Team OYB at Louisville World Cyclocross Champs!
February 06, 2013
Well, my brother Tim, friend Robert and I went and watched the Cyclocross World Championships last weekend, down in Louisville. It was the first time they'd come to the US!
We stayed with friends of ours in their cheery, art-filled house in a picturesque old neighborhood in the hills -- and where we had bigtime breakfasts!
We are pretty much CX rookies and don't often get to do roadtrips. It was the first for this gang! We were even hesitant about the whole thing. Driving for 6 hours to see 'cross? In dicey winter weather? Well, our adventure paid off bigtime! We had a blast.
The course was on the big river -- which surprised everyone by flooding. The weather was crazy running up to the big weekend. Rain, snow, cold, warm. So the 2 days of main events were condensed to Saturday.
What a day!
It was overwhelming.
10,000 of our best cyclocross friends joined us in cheering the racers.
We got into the spirit of things by wearing Antler Helmets made by attaching a set of handlebars and bar-ends to an old Brooks and strapping it all to our noggin. That was one set. The other rig used real antlers. We musta had 300 people stop us for pics. It wasn't colorful like some costumes but it was about the only bike theme costume. "We go head to head on the course!" We were always battling our horns -- in the spirit. (The only other bike theme was a lady who had a Worlds diorama for a hat.) Too bad we didn't have 3 helmets! But we traded our 2 around plenty. (Note: use aluminum bars next time.)
One neat thing was when some clever-looking women came up to us and said "You're Picasso bulls!" We said Huh? They explained. I googled when I got home and sure enough! His work was familiar to me but I had forgotten. We were, of course, whitetail bucks rather than bulls, since we're Michiganders.
A friend has a blog called "Zen Handups" with a good description of CX: "'Cross by definition contains all of it: any party or seriousness you'd like to throw at it. 'Cross (and maybe by extension you, the racer) is incomplete as soon as you try to make it too much of any one thing."
My brother took a bunch of great pro-quality photos of our adventure and posted them at his Facebook page. Hmmm...how can the general web public see them? I'll ask... Maybe he'll copy some to his Picasa page -- don't have to sign up to anything to view that.
I felt sorry for the Masters -- they had superslow conditions -- but at least they were on a flat golf course. : ) Think if there were hills in that either thick or frozen glop? The big goal of all mortals is to race The Course and they got shunted to the side, in addition to getting lame weather.
The spectacle of Saturday changed everything. What a glorious course! As soon as I saw the Big Course I WANTED TO RIDE IT! It looked really tough so it tantalized: could a rookie like me even complete it? Could I achieve ANY flow? There were big drops and supersteep ups that looked like they COULD flow if Hercules was riding.
The course magically changed for each big event -- always delivering the quality goods. Not too icy or sticky and for the Big Shots it was Just Right. It started snowy but not too icy for the Jr's. Got slick but not too much for the Ladies. Started softening for the U23's. Then turned on a geyser of pride for the Men. (I guess it did require frequent bike changes. It seemed soupier than sticky to me. I didn't see any clogging up, but what do I know.)
It's neat how the course becomes a main character in such a passion play! ...It seems like CX is unique in this.
What a bike party! It was so cool to get so close to the Champions. --Especially along a sideslope railing where they snuck along against the spectators. We coulda patted em on the back. All that snot and mud so close!
The crowd was fun and friendly. Fit, civil and savvy. It was nice to be around a public group that wasn't dominated by idiots (see mainstream America or maybe just modern humanity in general, considering global soccer riots -- sheesh -- where's the hope -- but I digress into downerism).
It was neat seeing all the different lines that riders took. It seems like there was always a lot of ways to skin the cat -- each rider tried to feel out what worked best for them as conditions changed.
We saw quite a few crashes, too. One women went down hard on an icy offcamber and I felt the ground shake but she got right back into it. This was near a sidesloping area of the whole park, so that spectators were also losing their footing and sliding down into a huge mud puddle by the river. This created its own party as the crowd cheered for those trying to get up and down the muddy sidehill. I did a good boot-ski down and got a cheer.
I really liked seeing the Juniors and U23's -- so fresh-faced and eager! Mere kids! They reminded me of Henry. He wouldn't have looked out of place warming up among them. In fact, he woulda looked like a contender! It was nice to see them in detail, joking around, as they warmed up before getting all serious and muddy.
The Little Dutch Boy who got 3rd was inspiring as well -- his first year as a pro, a mere 20 and a wee thing, but fiesty.
Fun at the Back
The Americans did as well as they do in XC Ski World racing. But they had a good sense of humor. Folks were offering beer and dollar handups to the rear-guard Americans and they said afterward they thought that was funny. Good sports. Too bad about their skills, speed and such.
Even so, it helps to imagine that even the slowest women, say, could likely still podium at the Michigan A Men's.
Everyone out there was really good, front to back. The crowd knows that, too, cheering them all. OK, even those who seem overwhelmed get encouragement: don't lose heart!
(I did hear nasty naysaying hecklers twice, one wearing a black mask. I'm new enough at this to not know if those kind of people are usually "suppressed." I did feel like engaging.)
At the same time, I'm still ambivalent about sport and its seriousness. Consider all that overhead, consumption, combustion. Then there's riding through a caged gauntlet. Maybe there's a symbolic meaning there. At the same time, I can accept going overboard once a year for a Big Show. Typical events can be darn low impact, right?
What about The Stare? I get tunnel vision when I race. So does Champ Sven. --Oblivious to the rest of life, "focused" on the abstracted flow. Then the crowd noise doesn't even let them think or feel their own body inputs like heartbeat and breath-rate. Man, I've done a couple bigger events that had helicopters following and it wigged me out. I guess you get used to it, but it's weird! Some did say that the crowd spirit helped lift them up. So I guess deafness isn't always bad.
Sport is arguably a distraction from life. Why do we want that? Doesn't it tend to let us put up with a bad life? If we avoided distractions wouldn't that give us the best chance to really feel what's happening and for refusing to live badly? If our life builds up pressure, change the life, eh? OK, I understand that modern life is sedentary due to its safety and efficiency. We need to use our bodies hard every day to make evolution happy. But pressure is mostly psychological, especially if we want to respond to it with competition: with needlessly defeating others for show. And what about sport that you can't do your whole life? ...Sport that is harmful? It seems obvious that some sport imitates war. So much so that it even includes damage. Should we be willingly doing this? Shouldn't I be training to do things that I can do my whole life? ...Maybe the thousands of years of Tai Chi practicing of China are onto something. What about dance? There's dance that gives life...and dance that destroys ballerinas, giving them only a few years to "do it right," as they're guided like puppets by...what kind of maestros?
OK, CX is more fun than Road or Mtbike... We know that because it has more drinking. Is this good?
I've seen commentary from a "serious" singlespeed 'crosser, for instance, who says the party focus on his discipline is holding it back, all the clowning around. Well, that's one view. Thankfully, in 'cross we know it's no better than any other! : )
Thankfully, too, CX has plenty of room for dabblers and moderates ... in a kind of extreme way. : )
Feel free to question it and find your own way. There's room!
I personally like these angles: *roots; *music; *beer; *fashion.
I like trying to keep the roots of my sport alive. CX came from using bikes in versatile ways to get across rough country. (Hmmm, it might also have come from military training with bikes.) I personally really like seeing the photos and videos from the Old Days. Check out: www.blackbirdsf.org/cx/. I'll repost a couple of his pics. Then there's the vintage video of British roughstuff cyclocross over hill and dale and across creeks and over walls. Obstacle courses of all kinds have cultural and evolutionary relevance, eh?
Here's a link to the British vid: www.youtube.com/watch?v=H9_Fs1QtsOY
I hoped to see more brass instruments on the field. I couldn't find my trumpet to bring! (Argh, it's always been easy to find.) It's supposed to be "gin and trombones," right? There certainly were hundreds of Belgians! We did have a nice real drum -- about the only one of those. I'm used to more music/noise variety. Well, at least we had the people!
Maybe I'm spoiled: my first CX race was Kisscross Holland (MI) 2011 ("Spiral of Death") where an actually talented trombonist played lively tunes throughout the day. That was an eye-opener!
We missed the Foam Party afterward. We were trying to find Michiganders without having any cellph#'s -- a goose chase. Did see Sven in the hotel in his jersey and medal (I was too chicken to say Hi) and I had a chat with Jon Page -- nice guy.
(My bro Tim has a buncha nice pro-grade pics on his Facebook Album. Our antler fun is shown in the CX World's gallery at BikeRumors.)
We did get to party with the Babcock family, the major publisher of CX books. They just released Geoff Proctor's book on Euro CX called "Behind the Stare." They also do Molly Hurford's "Mud, Gears and Cyclocross," about US racing. It was neat to chat with Proctor -- he's the US Jr and U23 coach and a longtime racer himself. What was funny was that he suddenly realized that I had turned down his book project years before! He said I was polite about it, thankfully. He lives in Montana and knows Pete Vordenberg, whose US XC Ski Team memoir I had published. That experience showed me that you can't break into the mainstream from a niche sport, even one that the public could theoretically relate to, in the snowy part of the world, at least. At the time cyclocross was much smaller yet! I couldn't find my old emails with him but I assume I said that it wouldn't be worth the effort to sell a couple hundred copies to the insiders. Now CX has blown up and XC is the fading sport. Of course CX still only has a few thousand fans who would be likely to read in addition to drinking and making noise. Even so, at this time I might be foolish enough to go for such a book! ...And when I did the ski book our winters were much better and the US was looking like it might take a big step up. It kind of did for one woman and one man athlete (some wins and podiums and top 10's) but it wasn't enough and the scene didn't galvanize around it.
My own angle would be to play up the general culture sides of these sports, starting with the mere activities involved rather than focusing on the elites. Now, Pete's book did capture a wide range of experience, from youth to touring to race culture in a colorfully depicted way that anyone could relate to. But elite skiing perhaps isn't enough of a hook. Pete's lowly teen and college ski fun might be as potent as his Olympics.
It was interesting to hear from the publisher about his view of CX and doping. He said that it's the hugely long road races and multi-week Tours that really push a body beyond what it can handle and provoke the drugs. CX is an hour in the mud. Now, any event I'm sure tempts those who want a leg up on rivals and extra power helps in an hour, too. But he does have a point. Well, at the top I figure it's no holds barred. In the middle, it DOES seem like CX is more of a party. And that training for half-hour to hour events MIGHT be easier on the bod. I know that I like the shortness! Heck, I read a quote from one of our best women saying CX is fun because they get to eat and drink what they like afterward. Top outdoor sports people that I know of (from the serious worlds of road and XC ski) usually don't even have a beer during the season, so these CXers really are different, at least from the total controllers. (Though I think I read that Sven hasn't had a drink in his life. So there's all kinds!)
It was nice, also, to chat with Jonathan Page at the media table. The "Stare" book includes him so I got his autograph. He had bad luck but totally rolled with it. Even the best sometimes do in CX. It seems like it afflicts the US more often, but whatever, maybe our guys don't have 5 mechanics! My limited experience with elite sport has a bit more bitterness on display, people crying from nerves, etc. But maybe that, too, happens to everyone at that level. Still, losing is a great test of sportsmanship. Anyone can cheer when they win. Smiling despite bad luck is a distinction. I noticed a photo of Page with a fan in a J-Pow t-shirt -- another US contender. Page didn't seem to care. Why worry?
We saw Sven by the hotel elevator. He seemed friendly but I decided not to bug him. Rats. I should've at least said Thanks and that I appreciated the Show. ...But I'd been asked to stand for photos about 300 times myself that day. I even felt how public attention can interfere with things like trying to eat lunch -- people wouldn't let me take off the antler helmet! So I just smiled and nodded at the master of The Stare. He held the elevator door open.
We rode the elevator to the top of the Galt House. What a marvelous view of miles up and down the river, with all the bridges. The fancy restaurant there has 2 rotating rooms in front of the windows. A tip on a great way to get the experience is to do their $20 Sunday brunch with made-to-order omelettes. (Well, $20 in 2001!)
Apres' party hipsters.
Foam party hipsters.
Lady champs like to party.
Katie Compton is ultimate US lady champ -- with the long blond hair. The other ladies are fast, too! And Jamie Driscoll, a US Team guy is in there, too, somewhere it says.
Sven and his party entourage. Which one is Sven? --The coolest one -- who doesn't match.
Foam party. We missed it. Rats! (Actually, we were invited but didn't appreciate or understand well enough. We kept looking for Michiganders.)
Doe a deer.
Thing 1 and Thing 2.
Great White North.
Celebrities need a break.
Jonathan Page -- US hero -- with Belgian fans after the race.
3 go down a steep part.
Slippery slope for spectators -- lots of fun just the same.
Roots style 'cross.
Oldschool. From 1931, France.