EDITORS NOTE: Having no Elite League Combination creates opportunity, not take one away

The news that the Elite League Combination has been discontinued was met with a mixed reaction, some in favour, some strongly against it. The reasons for the axing of the ELC are easy to see. Most matches feature heavy penalty points, giving opposing teams an unassailable advantage before the tapes have gone up in heat one. Some matches feature riders from other teams being drafted in just for the second team match, taking away the opportunity of a home grown rider, while others have used 6 riders who all featured in the premier fixture, or some fixtures have featured riders far too young to be considered “elite”.

This has all contributed to matches that largely become meaningless as far as viable competition goes. We’ve seen riders under 13 racing against over 50s, as well as those riders racing against the current elite class, when a team hasn’t had enough riders to field a separate 6 man team and the first team end up doubling up. This is not what was envisaged when the ELC was set up. It was meant to be 8 of the countries best in the first team, with 6 of the best riders from the club who have aspirations to race in the first team. In reality, it’s no where near that currently.

Horspath v Sheffield earlier this season featuring mismatched riders.

Elite League Combination match featuring Horspath v Sheffield earlier this season. Photo by Mark Phillips.

Those against the decision to lose the competition feel riders on the fringe will be missing out and risk not progressing without it. Some feel having the competition doesn’t do any harm and it is a clear pathway for predominantly younger riders to take to get to the first team. There’s also a handful of veteran riders, where the combination is a more comfortable level that first team Elite League.

The problems of the Elite League and ELC are not unique to the competition, in fact the problems they face are prevalent in probably every competition in CS at present, with perhaps one exception, Women’s racing, which is steadily growing rather than receding. We have a severe shortage of riders, everywhere. Addressing this issue by looking from the bottom up, not the top down, is what the BC Cycle Speedway commission primarily need to and will be be focusing on. Widening the base of the pyramid, so the top takes care of itself and the sport avoids having to scrap potentially worthwhile competitions like the ELC is key to saving Cycle Speedway.

More riders at all clubs across the land would mean there will be a greater pool of riders to choose from, and the likes of myself, a 30 year old rider from Coventry on an EL license, won’t have to double up for Sheffield causing a significant penalty points loss to the team, in a combination fixture. What else we will see with more riders across the board, is increased standards of regional racing. A nationwide Elite League should not even be necessary, if the quality of regional racing was higher and riders could get the same level of competition without the expense of money and time of 300+ miles traveled.

Penalty points meant team mate Kyle and I didn't stand a chance of taking home the points at a horrendously wet Wednesfield in July. This is us in our 10th race of the day after doubling up in first and second team.

Penalty points meant team mate Kyle and I didn’t stand a chance of taking home the points at a horrendously wet Wednesfield in July. This is us in our 10th race of the day after doubling up in first and second team. Photo by Ray Andrews.

In the meantime, what can clubs do to replace the combination fixture? Sheffield have announced this week that the axing of the ELC means they won’t enter the Elite League in 2016. This is a massive shame, as it’s a perfect opportunity to make something that didn’t work much better and provide something meaningful for riders at that level, especially their ample juniors. Here’s what I am hoping to bring in at Coventry, should we be accepted into the Elite League for 2016:

At Hearsall Common, after Elite League matches, I’d propose to our committee that we run the “Cov Elite GP”, or something of that nature. This would be a grand prix open to all riders 14+ (the combination demographic), where the Elite League Coventry side and the visitors will be encouraged (but not obligated) to take part, as well as the visitors bringing extra riders solely for the GP, as they would a combination team, should they wish to travel – along with anybody else, from the Coventry club or any other club who wishes to test themselves.

The difference between this and other GPs though, is the entry. We would use Australian style “nominations” via our website that will close on Saturday evening, which allows us to draw up a formula before everybody arrives the next day.

This means the second fixture can start no more than 10 minutes after the Elite fixture has finished – at present, the time in-between any first and second match is excessive nearly everywhere you go. There should be no more than 10 minutes in between meetings. There is no reason with a bit of organisation and forward planning, an afternoons racing can be completed quickly and efficiently without long delays of nothing happening (the same goes for long drawn out medal ceremonies that happen so late, there’s no one left to see it).

It’s just one example of initiative that all clubs need to start taking individually, but it allows anybody to come and test themselves against some of the best riders, as well as riders at their own level. The key aspect is that it is organised with the entry system, so it comes across less ad-hock and more professional. As far as the format of the GP goes, it could be ran as a multitude of ways, for example, a pairs competition, olympic style formula or a ladder. There are so many possibilities.

My preferred format would be the ladder, with all entrants drawn into groups of four with a top group down to a bottom group. The heats lead to A, B, C, D finals, with riders moving up and down groups depending on race wins and last places.

“Having racing after the Elite League fixture is now a choice. It is now an opportunity. It can either be wasted in protest or laziness, or alternatively we can seize the initiative and do something worthwhile.”

Increasing participation and opportunity to race is important. Instead of 12 riders competing in a combination match, many of whom already rode that day by 2015’s standards, you could have 20 or even more riders competing at a consistent level, especially if riders around the region got involved. Which is better for the sport, the restrictive 12 riders (or much less with doubled up riders) or 20 riders?

Regardless of these other ideas – which are hardly new, there’s always nothing stopping Elite clubs simply organising a Combination level challenge match with their visitors, where the scores start at 0-0 and the teams are even from the beginning. Having racing after the Elite League fixture is now a choice. It is now an opportunity. It can either be wasted in protest or laziness, or alternatively we can seize the initiative and do something worthwhile.

Perhaps instead of moaning about what the sport has lost, perspectives need to change and make the best of what’s left. We can all try much, much harder to grow our sport from within. Beginning at the bottom, where for starters, every club ensures they have decent club nights and opportunities for all to race.

Doing nothing, throwing dummies out of the pram or having a moan on Facebook does absolutely nothing. Coming up with new or using tried and tested methods to providing racing for those who want it goes a long way. It’s time start making it happen for ourselves before it’s too late. Only we can save it, no one else.

Written by Myke Grimes – Editor 33/18 News