Going to the Mountain Bike World Championships last August was a dream come true. Funny I should come home so pissed off.
Well, maybe not so much pissed off, as I had a real fire lit under me. The trip to Australia made it painfully clear that to race at that level I had a lot to sort out to make it happen again — not just in training, but finances.
Newsflash! Dollars are tight in the industry and very few riders are paying the bills racing a mountain bike. But focusing on a problem only keeps the solution out of sight. So… Il faut qu’on bouge. (I spent a few months as a bike guide in France after college. While there, I had a chat with a local about chasing one’s dreams. The takeaway: “Il faut qu’on bouge.” Loose translation: (If you want something to happen) You gots to get movin’.
So finally — after an autumn of resumé mailing, proposal writing, phone calling, emailing, coffee meetings, fretting, hoping and some minor swearing — the New Year brings a new team.
In 2010, I’ll be riding for the Kenda/Felt Mountain Bike Team. We’ll be a four-person crew with Amanda Carey, Colin Cares, Andy Schultz and me. I’ve always been impressed by how these guys could write “very cool individual” at the top of already impressive resumes. Amanda is an accomplished XC and marathon racer, Andy a top-ten XC pro and Colin is the U23 XC national champ. I’m psyched to join this gang of talented, driven riders.
Making this move was definitely made possible by my time with the Tough Girl Cycling Team. I am grateful for all their support and feel lucky to have had the opportunity race with them. I wish them continued success and growth.
I still need to figure out my race plan for this year. A few things are TBD. That said, my budget will do a lot of figuring for me. Kenda is sponsoring a number of events I want to attend. The US Cup’s decision to forgo UCI sanctioning also makes for some interesting choices: Money or UCI points. It’s the difference between being pragmatic and pursuing possibilities.
I’m not thrilled the US Cup parted ways with USA Cycling’s Pro XCT series, but on a positive note, maybe this will generate the momentum to make lasting changes in how the national race calendar is organized. The U.S. is not at a loss for great races, but we are at a loss for access to UCI points.
Only knowing what I’ve read in the news, it seems the issue is much bigger than just race promoters and USA Cycling. In 2010, five of six World Cup events are in Europe. I’m sure there’s a logic to this, but it does skew the accessibility to higher-point races.
And it seems in a way that involving the international cycling governing body is making it cost prohibitive for international racing to flourish Stateside. The difficulty reported for the World Cup stops in Houffalize, Belgium and Windham, New York and others to raise funds for sanctioning their races suggests that attention needs to be given to that process. At the end of the day, race promoters need to pay bills, and understandably, their decisions are affected by profitability.
Still, there’s the far trickier factor of the U.S. cycling culture. Almost everyone has a bike, but not everyone likes to watch bike racing. Races need more spectators. More spectators bring more sponsors. More sponsors, more UCI point races.
We ought to look at sports that have a strong hold in our culture for pointers, like football. Why do so many people like to watch football? It’s not because it’s easily accessible by TV or the venue itself, or that it’s exciting to watch, insanely marketed to the masses or has an oddly satisfactory amount of violence.
It’s because the players wear tight pants, stylish jerseys and shoulder pads, which all together are flattering to the figure. It’s fashion in action.
So really, as cyclists we’re not far from a solution. We’ve got the stretchy pants, now we just need to mandate shoulder pads and spectatorship will skyrocket. Why this hasn’t been done yet I’ll never know.
Truthfully, I don’t think there’s a quick, easy answer. And there’s a lot more to this issue I’m sure. All the same, I’m encouraged. We’ve gotten to this point built on the efforts of several groups who’ve worked hard to grow the sport and create a series to help riders compete on the international level; the NMBS, the US Cup, USA Cycling and many others.
Even though there’s more work to be done, hopefully the latest turn-of-events is the last step in a process to a sustainable working model for mountain bike racing in the U.S… Il faut qu’on bouge.
Judy Freeman is a pro mountain biker out of Boulder, Colorado. In 2009 she represented the U.S. at the World Championships in Canberra, Australia. For 2010, she’ll be racing for Kenda/Felt Mountain Bike Team. Other sponsors for 2010 include TrailMaster Coaching, Hayes, Manitou, Voler Apparel, Pearl Izumi, WickWerks, KMC, SDG, Shimano, Crank Brothers, Uvex, Pika Packworks, and Mighty Good Coffee.