Wednesday, October 02, 2019

Sanctioned Gravel Series/Racing Is Coming: What They Need To Understand

Races like the Dirty Kanza 200 have turned the US bicycle racing scene upside down
 NOTE: Large doses of "my opinion" will be handed out in gloppy dollops today. You've been forewarned.....

There were always those individuals in the past that would comment, or tell me in person, that the day sanctioned gravel racing happens is the day gravel racing would be "dead", whatever that really means.

Well, "that day" is now. Take a look around and see the many races where Pro, semi-pro, and former Pro racers are showing up. Take a look around and you will see teams being built to take on various top level gravel races. Take a look closer and you will see gravel racing series all across the nation. This is a transitional time in the "World of Gravel", you might say. There isn't anything you can do to stop it, because the old, traditional, worn out ways of making a buck on cycling events is over. It's all about gravel racing now, and the "Big Boys" are coming to play in the sand box.

Some, (many?), folks will be upset that this is the case. However; I don't think there is any cause for alarm, as I wrote here in a piece almost a year ago now. So, I'm not going to address the naysayers and critics of "roadies that ruin gravel". They are coming, (already here, actually), and the way they want to race is going to be addressed, and in some quarters already is being addressed. How the Powers That Be address this will be what either makes or breaks their efforts. I don't think they are coming in with a good understanding of what is already in place though. Think I'm wrong? Just last December USAC (U.S.A. Cycling) hired a new CEO who made the following quote then, "Our sources want USA Cycling to expand participation at cycling’s grassroots levels, bring non-traditional events under the governing body’s umbrella, and maintain stability and consistency within its own ranks."

That sounds like USAC wants to make the rules standardized and when they do that, making series and "points events" and all the traps and trimmings of the old criterium/road racing races probably will be applied to gravel. It's what they do, it's what they know. In my mind, if they do it that way, they will be making a huge mistake. Why? Because their model is based upon the European model of road racing as it was evolved to by the 1950's and beyond. This model is not one that will transfer in a "cut and paste" mode to gravel racing. Nor should it even be tried. Here's why...

The Euro model of road racing increasingly became one which featured fully supported riders who didn't have to do much of anything but pedal. Race radios tell the riders what is going on, fully staffed team cars are there to coach, encourage, and plan on-the-fly strategies. Nutritional needs are met by these rolling team cars and at "feed zones". Mechanical aid is ever present and riders can even switch bikes. 

Self-supported gravel racing has been the norm since 2005. But more recent events want to change that.
This is not at all how, or even why, gravel racing got so popular. Self-supported racing meant that several things were different than the traditional models of racing that were prevalent in the US in the early 2000's. Especially when compared to road racing and criteriums. Officiating racing, making draconian rules concerning bicycles and how they were set up, specifics on how riders could dress, and the specialized rules of racing all became turn-offs in comparison to gravel racing's more open look at how races could be run. While tightly controlled rules and ways of doing things might be attractive to a few, this isn't obviously the case with gravel racing. While there are rules, most of them can be summed up with "being responsible for ones self" and not being mean to fellow humans. 

Then there were, and still are, the heavy burdens promoters and Race Directors have to pay in money to put on a USAC event. I cannot in my wildest dreams imagine that USAC gravel events would ever be free to enter as some gravel races are, or very reasonable, as most gravel races are. Example: There are three gravel events in Iowa in October that I am aware of right off the top of my head and you could do all three for less than $100.00 total. ($55.00, $35.00, and FREE) No way will USAC be able to touch that, but they should if they want the "grassroots people". No, they will be in the SBT GRVL/DK200 range in terms of pricing, more than likely. This alone will pare down the numbers that would even consider doing anything the USAC/UCI puts on for a gravel event in the US. Expenses for "traditional racing" was one of the things that drove folks away from putting on crits, MTB, and road racing in the first place. 

Jana Vavra, multiple winner of Trans Iowa, raced the same distance as the men

Finally, the USAC/UCI way of running women events is laughable. Prizing, event distances, and rules differ for women and this has never been the case in gravel events. If USAC wants a piece of the grassroots gravel action, they will have to ALWAYS have women race the same distances, on the same courses, with equal prizing. This is non-negotiable in my mind. Anything that smacks of what the UCI/USAC has done in regard to woman's racing in the past will not cut it with gravel racers in 2020 and beyond. 

They also will HAVE to be all-inclusive. None of this goofy "categories" stuff. I don't even go for all the age brackets in USAC, because it over-complicates things to a huge degree. But....I'm likely in the minority on that one. That said, the hierarchy of age/competition levels that USAC employs on the paved side will only force more divisions, misunderstandings, elitism, and eventually discourage a vast amount of people from entering their events. Why do you think people left USAC for gravel in the first place? Ask most anyone and their story will usually be about elitism, misunderstandings, and all the B.S. rules. 

When USAC comes in, and they mean to, they have a chance to completely change racing from the old, hackneyed Euro model to what has been forged in the rural areas of the U.S. and make a uniquely "USA style" of racing that doesn't look anything like what the UCI promotes in Europe. Let their racing be "euro-style" and let Americans have "grassroots gravel" style events. The old, Euro model failed here and continues to be not much more than a side show. 

You know what they say about doing the same thing over and over again, right? 


Phillip Cowan said...

You can throw a party but that doesn't mean anyone will show up,lol. As you've said before"vote with your feet".

CrossTrail said...

I'm not moving into any neighborhood occupied by USAC/UCI, although occasionally I may visit a friend in one. I'll continue to enjoy the liberty of unregulated events or make my own.

Motocraftsman said...

Former USAC participant here. My .02 is that people abandoned USAC due to the cost vs benefit inequality. In the early days of gravel events, there was a low entry fee for the low amount of support that was given, and people were totally ok with that. If a license is going to be required to participate at all, plus then pay the entry fee, I don't see people gravitating to their events. T-shirt rides are still popular because, at least you'll get a t shirt for your entry money. USAC first needs to look at why events are popular, not at the money they can wring out of them.

Rydn9ers said...

I spy Minnesota Joe and Chris, that pic is a blast from the past. Has to be 2016, I don't think GW has been back through Eagle since. That was a good year!

USAC is a racket, never understood the $60 annual license that you needed just to sign up for and pay more to enter a race.

MG said...

I’ll vote with my dollars on this one. I haven’t had a USAC license since 2014 and don’t intend to change that for 2020 and beyond.