Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Gnar Weasels Promotion Report

This is a hard post to write because every time I go to embed the highlight video I end up watching it.
It makes our race look really good. Thom (with a cameo from Colt) did amazing work. Did you watch it yet? It will get you way more stoked than this blog post. Do it now!

Anyway.  If I start writing some words the video will scroll up in the blogger box and then I'll stop looking at the thumbnail of Tom Sampson shredding and I can probably focus.


Words, Colin.


As is standard for a Weasel Productions, LLC* event, we had to change the venue well after registration was open.  There were some DCR shenanigans at Foxboro, and we've been kind of building a relationship with the Diamond Hill people for a while now, so instead of trying to beg/bribe/steal our way back into the DCR's good graces we decided to check in with the Town of Cumberland, and just like last December they were totally easy to work with and BOOM, race saved.  We did it with a month to spare so there weren't even any panicked tweets or anything.  How boring!

Even before the move, we'd scouted Diamond Hill, and I decided that it was a fun place to ride and not a good place for a race.  Why?  Because it's cramped as hell and has tons of gnarly features that are not the kind of thing I want the general riding public hitting blind, wearing a number, covered by my insurance policy.

(Yes I am a buzzkill)

But then we lost Foxy and it didn't matter what I thought because this is what we were going to work with, so I went down with the guys who built the trails to ride, armed this time with the knowledge that I needed to find an XC course on the ride.  And it worked.  I cut out as much of the gnarly side loops as possible (what's that, you thought the course was gnarly?  Try going right at the open rock clearing at mile 2 next time) and picked the only route into the trail system that was wide enough to ride two abreast.

Unfortunately this route was a fire road climb that Thom called "stupid and hateful," but hey, you wanna have an enduro section, you gotta get up to it somehow, okay?  And a race that goes into singletrack in the first 15 seconds is also not great, which was the only other choice.

Oh yeah, the enduro section.  This year's enduro section was way more dangerous than last year's because it was faster, and ended with a gap jump.  Then two guys tied for the best time and I only had one prize.  Strava Enduro is so dumb and I can't wait to do it again next year.
Gap jump at the bottom of the enduro section.  Standard prerace announcement: "One X means danger, two X's means more danger.  More than two X's means it's a freakin gap jump, don't do it if you didn't preride it!"

I spent most of the run-up to the race not sleeping and stressing about how little venue space we actually had across the road to run the event in.  300 racers is a lot of people.  The whole thing basically ended up getting staged in some dude's driveway/workshop area, which we were extremely fortunate for him to be cool with.  Because if he wasn't, I would have basically had to say "name your price" to make the race happen.  It was literally the only place near the trails you could have a hundred-plus mountain bikers congregate.

(um I hope he's not reading this and evil)
Ok so it's narrow and picturesque, when Meg McMahon takes the photo, it's just narrow when I do.

The other massive issue we had was that if you were going to have any kind of legit finish straight, you needed to finish heading INTO the woods.  And I really wanted a legitimate finish straight, because we're Kenda Cup East this year and production values and blah blah blah... but unfortunately my desire to have a legit finish meant that I spent the entire day trying to keep people from turning around and riding the wrong way down the finish straight as soon as they were done.  Because they were cracked and thirsty and wanted to go to their car.

(next year we aren't having a legitimate finish straight, maybe we'll just increase the prize money to offset the lower production value)

Anyway if I was stern with you at any point during the day it was definitely because of this.

Everyone was thirsty because it was a humid day in the low 80s in Rhode Island and the promoter didn't have any neutral water because he may have made totally unrealistic assumptions about how prepared the average racer would be for those conditions...

But of course the great thing is that while I was spending hours thinking about what a cluster my race was, everyone else was having tons of fun because the trails were SICK!  So I'll stop telling you what went wrong and start gloating about what went RIGHT.

The course was SICK.  Everyone was raving about it.  People acted like I had something to do with it other than putting arrows on someone else's sweet trails.

Somehow a keg of beer ended up in the woods at the end of the last technical section.  I had nothing to do with this... but I didn't tell them to stop.  

Marty surprised us with podium champagne.  Flying corks scare the crap out of me.  But I love this shot and this video.
My buddy Tom Sampson showed up and made everyone else look bad at descending.  But Dan Timmerman made him look slow at climbing, so Dan won.

My old roommate and current friend Cary "the Mantis" Fridrich came and won the biggest field of the day, beating 27 other Expert 30-39 men.  BUT NOT ME BECAUSE I WASN'T RACING!  So I was able to be properly happy for him, instead of jenvious.

Ellen Noble smashed the women's elite field and beat all but six expert men.  If being impressed by this is sexist then I am sexist.
After 13 race promotions, I finally had someone take an ambulance ride.  The story is good enough that I'll just quote his Facebook post about it:

This is a photo from my ambulance ride from Gnar Weasels yesterday. I'm the jackass that crashed on the flattest, least technical part of the enduro section right in front of Thom Parsons. Thanks for helping my broken ass of the course, Thom! Hiking down the course, I noticed that I was involuntarily pissing blood. Lots of blood. After 1/2 a beer & medical consult with Shoogs, I made my way to the timing tent & the event staff got me an ambulance. After all kinds of tests, it turns out I have a badly bruised urethra from crashing down on the top tube. I have a Foley catheter until Wednesday & should be good to go after that. I want to thank the folks that helped me out, got the stuff from my car for me & loaded my bike. I'm sorry I can't remember any names... The Cumberland paramedics were fantastic as were the staff at Rhode Island hospital in Providence.

That was an awesome race & a super rad course! Thanks for the great event -can't wait to come back next year & finish!

Aaaand that's how a guy peed blood at my bike race and got an ambulance ride and was still somewhat happy about his experience!

I'm already excited for next year.

Thanks to everyone who helped make this happen --

  • Chris Nichols did all the work with the Town of Cumberland to get the land access squared away
  • Eric Bascombe, Mike LeBlanc and Mark Busse should teach clinics on how to make gnarly trails that still flow
  • Alex Carlson did the rad T-shirt and poster design
  • My lovely wife Christin listened to me stress out loud about stuff for weeks and then worked to run timing all day instead of racing her bike
  • Thom's girlfriend Heather managed to win the sport race after working on her feet at registration all morning and then went straight back to volunteering
  • Rich Pirro did about 20 laps before race day testing the lap distances (you can thank him for "Micro Steez DH," expert/elite riders)
  • Marty Allen tirelessly coordinated and promoted all the Kenda Cup East stuff, and gave us tons of swag, the Kenda inflatable, and hilarious/scary podium champagne
  • And of course Thom P tolerated a million emails from me that were often not especially polite while being a super awesome co-promoter.
  • oh god who else did I forget this is why I'm always afraid of trying to thank specific people

* - Thom Parsons and myself.  Not a real company.  Probably should be by now, huh?

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Pinnacle Race Report

This past weekend turned out to be the great New England Bikeschedulepocalypse with no less than six opportunities on Sunday to pay someone money in exchange for a curated cycling experience.

Purgatory Road Race, Sutton, MA.
Domnarski Farm, USAC MTB, Ware MA.
The Pinnacle, EFTA MTB, Newport, NH.
Raid Rockingham, Gravel Grinder, Rockingham NH.
Bearscat 50, MTB, the most northern point in New Jersey.
Wilmington-Whiteface 100k, MTB, some silly doubletrack long distance MTB race that people go to because it's a Leadville qualifier, which is silly because Leadville is also a silly doubletrack race, and now it's also a completely sold-out for-profit enterprise that exists to make money off people who measure their experiences by name recognition instead of event quality, and yeah I probably should have stopped a few sentences ago, but wait this is just one giant run-on sentence so yeah I have a pretty cynical view of Leadville, maybe I'm wrong.

Also one of these races should have been run on a Saturday.  Just sayin'.

ANYWAY!  If you wanted to play bikes there were lots of places to go.  The right place, of course, is the place I went to, which was the Pinnacle.  I've crowed here before about the course at the Pinnacle, but the bottom line is that it's the funnest legit* mountain bike course in New England.  The climbing is plentiful but never so hard it's stupid, the descending is fast and fun and hard enough that you can make up some real time (but never so hard it's stupid), and basically everything is at the right level of New England riding to be challenging without ever crossing over into "dumb."

Despite a somewhat depressed turnout, we still pulled in eleven guys for the 30-39 Expert class, so my curated cycling experience was going to be well worth the pittance I paid for it.  Some stoke-related "training choices" during the week had left me feeling pretty tired on race day, and with zero relevant drafting to be had I went for the reverse holeshot off the line.  My Mohican 100 buddy Jon Nable was also using this start technique, so we noodled up the first climb while nine other guys rode away from us.

I rode the first climb much faster than "Mohican pace," which seemed like it was pretty fast, but only clawed back a few spots on the group.    When we got to the downhill, though, things improved a lot as a feedback loop of gravity and stoke caused me to go super duper hard all the way to the bottom.  And when I got to the bottom, Cary was there!  Starting fast is overrated.

Cary mumbled something about a feed zone, stopped to futz with a water bottle, and then proceeded to lurk 15 seconds back for the rest of the climb on lap two.  I rode with Ben Sawyer and we yelled through the woods at Carl Devincent that we were going to catch him.  Because amateur bike racing is serious business. **

At the top of the climb Ben and I caught Brett Severson and I continued to be excited.  Brett sprinted back past us into the descent, and I was like "oh that's annoying, he wants to get ahead so we can't gap him descending" and then two minutes later I was like "um where did Brett go" and yeah so I was wrong about that.

Eventually we got to the RAD BERMS part of the descent, and Ben let me lead it and my adrenaline spiked so hard that I went crazy fast, caught Brett, and then clipped my bars on a tree and rode off into the woods.

Clipping your bars certainly does not lower ones adrenaline so when I got back on the trail I continued to be super excited, and caught Brett (and Carl!) at the bottom of the descent going into the last lap.

I asked Carl what place we were in, and he said "I'm leading" and I was like "oh ho ho, I think you mean we're leading!" and then he dropped me on the climb and I was like "oh wait, you're leading."

Unfortunately for Carl, the race ended on a descent, and I had just caught him on that descent despite a trip into the woods, so getting dropped climbing did not break my spirit as much as usual.  I told myself that if I could see him on the doubletrack at the summit I would win, and even if it's an eleven-rider race in a category I'm possibly sandbagging I still don't WIN THINGS very often so I was motivated.

I counted a very unscientific ten second gap while wheezing uncontrollably at the top and it seemed like "the plan" was going to work.

After a bunch more hard work in the technical sidehill section, I was pretty much on his wheel going into the descent and we had a passionate race back down the hill to the bottom.  There's basically nowhere to pass (because rad singletrack) and he was flying, and mistake-free, so I had to bide my time until the short section of doubletrack before the last singletrack plunge.  I sprinted up next to him here, and since it's amateur fun bike racing for zero dollars he decided that possibly killing each other trying to enter the next singletrack two-abreast wasn't worth it and let me go by.

I rewarded his decision by nearly wrapping myself around a tree seconds later (adrenaline level:  still increasing!!), but ultimately saved it and sprinted to the finish a few seconds ahead for a glorious victory.

As soon as Carl crossed the line he yelled "DUDE THAT WAS AWESOME," and he was absolutely right.

I think 14 months ago I said "I'm going to race age-group until I do a race where my lap times would put me not-last in Elite," and I finally did it... my lap times were good enough for 9th out of 11 elites.  Oh god the elite race is pretty fast huh.  See you there next time!

* We're using the old school definition of "legit" here, which means tons of climbing and descending, because ski area races were THE THING back in the 90s when the sport blew up.  Your local flat and fast ripper course is legit too, in it's own way.

** Some ding-dong cussed out one of the elite women for not moving out of his way fast enough, when she was riding directly behind someone else.  Said ding-dong ended up finishing four minutes behind the next guy on the results, so, uh, I hope he gets a little perspective on this thing we do in the woods for fun sometime soon.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Mohican 100 Race Report

I haven't written anything here in three months, which is what happens when you're starting your 10th (yeah, 10!) season of bike racing AND you get injured in the offseason.  I don't want to really get into it, but it's just say that my decision to ride through knee pain for four hours on one day (I was on a vacation!) earned me 10 weeks completely on the sidelines.  It was a very bad trade.  Don't be like me.  It also meant I did nothing worth writing about.

But here we are, I've been back on the bike for eight weeks now and it's time for the yearly hundred miler!  This time around it was "only" a ten hour drive from home, which meant a whole bunch of my hundred-miler-virgin friends were coming.  Most notably, we got Pete Bradshaw to come out of retirement for it.  It was his eighth ride of the year.  He finished in ten hours.  He's a bad man.

But hey, let's talk about meeeee and my experience!  The Mohican course is front-loaded with rad singletrack, which presents a variety of problems:

1) It's fun, so you want to go fast.
2) It's hard to pass, so you might want to go fast on the road before you get there.
3) If you're a good handler and a bad pedaler, you NEED to go fast there, because the rest of the course is gonna crush you.

So my preferred 100-mile strategy of "don't race your bike in the first two hours" kinda went out the window because I was excited, and knew that I wouldn't get a lot of chances to drop HANDLINGWATTS later in the course.

That's probably why, when I caught Evan Huff and Cary Fridrich after two hours of racing, I told them they were going way too slow.  Because I am a 100 mile expert and they are 100 mile noobs they had to listen to me (especially when I went to the front) so then we went faster and shredded singletrack for another hour.

Here is some sweet footy of other people shredding.  Look at that singletrack!  MAKE SHREDDING!

I stopped to pee (look how hydrated I am on this humid mid-80s day, this is a great sign!) so Evan and Cary got away.  I caught them by making a series of aggressively rad passes on the water bar descent and finished it off by chopping Cary.  Adrenaline was high.  Feels were good.

We crossed the road, left the rad singletrack section (25 miles down, a quarter of the way there!) and went into a climb so steep up a horse trail that it bordered on hike-a-bike.  Evan rode it.  I did not.  Feels immediately became not-good.

I reunited with Cary and Evan on the next descent and tried to pretend that the current state of feelings was not headed straight into the toilet.

This lasted until the next climb.  Which was paved.  And long.   It's a 100-miler, remember?  There's enough trail to look good in videos, but the real work gets done on roads.  And my body wanted nothing to do with REAL WORK.

Cary, Evan, and about five other guys rolled so far ahead of me on the climb that they were out of sight by the top.

 I ran out of water shortly after (look how I miscalculated water on a humid mid-80s day, this is a great sign!) and limped to Aid Station #2 at 35 miles.  I felt like crap.  Cary and Evan left as I got there, but the situation was clearly far too dire to try to make time up with a quick aid station stop -- I had six hours left to ride.

I picked up my traditional six-inch sub here and started eating it on the next road section.  Before I could finish, the course turned onto super steep gravel climb.  I rode 2 mph while eating.  I had to move over and get off my bike to let a tractor pulling farm equipment pass me.  I didn't care.

Was I really racing my bike just an hour ago?

Some dude ahead of me cramped so bad on this climb that he got off his bike and just hung over the bars for a solid minute as I approached at 2mph.

So I guess how bad things had turned for me wasn't as bad as it could be.

I finished my sub and tried to apply power.  It did not work.  Guys I had dropped hours ago in singletrack flew by me.  Some of them were drilling it.  Some of them were riding side-by-side and talking casually.  I couldn't hold the draft of either.  And my Garmin didn't even say 40 miles yet.

A jeep pulled up next to me.  Thom P was hanging out of the passenger seat with a camera.  He interviewed me about how bad things were going.  It was nice to talk about how much everything in my body hurt.  I specifically complained about my bike fit.

After he was gone, I fantasized about seeing a chiropractor who could tell me why my lower back hurt with every breath, never mind pedal stroke.

Then I fantasized about quitting the race and lying down until my back stopped hurting.

Then I fantasized about dying, so I could lie down forever.

My Garmin said 42.

The course entered the Tree Frog Canopy Tours section of singletrack, which is the toughest riding of the day.  Some of the guys who had blown by me on the road were totally unable to navigate the slippery rock piles in here, and I started making a few places back, even though I was riding at bare-minimum-survival-pace.

I reach aid station #3, and to my utter surprise, Evan and Cary were there.

This was the slap in the face I needed to remind me:  everyone suffers.  Especially when the climbs are this steep, and the day is this hot.  Bare minimum survival pace IS race pace for many of us after 50 miles of mountain biking.

They scurried off as soon as they saw me roll in, but it was too late -- if two hours of riding at "totally blown" pace had only cost me five minutes against them, then maybe I could salvage this.

Because it was a hot and humid day (and definitely not because I ate a 6-inch sub), my stomach was totally jacked up and I ate the first of what would be at least 12 gels in the last 50 miles.

I noodled up the steep singletrack climb out of aid 3 and tried to get my head around both how much this hurt, and how much longer it was going to hurt for.  I've honestly never felt like this in a hundred miler before.

The climb got so steep it turned into hike-a-bike.  It seemed so unfair, I thought about crying.  I concluded that I still had to ride 50 miles whether I cried or not, so there was no point.  So I walked.

I got lucky on the next road section, and one of the guys who had blown by me on the road last time was now riding at a draftable pace.  We turned into the woods and found another miserably steep climb to aid station 3.5 -- but I also found Cary and Evan when I got there.  And this time, they didn't leave right away.

I missed a great chance for psychological warfare by telling them this was the hardest thing I'd ever done.  I should have said "halfway there, time to start actually racing!"

We headed into a singletrack section, which meant a rare chance for me to make some time up on the pedalers.  I went ahead of Cary and Evan.  Evan interpreted this as an "attack."  Five miles later, when we hit a road section, he responded with his own "attack."  The difference between our attacks is that he was quickly out of sight.

But everything hurt a lot, and my Garmin had only just ticked over to 60, so I wasn't sure I cared too much about this.

The 2nd and 3rd place woman, along with two other guys, picked up Cary and I entering the "legendary" 10 mile false-flat rail trail section.  At first it's a false flat downhill, so we were cookin in a paceline.  I took exactly one feeble pull during this time.

Evan appeared in the distance as we steadily pulled him back.

The rail trail switched to false-flat uphill.  The effort required to stay with the group apparently quadrupled, because I immediately decided I couldn't go that hard with 3 hours left to ride and popped.  Cary came with me.

The women caught Evan, he jumped on their paceline, and then they popped him a few minutes later.

Cary and I climbed the rail trail for miles.

Every single pedal stroke hurt my back, but Cary was riding about 75% standing because of some... um... humidity-related issues.  Everybody suffers.

The rail trail went back to false-flat downhill and soon we dragged into aid 4.  Evan was there.  He was not happy to see us.  Greg Whitney was there (and had been, for a while).  He was very happy to see us.

Evan fled the scene while we wandered around bumping into things.  My brain was working so slowly that I almost left without filling my camelback or reapplying chamois cream, even though those were the only two things I actually needed to do here.

Greg, Cary and I rolled out from aid 4.  To quote Cary, "I haven't felt this bad since I had the flu." The group was so cracked that we didn't even paceline, we just rode in the general vicinity of each other while mumbling about whatever we could think of to distract from the suffering.  Which was usually sarcasm "oh, another climb," which really wasn't very distracting.

There's five major climbs between aid #4 and aid #5, I strongly recommend you commit this fact to memory if you're going to do this race.  I had an elevation profile taped to my top tube.  I wanted so badly for it to be wrong.  It wasn't.

Each climb seemed to have at least one section of inhumane steepness, the worst one being the climb out of aid station #4.5 -- peaking at 19% on gravel.  I dropped below 3mph and my Garmin auto-paused here for over a minute.   Cary kept pace with me while walking, because pedaling was making him cramp.  The only reason I pedaled is that walking was making me cramp.

The saving grace in this section was that we had reuinted with the 100k course, and were slowly picking through the back of the 100k race.  Seeing people suffering more deeply than yourself (we'd ridden 38 miles further than the folks we were passing) really helps you keep perspective on things.

Cary's growing inability to climb without cramping eventually led to him getting dropped on a climb.

Somewhere around mile 90 I gapped Greg Whitney on a climb, which is proof that 100-milers have very little to do with normal bike racing.

Greg came back, though, and we rode into aid station #5 at mile 95 together.

The final section of course is five miles of the trail you started with, backwards.  Finally back on something that "suited me, " I did my best to distance Greg while pretending to be his friend.  Once the climbing ended, it actually worked.

I almost killed myself with a pedal strike on a rock descending, because I was too tired to hold my pedals level or look at the trail.

I found the 2-miles-to-go sign, and it became clear that I was, in fact, going to live.  And obviously never do a one hundred mile mountain bike race again, because these things are horrible.  I spent a solid six hours in the deepest suffercave I've ever spelunked.   Here I am telling Thom about it.


Now it's been three days... so what hundred miler do you guys wanna do next year?  I hear Shenandoah is good.

Meanwhile, Christin had the best hundred miler of her life by a huge margin, finishing barely an hour behind me as the 9th overall woman.  Here she is directly after the finish attempting to talk about the race but mostly about farts.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Cross Nationals Qualification Criteria: Is It Fair, and Do We Need It?

Yesterday's post touched very briefly on a subject that many New Englanders have the luxury of ignoring:  USA Cycling's 2015 change to cyclocross nationals qualification criteria.

As of 2015, to race the elite race at nationals you needed either (1) at least one UCI point or (2) to be in the top 90 of the ProCX calendar.  The ProCX calendar is "all the UCI races in the USA" but with points going deeper than 10 (I think 20 or 25).

But either way, if you didn't go to UCI races, you didn't race nationals.  Period.  And going to UCI races is a lot easier in the northeast than anywhere else in the country:

There's so many UCI races within 90 minutes of Boston (10), you can't even see them all on the map!

Meanwhile, if you were ANYWHERE on the west coast, you get exactly two qualification chances:  CXLA or Waves for Water, and those could both be a pretty epic drive for you.  (If you're fast enough to get points at CrossVegas, you're fast enough to have a sponsor who pay for you to take a plane the rest of the UCI races in the country.)

As we saw yesterday, Waves for Water and CXLA were both middle of the road C2s, with the last UCI point coming around 220 crossresults points.  But let's not kid ourselves, travel is hard, and cycling is variable.  If you were a 219-point cross racer from San Francisco, it's a 13 hour drive to Seattle or a 6 hour drive to Los Angeles, and if you have an average race at those events you'll maybe get a UCI point.  

Meanwhile, the 220 point racer in Boston gets 18 UCI races within 6 hours to try to bag his UCI point at as well as 

So, I don't actually care if this state of affairs is right or wrong, but can we all agree that the odds of qualifying for nationals if you're on the bubble of getting in are highly dependent on where you live?


The reason the qualification criteria exists is because without it, the elite race is too big and too chaotic to be a well-run championship event.  As someone who was pulled after four laps from the elite race at 2011 Nationals in Madison, I agree with this.  The back half of that race was a bunch of scrubs who were just racing because we wanted more value for our travel dollar.

So, some kind of bar had to be set, and this UCI-race-focused one was the most reasonable one that the powers in charge came up with.  It's a somewhat decent criteria, because if you're good enough to get top 20 at nationals, you're good enough to get a UCI point on almost any weekend, assuming you have two tries.

The people who get screwed here are developing riders who really want to race elite nationals, but they can't, because they don't get many UCI races to try their luck at (unless they live in the Northeast).  Do we care about developing riders?  Should a 23 year old dude from San Fran who rides at the 210 point level be able to race nationals if he wants to?

(For reference, the last guy on the lead lap at Austin 2015 scored 235 points.  So this hypothetical dude is fast enough he'll never get in Jeremy Powers way)

The current argument, as far as I can tell, is "sucks to be that guy, but it's the only way to make the elite race reasonably small."

But what... if there was another way?

Let's look at the 2014 Men's elite race.  2014 is the last year without qualification criteria, and the last year you could race Masters and Elites.

Here's a little graph showing how many races you entered at 2014 nationals vs what place you finished.

Check it out.  All those dudes in the back half of the race?  They raced twice.  They're just like me at Madison 2011:  in the race because it's there, and they already got a plane ticket and a hotel room.

Of riders who finished outside the top 40, 45 out of 57 (79%) were in their second race of the weekend.  You want to keep those guys out of the elite race?  Just make them pick between masters or elites!

And that rule is already on the books.  If you removed the "elite qualification criteria" completely, and just said "pick masters or elites," I bet 80% of those guys would have raced their age group race.  I know I would have.  (Well actually I wouldn't have traveled at all, but either way, I wouldn't have been in JPows way).

If 80% of those dudes went to age group, the field size would be 61, without any qualification criteria at all, and now your 23 year old dude from San Fran can race.  (This year's national champs had 49 starters, for reference)

Check it out for women, it's the same graph:

The women's nationals race was even bigger, with 108 finishers.  53 out of 68 women who finished outside the top 40 were in their second race of the champ (78%), and if 80% of them opted to skip elites due to the age-group-or-elites cutoff then your women's field would have been 66.  (46 women started in Austin this year).

The bottom line is that traveling halfway across the country (or more) just to get blown out of the water and pulled off the course isn't something a lot of people want to do.  But if they're already at the venue, they'll pay another $75 to race a second time, even if they're not fast enough to have a chance of finishing.  Because they love racing cross.

In summary, the elite race would actually self-regulate quite nicely using just the "age-group or elites" criteria, and I think you'd see field sizes in the 60s.   Most of the field size reduction between 2014 and 2015 would have happened even without a qualification standard framed around a UCI series that is inaccessible many racers.  

Additional hypothesizing for people who really really think Nationals should be a small race:

If for some reason 60-ish starters at Nationals is too many, you could always try making Cat 1 mean something for the first time in cyclocross history, by restricting the race to cat 1 only:  this would have excluded 34 men from 2014 Nationals and a whopping 55 women.

(Obviously some of the cat 2s would upgrade, but this would send the "this is a super fast non joke race" message -- I know that I personally would not have tried to get a Cat 1 cx upgrade in 2011 to race Nats)

Sunday, March 8, 2015

2014/2015 US UCI CX Season Race Quality Analysis

You know it's gonna be a nerdy post when the title is that dense.

I've spent the last month trying to pretend that I'm not delaying recovery from this IT band injury by cross-country skiing on the weekends, but it's time to face the facts, if it hurts I shouldn't be doing it, period.  So this weekend instead of exercise I'm looking at databases!  Wheeeee!

Paul Boudreau emailed me about two months ago, asking for some information on how a UCI 'cross race going from a C2 to a C1 affects the quality of the field.  Obviously it was a tough enough question that I ignored him for a good long while, but I finally got going on it yesterday, and here's the results.

For those not in the know, there are two tiers of UCI permit that a cyclocross race can have:  C2 or C1  (or World Cup, but those don't exist stateside... yet).  The practical differences between the two are in the prize list and UCI points awarded:

 -- a C2 pays the men a total of  €1583 (women €1015), while a C1 pays the men €6677 (women €1583... yeah, that could be another post entirely).
-- at a C2, first place is worth 40 points, and 10th is worth 1 point.  At a C1, first is 60 points and 15th is one point
-- for UCI world rankings, only the best 5 C2 results and best 6 C1 results are counted.

The last bullet point is actually a huge motivator for the top guys to travel to every C1 -- there's only seven C1 races in the country, but there's 37 C2s.  So if you race a lot of UCI races, it doesn't take long to have five good C2 results on your record, after which C2s stop being very attractive to race in.  Meanwhile with a maximum of seven chances at your six C1 scores, every C1 "counts."

So that's why folks who are real pros go to every C1.

Let's look at how "hard" each UCI race in the US was this year.  For our purposes, "hard" means "how good did you have to be get predicted 10th on the crossresults race predictor?"

Note that this actually ignores how hard the race turned out to be -- maybe every single top rider got hit by a meteor and a Cat 3 won.  But we didn't know that was gonna happen when we were preregistering and making travel plans -- so we're looking at start list speed here, not finish list speed. 

Blue races are C1s, red races are C2s at the same venue as a C1, and green races are C2s.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that the fastest race in the US was CrossVegas, which featured a 1-2 finish from Sven Nys and Lars Van Der Haar, as well as Jeremy Power's worst finish in the US all year (3rd).

The next four hardest races are C1s:  Boulder Cup, Cincy3, Derby City, and Ellison Park.  The C2 version of Derby City comes in at 6th place, and then the biggest C2 weekend by far:  Gran Prix of Gloucester.

Getting 10th at Gloucester is harder than getting 10th in the C1 race at KMC Cross Fest, Jingle Cross, or Trek CXC Cup.  The only other C2 weekend to outrank any C1 weekend is Nittany Lion Cross.

Explanations for why Gloucester (and to a lesser degree, Nittany) draw peak talent despite having relatively paltry UCI rewards are probably some combination of location, scheduling, heritage, media coverage, and Paul Boudreau's personal magnetism.

The graph for the women tells the same story, although the Nittany women's field drops way, way, down the ranks (42nd and 43rd hardest) and Cincy3 After Dark was quite a bit harder than anything that wasn't Cross Vegas (predicted 10th:  Meredith Miller).

The only women's C2 that was harder than ANY C1 weekend race was Gran Prix of Gloucester.

At the other end of the graph, the women's Kingsport UCI cup race only had 14 starters, making it much, much easier to score UCI points in than any other women's race in the country.  If you were looking to bag some UCI points (say, to qualify for US Nationals, or to not have to draw random numbers for the entire 2015 season), a ticket to Kingsport would have been the way to go.

And that brings us to the flip side of UCI races -- while some people, like Jeremy Powers, don't even waste time lining up for C2s the day after a C1, a lot of people are fighting desperately to get that first UCI point.  A UCI point gets you out of the random draw for the next 12 months AND qualifies you for US nationals, AND gives you something to hold over your friends for the rest of your life (thanks, Cary and Kevin).  

So, for the aspiring UCI-point-sniper, where was the place to be in 2014?  Note that this graph is different than the previous ones because at a C1, the points go 15 places, not 10.

As you might expect, Kingsport leads the way by far as the easiest points.

Rather surprisingly though, according to, the second-easiest UCI point of the season came in a C1 race! 

The Trek CXC Cup Day 1 men's race had Shawn Milne and Andrew Dillman predicted for 14th/15th at 238 points each.

(If you're thinking "um, those guys aren't very easy to beat," well, that's how freaking hard it is to get UCI points these days)

Thirteen place here in the results, collecting four UCI points, was Craig Etheridge, who went on to famously complain about all the pros on singlespeeds who beat him at Nationals.   Etheridge entered six UCI races this year, and this is the only one he made the UCI points in, which anecdotally supports the "surprisingly easy UCI points here" claim.

Note how the red bars move left of the blue ones in this graph -- so basically, the hardest UCI points out there are at C2s on the same weekend of a C1.  Or at Cross Vegas.  Or Gloucester.

Once again, roughly the same for women.  Notable differences are that CrossVegas actually drops out of the top spot for the first time, because it didn't draw top Euro pro women, making it "just another US C1."  And the Trek CXC C1 didn't have points that were nearly as easy for women as for men.

Interestingly, Every Mid Atlantic C2 is easier for women than the easiest New England C2 if you count Rockland Supercross as "New England."

Other fun facts -- the 2nd hardest C2 for women (after Gloucester) was Resolution Cross Cup, and the third hardest was Cycle-Smart International.  While Nittany was the second-hardest C2 for men, it was the third-easiest for women.

Easiest female UCI point of the season:  Avanell Schmitz, Kingsport Cyclo-cross Cup.
Easiest male UCI point of the season:  Byron Rice, Kingsport Cyclo-cross Cup.
Hardest female UCI points of the season: Arley Kemmerer, Cincy3 Cyclo-Stampede 
Hardest male UCI point of the season: Thijs Van Amerogen, Cross Vegas. 

Easiest female point in New England:  Kate Northcott, Baystate Day 2
Easiest female point in the Mid Atlantic:  Vicki Barclay, Charm City Day 2, 

Easiest male point in New England: Dylan McNicholas, Cycle-Smart International Day 2
Easiest male point in the Mid Atlantic:  Dylan McNicholas, HPCX Day 1

So you're a scrub looking to steal a UCI point?  Hope you live in the northeast:

Number of Northeast non-C1 UCI races on the calendar: 16  (HPCX, NBX, Charm City, SuperCross, Baystate, GP Gloucester, Nittany, Cycle-Smart)
Number of non-Northeast, non-C1 UCI races on the calendar:  11  (Waves for Water, NCGP, CXLA, Gateway Cross Cup, Kingsport, Resolution)

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Best of Chainstay Cam 2014

I had done a best-of video twice before (see Best of Seat Cam 2009 and Best of Seat Cam 2008), back when I was riding around with a Flip Mino jury-rigged to my bike.  A lot has changed since then, as Flip went out of business and every yahoo in the world has a GoPro now.  The general novelty of "it's a camera!  on a bike!" is no longer all you need to capture the cycling world's attention.

(Seriously look at how terrible this video I made six years ago is, and it went viral anyway)

Anyway, editing 20 hours of race footage into a few minutes is a lot of work, and trying to make it look good enough you're proud of it is even more work, which is probably why I hadn't done this in five years.  But now that it's done I'm like, "I should do that every year."  So maybe I will!

The music is "Wolfmother - Woman (MSTRKRFT Remix)."  Searching the internet for "MSTRKRFT Remix" is a good way to find a lot of tight jams.  And also this.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

US Nationals Junior Girls Travesty Wrapup

Well, THAT was a pretty viral 24 hours.

I want to address, correct, and elaborate on a few things that have come to light since my piece on how the Junior Girls were treated as US Nationals was posted yesterday.

First, I've talked to Pete Webber, who is on the USAC Cross Commission, and worked on the course at Nationals.  Pete also coaches a large number of juniors, both male and female, in Boulder.  From my conversation with him, it was clear to me that Pete absolutely wants the best experience for juniors of both genders in cyclocross, and has put more work into that almost anyone around here, including myself.

Pete wanted to outline a few points in USAC's defense for the events on Monday --

1) Because the course had reached ~15 minute lap times for junior girls, it makes getting race distances correct very difficult.  Ordinarily there are "shortcut" options in the course that can be used to affect lap length, but these were off the table Monday because they threatened Heritage trees.  Pete wanted specifically to emphasize that in spite of this difficulty, the junior race winners - Turner Ramsay (26:12), Emma White (35:43), Gage Hecht (39:24) and Scott Funston (31:00) all did the "right" number of laps for their race time.

They also did a ton of work earlier in the week to get the younger junior races correct with adding/removing shortcut sections, and they nailed all the race lengths at Boulder last year as well.

This is significant contrast to Madison, where this level of care was not taken, and the junior races were a mess due to lap lengths.

It might seem like a bit of a tangent, but the point is:  we're trying, we're improving, and we're getting results.  He's right.

2) Emma White got 30 UCI points for winning the girls 17-18 national championship, which is a race that doesn't even exist in Europe yet is brand new in the US and rare in Europe.  She got these points because of efforts to push the UCI toward gender equality in cyclocross, which have been mainly driven by the American and English racing scenes.

3) While the race winners were doing the correct distances, the weakest juniors were going to be finishing up to 20 minutes behind them because of the slow laps.  Earlier in the week, this might have been okay, but on the compressed schedule it was a risk that the officials strongly felt the need to guard against.  Therefore leaving everyone in the race to finish was not possible.

Pete and I agreed, however, that there's a massive difference between pulling someone after 17 minutes of racing versus pulling them after 40 minutes, or scoring them as they reach the finish straight because the next field is lined up or just started.

Bottom line:  we talked on the phone for an hour.  We both made points that the other had to admit were pretty valid.    If you'd been in the conversation, you would have been satisfied.

Second, Dot Abbott, the Chief Ref posted an explanation of her reasoning for the fields being aligned how they were.

I do not agree with several aspects of it, but want to retract my pejorative of "lazy" in describing the decision making process.  After seeing what variables she was trying to optimize for, I think she worked really hard to create an extremely technical solution to the problem, that would give the podium racers in all four fields the best possible race.

It was still not a good solution, it was still a sexist solution (that doesn't mean she's a sexist, but her decision can be, okay?), but it wasn't by any means lazy.  

However, there are some factual inaccuracies in Dot's reasoning and justification that I just cannot let slide.  I'm a data dork.  Throwing numbers around that are close but not equal to the facts is totally not cool with me.  The rest of this blog post is going to be kind of technical and nitpicky.

Let's look at the reasoning:

The primary deciding factor for putting their (15-16) race on course with the Men 17-18 and Women 17-18 is that the integrity of the podium would be maintained for all categories. The riders in contention for the medals would have fewer slower riders on course that they had to pass, and fewer riders that might get in their way and possibly cost them a podium spot. Any other combination would have resulted in an unfair race for the podium places in this or other categories concerned.
This is the thesis behind the decision.  "Any other combination would have resulted in an unfair race for the podium places in this or other categories concerned."  I don't think this is true at all.   I will agree that Option (A) of "all women together, then all men" from the original post would have forced both Junior Men's field leaders to deal with a lot of lapped traffic -- however I also think I can show that Option (B) ("all 15/16 then all 17/18") would have been better even by THIS criteria.

Note that this criteria has absolutely no ethic toward fairness, participation, or the message it sends about which fields are important, factors that I think absolutely should be consider at the most high-visibility event of the season, for age groups that are arguably the most impressionable in the sport.

Given that we watched the leading Junior Men laps girls on the livestream for the entire race, you have to admit that (1) putting the younger girls in with older boy caused more lapping for the boys, not less and (2) lapping really isn't as big a deal as you might think.  The Junior Men's leaders lapped 30-35 girls without incident during the race.
Given the mandated course modifications, the shorter Junior course was no longer available for Monday's racing. If the Junior Women 15-16 had their own individual time on the course, the outcome of the race and number of laps for the winner would have been the same. Because they were turning 13-14 minute lap times, for the 30 minute race allocation in the USAC regulations this category would have done a total of 2 laps (winning time 26:12) rather than 3 laps (approximately 39:30).
This is correct.  Junior 15-16 women would have raced 2 laps, so seven of them (39%) actually got their entire race in.  However, the race winner thought she was pulled from the race, and the "sprint" for third had one girl sprinting and one girl wondering why the other one was sprinting.  So it's safe to say that those girls had NO IDEA how long their race was.  Even if the only criteria is "give the podium contenders a fair race," this fails those criteria, since part of a fair race is knowing how long your race is.

Expecting 3 juniors fields to successfully share the course at the same time, racing 3 different distances (boys 4 laps, older girls 3 laps, younger girls 2 laps), is a recipe for disaster.  Even if the numbers work on paper, it doesn't in practice.

The 6th place girl from the 17-18 race emailed me, to say that she got pulled after two laps, despite being within sight of 5th and thus in the running for the extended podium.  The race was 20 minutes from ending at that point, there was no time-based reason to take her off the course, and she was less than five minutes behind Emma White -- further proof that coordinating 3 different races of 3 different durations on course at once is impossible.

For those riders turning a slower first lap, in accordance with the way the events were run throughout the week, anyone turning a first lap time that would result in a projected total race time of over 36 minutes would have been pulled from the race after the first lap. [EDIT] This accounts for riders placed 15th and farther in Women 15-16. Possibly seven women 15-16 would have been able to do one more additional lap. Significant? Yes. Worth impeding the races for the podium spots by using a different schedule? Not at a Nationals if it could be avoided.
So basically, they were willing to pull people going into the final lap if they were going to finish more than 6 minutes outside the race window (30 minutes) or 10 minutes out of first place (26 minutes).  Is this harsh?  Yes.  Is this super harsh?  Yes.  Could they have pulled riders at the pit, or the finish straight, so they could still ride most of the lap?  Yes.

But it's also a complete red herring.  The Junior 15-16 Women were on course with boys, and the winner of that race didn't even finish until the 39 minute mark.  Using a time-based justification for pulling them makes no sense, as there was no way letting those girls do a second lap could have affected the race length.   None of them were 80% behind their category leader (Turner Ramsay) after one lap.   They were pulled so they didn't get in the boys way, period.
Putting this race after any other category possible (Men 15-16) would have meant that the Women 15-16 leader had to pass over 20 riders on her first lap.
This is absolutely not true.

First, let's look at what actually happened.

The Junior Women 15-16 started roughly 20 seconds behind the Junior Women 17-18 and 1:20 behind the Junior Men 17-18.  Turner Ramsay's first lap was 14:16.

There were 12 of the older Junior Women who had lap one times over 14:36, so she passed 12 women on the first lap.

There were two boys who had lap times over 15:36, so she had to pass them also.  Turner Ramsay passed 14 people, total, on her first lap.

Now, in the hypothetical situation of her starting one minute behind the 15-16 men, 11 of them had a lap one time that was slower than 15:12.  Turner would have had to pass only eleven boys on lap one.

I have no idea where the "over 20 riders" claim comes from.  Even using the extremely narrow criteria of "minimize how much passing the leaders do," this wasn't the best solution for the 15-16 women.
Grouping Men Juniors (15-16 and 17-18) on the course together with a time gap start would have had a similar outcome, with the Men 15-16 leader going through about 19 Men 17-18 riders on his first lap. This is not what the National Championships are about.
I agree with "this is not what the national Championships are about," in theory.  Ideally, every field would get its own start, and no field would have to race through the stragglers from another field.  

In practice, though, this just doesn't always happen.  Note that the D1/D2 Collegiate women had 41 D1 women start and and second wave of 35 D2 women shortly after.  The D2 leaders hit the course with 41 riders in their way, which is, guess what, the exact size of the Junior Men's 17-18 field.

So boys starting behind 41 boys aren't what Nationals is about, but girls starting behind 41 girls is exactly what National Championships is about, apparently.

All that being said...

The Chief Referee's plan, while it ultimately didn't work, was reasonable if the only thing that matters is giving the podium contenders a fair shot.  I think I've shown here that option (B), 15-16 women behind 15-16 boys, would have worked just as well and actually better (eleven lap-one passes instead of fourteen).

I fully stand by my analysis, posted Monday, of the message sent to young women by the decisions that were made.  In a world where only the podium finishers matter, the schedule that was chosen is somewhat reasonable, but that world doesn't exist.  

By every other metric (participation, development, fairness, sexism, happiness) the schedule completely fails, and most frustratingly, an alternate schedule existed, that would have been at least as good for the podium racers, while being less complicated for everyone and a far more pleasant experience for the younger women.

I find the Chief Ref's unwillingness to acknowledge the hardship created for basically every teenage girl at the event who wasn't Emma White very disappointing.  Being an official and making tough choices under pressure is really, really hard.  Making mistakes is human.  I think a lot of people would have been satisfied with the word "sorry." 

Unfortunately, being unwilling to acknowledge your mistakes publicly is pretty human, too.

See you in Asheville.

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