Thursday, October 15, 2015

The WORS Cup Effect

The 2015 season of the Wisconsin Off-Road Series ended in Sheboygan on Oct. 11, but for many racers the season was effectively over in July. In almost every category and age group, the winner of the year-long points title was the person who collected the most points at the WORS Cup, held July 24-26 at Cascade Mountain in Portage. As I will demonstrate, the manner in which WORS awarded points on that weekend had negative and presumably unintended consequences. Bluntly stated, the WORS Cup provided the margin by which some racers obtained state championships that should have gone to others.

Like all events in the series, the WORS Cup features a cross country (XC) race. But it also features Super D and short track cross country (STXC), races that aren’t just unique on the WORS calendar, but also are the only USA Cycling-sanctioned races of their kind in Wisconsin. This year WORS awarded double points to any racer who competed in the XC race and either Super D or STXC. You had to do your best in the XC race, then those points would double if you merely lined up for one of the others. The WORS Cup did produce deserving winners in every race, but one result should not count as two.

Let’s look at what happened to West Bend’s Julie Schmitt in the Citizens series for women, ages 45-54. The points championship was based on each racer’s seven best results. Julie competed in all 12 XC races and finished with 9 wins. Her seven best results were wins, and yet she didn’t win the series. The new state champion is Wausau’s Christine Kysely. Head-to-head, Julie was 12-0 against Christine and the time gaps were enormous. The closest race between them was at Rhinelander, where Julie beat Christine by almost 18 minutes. So, how did Christine amass 1496 points to Julie’s 1425?

Julie won the XC race at the WORS Cup but did not compete in the Super D or STXC. Christine was 3rd in the XC race. She then placed 4th out of 4 in her age group and 10th out of 10 Cat 2/3 women overall in STXC, and based on her participation in that race she doubled her 186 XC points and finished the weekend with a 372-200 edge on Julie. Again, by season’s end Julie had 9 wins and only 7 of them were fully accounted for within the format by which the series winner was determined; each of her other finishes added 5 participation points to her total. New victories simply replaced old victories: 200 + 200 didn’t add up to 400, it added up only to 205. There was no way to overcome the 172-point bump that Christine got at the WORS Cup, no matter how dominant Julie was at every subsequent event. That’s the WORS Cup Effect.

This can’t be what WORS intended. The WORS Cup doesn’t just devalue every other race in the series, it also forces anyone with overall series ambitions to race in at least one discipline that he or she probably experiences just once all year. In some categories, that means racing on two different days during the three-day WORS Cup weekend. For some people, the unique schedule of that weekend presents a real hardship. Whatever the case, winning the XC series championship should not depend on your participation in a Super D or STXC race. If the double points incentive exists only to increase participation in Super D and STXC, then it’s well-meant but ill-conceived. The better solution is to recognize Super D and STXC as disciplines apart from XC, to offer a series of such races that includes other WORS weekends, and to honor separate sets of champions for them. As things stand, it’s easy to imagine a WORS Cup where some XC racers cynically roll across the start line of the Super D and STXC races and then immediately take a DNF. In any other race that would be worth just 1 point, but at the WORS Cup it’s worth at least 100 and as much as 200 points. For as little as $20 and at no hazard to body or bike, you can greatly increase your chance of winning the series. Come on. Let’s fix this for 2016.

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