Indulge me as I take a bit of a deep dive into the muddy abyss of meaningless statistics. After the running races that took place in Louisville for the U.S. Cyclocross Championships there was a discussion about how much running actually happened. After we saw similar conditions during the Belgian Cyclocross National Championships, I decided to do a bit of side-by-side analysis. If I had more time, I’d have included the French CXNATS, too, because it looked like that mud rivaled Louisville for heaviness. But I’d rather have you read Taylor Jones comprehensive analysis of the French Cyclocross National Championships, coming soon.
It was close, but U.S. CXNATS involved more running than Belgian CXNATS.
The U.S. and Belgian cyclocross national championship tracks were muddy and required a lot of running. Following the elite races in the U.S., there were more than a few pointed complaints about the amount of running and the state of the track after a week of amateur racing. After seeing the Belgians running on similar conditions, but with what looked like a little thinner mud, I was curious to figure out who ran more.
I did not analyze the riding that took place. The U.S. track definitely seemed tougher to ride with deeper mud and heavier conditions. There are also many variable to consider such as course condition changes throughout the hour, strategic decisions, fatigue, and riding/running styles. So I kept it simple: first lap for both races and time spent off the bike.
Here’s the breakdown:
The U.S. men on lap one (I tracked Curtis White and Stephen Hyde for this analysis) dismounted nine times (possibly ten, the keyhole section was not covered on the broadcast).
The least amount of time off the bike was six seconds at the planks. The most time spent off the bike was 36 seconds from the off-camber below the lime stone steps to the right turn after the lime stone steps. You can see below my notes for the exact times and durations of the dismounts and remounts.
In the end, the U.S. men spent 153 seconds of the 10:38 lap off of the bike. That is 24% of the lap. The winner crossed the line in one hour and seven minutes, which meant roughly 765 seconds or 12.75 minutes of the race was spent off the bike.
For the Belgian men on lap one (I predominantly tracked Toon Aerts and Michael Vanthourenhout), there were also nine dismounts. The shortest was negligible, 2 seconds for a bike change. The next shortest was four seconds, which came just 21 seconds into the race. The longest time off the bike was 27 seconds at a set of switch back off-cambers. Below are my notes for this lap.
At the end of lap one, the Belgian leaders had spent 136 seconds of an 11 minute and 26 second lap off the bike. That is equal to 19.825%. The winner crossed the line in one hour, eight minutes and 54 seconds, which is around 11.5 minutes off the bike for the entire race.
“The course must form a closed circuit of a minimum length of 2.5km and maximum 3.5 km, of which at least 90% shall be ridable.”UCI Rule 5.1.017
Here is the course map for the 2.77km U.S. track. The parts shaded in red are the sections that Hyde and White ran. The 90 percent rule, above, is based on distance, not time.
The course map for the 2.9km Belgian track was a little more difficult to interpret, especially because I only saw the track on television and not in person. Riders for this race were also off the bike for more distance than allowable under the UCI rule but less than the U.S. race.
Conclusion: A lot of this is comparing muddy apples to muddy oranges. The differing topography at both sites and the thickness of mud made for dissimilar racing conditions. Regardless, both races required minutes per lap off the bike. And that was my focus in this exercise.
Even with many contingency plans in place, I think that the organizers could not have foreseen the amount of rain and mud that was going to completely alter the tracks they created. Lap times were longer than anticipated, even with a parallel track being used in parts in Louisville. But in the end, the amount of running, although more than allowed under the rules, did not take away from meaningful racing. And I think that’s the bottom line: For the US and Belgium, the races were fair and the spectators got a great show, although the athletes may not have been thrilled about the conditions.
Thoughts? Leave a comment below.
Feature photo © 2018 Ethan Glading. Follow him on Instagram at @thepenultimatestage
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