Simon Says: New World ‘Cross

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Words by Simon Burney. Photo by Jeff Lockwood.

First published in Issue 1: October 2014

The world, as we know, is a small place. We now know it’s not flat, we won’t fall off the end, and there are no serpents in uncharted oceans. We regularly work and holiday in all-four-corners, and treat airports like we used to treat the local bus stop.

Yes, the world is small and easily accessible. Unless your world revolves around cyclocross.

Then your world fits into an area roughly 400km x 250km, from Gieten in the north to Roubaix in the south; from Koksijde in the west to Leuven in the east. If you’re adventurous enough to drive east for another 8 hours or, imagine this, catch a plane, you can add Tabor into the mix. Even if you’re an avid US or UK ‘cross racer competing every weekend on your home turf, the world you follow and covet is that tiny little patch of northern Europe where (with the exception of a few Worlds like Leeds UK in ’92; Middelfart, Denmark in ’98; and Louisville, USA in ’13) every single race of note ever has taken place.

I’m talking top-end here; World Championships and World Cup racing. Interesting? Absolutely! Healthy and sustainable? I’m not so sure.
I’ll be honest… I worry about what will happen when Sven retires. The sport in this little square is propped up by Belgian television, who (let’s not beat around the bush) have a massive Sven-crush. They cover all the races, and they create the stories and heroes. Guaranteed television sponsors step up with Euros for the organizers to place a banner, so the organizer can pay the riders to show up. The spectators will show up because they know their heroes will be there. (Plus as a bonus they can get lashed on Jupiler all day.) It works, it’s fun, and everybody makes a Euro and goes home happy. But when Sven stops, and with the other TV darling Niels out nursing a broken heart, it only needs one Sporza boss to decide that Kevin or Klaas don’t quite hit the demographic, and the house of cards falls over.

But I see a change coming, and with it hope! I hope that a Vegas or a Providence in the US can join up with a Milton Keynes, to start to balance out the World Cup calendar a little. Then maybe a few years down the line, why not a Canada, China, Japan or Australia race to join the party? It might need a small step back in crowd size and an increase in TV numbers in some smaller markets to initially take hold. But then, instead of 22 nations representing at Worlds, we might see closer to the 50 nationalities that show up at the mountain bike Worlds. Then throw in President Cookson’s Winter Olympics inclusion prophecy and ‘cross will also realize that there is a world out there, that it is accessible and there are a lot of untapped countries, riders and markets that could discover what we already know: that cyclocross is awesome.

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