Monday, November 16, 2009

Race Rep…Actually, I Don’t Even Talk About the Race....I Merely Bitch: USGP Mercer Cup 2009

So, I have been taking a hiatus from complaining on this blog. Rosey has pointed out that I have a tendency to find the negative even in great situations. This post represents my return to negativity, so if you are not into it...move on.

Problems that I had with the Mercer Cup USGP:

1. The registration line was super long. In practice they had one person signing in all category. This is supposed to be one of the biggest races on the east coast, Couldn’t they try to do at least as good a job as our local promoters?

2. The line was so long because they were handing out triathlon style transponders. Seriously.

3. Transponders are the solution to a problem that does not exist in a well-run cyclocross race. When’s the last time that you heard of someone who skipped a lap and got a win? Even when a few oddities have happened, the result was corrected quickly and amicably. If you try to say that they could come in handy for a photo finish, I can point out that it is the front most part of the bike (tire) that determines whether you win a sprint, the transponder was supposed to be strapped to your ankle.

4. Even with the transponders, results were posted without finishing times, even for the elites.

5. You were responsible for the transponder. If you failed to return it, you’d be billed for the price of a new one, $109. My transponder was far from new. Like cyclocross racers doesn’t have enough shit to worry about before and after a filthy race.

a. Furthermore and perhaps worst of all, they gave you no receipt when you returned the transponder. If the promoter claims that I didn’t return the damn thing and decides to bill me, I have almost no recourse.

6. They mowed the grass the day before the race, which is awesome. They didn’t pick up or rake the cut grass off of the course. Not awesome. The combination of wet conditions and the clods of grass clogged drivetrains, wheels, brakes, pedals and cranks. $1000’s of dollars worth of components were destroyed because the promoters didn’t properly prep the course.

a. I guess that I can accept this level of course prep at a local grassroots race, but this it USGP!

b. And if you want to argue that it would cost too much to rake the grass up, they should have cut the stupid transponders out of the budget and pocketed half that money and spent the other half to pay to have the course raked.

c. Also, half the staff was walking around in custom embroidered USGP weatherproof clothing. That likely cost 10 times what proper course prep would have. Nothing like having your staff look pro while your course is not even prepped as well as a local race.

d. If you say that they had no way of knowing that the weather would cause this sort of a grassy mess, I want to point out that they have been running this race for 3 years at the same venue and most prior years there has been similar conditions.

7. On Saturday, during the B Men’s Start the last of the B women finishers were still on the course, in the starting straightaway! 100+ keyed up men had to sprint into and around women who had just finished racing. Obviously this caused a couple of crashes, one of which ruined my Saturday race. This was the most bush league start I have ever been involved with. beyond amateur. After I complained to someone else, I was told that this has happened in previous years at Mercer.

8. Staging order in the B race was strictly based on registration order. This made for an unsafe start, as serious contenders who registered late had to fight their way through slower riders who had no chance of placing high. For instance, I started in 65th both days and I finished 25th and 18th respectively, which means that I passed 40 riders during my race. Most of these passes took place during the starting sprint and it was sketchy. I’m not saying that I should have had a call up, but they should find a better way to decide staging order (use standings in big local series’ or maybe crossresults.com points). The data to come up with a more logical staging order is freely available on the internets.

9. The course was bland and featureless. If it hadn’t rained, this would have been the most boring race of the season. Actually, even with the rain and mud the course was pretty boring. No elevation change, no interesting chicanes, few off cambers. It was mostly long straight sections broken up with wide turns. Just a power slog. Boring. Since I don’t give a shit about USGP, I won’t be traveling to this race next year to race their featureless course.

10. The B race was at 9:30 am. I am not sure why they did this but it sucked. It meant that out of towners definitely had to stay over in NJ on Friday as well as Saturday, which increases the price of the trip and the hassle significantly. The early start created all sorts of headaches for teams that have up and coming B riders as well as elites. Some elites had to be at the venue as early as 7:45, since that is when their team vehicles were going over (if a B rider wanted a preride, they had to do it before 8:30.

11. The B race was “40 minutes,” which translated to 4 laps. Most people were doing sub 10 minute laps, so the race was likely shorter than billed, closer to the length of a C race. Actually I don’t know how long the races took since they never posted times with the results! Even in the hellish conditions, the races felt short.

12. Overall, at every opportunity the promoters made it known that they were not concerned with the quality of racing for the lower categories. The attitude of “only the elites matter” permeated the whole event. There was no overt disrespect, but a few times when I had basic questions, like about a bike wash station on Saturday morning, I was told that it was definitely available for Pros, but only maybe for a B racer. Obviously there were exceptions, like SRAM neutral support who are always helpful and respectful even when you have crazy questions or requests.

Positives:

1. Overall, I enjoyed the trip. I traveled with Cary (who beat me both days), Bradshaw (rode well in the Elites) and Dave Chui (who shuttled us around all weekend and took 2nd in the hole shot on Saturday)

2. We ate well. Malaga in Trenton had great paella and Vincent’s had a fried and sugared zeppolini’s that were worth a separate drive to ഞ

3. Hanging out with the Philly crew is always fun and it was a highlight this weekend

4. Watching Tim Johnson tear the course to shreds on Sunday, hanging it all out on every corner, while trouncing Ryan Trebon was great.

Going south to race really helps me appreciate how great we have it in New England. Our races are well run, cat 4’s are usually are made to feel welcome and wanted. Many of our courses are world class and challenging, even on a dry day. I’m glad that I am doing some local racing next weekend.

24 comments:

Anonymous said...

sometimes a good bitch fest is necessary. maybe usgp folks will get wind and improve it next year (maybe?). should have stuck close to home and done plymouth north/south. although I had issues w/ that course too (s).

j. bramhall said...

In retrospect, I am more glad now than before that I skipped the travel to NJ this year.
The mistreatment of non-elite racers is nothing new to this race. Last year, my race was cut short as I approached the finishing straight with two people within several bike lengths, poised to sprint. An official came onto the course, stopping us saying no more than the course needed to be clear for the next race's start. The next race did not begin to stage until after I had been to the bike wash.
I understand the trouble of running a high profile race is focused on drawing elites, but it seems clear that a trip to NJ isn't worth it for a non-elite.

Colin R said...

I would love to pick apart your arguments one at a time, because some of them are quite flimsy.

However, I was so disappointed by the terrain and course design that I don't want to be mistaken for someone who things the Mercer Cup is anything less than weaksauce.

So you are off the hook... this time.

What do we have to to get a USGP stop at ANY Verge race or even any other UCI MAC event?

Dave said...

Gloucester used be USGP, not sure why it's not anymore, Gloucester > Mercer. Maybe Mercer could just hire Tom Stevens as the course designer and be done with it.

kevin said...

I thoroughly enjoyed this post, and wish more bloggers would post long hate-filled tirades.

quite refreshing actually.

A+

rosey said...

your post highlights just how good we have it in New England. As much as we complain about things from time to time around here, the grass is DEFINITELY NOT greener outside of the New England scene.

i raced the USGP in portland (at PIR) back in 2007. that was the year with the most horrific weather portland had seen in decades. that was the only thing that made the course appealing. while the event didn't suffer from the other things you noted about NJ, the course was pretty lame in portland that year.

I can't wait for the fun of Cheshire CX and yet another new event in Durham, CT this weekend.

Long live New England 'cross!

SHopengarten said...

This post is spot on. I could not believe how insignificant I felt and the incredibly boring course design.

The only reason I was convinced to do the race was because "it's a big race." So much for that, I haven't been this disappointed with an event in years. I've been to cross races in someone's back yard that have been better.

robotbuilder said...

Thanks for that, now I don't feel lame for spending far less money, time, and effort racing Plymouth day one. Having no comparison, I lack appreciation for just how good the 'cross scene is in Boston. . . But I like it even better in your absence!

Kyle said...

Ahhh, vindicated once again for avoiding that horrible, ridiculous race.

Could you imagine Sterling or NBX at this time of year as a USGP?

'Tis a no-brainah...

DD said...

Now I'm not so bummed that I skipped the trip to do homework. The Beacon/HPCX weekend is super fun. Hopefully USGP won't try to stick their nose into those races.

RMM said...

All:

I typed this up this up in the car last night and finished it this morning. I didn't publish it right away, as I felt that maybe it was too negative and that I'd cause more internet drama.

Apparently I am not alone in my feelings about this race.

One of the things that I wonder about:

Next year, when I am a low level elite rider, will I also be made to feel insignificant at USGP since I am not Ryan Trebon or Tim Johnson? Or is a UCI license my ticket to the VIP tent and all the trappings?

Captain Crunch said...

Spot on post. I totally agree on the fresh cut grass. They should have picked it up. The the pro only attitude was certainly evident. The big teams got taken care (Luna, Kona, etc.) while everyone else had to fight for themselves.

I would like to add Another complaint. I was working the pits for my team (RGM Watches-Richard Sachs-Radix) during the Elite race. They had only 1 pressure washer available to teams who can't afford a fancy setup. The washer was super important in Saturday's elite race. There was a huge line because it was down for several minutes at a time as (yes I will give names) Kona and C-dale were hooked up to the water supply and killing the pressure. For several stretchs of about 5 mins. at a time there was no pressure at the public washer while Kona and C-dale blasted away as happy as could be. For a being a major UCI race the promoter really screwed this up. My guys could only pit every 1 to 1.5 laps while Trebon and Johnson could pit every .5 laps.

Colin R said...

What do you mean, "feel insignificant?"

I did not feel slighted at USGP. It was the strongest field I raced all year (marginally faster than Gloucester, I think) and delivered the exhilaration, adrenaline, pain, and total ass-whupping that I expected from that. It was basically nationals for me. As much as I hated the course, I would go back, because it was the strongest field this season that lined up within driving distance of Boston.

I have no idea why anyone would go to this race as a B rider though. I guess it's slightly better than a small local race, but it's no Verge.

Capt Crunch: Interestingly, there is no UCI rule about the presence of a neutral pressure washer at anything except a World Cup. Was there a washer at Gloucester this year?

I agree the C'dale and Kona should've had to bring in their own water (like Matt Roy did) instead of siphoning off the neutral supply.

Brian said...

Spot on.

While I wasn't there this year, last year I had the EXACT same sentiments.

Last year, the course could be described as "boring" at best in dry conditions. When 95% of the loop became un-rideable on day 1, you would expect some changes for day 2, right? No, they just cut off 30% of the course to bring the laps under 12 minutes. I don't know if they didn't change in order to keep the destruction controlled, but it was hands down the worst weekend of last year.

Ultimately, if the elites and sponsor money didn't keep it alive, a grassroots race with that uninspired course and amenities (rather a lack thereof) would be an instant failure. How this race was ever deemed a "premier" event is beyond me...they could have done A LOT better.

I could go on, but you nailed it.

RMM said...

Captain:

Funny that you mention Cannondale. A few seperate people politely approached their compound about the power washer (perhaps to ask for a blast while it sat idly hogging ALL the spigots at the men's room) before the races. The mustachioed C-dale mechanic was intensely rude and condescending.

Great racing by Tim Johnson and Jamie Driscoll. Terrible PR by the rest of the crew.

btw Congrats to Richard Sachs on his great win Sunday.

RMM said...

Colin:

You just have a hard on for getting thrashed by pros. You may need therapy.

Colin R said...

There aren't many sports where a working stiff like myself can line up with international-quality competition, so yeah, I take the opportunity whenever I can.

Btw does 39th at a USGP "earn your respect?" Or did I have to beat Wilcox for that? Don't think I didn't hear that heckle.

RMM said...

Colin:

I meant what I said: to earn my respect, you must defeat Wilcox. So, 38th at USGP would have earned my respect if Wilcox was at 39th or lower.

RMM said...

Colin:

You refused Cary's prerace pastry. Which is how the issue of respect came up to begin with. You stated that you didn't need my respect and therefore you weren't going to eat the zeppoli.

I don't believe that you were recording during that exchange.

matt said...

The first year at Trenton was decent so I went back last year. The mud was the story of the weekend but but the event was very poorly run with the exception of the kid tipping the taps on the beer truck.

Sticking an acronym in your race's name doesn't give you a license to crap on lower category racers, bungle registration, lay out crappy courses, jack up entry fees, and limit access to resources like the hoses. At least you shouldn't expect people to continue to attend. It's one or the other.

Glad I decided to skip it. Next year, support your local races. To hell with any race or series that doesn't treat all racers equally and care about the quality of their product. Vote with your entry fee. Until you're winning every race you enter, you've got plenty of competition to race even at small events.

Cary said...

The races sucked for all reasons mentioned. Not worth a cent for B riders, C rides, Masters, etc. It's definitely a bummer. Luckily with good company and awesome food I still managed to have a good weekend but that was totally independent of anything USGP did. Next year as a low-level elite rider I will consider the possibility of going, but only because I, like Rooter, get a hard on from being lapped on a boring course by Tim Johnson. Oh yeah, the Champion Systems guy with the water tank was a dick too, next time I won't let him by.

Joey said...

ADD 2 things to what was wrong with this race

1. The start times of the biggest races (Men's C & B) were a half a day away from the Elite race. Why force your biggest potential audiance to wait around all day to watch the Elites. no idea why all race promoters do this.

2. The random stake in the middle of the turn before the pits. I'm not talking about a stake where course tape cam off and it was sticking out. I mean right in the middle of the course during the B race. Ripped my derailleur off while sitting comfortably in 4th place.

Agree on all other points. Horrible race but unfortunatly I'll do it again next year just due to the shear size of it. Only a few times do I get to race against that many people.

zack said...

When trying to create a cross scene in any city in this country, promoters/racers/whoever should spend a few race weekends in New England seeing how it's done. It's almost comical how every city you visit thinks they are the center of the cycling world.

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