What Should Roll

What Should Roll

What should have been the winter highlight for cyclists in the U.S. turned out to be the biggest debacle for USA Cycling since … the USADA Reasoned Decision. Okay, so not very long since their last debacle. But still. The Cyclocross National Championships are—short of the world championships—the most anticipated event of the winter, the best spectated of all the cycling national championships here in the U.S.

So you’d think that USAC would actually vet the promoter and the venue. What ensued was a goat parade of litigious proportion. And for the record, a goat parade is a silly event that so misses the point of festivity that everyone goes home before it’s over. It’s the sort of thing you don’t want to watch.

For those who missed it, the marquee events of the Cyclocross National Championships—the 15-16 junior men and women, the 17-18 junior men and women, the U23 men and women and the elite men and women—were postponed a day because some (I’m sorry, but there’s really no other way to put this) tree huggers thought bike racing would kill trees.

That’s right, eight races were postponed because a fringe group feared some of the skinniest athletes on the planet were going to destroy oak trees bigger around than your average NFL lineman. Folks, you can’t make this stuff up.

Much has already been written about how the Heritage Tree Foundation punked a bunch of Lycra-wearing sissy boys. This was Texas after all. PR impresario Jasen Thorpe wrote what was arguably the most thorough analysis of how USAC and the promoter got it wrong. Ultimately, bike racing got pwned because the promoter failed to communicate effectively and set expectations accordingly when dealing with Austin Parks and Recreation. People worried that the Austin course would be a grass crit, but the reality is that following any rain, all tracks turn into muddy slogs. Cyclocross without mud is an aberration, like an eclipse.

USAC and the promoter aren’t the only black-hat-wearing villains, though. Austin Parks and Recreation had a signed contract and should have abided by it.

The Twitterati and Facebook throngs have decried the injustices done in terms of those who missed their window to race because they had to be at work or school on Monday. Plenty of people who chose to stay lost support staff. And those ringing crowds? Yeah, they were at work, too. It was easy to tell who among my friends had returned home because of all the questions on social media about who had the best live feed of the racing.

My very rough math on the costs accrued by all those who chose to stay behind and incur flight changes, hotel nights and extra meals is beyond $200,000. Some 91 competitors didn’t wait the extra day to take their start, include 32 of the U23 men, more than 40 percent of their field. The thing is, that’s not the worst of what happened.

Of course, while USAC and the promoter reported that all would be well and no one should panic, the reality was that the eight postponed races would have to be run in the span of five. What happened next has been documented rather nicely at Colin Reuter’s blog Until the Snow Ends, which is a New Englander phrase if ever there was one.

The decision was made to give the elite men, the elite women and the U23 men’s race each their own start. That left two more starts for four more races. The call was made by population. The 15-16 men had the largest field at 84 starters (on paper, anyway; some had returned home because of school), so they were given one race and then the 17-18 men, 15-16 and 17-18 women were given the other start, some 96 riders on paper.

What happened next was criminal. The 15-16 girls were put in the mission impossible of trying to avoid being lapped by the 17-18 junior men on the opening lap. The men would turn 10-minute laps to the women’s 14-minute laps. Oh, and it’s worth mentioning that the junior men had a two-minute head start.

In a bit of rule-abiding improbability, Turner Ramsey, the eventual winner of the 15-16 women’s race didn’t actually complete her second lap. So how do you win a race you didn’t finish? That’s easy. Just be first to be pulled from your NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE. That whole adulation of crowds, the satisfaction of holding off your nearest rival, rolling across the finish line with your arms held high—no, that’s not for you. You don’t rate.

The women’s 17-18 race went marginally better in that they only started a minute behind the 17-18 men and five women rather miraculously managed to race three full laps and contest an actual finish. The other 15 starters? All pulled.

USAC claims to be a grassroots racing organization. What, dear reader, is more grass roots than juniors? How is it that USAC could be so clueless about their central mission. Please, don’t even answer that as we know they’ve struggled to follow the plot for decades. Just ask George Mount.

The tree thing aside, there are two fundamental issues here. The first is that racers ought to vote with their entry fees and turn their attention to the National Interscholastic Cycling Association. High school kids are the point, rather than beside it. If we want kids to take up racing, we need to give them a rewarding experience rather than treating them as if they’re in the way.

The other significant point is that pulling riders is inexcusable. There are two reasons to pull riders. The first is that it makes officiating difficult for USAC because apparently some officials can’t count. The other reason is that racers don’t want to have to deal with lapped traffic. While a case can be made for the confusion of lapping riders in your own field, there was no chance the junior men were going to confuse the junior women for their competition. And there was no chance the 15-16 women were going to catch the 17-18 women. So pulling riders is an implicit statement that their race doesn’t matter.

All I’ve done is point out how lapped riders weren’t going to confuse the competitors. There’s still the issue of USAC officials who can’t count. There are these things called RFID chips that work with timing systems. They do the counting that any USAC officials can’t seem to manage. Which brings me to the real question:

How is it that USAC, with their considerable resources, could allow a national championship race to take place without the aid of a real timing system?

It’s a given that cyclocross is a terrific sport and a dynamic race to watch. However, if we want kids to enter cycling and stick with it, they need to be treated as if their race matters—as if they matter—which is why NICA presents a better solution. There, the kids are the whole point, not an afterthought. And while I appreciate that USAC did award medals to the 15-16 women who weren’t allowed to finish their races, those medals can’t make up for the thrill that would come with actually finishing their race.

So what should roll? Heads should.


Image: Steffen Ramsaier, Flickr Creative Commons

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  1. Jan

    I think the gender discrimination is a serious problem, yet not really stated here. The young women were treated as less important than the men. Period.

    Despite Title IX, that’s really common in school and college sports (look and compare how much money is spent on football, which is usually sequestered so that it’s not part of the comparisons between men’s and women’s sports). And it’s really common in professional sports, especially professional cycling. That doesn’t make it right, not at all.

    Heads should roll indeed.

    1. JT

      Gender discrimination? What governmental or other organization is preventing a female from riding a bike? Research the concept of discrimination generally and then expand on your post to providing supporting analysis for why there was, ahem, “gender discrimination.”

  2. JT

    How much time and effort did you put into volunteering for this event? Did you contact the organizers to get their side of the story? Did you personally review the course route to determine whether there was in fact any substance to the claim that repeated riding over a root structure would cause irreparable damage? Although not a tree hugger myself and a staunch bicycling advocate, your post only exacerbates the general public’s perception that cyclists are annoying and, when they don’t get what they want, are annoying crybabies.

  3. race everything but cross

    JT nailed it.. thanks for speaking out on those of us with common sense. The only thing the USAC is guilty of is cashing in on the latest trend in ‘racing’. Anyone notice they are hosting a national fat bike racing champs although never having permitted an actual race under the USAC? The USAC needs to thin the heard at natz by having regionalized qualification.. get your entry fees there then leave the racing to the best of the best.

  4. Colin

    “How is it that USAC, with their considerable resources, could allow a national championship race to take place without the aid of a real timing system?”

    This is not accurate. One2Go results is one of the best timing companies in the business, and the results they produced for the mentioned race were very high quality. The ability to score the race very accurately, despite the presence of lapped riders , absolutely existed on race day.

  5. Noah_Deuce

    It’s kind of sad that people like JT read a piece highlighting how women were treated worse for men for no good reason, and yet can’t identify where the sexism and discrimination happened.

    Based on the follow-up from USAC and Until the Snow Ends, it sounds like the venue disaster led to poorly thought-out scheduling. Unfortunately, because women’s racing (women generally) isn’t considered to be as important as men’s (men), the USAC officials scheduling decisions were a sexist disaster.

    Structural inequality is everyone’s responsibility, and I’m heartened to see the positive response to this (i.e. “This was terrible; how will USAC avoid making similar sexist mistakes in the future?”). Women’s equality in cycling is long overdue, and it’s great to see that the broader cycling community wants to make that happen.

    1. JT

      How? Were they prevented from racing? What is the factual basis other than an opinion piece posted to advance an agenda? Facts, facts, facts.

  6. Flahute

    I’m going to defend the timing system people … I’ve known Jon Gallagher, owner of One2Go for years … they don’t use chips for timing, but do use multiple cameras, and he and his staff are perfectly capable of keeping track of all the riders out there. Jon & his wife taught me how to score a race manually, and in the UTCX series, we just started using a camera this year, and I routinely have 60-100 rider fields. It’s not easy to keep track of riders on different laps, but it’s something we manage to do in Utah, without having to pull riders. Are we perfect? No … but we’re generally very close, and when mistakes are made it’s almost always in the really minor placings (I placed 23rd, not 26th!)

  7. Jessr

    The Oregon Bicycle Racing Association regularly score CX races with 250-300 competitors per field without pulling lap riders-have for years. I say let them run nationals. They actually get grassroots.

  8. Author

    Jan: The sexism the resulted in the decision to pull the women racers is pretty explicit. I apologize if it seemed to you that I was glossing over it, but I think it’s so obvious as not to require further note. It’s a fundamental element of how poor their judgment is.

    Colin: Thanks for stopping by. Nice work.

    Regarding One2Go’s timing services, multiple cameras is a great start, but nothing beats RFID chips. Nothing. Pulling lapped riders is indefensible given how few racers were actually on the course, no matter whether the reason was lapped competition or an inability to count. It really doesn’t matter. Flahute, your point that you manage to keep track of the race even with lapped riders underscores just how wrong the decision was to pull riders. And the use of RFID technology means not having to tell people you’re not perfect, because unless someone loses their chip or eats it (literally), the scoring is flawless.

    1. Bob

      world class track and field events and even formula one use the same system One2Go uses, pretty sure it is as accurate as RFID systems if not more so. I know there have been independent trails that have proven so. Once again, the events on Monday had zero to do with One2Go’s capabilities. The successfully score events all over the country, UCI/USAC etc… Your claims are hugging the tape of libel.

  9. adam

    I agree with the gist, but I don’t appreciate the skimming over of the damage that an event of this size does to the landscape. I know bike racers roll up to parks nationwide on Sunday and cause damage, then don’t give thought to all the hard working people preserving our open spaces the rest of the week.

  10. Flahute

    We have used chip timing systems in the past in Utah. Unfortunately, even RFID systems are not foolproof. Sometimes the sensor doesn’t register the chip; sometimes the chips register twice. Sometimes riders have the wrong chip. But yes, I absolutely agree that riders shouldn’t be pulled unless absolutely necessary. Sure, the rules allow for it, but they certainly don’t require it.

  11. Flahute

    Like I said on FB, if Rider A loses a podium spot because he or she wasn’t able to navigate traffic, and gets passed by Rider B who was able to get through traffic, then Rider B deserves the podium, not Rider A. Being able to navigate through riders in front of you is a skill that should be developed along with everything else.

  12. souleur

    I’ll admit I wasn’t there but my good friend went in masters and he gave me his observations which have been blowing the blogosphere off the chart.

    Let me begin however fairly: I don’t like to be critical, without some proposed solutions to problems. So here are my observations and my buddies

    A. In licensure: there was a few bulletins i directly recieved promoting cyclocross from the USAC. They were/did build the market and are trying to grow it, which is fine, but the resources need to be used accordingly

    B. The vast majority of the debacle, IMHO is purely organizational. IMHO it appears to have began as mentioned as not placing expectations on what the race would be/do to the park. This park had NEVER had a cx race held, they hold them elsewhere in Austin. Thus, also, the parking was pathetic. But also, consider holding the national venue in a town, where they literally rate as having the poorest roads/routes and worst congested traffic in the usa per capita. They must have and should have known about the heritage tree laws, and if not, ignorance is no excuse. Like the tree huggers or not, they have the law on their side, the venue went to their back yard and the traffic plugged their neighborhoods, and everyone is now upset. Not a single person walked away from Austin with a good weekend, and that is unfortunate

    C. the officiating: thats just inexcusable. The JRs got screwed and thats a fact. Consider this side bar note tho, your are also talking about the least able to pay, and pushing them over to pay out more for the rooms, board, food, for the event they have been waiting on for the year, and then treat them this way. It would be truly miraculous if they raced next year and gave it another run

    So, who pays, IMHO? The organization, entirely that proposed, organized and over-saw the event. Hate to say it, but there were alot of meetings (I assume) that plotted and planned this out. They unfortunately should turn it over to someone new, and they need to find work doing something else with lower expectations in performance. The officials, should be seriously sanctioned and taught some damn common sense and understand allowances in laws/policies that exist.

    And a serious ‘I’m sorry’ statement should be made, thats always a good place to start in changing a course and trajectory of an organization

    1. John

      That’s admirable, but doesn’t really lend itself well to the situation in Austin – mud, and the so-called ‘Heritage trees’. There was not concern about grass regrown or scars to the landscape. What went up for debate was whether the trees would be harmed.

      The terrible this is that the Austin Parks and Rec were clearly a key part of the planning from inception to race-day, but caved at the last minute. Inexcusable. They of all people should have known where the potential issues would be.

  13. John

    As someone who was raised in Austin, and know that park well, I was surprised when I heard the CX would be there. I’ve read quite an interesting dichotomy of comments in social media regarding this mess : 1) That the race was was held hostage by wing-nut tree-huggers, and 2) what a joke Texas is in this regard given their lousy record on the environment.

    I don’t think you can have it both ways. For those who don’t know, Austin is a fairly unique place in the state. This part of the state is extremely outdoor-focused, and very protective of the native Live Oaks which can be found all in Zilker. Their root structure is shallow and easily damaged, so I can see why there was an uproar as these are quite old trees. Frankly, I would think people might be happy that in a place of Texas, of all places, people give a shit about trees. I strongly disagree with the linked articles above which seem to place those concerns as needless anxiety.

    This in no way mitigates the fiasco that this race turned out to be. If the race course could (and was) eventually be re-routed away from the roots, why was it run there in the first place? If the Austin Parks Department gave the approval, then heads should roll there. Why was there such a delay in decision-making that led to the postponements? And what was USAC thinking with those multiple starts? Criminal indeed.

    1. souleur

      so, John, do you think that IF that had been done to begin with…the re-route, what would have changed in the scope of the whole fiasco? And, was the re-route satisfactory to the locals? I was told by my buddy it really didn’t work for either

    2. John

      Souleur, unfortunately I don’t live in Austin at the moment and didn’t go to the race. In reading through the VeloNews piece, I don’t know what else they could have done as it sounds like the park and arborists were along for design, planning, and numerous tweaks up to race day. I think you are right that the re-route was not really adequate for either party.

      It sounds like after the big rain, Park & Rec caved to community pressure. I think there’s a little backlash going on in general right now about renting the park out to anyone as during the summer months there are a lot of pay-to-enter festivals, music shows, and parties. Maybe that played into it. Somehow cycling is seen as a sport of the rich, with people on expensive bikes. Couple that with potential damage to trees and it went south in a hurry.

  14. Carson

    I agree with John. I really don’t understand the dismissive attitude of so many CX fans about the Heritage Trees in Austin. Face it, they’re a lot more valuable than a bike race, no matter how much you’ve been looking forward to it.
    Austin Parks & Rec was completely irresponsible in failing to include the tree advocates in the route-setting process. A simple phone call and invitation to one of the many walk-throughs could have solved everything. Avoidable mistake.

  15. Author

    Turf damage is a fundamental reality of cyclocross, even without rain, and as previously mentioned, the remedy is obvious and easy. I’m aware of a few ‘cross series that signed on nurseries as sponsors to sod the damage. However, tree damage has never been a discussion point at any cyclocross race I’ve ridden or covered or read coverage of. I’ve never heard of a race destroying a tree, so that should give everyone some idea of the level of risk that ‘cross presents. That doesn’t change that the venue chosen might not have been smart or that maybe the course could have been laid out differently just to keep racers further from trees; it’s not like a ‘cross race needs to roll over tree roots.

    I grew up in Tennessee and I’ve seen what motorcycles and four-wheelers do in forests. Unless you want to discuss saplings run over, tree killing just isn’t a thing.

    Bob: you might want to check the definition of libel. I’m nowhere near it. My criticism has regarded officiating, not the competence of the event services company. It’s true that I place greater trust in RFID than cameras, but I’m aware that cameras can do the job necessary. Regardless, that’s not an insult to One2Go.

    Flahute: We should distinguish between active and passive RFID. I’m aware that passive RFID isn’t flawless, though nearly so, but I’ve yet to hear complaints from anyone working with active RFID. I’ve crossed finish lines and seen my name, number and finishing time scrolling on a monitor. Truly impressive stuff. I’m totally with you and pack riding/passing skills. I’m also aware that there are provisions in race etiquette for passing. There was a race in Massachusetts (the UMASS race, in fact) where I was passed by the McCormack brothers three times. All they had to do was call, “Track!” and I got out of their way. They had their race; I had mine. There were no cameras, no timing chips and plenty of trees and yet everyone got their results. And let me add that I’m aware that not all officiating is created equal. I wouldn’t want you to think I’m slighting your work in this critique.

  16. Shawn

    The most absurd part of the whole fiasco is that the modest steps taken to protect the trees could have been taken Sunday morning and the races run as scheduled (or with slight delay). That the parks dept. walked the course on Saturday, when the weather was at its worse, and never suggested any problem or the need to protect the tree root system but closed the park the next morning boggles my mind.

  17. wayno

    wondered where the hell you were going with this, thinking you had it wrong in the first few paragraphs. thanks for exposing the plight of the jr women. and for being on-point.

  18. Kevin

    Given how much research you seem to do into other topics, I wish you would look a little deeper into this. The young women were not pulled due to being lapped. They were done with their race based on the unfortunate logistics of timing based on their speed and lap times. The W 15-16 race was 30 minutes. Based on their lap times, the slower racers were going to either race for 20 minutes or 40. The decision was to not make any rider go more than 20% (I believe) longer than scheduled. Thus only a single lap for some of the riders. The fact that the faster men were lapping them had nothing to do with it.

    1. Author

      Kevin: There are widespread reports that the 15-16 women were being pulled from the course before finishing their second lap. USAC results include lap times, which confirm this.

    2. Kevin

      Just to clarify: Do you mean that they started their second lap, got halfway around the course, and were then stopped by an official? Or do you mean they finished their first lap and were stopped quickly after? That is, they basically never got to start their second lap? Because those are two very distinct scenarios.

      My understanding is that some racers were stopped after one lap to prevent them from racing an inordinate amount of time. Look at the W 15-16 race. The winner posted a time of 26 minutes. The slowest finisher did one lap in 23 minutes. Having her race an extra lap, assuming a constant pace, would have had her finish in 46 minutes. Her 1 lap time is closer to the winner’s time than her 2 lap time would have been. Somewhere between those two riders there exists a point where you have to decide “Anyone slower than a lap time of X does one lap. Anyone faster does 2”

    3. Author

      They started their second lap and were well into it, but never finished it. You can see for yourself on USAC’s site. The winner’s second lap time was noticeably shorter than her first lap time. She didn’t get the opportunity to finish.

    4. Kevin

      I believe that’s because the timer was started when the M 17-18 rolled off. So the minute or so the women were on the tarmac waiting for their start, the timer was running. Look at the W 17-18 top 5: second lap 30 seconds or so slower than the first lap, third lap pretty on par with lap 2.

  19. GT

    Been reading this from the other side of the world with a sense of deja-vu. I’ve seen similar situations in Australia where a local group tries very hard to stop another group (usually from somewhere else) accessing “their” space. It’s not about tree damage or anything rational – it’s people thinking they should be the only ones who can use a public space. Here – its the “tree huggers” who are prepared to lug small tents into national parks, and hike long distances, and generally put up with a fair amount of hardship in order to access some beautiful spot, but get incensed by anyone else who would like to see that beautiful spot, but do it from a cabin, with a toilet, and an access road. It’s just selfishness.

    1. Richard Sachs

      Yo Patrick at 8:42 am

      I know full well of the girls being pulled on the first lap, but are you saying that this also happened when those who crossed the finish line (and got the bell) for Lap 2 were also pulled (as in, not permitted to finish in the traditional manner?

  20. Author

    Richard: From everything I’ve been able to find out, which includes reviewing lap splits from the 15-16 race, those young women were not crossing the finish line at the end of their race. They were pulled before finishing their second lap. Their race did not end in a manner you would recognize as a legitimate bike race.

    1. Full Monte

      Padriag, Micah Rice’s explanation, in her email to the event riders regarding the pulling of riders from the course (from the link in my post above above);

      “Also, given the mandated course modifications, the shorter juniors course was no longer available for Monday’s racing. However, even if the 15-16 women had been afforded their own individual time on the course, the outcome of the race and number of laps for the winner would have been the same. Because they were turning 13-14 minute lap times for the 30-minute race, this category would always have done a total of two laps (winning time 26:12) rather than three laps (approximately 39:18). For those riders turning a slower first lap, in accordance with the way the events were run throughout the week, anyone turning a first lap time that would result in a projected total race time of over 36 minutes was pulled from the race after the first lap. On Monday, this accounted for riders placed 15th and farther back. Possibly seven additional 15-16 women would have been able to do one more additional lap in perfect circumstances. Was this an ideal situation? No, especially considering that our goal from the beginning was to showcase this women’s group on the final day of Cyclo-cross Nationals along with the elite riders. This was an unfortunate and unavoidable byproduct of a delayed and condensed schedule.”

    2. Author

      For the record, Micah is a he.

      That’s neither here nor there. His claim that the outcome of the race would have been the same if allowed to run its course is complete and utter BS. Chains break. People fall. Sometimes they bonk. They ended the race before its proper conclusion. That’s not a proper race. They were cheated and it honestly angers me that USAC is defending this practice as if it’s okay. Was it unavoidable as he says? Nope. It was avoidable.

    3. Kevin

      I’m not sure if you understood Micah’s point. Had there been no other competitors on the course, each rider in the W 15-16 field would have ridden the same number of laps she did in the actual race. He’s not saying that they would have all done 2 laps but the finishing order would have been the same. He’s saying that the riders who did 2 laps would’ve done 2 and the riders who did 1 lap would’ve done 1.

      Again, look at the lap times. Would the last place rider have been better served to ride a 23 minute race or a 46 minute race when the leader raced for 26 minutes? Put in road riding terms: if you signed up for a century and had trained for that distance, which would you rather ride, 88 miles or 176?

    1. John

      Looking at the race around the last pictures of that huge, gorgeous tree, I wonder what Austin Park & Rec was thinking. But the picture has the following statement:

      “The pictures below show surface roots that were broken by the riders, and riders driving over the broken roots.”

      I do see the long, fibrous material that they are riding over, but I don’t think that is is tree roots. That’s the ‘Dillo Dirt’ that is often used (to the dismay of the Heritage Tree folks) to fill in under the canopy.

      From their own page : “The soil damage in the 1/2 Critical Root zone of the trees needs to be repaired by performing a soil aeration with an air spade, 8 inches deep, with incorporation of organic matter (not dillo dirt) and topped with no more than 3-4 inches of mulch…”

      Dillo Dirt (Scroll to the bottom) : http://www.esimasonrysupply.com/dirtsandgravel.html

  21. Conrad

    USAC dropped the ball, again. Nationals should never have been held at an unproven venue. Austin Parks and the Heritage Tree people should have piped up a little bit sooner. The largest cyclocross series in the world, participation wise, is OBRA and MFG here in the Northwest. That is NOT a coincidence. Its time to be done with USAC and basically copy what OBRA is doing. In Washington and Oregon it is a no brainer because there are very few USAC sanctioned races left. It is only a matter of time before everyone else follows suit, and the sport will be better off for it. Everybody. Elites, juniors, amateurs – everybody.

  22. Hoshie99

    This sport will never grow into a full fledged sport without youth involvement. All other issues aside, if the kids in the junior category didn’t feel special and excited about the race, then it was a failure.

    I can’t speak to the rest, but I could imagine somewhere in Belgium, people laughed.


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