An End of Season Reflection on New Rules – A Column by Lee Waldman

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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.

See also: New UCI Rules Mean Big Changes Next Season and Adam Myerson Reflects on the New UCI Rule Changes.

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.

, where he looks at doping in the Masters’ rank

 

 

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17 comments
Mikey
Mikey

My old two cents. I have raced bikes since the 80's. Back in the 80's I fell in love with road racing. It was fun then. Until USA cycling got involved. I was warned by a ref once for wearing yellow socks. Not fun anymore. Switched to mt bike racing. Fun and mellow, until people started showing up with 2K bikes and skinsuits. Then I found cross. It's been fun racing. You need more than just young lungs to compete. You need strong skills. It's been fun till this year. All this crap about pulling riders, feeding and tire widths. I purposely didn't renew my license. It's just not fun anymore. The only series I had a good time was at Cross Crusade in Oregon. They welcome everyone. I can certainly say that wasn't the case in a handful of series close to where I live. Being a tired old master racer, I will never win or never be pulled. I rather just stick to racing in Oregon. FU USA cycling for wrecking this sport, too!!!

A.M.
A.M.

Interesting how you favor the wider tires to make you a less sketchy rider and then favor the canti brakes because you enjoy the sketchy handlng...can't have it both ways.

With regards to the 80% rule or any other rule for lapped riders...Please consider that the entire race time is only 40-45 minutes (for most non-elite categories). To be pulled form a race that short after taking time off from work, exoenses for travel, race entry fees' etc., is unfair and not conducive to race attendance/particiaption. Cyclocross racers/champions should be able to deal with the weather, elements, tough racng conditions and certainly know how to pass lapped riders. Count me out of spending my hard earned $$ to race less than 40 minutes in a championship race.

hellbelly
hellbelly

Mountain biking, my first love has been technologically driven for a long time. Some good (suspension, disc brakes, auto adjustable seat posts) and some not so good (Biopace, elastomer shocks). Mountain biking is an ever evolving sport that is far "younger" than Cyclocross. I have no problem with traditions in sports, but I think having discs will allow racers to go even faster in nastier conditions and of course improve their safety. Granted, current disc brake options as adopted from mountain biking are just too heavy to justify their use for any elite racers. However, a manufacturer will come out with a brake that is lightweight, simple to set up and powerful with good modulation. A few pros will run them, win and then you will see them everywhere. Then you all can be retro grouches and sing of the old days with yr cantis in the coming years. Does this sound crazy? The mtb press back in '90 said who needs suspension...we have all we need in your arms and legs. Uuuhhh yeah, okay. Now the world cup XC events are won on full suspension bikes. "I've got a brand New Rose in town..."

Sean Yeager
Sean Yeager

I'll be interested to see how disc brakes work in real world race conditions. I think they're probably great for dry conditions. I think when things get really sloppy it'll be too easy to lock up the wheel and lose traction. In icy conditions this will just get worse. I'll also be curious to see how cable-actuated mechanisms endure muddy races or cold-weather races where there's enough water to freeze in the caliper. In any case, if I only had one bike I'd want the versatility of cantis for all conditions. When small-rotor hydraulics make it to the market, I'll reconsider my position.

The tire width issue makes sense from an equipment equality perspective, but as others have stated, rider weight and riding style are an issue that can't be addressed by a single rule. The 80% rule should only be used in certain fields w/ certain rider participation numbers or in the case of lead group/rider interference (and could possibly be done by a pit official if the lead riders are catching lapped riders just prior to the end of the last lap.)

Madison... I loved KC in 2007, and the conditions played a large part of how well I did (or maybe how poorly others did given the conditions.) But Madison in January is another beast I'm not willing to plan months ahead for. And while I'm all for January Nats, our schedule in VA only runs to the second weekend in December. It'll be a while before we have any races to do to keep fit over the holiday!

beth h
beth h

I agree that the rules about brakes, tire width and the 80% thing are either ridiculous, unfair, or both.
What the tire rule does is it forces more people to go to more expensive tubulars because clinchers simply cannot be run at low enough pressures to compensate for the narrower width; and heavier riders will pay the price first and worst of all with more flats and costlier replacements. And the 80% rule simply discriminates against those who lack the resources (financial, technical, medical or whatever) to get a whole lot faster within a single season. Get fast or we'll pull your butt -- is this really the message that the USAC wants to send if it has already talked up the growth of the sport? How much does the USAC want 'cross to grow? And more importantly, for whom?

Whatever. I am racing next year on a singlespeed Monster Cross with the widest tire my frame can take (I'm hoping for 43's). In my strictly local race scene, no one is going to pull me for having the "wrong" bike -- or the "wrong" body. And I'm pretty sure I will have more fun than most as a result.

Landon Beachy
Landon Beachy

Enjoyed your columns. I'm with you on Nationals in Madison. What were they thinking? I was in KC's 'frozen ruts covered with fresh snow' race and never felt so out off control. Maybe Madison will just be snow and ice without ruts? Surely there is a venue south of I-70.
As for equipment if someone beats me on a carbon wonder bike they would likely also beat me if they were on a aluminum bike with flat bars. If they want heavier disc brakes let them. I just wish UCI and USAC would quit trying to micromanage everything.

enginenotthechassis
enginenotthechassis

I have an old franken bike with disk brakes, and it does make a difference, it weighs 21 pounds and I have podium'd on it regularly. disk is good in some conditions, not in other. since they are mechanical, I set them really loose in dry conditions, so no advantage, except for that oh shit, modulation change. In Icy conditions, I set them tighter and they are a dream into corners. Beats cantis out of the corner every-time.

On wet, sandy courses, the pads disappear 20 minutes in. So, I'd rather have canti's there.

The biggest win is that the carbon rims I have will last forever, since I am not destroying the braking surface.

CapnSlowOfCO
CapnSlowOfCO

One thing to consider about the disc brake movement in 'cross is that the Elite guys and gals, who are much faster than me, now have the opportunity to go even faster. Disc brakes will give them the chance to brake later and with more control. If you and I are evenly matched and I can outbrake you in the corners, I'm going to win.

Admittedly, I will never see the advantage.

Booksy
Booksy

I hadn't thought about how tire width restrictions would benefit smaller riders and put us semi-clydesdales at a distinct disadvantage... something to think about I suppose.

John
John

If you can lock up your tires with Canits do you really need Disc? Very seldom do I ever really brake, just scrub speed but I guess there could be a use for the on some mud races. When guys start beating me with Disc will be the day I buy them. Can't let anyone have an advantage, but till then I am sticking to Canits.

Andrew Yee
Andrew Yee

I believe the 33mm was chosen because you need a 1mm margin over the popular 32mm width.

Regarding disc brakes and tire widths, I think both can be good to get the poorer racer a little closer to the well-equipped pros. Run a wider clincher with a tube or tubeless to get a bit more cush to compete with tubular racers. Run disc brakes because you don't have a pit bike and want to ride your bike in the bike race and attempt to keep up with the racers who pit every lap. CXM's intern Jo Markham is a perfect example. She's only got one bike and in the Seattle races, she had to push and run with a 40 pound bike when Kristi Berg and Anne Knapp would pit. If she had discs, she'd be able to roll easier and have a fighting chance.

Plus banning fat tires is a tax on the heavy/big. How about a tired width max based on a rider's weight? That'd be a funny UCI rule.
Whatever helps more racers of all incomes compete with the best-equipped ones is good in my book!

Agreed that both brakes and wider tires have had some impact on Lee's racing, and brakes can help someone go faster! And the confidence gained can impact a placing.

Lughugger
Lughugger

Tyre width has never impacted your placing. Really? Like choosing to run your beloved 34's on a dry, bumpy course would not impact your placing against a rider riding a 32 (nominal 33 for legality reasons)? It's so easy to throw this one back at you I can't believe that you had the audacity to try and make the argument in the first place.
And the reason that 33 has been chosen is to differentiate cross from MTB since riding a 34/35 is way more forgiving than a tyre that is 10% narrower.
And if you haven't lost a race because of better braking, you clearly aren't racing hard into corners.

Booksy
Booksy

"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."

Application of brakes is a huge part of going fast, I've won races (or at least picked up places) because I was able to make a pass by braking hard and late into a corner. Cantilever's generally offer ample braking power if setup right, but the mud clearance and ease of maintenance with disc brakes would be enough for me to switch over. Keeping disc brakes out because we need "distinction" between mountain bike and cyclocross racing or because it's "cool" to have cantilevers doesn't really hold a lot of weight with me.

I agree completely on tire width. I feel the same way about straight bars; whatever makes you happy and doesn't affect others safety should be fine. Cost of equipment isn't USAC's problem, if you ask me. Cost of equipment should be between me and my wife. Any fool knows it's not about the bike.

beth h
beth h

Mikey: Well, now you've done it. With comments like that, *everyone* will want to move to Oregon, even the folks who think 6 months of rain could make them suicidal... ..::grin::..

Mark
Mark

Yeah, kind of the same as 40cm barriers being a disadvantage to people who are short. I've always advocated for separate barriers for those under 5'5".

Cap'nSlow
Cap'nSlow

Easy there, cowboy! Imagine 1mm in your mind. Think of how big 1mm is. now add that to each side of the tire. Yeah. It means nothing. Tire pressure: critical. Tread selection:critical. Tire width: not so much. I could show you the physics behind my statements if you like.

I question your reasoning that "33 has been chosen is to differentiate cross from MTB". Where's you learn that? I've searched the world over and have yet to find any mention of "cross/MTB differentiation" as a reason for the 33mm tire width.

And if you've ever raced with Lee, you would know this guy goes hard into the corners. Your last statement is simply an attempt to be insulting. Lee's a racer. 'Nuff said.

lee
lee

Thank you for your support. I'm always surprised at how my thinking affects others. I'm all for discussion which is why I try to introduce controversial subjects and I appreciate your support. My next column is going to be about things that I think should be changed about nationals and their scheduling. Can't wait to see what kind of responses that brings up.

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