US Cup returns to Fayetteville with a techier course and a stacked start list

Kate Courtney, Christopher Blevins, Haley Batten, and Riley Amos headline the XC MTB races in northwest Arkansas

Photo: Jason Hanson@BentonvilleMTB

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Professional cross-country mountain bikers from North America don’t have many opportunities to race World Cup or Olympic-style events on this side of the pond.

The US Cup in Fayetteville, Arkansas wants to change that.

Related: Erin Huck and Keegan Swenson dominate final weekend of U.S. Pro Cup

This week, for the second year in a row, the long weekend of MTB racing returns to Centennial Park, the same venue that hosted last year’s World Cup and ‘cross world champs. From Wednesday to Friday, the venue will host UCI elite and junior XCO and short track (XCC racing), as well as amateur events.

us pro cup
Christopher Blevins and Keegan Swenson sprint it out at the 2021 US Cup. (Photo: US Cup)

The course at Centennial Park

Centennial Park debuted in a big way in 2021, hosting the first US Cup and also the UCI cyclocross events. The venue was built from the ground up with world-class status — in multiple disciplines — in mind. The cross-country course in particular was designed to mimic a World Cup or Olympic XCO course.

Three years ago, longtime event promoter Ty Kady was brought on in the midst of the ongoing trail-building heyday in northwest Arkansas to bring a bit of international XCO to the Ozarks.

And, rather than reinvent the wheel entirely, Kady and the army of trail designers and builders at his disposal adopted some of the best features from current courses around the world.

“Like we have a rock drop based off La Beatrice at Mont-Sainte-Anne,” Kady told VeloNews. “We recreated that rock drop but with our own little flair. We recreated the Wine Barrel from Stellenbosch [South Africa] with rock berms instead of wood features. We’ve tried to bring the best features from around the globe to this course.”

Kady has been able to bring the best of the world to northwest Arkansas due to the unusual number of resources and dollars at his disposal. As is well-known by now, the boom in cycling everything — from infrastructure to racing to industry — in and around Bentonville and Fayetteville owes in large part to the Walton Family Foundation and its various arms (the Ozark Foundation, for example).

This has given Kady an advantage that other XC course directors haven’t had.

“Normally in cross-country racing, we’re dealt with the cards that we’re given – whether it’s a ski resort back east or something in Colorado. Here, these guys built it from the ground up. We don’t have something like this in the U.S. really, that’s purpose-built with so much thought into it.”

Another benefit to Walton dollars? Kady can pivot on a dime.

In less than a year since the first US Cup was held at Centennial Park, trail builders have already made some significant changes to the course.

“After last year’s feedback, we heard it was a little too synthetic, a little too BMX’y, if that’s a word,” Kady said. “We wanted to add some more of that raw stuff that you’d see in Brazil or Nové Město. So we put in some new raw, off-camber, more traditional mountain bike terrain. Even if there’s no tricks or no features, it’s just the technicality of the terrain that’s gonna make it hard.”

This year’s US Cup XCO course is a 4.2km loop that the elites will race for between 1:20 and 1:30, while juniors will compete for one hour to 1:15.

Pro mountain biker Haley Batten will be at the start of the US Cup after a huge victory at the Cape Epic stage race last month. Batten has been racing on the World Cup circuit for years and had a particularly impressive 2021 season.

However, she is one of many American XC racers who has experienced first-hand the disparity in the caliber of racing at home versus what happens at a European World Cup, especially in regards to the courses. Making the domestic courses more akin to what riders will find in Europe — or at an Olympic venue — would help elevate the levels of racing, she said.

“It is really important that the US begins to prepare the next generations of World Cup XCO athletes for the demands of those courses,” Batten told VeloNews. “If we can normalize that level of technicality we will be able to level up as a nation on the international circuit. I think the mindset and passion behind the Fayetteville US Cup is absolutely taking us in the right direction. It has it all, with lots of rocks, drops, and jumps, and it’s a lot of fun to ride, too.”

Kady said that the course at Centennial Park is a World Cup course in waiting and again, the money and manpower are there to make that a reality should the call come. Until then, the US Cup should be an incredible event for spectators who want to see some of the world’s best smash over rock gardens and zoom up steep climbs. Amateurs can race on Saturday and Sunday, with the elites and juniors racing XCO on Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday, and short track on Friday. The series of races will be streamed live on FloBikes April 20-24.

Batten will be joined by 45 other elite women in the XCO race on Wednesday, including former world champ Kate Courtney, U23 national champ Savilia Blunk, national champion Alexis Skarda, Gwendalyn Gibson, Sofia Gomez Villafañe, Kelsey Urban, and Hannah Otto.

The men’s pro field is stacked with 100 riders and headlined by short track world champ Christopher Blevins. Other riders to watch include U23 national champ Riley Amos, Giant Factory teammates LukeVrouwenvelder and Stephan Davoust, and Tobin Ortenblad and Andrew L’Esperance, both off of stellar performances at Sea Otter.

Six countries will be represented at the event. The schedule of events can be found here.

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