My motto for World Cups has been “Always go to the World Cups. You never know when they will stop coming over to the States.”

The same can be said when the world championships come to the U.S. And it did not disappoint. It’s taken me about a week to collect the thoughts below. Still processing everything I saw and experienced.

Pit Stop in St. Louis

The plan was to drive to St. Louis Thursday, see the Gateway Arch, eat some BBQ, and then make my way down to Fayetteville Friday morning. I tend to drive to events where I can as you miss out on seeing the country. While there isn’t a whole lot of anything to look at between Chicago and St. Louis, it’s fascinating to stop for lunch/dinner and talk with the locals in the small towns to get a glimpse of what live is like there.

The Gateway Arch viewed from East St. Louis
The Gateway Arch as seen from East St. Louis.

Everyone goes to take photos of the Arch in St. Louis. However, it is even better to see it from East St. Louis. There is a little park with a viewing platform right across the river with a near perfect view. Getting there though, you get a real sense of the urban decline in East. St. Louis. Deserted buildings, empty lots and empty streets. Outside of a Cargill Factory and a casino, there was nothing in sight. Spooky, creepy, whatever you want to call it—it all applies.

St. Louis is in the BBQ belt so of course I had to have some. I found this place called Salt + Smoke which is renowned for their BBQ and bourbon selections. While, I no longer drink, I did partake in a lot of BBQ with a half rack of ribs, brisket, mac and cheese, baked beans, and a big chuck of bread. It was amazing. If you’re in the area, I totally recommend checking it out. Photos of the food are on my Instagram.

Day 1 in Fayetteville

The entry to Centennial Park. Even the fans get the “red carpet” type treatment.

Trying to get to the start of the Team Relay test event meant an early morning, leaving the hotel at 5 a.m. By the time I got to Arkansas, I was ready for some racing. Since there was no public parking at the park, the organizers set up shuttles from different locations to the park. I took the one from the county fairgrounds. When I arrived, the first thing I did was take a photo of the entryway and then head on over to the expo to buy some gear (cowbell, UCI Ass Saver and a UCI stripes buff) and to try and find the MKE crew to hang with. It took most of the morning to find them, but I eventually did. A TV crew from Flanders sports channel Sporza interviewed Kelly and Andy to send back to the cyclocross homeland.

Once the racing was done at the course, it was time for a late lunch. We ended up at a Mexican restaurant that I cannot remember the name of. I had my usual chimichanga and beans. It was wonderful. By the time 4 p.m. rolled around, I was exhausted and checked into the hotel. I was originally planning on meeting up with the group, but by 7 p.m., I was ready for bed and called it a night. Who knew driving across two days would sap that much energy? Guess getting old has its costs.

Day 2: Watching cyclocross royalty

The MKE Fayetteville crew after Day 2. The excitement in the elite women’s race nearly permanently attached smile to our faces. Photo courtesy of Jason McDowell.

When down south, going to Waffle House is a must. There’s something about the place that brings me back. Maybe it is the service and southern charm of getting breakfast food fast. When I explained to the waitress that I was from Milwaukee, she informed me that she had family from there as well. It’s always fascinating to see how connected the world is.

Instead of using the shuttle, we all met at the Walmart parking lot and then walked to the park. (Which was much easier to get in and out of then cramming into a shuttle.) At the park, we kind of got split up at one point and our part of the group was situated at the drop of the big downhill drop.

The atmosphere slowly gained electricity throughout the day. The women’s junior race was dominated by Zoe Backstedt. She got a gap on the first lap and it only got bigger during the race. She is definitely a future U23 and Elite world champion if she continues riding cross. Though I suspect some road team will try and sign her and limit her cross goals. The U23 mens race was Belgian team tactics at its best making the Dutch try and catch the “rabbit” and them failing to do so to allow an all Belgian podium

But the main event of the day was the Elite women’s race. It was a battle of between the former teammates 7-time cyclocross world champion Marianne Vos and current world champion Lucinda Brand. All the prognosticators were split as to who was going to win. My heart wanted Brand to win as she is a full-time cyclocross rider and we’d likely see the jersey at all or most of the races. My head said Vos would win as her kick in the sprint would beat Brand. I though that Brand would have to get rid of Vos early to win—and that is exactly what she tried doing.

Brand set the pace high. By the end of lap 1, Brand and Vos were gone. The rest of the field was battling for third. Each lap that went by, the roar of the crowd was louder as the riders went up the 38 steps and down the hill and around to the final part of the lap. On the last lap, Vos and Brand were essentially track standing as they approached the final third of the course. Once the race was over, I think we were still in awe of what we just watched. We ended up sitting on the side of the hill (in the above picture) while we watched everyone leave the course.

We went back to the house to chill out for a bit and rewatch the days races and figure out where to go for dinner. And of course we found ourselves on the broadcast. Dinner was supposed to be at this brew-pub Apple Blossom Brewing Company, but when I got there, they told us they had limited food options. Then no food options. It was 9 p.m. and we ended up at a Mellow Mushroom Pizza for dinner. Cheese bread and pizza. Can’t go wrong with that.

Day 3: Last Day in Fayetteville

Andy cheering on Jack Spranger in the Junior men race.

The last day in Fayetteville was kind of a blur. How could this day be topped? We decided that we were going to try and walk more of the course to see more of it. During the junior mens race, we went to the bottom of the course where it was still a little tacky.

During the U23 women’s race, we started at the top of a bump near the end of the drop and then moved to the area just before the stairs. Like the elite women’s race they day before, the racing was close between the top three—current U23 world champion Fem van Empel, current U23 European champion Shirin van Anrooij and Puck Pieterse, last years U23 European champion. It was a back and forth for a while until Puck and Shirin were able to get away with Fem not too far behind. It came to a sprint in which Puck ended up taking it. For someone who couldn’t take a win all season, Puck got her win on the biggest stage possible.

The Elite men’s race was what I expected. Fast. Very fast. The only way Tom Pidcock was going to not win was if the Belgians worked together to break Pidcock. Of course that was never going to happen with the trade team rivalries between the Lions (Baloise Trek) and the Sauces (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal). It looked like at first the Belgians were going to attack with different riders with Michael Vantournount taking a flyer off the front. For some reason he backed out of it and went back to the pack. At that point Pidcock said “see you later” and road off the front for the rest of the race. If it was a bit muddier, second place finisher Lars Van der Haar would likely have won. He looked strong all day.

While none of the Americans in the men’s race were going to top 10, it was amazing to hear the roads of the crows while they went by. Curtis White finished 12th which was the best finish by an American since Jonathan Page got 12th in 2011. Of course it was great to see Wisconsin-native Caleb Swartz finish right behind Kerry Werner in 22nd.

Since the racing was over, the fans took control of the course and went up the stairs to the top of the drops. Kids and adults alike ran down the drop. Some even barrel rolled down it to varying levels of success. We walked down the steps and I don’t know how you could run up them. But this is me, a non-elite athlete, trying do that elite athletes do. We ran into some of the Madison cyclocross crew on our way out and it always good to see familiar faces.

All in all, it was an amazing weekend. One I will likely never forget. Lots of great memories were had and I can’t wait for CX worlds to come back. Some of my favorite photos are below.

What did you think of worlds? I’d like to know.