In January 2012, more than 1,700 cyclists from across the country are expected to converge on Dane County’s Badger Prairie park for the Cyclocross National Championships.

But cycling, in a Wisconsin park, in January? Local organizers say sure, no problem.

“Cyclocross is a fall/winter sport, so they can absolutely do it with snow on the ground,” said Jamie Patrick, director of sports sales and program development for the Madison Area Sports Commission, which along with Team Sports Inc. is organizing the event. “If there’s too much snow, they’ll just have to plow the path.”

USA Cycling officials announced late last month the Madison-area location for the event that will be held Jan. 4-8 of 2012 and in 2013 — further rooting Madison and southern Wisconsin as a hotbed for this type of cycling that’s been described as track-and-field steeplechase with bikes.

In cyclocross, riders compete along a rugged course with obstacles that force frequent dismounts and require riders to carry their bikes while running up stairs and steep hills and jumping hurdles. The rider who completes the most laps in the time allowed wins.

The championship will include professional and amateur cyclocross athletes, and will be open to all age and ability levels.

In addition to the cyclists, between 2,500 and 3,500 spectators are expected, bringing an estimated $710,000 in direct spending from the event, he said.

Andrea Smith, communications director for USA Cycling, said cyclocross has been growing in popularity across the northern United States in the past five years. According to the organization, nearly 3,000 racers competed in Wisconsin last year in USA Cycling-sanctioned cyclocross events.

The number of USA Cycling-sanctioned cyclocross events in the country has increased from 237 in 2005 to 381 from 2009. In addition, the number of cyclocross racers who reported to have participated in a cyclocross event has more than doubled in that time, going from 31,828 in 2005 to 71,814 in 2009.

“I think that it’s an opportunity for both road and mountain bike athletes to train in the semi-off season,” Smith said. And for beginner or junior cyclists, cyclocross is “a little less intimidating than pack racing on the road. Cyclocross ... if you do fall, it’s likely on mud anyway.”

The sport also is spectator friendly.

“You can often see the majority of the course from one single spot, which is something we just don’t get in road racing or mountain biking,” Smith said. “It’s very welcoming and casual.”

Preparing for the event

The Badger Prairie site in the town of Verona has been used before by the Wisconsin Cycling Association for cyclocross competitions.

Warming tents and shelters will be constructed to ensure the warmth and safety of racers and spectators. Registration will be across the street at Reddan Park, and the course will be about two miles long.

Patrick said local organizers still need to finalize the contract with the county and get some permits, but he doesn’t anticipate any problems.

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