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Deconstructing Self-Destruction

1 Feb

I got into a little Twitter dust-up this weekend with VeloNews’ John Bradley. It wasn’t on purpose—yes, I did tweet a rebuke at him, but it was based largely on my misinterpreting something he’d written.

He responded strongly—justifiably so, I think—and I apologized, attempting to explain where I’d missed his point. I don’t know John personally, but I like what he’s done in the past, and I think he brings a skillset that really shores up some of Velo’s soft spots. I had, and continue to have, no interest in antagonizing him.

That said, I was a little disappointed by his commentary that same day on cycling’s supposed “Self-Destruction”—of which Femke Van den Driessche’s motorized bike is apparently just the latest example.

There wasn’t anything inaccurate or offensive or lacking about the piece per se (I certainly didn’t dislike it as much as some people did—though they later made up) and it certainly covered some ground every long-term fan can relate to.

But this one line sums up what I found so sour:

“Cycling is not the most corrupt of sports, but it is one that the masses don’t understand.”

Now, for contrast, here is a screenshot of the VeloNews homepage from earlier today:
Screen Shot 2016-02-01 at 10.10.08 AM

(click image for big)

There isn’t a lot of what I’d refer to as content that will help people develop an understanding of racing.

I hasten to add that VN’s recap article on the men’s race was quite good, but it’s practically buried less than 24 hours later, and there’s nothing in terms of deeper analysis on a race that delivered the blend of hell-bent carnage and nail-biting tactics that should have the sport’s journal of record salivating.

If “the masses” don’t get the awesome aspects of racing on the homepage of the biggest cycling publication in the US, then where the heck are they supposed to find them? As Bradley himself notes, it’s not going to be in SBNation or the New York Times.

On the off-chance a mainstream writer gets a tip to check VeloNews, they’ll see only headline after headline on a rule-breaking DNF in the women’s U23 race, a bit on a disappointed US Champ, something about a guy being spit on, and nothing on what made #CXZolder16 awesome.

It’s not that cycling-aware writers aren’t always lurking out in the larger publishing world—Sam Abt famously brought the sport to NYT and the International Herald Tribune between copyedits. But the few out there who do get it aren’t getting paid for analysis beyond humping eyeballs for the story’s semiquaver of relevance. Only a concerted effort by the publications they reference will sway headlines from the vapid quick hit.

This isn’t meant to be a rip on Bradley or VeloNews, just a nudge that cycling fandom and reportage do not have to be cast as this hopeless cycle of self-destruction. There’s plenty I don’t know about editorial, but I’ve worked for advocacy groups and political campaigns. Messaging and framing drive the marketplace of opinion, and there’s all the more hunger for context when the optics are blandly and obviously bad.

It’s not like Velo couldn’t do this—I mean, the content exists already. Andrew Hood’s article on the evolution of the UCI’s motor checks does fantastic work putting The Femke Affair into the context general publications so desperately need, and I have reason to believe that Dan Seaton will be producing another of his striking and accessible photo essays on the World Championships (update: delivered).

But I always seem to sense this notion across the cycling press, a kind of chicken-and-egg thing, that no one understands the sport, because explanations of why it’s awesome can’t be made, because no one will read them, because no one understands the sport. And that dogma is as wrong as it is self-defeating.

I cannot tell you how many comments I get about HTRWW getting absolute n00bs into watching bike races, and c’mon—CXHairs delivers the meat of what makes people want to watch in seconds-long clips on a pretty much daily basis. The van der Haar pass requires neither background knowledge or explanation—and 1400+ Instagram users will back me up on that.

A video posted by In The Crosshairs (@cxhairs) on

So I guess the self-destructive cycle I see here isn’t so much within the sport, but in the way its covered. I mean, when a moto-cheater gets caught after years of concerted attempts at moto-cheater-catching, that feels to me like cause for minor celebration, a footnote to a marquee event that absolutely delivered.

But when literally the day after one of the best races in recent memory, the lead pieces are gear testing and mechanical doping, you can see where I stumbled into the cynical misunderstanding that started this piece: “racing is a downer, let’s be stoked about our advertisers instead”.

KMC Cyclocross Festival #1 Elite Men – HTRWW x BTB

10 Oct


Not sure if conditions in the Men’s race made it to “muddy”, but things were definitely slick. For all the nervousness on the start line, the first lap was pretty relaxed, before two early moves off the front meant most of the action took place further down. Still, some nice recoveries and hard-fought battles nonetheless.

KMC Cyclocross Festival #1 Elite Women – HTRWW x BTB

9 Oct


A lovely New England style deterioration from damp and tacky to slick and loose. Three flyovers per lap, including an extremely steep side-by-side setup, one just following a set of stairs. No surprise on the winner, but tightly-fought battles from there down.

How The Race Was Won x BTB TV – Cross Vegas Men 2014

20 Sep



The term “grass crit” gets thrown around a lot, but a fair amount of road tactics and even teamwork in this one. Plus a little controversy, at least one dollar pick-up, and the big differences tiny differences in technique can make.

How The Race Was Won x BTB TV – Cross Vegas Women 2014

19 Sep

Cyclocross in the desert in mid-September. You know my feelings on this. And yet, an incrementally improving course and progressively more legit line-up has really raised the quality over the years. A few spills, some smart riding and an exciting sprint—though it still remains to be seen whether what happens in Vegas…still doesn’t really have an impact on the rest of the season.

Cat 3 35+ Mythbusting

14 Sep

cat3As a recent transplant to Colorado, I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the quality of the handful BRAC Colorado’ Cross Cup races I’ve done so far. But I will say I’m a little confused by the number of separate fields these events jam into single day of racing.

I think many of these races could be combined, but for the moment, I’m going to focus on the split that most closely affects me: there are separate fields for Cat 3 racers—one “Open” race, and one reserved for those age 35 and up.

The result is two small fields (24 and 46, respectively, at my last event) of similarly skilled and experienced riders starting a minute or two minutes away from each other—which doesn’t make any sense. So I’ve started asking why the series splits these two races, instead of simply scoring a masters category separately. The responses I’ve gotten haven’t been particularly well-thought out.

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How The Race Was Won x BTB TV – Deschutes Brewery Cup Women

25 Dec

So, I might be in the wrong time zone, at the wrong latitude, and in the wrong weather (Hawaii) but that doesn’t mean I can’t throw together another HTRWW on the women’s race at the Deschutes Brewery Cup. While the men’s race might have been colder, the women experienced much more rapidly changing conditions, putting even more priority on riders’ abilities to adjust, recover from bobbles, and pick the right moment for the critical pass.

How The Race Was won x BTB – Deschutes Brewery Cup

12 Dec

YES! SNOW! I cannot properly describe how much I love racing in the snow, especially snow like riders experienced at the Deschutes Brewery Cup. Lots of slipping and sliding, body English, little to no group tactics, and a spill or two thrown in for good measure. I just hope Jeremy Durrin’s hands will someday recover

How The Race Was Won x BTB – Jingle Cross Rock – Rock 1

5 Dec

ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED: HTRWWs from all three days of CX race weekend. The evening session of Jingle Cross Rock’s opening day didn’t feature the wind and weather of rest of the weekend, but it wasn’t without it’s charms. Tight, technical, dusty bends, a mercilessly steep run-up, and a challenging exploration of the anecdotal advice that if you’re not sure whether it’s faster to ride, you probably shouldn’t.

How The Race Was Won x BTB – Jingle Cross Rock – Rock 3

28 Nov

That old maxim about “if first you don’t succeed?” Well, there’s a reason people say it. On the third day of festivities out at Jingle Cross Rock—the race weekend’s sole UCI C1 event, it turns out—aggression came out even earlier, and made for a very different race. Would fortune favor the bold? You’ll just have to watch and find out.