How to Deal With a Sandbagger

6:43 PM


You know who they are.  It’s the guy who shows up to a citizen race on a $5,000 bike.  The woman who lines up at the first category 3 race of the year having won Rider of the Year for category 3 the previous year.  The racer whose won the last three weekend races, but still appears reliably at the cat 4 call-up.  The expert who conveniently hasn’t re-upped his USAC license, so he has to race sport category.

Sandbaggers.

I became aware of these lumps my first season of cyclocross when one of the race promoters awarded the winner of the category 4 men’s race with a 50 pound bag of sand.  The Spouse explained to me that he had pretty much won every cyclocross race he entered that year without moving up to cat 3 (it was now mid-October, and the end of the season was quickly approaching).  The bag of sand was a less-than-subtle Scarlet Letter designed to push him on. 

But the next race, you know where he started?

Exactly. 

Sandbaggers seem to be an affliction in all cycling disciplines, are drawn from both genders, exist at every level of competition, and do real damage to the sport.  There is nothing more dispiriting to a beginner racer than arriving at the start line and facing competition that is both exponentially better equipped and dramatically more experienced.  You begin to question whether or not you should be there, entirely forgetting that the sandbaggers are the ones embarrassingly out of place.  In the more advanced ranks sandbaggers are the bane of many racers’ existence, as they steal all the upgrade points available. 

So, how do we deal with sandbaggers?  My many long rides this summer have given me ample time to consider the options, so I present four for consideration here:

Approach #1: The Scarlet Letter  A 50 pound bag of sand at the podium ceremony, a mini-graduation ceremony before the call-up, a mega-phone and a good heckling during the race…  Unfortunately, because most sandbaggers lack adequate development in the shame portion of the brain, this approach may be less effective than desired.  However, I do like this solution because it publicly acknowledges the sandbaggers.  It lets you know that you aren’t the only one grumbling when you look at the results page, that you aren’t the only one who mentally recalculates your place after subtracting the sandbaggers.

Approach #2: Taking Away the Incentives  In Minnesota our cycling federation has competitions for Road Rider of the Year, Time Trialist of the Year and Cyclocross Rider of the Year – a great way to encourage participation in a series of races.  The down side is that there is a ROY/TTOY/CRY at every category, which is not only silly, it actually encourages sandbagging.  Why upgrade to mid-pack status when you can still pick up nice swag every weekend and a cool trophy at the end of the year banquet?  The solution is simple: no Rider of the Year competition or state champion jerseys for the lesser categories.  Want to go even further?  Give away nice swag in all categories, but have random drawings for the prizes in categories 3 and above. 

Approach #3: The Teachable Moment  Who better to police the peloton than the racers themselves – the pros do it, why can’t we?  Rather than viewing the sandbagger as an evil little slug, perhaps we should see them as simply oblivious to their most hated status.  A quiet lesson during a cool-down, patiently delivered, could encourage more movement than shame ever could.  But even as I type this I know that I would never be able to approach something so directly, which leads me to my last suggestion…

Approach #4: Going to the Rule Book  Who knew that you didn’t have to rely on the racer to upgrade – there actually is an automatic upgrade.  USA Cycling has pretty clear rules for upgrading in road and cyclocross, and they include an easy remedy for the sandbagger – just have the official upgrade them.  I’ve heard that in some regions this actually happens – you get a nice letter informing you of your upgrade once you qualify – and I’d like to see it happen here.  We are a small enough scene where the officials know who the sandbaggers are, so help us all out and get them in the races they belong.   

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