While Bentonville has enjoyed plenty of attention for its burgeoning mountain biking scene, Fayetteville looks to take the limelight when it comes to cyclocross after the city’s convention and visitors bureau announced it would receive a grant to help launch a series of the races there.
Experience Fayetteville will host the international sport that involves cyclists who use a hybrid of a mountain and road bike to race on a multisurface course with obstacles, sometimes requiring racers to carry their bikes or swap them for another. Recently, the Walton Family Foundation’s Personal Philanthropy Group agreed to give $2.3 million to Experience Fayetteville to host a series of cyclocross races in Fayetteville.
“The opportunity to host the Cyclocross World Championships in Fayetteville will encourage the region to continue developing top quality cycling amenities all in Northwest Arkansas can enjoy that also attract cyclists and events from around the world,” said Liz Alsina, senior program officer for the Walton Personal Philanthropy Group.
The grant will be used to coordinate and promote three races, including the 2022 Union Cycliste Internationale Cyclocross World Championships, the FayetteCross and another one that’s still being developed but will be a “high level, international event,” said Molly Rawn, executive director of Experience Fayetteville. Combined, the three events are expected to attract up to 21,000 spectators and participants.
“Cyclocross is something new,” Rawn said. “It’s a growing sport. And it’s just a way for us to diversify more in different opportunities for cycling and for tourism. It’s exciting.”
The money also will be used to hire Brook Watts and Kristin Diamond with Parkven Productions of Longmont, Colo., to manage the events. Parkven Productions and Experience Fayetteville will work together to see that the races have nationally recognized sponsors, professional oversight for ticket sales and marketing campaigns providing area, regional and nationwide attention.
“These funds will ensure that the state’s first professional cyclocross events are executed professionally and successfully,” Rawn said. “Also, that they reflect positively on our city and region, bolstering Northwest Arkansas as a premier cycling destination.”
With a total global audience of 52 million viewers, the 2022 Cyclocross World Championships will happen Jan. 27-30. The race will be a part of a multiday festival for new and existing cyclocross fans, and over the event weekend, other activities and events are expected to show what Northwest Arkansas has to offer, Rawn said. These activities and events have yet to be determined.
“We certainly want to do what other communities have done for the world championships. It is a multiday thing with lots of opportunity for spectators,” she said. “What I’ve learned about cyclocross that makes it appealing to me is that it’s a very spectator-friendly sport. It’s fun to watch, and we want to make sure we have lots of opportunities for community engagement around it, both before and after the race. That means food and drinks and music and all of the things you would expect to see at an event of that size.”
FayetteCross will be Oct. 4-6, and the deadline to register is Oct. 1. The race this fall and the one in 2022 will be hosted at Centennial Park at Millsap Mountain in Fayetteville. The event still in development will take place in fall 2020.
Experience Fayetteville was a sponsor for a cyclocross race last year, but the upcoming international races will be the first of their magnitude for the region, Rawn said. The 2022 race will mark the second time the race has been hosted in the United States. It was in Louisville, Ky., in 2013.
“It’s a large event, and we’re excited to get to show off Centennial Park at Millsap Mountain,” Rawn said. “This course here was purpose-built to be able to do things like cyclocross. It’s an incredible opportunity for us to introduce Fayetteville to the world.”
The direct economic impact from the 2022 cyclocross race is projected to be $2.3 million for the region, said Devin Howland, director of economic vitality for the city of Fayetteville. Additionally, the indirect and induced economic impact from the race could range between $800,000 and $1.6 million. Indirect impacts relate to increased business spending, and the induced impacts account for more difficult to measure impacts, such as those who come from across the nation to practice at the race site before the event or how Fayetteville’s 228-acre cycling venue will be a catalyst for development.
“I think it’s going to be a major economic development event for two big reasons: first of which is tourism and then the second of which is exposing Fayetteville to the world in regards to so many people that have come here,” Howland said. “We’ve talked about that benefit on a lot of different projects, whether they are specific events coming into Fayetteville. You could range it from the startup crawl that’s growing every year, the ‘True Detective’ project, etc. When we get to shine and put Fayetteville center stage at these events, I think that’s an important thing to remember.
“We have Centennial Park at Millsap Mountain that’s being developed for this incredible event in 2022. That’s going to be a very big jewel for Fayetteville. Fayetteville is going to be the star of that event, and getting people from across the world to see our community, that’s huge for us.”
Howland also said the city could host similar races such as world championship events every other year, and they would have an economic impact of between $1.1 million and $2.3 million per event.
In March 2018, the Walton Family Foundation released a study showing that cycling in Northwest Arkansas contributed $137 million to the area in economic benefits in 2017. The study, which was prepared for the foundation by Denver-based BBC Research & Consulting, showed that investments in soft-surface mountain bike trails have been important to tourism and that at least 55% of mountain bikers traveled to Northwest Arkansas from outside of the region. Also, Northwest Arkansas residents have spent more than $20 million annually on bicycling.