UPDATED: Cyclocross world championships director steps down

A massive, 38-stair obstacle is one of the major features of a world-class cyclocross racecourse being built atop Millsap Mountain 2022 UCI Cyclocross World Championships at Centennial Park in Fayetteville.

Photo: Todd Gill, Fayetteville Flyer

UPDATE: New information has surfaced since this article was first published. The event is also under new management. Read more about that here.

Brook Watts, the race organizer for the 2022 UCI Cyclocross World Championships in Fayetteville, has parted ways with the event.

Watts announced the news on Wednesday in a post on Twitter, and said he has also stepped down from organizing the 2021 UCI Cyclocross World Cup set for this fall.

Both events are scheduled to take place at Centennial Park, where a permanent, world-class cyclocross course is being built.

“For those who know me, my passion and commitment to the growth of cyclo-cross in the US has always been front and center,” Watts said. “In departing from my position as race organizer, I feel I’ve left a mark by designing a unique World Championship worthy course as well as a cyclo-cross park that will serve aspiring future champions. I remain dedicated to use my position of influence in the cyclo-cross community to fight for equity in racing, and to ensure that the sport is accepting and welcoming to all.”

Watts’ remarks are appeared to be in response to recent anti-trans laws passed in Arkansas.

One measure prohibits physicians from providing gender-affirming treatment for trans people under age 18. It’s the first law of its kind in the United States. Gov. Asa Hutchinson vetoed the bill, but the state’s General Assembly voted to override the veto.

A view from the top of the 38-stair obstacle on the cyclocross racecourse at Centennial Park in Fayetteville.

Photo: Todd Gill, Fayetteville Flyer

Another bill bans transgender student athletes from joining female sports teams. Gov. Hutchinson signed that bill in support. Arkansas is only the second state to pass such a measure. Mississippi adopted a similar bill in February.

The new laws sparked calls from the cycling community to boycott the state’s upcoming bike races.

Walmart heir Tom Walton, who has been a key figure in promoting cycling in Arkansas and who helped secure the 2022 Cyclocross World Championships, also denounced the anti-trans legislation in a statement earlier this month.

“We are alarmed by the string of policy targeting LGBTQ people in Arkansas,” said Walton.

He said the trend is harmful and sends the wrong message to those willing to invest in or visit Arkansas.

“Our nation was built on inalienable rights and strengthened by individual differences,” Walton said. “Arkansas has been called the land of opportunity because it is a place where anyone can think big and achieve the extraordinary. Any policy that limits individual opportunity also limits our state’s potential.”

Experience Fayetteville, the city’s tourism bureau, also weighed in.

“In an already challenging year for tourism, this will only continue to negatively impact our industry, the state’s second largest economy,” said Molly Rawn, CEO of Experience Fayetteville.

Rawn said the potential boycotts could cost the state and city hundreds of millions of dollars in lost tourism revenue, and will further drive negative stereotypes of Arkansas as being regressive and repressive.

“More importantly, these laws will further marginalize the transgender community,” said Rawn.

More features on the cyclocross racecourse at Centennial Park in Fayetteville.

Photo: Todd Gill, Fayetteville Flyer

A $2.3 million grant from the Walton Family Foundation helped fund a series of cyclocross races in Fayetteville, including the world championships in 2022.

The money was given to the Fayetteville Advertising and Promotion Commission, which oversees Experience Fayetteville.

The bureau hired Watts’ Parkven Productions to manage the events. The $320,000 contract included quarterly increments to be paid through April 2022.

Watts was the owner of CrossVegas, which began in 2007 and grew into one of the biggest international cyclocross events during its 11-year run in Las Vegas, eventually becoming the first UCI World Cup ever held in the United States.

“The situation in Arkansas remains problematic and unfortunately, I don’t see any satisfactory resolution,” Watts said in his most recent statement. “I have sincerely, but unsuccessfully, attempted to work out my concerns and differences with constituents. However, regrettably, we were not successful.”

Experience Fayetteville today released the following statement when asked about Watt’s departure.

Experience Fayetteville is 100% committed to making the 2021 World Cup Fayetteville and 2022 Cyclocross World Championships successful and inclusive events for all athletes and their families, as well as for teams and spectators.

We are looking forward, and will announce a new race management team in the near future. We are excited to share our world-class cyclocross course and facilities with the global cycling community and to welcome all participants to our hospitable city.

The 2021 UCI Cyclocross World Cup is scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 13 as part of the third annual FayetteCross event. The UCI Cyclocross World Championships are set for Jan. 29-30, 2022.