Cyclocross Worlds: the hand-up US cycling desperately needed

Cyclocross Worlds: the hand-up US cycling desperately needed
iPhone camera panoramic view of Cyclocross Worlds crowd during women's championship race, 2/2/13

It should have been televised.

Thousands of devoted fans and curious locals trudged through freshly fallen snow, slid cautiously down slick, grassy slopes, and trampled over rutted patches of frozen mud just to be part of US cycling history.  The cold, damp, and messy conditions along the south bank of the Ohio River in Louisville Kentucky last weekend only added to the aura of the event.  This was Cross Worlds for chrissakes!

It would have made for epic television.

Falling snow.  Thawing mud.  Switchbacks.  Stairs.  Straightaways.  Steep climbs.  Dangerous descents.  Treacherous turns.  It was a continuous flow of slippery slop that sprayed and stuck to every moving part when it wasn't spattering riders' faces and causing them to slide out of control.  What started as a technically challenging course with inconveniently placed obstacles like wide-spread limestone stairs, ladder-steep steps to a fly-over bridge, and the usual speed-slowing barriers, became wildly unpredictable with the teeniest bit of help from Mother Nature.

Americans needed to watch this on TV.

It was the X-Games meets the Olympics.  There wasn't a boring stretch along the entire course.  Skinsuited gladiators sprinting, jumping, running, and climbing - sometimes on, sometimes off the bike.  Speed and cunning.  Patience and perseverance.  Nation versus nation.  Teammate versus teammate.  Everything was there to excite, engage, and enthrall the American sports fan.  We Americans were even the underdogs, creating a tension that you could feel in that moist, chilly air.

It would have only taken an hour of broadcast time.

For those not familiar with the cast of characters or even the sport, a simple pregame report could have easily set the stage.  Cyclocross is pretty much a mountain bike skills course with obstacles thrown in for added challenge.  It is raced on a slightly-modified road bike.  The event is timed, so the number of total laps is calculated by the average speed of the racers.

The sport originated in road racing's off-season and is hugely popular in Europe.  Cross Worlds was a showdown of the biggest names in the Old World – plus a few guys and gals from the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and even Japan.  Competitors from Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, France, Norway, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Italy, Spain, UK, Luxembourg, Slovakia, Ukraine, and Hungary came to America to put on a cyclocross racing clinic for anyone willing to watch (including many riders).

The US even received a silver medal in the women's elite championship.  Cyclocross phenom Katie Compton finished second to 5-time champion and Olympic gold-medal winner, Marianne Vos of the Netherlands.  Our best men's elite finisher was Tim Johnson at 19th.  Zach Mc Donald took 11th in the Under 23 category.  Young American Logan Owen finished just off the podium at 4th place in the Juniors race.

Americans needed to see this after the disgrace we suffered with Lance Armstrong.

Armstrong may have defined cycling for the average American, but he was really more a symbol for the myth of American Exceptionalism than he was an ambassador for bike racing.  As the Lance Saga continues to unfold with a last-minute plea to testify before USADA along with carefully coached and coordinated steps to thwart both a civil lawsuit and a criminal investigation by the federal government, we needed to be reminded that bicycle racing was bigger than the most famous US racer of the last two decades and his win-at-all-costs teammates.

Cyclocross Worlds could have been US cycling's fresh start if more people had witnessed it.

It was our opportunity to introduce this insanely challenging competition to young skateboarders, snowboarders, and BMX racers who might otherwise gravitate toward the X-Games and other Red Bull pseudo sports.  It was our chance to highlight the disparity in skills with our European competitors and challenge our future racers to step up their games.  We needed to demonstrate that important races could be won in a single hour using true grit, not an unethical master plan.

Fortunately, it's not too late for spreading the word about the 2013 Cyclocross World Championship.

We can share the videos for the men's, women's, U-23, and Juniors races on YouTube.  We can share our pictures and our stories.  We can encourage friends and family members to stop in at their local bike shops and check out a cyclocross bike in-person.

While it's a shame that we won't see another world championship here in the states for many years to come, we can all witness this exciting, fan-friendly sport in our own backyards again next fall.  We can also watch the tongue-in-cheek preview of next year's Worlds in Hoogerheide (thanks Anne Barnes for sharing this!).

In the meantime, there's plenty of excitement to be experienced on any bike, anywhere.


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Keep riding and be safe!

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