I like cyclocross. I feel it hits the balance between the ‘Tres Beaucoup Du Faffage’ of MTB and the lack of exhilaration of road. There is a certain energy, a certain not-quite-right-ness about riding a road bike off-road and thinking it is perfectly OK to get off on occasion and run up steps, or hop over a log. It is very difficult to explain to the casual observer, and it’s almost impossible to explain to the layman.
When road racing, it’s reasonably easy to hide in the bunch, wait ’til the end, pounce and win.* But if you do that, you have a rather uninteresting time of it. With ‘cross there is no hiding. There is little ‘bunch’ to speak of, and in order to stay with said bunch you need to have the skills. And the power. And the fitness. And the right tyre pressure.
Casually riding of-a-weekend gives you the option of a detour wherever the mood takes you; down that bridleway you spotted from the train, a small, unmarked path you saw when in the car. This gives you that buzz, that feeling of excitement, that path to the unknown.
The imagery of Benedict Campbell’s For the Love of Mud starts with great promise, some arty black and white shots of races and rides, and some soundbites from riders and people in the know. It reminded me of Road to Roubaix with the talking heads describing the nuances of ‘cross bikes, races, tyres, tubs and the history of the discipline itself. It’s all very informative, beautifully shot and beautifully edited. It captures the essence of ‘cross almost perfectly. But for whom?
You see, I know all this. I know I enjoy riding around a sports field in the middle of winter, in the pouring rain. I also know that neither my wife nor children enjoy watching. They just don’t. I can explain it. I can enthuse about it forever, but they do not understand. I found myself watching the film asking the question, “But who is this for?” I am a ‘cross rider, and I love ‘cross. I need not be ‘sold’ ‘cross. I would like a ‘cross film that explores the ‘back-end’ of ‘cross: What does Sven Nys eat? How does he train? What’s it like to ride the dunes at Koksijde? Pick a single topic: a race, a rider, a series and make a film about that—this feels like it would appeal to the riders more. “For the Love of Mud” feels like a film from the ‘cyclocross marketing board’ aimed at a body of people who wanted to know, ‘”Wat this here cyclocross is all about?” for some reason or another. My wife didn’t see the point either. She just shrugged and told me that it’s what I say after every rain-soaked race I trudge home from.
So should you watch it? If you want to know about ‘cross because you want to know what the fuss is about then yes, probably. But you have probably heard it all from your ‘cross-riding mates. If you are a rider or racer, then maybe not unless you want to hear all of your reasons for riding from someone else. It’s a real shame. There are a few snippets of greatness in there. The Go-Pro shots through the woods about an hour in, or the way the talk about wheels and bikes, is cleverly edited together showing that all the manufacturers say the same thing. But I wanted more. I wanted the “Cross version of Road to Roubaix”. It tried. It failed. I will watch it again though. More than once.
*Certain obvious caveats apply but I make the point for effect.