Final Notes On Cross Worlds

Posted on 31. Jan, 2012 by in race

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Insanity. Chaos.  A sea of people. Beer. Frites. Color. Sand. Elbows. The Cyclocross World Championships were all that and more.  That’s what happens when you pack 53,000 people in  a small area, with lots of beer tents and cross racing in West Flanders, Belgium.   You think you’re prepared after attending World Cup races in Belgium and even the World Championships in Germany, but Koksijde took it to a whole other level – for the racers and for the media. Here is how our race went.

The end

The end

Images. With big crowds, decisions have to be made. What’s more important? Shooting the start, the first runup, Herygers Dune  or the finish?  It was impossible to do all four and impossible to do the start and Herygers dune for the men’s race.  And of course, with tweeting updates, movement is also curtailed because I have to see the whole field before I can move.

Talking to the riders is also a necessity. Unfortunately, the teams were not all centrally located with the biggest teams (with the biggest equipment) located at over 1, if not 2 km, away from the course. That made it impossible to easily track down a rider for a quote, so making it to the finish was essential. It also  removed the option of getting any warming up photos unfortunately.

As mentioned previously, the organizers credentialed only 118 photographers/videographers and those were divided into three groups with different color bibs defining the access level. The photo pits were also small and oddly set up with bad angles that had to be worked with.

It was still possible to move around on Saturday with only 13,000 fans and to find spots to take photos. But Sunday was a different animal. By 10am, one hour before the start of the women’s race, the beer tents were hopping and the crowds were massed by the barriers, especially around the two dunes, Herygers and X – we’re talking five to seven deep already.

One hour before the start of the elite men's race, the photographers are staking a spot and the crowds are huge

One hour before the start of the elite men's race, the photographers are staking a spot and the crowds are huge

By Sunday afternoon, all the fans were present. Worried about safety of the riders, the organizers announced that all course crossings – except for the bridges – would be closed after the first lap of the men’s race. That took options out  the photography equation.

Decisions made. No start photos. Shoot first hill, X-Dune and another spot before running to the finish for the women’s race. The men’s race was an obstacle course, there is no other way to describe it. One hour before the start, push through the crowds to get to photo spot at Herygers, then stake a spot. Shoot (and tweet) a few laps and then fight my way out. Walk all the way back to the street, around the course and manoeuver around to take photo. Push, deal with a few drunks (and other things best no talk about), take photos, run…. and repeat. A gauntlet until final run to finish line.

Words. For every race, the routine became the same at the finish. Shoot the winner, find and talk to the Americans and Canadians  – that can be difficult if they’ve been pulled and have already departed back to their team vans. Then walk back to the media room and wait for the press conference.

Being non-Flemish (or Dutch) speaker was a major disadvantage. After the race, the top three (or more) are whisked to do TV interviews which the press is watching and using for quotes. But the interviews are all done in Flemish with no translation.  It can be over one hour before the top three riders make their way to the official press conference where the questions and answers are translated.

Crowds.  Standing room only, literally. Organizers were using double barriers re-enforced with a third perpendicular barrier to keep the crowds from pushing in and collapsing the fencing onto the course. Crossings were manned on each side and the police was out in force on Sunday. Helicopter and even police dogs. Loud music in the tents.  Jupiter beer everywhere.

It is hard to describe what the atmosphere is like with so many people, so many rabid cross fans and yes, so many drinking beer.  A Belgian cross race has its own sound, smell and imagery – and it was magnitudes bigger this past weekend. Riders supporters are out, with their decorated umbrellas and hats, horns and anything else they can think of. And, other countries are obviously represented, the Dutch in orange, the Swiss in red and white with massive cowbells, and on and on.

Sometimes, it is better just to embrace the insanity. It was exhausting but man what an experience.

Thank you to sponsors Focus Bikes, LeMond Fitness and Rapha for making it possible to cover Worlds in person again this year.

2012 Cyclocross World Championships Stories and Galleries

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