While on a ride a few weeks ago, a friend asked me who I thought was the best mountain bike racer of all time, and whether I defer to the stats or my gut to make that decision. How you answer the second question probably says a lot about your personality, but the only correct answer to the first question is Anne-Caroline Chausson. ''Sure, you could make an argument for a dozen or so other names when it comes to second place,'' I said to him, ''But this isn't one of those things that's up for debate.'' Good thing we were at the bottom of a long climb.
Anyways, aside from realizing that my friend is completely wrong about who he thinks mountain bike racing's G.O.A.T is (Minnaar ties for second with everyone else), I also came to the conclusion that our sport could use some sort of Race of Champions-style event. What the hell is that? The motorsport world has countless formulas and categories, from rally cars, open-wheeled cars like F1 and Indy, touring and stock cars, and even electrics and motorbikes; the Race of Champions takes some of the best from each and pits them against each other in equal machinery at the end of the season.
It's a given that anyone and everyone competing at the ROC is a current or future legend with otherworldly abilities, and that's why winning the whole thing is such a big deal. Imagine if mountain biking had an event where the sport's finest competed aboard identical bikes and on a specially designed, spectator-friendly course to find who really is the best on that day?
Here's how that might look...Who, where, and when
The good folks at the UCI, our sport's worldwide governing body, are probably too busy governing other things to come take all the fun out of our new Race of Champions competition. Besides, I think fans would appreciate a more festival-like atmosphere, something similar to that little-known event called Crankworx Whistler. Oh, you've heard of it? It's essentially a massive celebration of all things mountain biking, home of the most prestigious slope event, and also where you'll find some of the fastest gravity racers for two weeks in the middle of August.
August wouldn't work, though, with the EWS, and both World Cup cross-country and downhill racing calendar going into September, not to mention World Champs. You'd need everyone's seasons to be over if you expect them to attend; remember, they're unlikely to risk injury until the big victories and titles are wrapped up. There's also the not small issue of sponsorship conflicts, but that could matter less in the fall when everyone is more relaxed. So there'd need to be some juggling, maybe move some things forward and Crankweek back, but I couldn't think of a better place or organization to tackle the new ROCMTB event. Thanks @crankworx
So, who gets invited? All you really need to do is look at the top-ten names at any world-class competition, be it the Enduro World Series, World Cup cross-country and downhill, and especially at Rampage and Darkfest. And why can't some roadies attend if they wanted?
Just imagine hearing the announcer screaming, ''Up next, Mathieu van der Poel goes head-to-head with Cam Zink. The winner faces last year's ROC champion, Martin Maes!'' Wait, what'd that guy just say?
Also, what the hell kind of race would pit Maes against van der Poel without you having a good idea of how it'd end? Don't get me wrong, I know Maes is a monster, but van der Poel would walk away from him if the race put too much emphasis on pure fitness, and vice versa if it was too gravity-oriented. Mathieu has immense skills in his world, sure, but we know who'd win in a rowdy downhill time trial.
Then what kind of racing would it need to be?The racing
I'm not entirely sure what it'd look like, but I do know that its gotta be head-to-head and exciting. It also has to be a single style of racing because we're trying to get away from different disciplines, but while also still being representative of all disciplines. Aaaaand it also has to make for somewhat fair-ish racing where [monster truck announcer voice activated] the world's best cross-country, downhill, enduro, and freeride competitors face each other in a last-person-standing cage match to the death that sees the winner crowned as the Mountain Bike Champion of the Galaxy.
We'll definitely need Tippie on the mic to run this party.
The best I can come up with is some sort of relatively short course, maybe between three and six minutes long, that has its finish line lower than its starting line. How much lower? Someone might need an algorithm to answer that one. Don't get too excited - there'd still need to be some difficult climbing - and the descending would obviously have to reward those with the most skill rather than who has the least to live for. Also, if we're deciding on the ruler of the galaxy, you know we're gonna need some flat grass turns in there, if only because it was starting to sound a bike like cross-country eliminator racing and we don't want that.
Okay, so I don't really have course design locked down yet, but I'm open to ideas. Anyone? The bikes
The best racers get paid a lot of money to ride a certain company's bikes, so it's easy to see why said racers might be hesitant to be photographed and videoed tearing it up on a competitor's bike, and especially if they were tearing it up so well they end up winning. I'm sure whoever signs those cheques wouldn't be all that stoked, either... But what if the ROCMTB supplied complete bikes, all being identical aside from sizing, from a company that doesn't even exist?
I mean, if Pinkbike can bumble its way through doing the Grim Donut
, someone with some common sense could probably get a few dozen frames made in half the time. Assuming the ROCMTB is being bankrolled by someone who likes to flush money down the toilet for laughs, all that'd need to be done is to reach out to a factory, maybe a place like Genio that manufactures high-end aluminum frames, and pick an already tested design. Or maybe it'd end up being an all-new design; either way, the point is that the bikes would be specific to the Race of Champions and not for sale.
Okay, but what type of bike? Given that we're looking for the best mountain biker in a group of the world's best mountain bikers, I think there's a good case to be made for it not mattering what type of bike it is, how much travel it has, or even its wheel size. These are the most skilled, fittest, strongest riders who can pull things off that you and I wouldn't even think of, so they should have no trouble getting used to a new machine. In fact, maybe the ROCMTB would supply different bikes each year, keeping the exact details secret until a few days before the event when racers show up for whatever minimal practice would be allowed. You might see everyone on hardtails with 27.5" wheels one year, only for the following year's ROC to put them on 180mm-travel 29ers. Maybe there's only a course walk and zero practice? Maybe it ends with a huge wood super-booter of a lake jump?
When it comes to the build kit, some leniency might be required. Fox wouldn't want Gwin using a Boxxer, and I doubt that RockShox would be okay with Hill using a 36 on the front of his unbranded ROC mountain bike, but maybe there's another company with less OE spec who's a relatively minor player sales-wise but still offers top-notch performance? You get the idea: a spec sheet that has minimal branding and the least amount of conflicts. Besides, we're all mountain bikers who just want to have a good time, right?
I'm not saying any of the above is possible or will happen, only that I think it'd be pretty neat if it did. So, if mountain biking had its own Race of Champions, what would you like to see? And what type of bike would they race on?