Waffle House Party

The UCI announced on January 29 that Louisville, Kentucky will play host to the 2013 World Cyclocross Championships, the first time the event will be held outside of Europe. Many insiders would have predicted the United States’ first major international ‘cross event would be held at one of the sport’s traditional stateside hotbeds – like New England, or Katie Compton’s parents’ house. But making the transatlantic leap could already pose such a mental hurdle for Europe-based athletes that it seems the UCI placed a premium on making everyone more comfortable with the unorthodox trip. So, in vetting the Louisville venue, I can only assume that the UCI considered such important ‘cross-related questions as:

UCI: Does your city have ample facilities for serving waffles to drunks?
Louisville: Yes, yes it does.

UCI: Everyone really likes the horsemeat when we hold the Worlds in Belgium. Do you have good horsemeat?
Louisville: Um, in a manner of speaking. You probably don’t want to eat it if you’re going to dope control, though.

UCI: You know, Tabor (2010) has Budvar, St. Wendel (2011) has Karlsberg, and we can only assume that Koksijde (2012) will have the usual Belgian pils and jenever smorgasbord. Do you have some sort of signature local drink that we can use to get well and truly schnakered?
Louisville: Why, yessuh! I say, I say, we DO!

And after one sip of sweet, sweet bourbon, I can only assume the decision was made. Now that I think about it, Louisville is practically just northern Europe transplanted. Kidding aside, congratulations, thank you, and good luck to the folks who made it happen – Bruce Fina and Joan Hanscome, who also bring you (or people like you) the USGP; and the city of Louisville, which is throwing a lot of support behind the event and ‘cross in general.

Anyway, we have three years to chew on this whole deal, but here are a few quick holeshot thoughts:

  • In the USAC release, head honcho Steve Johnson states, “After more than a decade of working closely with American promoters and the UCI to grow our international calendar of cyclo-cross events, Louisville’s winning bid is a testament to the success of those efforts and to the extraordinary quality of ‘cross racing in the U.S.”

    Right on, Steve. Does this big payoff from all USAC’s “efforts” mean the fed will do something more for the 2013 cyclocross “national team” than give them a jersey and a slightly uncomfortable pat on the ass? Because you know, even most bike shop teams manage to get you a discount on tubes or something. I mean, I know it’s been hard, or apparently impossible, to scrape together the cash to buy riders coach-class tickets to exotic vacation destinations like Flanders and the Czech Republic right at the height of their bleakest-depths-of-winter high seasons, and those new baggage fees are a bear. But if you can’t manage to do better when the Worlds are in Louisville, on three years’ warning, then that’s pretty depressing.

    Look, it’s one thing to stiff the pro/elite folks, who actually make (some) money racing bikes and whose sponsors will help out since they’re in a position to capitalize on their athletes’ Worlds participation. But for the juniors and even the U23s? Come on, if you want to call it a “national team,” strip people of their committed year-long sponsors' clothes, and wrap them in the flag for a day, at least pick up the tab. If you really want results, those folks need to be training, racing, resting, or doing schoolwork in the months leading up to the race, not hosting bake sales and car washes to fund a ticket and a hotel room, only to have you issue another self-congratulatory press release if they manage to turn in a good performance.

  • Folks have been working on bringing a ‘cross World Cup stop here for awhile, and recent thinking has trended towards building Cross Vegas into that event, which makes a lot of sense. It’s so early in the season the travel wouldn’t present as much of a problem, and the potential sponsor pressure for riders to show at both the race and Interbike could persuade more recalcitrant riders to make the trip. But bringing the World Championships here is far better, and not just for the obvious reason that “it’s the friggin’ World Championships, man.” With the World Championship, by virtue of the late-season timing as well as the prestige, you’re basically guaranteed a turnout of the top stars, and they’ll be shooting for top form. In contrast, if you’re simply the first stop (by weeks) in the World Cup, you’re likely to get a much smaller turnout if a good portion of the top talent chooses to collectively wait it out and start their seasons one race later and 3,000 miles closer to home. And even if you get a few of the heavy hitters at the top, the overall depth of the field tends to get watered down a bit – look at the results of North American MTB World Cups for examples.

    This is not to say U.S. interests shouldn’t continue to pursue a World Cup here – it’s an admirable goal, and I hope they achieve it. While the Louisville Worlds will provide a huge one-time impact, a recurring yearly World Cup stop would be a significant long-term asset. As the VeloNews article linked above cites, championship venues are typically tested with a World Cup first, but there are still some funding humps to work out for a stateside World Cup stop since 15,000 people won’t pay $20 a head to watch a cross race here. However, if there still isn’t a U.S. World Cup prior to Louisville in 2013, a good promoter/federation performance there could potentially help shake some sort of solution loose and set the U.S. up for some recurring role in top-shelf 'cross racing.

  • In email chatter since the announcement, I’ve already heard some half-joking worry about the arrival of plane loads of drunken, abusive Belgian fans. I’m more worried about their inevitable drunken, abusive American imitators -- if you’ve raced ‘cross, you know they’re out there. I’m always wary of imitators, of course. No matter how unsavory you may find their antics, at least the originals are well practiced and know what they’re doing. As for their inadvertent and overenthusiastic spawn, let’s just say I’d rather have Didi “the Devil” Senft on my roadside, legendary B.O. and all, than some local who thought Didi’s brand of schtick looked pretty damn appealing, and I’d much sooner take fashion advice from a real member of Gwar than some guy at an Oakland Raider game. So please, I beg of you, though 2013 is a long way off – if you go, be yourself, whatever that is, and don’t try to cop to someone else’s act in the name of some ersatz cyclocross “authenticity.” If Americans waving Lion of Flanders flags in Louisville strikes someone as authentic, they're in need of a dictionary. Drink what you want, act like you normally would, speak your own language, and enjoy the racing. For more information, please consult Joe Parkin.

  • I was glad to see through the various releases that the U.K.’s Simon Burney was on the UCI technical committee involved in selecting Louisville. I don’t know him, but like many riders in the United States (where, pre-internet, English language ‘cross info was scarce for a long time), older editions of his Cyclocross: Training and Technique book served as a valuable reference and introduction to the sport. So that’s two we owe him, I guess.