Rules are Hard: 2014 UCI Cyclocross Race Lengths

At Day 1 of Baystate Cyclocross last weekend, the elite women raced for only four laps, with the winner clocking a time of 34:47 (riding roughly 8:12 laps).  In years past, this would have been worthy of an eye-roll and nothing more -- a fifth lap would have put the winning time at 43:00, which is marginally closer to the specified race length, (3 minutes long instead of 5 minutes short).

However, in 2014 the rules have changed, and in a step toward gender equality the UCI mandated that the women's race should be between 40 and 50 minutes.

My friend Matt Roy (whose wife was third in the race) noted this on twitter:
...which set off a fairly spirited debate about knowing the rules, why the rules are sometimes bent, and how much sexism is a part of any of this.

Matt, being a scientist, went to the trouble of looking through all the 2014 North American UCI race data to see if this was a one-off mistake or a systemic problem.  He tweeted the results of his research (it's 2014, that's all we do now), but I thought it was worth capturing for posterity:

So in 28 women's events, the race was run short 4 times, and 2 of those were by less than 60 seconds.  There have been only 2 egregiously short women's races this year (7.1%), and let's face it, getting a new rule correct 93% of the time is basically perfection, right?


The most interesting piece of data is in his third tweet:
By comparison, 2 men's under 60 min (but w/in interpretation of UCI rule).

The rule on men's race length reads as follows:

The duration of events must be as close as possible to 60 minutes for the elite men's events

Note the rule for men is not 60-70 minutes.  It's "as close to 60" as possible.  So a 56 minute race is better than a 65 minute race... and yet there's only been two men's races under an hour all season.

One would expect this to evenly distributed, ~14 races under an hour, 14 races over an hour, if the officials were following the "as close to 60 as possible" rule.

The only conclusion you can draw from 26/28 (93%!) of men's races running long is that the officials, having reframed their mindset to "40+ minutes" for the women, are carrying that over into "60+ minutes" for the men now.

So in case you're wondering why you got pulled more often this year, or raced 70 minutes more often this year, that's why.