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.

The State of Cycle Racing in Scotland

I’ll begin this blog with a good honest look at how cycle racing in Scotland is progressing with regards to the ever changing road racing scene, the slow demise of ‘traditional’ time trialling, then the massive upsurge of interest in cyclo-cross & track racing. I’ll not go into the sportive scene, but may comment occasionally if it affects racing in some way. I currently don’t have a clue about MTB racing in Scotland, but hopefully I’ll find out and include it in this blog.

Road Racing
Just a few years ago, there was the introduction of a Super6 Series, sponsored by Scottish Power Renewables, previous to that we’ve had various incarnations of a Scottish race series, a Grand Prix series, a development series, none of which have really captured the imagination of the Scottish cycling community. But the Super6 was different, it was a fresh approach to racing, two events on the same short circuit, on the same day, one for higher category riders (A Series), the other race for 4th cats & women (B Series). There lies a problem with this, you need to find willing organisers, volunteers willing to take on a mighty task, with the added complication of trying to get your race helpers (marshalls, drivers, caterers etc) to give up a whole day of their time, races are run by clubs and usually spearheaded by one individual in that club who becomes the local leper as he/she tries to gather help for the event they all agreed to run. The Super6 events proved hugely popular, full fields for the first couple of years, until the format became diluted, with organisers unwilling to run two events & then issues with 4th cat riders not progressing, as riders who started the series as 4th cat riders, then gained enough licence points (*see note 1) to gain a 3rd cat licence could still enter the ‘B series’ and took the majority of the points placings, so the remaining 4th cat riders found it hard to progress. The Super6 is all but dead now, it seems Scottish Cycling no longer had the support of their series sponsor and it may have been left to fend for itself, but hard to see how pulling a few events together and issuing a points table requires a sponsor, it could have been done in an informal manner without winners jerseys.
Otherwise there are some interesting things going on in road racing across Scotland, we come down to the work of some volunteers again, the photo finish operators & the NEG (National Escort Group) have made a huge difference over the last few years. Not only in providing a professional looking public face, with a proper finish area and official looking motorcycle escorts for a race, but also in race safety and the now, all important placings down to the last rider. Everybody likes to see exactly where they placed these days, especially the ex sportive riders who are used to timing chips and thousands of riders getting individual placings and timings. Organisers who can’t get hold of photo finish or can’t afford it for their event (£100), tend to get a public roasting by uninformed riders, desperate for their performance to be registered on social media or the melting pot known as the Braveheart Forum.
There are also unconfirmed rumours that the 2013 British Road Race Championships will be held in Glasgow, on the circuit being used for the Commonwealth Games Road Race in 2014. Additional rumours suggest this involves traversing the Clyde using part of the Kingston Bridge, involving closing off some lanes of the M8. So if this does go ahead next year, it looks like Glasgow City Council are taking their cycling very seriously, the logistics for this ‘test event’ are huge, but imagine Wiggins, Cav, Froome etc, racing through Glasgow in front of big crowds, this could be an incredible event.

Time Trialling
Where do we start, the obvious ‘old man’ of cycle race progress in Scotland, an outdated BAR competition (*see note 2) with very few entrants, the continuous scrabble to keep events on so called ‘fast’ courses, flat busy roads, often dual carriageways, often with roundabouts, not where you’d normally enjoy riding your bike, then the aero arms race, making time trialling at a level where you want to be competitive a very costly area of cycling to get into.
So how can time trialling compete with things like track cycling, which involves racing from 10 years upwards, an entry level bike capable of winning races at £400, in it’s current state, no parent in their right mind would want to send their children into the time trialling world, so it needs to evolve and it needs to do it quickly. Time trialling can become a huge sport again, with a few simple changes.
Scotland is absolutely jam packed with what we’d call ‘Sporting Courses’, there are also an abundance of riders with road bikes, who want to compete, again crossover from the jam packed sportive market. So why not provide events for these guys, without pointy hats, without disc wheels, without specific time trial bikes, put them on at a suitable date in the few weeks before a big local sportive, include part of the sportive course, they can test their form for their big event. Surely this is where the future of time trialling really lies, is it worth putting off the inevitable any longer?
The best thing about the current TT scene are the recent additions of some excellent hill climbs, promoted and run in a spectator friendly manner, notably the ‘Kingscavil  Hill Climb’ & the ‘Up the Kirk Hill Climb’, promoted by West Lothian Clarion & Stirling Bike Club respectively. Both closed roads, both with commentary, both a great event to ride & watch, both with more spectators in each than watch an entire time trial season, these kinds of events are the future, and the saviour of time trialling. We still have some great ‘sporting’ events, like the Trossachs & the Meldons, which are in the format which would attract many new riders if marketed to the right group of cyclists, ideal events for non aero kit, maybe we should go all UCI and ban aero kit from a few events and see what happens?

Winter: The new Summer
It seems that there’s more folks out there racing in Scotland during winter than in summer, everything is changing and it’s no bad thing, so let’s see how this happened….
Cyclo cross has become a massive winter sport, with the Scottish Cyclo Cross Association promoting their area of the sport incredibly well with an army of enthusiastic & willing volunteers & up to 250 riders participating in each meeting across the different categories. There is also huge youth participation in this branch of the sport (although some of the parental contributions have been unwelcome over recent weeks), supporting events across Scotland in large numbers. If you go and watch one of these, you’ll feel a whole lot better about the future of cycle racing in Scotland, we’ve been lacking in youth & junior riders for as long as I can remember, providing events like these is the catalyst cycling has been looking for and develops skills required in all other aspects of the sport. You’ll also notice a big crossover, there’s road riders, track riders, mountain bikers, single speed riders, all coming together in one event, all very good to see, cyclo cross looks like a proper cycling community meeting.
Our new winter pursuit in Scottish cycle racing is track racing, the Sir Chris Hoy velodrome now provides a focus for the sport & one of the best track venues in the world, here in Scotland. Glasgow Life who run the venue have been gobsmacked by the interest, they still have thousands of bookings for accreditation to get through, so it looks like the booking system wasn’t prepared for the demand, but things should calm down into the new year and more track time will become available. The track league has been oversubscribed too, plenty of youth riders there too, even some spectators turning up on a Wednesday night, so club racing is on-going every week now. The venue hosted a round of the World Cup in November, which was a huge success, before that there was the Scottish Championships, including the Braveheart Thunderdrome meeting & in February there is a round of the spectator friendly Revolution series. It’s all going on and in 2013 we have the World Junior Track Championships to look forward to, followed by the Glasgow Commonwealth Games in 2014.
The main media focus is obviously going to be on the velodrome, after the huge success of the London Olympics, Chris Hoy being a national hero and the short attention spans required by any uninformed public, track cycling looks to be in a very enviable position, if the ‘Manchester Effect’ produced several Olympic & World champions, we’re hoping the ‘Glasgow Effect’ will create some medals & rainbow bands in the not too distant future.

Conclusion
The Scottish cycle race scene is generally healthy, there are plenty of youth riders flowing in, but it needs modernisation & lacks structure in a few key areas, i.e. Road racing & time trialling.

*Note1: The first 10 placings were awarding British Cycling licence points, 10 for first, 9 for second and so on. You could upgrade to 3rd category by gaining 10 point in one season, allowing you to ride a wider variety of races and progress in the sport by riding against stronger competition. By allowing 3rd cat riders to take part in a 4th category race, those places taken by the 3rd cat riders had no points allocated, but nobody else further down the rankings could get them either, so you could potentially have no points awarded to anybody in these events if the first 10 riders were 3rd category riders who were racing for points in the B series. So combining a race series, with a race category entry system is complicated and problematic.
*Note2: B.A.R. stands for Best All Rounder. In time trialling it refers to time trials of 50miles, 100miles & 12hours, you take the average speed of each ride, then you take an average of those averages and apparently you get a winner. Bear in mind there are no 12 hour events in Scotland anymore, so riders have to travel down south to any remaining 12 hour events that still exist, yet it’s still a Scottish championship. More riders record times for the ‘Middle Distance BAR’, which is over 25mile, 50 mile & 100mile time trials, but there’s limited interest in this as it becomes more and more difficult to find suitable courses & riders have to travel a long way. It’s likely Scotland will have no 100 mile TT very soon either, while the most popular distance of these flat TT’s, the 10 mile time trial is not included in any BAR table. Hence the need for non standard distance, non flat TT’s, of which we have an abundance of courses.