Cyclocross World Championships - Louisville did great
I attended the UCI cyclocross world championships in Louisville, Kentucky this past weekend. You probably know by now that the elite racing was moved from Sunday to Saturday because the course sits on a flood plain. As the weather conditions worsened, it became apparent by Sunday what was once a dry (okay, muddy and snowy) course would be under several feet of the Ohio River, which runs alongside the venue. A last minute (and in hindsight very wise) audible was called and the main events were moved up a day to Saturday.
Mother Nature isn’t a cyclocross fan as the weather in the Louisville area ranged from tornado warnings and snow flurries, to rain that would cause potential flooding. Locusts were the only missing ingredient in what people were jokingly calling the “crosscalypse.”
The Euros took it with a shrug and in classic fashion resigned to the fact that the world championships were going to happen a day earlier. Stuff happens. Plus, this added to the Euro flavor that is sometimes missing from American ’cross races.
So here I was with my media credentials around my neck checking out my first UCI cyclo cross World Championships. Reports had the crowd attendance at between nine to ten-thousand screaming, chanting fans, but it felt like a lot more. Or maybe the many swigs of bourbon I had from friends were impairing my ability to make an accurate count. Chris Smith of Lazer Helmets put his official count at “a bunch” followed up by “it was rad.” Who could argue with that?
The atmosphere was amazing and the crowds got into the spirit by chanting “USA, USA, USA” whenever a mud-splattered American kit came into sight. Equally loud were the cheers for the Belgians, the Dutch or whoever was in the lead. However, behind the cheers and back slapping of a job well done, the world championships had been in a dire financial situation just several weeks prior.
To quote their website Exergy is a “multifaceted renewable energy company entrenched in wind, solar, bioenergy, geothermal and hydro” and was to be a title sponsor of the UCI cyclo cross world championships. However, the company wasn’t able to meet its financial obligations for the event and things weren’t looking good for the race. Luckily WD-40 lube, Trek Bicycles, Papa John’s Pizza and the city of Louisville stepped up to help fill the gap. It was touch and go, but as the clock ticked down to the race date things always seem to work themselves out, so the Worlds stayed in Louisville.
While everyone behind the scenes thanked their lucky stars for everything working out (except of course for the flooding which necessitated moving the race up a day) the fans didn’t mind. Everyone I spoke to said they were having a great time and no one mentioned “You Know Who” or doping. It was quite refreshing. Usually people always ask my take on a doping news item that pops up. Instead it was questions like, “Did you talk to Powers?” or “Do you want more bourbon?” Yes, I’d much rather talk about that.
However, it wasn’t all just holding hands and enjoying the racing. At the medal presentation UCI President Pat McQuaid stepped onto the stage to award medals and the rainbow jersey. And no, his theme music wasn’t Darth Vader’s Imperial March. Unsurprisingly he was loudly booed by the crowd as he slipped the jersey over Sven Nys.
The fan and journalist in me are always conflicted at moments like these. I personally kept quiet when this reaction happened. Do I think McQuaid needs to leave the UCI? Without a doubt, yes I do. Ultimately he’s the one who was at a minimum asleep at the wheel or even facilitated doping within cycling to further his own agenda. But I also know McQuaid isn’t alone in the messed up situation cycling finds itself in right now.
Throughout the days leading up to the race there were “McQuaid sightings” with not so nice responses to these sightings ranging from demanding that someone yell at him to kicking him in the shins.
The journalist in me wants the truth and the only way we are going to get it is questioning what governing bodies pass off as news. We can’t accept what is handed to us from a press release. Journalists (and to some extent social media) are the ones who create the change and question what we hear. By not doing so we’re nothing but extensions of either a corporation or in cycling’s case, a national federation looking to hide the dead bodies of history past. However, let’s not get like the Roman Colosseum and unleash the lions on him.
There were some strong rumors floating around the press room as to whether the Irishman would have his job for much longer. Recently the UCI and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) exchanged a few heated emails. McQuaid took it a step further by asking for support from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) as he realized back-up was necessary if he was going to remain part of the UCI. It smacks of desperation, but he’s in a corner with nowhere to go. Reaching out to “allies” could be his last move on the chess board. Anyways - back to cyclo-cross ...
In the post-race press conference the new world champion Sven Nys praised the course and fans. While boisterous, they were well behaved with no reports of drunken stupidity. There were many costume choices that I thought were questionable considering it was 19 degrees: the girl in the mid-riff cheerleader outfit and the guy who wore a star and stripes tank top and shorts. But hey, who am I to judge? I was wearing numerous layers of clothing and I was still cold. At least they embraced the conditions and owned it.
A year ago Nys was on the fence about racing in Louisville, but now at the press conference he was stating that he’s motivated to continue and would like to bring World Cups to the U.S. If the UCI is serious about globalization they need to look past the sponsorship woes and the quick change of plans because of the weather. The race and the people who organized it did a fantastic job and deserved a standing ovation.
In case you were wondering - by Sunday the Ohio River had flooded portions of the course.