When I was interviewing the junior women on the Red Zone Cycling team in Louisville, Kentucky, for an article in our upcoming Issue 21, there was one six-year-old on the team who was a bit of a character. For every question, from “What’s your biggest race accomplishment?” to “What’s the hardest part about racing cyclocross?” Lelani had the same answer: that darn hill.
“There was this hill that I went down and there was a bump at the end of the hill and I went over it and I felt like I was going to fly,” she said.
“I think every one of your answers has revolved around a hill,” laughed Jon Haley, the man responsible for the team and for coordinating our evening interview.
It was adorable.
Of course, a couple of months later and a lot of time spent on the mountain bike, I have to admit: I was starting to feel like Lelani. My only goal was this one wicked steep hill at Round Valley Reservoir in New Jersey. It laughed at me, every time I tried to make it up.
Turns out, it was adorable, but it was also the perfect literal and figurative way of looking at the life of a bike racer.
I made it up the hill once before I headed out on my three-week West Coast adventure: it was a long, slow slog up the hill, but I realized that if I just focused on the ground a few feet in front of me (“Don’t look up, don’t look up, don’t look up” became a constant refrain), I could make it to the top. That time, anyway. We don’t always make it up a second time, as it turns out. But still. I conquered the hill, though my next lap of that course involved a lot more crashing and cursing as my confidence bubbled over and I made dumb mistakes.
And then, before I knew it, I was packing my bike and nearly hitting baggage weight limits as I tried to prepare for an Xterra triathlon in Las Vegas, Nevada, Sea Otter in Monterey, California, and Whiskey 50 in Prescott, Arizona. If I’d just been racing all three, my bag would have been lighter, but since we were heading to Sea Otter to cover the new cyclocross gear coming out, and covering the racing, I was loaded down with my semi-mobile office.
The trip was amazing. I won’t go into much detail, since if you follow CXM, you’ve already seen the important goodies that came out of Sea Otter, and saw the race reports and interviews from Whiskey 50. But this post isn’t about the trip, it’s still about that fricking hill. And there was another one in California. A lot of them, actually. Turns out the Bay Area is full of long, steep hills that never end. This time though, my nemesis wasn’t an uphill, it was a loose, gravelly downhill where, if you tried to slow up by braking, you’d lock out your tires. One guess as to what I did?
Skidding on my side about 15 feet down the hill, I could feel skin burning off and getting covered in black sand. I came to a stop and stood up. Broken bones? No. Blood? Yes. Bike OK? Also yes. All right, we can keep going.
The title of this post might be a bit misleading, but it was the phrase that somehow was in my head while I slowly made my way around the rest of the trail on that ride. In mountain biking and in cyclocross, crashing is almost inevitable. Just ask someone like Katie Compton, who’s European season in 2012 was marked by bad starts and crashes, only to come back for the win after the fire was lit. We may falter, we may struggle, but as MTbers and cyclocrossers, we don’t stop, we don’t quit.
However, the title of this post isn’t just about me crashing or not crashing. As someone directly impacted by UCI Rule 1.2.019, and as someone in the cycling media who’s been monitoring the situation for the past couple of weeks, I’ve been doing a whole lot of thinking about it. So this is the note I’ll end on. I am so, so proud of all of the incredible people I’ve come to know in the cyclocross scene over the years.
The reality is that USA Cycling and the UCI planning to enforce this long ignored rule (even if they’re “willing to hold off for a year”) has had the opposite effect they wanted: it has galvanized the racing community, not to support these governing bodies, but to rebel against them. Huge pro teams are flaunting the rules, immediately publicly pledging to send not just one or two riders, but full squads, to unsanctioned events like the Whiskey 50. Top racers are railing against USA Cycling. In an interview we did last week, Geoff Kabush seemed almost disappointed that we were given a year before the rule would go into effect, saying, “It would have been interesting to see it all come to a hear at the Whiskey 50.” Team managers, industry executives, cycling media and virtually anyone not directly affiliated with USA Cycling have expressed distaste for the policy, bringing up the question: can USA Cycling really be the nation’s governing body if no one in the US cycling scene believes in it anymore?
Even though it seems like a stay of execution was granted, the rule being enforced in 2014 doesn’t give us as much time as we’d like to think. If something is going to change, it needs to start now. I know a lot of people breathed a sigh of relief, and then went back to life as usual, heading to races like Whiskey 50 or TSE or, heck, nearly any gravel race in the US. But the time to start discussing and editing the rule should be now, before we have to restart this process all over again next year.