FAYETTEVILLE -- The cycling world has descended on Fayetteville.
More than 200 cyclists from 21 countries are set to compete in the UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships beginning today at Centennial Park.
This marks the first time since Louisville, Ky. in 2013 and only the second time the event has been held in the United States.
Team USA's highest-ranked rider, Clara Honsinger, is excited to be racing on home soil.
"It's nice to be able to travel to a bike race and not have the big jetlag coming all the way from nine, seven or eight times zones away," Honsinger said. "For me, it feels huge. It was nearly 10 years ago that Worlds was last in the United States and I wasn't really into cyclocross, and not even bike racing at that point. So this feels like a first time for me having the world come to kind of my territory, my home."
Honsinger and the elite women race Saturday at 2:30 p.m.
In October, Honsinger placed second at the Fayetteville World Cup. She's also notched a win at Koppenbergcross in Oudenaarde, Belgium and a second place finish at the World Cup in Dendermonde, Belgium this season. She enters this weekend ranked sixth in the UCI.
Reigning world champion Lucinda Brand of the Netherlands is the world's No. 1 rider. She has amassed 17 victories this season and has only missed the podium three times. The Dutch contingent is strong despite favorites Denise Betsema and Annemarie Worst having to miss the weekend after testing positive for covid before flying to the U.S.
The team still boasts seven-time world champion Marriane Vos, widely considered by many to be the best cyclist in history, and 2020 world champion Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado.
Canadian national champion Maghalie Rochette, the second-highest ranked North American in Saturday's race, is also excited about the event being close to home.
"I'm not American, but even being Canadian, this is probably as close as I will ever get to race Worlds close to home," Rochette said. "When it was announced a few years ago, it provided a really fun and tangible goal for me, and putting that much importance into that particular event might be a bit of an advantage."
The elite men's race, Sunday at 2:30 p.m., lost some of its luster when it was announced favorites Mathieu Van der Peol of the Netherlands and Wout Van Aert of Belgium wouldn't be racing. Van der Peol has won the past three world titles. He injured his back in the Olympic mountain bike race this summer and has opted to rest. Van Aert, the world champion from 2016-18, has chosen to prepare for the road season.
Great Britain's Tom Piddcock has emerged as a favorite. He didn't start his season until December, but has won three of 12 races since. Eli Iserbyt of Belgium is the No. 1 racer in the world and won 14 races this year and finished second in Fayetteville in October. Eric Brunner is America's national champion and has four wins.
A team relay will get the weekend's events started today at 12:30 p.m. It's the first time the event will be featured at the world championships and is being run as a test event for the future.
"I'm really excited for the team relay," Honsinger said. "Just the opportunity to be able to really put in a good hot lap and to do it with the team. I love the idea of getting to come together as a nation and build that pride."
World Cyclocross Championships
Centennial Park, Fayetteville
Opening ceremony, 5:30 p.m.
Free and open to the public.
Gates Open, 9 a.m.
Team Relay, 12:30 p.m.
Gates Open, 9 a.m.
UCI Women Junior Championships, 11 a.m.
UCI Men U23 Championships, 1 p.m.
UCI Women Elite Championships, 2:30 p.m.
Gates Open, 9 a.m.
UCI Men Junior Championships, 11 a.m.
UCI Women U23 Championships, 1 p.m.
UCI Men Elite Championships, 2:30 p.m.