Internalizing | CX 2021-2022 #3
Cyclocross isn’t just a race over here, it’s an entire production. There are folks who follow the races with full dedication, every venue every weekend. There are those who come out for the party, those who come out just for their favorite racers, folks who come to see themselves on national TV later that evening. Many folks have some youthful exposure to racing, a smaller few continue to dabble at the masters races, most still ride for fitness, likely the majority commute by bicycle. All appreciate the sport.
My first go at Europe cross was full of intimidations, the well-oiled machine that is the race productions, the guards to parking, the mystery locations of sign in, the even more mysterious locations of toilets, the fleet of campers, the stern looking mechanic crews, the merch tents, the party tents, the spectators crowded along the fence line, the TV crews, the super fans observing the warm ups laps and course check, the double walled barriers to keep them off the course, the rowdy drunks, general curiosity about us racers, the comments they spoke to me without translation.
It took me until my third year to really look beyond my intimidation and see these folks for who they are, to appreciate how it all works and to find my place and a degree of comfort within it all. Perhaps as some side effect of being a closet introvert I am hyper aware of being observed and this was putting myself on intentional display, you aren’t just here to race, you are here to be watched.
I finally internalized you don’t have to be on the podium to deserve to be there, that the fans do see value in those tail end riders chasing the back of the pack, struggling with their own set of challenges, be it equipment, handling skills, or just lacking a network of support. The change in perspective for me was notable, no longer was I riding self-conscious that everyone watching was marveling at my willingness to travel so far only to be hanging on for dear life.
Gaining awareness that the public saw more than the smoothness, flow, and effortless display of athleticism from the leaders on the camera feeds; they perhaps also put themselves in the position of riders, wondering how the heck to make it up, down, and across the slippery slopes while staying atop the bicycle. Humanizing the crowd was a turning point for me. I exited my own head full of self-created obstacles and consequently began to better approach the physical ones.
The return was course-side help in the form of smiles, encouragement, line choices, sharing of observations of how other riders were making it happen. All from strangers. Strangers who delighted in the opportunity to interact with an unknown racer from another continent who came all this way to put themselves on the largest pedestal the sport had to offer.
Relatability became respect and with the respect came a degree of comfort, a marginal but important contribution in an environment already so challenging. These courses are built to display the epitome of a few athletes abilities while drawing the attention of thousands, if not more. The ratio is daunting to contemplate. What I learned was that I didn’t need to look at it as the sum of its parts, rather I could focus on my little piece resting assured that no matter how minor my contribution, it was still valued.