From the “Girl with the Cowbell Tattoo” to the philosophical Master’s racer extraordinaire, we bring you a new meeting of the minds. When Lee Waldman approached me (Molly) about doing a “conversation” column together, I immediately thought it was a great idea. After all, he lives across the country from me, we have a large age gap (sorry, Lee!) and of course, a different view when it comes to discussing gender and racing.
Today, we wanted to debrief a bit on our experiences at the end of cyclocross season. For me, that was Nationals in Madison, and for Lee, that was Masters Worlds in Louisville at the site of Elite Worlds 2013.
We want this conversation to be a starting point: we’ve asked each other some questions, offered some opinions, and now we want to hear yours in the comments or on the Cowbell forums. And of course, if you have any cyclocross issues that you’d like to see us tackle, let us know.
Lee: So, it’s been a while now since I dragged my mud-encrusted body off of the airplane from Louisville. I’ve had some time to think about it. You’ve had even more time since Madison. Seems like a good time to compare notes on our respective experiences.
Molly: Now that the season is over (well, except for a couple more Euro races, anyway), I have had more time to actually think about Nationals, especially after watching (and hearing about) Worlds and what it was like there. So this is definitely a conversation that should be happening, not just with us, but with promoters, officials and the elite riders who will be coming to Nationals and Worlds again next year. And I think, just as important, getting feedback from spectators and category racers is something USA Cycling should be doing/have done as soon as Nationals was over, and the promoters for Worlds should have done the same. A survey could go a long way to identifying and making simple fixes on common problems.
Lee: I’ve gotten mixed reviews from friends who rode Nationals in Madison and I’m curious. What’s your take? I can tell you that even after a week of decompression, I still have mixed feelings about Louisville. The course and the venue left me a bit underwhelmed.
Molly: I’ll put it this way: when I pre-rode the course on Thursday and it was a bit warmer so the course was sloppier, I loved it. I came back into the media center after doing a couple of laps and was just ecstatic about the course. It was fun, there were challenges, but there was nothing that made me worry about actually getting hurt, nothing that made me slam on the brakes and creep while others blasted by. Sunday was a different story though. With the frozen ruts and slick mud just over top of them, staying upright and going fast wasn’t quite as simple as Thursday. Still, in all, I really enjoyed the race. I know we were extremely lucky with the weather and I don’t know how good it would have been if the weather had been what everyone was expecting (negative temps and snow), but for what it was (40s and mild), it was a great time. What about you? How did you like Louisville?
Lee: The course itself would have been a blast had the weather been a bit milder. I knew riders who arrived early and pre-rode on Wednesday before the storm blew in. At that point it was fast and from all accounts, a trip to ride. Not necessarily the most technically challenging, but fun. All that changed, as we know, by Thursday. Mother Nature handed Masters Worlds a can of the proverbial W—P A$$. The thing that made Worlds a challenge was the weather. Rain then snow, then cold, resulted in frozen solid ruts in the morning. By afternoon everything morphed into greasy, drive-train-clogging mud for the later races. The ruts forced riders to never lose focus because on lapse of concentration, one poorly chosen line and you were down. Add to that the soggy grass on the flat sections and the mud virtually everywhere that wasn’t in the shade and you had truly epic conditions.
Molly: Do you think it’s a good course for Elite Worlds next year?
Lee: Honestly, I don’t see this course being hard enough for the pros next February. Giving the promoters the benefit of the doubt here maybe there’s some real estate that we didn’t see during our races but from what I experienced there I’m afraid that they’ll laugh. There’s too much flat. The elevation gains are short, no more than 10 seconds or so and all rideable without barriers. I’m not the best bike handler in the world and I had no problem with any of the technical sections of our course.
Molly: I felt the same way at Nationals, as far as not being the best handler and not having much technical trouble. For me though, since I raced in the Elite race, I can obviously point out that there was a huge discrepancy in my technical abilities and theirs on the course. Even though I could “handle” all of the sections, the women at the front were blasting through them in unreal ways, though not without some mishaps. So overall in Madison, I thought it was a good course. My one issue was that other than the last two races, there weren’t a ton of spectators. Maybe part of it is that the race isn’t in Madison, it’s in Verona, a 15 minute drive from the actual city. And I also think part of it was that the event was charging for parking (understandable for a sporting event, but since that’s really all the news channels mentioned: “Cyclocross Nationals is in Verona at the park. Parking is $5,” I don’t think it did us any favors for bringing people in.) Compared to Bend, when there were tons of spectators for every event, it wasn’t as “Nationals-like” as I expected. What was Louisville like?
Lee: One thing that stood out for me in Louisville was the friendliness of everyone from the guy who took my money as I parked in the morning to the woman in charge of getting me the start sheets for each race. On my way from the airport to my hotel I got lost three times. Each time I stopped for directions the people I asked were incredibly gracious. Louisville gets big kudos from me for that.
Sadly, with the exception of friends and families of the riders, I think the only people in Eva Bandman park cheering for the riders were the race volunteers. The city needs to do much, much more to promote this event next year to really showcase the growth in popularity of ’cross in the US. I was also left disappointed by the atmosphere, or lack thereof, at the venue itself. No industry presence, one local food booth, nothing really to distinguish this event from any local bike race that I attend weekly in Colorado. This is a world championship! Make it look, sound and feel like one! I didn’t attend the award presentations. I was too busy cleaning bikes and body. I heard from reliable sources that there was no one there except for the winners. No spectators, no press, nothing.
Molly: So overall, what did you think of the race and the race promoters? I think in Madison, they did a great job for the first year. I hope they learned a lot from it and can make some changes and improvements next year, maybe do what you’re saying Louisville needed to do in adding a bit more spectacle to the event. I’m excited to go back to Madison though. The people were great, USA Cycling did an awesome job with the Media Center in the library, which was huge for me and made my job a whole lot easier. It’s hard to really say how I felt about it as a racer, honestly, since I maybe have too much ‘behind-the-scenes’ knowledge of how much work really went in to everything. Plus, even though my intention was to be there as a racer first and a writer second, that definitely got switched around almost as soon as I got there, for better or worse.
Lee: All in all, I congratulate the promoters for handling some really challenging conditions. They could have done more to change the course regularly so that it wasn’t dangerous, but it is, after all, cyclocross. They have a lot of work to do next year to make the course a challenge to the world’s best professionals and to create a festival atmosphere worthy of a world class event. It wasn’t this time. Finally, I was hopeful that more Europeans would make the trip so that I could, for once in my life, get a feeling for the difference between racing here and racing across the pond. Sadly there were very few. In my race I believe there was a single British rider and other than that the names were the same ones I’ve been racing against at nationals for the last few years. The quality of the racing was excellent. We have some incredibly talented masters cyclocross racers in this county.
I did learn a couple of valuable lessons from Louisville. Or I should say I relearned them: 1) Never, ever show up for an important race with only one bike. You can never tell what will happen before, and during the race; 2) Plan for the worst in weather and course conditions because Murphy’s Law will inevitably apply and anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.
Molly: I can second both of those lessons, especially the second one. With that weird weather swap, who knows what next year will be like in either place! Well, Lee, thanks for chatting and hopefully next year we’ll be at Nationals and Worlds and get to have a beer and heckle a bit.