This past weekend, the cyclocross community suffered the massive tremors (or really, minor rattles) caused by the tension between Jonathan Page and Tim Johnson during the USGP races in Madison. What went down out on the course is a truth molded by the story-teller of the moment. So far, velonews.com has the most balanced account of the transgressions, but the true controversy seems to be contained in the post-race interviews and comments from the riders and, perhaps more poignantly, the reactions of fans across the country.
Some commentators contest the methods used by the participants that seem to be liberal interpretations of the rulebooks. The contact between riders is not illegal (to my knowledge) but presents the ethical dilemma of determining what constitutes "fair play." The answer to this particular dilemma is one best left to the elites of the sport; my mid-pack B finish will not be severely affected by having an elbow thrown at me or my line cut-off in a corner (though it may result in a brief chuckle).
But the majority of the attention on this controversy is not directed towards the actions, but rather the reactions. Many believe that Page's post-race comments are little more than grandiose whining over being dominated by the Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld team members. Others are ready to swear off their personal support Planet Bike because they feel Page is a poor representative of the sport. In any case, Page's frustration with the racing tactics from the USGPs this past weekend resulted in, well, frustration towards Page.
I'll be honest, when I first saw Page interject into Tim Johnson's interview I was ready to lead the witch-hunt to decry his name as a pariah of the sport. But there was something unconscionable about that action. The truth is, despite the rhetoric about being a sore loser, Page's reaction to the race showed a very endearing quality. Page was invested in that race, and in the larger construct of the sport of cyclocross, in a way that I (and probably most sports fans) wished more athletes would emulate. In any competition, I don't want to see a group of dandy gentlemen scattering along a field holding conversations about who should lead into a corner. I want to see athletes who are willing to take the risks (within the rules!) to put themselves in contention for the win. I want to see the frustration, the anger, and the aggression that comes from feeling cheated out of a result. I want to see it, because it is the epitome of a purely human response we yearn for in our spectating.
It is easy for us to cry "villian!" from the safety of our homes, but in this case we are rejecting the essence of what drives us to watch a group of athletes ride around a field for an hour. The cathartic feeling of simply watching a leader come across the finish line after soloing to victory is not lost on us, the spectator, yet we are convinced the subsequent finishers be content and docile to their substandard placing no matter what occurred throughout the event. Sure, learning how to lose is an important quality, but it does not mean a rider has to be detached from his result. Let us not be fools to think that rivalry and competition is limited to the boundaries set by a clock.
Thus, I will continue to support Page in his endeavors, not because I want to revel in controversy, but because I know that in every emotional and frustrated interview is the potential for the exhilarated, magnificent pride that will come from the cherished win. And that, my friends, is what makes sport worth while and Page's actions forgivable.