2017 & Mens Pro Cycling

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Men’s pro cycling, the main focus of the cycling media, has been causing me some motivational problems as a cycling fan the last few months.  Living in the UK, the story of the jiffy bag & the tiresome Bradley Wiggins attitude has been dominating proceedings, with it getting murkier & murkier as time progresses, it really looks like the beginning of the end for  Brailsford, although he’s likely to slip into a highly paid role in another sport, these people usually emerge somewhere else. There’s obviously been a cover up, but covering up what nobody really knows, it looks unlikely the full facts will ever become available in the public domain due to the amount of mistruths that have already been told.

In general, it looks like there’s been a large turnover in riders in the peloton this year, with plenty of retirements, so there is potential for a bit of a renewal, hopefully without the same level of scandals, but I’ll not hold my breath.

Predictions

  • Team Sky to have an obvious split into two factions, those loyal to Brailsford & those loyal to Froome, who’s obviously unhappy. It could go the other way than expected as far as results outside the Tour go, it may mean that the highly talented riders that get burnt up as bunch engines benefit from the lack of unity & get their own chances, especially as they may be thinking about contracts in other teams for 2018
  • Spring Classics – Nothing particularly surprising here, showdowns between Peter Sagan, Greg Van Avermaet & a revived & healthy John Degenkolb, with Boonen to win Roubaix & retire.
  • Giro – Esteban Chaves.
  • Tour – Bauke Mollema.
  • Vuelta – Tom Dumoulin.
  • UCI President to be a Frenchman by the end of the year, Cookson to be ousted in a big bun fight after British Cycling becomes more embroiled in the jiffy bag situation, with no realistic answers, tarnishing the organisation & Cookson himself.
  • Worlds – Peter Sagan (again).

 

A Hypothetical Nation At The ‘Worlds’

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In the midst of a political no-mans-land, with huge uncertainties over Brexit, membership of the EU & another potential Scottish independence referendum. What would that mean for a sport’s governing body, flung into a new phase of sudden responsibility, having to deal with licences, governance, memberships, insurance, online entry & websites, among many other things? If things really kick off politically, Scotland could be placing a team in the World Championships even as early as 2018, so for a bit of controversial fun, the following is a rundown of how many riders a new nation joining the UCI would be allocated, and the allocation a potentially lowly ranked country such as Scotland would be able to field in the UCI World Road Race Championships.

UCI rider allocation at the Worlds

Road Race – Women Elite (Likely rider allocation – 3)

  • Top 5 UCI ranked nations – 7 Riders
  • 6th to 15th UCI ranked nations – 6 Riders
  • 16th to 20th UCI ranked nations – 5 Riders
  • All other ranked & non-ranked nations – 3 Riders

Road Race – Women Junior (Likely rider allocation – 4 Riders)

  • Top 5 ranked Junior Nation’s Cup nations – 5 Riders
  • All other ranked & non-ranked nations – 4 Riders

Road Race – Men Elite (Likely rider allocation – 1 Rider)

*Max team allocation is 9, through any means. See LINK for more details.

  • Top 10 UCI World Ranked Nations – 9 Riders (see other caveats on link, which may reduce this number through individual riders not ranked in top 300, or allow them to get it back up to 9 though the continental rankings)
  • Top ranked nation in UCI Africa Tour – 6 Riders
  • 2nd & 3rd ranked nations in UCI Africa Tour – 3 Riders
  • 1st & 2nd ranked nations in UCI America Tour – 6 Riders
  • 3rd, 4th & 5th ranked nations in UCI America Tour – 3 Riders
  • Top ranked nation in UCI Asia Tour – 6 Riders
  • 2nd, 3rd & 4th ranked nation in UCI Asia Tour – 3 Riders
  • Top 6 ranked nations in UCI Europe Tour – 6 Riders
  • 7th to 14th ranked nations in UCI Europe Tour – 3 Riders
  • Top nation in UCI Oceania Tour – 3 riders

If not otherwise qualified through above, a nation can enter riders through the following UCI individual rankings:

A nation whose top ranked rider in the top 100 – 3 Riders

A nation whose top ranked rider is between 101st & 300th – 2 Riders

A nation whose top ranked rider is between 301st & 600th – 1 Rider (Andy Fenn, currently scraping in there at 593rd!)

If not otherwise qualified through above, a nation can enter riders through the following UCI Continental individual rankings:

  • A rider in top 10 of UCI Africa Tour – 1 Rider
  • A rider in top 25 of UCI America Tour -1 Rider
  • A rider in top 10 of UCI Asia Tour – 1 Rider
  • A rider in top 250 of UCI Europe Tour – 1 Rider
  • A rider in top 5 of UCI Oceania Tour – 1 Rider

Road Race – Men Under 23 (Likely allocation – 1 Rider)

  • Top nation UCI U23 classification in Africa Tour – 5 Riders
  • 2nd nation UCI U23 classification in Africa Tour – 4 Riders
  • 3rd to 5th nations UCI U23 classification in Africa Tour – 3 riders
  • 1st to 3rd nations UCI U23 classification in America Tour – 5 Riders
  • 4th to 6th nations UCI U23 classification in America Tour – 4 Riders
  • 7th to 10th nations UCI U23 classification in America Tour – 3 Riders
  • 1st & 2nd nations UCI U23 classification in Asia Tour – 5 Riders
  • 3rd & 4th nations UCI U23 classification in Asia Tour – 4 Riders
  • 5th to 7th nations UCI U23 classification in Asia Tour – 3 Riders
  • 1st to 15th nations UCI U23 classification in Europe Tour – 5 Riders
  • 16th to 20th nations UCI U23 classification in Europe Tour – 4 Riders
  • 21st to 27th nations UCI U23 classification in Europe Tour – 3 Riders
  • 1st nation UCI U23 classification in Oceania Tour – 5 Riders
  • 2nd nation UCI U23 classification in Oceania Tour – 3 Riders

If not otherwise qualified through above, a nation can enter riders through the following UCI Continental individual Elite (not U23) rankings:

  • A rider in top 60 of UCI Africa Tour – 1 Rider
  • A rider in top 200 of UCI America Tour -1 Rider
  • A rider in top 150 of UCI Asia Tour – 1 Rider
  • A rider in top 400 of UCI Europe Tour – 1 Rider
  • A rider in top 20 of UCI Oceania Tour – 1 Rider
  • If a nation is included in final classification of the UCI Nations’ Cup U23, but that nation is not yet qualified – 3 Riders

Road Race – Men Junior (Likely rider allocation – 3 Riders)

  • Top 10 ranked Junior Nation’s Cup nations – 6 Riders
  • 11th to 15th ranked Junior Nation’s Cup nations – 5 riders
  • 16th to 20th ranked Junior Nation’s Cup nations – 4 riders
  • All other ranked & non-ranked nations – 3 Riders

The Gist Of It

A new UCI recognised cycling nation, such as Scotland, suddenly appearing at the UCI World Championships, in a hypothetical 2016 (as that’s all we’ve got requirements for), could field the following….

  • Elite Womens Road Race – 3 Riders
  • Elite Mens Road Race – 1 Rider
  • Under 23 Womens Road Race – 4 Riders
  • Under 23 Mens Road Race – 1 Rider
  • Junior Womens Road Race – 4 Riders
  • Junior Mens Road Race – 3 Riders

What you can see from that, is that other than men’s elite racing, Scotland could get some very good representation & some incredible opportunities for riders such as Eileen Roe & Katy Archibald to take part in the Worlds Road Race, supported by high quality riders such as Charline Joiner. We have a number of talented juniors competing under the Spokes RT banner, could that be morphed into a national junior development squad? On the men’s side, there could be riders with Scottish ‘heritage’, attempting to gain worlds representation, such as Max Sciandri did with the UK team. If one of them was in the top 300, it would increase that allocation too.

Of course, it’s all hypothetical, but gives a very interesting look into the workings of the UCI rider allocation system, and the status & value that they, wrongly or rightly apply to the different continents. The carrot of competition at the worlds could boost many riders aspirations, perhaps grow some dreams, you really never know.

Roadworks & Organising Races

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Domestic cycling events are generally very low-key, they’re the last things anybody cares about when they’re making plans to dig up the road for water, cable TV, or a multitude of different reasons. It came to my attention today, that new organisers are still unaware of exactly where to look for information, a knowledge gap in some clubs perhaps, or just the complexity of running events on the public highway carries so many checks & re-checks that it’s hard to get them all right if you’ve not done it before, so hopefully the following should help. It’s the one big thing that’ll stop your event without warning if overlooked, so it needs to be done as thoroughly as possible.

  • The best website to check for road works is RoadWorksScotland.org, run by the Scottish Road Works Commissioner. It seems to be able to gather together much more information from various organisations who may have a right to place cones or dig up the road on your race course, which is a lot of separate bodies.
  • But don’t leave it at that, TrafficScotland.org is still useful, you’ll generally find many more road works are listed on RoadWorksScotland, but this has additional info on public events & occasionally some distant planned road works that may not yet show up anywhere else.
  • When you’re planning the event, it’s worth a look at both of these sites, to make sure that there’s no long-term works that might impact your event.
  • If the start or finish dates are close to your event, but look like they won’t impact, it’s best to get in touch with them using the details on the RoadWorksScotland site, which carry the contact info if you click on the road works arrow. I’ve always had a decent response from this, within a day or so, never had a non response by using those contacts.
  • I always also contact the local community council, or if a bigger event the regional council too, to let them know there’s an event on & they can often know of low impact things that never show up anywhere, which might cause you some bother, but wouldn’t end up cancelling the event.
  • As I’ve had road works pop-up the day before an event, I have a ‘save all’ approach to checking the websites before an event as I’ve been stung before. I’ll check every few days in the month running up to an event, then every day in the last 2 weeks (check in the evening when everything is logged). Then the last week, it’s more than once a day, you never know who’s springing something on you. I’ve been informed by a community council of some late planned works in the last few days which I managed to postpone, so contacting the local community can save your bacon & is very worth doing.

If you’re considering starting organising, give it a bookmark for future reference.

The 20 Year Scandal Cycle

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“The tranquil world of cycling has been turned upside down by allegations of misconduct and lax financial controls at its ruling body, the British Cycling Federation.”

(Independent, 1996)

For those who were not involved in cycling 20 years ago, the current turmoil going on in British Cycling may seem like something new, it may come as some surprise that there were scandals in the same organisation 20 years ago. For some of us, it just looks like an ongoing theme in sports governing bodies which will always happen, a cycle of scandal.

1996

Some of you may recall that the privileged & disconnected world of the BCF board was brought to an abrupt halt by Tony Doyle in 1996, the former Six Day star being voted in as President, running a campaign “after grassroots complaints that the leadership was not doing enough to promote the sport. Mr Doyle ran on a ticket calling for greater transparency from the board and increased accountability to the membership.” What Tony Doyle uncovered shocked him, as the Independent article highlights, there was also a negative PR campaign run against him in order to discredit him. A particularly nasty period in the UK’s main cycling governing body’s history, which had seemingly been rectified by a complete restructuring & winning multiple Olympic & World Championship medals. The issue was even raised in Parliament by an MP, you can read the full Hansard transcript here or in the easier to read ‘They Work For You‘ version.

The main points:

  • Poor financial controls & accounts incorrect. (Accountant, and later Boardman’s mentor Peter Keen, helped uncover bad management & incompetence in the accounts)
  • Conflicts of interest in board member’s companies & interests. For example, Impsport being repeatedly awarded the BCF clothing contracts, reportedly without much in the way of alternative bids. BCF artwork designed & printed by board member’s company, a shareholder in promotions company that got contracts for BCF major events.
  • Board members working outside their remit & running operational matters.
  • Government funding being pulled until the serious situation was remedied.

In ‘Kings Of The Road’ by Robert Dineen, there’s lots more detail of what happened when Tony Doyle was elected President by the membership. The old guard, trying to protect their interests in their newly appointed Directorships after an overhaul led by Ian Emmerson in 1995, tried to oust him. It went to court & Tony Doyle won, after it was claimed that HE had a conflict of interests having worked for ‘Sport For Television’. Things got worse after that, for the democratically elected president against the board clinging to undemocratic power & privileges, as Dineen describes:

“The board called an emergency general meeting & called another presidential vote but Tony won that, too. The board had promised to resign if this happened. Instead it took out a civil case against him, prompting a complex chain of claim & counter-claim, until Tony resigned in frustration at the situation. He had been in office for only 5 months, ‘I was a young man, I was still president but they were taking me to court. I thought, “How can I conduct any meaningful business?”. The federations legal expenses were covered but not mine. I had no option to resign & fight them on a civil basis.”

There’s plenty more reading to be had in this if you’re interested, but as it’s in the black zone before absolutely everything was on the internet, it’s better found in books like ‘Kings of The Road’ linked above & ‘Great British Cycling‘ by Ellis Bacon

The Gist Of It

Without Tony Doyles intervention, a figure widely known & respected by the membership, having been a SixDay star & world champion, things may have dragged on a lot longer. Team GB’s Olympic successes may never have transpired, which would have led to low funding, potentially no Olympic medals, Chris Hoy having to get a proper job & Bradley Wiggins staying in the pub. We probably owe quite a lot to Tony Doyle, who kicked the whole thing off. Will we be looking back at Jess Varnish in 20 years time as being the one that kick started another cycling revolution in the UK?

 

Testing Relationships

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A very interesting post has appeared on the Scottish Cycling website regarding time trialling & the emergence of CTT in Scotland HERE. I had expressed my opinion in ‘Calendar Conundrum‘ that CTT in Scotland may be a blessing in disguise for Scottish Cycling, that would allow them to focus more on road & track, but they now appear to be defending & reinforcing their future position as the host of time trials in Scotland. A bit of healthy competition & new ideas into the sport, with a minor scrap between promoting bodies can only be good for time triallists in Scotland, it’ll result in better (or more) events & a bit more focus on what they want, whichever way it ends up going.

CTT/SC Relationship

Perhaps the initially most interesting part of the Scottish Cycling update is about their relationship with CTT, in particular, the removal of it with no correspondence. But when you look into it, it’s perhaps not interesting at all.

“We had hoped for dialogue and some sort of collaboration with CTT, however, despite numerous attempts it has not been forthcoming. We will continue to seek clarity but what we know is that CTT have exercised their right to terminate the long-standing agreement between themselves and Scottish Cycling but have given no background or detail as to what they believe the implications now are for Scottish riders wanting to ride events in England and Wales or riders from South of the border entering events in Scotland.”
Read more at https://www.britishcycling.org.uk/scotland/article/20160226-scottish-cycling-news-Scottish-Cycling-and-Time-Trialling-in-Scotland-0#g1LmxHmOswCYCYUB.99

The two points made are probably pretty irrelevant to most competitors, one being no access to CTT BAR tables for SC time trials & the other being that Gold & Silver BC members will have to pay a surcharge to ride events in England.

Not many people are really all that interested in BAR competitions these days, so it affects a tiny number of riders who compete in time trials. With a quick glance, I find zero men or women riding for Scottish clubs listed on the 2015 BBAR tables, see for yourself HERE, so it’s unlikely anybody really cares about that point.

As for riding events down south, for CTT events it’s the club being registered that matters, not individual membership. So we can reasonably assume that any clubs who sign up to CTT Scotland will be the ones with most riders being interested in time trials, who are more likely to travel down south. Even if your club isn’t registered, you can simply join another one that is 2nd claim & ride events down south that way. Again, it’s all pretty irrelevant.

All in all, the lack of an agreement between Scottish Cycling & Cycling Time Trials holds almost zero consequence to anybody, I’m not really sure SC should be bothering too much.

Levies

I’ve been banging on about levies for a while, so this was quite refreshing to see that Scottish Cycling are at least paying a little attention to it, although I’d still like an answer on why we pay more than people in the rest of the UK (see my 2103 post ‘Would You Like To Go Large?‘ for more on this, although numbers are slightly different now).

As a reference, CTT levies are £2 per rider as far as I can see, while SC levies are £3.95 per rider, unless it’ a mid-week TT series, where it’s £2.60 per rider. I’ve not actually seen the breakdown from SC on this before, but only £1.50 goes towards BC insurance, the rest is apportioned to whichever of the 5 regions the event was registered with (bizarrely, it could be held in a different region, which many events are, such as the Tour of the Trossachs, held in ‘East & Central Region’, by a ‘West Region’ club), or to ‘development of cycling’, such as equipment, commissaires etc. Scotland CTT is a volunteer organisation, while SC has paid members of staff, so a difference in price is expected, but we also expect a bit more in the terms of service if we pay more. As CTT Scotland is only just beginning, it’s impossible to determine if that’s the case, we’ll have to look again at the end of the year.

Other Issues

Scottish Cycling list some other issues that they see as relevant, I’ll briefly go through these.

Annual Calendar Compilation: SC point out that they provide a coordinated calendar. Had it been the previous few years, where the event calendar has been abysmal, with it being published once the season had started, they wouldn’t have had a point. With the active work being done by SC’s Regional Development Officers in the last half on 2015, this has been rectified in 2016. So now it’s valid, as I can see only 5 CTT Scotland events on the CTT website as 26/2/16, four 10 mile TT’s up to June & the Boomerang 2-up in August, so I assume plenty are missing? I also see that there’s not much info, apart from some Facebook posts on CTT Scotland. Again, I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt on this, as they’re completely new & are organised via committee, always an area of stalling & delays in any organisation. A simple (and free) WordPress blog could list events & information, to make it more visible, I’m sure that’ll come.

National TT Championships: The point SC in making here is that they arrange the calendar to accommodate championship events throughout the season, working with race organisers. It’s pretty well-known that it’s relatively easy to find an organiser for the ’10’, the rest get increasingly harder as the distance increases & the interest reduces. The hill climb, is perhaps one that has had more interest than it used to. My opinion on the number of historical & poorly supported time trial championships is well documented, so I’ll leave this up to you to decide if it’s important, I assume it’s a very personal thing for most people.

Course Risk Assessments: This has changed in 2016, there is a greater involvement in helping to complete these, with organisers being assisted by the SC RDO’s. I can’t really comment on it, as I’ve not been involved in it this year, but in the past risk assessments are a genuine pain in the race organisers posterior. So this may be a real benefit, not just for convenience, but perhaps to make sure the race organiser doesn’t get themselves in bother by omitting a danger, spreading the blame perhaps.

Officials Appointments & Training: There are more trained officials required for an SC event, I’m really unaware of what’s currently required for CTT, so I’ll not comment, for now.

TT Course Recording: As far as I’m aware, the CTT events are going to be using the same courses as SC ones, so essentially CTT is piggy-backing off historical SCU courses. It could also be argued that it was volunteers who measured these courses anyway, so possibly another non-issue.

Legislation Compliance: This one has some significant implications. In CTT events elsewhere in UK helmets that comply with a safety standard are not required (except for some younger age groups), so this could be an important point if CTT Scotland are wanting to be seen as a modern race organisation. Not requiring helmet use would set them apart form all other sports in Scotland that use bikes, would also make the TT side of the sport look backward is relation to other sports & could cause some insurance issues & a potential conflict with Police Scotland who don’t see this issue arising in any other sports that use bikes, in racing or participation. I’m completely unaware if this issue has been addressed, I hope it has before any events take place.

Event Management System: The British Cycling system does appear to work reasonably well, but CTT Scotland events could use resources such as EntryCentral for an online entry system, so it’s not really a big issue.

National BAR Table: As I’ve said in previous blogs, nobodies really particularly bothered about this, presumably apart from the person who wins the average of average competition.

The Gist Of It

I’m all for a bit of healthy competition, something did need done in order to push Scottish Cycling into some decisions on this. I think we’ll maybe see SC reduce levies a little to be more competitive from 2017 onwards, but not by very much. As far as I can see CTT Scotland are currently mainly interested in running events on the ‘fast’ but busy Westferry course, whether that expands to other courses & distances during the year remains to be seen, hopefully it will. The big ‘but’ is that I can’t really see CTTS moving away from ‘fast’ imperial distance courses (you know I don’t like these if you’ve been reading my blog for a while), so it does open up an opportunity for SC to perhaps look at diversifying their side of time trialling to other demographics (as I’ve also discussed at length previously).

Perhaps we can have two distinctly different sets of TT’s running alongside each other for a while. The old-fashioned standard distance events which are getting squeezed due to traffic, then the more ‘road’ orientated events on quite more interesting courses, which would encourage a crossover of riders from sportive & perhaps wouldn’t put parents off allowing their kids to race on a semi-motorway. Either way both organisations are going to have to look at their current ‘model’ & taking a good hard look at a sustainable future for time trialling, whoever does this well will be the long-term winner in controlling TT’s in Scotland.

 

Tomorrows World

As the year draws to an end, we’re going to have a look into the future, to see what may happen with technological developments in the bike industry & in the sport itself in 2016 & beyond.

ASO V UCI

All ASO events to be allocated to European calendar in 2017, allowing ASO greater freedom to select whichever teams they like to ride their events after the World Tour reforms are in place. ASO are organisers of many of the biggest races in the world, including the Tour, while our governing body, the UCI, have little punch in this fight & will undoubtably lose. In the meantime we’ll have a war or words from both sides, perhaps a few threats, but it’s hard to imagine what the UCI can actually do to counter ASO, the most likely answer is that they can’t. It’ll be getting plenty of press in 2016.

2016: Year of the lightweight

With the UCI likely to remove the 6.8kg rule completely (see this previous blog to see why it’s a nonsense), we’ll see a push from ‘everything aero’ to seeing more marketing aimed at light weight bikes & components.

The last few years have been dominated by aerodynamic improvements, partly due to the 6.8kg limit imposed by the UCI. Once it was easy to get a bike down to that weight, other things had to be done to increase sales. The marketers sold us ‘aero’, even if you were 30kg overweight, you were sold a bike with aerodynamic features. If you’d eaten less cake, you’d not only have saved money on your groceries bill, but your new sleek shape would cut through the wind much more efficiently than moving your rear brake under the bottom bracket, the worst place for brake block dirt collection. But that’s not what it was about, riders like to ride the same bike as the pro’s, so everybody needed aerodynamic components (a proper bike fit would likely gain much more for almost everybody).

So in 2016 we’re going to see some superlight bikes appear in the pro peloton, but they’ll have to pass the UCI tests first. Which consist of the manufacturer sending some samples to Switzerland & the UCI ‘testing’ them, as far as I can see for frames, it’s just measuring them. They then also have to pay several thousand Swiss Francs for each size, where these frames end up is anybody’s guess, but I doubt UCI friends & family are short of any of next years models. Having witnessed what destructive testing on frames involves, the UCI measuring-tape method doesn’t guarantee safety in any way, unless I’m missing something, have a read for yourself HERE.

By 2017, the manufacturers will have developed their new lightweight bikes, claiming there’s more gains from losing 100g than having an aerofoil shaped down tube, and so it will go on. Very pleased with an opportunity to buy a new bike, the manboobed Rapha kitted-out men will absolutely lap this stuff up. At least a bike weight saving allows them an excuse for another slab of chocolate cake, which I expect will be the biggest effect on a normal cyclist to the lightweight bikes we’ll see at the end of 2016, simply more guilt-free cake for everyone.

Disc Road Bikes

See above for the reason, I’m not sure this will become quite as popular as anticipated, which I’m happy with. The removal of the 6.8kg weight limit will undoubtably affect disc brake development in road bikes. With the beefed up forks & heavier brakes required, the rule change may scupper the development to some extent, it’s hard to imagine pro riders choosing a disc equipped bike if it’s a fair bit heavier (with no lower limit for bike weight being introduced). Maybe we’ll see them in the worst conditions, very wet stages, Paris Roubaix in the mud, but otherwise I’m predicting they’ll not be the weapon of choice, simply due to the 6.8kg rule disappearing. That rule would have allowed plenty of scope for the added weight of disc brakes to be incorporated, but not anymore.

Power Meters & Gadgets

We’re going to see more pedal based power measuring systems, they’re much more practical for riders with several bikes, plus may may see some shoe based systems coming out of their development phases (cue the £1000 ‘power-shoe’ by 2017). The 6.8kg rule will also affect power meters, currently the pro riders can fit a power meter & still hit 6.8kg, but with that limit removed, we’re going to see the push for development in even lighter power meters than the ‘Stages’ single-crank ones currently in use.

As weight & cost reduces for power meters over the next few years, it opens up some other practical uses for them other than simply athletic performance. I’ve noticed that Scottish motorbike chain lubing specialists ‘Scottoiler‘ are about to release an automatic oiler unit for bicycles. Rather than lube at set periods, as power meters shrink & become more affordable, a system like this could develop further & lube itself when needed (read the link, they’re claiming up to 12Watt savings with their system). With the use of two power meters, one at the pedals & one at the rear hub, if the differential in the readings between the two units reaches a certain value, then the system could automatically lube the chain until the efficiency returns to the desired level. Bingo, a system based on actual measured chain efficiency. Things like this could also shed light on gear choice, with efficiency reducing as the chain crosses at an angle, it could alter chainring & cog sizes that are normally available (we know Moser did some work on this & claimed that large cogs & chainrings were much more efficient). Power meters shrinking, reducing in cost & being easier to incorporate onto bikes can only be a good thing.

Power meter head units are currently quite large, compared to the bike computers of old, so expect to see them start shrinking too, in line with the rule change. At the extreme end of development for this, would be to remove it from the handlebars altogether. A heads-up-display in the riders glasses would be the ultimate weight saver, and the new ‘must have’ gadget for the techno hungry cyclists out there. You can be sure somebody has a prototype Ant+ compatible pair of glasses getting tested right now (cue the £1000 ‘power-shades’ by 2017). [Edit: I’ve been made aware Ant+ glasses already exist, see HERE]

Rio

The Rio Olympics is in some serious danger of getting overshadowed by the continuing deeper doping hole that Athletics is finding itself falling into. It appears as if systematic doping has been widespread for years & almost completely ignored by the authorities. Rio may be more about who’s not there, than who actually wins a medal. This could tarnish past icons, pundits commentating on the event, current athletes, national governing bodies, it’s hard to see who may not be involved if things look as bad as they seem. If this transpires as I suspect, there will be a clamber for good news stories among the madness, so there’s a potential for Cycling to take some glory from Athletics self manufactured & endemic problems. But we know a thing or two about those, Athletics looks much worse than cycling was around the time of the Festina affair, and we thought we had problems!

 

100% Time Trialling

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I’ve blogged about time trialling before, about the reduction in availability of what are deemed ‘suitable’ courses & the sustainability of sticking to the outdated model of standard distance, relatively flat courses. There are other ways of looking at measuring performance & progress in time trialling, than just looking at times at set distances, we could use a new method to modernise this side of the sport & open it up to appeal to a larger demographic than just some old guys with money for expensive funny bikes. Here’s one idea.

The % Method

Is there a way of measuring your performance & improvement across a season, on any length of course, on any terrain, against the best rider in the event?

I’m going to suggest that there really is, all it requires is an additional column in the event results. If a chump like me can easily create this extra column in Excel (I’ve just tried), it’s likely that it can easily become a standard template that organisers can record the times on, if so desired.

If riders times were displayed as a percentage of the winners time, there’s a multitude of uses we could put this information to, here’s just a few….

  • At the top of the table, the leading riders can get an idea of how form is improving or otherwise as they get closer to championship dates. If their % gap on their rivals in increasing, the training is going well, but if it’s closing, it’s time to look at improving. This can be measured not in seconds over the same distance, but in all distances in %, which allows direct comparison without taking into consideration the changes made by weather, courses & distance.
  • Any rider, in any position, can see how they’re improving relative to their closest rivals, club mates, or random benchmarks, irrespective of the course or weather.
  • If you change an aero setup or your training, a sudden increase or decrease in % against your rivals may indicate how good (or bad) the new setup or training is, regardless of the distance of the event.
  • Rapidly improving riders can be easily & quickly identified across a season or just a few weeks, a shortening of % and how it relates to not just winners, but various riders in the event will be very easy to spot, no matter where in the results the rider currently lies.

The Effect

If the riders target moves away from aiming for specific times over specific distances, then having results recorded as a percentage of winners time can help us move away from set distance courses.

We could use the type of roads cyclists generally choose to ride on, more suitable roads for cycling, we could remove the necessity to measure the courses to be exactly 10 or 25 miles, we could pick a course anywhere & retain a comparative measurement to performance against any other course. The focus could switch to reducing your % loss to the winner, or a comparison % loss to your ‘rivals’, be they club mates, enemies, chain gang buddies etc.

So if this was adopted to be included in the results, you can compare performances across various events, on different terrain, different weather, all year-long. You can see much easier which courses suit you better, or where you need to improve. Chasing specific times on different days, even on the same course can be a losing strategy sometimes. If conditions are bad & all times are slower, you may be upset with your recorded time, but in reality, your % loss to the winner may be less, you may actually have performed better in relative terms than the ‘float day’.

Technicalities

If we’re going to do this, it may require a little thought on how to go about it, plus exactly what you need to stick into your Excel sheet. We also don’t want to get tied up too many decimal points, 2 will suffice as I’ll show in my example below.

To keep things simple, if somebody won a ’25’ in exactly 50 minutes, that’s 3000 seconds. The minimum gap we see on results is 1 second, that’s approx 0.03% of the winners time, so 2 decimal places will be fine for every time trial up to around 3 times the winners time. So unless you’re riding one of the incredibly few 100 mile TT’s in Scotland, and your gap to somebody else is less than a second, this will work for every other TT, than that one.

As an example, here’s my revised finish sheet for the first five riders in my theoretical ’25’.

TT_percentages

Max Tester won the event, he gets 0% allocated to him, as all winners of events do. Two minutes down was Chanty McMuffin, his % difference was 4% down on the winner (2 minutes, i.e. 120 seconds, divided by winners 3000 seconds, all multiplied by 100 to give a percentage). As we can see, Marjorie Gains was only one second down, her % loss was 4.03%, so each second is accounted for with just the two decimal places being included in the results. As we go down the results, 5 minutes equates to a 10% loss on the 50 minutes of the winner. Then we have the hour specialist, doing as he does best & riding for exactly one hour, but losing 10 minutes, which is 20%.

The formula you’d enter into the Excel file starting at cell B2 if it was laid out the same would be as follows. Then you just copy it down the page, the $ sign means those cells remain tagged to the winners time, while all others will change. Remember to format the cells as a percentage & restrict it to 2 decimal places.

=(((E2*3600)+(F2*60)+G2)-(($E$2*3600)+($F$2*60)+$G$2))/(($E$2*3600)+($F$2*60)+$G$2)

Conclusion

In every event, we’ll have varying times, one second will have a different % value depending on the winners times. This allows a comparison, not against time, but against performance relative to the winner, which gives a very different perspective. This also allows every single competitor to compare themselves across different events, different weather conditions on the same course etc. A whole new way of thinking about things.

There must surely be multiple ways in which time trialling can be modernised, this is just one. It may remove the perceived need for standard distance courses, it may initially just allow riders to compare performances against other riders on the same course, but in different conditions. It could allow riders to see how their form is coming on as a season progresses, but if things remain the same, courses will continue to disappear & time trialling will become a forgotten discipline.

Scottish Cycling Events Strategy 2016-2020

Any organisation which relies on the goodwill of unpaid volunteers is always going to have a big problem planning for the future. This is why sports organisations who don’t have a big enough income to supply multiple events across a season (like Scottish Cycling & most other Olympic discipline bodies) require a ‘buy-in’ from their membership in order to even attempt at planning for the next five years. It’s a tricky job, but as a starter they’ve published a draft ‘Event Strategy‘ for public consumption & feedback.

A New Thought Process

From what I’ve seen from Scottish Cycling recently on the ‘road’ side of things, I’m actually quite liking it! I know for some that’ll be hard to believe, they’ve quite rightly been ridiculed in the past for some blunders & exactly what we’re seeing them now trying to remedy, i.e. not having a coherent plan for all to see. The Scottish Cycling RDO’s (Regional Development Officers) seem like a very capable bunch, they are engaging with the clubs & seeking advice & guidance by meeting up in face-to-face sessions with club people.

This may be the key to all this, having good quality people in the ‘customer facing’ jobs, communicating information & getting their regions in order. It looks like the new structure, while not being ideal geographically, may have broken up a couple of the arse-facing old-guy networks of the ‘Centres’ & forced them into staying at home & watching ‘Take the High Road’ boxsets on their BetaMax video recorders. Hopefully this has opened the door to some more progressive types to get involved, or at least feel they’re not going to be asked to run the ‘Centre 50 Championships’ on a semi-motorway if they turn up.

It also pleased me to see that the recent Scottish Cycling event meeting was on a live stream, a relatively simple thing to do, but takes a little know-how & is a huge step forward. As I’ve said previously, if regional meetings could be carried out this way, with Skype type phone-ins from interested parties, then the people from the geographical extremes (or even just those not willing to drive an hour each way after work) can get involved. With a change in staff & attitude, we may actually get an event calendar out in time for the racing season for a change!

It’s starting to look like progress, comment doesn’t only come when things look poor, it also should arrive when things look good too, and these changes look positive for the future.

The 5 Year Plan

So this leads to the published draft document. As I see it, the document is currently too brief for what needs to be done, each area needs some more expansion & detail (I know, it’s a draft). There’s a lot of “Clear & Robust Calendar…”, but no detail on how that will be achieved.

Some initiatives helping Cycle-Cross & Time Trialling to progress would be good, these are areas where Scottish Cycling has lost out recently due to inaction or bad handling. Something as simple as a revised levy system could be looked at. We’re currently paying a premium (I’ve still not had an answer to this previous post on why it’s more expensive in Scotland than elsewhere in the UK to run events) for British Cycling insurance, which is based on mass start road races. Surely a lower fee could be arranged with an insurance provider for time trials & off-road events, where there isn’t the same perceived risk for an insurer. These two disciplines are starting to look very likely to leave the Scottish Cycling/British Cycling umbrella altogether unless Scottish Cycling decide to act.

I keep thinking that the sportive market can be targeted to get people to ride sporting time trials on ‘normal’ road bikes, rather than the TT bike dragstrip time chasers which could co-exist as the slightly odd uncle of time trialling. We could have some absolutely spectacular time trial courses in Scotland if we veer away from the flat imperial distance ones, opening up competitive sport to a whole new type of rider, who may then get involved in clubs & other disciplines that were previously hidden from them. To Scottish Cycling that means more members, which is their carrot to look into that idea with a revised levy system.

The focus on helping race organisers really has to come from current race organisers (not pre internet ones), rather than Scottish Cycling staff, so hopefully some willing people have been identified for that part of the plan.

From a ‘road & track’ side of things, I’d like to see something about access to facilities & a plan for some complimentary road series that would allow progression for riders, and allow coaches to see riders in action, rather than having the talent spread across various races. We need a focal point for road racing, but more importantly, we need somewhere for the crop of youth racers to race after they join the junior ranks. If we don’t set that up NOW, then we could lose some key riders who didn’t quite make the GB Academy. I think if anything needs addressed urgently in the Event Strategy, its junior racing, the youth riders are appearing & getting coaching, but where do they go from there?

All-in-all, putting a draft document out there for comment is a good healthy thing to do, make your comments to Scottish Cycling too please.

Calendar Conundrum

Embed from Getty ImagesOn the face of it, organising a racing season should be relatively simple, but things are never as easy as they seem from the outside. A mixture of misplaced nostalgia, defunct championships & “I want my ‘traditional’ race date” mentality create various issues across the road season in Scotland. It needs a total re-think, I’m keen on the ‘destroy & rebuild’ approach to fixing this annual issue once & for all, it’s really the only way to fix the major issues in a short space of time. A softy-softy approach may fix minor issues, but to truly change the season structure in Scotland, we need big change, all at once to clear up everything into a coherent event structure & not leave any untidy strands running in the background.

Time-Trial Championships

If the rumours are true, then the imminent introduction of a CTT type organisation in Scotland (Cycling Time Trials run all time trials down south), solely running time trials, it may be a huge blessing in disguise for Scottish Cycling. A tired format of fixed distance time trials could be rejuvenated under the control of a new set of people & ideas. I’ve suggested this before as one way in which Scottish time-trialling could go, maybe it’s going to finally happen, I welcome it if it does. It could recharge the discipline & help it come up with solutions to lost courses, defunct historical championships & perhaps an alternative to the pre-occupation with imperial fixed distances.

You could argue that British Cycling are able to focus much more on the side of road racing, track racing & mass participation, rather than catering for, what could we say, the older gent’s sport of flat, fixed distance time trials. Maybe Scottish Cycling would also benefit, I’ve pointed out before that race levies across all disciplines won’t even pay them anything like a full-time staff members salary, so it may free up some resources to concentrate on other disciplines, British Cycling seem to do ok without time-trials. Of course, a big fight with a new governing body will be counter-productive, a low-key relatively public disagreement to show their commitment to the sport would suffice, followed by a mutually beneficial agreement between the two organisations & we then have real progress in all disciplines.

The effect of a separate volunteer-run time-trial governing body (who have zero interest in becoming the UCI affiliated representative of cycling in Scotland), would be quite large in my opinion. It’s really shouldn’t be seen as competition by Scottish Cycling (although, we can imagine it may very well be treated as that), it really takes an admin role away from them, which in real terms may actually save some money. As in ‘Sport V Funding‘, the very approximate supposition of 300 riders per weekend racing for 30 weekends a year raises £3.95 in levies per rider, which looks on paper to be a healthy sum of over £35,000. But if we consider that the insurance is actually through British Cycling, who charge £3.00 for races down south, we can assume that SC are making £0.95 on each levy paid to them, which leaves a well below minimum wage salary of £8,550 to cover all admin across all disciplines, it’s not really enough. So losing time-trialling isn’t really going to break the bank, or un-tick any boxes in development funding, which isn’t really associated with time-trialling on busy roads, it’s more focussed on youth, track & closed circuit racing, a world away in sporting terms.

The removal of these championships from the Scottish Cycling medal list would free up plenty of difficult admin constraints in the road calendar. We have the ’10’, ’25’, ’50’, 100′, ‘Olympic TT’ & ‘Hill Climb’, all dominating a weekend where clashes with other major events are avoided. We can forget this issue if it’s not run by the same governing body, but I’m sure any huge clashes will be avoided, it opens the door to have road & time-trial major events or championships on the same weekend.

This also removes the Scottish Cycling problem of having to enforce UCI equipment rules on their time-trial events, a universally unpopular set of affairs in the time-trial community. Currently time trials in Scotland don’t actually conform to UCI rules, as non compliant bikes & positions are allowed, if these events were run by a non-UCI registered governing body, it no longer becomes a problem for SC. As BC & CTT do, the ‘Olympic’ style championship could be run concurrently, with riders from both sets of bodies competing against each other. It would simply be called the ‘Time Trial Championship’ by Scottish Cycling.

Key Events

So if we’ve got time trialling removed, it’s then much easier to organise a road & track calendar, it makes things much simpler. We can arrange things by choosing a set weekend for championships, with a bit of thought we can design a progressive & more importantly a consistent calendar, by getting it right first time.

The men’s & women’s road race championships appear to now have slotted into the gap in the Elite UK calendar taken up by the BC regional champs. While many would like to say, “but we’re not a region”, while I agree, I think that’s relatively irrelevant to the purpose of this slot in the calendar. It’s a weekend where there are no other top-level events across the UK, like Premier Calendar type events, so all our best riders should be free to ride the national championship, without any issues with teams wanting them to be elsewhere. It almost guarantees the top UK-based Scottish riders turn up, they’ve got no other events to ride. It also provides a substantial amount of points for our upcoming riders keen to take part in the British road race championships in June. These events should be seen primarily as a tool to provide opportunities for our riders to progress. Helping the top riders move onto bigger events, while allowing the aspirational riders to see where the benchmark of performance really is, they can race against the best Scottish riders & see how they compare, for riders with ambitions, this is very beneficial.

The track champs are also key to the Scottish calendar, in recent years they’ve been moved all over the place, some at short notice, which is far from ideal. Track riders, more than any other discipline tend to peak for specific events, this requires a plan set several months out from the event. We need this pinned down, but far enough away from the British champs to allow a 2nd peak to be built into the training to hit best form for both events. (Which is why I really can’t fathom the way athletics do selection, they tend to run ‘trials’ reasonably close to the key selection events. If the athletes were training correctly for the big event, you’d assume they’d be in a build phase during the ‘trials’. Which forces all the athletes to hit their best form too early, in order to gain selection.)

The Gist Of It

As I’ve said, Scottish Cycling losing time trials may not be a bad thing for all disciplines. It allows SC to focus on fewer disciplines, increasing their involvement in developing them. We could also see time-trialling develop outside the constraints of UCI rules & the cost to the rider drop (CTT charge £2 per rider, while SC charge £3.95, due to their insurance being broadly based on the more costly BC road race insurance).

The road & track calendar would become much less complicated, removing the need to allocate specific weekends to the vast number of disciplines that require individual treatment. It would be up to the new time-trial governing body to come up with new ideas to develop the sport, encourage younger riders to take part & generally revive what may become a dead-end as courses & traffic issues grow year-on-year.

What we need are consistent event dates every year, the calendar released as early as possible & some other major changes. These changes may not make some of the more old-school happy, but the days of certain events assuming that their date is protected should be gone. The event strategy has to step on some toes in order to work, but if somebody is unwilling to move, it’s unlikely they’re going to be one of the progressive types that the sport needs to push things forward.

This weekends Crit on the Campus, run by Stirling Bike Club is a prime example of how things should be, let’s design a calendar that encourages more of this type of inclusive, well planned & innovative event. We can be progressive, we can be inventive, but that requires a little destruction, a field needs plowed to allow the new seedlings to grow. It really all depends on whether or not those controlling our sport see the need to alter things & grasp opportunities, I really hope they do.

 

 

Discussing Development #1

Embed from Getty ImagesThis new blog series is starting out with a few key issues that effect the development of the sport in Scotland (potentially the same issues as elsewhere) & will grow & expand into other blogs, but all will be linked here. I’m very open to receiving ideas & printing them too, even if I don’t agree with them. I’ll start off on two subjects, cyclo-cross & time-trialling, both of which have very different issues, but both could suffer losses to other governing bodies if not looked after correctly.

Cyclo-Cross

Cyclo-cross has blossomed, it’s now the most inclusive discipline in Scottish cycle sport, with hundreds of riders at each race meeting pinning a number on & having fun throughout the winter. This huge success is down to individuals, clubs & Scottish Cyclocross managing to join it all together in a progressive manner. Series events have to meet a required standard & as a result, the events provide great racing & an excellent environment for all ages to compete. Cyclo-cross also has the advantage that road racing does not, that you don’t have to meet a high minimum ability level or you’re dropped & out of the race, in ‘cross you just get lapped (several times for some), but you keep racing & continue to battle with those around you of similar ability. I’ve been to a few, but not turned a pedal in anger at them for a long time, but even I’m getting interested in giving it a go.

Having said all that, ‘cross has reached this level through pure bloody-mindedness, by people who had a vision for where it could go in Scotland. It didn’t do this as a result of help from the governing body, some would say that this lack of support actually caused cyclo-cross harm, while others may suggest that removing itself from ScottishCycling/BritishCycling (apart from race insurance & commissaires) has allowed it to develop in a productive manner, without outside influence. There may be a couple of reasons for this lack of interest, funding & tradition. Cyclo-cross is not an Olympic sport, so the British Cycling plan doesn’t pay it any notice as there are no medals available, for them it could as well be bicycle polo or cycle speedway.

This funding attitude may have rolled down into Scottish Cycling, but it’s a rather shortsighted approach, with one glaringly obvious reason, Scotland doesn’t have an Olympic team (yet). We’re not chasing Olympic medals, we should be chasing event & rider development. Cyclo-cross isn’t a stand alone niche discipline, on the international scene we find road & MTB riders take part in ‘cross, so it seems like a missed opportunity to not look to an accessible sport like ‘cross & use it to feed into other disciplines. If all you’re interested in is sending riders to the GB squad for Olympic disciplines, perhaps cyclo-cross is going to work as a talent feeder into both road & mountain biking to identify those riders at an early stage, so it’s well worth looking if the primary focus is medals in other disciplines.

If Scottish Cyclocross want assistance, now is probably the time for Scottish Cycling to start offering some help, otherwise they could lose this valuable side of the sport to another governing body, TLI. The League International already have some ‘cross races in Scotland, so it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see more shift across in the next couple of years. With the recent success of ‘cross in Scotland especially amongst youth riders, is it really wise to ignore it when there’s a UCI World championship in the discipline? Those young riders could be taking part in non UCI recognised events & although of great ability, could never gain the licence points to enter UCI races down south & then move on to races on the continent.

Time-Trialling

I’ve written a fair bit about the future of time-trialling in the past, read ‘Comparing the Incomparable‘, ‘A Demographic Time Trial‘ & ‘Fixing Time Trials‘ for more info. There’s one huge issue with this discipline, it can be done much cheaper outside British Cycling insurance. Event levies in CTT events (Cycling Time Trials) are £2 per rider, in Scottish Cycling time trials they are £3.95 per rider. The CTT events are often held on very busy roads, but provide a very similar insurance cover. The problem is that BC (British Cycling) insurance is designed to cover bunched road racing on open roads, it goes beyond the requirement needed for time-trialling, so it could be done a lot cheaper. (British Cycling provide cover for only a handful of time trials in England, virtually all time trialling south of the border is run by CTT)

This could go one of three ways, allowing another organisation to step in & undercut administration & entry fees, Scottish Cycling deciding to arrange their own insurance, or the status quo.

  1. An organisation like TLI, or one of the groups running sportives who are used to dealing with insurance issues could step in & take over time trialling in Scotland with only a little organisation & some friendly chats. I’m quite surprised it’s not been done already actually. It would also remove the need for riders to conform to the UCI bike & position rulings, making it an oddball sport internationally, but it would keep some people happy. It would obviously create a war, as Scottish Cycling like to see money flow through their organisation, regardless of whether or not it funds anything, they need to be seen to raise funds & there are plenty of time trials & riders each paying the £3.95 levy to SC every year. There is that tricky UCI rule, where they may try to place a ban on riders taking part in non UCI events, but that would fall at the first hurdle if anybody decided to test it legally. For amateurs that ruling would hold the same weight as SC telling somebody they can’t play non UCI regulated darts, they can’t regulate what you do in your spare time, pressing the issue would likely wipe them out if a well funded individual took offence. So this is a viable alternative & there really isn’t a lot SC could do about it if it was well organised, it’s really up to them to provide an alternative.
  2. Scottish Cycling could relatively easily set up their own event insurance for time trialling. By the example of CTT, they could do it for half the cost of their current British Cycling insurance. As a sweetener to those vocal riders who don’t want to conform to UCI rules & result in the binning of their current bike, they needn’t run it under the rules & it could be out with the UCI rules of the affiliated body of British Cycling. So equipment rules could be waived but I’d suggest they should still stick to the position rules, the CTT ones allow the sport to drift quite far away from international sporting regulations. Maintaining the UCI position rules would help the development of young talent to & from track & into international careers, rather than allowing them to sit in triathlon style positions & then having a difficult change in order to take part in UCI recognised competition. This would allow SC to retain the time trialling side of the sport, but also address the issues raised by the membership regarding rules. Otherwise they may lose it in the near future by not providing value for money, which they are aware of, or if not, they will be now.
  3. The status-quo isn’t going to work in the long run, as I said before somebody will eventually get round to taking it over & there are plenty of voices of dissent out there on this subject. SC can’t really sit on this one forever, they can start work on No.2 (above) any time they like.

Spokey’s New Year Message

Embed from Getty ImagesThis isn’t so much a message to readers, but more of a statement of intent for 2015, outlining which path this blog is going to take in the next wee while. Living in Scotland during the incredible events of 2014 & witnessing the public’s re-engagement with politics (where almost nobody now thinks a Barnett Consequential is the aftermath of a dodgy haircut), maybe we can also channel that engagement into a healthy debate on sports governance & developing forward-thinking ideas? In 2015 SpokeyDokeyBlog is going to be all about pushing the sport forward, right from grass-roots level & how that affects the tiers above, feeding your governing body with your good ideas & working out where the hell the UCI rollercoaster is heading. As things have progressed, I see where I can modify my ideas, so I’ll be rewriting the development blogs too. Alongside that I’ve got a busy year with Hour Record attempts, the Scottish calendar & I’ve got a fair bit of product aero calculations up my sleeve mid-year. I’m also going to try & get to more events, aside from local ones, a return to the Kuipke Velodrome in Ghent would be lovely (photo above is a reminder).

Defining ‘Our’ Job

What’s important to consider, is that bodies like ‘Scottish Cycling’ & ‘British Cycling’ are chiefly administrators, they exist to carry out the tasks that are given to them, not the tasks they don’t know about. That role is controlled by the sports structure we have in place, as explained in ‘Sport V Funding‘. In the past when our governing bodies were run by unpaid passionate volunteers on a shoestring budget, ideas may have existed, but couldn’t be implemented due to budget constraints. In the modern-day what we can’t expect employees having carried out their contracted duties, to spend some time coming up with innovative ideas to develop our sport. That’s not an admin task, it’s our job to do that, we’re the people on the ground, running clubs & events, coaching, out on our bikes & developing master plans to help our sport.

Perhaps myself & many others had unrealistic expectations in recent years, our governing bodies are never going to be ideas based organisations without outside input or a dynamic gung-ho insider willing to rock the boat, as briefly happened in British cycling a few years ago. For us lot, this means it’s now time to get engaged & pass those ideas on, our governing bodies need people like us to pass on those ideas & show them how they could work in practice. We need to make it easy for them, we need to push them in the correct direction by providing plans & showing them how they can be implemented in an economical & constructive manner with the minimum resources, preferably the resources that already exist. It is the time of austerity after all, in order to progress sport in those times, we need to get smart & we need to get active. In Scottish Cycling’s case, the RDO’s (Regional Development Officers) appear to be getting much more involved & the right people are moving into the job, if you get correspondence from them, pass it onto your club mates, you never know who might have an opinion, they require as much feedback as possible. As I’ve said in the past, I’m quite willing for organisations to adopt & adapt any ideas printed on this blog & never acknowledge where they came from, it’s about developing the sport in the best way possible with the resources we have, that includes any ideas that are fed to me by other like-minded folks out there.

It’s fair to say I’ve had differences of opinion with Scottish Cycling, but I feel in every occasion when I’ve highlighted something I’m not particularly happy about, I’ve also highlighted a solution rather than just ranting as is so often seen on forums. After political & sporting events calming down a little (especially for us in Scotland), I’m guessing all will be as-it-is until at least 2018, i.e. Scottish Cycling using British Cycling insurance to run events in Scotland & the UCI remaining the World Governing body (unless they do something incredibly stupid & illegal).

In our own localities, the administrators & the sporting volunteers need to form a better bond, for the volunteers that means getting involved. The dire turnout at the Scottish Cycling AGM compared to days-gone-by, consisted of predominantly the same OAP’s who have been turning up for the last decade & have changed nothing (apologies to those outside that group who turned up, potentially the future facilitators of change). On the plus side, it has to be said that the youth side of the sport looks like it’s very far ahead of the mainstream thinking, with clubs & individuals helping young riders gather the required skills & know-how to become bike riders.

The Final Word

Those who voice forward thinking ideas or try to move things forward are often labels as activists. These individuals have a tendency to become the disgruntled ones who stop turning up at meetings & remove themselves from the process, clubs are littered with former willing volunteers simply became ‘scunnered’ with SCU & Scottish Cycling over the years. I’d like to see an effort to win these people back. For the administrators it means it’s time to be open & accepting that somebody has a good idea, not treating each passionate ‘activist’ as a direct threat. Once ‘the establishment’ chooses to listen to an ‘activist’ (whether in politics or in sport), that person (or group) generally becomes part of the solution to the problem, not the problem itself. In that way you solve the underlying problem the ‘activist’ is unhappy about, but as a bonus you also solve the ‘activist’ problem. Bingo!

Lets move things forward, put your ideas directly to Scottish Cycling, send them an email, write a blog. The initiative has to come from the governing body to actually listen, without that there’s little indication that they see either a need for change, or the impetus to do anything about it. If you stand still in any business you go backwards, that’s obvious is sport more than anything else, and not just in athlete performance. Become bothersome in 2015, it might make all the difference.

 

Exploding the b-Omnium

Embed from Getty Images

The UCI have overhauled the Omnium rules, the points system has gone topsy-turvy & there is large weighting towards the Points Race, which will now be run as the final event. It’s a relatively new event to major championships, although familiar to domestic riders in most track cycling nations, so we did expect a bit of jiggery pokery, but this is quite radical. Here’s how it’ll affect the event.

The Changes

The UCI have altered the scoring system, points allocation & weighted events, the full list of amendments can be found HERE.

In Omniums up to this point the winner of each event was awarded 1 point, 2nd place got 2 points, 3rd place 3 points & so on. All six events had the same allocation so if you won all the events you got an unbeatable perfect score of 6 points. The winner had the lowest total score when the individual points for the events were added together. Things are quite different from 20th June 2014.

The modified rules are as follows. We still have six events, run in the following revised order. Scratch Race, Individual Pursuit, Elimination (Devil), Time Trial (500m or kilo), Flying Lap, then finally the Points Race. For the first five events, the points allocation is as follows: 1st 40 pts, 2nd 38 pts, 3rd 36 pts, 4th 34 pts, 5th 32 pts, 6th 30 pts etc. From 21st down each rider gets 1 point. So the rider with the highest points total now wins, a major change in the Omnium’s culture.

This is the major event change, the 6th & final event (Points Race) has it’s event points allocation for each rider added to the score from the previous five events. So to give you an idea of how many points could be amassed in the final event, the 2012 Olympic Omnium’s points race had the top three with 79, 59 & 55 points each, the last placed rider had negative 40 points, from losing laps. This means that the riders with a Points Race total above zero will have those points added to their total from the previous five omnium events, any with points below zero will have those deducted from their total. The Points Race has become the key event in the Omnium.

What This Means

The UCI have been slowly removing endurance events from the track programme, the Omnium should have been left as an event for those riders, but sprinters have been able to gather points from the Flying Lap, Time Trial & the Scratch Race (by good positioning & waiting for the sprint). This will redress the balance & re-establish it as an endurance riders event, repeated sprints & taking laps are not the domain of a sprint athlete.

With the result now depending on a very good Points Race, it’s addressed the issue of the reducing opportunity for road/track crossover. The team pursuit has even become an event which favours a sprint orientated rider, such is the pace & duration of the efforts required, it’s also a very specialised event with much time being required to focus on it away from road racing.

Some were worried that the new rules would not favour a rider such as Laura Trott, but Hilary Evans (@OlympicStatman on twitter) calculated the totals from the last Olympics under these rules, Trott still would still have won by 1 point, with 208 points! This format could produce a thrilling finale to the Omnium, with riders fighting for every point in the last event, it’ll certainly be exciting from a spectators point of view.

The Future

I’d like to see this as the beginning of a revamp for the track events at major championships & World Cups. The removal of the 500m, Kilo & Pursuit was a great loss of traditional staple events for track riders, I’d like to see those return & to make an additional change to the Omnium bike rules to make a differentiation. I’d like to see the Omnium raced on one bike, with no tri-bars allowed in the timed events. With the focus now on the final endurance event & riders requiring less time training on a pursuit bike in a velodrome, it could open up the opportunity for more road stars to get involved. We’re really talking about road sprinter types, not the Grand Tour GC contenders, anything that could encourage them to the track could raise the profile & the status of an event like the Omnium.

So I’m suggesting re-introducing the Kilo, this time for both men & women (no 500m TT), plus the Individual Pursuit & then changing the Omnium bike rules to a standard track bike for all events. Would be interesting to hear what everybody thinks of that.

The Gist Of It

Track racing can benefit hugely from having recognisable names from the road scene present, I think the changes to the Omnium format are good for the sport, it creates a very exciting finale to the series & makes the Omnium more attractive to road riders. It could be an opportunity for female road racers to find another means to earn some sponsorship money by riding track too, if there’s not the same specialisation required on a pursuit bike, it could be possible.

The revised rules will also favour racers, rather than wattage slaves, you can’t win a points race by riding to a certain wattage, you require track-craft, tactics & a racing brain. Personally, I look forward to it all coming down to the final sprint on the final lap, it should be thrilling. I still don’t like those bloody handlebar boxed in the Devil, can we not do something about those UCI?

Pat McQuaid’s New Career

Nobody’s seen him for a while, it looks like he’s chosen a completely new career path & is moving into acting, according to sources close to a confectionary salesman. The photo above was reputedly taken at a casting interview for the new Star Trek movie, where McQuaid is reported to be applying for the part of a Vulcan communications officer. Live long & prosper Pat, you gave us all a good few laughs if nothing else.

Embed from Getty Images

New Hour Record Rules

Embed from Getty Images

Cycling Weekly today reported that the UCI are changing everything again. We’ll be reverting to one record, removing the rather silly ‘Athletes Hour’ on a Merckx type bike. We knew changes were happening, but this clarifies some things, I’m sure there will be more to come soon from the UCI, Obree will be smiling quietly thinking up a plan.

What do we know?

So far, according to Cycling Weekly, the 49.7km record of Sosenka (although caught for doping later) will be the target for any future attempts. This appears to indicate that all distances recorded on bikes that don’t meet current rules have been removed & we’ll continue with a clean slate so to speak, but having held the record will still be recorded, confusing eh!

Unfortunately for those who’ve gone further than this distance, on ‘Superman’, ‘Obree-Tuck’ & funny bikes with aero advances will not be valid, neither apparently will Mosers original record (although we now know he was blood-doping, which wasn’t banned at the time), or Indurain & Romingers. So it seems like the record books may show these as holders of the Hour Record, but we’ll not see a distance in the record book perhaps. Or will they be deleted all together?

The UCI had a tricky problem, advances had taken the record so far away from what was currently possible that nobody was attempting it, apart from that 100-year-old French superstar. It would be unfair to scrub the Hour Record holders from the books, but their distances will not be valid. We’ll start fresh with an achievable distance & the floodgates will hopefully open for a number of challenges on the record by a good number of riders.

This is actually quite exciting stuff for the cycling fan, it could be a very interesting year ahead. But does anybody apart from the UCI know when the rules change, on that day you can expect a number of riders to go for it & seal their place in history, but current UCI rules only allow one attempt in any given day, will that change too?

Will Graeme be brazing something up in his kitchen already?

Beyond Categories

During my ‘Scottish Olympic Cycling Team‘ blog I touched on a possible solution to the issue of licences & race categorisation, without the stranglehold of the British Cycling system. If Scottish Cycling operated its own category system, to work better so riders don’t have to travel large distances to race against a full field of similar abilities, we may end up with something resembling the following ideas. It’s unlikely to be acceptable as long as we’re considered a region of British Cycling (by BC we are anyway), but if things change, the structure of road cycling in Scotland could be drastically overhauled, even introducing some very modern aspects tuned to the digital age.

The Current System

In Scotland, we use the British Cycling race categories for road & track, these are Elite, 1st Category, 2nd Category, 3rd Category & 4th Category. The requirements to gain a licence at each end of the scale are very different, a vast sum of points are required to gain an Elite licence, while any new rider will be awarded a 4th category licence, if they’ve not held a higher licence in the past. (Although this only applies to riders who were previously registered on BC’s electronic system it appears. So anybody who was for example, a 1st category rider in the old paper hand-marked system, can exist as a ringer on their return & race with the beginners, even if they rode the Olympics.)

Races are also categorised, I’ll not go into that in detail, but you can only enter certain races depending on what licence category you hold. Each category of event holds a different amount of points, with a different amount of placings being awarded points. You get the idea, it’s probably over complicated for what we need to develop cycle sport correctly & inclusively in Scotland.

Everybody In It Together

A radical alternative to the kind of system that we currently employ, could be removing the category system as we currently recognise it, while running the majority of events as handicapped races. You’ll probably recognise these as being called APR’s (Australian Pursuit Races) in our current race calendar. In these events riders are set off in perceived ability groups (often ranging from 8 to 15 riders in each group), with the first group given a few minutes on the ‘scratch’ group at the back. The ‘scratch’ contains all the fastest riders, whose aim is to create a situation where they are able to win the race, swallowing up all the groups ahead of them before they run out of tarmac.

If most races were run as APR’s, we’d achieve a number of positive effects on our race calendar…..

  • Inclusiveness: No matter what your ability, you can have a group of riders of similar ability to race with (until those a bit faster catch you obviously). Unlike today’s racing, if you’re not capable of holding a bunch with potential ‘ringers’ in it, you’re not going to develop much further.
  • Race Skills: Handicapped racing allows riders to experience working in a group, straight away. Rather than hanging onto the tail of a bunch, they immediately start developing race skills, ‘wheeling about’ with their peers in the attempt to stay away from the hounds behind.
  • Smaller Bunches: The issues that are often discussed, of riders suddenly being cast in an 80 rider field, with little experience of riding in a group & the resulting carnage, could be avoided to some extent. In their first race, the rookie rider will learn some ‘race-craft’ within a small group of no more than 15 riders, steepening the learning curve. It’s much easier to discover how races work in this kind of environment, than it is while being thrown in at the deep-end & attempting to manoeuvre yourself around a large bunch. We can help develop actual race skills at a faster rate in this environment, it’s less intimidating & it gets you involved in a race from the outset. They may end up in an 80 rider field at some point during the event, but at least they’ll have some experience by that point in a race.
  • Fell Like You’re Racing: I’d prefer to develop racers, than develop hangers-on. By encouraging riders to start their first event in what seems like a competitive situation, with several minutes on the likely race winners, can only encourage a competitive mindset. Even the first group in an APR can feel like a breakaway in a race, you are forced to cooperate with your peers, learning how to work together, a skill which some never learn, lets teach it straight away, even if it under a little duress.
  • Full Fields In Any Region: If everybody can race in a handicapped event, even the most sparsely populated areas can surely muster up a decent sized field, without the restrictions applied by the BC category system to who can enter.
  • Less Travelling/More Racing: Currently our fastest riders have to travel huge distances to find a race that their elevated licence category will allow them to race in. We can develop not just our beginner & ‘club’ riders with a predominantly handicapped race season, but we can also provide events that our top riders can take part in, without the ‘label’ of spoiling events for ordinary working folk. Riders of all abilities need events, if there’s a solution to allow everybody to race together, perhaps we should take it.

Championships

I’m not suggesting we do away with the current format of races altogether, there’s still very much a place for these events. National, regional championships & an ‘Elite’ series of events could be run as mass start, which is where your riders would gain their recognition to race elsewhere, they would have a national ranking from these events. My suggestion is that all other events would be handicapped.

Structure

As with all current APR’s, the seeding of groups relies heavily on a riders honesty & their enthusiasm to provide the race organiser with their full palmarès. Sometimes somebody will get into an early group they perhaps take the win with a little devious-ness. With an increase in APR style events, it would be plainly obvious who’s not playing the game correctly. So it may be wise to introduce a system where there are a set number of groups in every event. If every event had 5 groups plus what would be considered ‘Elite’ riders (and volunteer Elite’s), and if that format was carried across all races, then it would be reasonable to assume that an organiser could recognise which group a rider should be in, if their previous start groups & finish positions were required on their entry form.

The time between each group will initially be a bit ‘hit & miss’ I presume. But offering ‘primes’ early on in the events will encourage those riders in the front groups to get involved, even if the organiser decides he’d/she’d prefer a high-profile winner, by manipulating the groups as such. Races within races can sort these kinds of issues, a season long calendar of APR events could open up a few new ideas, even of the ‘scratch’ riders win the full distance event. We could even go as far as introducing the fastest Strava segments during the event, helping everybody get something out of the race is important & worthwhile.

The Gist Of It

The current race category system doesn’t work in Scotland, we need to start thinking about an alternative. Unfortunately it’s unlikely to happen under the current structure, if we were able to drop the BC category system, or be forced to drop it due to becoming independent, it may result in the rapid progress of riders & events. I’d expect a handicapped race calendar would stimulate local events, encourage beginners, provide hard training for the top riders looking to perform in big events, and also raise the status of the championship & series events which would be the only ‘exotic’ mass start races.

There’s plenty of ways our race calendar could be stimulated, this is just one that we can start discussing, I’ve already highlighted a few idea using the current system, but I think this is better. The discussion has to be started, the current system doesn’t operate as it should to develop the sport, not in Scotland or anywhere else in the UK. Maybe we should provide a situation where all riders can get involved in one event, providing a focal point in each region for all riders to get together, beginners, elites, juniors, this way we can promote our sport in an inclusive & positive manner. Perhaps even encouraging riders off the dual carriageways & into proper racing, where we provide a group & level that any rider can feel competitive in, would save them a lot of money in disc wheels & funny handlebars. Let’s develop some racers.

Scottish Olympic Cycling Team?

Embed from Getty Images Regardless of your political viewpoint, the current media focus in Scotland is on September’s referendum, the very big question of whether or not we’ll remain part of the UK, which has the potential for dramatic change in Scottish life & sport for that matter. Those who regularly read my blog will be familiar with the topic of change, so it’ll be no surprise that I’m dealing with this tricky subject, which is potentially too big to ignore or delve in to. With that in mind I found it worth looking at what changes may occur in Scottish sport if there is a ‘yes’ vote, with particular focus on cycling & the potential for a Scottish Olympic team.

I’m not particularly interested in this blog piece developing into an all-encompassing debate on independence out-with sport, that’s covered everywhere else. This is more of a short study on what may happen if there is a ‘yes’ vote, not on whether or not there will be a ‘yes’ vote. Looking at how it would affect grass-roots sport, development, coaching & our elite athletes currently riding for the GB Olympic programme. I’ve been unable to find much information anywhere else on this subject, so I’m assuming those reading this have not either, hopefully I can fill in some of the gaps of what may happen to our sport if Scotland becomes independent at this referendum, or at any time in the future.

Disclaimer: I’ve tried to provide links wherever possible so you can check anything I proclaim to be a fact (as this is an especially touchy & polarizing subject for many people). So feel free to click away if you’re interested in reading the actual documents that concern the subjects. What I’ve tried to avoid are any statements of fact from politicians of any persuasion, I have what I consider a healthy distrust of political posturing & often check facts in news reports, especially on the independence subject. So check the facts, read the stories, not the headlines & don’t take anything at face value on what you hear or read about the referendum. Where I’ve expressed an opinion, its pretty obvious that’s what it is, I’m well aware that I’ll get variable feedback on this blog piece, but if you spot an inaccuracy let me know & present some evidence I can link to, not just an opinion.
 

Is Rio 2016 Realistic?

I’ll go into the technicalities first, you can view the Olympic Charter online, it’s a lengthy document which shows all the requirements necessary for a sport within a nation to compete. Each sport federation has to be affiliated to the international governing body recognised by the IOC (International Olympic Committee). In cycling’s case, this is the UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale). The charter also demonstrates that an NOC (National Olympic Committee) needs to exist for each nation competing in the Olympics (Ch4 pt29). The IOC define a nation as “In the Olympic Charter, the expression ‘country’ means an independent State recognised by the international community” (Ch4 pt30).

As far as defining a nation goes, there are a few different standards which the IOC recognise. Palestine has United Nations Observer State status & has its own NOC, which allows it to enter the Olympics. There are two Olympic nations which have no UN representation, these are Taiwan & Cook Islands (Taiwan surprised me, but it has no UN membership). Meanwhile nine territories of other nations are recognised Olympic nations, the USA have four, the Netherlands & China have one each (Aruba & Hong Kong), while three of the fourteen British Oversees Territories are represented, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands & Cayman Islands. South Sudan, while being the world’s current newest independent state (formed in 2011 after a civil war in Sudan), currently hasn’t allocated an NOC yet, so in the eyes of the IOC it isn’t a nation.  South Sudan’s marathon runner Guor Marial did compete at London 2012, but under the Olympic flag, a nation less athlete but still allowed to compete.

As you can see, the existence of a National Olympic Committee is the most important thing as far as the IOC is concerned. It’s not as hard as you’d imagine to be an Olympic nation if you follow the protocol set out in the Olympic Charter. So far that means that for cycling in Scotland, we’d need Scotland to be an IOC recognised state (i.e. simply have a Scottish NOC formed & meet one of the criteria above), the existing governing body of Scottish Cycling would be required to affiliate to the UCI, so that Scotland had an internationally recognised governing body for the sport of cycling. Rio in 2016 doesn’t look anything like as tricky as it did when I started my research for this blog & reading newspaper articles stating impending doom, it looks like a relatively straightforward process, even if Scotland isn’t full signed up to UN rules by 2016, it can still have an Olympic team at Rio 2016 if an NOC is in place. You can be sure that no politician looking to establish themselves in a new nation is going to let that administration issue slip by them, they’ll all be clambering to say it was them!

What Happens to Elite Athletes

I asked the Scottish Government & the UK Government for information on this subject & how the sport would be funded post-independence. I’ve not had a UK Government response, but was supplied with some information from the office of Scottish Minister for Commonwealth Games & Sport, Shona Robison. I’ll give you a brief summary of what came from this correspondence:

  • It’s intended to have both Olympic & Paralympic teams at the next Olympics.
  • Scotland meets all of the requirements of the International Olympic and Paralympic Committees and would apply to become a member as soon as possible.
  • The IOC is a body that has a history of quickly welcoming newly recognised independent countries. We believe it should be a relatively straightforward process which would mean an Olympic Team Scotland in place for Rio 2016. (Which I think I’ve discovered myself too, as you’ve already read)
  • Arrangements will be put in place to ensure that Scottish athletes were able to compete in Rio 2016 by attending any necessary qualifying events in the lead up to Rio 2016. This work would be undertaken in parallel to the wider governance arrangements required for Olympic and Paralympic accreditation, establishing Scottish Olympic and Paralympic Committees and transferring functions currently undertaken at UK level.
  • Since 1998, the sportscotland Institute of Sport has helped prepare many athletes to perform at the highest level. In the event of independence, elite athletes would receive support through sportscotland which would be funded through continued investment from the Scottish Government and our fair share of National Lottery contributions. As part of our resolutions with UK Government we will seek Scotland’s share of UK Sport funding. This, coupled with fantastic facilities including the Sir Chris Hoy velodrome and a new National Performance Centre for Sport being built at Heriot Watt University, will ensure Scotland is extremely well placed to develop our future athletes.

I’d hope that Scots like Katie Archibald, Callum Skinner, Kenta Gallagher & Grant Ferguson (who are all on the GB Olympic programmes) would experience a smooth transition to a Scottish Olympic programme to allow them to progress correctly. Perhaps we could expand that programme & allow a larger selection of talented riders to progress towards Worlds, Commonwealth & Olympic medals. This is likely, based purely on what we see with the Scottish ladies, competing in the European Classics this year, getting huge amounts of experience racing in big fields, on cobbles, with the best riders in the world. Some have also been competing at UCI registered track events over the past year, gaining the valuable qualification standards to compete as part of a Scottish team at the Commonwealth Games.

In men’s racing, a Scottish team could gain entry to events which currently are open to national teams, these come under UCI category 1.1 (one-day race) or 2.1 (stage race). Also if there are any UCI 1.HC (one-day race) or 2.HC (stage race) in Scotland, then national teams from the country of the organiser can ride. This rule currently applies to the Tour of Britain, but as we’d no longer be part of the UK, a Scottish team couldn’t take part. Some examples of 1.1 or 2.1 events that a Scottish mens team could ride are Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, Strade Bianche, Trofeo Mallorca, Herald Sun Tour, Tour of Qatar, Vuelta a Murcia & Tour de l’Avenir. With some significant investment, we could be providing some incredible opportunities for our developing riders, although Scotland would need some riders who attract the attention (or some political interest, as always) of the organisers to attract an invite.

Working Group On Scottish Sport

I wasn’t aware of this until Shona Robison alerted me to it. The future of sport does look to have been considered by the politicians in Scotland in the event of a ‘yes’ vote, across parties. In September 2013, an independent group named the ‘Working Group on Scottish Sport‘ was set up & chaired by Henry McLeish, a former Labour MP & the person who took over as Scottish First Minister after Donald Dewar’s sudden death. I searched the White Paper for some detail on what would happen to sport in Scotland, there was very little, with the WGSS filling in the detail. This study intends to give us a better picture of what may happen post-independence. The conclusions will be published in a final report. The topics covered will include the following:

  • The action necessary to ensure Scotland can be successful in future Olympics and Paralympics in its own right;
  • The continuing development required to ensure that Scotland remains a country of sporting excellence, with opportunity at all levels;
  • The potential for sharing facilities and resources across the Home Nations and abroad.

It seems comments from people like Chris Hoy (see quotes later in article) may have been taken on-board & acted upon, hopefully we’ll get a better picture in the next few weeks when the conclusions are released in Spring 2014. This will hopefully include what exactly will happen with grass-roots sport development & employment of elite coaches across different sports.

Similarities

Embed from Getty Images Comparing other European nations who have a cycling culture we’d consider replicating, we find Denmark has a population of about 5.5 million, very close to Scotland’s. They have one indoor 250m velodrome & two outdoor ones, again, the same as Scotland. Denmark has an enviable & very successful track team at world championship & Olympic level (Danish team pursuiters pictured above) & plenty of riders in the pro ranks.

As an economical comparison of Scotland V Denmark, it’s worth noting that according to the Institute of Fiscal Studies report (p9), Scotland’s projected GDP would be approx 17% higher per capita than the Danish $37,000 figure (which is almost identical to current UK GDP) & they are not in the Euro zone, but as I discovered are running their own currency (Krone) pegged to the Euro. A pegged currency to Sterling is one of the fiscal commission’s published options, I personally presume that this is probably the much discussed ‘plan B’  which is already in successful operation in a similar nation to us & a member country of the EU, perhaps some politicians can’t use google as well as an amateur blogger, it’s already been published.

So as a comparison based on the above, it’s likely (in my opinion) Scotland would have a sports development budget at least as good as the Danes, if not a little better. They have produced a nice Team Danmark pdf showing their focus across all sports & how athletes selected by their federation are included in various projects, plus an overview of the structure, this seems like a good proven & successful model to look at for Scotland. It’s worth a read.

The Eleven Danish World Tour riders:

Jacob Fuglsang (Astana), Sebastian Lander (BMC), Lasse Norman Hansen (Garmin Sharp), Lars Bak (Lotto Belisol), Michael Andersen (Tinkoff-Saxo), Jesper Hansen (Tinkoff-Saxo), Matti Breschel (Tinkoff-Saxo), Christopher Juul Jensen (Tinkoff-Saxo), Michael Morkov (Tinkoff-Saxo), Chris Anker Sorensen (Tinkoff-Saxo), Nicki Sorensen (Tinkoff-Saxo)

The Two Scottish World Tour riders:

David Millar (Garmin Sharp), Andy Fenn (Omega Pharma Quick-Step)

To put that in perspective, the UK has 12 riders in teams at that level with a population of around 65 million compared to Denmark’s 5.5 million. It would seem feasible that with a very good long-term plan & resources, an independent country like Scotland could have just as many top riders as the UK has now. It requires a culture change, coaching, facilities, talent spotting & organisation, it can’t be done overnight. But with a serious plan…

Cycling in Scotland, what changes?

Those of us involved in the sport are often found discussing the ins & outs of British Cycling race categories, licence points, rankings & the amount of races for 4th category riders. This may soon become a thing of the past if there’s a ‘yes’ vote. If so, it’s prudent that we consider what the sport would look like in a new Scotland. An independent state would mean a truly independent cycling governing body, currently ‘Scottish Cycling’ is considered by ‘British Cycling’ as a region, while ‘Scottish Cycling’ is a separate company who use the ‘British Cycling’ system of licences, insurance, coaching & structure. This whole structure would need to be re-thought.

Parts of the current structure don’t serve our smaller & more spread out population particularly well, so something that suits Scotland would have to be pursued, now is as good a time as any to look at that. While traditionally ‘Scottish Cycling’ (formerly SCU) has been mostly embroiled in road racing, that may not be where a redesigned future of Scottish cycle sport may lie. Rather than working within the constraints of ‘British Cycling’ rules, regulations & future planning, a whole new structure could be designed. The ‘British Cycling’ performance plan is based on Olympic medals, perhaps mimicking this for a nation less than a 10th of the population isn’t realistic. We could look to our natural strengths, with a sparsely populated landscape & plenty of opportunities off-road, a look at that side of the sport could pay benefits. Non Olympic sports such as downhill mountain biking & cyclo-cross have never had the full focus of a nation, Scotland is surely well placed to adopt that kind of focus? Providing opportunities in areas of cycling that are popular without governing body control, where people are riding bikes because it’s fun, not for any performance reasons. This is likely where the growth in cycling will come from, with cross-over into other disciplines highly likely, off-road development could feed talent into all areas.

Regarding road racing, if the category system was removed (this has riders grouped into ‘British Cycling’ defined categories 4th, 3rd, 2nd, 1st & Elite, based on points gained in categorised races), then we may have the opportunity to completely remodel the system. Most races could be handicapped, with only regional, national championships & series events (where you would gain your higher rankings for competition overseas), then everybody could be involved in racing, regardless of ability. The weaker riders would learn by working together ahead of the fast groups & there would be no problems with race categories. It may even give us a chance to finally reduce the number of standard distance time trials, allowing riders of all abilities to compete in bunch racing. You’d get the occasional ringer, participation would be high & handicapping may not always work as well as expected, but dare I say it, we could make the bulk of road racing a ‘fun’ thing to do!

In Scotland we have ‘Scottish Cycling’ & ‘Cycling Scotland’, which have some crossover areas. Independence would be an ideal opportunity to combine these organisations with back-to-front names to each other. That way we could have a single organisation which deals with participation, racing, cyclists rights, cycling facilities (leisure, commuting, racing), all bundled together. With a departure from ‘British Cycling’ insurance & systems, this can make a big difference to how the sport of cycling is run, along with making funding a much simpler task. Cycling tourism is another area where growth could be extensive in cycling, we have fantastic scenery, trails & roads, all within relatively easy reach of airports & civilisation. Scotland already has the infrastructure to service additional tourists, wouldn’t it be nice if organisations all worked together to promote cycling, rather than try to put in place plans to syphon off as large a chunk of the cycling budget as possible, it could all go to one organisation with the best interests of cycling in general at its heart.

Athletes Opinions

Politicians & media love to get sports stars involved in political debates, they think it gives validity to whatever viewpoint they have chosen, selectively quoting the athletes or in some cases just making it up. Chris Hoy was a particular example of a very high-profile athlete who they tried to draw-in, regardless of his comments & his desire to say nothing particularly newsworthy on the independence debate. He was mis-quoted & apparently abused online as a result. Most media didn’t report the actual words, so here they are, not exactly the Scot-hating sportsman he was portrayed as in the more sensational press, those who’ve chatted to him will know this already.

What Chris Hoy really said. “You look at the results of the Scottish athletes over the years and we have had some fantastic athletes and some fantastic results. But it would not be quite as simple as just saying, ‘there is a Scottish athlete, they have won a gold medal, therefore that’s a medal for Scotland’. Most of the athletes have had to move to facilities which are often out with Scotland. I had to move down to Manchester because there was not an indoor facility in Scotland. I went to Manchester, trained with the British team and benefited from that. The first thing you have to do if you’re really serious about it is you have to provide the facilities and the coaching infrastructure. In Scotland we have the Institute of Sport and SportScotland there to try to give support to the athletes. There is support but it is not quite as simple as saying ‘we had X number of medalists from these Games, therefore that will translate into the same medals next time’. It will take time. It will weaken the British team obviously if Scotland went separately, and it would be harder for the Scottish athletes, initially, to establish themselves in a new training environment, with new coaches, with a different environment altogether. It’s not to say its impossible but it would just be a different challenge.

As with the recent clambering for quotes from the curlers at the Sochi Games, the media crave some controversy, they need to sell online adverts & papers & require controversial headlines, regardless of the content of the story. The fact is that elite sports people probably care much more about their sport than they do politics, their goal is to perform at the highest level they can.

Do we really expect athletes who are essentially employed by the GB team on the Olympic programme to say anything derogatory about their employers, who have the power to select or de-select them from their ultimate goal? The athletes & staff involved in Olympic sport have to work as a team, so don’t expect to hear anybody bad-mouthing their sporting family, a team which they have no influence whether they’ll be playing for in 2016. This is why you’ll hear more-often-than-not that they’re proud to compete for Scotland & for GB, these people are not daft, they know the importance of team unity for their own success, it’ll not be thrown away on a whim.

It’s a tricky subject for athletes to deal with, but saying that you strive to compete at the highest level you can is usually the best option, I don’t want to see our Commonwealth athletes chased for opinions, but we will see it at Glasgow 2014, lots. With that in mind, I’ll be taking any Glasgow 2014 published athlete quotes with a pinch of salt, until I see the actual interview or a transcript. Don’t write off any athletes you previously respected who are interviewed at the Commonwealth Games, who are reported to display extreme views in any political direction. They may not have said what’s implied, remember people are trying to sell papers & direct you to websites with adverts.

I will be keeping a close eye on any mis-quoting & I’ll publish the transcript or videos in full if I can find them, our riders are there to compete, not to get involved in anybody’s political strategy. I’m not selling you anything & I have no adverts, I have no benefit from page view numbers rising, I hope to tell it as-it-is. History tells us to expect things to get very dirty around that time, from activists & media representing both sides of the referendum debate.

The Gist Of It

Research for this blog piece has really opened my eyes to understanding the process of Olympic participation of a Scottish team, plus gathering facts on the whole independence issue has been very interesting, if somewhat time consuming. Most of the information politicians are shouting about is out there in the public domain, I was previously led to believe that wasn’t the case.

It’s hard to see how Scotland couldn’t manage to have a National Olympic Committee in place in a very short period of time & be recognised as one of the many options open to nations seeking representation at an Olympic Games. If the vote is ‘yes’, then I’m very sure Scotland will be represented at Rio 2016, I can’t see a reason why not based on the information regarding Olympic participation.

As far as I can see, the Olympics isn’t the only thing that Scotland could focus on, a complete restructuring of all Scottish sports bodies could be put in place. This would allow us to start from a blank canvas, the GB team sometimes seems to lack focus on World Championships, this is something a smaller nation really can’t afford to do, an independent Scottish team would have to take any opportunity for medals it could get. Downhill mountain biking & cyclo-cross could both have a big future for Scottish talent development. These could be a focus for a source of success, away from the highly funded track medal machines of GB & Australia.

We could combine mountain biking competition & participation with tourism & leisure facilities as part of a wider plan for getting people active & fighting obesity. We have many ski resorts & locations which have pre-existing chair lifts which can be adapted to carry bikes. With a downhill mountain bike course built at each of these we could expand these resorts seasons into the summer with some careful marketing, providing the local economies in these mountainous areas of Scotland with some extra income during the summer.

The political debate is raging around Scotland, people are talking politics everywhere you go & getting engaged in debate. Sport is often very closely linked to political strategies, you’ll see this go overboard at Glasgow 2014. The competitors & fans just want to see things improve & their nation doing well, the information revealed by the WGSS should provide the information I’m looking for regarding sports funding & opportunities. I’m sure this will be a constantly changing subject, I’ll try to keep on top of it & I do hope ‘Scottish Cycling’ are considering their options & opportunities in the event of independence, but if they are, I fully understand they can’t really tell ‘British Cycling’, or ‘some blogger’.

“Pimp My Ride”: UCI Committee

StatlerandWaldorf

The UCI under Pat & Hein the UCI were committed to stifle development & innovation in the bike industry. This would end when everybody was riding an old steel frame & drilling out their chainrings as the only option available for performance improvement. Luckily things look to be changing again under the recent regime change headed by Brian Cookson.

It’s been reported by Road.cc that there will be a new committee involved in looking into the technical innovation rules, hopefully reversing some of them. With an expert panel, we may see some changes to the rules. It’s not known if the manufacturers will be given a reimbursement on the fees they have already paid. Their products had to be tested to destruction, in order to be awarded the wee UCI sticker which allows their wares to be used in competition.

It’s probably quite dangerous territory for the UCI on legal terms to continue with this policy. The reason that was originally put across for the weight limit rules was that the lightest bikes were perceived to be less strong by the UCI. Meanwhile any of us (if we had the cash) could put together a perfectly robust bike weighing less than the UCI minimum of 6.8kg from parts our local bike shop could order for us.

The UCI’s component approval process was to spread to most components, so consider the following. You could have a bike formed from components which all had been awarded a UCI sticker, this bike could easily weigh less than 6.8kg, which would result in the bike being banned by the UCI’s on safety grounds, even though all parts had passed their test. It wouldn’t take much for a manufacturer to contest this ruling, essentially they paid to have their products tested to be compliant, then the same body who tested them claimed the parts do not meet the required standard.

The UCI needs to sort this before there is an issue, not just that it’s unfair, as I commented on before, but that they are leaving themselves open to legal action from component, frame & wheel manufacturers. The committee is long overdue & will allow small manufacturers back into the professional peloton if the rules are relaxed.

Would you like to go large?

There’s been some debate on Twitter regarding the increased affiliation fees for clubs north of the border, compared to those in England. The main difference is that Scottish Cycling (SC) are affiliated to British Cycling (BC). BC arrange the race & rider insurances, so they control the sport if Scotland wishes to use the rider & race category, coaching, insurance, development, Go-Ride (etc) structure.

We can take a look to see how prices compare for the same product across the UK.

The Facts

Scottish Cycling Affiliations:

  • Small Club (less than 21 BC members): £75
  • Large Club (21 or more BC members): £140
  • Commercial Club (named after a business or website): £230
  • School/Youth Only Club: £30
  • Sponsor Fee (for first 4 club sponsors only): £65

British Cycling Affiliations:

  • Standard Club/Team: £88
  • Commercial Named Club/Team: £175
  • School Club (including liability insurance): £35
  • School Club (without liability insurance): £10
  • Sponsor Fee (for first 4 club sponsors only): £62

Welsh Cycling:

Same costs as British Cycling.

Going Large?

There does look to be a fair slice added to the costs for SC member clubs over BC member clubs, or Welsh clubs who have a similar setup to SC. But what do we get for the additional costs & are there situations where a club would be better off with the SC pricing structure?

Some examples…

Less than 21 BC member clubs:

  • Club with no sponsors & less than 21 BC members would pay £75 in Scotland, compared to £88 in BC areas. A saving of £13 in Scotland.
  • Club with 1 sponsor & less than 21 BC members would pay £75 + £65 = £140 in Scotland. £88 + £62 = £150 in BC areas. A saving of £10 in Scotland.
  • Club with 2 sponsors & less than 21 BC members would pay £75 + £130 = £205 in Scotland. £88 + £124 = £212 in BC areas. A saving of £8 in Scotland.
  • Club with 3 sponsors & less than 21 BC members would pay £75 + £195 = £270 in Scotland. £88 + £186 = £274 in BC areas. A saving of £4 in Scotland.
  • Club with 4 or more sponsors & less than 21 BC members would pay £75 + £260 = £335 in Scotland. £88 + £248 = £336 in BC areas. An additional cost of £1 in Scotland.

Clubs with 21 or more BC members:

  • Club with no sponsors & 21 or more BC members would pay £140 in Scotland, compared to £88 in BC areas. An additional cost of £52 in Scotland.
  • Club with 1 sponsor & 21 or more BC members would pay £140 + £65 = £205 in Scotland. £88 + £62 = £150 in BC areas. An additional cost of £55 in Scotland.
  • Club with 2 sponsors & 21 or more BC members would pay £140 + £130 = £270 in Scotland. £88 + £124 = £212 in BC areas. An additional cost of £58 in Scotland.
  • Club with 3 sponsors & 21 or more BC members would pay £140 + £195 = £335 in Scotland. £88 + £186 = £274 in BC areas. An additional cost of £61 in Scotland.
  • Club with 4 or more sponsors & 21 or more BC members would pay £140 + £260 = £400 in Scotland. £88 + £248 = £336 in BC areas. An additional cost of £64 in Scotland.

Event Levies

While we’re on the subject, there is also a premium charged in Scottish events in the form of levies. Most road races carry a £3.95 levie per rider in Scotland, while BC charge £3. This equates to an additional cost of £57 in a 60 rider event, or £76 in an 80 rider field. Quite what this additional cost is for is anybody’s guess, but it may have something to do with the money being distributed to the ‘Centres’. It all adds to the cost of running an event, which isn’t ideal for organisers & clubs wanting to promote races, especially when it’s very hard to see what additional service that cost provides.

The Jist Of It

If you are a small club, you’ll pay slightly less, or very close to what BC area clubs pay. But if you have more than 21 BC memberships in your club, then you’ll lose out considerably. It also costs more to run events in Scotland, not a good situation to be in when ‘participation’ is an often trumpeted word by SC, we pay a significantly higher percentage cost per rider for the same insurance cover.

This provides a disincentive for clubs to promote British Cycling membership to their riders, a very strange situation, surely it should be around the other way? So if you’re in a larger club, or you are interested in promoting BC membership to your club members who do not currently have it, along with the insurance & other benefits it carries, it’s worth dropping Scottish Cycling a line to see why this is. I really don’t understand it & hadn’t really realised until it was mentioned on Twitter. Perhaps somebody at SC can provide some explanation, but at first glance it looks like we’re going large but getting the same size fries & a big empty space at the top of our drink carton. Over to you SC…..

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El Presidente

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This Saturday sees a very strange event, not just the normal abnormality of a Scottish Cycling AGM, but it also includes a contest, we actually have more than one candidate for SC President!

For many years, the tradition for each bearer of the President’s role is to attempt to get rid of it, to suggest they stand down, only to get mocked & persuaded to continue for “just one more year”. Jock Shaw was the master of this, even suggesting at one AGM that he would stand down if the calendar wasn’t published on time, yes, the SC calendar which has never been published on time (he didn’t stand down, when the expected turn of events repeated itself).

The SC President’s role is a tough one, more so in the current climate, where you’re expected to fill a voluntary role alongside the salaried SC executive(s). You have to love the sport to take on a role like that, plus you may realise that you’ve set yourself up, put yourself in the firing line of the (normally) irate membership to take a pop at. The SC executive(s) don’t bat an eyelid at criticism, see the Governance Review for evidence of that, many of the potential fixes to the issues highlighted in that have maybe been talked about, but not necessarily actioned. The President will take some of the heat for that from the membership, even though it wasn’t their doing, but this is how our sport works, minor squabbling with those who’ll listen & ignoring those who don’t appear to care. It should be the other way about?

The major issue with the President’s role is that it may not actually carry much weight in real terms, no matter how hard el Presidente tries to make a difference. As I’ve pointed out in Sport V Funding, the sport is no longer volunteer or membership led, its guidance comes from funding, not experience & knowledge of cycling. I’ve drifted in & out of caring about who is SC president the last two weeks, but having swathered, considered sending them all questions or open twitter questioning, I’ve come to the conclusion that whoever wins the vote on Saturday has a huge opportunity.

The opportunity is to find a way to allow the knowledgable people back into influential positions, where the executive(s) will listen to them & not discount them. The trick is to reach a point where everybody benefits, where the funding is secure, a new direction can be found which leads to a development plan which ticks the funding boxes & appeases the masses of disgruntled cyclists, club members & volunteers, who feel more like a number than a person. This is a huge opportunity for change, for the better, for everybody.

The Candidates

So lets look at who we’ve got, fortunately the Edinburgh Road Club have posted some of the propaganda material on their website, so I’ll link to that.

Kathy Gilchrist – PDF Link HERE

Alasdair MacLennan – PFD Link HERE

Richard Davison – Blog Link HERE

We have some historic info on the candidates there, plus Davison has a couple of pages of blogs, which are quite interesting, especially the one referencing what may have been going on within the board to stop certain board-members standing, worth a read before you vote. Obviously, I like a blog approach (especially as this blog gets a mention), but the more traditional flyer type info still has its place, it’s all valid campaigning. I didn’t link the absolutely blatant propaganda flyer sent to clubs from one candidate, a “look who my pals are” which could have been straight from Pat McQuaid, a bad move in the current climate, regardless of intention.

The Jist Of It

From this blogs point of view, what we’re looking for is somebody who will stand up for sport & force change. The change we’re after isn’t one-sided, compromises have to be made, but it’s gone too far in the way of funding, while forgetting about the sport. For Scottish Cycling to become the strong organisation we all want, the sport has to start taking centre stage again, but in a manner in which we can demonstrate growth & development can occur in line with funding targets. This will re-engage the people with passion for the sport, freeing up their hard-earned spare time, to be given back to the sport the volunteers love to support. Lets elect a candidate who’s willing to take a stand, you’ve got a great choice there, I’m still undecided, choice forces stronger opinions & it looks like they’ve all upped their game. Choose wisely & hopefully we’ll have a better, happier & more sport orientated governing body in the very near future.

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Better Living Through Chemistry

For some reason, after a series of revelations from the USADA investigation into Lance Armstrong, the admission of Ryder Hesjedal has had a significant effect on people’s attitudes to ‘reformed dopers’. Michael Rasmussen’s recent excerpts from his book, mention how he ‘taught’ Hesjedal to dope while they were both mountain bikers, this was claimed to be in 2003. The big question we all ask is, why stop there, as Hesjedal claims, why not carry on as the EPO testing was ineffective at the time?

Ill Gotten Gains

Myself, among others, are becoming increasingly annoyed by the so-called clean riders, who are now performing exceptionally well in the ‘new clean cycling’ we see now. But as a BBC article showed last week, the effects of performance enhancing drugs like steroids & testosterone can have an effect for up to ten years. Is it any coincidence that the riders who are performing now, have a rich history of doping, but if caught, they all seem to claim they stopped in 2006 (conveniently just outside the time limit they could be charged with a doping offence on the 7 years statute of limitations rules) or “tried it just the once”. These riders are now making good livings & possibly beating riders through previous chemistry, a fact they may be completely unaware of, better living through chemistry.

It is easy to assume, that the gains accrued due to years of performance enhancing drug use, as proven in research, now allow the former users to have an advantage over riders who have never partaken in illegal methods. It makes the case for lifetime bans being considered under WADA rules for athletes caught using substances that can have a significant effect on performance outside the normal timeframes that are considered.

We can also assume that dubious coaches may take advantage of the new findings. Talented juniors could be identified, taken out of competition for 3 or 4 years, filled with performance enhancing drugs with no control, then launched into the U23 race scene, while riding clean they would be benefitting from the effects that the PED’s gave them over the extended period of doping & training under the guidance of the dubious doctor. We could be moving into a new age of doping, the age of historical doping.

Sanctions

There have been calls for the WADA list of banned substances to be upgraded & split into types. This would make sense for this ‘historical doping’ possibility. Any substance which research has proven to give gains beyond the time the substance is used, should carry a ban which extends to the maximum timeframe over which the effects may act, if it changes muscle structure, that could mean life. Alongside that, the gains from blood vector doping products like EPO should also carry a much longer sentence.

Currently, if you’re a bit daft & take an incorrect cold remedy that contains a banned substance, you get the same ban as you would do had you sourced EPO, then injected it into your arms. This isn’t a fair system.

WADA can’t police everything, athletes are going to dope no matter what, if they think they can get away with it. But the sanctions are currently not enough, having 2 years which is often reduced to one year or less is really not dealing with the issue. The gains for winning big events are so huge, that the risks are often seen as worth taking, with the chances of getting caught being so minimal. The list of banned substances needs to be categorised, with things we know are accidents being given much smaller sentences, while things like EPO being given career ending 4 or 5 year sentences (or anything that involves a needle), while research proven substances like testosterone or steroids, that show a long term benefit of up to 10 years being given that kind of ban.

The Jist Of It

If we don’t do something soon to change the entire strategy on doping in sport,  we’re setting up some of our talented younger generation for long-term manipulation from the dubious doctors we know already operate within our sport. These people will find a way to make money, if their old methods can now be detected, they may now resort to the newly researched ‘historical doping’. Research isn’t just for the catchers, it also helps the evaders, and they are looking for any opportunity to profit from the system.

So far the doctors shown themselves to be several steps ahead. High level dopers seem to be caught by testimony, not testing, the consequences are not high enough, we need to add career ending bans to riders who attempt to dope with career changing drugs.

As a consequence of the new research, I’ll no longer be pleased if proven former dopers like Hesjedal or a great number of his Garmin team-mates win races. Surely, for the good of the sport, these guys should retire & make way for riders who didn’t partake, but then again, how do we know who didn’t get involved, whatever their age?

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