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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