Right about now the hangover from this past weekend is juuuuuust about starting to diminish. Everyone I talked to was on a high watching the culmination of an amazing 2011/12 season with the World Championships streaming right into the comfort of all of our living rooms. It’s amazing this thing called the internet. It wasn’t too long ago that we all had to (literally) give a secret password to some guy in Seattle who had a pipeline to bootlegged copies of races on DVD ripped from primitive DVRs in Belgium and had to wait weeks after the event to get our copies. It’s that much easier now to see your heroes on your flat screens nowadays. As it’s happening. It’s that much easier to see more, be inspired and repeat what you see.
This season was pivotal…truly a tipping point…in terms of our sport’s visibility and growth. The racer-participation numbers were staggering…most demonstrably in the junior and youth categories. As I keep repeating, we’re witnessing ‘the new Little League’ begin to cut its teeth with kids pouring in. All so they can ride their bikes around in circles, in the mud, over boards about a 1/3rd of their height with crazy people screaming their guts out for them. How incredible that must feel.
So, as I lean back and observe, the state of our sport in the U.S. is healthy and showing green sprouts of success.
But what is ‘healthy? And what is our definition of the sport’s ‘success’? Does success begin and end by statistics entirely driven by and dependent upon “racer-spectators?” Another way of saying that is our racer-cum-spectator community is applauding only itself. We race, we change clothes, we stay a bit at the venue and spectate other categories…and we marginally grow in this closed-circuit system. Net-net: if a tree falls in the forest, does anyone hear it?
I tend to break down success into two categories…but categories that are mutually dependent upon each other if not inseparable:
Exhibit A: U.S. racer success
Exhibit B: Success of the the sport here in the United States
Let me walk you through my thoughts here…
U.S. Racer success
I am going to focus my attention here on the ‘elite level’. Let’s start with this past weekend at the World Championships. 18th place. That was Ryan Trebon’s scoring at Koksijde and the best ranked U.S. rider on the day. One of the last to sneak through the 80% rule of not being counted as a lapped rider. And honestly, an incredible result in the grand scheme of things. I am sick and tired of seeing yet another tweet or hear another comment of ‘pathetic’ or ‘we should be ashamed’ or any number of completely idiotic, naïve and otherwise uneducated reactions. It is a result that was well earned if not miraculous when you step back and see the bigger picture. Were there better results historically? Sure…Page’s silver in ‘07 and probably most impressive and similar to Ryan’s was Marc Gullickson with his 13th in 2001. Everything is different, folks, from this side of the pond to that side. Everything. About the only ‘constant’ between us is the equipment we use in this day and age. It wasn’t always like that either. We finally have top notch supplies…tires, frames, etc. But all of the rest is completely foreign to us. Unknown with the exception of what can be gleaned from YouTube. What’s misunderstood and different? Seasonal build up and training: different. Racer incentives: different. Racer motivations: different. Competition: completely different.
Let’s talk about incentives and motivation. Take a guy like Tim Johnson. By all definitions, other than perhaps Mark and Frank McCormack, he has been ‘Mr. Cyclocross’ of the most recent generation here in the States. He is a champion if there ever was one. But is the archetypal example (if not the painfully true example) of the necessary struggles a U.S. racer passionate for the sport must do to build it and make a living at it for he and Lyne. It is he who must hunt. Hunt for sponsorships, for escalating visibility of himself and the sport. He is creating a new model of professional (cycling) athlete in the U.S. I like to call them “athletepreneurs”. Athletes who must build a personal brand, spend inordinate amounts of time maintaining their brand…and in the case of Tim along with Stu Thorne…the brand and image of the ‘team’ at large. It’s an incredible amount of energy and with that likely a pull from the focus required to do one thing: go fast when it counts.
Abroad, it is quite different. Why? There are far fewer ‘professionals’ who are vying for spots on well-funded trade teams and by extension the ever so critical ‘start money’ received for simply toeing the line by the event organizers (more on this in ‘Sport success’ below). The sponsorship and lucrative start money is there in spades and these European athletes are carefully grown, groomed and then chosen from their youth…a youth which is effectively all about their sporting development (and that is in and of itself a larger sidebar story). This is not the case at any level in the U.S. Not even for our bat-and-ball style sports let alone wheeled sports. We have no ‘Sporting Schools’ that the general populous can attend (P.G. years at Choate do not count, folks). Tim’s manger/handler (a.k.a. himself) isn’t being handed a check from the local newspaper supporting the event in Fort Collins Colorado USA for $12,000 to show off his shiny legs and Red Bull helmet. Quite the opposite. It’s his sponsors who have carried him there to rep the brand, image, etc. Tim, in turn is on the phone with marketing managers and PR reps at Red Bull and a phalanx of other sponsors 300 days a year wherein he must perform ‘duties’ to get paid. PR events, social media, and on and on. All a distraction in my opinion from the quiet focus we see these European athletes exude and are able to maintain.
In addition to the professional deviations between the continents, we have…the riding and racing itself. It’s…fast. It’s different. And it’s simply not the same style. Racers even in the earliest category are trained in tactics. Group racing is the norm even in the younger categories and these continual lessons teach ‘smarts’. We simply don’t behave that way here…with the exception of the 5-7 or so ‘elites’ we have pushing the pace at the fronts at USGPs. It’s about as close as we can get.
Courses are radically different than what we know here as well. They are racing on courses built for professionals. Koksijde is a great example of that. It’s an historic landmark used only for elite-level World Cup and World Championship racing. Compare that to ‘any given Sunday’ in the United States where we have every single age group from Aiden Keller (age 9) to Tim Johnson riding on virtually the same course. That concept simply does not exist in Europe. Masters/Juniors/Amateurs have their race events and respective courses…professionals have their own. Build up for these races is entirely different as well with the majority of the cross peloton sponsored to appear in highly lucrative Kermesses (circuit races) with blistering paces but longer ‘base-centric’ endurance being the side benefits these crossers reap before they plow into the dog days of November and December in the low lands.
Lastly, when you take these elements above, there is one key ingredient to combatting all of that above: being there. Geoff Proctor has created an incredible system vis-à-vis Euro Cros Camp. I will say this out loud: if I win the lottery, I will volunteer ALL of my time to stay there and do what I can to help Geoff. He’s a saint. But it isn't enough to quite literally change the DNA of our young riders to race and compete at the level their Belgian, Dutch and Czech counterparts do weekend in and out. We need riders who can compete alongside them all season…earn points…negotiate start money…get faster…learn tactics...become hard. But who could blame a kid for not wanting to spend all that time away. A high school student simply couldn't (unless they had unique support from their parents and good schooling at ex-pat schools). And it’s not clear to me who in our U23 ranks is dedicated enough to the sport to actually try it. I mean from August to February. Alone. In shitty weather. Underpaid (at first) all in pursuit of being and beating the best.
So before you ever dare mention another foul word about the performance of our boys and girls in the hardest races on earth, think. But before we can think big and reap the rewards of success, we need to pull up our big boy undies and take the plunge. Full stop. And actually be there. Not go on a vacation and have an appetizer.
The Sport’s Success in the U.S.
‘Sporting success’ consists of a wildly ranging set of opinions, data points and variables. I’ll walk through a few of my viewpoints but again, success has many definitions. It’s also the one aspect where my doubts truly get the best of me. Why? Well I think we can draw parallels to the basic ‘dud’ that Major League Soccer has gone through here in the U.S. I am of the generation that remembers seeing and cheering for Pele himself when he was on the Cosmos. Nothing has really changed. Soccer remains a very small fringe sport that is entirely misunderstood by the average U.S. Joe. A Joe who would WAY rather sit and watch a sport in his living room…a sport that by its very nature was architected for television. Time outs, replays, and games where there are ‘plays’ versus constant movement (think players on a field passing a ball or cyclists climbing a stage) are the key pillars of ‘TV sports’. The ‘Joe’ goes narcoleptic with continual movement it appears. And that’s no good to sell beer in the U.S. Joe has no patience for it and therefore Budweiser doesn’t either. Entertainment for the Joe comes in 2-10 second ‘bursts’ and then…whew…a funny Bud Light commercial to bring the heart rate back down. The part we must evangelize is the drama of cross. You do not have to understand much about cycling to simply witness the drama…for VERY short periods of time. It’s tuned for the Type A in all of us…and Narcoleptic Joe. Anyone can empathize with someone trying to pedal their bike on sand or through mud and try to keep it together. It’s a spectacle…and it’s the key thing media and advertisers need to be educated upon to have any hope of drawing in the big sponsors.
And speaking of Joe…it’s average Joe who is important for the next item…Spectatorship. And Spectators = cash money. Entry fees, ecosystem revenue (like the frites and beer guys) and follow on merchandising. Cross is a spectators paradise.
The Belgian ‘Politie’ (police) who managed the event in Koksijde estimated 65-70,000 spectators had squeezed themselves into the airfield and surrounding community where the historically famous course lives. It was a record even by European event standards. The average Joe in Belgium is not a racer-spectator. They are a FAN! A cigarette smoking, frite eating, Jupiler swilling, Sven Nys-talking, no bike riding, factory-working FAN. A fan who is willing to pay the required 15-25 Euro (depending upon caliber of event) to get inside the event and line the tape to see their heroes in action. Contrast that with the United States where local race event organizers have to beg and plead to first secure an area to lay a course on, pray they do not get sued for destroying the land (or erode profits re-establishing grass), pay out obscene amounts of cash for liability and then market to an audience of…you guessed it: racer-spectators. All 200-1000 of them on average. The Europeans have it nailed. Land owners fight to have their land used for events versus their neighbors farm fields a town down the road. Fans can come and enjoy beer, music and lastly…a chance to win! In other words, gamble…
Gambling at this level and with this amount of ‘entry level gambling fun’ is simply not allowed here in the U.S. (lest we ‘cross on an Native American reservation…hint hint, promoters). ‘Making it interesting’ at races by putting a few Euro down on ‘your guy’ is like a cultural birthmark in the countries where cycling is an ‘important’ part of a national identity. Beer, bikes, bucks. It’s a beautiful system.
There are a zillion perspectives on the state of cyclocross here in the U.S. I’m merely providing my personal views, counter-examples and perspectives from having been able to go abroad and race my bike at a master’s level…and making great friends who I remain in close contact with to learn what I can about ‘their system.’ U.S. cross is growing well. It’s growing exponentially in Europe as well. But here in the U.S. we can not have our cake and eat it too when we constantly complain of results of our U.S. elite heroes, entry fees being too high for competitors, courses that are too hard…or too mountain bikey…or too easy… or too snowy…or too dusty. The sport needs to professionalize and do so in a manner that demonstrates value outside of us…the racer-spectator. We need to show Narcoleptic Joe that spending a Sunday off the couch and at the course with a beer in hand is fun. The drama is real and quite compelling if not addicting. That race organizers can turn the corner and stop charging racers and start charging spectators to witness the action. That the characters being built like Jeremy Powers and Tim Johnson and Ryan Trebon are true heroes and modern day ‘action figures’ who any kid will know by name and attempt to emulate on their bmx bike.
Sound X-Game-ish? Well maybe there’s a business model there worth looking at.
Stop complaining. Start innovating. Continue evangelizing. The green sprouts are just forming.
Local Cyclocross Fans!
As you all know, Boulder is one of three great cities vying for the US National Cyclocross Championships for a two year stint in 2014/2015…at Valmont Bike Park! We have had an amazing set of ‘trials’ both with our own local Boulder Racing series here as well as through an extremely well attended and racer-participated UCI-level event…the Boulder Cup!
We’re poised to make this happen folks! SO much incredible momentum. We have a world class venue…but most of all we have YOU! Cyclocross evangelists every one of you. It will be this community that will ensure we see Valmont play host to the National Championships!
YOU CAN HELP THIS WEEK!
How? Read on..
The venue selection crew is coming to evaluate Boulder this week. The visit will occur THIS WEEK on Wednesday, February 1 from 9-5pm.
The Colorado CX community can show their support by attending our last scheduled meeting with USAC officials at the Boulder Beer Pub (2880 Wilderness Place; Boulder, CO 80301) between 4-6pm. This will be open to the public, food and beer may be purchased at a special discount for this event, but most importantly it will end our official site visit with the best reason of all - our local racers and teams.
We hop eyou can be there to show the USAC your support, hear from you why we would be honored to have the event and most importantly how each of you can play a role in assisting with volunteering, and being GREAT AMBASSADORS for Colorado and our beloved sport.
IT’S TIME TO HUP!!!!!!!!
Live Streaming Cross Worlds Commentary From Mud and Cowbells!
Join Mud and Cowbells this Sunday as Pete Webber and Greg Keller team up to call the action of the 2012 Men's Elite Cyclocross World Championships!
This will be one of the few English language commentaries live and in real time. Pete and I will announce all the action as it happens, and also include insight and analysis into the riders, tactics, equipment and infamous Koksijde course. Pete is one of the few Americans who raced at the World Championships when it was last held at Koksijde in 1994. Have a look at his antics below. He's always fun to listen to, and our audio track is certain to be entertaining!
Here's how it's gonna work:
On race day, open two windows on your browser (or use two computers.) In one window pull up a live video stream of the race, in the other window listen to our audio commentary. Use the volume sliders in each window to adjust the levels. Crank up Mud and Cowbell's audio and turn down the foreign announcers, or listen to them both! Arrange the windows on your screen so the race video is full size, and keep Pete and Greg in the background or corner, right where they belong!
On Sunday morning, get up early and go to http://www.cyclingfans.com/ to find up-to-the-minute links for live video coverage of the race. Then go to http://www.mudandcowbells.com/for a link to our commentary. Then grab your cowbell, pop open a Jupiler, sit back and enjoy what is gonna be the biggest cross race the planet has ever seen!
I was able to meet Lars in Vegas this past CrossVegas in 2011. I can say first hand: Lars is one. good. kid. And he is a literal machine. A true once-in-a-decade talent who's already chewed up and spit out the U23's. That win in Vegas over Peeters was no 'lucky' turn of events. It was a guaged and perfectly timed effort. Lars is a Terminator built from parts of Sven Nys and Adri van der Poel. Insanely powerful attacks mixed with gifted technical abilities. Welcome to the next 10 years of cyclo-cross domination...
(Filmed by Chris Milliman!)
I’ve always enjoyed my friend Chris Milliman’s work. He captures images that we all as crossers see weekend in and weekend out…and not just the obvious stuff like the racing action. Chris sees the intimate stuff….the spectators with Gitane’s jammed in their mouths, the insanity of the pits, the lady dispensing the frites and mayo from the back of a trailer…you know all the stuff that REALLY happens at a cross. See his portfolio here. But now he’s taken that amazing acumen of his in still photography and applied it to real life moving pictures. If you haven’t been to Belgium to race or spectate (shame on you), here’s your chance. Watch our friend Ben rail the heavy mud on his Stoemper at Kastreelcross Zonnebeke .
OK…TRUE success story here! I wrote a post a few months ago to help expose my good friend Brady Kappius’ company, Broken Carbon (follow him on Twitter here as well). As it comes to pass, I was cleaning off my Ridley X-Fire from its caked on mud from training and that’s when I saw it…and the cold rush ran down my back…
Yes, I wept. I have ZERO idea how this crack and hole got into the chainstay or how long it was there. It was a literally a hole in the carbon. But without even leaving the garage after I discovered the hole, I simply whipped the phone out of my pocket, called Brady, sent him this picture and he said in the most calm manner: “No probs. I’ll pick it up, fix it and it’ll be as good as new.”
And holy shit did he! Just got the bike back and look at this. It is meticulously fixed, polished and nearly blends in perfectly. Check it…
Outside view of the chainstay:
Inside view of the chainstay:
THANK YOU BRADY! By steed’s back to life and waitin’ to be ridden. HUP!!!!!!!!!!!!
Honestly, I don’t know what my problem is but I like shoes. OK, love shoes…and bike shoes to be completely accurate. I like my feet to feel right, comfortable and of course style is always up there as well. Maybe I have an Imelda Marcos-esque addiction to fine footwear. Or maybe I’ve been on this constant search for the perfect ‘cross shoe and have been trying tons of different options to eek out whatever performance I can in various conditions.
Whatever the case, this season I landed on what I think is a pretty significant breakthrough in my ‘quest’ to find the perfect cross shoe. The Mavic Fury. The very yellow Mavic Fury that is. While there need to be improvements as I’ll talk about below, I think it is extremely close to perfection
Everything went into slow motion when the bodies began to literally fly into the air…disintegrating the course tape, smashing into spectators and generally being thrown into completely orthogonal directions from the direction the racers needed to go…as if they triggered landmines and were thrown violently into the mud.
That was the first 25 seconds of our National Championship race in the Men 40-44 group.
I’ll get to the racing in a moment but the synopsis is this: what a phenomenal day on Saturday January 7th, 2012. The Boulder Cycle Sport crew…no, strike that…the Boulder crew itself from various teams all worked so well to get our racers onto podiums and meet their personal goals for this race. It was crazy passion. Crazy dedication. Crazy cross fanaticism at its best.
The lead up -
The days leading up to Madison were very introspective for me. It’s been the same old broken record: “Too much going on in my life/am I fit enough/the teeter totter is broken/I’m not good enough/etc etc.” My State Championship was a personal disaster and really, deeply, disappointed me. I’m still learning how to train/eat/rest/peak/reduce stress in order to be at my best for various targeted goals. And States sort of burned this hole in my brain on how to completely fail. Utterly fall apart…and it really all just emanates from poisons in the head.
I had some great talks with two guys I deeply respect and consider mentors. My teammate Pete Webber and my coach Frank Overton. They both intimately get me…they get my passion for the sport and know that I have a brain that constantly thrashes, is rarely calm, very often impulsive and jumps to bad places too quickly thus beginning my mental poison cycles throughout various times in the season. They both were clear and syncopated when they said: it’s in you, just relax, trust the training and know that you’ll be good.
As for goals, Madison was as some call an ‘A’ goal. Obviously in front of our Nation’s best masters, I wanted to do the best that I personally could. My call-up would be mediocre (27th in row 4) and my goal was to be top 25. I wanted to ride clean enough to maintain and push on from there versus getting nervous, get off my game and start getting caught and dropped. No fun. It was a very conservative goal but after last year’s debacle-season and Nats, I wanted to ‘walk down the hill’ and be conservative in my brain as I had a clean 2011 season of decent results, no crashes and just flowy riding which led me to a top 10 overall in our region. I wanted this Nats to go the same and just ride clean to a respectable result. Literally that was it.
The whole build up to Madison in the weeks following States was ideal. SUPER calm. Way less stress after speaking with Frank and Pete and generally just enjoying ripping on my cross bike. From the packing and bike transport to the logistics to the flights and getting to Madison, it was all fun and games. The family was in a good place, I never got sick and I was stoked to be with my buds. Traveling with two consummate pros in Pete and Brandon isn’t all seriousness, by the way. In fact. quite the opposite which relaxed me even more. These two stars-n-bars winners and former pros are probably two of the funniest mopes you’ll ever meet and I am so happy to have them in my life and pushing me to go harder…be better…one idiotic moment at a time…
Learning from Pete and Brandon over the last 5 years or so has been continually eye opening. Every little detail
The Boulder Cycle Sport team bikes packed in the Pro Bike Express trailer which is now already safely in Wisconsin. Brandon, Pete and I are taking to the airways tomorrow evening to get our bones to Madison and get to work on Saturday.
It's ben a fun season. Learned tons. Ready to race and do my best.
Reports coming on the twitter.