Reshuffling the Deck, Part II

Last post I characterized the state of road racing and it's over-reliance on the existing pool of Delusional Fucktards™ to support the whole system. Instead, I believe they should be focusing their attention on creating new Fucktards™ by using devious and underhanded trickery like rider development programs and inclusive environments.
 
Part of this requires resources like volunteer time and brainpower to develop a framework for riders to progress through, benchmarks to clearly distinguish different levels of the framework, and curriculum/other development methods to assist riders make the transition to the next level. The days of throwing riders into a race without basic guidance to let them figure it out for themselves should be long gone. Because Anchorage doesn't have a strong road group ride culture, it's how I learned, but it doesn't make it right. The cycling skillsets that most people develop long before they enter their first race aren't taught here. Jumping into a pack of riders going as fast as they can in close proximity to each other is intimidating- especially when the other guy got just about as much guidance as you did before the gun. Even USAC is finally realizing this, working to monetize programs like the one from Northern California Nevada Cycling Association as a new revenue stream and minimize it's positive impact on rider development and safety.
 
As much time and energy as it will take to develop the structure and programs, that's the easy part. There are books and other resources out there to use as rough blueprints. The basics of road racing haven't changed as frequently as bottom bracket standards, so even books from back in the '60s would likely have tidbits that could help create a curriculum to work from.
 
The next part is a little harder, and often can be akin to catching lightning in a bottle- creating a positive and inclusive environment. For years the Pocketful of Posies has been awash with female racers and similar road division races (same course, same division) have had women's fields you could count on one hand and have fingers left over. Here's the deal- I want women to have a competitive environment at their level. It's no fun to be on the podium when you're the only racer in your class. I want there to be a whole group of women challenging the Sheryl Loans and Amber Stulls. I want there to be full class under that, and another one under that. If they race with the men, I want them to be at a equivalent level so it's not a soul-crushing experience. If they do a women's-only race, I'd love it if they jumped in a men's race (for free) to get a taste of that experience. Even if they only hang for a couple laps, at least they're mixing it up.  Next time around maybe they'll hang on a couple more. They'll get stronger. I want to get away from the perception that the Road Division is a testosterone-driven boys club. It's not. The reality is most of us saggy old bike racers have low-T anyway.
 
I'd like to more families out there. Mom, Dad, and kids all racing or running around. It shouldn't be this "Dad's abandoning us to go ride around in circles for a few hours." The key to normalizing the whole lycra and carbon fetish is to get a whole lot of people doing it. Have kids see it as something positive, healthy, and normal. When the whole family is drinking the KoolAid, other families see it and perhaps take a sip. Sooner or later, you've created a community (commune) and you can start planning to build a crit track in Guyana where racers can cultivate their own energy bars and electrolyte drinks between races. It all starts with getting them to take that first sip. Some won't like the particular flavor of KoolAid, but the more you expose to a really cool environment, the more are likely going to hang around for advanced thetan-level auditing and bike fitting.
  
The last part is hard, because it involves pushing people. 
 
In the Arctic Bike Club Road Division, we have three basic levels that riders are classified by (Novice, Intermediate, and Open) instead of the six USAC uses (Cat 5 to Cat 1 and Pro). This was done to increase field size in races that draw from a small pool of potential racers. Otherwise, there would be 3 starters in each field, everyone would stand on the podium, and nobody would have any fun. We've limited Masters Categories to 45+ and 60+. That still leads to small fields in some categories, and combined groups are common (like they are most places). Usually combinations are among categories of similar abilities, like Masters racing with Intermediates, and this usually works well enough. The young, strong guys pull and the old, devious bastards let them. Occasionally there aren't enough Open racers, so they'll throw them in with the Masters. It makes sense, because half of a given Masters field are sandbaggers that would rather be in podium contention in a lower class than pack fodder in Open.
 
Masters isn't the only group where this is commonplace. Riders hang out in Novice for years, because the leap to Intermediate or Masters is perceived as huge. The only way a rider reliably gets forced up is if they win their category's GC in the Tour of Anchorage. Intermediate racers hang out in the middle until they're forced up or get old enough to race Masters. Masters racers just get older.
 
That leaves a handful of riders with huge natural ability or the determination, time, and resources to hang in there with their genetic superiors in Open. It's a small group most of the time, which isn't good for anyone. Open racers get discouraged because the fields are small and find something else to do. The disparity between those that are left and any upcoming rider can be dramatic. Can you imagine a Tour de France where only a handful of riders showed up because nobody else felt like they had a shot at GC? Boring. Instead, the fields are packed with talented riders, filling any number of roles, that have no shot at any sort of result.
 
The brutal truth of road racing is that only one guy wins and everyone else in the race doesn't. Even the guys that do win fall short more often than not. Winning is awesome, and I highly recommend it, but if that's your only reason for lining up you're in the wrong sport.
 
Still, it's more fun when you're in a pack of closely-matched competitors. Everyone has a shot. When people don't move on to the next level, even when they're obviously head and shoulders above everyone else, it demoralizes the riders below them. Some decide to stay at an even lower level, where they are head and shoulders above the rest... It just keeps trickling down. Sandbagging is just destructive.
 
The only way to combat this is to find a way to accurately classify riders and then maintain the data. This would require a considerable amount of work, but would likely result in more balanced and competitive fields. A USA Cycling-based system would probably be overkill and result in more confusion than clarity. However, I have another suggestion, which I will lay out in Part III of this thrilling series.
  
Stay Tuned...

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