Bicycle Racing Shouldn’t be Subjective

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One of the reasons the sport of racing bicycles attracted me is that it is not subjective.  By that I mean you start, race, and first one across the line wins the events.  Or you ride the fastest time and you win.  It isn’t a sport where other humans decide whether you win or are good, such as diving, gymnastics and such.

But recently, cycling is becoming more and more subjective.  Race officials are deciding whether a rider can finish a race.  I hate the whole aspect of this.

I meant to do a long post on the 80% rule in cross that has become common.  It was abused seriously at the Cyclocross National Championships last January in Asheville.  It is abused all the time.  I decided it would probably be better to just try to change the situation from the inside, thus through the proper channels, than bitch about it here.  We’ll see if that worked at all.

But after participating, then spectating the races at Joe Martin, I feel obligated to go ahead and “bitch”.

First of all I want to state right up front, that this post is about the officiating of the Joe Martin Stage Race.  The promotion was top notch.  I personally saw Bruce Dunn, the promoter, who races himself, working the event, doing the grunt work, plus doing all the other aspects as the promoter.  I, once again, personally saw Bruce talking to the UCI officials about how he expected the races to be scored. I know from history, that Bruce is super concerned that the racers are placed correctly.

But, Bruce isn’t in charge of officiating.  That is up to the appointed officials.  And I think they did a pretty pitiful job of this.

I should start on Friday’s road race, but will just leave that.  The scoring of the 1/2 race was pitiful at best.  I can’t see any effort made to try to come up with proper results. But, that is that. The Pro race too.

Let’s flash forward to Sunday’s criterium.  The race finishes on a pretty hard climb, for a criterium.  Historically, there are time splits on this stage, so it is an important stage.

I was standing at the finish line the last few laps of the Pro race, when it really started going hard.  The field started splitting into pieces with 4 or 5 laps to go.  Robin Carpenter had taken a flyer and the pace had really picked up.  With 4 laps to go a big split happened in the field. More than half the field got shelled.  It was carnage.

The leaders went through with two to go and then a few stranglers.  About 45 seconds back a huge group of riders, over 20 came up the hill, still racing, and the officials stepped out on the course and gave them the red circle deal and told them they were finished. They pulled them from the race.  I timed the gap to the leaders crossing the line behind them, with one lap to go, and it was over 2 minutes.  On a 2:45 lap.  So they were 45 seconds back at most.  I realized they had no chance of being lapped.

I was standing there with Tucker and went over to the officials and asked them why they were pulling riders with 2 laps left, with no chance of being lapped.  No one really would answer the question, but someone mumbled something about “out of contention”.  At least they could sort of quote a partial rule.

Anyway, about 20 guys left the course, but two of the guys kept riding.  Stefan Rothe, Elbowz, and Evan Murphy, Lupus Racing, kept riding the last two laps.  They were at the front of the group and wanted to finish, for their own reasons. They kept riding and didn’t come close to being lapped.  They finished the race, maybe 1/2 a lap or more behind the winner, Travis McCabe.

I talked to a couple more officials after the race, then called a couple UCI officials yesterday and as far as I can tell, the officials at the race are clueless.  Here’s the rule –

Screen Shot 2016-04-26 at 3.26.52 PM

So, if the official clearly explained to the fields that this is what they were doing, then they had “permission” to exercise their discretion according to rule 3D3(a).   But, out of contention for what?  Who is to decide who is out of contention?  For what, winning the race?  Stefan was 3rd rider for his team and was riding for team GC.  Think the official took that into account?   If they were pulling guys out of contention, then they should have not let any rider that was more than a couple minutes back even start the race.  Are they saying out of contention for the stage, the race overall, team GC, what?  These guys had been split off the back with 4 laps to go and only had 2 laps to complete the event.

Looking at the results after the race, they put the whole group, Stefan and Evan included, 4:08 behind the winner.  It is a fantasy time, completely made up number.  They would have had to have been over a lap and a half behind, and since both of them kept riding the full distance and were maybe 1:40 or so behind, then the number is complete bullshit.  I guess according to the rule (b) that they only need to be placed “amongst those pulled that lap”.  So they give them a totally fictionous time and then place them in the overall GC?

And this happened in all the events, not just the Pro1 race or 1/2 race, but I saw them pulling 3’s that weren’t close to being lapped.  Maybe the Pros don’t care that much normally, but I talked to a few and they were furious about how illogical the scoring at this event was.  Sometimes giving the whole field the same time at the end of a road race and then other race splitting the field.

Joseph Schmalz was put 10 seconds back on Friday’s road stage, when he was at a stand still behind a crash with a kilometer to go.  Then he rode back up to finish 27th and they still put him 10 seconds back with a time split at 21st place.  If he would have had the 10 seconds, he would have finished 5th overall, not 8th.

This is a UCI race, with UCI points.  These points are super important to these guys.  It is ridiculous, when considering there was a crash in the 1/2 race in the last kilometer , the same day, and they gave 76 riders the same time when there were huge splits in the field.

These races, both in the 1/2 race and the Pro race were decided by a matter of a couple of seconds overall.  Time bonuses and splits in the last sprint decided both the races.  And the officials add or subtract seconds, or even minutes, from riders times at their will.  Or because they don’t have the ability or knowledge to do it any differently.

Or, how about this.  There was a crash on the last lap of the criterium, when the field was together.  John Murphy, UHC fell, most likely not his fault, and a bunch of guys either fell or got caught up.  The officials gave them, 15 riders, the time of the 9th place rider across the line, 9 seconds back.  What rule were they using here?  Here’s the rule I believe they were supposed to use-

(c) Finish. (i) In the case of a group finish, the Chief Judge shall attempt to place as many riders as possible and those who follow shall be placed equal up to the point where individual riders can again be identified. (ii) A rider who suffers a mishap in the last three kilometers of a road race stage or after free laps have ended in a criterium stage shall be given the same finish time as the riders he was with at the time of the mishap, provided that the mishap was observed or otherwise verified by a race official

These guys were racing for 1st, not 9th?  I’m sure an official tried to use some intellect to figure this one out, maybe they could explain it to me?

I could go on and on about how badly the races were scored.  These were just a few examples. Each and every race, minus the time trial, had problems.  The results in each event were just wrong.   It is so strange racing all out for a matter of seconds for nothing.  The whole fiasco detracts from the credibility of the event.  An event that has gone on for generations and deserves so much better.

I don’t understand the problem that cycling has with scoring.  If you go to the smallest ski race in Wisconsin or Minnesota, they have chip timing.  The results are instant and correct.  There are so many ways that some of this could be minimized.

But officials using their subjective discretion to pull riders out of races because they are deemed “out of contention”, with no downside to letting them finish, other than the hassle of scoring them, is completely wrong.  Especially when they prorate their time erroneously.

Shame on them. This needs to be addressed at all levels from Master’s racing to UCI professional results.  Let try to fix this problem, nation-wide, once and for all.

All the wrong results can be found here.



Tucker loved the whole weekend, but he doesn't yet quite understand how races are scored because he's a puppy. The officials don't have that excuse.

Tucker loved the whole weekend, but he doesn’t yet quite understand how races are scored because he’s a puppy. The officials don’t have that excuse.

39 thoughts on “Bicycle Racing Shouldn’t be Subjective

  1. De Flahute

    Seriously this is the result of USA Cycling monopoly. At least promoters have each other for competition. Racers choose which races to enter. But they have no control over the officiating. In any other business, shoddy officials would be shown the door for such awful customer service. Most officials have never bike raced & are thus totally clueless–especially how frustrating it is for a racer to get pulled after so much blood, sweat & tears training, travelling to the event & competing. This culture of official mediocrity is a big challenge for new Cycling USA CEO Derek Bouchard-Hall.

  2. Wiley Coyoyte esq.

    With all the technology that exists for chip timing, it seem dark-age draconian to have arbitrary times assigned based on the USA Cycling Official’s mood at the time. Unfortunately, this stuff happens a lot.

    There are ways to fix this problem, USA Cycling should move forward and find a solution.

  3. Jon Holcomb

    As a current USAC official, this is a set of rules I have regularly opposed, mostly because I believe that the rider’s have paid (financially and physically) for the right to race a full race and be placed based solely on their position at the end. Objectivity should be the norm. Once subjectivity is employed, there is too great a risk of influence by outside factors in outcomes and can remove control from the rider and his/her tactics in quality of their finish.
    When pulling riders has ZERO bearing on safety or outcome of leaders, it needs to be stopped.
    For us (officials) to say it is more difficult to score correctly with a complete field finish versus pulling and counting is pure bullshit. We have to do lap counts and tracking regardless. Who cares if we have to count one or two extra laps? The lazy. Or, ego-driven, or overbearing official that believes they are “required’ to have a hand in the outcome.

  4. Here we go again

    Since I’m almost always pack-fill the officials should premptively pull me as I’m never in contention. I’ll just mail in the registration and stay home from now on.

    It’s a win-win for everyone; I save travel money, the promoter won’t have to buy a case of safety pins, and the officials will only need to keep track of a field of half dozen or so racers.

  5. Brad

    Most other forms of racing from R/C cars to big cars have transponders or “chip” timing. In car racing, the transponders are owned by the participants and in a uniform place in every car. Every region, or sanctioning body agrees on a particular brand, and it eliminates a lot of problems with timing and scoring. I think they cost around $50, which is a small price to pay if you train, travel, race a $X,XXX bike, and dedicate the precious time out of your life to participate.

    Pulling riders doesn’t make a race better so long as they do not interfere with the outcome. If the purpose of USA cycling is to promote racing and bring the overall quality of riders up, these folks need their time in races. As Steve says, there is no substitute for racing experience for fitness and safety of these events.

  6. Wildcat

    I can’t speak to what happened at Joe Martin, but when it comes to bicycle racing in general I believe two things should be mandatory:

    1. To become an official you must have raced bicycles.

    2. Every bicycle racer who complains about officiating must officiate a bicycle race.

  7. KrakatoaEastofJava

    When I first began racing in the eighties, OTB riders were rarely pulled (even lapped ones). It was even fairly common for officials to have two races share a criterium course simultaneously. Not one time have I ever seen an accident caused by an OTB or lapped rider.

    As time went on, I firmly believe that officials began getting way too personally involved in the emotional aspect of the race, and they essentially began making judgments on the riders themselves, as if they’re somehow “not cutting it” as athletes. I’ve heard them talk, making fun of guys off the back, etc. I hate it.

    I’ve even confronted officials myself over them pulling people who were just barely off the back on a one mile course. They’ll almost universally reply that the rulebook mandates it. But it very clearly DOESN’T.

    Some of these officials just like things to be “nice and tidy” on “their” course. They don’t consider the time, money and dedication required to even show up. 75% of all races I did back in the day required me to make at least a two hour drive. At least I could count on a race of a specific distance (not this “time + 2 laps” shit). But if those officials had kept pulling me during that first season? I’d have quit the sport. Not worth it. A complete waste.

    Are you reading this Derek B-H?

  8. ScottO

    If you want to give riders who crash in the finale the same time as their group, how does this jibe with your ski racing and chip timing analogy? Ski races aren’t stage races, and they don’t give you a break if you fall in the last km whether you fell or someone knocked you down.

  9. mark

    Seems like the bigger the race, the bigger the mess. That’s why local races with 10-20 guys are so great. The riders can ultimately score themselves.

  10. channel_zero

    Exactly. Because they have a monopoly, there is not a care in the world that the officiating was not good.

    There are other sanctioning options, but it requires some communication between the promoter and riders to coordinate a switch to leave USAC. Time and time again USAC customers wail and moan about USAC/UCI and do nothing.

    Do something.

  11. channel_zero

    USAC has been losing customers, no event growth, and poor officiating are not on the list of priorities.

    When you run a monopoly there’s no need to focus on any of that, and they don’t and they haven’t for over a decade. And, again, none of you are willing to find alternatives.

  12. De Flahute

    I was head of NJ bike racing back when USCF took over & fired all state district reps in power grab. That was the beginning of the end. USA Cycling loves raking in the dues but the quality of delivered services sucks big time. I just did Ronde van Vlaandaren & Paris Roubaix fondos; reasonable entry fees w/superb organization, safety, logistics, chip-timing, personal video clips. All results on-line quickly. We ought to contract out our officiating & trains to the Dutch/Belgians. Not the French ’cause they’re always on strike. Just my 2Euros.

  13. Spinner

    Good post, Steve. The officials are there FOR THE RACERS and NOT the RACERS ARE THERE for the officials. We would still have bike races without officials…..simply go on nearly any training ride and there will be some type of racing, right? I have been in sprints on training rides with twenty guys and everyone knew how they finished!

  14. steve

    chip timing would do away with several usac folks at every race who get paid for their poor work.

  15. Jon Holcomb

    Precisely how I became an official – I complained about USAC until the regional rep told me to become an official and see what they’re up against. I’ve been racing 16 years, 5 years an official. (if my fees weren’t being paid, trust me, I’d have been done long ago.)
    So far, all I see that they continue to be “up against” is their own bass-ackward practices of valuing themselves over the base they supposedly serve.
    “USUCK the life outa events” will die or drive enough people to go outside their reach, that eventually they will not matter

  16. Joe H

    Nice post. I have a comment specifically about Friday’s road stage. I was directing one of the teams in the UCI Men’s race. We were told at the meeting that the 3km rule would be in effect for Friday’s stage. This was an answer given to a question to specifically address the finish of Friday’s stage. This stage historically has a crash in the last 3km, either at the left hand turn off the main road or at the sharp right hander 50 meters further on. One of my riders (who has placed 7th in the past in this exact stage) was 15th wheel going into the left – right section when a rider went down in front of him taking him and others down. There was an official on the scene who took numbers. When the results were finally sent out my rider was listed as 26 seconds down from the leader (who came from the group that my rider was in at the time of the mishap, a mishap that occurred within the last 3km). When I tried to point this out to the head UCI official (and please note – I said UCI official, not USAC – there is a difference) he told me to what amounted to a judgement call.

    So – even though we were told that the 3km rule would be in effect, it wasn’t.

    I made the suggestion to Bruce that in the future – they ought to take the time of all the riders as soon as they cross 3km to go and then just let take placings on the stage – somewhat similar to what they do for Sunset at Redlands.

  17. Krakatoa East of Java

    The officials should just ask all of the riders that expect to be dropped to self-drop and go home. Then they won;t have to keep track of them on the course anymore.

    To be perfectly honest, the “scoring job” has gotten pretty easy over the years. Since officials almost always force dropped riders off the course, there is really no one left to “score” anymore. With photo and chip timing in use all over the place, these difficult issues have been almost completely solved.

    Derek B-H… I know you read this stuff. USAC has already robbed the riders of racing time by allowing these ridiculous 30-45 minute crits, but to endorse pulling every dropped rider? It is hurting the sport. We need it to stop.

  18. Bill V.

    A friend of mine accurately described a crazy official in WI last year as “Hitler had a day off from the grocery store.”

    As a race promoter, it seems insane to me that for a small industrial part crit USAC assigns 4 refs and they still fuck up the results throughout the day. I’m paying 4 of them!

    I get that it can be a tough gig to be an official but COME ON.

  19. Randall Legeai

    I’ve been officiating, and racing, stage races (smaller ones, but still) longer than most and I’ve probably made every officiating mistake possible during that time, but I definitely don’t ever want to pull lapped riders unless and until they are clearly going to be lapped by the leaders within 1-2 laps, and even then usually only in the higher category races. When we do pull lapped riders, we use a spreadsheet that calculates their stage times that takes into account the winning time, the lap on which the rider was pulled and the number of laps in the race. If lapped riders are allowed to stay in the race, there’s another calculation for determining their stage times, also built into the spreadsheet. It’s not rocket science. We are usually able to place all the riders using finish line cameras, without timing chips. Maybe a couple are wrong because of unreadable numbers, but those usually get corrected quickly once the initial results are posted. Pulling riders early serves no purpose other than to make it easy on the officials. For a major stage race where the final stage is a criterium that finishes on a steep uphill, you’d try to assign separate times for gaps of 1-2 seconds, technically 1 second, which the finish line camera software can pretty easily do. Doing it this way will sometimes fully occupy a couple of officials for a good fifteen minutes after the finish, so you need to have other officials who can get the next criterium started while that’s going on. Not always perfect, but again, not rocket science.

  20. mike crum

    steve, you raced 40 years now.. you raced all over the world.. you been in tons of stage races, crits, androad races. i been reading your blog a few years now and i have noticed, if races arnt run to your liking you blog how bad it was run.. no class. be thankful promoters and officials do what they do..just get on your blog and thank them.. even if there were a few screwups, who cares.. they are human.. you do this a number of time thru the year… like this past joe martin race. i think it was the race after the tt, your first paragraph you were bitching about the course.. fuck man, just race and cool the ALWAYS complaining and bitching.. sometimes i think im on stephanies blog not steves. and if all the times these races arnt run to your liking, WHY DONT YOU PUT ON A RACE?????show us all how its supose to be done…i aint talking about the officiating…… the course itself.. you bitched about regristraition a few times, courses a few times… etc. you put on a race. do something for the sport of cycling instead of just handing out a few helmets to some kids once a year..

  21. carlos flanders

    A good core set of officials can have an enormous effect on the standard of bike racing in your state. I notice it when I travel how large a variation there is. btw, almost every state has a shortage – especially moto refs. After all, they’re only in it for the money – works out about $10-11 an hr for a 15 hour day. Important to give feedback to your local and regional reps if you’re not happy.

    A UCI official should know how to score and make judgments a bit better than claimed. IME, about 50% of officials have raced. About 1% of racers have or will officiate.

    USAC changed the rules and made the promoter responsible for the results. If the promoter doesn’t like the scoring he can hire someone else.

  22. gregg

    Why don’t you? For racers that have experienced the issues Steve has brought up, this resonates. I haven’t renewed my USAC license for the last 3 years due to many of the issues brought up in several of Steve’s posts as well as those of informed commentators. Geez, sometimes I feel like I am reading Michelle’s comments…

  23. dave

    Yep, I agree. Steve should go ahead and graduate from racing to race promoting/production/director. He’d be good at it. He could still get his racing fix. See my reply yesterday.

  24. James

    “These guys were racing for 1st, not 9th? I’m sure an official tried to use some intellect to figure this one out, maybe they could explain it to me?”

    Placing them with the field at :09 is correct. It is the time of the majority of the group they were with when the mishap happened. You cannot assume that they would have the time of the leader who succeeded in getting a gap on the climb. Achieving and rewarding those gaps is very important for the crit in this stage race each year.

  25. jake

    chip time it all. within a year or 2, all bike computer manufacturers could have it integrated for a tiny cost.

    as for same time after a crash, get rid of that and maybe people will ride safer – smarter.

  26. Steve Tilford Post author

    James-You think that is the rule? It is correct to place them 9 seconds back? That isn’t what the rule states. This rule isn’t at the officials discretion. It doesn’t state anything about “the majority of the group”. These riders should have been awarded the winners time. That is what the rule states.

  27. Andrew F

    James, not sure if you have seen a crash before, but crashes cause the gap. Therefore they were with the winner when the crash happened and the gap resulted from the crash.

  28. sillypuddy

    Responding to greggs comments on not raceing because of issues with race organization. That sounfs silly. Come on thats why you don’t race? Even Steve sees that races aren’t perfect but still goes. I mean he’ll bitch and moan the entire way home, but at least he lines up. And this guys older than dirt. I stopped racing because i wasnt any good. Im glad i tried. I have a total respect for guys who can. So if you train your ass off, get oit there and race. I’m to big. So no more excuses Gregg

  29. sillypuddy

    What is there to understand. If your not racing bicycles than you are not a bicycle racer. There is bad officiating in all sports. Thats no reason to sit out. Especially for three years. Take a look at Steve. The guy is a beast on the bike. He traines his ass off. He knows that there is very Likely to be some out side force that will cause him not to win a race. Could be bad officiating (according to him)..But he still goes out there and gives it a shot. So stop complaining like steve and start racing like steve. We don’t need you to cosign everything he says. Get out there and race(for once.). And for god sake, stop hogging all the Gs.. Nobody needs three of the same consonants in 5 letter name. Evey time you post i think of “wheel of fortune”. That shit wouldn’t fly in a game of Scabble. And why is the extra g at the end? How about Ggreg. Whats the difference? Thats what I don’t understand.

  30. gregg


    Scrabble, Wheel of Fortune? Tell you what, I’ll sell you a consonant or two. Otherwise, to clarify, I haven’t renewed a license with USA Cycling. No value added. More than one way to race and compete, just not sending any money their way.


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