Will cyclocross carry the Winter Olympics torch? by Tim in Syndey on Flickr

Cyclocross in the Winter Olympics! (photo: Tim in Syndey on Flickr)

Cyclocross in the Olympics has long been a fantasy for ′cross fans everywhere, but turning that fantasy into reality has been difficult. But there’s progress. In January we were the first (English) website to report that the IOC was considering adding cyclocross as a Olympic sport. It raised eyebrows and was soon picked up by numerous blogs (here, here, etc.) and a day later, major media. Now it appears the sport is one step closer to making the leap to Olympic status, and several top pros have endorsed the plan.

LAUSANNE – UCI President Pat McQuaid and IOC President Jacques Rogge announced on Tuesday a plan to include cyclocross in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada as a demonstration sport. “This is a great day for both the Olympic and cycling communities,” McQuaid said in a prepared statement. “Bringing cyclocross to the Olympic Games offers an opportunity to showcase cycling’s fastest-growing discipline to the whole world.” McQuaid noted, however, that the event will be unique for several reasons, mostly related to the requirement that Winter Olympic sports be contested on ice or snow, a rule that the UCI was unsuccessful at convincing the IOC to change. As a result, the Olympic cross race will be run at the Whistler Olympic Park and will share portions of the biathlon and nordic ski courses, and will be run entirely on snow. “The nordic courses at Olympic Park already incorporate many of the features cyclocross racers expect to see at international competitions including fly-over bridges, off-camber trails, and technical turns,” said McQuaid of the decision to use these facilities.

Because the courses were laid out before the deal was struck, each lap, at 7.5 km, will be longer than a typical cross lap. UCI Cyclocross Commission president Fernand Conter suggested that some rules regarding equipment may be modified for the more difficult than usual conditions, including allowing athletes to run disc brakes and, possibly, special studded snow tires. The announcement also included one less-surprising development, given recent World Cup and Worlds courses, albeit with a twist: barriers will be eliminated from the course. Instead, however, in what is sure to be an extremely controversial decision (and bring new meaning to “demonstration sport”), the race will use the biathlon’s shooting venue and will require racers to complete a target shooting round at the end of each lap. For each of the five targets that a racer misses on each lap he or she will be expected to ride an additional 150 meter penalty lap near the pit area. McQuaid explained the unorthodox decision to include shooting in the Olympic format, saying, “Cyclocross has always been a hybridization of several disciplines and we thought this would be a novel way to incorporate some already-existing Olympic disciplines into the race.”

Willem-Alexander, Prince of Orange, one of the Netherlands representatives to the IOC (who is reported to be a dedicated supporter of former World Champion Lars Boom) told the Dutch press that the choice of format seemed logical. “Biathlon and cyclocross are two of the most popular winter sports on European TV,” he said, “so it makes sense to combine them into a single, overwhelmingly popular, event.”

Bicycle manufacturers also expressed pleasure at the news. A spokesman for the Belgian bike company Ridley told Cyclocross Magazine that their lightweight manufacturing would be highly in demand among athletes at the games. “Athletes in biathlon are required to carry their weapons with them on their backs throughout the race,” he explained. “Typically these rifles weigh as much as 3.5 kilograms, so racers will appreciate lighter guns made using the high tech materials like carbon fiber and scandium that are available to us. We have a great deal of experience with carbon tubing which we should be able to easily extend to this purpose.” He said the Ridley-branded rifle, which will be called the Ridley X-ploder, should be available by October for athletes to train with.

Georgia Gould, who represented the US in the 2008 Olympic Mountain Bike race in Beijing, told Cyclocross Magazine that she was excited about the chance to compete in both the Winter and Summer Games. On the new format she said, “You know, I’m a closet redneck from Idaho, and as a young kid I’d not only shoot targets, but also soda cans and small animals, so I think I’ve got a great shot — no pun intended — at taking this event. And if a racer is leaving the range before me? She better watch out. I have incredible aim.”

Gould added that Clif Bar, which sponsors her team, LUNA Chix, through its LUNA Bar brand, was also happy about the news, “The Clif brand is pretty psyched as well. They obviously love cross, but are thrilled to expand their customer base to the gun-carrying crowd. After all, hunting gets a lot more TV time than cross!” On her personal blog, Georgia has confirmed her interest in the event.

Meanwhile, Belgian Champion Sven Nys, who has previously made several equally unusual proposals to elevate the profile of cyclocross, wrote on his website, “This is more than we could have ever dreamed. Yes the format will be quite unusual, but now we know what we must do. First for me will be to get a gun.”

Excited for the inclusion? Think the modifications to the sport are lame?  Drop us a comment below.