The appearance of a set of triple barriers on the US Cyclocross Nationals course caused some consternation on the Internets this morning. While the powers that be quickly clarified that no rules would be broken, even having the barriers for non-championship competitions sends what I think is a pretty dopey message.
— TheBestBikeBlogEver (@TheBestBikeBlog) January 4, 2012
I’m hardly one to bugger flies on the finer points of the UCI or USAC rulebooks, but I’m also of the opinion that the exhilaration of cyclocross stems mainly from the competitive aspects of the discipline.
It’s not that hurdling barriers in a dog suit or executing a clockwork-perfect beer handup isn’t freakin’ awesome; it’s that tightroping against your lactate threshold while trading elbows for a clean line through half-frozen, off-camber bends is much more so. And rules—specific, unfeeling, inflexible rules—are critical for the integrity of the competition that provides this thrill.
That’s not to say there aren’t rules with gray areas, or that there shouldn’t be races with costumes, smoke grenades, and shaving cream, but having a few arbitrary, black-and-white dictums along the lines of “no flat bars” or “no triple barriers” lets the participants know—like a dress code that bars hoodies and sneakers—exactly what kind of party this is going to be.
This is important because no one flies halfway across the country to the frozen tundra of Wisconsin in the few precious weeks most cyclists reserve for dark beers and second helpings for a catch-as-catch-can goat rodeo. They do it to race a serious, well-organized, tightly-run, national-level competition, and to test their mettle against other freds on the same course that the pros use.
As innovation crushing and counter-productive as the standards of the sport’s governing bodies might be, they are also what makes a top-level ‘cross race top-level—as integral to the experience as immaculately prepped course tape, a well-ordered starting grid, and 1970s boxing analogies from Richard Fries.
While he may have been teasing just a bit when he said it, Cycleboredom pretty much hit the nail on the head:
It’s only a stupid extra barrier, but it’s everything.
— Cycleboredom (@Cycleboredom) January 4, 2012