New Under-17 Rollout – the strong get stronger while the weak get weaker!

Posted: November 18, 2012 in Equipment

This is a hot topic in the pits and in the stands around junior racing at the moment. CA mandated a change to under-17 rollout (or gear size – equating to one full rotation of the cranks), increasing it from 6.5m to 7m (see their formal announcement here) from 1st October this year. To paraphrase, their simple argument is based around the jump between under-15 (6m) and under-17 (6.5m) being small and the jump between under-17 and under-19 (7.93m) being large. Nothing about the physiological development of kids and what age this happens.

They provide some rationale and background to why we have gear restrictions (pulled straight from the CA announcement document):

  • To ensure a fair and equal competitive basis for all involved
  • To limit the competitive advantage of athletes who mature early
  • To increase the relative importance and thereby development of racing tactics
  • To encourage development of technique and ability to produce power at high cadence
  • To reduce the risk of overuse injuries

I argue that the change to a 7m gear for under-17 riders goes against every one of the above rationale! A first-year under-17 rider, who could be as young as 14-years-old if born in the backend of the year, has to compete with a much more developed 16yo who now has the added advantage of being able to push this huge gear. The 14yo might decide to try and push the big gear and risk injury, more likely he or she will be so frustrated with no longer being competitive that they quit the sport.

Kids come in all shapes and sizes and develop at different rates, increasing the under-17 gear just gives the bigger, stronger kids an extra advantage they didn’t need.

There was nothing wrong with the old restrictions – why try and fix it? Our junior world’s teams (under-19) have dominated for many years (because of the old gearing restrictions). Our under-17 racing was the closest racing in the world (because of the old restrictions). Our conversion from good junior to successful elite athlete was the envy of all (because of the restrictions).

It was the coaches of the top 2% of athletes who made all the noise and led the call for the change (and the weak hierarchy at CA who caved in), and really for what benefit. Those same coaches train their top-2% under-17 athletes on gears way bigger than the new 7m rollout. Surely, making them spin when they race provides all the benefits of the above rationale… it makes them better racers, not prematurely muscled – and it keeps things more even for the those less developed athletes.

The other unfortunate side-effect of this, is all the under-17 junior records are now effectively irrelevant. Juniors con no longer compare their times and performances against the likes of Stuart O’Grady and Michael Rogers… or even Cam Meyer or Jack Bobridge… or the sprinters against Perko or Anna Meares… who all raced on the old gears.

IMO, the decision marked a sad day in the sport. It seemed to be rushed through by a handful of individuals being cheered along by some elite coaches and pushy parents. Bring back the old restrictions ASAP.

  1. Carl Brewer says:

    A counterpoint for your consideration : – and why do comment makers have to identify themselves if the blog author is anonymous?

    • cycdad says:

      Hey Carl, not sure re: the ID issue, I’m new to this. I will try and turn it off as it is a good point you make. I’d actually read your blog on this and I think you make some good points. I’m not suggesting its black and white, but offering my opinion, as the father of a junior cyclist. I maintain that it wasn’t broken – it really wasn’t an issue – (given our results at past Junior Worlds) so why do it?

  2. Garry House says:

    Well written article Cycling Dad.

  3. Carl Brewer says:

    Some more info on this topic (and junior worlds is not a great yardstick, one of our big failings is that riders disappear after junior worlds, one of the reasons for the lifting of the gears is to make J19’s stronger so the jump to senior isn’t so daunting).

    Many would suggest that the Poms are dominant at the moment. Heads up :

    in the Uk it goes like this

    youth A u16..6.93m (~7m, ~same as us now)
    youth B u14..6.45m – bigger than us
    youth C u12..6.05m – bigger than us
    youth D u10..5.40m – about the same
    youth E u8..5.10m – do we even have a Youth E?

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