I used to be a bicycle racing junkie. I was a Category I USACycling official on road and track (and a Cat 4Q2 racer). For you non-bikies, that means I was licensed by the US Olympic Committee to officiate professional racing, which I did for many years.
USAC is the current incarnation of cycling’s governing body, previously called the USCF (and before that it was the ABLA, founded in 1920). There was always a lot of blather in their handbooks about preserving, developing, and administering stuff. Everyone’s still waiting.
During this time I wrote for several cycling magazines. One was The Bike. My editor there was Doug Roosa, formerly of the late, lamented Bicycle Guide. Roosa’s too cool for school. Working for him was a gas. We tested anything and everything bike-related — equipment, socks, coffee table books and the mugs that loved them. Here’s a column I wrote for The Bike in 1992.
TO PRESERVE, DEVELOP, AND ADMINISTER, SORT OF
Copyright © 1992 © 2011 SYDNEY SCHUSTER – All Rights Reserved
Lower New York State is the sixth largest USCF district, with 1,441 licensed riders and scads of racing. That’s where I live. Our district is eternally overadrenalized and understaffed, so one of the many hats I wear is that of USCF official. Scary, but true.
We probably have more racing than any other state. This is good. Most of it is low-budget track racing at dusk and circuit racing at dawn, without photo equipment or bathrooms. Not so good, if you can’t pick sprints in the dark or pee standing up.
Once I was the chief judge at this flavor of circuit race, one in an interminable training series. A spectacular crash had just capped off the citizens’ finish. In a Big Apple display of free expression, a casualty with a bogus number started chasing another on foot, pounding him with a log. (To be fair, all the other fresh meat had their numbers on upside down or on the wrong side, if they had them on at all.) My assistant and the chief referee tore off after the fleeing pounder, leaving me alone with the poundee (who was energetically threatening to sue me) and the entire Cat 4 field as they sprinted 50 abreast across the finish line.
I did my best to pick eight places by myself, with a fist in my face. To tabulate the results in peace, I repaired to a picnic table that doubled as a bum’s boudoir. Why, you may ask, do I do this?
The reason is obvious: Officiating is glamorous.
Another case in point is the ’drome. We’re lucky to have one of the country’s half dozen right here in Nueva York — our own superglam, built-on-sinking-landfill Kissena Velodrome. The Track With A Hill.
I worked over 50 races last year, mostly track, so this year my USCF district rep rewarded my effort and loyalty by assigning three high-level officials from Upper Uranus to run our state track championships instead of me.
Assisting USCF brass is a special treat for us drooling locals. The Cat I had worked track once, so he brought his computer to modernize our championship. He was too busy typing to see the races he was supposed to be judging. Five more out-of-towners crammed onto the stand to watch them for him, including his two ultra-helpful Cat II toadies who’d never seen track racing before. I was handed three pick cards for a 70-lap points race with 14 sprints, and ordered to monitor them through five heads and a computer screen.
The big guns picked sprints on wrong laps and missed others altogether. They ignored district officials who came to help — stalwarts who were at our quaint, weedy velodrome every week for years, manually judging competitions among state and national champions. The riders basically were furious, because the imported bigshot officials basically wrecked their state championships.
The racers around here take their sport seriously. A lot of them are my pals, and one especially noisy one is my spouse. They’ve seen placings forfeited and races cancelled, they’ve plowed into everything from dogs to tractor-trailers, all due to inadequate staffing.
That’s how I got sucked in one day in 1987, when Hall of Famer Al Toefield drafted a spectator to herd rampaging Cat 4s on her motorcycle. Typical bikie headbanger that I am, I just kept going back.
Eventually official emeritus Emily Miller of New York kneaded me into a judge-like mass. She’s a goddess of whom I’m unworthy, a class act who makes the job look easy.
Fingers freezing and noses running and rain soaking us at a wobbly, soggy card table serving as the “judges’ stand,” I ask Emily why she does this. She just laughs, and jots down 80 numbers as they blast by.
At best the gig is a cacophony of bad music blasting in your ear while racers, coaches and road-deprived joggers bark in your face. It’s standing in the sun for ten hours with carnivorous bugs while old-timers guilt trip you about how they officiated for free. Except they didn’t have to buy $50 stopwatches, $80 pocket recorders and $300 uniforms, drive 700 miles to a stage race and back, and pay their own restaurant bills. Yeah, yeah, yeah, racers do it so why not you? Well, officials don’t get prizes, or sponsorship, or swag, or ink in VeloNews. Yo! Lemme at those support hose endorsement deals!
So why do I continue to officiate? Too many head blows, I guess. But the velodrome show on Wednesday nights beats the hell out of watching Doogie Howser. And I like hanging around racers — at least they have a reason to live. The judge’s stand at track is the greatest seat anywhere. Elbows in noses and cute buns in Lycra definitely get points. Racing is just the best!
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