Exploding the b-Omnium

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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?

New Hour Record Rules

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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?

Comparing the Incomparable

Standard distance courses measured in miles, (a unit rarely used by cyclists worldwide), on flat roads (a road type rarely found in Scotland), using expensive special time trial bikes (a steed rarely found in the stable of anything other than a ‘tester’ or a tri-antelope). Time trials, how did we get here & how do we deal with it?

(I wrote a piece on how we can go about modernising TT’s & moving them into a lower age bracket ‘A Demographic Time Trial‘, this blog is some explanation as to how I came to that conclusion.)

Era-Change

Time trialling should be an ideal entry platform to the sport, theoretically it’s a simple concept, ride a certain course as fast as you can, anybody can do that on any old bike, yes? This perhaps was what happened in the past, I’d venture to put a specific date on when things changed, pre-1989. We saw Greg LeMond win the Tour by 8 seconds in 1989, his eight second advantage over Laurent Fignon was mainly due to some aerodynamic technological advances. From that point on, your club rider realised that by simply purchasing a pair of funny handlebars, they could gain a good advantage over their former self. Previously we’d seen some glimpses of the future, with riders like Francesco Moser used aerodynamic technology (among other things) to gain ‘free speed’, but those technologies were mostly out of reach to anybody else, tri-bars were so much cheaper than a ridiculously large disc wheel & gave a much bigger speed advantage. In previous times the fashion had been to drill holes in everything, resulting is presumably much more turbulence & churning of the air over components with non smooth surfaces, but as of the 1989 Tour, we had now entered the ‘Aero-Era’, smooth surfaces & more emphasis on making the human body create less drag rather than look at individual components.

Time trialling in the UK was still mostly on spoked wheels & drop bars pre-90, the more advanced had ‘lo-pro’ bikes, with a normal sized back wheel & a 26″ or even 24″ front wheel & cowhorn handlebars. Some riders were mounting the front brake on the back of the forks, running bladed spokes on as light a wheel as possible. Had they had wind tunnels back then, you’d have seen riders not going so low, but being more stretched out. Lo-pro’s disappeared after the rules changed, where both wheels had to be the same size, so most frames stayed as 700c (27″) front & rear, with only some triathlon specific bikes adopting 650c (26″) front & rear, but those are rarely seen in time trialling.
Such has the sport changed since 1990, that it has become an aero arms race, with riders deeming it necessary to spend much more £ on a time trial bike than a road racer would on their race bike. Aero frames, deep section carbon front wheels, carbon disc rear wheels, carbon aero seat pins, bars with teardrop profiles, aero helmets etc, the list is endless.
The mould breaker, who influenced things even further was Graeme Obree, I don’t think we fully appreciate the impact he really had on the ‘Aero-Era’, he went against common perception & developed the two fastest positions in history, like many musicians are influenced by certain artists, Obree was the artist who influenced pro riders & helped develop an industry. He demonstrated some of the advantages that somebody with modest means could obtain to make themselves faster, so much so that most things he did were banned & it’s likely that he sparked the UCI’s current obsession with conformity & stickers, reducing innovation & increasing the likelihood that most race bikes look more or less the same. Robert Millar’s latest article which appears in Rouleur issue 41 takes a shot at the standard conformist black carbon bike.

A Changing Sport

The ‘Aero Era’ changed time trialling, it became an arms race, an expensive side of the sport if you wanted to be competing at the sharp end of the results. Previously (pre ’90) you could have competed perfectly well on your road bike, now you needed a specific TT bike. This is where things started getting distorted & time trialling became something that roadmen didn’t venture into as much as they used to, the usefulness of TT’s became less as you were in a different position to the drop bar style you would adopt for a breakaway. The two disciplines began moving further away from each other. The past had seen some of our best roadmen regularly taking part in time trials, this rarely happens now, our Elite, 1st or 2nd category riders are a breed rarely seen at a domestic TT. This needn’t be the case, but having more courses & ‘rules’ suitable to a crossover market would make a difference, i.e. non aero-bar TT’s, on road bikes, also encouraging the sportive type rider too.

The PB

Personal bests are really a very odd thing for me to comprehend, the variables are so great, getting a PB has a huge element of luck about it, rather than necessarily your best performance.

For example, one twitter user who has been riding some 10’s recently is @MaKluskie, he tweeted: “Best ever average power output for a 10 today @338W but didn’t translate to PB. A minute slower than last week #windy windy.”

This shows that huge differences, such as a full minute time loss, even though your body performed better, result in a slower time, the PB is a moving target, it’s value is very limited if it exists at all. We really are comparing the incomparable when we look at times on different courses, or even the same courses in slightly different conditions, with the widespread use of power meters, we can prove that you did more work but you come away with a slower time. So next time somebody who you consider your equal tells you that their best time is a minute quicker than yours, they may just have had a favourable ‘float day’ on a certain course. PB’s are not an absolute, they are a mix of luck with the weather, sometimes even dubious ‘luck’ with high traffic volumes on a dragstrip course. As an example, I reduced my PB by nearly 1min 30s over 10 miles by riding a course down south, which was probably my last flat TT, as the experience put me off them for life, it was a virtual motorway, not somewhere I’d ever like to ride my bike again, especially when I saw some older plump gentlemen putting out times that would have won races north of the border, the reality of the post ’90 TT scene was clearly evident, an aero arms race & ever more traffic heavy courses.

Placings by Omnium

If PB’s are something that we know are based on favourable weather & how much traffic flow is on a course, how do we, or should we, compare performances? One of the main draws of TT’s to some riders is the PB chasing, which although false, gives some kind of carrot, but may incentivize something which doesn’t result in a progressive & inclusive area of the sport. Surely there is another way?

One method I could throw out there is to take an idea from track racing, the omnium, and use it to give an indication of TT performances. In the omnium the winner gets one point, the second placed rider gets 2 points, third 3 points etc. So in TT’s, we could allocate season long points, then divide that number by the amount of events that are ridden. It’s not particularly complicated compared to vets standard times, BAR averages of averages & such things that are currently used, so we’d be simplifying time trials, along with adopting the UCI masters designations, so we’d effectively have 5 year age groups too for everybody above 30 (or is it 35 now?).

With the TT omnium system, we’d directly compare performances against other riders, rather than hoping that you’ve chosen to enter the correct course on the correct night. So lets take the scenario of 2 fast riders, who are battling against each other every week. So if we take the omnium points & divide them by the events ridden, we get an effective average placing, so the lower the number, the higher the ranking. If a rider only enters one event per season & wins that, obviously their average omnium score is 1, so we’d probably start scoring at, say 4 events, to make sure there’s some consistancy.We could develop a system where we get an average placing, rather than chasing a PB. This would equate to all courses, so you wouldn’t have to stick to one type of event, you could improve your average omnium placing across several different events, or different types of event. This may result in a national ranking system based on TT performances across all types of course, perhaps removing the need for dragstrip courses on roads you’d not normally want to ride your bike on? At the end of the year, we’d have a national TT omnium champion, who has consistently performed against their rivals, rather than the current BAR system, which is completely out of date with the reality of what TT’s people are actually riding.

Opening Up The Sport

An omnium scored ranking would allow different types of event to take place, such an non-aero retro time trials, without tri-bars & disc wheels. This would allow riders who hadn’t invested large amounts of money in ‘fast’ kit to score low points on their road bike, road riders could enter these time trials & also get a relative TT ranking. Could this possibly make TT’s more popular? I’m not against TT’s, but I’m not comfortable with them in their current format, we could really open up their appeal & a relative ranking system such as this removes the need for incredibly fast average speed courses, we’re measuring performances against performances. The older rider can use the UCI masters system to rank their performances against their peers too, so we could have each age category battling against each other in omnium ranking, rather than outright time. Team performances could also be measured with this system, so a team of three in a championship would be ranked by the lowest combined score of their placings in an event, rather than combined time, again comparing performances rather than one outstanding time. After all, if you’re beaten by one place in a time trial, does it really matter if that was by one second, or sixty.

Maybe it’s time to rethink things & allow this area of the sport to develop & evolve as it decides, rather than searching out courses that are getting driven more & more towards high volume traffic semi-motorways. It could be time to find a better comparative measure of performance, this is just one way of doing it, but it could be one solution for time trialling in a modern world & make it more attractive to all riders, not just those with TT rigs & funny hats. Keeping TT’s in Scotland under the British Cycling insurance blanket could result in a very different & varied TT scene to that which exists south of the border outside UCI rules, but with their own even stranger ones, I know which I’d prefer.

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