Cross Nationals' Growing Pains

Unless you've been living under a rock, you've seen Ryan Trebon get crashed out of the elite race at Nationals. The internet hullabaloo spawned by this video was impressive, but the conclusions drawn from it were few. This being America, everyone knows that the first thing you do when tragedy strikes is assign blame. The most common reaction was to blame the organizers for an unsafe course design, one that saw riders who lost control on a slippery corner head into oncoming traffic. This is a legitimate point, and I have no doubt that that particular course feature will be substantially different next year -- and hopefully local promoters, too, will think twice about separating traffic going opposite directions with a thin barrier of tape.

However, this being bike racing, not everyone was content to chalk it up to bad luck. After all, why post on the internet if you aren't going to bash someone you don't know? True to form, the internet cx pros quickly called out the rider who crashed Trebon for having no business being in a National Champs race, and for trying to stay upright when he went into the wrong lane instead of, I dunno, lying down and staying still so Treefarm could theoretically avoid him.

The thing is, he's not just some guy, he's some guy with a blog, so let's ask him what happened --
So my moment in the spotlight as I have an unfortunate meeting with "treefarm". I genuinely felt bad for dude, but not responsible for the event. Looking back at the two way traffic in that corner was a recipe for disaster. Lap one saw about 20 plus people blow through the tape. I got pushed wide lap two and caught a rut that threw me in his path. Sucks. Trebon is a class act and was beyond cool when we talked after the wreck in medical.

You'll note that his blog has comments turned off -- I'm pretty sure they were on a while ago, and I'm pretty sure I can guess why he had to turned them off.

Anyway, misplaced vitriol aside, let's answer the question, "Why is Steve Iles in a National Championship race?"

The answer is not "because he is a bad cross racer who has no sense of responsibility," no matter how much some people want it to be -- the answer is "because he is a cat 2 with a USCF license, and he's eligible to race." What else is he supposed to do, ride the B race? If he's between 23 and 29, the only national championship race he can do is the freaking elite race. This is why there were 170+ racers prereged for the elite men's race.

Those of you who were at Providence last year might remember just how comical the 170-ish racer B fields were. They were fun to watch, but does anyone think they were a true judge of talent? So why the heck does USACycling allow 170 people to line up for the national championship?

Because that's how they've always done it.

Cyclocross is blowing up as a sport and the governing body is struggling to get a hold of it. Things that used to work, like letting anyone who wanted to ride race the elite race, or running all the 50+ categories together, just don't cut it anymore. If you think this is an overreaction to a fluke event in the elite race, why don't you ask the 60+, 65+, and 70+ categories if they think USACycling has a handle on how to deal with the growth of cross. You know, the guys who all got pulled, some after one lap, in their national championship race.

It's time to start fixing cross nationals. It's all fun and games until someone KO's Trebon, or blocks Mahk on the last lap. Cross is only going to keep getting bigger. 200+ rider Elite and Masters fields are just around the corner.

Here's my first set of ideas for what needs to change. Please, by all means, set me straight in the comments.

Tighten the constraints on the Elite Men's race! The fact that random Cat 2's can race is ridiculous. A guy can get a cat 2 license by winning 3/4 races, or even 35+ 3/4 races -- does that guy have any business toeing the line and getting lapped four laps in? That guy is about as fast as me... so in other words, NO.

Let's start by adding some halfway legitimate qualifying requirements. How about Cat 1 or top 40 at a USGP? Picking a random USGP, 40th place puts you 6 minutes behind Trebon. If anything, top 40 is too generous, but it's a start.

At first glance this might appear to be unfair to people who don't live anywhere near a USGP stop, because it forces them to travel. And yet, these people are going to travel to Nationals. Is a second weekend of travel more than they can handle? If they're serious about cross, the answer is no. And if they aren't serious about cross... get the hell out of the elite race.

Get rid of the 30-34 National Championship. For all the flak mountain biking takes for the "everyone is a winner" age category structure, you don't see NORBA giving out stars and stripes to 30-34 expert age group winners -- but that's essentially what we're doing here. The notion that being over 30 is a handicap worthy of a separate category is absurd -- the best crosser in the world is 31.

The best 30-34 riders are elite caliber. Why give them a free practice race on the course, when a 29 year old won't get to hit it race pace until Sunday? Why give them a "national champion's jersey" when half the fast guys their age didn't even ride? The whole thing should just be scrapped. Use the extra hour to give the 60-64, 65-69, 70+ categories their own race, and you solve another problem.

Add a Cat 2 "B" Race and make the other two B races 3/4, instead of running 3 B races with age group divisions. The reason there are pack fodder clowns in the elite race is because they have nowhere else to ride if they're out of college. Give the Cat 2s between 22 and 35 a race, so they don't clog up the elite race.

Institute some age-group qualifying. This one is the stickiest problem, in my eyes. 170-ish fields, no UCI points -- the whole thing is a crapshoot, if you weren't in the top 10 last year or a medalist in a younger category, you get staged by registration order.

You might think this is segueing into a plug for points -- but it's not. Crossresults only thoroughly covers the MidAtlantic and New England -- I don't have the resources to manage the entire country. But you know who DOES?
USA Cycling.

I say it's time for the governing body to actually, you know, govern. Pick some local series, pick state champs, pick a points system, restrict age groups Cat 2 and up, I don't know what's best but we need to do SOMETHING -- something more than pulling half the field.

It sounds hard because it is hard. Cross is growing. We can deal with it, or we can wonder in 10 years why it collapsed under it own weight.