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...


13 comments:

Colin R said...

"upgrade and be lapped by Trebon and pulled before the race is halfway over"

Sorry to continually be the hyperbole police around here, but almost NO ONE in the elite race gets lapped before 45 minutes have elapsed. Seriously, extrapolate your lap times sometime, they aren't as fast as you think.

Furthermore, the logical upgrade for you (being 37) is A masters, where your Cat 2 license will be allowed. But yeah, if you're 34 or younger, it's a different story.

RMM said...

Colin:

If I had the choice, I would likely race the elite race instead of the A masters since I like racing with and against my friends. While I am friends with a few masters riders, most of my cycling friends are younger than me by several years.

And, I appreciate your taking the time to correct me (seriously).

rosey said...

do i dare say it? i think i agree with RMM. what is the benefit of inflating the elite field at the unpopular Verge races (to anyone other than the 30 people racing)? So far the schedule change only seems to have limited the racing time and options for the much larger population of riders that make up the amateur classes and the majority of the revenue.

in an 8 hour span Verge dedicates almost 50% of the time to elites and elite warm ups. they are also dedicating $3000+ in prize money. how many elites do we expect ON AVERAGE at the 16 Verge races? less than 100 (male and female) per race.

I'll be turning my attention and dollars to the non UCI events when presented with a choice. I don't have aspirations of racing with the professionals (Colin, I really think you are in the minority there) and I know, like RMM I am not ever going to achieve that level of ability. Spending money at the other events will help ensure we continue to have so many choices in New England besides the Verge events.

RMM said...

If I end up promoting a local CX race (which is highly likely since CB needs to put one on to keep its USAC recognition), I'm pretty sure that I will plop it squarely in the middle of one of the less popular and far away Verge weekends.

Wouldn't it be cool if all the lower cat riders let the elites have the course all to themselves and stayed local? Wouldn't it be a cruel and long overdue wakeup call to the organizers of the series?

Greg said...

RMM:
Great discussion relative to field breakdown and cost issues. Lower fees yet collect more revenue? Will you pull out the Laffer curve next?? And it's coming from a self-described socialist! Good stuff.

The issue usually comes down to economics for the promoters. What fields draw more? Based on this, I'd expect more lower category races and masters races, which is in line with racers demographics. Thus, they group together the higher Cats, a smaller population, into the elite field.

gary! said...

i feel like the 2/3 line is very blurred and sometimes non-existent. you can start a verge season as a B (cat3) and by the end of the season be racing 'elite' races, completely bypassing the '2s' since not much happens there.

personally, my ego would be momentarily psyched and inflated and if to all outward appearances it looked as if i was 'racing' with 'elites' and pros, and i do someday maybe aspire to that, but i dont see the majority of NE being on the same page.

'what do fast Bs do?' seems to be the most pressing problem. they can continue to crush it and a theoretical ten of them can battle it would in the Bs this season denying everyone else upgrade points if they downgrade and dont want to race with pros, -OR-, they risk being lapped by the upper echelon of US pro cross racers, have just paid $90 for a weekend of racing and gotten as much time in as they would have with their old B or Masters' category. the solution(s) seem to be to enforce upgrades so that those who were always outside the points but still potentially strong can show their own which will eventually hyperinflate the elite field, or create an A-/B+ category...though a hyperinflated elite field could eventually lead to an A-/B+ category.

i would like it, as a spectator and maybe potential elite racer someday, if others stayed around for the elite race since it is a bit disappointed to see the course sidelines packed for the earlier races and dead during the elite race.

RMM said...

Gary:

I have no doubt that YOU will excel in cyclocross over the coming years. You will likely race and even perhaps become competitive in the elite field. You are young, intelligent and trainable so I have confidence in you. Us old bucks are kind of getting screwed though.

And you are correct, if USAC were to enforce its own upgrade policy, none of this would be an issue.

RMM said...

Greg:

If I was a true socialist, I would be addressing the monopolization of the race calendar by the Verge Series. This is a separate issue and also worthy of discussion.

Your explanation makes sense. But if they are combining the higher category fields to allow time for lower category races, why does it feel like those races are compressed (1/2 hour races for many of them) and why, as Rosey points out, is there so much time dedicated to elite course inspection and racing?

Adam Myerson said...

You guys just need to look to the road to find the answer. The majority of the races are Pro/1/2, and only NRC races and other races of that caliber are Pro/1. Originally, we hoped the Verge races would get to the point where we could support a Pro/1 only race and a Cat. 2 race. We were wrong, and we're simply addressing that. If it was Pro/1/2 from the outset like it should have been, there'd be nothing to talk about now.

There are a lot of big races on the road that are Pro/1/2. When there's a separate Cat. 2 race it's unusual. So it shouldn't be a big deal here.

RMM said...

Adam:

In talking to some other racers, reading other posts and generally keeping an ear to the ground, the sticking point in combining the 2's with the elite field is the significant increase in race fees from what they were paying last year.

Last season the 2/3 race cost $30. In 2009 the 2's are required to pay $45 and purchase a UCI license for $90. Fees associated with the Verge series have more than doubled for cat 2's.

Also, I am sure that some newly minted cat 2's were looking forward to their chance to shine in the 2/3 field this season.

For cat 3's, me included, it may be worth the $5 fee increase since I now have a shot placing well in the series with all of the cat 2's effectively forced to upgrade.

Adam Myerson said...

I get that there's an increase from what people were paying last year, and that may be hard to initially swallow.

My point is that the 2's were getting what amounted to special treatment up until this point, particularly compared to what the standard is on the road where p/1/2 is the norm. We're simply correcting it. Time to kick them out of the nest.

When you see that the 4's field fills, the 2/3 field fills, but there's only 30 riders in the elite race, it's plain we've been drawing the demarcation lines in the wrong place.

Like most of the changes we've made, once everyone has a chance to adjust, things will be ok. If we can afford it, I'm considering offering a prize to the top cat. 2 riders in the elite races, as way to recognize those riders who are stepping it up.

RMM said...

Adam:

It makes perfect sense that elite fields will have less riders than lower categories. By definition an "elite" rider is someone of exceptional talent. There just aren't as many racers able to compete at this level. This talent is what makes what you and the other elite riders special.

This is why I refer to adding category 2 riders to the elite field as artificial inflation. Instead of growing talent, we are effectively thrusting category 2's into a field that most of them have no hope of being competitive in.

Obviously offering some seperate recognition to category 2 riders who race in the elite field would mitigate some of the concerns that these riders have.

I do agree that cat 2's have been getting coddled in the Verge series, but offering them the other extreme isn't fair either.

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