Sunday, February 5, 2012

Two Sides.

In light of the comments that are still appearing underneath this post, I've come to the conclusion that in order to be fair to this issue, I should present the other side of the story. I'll start by using one of my own examples: at the master's state track championships the other day I saw some excellent racing, talked to some rad people and generally had a pretty good time. There's never anything bad about the racing or the people involved, and even I have to admit that the vibe is less cut-throat than in elite racing.

Please bear in mind that this is a purely theoretical discussion - I certainly have no sway whatsoever with the powers that be down at CV, and I'm pretty certain those guys aren't reading my blog. So next to nothing will change as a result of these two articles. This being said, I welcome your opinion, but if you don't keep it constructive and on topic, then sunshine, it ain't gonna get approved.

It seems people's responses can be summed up into seven distinct themes.

1. Master's racing encourages participation, due mostly to not being particularly serious.

I'm not sure how I feel about this. If it's a race, then it's serious, and you're trying to win!

2. Master's racing offers a greater variety of events.

This is true, but perhaps a condemnation of our mates at CV or even the clubs that put on the same races every week, rather than a defense of masters racing.

3. Life pressures take a greater toll in the master's years.

This was best summed up by local rider and total hardman Kos Samaras, who commented:

"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”

4. Grading is not the answer.

I can't answer this - well, not without starting a whole new flame war. I know grading is imperfect.

5. Master's racing helps in the industry.

This was an offhand comment, but I think it's a good one. Those older guys are the ones buying the Parlees and Baums. It sure as hell isn't the kid still living at home with their parents.

6. You're just masters bashing like everyone else.

I guess this is also kinda true, in that offering criticism could be seen as 'bashing', whether it's constructive or not. Bear in mind, however, that my criticism was not of the riders or the racing, but of the concept. And I'm a concept basher from way back.

7. You're a dickhead and I'm using this issue as an excuse to a) berate someone I don't like and b) use the C-Word.

Cool story, bro.

So that should be about it, I reckon. I did ask a few people if they would write this article themselves, but - nicely in line with point 3 above - folks were generally too busy. And in general, like most of us, they'd prefer to be riding their bikes than talking about doing so.

In fact, I'm going to go ride mine right now.


Publius Naso said...

As someone who raced on the weekend in my first ever Masters event (and about the only one who didn't pick up a medal of some description in one event or other) I guess I should chime in. I'm not a Llama, I'm not a Kos, I'm no Neil Robinson (as displayed when he flayed me in our sprint heat - yes, I'm the pirate!) I'm not 'elite', whatever my licence says, and without looking it up I've no idea what the NRS even is (though I can take a guess.)

My take on this is that much of the concern about Masters racing expressed in the original post and comments seems to come down to the issue of state (national, world?) championships. I don't think anyone much cares if there's a crit series for Masters somewhere and a few old blokes (in so far as any athlete over 30 must be old, or so TV tells me) have fun and boast about it in the pub afterwards.

The most pertinent point really is about participation, and when people are getting medals for showing up (and managing not to fall off their bike) then it's certainly a bit farcical. But you know, I don't know that many of those medallists will be bragging about it too much - pretty much everyone on the weekend was there for the racing, not for the medals per se.

But issues of participation aren't limited to Masters events. How many people (of any age) raced the Vic metro track titles last year? How many medals were given out to people for showing up? But it goes deeper - how many racers, male, female, elite, masters, are winning state championships against Perko or Anna Meares? Or, you know, whoever the elite track enduros are? How do you really judge who is worthy? The TT can have a bar set - a gold should ride this time, silver this time, etc. but they don't matter so much because you're not riding against someone else, directly. Sprints you're racing whoever's there on the day!

To focus on sprinting for a second, we don't have much. The main racing for the year is the Summer Sprint Series put on by Blackburn (next round this Sunday, 3pm!) for match sprinting - otherwise, it's dribs and drabs here and there, the odd 'sprint' night which might feature a keirin. And the SSS features almost exclusively Masters-level racers and U17s; graded purely by F200 times, not gender or age, with fields of around 30 sprinters baying for blood.

And I'm glad it's graded. Because just as I can't beat someone my age who's been training and riding all his life, I can't beat 16 year-olds who've been training the same amount of time as I have. But I can be graded appropriately and have a challenging race. And that's the key, I think. Hardly anyone's going to rock up to a state champs (whether they're elite, Masters or Junior) if it's not going to be a challenge, unless (like for a kilo) it's one of very few opportunities to actually race 'properly'. They'd just race Nationals. And so on. State Masters on the track is challenging for me - that's why I came 4th out of 4. And that's why I'll race them again next year - and if I get good enough, I'll race the elite titles, too.

Junior, elite, masters - it's all just another form of grading and, like most grading, it works best if people do it honestly. And if you do, and they give you a medal for it - you don't have to care. You just have to care enough to be out there, and be honest about who you're racing against.

Litespeed said...

To give another perspective - I used to be an elite rider, several national & international representations until I hit about 26.

Then other 'life' issues took over & I was unable to do the specific training required to be competitive at that level & therefore left racing as going out the rear every other week in Cat 1/A-Grade was no fun when you knew you were better.

When I hit 30, I decided to start racing M1 purely because I knew that 200k's a week would be enough to race in that cat.

AFAICT, Masters racing is fantastic for a group of late 20 yo's & up to be able to race & enjoy cycling without getting smashed week in & week out by the young up & comers. It's great for the bike business & it is great for attendance at the weekly events. More is (in this case) better.

The number of Masters guys slugging it out at Dunc Grey on the track is impressive & the option is always there to ride the elite grates if your training & form allows.

For me, the masters class was entry back into racing without the need for significant training, but once form hit he right spot, I progressed back to A-grade, elite, state & national competition - something which would not have happened if this class was not available.