I'm not a religious man, but Sundays hold a very special meaning. I share this with many others, and dirt church is what I wait for all week. Sunday, January 11 was supposed to be something special, I guess a bit like Palm Sunday.
But, now I'm getting ahead of myself, let's rewind.
The Monday before CX Nats I loaded up my car with cameras and bikes and drove 1200 miles to Austin. It wasn't fun. But, Cross Nationals always is, so I hit the road.
I was greeted to Texas with warm weather and sunshine, exactly like I expected in January. As the week progressed the weather degraded a bit, though that led to exceptional racing. Late in the week the juniors were met with some of the toughest course conditions of the week, and we were all blown away by their conviction that they'd own the course, and they did.
As the weekend rolled on and the rain kept coming the course got muddy, but not sloppy. The mud was a thin layer of grease over some very hard ground, which meant a couple of things. First, it was slippery. Really slippery. Some of the best riders in the country out on practice laps were falling all over on the off-camber sections. Second, Austin freaked out. This is Texas after all, and a couple of days straight of rain sent people into a frenzy. No matter, this is cyclocross, right?
Well, yes and no. Come Sunday morning park visitors were greeted by cops turning them away. At 8:29 am USA Cycling posted a 3-part Tweet saying Austin has postponed the race,
"In light of last night's weather, the city of Austin has postponed today's races until further notice. We are doing everything in our power to make sure these races go today. It is our number one priority to run this event for our riders, and we are working diligently with the City of Austin to make this happen. Please track USA cycling social media for further updates. @AustinCX15".
According to Austin Parks and Rec on Twitter at 8:46 am,
"due to excessive rainfall overnight, @AustinCX15 has been cancelled over concerns for the turf and root zone exposure. #cxnats #AustinCX15".
At 10:08 am USA Cycling tells us,
"ALERT: #cxnats is officially cancelled. Austin police have asked ppl at the park to start vacating immediately."
After the Twittersphere blew up for a bit I loaded my crap and headed home. Disenchanted? Kind of. USA Cycling has managed to let us down more than once, but this one shocked me. I hit the road.
Care to guess what really blew my mind? This Tweet from USA Cycling at 12:41 pm,
"UPDATE: Racing will resume tomorrow at noon local. All categories. Details to come."
Are you kidding me? At this point I has already driven nearly 100 miles out of Austin.
What does all of this tell us? I wish I knew. I wasn't at the table during the organization of the race between Austin and it's parks, race organizers, and USA Cycling. A lot of news has come to light, and it appears race organizers covered their bases as best they could. Walk-throughs had been held throughout the year leading up to the race and many times throughout the week and weekend leading up to Sunday.
But then there's the tree group: Austin's Heritage Tree Foundation. They declared a "911 tree emergency." I'm having a tough time working through my feelings on this one, but I can't say I disagree with them. Now, with that out of the way, my issue here is how it was handled. With 4 days of racing behind us, to call in the emergency mere hours before our best racers were ready to fight it out blew me away.
Where does this leave us? I'm just not sure. Clearly we have some issues on our hands, and the fact that this happened at the premier event, in our fastest growing discipline, with our national governing body in attendance, makes it that much worse. Clearly we have some work to do, I can't help but to assume we're the laughing stock of the cyclocross world.
Unfortunately I'm not the only one left out. 2500 miles of total driving, a week away from home, hundreds in hotel rental and food, and I didn't get to see the main event. Countless others were shafted in exactly the same way. According to Velonews a survey was done by Matthew Montesano at the race "suggests that the average total cost per rider to stay an extra day fell north of $900, with a total cost of almost $350,000, even without taking into account vendors, media, and spectators."
I'm going to leave it to those more closely linked to the organization of races than I to figure out what our next move is. Here's to hoping that our "leaders" can walk away from this learning a lesson, a lesson on how to make every race moving forward that much better. Here's to hoping this never has to happen again, to our racers or our spectators.
photos and words by Brandon Elliott