In parts 1 and 2 of this thread we looked at some background on why we have a centerline rule, philosophy on what constitutes an infraction, and some of the possible penalties often seen for violation of the rule. In this part, we will get to the heart of the matter, which is how the rule will be interpreted and which penalties will be applied for given scenarios. Some of these scenarios are not specific to the centerline rule, such as the first one.
1. Being disrespectful or verbally abusing an official. This is clearly not just a centerline issue, but most recently is where it came up. We don't have enough officials. We don't have enough motorefs. We had issues a year ago at one of the big spring road events because there were not enough motorefs to adequately maintain control of multiple groups. We got letters from riders and a letter from the race director asking why there were not enough officials. The answer is because it is a hard and usually thankless job, made more so by riders who want to abuse the referees for making a decision they do not like. To some extent this is expected. Of all the riders I have ever disqualified, not one of them ever told me they thought it was the right call. Go figure. However, dropping obscenities on the officials for doing their jobs and enforcing the rules will not be tolerated and will be met with harsh penalties and requests to USA Cycling for suspension of said riders. It is a given that if a motoref tells you that you are DQ'd for a centerline violation, you will not like it and you will not agree with it. Nobody ever does. It is not a given that every official will always call it exactly the same way. It is not a given that it will always be a good call. That is the nature of sports. Officials make calls. Sometimes they make mistakes. Right or wrong, that is the nature of sports that are officiating by humans.
2. Advancing while over the centerline. Any advancement of position while over the centerline will be met with immediate disqualification. The chief referees and motorefs at the meeting were unanimous in this. This is a slam dunk scenario. If you find yourself over the line for any one of the multiple reasons you might be over it, and you choose to pass anyone rather than immediately getting back to the right side, that will be a DQ.
3. Flagrant/dangerous attack over the centerline. This will not only lead to the DQ from #2 above, but will also carry a request for suspension sent to the Technical Director of USA Cycling.
4. Prolonged riding over the centerline. The fact that the wheel you are choosing to ride on happens to be over the centerline is not an excuse for you being on the left of said wheel also riding over the centerline. When officials come upon riders cruising on the left side of the line and not making any attempt to get back, that will also be a DQ. If enough of them are doing it, the official will most likely have to start at one end and start DQing his way up the line. This was one of the most discussed scenarios at the meeting. The only other way to address this is to have the motoref spend the entire day repeatedly moving groups of riders back over the centerline using what is often called "sheep herding" in motoref-speak. In the end, and given what transpired earlier in the season, it was decided that the only way to effectively deal with this scenario is to just eliminate the riders who cannot accept the fact that the left side of the road is not part of the course. If you are riding over there, you are off the course. You are out of bounds. Remember, if you would not have ridden off of the road into the gravel, dirt, or trees, then you should not have gone across the centerline either. Nobody is going to just keep racing in the gravel in a road event. If they do go off the left side of the road into the gravel, they are going to immediately try to get back on the road. So should the riders who find themselves over the centerline.
5. Entire field riding on the left fogline (and similar situations). Well, if everyone is doing it, then the officials can't really do much, right? I mean, are they really going to DQ the entire field? That is often the logic going on out there when the motoref arrives at a group to discover that most or the entire field is over the line. And this is definitely an, "oh crap, now what do I do" moment for officials. This one got lots of discussion at the meeting too. We discussed how to handle it, and the decision was to stop the race. We cannot afford to lose any courses due to behavior like this. We also don't want to lose any riders due to unsafe riding. It is a hard thing to do. It may be done at the finish line or it may be done on the road. It will be a giant hassle either way, and it will be ugly, but if the entire pack wants to race on the left side of the road, then the entire pack is stating for the record that they would rather be out on a training ride than in a bike race where there are rules. Officials are authorized to stop the event in the quickest and safest way possible... once. If upon restarting the event the same thing happens a second time, that race is over, and no prizes or points will be awarded. If it is deemed more appropriate by the officials, the race director, and perhaps the police or sheriffs, the event may just be over right then with no restart. And, of course, if the official tells the pack that they are stopping the race, and the pack refuses to stop, then it is a given that when the race gets to the finish line it is over for good at that point. Fortunately we have had few instances of that. Colorado racers are used to races being neutralized due to overlapping fields catching.
While the five scenarios above are the really harsh ones, they are also the easy ones to judge. Was the entire pack over the line? yes. Was a rider just riding casually along on the wheel over the line? Yes. did the rider pass someone while over the line? Yes. Did the rider just drop an f-bomb on the official? Yes. Not too much brain damage goes into the decision-making process even though the ramifications are severe. And, with the exception of a case of mistaken identity, it is hard to argue that the infraction did not occur. Now let's look at the more difficult scenarios to call.
6. Lots of riders are momentarily touching or crossing the yellow line briefly and then moving back over. This is really the most common scenario and the hardest to deal with. It got the most discussion at the meeting and had the most disagreement. If you are one of those riders who likes to live and die by the yellow line, you are putting yourself at risk, but with big fields the reality is that there will always be riders right by the centerline. And random movements of riders due to wind, turns, potholes, etc, will cause minor fluctuations into and over the line. There were officials in the meeting who thought the "edge of the world" application should be used and that the correct answer was an immediate DQ with no warning. There were others who were not comfortable with that. In the end, the majority felt that this was one of the few scenarios that should consider some sort of lesser penalty. When there is no particular rider doing it mutliple times, this would be a case where warnings and sheep herding maneuvers would be appropriate. However, if you are the guy who is always doing it, then the official is eventually going to at least put you in the penalty box in the hopes that you will realize that riding on the razor's edge just to the right of the centerline is not the best place to position yourself. This one is very subjective and there will be different ways of handling it based on circumstances. The USA Cycling rulebook does say that the standard penalty is a warning for accidental crossing. If only for that reason, the officials at the meeting ultimately agreed that it was too harsh to DQ someone for a first offense when they did not pass anyone. However, if it is the same rider again and again, that brings the infraction to a different level where relegations and DQ's become more appropriate.
7. Turns. How the centerline is handled when the road turns is another issue. By turns in this sense, we mean intersections of one road to another. How these are handled depends greatly on how the course is set up. In some road races, there are police, sheriffs, and marshals at the turns stopping the oncoming traffic. When this is the case, the riders usually "have the road for the turn." When that is not the case, a turn is really no different from any other part of the race since you could make a right hand turn and if you swing wide you could run into oncoming traffic. How this scenario is handled is complicated and really depends on how the course is set up. In some events, there are cones or barriers in the corners to help with this, but in others not. This would be a good question for riders to ask the officials directly and a good thing for the officials to state directly at the beginning of the race.
8. Dirt roads or other roads with no lines. This is one of the most difficult things to judge. In many cases, such as dirt roads or small paved roads, there are times when there is no line at all. How does one know where the line is then? That becomes a judgement call on the part of the motoref or follow car official. Clearly, if you are 3/4 of the way on the left side of the road, that is over the center and can be dealt with as such. It becomes much harder to judge those momentary lapses over the line and those riders on the razor's edge of a line that does not exist. In those scenarios, the officials just have to vote their conscience. One thing that was discussed is that in Colorado we have so many races with dirt sections. Sometimes the topography of the dirt makes major sections of the road unrideable, except to perhaps the most avid of CX racer. There may be a gaping trench in the middle of the road. There may be a steep crown on a wet and muddy day that sends riders sliding to the right and to the left. Again, this is one where we really could not come up with any guidelines and each official is going to have to call it the way they see it.
That is it for this three part series. Please ride safe. Obey the rules. Treat the officials with the respect they deserve, even if you think they are wrong. It is a hard job and we need them. Better yet, please give officiating a try. If you like two-wheeled travel, try becoming a motoref. Even if you just work a race or two, you will be providing an invaluable service to your fellow racers and cycling in Colorado. Thank you.