Greg Fante, director of sports development for the Louisville Sports Commission, has a simple job description: bring sporting events to the city of Louisville that bring meaningful economic impacts and quality of life improvements to the citizens and businesses of Louisville. Can you hear echoes of world cyclocross championships in that sketch? Fante could.
The journey started in 2005 at the National Association of Sports Commission’s annual symposium in Lexington, Kentucky, where Fante met Joan Hanscom. Hanscom, who is one half of the team that promotes the U.S. Gran Prix of Cyclocross series, was then promoting high-level road events. Fante had never heard of cyclocross, instead, the two spoke about the possibility of bringing a high-level road event to Louisville.
“As we went through and vetted that process, it became glaringly apparent that the cost of doing a high-level road event was something that was larger than our ability,” Fante said. “We opted to take a flyer and not go down that path but maintain the relationship with Joan.”
It was around this time that Hanscom formed a partnership with Bruce Fina, managing the USGP series. And she didn’t forget her friends in Louisville. As the USGP looked to expand, Kentucky’s biggest city was first on the list of new potential sites. And it happened; originally run on a former country club, the USGP had found a new home in Louisville. But it quickly morphed into something much grander.
Fina and Hanscom had the desire to do something big in ’cross. Fante was right beside them. By this time, Fina had approached the sport’s governing body, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), about hosting a worlds outside of Europe, and at that time his promotional team had run more large-scale UCI-sanctioned events than any other promoter in the country. Naturally, Fina turned to Fante.
“[Fina] said, ‘Louisville is the perfect location; help us find a venue,’” Fante recalled. “So we reached out to Metro Parks, which managed the [country club property] and with their staff we said, ‘We gotta find the right tract of land because we might have something special happening here.’”
It wasn’t long before they happened upon that dilapidated tract of riparian zone.
“It took me 40 minutes to walk from [River Road] to where the [mechanics’] pit is this year,” Fina said. The distance? About 200 meters.
“The piece of land did not look anything like it looks now; it was really derelict, trashed, especially the wooded areas were horrible, full of garbage, full of junk. I had a hard time having that vision,” Fante says. “We then brought in Simon Burney and, as a delegate from the UCI, he walked the land with us. It was a cold February day, which was perfect, and Simon said, ‘Yeah, there’s definitely something here if you can make it happen.’ So, we got Metro Parks to go to work on cleaning up and starting to lay out and here we are.”
The city worked very closely with Fina and Hanscom on the creation of the UCI bid and on the creation of the park. The Louisville Sports Commission has remained on board as a high-level sponsor, financially supporting the effort from the beginning.
“When we first said we were going to go to Louisville [for the USGP], a lot of people said, ‘Are you crazy?’” Fina said. “People from Boston, people from Portland, people from Seattle — they’re very proud about their cyclocross communities which is great because they all should be — they said, ‘The USGP in Louisville, that’s nuts.’ But one thing we’ve learned is that it’s great to go into a community where you’re wanted and not where you’re forcing yourself in the door.
“I’m talking about municipal support — states, cities, counties, parks commissions, sports commissions. It’s really tough. It’s horrible when you build something up so significant and it might get taken away from you because you don’t have the support of the city. Louisville is the exact opposite of that. The city built this park [for us]. This was a derelict park, honestly, a scrappy piece of land. And they obviously went ‘all-in’ on this.”
As far as the city is concerned, determination brought them the prize.
“It’s been a long journey to get here. But to me, this validates this tract of land much the way the Ryder Cup did [in the PGA] for the Valhalla Golf Club out in eastern Jefferson County,” said Fante, who has traveled to the last three world cyclocross championships in Koksijde, Belgium, Sankt Wendel, Germany, and Tabor, Czech Republic. “When you host a championship event that is international at the highest level, forever that piece of property is validated as significant in the history of the sport. And we believe that by hosting the worlds here that we will be able to go on and host many cyclocross national championships here; we would never rule the worlds out again, even though it’s been an enormous, difficult, arduous process. We would go back and do it again even if we knew how difficult it was going to be because of what the value will be for everybody. That’s how we got to Lousiville. It’s been fun.”