the old fashioned way of finding out just where in the uk you actually were has left concrete traces (literally) as low as one metre below sea level to the tops of hills and mountains. trig points feature heavily across the more rugged regions of britain, providing the more intrepid of travellers with a means of figuring out just where in the world they were. though a present location must be regarded as a singular state, in order to accurately plot its location, it was necessary to triangulate that position via three of those trig points. thus the one point on the landscape was effectively being viewed from three differing perspectives.
of course, modernity has all but rendered those trig points surplus to requirements. the intricate network of orbiting gps satellites above our planet offers considerably greater accuracy in pinpointing a location. not only that, but the technology has proved to be not only effective, but cheap enough to offer even the leisure cyclist the opportunity to ride around with a gps receiver on the handlebars. that way, with minimal setup, it's easily possible to detect not only the specific location of the rider and bicycle at any point along the route, but to calculate just how slowly that location is changing.
however, though trig points required a minimum of three to triangulate a position, gps requires at least four satellites to achieve the same objective. yet even in this age of digital immediacy, those four satellites still 'view' that one position from different, if distant, positions. the fact that a trig point remains stubbornly intact atop pen y gent, one of the three peaks traversed in the cyclocross race of the same name is, apropos the following, rather appropriate.
this idea of looking at the same thing from different angles forms the basis of benedict campbell's superb film 'for the love of mud'. cyclocross is cyclocross, is cyclocross, but it's a sport or activity that means different things to different folks. though crowds at the milton keynes round of the uci world championship 'cross series were highly impressive for a minority corner of a minority sport, belgium is a whole 'nuther bucket of cowbells. and across the pond, cyclocross is the fastest growing section of the velocipedinal milieu, where races are more inclusive of all age groups than is the case anywhere else.
however, what comes across through in-flight interviews with sven nys, yu takenouchi, helen wyman, jeremy powers, and ben sumner, to name but a few is that should you wish to make it to the summit of the sport, a house move to belgium is all but mandatory. though flandrian races usually encompass only juniors and elite men and women, with smaller pelotons than seen in north america, the spectator numbers are huge and tv coverage vies with that of soccer. during 'cross season, there are enough well-populated races held each week to demand that any athlete improve beyond all measure.
despite its international coverage, 'for the love of mud' with its glorious, heavy block lettering for titles, has its feet and point of origination in great britain. the film's opening faces and words are provided by rouleur editor and rapha supercross founder, ian cleverly, followed by the ever-present simon burney. the soundtrack is well chosen and allows for some very slick editing yet unobtrusive during race footage, of which there is enough to satisfy even the most demanding of 'cross aficionados.
the notion that cyclocross means so much to all involved, albeit from a variety of differing perspectives, is reinforced by the film's wide-ranging remit. the history of cyclocross, something of a loose amalgam of recollections, is notable for its archive footage, including riders of yesteryear ploughing the mud on penny farthings. also for the definition of steeplechase, when riders would use the spires or steeples of village churches to aid their navigation while racing from town to town in the early part of the 20th century.
the ultimate in eccentricity, the single event that most would claim never to take part in again, yet find themselves lining up at the start in helwith bridge, is the aforementioned annual three peaks cyclocross race. taking place in late september each year, the course almost epitomizes simon burney's loose definition of cyclocross as "cross-country running while carrying a bicycle". except as is also pointed out, the only one running is eleven times winner, rob jebb. footage of the entire field, slowly climbing rough ground and all shouldering their bikes demonstrates just how hard and let's face it 'odd', this race truly is. as both i and benedict campbell maintain, 'cross means different things to different folks.
a small boy wearing a specialized helmet, when asked which part of the race he has just completed was his favourite, after a moment or two of rumination announces "when i finished". and 2012 north american women's vet champion, julie lockhart would frighten even the most committed couch-potato when expressing her total joy and involvement in the sport at the age of 73. ben sumner, one of britain's cyclocross hopes for the future, is followed through periods of training and racing here and abroad while campbell also points his camera and microphone in the direction of stef and helen wyman, surely the most popular couple in european cyclocross. sven nys remains as enigmatic as ever, underlined by short cameos in which he says little or nothing.
to date, this is surely the very best cinematic representation of cyclocross possible. were i not already a convert, i'd have been scouring the interweb for suitable cyclocross bikes the minute that bold lettered 'fin' appeared on screen. 'for the love of mud' is as much campbell's labour of love as that displayed by any of the racers, mechanics and supporters featured in the film's one hour 28 minutes of joy. benedict has totally immersed himself in depicting the sport, without once getting in the way of his subject. though this film will affirm everything you thought you knew about cyclocross, when it's over you'll more than likely have become one of those who views the road season as something to be endured till 'cross comes round again.
as richard sachs has mentioned on more than one occasion 'cross fcuking rules'.
'for the love of mud' will be shown on saturday 7 march in st margaret's hall, st margaret's street, bradford-on-avon. tickets available here.
thursday 12 february 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................