The offseason. It's officially here. I don't want to....but I have to accept it. The last race this past Sunday was a true nail biter. For the first time in years, one of the three major series was up for grabs on the last day of the series. Sven Nys' experience and ability to handle pressure saw him come out on top of the young challenger in Kevin Pauwels. Ya, there's one more race tomorrow, but thats really just more of a parade than anything else.
After reading the excellent interview with Greg Keller, I began to wonder. You see, Greg knows the whole game. He 's the guy that can tell you about tires, sealants, glues, racers from all over the world, races from all over the world and the diversity of the courses. He can tell you about the mud, and the beer, and the cigarettes....the hooligans, the venue's and the outdoor pissoires. He can tell you about the promoters and the backers, the juniors, the masters, the men and the women. He writes a phenominal blog, and he's probably the most passionate guy I've met concerning all things cyclocross. So what I started to wonder about, was....How many people in the US actually know this sport inside and out like Greg does? I would venture to say, not many. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it starts to be when people just start spewing things like, "They should do this or they should that", when they themselves don't even really know who "they" are.
People in this country seem to want to make our game the same as what we see from Belgium and a couple countries in close proximity to Belgium. I don't really understand that. To quote Bill Bellicheck, "it is what it is". We have such different cultural surroundings that I see that as an impossibility, but I also don't think that's a bad thing, just a different thing. Look we're never gonna have cross races that pay athletes $5000-$10,000 just to start the race. We'll probably never have major TV coverage of our events. We're a niche within a niche within a niche, we need to realize that and accept that. I can appreciate the dreamy eyed passionate fan (also racer) that wants all of that, and believes "It's a great spectator sport......people would watch it if it were on TV". But I don't think so, not in this country. (Picture the Miller Lite beer commercial with the guy in a speedo ordering a beer from the hot babe/bartender who tells him "Not in this country"). Thats just how it is, we need to accept that.
I for one think thats fine, because what we do have is unique. Since when do we follow? Aren't we more wired to lead? Their way might look better from here, but it's just different. The region we watch races from is a fraction of the size of New England. That alone is why we could never "reproduce" what they do. We need to accept that. If we had similar circumstances we probably would. Cycling is to them, what football is to us. We need to accept that. The sport doesn't have to be sold to the masses there, it's knit into the fabric of their history, just like football, baseball, basketball and Nascar are in this country. We can't look at it from the US cyclocrosser's point of view, we have to accept that what matters is the US sports fan point of view. It'll never change, and thats OK. We have a great participant based sport here that is thriving, but more people show up to watch high school sports than they do for cyclocross. Thats fine, I accept that. In the US, every fan at a football game is not a football player. At US cyclocross races just about every fan is a racer. In Belgium most of the Cross fans are older, heavier, cigarette smoking, beer drinking commoners (see US football fans). At the Belgian National PRO Championships there were less than 20 starters and only 13 finishers. Does that seem like the biggest country for cyclocross to you? It's spectator driven in their country and participant driven in this country. The difference is everything in this day and age, when everything comes down to the almighty buck$$$. Spectators, pay entrance fees to watch, they buy beer, and food, and watch the televised events, that can in turn, sell advertising. On the up side, in this country participants buy equiptment from all the maufacturers. It's just different. Accept it.
Our country is much bigger, with a much harsher winter. Everyone likes to say "They have snow and ice races in Europe too" and they do, but much fewer. People point to Poprad in 1999 (thats a long time ago floks) and Tabor at the Worlds last year in 2010. There is usually a short period where they get a little snow on the ground in Belgium too, but it's not the norm and the big factor is that they don't get the deep frost in the ground. Typically the freeze is short and temps regulate back to their normal conditions, which is temps from the high 30's to the low 50's, with no frost in the ground. Lots of mud yes, but no frost. So to try to align our schedule to thiers just seems silly to me. I can hack it and I'll be at all the January Championships, but it just doesn't make sense to me. At those races we'll have the potential for very dangerous conditions. I don't mean you could crash and get hurt, that can happen anywhere. I mean there's the potential for frostbite and hypothermia. I don't think we should be so desparate to follow their example, that we sacrifice logic. Ironicly we don't take advantage of our geography. Belgium doesn't have the option to have warm weather races within their borders. Lots of the top PROS head off to Majorca during the week and then head back to Belgie for the weekends to race. In the US we could have those late season races in some of the warmer climate states/locales. I wish USAC would work to improve the model for Natz so that promoters from those places would actually want to bid for it. Actually I wish USAC would do a lot of things, but I digress. I don't see having Natz 3 or 4 weeks later as making a big difference in preparing 7 or 8 athletes for Worlds. Instead, I agree with Greg that anyone that wants to do well needs to go live there, like Jon Page. Greg's best quote in that whole interview was something to the affect of "You can't just expect to show up for a week in December and kick ass". Why will it be different in January? It won't be. We need to accept that. Besides....isn't turning the sport on it's ear for 10 or 15 athletes a little warped?
Worlds in the US in 2013 will be different, it will be American Cross and the Euro's will have to accept that too. The thing we Americans forget to realize is that even by moving our Natz up to January we're not really following their model. Worlds were almost a month ago and since then, two of the three major series have been decided. They KEEP racing after Worlds over there, which is also awesome. Their last cross race is tomorrow, and this weekend is the first of the Spring Classics with both Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne happening saturday and sunday, both in Belgium in the same places cross races are still breaking down their courses. It's just different, we have to accept that. In most of New England there is 3' of snow and ice on the grond, the roads look like bombs have hit them for weeks, and the biggest races we have in this country might be some crits in Florida and Texas and SoCal. But thats OK, the world is a smaller place with the internet, and being a fan can happen from anywhere in the world.
I feel like Nationals or Worlds should NOT be the last race of the year. If everyone keeps racing after the big championships then the new champions can showcase their new jersies and enjoy their peak race fitness a little while longer. That doesn't mean having even more races into late January and February in the US. It means having the National Championships a lot earlier in the season, more like Canada does. I think eventually we need to see a split between amateur and PRO championships, just like we see on the road. US Natz is largely a masters affair. USAC could split it into two events, two venues, two different dates. In the US we've always made Natz the big party/show, but just when everyone is amped to the max we shut it all down and go away. That seems wrong to me.
Anyway, I hate the off season. It leaves me with too much time to think about all this stuff and write about it. It won't be long though before the miracle of Spring brings us back to it all.
Peace out, JB