Sunday, January 10, 2021

Bittersweet Championship Weekend

Michael BoroŇ° is now a 4-time Czech champion.

For most of Europe, this was national championship weekend for the 2020-2021 cyclocross season. No fewer than 14 countries held championships, but Germany, Great Britain, Ireland, Luxembourg, and, most notably, the Netherlands canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Our national championships, originally scheduled for Dec. 8-13 in suburban Chicago, were canceled way back in September.

I tuned in for the men’s elite race from the Czech Republic on Saturday morning, and much earlier today I watched the Spanish championships: under-23 men, elite women, and elite men. That’s four races in 24 hours, my biggest cycling fan experience since the final week of the Vuelta. And it was a pleasure to watch live coverage for free, but these weren’t the races I wanted to see. With all due respect to the Czech and Spanish federations, their best racers are not on the same level as the Belgians and the Dutch. I took what I could get, and it was better than nothing.

From America there is now almost no way to watch cyclocross for free, even with a VPN tunnel to masquerade as a European viewer. The broadcasters have gotten better at locking down their content. This change hasn’t made me any more willing to subscribe to the broadcasters who hold the rights. Absence has not made my heart grow fonder; it has made me care less about the sport. I have not abandoned it entirely, but I am much less concerned with viewing every race.

It’s not just a question of televised coverage. It’s also true that I don’t like some of the people in the top tier of the sport. For all his obvious greatness, Mathieu van der Poel just sucks the life out of every cyclocross race he enters. I mentioned this before. When I see van der Poel’s name on the start list I lose all interest. I’m not going to invest an hour watching a race that no one else has a reasonable chance to win. And on the women’s side, unrepentant doping cheat Denise Betsema is having a lot of success this season. These are performances I cannot celebrate.

The new National Hockey League season will begin on Wednesday and I have access to all of those broadcasts. They can easily fill all the hours I have for televised sports each week, so I am not sure I will miss cyclocross even if I don’t watch another race this season. The return on my investment simply is not there anymore, and it would be even worse if I were paying for the privilege with money and not just time and hassle.

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