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Why Did Austin Postpone the Cyclocross Championships?

Screen shot from Cyclocross Magazine YouTube video
Just after the start of one of the event's races at Zilker Park.

What was supposed to be a run-of-the-mill extreme national outdoor cycling event on Sunday turned into a minor dust-up when the city of Austin postponed the 2015 USA Cycling Cyclocross National Championships due to inclement conditions.

About an inch of rain over the weekend muddied up Zilker Park, causing the Austin Parks & Recreation Department to postpone the event in an effort to dampen the race's impact on the root systems of 20 Zilker Park trees. After some backpedaling – and a course redesign – the event kicked off just after noon today.

Still, the city's initial decision was met with some derision from Cyclocross competitors and fans, who wondered via Twitter whether the event was "too messy for Texas."

"It was actually embarrassing, this is a sport heavily rooted in European tradition, and the races are supposed to be extremely muddy," said Andrew Reimann, who's covering the event for Cyclocross Magazine. "For Austin to say it’s too muddy for a race, it’s almost like canceling a baseball event because there is beer and hot dogs in the stadium."

Cyclocross, as Reimann explained, is a bicycle race in which competitors race on what look like road bikes, but actually, most of the race takes place off-road, in grass, mud, or gravel. Racers try to complete as many short laps, of about 1.5 or 2 miles each, in the allotted 45-minute or 1-hour time period as possible.

Sunday's event met with pushback from Austin's Heritage Tree Foundation, which alerted its followers to a "Tree 911" because of the potential tree root damage that could be caused by the Cyclocrossers riding in the wet soil over the roots of protected trees. In a statement released on its website, the foundation declared that the "race is totally inappropriate for Zilker Park, the jewel of Austin, and should have never been allowed."

The foundation contended the track was placed too close to the trees themselves. And the races, held over a span of five days, had already done damage to the roots of certain old trees by last Thursday. The damage will require repairs, the foundation said on its website.

Between Sunday and Monday, the Parks Department and Forestry Service helped guide USA Cycling, the group running the event, in making "necessary course modifications to protect Zilker Park and heritage trees," the Parks & Recreation Department said in a statement. 

"Exposed irrigation lines and tree roots necessitated the event being canceled for the day to work with the various organizations on altering the course and applying mulch to the muddier areas and exposed irrigation lines and tree roots," said Shelley Parks, who works for the Parks Department. "The postponement was not an ideal solution as we recognize that people came from across the nation for this championship event."

Parks said that a detailed assessment of the event's effects on the park and trees will take place after the event has passed.

Reimann arrived at the park this morning around 10:30 a.m., and he said that "the course has dried out a little bit since Sunday." Races take place all afternoon today. Austin has hosted this event once before, in 1976.

Below, watch the start of one of this year's races at Zilker Park. Cyclocross Magazine shot the video:

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