sanctioned events, a new USA Cycling series will debut later this year and include South Sound races, Daab said. This will give local riders more opportunities to qualify for nationals.
Officials from USA Cycling, USA Track and Field, Burke and Anderson toured Fort Steilacoom Park on Oct. 19 while hundreds of high schoolers competed in the South Puget Sound League cross country championships.
USA Track and Field was sizing up the park as a potential venue for a future cross country championships. The 2018 event was awarded to Reno, Nevada, but Burke says the commission will keep trying to land the event.
Most of the specific details for the Lakewood championships are yet to be determined, but Burke said the event will conclude Dec. 15, 2019.
Previously, USA Cyclocross has held the championship in January, but feedback from participants motivated them to switch to December starting in 2018. There will be two championships in 2018: the 2017 championship in January in Reno and Louisville’s 2018 event in December.
USA Cycling told Tacoma South Sound Sports Commission it seemed to understand the niche sport better than other bidders. It might have helped that Burke is a former cyclocross racer.
“There is no way we were going to the city of Seattle with this,” Daab said of the idea for the bid. “Dean is an advocate. He forged the relationships that made this possible.”
Daab and Burke knew for about a month they’d won the bid, but USA Cycling asked them to keep it secret until Friday.
“The cyclocross championship is the most contested bid for bicycle racing in the U.S.,” Burke said. “The last time the event was in the Puget Sound area — the 1990s — it was only a small fraction of the size it is now.”
The Seattle area hosted four nationals from 1987 to 1996, but Pierce County has never staged the event.
“Alongside all of our state and regional cyclocross partners, we have been preparing for this for a long time,” Burke said. “The city of Lakewood has been a star for openly embracing cyclocross the way they have. Fort Steilacoom Park is an iconic venue for the sport in the Pacific Northwest."
Mayor Don Anderson said, “I can assure you USA Cycling will have Lakewood’s support, including that of our Parks and Recreation staff, which has the expertise to support such an event.
“We will do everything we can to make the 2019 USA Cycling Cyclocross National Championships a great event.”