Just How Healthy is Junior Cyclocross in the US?

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An impressive Junior lineup! ©Brent Adams

John Wilson, who heads up the successful Oregon Junior Cyclocross Series and Oregon High School Cyclocross Series, brings some perspective to Junior racing across the country. For an in-depth look at the health of cyclocross, check out “Growth Spurt,” Kenton Berg’s excellent article in Cyclocross Magazine Issue 13.

by John Wilson

Ever wonder how popular Junior cyclocross racing is in the United States? Ever wonder what region is drawing the biggest turn out of Juniors? Are you curious about what the most successful promoters are doing to help get the draw?

I wonder about these things and have combed through 2011 nationwide cyclocross results to get some answers. Why? Well for a few reasons. First, I love the sport and want to see it continue to grow. Second, back in 2008 I decided to personally do something about growing Junior participation here in Oregon. Despite having arguably the most successful adult cyclocross series in the universe (the Cross Crusade), opportunities for younger juniors were sparse back then. Washington had more than twice the number of Juniors per event as Oregon, but about a third the adult participation. Oregon Juniors under 12 cannot race simultaneously with adults. Oregon’s adult success crowded race day schedules and did not easily allow a separate Juniors-only race. Washington was using a Juniors-only race to great success.

Cyclocross makes a great entry point into all cycling disciplines. ©Matthew Lasala

In 2009, with the help of the Oregon Bicycle Racing Association (OBRA) and local multi-time Worlds cyclocross team member Erik Tonkin (who loaned me his name and reputation), we kicked off the Oregon Junior Cyclocross Series. Our goal was simple. Grow Oregon Junior CX participation. I found race promoters willing to jump in, plus amazing sponsorship support from the cycling industry. Like Washington, we set aside the prime mid-day time slot for a Juniors-only (no adult) race. We lowered entry fees for Juniors to $5, and thanks to OBRA discounted promoter fees for Juniors. OBRA also gave free cyclocross licenses to all Juniors. We created a seven-race series with some impressive swag from our generous sponsors. In that first year, the JCS averaged 27 Juniors per event. I had no idea what was happening around the country, but our neighbor, Washington, was doing it right and averaging more than 50 kids per event. We had some work to do!

Fast forward to today. The 2011 JCS seemed to be doing very well, but I wanted some comparison. The prospect of searching the web and trying to compile this data was a daunting task. I turned to Colin Reuter, the man behind the data at Crossresults.com for some help: http://www.Crossresults.com. Colin came through. He put together an algorithm that searched every race in their database for fields with Junior in them. All the Junior data from those races were tagged with race information and compiled into an excel file. This was a great start, but before I could draw any conclusions I needed to make sure I had the right data. I wanted a fair comparison of participation as a combination of 10-18 year old men and women. The problem is that not all regions offer the same categories and ages. Many Juniors race up. Many have U10 Kiddie Cross events. I needed to go out to the race promoter’s flyers/websites and review their format for Juniors.

Numbers and skills are on the rise. ©Matthew Lasala

After studying the numbers, policies and categories, I felt like it was possible to do a good comparison. Not perfect, but good. The highly successful Ohio Valley CX Series tracks racer age in their adult category classes, so I could count the number of Juniors racing up and add them in (at some risk of double counting Juniors who did two races). The Boulder Racing CX Series allows 8-9 year olds in addition to 10-18. In Oregon you must be 10 to race, but I decided to include the Colorado 8-9 year olds because it was a structured, organized category doing the same race as the 10-18 year olds. Kudos to Colorado for creating the opportunity for these kids.

Washington also structures and tracks the under-10 year-old kids, so I included them as well. I could not include any of the unstructured U10 kiddie cross events. No numbers were available. I know these are very popular and often large. Many of the strongest Juniors race with the Elites. If I could not find their age in the results, I couldn’t track them and count them as Juniors in this study. To simplify things, I only included events that had 10 or more Juniors in the event. Races were included from Sept. 3, 2011, up to Dec. 11, 2011.

(Disclaimers: I did my best to get the numbers right. If I missed your race or your series, or screwed up your results, then please accept my sincere apologies. I invite anyone to help find errors or suggest improved algorithms for comparison. I hope you find this an interesting view, but I acknowledge it is not perfect).

So what did I find?

Here is a state by state comparison of 2011 cyclocross races with 10 Juniors or more participating in the event. Oregon appears to be way out in front in this category, with 40 races. By comparison, in 2008 Oregon had only 17 Junior cyclocross races with 10 racers or more.

State10 Racers or moreState10 Racers or more
Oregon40Indiana4
Colorado28Pennsylvania4
California25Rhode Island4
Wisconsin19Vermont4
Washington15Delaware3
Illinois14New Hampshire3
Maryland10Tennessee3
Ohio9New Mexico3
Massachusetts8Iowa2
Kentucky7Maine2
Virginia6Missouri2
Michigan5Washington DC1
New Jersey5Florida1
North Carolina5

So what are the most successful cyclocross “series” in the country for Juniors? (more than 5 events & 30 avg)

Series NameState# RacesAvg Jr’s per race
Boulder Racing CXColorado577
Oregon JCS SeriesOregon775
Seattle CXWashington769
MFG SeattleWashington657
USGPMultiple855
Cross Crusade*Oregon652
Ohio Valley CXMultiple1045
So Cal PrestigeCalifornia1232
Blind Date at the DairyOregon530

* 2 of 8 Cross Crusade events are part of the JCS. I removed them to calculate the Crusade average.

Congratulations to the Boulder Racing Cyclocross series. These promoters are providing 8-18 year old categories, a Juniors-only race and race entry is free for all Juniors! Nice work guys. And yes, this was nice validation that the JCS was doing well on a national level!

Some best practices for these series:

Series NameEntry FeesNo Adult RaceU10 RaceHigh School League
Boulder Racing CXFreeYesYes
Oregon JCS Series$5YesYes*
Seattle CX$5YesYes
MFG Seattle$10Yes
USGP$15Yes
Cross Crusade*$10
Ohio Valley CX$10
So Cal PrestigeFree / $ 10 by raceYes
Blind Date at the Dairy$9Yes

* In 2010 the Oregon JCS added a High School Cyclocross league as a companion series. Five of the seven races are designated as High School events. This is a new to cyclocross concept, although NICA [ http://www.nationalmtb.org/] is doing a great job with a MTB High School league. Approved High School teams are tracked separately for Men/Women individual and COED team score per each event. High School Series Championships are up for grabs. This program is in its infancy but appears to be influencing growth/interest plus pulling in some high school athletes new to cycling. The average attendance at the five High School/JCS Events was 81 racers. If you are interested in this program feel free to contact me for more information (contact info below).

Who had the biggest attendance of Juniors at a single-day race in the country? Here is the top 10 largest single day races for 2011:

DateStateRace NameTotal
10/30/2011ColoradoBoulder Cup133
9/24/2011ColoradoBoulder Racing CX: Xilinx105
10/29/2011ColoradoColorado Cross Cup102
11/6/2011OregonOregon JCS # 6: Cross Crusade #7100
10/15/2011ColoradoBlue Sky Velo Cup CX96
10/8/2011OregonOregon JCS # 3: Heiser Farms91
11/5/2011ColoradoSchool Yard Cross87
11/19/2011OregonOregon JCS #7: OBRA State Champs84
9/17/2011ColoradoBoulder Racing CX: Valmont Park81
11/6/2011WashingtonSeattle CX #5: Steeliacoom V276

Again congratulations to Colorado for taking six out of the top 10. Oregon claims three, and Washington one. All three of the Oregon events were part of the Oregon JCS.

And finally, here is an interesting table showing the size distribution of events across the country. Colorado and Oregon seem to be out in front by a little bit.

So who wins? That is easy. Everyone. More Juniors racing cyclocross is our future. If you love cycling and cyclocross, you have got to love more Juniors participating. I believe cyclocross is the best entry into competitive cycling. Fast is 15 mph. No one stands out as dropped or left behind. Small lap courses with encouragement and support everywhere are extremely motivating. The diverse set of athletic skills required for ‘cross lends itself well to athletically capable-but-new-to-cycling Juniors. Racers new to the sport improve easily and rapidly by developing skills unique to ‘cross (dismounts, mounts, etc). This in turn motivates putting in the extra effort to develop cycling fitness and branching out to other cycling disciplines. It is a virtuous cycle! So invest in Junior cyclocross.

Thanks to all the promoters, coaches, race teams, sponsors, cycling organizations and parents out there and making the effort for Juniors.

Team competitions for high schoolers has boosted numbers in Oregon. ©Brent Adams

About the author
John Wilson is the Director of the Oregon Junior Cyclocross Series (JCS). A series designed to help grow Junior bike racing in the Oregon Bicycle Racing Association (OBRA). John is an avid racing cyclist with cyclocross as his favorite discipline. John is an Oregon State Masters Champion in Cyclocross, Criterium, and Team Time Trial. He finished fifth in the 2009 Masters 50-54 Cyclocross Nationals. He is the father of two daughters who are both racing Junior Cyclocross.

You can find John’s contact info at: http://www.obra.org/junior_cyclocross_series/

 

 

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4 comments
tscottthompson01
tscottthompson01

Mitch, that's interesting to hear. It's a question I sent to John via email. In the Mid-Atlantic we likewise have fairly big numbers (we averaged 30 juniors per race over one 8 race series counting only the junior races, not the Under 10 races or the juniors that raced mixed in with the categories). And we have many very strong developing juniors who have come up from age 9.

I'm particularly intrigued by your approach in the Ohio Valley. And I know who they have mixed them in New England. We had a separate 15-18 race, but many of those boys also would double up in the Cat 4 or Cat 3 race. I always wonder how to have a "junior" race but at the same time deal with the fact that many of our 14-17 year old boys are competitive Cat 3s and Cat 2s. Basically, my son would do the junior race then the Cat 3 race an hour later. You also get into issues, as you note, of what gives them the best USAC ranking results.

Brad Ross
Brad Ross

John, Thanks for the article and all the hard work. Keep it up.

MitchGraham
MitchGraham

Hi John - fantastic report on the juniors thank you!

We're blessed down here in the Ohio Valley region with 2 extremely strong junior programs - Red Zone based out of Louisville and the Lionhearts team out of Cincinnati. To better serve their years of dedication to developing juniors, the OVCX series for 2011 tweaked the categories a bit to create an improved pathway for progression and recognition for the juniors. We wanted to be a series that equally encouraged participation and fun of the 9-yr old "waddlers" on their mountain bikes - as much as help encourage the development of our plethora of gifted juniors. Besides every OVCX event having a free fun race/ride for kids 9 and under, there's a 10-12/13-4 race for boys and girls where the kids have their own course with no adults racing.

For the faster/more advanced kids that can handle themselves better, we start integrating them in with adults of similar ability/speed. So the 15-18 boys mix it up with the Cat 4 men (not in separate waves but actually mixed in with them), and the 15-18 girls race with the Cat 4 women. Additionally, at the next level, we have an any-age U19 Elite category option for the stronger boys and girls. The U19 elite boys race together with the Cat 3 men (not in separate waves but actually mixed in with them) - and the U19 girls with the Elite/Cat 3 women. For our top 5% juniors (the "Eurocrosscampers") - they are mixing it up with the elites when they race locally.

It's been a couple of years since we gave the beginner juniors their own starting time and track - and it's absolutely beneficial to their racing experience. More so, it's beneficial to the adults, as no adult wants to be responsible for accidentally crashing out at 10 year old as they're lapping them out on the course. Our more advanced junior riders already had their parents entering them in the adult categories in previous years, so integrating the older elite juniors into the adult races this year was just a way of organizing that and recognizing those juniors in the event results and podiums.

Also, when reporting event results to USAC, we reported combined wave results and not category results so that our elite junior riders got the best possible quality-of-field scores for their USAC-ranking and Nationals staging.

Thanks again for writing this report and congrats on your success growing the junior fields up in Oregon - very cool!!

ringcycles
ringcycles

John: Thanks for the analysis. One thing your data doesn't capture is juniors racing in the Cat 3 field. In New England both junior men 15-18 and junior women 15-18 race in their respective Cat 3 fields, but have been scored seperately by age. Cub juniors have their own field with in the Cat 3/4 womens race. I did a quick look at the results for the New England Championship Series. This year over 15 races the average was 39 juniors in all categories. Over the series that would make total participation on the same level as Colorado and Oregon. I applaud Colorado and Oregon for getting such great turn out per race. I think it is a legimate question as to whether juniors racing seperately in greater one day numbers or racing with senior Cat 3's makes for better development. It is certainly a quetion that the organizers of New England cyclocross are pondering. None the less, I would love to see 100 juniors show up to a NECCS race. Thanks again for the article.

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