Matt Butler: Unruly Children's Institute shows off new batch of EPO

View From The Sofa: UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships, Channel 4

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The Independent Online

What does UCI stand for? Not morally, but the actual initials: do they, as more than one observer has suggested, stand for Utter Clowns In-charge-of-cycling? It would be nice, but let's face it, it is as likely as Tesco standing for Today, Equine Sale, Cash Only.

Given the UCI's apparent Unbending Contempt for Integrity (there's another possibility) over its lily-livered approach to the Lance Armstrong scandal, it was fitting that the first televised cycling event this year to feature their initials was hidden in a dark recess of Channel 4 at 7am on Saturday. It was almost as if the channel – not to mention the organisation – was embarrassed to show the UCI name in public.

And with good reason. The UCI stuck its fingers in its ears, shouting "na na na, can't hear you", for years when people were even daring to suggest Armstrong was a cheat. Then, when the man himself admitted to doping for all seven of his Tour de France titles, it immediately set up a truth commission, only to disband it because the commission refused to do exactly what the UCI wanted.

Add in the bickering between the UCI president, Pat McQuaid (right), and the World Anti-Doping Agency's John Fahey post-Lance and it would be fair to say that any programme featuring the initials UCI would be met with eye-rolling at another missive from the Unruly Children's Institute.

Which is a shame. Because Channel 4's coverage of the World Cyclo-cross Championships was enjoyable, if only to find out what cyclo-cross actually is.

It involves a bunch of 45 riders, mainly northern European, on what appear to be road bikes, riding their machines – or carrying them – over a muddy 2.7-mile circuit involving sand, stairs, steep hills and snow. It looks great fun and is exactly what you'd expect from a branch of cycling said to have evolved from riders wishing to train over the winter by holding "steeplechase" races from town to town over any route possible.

This year's World Championships were held in Louisville, Kentucky – the first time the event has been held outside Europe. But it could have been a corner of Flanders, with the cacophony of cowbells and boisterous, lager-drinking support for the Belgian contingent, who were the favourites for the race.

The races themselves had the atmosphere of a small-town fun run and as such were riddled with EPO – eccentric people outdoors, that is. Apart from the riders willingly spattering themselves with mud as they slipped around the course, the spectators dressed up in anything from gorilla costumes to Vikings. When boiled down into an hour-long highlights package, it made you want to take your Brompton to the nearest towpath or forest trail.

On one of the final corners of the men's race, Belgian Klaas Vantornout lost his chance of taking victory from his compatriot Sven Nys by catching his pedal on a barrier as he carried his bike up a steep hill, just as many a commuter has done when lifting their steed off a train. The elementary error was comforting.

Channel 4's coverage played up the party atmosphere among the spectators, who fully embraced those crazy Europeans. When the World Championships are as low-key as this, it is a reminder that cycling is fun. McQuaid – who was booed and heckled when he presented the men's medals – and the UCI would do well to publicise this new EPO.