Australian Pursuit Sportive?

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Most riders who take part in road races will know what an APR is, it stands for Australian Pursuit Race & is a handicapped road race. The riders are set off in small groups, where the *theoretically slower riders getting a head start on the faster riders (*theoretical, as in there’s always a ‘ringer’ or two). The last group leaves at the back of the field, it’s called ‘The Scratch’ & aims to mop up the time deficit it’s given away to all the other riders ahead, which often happens if the handicapping is done by somebody wanting to see a thrilling race. Could there be a more inclusive, cost-effective & easier way to combine a racer’s training event & a cycle sportive, hybrid event, for the benefit of everybody?

Why Change?

Currently, an APR is considered an official ‘race’, but are they really considered a serious race by most? They’re often at the beginning of the season & used to test form, as a training tool or just to get used to a bunch again after a winter on the turbo trainer. We could probably fulfil all these requirements with a simpler & easier option for clubs to organise. The best riders won’t be boasting too much by the time the Drummond Trophy comes along that they won an APR. There are no licence points available for these events (although I know some have ‘slipped through the net’), so what do racers get out of having these as official races than just, say, a specifically structured sportive? Arguably possibly nothing.

Could we also use a APS (Australian Pursuit Sportive) as a stepping stone to riders actually sticking a number on their back in an official road race, by making these events accessible & attractive to more types of cyclists? Currently, the two sides of the sport don’t converge very much, apart from club riders taking part in some sportives, the old APR format could be remodelled to become the transition event that bridges the gap between participation & competition. Riders new to racing could hone some group skills, by riding mostly with 10 to 15 riders at first, rather than hanging around the back of a bunch & being afraid to attempt to move up.

There’s a huge semi-competitive market out there, as we see from riders ‘winning’ sportives & the Strava phenomenon claiming the hearts & minds of cyclists the world over, people like feeling competitive. So far the ‘race scene’ has done very little to tap into that, if it wants to survive long-term domestically with ever-increasing traffic volumes & police costs starting to be charged, the old model has to be updated, or at least reviewed based on how riders now choose to ride. Providing a semi-competitive event with a taste of what’s involved in the next competitive level up could be an eye opener for some, when the scratch group comes blasting past, looking organised & faster than they’ve seen a group move before, other than on the telly. Surely riders could be seduced to look a little deeper into the world of cycling. Alternatively, some riders who persevere at road racing but don’t have the time for specific race training, may see sportives as a better option for them, it could go either way.

Safety could obviously be an issue, I don’t ignore the point that I’m sure commissaires would make. But if we chose to run these events on suitable courses, with the road racers being made very aware that the rules of the road have to be obeyed in these events, then we shouldn’t have a problem. The sportive riders are already very familiar with this, so it’s actually the racing cyclists that need to take note, the ones who are used to a protected race environment. We should also ensure that very large bunches never come together, so things would have to be a little different, I’ll go into that later, read on & I’ll explain myself.

This APS format becoming popular could also open up a funding stream for clubs, so often we hear that it’s frowned upon to dare to attempt to make a profit from a road race. If you’re catering for a different mixed market, why not make one or two £’s from each rider, with a larger field than a road race would allow & boost your club funds for equipment or supporting youth riders?

Other plus points are that new riders are not immediately thrown into a 60 (or 80) strong bunch in their first race, which is where the understandable safety issues have been highlighted in recent years. In an APS, they would be introduced to a bunch in smaller groups, hopefully a place which makes it easier to learn the basic skills such as ‘wheeling about’ properly. We have to accept that the big clubs that teach these skills are becoming less normal now, access to the sport is becoming a much more solo affair, due to the vast online cycling community. While this introduces a huge amount of riders to cycling, it’s very different reading about skills than actually being taught them in a club structure. Road racing still assumes that these skills have been taught before an entry is completed, but this isn’t the case anymore & the sport has to adapt, we need a bridging event where skills can be acquired at a semi competitive level in much smaller groups than 60 riders.

Costs

If we look at basic costs, it’s just over £20 to register a Regional C event, like an APR, then the riders pay £3.95 out of their entrance fee as a levie to Scottish Cycling. A sportive has an initial registration fee of £50, then individual levies of £1.20 per rider. Below are some examples of the fees to the governing body you’d pay.

60 Riders

  • Race: £22 registration + (60 x £3.95) = £259
  • Sportive: £50 registration + (60 x £1.20) = £122

80 Riders

  • Race: £22 registration + (80 x £3.95) = £338
  • Sportive: £50 registration + (80 x £1.20) = £146

200 Riders

  • Sportive: £50 registration + (200 x £1.20) = £290

You’d get to 240 riders for a sportive before you reach the amount you’d pay to the governing body to run an 80 rider APR.

You’d likely have no different a cost for the race HQ for both, lets call it £100, same with first aid, lets call that £100 too. But for a sportive, you’ll not need NEG motos, nor the same requirement of marshals (although you may want them), no lead cars & commissaire vehicles, race radios, prize money, all those other bits & pieces that are not really required for what is essentially an organised training event.

If we add all that up, for a 200 rider field, we have £290 fees to Scottish Cycling (Note: more than they’d get for a 60 rider standard road race field), £100 HQ, £100 First Aid, so for the basic costs we’re at £2.45 per rider. This would allow chip timing probably working out to under £3 per rider from somebody like Mark Young’s MyLaps system (prices vary depending on riders, there’s a standing charge plus price per chip, so worth asking because my costings may be out of date, he’s on twitter @myeventtiming).

When we add it all up & you’re getting your event insurance, facilities & chip timing for about £6 per rider. If you want to do the sportive thing & provide a club sponsors printed event t-shirt & a medal for every rider, plus some spot prizes, you can get all that for under £15 entry per rider. All you’re doing is defining a training event as precisely that, not kidding on it’s a proper race, a more honest & potentially more useful APR. Another possibility could be upgrading a reliability ride to the slightly more formal format of an APS.

How Would It Work?

Early season only: Now I’m not suggesting these new APS events have to continue all through the season, I’m only talking about the first 6 weeks (or so) of a season. After that serious riders will either have a full schedule of big events planned out, whether they are road races (with licence points) or sportives, could be decided by their experiences in these early season multi-discipline events.

200 riders max: Lets say that this style of event would have a cap of 200 riders, purely for safety reasons & to keep it simple for organising clubs & to fit the event in their local facility. 200 riders would provide the critical mass to dissolve the chip timing costs amongst the riders to keep the costs of the event to a minimum for clubs & riders.

Modified Handicapping: This is probably the big change over an APR. With chip timing, we don’t actually need to have everybody cross the line at once in a big bunch sprint, everybody would get their own time. I’d envisage that we could spread the event over a longer period of time, to avoid large groups assembling together.

How I’d lay the field out would be as follows, but I’m sure other people have plenty of other ideas.

  • The riders towards the rear of the event would be laid out in a similar fashion to a traditional APR, with the riders being positioned in groups according to race results (i.e. these would be race licence holders). I’d make the second scratch quite hard to catch from the scratch group, which would make sure everybody has to work like hell together to make inroads into the other riders, this is a semi-competitive training event for the experienced riders after all. Other accomplished sportive riders, with high sportive placings, can elect to join one of these ‘racers’  groups, apart from the last two groups, which would consist of experienced racers (just to be safe). The time gaps between groups would be larger than a traditional APR, to avoid large groups assembling.
  • The first riders out on the road would be the slower sportive riders, again with significant time gaps between groups of 10 to 15 riders. It would be expected that these groups would fragment, as the assumption is that the opportunity for group skills amongst these groups had not been available.
  • The ‘sportive’ groups would steadily get faster until the ‘racers’ groups left the start. You could slip in a group of super-vets somewhere too, amongst the ‘sportive groups.
  • The fastest sportive groups are likely to be a fair bit quicker than the slowest ‘racers’ groups, so there is a possibility that there could be some intermingling of the ‘sportive’ & ‘racers’ groups here, it would require a test event to find out.

Clear Routing: This isn’t a race, so the riders are to obey the rules of the road & any marshals & signs are for routing purposes only. A carefully planned course can alleviate these issues to maybe only one or two junctions where the riders do not have priority, where this isn’t the case, turning onto a relatively quiet road may be possible. As I said previously, this is the major education issue if these events are to be considered, that if you are required to stop at a junction, you’ll have to, this may need to be enforced in some way. Any dangerous corners must have highly visible marshalling & signs, obviously.

The Gist Of It

There’s really nothing new in this at all, all I’m proposing is an early season calendar of these type of event, allowing all categories of riders to take part in one event While also opening the doors to sportive riders to let them get a glimpse of the ‘racing’ side of cycle sport which they are also welcome to dip their toe into, the other way round too.

If you think your event carries a high risk & you can’t find a more suitable course, keeping the event under the safety & control of a race day organisation will ensure that things are as safe as possible. But if your event could be considered more of an early season training event, that nobody is going to risk their life to ‘win’, then changing its status could be an option next year.

Our sport evolved before the mass appeal of cycling hit the general public, to not adapt & to ignore sportives & mass cycling is a mistake. We should be embracing it & providing events that both racers & sportive riders can take part in, with the hope that some may be enticed into official racing. Otherwise we’re living in the past & ignoring those who are now the majority of cyclists, there’s likely some very strong talent out there to be discovered.

I’m going to throw this idea out there for discussion, I’m sure I’ll get some concerns. It could get more riders entering semi-competitive events, a bigger crossover to racing & open a funding stream for clubs, with no less money going to the governing body, all with less effort than organising a ‘proper’ road race. “Why not” I ask, I’m sure you’ll tell me, because I’m absolutely certain some will absolutely hate this idea, but it’s just an idea? Some may see it as an opportunity, but maybe with some tweaks it could prove a welcome success & a boost for the sport.

Event Strategy

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

Event Registration

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

Specific Annual Dates

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

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

The Regional Plan

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

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

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

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

In Summary

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

Scottish Classics

teacakeThe Scottish Road Racing scene changes significantly every year, races come & go, others seem to have been with us forever. But very few of the multitude of past & present road races are universally accepted as having the ‘Scottish Classic’ label attached to them. It’s probably about time to take a fresh look at some possible reasons why we’re losing these races & what we can do to create races for the modern era, with a sustainable format & room for growth, a true ‘Future Classic’.

Past Classics

I asked a question on Twitter & Facebook, “Which races do you consider to be the Scottish Road Classics, now, and in the past?”

The responses were particularly interesting, most riders viewed the races which influenced them in their ‘form-years’, not necessarily the ones that stood the test of time. A few events were brought up time & again, but if we asked a group of riders of varying ages to name the top 5 Scottish Classic road races, we’d probably end up with a very heated debate, potentially a fight. It appears that we personally determine a ‘Classic’, its predominantly an opinion formed from a generational perspective.

With the small amount of spectators at domestic events, you probably have to be there to experience them, it follows that if you’re there, you’re probably a rider in that particular era, so you’re going to inevitably choose races you actually rode in. Event officials have experienced many events over decades, so in theory may have a better perspective of the answer to the question, but our ‘Classic’ definition isn’t formed from an onlookers point of view, it’s from the battle within the race & how that felt, win or lose. We need think about how we define what we mean by describing a road race as a ‘Scottish Classic’.

Races that cropped up a few times, were the now defunct Glasgow-Dunoon, The Girvan, Tour of the Kingdom, Inverness-Elgin, Tour of Clydeside, while The Drummond Trophy, Davie Bell & Sam Robinson are classics that still exist. This is by no means the full list, just a handful that were mentioned, so don’t go sending me any letters.

Classic Definitions

One particular repeated characteristic of a ‘Scottish Classic’ is distance, with the 100 mile barrier being mentioned a few times as helping a race become a classic, but distance alone is no measure of monumental status. Over the years the distance of most races has reduced, racing is faster, but potentially less of the endurance test it was for the previous generation of racers. I’m not convinced that distance can define a true future Scottish classic.

Another is ‘point-to-point’, with these events being another example of a classic format. These used to make up a significant part of the calendar, but are now absent. Constraints of crossing regional borders, police permissions, marshalling & the logistics of getting riders back to the start likely stop these taking place. I have suggested a Tour of Scotland in a previous blog, this may be the only viable option for point-to-point racing these days, included within a stage race.

Sporting importance is another key characteristic of a ‘Scottish Classic’, the Girvan & Tour of the Kingdom attracted some of the UK’s finest riders, allowing our home-grown talent to compete on our roads against the best riders we could find in the British Isles. The ability of races to attract a top quality field is important for definition, at the very minimum they have to be open to Elite category riders.

Essentially, a ‘Scottish Classic’ is a completely different beastie to a classic defined in Europe. Continental Classics are seen as culturally significant, part of a country’s sporting mindset, so comparing those with ours isn’t where I’m looking. We need to redefine what we are actually expecting from these events in Scotland.

Sad Loss

There’s many reasons our events disappear, we can probably condense these down to a few simple points.

Manpower is required to run big events, if you consider how clubs have changed over the years, you can imagine that there are a lot fewer individuals likely to give up as much as their time as in previous years. Many club members don’t just cycle, they’re involved in all sorts of sport & non-sport clubs, they have added time committed to their offspring’s growing leisure & social commitments too. Standing at the side of the road all day probably isn’t seen as a good use of time, by them or their families. Race design has to be set against that backdrop, you have to make the time commitment appropriate to the modern way of life. A very long race which demands more manpower (our 100-mile-plus old-time ‘Classic’) would gather a handful of willing helpers, while a morning only event would allow most club people to help out, it doesn’t infringe on their child collection time or Sunday roast dinner. Obviously, unless you can pay your helpers something for their time.

The rise of veteran racing over the years has probably had a detrimental effect on the availability of individuals who would previously have taken over the reigns of club  ‘race organiser’. Rather than being clubmen, there are huge amounts of riders now racing into their 60’s, or later. Don’t get me wrong, the old boys staying at a level of fitness that embarrasses riders half their age is a good thing, I’m just pointing out that this cultural change has also contributed to the lack of experienced riders willing to design races which could meet the ‘Classic’ tag. These riders have the knowhow, potentially the organisation skills from the workplace, and the vision to construct a race of a very high standard, it’s just they they’re all still racing & giving the young men a pasting!

Complications & bureaucracy like risk assessments, insurance, permissions, booking equipment & HQ’s, race convoys & the task which carries most hearsay & negativity, the marshalling, all help to put people off running an event, or increasing the status of their current event. This is all very understandable, it can seem like a daunting task for the newcomer, but often the perception is worse than the reality if the club is supportive, if the club treats the organiser like a leper as soon as they take the job on, well, that’s a different kettle of fish……

Tradition can be a killer for an event, but can also be its saviour, especially in the case of memorial events. If we look at some of our remaining ‘Classics’, they have potentially endured due to a name being attached to them. This can create a commitment from people who may have known the individual on the trophy, by helping to find an organiser or taking an active role themselves. Either way, it creates an emotional attachment to a race, it allows it to endure. In one way a memorial race will struggle to develop beyond a certain point, the title may prevent this by removing the possibility of naming it after that big name sponsor you’ve finally found, or associating its name with a region or council who are willing to fund a major event. So it’s a double-edged sword, a memorial event probably allows endurance, but can impede development. A tricky situation which has to be handled well.

Money. The bigger the event, the bigger the pot of cash that’s required. A Premier Calendar event requires a significant prize fund & has to carry a Temporary Traffic Regulation order as a minimum. The minimum prize fund is currently £2000, which has dropped from a higher sum very recently, you can’t get this from entry fees alone, so to run these types of events you need some cash from sponsorship. Finding this money year after year is a big issue, the Girvan had to move from its traditional location, to Dumfries & become the Tour DoonHame in order to secure regional support. Events can grow to a certain size, attain our coveted & emotional ‘Scottish Classic’ status, then disappear due to funding. For the organisers who’ve made their event reach a certain level, then lose some funding, it’s often not in their nature to drop their event a level & to feel like they’ve taken a step back, so the events disappear. Big events require funding, but more importantly they require a driven team of people, if the funding is reduced through no fault of these people, then it’s understandable that their drive may diminish.

Modern Classics

So we’re looking at our future classic races having some features which help to cement their position on the calendar & hold a place in the racers heart, as a battle worth winning at the top of the domestic race scene. We need these events to have some of the following characteristics.

Prestige: The ability to attract all the top riders from Scotland, or even better, from the whole of the UK. This in turn attracts the much-needed publicity that attracts sponsorship & website or press coverage beyond the live audience.

Sustainability: A model in place which can secure an event for a number of years, whether this is from regional or local council support, a long-term sponsor, or a committed group of individuals who are determined to run the event for a number of years.

Innovation: The organisers of the event need to plan ahead. If you want to create a classic, you need to either have a very good idea, incredible organisational abilities, local support, or all these! Remember that most events on our calendar never attain the ‘Scottish Classic’ status, it requires a plan or incredibly good luck, only one of these can be chosen.

I’d define the 2013 British Road Race as the ultimate Scottish Classic, it will transform into the Commonwealth Games Road Race in 2014, imagine if it continued beyond that? We’d have a pro-level race on a set course, those who witnessed it will discount the various shouts of “it didn’t go over the Crow Road” & such other nonsense. This event was compelling to watch from the side of the road & captured the imagination of the public in vast numbers, it will be even more popular in 2014. As close as we can get to a true continental classic race.

The Jist Of It

We only need a few sustainable & resilient ‘Scottish Classics’, not every event can be a Tunnocks Teacake or Wafer, we also need Rich Tea & Hob Nobs, there’s a place for all events. By experimenting with race formats & moving away from standard events, we can hopefully find our resilient events with the capacity for growth, capable of moving road racing forward by providing headline events which attract the top riders.

What we really need is a well thought out & carefully planned calendar, with a wide cross-section of events, which will allow space for the top-level events to flourish. I attempted to provide a structure to that in a new Road Race League system under the Race Development topic. This in turn would provide the platform for new organisers with fresh ideas to step up & perhaps provide the Classics we all desire at the top rung of the domestic road race scene, along with encouraging our current organisers to continue with their sterling work.

An enduring Scottish Classic for the 21st Century is going to be quite different to the races we enjoyed in the last century. We need to take a step back in Obree-style & redesign them from the ground up, forgetting what we understood them to be in last century. It’s an excellent opportunity to spend some time having a good think about over the winter, who knows what you’ll come up with.

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Subsonic Flow

There’s been a lot of chat about Gorilla Greipel’s new chrome dome helmet, but lets look at the facts and come to the understanding that these are here to stay, especially in the northern classics & more generally in colder climates like ours.

A bit of History

Proper polystyrene protective helmets began appearing the very late 80’s in Scottish racing, they became part of the rules in about 1991 & the old foam & leather ‘bunch of bananas’ or ‘hairnet helmet’ became confined to history forever. The very early helmets were a little bulky, but then Giro, Specialized and a few others developed some good looking (at the time) lids and things moved on from there. Greg Lemond was an early pioneer and trailblazer of everything aero, likely prompted by sponsor pressure too, he promoted Giro helmets and used a very early closed vent version of the ‘Air Attack’ model called the ‘Giro Track Attack’ which reputedly had a 5% aero advantage over a bare head, although nobody was listening back then (things have gone full circle now and a new ‘Air Attack’ now exists along with a development ‘Track Attack’). Meanwhile the pro’s were regularly sitting at the side of the road protesting about having to wear the things, while us amateurs were just getting on with it. Things changed, the pro ranks were allowed to discard the lids on the last mountain of a stage race, then eventually they had to wear them all the time, that’s where we are right now.

Some Technicalities

You can understand to some extent what the pro’s were annoyed about, early helmet technology had resulted in some not particularly well vented examples, they had to wear what their sponsor gave them, so helmet choice/luck became part of the game. Helmets then became increasingly vented to keep the top riders happy, those riders needed them to have enough airflow over their head for 50 minute climbs in 30 degrees heat a low speeds. All the adverts were stating the amount of vents, as if it was the key selling point to ‘normal’ cyclists.

Now consider your average Scottish race, you’re unlikely to be climbing many hills over 5 minutes, at most it’ll be 10 minutes climbing, temperatures on the warmest day are 25 degrees one day a year, but likely you’re racing in an average of 15 degrees, punching over small hills at a reasonable speed. Do you really need as much airflow as the 50 minute, low-speed, 30 degree heat boys? Of course not, don’t kid yourself on.

This brings us to ventless aero helmets for road racing. They currently look ridiculous to us, but so did all helmets when we first saw them, maybe we’re just not used to them yet. The Sky team have been using them for a couple of seasons with their Kask helmets. Although these ones show the vents and retain the look of a vented helmet to some degree, although the yellow ones were ridiculous. So we have a half way house here, some manufacturers are trying to retain a vented look, while others like Lazer are going full aero, which is the likely outcome over the next couple of years. The vague vents will slowly disappear in order to become more aero, the UCI will change the rules and stop everything becoming too aero and un-Merckx like. So we have a hidden race, between an acceptable look and the desired function, to go faster. Greipel’s claimed sprint max speed was 74km/h in one of the Tour down Under stages, so how much advantage did this aero hat give himself and his team, with Henderson dropping him off into the final sprint at his claimed 70km/h? There’s obviously no data out yet, but Cavendish’s worlds helmet cover on his Specialized lid will explain that it’s a measured ‘marginal gain’ and worth enough watts to encourage manufacturers to develop products. You’ll hear terms like ‘subsonic flow’ ‘boundary layers’ & ‘turbulence’ being banded about in marketing material, it’ll all become very technical, they’ll all claim to be the fastest.

Helmets for Scotland (or anywhere cold)

Do we need all these vents, as explained above, we don’t. So as you’ll see in the northern classics from now on, non vented helmets will become prolific, even more so in cold markets like our country. If pro’s can wear non vented helmets in stages of le Tour, if we’re honest with ourselves, we could wear them all year round. Especially in winter, they would probably make a significant difference with reduced airflow and nice warm head. We’re currently wearing helmets with 20 something vents in minus temperatures, there’s no logic to that. It comes down to aesthetics, vented helmets look correct right now, only because since 1991 we’ve got used to them, previous to that anything other than a hairnet, a bare head or a cap looked right. Times change and in 5 to 10 years time, once there’s plenty of pro photos out there of top riders saluting the crowd in an aero road race helmet, you’ll think aero road helmets are the thing to wear in the bunch or training ride.

The future of headwear

Expect Assos & Rapha to ‘develop’ breathable under-aero-caps to complement your new fast lid, where there’s a marketing opportunity, there’s the momentum to make anything stick. Aero, ventless road race helmets, you’d better get used to them, they’re not going away, in fact, they’re probably a good idea in Scotland, you’ll get used to how they look.

British Road Champs predictions

As it’s early days, I’m making an early prediction on this one, Adam Blythe. Notoriously described as one of the best bike handlers in the business while riding on the ragged edge, this boy’s break year I anticipate is 2013. He’s only 23, but has gone through one hell of a introduction to bike racing, on the BC plan, then off the BC plan in 2008 “by mutual consent” to make his own way in Belgium, with the help of the legendary Tim Harris. Adam Blythe has got a very good mix of BC science & old school hardman, combined with being a Sheffield lad & the Tour starting in Sheffield in 2014, his motivation is going to be sky high, Sky beating high!

So multi British medalist on the track, to the BC ‘plan’, then on to three semi pro Belgian teams, which got him a 2009 place as a ‘Stagiaire’ in the Silence Lotto team, this secured a contract with Omega Pharma Lotto in 2010, wining the Circuit Franco-Belge, then moving onto BMC Racing Team and has been noted by Phillipe Gilbert on twitter as being a noted talent. Backed up by a rider as classy as Steve Cummings, Blythe can take Cav , or anybody in a sprint at the end of a tough race, and remember this will be a tough race, as Sky are in no danger of letting their former sprinter get to the end of this in the front group. No doubt Lizzie will be shouting along the sidelines too, so get yourselves to Glasgow and cheer on what looks like being an incredible race, right on our doorstep.

Adam Blythe, 2013 British Road Race champion, you heard it here first.

Curiouser & Curiouser

Continuing on from my initial blog, particularly the road racing part of it, I’ve been forwarded a very interesting email that was sent to past & present road race organisers by the National Events Officer for Scottish Cycling, plus a draft calendar in there too, looks like it’s been widely distributed, so seems logical it’s ok to comment on it.

It looks like there is no national road race series in 2013, which is a shame, as I said before it doesn’t need jerseys and a sponsor, but is a nice thing to have, something to aim for and provide progression. Aberdeenshire appears to have an evening road race series, along with the Ingliston Criterium series too. An exciting addition to the calendar is the appearance of the British Road Race Championships on Sunday 23rd June, in Glasgow. The showdown for who wears the British bands in the Tour de France will be fought out, presumably on some circuits of Glasgow City Centre, on the course used for the Commonwealth Games in 2014? Lets hope so, Cav & Fenn from OPQS, Wiggo & Geraint Thomas (along with all the rest) in a super strong Sky squad, BMC’s Blyth & Cummings, this is going to be one hell of a race, especially with the profile cycling now has, will certainly beat the previous years events in the middle of nowhere, although the southerners may still consider this the middle of nowhere. A great event for Glasgow to host.

We also have the British Mountain Bike Championships at the Cathkin Braes on the 21st of July, so this looks like a bit of joined-up thinking from Glasgow City Council, this is another event well worth a visit, reports say the course is really good, with some knowledgable experts/riders in there helping to design it and sort any problems. But as my previous blog, I’m learning about the MTB scene, but would be keen to comment further once I’ve a better understanding.

Back to the Scottish calendar, there’s an attached file with notes. It throws up some surprising details, an inner working of what’s going on at Scottish Cycling towers (or SCU as some of us prefer to call it). The first surprising thing (I’m not sure they meant to release this, rather than asking the organiser first) is that they intend to ask the organiser of a women’s only event to move their event to the same date that a women’s only coaching day is being held. Now, this must surely be a mistake, as why would you clash a training day, presumably designed to prepare female riders for that event? Removes the point in having the training day to some extent, can I find another women’s only event on the calendar, just one or two! Surely these women only events don’t have to be held on the same day.

Next, we don’t have any secured organiser for the Scottish Road Race Championships, an event which has been getting some positive attention in recent years, it could be the biggest domestic event on the Scottish calendar if it was getting pushed & supported.

Apart from that, there’s seems to be some striking gaps in the calendar, scrolling down the organisers names, there appear to be a few notable ones missing, possibly everybody has retired or taken a break all at once, unlikely, so leads me to believe this is an incomplete calendar which wasn’t supposed to be distributed so widely. The notes also look incomplete, a little bit odd & haphazard for an organisation with so many paid members of staff to make sure everything is correct, it doesn’t instill confidence in what’s going to happen in the future. Didn’t we get this all sorted out reasonably easily with one full time member of staff and two volunteers in a portakabin in Edinburgh? But I’ve taken my eye off the Scottish scene to some extent in the last few years, so this may be normal procedure at this time of year these days, but I’m hoping to be back with a vengeance this coming year, might even help out in some races & pin a number on my back if I can get rid of this belly over the winter.