SKCC is taking steps to improve rider safety at Club races. The direction is based on two key points:
1. The White Street Circuit is Safe.
There is some opinion suggesting bunch size, sewer works, women mixed with men and road surface makes White Street intrinsically unsafe. This is incorrect. There is no correlation between bunch sizes and incidents. There has never been a crash where two large bunches are passing each other (notionally when the risk is highest). There are no more incidents at White Street compared to other circuits in Melbourne. No incident that has been directly caused by the road and sewer works. Women have not caused any accidents racing in Men’s B or A Grade.
The circuit is technically challenging (every corner has a different line) and like any road circuit the surface is not perfect. The recent incident in B Grade happened on the widest and smoothest part of the circuit. There were no other grades on the circuit at the time. It was caused by a dangerous change of line by one rider at the front of the bunch. The size of the bunch (70) had absolutely no bearing on the cause. A Grade men have managed to get around the circuit this year without incident. This point is important, as while some riders are pointing the finger at the circuit they fail to look in the mirror and consider their own skill and behaviour.
2. Riders Make Any Circuit Unsafe.
The overwhelming factor contributing to incidents is riders. If every rider followed race rules an incident could not happen. Safe criterium racing requires fitness, experience, skill, etiquette and compliance with race rules. Historically junior riders had this drilled into them by a parent, coach, club official or their peers over many years as they moved up though the ranks in track, road and criterium racing. Today we see exponential growth in the sport and a wave of new riders who become fit and strong quickly, win the odd BP sprint with their mates, buy a $10k bike, shave their legs and can progress from D to B (even A Grade) within 12 to18 months, accomplished with little skill and experience and with scant knowledge of race etiquette and rules.
Tactical skills are informed by late nights in July watching the Tour de France. Unlike juniors of the past we have found riders in this category are not receptive to advice and direction. It was instructive to see only 6 B Grade riders register for the fully subsidised (i.e. free) Club Pro Training Ride run by Rob Crowe, while the same C Grade ride was full. In the past clubs have focused on riders who knew better but did not do better. Today the challenge is riders who just don’t know and can’t be told.
SKCC is concerned there has been a dramatic increase in riders without adequate skill, experience and knowledge of etiquette and rules to race safely, and this can only lead to more incidents.
WHAT IS SKCC DOING ABOUT THIS?
We are taking action on four fronts:
- Rider Competence.
- Rider Ranking or Handicapping.
- Train and Empower Officials.
The immediate challenge is education. Our goal is to ensure every rider knows and follows race etiquette and the rules of racing. Riders need to know they may be reported, how the report will be investigated, decisions made and if necessary penalties imposed. To get the ball rolling and irrespective of your background please read the following links from the SKCC website.
Rider Ranking and Handicapping
SKCC has allowed riders to self promote and demote themselves through the grades, based largely on a perception of fitness, only one of the five elements necessary to be a safe rider. We have never had a Club Handicapper. There is a tendency for riders to race in a higher grade, rather than sandbag in a lower grade. While fitness levels may be comparable we are seeing increasing differences in rider competence in the same grades.
Over Christmas SKCC will introduce a rider ranking/handicapping policy and appoint an interim Club Handicapper (the job is open if you are interested). The policy will include the following elements:
- The Club will grade all riders (members and non-members) following an assessment of results, past performance and information provided by a rider.
- Riders will NOT be able to self demote or promote themselves (temporarily or permanently) to a lower or higher grade. Your grade will be locked into the new computer registration system.
- Demotions because of interruptions to training levels, colds, because ‘my coach said’ will not be considered.
- Promotions must be earned based on results at SKCC events. While consideration may be given to places at other club’s events, it is your ability to handle the racing at SKCC’s criterium and road circuits that is of primary importance.
- A rider will generally be promoted at the discretion of the Club Handicapper with a win and place, and demonstrate a level of race skill and competence.
- Riders who wish to either be demoted or promoted will need to make a written request by email.
- On race day, NO changes will be considered to a rider’s grade.
New members and non-members racing at the Club for the first time will have to complete a short questionnaire and the Race Commissaire will decide the appropriate grade to race in on the day. That grade will be ‘locked’ into the registration system.
Almost certainly many riders will be demoted during this process. Riders in A and B grade with less than 2 years experience racing and without any results (at SKCC) in a lower grade will get particular attention.
Once riders are ranked they will be entered into the new computer registration system and they will only be able to enter that grade. People on the registration desk have no discrection to change your grade. If you have self promoted yourself in the last 12 months, without a win or place in a lower grade you are requested to enter (and win) the lower grade at the next race. Likewise and despite your current fitness level, riders racing in a grade below should step up.
Train and Empower Officials
Rules always come with police and penalties. Our challenge is to empower riders, officials, corner marshals, ride marshals to report riders appropriately, and for the Commissaire to fairly investigate the report and if necessary impose a penalty. Riders should be aware that suspensions apply to all CV and CA sanctioned events and penalties will invariably include an educational component.
Safe criterium racing requires considerable skill. SKCC is working hard to develop riders, i.e. Latte Laps, E(ntry) Grade, COGS, Club PRO training rides, ride marshals, monthly meanders and training camps. These are generally targeted to new riders who are happy to soak up as much advice as they can. It has been a mistake to assume riders in B and A Grade have the necessary competence (i.e. experience, skill and knowledge) to race safely and don’t need targeted training opportunities.
Rather than using an open road setting SKCC is looking to use the confined, controlled and high-skill demand environment of criterium racing. SKCC is looking to create a group of ‘qualified’ members to accompany the race bunch as an educator and referee, essentially an extension of the basic notion of within-bunch race marshals. The role includes advices on race technique, etiquette and rules or capacity to witness, warn and report riders.
I trust you agree and will support these measures, as they have the sole intention of improving safety, to ensure no skin ends up on the road and you go home by bike or car, rather than an ambulance.
Race Director SKCC