Humbling.

When looking for adjectives to describe the Cyclocross World Championships in Koksijde, Belgium that’s definitely one adjective that comes to mind. Ryan Trebon was the only North American rider that managed to crack the top 20 (18th) – and was also the only member of that crew to finish the race – Jeremy Powers (26th) and rest of the US squad along with the lone Canadian, Craig Ritchey (51st) were all pulled from the course. Many spectators on this side of the pond were left wondering what happened.

With Belgian riders swarming the top seven positions, why were our riders were so outgunned? Post-race interviews confirmed that it ultimately came down to a very specialized course composition:

“This is like golf. This is like St. Andrews, and not every golfer can play St. Andrews to their potential.”
– Tim Johnson (source)

On the women’s side even Meredith Miller (20th) conceded that North American riders simply don’t have anything that would prepare them for a course like this:

“We don’t have anything like this in the US, playgrounds, a few volleyball courts or something like that but nothing where it’s all the way around the course. It’s one thing to be able to ride the sand, it’s another to be able to go down it and then know how to dismount and keep your momentum, there’s so much to it.” (source)

Still, some may question, why we weren’t able to muster a stronger showing… Why our athletes haven’t been prepping for conditions like this on an international stage – But I would argue that they’ve been spending their time on something much more important, something that when we look back at this stage of North American cyclocross they will be remembered for.

They are actively choosing to stay home and help develop the sport. Rather than head off to Europe and attempt to gain the skills they need to master more ‘Euro’ courses, they’re duking it out across the US, signing autographs, filming behind the scenes documentaries and just generally being awesome. And it feels like North America is listening.

When asked about his series ‘Behind the Barriers‘, Jeremy Powers alluded to the burgeoning interest in the sport:

“It was always a goal to bring attention to ‘cross and to the personalities that are involved in it. In cycling there’s the Giro and the Tour de France. So it’s just a really great time to showcase cyclocross, to show where it’s headed and where it’s at now. It’s something to be a part of.

You know, it’s always been a hard thing if you’re a fan of ‘cross. You know there’s a race three hours away and say, “Man, is that something cool that I should go to?” So if you see it on TV or on your computer and think, “Hey, that looks like something that might be really fun. There’s a venue, there’s beer, there’s free stuff. These guys look like they’re cool guys.” It’s something that people can be a part of, even if virtually on the internet. I’ve seen it all year long. People are like, “Oh, I saw the show and wanted to come out and meet all these guys.” They want to be part of it. That’s a great feeling of accomplishment I’ve had. I feel like I’ve made a difference growing our sport. It’s everything I wanted it to be.” (source)

Over the past few years cyclocross has emerged from the shadows of being almost a fringe sport, to something a lot of people either know about, or are asking about (yes, even here in Canada). Cyclocross bike sales must be exploding judging by the number of makes and models available – I’m sure this is partly because of their rugged nature (I can attest that they make great all-rounders/commuters), but also because of the mainlining of the sport.

With that said, we’ve got one year before the World Championships hit home turf. Not only with this be a solid opportunity for our athletes to compete on familiar ground, but it should also provide prime opportunity to really increase the level of exposure in North America and show sports fans from coast to coast that there just isn’t anything more fun than bundling up, grabbing your cowbell, enjoying some beer & frites and cheering and heckling until you go hoarse!

Bring on Louisville 2013!

Related side-note: The Koksijde World Championships are being rebroadcast today on SportsNet, if you haven’t already, set your PVRs!