Friday, November 21, 2014

Fast & Furious - Is Shorter Better for Triathlon?

The racing at the Las Vegas USAT Super Sprint was fast and furious!

In the space of 48 hours back in September I saw the two most exciting triathlon races I had seen in some time, live and in person.

At Interbike on a Thursday night, under the lights in Las Vegas, I watched the finals of the USAT Super Sprint Series, produced in cooperation with Marc Lee and Kanga Productions. This short and sweet, swim/bike/run racing, all took place in a large vacant parking lot, that was a stones throw away from the famous Las Vegas strip. The women's final, in particular was a barn-burner, with all 10 women, swimming, cycling and running neck and neck, and with a desperate and exciting sprint finish to the line, that almost needed a photo-timer to sort out!

I hoped on a plane shortly after the women finished in Las Vegas, and headed back home, and directly to the Subaru Centurion Canada Cycling event on Friday, in Blue Mountain, about 2 hours north of Toronto where I was working as the Race and Event Announcer. Part of the Centurion weekend of events, was the Subaru eGames triathlon - in set up and concept it was similar to the USAT Super Sprint, with very short, repeated legs of swim/bike/run. Unfortunately, inclement weather necessitated the cancelling of the swim, which turned the eGames triathlon into a duathlon. Despite the absence of swimming, the racing over the very short, multiple lap run and bike legs was very exciting, with the winners in doubt right up until the end.

Video highlights of the Subaru eGames are here -

Earlier, in the summer, I watched on TV some of the ITU World Cup event from Hamburg, Germany. The part that I watched was the 4-person, national team relay - 2 men and 2 women, racing again, over very short multi-lap swim/bike/run legs, and then when done, tagging off to a teammate. The race was amazing - with non-stop action, and some interesting strategy thrown in of which athlete would go in which position for the various national teams. The whole thing lasted less than an hour and made for great spectating and TV!

A year and a half ago, I was part of a two-day consultative exercise, that brought together many key people in the sport of triathon, from race and event management, from sports administration, from the media, and some top level marketing people. Also invited were Canadian Olympians and Olympic medalists from 4 different sports! The focus - come up with a new style or format for triathlon racing and competition. We did come up with something exciting - but for now, I'll have to keep this under wraps. Like the above examples, I can tell you that it was short and fast!

One interesting conclusion, that came out of the above two-day consultation was an agreement, that while we thought this new short and fast concept could be a winner, ironically, the current modern-day-triathlete, may not be a big fan of it! And that is why triathlon right now is at a bit of a cross-roads - some exciting shorter race formats are being experimented with, but for the most part the larger masses of Age-Group and participatory triathletes are more focused on longer races and seem little interested in it!

The situation is somewhat akin to what Nordic Skiing went through a number of years ago - the skate technique changed everything. In particular,  the format of the racing. Shorter race formats started to be introduced, which were much more viewer friendly on-site, but also for TV. At first this was met with a fair amount of resistance from traditionalists, but after time, people started to come around to their popularity.The sprint events at FIS Nordic Skiing events now draw the largest crowds, the biggest TV numbers AND, perhaps most importantly, young skiers are being drawn into nordic skiing, because they want to do the sprint events!

On that last point - could there be some lessons for triathlon there?

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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Challenges of Cycling in York Region

*Why is it that only a few roads in York Region get this extra strip of pavement to the right?

An event called the York Region Bike Summit was/is going on today. I found out about this too late to attend.

I lieu of of attending, I thought I might sum up  a few anecdotes/observations/questions, from a regular cyclist who's lived in the heart of York Region, in Aurora for 14 years.

They have been resurfacing many of the secondary roads in the region, more out in the country-side, recently which is great.* Why is it when they do this, do they not add that extra meter of pavement on the other side of the white right line to all the roads? Safer for cyclists and for motorists!

I see that bike lanes do get added intermittently in some of the municipalities. Newmarket did add a bike lane to Bathurst on their section of Bathhurst when the road was refurbished recently, but when Aurora refurbished Bathurst on their stretch, extended to the south . . no bike lane! Why?

Aurora just added a bike lane on Bloomington Side Road between, Bayview and Yonge street. It's a great addition. Nice to see. Unfortunately this bike lane goes from nowhere, to . . . nowhere! I've cycled along there maybe 15 times since the spring. I've never seen another cyclist on it!

Some form of education, perhaps starting right at Drivers Education, needs to go on regarding cyclists. It's extraordinary the numbers of drivers I encounter on roads in York Region who tell me flat out, and with a straight face that, "Bikes are not allowed on the road!"

The sprawl has led to many services, and retail, being too far to walk for many (although it's not that far for some!), but a great deal of services and retail, is within an easy bike ride of thousands of homes in York region! I cycled over to a new shopping mall near me a few years ago that was less than 1km from my house. There was no proper place to lock up my bike. I polity asked, the store manger why this was the case. Her response: "We did not even think of that!"

When I walk around my neighborhood, and I peer into the garages of neighbors, I see that more than a few houses do have bicycles of some form in those garages. This is good news.Yet, I never see these people out riding their bikes . . . ever! Why?

The sprawl goes on and on. When they sell these ever sprawling sub-divisions in York Region, the collateral marketing material used by the developers (brochures, billboards,  construction hoarding etc . . .) seems to frequently picture people walking, and . . riding bicycles, with tag lines such as, "Live close to nature . . . ". Yet, in an extension of the last paragraph, it's rare to actually see people out walking or riding anywhere in York region!

My sense is that the forces at work here are massively cultural/societal and will be really hard to change. When people are asked why they don't cycle more they'll come up with all manner of reasons and excuses - safety, weather, distance . . etc. My gut feeling, and I hate to say this, that as a culture and a society, particularly in heavily suburban areas of North America, such as York Region, we are becoming more lethargic and lazy! Go ahead pile-on. However, the ultimate evidence and acid test of this . . . our ever expanding waist lines!

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