People & Places

Cyclocross fans praise 'super hard' course: World Cup races in Iowa City draw fans, big TV audience

Spectators look down from the top of the course as they watch the Sugar Bottom Bikes Master Men 45-49 and MNick’s Cycle and FIness Master Men 50-54 cyclocross races at Jingle Cross at the Johnson County Fairgrounds in Iowa City on Friday, September 15, 2017. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Spectators look down from the top of the course as they watch the Sugar Bottom Bikes Master Men 45-49 and MNick’s Cycle and FIness Master Men 50-54 cyclocross races at Jingle Cross at the Johnson County Fairgrounds in Iowa City on Friday, September 15, 2017. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
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IOWA CITY — The annual Jingle Cross cyclocross race in Iowa City has come a long way since its inception in 2004.

Founded by John Meehan, a pediatric surgeon, the Christmas-themed bike race was originally hosted at a cross county course and featured Meehan and about 50 to 60 of his friends, he said.

“It was a one-day event,” said Meehan, the Jingle Cross race director. “One race. That was it.”

Now hosted at the Johnson County Fairgrounds and featuring Mount Krumpit, a towering hill infamous to those who have ridden it, Jingle Cross has become a three-day event and — for the second year in a row — is home to the Telnet UCI World Cup. The event kicked off Friday with amateur races and will continue through the weekend, culminating Sunday with the women’s and men’s World Cup races.

“It’s incredible,” Meehan said of the event’s growth in both size and notoriety. “It’s a great feeling.”

Some 1,600 riders are expected to participate in the weekend races, including cyclocross world champion Wout van Aert — who competed in and won last year’s event in Iowa City.

The World Cup will be televised in more than 20 counties, and 8 million to 10 million people are expected to tune in across the globe, Meehan said.

“This is Game 1 of the World Series,” he said.

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The race is the result of months of planning and made possible by a small army of roughly 350 volunteers, said Josh Schamberger, an event organizer, cyclist and president of the Iowa City/Coralville Area Convention & Visitors Bureau. Schamberger has been affiliated with the event for four years and was instrumental in bringing the World Cup to Iowa City.

Schamberger said he has enjoyed seeing Jingle Cross grow to an international event and is not surprised to see Iowans embrace cycling as a sport.

He added hopes that this year’s Jingle Cross ends like last year’s, with professional racers spreading the word about Iowa City’s challenging and world-class course.

“They’ll tell everybody again, ‘This is one of the best and hardest courses they’ve ever raced,’” Schamberger said.

Many racers would agree with Schamberger’s assessment of the course.

Kathleen Porter, of Cedar Falls, has competed in the Jingle Cross almost every year since 2008. Of the cyclocross events she has competed in across Iowa, she said Jingle Cross stands out.

“This is the hardest,” she said, noting that adds to the fun. “This is super hard.”

Also racing Friday for the first time was Dave Ostrem of Cedar Falls.

“My goal is to survive it, stay on two wheels,” he said.

Also racing this weekend is Rick Ortenblad, of Santa Cruz, Calif. Ortenblad said he decided to fly out to the race when his cyclocross team offered to pay his entry fee. Ortenblad’s son also is racing this weekend.

Ortenblad said he was able to check out the course before his race. Like many others, he said he was impressed with the course’s difficulty level.

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“It’s a World Cup course, so it should be tough,” he said. “California courses are not this hard. They’re hard, but this is extra hard.”

Meehan, who is now a pediatric surgeon at Seattle Children’s Hospital, said his friends in Washington ask him why he hasn’t moved the race to Seattle. Meehan points to the support and volunteers in Iowa City.

“I love Iowa,” he said. “That’s why I come back.”

For a schedule of weekend events, go to JingleCross2.com

l Comments: (319) 398-8238; lee.hermiston@thegazette.com

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