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IOWA CITY — The grassy hillside of Mount Krumpit came alive last fall as cowbells clanked, thousands of fans jeered and elite cyclists grinded up the slope.
Music thumped in the background and beer flowed. The scene from last September’s UCI Cyclocross World Cup event could be mistaken for a course in northern Europe where cyclocross is king, one observer described.
“We really created a course and an experience that if you just blinked and transplanted someone there, they wouldn’t realize if they were in Iowa or Belgium,” said Josh Schamberger, an event organizer, cyclist and president of the Iowa City/Coralville Area Convention & Visitors Bureau.
The setting was in Iowa City then and will be again this weekend as Iowa City prepares to host the Telnet UCI World Cup for the second year in a row. The World Cup is part of the three-day Jingle Cross festival this Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the Johnson County Fairgrounds.
Jingle Cross traditionally was held in the winter and invoked a Grinch Who Stole Christmas theme, but has been moved to September to accommodate the World Cup circuit season. Iowa City and Waterloo, Wis., are the only two U.S. locations.
“We’ve always been a Christmas race around Christmastime,” said race director John Meehan, a pediatric surgeon who founded Jingle Cross in 2004. “We moved it to September to be a World Cup site. Only we kept the name and we kept the theme.”
Like the Olympics
Iowa City is not expected to be an annual tour stop, although it could land the World Cup again at some point, Meehan said.
“It’s kind of like the Olympic Games,” he said. “You’re not going to get it every year, so you need to come out when it is here.”
More international racers are expected to compete this year compared to last when the Iowa City course was less known, and this includes champions Wout van Aert, of Belgium, and Sanne Cant, of Belgium, on the women’s side.
“Wout loved it,” Meehan said noting van Aert overcame mechanical problems early in the 2016 race to win by a wide margin in the end. “He thought it was a really hard course. He thought it was one of the best in the world.”
Women’s and men’s World Cup races are on Sunday at 2 p.m. and 3:30 p.m., respectively. Tickets cost $5 or are free with a ticket stub from the Iowa-North Texas football game at Kinnick Stadium at 2:30 p.m., Saturday.
The rest of the festival is free to enter.
Amateur races will be held throughout the day beginning at 11:15 a.m. Friday and continuing on Saturday. Professional races — a tier down from World Cup — will be held on Friday and Saturday nights under Musco lighting.
Women will race at 7:30 p.m. each night (C1 on Friday, C2 on Saturday). Men will race at 8:45 p.m. each night (C1 on Friday, C2 on Saturday).
“World Cup is like the World Series,” Meehan explained. “It’s the biggest thing in the world of cyclocross. C1 on Friday night is like a major league playoff game. These are still the best athletes, but there’s not quite as much up for grabs. C2 is like a regular season professional game.”
In all, the weekend will feature 65 races with more than 2,000 competitors, live music, food and beer gardens. Racers will tackle a grueling course through the woods and sand, up the hill dubbed Mount Krumpit and over hurdles.
On Sunday, spectators with bikes can test themselves in a one lap time trial at 10 a.m., kids can race the Grinch at 11:45 a.m. and the Single-Speed Speedo Spectacular is scheduled for 12:15 p.m.
“It started as a joke,” Meehan said. “We challenged riders to wear Speedos in the middle of winter. It increased to 20 girls and 20 guys, and turned out to be a big costume contest.”
Other highlights include the Clif-Jingle Cross Gravel Grinder and Road Fondo at 7:30 a.m., Sunday. Later in the day, a VIP ticket area ($135 per ticket) will include premium seating for the World Cup race, a catered meal by Jack Piper of Jimmy Jack’s and Basta restaurants and Deschutes Brewery beer and wine.
Ryan Jacobsen, 41, of Iowa City, has spent hours at the fairgrounds pounding stakes into the ground, marking the course boundaries, mapping out parking and doing other things to get ready.
He is among the 500-plus volunteers helping bring the event to life, and also among the cyclocross racers registered to participate. Many of the participants, particularly local ones, also volunteer.
“The cycling community is a tight-knit community,” he said. “When we are racing and competing with each other, a natural progression was to get involved. There’s a lot of pride in the quality of the event. As it has grown the last 10 years from local then regional and now an international event, it’s widely regarded as one of best courses in the sport.”
Organizers still are seeking volunteers to help host the event. Information about volunteer opportunities and registration are available by selecting “volunteer” at unitedwayjwc.org, the website of the United Way of Johnson and Washington Counties, or those interested may contact Monica Nieves at (319) 337-6592 or Wendy Nolan at (319) 338-7823.
If you go
What: Jingle Cross Festival and UCI Cyclocross World Cup featuring amateur and professional bike races, music, food and Gears and Beers fest by Deschutes Brewery.
When: Friday from 11:15 a.m. until the end of the women’s and men’s C1 professional races at 7:30 p.m. and 8:45 p.m., respectively.
Saturday from 8 a.m. until the end of the women’s and men’s C2 professional races at 7:30 p.m. and 8:45 p.m., respectively.
Sunday from 10 a.m. until the end of the women’s and men’s World Cup professional races at 2 p.m. and 3:30 p.m., respectively. An after party follows at Big Grove Brewery and Taproom, 1225 S. Gilbert St. in Iowa City.
Where: Johnson County Fairgrounds, 3109 Old Hwy 218 S
Cost: Entrance to the event is free except the men’s and women’s World Cup races on Sunday afternoon. World Cup tickets cost $5 and can be purchased at the event or Geoff’s Bike and Ski, 816 S. Gilbert St. in Iowa City; World of Bikes, 723 S. Gilbert St. in Iowa City; or Sugar Bottom Bikes, 325 N. Dubuque St. in North Liberty. $135 VIP tickets also are available.
Info: More information including a complete schedule, online ticket purchases and racer registration is available at JingleCross2.com.
l Comments: (319) 339-3177; email@example.com