Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Throw the Bums Out! Why Do New England Racers Need the UCI Anyways?

The UCI may do some great things for international cyclocross, but here in New England they are an unnecessary pain in the ass. There are a few arguments about why making an event a UCI event is good for the sport; they all add up to a steaming pile of…

First allow me to enumerate the ways in which the UCI designation makes races less logical and less fun:

1. Staging order: Once upon a time, we had a number of logical staging strategies. These archaic methods are still in use in primitive races,, but not in UCI events. Among these outdated strategies:
a. Series results- Verge stages racers in the Verge Series according to the results that they got in past races in the Verge series. It made prefect sense to use this data to stage future races. It made for logical starting positions, allowing leaders of the series to start in front, which allowed them a great opportunity to defend their standings.
b. Crossresults.com “points”—this website has an algorithm that assigns each rider a point value based on the rider’s results. The algorithm factors in the category that the riders raced in, depth of field, rankings of competitors, overall result in the race. Basically, if I win the cat race, I am not likely to get more points than a top ten finisher in the elite race. While one could argue that the algorithm is not perfect, it works well enough to have gain nationwide respect and is used a yardstick by many cyclocross racers.
c. Registration Order—Those who register earlier get a better start position. This was usually used in conjunction with other staging strategies. A typical start order would be: UCI points, series point, then registration order.

Instead of using a logical staging order, the UCI has instituted “random draw.” Random draw is exactly what it sounds like. Riders with UCI points are staged in order of accumulated points, while everyone else draws numbers for position. For instance, I am a racing very poorly this season, yet I drew a 2nd row start at New Gloucester day one. There were lots of fast riders behind me and every one of them had to pass me at some point. New Gloucester was a smaller race, so this didn’t present a problem, but at a well attended race such as CycleSmart in Northampton, having 50-70 faster riders staged behind me and the other scrubs will be problematic and potentially dangerous.

2. Tire Width—Wide tires are an advantage when courses are very rough. There is a limit to how wide you can increase tire width before it will start to slow you down. Sometimes people use mountain bikes in lower category cyclocross races, yet racers on mountain bikes almost never win even these lower category events.

Courses that are excessively rough would not conform to UCI course standards. Wider tires are only an advantage on these excessively rough courses. Banning tires that are 34mm just seems stupid. It would make more sense for the UCI to concentrate on course design requirements and allow riders to make logical tire selection choices based on the conditions that the riders find when they show up to race.

By the way, I have a set of white Dugast Pipistrello 34mm’s for sale.

3. UCI payout/increased costs leading to higher race fees: No matter what category you race in, part of your race fee is funding the UCI designation. Most racers are never going to see a UCI payout, yet we pay $10-20 extra for any race that carries a UCI designation. Racing is expensive enough.

4. 80/20 rule—Riders who are 80 percent lapped are pulled from races, regardless of how close to the end of the race it is and regardless if they pose a threat to safety or not.

While I am somewhat in support of this rule’s usage in elite races where it makes some logical sense, its application in lower category events infuriates me. There is no better way to alienate a new racer than to pull them off course in the middle of their first race. The application of this rule to category 4 events kills all of the goodwill and fun that our discipline is supposed to bring to cycling. UCI and USAC officials who applied this rule in women’s 3 / 4 events at Gloucester and Providence showed a callousness and lack of consideration that I find disturbing. This is no way to grow the sport.



Back in the dark days, US cyclocross racers who had international aspirations had to go to Europe to race so that they could gather UCI points. A number of promoters and racers in the US wanted to provide these racers with opportunities to race domestically. They worked hard to promote UCI events. They have succeeded.

Now the truly fast can race domestically, gather points and then race in World Cups. This begs the question: How many racers are taking advantage of this opportunity? In other words, who are WE helping with our hard-earned money? And what are we getting for our money?

By my calculations, there are less than 10 New England racers actively racing in Europe. Perhaps someone more informed can give me an exact count in my comments section. Even if there were a few more, these 10+/- racers are the only beneficiaries of UCI races in the US. While a few of us might enjoy the bauble that a UCI point represents, the rest of us (lower category riders included) are paying huge amounts of money so that a select few riders can earn UCI points. While I don’t begrudge these riders the opportunity to race in Europe, it seems that we have far more UCI races than we need.

Someone recently told me that UCI events in the US help grow the sport. How? There are virtually no spectators at US UCI events other than lower category racers. There is almost no evidence that non-racers follow our domestic racers’ exploits in Europe.

The only argument that I can find in favor of UCI events is the quality of the races. Correlation is not causation. There is nothing to stop non-UCI promoters from putting on as high a quality event or even a higher quality event than the best UCI race. At The Night Weasels Cometh, Colin Reuter and crossresults.com demonstrated that you don’t need a UCI designation in order to post a huge payout.

In 2010, almost every other race in New England is a UCI event, with the attendant costs and hassles. The UCI framework constricts promoters and saddles lower category racers with extra costs and arbitrary, onerous regulations. Did I leave anything out? Can you think of a benefit to the UCI that I am failing to consider?

28 comments:

mike said...

I am in favor of more UCI races, though several times this year I have been on the receiving end of some officials bad day. I dont think "throw 'em out" is terribly constructive - I would like to work out an amenable solution so we all (pack fodder and point scorers alike) can race our bikes.

I feel like the UCI "scaling" its regulations - maybe the more onerous (80% rule, annoying tire restrictions etc) could apply only to world cups or C1 events, giving USA Cycling (who should be more flexible and responsive to the needs of its racers) more freedom to work with local events.

mrsmith said...

How about if the UCI rules only apply to the events that require a UCI license? Seems logical to me, and it will keep the guys in the funny-looking berets away from the lower category races.

Colin R said...

I think you have a problem with some of your reasoning. You say:

Most racers are never going to see a UCI payout, yet we pay $10-20 extra for any race that carries a UCI designation.

but then

At The Night Weasels Cometh, Colin Reuter and crossresults.com demonstrated that you don’t need a UCI designation in order to post a huge payout.

The UCI has a minimum payout for its races of just under $4k/day for a C2 (2200 men, 1450 women). This is LESS than what we paid out at Night Weasels. BUT. We had a high entry fee and you can bet your ass that $10-20 of RMM's money went to covering our prize purse. While we avoided UCI overhead, we still have to afford the prize list somehow.

So you can't blame the UCI for big prize lists and their corresponding high costs, but then praise us for having a big prize list (and high costs).

Now, whether or not it's worth it to put up big money is another question -- but if you strip UCI status from a race while keep its prize money, your entry fee would be nearly unchanged. Maybe $2/racer less.

Colin R said...

How about if the UCI rules only apply to the events that require a UCI license? Seems logical to me, and it will keep the guys in the funny-looking berets away from the lower category races.

Also, this has been beaten to death and resolved in New England, no one will be getting UCI rules applied to their non-UCI races going forward.

Todd Rowell said...

Re: staging order: before we had UCI races, or before they were common, there was basically one staging strategy:

Go to the start line about 30min before your race started and wait; hope that you can nab a spot roughly correlated to when you got there; and then block the finishers of the prior race by getting in the lane with 15min to go. If you were lucky there were only 10 guys across, but more likely it was 15 and good luck getting a clean start even from the front row.

Staging by any kind of ranking only happened in a few big, national races (e.g., Supercup) which may or may not have been UCI at the time. And I don't think any non-elites ever got a callup, unless maybe they were part of the promoting club.

There are probably a few exceptions to this, but ... they were indeed few.

I'm not saying you can't stage by ranking without UCI governance, I'm just saying that basically no one did. The scrum ruled. Holding UCI races basically made us start taking the sport more seriously, including course and organizational standards for series races (OK, that was basically Adam, but at the time he was basically the UCI here), prize money, etc.

I'm not trying to defend the UCI here; I think the random staging order is a little nuts and the 80/20 rule needs to be applied with a LOT of common sense and basically never to amateur races. But you can't claim the UCI came in and screwed up our orderly staging.

RMM said...

My main concern with the UCI is their apparent lack of logic. The UCI rules are arbitrary to begin with and then arbitrarily applied.

Adam: No offense, but I suspect that you "yawn" because you don't want to look like a fool trying to defend the UCI's nonsense.

Colin: I have never supported lower category race fees financing an elite payout. I don't think that it brings any value to an event and I can't see how this is growing the sport.

Adam Myerson said...

Tell me, Mike, what cyclo-cross was like before we had UCI races in New England? Do you remember?

RMM said...

Adam:

Are you implying that because I don't have 20 years of racing experience, I don't have the mental capacity to call out an organization that is fussy, arbitrary and brings little value to the average cyclocross racer in New England? I could flip it around and ask you what makes you qualified to speak for non elite racers?

If I am missing something, fill me in. If you have a nugget of wisdom that will justify the UCI's behavior and explain why we should suffer it, please share (or link us to the appropriate materials). I am not being snarky, I am genuinely interested in learning.

Adam Myerson said...

1. Random start order, while not my preference, has a very strong case. Remember that UCI rules are addressing situations worldwide, not just in our back yard. Using local series standings as the second tier of call up order gives preference to the riders from that region. If a strong rider from another region comes to race and doesn’t have a UCI point, is it inherently more fair to line them up behind the local riders, simply because they’re local?

For the riders that don’t have points, chasing that first point is a challenge you know well. If you are continually lined up behind riders you may be stronger than, but who have simply been rewarded for participation, then there is obvious unfairness in that approach. For those reasons, random call ups are one of the only ways to ensure that at some point, everyone has a reasonable shot of getting in the top 10 or 15 if they have the form to do it.

Further, the UCI is typically in the business of protecting its authority over private, competing competitions like the Superprestige and GVA. By enforcing UCI points as the only ranking system allowed to stage riders, they are asserting their control over the private enterprises, in the same way they award exponentially more points to World Cups than they do to C1s and C2s.

While obviously distasteful to us, this is an example of why you’re analysis lacks depth. There are factors in play for why certain rules get made or enforced that go well beyond what happens in our little scene, and require a global vision and understanding of the politics behind the sport. You framed your analysis only in the context of your personal experience. “I’m not fast, and people had to pass me.” But they all managed to pass you, right? These rules have implications that affect the sport well beyond your personal experience.

2. Wide tires are an advantage in many, many situations other than “excessively rough terrain that would be disallowed under the UCI rules.” Have you actually read the UCI rules for ‘cross? Chapter 5, if you’d like.

Wide tires are an advantage whenever there’s bumpy grass, frozen ground, deep ruts, or sand. 34 mm tires were great for courses like Southampton, because of it’s rough grass, or Warwick, because of it’s roots and deep sand. Nationals in Kansas City, because of the muddy ruts that then froze solid, almost required 34 mm tires, and I attributed my good performance there to having brought wheels for every condition with me.

Banning tires wider than 34 mm was a godsend to riders traveling to UCI events, because it meant that you could potentially cut the number of wheels you would bring to a race in half. It levels the playing field, even in the pro ranks, between the haves and have nots, but also makes logistics easier for each and every rider, and lowers costs. This is a rule I would have expected you to be in favor of, since it helps level the playing field and makes the sport more accessible.

3. Regarding UCI event expenses, have you seen the budgets for both UCI and non-UCI events? Do you actually know what the additional event expenses are to be UCI sanctioned? Grand total, about $1000 additional. If I put my same UCI events on, same prize money, same production level, but simply did not include it in the UCI calendar, it would only save me $1000, and each rider about $2.

Adam Myerson said...

4. The 80% rule, as written, is “up to the organizer’s discretion.” JD and I have personally have been in extensive contact with USAC about how this new rule was being overenforced, and not only have we guaranteed change for the remainder of the season, there is already another rule change on the table to clarify it further for next year. In short, this new rule was enforced incorrectly, it has already been addressed, it is a non-issue going forward, and that has already been widely publicized. The integrity of the front of the race has to be maintained, but not at the expense of every Cat. 2 trying to finish on the lead lap and never getting their chance. That you raise this as if it’s still a concern is either disingenuous, or you’re misinformed.


You state that while nothing is stopping a non-UCI race organizer from putting on a quality event, on the other hand, what other commonly accepted standards and practices are documented, in place, and available for enforcement? What other standards transmit to potential racers the quality they can expect at the event for all categories participating?

Further, who is the UCI you keep referencing throughout your diatribe? Do you mean the officials who enforce the rules? Because only one official at each event is representing the UCI. The other five are from USAC. Do you mean the folks in Switzerland? Because it’s the UCI ‘Cross Commission that makes the rules for ‘cross. Guys like Geoff Proctor from the US, who have been part of ‘cross since the early ‘80’s. And of course riders like Sven Nys, Erwin Vervecken, Adri Van der Poel, and Peter Van den Abeele. And for 4 years, I was one of those anonymous storm troopers in Switzerland, making all these useless rules that make no sense to you. These are people who know something about ‘cross. Not anonymous bureaucrats who are just out to ruin your fun.

Adam Myerson said...

Because your analysis is shallow and flawed from the start, your conclusion is weak as a result. The rules make no sense to you because you’re only using your own experience to evaluate them, and even then, you’re missing the larger scope of things. The UCI standards raise promoters’ levels much more than they restrict them. There are very few additional costs from a similarly sized event, the onerous regulations all have very specific reasoning behind them, and they were made by real people - not some secret cabal operating in a smoky back room in Brussels.

The whole thing reads like a rant that could be summed with “This sucks because I think it’s dumb.” Really, your only strong point is about the staging situation, and even then your analysis failed to take into account any of the situations why it might work, or the real reasons why the rule is there in the first place, where you might have criticized it successfully. You want to take us back to a period in the sport you never actually experienced yourself, and one which you have no concept of. It sucked, and for those of us who remember it, we don’t want to go back.

Not your best work. C -.

RMM said...

Adam:

I agree with your point about tire width restrictions leveling the playing field. I hadn't thought about this. It is tempering my view of the tire width restrictions. I will mull it over and comment when I draw a more complete conclusion.

As for random draw, even your justification openly states that the rule is used to protect the UCI's supremacy in Europe, which is exactly what the UCI is doing here. If the UCI invalidates all of the other ranking/staging systems, their power increases. Furthermore, I AM ONLY CONCERNED WITH NEW ENGLAND. Events in Europe are beyond the scope of my discussion. My whole point in this post was stating that the application of rules that make sense in Europe yield illogical outcomes in New England.


Surely, the 80/20 rule makes sense in an important European UCI event or even a large UCI event domestically. As you acknowledge elsewhere, the UCI rules have been applied to non UCI events with embarrassing results. While you and JD have addressed this, it doesn't change the lack of logic that was clearly on display when UCI officials were ripping cat 4's tires with calipers and pulling cat 4's who were turning in slow lap times when compared to sandbaggers.


And Adam, you gave me a poor grade last year when we were arguing about forcing cat 2's to race UCI. Is that going to be a theme, you'll give me a poor grade and be dismissive when what I am saying doesn't jive with your interests or your world view? It makes you look reactionary and cheap. You are better than that, aren't you?

Anonymous said...

Re: Random Draw - it's not New England vs Europe, there are other regions in the US that race CX and racers from those regions happen to end up racing here... should we penalize MAC racers for having the gaul to show their inferior face in New England?

Re: 80/20 - an issue which has been addressed and has been promised to not come up again in the future (and the officials seem to be doing a good job at keeping to this promise so far), yet you keep harping on this?

Re: Calipers - one idiot official misinterpreting the new rule, throw the entire system out; got it.

Adam Myerson said...

If you consider the time I took to write this response to you, point by point, as me being "dismissive," then perhaps I did waste my time.

Anonymous said...

RMM,

Stop digging.

Thanks.

Brian Hayes said...

As for random draw, even your justification openly states that the rule is used to protect the UCI's supremacy in Europe, which is exactly what the UCI is doing here. If the UCI invalidates all of the other ranking/staging systems, their power increases.

This is not only UCI supremacy in Europe but UCI supremacy with regards to all races. UCI points should super seed all other ranks as it creates a basis to rank/stage racers from any given country or region at any particular race in any given location.

With staging your argument amounts to you don't think random is fair or logical. But fair for who? With regards to both crossresults and local series any rider who is high enough to hold points should be fast enough to be racing for uci points. Fast riders will always be fast, fast and smart riders will always find their way to the front of a race regardless of where they start.

Furthermore, I AM ONLY CONCERNED WITH NEW ENGLAND.

You can't criticize a system that is put in place to work on a global scale within the scope of just your world and issues. It just highlights how misinformed you are.


You also said that you were going to "enumerate the ways in which the UCI designation makes races less logical and less fun". This begs the question, why do you continue to race UCI races if they are less fun than others? If you're not having fun at UCI races then perhaps you need to ask yourself why your racing elites and not Men's 3. You're registered for Elite men's at CSI on both Saturday and Sunday. Why not downgrade to category of racing where it is more fun if that's what you're concerned about.

RMM said...

Brian:

I was shamed out of the 3's at the end of last season. I don't have any friends racing masters, so I race elites so that I can compete with (read "get smoked by") my friends. Racing against your friends is more fun than racing against strangers. I am less fit than last season, so it is especially ugly.


Adam: Perhaps "dismissive" is not the correct word choice.

ringcycles said...

RMM: from my limited experience, the increased number of UCI races in New England over the last 7 years has meant higher quality racing, not just for elites, but especially for masters and Cat 4's. Frequently the courses, the organization, and the competitiion is higher at the UCI races than other events. That is not an absolute, but frequently still the case. In Europe, masters and beginner women don't get to race most UCI events. In most other regions of the US there are only 2-4 high quality races, typically the UCI events, each season.

My suggestion since you find UCI events so expensive and lacking, try racing in Portland for a season. Lots of crowds, lots of party and no pesky UCI or even USAC rules to deal with. From what little I know, its also not the type of racing I would enjoy.

Colin R said...

I was shamed out of the 3's at the end of last season.

I am 110% sure that if you did a Cat 3 race right now you would not be heckled.

You also wouldn't make the top 10, NTTAWWT.

Jonny Bold said...

Wow. Lots of good information here. I didn't know a lot of this stuff. Thanks Adam.

When I first read the post I thought there may be some merit to the idea, assuming that there would be a significant reduction of expenses for promoters. However Adam went on to adress any question I would have had about it. If that was a debate it would have been a TKO. I guess we're lucky to have a guy with this much knowledge of the ENTIRE sport living and racing and promoting and educating right among us. I'm not ass kissing here, but seriously, this is great stuff. What other part of the country has this type of conversation going on?

I will say this. I only started racing cross in 2002-2003, but back then UCI was a big deal. I was always amazed to see Marc Gullickson and/or Todd Wells hop on a plane in CO and fly to New England to race the Verge series. They were probably the 2 best guys at the time. Nowadays the 2 best guys are from MA and we hardly see them. UCI races have gotten a lot more popular and IMHO this has had a watering down effect of our local/national racing scene. The country is just too damn big, thats what it really boils down to. If we were the size of Belgium there would be no issue. The calander would be aligned so that every weekend had 2 big races, relatively close to each other, and all the big names would be there. As it is now theres sometimes UCI races in 3 different regions on the same weekend.

The reason I mention all that is because I think that would be a better reason to consider dropping UCI status from a couple races. It's got nothing to do with my experience on any given weekend, but rather an interest as a fan and for the benefit of the promoters to see all the big guns at the same races more often.

I'd rather see USAC work on their model for putting on Natz (to give more motivation to promoters, to WANT to bid on having it)as a direction to focus on rather than mess about with the UCI. Good points were made about how and why the UCI is what it is, and it all makes sense to me.

Mike, if your fitness is off this year compared to last, weather it's from injury or other "life in the way" issues, I don't think there's any harm/shame in racing the 3's. If you're old enough to race Master's, you should. It's the 2nd fastest race of the day, and there are some guys you can really learn some good things from in there. You might even make new friends. Then you could be all done and cleaned up, with beer in hand for the PRO race where you could heckle your buddies. You could also give them good advice about the course at speed and what to do or not to do. It'd also cost you a lot less $. Which is a concern I can relate to.
JB

Jonny Bold said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Adam Myerson said...

Jonny,

Regarding the overabundance of UCI events, you might find my last two blog entries interesting. I address exactly that point:

http://www.cycle-smart.com/blog

Even better, the comments on the blog feed on my Facebook page are even better, with feedback from all perspectives:

http://www.facebook.com/notes/adam-myerson/on-the-saturation-point-of-uci-races-in-the-us/451368141193

I think Bill Laudien's comment in particular speaks to the issue from a fan perspective.

Jonny Bold said...

Adam,

Thanks for the direction. More interesting comments. I'm not a Facebooker (I had to draw the line on the amount of time I waste online somewhere) so I missed those comments, but I get your point. I like the thought about saving the post so you can re-post it next year... Reminds me of several issues.

I guess I'm just being selfish by wanting to see Tim, Jeremy, Jamie, Todd, Ryan, Tristan, Jesse, Danny, Chris, Barry, Davide, Luca, Valentin, Troy, Alex, Jake, Geoff and others race head to head every weekend. When we tune in to Belgium (not Europe) we see Sven Nys, and Stybar, Albert, Pauwels, Vantournout, Degneght, Wellens, Meesuen, Wasleeben, Mourey, Franzoi, Arenouts and more going at it weekend after weekend. It's interesting to see who rides what courses better, who's on a good day etc.

I can very much appreciate the "job opportunities" for bike racers, but I have to say it's a lot less interesting when you can look at a pre reg list and say. Tim will be 1st today by a lot, then Luca, then Justin and then maybe some interesting races for 4th through 8th. And then thats exactly how it goes down.

Like I (we) said, the country is too big. The interest is strong, participation is way bigger than Belgium from what I saw in my one visit. I guess we're in a pretty good spot, with the c-1s being the thing to aspire to now.

Perhaps your next blog post can be about what we can do to improve the model for Natz so that promoters will have better incentive to take on the huge task....
JB

Thomas A. Fine said...

Thank you Mr. Myerson for that long and thoughtful reply. Maybe you should put things like that on your website, so that you can just point people to it and don't have to repeat it all again every year.

I'm still left with questions.

First of all, to my mind, the central question remains inadequately answered, that is what do we gain from the UCI? The only answer I see is a broad sort of answer about credibility (mainly internationally?). And that is important, and I'm not disregarding it. But what do events gain specifically? And asking what we remember about how cyclocross used to be isn't an answer, because most of us don't remember.

Tire widths, aimed at helping professionals (and serious amateurs) reduce costs and simplify logistics is great. The problem would appear on the other end, guys/gals racing on a budget that never had a stable full of tires in the first place suddenly have to buy brand new tires because of a rule that came out of the blue.

Now since this rule isn't being applied to non-UCI races here, it mostly doesn't matter, but I suspect there are still a few people that are in UCI races, but also on a very tight amateur budget, who got burned. A one-year warning would have been nice for those people, but that's milk under the bridge.

As for the staging. Sure UCI wants their points to be top dog, and they certainly should be. But Adam's arguments that explain random staging to my mind really just demonstrates a need for a better system, than what's been tried so far, not a random system. crossresults.com points the way towards a solution that's not just local. The points system used there may not be ideal to the task, but it is at least (potentially) not local.

The UCI could retain it's top-dog status while allowing other points to stage riders AFTER UCI placed riders are all staged. And given that the UCI is not simply an organization responsible for the professional level (like for example the NFL) but is also responsible (to varying degrees) for the various tiers of amateurs, it seems foolish to disregard additional information from lower down the hierarchy.

tom

Anonymous said...

You should consider yourself privilege to have that many racing options in NE. If UCI races bugged you, just don't show up and don't even bother racing UCI if you can. For the new tire rules, I think the problem was to announce it 2-3 months before the season. And I think at the front, the people have the right to have a race too and it is not every lapped rider that give the spot right away (lack of sportmanship) but also think that these people need to race to get better eventually.

gewilli said...

man up and race masters RMM, seriously, you're old enough. So you don't know them now but hey you can't be any more anti-social than Jerry (hell than me either). You do a couple races and next thing you know, you know all the guys around you that you're racing against and well, pretty soon you know everyone.

1/2/3 is f'n cut throat in the race but it is clean (but then maybe you're a dirty rider and prefer the anarchy and fearlessness of racing with the kids who have no concept of their mortality and having to support a family). *(yeah that was a not so subtle dig)

What do you have to lose? Hell it would mean more money in your pocket for the casinos.

I've been schooled pretty hard in the web log game but I don't remember getting as schooled as you did here. Impressive.

RMM said...

GeWilli:

As you may have figured out, I was looking to get schooled.

Anonymous said...

You are the first person to ever complain about having a too good starting position! really Stupid... Just go at the back and give your spot