Monday, January 30, 2012

Martha.

I'm supposed to be doing the commentary for the Victorian Masters Track Championships on Sunday, so this probably isn't the best time for me to be saying this, but here goes anyway: I think the concept of Masters racing is bullshit. This isn't to detract from the racing itself, which is often brilliant, and nor is it to cast aspersions on Masters racers themselves, some of whom are classy riders who intimidate me. It is, however, to question the validity of age-based categories for adults.

Why the hell would anyone limit themselves to only riding against people their own age, anyways? Who cares how old the other guys in your bunch are? Masters racing smacks of making excuses for yourself before you even start. If you're concerned that your deteriorating physical condition won't allow you to compete on even terms with the A graders at your club meet, then instead of complaining about how there are no Masters categories, just ride B grade! Far better to be grouped with people of your own ability, who challenge you each week, who you can occasionally beat, but who push you to your limits, than ride in a bunch of blokes who were born the same year as you.

Sure, doing away with Masters categories altogether may well mean that if you're a Masters rider, you may never win that Victorian Championship. But here's the thing about Victorian Championships: They're meant to be won by the fastest people in Victoria. Winning one of the races I'll be commenting on this weekend is pretty cool, because winning races is always pretty cool, but at best your "Victorian Championship" Gold Medal will be diminished by the most insulting thing that can ever be added to a results sheet: a footnote. Yours will say that you weren't the fastest person in Victoria over one kilometre, but that you were the fastest person in Victoria over one kilometre aged between 35 and 40. Loses a little lustre, doesn't it? I'm not sure why anyone would want to settle for that. Surely it's better to keep trying to win the Austral from a handicap mark that takes into account your ability, rather than the year you were born.

In closing, here's something to consider. Jens Voigt turns 41 this year. Technically he could be racing Masters 3. Instead he's embarking on what must be his millionth Tour de France. Imagine for a moment if Jens attacked in a flat stage and got off the front. Eventually the teams of the sprinters would start working to bring him back, and the chances are pretty good that they would catch him. But imagine if after that race Jens, in what Wikipedia refers to as his "affable, forthright and articulate style", informed the media that the result did not count, as far as he was concerned, because he was chased down by riders from a different age category to him.

I know I'll get letters about this, so in order to ensure that those letters actually address the point I'm making, I'll summarize it here: I don't care how old you are. Racing should be about your ability, not what year you were born. Enter a particular grade based on how fast you can ride a bike. Even if that means - as it often does in my case - being beaten by seventeen year olds.

19 comments:

Shane Miller said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Spot on.. I'm fairly intolerant of some guys who seem to avoid racing better riders by entering masters events for 30-35 (FFS!), and who seem to prefer to win every masters event they enter to testing themselves in an uncertain outcome.

Surely if you are under 40 there is no excuse to avoiding anyone on the basis of age.

Surely if you are training 400, 500, 600 km/wk you really ought to be racing the good riders.

And surely a single high finish against quality riders in a season is more rewarding than sweeping every masters event by virtual default.

brendan said...

I knew I could rely on you, Llama.

You raise a good point though - Masters events do tend to offer more variety. I guess the answer there is to encourage Cycling Victoria to conduct events with a broader spectrum of events, or even working with a club to make one of the events at a club race timed events.

You know, rather than inventing a category based on a pretty arbitrary number.

Shane Miller said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shane Miller said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Atomic Kitten said...

You must be chosen to represent your state to ride the Australian Track Championships. Or be Korean, apparently.

Since neither of these attributes will be applied to me any time soon, I'd prefer Aussie Masters Track champs (and state titles, both road and track) to continue.

I don't care if there's someone commentating or not.

The irony of the commentator thinking his current gig is in aid of bullshit racing fits with the UCI's attitude to women's racing (they think it's bullshit), and CAS's attitude to deliberating doping cases within 12 months of the positive (they think it was bull meat).

In all 3 instances, I disagree.

brendan said...

But Kitten, why should you have a right to contest the Australian Champs when you're not one of the fastest guys in Australia (or Korea, apparently)? And why would you want to race in a lesser competition?

Stuart Morgan said...

I'm not sure it is fair to say that masters shouldn't have a national championships, but somewhat in line with a few of the comments here, I generally agree with the sentiment of the blog. I have a couple of points to throw in:

1. masters really shouldn't start until 40+. Even at 38 or 39 there is no physical impediment to racing successfully against 25 year olds.

2. beyond 40 years there should be some prestige to being a regional champion, but searching some results tonight to see who races masters, I notice there are often only 3 or 4 in the field (on the track at least). There should be a minimum field size for a championship to be awarded. 10+? There are lots of masters riders, so if only 3 or 4 are turning up there may not be enough interest to justify a championship status.

3. it is important to keep people active in sport as they age, and masters racing is a great avenue for people to keep fit, but the emphasis really shouldn't be on competition, and it COULD be a disincentive for some people to participate if they see super fit A graders turning up to embarrass the field.

4. in the interest of full disclosure, I have a masters licence too (I'm nearly 41), and while I've noticed a big drop in my strength in the last year, I rarely race masters, and still prefer to race bigger and stronger fields than are generally available in age-based racing (Tour of Bright is the exception).

5. I agree with the comment above about quality over quantity - give me a top 10 at the Warranambool, and I'll swap it for every masters title I could win in the next 20 years!

Finally, I'm not surprised to see Shane get fired up on this topic, but, as I've said to him personally, you spend a very long time being too old to race open. Why would you waste your strongest years on masters?

Spiro said...

As someone who is standing on the line of masters staring it down the barrel, and who has done both elite and sub-elite sport (different sports) i have to agree. you are right on the money.

open everything up. bigger races, bigger fields, more fun when you don't know if the brash young kid with legs the size of my forearms (who i'll be watching in the ProTour in 5 years) or the wily old guy are going to be the ones to tear you to shreds today!!!

as a note: i have competed in an age-categorized, non-elite WORLD championship and was ridiculed for making the same gags about being one of the best 20-25yo athletes not good enough to be a pro in my sport... so in essence... not that good!!!!

Death Race said...

This is the cycling equivalent of that time you ragged on that shit band who wore boat shoes and sounded like Coldplay.

brendan said...

To clarify, I love seeing old guys out there, and even think that to encourage their participation cheaper Masters licenses are a good idea (I also like the idea of concession licenses, but whatever...). And Masters racing, like any racing, can sometimes be just as thrilling as elite racing. But I'd prefer to see categories based on ability rather than age. Yup. Clarified!

JONATHAN LOVELOCK said...

Shane Wrote
"I've entered the Track Pursuit this weekend. The sole MMAS1 entry. It isn't a championship event. I'll ride once. 3000m. Then go home. Why? Because track pursuit is ONLY held as championship event. I don't give a flying 200m fuck that I'm slotted into MMAS1. It is an event that I like doing, it is on offer, fits into my schedule at this time of year, so I'm racing it."
Yes, the track pursuit is held only as a championship event. The elite championships. If there are only a few starters regularly why not bungle the masters 1 pursuit back into the elite pursuit where it used to be?

Shane Miller said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
JONATHAN LOVELOCK said...

"If removing MMAS1/2 truly what you believe should be done, then do something about it"

Judging by the entries for the pursuit, it's taking care of itself ;-)

Kos Samaras said...

Whats with this 40 plus line in the sand? :) Im sorry but its no use trying to use medical reasons to substantiate when someone should be riding masters i.e over 40. Everyone is wired differently, some don't experience a physical decline until 50, some below 40 and so on. The reason why masters classifications exist in my opinion is to give a generation of riders an additional experience to the sport beyond just racing young blokes. Young blokes who still can strive for that something extra, a career, a spot in an NRS team versus those over 30 who have no chance to aspire to such goals, who have a mortgage, kids, work careers to attend to and like something different to aspire to. The masters Cat IMO is there for that precise reason, for 'mature athletes' who either have come late into this sport, who have come back to this sport after a long spell (me), or those who have raced the pro scene, elite scene and have now moved into a new career, family etc, Tom Leaper springs to mind here.

Once you are over 30, in most cases before that age, life starts throwing a lot more at you then simply worrying about what your going to do at uni. You can't always work towards the Nationals versus elite riders, work gets in the way, especially if you work in sales, construction and other seasonal related occupations. Masters exist for these and many other reasons. Its this sports way of saying ‘look, we know your not like an aspiring 21 year old, you cant always compete in their national events, so we will give you a chance to pit yourself against your own ilk”

Oh and Im 41, power has not dropped off, possibly gone up a bit but thats me, I could start slowing down tomorrow or simply work and family commitments can get in the way, as they have done many times and I find myself sucking wheels in B grade instead.

brendan said...

Good point Kos.

Tim said...

I've competed in both regular and masters competitions, in another sport admittedly, and found the same thing.

I moved from regular competition to masters for a few years, but then moved to back to regular competition, until retiring this year due to too many injuries, because I missed the challenge.

Most guys at masters level I played with either had competing priorities, or injuries, that just didn't let them compete against the kids.. though a lot just had ego's that didn't like being runner up to a 17 yr old kid.

Personally, I figure if you can still go up against the kids, go for it. I didn't find it much fun beating a bunch of old blokes.

Last Dog Up The Hill said...

I must declare my hand: I am a Masters 5 rider. I am 52.

When I raced the national old-blokes titles in Ballarat late last year, I was overjoyed to be racing with a bunch of my peers. And I don't mean athletic peers, because most of them are capable of beating me as soundly as a drum. By peers, I mean blokes who took up the sport later in life; blokes who didn't race as professionals or proto-pros when they were young; blokes who have families and jobs and civic comittments; blokes who are limited in the time they can devote to the sport.

That's one of the reasons aged-based competition is so important. And, I believe, it applies across the age spectrum. Yep, even someone in their 30s. How could a later-comer to the sport expect to compete fairly against someone who has ridden the Giro a couple of times, or who is currently flogging round the NRS? That kind of training and racing exposure has profound physiological effects on a body that can last a life time.

Despite belitting the achievemnt, I would argue that winning a title, any title in any competition, in a Masters category is thing much to be coveted. It is no small achievement - especially in Australia.

Apart from that - why would anyone, ever, knock something that provides more incentive and encouragement for people to do more sport? Especially in a fat nation like Australia. Masters has been a godsend for participation in the last 10 years.

Yay for Masters I say. Across the age spectrum.

NancyBoy said...

I have to agree whole heartedly with "Last Dog Up The Hill". Why all this railing against a few old farts getting out there and participating? Nobody is pretending they are the Victorian Champion of anything except an age group race. There is no pretence to being elite despite a few sensational efforts being put in. I love to race masters racing, I love to race in graded racing. It's all good and it's all good for the sport. I have to confess to your comments that age groups are just some arbitrary measure whereas ability graded racing is some infallible Gold Standard is crap. You obviously weren't one of the E grade 60+ year-olds racing Sean Hurley et al for day after day at the Christmas Carnivals. The comms didn't give a damn because it didn't affect the outcome of the important races. When it was raised with them we were told to harden the fuck up. Mind you we still had a great time, but don't try telling me that graded racing is any less arbitrary.

I race club races, open carnivals, masters races and pretty much anything I can manage. On Australia day I raced my first madison. I totally love that there are people coming along to masters championships who are slow as hell and get smashed by everyone. They have spent years posting PB's every time they compete and just keep getting better. One day they'll just win one, and in your view that's just bullshit and bad for the sport. I have a different view.