October 10, 2004: Let them eat crap

I'm kicking it in the recliner this fine Sunday, flipping back and forth between the morning games, when I see on the Dish GUI that CBS is broadcasting "mountain biking" at 1 PM. I was surprised that a major network like CBS would show mountain biking, but every once in a while the major networks will go out of character and show a swim meet, or a running race, or gymnastics. When I selected Info, the GUI informed me that it was the Jeep King of the Mountain World Championships. Cool, probably either a downhill race or maybe a gnarly cross-country race with some killer uphills.

I should have known better, after all, it was on network TV.

Excitedly, I tuned in at 1 PM to get some rare televised mountain biking. What I got was basically BMX racing on barely recognizeable mountain bikes. Apparently, the King of the Mountain races are short downhill sprints run on modified BMX tracks. Hole-shot races Romulus calls them.

Like I said, I should have known that if it was on network TV, it would be some kind of dumbed-down, quick-hitting, TV-friendly event targeted at the X-Games demographic, the new 800-pound marketing gorilla. This wasn't mountain biking, this was drag racing on bikes, with the margins of victory measuring in the hundredths of seconds. These hole-shot races are not very compelling and certainly do not reflect the soul of mountain biking. They're boring. Whoever wins the hole shot usually wins. Oh the ignominy, like everything, even MTB has been MTV'ed.

The network executives and the marketing VPs and the corporate schills are co-opting the publically visible version of our sport. I have no problem with corporate sponsorship and TV coverage, but that's the whole point. CBS televises the Jeep King of the Mountain World Championships (co-sponsored by Sirius), but where is the Jeep sponsorship at the local MTB events I've been to? Where is the time, effort, and money for innovative and dynamic TV coverage of real MTB events? Most televised MTB events have a couple of cameras at fixed locations along the course, offering the same shot of every rider in the same spots. Boring and unimaginative, with no commitment to make it better. Where is the effort to develop more kinds of races: team MTB races, time trials, hill climbs, night-only X-country, and on and on.

These corporate interlopers are doing nothing to cultivate the soul of the sport: X-country. It's just not a photogenic event. And so, we are offered prepackaged, corporate, plastic crap as MTB and told that we like it. Absent from the grass roots level are Jeep, CBS, Sirius, and all the other deep pockets. MTB retains but a tenuous grasp on the American sports landscape. And in its desperation to hang on, to be competitive, I fear that MTB may become corrupted. It already has. During rider interviews Sunday, a caption below each rider listed their name and their favorite Sirius satellite radio channel. Ah sweet, sweet sellout.


Mileage:  Time:  Avg:  Max:  Weight: 173

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