When you race in a criterium, you’re supposed to keep up with the main pack. You save energy drafting off the guy in front of you, and the farther toward the front, the less energy you spend yo-yoing after everyone. If you fall behind and are about to be lapped, the race officials will pull you. You become a hazard, the slow guy poking along in the fast lane.
Now, if you’re like me and are way the hell behind, it’s easy for the refs to make the call. Someone tweets a whistle and points the side of the road, and you’re done. There’s no question that I’ve been pulled. However, once you get clusters of racers, things get a little tricky, which is what happened at Ventura, and is what will be solved by The Smart Future.
In the Category 4 crit, Jamie was holding his own about two groups behind the race leader. He wasn’t in danger of being lapped, though his bunch was slowly passing other guys who had fallen behind. As he passed the refs, there was a whistle, but no clear indication of who should go, just a blanket “You’re all out.” Jamie kept going, only to get yanked a few laps later.
Now, I can appreciate how tough a judge’s job is. You’ve got all these guys zipping by, and you’ve got to make quick calls to people who a) may not hear you or b) may be too tired to attention to detailed instructions. Bike racing tries to be as budget conscious as possible, and it’s cheaper just to point at a bunch of guys and relegate them than it is to, say, give everyone a timing chip that talks to racers and lets them know, so sorry, but you’re done, either by a piped electronic voice or electric shock.
Or is it?
After reading this post about a 90% drop in the price of RFIDs, I have your Smart Future solution.
Every year, I renew my USCF racing license. When I get my card in the mail, it comes with a bunch of RFID tags that I can stick to my bottom bracket. Every time I go to a race, I sign in, get a race number, and roll my bike over the Magic Cheap-Ass Timing Mat, which reads my RFID tag and ties it to my race number. Now, when we race, one judge can watch the race number while another can watch the screen that’s showing RFID results as we roll over the finish line, which is made of incredibly thin and durable Smart Tape, which is just reading the RFIDs rolling overhead. The screen judge will have a simple display of who’s in the lead, who’s lagging, and who’s about to get lapped. When it comes time to relegate someone, the magical software will spit out a list with race number, rider name and rider team for the announcer to say, before the rider approaches the line so he can actually hear his instructions, “Rider number 445, Adam Rakunas, please pull to the side.” If I’m in a pack with other guys, and I’m the only one getting pulled, the other guys can continue while I drift to the side, filled with equal parts shame and rage, an emotion that I will now call shrage.
I know there are RFID timing systems already available, but these rely on chips you wear on your ankle. They are also pretty expensive to rent and have long setup times and all sorts of other things that won’t work for a cheap-ass cycling race. But if NEC is talking about being able to print ten thousand RFID tags for a hundred bucks, then bracket tags could become an easy option. Hell, a race promoter could hand out his own tags in the race number packet, cutting USCF out of the equation completely. If the reader technology drops in price, then, dude.
Right. Let’s get to it!