2014 CX Season from Behind the Barricades

Well what a memorable season that was Behind the Barricades. In fact the most memorable as I didn’t actually hit or fall over a barrier this season. No need for anybody to say “I think Paddy’s Okay….” Poor Joey. So perhaps I should rename the article. On reflection, I won’t as I’m bound to hit one sooner rather than later.

Luckily, ah hem, my job description grew from the Behind the Barricades article to Australian CX Magazine man in Victoria. Now I never really did envisage myself as a wordsmith or a reporter but when my media accreditation came through for Cross Vegas I realised that I had hit the big time. Myself and Lily, as official Australian CX Magazine photographer, were off to Las Vegas to report on Sven. Also, to race in the most important race of Cross Vegas, the Wheelers and Dealers race. Irish blarney can get you very far if applied liberally.

High Lights and Low Lights

On the high light side of the ledger a couple of things stand out. The greater numbers racing across all grades in all States. An increasing standard and depth in the Men’s Elite field. Some great battles in Women’s Elite. Norm Gray, and Sunbury CC / Fields of Joy CX in answering the call to provide more races in Victoria when it looked like there might only be three races all year: Chapeau! The great job that Port Adelaide did in running the CX Nationals. All that sand in Perth. Allan Iacoune’s blistering attack against Chris Jongeward on the last hill, on the last lap of NCXS round 1. Chris’ subsequent domination of the winter.

On a personal note I had some great battles with Stu Carson, Nic Cotterill, and John Czechowski. I doubt that Nic and I will ever forget the epic duel in the sand at Perth, Nic clubbing me with his bike one lap, then on the next me feigning to the left then running around him on the right to show him a clean pair of wheels. Getting to report for Australian CX Magazine at Cross Vegas. Sam Watson’s face ordering dinner at the Redcliffe Taven skimpies bar in Perth. Beating Neil Van Der Ploeg at Mount Beauty! Lily getting third in her Masters National’s Race. Nearly crying with laughter when I heard about Allister Payne’s home made embrocation experiment going painfully wrong. I could go on, and on, and on.

Low lights, there were a few. Only seven in the Elite women’s race at Perth. Yes, there were some who couldn’t race but a full race course with only seven on the course is not what anybody wants to see. The Victorian Masters being raced on the same day as the first round of the NCXS. The continued use of the 80% rule when it is really not necessary, in my humble opinion, in a growing discipline of the sport. Blakie’s erection not appearing this year due to engineering problems. Finally, and most painfully, not asking a seasoned pro how to apply embrocation so ending up applying rather too much, in rather inappropriate places, on a day when it was rather sunny. Burnt undercarriage anybody?

Cyclocross Race Start of the Year

Now, as some of us know starting in the middle to the back of a NCXS race is an experience not for the faint hearted. For those who raced on the Saturday in Perth you will remember vividly. For those who didn’t, let me set the scene. Around fifty blokes all raring to go line up for the start. The start straight is gun barrel straight around 150 metres long. At the end of the start straight there is a 90 degree left hand turn on the grass. What happens next. Yes, you have guessed correctly. The whistle blows allowing the aforementioned blokes to sprint towards a narrowing gap. Some reach around 50 kph, only one or two can make it. They do. The rest have to go from 50 kph to about 10 kph in around 2 seconds. I have never experienced the smell of burring rubber at any bicycle race never mind a cyclocross race. Everybody made it around the corner safely which is testament to the skill levels of those who raced, And to that bloke who tried to go past me near the tree on the start straight. Did you really think that I would yield?

Controversy #1 Why won’t Masters men race the NCXS race?

Somebody should do some proper analysis of the entries across the two days. Many Masters, especially Masters Men, did not enter the Elite Men’s NCXS race on the Sunday preferring to race in the “B” grade support race instead. This meant that what would normally be a club level B grade race actually turned into a highly competitive race full of Masters who would normally race State CX races in A Grade.

Why do these obviously good Masters not want to race the Elite NCXS race? Talking to some of the blokes the consensus was that they preferred to have a full 30 minute race against some good competition rather than race at the mid to back of the Elite field to be pulled after 5 or 6 laps. What does this suggest? Perhaps that there is a large segment of CX racers, mainly Masters, who do not want to race NCXS, especially with the 80% effective, but who are prepared to travel to races interstate.

I was one of the few Masters who raced Masters on Saturday, not the Elite race, then the NCXS Elite race and face the 80% Rule. Now, I still race Elite NCXS amongst other reasons to keep the numbers up. When I saw who was racing the the “support race” I did think that I should be in that race where I really belong.

I always think to myself that the support race at NCXS races should be 40 or 45 minutes not 30 minutes. If it was a longer race then more people may travel to race and those, like me, who shouldn’t be in NCXS would have a proper home. Now, there is only a limited amount of time on any given NCXS day and the NCXS races should have precedence. However, a suggestion: could the organisers work with CA & MTBA to find an extra 20 to 30 minutes across the day to accommodate a longer support race? One solution might be to reduce the practice time at the start of the day from 45 minutes to 30 minutes or even 20 minutes. Those who race support races need course practice time but may trade some of that for a longer race. The Elite racers have two practice slots across the day so it will not affect their day, in any event, many do not use the first practice session. Interestingly, in similar standard races in the UK and the US there is only one practice session, before racing in the morning.

If the “B” Grade support race was longer and there were more competitors it would be good for the growth of the sport. It may also put some more cash into the clubs which run the races. As the “B” Grade race in Melbourne sold out that shows how keen people are to race.

Controversy #2 Rule 5.1.052 Watch

How did the the 80% rule fair in 2014? NCXS Round 1 At Cranwell Park (Allan Iacoune Memorial Race Course) it was invoked when there was plenty of race course for the leaders to pass. Actually, at Cranwell it served as a mercy rule. Round 2 at Darebin was meant to have it but as the leaders where going so fast the first riders would have been pulled after fifteen minutes. In a brave, but sensible, decision the Commissaries decide not to invoke the rule. As a result, everybody got a full one hour race with little or no complaint from the leaders. Rounds 3 and 4 in Perth were under the fifty entry limit so it wasn’t invoked. It was at the Elite Nationals Race and Round 5.

Again I ask, why? Yes it is a UCI rule, only a discretionary one, but there were plenty of UCI rules which are mandatory for UCI CX races which are not invoked in NCXS 2014. Surely consistency requires all mandatory rules to be applied, does it not? Rule 5.1.052 does not feature in the British Cycling CX rules, or the Irish version. Their respective rules state only that lapped riders must not interfere with those lapping them. That is an entirely sensible rule which has grown up with British CX. Perhaps it is the relative immaturity of Australian CX which sees organisers and Commissaries reach for the rule book when perhaps a more sensible approach would be to ask the competitors and then seek a workable compromise.

Controversy #3 Age Limits At the Nationals

For all those who competed in the Nationals did you know that you were racing in the 2015 Australian Cyclocross Nationals. That is what what I read from the technical guide, yes I do read it, that the event on 2nd August 2014 was the 2015 Nationals. Rationale being that Australia had to comply with the UCI Calendar. Now call me Irish, but that reasoning is absolute madness. The 2014 Canadian Nationals were held in October 2014 a full three months after the 2015 Australian Nationals. Also, the UCI CX results say that Chris and Lisa are the 2014 Australian Champions.

A side effect of that reasoning being the age limits for all age categories were based on your age on 31st December 2015. So for all those who wondered why you were racing in the Masters 40+ when you were only 38 that is the reason. All rather unfair I’d say. I can’t say that I’m looking forward to racing Masters 50+ when I am only 48!

Cross Vegas & Ireland

When you are reading this both Lily and I will have raced at Cross Vegas. We will have interviewed Sven Nys, Lars Van De Har, Katie Compton, and Helen Wyman. Lily may even has kissed Sven on his bald patch such is her love of bald sports stars. Think Keith Wood and Peter Stringer.

My last race of the season will be in Dungannon, County Tyrone, Ireland. Temperature just above freezing. Rain will have been belting down for days in that Irish horizontal fashion. I will have had hypothermia. Been accused of being soft by the hardy Ulstermen. Tea and barnbrack will have been used in industrial quantities to revive the racers. Mud will have been raced on for the entirety of the course. Yes, the full European experience. Fun in hindsight!

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