this year's races in Tabor were pretty snowy and icy too! there's a reason guys put screws in their shoes for the race....
Bold Words – Thoughts on Nationals and Worlds in the US
Jonny Bold, National Champ in the 45-49 race, and recent podium finisher at Masters Worlds, has offered up some thoughts on the future of cross in the US as we head towards hosting the first World Championships outside of Europe. Have an opinion? Leave a comment below.
‘Cross Worlds are coming to town! That is the coolest thing ever. While I’m excited about 2013 [Elite World Championships in Louisville] like everyone else, I’m really pumped about 2012 (and 2013). That’s when Louisville, KY hosts Master’s Worlds.
There’s been a lot of chatter lately about pushing our Natz into January “like the rest of the world.” I disagree with that, and here are some of my thoughts as to why…
We’re not the rest of the world – our winters have the potential to be below zero in January. Heck, it’s even possible for it to get that cold in December (2009 in Bend). While lots of you will be quick to say, “Ahhhgh toughen up,” it’s not about that. I loved racing in the extreme conditions of Gloucester, Maine and Bend in ’09. We are a huge country, Belgium is not, and neither are most of the other European countries. Travel in winter is sketchy, but if we’re talking about driving, well then we can leave earlier, drive more carefully etc. But if we’re talking about air travel – let’s face it lots of us fly to Natz – then the travel is out of our control. Storms delay flights, or cancel them.
This reason alone is why it’s frustrating and sometimes pointless to even compare the cross scenes, at the pro level, on either side of the ocean. We have big UCI races in the US just about every weekend, but it’s NOTHING like Belgium where they can drive to just as many even bigger races. Flying all over the place will just ruin you and leaves no time to actually train.
I’m all for racing after Natz, but I think it should be at the local level. If we’re just racing locally, it’s not the end of the world to change plans at the last minute. In New England, we’ll get entrants no matter what the conditions.
Also with the Worlds coming to town, would it be reasonable to ask amateurs to travel one week to one corner of the country, and then to another six days later? Six days apart is the actual race dates, but you gotta show up a day or two early. Everyone would have to fly from Natz to Worlds. Not great. Especially in this economy; when taking one big trip is a big deal, two might be unattainable.
That brings me to another point. Everyone shouldn’t go. This isn’t gonna be popular, but don’t mistake me for someone who gives a shit. There are too many entrants at Natz. It’s a friggin’ joke, a circus. Why is it that USAC requires us to qualify for Mountan Bike Natz, when a big field at mountain bike natz is 45-50 guys, but for ‘Cross it’s open to any and all?
It seems to me the only answer could be MONEY. Now, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to make money, but the governing body shouldn’t pimp out its national championships. We should have national championship caliber racing at the national championships. We should not be playing bumperball with lapped traffic, two laps into the race. The first few guys to get lapped in masters races at Natz are just awful bike riders. Slow, unpredictable, clueless, usually heavy, terrible bike handlers. Guys racing for National titles shouldn’t have their races threatened by this situation. (Marky Mark McCormack, 2007, Kansas).
This isn’t little league where all the kids play two innings so they don’t cry or shoot up a school. At Natz in Bend this year, Coates and I went through at least 40 lapped guys. USAC should limit the field, require qualifying, pull riders about to be lapped at both pits, the start/finish, and maybe two or three other designated spots on the course BEFORE they get lapped.
Anyway, the point of this isn’t to rant about USAC. I could go on forever on that one. The point is to say, let’s practice a little self discipline. In Belgium, I discovered that there are lots of good racers, but the very fastest guys are the only ones to show up for Natz. I know, I raced in their Natz. The guys that don’t stand a chance of being top-25 or 30 don’t bother going. At Masters Worlds, the fields were about 55-60 riders and it truly was international. Fields any bigger than that are pointless. Now I know it sucks and it’s a bit elitest to say “just fast guys should be at Natz.” Lets face it, in this country “Natz” has become the biggest party of the year. Cross certainly has the coolest culture and I love a party as much as the next guy BUT, you know who’s partying? The back half of all the fields. The front half are buckled down, focusing on finishing off their season with a good result. Then we party afterward.
If Natz are bad, then won’t Worlds be worse? We can’t just allow anyone to enter who wants to. With some fields near a ridiculous 200 rider count at Natz, you can safely assume that lots of foreigners are gonna want to try out ‘cross in the USA for Worlds, so we’d have over 200 riders in some fields. Thats awesome that it’s that popular and also very cool that it’s in our yard, but it would be hugely irresponsible to allow the race to swell with that many entrants and turn it into another circus.
Before you suggest we make the laps longer so it’ll be less likely to lap riders, think about what ‘cross is. The risk is making it less exciting, and drawn out laps will change the whole dynamic. ‘Cross will “jump the shark” and go the way of mountain biking in the 90′s if we tweak it like that. Six to eight minute laps work well for the spectators, commentators and racers.
So I’m trying to say that I think Natz should stay put or, if anything, happen earlier. It’s always such a shock to the system to have everyone trying to peak for the biggest race of the year and then just shut it down right after. There are thousands of us racing cyclocross, how many continue on to Europe after Natz? Maybe ten? 20 tops on any given year. Why not have it in mid-November so everyone can play with that peak fitness for a while? The races after Natz would be really exciting too. Local series like our New England Verge series could have races after Natz without asking promoters to have races after Christmas, risking low turnout and lost income. Right now we look at the second week of December as the finish line. If we have Natz in November, then there will obviously be racing after Natz, and since we’re back to racing locally at that point, the possiblity of continuing on farther will be much better, I think.
That’s another thing: with Natz where it is, the following weekends are filled by major holidays. Some of us will be psyched to race again Jan. 7th or so, but the majority will shut it down. In Europe they have Natz, and then Worlds and then they keep racing after that. Are we gonna do that too? No, we’d try like crazy to hold our fitness into January, do Natz and then stop, just like we do now. Also, if you have Natz in November, you might see a lot more pro roadies trying to hold their form for ‘cross Natz, since it’s a reasonable time frame vs mid December. Either way, Natz shouldn’t be the last race of the year, but if it’s mid December or mid January, it will be (in this country).
Also, lots of U23s and Juniors never get to race in their National Champion kits. If you win Natz in your last year of the Juniors or u23s, then the following year you can’t wear it. If it’s in November, those few would at least be able to wear the Stars and Bars a few times in races.
I’m just sayin’…open your mind.
What do you guys think of such Bold words? Drop a comment below!
Have you subscribed yet? You're missing out if not. Get all-original content and your cyclocross fix throughout the year with our killer print and digital magazine for less than 8 cents a day!
A lot of people are talking about the weather being less harsh in Europe. Anybody remember '99 worlds? Go find a video. Those guys race in snowy conditions too.
Moving Nat's to November? I'm a little torn. I like Bolds arguments, but feel hesitant.
Districts as qualifiers? Do it. That sounds like the right answer to me. Then do B races for those that just want to go race.
One problem with categories is that ORBRA's don't translate well to USAC's. I race "Master's A" but am a Cat 3. All the oregon folks who race Masters A got an auto cat 2 transfer. I'm not that fast but i'm fast enough not to come close to getting lapped once we hit the middle of the season.
Just one minor data point to add to the mix.
And damn Jonny, well written. Good stuff and good discussion. I hope USAC is listening.
At Ntas my category is masters elite 35-39. I knew that I would have only finished around 50th place. So I raced the B's and had fun. I would not have been a contender for the (masters elite) jersey so I stayed out of the way. If it wasn't the National Championships I would have gladly singed up for it. I think there should be qualifications for Masters Worlds in 2012 or it will be a disaster.
Brian, I think you're missing the point to some extent. The fields can't get any bigger than they are now, but if the PRO race gets some more big names, then thats a plus in most people's eyes. We're not suggesting eliminating all but the fastest riders, rather pick a reasonable amount to cap it off at that the course can support, or manage it so as to not make it a circus. It is the Nationals after all. It should be the fastest qualifiers that EARN the right to race for the title. Do you do lots of races with 190 riders in the field? 'Cross is fun.....period. Why would it be different to race after natz vs. before? Does it somehow become less fun? How in the world do you view most road races as "small elitest get togethers"? I don't know where you're from, but I welcome you to come taste the flavor of bike racing in New England. It's nothing like you describe and never will be.
continued from part 3............
With all this said, first and foremost is now with worlds coming to the U.S., we gotta start holding races in January now. They don't have to be big ones; local and regional races would be great ways to riders to keep their fitness going from nationals right up to worlds in late January. I'm stepping up to the plate and have plans in the works to host a weekend in New England after nationals; should be a great time.
continued from part 2..........
And speaking of December, I'm surprised no one has mentioned about splitting up elites and masters. I've always been a proponent of moving the elites to January and having everyone else in December. Do the 4-days that are done now in December (including B masters races, yes), with the qualifier period ending no less than 2 weeks before nationals, and then have elite nationals in January with a world-cup style race on Saturday (jr 17-18, u23 men, elite women, elite men) with a final national series race (USGP, NACT, whomever) on Sunday that can have non-elite races (masters, B's, whomever).
to be continued.........
continued from part 1...
And while more qualifiers are dealing with elite athletes, masters are just so big and so popular now in cross that its time to weed out the riff-raff and make nationals a championship quality race. It is about the jerseys, not the attendance. I read about 180 riders in one field at masters and I think -- if this was a regular race would any USAC official in their right mind allow that many riders on a cross course at one time? My gut feeling says no.
to be continued...
I'd love to say a few words about this, but can't do it in under a 1000 characters -- hey CXM; can you expand the field in the database so we can have our say, albeit lengthy?
First of all great job Jonny on your bronze medal; you and Kevin kicked major ass all year long!!
Here's my thoughts on U.S. nationals: yes, the fields are getting too big. I can't really knock the idea of having qualifiers; but if you're going to do this, there's no way that nationals can be in November; they'll have to stick to early to mid-December. The only problem with having category restrictions for masters racing is that the current rules don't allow masters to upgrade their category; they have to race category races to earn upgrade points. I don't thing this should be changed, although I'm sure they are folks out there that would disagree with this.
To be continued...................
Great idea guys ,move Nats earlier in the year so you can increase field sizes. decrease the chances of promoters drawing full rider fields for the second half of the year. Lets not forget to eliminate all but the fastest riders from participation. Its the beginning of the end for the cx scene in the US. Ten years from now it will be a small elitist get together, wait a minute that sounds like most of the road races
Well said Jonny!
I never thought I would say this, but we do need qualifying for ALL championship classes at Nationals.
And we definitely are not like the rest of the world:
European countries have small race participation, where it's enthusiast based in the US. There are less than 400 riders total at Masters Worlds....you see more than that at any race in US hot spots.There are plenty of races for everyone to do besides Natz....it's not a open party, it's a race for a championship.
Having Natz in January...most of the US is in full winter mode. and the best Pro's would have to travel direct to Europe and would be junk .
If people want racing in January....put them on.
I think that Nationals should be moved. I like the idea of having them in November when the weather is much less harsh(cold). You say cross is about hard/cold/mud but in Europe the weather is much less extreme than New England and the North West. The weather now is not even as bad as the weather we get in late November and December. I was just in Belgium for the week before Worlds and it was rarely below 3 degrees Celcius and only one day in the early morning it was negative 6 and warmed to plus 6. I'm not saying that you can't race in that but why not just move the date earlier, more regions could host nationals or would be more likely to, and like Jonny said some road pros could race Nationals because it is not unreasonable to hold your form until November, that would impropve the Quality of the Elite feilds. Then if people need to take a break after Nationals they can in stead of holding their form all the way to Nationals and through Worlds.
A qualification system for the Elite's is a great idea, of course Tim Johnson, Jonathan Page. etc. should not being racing a bunch of B racers who just want to say they raced against them. That said you need to have enough catagories to let as many people race as you can. If you limit the numbers to much you risk turning off people to cross. One of the great things about the sport is that it is a party and a lot of people want to race just because it's fun and not neccesarly to try and win. Remember cross IS different than other catagories of cycling, racing is to a certain degree the only way to really experience cross since most places don't have permanant cross courses to try it. Bottom line, absolutely have some sort of system in place for elites and master's elites but not at the expense of the majority of people who are not racing in those groups.
...The less gifted riders could have their districts be their big show, and try to qualify. What it would do, is ensure that everyone who toes the line at a US national is of the highest level from each of their regions. Isn't that what the representation at a national championship event should be? In that way, nationals would mean more than it means right now, no offense to the hardworking promoters, officials, etc... Let's face it, it was a total circus in many categories. If we let 200+ riders roll up to the line in Kentucky 2012, we'll be the laughing stock of the international cross scene. If you can't see that, you need to pull back the lens a bit.
Differences aside, JB is right about the nationals deal. It's about racing for the title at a national championships. It's not really for the party.
Have you noticed that the weight of our district champ. races has diminished? It sure has here in NorCal. In the old days, on the road scene, you had to ride the districts and place high enough to even qualify for nationals to go. Why couldn't we do that for cross, and then use nationals as a way to qualify for worlds, as a nation? It doesn't exclude riders that way, per se. It gives the something to shoot for. A goal to focus on....
J from H,
Just a few of many mentionables from Mol:
Mark Verloo 50+, new to the 50's, had the money-shot photo wrapping his head through the course tape on the first trip through the beach-head last year, but still finished in the top 10; Marc Druyts 45+, all-around bad-ass, who won from the last row in '04- proving it could be done, even on Mol's narrow, fast course; Jens Schwedler 40+, came out last year swinging in the 40's, draped in the kit of the German national champ. Lots of hubbub around the fact his elite status was just a bit close in time to his masters status.
Sooo, you see, to those who've actually race in Europe a bit, there are names to remember. Stories to be told. Hey I get it. You're what we call a soul-rider. You're in it because you dig the scene, the people, the ritual. Those are some of the best reasons to be doing cross. But, you need to hear the other side.
Cross Natz were held in November in the early days, I organized the 1978 Nationals on the Saturday after Thanksgiving in Austin TX. They moved to late December in the early 80's, we raced a few days after Xmas in Colorado Springs 1981. However, I'm still in favor of trying a shift to January to lengthen the season.
Regarding nationals qualifications, I'm in favor of that with a goal of keeping fields at 100 riders max. 180 guys lining up in Bend was a big mistake. That said, we need a logical qualification procedure that takes into account that many of us race under the umbrella of race associations other than USAC. I race under ACA races here in Colorado and as much as I may prefer to race USAC races it's not an option unless (or until, I hope) the organization gets back together with USAC. OBRA in Oregon is a similar situation. We shouldn't penalize riders from hot beds of the sport simply because the leadership of the sport can't reach a compromise.
Nats Masters races should be limited to Cat 1s and 2s with a field size cap of 100 or even less. Nats promoters can expand the menu of B races (B Women, B under 35, B 35+, B 45+, etc.) to make money.
Well said! Never thought about Natz in Nov, seems like a great idea. I also like the idea of some sort of qualification for Nationals fields. Maybe instead of the B field races you have a cat 3/4 race, then have the cat 1/2's race for the stars and stripes of each large age group. Just an idea...
I could be wrong but I don't think the UCI regulates Master's Worlds, mostly because they haven't needed to. All I did was sign up 2 hours before the race just like everyone else.
I hardly think cleaning up a sloppy situation will kill the sport. We're really only talking about 4 or 5 men's fields at Natz. The women don't have the problem so much. If we reduce 4 or 5 fields down at 1 race per year, I can't see the cyclocross craze tailing off. On the other hand, if the organizers/officials can get a grasp of the situation and keep the course clear for those competing for the podium, then let's party on with huge fields. The problem isn't with people being there, it's with people being in the way. Maybe 'B" races could be the answer too. USAC went out of their way to change 'cross over to categories, why not use them? Cat 1 & 2 race for the jersey, cat 3 & 4 go into the B race.
Just a tiny bit of info: at the Worlds, UCI limits the number of riders per country, thus keeping the number entrants under control.