Many of you may have seen the results of the Hofstade WC. Powers, Johnson, Trebon all one lap down. Ouch. Today I’ve got some reflections on that race made by an American who has raced it the past four years. This year he’s sitting at home with a new son. Without further ado, here’s Erik Tonkin’s thoughts on the race.
You may know this already, but top-30 in a men’s World Cup is automatic discretionary selection to the our country’s World Championship team. (Or at least it was, as I did not petition for Worlds this year and, thusly, paid not attention to details.) USA Cycling really nailed that criterium, given that as long as I can remember, only three, including Page and Trebon, have placed top-30. (I’m not sure about pre-2003 results.) I managed to become only the third, placing 25th at last year’s finals, a uniquely horrendous day indeed. (I was already named to the team, so the result was meaningful only for curiosity’s sake. Also, I have to thank the weahter for making it all possible: only the stupid survived.)
I though for sure the modest record would be matched today, by Powers and, especially, Johnson. I guess it really is harder than it looks. Just think: Powers, in all his tries, has never done it; ditto, Wicks and a host of others, from Baker to Jacques-Maynes to Stewart to Wells, etc.; and now even Johnson.
I shouldn’t leave the ladies out of the discussion. The equivalent result for women is top-15. While the men’s WC series is hot all season long, the women’s really heats up right about now. Early women’s WCs sometimes see very small fields. In fact, at one last year only 15 women started, and Christine Vardaros placed 14th. She was then automatically on the short list for world’s, a proverbial wrench thrown into the selection process for the rest of the women’s team. Nevertheless, outside of that fluke result, it’s been rare for a rider other than Compton to place in the top-15.
For Sue Butler and Wendy Simms (Canada) to place in the top-20 at Hofstade only two minutes and five down is exceptional. That was a real WC. I’d say it’s the best result either have ever had on a ‘cross bike. For Sue, whether she knows it or not, it was her best race on any kind of bike, ever. The course, its setting, the time of year, the crowd, and the competition make it–seriously–bigger than any ‘cross other than a World Championship held in Belgium, like last year at Hooglede-Gits. (That was something–it was kinda freaky.) Worlds in Italy this year will pale in comparison. In fact, Friday’s GVA series ‘cross at Loenhout–“Azencross”–will exceed this year’s worlds in nearly every way.
But back to the men. I’m so disappointed in how the top US riders not named Page performed. I honestly can’t believe it. All of them have Euro ‘cross experience, so they should know better! Yes, their results underscore how different the sport is over there. It explains why top US riders will, in all seriousness, fear whether or not they can beat somebody like me in Belgium even though they wail on me all season at home.
And they’re right to worry: had I been there, it would have been more salt in the wound. They would have been one rider further back. I don’t mean to sound immodest. I mean, hell, to finish in the top-30 is a rather modest goal. But you have to race with a complete lack of modesty–the total lack of care and regard, the absence of ambivalence–to meet the goal. You need total commitment to achieve so simple and small a goal. And I don’t have a problem giving my all for what seems so very little.
Yes, I am sitting in a comfy chair at home right now. Some of what I have to say is thanks to bitterness boiled over: I’m envious that they’re there while I’m here. And I can’t fairly judge what it was like at Hofstade today. Still, I’ve been there four times, and I think I can say my record stands for itself. And I’m the one who made it publicly clear that I’d like to see the US field her best 5 in Europe, even if I’m not one of ’em. Well, four of ’em are there now. I always thought of myself as the spare tire that gets the job done until the real wheel gets fixed. Maybe the spare ain’t broke, and we shouldn’t fix it.
What’s the opposite of modesty? Is it arrogance? Cockiness? I suppose I’m now guilty or, at least, flirting with it! But what’s truly cocky is not trying hard. Hell, that’s what I do at Cross Crusade events, so guilty as charged. Trust me: I’m not cocky half-way across the planet. If you’re really good over there, you will still get crushed. And I’m not really good. So, I don’t further disadvantage myself by bringing less than my very own best effort. I’m sorry to call people out, but they’re pros and can and should be able to take it. Pick it up, guys! I know you can do it.