USA Cycling Contemplating Time Trial Format For XC National Championships

Jun 17, 2020
by James Smurthwaite  
Kate Courtney puts in her lap for team USA who took home the silver.

In an effort to meet Colorado' mass gathering requirements, USA Cycling is considering a time trial format for the XC National Championships this year as opposed to the normal mass start race.

The Nationals were originally supposed to run at Winter Park on July 6-12 but are currently postponed until August 13-16 for downhill and enduro and August 20-23 for XC. Alongside the new dates, the governing body yesterday announced that it is also considering changing the format of the XC Nationals into an individual time trial in an attempt to offer, "participants an event that is as safe as possible."

From what we understand, this will mean riders set off on a circuit at staggered intervals, similar to in enduro or downhill racing, and the fastest time will win. Whether the circuit will be a point to point or a loop, what those intervals might be or any other details on how the event would run are currently unavailable. While it would definitely be a shame to lose the tactics and action of head-to-head racing, it will still no doubt be a better option for most racers than the Nationals being canceled outright.

The governing body said: "We recognize that changes such as these may dishearten those who have been holding out hope for a sense of normalcy that comes with a regular training schedule and a quest for Nationals. We and our Local Organizing Committees have worked through countless options for our National Championships and this is one additional option that may be needed for safety and to meet regulations.

"We want to be clear that even though events may be currently postponed, if we cannot reasonably ensure the safety of our members, volunteers and host communities we will not run a National Championship. We will continue to provide status updates over the next couple of months and we will not open any registration until we are confident we can successfully and safely hold an event."

USAC will be sending its next update about the event on June 30.


64 Comments

  • 92 2
 Every time I tried XC racing, I was socially distanced immediately.
  • 2 0
 ahhahha, same here
  • 46 2
 As a one time thing, I think that'd be super-cool.Those guys and gals would go sooo hard.
  • 17 2
 Yes, I think this could actually allow for more technical trails as riders no longer get stuck behind others who stall or crash on a tech section. I think that many of these athletes are capable of much more technical riding than they're able to showcase at these events. Mentally I can imagine it can be horrible to race a time trial this long. You just never know whether you need to give that little bit more for a chance to win, whether you have a safe margin or whether you're so far behind that it doesn't matter anymore. To finish the race and then learn you lost it by one second...
  • 2 4
 @vinay: Race radios would be a good choice for the riders, if allowed.
  • 4 1
 @vinay: then you lose the hammer fest to get to the tech section first to avoid the pileup, which is an important tactical part of XC racing and exciting to watch for a spectator. One great thing about time trial format would be reducing dust. As a sometimes XC competitor it really does suck to breath in gallons and gallons of dust during a mass start and be coughing for days afterward.
  • 6 3
 @vinay: At what point is it just an enduro or downhill course that is a bit flatter though?
  • 3 1
 @dthomp325: Sometimes it is nice to see skills honored individually. As you say, it is apparently the one who performs best at the hammerfest, who gets a fair go at doing decent on that climb. The athlete who may not be that great at the hammerfest never gets to shine on the really tech climb. I have no doubt that MvdP would outperform Chris Akrigg on the wide straight section. But it would be cool if the tech climb is so steep and technical that Chris would beat everyone on vertical wall littered with trunks, rocks and waterfalls. Yeah I get that neither MvdP nor Chris Akrigg would compete in the US XC nationals, just meant to point at different qualities.

@HB208: Enduro nor DH typically have timed steep tech uphill sections. They don't even have to be that much flatter now as I see the main reason against really steep tech descends and uphills would be the mass nature of these traditional XC events. You don't want people to lose control and crash into each other. No doubt most if not all these top level XC athletes have access to enduro and/or DH equipment and they know how to handle it. Not talking about big gaps and drops, just steep tech.
  • 4 0
 @HB208: As soon as they start pedaling hard?
  • 2 0
 @vinay: true. While XCO descents have gotten significantly more technical over the years, the climbs are still usually fairly wide and tame to allow passing. Time trial would allow gnarly technical ascents.
  • 1 3
 @vinay: Sounds like enduro lol
  • 2 0
 @HB208: At the point enduro times both the up and the down and the stages last 90 minutes?
  • 2 0
 @nerds-on-dirt-mtb:

Aside from the fact that the climbs are timed too, making a 100mm bike the fastest ride from start to finish.

Other than that, totes enduro.
  • 4 0
 @HB208: All the enduro racers I know stop pedaling after 4 minutes, and hop off their bikes to start walking up a hill. So....at that point.
  • 1 0
 @vinay: What? Have you ever heard of cyclocross? MvdP would hop off his bike, shoulder it, and still cover ground twice as fast as Chriss Akrigg.
  • 1 0
 @hllclmbr: I think race radios was banned from MTB years ago.
  • 1 0
 @LeDuke: We may have different definitions of what technical climbing is all about. If it is steep, steady and straight the CX approach might win. But if it is a climb with switchbacks, much rollable stuff (where riding would be faster than walking) but with some big rocks and logs as obstacles, short steep steps etc, I expect it to be faster to keep riding. I may be wrong here but what I recall from seeing CX races on the telly is that they pick up their bikes before it gets steep and put it down again when it is level again. They can ride both up and down but I haven't seen anyone mount the bike while still on a climb. Seems like a pretty tough thing to do too. But if the climb after the obstacle is faster riding than walking/running then it would be well worth it staying on your bike.

And correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't the XC bike MvdP is riding have the rear shock in the seattube/toptube corner where he'd otherwise shoulder his CX bike?
  • 17 2
 For better or worse, changing the format of a race completely changes the dynamics. Glad to hear different ideas to help keep people safe and still get the racing started!
  • 16 1
 I like hating things every bit as much as the next PinkBike commentor but I don't hate this at all.
  • 5 0
 Get off my lawn!
  • 12 2
 Isnt a a trip to costco same as a mass start?
  • 3 5
 Walmart is a better example since they don't mandate facemasks like Costco does.
  • 6 0
 Maybe as a one time event. Even racing at the local level I can tell you this isn't the same. As mentioned earlier knowing when to attack, where you rest while someone is stuck behind you, the push that comes from being right in front or right behind someone, knowing how far back you are off the next position even if it is 15th and not first are all a lot of what makes a race a race. The human interaction of pushing each other to the greatest heights is what makes most sports so enjoyable to watch and even to participate in.
  • 2 0
 I appreciate the efforts that are being made to make the Nats happen. What loses it for me is the change of format. I think overall a TT XC race could be very cool, and like others mention, could include much more technical sections to showcase skill. Nonetheless, those sections make up only fractions of the whole race. True XC to me is the tactics, side by side competitiveness and knowing when to attack. This is not that, but perhaps an alternative we will have to accept this year.
  • 3 1
 Social distancing XC racing. Interesting. It could be more accurate because some riders are better climbers and some are at the downhills where they can get stuck behind a slower rider. So, riders are more freed up to go their own speed with less traffic or changing their speed based on an attack.
  • 2 0
 Even in the closest xc race, competitors spend little time within 1m of each other after the start. The major risk in terms of corona is on the start grid when they are crammed together.

You could use a system like the staggered starts used in qualifying races for rc cars. Basically it's a time trial format but the competitors set off at 2 second intervals, with their time starting when they cross the line. This means they still have to race each other.

Chip time in marathons is the same concept.

Instead of a 2 second interval you could just make the entire field start in a single file line with 2m between riders.

Start order would need to be seeded to make things fair. ( but the same applies with a grid start.)
  • 1 0
 Perhaps with a qualifying session to determine grid order? It would operate much like an F1 race then.
  • 2 0
 @MaplePanda: There must already a seeding process to determine who starts on which row on the grid in a normal race.
  • 2 0
 @MaplePanda: They did that in a TdF stage recently.

It was dumb.
  • 3 0
 Number of entrants would mean quite small gaps - a few minutes at most probably. An enduro style yield if you get caught rule would change the tactics significantly.
  • 5 0
 Rob would wear out "LOOK AT THE TIME" real quick.
  • 2 1
 Do what you have to do to race. If it fits the safety guidelines, let's go racing! Might be interesting too. If they have time splits showing like they do for time trial stages of the TDF it could be an exciting format. Time trial stages were always the best part of the tour.
  • 1 0
 Notice my username.

Now, I've always envisioned a race format that's long steep super-f*cking-technical climbs followed by equal descents. The kind of trail where a 27 pound 120-130mm bike is the fastest way from point a to point b. You know, the kind of bike that sells the most.

I just realized that the TT format is the way to go here.

Any of you race promoters interested in Super-XC?
  • 4 0
 In BC we call that XCM Smile
  • 2 0
 @Gregdogg: we call it XC hardline
  • 2 0
 In California we call that the Downieville Classic
  • 1 0
 In Merritt, we call it the Merritt Crown.
  • 2 0
 I always liked timetrails, i even managed to watch timetrails in tour de france despite not beeing able to watch full tour de france stages.
  • 1 0
 I guess they don't think people will start to catch one another and at that point its almost the same as a normal XC race with a few small groups and everyone strung out by at least 6' anyway.
  • 1 0
 I wonder if OCparks(southern CA) had their forced labor(disadvantaged youth) wear mask when they forced them to put in bobby traps on PG(Laguna beach)this month.
.so thoughtful of them. 30 year old marquee trail.
  • 1 1
 it's a 90 minute TT at 10,000 feet above sea level. If you're not from Utah or Colorado need not attend, most guys I know from the east coast were already skipping this one before COVID19. Winter Park was already a questionable location for a "NATIONAL" champion when the start line is 10k above sea level, but removing the mass start component makes it even less relevant for racers from the other ~48 states that aren't at 10k above sea level. Can they make the championship jersey a CO flag instead of the Stars and Stripes?
  • 3 0
 Surely the format is worth a trial?
  • 3 0
 Adopting a Strava leaderboard for a racing format? Genius.
  • 2 1
 This option totally sucks.Will they run the Nationals road race in the same manner? What a joke. If you cant run it as a normal race, then just cancel it.
  • 1 0
 Could be interesting to watch since it'll be an all out effort vs. managed.
  • 3 1
 I think this format might actually surprise people, could be really good
  • 3 1
 Like a very very long DH run. With lots of uphills. 5-7 times.
  • 1 0
 Has USA cycling asked its insurance company whether it will cover any sort of competition - of any sort?. Most aren't.
  • 3 1
 USA Cycling can shut it doors AFAIC Bring back grassroots racing.
  • 1 0
 Gotta limit competitors or the thing would last days.
  • 2 0
 There are ~190 riders in the TdF and they manage time trials just fine.
  • 1 1
 Just give Kate the jersey. Not like we even need a race to know whose gonna win.
  • 1 1
 They could do small groups like 10 or so.
  • 1 1
 I guess I'm not watching any cross country for a long time.
  • 1 2
 Seriously if your sick you probably shouldn't or wouldn't race national
  • 1 2
 First their should to be a time trial to determine the starting order.
  • 2 0
 Or you could base it on UCI points, which is what they'll do.
  • 1 0
 @hllclmbr: Was just being sarcastic, sorry.
  • 2 5
 You cant protest outside with thousands shoulder to shoulder, but you cant race in the mountain or forest ridiculous
  • 5 4
 One is a matter of life or death, the other is bike racing. Yeah, real comparable.
  • 3 6
 XC races are really time trials anyway.
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