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Pete Webber wins the cyclo-cross award that matters the most

February 17, 2013

Pete Webber at 2013 Cyclo-cross Nationals when he crewed for teammate Russell Stevenson in the pit

The anvil is unbreakably tough; as a tool it exists to absorb poundings. So with national and past world cyclo-cross champion Pete Webber accepting the Anvil Award last Friday night, it’s reasonable to guess the award acknowledges the “hardest” male or female cyclo-cross racer, the one who can endure the most suffering on the bike.

While a good one, that guess is not correct. The Anvil Award recognizes the person that best promotes cyclo-cross community.

After expressing thanks for the award in front of members of the Boulder-area ‘cross community who had gathered in the Boulder Cycle Sport shop to celebrate the close of the season, Webber displayed the 2014 Boulder logo. “It’s going to take community to pull this off,” he said, referring to hosting thousands for the cyclo-cross national championships in Boulder next year.

The award and Webber’s emphasis on community reminded me of a quote from Christopher McDougall’s book about ultra-running and the athletes and cultures that embrace it, Born to Run. He wrote,

“The reason we race isn’t so much to beat each other…but to be with each other…other runners try to disassociate from fatigue by blasting IPods…but Scott [Jurek] had a simpler method: it’s easy to get outside of yourself when you’re thinking about someone else.” [Scott Jurek is an accomplished ultra-runner. – ed.]

Effectively what McDougall means is this: we get the best from ourselves in the company of others and when we minimize self-absorption by helping others. It makes sense. People have needed each other since we came into existence – to catch or grow food, continue the tribe, build a barn. Together we create things much larger than we can by ourselves.

As Webber pointed out, it’s impossible for a single person to carry off a sporting event. Take the cycling discipline of cyclo-cross. Someone designs the course. Someone manufactures the tape and stakes that define the course. Someone provides the location. Officials ensure competitors follow the rules of fair play. Riders compete against each other.

Wait. Is it “against” each other or “with” each other as McDougall suggests?

Except for those who practice sport purely for fitness, athletes aim to win. Professional athletes must win; each is in business for himself and winning generates revenue.

But it’s only with others that winning – one person achieving a better result than another – becomes possible. In that sense an athlete can’t win unless others also participate in the same event. And as some have pointed out, competitors can movitate an athlete to do better than he thought he could.

Robin Eckmann (California Giant Berry Farms/Specialized) expressed a related sentiment today in social media. He wrote, “Had a great time at grasshopper race ride. Nothing on the line but experience and good time with team mates and friends. :)”

Since an athlete can’t win all the time, it would be pretty demoralizing if the only reward for competing was winning.

Making the Anvil Award a symbol of forging community is to recognize that community is the foundation of sport. Without community, there wouldn’t be anything to compete for.  

The Anvil Award (photo by Jamie Servaites)

The Anvil Award (photo by Jamie Servaites)

From → Cyclocross, Essays

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