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Letters to Cyclingnews – February 28, 2002

Here's your chance to get more involved with Cyclingnews. Comments and criticism on current stories, races, coverage and anything cycling related are welcomed, even pictures if you wish. Letters should be brief (less than 300 words), with the sender clearly identified. They may be edited for space and clarity. We will normally include your name and place of residence, but not your email address unless you specify in the message.

Please email your correspondence to letters@cyclingnews.com.

Valley of the Sun: final letters

We think just about everything that can be said about this race and the circumstances around it has now been said in this and our last letters page on the subject. Let's move on; this correspondence is now closed. At least a couple of people managed to find some humour in the situation...

Shooting ourselves in the foot
Shooting the Messenger
An Official Nightmare
Become an official
Enforce the rules
Follow the rules
Commendation for officials
A non-DQed rider writes
No More VoS?
All officials should be shot
Pip pip!

Shooting ourselves in the foot

Valley of the Sun racers: Well, good job guys. We just shot ourselves in the foot again. More bike racers who are too self involved and tunnel-visioned to avoid screwing up another bike race, pissing off another promoter, and in the end only hurting ourselves and the sport we all love.

I wasn't at this year's VOS stage race, but I am a pro who has raced it many times.

What gives me the right to make these comments if I wasn't even there? 12 years of racing experience filled with thoughtless actions, by myself as well as my peers, just like those executed by racers in this event.

Was the situation aggravated by the 2's field catching the Pros? Yes. The same thing happened the two years I did the race (96 and 98). Could the promoter or officials have prevented riders being all over the road by changing the field staging times, so that different races would not effect each other? They should have tried.

However, the bottom line is that bike racers (I am about to take a self-inclusion license) are way to worried about their aero wheels being true because they did not have time to true them all winter, or borrowing the power bar they forgot to bring to the race, to even consider what is going on around them, or the promoter's perspective. The Bolen's spend SEVEN months a year putting on a race for you guys, and the botom line is all you can do is Bitch, Moan and Complain. That is more time than anyone has trained up until this point of the season. Well, now they are sick and tired of it and the race has gone away, bye bye. This is called biting the hand that feeds you, or pissing in your own dog dish.

Bike racing is a privileged white-boy sport, and we all need to be reminded of how good we have it, to be so concerned with such petty concerns as our competitive life.

Yes, the race was not perfect. Yes, individual riders got screwed because of bad official's calls, or unusual circumstances that were out of their control. There were probably riders who got DQ'd unfairly. Welcome to bureaucracy. At an athletic event were hundreds of cyclists come to race, statistically it will happen. Deal with it. Life is unfair and bike racing is part of life.

I for one will miss the opportunity to race the Valley of the Sun race in the future. Tim and Janell, please accept my apology on behalf of all my fellow racers.

In defence of the racer's position, yellow line rules suck. No racer likes them, because they force us to choose between racing and intentionally getting dropped. That is a loose-loose situation for a bike racer, because in the heat of competition, when the smack goes down, no real self respecting racer is going to intentionally get dropped from the lead group just to not go over some stupid line. It is inherently unfair to ask a bike racer to compromise his competitive instincts in the middle of a bike race, it does not make any sense.

We all know how incredibly difficult and expensive it is to get a permit for full road closure. In many cases, it is impossible.

So perhaps we should just cancel all road races in the US and only have crits with closed courses? Well, maybe that is not such a good idea. The compromise has to be made for the survival of the sport, and for sportsman's safety. Competition should be in a separate arena, an isolated playing field that is unaffected by interference from the outside world, and players can compete without distraction. However, we are not basketball players. We are cyclists, and we compete on roadways, not courts, and these roads were actually built for the auto industry, and so we have to learn to share them with chicken trucks. We are not in Europe, where bike racing is cool, and they shut down cities for races. We are in the US, where you can get beat up for wearing a jersey and shorts into a 7-eleven. Welcome to reality.

Colby Pearce
USA
Tuesday, February 26, 2002

Shooting the Messenger

The disqualification problem that occurred at Valley of The Sun is so obviously NOT the race promoter's or official's problem. In spite of this, all anger is turned on the messenger, who then leaves the sport (witness the promoter's letter from Feb 22nd) because racers have improperly identified the cause of the problem.

The real problem lies in the lack of political support for running these kinds of races safely. The yellow line rule was created to deal with this lack. If you want to do something, really DO something with your misdirected angst towards the race promoters and officials- write to your local, state and national governing bodies, or join and contribute money to a National organization that addresses these selfsame political problems.

Race promoters and officials should be commended for being able to put on high quality races (heck, even low quality races - it's a race, at least!!), within the confines of the ongoing bike-hostile political environment. We all know how difficult it is to work at a job with/for a boss or customer who doesn't appreciate us. Try working for months without pay for a group of people who will ultimately gang up on you and blame you for their bad experience when you were stuck between a rock and a hard place before the racers even toed the line. Things get said- he said, she said- but to take the demands of the officials and the subsequent DQ's personally- seems to be misguided.

They yellow line rule DOES exist for your safety- even though you block this information out as inconvenient to your personal agenda. I know, I know- I raced, I hated the yellow line rule like any of you, but still DQ is better than deaths. AND it's better than not having a race at all, even though this is now the case for VoS.

Still, you racers must think about the consequences of being negative to your best friends- the race promoters. One single pointed comment can ruin a race promoter- often a volunteer enthusiast- for life. And has. I am personally saddened by this loss, and I think you should be, too. Complaints don't much change things you would wish to, especially when it's directed not at the government agencies involved. Only then can the climate change. And you must invest time in energy and money in that change, personally. All the complaining in the world doesn't do anything but ruin race promotion, an already largely money-losing, volunteer effort run by those people who should be your best friends.

Try to remember a few things here:

1) Government agencies -necessary to run ANY race- of various kinds don't know or understand cycling. There is no general mandate to accommodate or understand the cyclist's needs- cars come first, and bicycles a distant second- oh and with a heavy price tag for their sanction. Also, they don't care much for your event, the only agenda the general government agency is going to have (there are exceptions) is lack of negative political impact to their agency.
a) Some of their concerns are- lack of injury/death, road usage for cars, and money being brought into their town.

Notice how your race experience is often nowhere on their agenda. It takes years of work and cooperation to get to know and foster a good relationship with government agencies and policing forces just to put on a race at all, anywhere in the U.S. This is even true in France, where many bike races are held, and the Tour De France -I heard- was written into the French constitution....

2) Officials and race promoters have conflicting agendas to deal with- you only have yours. Race officials and promoters have to try to walk a line between safety and racers enjoying the race free of disqualification. You, the racer must understand this.

One of my favorite quotes is appropriate here:

This is the true joy in life: the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of nature, instead of a feverish selfish clod of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community, and as long as I live it, it is my privilege to do whatever I can. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no brief candle to me; it is a sort of bright torch which I have got hold of for a moment and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations. - George Bernard Shaw

Try to remember yourself as a part of the cycling community and not just following your own agenda. Rather than shooting the messenger- or complaining with selfish bitterness- try to understand the full perspective before making your complaints known to the race promoter. Develop a relationship with the race promoters and officials at races small or large, and I think you will find that perspective. It's imperative to our sport to do this. It is these friendships and wish to help the sport that race promoters enter this thankless and often downright hostile and money-losing enterprise. They do it FOR YOU.

Regis Chapman
California, USA
Monday, February 25, 2002

Official Nightmare

That's what VOS is: An Official Nightmare. I race in Cat 3, and in all my racing days I have never seen a more poorly run event in my racing career. A week and a half before the cutoff date of Feb 5th, I wrote a check for my team, hoping to beat the entry date cutoff. We did, as I did the smart thing and sent it certified mail. Even my bank statement said that my check cleared. What's the point of this then? How on earth did a check written for nine riders never properly put us all in our events? I raced with a Cat 2 number as did a lot of my team mates!!!

The team arrived Friday morning, only to find that we had no start times for the TT and no race numbers. One of our riders was not even resulted for the Overall GC! We were not on any of the sign in sheets prior to the races and even though we protested, it seemed like we just wasted our time. Our team and our sponsors pay good money for us to have a good time and get some results, and not to be ignored by race promoters or officials. I will say though that our team did make the best of it, and we do want to go the VOS next year, but if and only if the officials and promoters stop the nonsense of bad promoting and bad officiating.

"We have 800 cyclists to take care of and that is a lot."

Try coordinating El Tour De Tucson, which entails 5,500 cyclists, 7 police agencies, scores of volunteers, food, an expo, and much, much more. Why people are getting ignored is beyond me, but what I can't figure out is this: If we sent in our releases and $ prior to the event, how on earth did the Navigators get into VOS? Are we not cyclists just like them, or are we not big enough like them and have no name to hold any weight? Guess not, because all of them got to race whilst we were ignored and given no start times, results, sign ins, etc. We eventually got some things cleared up but we all were racing blind for the most part the entire weekend.

Thanks a lot VOS Promoters and Organizers. Your event will need a good cleaning up for next year. Please stop the insanity and pay attention to the cyclists!

John Nowak
Tucson, AZ.
Sunday, February 24, 2002

Become an official

I read with interest all of the letters posted to the special VOS section on your site. While most of the letters were from individuals who were understanding of the situation and supportive of the best efforts of the organizers, volunteers and officials, it was illuminating to read the letters from those persons who had issues with the officials' decision.

All of the "negative" letters regarding the VOS race officials came from riders. While I can understand and agree with the riders who felt that aerobar regulations were arbitrarily enforced, I was appalled at the letters from riders who took issue with the USCF officials' enforcement of the centre line rule. One rider in particular wrote:

"These officials are being ridiculous, I understand that they are out there to take care of us but there are some people out there that do not travel hours by car and spend lots of money at a hotel to get DQ'ed. There needs to be something done to prevent this from happening again."

This rider, who I do not mean to single out, but rather to use as a representative letter of what many of the riders seem to believe, has answered his own question. The "something" which needs to be done to prevent this from happening again is simply for him and those who feel the same way to observe the rules or not race.

As to the riders who had issues with arbitrary rule enforcement, I would urge them to consider if they could do a better job of officiating. If they feel that they can do better, I would hope that they would become certified as officials as quickly as possible and spend some of their time working races in addition to riding in them. Of course, this is much harder than whining after the race and may take some actual effort on the part of those unhappy riders, but it would allow them, metaphorically speaking, to "put their money where their mouths are."

John Bravenec, Cat III rider, Cat III official who does more than just whine
Austin, TX
Tuesday, February 26, 2002

Enforce the rules

Regarding the letter from Mr. Bolen and the VOS. He has miss the point, regarding the racers complaints concerning VOS. First; The start times being so close together between the Pro's and Cat II's. The trouble really began when the 2 groups got together as it has over the past few years. This has been an on going complaint and problem for the past several years that was ignored by Mr. Bolen and the promoters. Would it have really been that difficult to add 10-15 mins in between the Pro's and Cat II's ?

Secondly: Selective enforcement of yellow line rule. Start it right from the beginning, not until it becomes a problem and gets out of hand. Officials looked the other way or allowed it until it became a problem with the arrival of the Cat II's. If, at that point you have violations of the yellow line rule, you DQ them on the spot. If they continue without dropping out, neutralize the race or stop it until they withdraw. Finally if the problem persists, you cancel the race.

If indeed safety comes first, then have the guts to stop the race, even if it means 7+ months of hard work on your part thrown out the window. At that point blame falls squarely on the racers. Was a rolling enclosure out the question? The officials should have neutralized the Cat 2's until a wide enough gap opened to proceed.

Telling a Pro Elite pack to race faster is absurd, you're asking the racers to solve a logistics problem created by poor race management. Talking to many of the Pro/I's in the race, fully admitted that not crossing the yellow line was almost impossible once the Cat II's had joined the group. There was massive confusion and contradictory information from officials on how to handle the merging of 2 different groups.

Safety should always be the leading factor in any race environment, any racer would be foolish to disagree. However it is unfair to lay the entire blame on what has been characterised as the fault of Elite racers with ego problems.

It's sad to read that Mr. Bolen will no longer promote this race, to his credit it is a very thankless job, with long hours, and few rewards. I'm sure he does it for the love of cycling. Race promotion certainly has not been a profitable venture for many promoters and sponsors.

To the all the racers that participated at VOS, let this be a wake up call, when VOS and other races go by the wayside because of your lack of attention/care for the rules you'll be left with nothing. Put yourself on the other side just once, and experience the amount of work that goes into putting on a race, and maybe you may see the light.

To the race promoters, listen to the feedback from those that participate, the racers, teams, spectators, and residents, after all they are the ones that determine the success or failure of your event. The bottom line is that there is equal blame on both sides, in the end everybody comes out a loser on this one. Maybe everybody deserves a big fat DQ!

Michael James Creed
Colorado Springs, Co
Sunday, February 24, 2002

Follow the rules

Just a thought - all the people that got DQ's for crossing the yellow line, ponder this. What would have happened if the crosswind had come from the other way? Would you have spread yourselves out past the gutter and into the gravel? No, you would have grovelled along in the gutter cursing the wind, or taken some initiative and started another echelon.

So what's the difference with the yellow line? The course had two clearly marked boundaries, it's just that one of them could be crossed and one couldn't. The rules are there to follow, and if you can't follow them then get off the road.

Simon van der Aa
Tasmania, Australia.
Monday, February 25, 2002

Commendation for officials

I have been following the disqualifications and reactions to them in the Valley of the Sun race with some interest and would like to add my 2 cents' worth.

No doubt many cyclists find it frustrating that other riders cross road centre lines (into on-coming traffic) and so on during club rides, making things dangerous, annoying traffic and giving cyclists a bad name. This sort of thing happens in both races on open roads and pretty much every club/group training ride everywhere, from my experience. There are basically a small number of sanctions - on the group rides, consequences of crossing lines are either a head-on, likely fatal, collision with traffic or being fined by police (if there are any - usually there aren't) for traffic rule violations. These are generally ineffective at stopping this sort of riding - collisions and police fines happen very infrequently.

However, when it comes to racing there are a few more sanctions, which are effective if applied.

As I have seen happen here, one consequence of ignoring rules like not crossing the centre line is that the local council will step in (usually following complaints from other road users during the race about rider conduct) and refuse to allow races to be conducted in their council or on that particular circuit, either entirely or subject to such stringent safety requirements that the cost of complying can't be met by the race organisers. Who loses out? Why, the riders, of course! Sadly, riders don't understand that message until after the council has acted (if even then).

Race organisers then have 2 choices. First, warn the riders of the possible loss of the circuit if they continue to ignore road rules (which doesn't work, as noted above). Second, disqualify offending riders such as in the Valley race. The consequences of applying the latter rule may be harsh. However, bear in mind that if the road were only as wide as the one (or two) lane(s) allocated to the race, then it isn't as though riders would ride off the road in the kerb - so why cross the centre line onto forbidden tarmac? Are riders just plain thick?

Accordingly, I think the Valley Race officials are to be commended for their actions.

I would note (lest it be suggested that I "obviously have never raced as I clearly don't understand how the wind etc can push riders involuntarily across the centre line") that I race in the local men's A grade every weekend, including National Road Series races (I don't pretend to have won many though!). I've done a few races in strong cross winds - I don't accept riders are unable to avoid crossing the centre line.

Alex Sceales
Perth, Western Australia
Wednesday, February 20, 2002

A non-DQed rider writes

I was yet another of the competitors from the VoS Cat II field. Somehow my and my 6 teamates managed to finish the race without being DQed. I remember, from the very VERY beginning of our road race, a few racers here and there were jumping over the yellow line to move up (and I'm not talking about skirting in either). Many of us up near the front immediatey started hollering out there numbers so we could protest them after the race. Several of us began to ask imemdiately...why aren't they enforcing the rule???? It turned out we had to wait until it was a MAJOR problem (after we caught the pros) before officials began to DQ riders. (At one point, I remember almost all 200+ of us strung out in the left hand gutter). Some suggestions:
Officials: They need to enforce rules such as the yellow line at the very outset of any race, particularly where they know it's a problem. If racers see the first few violators get nailed, then it will help or be much easier to keep control throughout. Cat IIs: Since we have several Cat II only events coming up (Mclane Pacific in particular), if the crosswinds are real bad, make echelons, and bug everyone around you to. Let's learn how to race like the pros....god knows a lot of us want to be pro.

Stuart Press, Minute Maid/Dasani/LaGrange Racing Team
Los Angeles, CA
Friday, February 22, 2002

No More VoS?

It is sad to hear that Timothy Bolen, the VoS race organizer, will not host the event again. It also makes us racers look pretty bad as well, some of you should be ashamed of your actions. Like I mentioned before: if you cross the yellow line, then you gambled, and it should not be a surprise that you get DQ'ed. I would be shocked that the officials came out of the blue and started yelling and DQ'ing everyone in sight for no reason. Wouldn't you try and prevent a group of racers on the left hand side of the road from being smashed, hurt, or killed by oncoming traffic? Get real.

A note of sympathy: one time last year, I attacked at the end of the race, and without realizing it (I had my head down), I crossed over the yellow line and got DQ'ed immediately. Sure, I was really mad at the time, but later I realized I broke the rule and was in the wrong. I felt pretty stupid and it was a stupid thing to do, but that's racing, try and learn from your mistakes.

The next day I pulled out my rule book and read it; maybe some of you that got DQ'ed at the VoS should do the same. The rules are not written arbitrarily to be unfair to you alone, they make our races safe and fair. Then, while you're at it, instead of whining to the USCF (they have bigger fish to fry), write your apology letter to the officials at VoS and tell them, THANK YOU for all the hard work they put into the race. Besides, what is the USCF going to say? "You got DQ'ed for at LEAST one yellow line violation? Bummer."

At the end of your next race, within the 15 minute appeal time, check your results with the officials, and say THANK YOU again or don't check your results if it really doesn't matter, but say THANK YOU anyway! Finally, on your next group ride, practice echelons in a safe manner, and be courteous to drivers!

Brand LeMaitre
Denver, CO
Friday, February 22, 2002

All officials should be shot

Imagine the nerve of any official for penalizing someone who repeatedly breaks the rules. We as racers should be allowed to make up our own rules if we don't like the rules in place! Especially if we are Pro racers!

If we are caught by a bunch of lesser riders, that should automatically create a double standard so that we don't have to deal with the embarrassment of being caught, or the difficulty of actually creating a break. And the fact that the bunch numbered over 200 is no excuse! The officials should be able to Pick and choose between the "great" riders like Mr. Pro and the crap riders that "CAUSED" us to break the rules by being on the same road with us! Crossing the line and passing multiple riders who were obeying the rules was no advantage at all in our "professional" opinion.

And if we are the lesser riders, we should also not have to suffer through rules, because what do we know? Telling us several times before the race and warning us repeatedly during is of no use! We are after all "racers" and we have it tough enough without all these rules!

The bottom line is that we should be allowed to taint the results (Gord et al...) and kill one another and risk driving cars off the road and all the while costing the rest of the world another race if we want!

God, the nerve of some officials!

Charles Manantan
Phoenix AZ USA
Sunday, February 24, 2002

Pip pip!

I note with some amusement the controversy over the "Valley of the Sun" disqualifications. Perhaps those who feel hard done by should be blaming their ancestors, rather than the race referees. If it hadn't been for that silly little War of Independence, they could have ridden on the left hand side of the road quite legitimately.

God save the Queen.

Brig.(ret.) Arthur Cholmondley-Smythe (dictated to Roy Denoon)
Hong Kong
Tuesday, February 26, 2002

The last month's letters