Treading water in a small backwater market

As things get unusually busy around the Alps & Andes headquarters once again, it's been difficult to put a post of substance together. For now, this is the best I could do. I hope you enjoy it. It's little more than a few things that have been bouncing around my head for the last few days (there's a lot of empty room in there, so things have a way of bouncing around freely up there). 

A few years ago, while riding a bike in Europe, I spent a few hours chatting with a young journalist from Spain. It became clear that he didn't care about road cycling or cyclocross. His life was fully devoted to mountain biking in a caricature-ish way that I found endearing. He was merely riding a road bike that day because he had to (he had been sent to cover an event for a fellow writer who was unable to make it). In a rare moment of silence (put a Spaniard and Colombian together, and you're bound to hear them talk over each other for roughly eighteen days straight), he said to me, "do you want see my impersonation of Jeremy Powers?" He proceeded to speak (in Spanish) in a high pitched voice, while gesturing wildly, fist pumping in the air, as he made a thumping bass sound with his cheeks puffed out. He didn't care about cyclocross, much less American cyclocross, but he'd watched every single episode of Behind The Barriers. He had even entered into an online Jeremy Powers impersonation contest. It became clear to me that quality video content could create interest in things that a person would otherwise not want anything to do with. The reach of video content like this, I thought, was limitless. 

But as is often the case, I was wrong. The interest and reach of such video content was not limitless. Not even close, as was proven by the fact that Behind the Barriers is closing up shop, and more importantly the reasons sited for having to do so. Regardless of what you think about cyclocross, Powers or those videos, its worth noting that Powers' inability to keep the project going speaks volumes about the size and value (in advertising terms) of the audience he was reaching. To me, especially as I saw this young Spaniard fist-pumping while riding through the Belgian countryside, it felt huge. But that, it turns out, was not the case. And when I think about the dire numbers for bike retail that Brendan Quirk spoke about during my interview with him, I'm reminded of the small backwater market that cycling is. But even I needed that reminder, and I'm a person whose friends by and large know nothing about cycling. I don't work in the bike industry, I don't attend bike-related events, and I only know a few people who even ride bikes. But even I thought the market was sizable enough to support that type of content. I can only imagine how distorted the view is of many deep inside the world of bikes. 

This reality is really too bad, because I think video content that focuses on personalities, and shows aspects of athletes outside of competition can go a long way to getting people to connect with a sport. Cervelo Test Team did this very well, and I still maintain that my wife watching every episode of HBO's Hard Knocks is proof of this as well. 


Marginalia

1. I once pointed out that Christian Vande Velde looks like the drummer of Earth Crisis. But no one knows who or what Earth Crisis is, and fewer still remember Vande Velde.

Undeterred by the fact that no one thought my finding was absolutely amazing, I'd now like to point out that Jonathan Vaughters looks like Richie Birkenhead of the bands Underdog, Youth of Today and Into Another.

2. The greatest sound known to man is not that of the words "I love you" being uttered in your general direction. Oh no. The greatest sound is that of the breakaway function in your fenders working, as it snaps open when a twig gets caught in there. I have now heard this sound during a fast descent, and am extremely thankful for it.

3. As I understand it, Carlos Betancur failed to show up at the Panamerican games in Canada, which he was scheduled to compete in. He was also a no-show at the Tour of Poland. I say "as I understand it" because the lack of coverage of his not showing up makes me doubt whether these two things even happened.  To me, that's a sign of how the press has sort of given up on Betancur, and him not showing up to races is no longer a story. What team will he end up in next year? I think I know, but am not certain enough to tell you. And in the end, bigger things are at play here, it would appear.

This all reminds me of the fact that some years ago, right before Betancur was set to make the jump from Acqua e Sapone to a World Tour team I was contacted with a job offer. There was the possibility of a new, mostly-Colombian team starting up. It would have had Betancur as the leader. I have no idea how far this deal got, but I was contacted to see if I'd be interested in serving as the team's press agent. As I see Betancur not showing up to races, I wonder how hard that job would have been, especially for a Spanish-speaking person, considering all the rumors that are coming out of Colombia about him, and what it would take to answer questions about them. I hope Carlos can get things squared away, cycling aside. But in a sense, I feel like I dodged a bullet in the long run.