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It was brutally cold in Belgium yesterday and it was kind of a shock to the system. The real cyclocross season might finally be upon us and we can put the short sleeve skinsuits away.

I’m here for Koppenbergcross tomorrow. It’s no secret it’s my favourite event of the year, and I’m just as excited for it this year as I’ve ever been. Belgium has been warm and dry and the races therefore very fast, but the recent rain might soften things slightly. It doesn’t look like it’ll be a muddy epic though.

I’m here following two races in Spain which were a lot of fun. They were both registered as C1 races, which is a major step for the sport in Spain. To have top-level races registered back to back is a huge pull to riders.

This season I’ve read more from people who’ve suggested the sport isn’t globalising than I’ve read before, however, I’ve personally seen the positive effects of globalisation more than ever.

During my annual USA ’crosscation (It’s no holiday but it is a change), several riders took the opportunity to stay in Europe and target points and prizes elsewhere. Going to races should be a choice and riders should be able to use their own initiative to work out a program that suits them according to budget, logistics and targets.

When the sport has grown there will be a different situation and the biggest races will be enticing enough through media return and financial reward that people will choose to follow the path chosen for them.

You have to remember, this sport, in global terms, is small. It is growing but it’s a niche sport and will be for the foreseeable future. We’ve only just introduced official cyclocross teams and there is no requirement for riders in those teams to be paid.

Riders on some “top” teams are still paying for their own transport and coaching, and we have a situation in many teams where a solo woman is still added only to meet the rules despite the potential for live TV most weeks. It’s not totally clear yet what the real benefits of being a UCI-registered cyclocross team are, but perhaps over the next few seasons that will become evident.

A New International Schedule?

There have been suggestions that the World Cup could expand to 14 rounds and become a newly named World Series. There have also been calls from top riders that a World Cup weekend is exclusively for World Cups, which I understand especially given the clashes we have this year.

A Superprestige on a Saturday in Belgium followed by a World Cup in Switzerland the next day is just one example. I can’t see how this benefits the rider with exhausting logistical plans needed. It doesn’t reward a World Cup, as it limits the potential of having riders and fans traveling and investing money in the local community and suppressing gate receipts.

Imagine a situation where we have 14 World Cups all with their own weekends, then Nationals, Worlds, Continental champs all with exclusive weekends. That gives us 17 weekends. Let’s say us athletes are given 2 weekends off—which we’d really appreciate FYI—that’s 19 weeks of races where you couldn’t have another classification ’cross.

Based on this year’s calendar, that takes us from Trek Cup in September to the last week of January. Now I’m not saying it’s not possible, but 20 classification crosses in February is going to be pretty hard or the other option is to force these races into midweek positions.

Learning from Others

Taking examples from MotoGP and Formula1 is a good idea, as in many areas those sports are light-years ahead of us.

But the ideas we borrow need to focus on media, marketing, presentation, facilities, etc. A motorbike can have a new engine fitted for each race and perform at the same level, a rider can’t.

If you want cyclocross to succeed, we need to have a serious look at calendar planning. To attract fans back to the course side we need to race in the most exciting way when we are fit and on form. We aren’t chauffeur-driven between events or all able to fly first class (In 15 years of world travel for the sport, I’ve never had an upgrade #GetHelenAnUpgrade). We aren’t all able to book the prime flights, as we simply can’t afford it.

We aren’t all able to know what events we can and can’t do in advance as we have to see what is financially viable. These are the realities of the sport and the frailties of the sport.

All of these issues will have a direct impact on sponsors investing in our sport. Our sport is extremely exciting and should be able to attract the kind of support needed to sustain annual growth, but support is extremely hard to come by. The rise of the privateer program shows that there is a huge issue attracting the support needed to sustain a team with even a small number of riders.

Back to Belgium?

I’ve been asked a lot this year why I’m not in Belgium all the time like previous years. The answer is quite simple, I’ve not been asked to be there.

The sport has a contract system, where riders are contracted to events. I’ve not had them for Belgium, sadly. It is entirely possible to race every race without the start contract, however, I feel I would be doing a disservice to my peers and future pros by doing that. If I go for free I devalue those around and below me in the pecking order.

So I have focused my season on my chosen key events, and then events that want me, hence me being in Switzerland, France, Spain and elsewhere. I’m number five in the world, UK champion but yet somewhat on the sidelines. It feels strange, but in many ways, I’m loving it; it actually gives you a sense of freedom to race in places where it feels more real, less pressure.

Of course, I’d love to be in Belgium, but it’s just not possible. Perhaps I’ll be asked back in the future.

Update: Since writing this, I actually saw a picture tweeted by my friend of the list of riders contracted to the DVV Trofee Series and my name was on it! A few emails later and it turns out I will be racing in Belgium after all.🤦

Helen will be back at Koppenberg again this year. 2017 Women's Koppenbergcross. © B. Hazen / Cyclocross Magazine

Helen will be back at Koppenberg again this year. 2017 Women’s Koppenbergcross. © B. Hazen / Cyclocross Magazine

Anyway, that’s it, so be careful what you wish for folks. I’m wishing for rain, mud and some fun on the cobbles at tomorrow’s event.

Until then.

Helen

For more from Wyman, see her Wyman Wednesday archives.





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