Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Pulled @ USGP? What The Hell Were You Thinking?
Hey Sour Puss. Hup Hup and cheer up. The first faces I saw at the USGP on Saturday were sour pusses. Like a pre-school art project gone wrong, their dejected faces decorated with the course’s dry dirt glitter affixed by a grotesque snotty sweat-glue told the story. They didn’t even care to wipe off the Dirt Goatee©. When I arrived in time to warm up for the Elite masters race, a lot of strong Cat 3 riders, riders who normally would be driving the front end of their regional series races, stood disgruntled on the outside of the tape as they watched the front end of the 2/3 race finish. Getting pulled sucks monkey butt. You could hear their thoughts. “I should be up there.” "The course was too short." Riders felt cheated, and rightfully so…but only to an extent.
As Jay Leno would put it to Hugh Grant, “What the hell were you thinking?” 45 riders entered a Cat 2/3 CX race with over 100 riders from all over the nation already signed up. No offense to their prowess on the bike, but I think it’d be a tall order for even Jeremy Powers to plow his way from the back to the front of a 145 deep field of 2/3 riders in 45 minutes while avoiding every calamity, even if the lap was 8 minutes long. By some of the bitching and moaning I heard from Cat 3’s around the course you’d think common sense were a banned substance. You got whomped by starting in the back of essentially a Cat 2 race. Maybe what’s really stinging ya is realizing that the whoopin’ was administered by 15 year old Jordan Cullen, pictured below. The Cat 2/3's at the USGP aren’t a 30 year old’s playground anymore.
Still, a rider doesn’t see himself as a bib number and a birthday. They see themselves as a Cat 3 who trained hard, paid $35, traveled, maybe even booked a hotel and didn’t really get to race. Yeah. Yeah! You tell ‘em Joe Biker. You say if the promoter accepts 145 riders, 145 riders should have a shot. Yeah!! Well this is a big field in cyclocross and not the 26.2 mile course of the Flying Pig marathon. Riders get pulled when about to be lapped. It sucks. It’s cold. Its cross. Having a longer course at USGP may have saved a few souls, but I’d say even with an 8 minute lap, close to half the field was doomed from the start based on math alone.
The last 50 riders signed up in the 2/3 field spilled cooking oil on the counter, left the coffee maker on and hoped the house wouldn’t burn down, short course or not. That’s not the promoters fault. There was a better option. Coulda. Woulda. Shoulda. A racer coulda passed 65 riders with a click of a button by entering the 80 deep pro race. The Elite Masters 35+ had a solid 70 riders, 45+ had a manageable 59.
Yeah the course was short. However, even with an 8-9 minute lap, I have never been at a big cyclocross race where 140 riders, even 100 riders, even 75 riders finished on the lead lap. Think of it like a beer bong. The first 1-2 beers will make it down easy. Unless you’re a fraternity brother nicknamed Bruno, the 3rd PBR tall boy is going all over your shirt. Secondly, I’ve started in the back in big races. Even at the top of my CX game, avoiding every wreck and hitting every perfect line, I’ve never been able to pass 35 or so riders at the most. For anyone who signed up when the USGP 2/3 field grew past 100, the odds were in the casino’s favor.
CX is growing faster than the mold on the water bottle in the back of my truck. A few years ago combining the 2’s and 3’s at USGP and other large races made sense and didn’t make a gargantuan field. Promoters could attract the regional Cat 2’s that would rather not fork out another $60 for a UCI license they’d use once. For the first time in their CX lives, if they entered early, they could be on the driving end of race rather than getting beat by Cat 1’s and pros. Strong Cat 3’s would have their hands full, but still have fun. With the short course at USGP and a field close to the population of metro Louisville, the fun got pulled right with the riders. So I guess there are three options: enter a race where the mathematic probability of finishing on the lead lap is the highest, design a hideously long cyclocross course that can keep a larger portion of a field 145 riders on the lead lap or, simply split the 145 strong 2/3 field. I like the latter. It’s a good thing too. Cyclocross in the US, in the Midwest, in Cincinnati and Louisville, is big enough for each category to have its own field. That’s incredible.