I've been pretty busy getting together that Festival of cyclocross-type activities and affiliated silliness that is locally known as The Tacchino. Seems we're going to be the September 25th opening act for the revised MABRAcross series, now known as the Super 8.
You're probably wondering about the Super 8.
What's so super about it? Well, cripes, I dunno. What if you could build a series that's big, but small enough so that every race mattered? And what if you could get the promoters to commit to doing a bunch of hard things to make the race day experience better than it's been in the past? And what if you based those initiatives on what the promoters *know* has to be done, and on the results of a rider poll in which the riders told us what they really want done?
The Super 8 races will have minimum prize lists for the elites roughly 3 times what the old minimums were. There will be better amenities for the racers and spectators. Yeah, that's right - we're getting graded on whether we have enough bathrooms, food other than cold hot dogs, smooth running registration and scoring, and things to do for the kids *other* than play in traffic.
There's going to be some changes in the substantive parts of our races too. We've been talking to people on the west coast, people in New England, and people in between and you to find best practices to handle our growth and these are some of the things we've come up with. There is a strong focus on better scoring and race management to make registration, the start grid, scoring and finishing smoother. Remember all that anger last year over people getting pulled, sometimes in an arbitrary way? Well... we're doing things with course design in the Super 8 to alleviate that problem with uniformly long-riding courses, paying more money to bring in top tier scoring judges, and working on procedures to ensure everybody, even the pulled, get scored if they do it per procedures. You'll see quicker podium scoring, and team representatives working with the refs to make scoring, and redress of errors, smoother.
This doesn't happen by accident. We - the promoters - have been working with the officials over the winter and summer to figure out how to handle the big fields in a way that results in everybody getting scored, fewer people getting pulled at bad times, and so on. The spring we mostly spent drinking heavily and riding mountain bikes, in case you were wondering.
And God bless the officials. They've been with us in this project and have put in a lot of time, to put the racers first. Local official majordomo Jim Patton has been very instrumental in putting this together, and he is orchestrating the importation of officials who work top tier events, in the hopes that with enough hard work and expertise we can smooth things out. You guys need to buy him a fish dinner...
There may even be a little experiment with chip timing which, I assure you, is not going to solve the scoring and pulling problems despite what some of you think, and it may even come with it's own problems. But we're taking a serious look at it to see if it helps alleviate some of the issues that have arisen. Please bear with us as we work with you to figure it all out...
There's probably also some wonderment about the class structure this year. Here's the deal.
We looked at who are racers have been, what races they register for, and how we're likely to continue growing. Our center mass racers are male cat 3.5 racers who are, or soon will be masters eligible. For a few years we have packed the Cat 4 and Cat 3/4 races, and a lot of the Cat 4s in those fields have more than the 10 races required for upgrade. In fact, we seem to have some folks who are looking to be lifer Cat 4s. This will not stand, dude.
The profusion of Cat 4s is producing a log jam in any race open to Cat 4s. We can only have so many Cat 4 fields, and if we don't move some people out soon, the influx of new riders is going to make it really unpleasant trying to register and race for Cat 4 races and Cat 4-heavy events, see e.g. 35+ 3/4. Soooo... we took a very hard look at the racer demographics, and figured out that our center mass races really ought to feature Cat 3s, and that the Cat 4 races should really be true beginner races, as the "C" races were a few years back.
Thus you'll see two pure Cat 4 races this year - M and W 4. They are both labeled "beginner" races, they are to be just over 30 minutes in length for most racers (consistent with much of the country's treatment of Cat 4 and past C race history), and we hope they will be an amenable home for new racers, comparable to Cat 5 on the road. We also hope that if *you* have done your 10 races, that you upgrade to Cat 3, or at least move to the 3/4 or 3/4 Masters. Those will be 40 minute races and we're viewing them as the Joe Lunchbox races. There are also two L'il Belgians races during the day, so Junior can double up, or just race one but in a time slot that is compatible with mommy or daddy's race day schedule. Women will also have a 3/4 race to go to, and hopefully the much larger prize list encourages our local elites, men and women, to come out in better numbers.
We also broke out the Masters a bit more, making 1/2/3 races for 35+, 45+, and 55+. This is a bit of a leap of faith - we're counting on experienced racers, some of whom have over a hundred events under their belt, to cat up to Cat 3, and to sometimes race in a less crowded field. Sure, you're probably not going to win a 1/2/3 race as a Cat 3. But were you going to win the Cat 3/4 race or the Cat 4 race? I'm not so sure. What do you get from catting up? Well, a beatdown from Dave Weaver and Blair Saunders for one thing, but we're working to make sure that lapping doesn't necessarily equal pulling particularly in smaller fields, and you'll be in good company with the beatdown. Other than that, if you choose the 35, 45, or 55 1/2/3, you'll get to race in a less crowded field, with a lower risk of getting pulled and a much improved chance of scoring series points and podiums. Series points go 25 deep kids, and we're awarding series prizes in most of the major events at the end of the year to 10 deep.
Holy crap, did I just say that out loud? Yes I did. There's cash on the barrelhead for those who get good results in the series. Now there's some positive incentive to get out of the super crowded Cat 4 and Cat 3/4 fields, and get into a less crowded field and go points hunting, and hit all the races.
We even put together a SingleSpeed class, for the freaky-deaky among you who don't want Jack & Coke, but would prefer to swig CX whiskey straight out of the bottle. Yeah, I'll be in that class getting pounded, all year.
Is this perfect? No. It won't be. But we're consciously working to make it better and after this year's reshuffle, we'll look at what you racers did, and what your feedback was, and adjust accordingly.
So that's what's going on with the Super 8 series, at least from my perspective. Alll the promoters of the MABRA races you love most, are working very hard with the officials and our insanely generous sponsors, to build top quality local/regional races that serve the MABRA community. We're not interested in going UCI and being super focused on the elites, though we think the MAC has a great series and we'd love to see a lot of our racers graduate to the elite competition the MAC hosts - that's why we've beefed up the elite field cash purses. We support those of you with the goods, and the desire and drive to move up. We're super stoked that there are now three grassroots series with races within 90 minutes drive of D.C. It's essential for 'cross's continued growth that there are local races with low barriers to entry for promoters and racers; the more the merrier. But our mission is in the middle ground. The bigger races in the Super 8 have the ability to take cash flow and big supportive velo clubs running our races to provide a lot of pleasant amenities for all the racers, from grassroots to pro; and to build courses and big fields that are fun for Joe Lunchbox to race in, but also help the front runners move up to local and then regional elite competition.
Got that? We're not trying to compete with anybody other than ourselves, and we'll consider it a win if the technical standards are better than last year, and you have more fun through our improved amenities.
More on the Tacchino in a day or so.