The 2022 Winter Olympics are underway in Beijing, China. So it seems like a fine time to revisit an argument that seems to have been around longer than Davide Rebellin’s career. Should cyclocross be in the Olympics?
The conversation restarted in December, when the UCI Cyclocross World Cup organizers visited Val di Sole, Trentino. The venue, a ski resort, hosted mountain bike world championships in 2021 and has been the site of many World Cups. This past December was the first time ‘cross visited, and since it was winter, the races were on snow. There’s no debating whether or not the competitions were great: they were. And it’s not the first nor the last time ‘cross will be run on snow.
Former world champion Sven Nys has been very vocal about the prospect of ‘cross making its debut in the Winter Olympics. “If our sport becomes an Olympic sport, the sky’s the limit,” he said. “Then all the federations will wake up and put money into cyclocross again. Now that’s only in Belgium and the Netherlands.”
Thankfully at the Val di Sole race, there was plenty of snow, as the organizers were insistent that the races be run on the white stuff as a showcase for a possible Olympic bid. In fact, they were so intent on having snow, they even said they would have used the snow cannon if necessary.
The UCI tried to pitch the idea to the International Olympic Committee in 2014, but it didn’t exactly go so well. But we can get to that later. Even if the latest attempt were successful, the 2030 Olympics would be the earliest ‘cross would be there.
Although it would definitely be cool to imagine Marianne Vos, Maghalie Rochette and Wout van Aert racing in Beijing next week, it simply isn’t feasible, and will most likely never happen. Here’s why.
1. Olympic rules
As a rule, all Olympic Winter Games sports must take place on snow or ice. At the time, conditions in Val di Sole made it an opportune venue. Situated just below the Vermiglio Cross Country Ski Centre at 1,271 m above sea level, deep early-season snow was on the track.
The late Gian Franco Kasper, who was president of the International Ski Federation and served on the IOC, thought the idea of adding CX to the winter Olympics was ludicrous. It’s safe to say the idea was not exactly popular with some members of the winter sports world.
“Well, I will tell you completely honestly, I think this is completely ridiculous,” Kasper said. “It’s because we have a basic system for our sports in winter. They are on snow or on ice. We don’t want to include other sports, although they might be all-year-round sports.”
This is the crux of the argument why many suggest ‘cross will never be at the Winter Olympics. Yes, of course you can ride ‘cross on the snow and ice. Here in Canada it’s common. But you can also ride ‘cross on dirt, grass or sand. You can’t ski on sand, you can’t skate on grass, and you can’t bobsled on dirt. (You could try, though.) One of the main rules for entry for a sport into the Olympics is that the event can only be run on snow or ice. (Even if it’s made artificially, as is the case for much of the events in Bejing.)
There are other factors which don’t help the idea of ‘cross in the Olympics.
2. Cycling calendar
The Winter Olympics take place, well, in the winter, usually late January or February. The ‘cross worlds usually end the last weekend of January, so it would involve a rearrangement of the pro calendar. This is maybe the weakest argument why you can’t have ‘cross in the Olympics, but it would still be a headache. The Tour de France, for example, can change its dates on the calendar based around the Olympics, but would all of the event organizers of the major ‘cross races be willing to forgo or cancel their World Cups or Superprestige races, which are major money makers, for a two-week break in ‘cross? If you look at, say, the NHL, you can see that the it’s a contentious issue in that league. Not all teams want to stop games for a few weeks so that some of their star players can go to the Olympics.
3. Winter Olympic fans probably won’t get it
Listen, ‘cross rocks. It’s the best. A tough sport for tough riders. It’s also very specialized. A sport where you jump off your bike and * carry * it up a hill? Although the sport has definitely picked up in popularity these past few years, even “mainstream” cycling fans don’t get it sometimes.
— UCI Cyclocross (@UCI_CX) October 26, 2017
There’s been plenty of backlash against skateboarding or sport climbing at the Summer Olympics as demonstration sports. What do you think the average Joe or Jane would say when they turn on the TV and see that their beloved _insert_Winter_Olympic_sport_here was usurped by this weird event with people running around jumping barriers and hauling their bikes up hills?
4. CX is still a fringe sport
Cyclocross is immensely popular…in a bunch of European countries. At the Fayetteville world championships, there were 21 countries represented. At the Winter Olympics there are 91 countries participating. CX is hardly a big sport, if at all, in say, China or India. There is an argument of course, that including ‘cross at the Winter Olympics would inspire and increase participation in countries who have little to no ‘cross (Cool Runnings, amirite?) but the argument that there is such a small number of countries involved in the sport makes it a tough sell.
5. ‘Cross requires a lot of bikes
At a pro ‘cross race, the best riders will have anywhere from three to five bikes. That’s a lot of bikes. Sure, at the Summer Olympics the top riders will have their main bike and a spare (or two) but it’s not required. You could still come from a country with less cycling resources with one race bike, and be fine.
Cyclocross with its need for spares due to crashing, or mud (snow/ice) requires pits to swap out bikes. If you had only one bike you’d be at a major disadvantage compared with the top nations.
Although it’s a great idea, in theory, the prospect of ‘cross in the Olympics anytime soon is very low.
Turn on ice dancing and hockey. Better yet, go watch people racing on skis with guns on their back.