Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Verge Addresses Sandbagging: Will It Have Any Effect?

For years people have been justifiably complaining about blatant sandbagging in cyclocross. The accepted wisdom is that as you progress and come to dominate a category, you should graciously upgrade. Of course no one begrudges you a good result here and there, but if you are consistently placing top ten, along with 9 other guys who are also consistently placing top ten, then you and your 9 friends are effectively racing against each other. This situation leaves the rest of the 120+ person field upset. One could argue that the sandbaggers should go and have their own 10 man race and allow everyone race without them for the remaining 115 places without them.

For years various solution have been proposed and some implemented. Shaming, heckling and anonymous letter/email writing have proved ineffective at bringing the most blatant and consistent sandbaggers to justice (it is taking every once of decency in me not to include links to people's results. Wait, f*** that I am not decent: 1, 2, 3, 4 (2007), 5 ...). Please note that according to USACycling 2 wins equals a mandatory upgrade. Every one of the riders noted in this post have more than 2 wins and are still racing in the category that they achieved those wins in.

Now, I realize that sometimes someone just has a breakthrough season and does not want to upgrade because they have points in a series. In fact I caught lots of shit for sandbagging on the track in 2007 when I remained in a lower category so that I could continue to accrue points in a series. What I learned in 2007 is that you may get some results and maybe even some prizes, but along the way you lose the respect of your friends and peers. I now upgrade in a timely manner (mtb cat 1 upgrade coming after Hodges Dam on 8/2/09)

It is safe to say that people have plenty of motivation to sandbag and often little incentive to upgrade. In fact, other than personal pride, there are no rewards for upgrading, while there are plenty of rewards for dominating the lower categories (prize money, good results, podium girls/boys). I mean seriously, when you go back to work on Monday, would you rather tell your coworkers that you won a cat 4 race or that you got lapped by a pro? Remember, your coworkers have no clue about the categories and the nuances therein.

Many of us have been petitioning the organizers of the Verge Series to consider breaking apart the 2/3 field. My suggestion was that they eliminate B masters (a sandbagger category if there ever was one) and allow both cat 3's and cat 2's to have their own race. This would eliminate the huge jump from 4 to 3. As it stood in 2008, a newly minted cat 3 was racing against seriously hardened cat 2's. It just wasn't fair. It made many cat 4's reluctant to upgrade. Many that did upgrade began racing 3/4 masters to avoid the thrashing that they'd take in the 2/3 race.

Breaking apart the 2's and the 3's would also give people upgrading from 3 to 2 a meaningful upgrade. As it stands now, the upgrade from 3 to 2 only has an effect on your racing at smaller regional races. With the Verge Series taking up more and more of the race calendar, the 3 to 2 upgrade in New England is just a number on your license for most races.

So word has trickled down that Verge will have a dedicated cat 3 race. Cat 2's will race with the elites. It appears that the B masters will still exist and may even have their own series, as opposed to the Podunk regional feel of the B masters races last year (no call ups, no series, no points).

There is one lingering problem in the B field. Since there has traditionally been no reason to apply for a 3 to 2 upgrade, many of the people who were dominating the B's last year are still cat 3's, despite having enough points for multiple "mandatory" upgrades. It would be nice if USAC would to follow up and enforce their own rules...


36 comments:

Colin R said...

Your credit is misplaced. I have not argued for this change, nor do I have anywhere near the influence over the real Verge CX organizers (Adam, Alan, and the 6 (?) promoters) that you think I do. At best I can occasionally chime in with some data.

Going to 4 races (Pro/1, 2,3,4) sounds more attracive than it is. There are not very many Cat 2's and even fewer Cat 1's. It would take up four hours (of the very limited daylight that exists in November) and the two fastest races would be quite empty. You'd have to eliminate some large masters races AND recategorize a lot of cat 3's to make it work. Maybe in the future it could work, but it's too drastic a change for this season.

RMM said...

Seriously, if USAC just did its job, lots of categorization issues would sort themselves out.

And by definition, the "Elite" field should be smaller. There will always be more riders who are able to race cat 3 and 4 than can race a the cat 2 or cat 1 level.

I really think the problem lies in the B masters category. If we eliminated that field and then upgraded the strong 3's to cat 2, you'd effectively created 4 viable field (1,2,3 and 4) and hopefully more evenly matched fields.

Women's racing has its own issues that I can't even begin to address.

velocb said...

"My suggestion was that they eliminate B masters (a sandbagger category if there ever was one) and allow both cat 3's and cat 2's to have their own race." --Dude did anyone force you to sandbag at Sterling? Why did you sandbag that race if you are so anti-sandbagging? Those MRC guys are probably still pissed you ruined their podium party

Colin R said...

RMM: The elite field should be smaller, but we don't need two small elite fields, which is what a separate 1 and 2 race would be. Only the largest road races separate out the Pro/1 field from the 2s... Verge races aren't that big.

RMM said...

velocb:

You have a good point. On that one particular day, I did sandbag.

But I only did the B masters race b/c I had an afternoon commitment in Boston which conflicted with my normal Saturday appointment to get flayed in the 2/3 race. I figured that I'd rather sandbag a race than stay home with no race.

If the same problem presents itself again, I will probably sandbag again...but I have no plans on making a habit of it.

Also you should note that I only did one B master's race and won one race. For most offenders, sandbagging is a season long affair.

RMM said...

Colin R:

I think that you are not accounting for the forced upgrades that I propose (basically enforcing the rules that are already in place)...that would fatten up the cat 2 races.

Colin R said...

RMM: Right, to do 4 races for men you would really only need to take the existing 3 categories and slice them appropriately via enforced upgrades.

The problem is that only USAC can do that. Not Verge. So the initiative would have to come from them, and you know how likely that is.

As long as there are <20 guys showing up to those races who are CX 1's, no promoter will agree to running a UCI race that pays deeper than the number of entrants, for good reason.

RMM said...

Colin R:

I am wondering if there is any recourse with USAC? We pay them lots of money, why can't they just do the job that they say that they are going to do? If they have no intention of following their own policy, why don't they remove that bit from the website?

Colin R said...

We pay them lots of money, why can't they just do the job that they say that they are going to do?

Because they don't use your money on grassroots cycling, plus no one wants to be an official. Think about it, every single racer in New England has one USAC name they know: Diane Fortini. I don't even know if/what she gets paid to manage thousands of licensed riders and races (road AND cross), but I'm not going to fault her for upgrades not happening.

If you're thinking to yourself "we could manage ourselves better without USAC," you're probably right. Look at how well run OBRA is.

It might be possible to get EFTA to sanction a cross race. Hmm. I might have to look into that....

RMM said...

Colin:

Actually, I am friends with 2 officials (as in I have their phone numbers and sometimes use them). Most officials only do race officiating. Upgrades all go through Diane.

Obviously the system is broken. Diane is a great official and very responsive when you need her (serious fast turnaround times when you contact her).

But if she is unable to enforce the current rules, then USAC should assign her some help. Again, we pay plenty of money to play, USAC should do its job. Better yet they should subcontract the upgrades out to you!

velocb said...

I was actually really stoked you won Sterling. Seriously I am a big fan of you and CBC and thought it was awesome. I also thought it was cool when Eric Marro raced NBX...now when Paul Curley came up the inside of the gutter at Noho to try and get the hole shot on a gravel curve in the 3/4 masters maybe not so much.

It will be an interesting year for me if this shakes out the way its been outlined. I certainly will not race master bs for 30 min at 8 or 8:30 in the morning. Racing masters 1/2/3s is going to be crazy. How big will that field get? So its probably the 3s where I will become a human shield used soley for the purpose of getting our top Hup 3s on the podium...good times!

RMM said...

Rumor has it that the B masters race was invented by Paul Curley back in the late 80's/early 90's.

RMM said...

Chip:

Thanks for the kind words.
See you out there...

rosey said...

i suspect the cat 3 race will be overwhelmingly large as the season progresses. it might even sell out like in years past. b masters are going to realize they are not getting their money's worth at 8am for 30 minutes of racing and plenty of cat 4's will more willingly make the upgrade.

very few cat 3's are going to willingly upgrade and plunk down the cash for a uci license, a $40+ race entry fee and 30-40 minutes of pain before being lapped by driscoll and pulled by officials.

this new schedule has effectively guaranteed that racers like myself will stay in the cat 3 field until i am old enough to race with the masters (5 more years). just like the (http://squirtgunshow.blogspot.com/2009/06/getting-rid-of-semipro-class-does-not.html) "solution" that was implemented to swell the ranks of the mtb "pro" fields, this "solution" does not look reasonable for the long term.

Verge is destined to get a swelling in the cat 3 field because the leap to cat 2 has now become very challenging (and unrewarding for all but the strongest cat 2's).

Verge is diminishing the quality of the "B" race by making it a 3 only field. I'd rather see Cat 2's remain in the race (did I really say that?) and the field do a proactive job of policing the appropriate upgrades. I've also got some ideas on how the excuse of the cost to upgrade mid-season can be dealt with. That would make the upgrade from "B" race to pro race much more tolerable.

Oh, and RMM, don't worry, you won't be allowed to sandbag the b masters anymore since it is a 4 only race. your alternative to the 3 race is now the master's 1,2,3. haha, have fun "sandbagging" johnny bold and co.

Colin R said...

this new schedule has effectively guaranteed that racers like myself will stay in the cat 3 field until i am old enough to race with the masters

Was this not the case before? The only difference is before, you might have been able to get a "2" on your license. But you'd be in this race for the next 5 years either way, right?

Verge is destined to get a swelling in the cat 3 field because the leap to cat 2 has now become very challenging (and unrewarding for all but the strongest cat 2's).

Isn't this the same swelling that they were getting before when both strong 3s and strong 2s didn't want to move to the elite race? The race may get bigger, but it will be from Cat 4's and B masters coming in.

. I'd rather see Cat 2's remain in the race (did I really say that?) and the field do a proactive job of policing the appropriate upgrades

The field has never been able to police itself. If the ebay auction didn't work, nothing aside from straight up face-to-face abuse will. So are you gonna be the first guy to call out [random we don't know yet who will dominate Bs]?

RMM said...

Rosey:

I elect you to be the enforcer. You have all of the perfect qualities:

1. You are big enough that cyclists will be physically intimidated

2. Your results are good enough that you are being hurt badly by the sandbagging

3. You are a nice guy with a reputation for being reasonable, therefor people will take you seriously (whereas if I say something, I will get written off as an asshole)

rosey said...

Colin:

Was this not the case before? The only difference is before, you might have been able to get a "2" on your license. But you'd be in this race for the next 5 years either way, right?

At least keeping the 2's in the B race would give some cred to the claim of "killer b's." If USAC does it's job of enforcing upgrades (I know, very unlikely) or if my enforcement of peer pressure convinces the Pattersons and Toscas of 'cross to cat up, we should have a more realistic progression from 2/3 race to 1/2 race. Who knows, maybe it will be exactly the same as before except with a lot more people over 35 yrs old. I guess my point is that the old classification doesn't seem as sucky when compared to the new one.

Isn't this the same swelling that they were getting before when both strong 3s and strong 2s didn't want to move to the elite race? The race may get bigger, but it will be from Cat 4's and B masters coming in.

Now the swelling will be at the back end making for more crowded courses in the later laps. I'd rather keep the swelling in the front with 10 guys all having a viable shot at winning without having to be the fastest through the lapped riders. I foresee this shift making for a very wide range of abilities in a 3 race that will be more crowded than years past.

The field has never been able to police itself. If the ebay auction didn't work, nothing aside from straight up face-to-face abuse will. So are you gonna be the first guy to call out [random we don't know yet who will dominate Bs]?

I'd like to think others would also feel obliged to tell X that they are not welcome after repeated victories (or being the defending series champ) since we know USAC is not willing to do so. OBRA gets it right with mandatory upgrades. Perhaps New England should look to them for guidance on this one. I'll do my part to shame the sandbaggers (including RMM if he ever enters another master's b race) but frankly I would like to see proactive measures by those that we pay to "police" the field instead.

RMM said...

Rosey:

The B masters is only for cat 4's.

I have sent my downgrade request to Diane, pointing out my dismal results at the hands of the Tosca's and Peterson's in the real B's.

Bring on the heckling!

RMM said...

Couldn't USAC automate the mandatory upgrades? Two wins = upgrade, even a dolt like me could write code for that...

www.buddbikes.com said...

Whine a little more and maybe someone will just put you on the podium. Train and race hard and you'll be the sandbagger soon enough.

M Budd said...

For me the biggest aggrevation of the verge series is that there are too many people with nothing to do but think about them registering as soon as they open relegating slackers like me to the back row.
Randomizing the start order after call ups would be a dream come true, I miss the days of throwing elbows for your start position.

RMM said...

Bud:

Either throwing elbows or being at the computer at the designated time are both part of the game.
The other option is, like you said, race and train hard and you'll get a call up.

M Budd said...

Being "at the computer at the designated time" is a whole new addition to the game but it is one that has been enthusiastically embraced by way too many for someone with plans that tend to vary right up until race day to pass in order to get said call up.
I like the circus of the verge series and large races but I'll never have the honor of being deemed a sandbagger from a back row start.
That said I'll get back to the discussion that was happening before I digressed.
I think I am a 2 in cross and do race the 1,2 at the smaller events not attended by top pros who will destroy me and usually do OK. Starting from the back row I've never made a dent in the "B" race at the verge New England series beyond a meager few points, the season I did manage to finagle a call up in Verge mid-atlantic I did spend the season as one of those guys that infuriates the rest of the field by always hovering in the top 10. So, maybe the real solution is that the call up for points or the reward for early registration is eliminated and all of the cat. 2 guys in the "B" race get started in the back.

RMM said...

Budd:

While it would be interesting to have all of the fast guys start in the back, consider the chaos and mayhem that would result as determined, fast riders had to sort their way through a 100 racers worth of pack fodder.

It would be great to watch, but would increase our medical bills considerably.

The call up/early registration system works well enough in that it rewards good results and good organization.

gary! said...

gary thinks thusly:
-have usac enforce the upgrades to even things out.
-it's ok for guys to stick through the Bs in the verge series (like mcnicholas), however, come the first verge race of the season, i think guys like mcnicholas MUST be racing in the elite field.
-the upgrade from 3 to 2 isn't a huge issue because of the way verge and mac combine them, and i don't think these need to be separated out; however, keeping track of how a 3 finishes in relation to all other 3s and having that go towards upgrade points would be key. so, you could theoretically start the verge series as a 3, be one of the top cat3 riders in the first few races (doesn't matter how many 2s finish ahead of you), upgrade to a 2 half way through be obviously continue doing verge B races, progress as a rider, start getting top 10s in the overall (regardless of how you place with 2s and 3s, but general top10s), then have enough points to upgrade to cat1 by the end of the season.
-i feel like it's more 'fair' to have newly crowned 3s racing with experienced 2s, then to have experiences 2s racing with guys who need uci points in order to rank well in foreign races. and if there are little side notes ranking Bs according to 2s and 3s, then we can all feel proud of ourselves...but enforcing forced upgrades is crucial, even if it means a kindly worded letter informing officials to review someone's results.

gary! said...

also, re:cxmag article:
30minutes of racing for cat4s is way too short.
why not make the 'open masters' and the 'cat4 masters' race at the same time?
why are the 3s forced to race with the juniors?
i feel like this is catered towards giving the masters choices...why? no one else really gets a choice.

S Davis said...

I propose establishing a bounty on all known sandbaggers. Spectators earn free beers for every ass slap on the run-ups.

RMM said...

Gary:

Though they can be curmudgeonly and whiny, masters riders have been racing longer than any of us and should be given a certain level of respect and deference (god it kills me to admit this). While I realize that it puts my friends and myself in the position of accepting the time slots that are left, I support allowing options for the masters.

Wait, I am a masters rider; I just choose to race with you spring chickens. So it is really me that has been given options.

Anonymous said...

well since you have taken the liberty of linking me in your list of "sandbaggers"...without knowing my situation.
i would like you to know.
-last season was my first season racing bikes (of any kind) EVER.
-i did not even own a cross bike until mid october.
-i wanted to continue with the rest of the verge series without a mid series upgrade.
-we just had our first child.. she was then 3 months old, and i could not have afforded a uci license (for 6 weeks of use) even if i had wanted one.
-i did not belong in the elite race with my limited experience...i still have only done like 15-20 cross races ever.
-i did well in lots of those races.. and keep in mind there where quite a few guys right with me.

and yes this season i will be in the elite field....it will be a big jump...and very hard.
i hope i will be able to "ride up" and have some decent results......it will certainly help when i hear YOU routing for me.

cheers
Dylan

RMM said...

Dylan:

First, congratulations on your first child.

Second, you should know that you were selected for inclusion in the list by using the "detect sandbaggers" function of crossresults.com, there was nothing personal. I don't even know what you look like (that's how far behind you I was in races).

Thirdly, while many of us do not like sandbagging, we also realize that everyone has their reasons for doing things. But your pointing to the others around you who were doing the same thing to justify your behavior does not excuse said behavior.

Fourth, this is bike racing. People take it seriously, but at our level it not life or death, nor is it bringing home paychecks (maybe someday for you it will pay).

I personally object your having violated the rules of our sport by not upgrading when you clearly had achieved results that warranted 2 "mandatory" upgrades. This was a decision that you made and it is a matter of public record, so I have every right to call you out on it publicly (at least I am not talking shit behind your back like you know other people are/were).

I do appreciate your taking the time to explain your circumstances. I'll be there to cheer you on in the A's. Since we have never met, I hope there are no hard feelings, there are none here.

See you in September.

Anonymous said...

quit complaining...train harder...race bike.

yours truly
evil sandbagger

RMM said...

Anon:

Instead of training harder, perhaps we should downgrade or fail to upgrade when appropriate. That seems like an easier way to get a good result.
Interesting that you chose not to share your identity...

Chris said...

RMM et al,
I was thinking about mandatory upgrades the other day and was able to ask a former NEBRA bigwig about mandatory upgrades, when/how they happen, etc... He's been around a LONG time, so I figured he'd be in the know.

Here's what I learned:
Our interpretation of "mandatory" does not align with that of USAC. We look at it as "This person meets the guidelines, USAC show move them up." That's not how USAC has interpreted or applied the rule historically. Instead, if you meet the criteria for a mandatory upgrade, USAC can not deny your upgrade request. If you meet the non-mandatory criteria, the upgrade is made at USAC's discretion.

I found this interesting, as the printed rules wouldn't lead any of us to conclude this. Also, I haven't confirmed this with a USAC official, so I may still be missing something here. It may be worth some additional research.

RMM said...

Chris:

That is very interesting, thank you for sharing it.

It is very curious that USAC and NEBRA would have one policy in print and then interpret it another way. Perhaps the officials who actually handle upgrades don't agree with policy that was established by higher ups, so they have chosen to interpret the rule in such a way that it conforms to what they think the rule should be.

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