This isn't going to be much of a murder mystery, nor a piece of investigative journalism resulting in a climactic 'AHA!' - a cross between Alan Partridge and Inspector Frost. This is more likely to be yet another middle-aged xc racer, reminiscing about how it was all better when chicken tasted like chicken before forgetting what I was talking about mid-ramble and abruptly stopping when Masterchef starts.
Anyway, my latest head-scratching, hair-pulling, nose-picking outbursts have been caused by our current futile attempts to jump start the ailing National XC series. Round one was admittedly on a hiding to nothing once the rain started, but even prior to the monsoon the whole event had a distinctly somber, wake-like atmosphere. On top of which, I had the worst bacon sandwich I can remember and trust me, this is something I'd remember. There were some top performances by some gifted young riders, but it all had the air of 'going through the motions', something that I was unable to do for some time after the bacon sandwich. Now this isn't a visit to the mother-in-law, something to be endured as ill-frequently as possible while ensuring continued receipt of Xmas presents, this is the National series! This is our F.A. cup, which currently seems to stand for F@#K ALL cup.
Now the event campsites have been in steady decline since motor-homes starting replacing the classic van-tent combo. If you have the capacity to either bake a cake, have a shower or watch 'Strictly' on the flat screen, you aren't camping. Gone are the days of true camping - shared hardship, outdoor cookery, thermals in July, all your food stolen by badgers and campsite congas. We are supposed to be exponents of a rufty-tufty extreme outdoor sport, not the bloody caravan club. So with everyone securely locked inside their mobile bungalows the second they have finished riding, the campsite soundtrack is now the endless drone of generators and our laughter as another motor-home sinks into the mud. I think the only conversation I've had at recent events is the repetitive "Have you seen a tap?" as motor-homes seem to consume water at a colossal rate. Dishwasher? Not camping. Dishes licked clean by slugs? Camping!
In the nineties, when Nick Craig was just a top elite and not some freak of nature to boot, we would drive to watch the Nationals. Not to race, mind you, just to watch. We would have the remains of our pay-packets (pay-packets! Oh the joy!) in our back pockets, as we knew that there would be lines of retailers ready to sell you something you didn't need. Nowadays, if you don't need energy stuff, a tyre or a crappy bacon sandwich you are bang out of luck, but still in pocket. For the Newnham Park nationals, we have spoken to a list of people we thought would be falling over themselves to get involved, but no amount of excitable chatter on our part can make people see xc racing as anything more than cyclo-cross without the running.
So hands-up who remembers the Martyn Salt era of the Nationals? When Salty was at the helm, the series had a very different feel. Trip down memory lane anyone? Friday afternoon course practice, Friday evening short course team relay, a jam-packed day of racing on Saturday, a MTB marathon on the Sunday, big sponsors, demo bikes, trade stands, reliable (if dull) catering = big bang for your bucks and a damn good reason to travel. I guess Salty understood the need to create an 'event' and not just a 'race', and the standard was met across the series, God bless him. B.C. now give individual organisers a budget with which to put on one of the rounds. If you want to do anything extra / exciting it comes out of your existing budget, so who can blame organisers that don't bother? Keep it simple, keep it cheap and watch it sink.
The British Cycling website and Facebook updates us every thirty seconds about some interminable chicken-spit road race; previews, live streaming, post race anal analysis, but can only be bother to do a post-race report after a National XC with a load of photos that make it look like a skin-suit and gurning convention. The organisers can do all the press releases and pre-event build up that they want to, but it won't get anywhere near the B.C. website. Gone are the days when XC results used to figure in MBUK; these days unless you can do a backflip or have a photo of yourself p#ssing blood you won't get a look in. We are turning into an invisible sport, that happens in the middle of nowhere, watched only by prowling potential bike thieves.
Who killed XC racing? To be continued...