Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The race to get in The Race.

I was in Slovenia last weekend, at the final round of the Nissan UCI Mountain Bike World Cup in Maribor. Last World Cup of the season and plenty of goodbyes being said to riders and team staff alike who head back home for the winter, until we all meet up to do it again next spring.
For some of the American team staff, a trip back over to Europe for 'Cross Worlds each January is a good time to catch up again if they make the cut for a place on the US 'Cross Team staff or if they simply come over to support their trade-team rider who made National Team, but its pretty normal for a mechanic or two who has been working the mountain bike scene all summer to get the call.

What I didn't realise until last weekend was quite how many staff pull a bike out, dust it down, and toe the line themselves during the winter, or quite how seriously the business of entering the US National Championships has to be taken!

Compare the business of entering the British Nationals and the American Nationals.

British: Entries close three weeks before the race. Entries must be sent on a paper form in the mail. On-line registration? 'Fraid not... Two and a half weeks before the race the co-ordinator for the entries scans the list and notes all the "names" that have been racing all year but who haven't entered yet, picks up the phone and "reminds" them that entries closed four days ago, how about getting the form in the post?! Rider duly slaps himself, apologises profusely, waits a few more days then sends off a half-completed form and an incorrectly filled out cheque. Elite Mens field usually manages to scrape 100 entries, the big field is the Veteran Men with around 150 across two age groups. Total number of entries for the weekend? Around 350-400.

American: Entries open on-line around 13 weeks before the race; at 1.01am Eastern US time on saturday 15th September to be exact. When you enter determines where you line up on the start grid.

And I know this how?! I know this because at 7.01am Central European Time on saturday, while most of America slept, a small huddle of mechanics, soigneurs and team managers were wiping sleep out of their eyes and staring intently at laptops in a wi-fi hotspot in a hotel lobby, hoping their registration would result in a front-row start sometime in mid December!

By 7.03am the Masters 35-39 already had 70 entries. Yes, thats 70 entries in two minutes! Matt Opperman, Chief Wrench of Subaru-Gary Fisher, was delighted. Used to working in a calm way under pressure he had got in there fast, 27th to be precise. From 27th you can almost see the front!

For Waldek, the Team Manager of the Luna Chix, it wasn't such a great start as he entered the wrong category and had to do it all again! Too many years in denial of how old he really is, I reckon....

Someone told me that there were 3,500 entries or thereabouts for last years US Nationals; that is some race entry, and from what I saw in a Slovenian hotel lobby at the weekend the fact that guys and girls are organised and keen enough to be on the ball to enter a race 13 weeks in advance, goes to show what a small boom the sport is undergoing Stateside.


zank said...

I got spanked in the registration race. I fell asleep with my head on the keyboard waiting. Back of the bus for me. Lot's of passing to do.

Anonymous said...

The only lucky ones are those who finished in the top 8 from the previous year (given they are in the same age group). They get an automatic front row call up and can enter at will. I guess it pays to be fast. Later.