In his last season as a Senior CX rider, Lee Shunburne gives us a run through on being a Commissaire at last weekends National Trophy Round 1, held at Moorways Athletics Stadium in Derby
I’ve been racing bikes of one form or another since I was 13, spectacularly unsuccessfully at first, but over the years through a bit of determination and an awful lot of hard work I’ve stepped up to reasonably mediocre! I’ve competed and managed to pick up wins in most things, TTs, road races, hillclimbs, criteriums and so on, but racing off-road is where I started and what I love the most. I’m a reasonable MTBer but upon discovering cyclocross in my mid-teens I soon found the thing that not only did I enjoy the most, but that I was also the best at. Of course these two things may well be related…
Fast forward a couple of decades and I’m in my final season of the senior category before turning 40 next year and moving up into the veterans. I’ve had a good start to the season, doing far better than usual in the early fast and dry races which don’t generally suit my ‘diesel’ style of riding. As a result I’m really looking forward to the weather changing and the courses getting heavier which is when I usually start to climb the finishing order from a solid top 5er each week locally (NDCXL is my home ground) to being in with more than a sniff of the win. Off the back of that good form I thought I’d also ride some National Trophy races this season before I move up, one last hurrah and all that, but I can’t do the full campaign due to already having signed myself up to commitments in my ‘other’ cyclocross life – commissairing.
Over the time that I’ve been commissairing (ten years or so now) I’ve been asked to work on Trophies, regional and national championships and also become a ‘national’ graded comm, which means I can be the chief at any race without UCI points available. I’m one half-step and one full step away from being a full UCI commisaire who can handle events worldwide, from smaller C2-graded ones in the UK right up to the World Championships. I don’t do it for the adulation (there isn’t any) or enjoyment in a ‘power-hungry-enjoys-shouting-at-people-and handing-out-DQs’ kind of way but much more in terms of helping an event to run smoothly, sorting out any problems and just generally helping the sport. This is much more what a Commissaire actually does as opposed to the idea that they just blow a whistle now and then before trying to find ways of annoying people! At the time I started I was also an event organiser but I didn’t enjoy that as much, so over time I stopped organising and took on more comm duties.
The highlight so far has been being asked to be an assistant comm when the World Cup came to Milton Keynes – doing licence checks on the Belgian squad and having to overrule the timing chips in the Cant/Compton sprint finish in front of a 20,000 crowd and worldwide TV audience (VERY nervous wait for the photo-finish to back me up) is slightly different to setting off the under-9s at an NDCXL!
It’s not all fun of course – yes, sometimes you have to settle disputes, sometimes you have to hand out a placing relegation or a DQ, fill in an incident report when someone’s injured themselves, or feed back to an organiser that aspects of their event aren’t up to scratch, despite all their best efforts. Cyclocross is still a small world and having been around for a while I know a fair few people in that world, which is sometimes a help when you need something doing, but tricky to manage when you have to be harsh. I’d like to think that everyone knows I’m fair but sometimes I’m not so sure!
Last Sunday saw the first round of this season’s National Trophy series in Derby and being local (I’m from Chesterfield) it was an obvious one for me to be allocated to. I went down for the commissaire’s course walk on Saturday afternoon where we inspect the course and make sure it meets all the regulations, is safe for the riders and so on. We had a Belgian UCI commissaire as the boss for this event, which I was pleased about – pleased because it’s good for us to get a different perspective on things, and also because the riders aren’t ‘used’ to a new commissaire and how they work, so are less likely to try any tricks…
With five separate races to get through on the Sunday, even with a team of half a dozen of us the day would be hectic. Here’s a quick and not fully comprehensive rundown of how my day went:
08.00 Arrive on site.
08.15 Meet up with the other commissaires and sort out radios/communication protocols.
08.30 Head to sign-on, check that the volunteers in there are happy and note what colour all the pit helper’s wristbands should be (different coloured bands for the different races).
08.45 Quick walk around the course in case I missed anything the day before or something has changed overnight – this tends to happen during bad weather so there was nothing to worry about this time.
09.15 Commissaire’s briefing. Here we are allocated roles for the day, any known issues are discussed and we discuss anything else that might be relevant to the day’s events such as rule changes.
10.00 Head to the pits for the Vet men’s race. Inform the marshals not to let anyone into the pit area without a valid wristband and if they have issues then to pass them my way. It’s a slow day in the pits due to being dry but the Vet men’s field is huge so they are always busy.
10.10 Brief all the helpers in this race how I want the pits to operate, which is remarkably well received! Most people stick to the rules and get sick of those who break them, so knowing that they are to be enforced is often appreciated.
10.15 Vet men start – time to keep an eye on any pit lane infractions and also, due to it being dry and bunches forming, anything untoward out on the course.
10.50 Last lap. Run from the pits to the final corner in order to pull out any backmarkers who might impinge a sprint finish for the leaders. They receive their correct position if this happens but still tend to be unhappy about it! Thankfully none to be pulled this time.
11.05 Youth girls race starts to be gridded. My job here is to stand between the U16 grid and the U14s, then once the U16s start roll the U14s to the start line.
11.15 Youth girls start. Once they’re away I have the task of ‘roving’ Commissaire, walking round the course checking on the racing. A very useful task as some roles require you to be static and canny riders can cause issues out of sight. Here I might pop up at any point and surprise them! Nothing to report apart from some broken course tape which I fix rather than bothering a marshal over the radio.
11.40 Head back to the final corner for the same job as before. Again no backmarkers need to be pulled.
11.55 Youth boys race starts to be gridded. Here I’m the start comm. I brief the riders on their race duration, pit procedures, the top three need to stay for the podium, etc. etc.
12.05 Youth boys start. I blow the whistle to set the U16s off then two minutes later the U14s. Then I’m on finish line duty, radioing to the other comms how many laps there are to go, who the last rider out is on course and other useful information before watching any sprint finishes to make sure they’re ridden cleanly.
12.45 A lull in the action to allow the afternoon riders to look at the course. The other comms have a well-deserved break while I stay on duty in case we’re needed. Brief look at the course again to check that it’s still all in order and stay in radio contact with the marshals.
13.20 Junior Men, Elite Women and Vet Women start to be called up. Here I’m doing bike checks to make sure everyone is on a CX bike (no MTBs allowed), that no-one has a Go-Pro or has tyres that obviously exceed the 33mm limit. This is the first of the two UCI-graded races of the day.
13.30 Junior Men, Elite Women and Vet Women start with time gaps. I’m the sacrificial ‘false start’ comm. I’m located at the end of the start straight and have to stop the riders if a false start occurs. It’s not been necessary yet and I hope it never is as I think 40 testosterone-filled junior men will quite happily just ride over me!
Once that’s done I’m roving again.
14.10 Back to the final corner. One Junior backmarker has to be held back to prevent him interfering with the winner’s finish.
14.20 Queue-jump at the food stall and grab something to eat. Sorry if you were waiting! I think I inhaled the sausage baguette rather than chewing it.
14.30 Elite men’s race begins to be gridded. I’m calling up the riders according to grid order. Thankfully, being a fan of the sport and having done my stint watching Sporza coverage, pronunciation of Van Tichelt and Denuwelaere passes by uneventfully.
14.40 Run to the pits where I’m on duty for the final race.
14.45 Elite men start. Big groups form out on course but again it’s quiet both there and in the pits. Nothing to worry about.
15.40 Run to the final corner for the usual task there. I’m 50/50 on pulling a rider out but decide he’s far enough in front of the winner. Good decision as on the final lap that rider gains a place.
16.15 Commissaire’s debrief. A few racing issues to discuss but the event has run perfectly as it was well organised and as a team the commissaires merely help that organisation along its way.
17.00 Go home. Feet up with a beer and catch up with the coverage from the DVV Trophy race at Ronse.
I get to race at Abergavenny before being on duty again at Hetton for round 3. Feel free to say hello, we are human!
Huge thanks to Lee for writing this in his lunchtimes this week, he’s one of my main go to people for any questions about rules. Especially about gridding!
(I’ll also be at Abergavenny, possibly racing the league event on the Saturday, and pitting on the Sunday – Elz)