In the Cross Hairs
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“THERE IS A SAYING IN CYCLOCROSS THAT THE SPRINT ISN’T AT THE END OF THE RACE BUT AT THE BEGINNING. IF YOU PLAY YOUR CARDS WRONG, THAT SPRINT CAN BE BEFORE THE RACE EVEN BEGINS!”
According to USA Cycling statistics, cyclocross is the fastest growing discipline in all of American cycling. It offers a spectator-friendly atmosphere—either racing or enjoying yourself while others are racing—that no other discipline can even approach. Yet still, for fans of cyclocross at its highest level, keeping up with the latest on our favorite racers, who are probably Belgian or Dutch, remains a niche within a niche. Race feeds can be tough to track down and information remains scarce, at least via the mainstream outlets.
Words: Clive Pursehouse
Images: Brett Rothmeyer
Fortunately there are some intensely devoted fans that allow the rest of us access to the sport without having to spend half the year in Belgium or New England—though neither would be a bad thing. Among those devotees, these curators of ’cross for those of us with desk jobs, none stands as tall (literally or figuratively) as Washington, DC’s Bill Schieken, who’s best known by his twitter handle @CXHairs and for his prolific site: In The Crosshairs.
In contrast to efforts by established professional racers to promote and grow the sport, such as Jeremy Powers and his Behind THE Barriers TV, In the Crosshairs is most properly described as a fan tribute. Those of us who’ve raced and fallen in love with ’cross may have dreamed of dedicating our lives to the sport we love on the weekends, Bill Schieken has actually pulled it off.
“Here’s how it all really got started—probably in more detail than anybody wants,” he says. “It was either 2003 or 2004. The race isn’t on crossresults.com so I can’t confirm—thanks for nothing, @resultsboy. (That race is now the Cap Cross Classic, part of BikeReg.com’s Super 8 Cyclocross Series). I played hockey with a guy who was a triathlete and there was a race near where he lived—Lake Fairfax Park in Reston, Virginia. He ran across the race, thought it looked cool, jumped into the C race (that’s what we used to call Cat 5s), and he was hooked. He explained it to me and said there was another race in Charlottesville the next day. So we made the plan to play our hockey game on Friday night, get in the truck and race at 9 a.m. the next morning.”
Bill’s initial foray into cyclocross was far from seamless: “We staged at the start/finish line, because it said ‘start/finish.’ We didn’t realize there was a prologue. So we’re lined up at the finish line waiting for the race to start. Nobody said a word to us—just let these two dorks hang out on the finish line. It was about a minute until the race was supposed to start and we couldn’t figure out why there was nobody else on the line. We finally looked around and saw way behind us the field, already staged and ready to rip. We sprinted backwards down the course and jumped on the back of the field just as the whistle blew. There is a saying in cyclocross that the sprint isn’t at the end of the race but at the beginning. If you play your cards wrong, that sprint can be before the race even begins!”
Many of us have experienced that “love-at-first-fight” with cyclocross and, like us, Bill was hooked—though his buddy decided to stick with triathlon. Bill traded in his old mountain bike for a proper ’cross rig, but unlike the rest of us he didn’t stop there. “I fumbled around for a few years,” he says, “and then started In The Crosshairs in 2009.” When it comes to his website’s place in the greater cyclocross community, Bill thinks it has yet to really be determined. The coming year will be a big one though—for both Bill and his growing team of contributors. “For the U.S. World Cup races, I’m going all-in on coverage. I will start in Madison at Trek CXC and produce videos, podcasts, photos, text. If it can be done on a multimedia platform we are going to put it out there. We will then hit CrossVegas before ending the adventure in Iowa City for Jingle Cross. It’s a cool 10-day project that I’m so stoked on. We have some great sponsors including title sponsor Orange Seal, along with Easton Cycling, SDG Components, Verge Sportswear, Feedback Sports and Squid Bikes,” he says.
“Nobody is going to replace Behind THE Barriers TV. Put aside the fact that I’m neither Jeremy Powers nor Colt McElwaine —and just think about the size and investment of their operation. BTB TV streamed every C1 race and nationals with the best coverage and equipment we have ever seen in U.S. cyclocross. Contrast that to me: I have a nice home studio for podcasts, some cool microphones and a bag full of cameras. I think what I can offer is a different animal than BTB TV. I want to spread the good word of cyclocross to as many people as possible, but no way can I do that on the scale that Jeremy took on.”
When he’s not producing In The Crosshairs, Bill promotes cyclocross races in the greater D.C. area. “The BikeReg Super 8 series that I head up gets at least 400 racers per event and tops out at around 1,500 for DCCX. I like to call the Super 8 the biggest series nobody knows exists. And, frankly, I’m okay with that. We only have two UCI races in MABRA [the Mid-Atlantic Bicycle Racing Association]: Charm City Cross, which is a C1 this year, and DCCX. The rest of the races are what we label ‘grassroots racing with high production value.’ Our main constituency is masters racers, cat 3s and 4s and juniors. And there are a lot of those folks! The races are all run with the production you’d expect at a C2 race but with a bit different focus. It’s family-friendly. There’s food trucks, kids activities, beer, music and a really nice vibe.”
All of the aforementioned aside, perhaps Bill’s and In The Crosshairs’ greatest contribution to cyclocross and its lexicon is the term “Svenness”—derived from ’cross legend Sven Nys—which has become a term that embodies more than it really meant in the beginning. “The original intent of Svenness was to break down game tape,” he says. “Show certain elements of a race and explain in detail the decision-making behind why events happened. We discussed technique, strategy, line choice, starts, late-race maneuvering…the whole works. As the series evolved, it continued to do that but included more and more race analysis and race recap. The short answer is that I’ve accomplished most of what I set out to do with the series.”
For those of us always in pursuit of the “Sven line” we owe Bill Schieken and the team at In The Crosshairs a debt of gratitude. In the meantime, stay tuned.
From issue 59. Buy it here!