Is ‘Cross Boss?

I have a lot of goals in life. Live to 100, encounter a bear and survive, set foot on every continent except Antarctica (I’ve seen snow before, it’s not that special). You can’t really achieve long-term goals until you achieve them, so I like to set short-term ones I can easily accomplish. I’ve seen the wisdom in my father’s recipe for happiness, which basically boils down to “lower your expectations.”

In that spirit, I have one goal this fall: become a cyclocross fan.

My plan is simple. Like I did with pro road racing, I’m basically just going to start watching races. I’d like to see some in person too, if the race is within riding distance. Unlike road racing, it doesn’t seem like there’s much team strategy or weird European terms to learn. From my understanding, dudes and gals just ride around in the mud for an hour at full gas and see who finishes first. There are obstacles, beer, and costumes. I see the appeal. I also see how it would be far less interesting than road racing, in the way that Hungry Hippos is less interesting than chess.

But it looks fun enough to keep my interest, especially since baseball season will be wrapping up in a month and I don’t like concussion sport, frozen water sport, or running back and forth sport. Also, Jeremy Powers has revamped the Behind the Barriers Youtube series, which gives a behind-the-scenes look at his team, Aspire Racing.

My first attempt at ‘cross fandom was this Sunday, when I attempted to watch the races in Waterloo. But Trek’s livestream crapped out and left me stranded, and delayed my fandom until the next time I can tune in.

I’ve even thought of coming out of retirement to race, an idea I tossed around last season. ‘Cross doesn’t have the risk of crashing and douchey, way-too-serious culture of amateur road racing. But it still has the requirement that you do interval training (if you want to be fast, I guess) and spend money and wake up early and drive to races. So I don’t know if I’ll be racing. I won’t rule it out though.

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The People’s Champ

Let’s all just take a minute to reflect on the fact that this guy is the world champ. For the third year in a row. (Sidenote: what the hell is Sunroot?)

A few years ago, cycling was in a great place. There were fan-favorite champions, some of them American, and there was sponsorship money and interest. Then it turned out most everybody was cheating, and there was less interest and less money and it became harder to root for champions. Even if they weren’t cheating, lots of them just looked and behaved like spandex-clad robots. Spandex clad robots don’t inspire anyone. Nobody puts posters of them on their walls.

The Sagan story has been told to death, so there’s no point repeating it here. He has flair, enthusiasm, originality. He’s a guy you can get behind. And he’s also incredibly strong on the bike. I think cycling fans appreciate that. We’re grateful to have a rider like Sagan at the top of the sport.

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Will more riders take after him and let their personalities loose? Or is he only afforded that luxury because he’s so damn fast? Or do most riders just not have that kind of personality in the first place? Maybe all the miles sap them of their flair.

I doubt it. Most riders are human (except Froome, of course), and humans have emotions and personalities. But there aren’t that many ways to let those show during a bike race–wheelies aren’t everyone’s cup of tea–and there are even fewer ways if you’re not a star. To some extent you do have to be good enough to be yourself, if “yourself” is something other than a cliche. I have no doubt that riders are probably advised during training camp to give boring interviews; most would rather keep their jobs than push the boundaries with reporters and team ownership.

For now, at least, we have one rider who is both good and interesting, and we should take a moment to enjoy that.

The Cannondale Situation

In the midst of a great Vuelta, some disappointing news emerged. Cannondale Drapac was left at the altar by a big sponsor for next season and now faces a $7 million funding shortage. If Vaughters can’t find another sponsor to fill the gap, the team will fold.

Cycling’s Business Model
First, can I just say how absurd it is that teams can offer multiyear contracts with no guarantee that they will exist in the future? There’s been lots of talk about how unsustainable/stupid/fucked the pro cycling funding model is, so I won’t beat that decaying horse carcass (plus, that would just be disrespectful and kind of gross). But jesus, it’s crazy. Clearly, something needs to change so there is a modicum of consistency from year to year and greater competitive balance. Or maybe it doesn’t, and this Darwinist reality is just the way pro cycling has been and always will be. After all, it’s existed for a hundred years this way. I can’t help but think there’s a better, healthier alternative for the sport and its riders, one that won’t throw out a bunch of guys on their asses without jobs only months before the season.

All that being said, $7 million isn’t that much. Not for a big American company. It’s actually a pittance. Off the top of my head, here are some potential sponsors: Tesla (coolest team cars ever), Whole Foods, Amazon, Google, Apple, Facebook, Nike, Wal Mart, Nestle. I’m sure any of those big dogs could chip in. Yes, they are beholden to their shareholders, and it might be hard to justify the expense. But how do all the other corporations that sponsor cycling teams justify it?

What is a Team?
Coming from a traditional team sport background, it baffles me how fluid the contingent of teams in pro cycling is. Some baseball teams have been around since the 1800s, in the same city, with the same colors and uniforms. Cycling teams change names and kits from year to year, following the corporations that take pity upon them (the advertising revenue can’t really be worth it, can it?). They arise and vanish with the lifespan of fruit flies. The “old” teams have been around for years, not decades.

alex howes
I feel for ya, Alex

It raises a question: what is a team? No, seriously. What makes a pro sports team a distinct, recognizable entity from year to year? Consistent names, the same colors and logos, home cities, stadiums. Cycling has none of these. It’s easy enough to identify when a team folds completely, turns out the lights and shuts down. Likewise, it’s easy to identify one that starts from scratch with a clean slate of sponsors and a first edition kit. But what about the other, more common cases? If Argos-Shimano changes sponsors and colors and some staff and riders and eventually evolves into Giant-Sunweb, when did it cease being one team and become another? What do you even call it, independent of the sponsor du jour? That’s tricky. I don’t know the answer.

It Sucks
The Cannondale news mostly sucks for the riders, who are now forced to scramble for nonexistent jobs. It also sucks for American cycling, which has been severely underrepresented on the World Tour level since the U.S. Postal days. It sucks for fashion, since Cannondale’s weird but cool argyle green/red thing combined with POC helmets was a welcome addition to the exceedingly boring collection of pro kits at the moment.

Bottom Line
There’s got to be a better way. But maybe there isn’t.

So Far at the Vuelta

If the Tour de France is an eldest son who is a successful brain surgeon, the Vuelta is his younger brother who runs a well-respected nonprofit but is inevitably overshadowed, ignored at family gatherings while his big brother steals the spotlight. Or something like that.

It’s been an exciting first few days of racing at Spain’s grand tour. Some observations:

  • The course is not flat. This fact scared away lots of big-name sprinters from even showing up and also has made for more interesting racing, with breakaways having a chance or succeeding on every stage so far and Chris Froome launching a big attack on Stage Three. Personally, I find sprint stages to be far less interesting than lumpy ones, and I’ve enjoyed seeing these stages play out in surprising, tactically diverse ways.
  • Speaking of Froome, he’s crushing everyone again, and–bold prediction!–I think he will win it all.
  • Chaves is back! So far, the little Colombian with the best smile in pro sports has been one of the few GC contenders with the fitness to stay on Froome’s wheel during attacks that have blown apart the rest of the field. After such a poor performance at the Tour (and more importantly, on my fantasy team), it’s great to see him riding strong.
  • Thomas “Off the Front” de Gendt is at it again. Color me not at all surprised. This dude is a beast and it’s a shame that he didn’t win the Most Aggressive Rider jersey at the Tour. Hopefully local biases in Spain don’t screw him over like they did in France.
  • Spain looks nice. I’d like to go there sometime. Maybe not in August though.
  • I don’t know what’s more hilarious about the Eurosport broadcasts: Carlton Kirby’s unwavering frustration with shoddy camera work, or Sean Kelly’s monotone brogue as he describes lung-busting efforts and riveting racing with an startling lack of enthusiasm. They make a great pair.