Cyclo-Cross Nationals postponed to protect Zilker trees

 The last time the Cyclo-Cross Nationals were in Austin was in 1978...Will Best rode 10 miles on his bike just to see Sunday's race.

"I was pretty excited to come here and see that something like this was going on in Austin.  And obviously today was the finals and...it's not happening," he said.

Zach McDonald flew all the way from Seattle to compete.  Sunday was his day to race.

"I had to change my flights, I had to book another hotel, we had to extend our rental car.  I have class on Tuesday that I'm maybe gonna make it back for," McDonald said.

But...why?

Lara Schuman with Austin Parks and Rec says the pecan tree she's standing next to is a "heritage tree."

"A 'heritage tree' is a tree...there's several species that are our native varieties.  That's over 24 inches in diameter...which is across and about 4 and a half feet off of the ground," she said.

Michael Fossum is the executive director of a group called the Austin Heritage Tree Foundation.  When he learned the bike trail for the Cyclo-Cross Nationals had been placed directly under the canopies of many heritage trees, he pleaded with the city to help make some changes.

"When you have bicyclists that are riding over and over again on a piece of ground and then you add some rain to that, it's a recipe for really tearing the ground up as you can see in the background behind us," Fossum said.

Micah Rice, the USA Cycling race director for this event says the muddy conditions are often preferred by the cyclists.

"Cyclo-Cross is traditionally in the mud and ice and snow so these are conditions that the racers are used to and actually in many cases really like a lot," he said.

But after conversations with Austin Parks and Rec Sunday morning over the mess Saturday's rain left behind, they...along with Parks and Rec decided it best to postpone it.

"We are taking a look at some of the spaces in the course where we might be getting a little bit too close to some of the trees and some of the root systems.  We're re-routing the course as we speak to try to make it work," Rice said.

Not everyone agrees with this.  Like Mark Nowacki who says he has a background taking care of trees.  He feels the damage being done by the race won't permanently hurt the trees.

"I don't think we got one inch of rain, ok?  I'm gonna go swimming in an hour.  The pool's not closed.  I think what's happening is there's a group of people that don't know that much about trees that pretend to know a lot about trees and are complaining and saying that there's a lot of damage being done," Nowacki said.

McDonald says he understands the reasoning for the postponement.  But he feels like they could have changed the route and still had the race Sunday.

"That I don't blame them for, I just think it seems there could have been a bit more foresight on the whole thing.  But at the same time we're here to have a good time and it's not a good time for us if the locals are angry at us," McDonald said.

The Austin Heritage Tree Foundation says the course could have been planned better -- or even moved to Walnut Park instead of Zilker because they have designated bike trails there.
   
The Cyclo-Cross folks say tomorrow's race will kick off around noon.  They'll get in everyone that was supposed to race today.




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