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By Patrick O’Grady
For by thee I have run through a troop: by my God have I leaped over a wall.
– II Samuel, 22:30I’m suffering a crisis of faith.
Adri Van der Poel, whom cyclo-crossers revere as God, is rewriting the Bible by supporting barrier-free course design in his role as technical director for the UCI World Cup.
“I have nothing against barriers, but the simple presence of barriers doesn’t make it a cyclo-cross race,” Van der Poel told VN news editor Charles Pelkey as part of a World Cup preview to be published in the October 21 issue. “What they do accomplish is to give a huge advantage to those who get off to a good start. Yes, it’s tradition, but it’s not a great tradition.”
Cyclo-cross sans barriers, first promulgated at the 2002 world’s in Zolder, Belgium, is nothing more than a short-track mountain-bike race with drop bars and 700c wheels. A dirt crit with knobby tires and cantilever brakes. In short, just another Sunday bike race, and God knows we already have plenty of those. They even held one on Wall Street recently, and if it had had some barriers, run-ups and mud, it might actually have been interesting to watch.
This is a slippery slope that Adri has set us upon, without so much as a set of screw-in toe spikes for traction. Who knows where its bottom lies? First the barriers go, and then the courses get a smooth coat of asphalt, and before you know it delicate types like David Millar will be mincing about at your friendly neighborhood cyclo-cross, as long as it’s dry and flat and warm and paved and closed to auto traffic, or at least to anyone driving a Big Mat rig.
Cyclo-cross is neither a road race nor a cross-country. It is, in the classic Pythonesque phrase, something completely different. A ’crosser has to get off the bike and scamper about from time to time, and not just because he’s throwing a tantrum. This tends to thin the herd a bit.
A roadie who carves a crit corner like a Thanksgiving turkey may be less adroit in a December ’cross, with one slushy shoe frozen solid to its pedal during a flailing pirouette of a dismount. The mountain biker who descends faster than Lucifer in “Paradise Lost” may be as slow on foot as Sharon Falconer in “Elmer Gantry.” And trackies … well, the less said about hormonal Amish Luddites who eschew brakes, derailleurs and right-hand turns, the better. They call off their races when it rains, f’chrissakes.
Now, I confess, I proselytize on behalf of legwork in ’cross because I’m OK at it. I run year-round, and not just off at the mouth, either. This may be why the races I remember most fondly had the most footwork in them, not the least.
At one snowy Colorado ’cross, the promoter shoveled a short lane for a start-finish area, ordered a Le Mans-style running start to our bikes, — which stood, buried to their bottom brackets, in a snowbank — and trimmed the day’s work from 45 minutes plus one lap to three laps, period. The racing looked like a bunch of bike thieves training for the likelihood of a flat during their getaway.
At another race, we found ourselves running a good two-thirds of a hilly course blanketed to mid-calf in snow while organizers frantically dug away at the deepest drifts. Most attempts to ride ended comically, with slow-motion, Artie Johnsonesque topples sideways into fluffy powder. It was completely absurd, hysterically funny, and I won.The weather was the only obstacle required at those races. But what about those crisp, clear November mornings when there isn’t a cloud in the sky, when the only thing that can set a man to running is a flat, a crash or a bad breakfast burrito?
That’s when you need barriers, my lad, and plenty of ’em. Even Sven Nijs and Jonny Sundt have to get off and run now and again if you do it right.
And that’s where the real fun is. Seeing a top-shelf ’crosser attack a barrier section is like watching a Cossack practicing equestrian acrobatics to the detriment of his enemies. One second he’s a blur on the bike, the next he’s legging it like a crackhead clutching a Blaupunkt freshly ripped from a BMW dashboard, and then zango! He’s back on the bike and stomping the pedals like Billy Preston working a Hammond B3 at the Victory Baptist Church.
Alas, God would have us believe otherwise. It’s a mystery. And equally mind-boggling for true believers is the news that Microsoft — which Mac users like myself revile as Satan — is sponsoring the Seattle Cyclo-cross Series, which continues to employ barriers in its course design, defying the Word of the Lord.
So, anyway, bless me, Father, for I have sinned, it’s been – well, forever – since my last confession. I just popped by to let you know that I’ve decided to worship Satan from here on out, because God is screwing up my religion.
The opinions, speculations, ravings, foamings and rantings of theauthor are not necessarily those of VeloNews, VeloNews.com,Inside Communication Inc., its creditors, advertisers or anyone else who’snot a taco short of a combination plate, a bubble off plumb or a coupleof bricks shy of a load. In short, this rant is not our fault. The guy’sgot a no-cut contract, like Terrell Davis, but with worse knees. Still,if you feel so inclined, you can dropus a note and tell us and the author what you think.