Monday, October 10, 2016

The WORS State Championship Controversy

The Wisconsin Off-Road Series has a full-blown controversy on its hands at the highest level of competition. At issue is the use of volunteer points to secure the overall series title in the men’s Elite category. The state champion for 2016 will be Nathan Guerra (Vision Cycling), whose season was cut short by injury. Guerra didn’t race in the series after the Midwest MTB Championships on July 24. But by volunteering at the Reforestation Ramble on Aug. 21, Guerra earned an additional 186 points. Those points ultimately proved to be the difference in the final standings. Guerra finished with 1,548 points, 56 more than Pete Karinen (True North Apparel).

And Karinen is not happy:

Surely there was a more constructive way to criticize the WORS scoring system, but at least that got the conversation started. The people who are coming to Guerra’s defense—including WORS kingpin Don Edberg—argue that Guerra worked within the rules that governed the 2016 season. Here’s the relevant rule:

“Series competitors who forfeit participation in a race to help run the event may qualify for volunteer points. To receive these points, a point total equal to a racer’s lowest scoring race excluding DNFs, a racer must: 1) contact the race director at least 8 days in advance of the race to apply for acceptance to the race staff, 2) work a minimum of 5 hours on race day, and 3) pick up a VP (volunteer points) form from the WORS tent, fill it out, have their Race Director sign it and turn it in to WORS Timing & Scoring. A series competitor may include only one VP in their overall results. The VP will either replace a competitor’s lowest scoring event with a point value equal to the second lowest score or one equal to their lowest score depending upon the number of scoring events they have in their overall score.”

When he could race, Guerra raced well. He won 3 of the 7 races in which he competed, he never finished lower than 3rd place, and he was undefeated in 6 head-to-head meetings with Karinen. He was the better racer. On the other hand, he did race only 7 times. At the Elite level, a racer’s best 8 results are counted for the overall WORS title. Without those volunteer points, the last of Guerra’s best 8 results would have been a zero. That would have dropped him to 6th place overall, resulting in a silver medal for Justin Piontek (Adventure 212 / Specialized) and a bronze for Ben Senkerik (Team Extreme). Those awards are nothing to sneeze at, as WORS is our USA Cycling-recognized state championship series.

And then there’s the money: as overall champion, Guerra gets a $1,500 prize. He’s a professional racer, after all, and the distinguishing characteristic of professionals is that they get paid. So, the question is not whether Guerra did anything against the rules. The question is whether riders at that level should be able to earn volunteer points in the first place. WORS couldn’t exist without volunteers—they do most of the work while the WORS staff provides the series administration and the USA Cycling officials oversee competition on race days—but volunteers don’t come from the ranks of the professional riders. Of the 36 Elite riders who scored series points, only Guerra earned volunteer points. He used the system to his advantage, but others might have done the same. It’s not just true that the other Elite men didn’t volunteer; none of the other state championship contenders competed in every WORS event. Those were missed opportunities to score points or to replace earlier results with better ones.

Still, to award a state championship under these conditions is far from desirable. I agree with the strict interpretation of the rule, but I also understand the complaints of the people who think there’s something outside of the spirit of competition in this situation. Starting in 2017, the volunteer rule needs to exclude Elite racers. There’s too much at stake for guys who are trying to scrape together a living from a sport with few financial rewards.

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