Jonny Bold, National Champ in the 45-49 race, and recent podium finisher at Masters Worlds, has offered up some thoughts on the future of cross in the US as we head towards hosting the first World Championships outside of Europe. Have an opinion? Leave a comment below.
‘Cross Worlds are coming to town! That is the coolest thing ever. While I’m excited about 2013 [Elite World Championships in Louisville] like everyone else, I’m really pumped about 2012 (and 2013). That’s when Louisville, KY hosts Master’s Worlds.
There’s been a lot of chatter lately about pushing our Natz into January “like the rest of the world.” I disagree with that, and here are some of my thoughts as to why…
We’re not the rest of the world – our winters have the potential to be below zero in January. Heck, it’s even possible for it to get that cold in December (2009 in Bend). While lots of you will be quick to say, “Ahhhgh toughen up,” it’s not about that. I loved racing in the extreme conditions of Gloucester, Maine and Bend in ’09. We are a huge country, Belgium is not, and neither are most of the other European countries. Travel in winter is sketchy, but if we’re talking about driving, well then we can leave earlier, drive more carefully etc. But if we’re talking about air travel – let’s face it lots of us fly to Natz – then the travel is out of our control. Storms delay flights, or cancel them.
This reason alone is why it’s frustrating and sometimes pointless to even compare the cross scenes, at the pro level, on either side of the ocean. We have big UCI races in the US just about every weekend, but it’s NOTHING like Belgium where they can drive to just as many even bigger races. Flying all over the place will just ruin you and leaves no time to actually train.
I’m all for racing after Natz, but I think it should be at the local level. If we’re just racing locally, it’s not the end of the world to change plans at the last minute. In New England, we’ll get entrants no matter what the conditions.
Also with the Worlds coming to town, would it be reasonable to ask amateurs to travel one week to one corner of the country, and then to another six days later? Six days apart is the actual race dates, but you gotta show up a day or two early. Everyone would have to fly from Natz to Worlds. Not great. Especially in this economy; when taking one big trip is a big deal, two might be unattainable.
That brings me to another point. Everyone shouldn’t go. This isn’t gonna be popular, but don’t mistake me for someone who gives a shit. There are too many entrants at Natz. It’s a friggin’ joke, a circus. Why is it that USAC requires us to qualify for Mountan Bike Natz, when a big field at mountain bike natz is 45-50 guys, but for ‘Cross it’s open to any and all?
It seems to me the only answer could be MONEY. Now, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to make money, but the governing body shouldn’t pimp out its national championships. We should have national championship caliber racing at the national championships. We should not be playing bumperball with lapped traffic, two laps into the race. The first few guys to get lapped in masters races at Natz are just awful bike riders. Slow, unpredictable, clueless, usually heavy, terrible bike handlers. Guys racing for National titles shouldn’t have their races threatened by this situation. (Marky Mark McCormack, 2007, Kansas).
This isn’t little league where all the kids play two innings so they don’t cry or shoot up a school. At Natz in Bend this year, Coates and I went through at least 40 lapped guys. USAC should limit the field, require qualifying, pull riders about to be lapped at both pits, the start/finish, and maybe two or three other designated spots on the course BEFORE they get lapped.
Anyway, the point of this isn’t to rant about USAC. I could go on forever on that one. The point is to say, let’s practice a little self discipline. In Belgium, I discovered that there are lots of good racers, but the very fastest guys are the only ones to show up for Natz. I know, I raced in their Natz. The guys that don’t stand a chance of being top-25 or 30 don’t bother going. At Masters Worlds, the fields were about 55-60 riders and it truly was international. Fields any bigger than that are pointless. Now I know it sucks and it’s a bit elitest to say “just fast guys should be at Natz.” Lets face it, in this country “Natz” has become the biggest party of the year. Cross certainly has the coolest culture and I love a party as much as the next guy BUT, you know who’s partying? The back half of all the fields. The front half are buckled down, focusing on finishing off their season with a good result. Then we party afterward.
If Natz are bad, then won’t Worlds be worse? We can’t just allow anyone to enter who wants to. With some fields near a ridiculous 200 rider count at Natz, you can safely assume that lots of foreigners are gonna want to try out ‘cross in the USA for Worlds, so we’d have over 200 riders in some fields. Thats awesome that it’s that popular and also very cool that it’s in our yard, but it would be hugely irresponsible to allow the race to swell with that many entrants and turn it into another circus.
Before you suggest we make the laps longer so it’ll be less likely to lap riders, think about what ‘cross is. The risk is making it less exciting, and drawn out laps will change the whole dynamic. ‘Cross will “jump the shark” and go the way of mountain biking in the 90’s if we tweak it like that. Six to eight minute laps work well for the spectators, commentators and racers.
So I’m trying to say that I think Natz should stay put or, if anything, happen earlier. It’s always such a shock to the system to have everyone trying to peak for the biggest race of the year and then just shut it down right after. There are thousands of us racing cyclocross, how many continue on to Europe after Natz? Maybe ten? 20 tops on any given year. Why not have it in mid-November so everyone can play with that peak fitness for a while? The races after Natz would be really exciting too. Local series like our New England Verge series could have races after Natz without asking promoters to have races after Christmas, risking low turnout and lost income. Right now we look at the second week of December as the finish line. If we have Natz in November, then there will obviously be racing after Natz, and since we’re back to racing locally at that point, the possiblity of continuing on farther will be much better, I think.
That’s another thing: with Natz where it is, the following weekends are filled by major holidays. Some of us will be psyched to race again Jan. 7th or so, but the majority will shut it down. In Europe they have Natz, and then Worlds and then they keep racing after that. Are we gonna do that too? No, we’d try like crazy to hold our fitness into January, do Natz and then stop, just like we do now. Also, if you have Natz in November, you might see a lot more pro roadies trying to hold their form for ‘cross Natz, since it’s a reasonable time frame vs mid December. Either way, Natz shouldn’t be the last race of the year, but if it’s mid December or mid January, it will be (in this country).
Also, lots of U23s and Juniors never get to race in their National Champion kits. If you win Natz in your last year of the Juniors or u23s, then the following year you can’t wear it. If it’s in November, those few would at least be able to wear the Stars and Bars a few times in races.
I’m just sayin’…open your mind.
What do you guys think of such Bold words? Drop a comment below!