Friday, January 23, 2015

In defense of Craig Etheridge and SSCX Nats

Eight years ago I bought a Langster, and forever changed road riding as I knew it.  The pure joy found in mechanical simplicity and savage brutality is hard, if not impossible, to understand if you've not been blessed with the experience.  Thousands of miles, over century rides, and mountain passes, and four hour round trip commutes to work - all on what is effectively the wrong bike - change you forever.

The extension of that experience into competitive cycling, for me, seemed natural.  I began entering time trials on that Langster in 2008.  I returned to the world of mountain bike racing - the first time in sixteen years - on a perfectly good 29er that I removed the derailleurs from.  And I was indoctrinated into the world of cyclocross on a one gear commuter bike someone had cast off on Craigslist after a virgin ride.

My heart is in tradition, although truth told I have raced SSCX on a ziptied bike.  My preference is to not have to hassle with immobilizing shifters and taking cables out of the things that move the chain.  I'd rather invest my worry into how I'm going to make it to the top of that runup one more time, rather than fret over whether or not my chain will jump cogs.  As long as there's adequate inspection before the race starts, I don't get too worked up over the nuance, although seeing a race rig committed to a single ring and cog makes my heart sing.

It bothers me that Craig Etheridge has an opinion about the National Championship of singlespeed cyclocross that is almost instantaneously vilified.  His contention - that racers are using the SSCX race as a warmup for other championship events - is perfectly valid.  Because that is precisely what some racers are doing.  And it cheapens the race in the process.

Doubling or tripling up your local Saturday classic is one thing.  Nationals need to be held to a different standard.  As long as any race at Nats can be used as a tune-up for another race at Nats, it's simply not a race that's worth anyone's time.  You want everyone in a championship field of one mind - that this is THE race.  All in.  The culmination of an entire season, maybe an entire career of effort and commitment.  This is the big show, the big dance, the big fucking deal.  That's what makes it special.  If it's not special, then it's an expensive waste of time.   

I don't know why that point of view doesn't resonate.  Maybe it was lost in some other things that Craig said.  Maybe it's because factions of the cycling community love to pile on and hammer unpopular opinions.  Will some racers be left out of racing two National Championship events?  Of course they will.  The greater transgression is that those who make SSCX Nats their only race, who pay the same money for the same USA Cycling license, who for one day aspire for the same level of entitlement, participate in a diluted experience.  If the race is worth having, it's worth having standards.