City Kiboshes Cycle Championship Because of Rain
Update: Did Lance Armstrong save the day?
By Richard Whittaker,
11:10AM, Sun. Jan. 11, 2015
Remember when the City of Austin nixed New Year's Eve? In another one for the "You know it's cold and wet in Winter, right?" files, this morning the city cancelled the 2015 USA Cycling Cyclo-cross National Championships, scheduled for Zilker Park. They then quickly backpedaled and rescheduled for Monday.
This is the first time since 1978 that the four day event has been held in Austin. Normally, the race takes place in more historically rugged locations, such as Oregon, Wisconsin, Illinois and, as last year, Boulder, Colorado. The course, if the races had continued today, would have run from the south side of Zilker park, around William Barton Drive, up to Barton Springs Drive, and back around to Wlliam Barton. The whole point of cyclecross is to create a challenging environment, and analysts at Podiumcafe.com were already predicting how the rains would affect the course, and change the front runners.
What they didn't predict was that the city of Austin would cancel the event after the last couple of days of light rain, due to concerns over damage to roots and turf.
How excessive was the rain? According to the Lower Colorado River Authority (as reported by KXAN), between 0.71 and 0.83 inches of rain fell at their three monitoring stations along Lake Austin between 11am on Jan. 10 and 11am Jan 11.
The event was approved by the Parks and Recreation Department, but only after the Zilker Neighborhood Association gave it the nod. However, some Zilker-area residents had already complained that the event would cause damage to the roots of heritage trees, with concerns that the event should never have been scheduled in Zilker. Just yesterday, Michael Fossum, executive director of the Austin Heritage Tree Foundation, sent a letter to the new City Council, arguing that it should have been held in Walnut Creek Metro Park instead.
The final word came down this morning, very much at the last minute, and officials started dismantling the site. However, someone clearly explained to the city that you don't just cancel a national-level sporting event, especially one that is supposed to take place in muddy conditions. Cue some quick scrambling and an embarrassed rescheduling by the city, as USA Cycling, the official organizing body, Tweeted that the event has been postponed until midday on Monday.
UPDATE: Racing will resume tomorrow at noon local. All categories. Details to come.— USA Cycling (@usacycling) January 11, 2015
But the damage had already been done. Unsurprisingly, there was an immediate outpouring of anger from cyclists and spectators who had traveled from across the nation to take part in and celebrate their favorite sport.
@AustinCityParks you bill yourselves as a progressive, bike friendly city. It seems to most that is not the case.— Erik Hamilton (@ErikHamilton) January 11, 2015
Hey Texas, In light of recent snow in the Colorado mountains, we have cancelled all skiing. Just don't want you to waste a trip #cxnats— Nick Howe (@ElevationCycles) January 11, 2015
As could easily be forecast, people are already contrasting the event's cancellation with the history of ACL mudbaths.
Offsetting the fury has been some wry humor.
#cxnats cacelled due to mud! USA, USA!!!— Bike Snob NYC (@bikesnobnyc) January 11, 2015
In other cycling news, the Tour de France has been canceled due to too much France. #cxnats— Spencer Olinek (@SpencerOlinek) January 11, 2015
And as our own veteran photographer and experienced cyclist Sandy Carson put it so adroitly:
According to multiple reports, Austin Police Department was not allowing people to even stay long enough to secure their property already on the site, which could add to the long list of potential legal wranglings the city may face.
All of which raises the question of why the city would book a crosscountry cycling event in January if they weren't ready for it? Did they cancel because of the weather, or because of the Zilker neighborhood complaints about tree damage? The other big question, of course, is how long can Austin keep being surprised that there is bad weather in winter? And, with the event retimed (so many competitors and spectators may have to miss it) but not cancelled or relocated (as a subset of Zilker neighborhood residents seem to want), is anyone happy with the outcome?
Oh, yeah, and while we're at it, when is this mythical rescheduled New Year's Eve happening?
UPDATE 1:11pm USA Cycling has released an updated schedule, with registration beginning at 10am at the Bicycle Sport Shop on South Lamar, and races running 12:30-5:2-5pm, with the awards ceremony at 5:30pm.
The city has also more fully explained the delay, and said the route will change to avoid exposed roots. "Over the remaining day, Park maintenance and Park forestry staff will guide USA Cycling in making necessary course modifications to protect Zilker Park and heritage trees. USA Cycling is committed to restoring Zilker Park."
In an interesting wrinkle, it seems that former Austin hero Lance Armstrong may have played a role in getting the races rescheduled, rather than cancelled.