This post is a response to JHK’s article in singletrack.com.
As a long time racer (first Norba sanctioned XC event in 1989), I’ve seen our race scene change quite a bit. While I’ve never been a “world cupper”, I have been the overall winner at many races over the years. I stay as a fit as I feel like staying in order to remain competitive and not make a fool of myself. Prior to the mountain bike, I raced ABA bmx. Over the past 10 years I’ve taken racing much more seriously competing in short tracks, xc’s, marathons, 100 milers, and even a stage race. I still do road races about once a year. I participated in the Mercury Tour and Team Big Bear’s King of the Hill way back in the 90’s, so I think I’m a pretty good judge of what our racing scene in America is and was all about.
Two years ago a buddy of mine and I decided to put on an endurance event, the El Paso Puzzler. We had 28 competitors in v.1, v.2 had 68. This year is v.3 and we are expecting around 125. Not bad for the middle of winter in a dirt town like El Paso, TX.
As a race promoter/director/organizer, my goals are simple: make sure everyone has a great racing experience (however difficult our event may be), raise awareness of the trails in El Paso, and raise some money for our bike club, the BMBA. While I strive to get better riders to our event, the last thing on my mind is helping world cuppers get UCI points.
The UCI charges an enormous amount of fees and requires that the promoter subsidize drug testing costs at any event that has UCI points. No thanks. Toke a blunt on the course and shoot up some amphetamines at our race if you want. We don’t really care about that stuff. If you can afford that stuff, you definitely shouldn’t be whining about prize money or UCI points.
American mountain bikers, at least the ones who have been in it for over 20 years, are looking for something more challenging than the 1.5 hour lapper at a ski resort or broken bottle riddled city park. They want adventure. They want to push themselves to a new level. They want to go beyond the bonk, sit down on course and eat 1000 calories, run out of water, crawl to a feed zone, finish refueling, and ride another 20 miles to the finish with a knog led lighting the way. They want cool venues where they can camp and gather around a bonfire while their teammates slog out more laps during a 24 hour race. They want to use the same bike in a multi-event race where pads and full face are worn one day and two camelbak bladders are packed the next. The demand for diversity is out there. However damaging this diversity may be to UCI point seekers, that demand far outweighs the benefit of hosting a UCI event. I’m sure the Angel Fire promoters will agree with me on that one.
American mountain bike racing has become incredibly diverse and promoters of these diverse events are not complaining. In fact, many of them are capping the number of participants. Entry fees range from nothing to thousands of dollars and people show up from all over to try out whatever new fangled adventure awaits over the next pass.
Big money competitive mountain biking in America has been dead for longer than most care to admit. Even the Chevy Truck days were weak compared to European world cups today. American world cuppers need to do just like the roadies did….nut up and spend A LOT of time in Europe. If you really want that front row start, prove that you deserve it with the best XC racers in the world. The list of American road racers that have done this is too long for me to publish on my pissant blog. They are doing it for a reason. Racing in Europe is a spectator sport. People pay to sit in grand stands and enter parks where the events take place. Do that in the US and you’ll be lucky if half the stands fill up. Try it at a city park mountain bike venue and the neighbors will be pissed that they won’t be able to walk their dog that day.
Keep the UCI out of American racing. American promoters should keep pushing the limits of the support with challenging events. Dare to be different. Make that feedzone just far enough into the race where a camelbak AND bottles have to be carried. Provide bacon and burgers in the feedzones. Serve beer and margaritas for free at the awards ceremony. Charge camping fees to raise money for a youth cycling program, not prize money or promoter profit. Utilize paydirt programs to get more trails.
American mountain biking has soul. That soul is getting better with age. The UCI has done little to promote the soul of mountain biking in the US. Let’s keep it that way.