For the Love of ‘Cross: Passion Play

Namur & Heusden-Zolder, Belgium | UCI WC #5 & #6

Weekend warriors feel it. Pros get it. ‘Cross is the delicious itch that gets under your skin and must be scratched — a brief flash of joy ahead of a fast approaching winter. In 2017, we been explored the essence of what makes us love the discipline of ‘cross. Leading up to 2017 CX World’s, pro riders Nikki Brammeier, Christine Majerus, and Simon Andreassen, shared their thoughts on the what makes ‘cross just as much a religion as a sport.

Originally published January, 2017

They come. Donning their rain boots, puffy jackets, and scarves they arrive in droves, seeking sanctuary in the Temple of Cyclocross. Faces bright against the grey day, they are momentarily subdued, saving their voices for approaching sermon. Scanning the assembled riders, they seek glimpses of their idols — riders they follow from weekend to weekend, race to race, result to result. The air is fat with anticipation. Soon. Soon they will release their urgent cries to the frigid sky, bleating the names of those they worship. They will be loud and boisterous in their revelry; a chanting, waffle-fueled choir rejoicing in the spectacle. They say Belgian cyclocross fans are crazy, but don’t all religions look like that to outsiders? Hush. The service is about to begin.

The riders assemble, jostling at the start like loosely bridled horses. With professional road and mountain racing obligations met for the season, they’re free to indulge their passion for ‘cross and play in the mud, puddles, and snow. In this moment, they are focused and ready, thinking only of this first lap. Of surviving the start. Surviving that first corner. Surviving the chaos. Knowing that should they end up in front, called to the pulpit, they will let their quads do the talking.

“The first lap is always about fighting, getting your elbows out and trying to just defend your position or trying to move up as fast as possible. Like the first lap — sometimes it’s a little bit like a war, but a nice war.”

- Christine Majerus, Boels-Dolmans and ‘cross addict

The crowd tos-and-fros on course. Like flock of murmurating starlings, they are ensnared by the rhythm of the race and surging toward the action. Riders pass and for a brief moment, hands are released from toasty jacket pockets to cheer. Mustached men, faces lined with decades of race memories, talk of form and chances. The party goes on. The congregation is united in their ecstasy — they know that soon, a hero will rise.

The collection plate is out and riders’ offerings begin to clang into the bowl. Skill. Luck. Fun. Hunger. Contributions are made and a rider is blessed. Who will it be today? There’s an overwhelming sense of togetherness in the sand and muck — after all, what is for one is the same for all in these conditions. Lap after lap, riders pull chutes to drift unceremoniously off the pace while others surge on. The herd thins, until finally, it is done and the victorious hands of this week’s anointed one are raised. With a puff of relieved air and a cheer from the sidelines, the service is over.

The saying goes that if it’s not fun, you’re not doing it right, and with all the slow-motion video and epic photography often presented from cyclocross races, it’s easy to forget that the primary reason everyone gives for loving it — at all levels — is precisely that. It’s fun. Big, playful, competitive fun. It’s fun for riders. It’s fun for spectators. And who wouldn’t love a religion based on that?

Next up — the UCI World Championships. Let us pray.

“If you do an interview after the race, they [the winner] are probably going to say ‘Oh, I had a lot of fun,’ and the last one will also say ‘Ah, this was awesome, I had a lot of fun!’ and that’s not necessarily something you have on the road. I mean, don’t ask the last one in a road race how the race was. They’re probably gonna say, ‘Ah let’s forget about it.’”

- Christine Majerus

Story originally appeared on January, 2017 [archived]

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