Saturday, February 11, 2012

Get rid of the National series

I really dislike bagging an idea unless I have an alternative (I still do it but I hate myself afterwards, trust me). Having not been overly impressed by the new National series format it got me thinking about what would be a better way forward. Most of the discussion has been about tweaking events and trimming around the edges without asking why we actually need a national series anyway. Let’s face it, it’s expensive, a logistic nightmare, questionably organised and generally leaves a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. In the last 5 years have you ever heard someone say “Oh my god, how good was the National series this year? It’s been great value for money, easy to get to and flawlessly executed. I’ll definitely be back next year!” No, me either.

People have taken the lack of interest in the series as a reflection on the state of the sport. I disagree. When you have events like the Otway Odyssey, Highland fling and various other marathon, stage races and timed races selling out it seems the sport of mountain biking is in robust health. It’s Cross country racing that’s in trouble. It’s as if MTBA have taken a discipline that is fast, furious and fun and made it (tempting to insert another ‘f’ word here)…excruciating. XCO popularity should be right up there with marathons – they are cheaper to run as you only have to marshal 5km or trail, not 100; they are more spectator-friendly having access to racers at least once per lap; and they are more time efficient both for the event and the training leading up to it, not requiring alienation from your family every weekend while you ‘clock up the k’s’ to make sure you reach the finish line.

The following are some notes visualizing an integration of national level racing into the state system which (in QLD at least) is floundering. Without the expectation of having to travel the length and breadth of the country, I think many riders and their long suffering parents and partners, would be free to focus on racing in their area, making the state champs a focal event leading up to the national titles. It would also make the UCI category racing truly national instead of skewed towards the southern states, in particular Victoria.

1. Elite riders want UCI points and high class competition/courses
2. Juniors want race experience and financial help to get to national titles
3. Recreational riders don’t want to travel too far, want racing to be fun, getting lapped out sucks

The format…
1. Elite XCO on Saturday, recreational classes on Sunday
2. Elite and U23 are Cat 2 UCI races and pay appropriate $ as per UCI rules
3. Elite and U23 are OPEN events to riders from other states/countries
4. Recreational classes may be open or closed with riders from that state given entry priority and gridding
5. State placings and prizes are given only to the riders from that state
6. Recreational classes do not have the 80% rule. Make the race time-based (eg. 1 hour, finish the lap you’re on)
7. Courses need better design with open climbing for passing
8. Have technical features to challenge riders, but a longer B-line to bypass the features to ensure new riders are not intimidated out of the sport (Perth did this particularly well).

These are just a few changes that could make XCO cheaper, less intimidating and more efficient. Apparently a good deal of our MTBA membership gets sunk into the national series so if we replace the series with something profitable it follows that our membership fees will go down…right? Not holding my breath.