Why Mountain Bike Racing Should Be A Team Sport

Kurtis Payton and Gregory Ratcliff from Combo Race Team

Kurtis Payton and Gregory Ratcliff enjoy some post-race camaraderie after a particularly grueling competition. Photos are from Combo Race Team facebook page.

I’ve been racing for six seasons, but last year was the first time that I was on a race team (Combo Race Team).  Many times after race day, people would ask me, “How did your team do?”  At that point, I was flummoxed.  Do I just say “good” or do I give them a lengthy treatise on the fact that there is no team score, that cross country mountain biking is an individual sport, and we are just a team in the sense that we share sponsors, have matching jerseys, root for each other and just generally enjoy hanging out together – actually that treatise was not so lengthy.

When we think about road biking we think of some of the great individual riders – the champions, the sprinters, the kings of the mountain, but our mind immediately jumps to the peloton and the teams that work together to get their horse across the line first.  Drafting is such a huge part of road racing, that individuals are much more likely to win with the support of their team.

Mountain biking does not have this same reliance on drafting and because of it the team nature of the sport is not as natural.  Individuals win all the time.

However, after one season on a race team I am convinced that mountain biking should be a team sport.  Everyone wins – sponsors, promotors, team managers, racers & spectators (I think I saw a spectator one time).

What would make it a team sport?  Having a team score.

(If your local league has a team score, then please let me know how it works in the comment section)

How Would The Team Scores Work?

Brody Wakefield of Combo Race Team

Brody Wakefield of Combo Race Team tears it up in a short track race.

I race in the Ohio Mountain Bike Championship (OMBC) series.  The divisions and series points break down this way:

  • Expert / 100 points / men’s open, singlespeed, women
  • Veteran (expert distance) / 80 points / men 35+, men 45+
  • Sport / 60 points / men 15-18, 19-29, 30-39, 40-49, 50-59, 60+, 70+, clydesdale, singlespeed, women
  • Novice / 40 points / men 13-14, 15-18, 19-29, 30-39, 40-49, 50-59, 60+, clydesdale, women

On an individual basis, points are handed out using a formula that takes into account the winning time for a division and how many seconds a racer is behind that winner.  I love this system, because even if you have gotten behind the leaders in your division, you still need to race fast to get as many points as you can for the series.

By my count there were 24 divisions in the 2013 OMBC championship race.

Here is how I would add up the team points.  The teams could race as many racers in each division as they wanted but would only count the top score towards their team score.  There would be a few exceptions though.  For men’s expert open, and all three women’s divisions, each team would count it’s top 3 scores.  For expert singlespeed, veteran 35+, veteran 45+,  they could count their top 2 racers.

This would tilt the field toward the top so that racers would have an extra incentive to move up as they got faster. Under this scoring system, the slowest experts still end up getting more points than the fastest sport racers.  Similarly, racing in sport will usually give you more points than racing in novice.

Total points at stake:

  • Men’s expert – 300 points
  • Women’s expert – 300 points
  • Expert Singlespeed, Veteran 35+, Veteran 45+ – 480 points
  • Sport Men’s divisions – 540 points
  • Sport Women – 180 points
  • Novice Men’s divisions – 320 points
  • Novice Women – 120 points

A perfect team score – 2240

The ideal team would have 30 finishers.

Don’t hold me to this though, these numbers could both be tweaked based on what the interested parties thought was best.  Keep in mind, this scenario is based on the specifics of my particular race situation.  There are a million different types of scoring possibilities based on the type of race or race series that you are competing in.

Who Would Win With This Set-Up?

Race Promoters

Mohican 100 in Loudonville, Ohio

Starting line for the Mohican 100 in Loudonville, Ohio.

Sure there is a little extra math, but that’s what computers are for.  Isn’t it worth a little extra hassle to have 100 or 200 extra entries?  If one teammate is going, you can bet that he will try and encourage his other teammates to come for the team points.  Competing with a team is fun.  Think about how many 24-hour mountain bikers did their first one because they were recruited by teammates.  For the same amount of marketing and promotions you can get a higher turnout.  Also, if teams get points for novice racers they will have an incentive to bring new blood to the sport.

Racers

I raced for 5 years as an individual and I can tell you from experience that racing with a team is so much more fun.  It’s nice to show up and see the team tent and know that you have some cool people to hang out with and the support that being on a team provides.  Our team usually had a nutrition table set-up.  We had a team trailer that was filled with tools and a place to change.  Teammates could help you fix anything.  Even when I was racing against teammates there was a great sense of camaraderie and support that made the race more fun in the heat of the battle.

Sponsors

Kenda Tires tent at the Combo Race Team trailer.

Sponsors are featured prominently at the team trailers.

Instead of dealing with 30 individual sponsorships, you can work with a team and get more bang for your buck.  There will be increased exposure at events from multiple jerseys, trailers & tents with your logo on them.  With teams consisting of riders of all levels your products won’t just appeal to the elite riders, you will be marketing to the weekend warriors and beginners as well.

Team Managers

Team members need to show up to events to justify the sponsorships.  For the pro cyclists, showing up is a given.  However, for weekend warriors, other life priorities and social events make it easy to brush cycling to the side when it becomes inconvenient.  Think of it this way, fighting for 7th place in your age category is not overly motivating – it might even be demotivating for someone who had higher hopes for their season.  Having a team score gives managers a little extra leverage when encouraging their racers to show up.  They aren’t just letting themselves down, they are letting their team down.  It’s a little extra push to eek out some extra points – even if you’ve had a mechanical and your individual score is shot you can still try and salvage it for the team.

Spectators

Cross country mountain biking is not the most crowd-friendly sport on the planet.  You might only see the racer you are watching 2 or 3 times in a 2 hour race – if there is a looping point or you are willing to walk, ride or drive to different spots.  However, if you are rooting for a team then you have ample opportunities to cheer on your favorite racers as they fly by every couple of minutes.

Women

James Knott, Heidi Shilling & Gregory Ratcliff from Combo Race Team

James Knott, Heidi Shilling and Gregory Ratcliff get ready to race at Mohican Wilderness in Loudonville, Ohio.

By my calculations, only 5% of the racers at the OMBC championship race were women.  Under my scoring system they would make up 30% of team racers and 27% of the total points available.  Women would be a valuable part of any team and would be highly recruited.  Of course, if there were more women then there could also be more women’s categories.  This would help more women find their niche in this fun sport.

Beginners

Entering a new sport can be a little intimidating.  It’s so hard to know what to expect when you show up at a race.  What kind of bike should I ride?  What time do I need to register by?  How do I know when it’s my time to start?  What happens if I get a flat tire?  Having experienced team members to ask for help can make your first race experiences more enjoyable and help you develop a deeper passion for the sport.

What Do You Think?

Do you think mountain bike racing would be more compelling if it had a greater team element to it?  How would you implement it?  Are there any downsides to getting teams involved?  Let me know your thoughts in the comment section.  I would love to do a follow up article where I dive a little deeper into the details and controversies that might exist under such a system.

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Thanks for reading,

James Knott