Fresh off the plane from my recent ORL-LAX-AKL-WEL haul and countering jetlag like a badass. The return leg was less painful than the outbound equivalent via Houston, which was peppered with Texan security life experiences and washed down with a midnight drive from the Big Apple to upstate New York landing us in our final destination at a bleary-eyed 4:30 in the morning and a casual 36 hours after departing the Land of the Long Grey Cloud – and the boys in blue think their nine-hour direct flight from Brussels to Chicago is madcore?
After quickly accepting my fate of lesser coffee standards and successfully translating that the average Kiwi flat white is equivalent to a Starbucks macchiato (less milk, more coffee please – make that a triple shot), it was game on for a casual bike rebuild following the lean green racing machine being half-inched the week before, followed by another macchiato before bedding the new rig in with a couple of casual evening laps around a beautiful park in Rochester, followed by racing full noise from the back of the grid in the women’s Pro C1 the next day. More following followed, this time of wheels, as well as a shed load of lessons in How To Pass and How To Avoid Crashes and the top half of the field was my final resting place 50 minutes later.
Photo Middy Matthews
Cyclocross is an old grandfather of sports in Europe with heritage from 1902. Understanding the ownership of the claim to who kicked it all off is a bit is like debating the trans-Tasman rivalry over the invention of the great pavlova. With the pav now officially listed as being named after a Russian ballerina who visited both New Zealand and Straya, I expect the Netherlands will lay claim to visiting France and Flanders to settle the who-invented-cyclocross argument once and for all. Regardless, it took the UCI a brief 48 years to jump on board and ever since there have been Cyclocross World Championships.
Much like the participants, Cyclocross Worlds were firmly rooted in Europe until the Stateside scene, growing since the 1970s, bowled in guns blazing with the first ever non-Euro Worlds in Louisville in 2013. It was a fucking big deal. Now there are two US World Cups and the ‘Merica scene is going strong.
After the last three weeks, I can confirm that those crazy Americans are crazy. They took the extreme weather conditions well loved by cyclocrossers in the Flandrian paddocks and turned it on its head while keeping it truly authentic and all things CX. They have honed heckling to a fine art (“Nice blood, New Zealand” followed by “We haven’t given up cheering for you…but you’re gonna get pulled…just so ya know we won’t see you next lap”) and extend themselves beyond bacon handups to cupcakes balanced precariously on course. This is not just the jetlag talking. The cupcake was real. They even did equal prizemoney for men and women. Nuts.
It’s a strange high to come down from. Racing bar-to-bar amongst the best women in the sport in the world. Lining up with the rainbow jersey. Hearing “Kia ora” in the heckle zone lap after lap. Ripping up the Mt Krumpit run up in the dark with no dabs (what run up?). Finishing 14th in a stacked Pro field. Eating dirt. Eating apple pie. Figuring out by lap 5 that that thing you keep seeing balanced on a rock next to the tight line you’re trying to hold after you’ve crested the small pinch and completely red-lined yourself in the process is a fucking chocolate cupcake. And bringing home every single race on the lead lap from the back of the grid.
People ask me what it’s like to race a World Cup. It’s like going to med school. Nobody at med school cares about your stash of A grades from a small rural high school in the middle of Wales. Some of those kids are there to take honours. Some are going to be professors one day and teach other kids about the things they have learned. They’ve done more hours of homework than you and can corner harder and faster (not to mention bunnyhopping barriers). And the ones that can’t, think they can. Some people would probably prefer to stay in high school and play the cool kid on the block. I have always wanted to go to med school – to realise how good some of those badass women racers you watch on live streaming really are and to know how you really stack up.
If Europe is the grand statesman and USA is the trendy rockstar, the cyclocross scene Down Under is the rebellious child. At the moment, our Aussie cuz is several baby steps ahead. Last winter, I elected to race the Aussie National CX Series (elected means my coach said I should do it). Racing cyclocross in Queensland’s winter is a comfortable skin-warming version of the blazing inferno of Waterloo, Wisco and Melbourne delivered more traditional conditions (as one would expect for Melbs). The scene is booming, Aussies do fine heckling and this year they held the first ever UCI C2 sanctioned race in the Southern Hemisphere (thanks, FOJCX). It was a big fucking deal. Some cool Squid kids from the USA even came to play and they’re coming back next year.
Anyone who follows me on Facebook knows where I stand on the whole sanctioning argument for NZ National Cyclocross Champs. Even if we’re not Facebook friends, you’ve probably heard that I’m a troublemaker pushing hard for the real deal.
Globalisation of cyclocross is often spoken about at World Cups but rarely extends beyond the USA v Europe discussion. After the last few weeks, some traditional diehards believe the US World Cups weren’t “real cross”. @pinnedgrit answers this one perfectly: “I’m hearing rumblings that these early season races in dry hot conditions aren’t “real cross”. I completely disagree. CX on any level at any venue is about extremes. Wet and cold. Dry and hot. Wind. Terrain that makes it hard to stay on a bike. Perfect cross conditions are about being boundless and pushing yourself to the limit.” Bringing it back to EnZed, lets embrace some of that good shit and be boundless and push ourselves to the limit. CX here is not born out of a traditional mould and just like dry weather doesn’t mean it’s not ‘cross, sanctioned Champs won’t mean it’s not fun.