WATERLOO — Grain for brewing and distilling are prepared here at Briess Malting & Ingredients.
Just down the street at Van Holten’s, cucumbers stew in brine to become Pickles-in-a-Pouch. And along the temperamental Maunesha River at Fireman’s Park, the restored 106-year-old C.W. Parker carousel continues to spin.
But beginning Friday, this Jefferson County city, which this month celebrated its 58th Wiener & Kraut Festival, will be the focal point of an international audience and thousands of visitors rabid about a growing biking event at this city’s largest employer.
Trek Bicycle Corp. is playing host to a stop on the Union Cycliste Internationale Cyclo-cross World Cup, a circuit of nine international events in which athletes ride a closed course on what appears to be a road bike but which has some of the characteristics of a mountain bike. The courses are a combination of motocross, steeplechase and Tough Mudder, and at times force competitors to carry their bikes over obstacles and in some cases ride through sand, water, mud and, later in the season, snow.
The World Cup circuit is so big that European stops can draw 100,000 spectators who come to cheer, drink beer and munch on waffles and french fries. Between 5,000 and 10,000 spectators, a contingent of international cycling media and 2,000 riders are expected to show up this weekend at the Waterloo course, located behind the Trek headquarters on the city’s west side.
A series of race events will be held during the three-day event, but Sunday’s World Cup races — 2 p.m. for women and 3:30 p.m. for men — will be aired in prime time for a European television audience that could hit 15 million people. The field includes 57 male athletes representing 11 countries and 42 female athletes from 12 countries.
“Think like Sunday Night Football in the U.S. That’s what this is, but in Europe,” said Eric Bjorling, brand manager for Trek. “It’s still very much an emerging sport in the U.S., but it has just kind of exploded here at Trek. Cyclo-cross culture and Trek culture are very congruent.”
‘A big deal’
The 2017-18 tour kicked off last weekend in Iowa City, Iowa. This weekend’s stop in Waterloo features free admission and free parking. The remaining events after this weekend are all in Europe, with three tour stops in Belgium and one each in Denmark, Germany, France and the Netherlands. The Waterloo event replaces a tour stop in Las Vegas, which in 2015 became the first World Cup site outside of Europe.
The Madison area has already been indoctrinated into the cyclo-cross world. Badger Prairie Park in Verona played host to the USA Cyclo-cross National Championships in January 2012 and 2013. Last month, cyclo-cross was part of the CrossFit Games at the Alliant Energy Center with a course set up in Quann Park.
Over the past few years, Trek has hosted a few national major cyclo-cross races, but what is being billed as World Cup Waterloo is the highest-profile event yet in Wisconsin for the sport.
“This is a big deal in the cycling world,” said Katie Compton, a Trek rider with 13 U.S. cyclo-cross titles, two World Cup tour wins and two overall World Cup championships. “It’s just an easy thing to watch. You see the riders come around lap after lap, and it gets strung out quite a bit so you’re always watching riders come through.”
Compton, the most decorated female cyclo-cross racer in U.S. history, has been in Waterloo all week preparing for the weekend of competition after finishing in second place in her first race in Iowa last weekend but crashing and injuring a shoulder in her second race. Compton, 38, who grew up in Delaware but has lived for the past 15 years in Colorado, has been riding cyclo-cross since the late 1990s and joined Trek in 2012.
She’s excited about competing in a World Cup event at the Trek headquarters and for prize money that for the first time in a World Cup event will be equal at $40,000 for both the men’s and women’s purses.
“It’s growing and events like this make it better,” Compton said.
Trek grows into sport
Cyclo-cross dates to the early 1900s in Europe with the first World Championship held in Paris in 1950. The first U.S. National Championship event was held in 1963, but the sport has been evolving and growing over the past 20 years. Trek has sold cyclo-cross bikes since the late 1990s but has ramped up its involvement in the sport over the past five years.
The moves have included the development of more bikes, like its Boone and Crockett models that sell for up to $4,000 and $3,000 respectively. In 2011, the company began building a course at its headquarters and has continued to buy land to add to the property, which now includes prairie, woodland and a steep hill with switchbacks called “Factory Hill.”
One obstacle on the 1.8-mile course is a 12-foot-high “flyover” structure with a steep 20-foot approach ramp. The obstacle resembles a barn — a homage to where Trek was founded in 1976. Races are not by lap but by time. A 60-minute race usually encompasses about 10 laps.
Trek has also nurtured a culture of cyclo-cross, with some employees spending their lunch breaks riding the course. Encouraging that culture is Matt Shriver, the current masters world champion and former U.S. national masters champion, and Scott Daubert, who has traveled extensively in European cyclo-cross circles.
Daubert, 49, a Trek manager whose primary role is supporting its athletes, has been with the company since 1994 and moved to Lake Mills in 2004. He competed last weekend in Iowa City but won’t compete this weekend because he’ll be too busy helping run the World Cup Waterloo.
Earlier this week, Daubert used a pickax to dig a trench under the course so that fiber-optic cable could be laid for the television broadcast. The grounds will also be upgraded with improved Wi-Fi, and Lakefront Brewery in Milwaukee has been brought in as a major sponsor.
“The potential is big for us,” Daubert said. “It’s European-based, but they want to be in America more because there’s such a huge participation pool to draw from.
“They need to have venues in America. We’re showing willingness and putting effort into it through volunteers and dollars and we’re going to make it happen. Trek knows how to throw a pretty good party.”