Calling someone a sandbagger in the cycling community is like saying "terrorist" on an airplane, a serious offense or seriously funny. Nobody likes a sandbagger. Conversely, nobody appreciates being called a sandbagger. Certainly nobody likes people who call other people sandbaggers, unless you’re totally “besties forever” joking and ribbing over a few beers while toasting a friend or teammate’s stellar performance. This week a blog called Ohio Sandbagger shouted the “s” word from seat 43-B in the back row. At first it was funny. As it settled in, we found out it’s the equivalent of calling a baby ugly to the mother’s face. Like driving past a porn store on the freeway, we quickly looked away. It felt wrong.
Traditionally, a sandbag holds back water in a flood, something we’re no strangers to in the Ohio River Valley. Simply stated, a sandbag prevents the water from flowing to the other side. A bike racing sandbagger is no different. True to definition, it stays steadfast, preventing other racers from achieving success or moving up into the next category. Simple as a straightaway dismount right? Not so quick speedy, and keep in mind sandbags are temporary.
Also consider some bodies of water physically and figuratively cannot be sandbagged, like the toilet in the Biggest Loser green room. An elite race is the ocean. Since it is the ultimate destination for all water, sandbagging is only possible in bodies of water smaller than it. If you’re looking to out a sandbagger, you’re not going to find one in the Bearing Straight. It’s best to look in a tributary like Williamstown Lake, the category 3 Ohio River, Duck Creek or the overflow from the port-o-lets at Boon Dock CX Park USA.
While there may be sandbagging going on in the OVCX, thou shalt not use the “S” word in vain. There’s more than lap times, podium steps and upgrade points to consider. Like the orange community water bottle jug at cross practice, the water is deep and murky. There are undercurrents like newborn babies and long hours at work that might keep someone who was successful in the lower category in the past from moving up to the next category tomorrow. We’re all people with jobs, families, funerals and weddings. I know crossers that are on-call pilots and late night musicians. Some of us might even like to do crazy things in our underwear Saturday at midnight. All of that…is none of your business.
Then there’s the joy of being on the podium itself. I’ve been there on occasion, never on the top step in a cyclocross race, but I’ve flanked the sides. It’s more wonderful than fresh white bar tape and a matching saddle. With the flashes popping in your eyes, photos being uploaded to your FB wall and big hoots and hugs from your teammates and best buds, it’s something to be enjoyed and celebrated. It’s as big of a part of racing as the carpool coffee stop. One thing’s for certain, more of us need to head to the podium to cheer, rather than packing up the car and leaving the race venue in a huff.
Sandbagging is not even about completely trouncing the competition till they’re wheezing like a donkey while crying for mama between bouts of the pukes. Someone who stomps the Cat 4 or Cat 3 race with lap times that’d put them in the top 15 of an elite race should first be heralded as an up and coming fast S.O.B., not a sandbagger. Pat ‘em on the back. Well done. There are a few folks racing OVCX that I’ve seen do just that. It’s been amazing to watch and even more fun to cheer, especially when you hear a local did well at Nationals. That’s called winning. That’s called training hard and rising to the top. That’s what most of us are racing for in the first place. When you get to the top it should be enjoyed, otherwise it’s like having a birthday with no cake.
While we all initially thumbed our noses at USA Cycling for coming up with categories for our beloved once grass roots sport, the guidelines for upgrading from one category to the next are clear and work quite well. In the case of having a baby, getting that big promotion with more hours, or having to take care of elderly parents…you can even downgrade. The great thing about it all is your local USA Cycling representative is likely your Facebook friend. Without looking at your results on the computer, they probably know you better than you think. Now that’s grass roots.
Besides, right before our Oakley’s the landscape of cyclocross is changing. Just a few years ago, we marked our courses with flags and strategically placed water bottles. We peed in the woods. All the fields combined may have totaled 35 people. (photo: Harbin Park 1997) This past weeked at the King’s CX there were reported to be 50 juniors and something crazy like 500 racers. Already those youngsters are starting to work their way up, busting their humps, racing two or three or four races in a weekend. No amount of sandbagging is going to hold their flood back. Nature and youth will take it’s course.
There’s really no need to call out sandbaggers, like there’s no reason to cast judgement on one’s appearance. There’s always more to the story than the numbers show. As our new juniors and this year's riders committed to training will prove, some bodies of water may seem impassable, but a sandbag can be moved. If not, eventually all sandbags deteriorate in the water. Hup hup buttercup.