USA Cycling: Stuck between digital and analog

Has cycling arrived at it’s technological destination?

Not talking about PowerTaps and Garmins and those things. I’m talking about the ability to sort out race results. Are we happy with where we are now? We can register for races online. Using FinishLynx-type cameras, officials can provide results for every competitor in the race. Riders can track those results online. We can see how we rank against all the other riders in our category. We can see a computerized predictor of how we will perform in our next race.

It sounds great.   It’s all hogwash.

The most obvious flaw in a computerized predictor is that it’s taking your prior results and treating them as if they really mean something.
The computer takes the raw data: Rider X finished in 47th place one week racing against Riders ABCSJLGE. He finished in 28th place the next week against Riders ABCSJLGE.
Therefore, it predicts that Rider X will finish in 17th place at the next event.

The computer doesn’t know it’s a bike race. It only knows math. It doesn’t know all the possible reasons why a rider may finish in 47th place. It assumes that every rider is sprinting to do the best they can in every event.

Some riders actually believe that stuff.

Actually, the predictor is of little concern to me. It’s so obviously wrong that it’s comical, but it’s related to another problem.
There is now a “need to provide results for every competitor/license holder”. (In the olden days, results were provided to cover only the prize list. Top 10, or Top 20.) Providing full results for every rider places a larger burden on promoters to provide a computerize results capture. This adds cost to the event and extra burden to the officials.

Woe to the official who gets a rider’s result wrong.

The Federation says that this new demand comes from the riders – something that began in mountain biking (which is essentially a mass-start time trial). Road racers now expect to be placed in all events. They demand it. And the Federation feels it must – if it wants to retain licensees – live up to this demand. Though it is completely meaningless.

The dynamics of pack riding and teamwork create a casserole of motivations in the final mile. Some riders are cooked from having protected their leader and are just trying to make it home. Some are going backward because they just lead out their Mark Cavendish. Some were just happy to finish in the main pack. And contenders for the prize list are sprinting at the front.
And now we have to account for the guy who is sprinting for 37th place because he spent his $50 and now wants to see his name higher on the list than the week before.

But what does it mean for him to beat twenty other guys who aren’t pedaling? Nothing.
And how do you quantify a 38th place one week and a 28th place the next week?

In a mountain bike race, everyone is going as hard as they can all the way to the line.
In a road race, …. not even.

Instead of chasing technology in that direction, I would propose we find a way to use technology in a more useful way.
Let’s find a way to issue lifetime bib numbers.
Let’s create an app that allows spectators to punch in that bib number and call up a rider profile containing results, photos, sponsors, history, etc.
Let’s use computerize timing to ‘score’ a race instead of making officials write numbers down on paper all day long.
Let’s find a way to stream events that don’t look like we’re picking up a signal from Voyager II.
There’s much more to be done technologically. We’re still in the Dark Ages.

But hey, at least we know what place we got.

Reading the Race Chris Horner Jamie SmithWhether you’re a new racer, an aspiring pro, a team manager, or even a roadside fan, Reading the Race will elevate your cycling IQ for better racing.

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