Masters racer Lee Waldman takes a look at this year’s rule changes and shares his personal opinions, with the benefit of a year of hindsight. Agree with him? Disagree? Drop a comment below. Missed Lee’s last column? Catch up on his opinion on doping in the Master’s ranks here.
by Lee Waldman
We heard last summer about the UCI’s rule changes for cyclocross racing internationally. The USAC adopted most of these for the 2010 National Championships, and of course Elite racers had to obey them at UCI races. There’s been a lot of discussion on them already, but I’d like to share my opinion. Some rules actually made sense to me. Some. There were some I see as … “questionable.” You won’t be shocked when I tell you that I have a strong opinion – or two – but, I do. Please, please, understand that the opinions expressed here are mine, only mine. Feel free to reply. Open discourse is the only way to keep our sport growing. So, here goes, starting with what in my opinion is the most ridiculous rule.
Tire width. I searched the USA Cycling Rule Book for this rule and then, duh – realized it was a UCI rule. It does, however, apply to some riders, the Elites U23s, and Juniors 17-18 specifically. Just what is the problem with a 35mm. tire? The UCI would have us believe that it lightens the economic burden on riders. Bottom line – if a rider is that good, he or she more than likely has someone helping to supply tires.
I love my 34s, and I’m not giving them up until they’re ripped off my wheels. If a rider is more comfortable on wider tires, why should they be limited? Tire width, or lack thereof, has never impacted my placing. It has given me the confidence to ride sketchy conditions faster which, in the long run, makes me a safer rider. The more stable I feel, the less hazardous I am to other riders who may be trying to either follow or pass me.
Assuming there is a good reason for the change, why 33mm? Up until the rule change, I’d never seen a 33mm tire ANYWHERE. All that this new rule accomplished, I think, was to force tire manufacturers to scramble to produce a new tire and to force riders to replace all of their old tires. I appreciate the fact that as a Masters racer I’m not affected by the rule for this year, at least, but I typically can get a couple of seasons out of a good set of racing tires. Now, having to think about dropping $300, to $400 on new tires for next season IS an economic hardship. I guess the good news is that I may still be able to find some killer deals on 34s to ride the mountain bike trails next summer.
Disc Brakes. Another UCI rule that I didn’t see in the USAC rule book. I’ve always loved the distinction between cyclocross and mountain bike racing. Call it elitism if you will, but it was so “cool” to be a ’cross racer. There’s something about riding sketchy conditions on skinny tires and cantilevers that made me feel special, different, set apart, especially when I took my ’cross bike out on the mountain bike trails.
Yes, I know that there are some riders who can’t afford, or don’t want to invest in another bike, and so I’m OK with them riding their mountain bikes in ’cross races – although I can’t imagine shouldering, or even suitcasing one over the planks. That fact aside, ’cross is a separate sport from mountain bike racing, and the move to allow disc brakes simply muddies waters that were clear. I know that they have better stopping power, but ya know, I’ve never once lost a race from a lack of stopping ability. I lose races because I can’t go faster, not because I can’t go slower. It seems to me that all this rule will really accomplish is to encourage more new bike sales for those who need the newest and “best” every year.
Nationals in January. (OK not a rule but a policy) Makes sense. It’s silly for the U.S. to have at a different time from the rest of the world. That lag period between our Nationals and Worlds must make it hard for our Elite riders to keep that hard-earned peak. If we were racing here, then they wouldn’t necessarily have to endure the travel and expense. I guess my biggest problem with the shift is – Madison, Wisconsin? I’m sure it’s a beautiful place to race cyclocross, and I would love to go there, but in January? Yes, I know we participate in a winter sport, but does it have to be an extreme winter sport? I think that USAC folks may have shot themselves in the foot with that choice.
The feeding rule. Does it really matter at what temperature we allow a feed? If a rider needs to rehydrate, shouldn’t that be allowed even if it’s below 20 Centigrade? Is feeding more hazardous in the cold? I agree that maybe the pit lane is the only place to allow it, but then will there be more traffic jams in the pits with some riders taking feeds and some taking bikes? Will we have to have special feeding pits to eliminate that problem? I think it’s a large can of worms to open up. Let feeding take place. Designate a feed zone. Let it go at that.
The 80% rule. I have mixed feelings about this one. If riders are clearly that far out of contention, maybe the rule should say that they will be removed from the race if they interfere with the progress of the race leaders. If they refuse to move when faster riders pass even after being warned, then maybe they to need to come out. But if they are riding their race, doing the best that they can, shouldn’t we let them continue?
Maybe the rule should be invoked only when a field size limit is reached? I remember the Kansas City sub-zero Nationals where a sizeable percentage of the 55+ Masters were pulled when Ned Overend passed us on the second lap. We traveled all the way to K.C. and paid our entry fee like everyone else, and then only had the chance to ride one or two laps. That didn’t work for me, and this rule could open the door to that same situation. If we want the sport to continue to grow, this is a rule that might work against us.
There were some general rule changes that will make me laugh if I see them at ’cross races. My favorite was:
Sleeveless skinsuits for time trials? I’m going to love seeing guys lining up in the rain in Bend, or in single-digit temperatures in Madison to gain a fraction of a second advantage. I’d love to have the hypothermia treatment concession. (OK, I’m being facetious, but someone will try it!) ’Nuff said about that one. Yeah, I know it was written without cyclocross in mind.
So there you have it – my thoughts as demented and off-base as they might be.
Now, go ride your bikes. If you see me, I’ll be the guy with the gigantic bull’s eve painted on the back of his jersey.