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Technical Director Update

Tech Director Update - Nov. 18, 2019

By: Randy Shafer  November 18, 2019

Keeping the fun in local cyclocross races at international events. Allowing participants their "win" by crossing the finish line.

Crossing the Line-A Cyclocross Update

While there are a lot of events still on the horizon, the National Cyclocross season is closing in on the National Championships. I want to share some take-aways from this season that I think are valuable to share to the benefit the remaining races as well apply them to the rest of our work in the sport as well.

I chose my title for two reasons. You’ll read the second later. The first and foremost is that crossing the finish line is used so much in our daily vocabulary to mean finishing an event or project or to complete a race. When we think about a success, we talk about reaching the goal or finish line. When someone talks about finishing an event, it is about crossing the finish line. It’s visceral. It’s a clear vision of accomplishment. Let’s keep that in mind as you follow me through the next few paragraphs.

Cyclo-cross is often described as a muddy criterium. There are a lot of riders competing over multiple laps with varying speeds. As in all bike races, one’s finish is “crossing the line”, at the finish line! We have a lot of ways that we work to score, place and manage the often-diverse group of participants on the course at one time. I’m not going to suggest there are more merits than others in any of our four published regulations for finishing and placing riders in a cyclocross race. Depending on many variables for the event, any of them can be used well. Whether it’s a Local, National or International event, the Event Director’s wishes and the the local culture of racing, within the regulations, are important factors to consider in managing these events. Keep this focus for a moment.

As officials, we strive to manage the sporting aspects of events and set schedules (which in all fairness are about sporting aspects-no one wants to start their event early or late or on some unknown schedule). How we do that in managing the event (read: finishing and placing people) can be the most efficient, rational and “fair” method in the world in our mind, but if the participants don’t “cross the line”, a lot of complaints are generated.

My point, in support of the participants, is to let everyone cross the finish line unless there are exceptional circumstances that prevent them from doing so. Race stoppages, medical problems, approaching storms, no daylight, course danger, etc. are all exceptional reasons you might need to disrupt someone from actually getting to the finish line. Even with those conditions, there are so many creative ways our officials have handled them in the past, that it’s normally not a problem. Let’s be seen as creative and assisting participants in achieving their goal of crossing the finish line.

For most of our participants, cyclocross has long been seen and experienced as the “fun” side of the sport. Lots of mud, getting dirty, costume contests, fun expos and muddy descents that turn into Woodstockesque moments of raucous laughter and community fun. When US Cycling began to take CX seriously (read: enroll many events on the UCI calendar to enable our riders to get ranking points!), things became more serious and everyone “upped their game”. We experienced races with 120 starters in most waves and collectively as officials, we were up to our eyeballs trying to manage a lot of increased requirements; results with lapped riders, @times, separating multiple fields, new feeding restrictions, double pits, staging requirements and call-ups, and tire inspections all came into play! We've adapted. We now have World Cups, World Championships and our riders have been successful internationally. The real result is that we now have better events, with better courses and better officiating.

Now to the second point, have we “crossed the line”? When we have an International Event, where is our mental focus on the non-UCI events? Have we taken our UCI level focus and applied it unknowingly to the local events that are really supposed to support our event director’s vision and our member’s participation goals? Are we doing things that translate into a more serious event than our members signed up for? Of course, when you put people on bicycles and provide a racecourse and a finish line, the winners are ALWAYS serious! How do we keep that front 1/3rd of a race serious and the other 2/3rds about fun (while sometimes pretending to be serious)? Don’t get me wrong, everyone is dead serious about their placing (one of their goals-and ours) and finishing (crossing the line) regardless of what part of the field they are in. How serious do we need to be and how important is it to pull people off the course before they can finish?

I encourage you to take a minute before your next race and ask yourself-how would I want to finish a race; how would I want to be recognized and how much fun would I want to have at the event? Balance that with the practical needs of managing the sporting aspects and I think you’ll find a happy medium and hopefully some new energy and fun for yourself! Thank you for your dedicated work this Cyclocross season and have fun recharging in the few months ahead!

Randy Shafer

Technical Director