Motoref / Chief Ref Meeting - Part 1

The Chief Referees and the Motorefs met on Saturday, June 18th to discuss some issues that have come up recently concerning r rider behavior in road races, primarily the center line rule. Some of you may know all this, but it was pointed out at the meeting that discussions this spring after some of the road events reminded the officials that many riders are new to the sport and really do not understand the nuances of some of the cycling rules.

It is a given that nobody likes the center line rule. The riders don't like it and it certainly is not the highlight of any motoref's day trying to enforce it. However, it is a very important rule for three reasons:

  1. It is one of the main safety rules that we have for races on open roads. That should be obvious, but appears not to be at many events.
  2. It is a fairness issue, as most riders do obey the rules, and then if riders get away with breaking them and gain an advantage, it is clearly not fair to the riders who followed the rule.
  3. It is a requirement of government agencies and our ability to continue to use the courses depends on adherence to the rules. Over the years, many races have been lost due to riders not following the center line rule. We recently lost a good TT course due to it. 

Much was discussed at this meeting, but in this Part 1 of the report, let's stick to something straight forward -- What constitutes an infraction? There are several ways that the rule can be viewed. First, when we say center line, what do we mean? Of course, often times we hear "yellow line", but the line may well not be yellow. It also may not be in the center of the road. In some cases, the race may get the shoulder, from the right fogline to the dirt, and one lane. There may be another lane to the left that is off limits. Essentially, the importatn concept is the "enforcement line." Whatever line is being used as the enforcement line is what counts. Second, and this was  recently discussed at the national level, what constitutes a violation of that line? Is it touching it with a wheel, crossing it with your body, completely passing over it so that you are riding on the left of it? After much discussion a couple of years ago, it was decided that riding on it is the same as crossing over it. Thus, if you are riding right on the middle of a double yellow line, that is the same as if you completely crossed it. It is the wheel that counts. If your body happens to hang over it while your wheel is to the right of it, then that does not count as a violation.

Now, onto what constitutes an actual infraction of the rule. The hardest line possible is often referred to as the "Edge of the World" approach. That means that if you go onto or over the center line for any reason, you just rode off of a cliff. If you ride off of a cliff, you are  dead and no longer part of the race. It is actually very easy to enforce that rule, but not very desirable. It sort of ruins an otherwise good bike race and we would have very few finishers. Very few areas ever use this application of the rule. Normally, we only see this if the police or sheriffs insist upon it, to the point that law enforcement themselves  are actually making the call. 

So when is crossing the line okay? Or, if not okay, when at least would it not be penalized? Officials all wish we had a dollar for every time we heard, "I was forced over", or "I was pushed over" or I had to cross the line to avoid a crash", or myriad others. The real translation for that 99% of the time is this, "I was overlapped on the left side of the rider ahead of me, and he moved over the line. I had a choice to either  go with him, or lose the wheel and the draft I was enjoying, so I chose to also go over the line.."

Here is how the officials will be looking at it:

Let's say we are in a race on a closed road. That would be any international race in most countries or the biggest races here, like Tour of California, etc. In such a race, there is no center line rule. Riders use the whole road and have the blessing of everyone to do so. Now, the echelons are going from right to left due to the wind. The riders at the back are just hanging on for dear life and are squeezing between the left fogline and the dirt, gravel, barriers, stone pillars, or whatever is on the left side of the road. You are that last guy, and the rider in front of you moves all the way to the left side of the road and there is not a centimeter of pavement left. Do you go off the road to stay on that wheel? Probably not. Instead you back out and try to find another wheel that is farther to the right. Maybe you even take a page out of the European playbook and you move to the far right and start another echelon. There is a sudden surge of riders to the left and everyone is getting moved towards the edge. Do you go off the road? Maybe yes, maybe no. There is a crash in front of you. Do you go off the road? Maybe yes, maybe no. This is a very important concept as it strikes at the heart of the reality of the "I got forced over" mentaility. It is also the main determiner of whether your crossing of the centerline will be seen as a violation or not.

If you are riding close to the center line, you are on dangerous footing. You are dancing on the edge of the neutral zone. Lots of things can happen. If something happens, be it a crash, a gust of wind, a movement of the wheel you were following towards the center line, and you cross it, the referees will be asking themselves this question -- "If that same thing had happened at the left edge of the road, would you have gone off the road to the left?

If the answer is yes, then you really didn't have a choice, you really were pushed over it, or you really were avoding a crash. In that case your movement onto and/or across the line will not be considered a violation.

If the answer is no, then you took the easy path because you did not want to lose the wheel in front of you, and it will be seen as a violation. 

Of course, the answer to that question is a judgment call by the referee who witnessed it. You may not agree with his or her judgment, but such is the nature of having human officials making decisions in sporting events. 

What we will be doing is  having more meetings like this with lots of discussions and war stories in an attempt to create better consistency between officials and from race to race. That is the job of the officials -- to make the best decisions and to keep them consistent so that races are safe and fair. 

In part 2, we will look at the common penalties that you may see out on the road. Stay tuned. 

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