Smiling not frowning
I was exchanging emails with Robert Millar, wondering what he had in mind for his issue 51 column. As I’d be writing in praise of rising cyclo-cross star Lars van der Haar, perhaps he’d like to present the counter argument: that anyone who spends their winters flailing around in mud and freezing their tits off in windswept fields is a damn fool and deserves to be sectioned.
“Sold my purpose-built bike to Ronan Pensec after my one and only appearance in the mud,” he replied.
Far be it from me to tell a King of the Mountains winner that he is wrong, but he is. Oh so wrong.
Cross, you see, is the best, the VERY best, fun to be had on two wheels. It is a rare excuse for grown men and women to get filthy dirty in a public space that doesn’t involve National Trust car parks in the dead of night.
What happens at the end of a local road race? Riders bitch about being cut up, how they would have won if only they hadn’t been baulked in the sprint, complain about the “negative tactics” of their fellow competitors (well, have the legs to attack then, you mug), then scuttle back to their vehicles, scowling all the way – apart from the winner, of course, but even he/she has to contain themself and not celebrate unduly for fear of being seen as uncool.
What happens at the end of a ‘cross race? Smiles across the board, from the winner to the last finisher, as they stand and recount tales of battles won and lost over the previous hour; minor mishaps and major catastrophes are part and parcel of ‘cross racing – you learn to accept it and deal with it. And, dare I say, enjoy it.
It’s a healthy perspective to have. Roadies could learn much…
So as you pack up the best racing bike and spend the winter months trawling the internet for riveting information such as whether the Garmin-Cannondale jerseys will be green, argyle, or both (yawn), or what races your favourite rider hopes to win next year (absolutely fascinating…), tune into the Sporza channel on Sunday afternoon and check out what you’ve been missing.
For skills, thrills and heartache, cyclo-cross takes some beating. And, let’s face it, the Belgians know what they’re talking about when it comes to bike racing. Flanders wouldn’t be Flanders without shit weather, crap surfaces and thousands of smoking, beered-up fans. ‘Cross is merely the ultimate Belgian experience.
And if you like what you see, the UK has its very own cyclo-cross World Cup coming up in November in Milton Keynes. Roll up and prepare to be impressed.
You’ll find me by the beer tent, smoking like a Belgian and drinking a bottle of something with a ridiculously high alcohol content.
STAT’S THE WAY, UH HUH UH HUH
700 - Number of yards for David Millar's last ever race - the Bec Hill Climb (sponsored by Rouleur as usual).
5895 - Height, in metres, of Mount Kilimanjaro. Best of luck to Rouleur blogger Chris Juul-Jensen with that little climb on the Tinkoff-Saxo team building trip next month.
It's the GP des Nations this weekend. Watch this short but fabulous 1951 clip of the hunched Coppi versus Koblet. He wasn't called 'the pedaller of charm' for nothing...
By contrast, a five-minute arty (but not farty) film of nine-time GP des Nations winner Jacques Anquetil in motion. Slow motion.
Okay, we've all seen it before, haven't we? No? A young Bradley Wiggins shows off his silky-smooth 'cross dismount skills. Comedy ensues...