Archive for December, 2013

Roll up, Roll up, Roll up…

Posted: December 20, 2013 in Opinion, Racing

It’s Christmas Carnival time!  That time honoured tradition that has attracted cyclists of all persuasions for some hundred-odd years.  Tassie does it well; Victoria has seen a revival in recent years; even NSW is getting in on the action!

The mainstay of the Christmas carnivals are the rich wheel races: handicapped track events that are designed to give everyone an equal chance of victory.  These are held for juniors and seniors and often attract a high calibre of track rider.  I remember last year watching Glenn O’Shea make history by taking out all the major Tassie Wheelraces and pocket a cool $18K in the process!

Glenn O'Shea after his clean sweep of major Tassie Carnivals last year… four out of four!

Glenn O’Shea after his clean sweep of major Tassie Carnivals last year… four out of four! O’Shea returns this year along with a cast of Australian and International stars.

It’s fantastic racing watching the back-markers sweep up the front-markers in the final straight to take the win… or seeing the amazed look on the front-markers faces as they hold on for an unlikely victory.

For the juniors the carnivals offer a colourful, competitive and especially tiering experience.  In Tassie, its five out of six days racing, in Victoria its four days straight with some decent driving thrown in.  Throw in heat, flies, wind and strange beds and the experience is sure to make them stronger more resilient riders.

It is also a great experience that they race on outdoor tracks – from long flat tracks like those found in Bendigo or Burnie to steeper banked outdoor tracks like Horsham and Ballarat.  Racing styles and tactics need to vary depending on the wind, weather, marks and competition.  It is a real skill to be able to ride a handicap.

Juniors fly by in the Wheelrace final in front of a full house at Latrobe.

Juniors fly by in the Wheelrace final in front of a full house at Latrobe.

Victoria has revitalised its Christmas carnivals in recent years, especially with the juniors, by holding state title events as part of the carnival program.  This has attracted a higher number of entrants as riders seek state glory.  In past year’s its been the points races, now this is part of the National Championships, this year sees the Victorian Scratch Race Champs being held throughout the carnivals – one gender/age category on each carnival program.

In Tassie this year, the organisers have thrown their hats into the ring of promoting stalwart John Craven, who is putting on supporting criteriums throughout the track carnivals.  It will be interesting to see how this effects entries and more importantly, how it effects the crowds and support for the carnivals.  It’s a shame they won’t be running junior or women’s crits along with the elite offering given they’ve already got the courses closed.  I’m sure this would have attracted a much bigger crowd and more mainland juniors racing the track carnivals.

NSW is also offering four-days of track racing from the 27th to the 30th December; with racing on three outdoor tracks plus the opening day at Dunc Gray.  It looks like they’ve separated the junior event and limited it just under-13 and under-15 with the under-17s racing than main program with the older categories.  It will be interesting to see how this goes… especially in the graded scratch races and the like.  Not sure on numbers, but I know there has been strong growth in younger categories – even down to under-9 – so not sure on the decision to not include under-9s and under-11s on the junior carnival program?

All-in-all the Christmas Carnivals are a bit of a right of passage for young cyclists.  They’re a terrific bonding experience for families and let us all experience cycling how it used to be.  A look at the honour boards for these carnivals reveals a who’s-who of Australian cycling legends: Patterson, Clark, Pate, Neiwand, Aitkin, Gilmore, O’Shea, Bobridge, Perkins… the list goes on, and so do the carnivals… bring them on!

Your numbers up!

Posted: December 13, 2013 in Equipment, Opinion
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One of my sons had a very short but enjoyable stint racing BMX – didn’t last long as he couldn’t quite coordinate the rhythm-section!  There are a couple of things that BMX do well.  They cater to very young riders: they offer racing for under-5s!  This is why BMX offers a terrific pathway to all cycling disciplines.  Riders like Robbie McEwen and Ryan Bayley both came through BMX.

Unlike road and track cycling BMX offers racing for kids as young as 3 and 4.

Unlike road and track cycling BMX offers racing for kids as young as 3.

Another thing it does well is its numbering system.  Riders are allocated or chose a number and keep it for the year – or longer if the rider wants.  In my understanding they allocate numbers 1-to-8 to the top eight finishes at major titles.  So at national races there are sometimes 1V (for Victoria) and 1Q (for Queensland) etc.  There are also national and international numbers awarded – so a ‘1A’ for Australian title holders or a ‘1W’ for World Champs.  Riders of a lesser standard can apply for a number in their category.  Each category must use a different number plate background colour and number combination.  Having this number for all races means the riders can get it printed on their jerseys and stuck on their helmets as well.

This young fella is proud as punch holding the #1SA plate in his age category.

This young fella is proud as punch holding the #1SA plate in his age category.

The reason I bring this up is I think we’re only one nasty accident away from a not-so safety pin becoming lodged in the body of a rider.  The way road and track cycling does the number system is old-fashioned, inefficient, not suited to the small bodies of kids and certainly not aero.  I’d like to see road and track cycling incorporate a similar system to BMX, where riders are awarded a number or choose a number, and they have that number for the year or, better still, for all their junior years.

Winners of state and national titles can be awarded the #1 for the year of their reign with their regular number put on ice during this period.  This will allow kids to have their numbers sewn onto their skin suits and jerseys, have frame numbers made for their road bikes and even stick on their helmets.  It will mean safety pins are a thing of the past and event organisers have one less thing to worry about.

Two big numbers just don't fit on small bodies…

Two big numbers just don’t fit very well on small bodies…

Different age categories can be allocated different coloured background/number combinations to avoid confusion of the same number being in the same race (could happen in graded club racing).  Not sure what effect this would have electronic timing/results, but assume all riders could be entered into the system at the start of the year so this would also be easier to manage.

Any how, just throwing it out there… keen to hear what others might think?

Last year, not long after the introduction of the new bigger gearing for under-17 riders I wrote a post that strongly argued against this move (New Under 17 Rollout – the strong get stronger…).  A year on, I’m interested to hear how people think it’s going?  While it is obviously too early to determine what effect it might have for those stepping up to the under-19s (and Junior Worlds which we again dominated with kids who grew up on the old gearing!), we can look at the effect it is having on the results and the style of racing in the under-17 fields.

I sat in the stands at the recent Melbourne-leg of the NJTS with a highly regarded track endurance rider and now coach.  Some of his comments were interesting.  What he observed, at the NJTS at least, is that physically stronger riders are winning in the under-17s.  Riders who can get on top of the new big gear.  And what this coach noticed was that these riders were making all sorts of mistakes in racing, but because of their strength, they could simply put the hammer down and make up for their mistakes.

We don't need to spin… we've got the power!

We don’t need to spin… we’ve got the power!

So are the changes breeding a crop of young riders who are losing the skills of racing – especially bunch racing – using tactics, riding position, making good decisions, because they have the strength to just win from any position?  This wasn’t just evident in the finals but in the heats – almost to a heat in the keirin, the sprint and the venue blaster, the biggest, strongest kid won!

Keen to hear what other parents/coaches/riders think of the change and how its working so far?