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    Racing

    Culture Clash

    ’Cross: big in Belgium, but will Brits and Americans ever really get it?
    Words
    Ian Cleverly
    Photographs
    Wig Worland

You may recall a young man from Kent featured in Rouleur 22 who was based in Belgium trying to make a living from that most unlikely of sources for a Briton, cyclo-cross.

Ian Field, at the third or fourth time of asking – every year seemingly the tipster’s favourite – finally claimed a senior national championship jersey.

It was a genuinely emotional moment to see how much those blue and white bands meant to a man who has immersed himself wholeheartedly in the cultural homeland of ‘cross. ‘Field de Brit’, as the Belgies call him, will do the jersey proud.

No disrespect to runner-up Liam Killeen, but the thought of a national champion who doesn’t actually ride ‘cross, save for a couple of warm-ups leading up to the nationals, sticks in the craw somewhat. Having a visible champion on the Continental circuit can only help raise the profile of the sport. Field is the man for the job.

As visible champions go, Helen Wyman is right up there, taking the woman’s crown for an astonishing seventh year in a row. I use the word astonishing because, not only has Wyman been decidedly unwell, but her nearest rivals Nikki Harris, Gabby Day and Annie Last threatened to make it a close, four-way battle for the medal positions – all three have been riding brilliantly in recent weeks.

Wyman simply powered away from them, as per usual, making it look easy before coughing and spluttering once past the finish line for the last time. Harris, in particular, must have thought this was her big chance, and her face on the podium clearly showed the bitter disappointment. Wyman’s trademark big grin, meanwhile, stayed locked in position, and rightly so.

As it was a bumper day of cyclo-cross spectating, once home from Ipswich I tuned in to live coverage of the US championships, intrigued to see if the scene is as big in the States as it appears from the UK. The jury is still out on that one.

The park in Wisconsin was visually unexciting, the course a dull, straight-line thrash. Outside the top four or five riders, the drop-off in quality is steep. The three commentators were unintentionally hilarious and less intelligible than the standard chap I tune into on Sporza for Belgian races, and he talks Flemish…

If you have seen the film American Graffiti, you will remember well the growling, gravelly tones of DJ Wolfman Jack. One of the three stooges rumbled away in similarly dramatic fashion, the trio reaching a crescendo of excitement well before the race’s finish.

They tossed the commentary around with such alarming frequency you’d have thought it was a live hand grenade with a pulled pin. I’m not sure about the riders, but I was utterly spent with a lap still to go.

I can only hope the Three Amigos were forced to lie down in a darkened room afterwards, preferably wearing headphone commentary of the tremendous Sporza bloke (whose name escapes me), issuing his favourite admonition: “Tsk, tsk, tsk.”

The crowd did not appear particularly big, but as you would expect, make up in enthusiasm any shortfall in numbers. I write this in a plane over the Atlantic Ocean bound for Louisville, Kentucky, as the city hosts not only the World Masters Championships this week, but the actual UCI cyclo-cross World Championships next year.

The whole Belgium-based ‘cross community travelling lock, stock and barrel to the States is an interesting prospect. Will the fans travel? Is this one step too far in this globalisation obsession of the UCI’s? Can a compact crowd of colourful, cowbell-wielding whoopers create as much atmosphere as tens of thousands of grey-clad, beered-up, smoking Belgians? We intend to find out.

Andy Waterman of Privateer magazine – being younger, fitter, faster and more enthusiastic all round – has kindly agreed to race so that I can chew a pencil and ponder the future of cyclo-cross, whilst supporting from the sidelines with terribly British-style encouragement.

There’ll be absolutely no whooping from this sourpuss, just the occasional: “Jolly well done”.

Huge thanks to Chris and Andrew from Trek for the loan of a Cronus CX. And Brian Roddy at Rolf Prima for the wheels. And Bill from Challenge for tubs and things. We’d have been stuck without you, guys.

comments

01/12/2012 - 18:27
Re: US Nationals, you're one hundred percent correct assessing the announcers - I was hoping someone with a Flemish accent would calmly intone "whoops" or "we have a problem" repeatedly for an hour instead. I do have to disagree with your description of the course, however. On camera, yes, it looks pretty well as you say, but I was there, and it's a far different thing. I too thought it would be exceedingly lame until I arrived. Perhaps we need a production crew from Belgium to showcase it properly. Good luck in Louisville, I'll see you there next year.
01/12/2012 - 21:54
I share the relief for Ian. It was well deserved and overdue. He was the nearly man to Ian Bibby when everyone thought he'd take the Sutton Park champs a few years back, then again a few times at the senior nationals, and the thought of him NOT ever winning the nationals seems so wrong. But I can't say I share your relief that the jersey will be done proud. Proudly worn, yes. And it's important that the Belgies see our red, white and blue, but seeing the jersey on the national circuit as worn by Paul and Jody was so, so much more important for the domestic sport than when it's won by Riger Hammond or even hardly worn by Ian Bibby. Liam's a hard working rider and has had second spot on the podium do many times now but you're right... it just wouldn't do. I wish we could have both worlds. Someone who rode over there and over here. Given the choice of one or the other, I think I'd prefer an ecstatic but small home crowd seeing a national champ win, than for it to be ridden to middle of the field positions in the European races. Like I say, both would be better.
01/13/2012 - 21:30
Well done describing what you know is correct .. Thomas Hayles

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