07 Feb Louisville 2013: Imperfect but awesome
There are a lot of Cyclocross World Championship race reports floating around the internet by now. I think that other people have done an excellent job covering the technical details of Saturday’s races–who won, by how much, and what were they riding. (If you didn’t watch it live on cxmagazine.com or haven’t read the race reports yet, check out these: Bleacher Report or Bicycling.com.) As I said in last week’s post, I was looking forward to attending CX Worlds and planned on reporting back. Rather than rehash what’s already been done by others, I thought I would provide a review of the event as a whole, from the fan’s perspective, rather than a sports reporter’s.
Last week, I wrote that the first time for anything is fun and special and challenging. A first kiss, a first win, a first job. Those firsts may not be what you thought they would be, but they hold a special charm that will always be remembered and felt. That’s how this weekend felt in Louisville. It was a first and because it was a first, it was imperfect but charming, and challenging but better for it.
The first and probably biggest challenge of the weekend was the Ohio River, next to which Eva Bandman park is located. Due to recent storms in the northeast, the Ohio River swelled causing hydrologists to predict the park would be flooded by late Saturday night, making Sunday racing an impossibility. So the organizers compressed the race schedule into one day. Racers and coaches reportedly took the news angrily or ambivalently depending on their country of origin. As a fan who was planning on standing in freezing temperatures for two days, I was stoked to hear it would be just one day instead. And once the races got started, I can’t imagine having the event any other way but compressed. There was only 30 minutes to 1 hour between races, so it was just enough time to get in line for beer, visit the restroom, and find another good spot on the course before the next race. Plus, it added to the excitement to have 4 championships in a day. Each race built on the previous one and by the men’s elite race, you couldn’t have found more excited fans even if you had moved the races back to Europe. The men and women of the Louisville Municipal Sewer Department deserve a big thank you for the work they did to hold back the Ohio River. They were literally building temporary levees and piling sandbags next to the river through all of the day’s events. I don’t think we would have made it much past the women’s race if they weren’t so damn good at their jobs. Thanks Louisville MSD.
The second challenge was the weather. It snowed about 2 inches on Saturday morning before the races started. Despite Kentucky’s historically bad handling of winter weather (Yes, Kentucky gets snow every year, but for some reason it can’t quite get a handle on what to do when that happens…every year…. I’m a Kentuckian. This is a fact.), the roads were salted and clear. The races started on time and never fell behind schedule. To add to the snow, Saturday’s temperatures proved difficult for cyclists, but made for a fantastic course. Early on, in the Juniors race, the course was frozen which made for tricky run-ups, extra sliding around corners, and pit stops to pick up fresh bikes whose gears weren’t frozen. As the day warmed up, the snow melted into the dirt, creating Super Mud Fest 2013. The U23 and men’s elite cyclists all look like creatures from the Black Lagoon they were so muddy. I’m not sure how the cyclists felt about that, but it made for an awesome spectator experience. Oh, and maybe my favorite weather moment of the day was when it started to snow as the elite men began their race, the last race of the day. Anticipation was tangible, camaraderie abounded (partly due to intoxication levels), and snow started to fall at almost the same moment that the race began. It felt like cycling magic.
A challenge for every race organizer is how to keep crowds under control, whether at the ticket line and entrance gates, the concession stands, course crossings, or restrooms. With 10,000 estimated attendees, the Louisville organizers did a pretty good job. All of the volunteers, race officials, and other people in “Louisville 2013” high-vis vests were courteous, professional, and for the most part, fun. I was especially impressed with the course crossing guards. They did a great job making sure people got through the limited crossings efficiently, but also made sure the course was safe and clear for the riders. That said, the one sour spot in the day was the concessions. There was only one concessions tent and two smaller beer tents. The snack line at one point was an hour and a half long. You might miss 2 races if you got stuck in it. Beer was supplied by Sierra Nevada and their supplies were gone by the end of the women’s elite race (only half way through the day). They were able to bring in a new shipment, but the entire U23 race was a dry one. In the big scheme of things, concessions are probably a small detail, but when spectators aren’t allowed to bring in their own food and drink, race organizers should make sure supplies are plentiful and lines are short. Grumpy, hungry, not-drunk-anymore fans are no good.
One thing that makes or breaks a big event for me is the crowd, the fans. If fans suck, the event sucks. Lucky for me, the Louisville fans were amazing! The event organizers report about 10,000 attendees, which doesn’t compare to European World Championships, but exceeds naysayers’ expectations. Those that came to the races proved that American fans can be just as enthusiastic as European ones and that there’s a growing group of us–enough to support a World Championship. There were amazing costumes, coordinated outfits, and homemade clothing. Best of all, everyone was super nice, stoked on cyclocross, and ready to have a good time. Check out my favorite fans:
First times are special and this one was no exception. I am stoked that I got to be a part of this event. It wasn’t perfect, but it was a success despite the challenges. I think that Louisville showed Europe that the US can handle a CX World Championship. I hope we’re given another chance to prove it.