Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Cold Enough Already

Cyclocross racers can go too far in their quest for Svenness.

The 2015-16 UCI cyclocross calendar came out last week. Two of the events will have an impact on the Wisconsin Cycling Association series in which I participate. The Trek CXC Cup in Waterloo is tentatively scheduled for late September as usual, but race organizers are trying to move the event to October 10-11. With so many Wisconsin racers in action at the Trek CXC Cup, the WCA will not schedule its own races on the same weekend. So, it matters which weekend Trek gets, but it doesn’t matter very much.

Moving the Jingle Cross races to December 4-6 will be much more significant. If you are wondering why a UCI race in Iowa should affect the WCA calendar, then look at the results from years past to see how many Wisconsin racers make that trip. The WCA has scheduled its own events during Jingle Cross before, but this year that doesn’t seem likely. The Wisconsin state championships probably would be held on Saturday, December 5, if not for Jingle Cross. There’s a decision to make. Should the WCA hold the state championships on November 28? That’s immediately after Thanksgiving, a weekend on which the organization historically has not held races. Should the WCA stick with December 5 at the risk of losing some of its best racers to Jingle Cross, where UCI points will be up for grabs? Or should the WCA go a week deeper into December at the considerable risk of sub-zero temperatures and heavy snow, which will have a negative effect on racer and spectator turnout?

As recently as 2011, Wisconsin held its state championships in November. For the 2012 season, the WCA moved the championships to December 8. That move made sense because the midwest regionals were held on the following day at the same venue: Badger Prairie in Verona. USA Cycling then held its national championships at Badger Prairie one month later and Wisconsin racers enjoyed something of a home field advantage. But the midwest regionals and the national championships have moved on to other cities and they are not well-attended by Wisconsin racers now that they are far away. Meanwhile, Milwaukee’s Dretzka Park has become the new home of the state championships, hosting the event on the first Saturday in December for each of the last two seasons. As the 2013 state championships began, the wind chill was 12 degrees below zero. At the 2014 state championships, frozen ground contributed to several crashes and injuries. I hope those who advocate moving the 2015 state championships further into winter will read this article about the experiences of the top American pros at a race in Oregon in 2013. The “historically cold” conditions cited in the article would not be uncommon in Wisconsin in mid-December.

Our fellow cold-weather neighbors in Minnesota and Michigan hold their state championships at the end of November. Wisconsin doesn’t just continue to schedule its championships in December; it now contemplates delaying them by another week. For the handful of people who intend to compete at regionals and/or nationals, the Illinois state championships already present an opportunity for a December tune-up. For almost everyone else, pushing the Wisconsin championships into mid-December is a bad deal.

Wisconsin is not Belgium, where the average daytime high in December is 43 degrees. Yes, racing in sometimes adverse weather is part of what makes cyclocross a great sport, but conditions can become so extreme that racers are taking foolish risks. Our late-season races already are characterized by snow and freezing temperatures ... and dwindling participation. In several categories at last year’s Kringle Kross—held in snow-covered Hales Corners Park on November 16—turnout was so low that one could reach the podium simply by finishing the race. Racing in extreme conditions doesn’t just endanger the participants, it also reduces the quality of the competition. Delaying the state championships by yet another week would be the wrong move.

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