Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Artificially Beefing Up Elite Fields: Why?
Both mountain biking and the Verge series have taken steps to allow (read force) lower category riders to race as pro and elites respectively.
Mountain bike categories changed this year, which effectively combined the former semi pro category with the pro category. Squirtgunshow (1, 2, 3) has done a great job of pointing out the various follies in the new scheme, so I won't belabor the point.
Verge had split the 2/3 field so that 3's race alone, while cat 2's will now race with elites. For 2's this is a mixed blessing. Some 2's are excited about racing elite cyclocross, some are upset that they will be deprived of thier chance to shine in the B's this year (yes there are non-sandbagging 2's who would have done well this year) and others are indifferent or have not formed an opinion. Still other 2's are upset about the huge race fee increase that they will incur now that they race with the elites ($45 per race plus they need to purchase a $90 UCI license, ouch!).
In thinking about and discussing the various advantages and disadvantages of the artificial influx of elite riders in both New England cyclocross (with 14 races scheduled for 2009, we can effectively say that the Verge series is NE CX) and mountain biking, I have been forced to question both the motivation and the wisdom of the schemes.
Firstly does it make sense to effectively upgrade your semi pros to pro or your cat 2's to cat 1? My argument would be that while this may be good for individuals with aspirations of becoming pros or elites, this is not so good for everyone else.
I am now a 3. Early indicators point to me having a decent cross season in 2009. But will I upgrade to 2 if I get some decent results? No. I have a job, friends, a wife and other interests that I care about. At 37 years of age, I am not looking to become a elite rider. So if I get a few decent results, I may end up in the untenable situation where I can either sandbag in the 3's or upgrade and be lapped by Trebon and pulled before the race is halfway over. Both situations suck. I use myself as an example because I know that there are lots of people in New England who are in the same boat. There is also that real possiblity that my results won't qualify me for an upgrade, which would suck on one hand but also eliminate the dilemna.
Others have argued that Verge is trying to cultivate US elites so that they can be competitive in worldwide competition. How the hell does filling the elite field with cat 2's make cat 1's faster or more competitive? Personally, I have never gotten faster by riding with riders who were slower than or less skilled than me.
After listening to various thinkers on the topic and thinking deeply about it (it is summer and I am a teacher, so I have time to burn), I have concluded that both the mtb and the CX "upgrades" have the same goal: create a sense that the respective disciplines are thriving. It just looks bad when your elite races are poorly attended and when no one sticks around to watch them. Obviously, this has not been a problem at big races like Gloucester. But at many UCI races feilds are small (1,2,3)and lower category riders often chose to go home rather than watch elite race.
So the upgrading of semi pros in mtb and cat 2's in cx will make the pro and elite fields look bigger on paper. Maybe this will bring in sponsors or give organizers some traction with the UCI.
But I have to ask a question: other than the 25 guys actually racing for UCI points, does anyone really care about the UCI points? I ask this question in all seriousness. I know that I don't care. And watching Johnson or Trebon beat 60 guys instead of 25 won't make the race any more exciting to watch.
As others have noted, there are serious problems with both the new accomadations for cat 4's and for lower category women.
It's almost as if Verge feels like it is doing us a favor by allowing us lowly lower category riders to race. But I ask, where would the Verge series be if it wasn't for our entry fees? Would there even be a series? And outside of us (cyclocross racers) who in the US gives a shit about elite cyclocross racing? Answer: no one. Beefing up the elite feild (or pro feild) with lower category riders is not going to increase the popularity of the sport.
Maybe there is something else going on and I just don't get it (I am serious here). If you will be kind enough to explain...