Event Strategy

Embed from Getty ImagesI’ve pondered various ideas in the past, on how the event structure in Scotland can benefit riders development & the sport in general. It seems that very little has been done on forming an event structure in sufficient time before the season begins, and while I applaud the introduction of a women’s road series, there are some clashes with the British women’s road race series, which was released months before the Scottish series was announced. I can accept that in Scotland, clubs often don’t register events in plenty of time, so let’s be clear that I’m not solely apportioning blame to Scottish Cycling. If things as basic as looking up the British Cycling website are happening, we obviously need some changes, here’s some of my thoughts.

Event Registration

One problem we have is that events are registered intermittently, some clubs are very quick, others not so.  Events seem to pop up throughout the year, whether this is an issue with finding an organiser, or that folks don’t understand the need to get events registered quickly, I’m not sure, but this needs fixed in order to allow proper event planning. What I’d propose (although I expect we’ll have a few people get all angry about it) is to have a tiered event registration fee. If we set a date for registering road events, say 31st January (what’s anybody else doing in January anyway), then very publicly state that any events registered after that will incur an additional £50 event registration fee, I’m very sure that the majority would be registered with Scottish Cycling by that date. Obviously, the method for doing this would have to be stated quite clearly, plus this isn’t necessarily a club being tied down to a certain date at this point, just stating that they will be running an event & then the calendar can be formed in a much better manner. We had a few milder winters where road events started creeping into the dates as early as the end of February, lets knock this on the head, road races before mid March are going to be horrible affairs, it’s freezing now & it’s May! I’m excluding time trials from this additional registration fee, the national championships are generally on set dates & the others really don’t interfere with the road calendar too much. The £50 additional fee is for making the calendar construction better for everybody, it’s not a stealth tax, in an ideal world no clubs would have to pay it. So all it takes is a club meeting in January 2016, decide your organiser & your race (which you probably already know), register it & you’re not going to incur any more charges. If you can’t even organise a visit to the pub in January with your mates, you’re probably not going to run a decent event anyway.

Specific Annual Dates

We need a coherent list of specific dates for road events in Scotland. Resources are limited, so in order to plan things correctly, we first have to know what is possible, it’s incredibly tricky to have photo finish & moto marshalls at two local national events at one time. So lets spread them out, this also lets riders know very early what they’re training for, even before events get registered, which in the age where many more riders have coaches or training plans, this is crucial for cycling to follow the modernisation of sport & training. We can have slots allocated for all the national road series, track championships etc, we can issue that list in November 2015, training plans can be set accordingly, venues provisionally booked before anything else takes precedent. It’s up to Scottish Cycling to encourage organisers to fill those slots, then build the other events around those major events. We could have some attention paid to the following points  (some of which have been done in the past):

  • Mens & Womens series could be run on the same day, on the same course, sharing manpower, in some circumstances, but not all. Or we could even have 2 different local clubs running each event, sharing marshalls across the events, but depends on the organisers, it shouldn’t be forced onto anybody. (get together & talk with others clubs if you have some ideas)
  • If photo finish & NEG are required, make sure events are not on same day of weekend.
  • When setting these dates, avoid school holidays (across Scotland, not just central belt holidays), big red areas in the SC spreadsheet to help them sort out officials & clubs sort out helpers easier. If folks want to organise in the red areas, that’s up to them.
  • Once we have a coherent structure (which may take a couple of years in reality, as ideas develop) these dates should be relatively continuous from year-to-year. That provides an inbuilt structure & we’re not re-inventing the wheel every February, it should make things much simpler in the future if there’s an annual structure in place.
  • Run the Scottish road race championships on the same day as the British regional championships, as was done for a few years. Currently the Scottish championships clash with a round of the British womens road race series. To avoid any conflicts & get the best & most prestigious field, it’s best to avoid any team loyalty & avoid all potential clashes with major UK events, the only weekend to ensure that is the weekend the regional championships are run. It’s bad enough filling a womens road race field in Scotland, but scheduling it on the same day as a round of a major UK series is going to cause problems for the organiser & potentially the riders. The same goes for all events, the British Cycling major event calendar comes out very early, it’s easy to check.

The Regional Plan

This is where things get tricky, this bit requires cooperation & a fair bit of planning, which is usually where things fall apart in cycling, but it can be done.

I’ve mooted the idea of progressive regional & national leagues in the past, some of which exist in some manner & are quite successful. The ideas are correct, but there need to be some tweaks applied, in order to balance the events against a category system which looks like it’s here to stay, but which doesn’t really work very well in Scotland.

  • Regional Club Series: There are many more 4th category riders in Scotland than there are any others, so there need to be events provided for these riders. I think the biggest mistake that has been made with these events in the past is that the series is based on individual standings, this simply does not work. The riders who win each event, gain a 3rd category licence, but they have a high individual series standing, so have been allowed to ride all the series events. This has the effect of having riders of a higher category than the event is meant for taking all the points. The current 4th cats looking to move up are locked out of upgrading their category, the points are not awarded to the riders who have been upgraded. The lower category series placings should only ever be listed as team only. It can’t work productively any other way. This allows the winning & high-placed riders to move onto other events & race against higher category riders, developing their talent. While the club losing these riders to the higher category events will feel the need to replace them with other riders, opening up a feeding system, riders getting encouraged to enter actual races, currently there’s little incentive, if we want riders to pin a number on their back, we need something like this. Teams from each region would be allocated a certain number of riders in each event & if we’re producing too many 3rd cat riders, then later events could be open to 3rd & 4th category riders, but definitely not the early season ones, there’s an idea in the national series (below) to counter that.
  • National Series: We don’t currently have enough riders in each region to fill E/1/2/3 events, so these events would have to form a national series. although they don’t provide licence points, I’d like to see this series being mixed up with a small number of early season APR’s, with groups being set solely on race category. Then add in some of the major road races, you’ll have a series with a bit of a chance for a talented 3rd cat to be fighting for the overall early in the season. That’s the kind of thing that can spur a rider onto greater things, even if they’re out of the running later on in the season. There’s been little or no innovation in the structure of the national race series recently, it’s been more of an afterthought if we’re all honest about it. Some people are not even aware there is one, such is the low-key nature of it, maybe we need a bit of controversy to get people talking about it again?

The above series ideas would provide each region with a grass-roots champion cycling club every season, this would be based on their ability to develop riders new to racing & feed them into a race structure. We’d also have a platform for our higher category riders to develop. I’d almost be tempted to plan national series to deliberately clash with some of the premier calendar type events down south, to stop negative racing (riders waiting for the big name to attack) & making the playing field a little more level to encourage riders to enter & know they’ll not be destroyed by a pro in the first 20km. It disadvantages a few riders, but may work better for the sport in general.

In Summary

  • Check needed regarding the British Cycling major events calendar for clashes.
  • Run any lower category race series as club ranking ONLY. Otherwise you’re compromising the structure of the series & removing many riders from getting licence points, counter productive to what everybody is trying to achieve.
  •  Charge clubs extra for registering events after 31st January, that should allow the calendar to be compiled.
  • Plan calendar around major events, try to establish an annual slot for these, then build the rest of the calendar around them. Not the other way around.

1 Response

  1. The process for setting the calendar doesn’t start in January, it is actually ongoing from before the end of the previous season. As a district we meet in September to review the year and to set dates for recommended events. These then get passed on to SC who have to wait on BC publishing their national events (and they are not the speediest) before setting Scottish dates (typically November) and giving organisers the go-ahead to start entering events on the BC calendar.
    The provisional calendar is sent out to organisers and club/district contacts at the start of the year. They should be making it available to their members as a provisional set of dates. Our members definitely use this for season planning. The negotiations then start with regard to clashes. Usually these can be readily resolved (eg the august races this year, which took some coordination) but that should be as a consensus discussion between the organisers/promoting clubs involved, coordinated by the events officer, not an SC diktat.

    Not all organisers are happy with the technology so the BC website comes as a bit of a challenge. The job that was once done by the club secretary (filling in the paper event registrations) is now devolved to the individuals who have to deal with this. In our case I have been mentoring several new organisers over the last few years as they get their events up and running. A novice organiser will drastically underestimate the time it takes to obtain risk assessments etc. We have done our best to streamline this (we have form letters for police notification, copies of documents available for folk to use,) but new events take a lot of time to set up. Penalising organisers with a fine for missing an arbitrary deadline is not a helpful way forward.

    Development racing:
    The most positive things on the horizon are the closed road circuits. Lochore Meadows for one. This will allow easy promotion of racing, and could be split by ability, not by category or age. That teaches the necessary racecraft and should act as a feeder into the full road races.

    A women’s series is a nice idea but it only benefits a small handful of the competitors. The racing isn’t sufficiently testing for the best, and is too hard for the weakest. With such a small (at the moment) field, the way forward has to be to get more closed circuit racing, and for the better riders to ride against the men in appropriate races. (I recapitulate the opinions of the lady racers I have discussed this with).

    Ultimately resorting the season and the structure is dependent on those willing to step up and be organisers. To promote a race is a considerable effort -and with the increased burden on on-road racing I would not be surprised to see the flagship series become more and more professionally organised with entry fees rising. The true cost of promoting a race is far more than the entry fees paid, and those who take part are very heavily subsidised by the voluntary hours given by those who make the race actually happen.

    There have been changes over the last few years at SC that lead in the right direction. One cannot change the structure overnight – the thousands of volunteers have to be taken along with the changes or you risk losing races. The changes are happening and in a few years it will look better. The structure is there this year in the plans. As new organisers become more experienced, and as the workload of steering the change diminishes, more effort can be invested into supporting organisers to get events up on the BC calendar in good time.

    The critical shortage now is not so much races but officials.

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