For many spectators and competitors, race officials are often largely invisible, at least until there is a problem! But there is no sport without this dedicated team. Understanding how Commissaires work gives a better understanding of mountain bike racing. We caught up with UCI Mountain Bike Commissaire Michaela Nussbaumer, of Austria, who shared her behind-the-scenes insight...
Michaela, what events do you work at?
Michaela Nussbaumer: In 2013, I started to work with different disciplines – cross-country Olympic (XCO), cross-country Marathon (XCM), and downhill (DHI) – in different countries at levels from C3 to C1 and Hors category as an International MTB Commissaire.
I had the honour of being in the team at the UCI World Cup in Lenzerheide (Switzerland) and at the 2018 UCI World Championships in Lenzerheide, as well as a National Commissaire in many top events in Austria, including the World Cups in Leogang, the Saalfelden/Leogang UCI World Championships and the UCI MTB Marathon World Championships in Kirchberg/Tyrol.
2016 was my first UCI World Cup as President of the Commissaires Panel (PCP) at Fort William (Great Britain), followed by Lourdes (France), Andorra and Nove Mesto na Morave (Czech Republic). Another highlight as a PCP were the World Championships in Mont-Sainte-Anne (Canada) in 2019 and the appointment for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games which is a secret wish I had not expected to come true.
What are you responsible for at races?
MN: A Commissaire is an official representative of the UCI and must be able to interpret and also apply regulations and manage the sporting aspects. As a PCP you hold a key position within the organiser’s team, UCI staff, the Commissaires Panel and those who are involved in the race such as the teams, riders and media. At the end of a race a Commissaire makes a report and evaluates the event.
Please talk us through the routines at major events...
MN: The first step is to contact the organiser before the event and check that everything has been done to guarantee a trouble-free race. Above all this applies to safety.
A Commissaire attends meetings and briefings with the marshal/volunteer coordinator. There’s a course inspection with the chief of the course, the time-keeper… and working with the first aid team is another important point, since there are different emergency systems in different countries. During the race, radio communication between all the responsible parties is another essential point and a decision how to organise this effectively has to be made.
As a PCP you cannot do all the tasks during an event, so they are shared with the Commissaires Panel. They have to check all the other issues which influence the sporting results, such as the finish and start Commissaires. They are responsible for the call-up of riders, checking their equipment, and the starting sequence. Other tasks involve recording the number of laps and lap times and preparing results to compare with the timekeeper. There’s checking the feed and technical zones in XCO and XCM races, overseeing special technical points of the track at XCO, XCE, XCC and DHI events, and being in contact with the PCP who monitors the race and makes decisions in the case of incidents.
How did you learn your role?
MN: Before becoming an International Commissaire one starts at national level. There, you gain experience and the National Federation can allow you to proceed to a higher level. The second step is the International Commissaire. Both levels are only awarded by the UCI after completion of training programmes, passing written, oral and theory examinations, shadowing other Commissaires, and confirming willingness to continue training and attend seminars. During these processes you shadow your colleagues, attend races and try to work in all the different positions in your own country. The UCI has an evaluation system to check Commissaires’ skills whenever they’re working at an event.
What are the differences between officiating at UCI World Cup and lower-level events?
MN: On the one hand, the higher the level of the race the more pressure and expectations, but on the other hand the team of international experts is bigger and consists of more Commissaires, an official UCI Technical Delegate, a UCI secretary – something you don’t have in lower level races. In such races the Commissaire is very often the ‘new one’ in the group and therefore analysis, social skills, common sense, instinct and negotiation are all required.
Is it different at an XCM event?
MN: XCM races are not really more difficult for the Commissaires. But they are more challenging for the organiser who needs a lot more staff to cover the whole XCM distance with responsible volunteers to guarantee a smooth run.
You’re also involved in E-MTB and Eliminator races?
MN: The first UCI E-MTB World Championships were held successfully in Mont-Sainte-Anne in 2019. Compared with other new disciplines and formats there were developments and improvements made concerning the regulations and checking the bikes.
We must check E-bikes before and after the race. We need a closed park and Commissaires will have additional jobs in the future. The bike industry is currently working on high-end bikes to reduce their weight.
E-MTB is very popular; two thirds of bicycles sold in my country are E-bikes. People are interested in taking part in competitions and therefore it’s increasingly interesting for the future.
Eliminator races carry MTB sport into the cities. It’s important that MTB races can be established in the minds of the people who would not otherwise consider organising a MTB event or participating in one. It also shows that cycling events can be held everywhere – and young people like this short, spectacular format.
What’s your favourite part of your job?
MN: Working with the Commissaires team from the moment the race starts till to the moment the winner finishes!
And the most difficult?
MN: Working in bad weather conditions, when the course is changing from one moment to the next, to maintain safety measures and so riders can finish the race.
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to follow in your footsteps?
MN: Firstly, passion – you must love this sport. Then, persistence – sometimes you have to give more than 100%, you are the first and the last member of the team at the venue. You must be ‘eager for knowledge’ – never stop learning, reflecting and learning from mistakes, learning by doing and looking for role models who you can ask, shadow and learn from.