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Chocolate, Waffles and ’Cross: Natz report

Brandon Dwight reports from the U.S. Cyclocross Nationals and raises questions about the need for a better rider ranking system at the elite level.

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By Brandon Dwight

It wouldn't be ’cross nationals without thousands of fans!

Wow! What a weekend! The promoters, sponsors, vendors, officials, announcers, fans and racers of the 2009 U.S. Cyclocross Nationals in Bend, Oregon, put on a spectacular show. By now I’m sure you’ve read all about the unique race venue, the thousands of screaming spectators and the tasty Deschutes Brewing beer. If you’re lucky you can pick up a six-pack of Deschutes at your neighborhood beer store, but to experience the rest, you better start making plans to visit Bend next December. Trust me, you don’t want to miss it.

I am not quite sure where to rank this one. Was the 2009 U.S. Cyclocross Nationals in Bend this past weekend the best yet? If you were at the Presidio in San Francisco for the 1999 Nationals chances are you know what a special event it was. At that race, what a ’cross race could be in the US was elevated to another level. Well I think the promoters in Bend raised the bar. Besides a great venue and course design, there were activities all weekend long. From bike-related movie premieres and art shows, to rockin’ after-parties, the action did not stop. If you compare ’Cross Nationals in 1999 to 2009, it’s easy to figure out the magic recipe. All you have to do is take one-part urban venue, one-part awesome course design and shake it up with two-parts beer and you’ve got the makings for a truly memorable race.

Now, as I sit in front of my laptop typing away and blabbing on and on about how awesome the race was and how you should go next year, there is a part me that wants to bite my tongue, or keyboard rather.

It wouldn't be 'cross nationals without a Guy in a Speedo!

One aspect about ’Cross Nationals, which I always thought was so unique, was anyone could enter the race. You don’t have to qualify. Heck, you don’t even have to have ever raced a ’cross race in your life and you could compete in the elite category. In theory, you could have gotten a USA Cycling license the week prior, registered for the race, flown to Bend, rented a ’cross bike from a local shop and ridden against the top pros in the country. True, you would have gotten lapped by Katie Compton or Tim Johnson before you made it over the first set of barriers, but you could have still pinned on a number and raced.

Ten years ago there were less than 60 guys racing in each of the respective categories and now there are nearly 200. And, ten years ago racers did not make a living by being a paid professional cyclocross racer. Nowadays, future contracts and sponsorships are dependent on how well one does as a ’cross racer. Is it fair the best racers in our country have to yell up to lapped riders, “Leaders coming!” or “Rider up!” while competing for valuable UCI points or a national title? Think about it. Why should someone who is leading a national championship race have to waist valuable energy to let a rider know he is going to pass him, or have to worry if the rider about to be lapped is going to accidentally take him out. Now, don’t get me wrong, I have been lapped by some of the best riders in the world, a lot. As, they approach, I graciously move to the side of the course, put my tail between my legs and thank them for putting me out of my misery. As they race on to podium glory I think about how bad I would feel if I accidentally took one of them out and ruined their race.

So, the question is, as cyclocross continues to grow in the U.S., should USA Cycling create a better ranking system for cyclocross and only allow a certain number of racers in each category at Nationals? I don’t know the answer to this, but it’s an interesting topic of discussion. For now, I’ll stick to racing and promoting the sport and leave the dirty work to some other folks!

Well, there it is. Another cyclocross season in the books. For the past few years, about half-way through the ’cross season it seems as thought I always ask myself, “Is this going to be my last year?” As I get older, the bike shop gets busier, my family grows, and the question seems to take on more and more importance. I know I will never be a paid professional cyclist. I’m too old and too slow. But, I knew that a long time ago.

It wouldn't be 'cross nationals without Tim Johnson kicking my butt!

Yeah, I’ll probably see you next year. ’Cross is just too much fun to give up.

Time to send my end of season shout outs. First and foremost, I need to thank my crew at Boulder Cycle Sport for putting up with me all season and keeping my bikes running smooth, and my wife for putting up with me, too! Thanks also need to go out to Steve at Ridley for the Formula One-level race bikes, to Alex at SRAM for the never-fail Force drivetrain, Lance at TRP for the ultimate stopping power, Dylan at Clif Bar for the calories, Jason at Crank Brothers for the best mud-clearing pedals, Lance for the grippy Hudz, to Daren and John of Shimano for my dancing shoes, and Brian and the crew at Zipp for the lightest and fastest ’cross wheels on the planet. And, last but not least, thanks to the whole cyclocross community for making this one of the best seasons ever. Keep up the great work.

Thanks for reading,


PS. Did anyone else notice how Colorado took home more stars and bars jerseys than any other state? Oh snap!

Brandon Dwight lives in Boulder, Colorado, with his wife, Heather, and chocolate lab, Oban. He is part owner of Boulder Cycle Sport and the founder of Sponsors include: Ridley Bicycles, SRAM components, Zipp, Crank Brothers, TRP Brakes, Shimano footwear, Clif Bar, Hudz, IO/BIO and PRO.

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