The cowardly lions have spoken

November 23, 2016 § 144 Comments

A quick glance at the 2017 SoCal road race calendar confirms what anyone who has bothered to race in the last decade knows: Bike racers here don’t like to race.

In addition to the loss of Vlees Huis Road Race, the promoters of Boulevard RR have also folded. There go two of the very best races on the calendar, if by “best” you mean “challenging courses that take everything you have just to finish.” Forget winning. These races are nails-and-broken-glass tests of your physical and mental fiber.

These departures leave UCLA Devil’s Punchbowl race, Tuttle Creek RR, and maybe, if we’re really lucky, the Castaic beatdown as the only three events left on the calendar that are anything more than a parade followed by a sprint. Because the fact is that there’s no comparison to winning a 45-minute crit and finishing–yes, finishing–a grueling 60-mile road race with over 6,000 feet of climbing.

The one requires timing, intelligence, teamwork, speed, and fearlessness. The other requires that you go so deeply into the world of pain and tenacity that you come out the other end a different person. One is fun. The other is transformational. One is thrilling. The other is the essence of sport, distilled to performance and desire.

Why has the SoCal calendar become a series of crits and boring circuit races that anyone can finish? Why have the toughest, most challenging races in an already grueling sport fallen by the wayside?

Well, I hate to break the news to you, but it’s because most bike racers, otherwise known as customers, are too emotionally fragile to stand the shattering reality of getting crushed on a hilly course. It’s not that they can’t complete, it’s that they can’t compete. They equate last place with failure, getting shelled with failure, being ground up and spit out with failure. No one bothered to teach them that doing your best in a tough situation is what matters in life.

And of course, failure is the one thing that Americans are uniquely unequipped to handle. Everyone’s a winner, and if they can’t be a winner, they’re going to stay home.

That’s weird because the most epic physical and mental feats I’ve ever witnessed happened in road races and were the product of people who had zero chance of winning. I still remember Harold Martinez burning up the first two laps of Vlees Huis in service of his teammates, only to fade and stagger across the line by himself almost three hours later. Harold, the sprinter.

I’ll never forget watching Charon Smith toe the line at Boulevard and give it 100% helping his teammates fight for a podium, even though he was done after two laps.

And of course I’ll never forget the countless times I’ve been dropped, beaten at the line for 20th place, punctured while off the front in a potentially winning, last-minute move, the humiliation of throwing in the towel, or the grim satisfaction of having punched it through to the very end of a freezing day at Boulevard, one of the very last riders to make it in before the sun completely set. Frozen to the bone. Wet. Drained. Destroyed. Happy.

There were never very many people willing to sign up for the guaranteed defeat of tough road racing, and nowadays there isn’t even the tiny number that there once was. The old riders are tired of hard racing that ends miserably, and the young riders are afraid of it. Better to sprint for 15th in a crit and preen before and after than to straggle in, your face covered in sheet snot, legs cramping, bottles empty, twenty minutes down on the winner.

But the sad thing is that people who’ve made the investment in all that fancy equipment, who’ve bought all those pretty kits, who have logged all those miles, who have amassed all those trinkets, who’ve subsidized all that coaching, and who are uniquely positioned to go out and enjoy the real beauty of bike racing, are afraid to go exploring in the wilderness of pain and human limits.

They’ve gone to the brink of paradise and pulled back because their only conception of winning is being first. No one ever taught them that if you want to win, you have to fail.

Adios, bike racing. It was nice knowing you.

END

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§ 144 Responses to The cowardly lions have spoken

  • dangerstu says:

    So obviously there is a market for soul crushing/life changing events, e.g. The Rock cobbler, BWR, Dirty Kanza etc. So perhaps you are right about the customer, or perhaps they just need remarketing to people who ride bikes to experience new things, rather to preen over and keep them clean.

    • fsethd says:

      None of those events are sanctioned races and there is no winner. They are fun and challenging events, and people race them, but they are not races. If you doubt it, pin on a number and do a real road race. The difference will become immediately clear.

      • dangerstu says:

        I don’t doubt it, a long long time ago in a distant galaxy I did them. Maybe I’ll do one again for shits and giggles, as soon as disc brakes are legal, I don’t want to subject the poor babies to the dangers of disc brakes. Have a happy Thanksgiving.

      • fsethd says:

        Shits & giggles are vastly overrated.

      • fsethd says:

        Happy TD to you, too!

      • mark says:

        Dirty Kanza and BWR may not be sanctioned “races”, but the “winner” of either of those will most likely get way more press for that than someone the wins a local industrial park sanctioned crit.

      • fsethd says:

        It’s not either-or. And my point isn’t that crits are better than gran fondos, it’s that sanctioned hard road races between categorized riders are every bit as hard to win, if not much harder, than gran fondos like the ones you mention.

        Regardless of which one is harder, you can’t call yourself a bike racer and not do sanctioned bike races. Or rather you can, but if people continually opt out when the hard days pop up on the calendar, these events will go away. And then instead of “bike racer” we’ll be “grand fonduers.”

        Classic example is Mike Hecker’s 805 Series in Buellton. Off-the-charts hard crit racing on challenging courses, but it was too far/too hard/ too hot / to blah blah blah and the race folded.

        Are these races bad products? Are they badly marketed? Are the assumed target customers not really customers at all, but rather Strava competitors who will NEVER DO A HARD BIKE RACE?

        I don’t know.

        But I know that whatever is happening does not bode well for road racing in SoCal.

      • JEFF SANFORD says:

        Not sure I agree with this. I’ve done every road race in SoCal at one time or another and most of the unsanctioned events like BWR etc. You look around in either and it’s still the same guys putting you in the box. Hard is hard, it’s just with the unsanctioned stuff it’s always on a funner course.

      • fsethd says:

        Yet one type of event far outstrips the other in popularity. People will go on a group ride and get totally smashed, week in week out, but never do a hard road race.

        Why? It’s not the difficulty.

        It’s because on the group ride and grand fondue and century ride you can always say “I wasn’t racing,” you can always find a group going your speed, and you can always find a reason that even though you got totally shelled it didn’t really matter because …

        In road racing you got shelled for one reason: You weren’t fast enough to stay with the leaders. Road racing is binary. One winner and everyone else.

        It’s very difficult for people to go through that much difficulty and still be smushed like a bug. Egos are fragile, mine included. Repeated beatings don’t improve morale.

        But there is value in doing hard races if you’re going to call yourself a bike racer. You’re a fixture in SoCal racing and one of the best. You’re not what’s killing road racing. You’re one of the people who has sustained it.

        If everyone with a license rode the way you do, this post wouldn’t exist.

    • pavlov0032 says:

      Author primarily speaks about SoCal road races that are heavily geared towards climbers. What SoCal needs is the “spring classics” type of one day race that is catered to a wider range of racers. Example would be an 100 mi annual Jan. 1st ride. If you make a race HC category that only 10 145lbs guys can make it to the end – its a recipe for failure. Same reason 24hrs of MOAB is folded. ENDURO Takin over baby!

      • fsethd says:

        SoCal has plenty of spring classics such as BWR, Rock Cobbler, and tons of grand fondues/centuries that cater to every type of rider. There is a 100-mile Jan. 1 ride that has hundreds of riders. I’m talking about sanctioned bike races with officials, numbers, and categories. If you think people are afraid of 60-mile road races, they won’t even consider a 100-mile one, not to mention the costs to the promoter and his risk of huge outlays for a slew of no-shows. Also, SoCal has a number of easier road races such as SLRR and PCKRR that are almost never won by people with the physiognomy you describe. Also, the hilly road races are hardly HC and the winners include lots of riders over the years who are anything but tiny–unless you consider 180-lb., 6-3 Tony Manzella “tiny.” What SoCal needs is for people with licenses and expensive bikes and coaches and Strava trinkets to show up and race their fuggin’ bikes. Everyone does NOT get a ribbon. You are supposed to be a bike racer, not a sandbagger.

  • sibex9591 says:

    It is not just California. There used to be many RR within a 2-3 hour boundary that included PA, NY, NJ, and CT.

    I have enjoyed the transition to racing on the track, but I don’t think that is for everyone.

    • fsethd says:

      Indeed it is not–nor does track offer anything similar to the experience of a hard road race.

      • sibex9591 says:

        No it does not, but I do find myself regurgitating lunch often during many of the efforts. Miss and out, Belgian miss and out, win and out, Sprint for points every 3 laps

        If course it helps that you get to rest between efforts.

      • fsethd says:

        Track racing is hard, no question.

  • Winemaker says:

    Getting dropped like a bag of old, stale rice is an acquired taste. Once I learned it, I liked it…now, I have a yardstick against which to compare any tough day, any challenge that comes my way…..life gets easier then.

    • fsethd says:

      That’s kind of what I’m saying. And it’s not so much an acquired taste as it is a function of what you expect out of life. Ease? Success because you keep showing up? A trinket? Hard road races offer up a trip to the bottom of the hole and you don’t have to enlist or kill anyone to go there.

      • sibex9591 says:

        Certainly the most fun I have ever had suffering like a dog, is while part of a RR trying to stay relevant until that exact moment when you realize that you can’t. The remarkable thing is as soon as you blow, you start to recover, and then your damn mind says, “maybe I can catch back on”, and then soon you are digging again until you blow again. repeat often.

      • fsethd says:

        Hahaha! Only one who has done would know this.

      • Winemaker says:

        And then one sits there, at 100% effort , ten short feet from the rear wheel on the back of the train, and every minute the gap grows by ten more feet, until they are just…gone…and there you are, as empty and full as a cactus tree.

  • dankroboth says:

    Must be something about cyclists, because it sure doesn’t seen to be all Americans. You see the opposite in triathlons and running events. People trickling in hours and hours after the winner’s have gone home, showered and had dinner. And don’t forgot about the Spartan events, and the mud runs, and the stupid silly color runs. Those events continue to grow.

    • fsethd says:

      Those aren’t bike races. They are individual events which, from the beginning, allow you to go at your own pace whatever that is. They have none of the combination of group dynamics and riding skill found in any road race. Do a couple of hard road races in France and get back to me, after comparing them with a a tri. You’ll see the difference, I believe.

      • dankroboth says:

        For the majority of the participants yes, but not for the elites. They are racing one another. The run of the mill manage to co-exist, grow and thrive along side the elites in these events. Why not cycling?

      • fsethd says:

        First of all, elites and run-of-the-mills don’t coexist in road racing. They can’t. The “competition” aspect of a 10k or most triathlons is almost nonexistent if you have trained hard for it and just want to finish. Do a hard road race and tell me what you think about what it took to get to the finish line. Remember your worst day on the Flog Ride? Do that for 60 miles and see if the world doesn’t look a bit different afterwards. Extra character building points if it rains, snows, sleets, or you crash and finish anyway.

      • dankroboth says:

        You can find plenty of people who runs for hours, through terrible weather, pain and miles of legs cramps just to finish…so I’m failing see your point. Suffering is suffering. Plenty of people do it, or are they not the right kind of people?

      • fsethd says:

        Do it and get back to me. It’s not about suffering, by the way. If you just want to suffer, slam the door on your thumb and leave it there for a few minutes or hours. There are so many people who have opinions about bike racing, who have bikes, who train on bikes, and who faux compete on bikes, who have never tried a hard road race. If you’re curious about this, since you live in the heart of hard road racing, do one. You will see that it is different. How, I’ll let you decide.

  • Pickle Juice says:

    Such a bummer. I was really looking forward to these 2 races next season. Would have been cool to apply what I learned racing them last year. Also, a shame for the promoters who lose out on this as well.

    But, why pin on a number when Strava clearly says you are the 3rd strongest to have ever blasted through 3 stop signs on that 47 second segment? Or, I’m 8th overall up Latigo, so I could win Blvd if I tried, but I’m not going to race it because my dog ate my bottom bracket. Kidding aside, Strava has taken the place of racing. It’s a way of hiding behind your victories. Look, I got 5 trophies today on my ride! And I didnt even have to work hard for anyone else. It’s the comfort factor, like getting “participation trophies”. I think it’s a reflection of where we are as a society today. I will only challenge myself as long as I don’t have to challenge myself.

    • fsethd says:

      Ex-fucking-zactly.

      • Pickle Juice says:

        And you are dead-on about doing a RR and coming out the other side. Nothing else on 2 wheels compares to it. There is no hiding. You think you’ve ridden hard on the Donut? Try doing that at full race pace, with no regrouping, breakaways, and surges. I could argue that sometimes the hardest part of a RR is what you do after you get dropped (and you will). It takes a lot of mental fortitude to ride the last 15 miles solo on a rural road in Bakersfield knowing the whole pack is 10 minutes in front of you. But when you do finish, and the podium tells you what a kick ass job you did, it’s better than any Strava KOM you will ever get.

    • JF says:

      Spot on PJ :0)

      (That being said, I’ve only raced a couple CX races, but I share your sentiment about chest puffin and preening on Strava…)

  • deanabt says:

    OK I’m putting it in writing – gonna try to get down and make UCLA or Tuttle Creek in ’17, I swear. Please also come up to Copperopolis, Wente, Pescadero, Berkeley Hills, Patterson Pass and join me in the not-so-laughing group for Lanterne Rouge competition. I promise to pull on the downhills.

    • fsethd says:

      Looks like this year is the year I’ll be forced to leave the SoCal cocoon. And I’ve been thoroughly prepped on the bitterness of NorCal road racing. Misery really may love company.

      • Johnnie Lee says:

        Oh man, if you do make a trip up North, I hope it’s for the Copperopolis RR. I’d love to hear what you have to say about that afterwards. I vowed I’d never do it again, but I’d be willing to break that vow just to come watch you ride away from me two miles into the race.

      • fsethd says:

        Hahaha! The only thing I might ride away from is the registration table.

    • Micro says:

      Don’t forget the oldest (and toughest?) race on the NCNCA calendar, the Mt. Hamilton Classic Road Race. Now in it’s 58th year!

  • jowdog1 says:

    Fug! I’m disappointed, to say the least. My first race many years ago was Boulevard and it has never ceased to destroy me since. Heat, rain, snow; all have been experienced in lovely Campo. One particular memory of racing Boulevard, belgian-style in the freezing rain with my buddies, is one of my all-time favorites.

    And Vlees? Epic, beautiful, relentless, sublime: In other words, the perfect race. Sam Ames always did a great job with that one. What’s a skinny, crit-reluctant, non-sprinter to do?

  • Matt Smith says:

    To say nothing of the impact of social media (I’m thinking instagram here) and the gratification people get from receiving “likes” on a picture of you on the podium. Only beat 2 people to get on that podium? Oh, you entered a race by yourself and, therefore, only had to finish to receive your podium time? People on Insta and Facebook don’t care to ask if you don’t care to share the details.

    In hard road races, there is no way to cover up what actually happened. My first two times at boulevard ended with me shelled, off of the back, desperately alone, and cold as fuck. At San Luis Rey, it seemed every race I would work my ass off, staying near the front, only to be thoughtlessly discarded on the final ascent. Road racing is real bike racing, and if you’re only putting on a kit and clipping in for internet gratification, what is the point of pinning on a number in a REAL bike race where other cyclists are likely going to beat the piss out of you? Much safer to hit BWR, stop and upload to instagram every 20 miles, than show up to UCLA and learn that you suck, hard.

    Cyclocross is going through a similar transformation, I fear. There are categories for nearly everything, (Singlespeed alone has A, B, and C. What?) and with these categories, shrinking fields, shrinking race times and, somehow, increased podium “exposure” and opportunities for social media gratification.

    Adam Myerson once said in an interview something to the effect of, “It’s just a stupid bike race, but it means everything.” It sounds like a lot of us are not connecting with that message.

  • leo_d says:

    I was thinking so cal ‘racers’ could and maybe should go unsanctioned, using social media to create and promote ‘events’ that are closer and cheaper, think all out Critical Mass.

    But the ‘pinning on numbers’ represents so much more, and it would not be the same.

  • channel_zero says:

    are too emotionally fragile to stand the shattering reality of getting crushed on a hilly course.

    It’s the kind of customer USAC’s events attract. If a road race were to actually be successful financially, you’d need chip timing for everyone and no pull.

    Again, we’re back to the awful product USAC markets.

    • fsethd says:

      Plus no money … because no product.

    • Greg Kogut says:

      USAC doesn’t market Boulevard. They just sanction it and provide race officiating. The job of marketing is the race director/race promoter. I’m not blaming Boulevard’s race director at all. It’s a brutal job, with little payback. And UCSD is not in the RD business. I just don’t see ~$40 entries getting it done anymore. I think we’ll have to split the difference with BWR and start looking at $100 entries for major road races. So the RD can make a profit. I don’t know if there’s a market for that amongst racers, many of whom will get spit out the back on the first lap. But I’d pay it.

      • fsethd says:

        In the big picture, USAC is responsible for growing the sport. That means having something in place to help promoters get racers to the line.

        I think people will pay more but you have to give them more. Triathlon has that all figured out. Problem is, in tri everyone’s a winner.

        At Boulevard, everyone’s a suck-ass loser. Except for the winner.

      • channel_zero says:

        USAC doesn’t market Boulevard. They just sanction it and provide race officiating.

        You don’t pay any attention to the promoter-side of USAC. If a promoter chooses the USAC package, there are so many rules, the events essentially create themselves.

        On top of which, if you want to do anything above their lowest-ranked events, USAC’s costs and regulatory requirements overwhelm the event. And, if you try to get community support, “competitive cycling” has major credibility problems USAC ignores.

        I agree that road races will need much higher entry fees to meet a minimum level of safety. There is no way around the permits and law enforcement and safety needed and that costs money. But, USAC’s product is terrible, integrity issues discourage all of this.

        Once again, “no pull” and chip timing the barest minimum needed to attract a customer base big enough to fund a road race. Triathlon/fun runs have this figured out. USAC/UCI ignores it.

      • fsethd says:

        Road races are no pull … most race running Strava for their “chip.”

      • fsethd says:

        Also, triathlon and fun runs are “fun.” Few would ever call Boulevard “fun.”

  • TomH says:

    Where is this 2017 SNCNA schedule published? The only “preliminary” schedule I see on their website still shows Blvd RR, etc, on the calendar.

    BTW, as treasurer of the Manhattan Beach Grand Prix for the last 6 years, I can tell you it’s very hard to keep races financially solvent, even with mega-sponsors like Chevron. Even at the international pro level, a number of races have folded.

    • fsethd says:

      BLVD is canceled because they couldn’t get the permit. Vlees is not happening according to the promoter. Relying on the SCNCA for your race intel is kind of like depending on the National Enquirer for the latest developments in astrophysics.

  • shano92107 says:

    wow, thats depressing. Although CX is more fun, Boulevard is (was) the highlight of my race calendar.
    I hope Steve Barnes doesnt give it up anytime soon. That drive can be tough but not too many other places in SoCal where any Joe SixPack can have a 4 hour duel to the death up Sherman Pass. Have not yet done Tuttle Creek RR but I need to, we all need to, if nothing else than to show support for what Barnes is doing

    • fsethd says:

      Steve is probably whacko enough to keep it going! I hope so!

      • Yeah. He definitely is. Pretty wack.
        We put on a few hard core events. Come try one!
        Featuring the fearsome EC back at full strength for 2017. And the rest.

        Tuttle Creek is a race any Cat4 racer should be able to finish. Hope to see 200 racers there this year! Hahahaaaa. Seriously, it is a good old fashion road race like Blvd or Vlees Huis or whtvr.

        Steve

      • fsethd says:

        “Should be able to …”

  • TomH says:

    The emotions & effort required of hard hilly RR is difficult to communicate to others, unless they’ve been through it at least once.

    A fine book that may give a taste or flavor of it, is “The Rider” by Tim Krabbe. It’s a 1st person account, almost stream-of-consciousness style, of a 150km French road race in 1977.
    Highly recommended, and it’s a fast read.

    BTW, this is said to be the actual race route of author Krabbe’s 1977 Tour de Mont Aigoual race … 87 miles & 8500 ft climbing
    http://www.strava.com/routes/748928

    • fsethd says:

      It’s easy to communicate but hard for the listener to believe: “Try shitting a watermelon. It’s that hard.”

  • Possibly, maybe, most bike racers can’t train for 6 hours daily, doing Wilson, GMR (insert big climb) hill repeats like the tiny, strange skinny weirdos who love road races. Sprinters have their issues but I would rather do an hour beatdown with a sprinter than a climber every day. It’s the difference between riding with a human being and carcass who can climb. That is, better convos with the sprinterz.

    • fsethd says:

      That’s what keeps riders away. They fear getting crushed into pulp at Mile 1 and struggling for 3.5 hours in horrible conditions. No trinkets. No glory. Just hard bike racing where the thing is the reward. And it’s false that you have to train 30 hours to road race. 12-15 hours a week is more than enough, and most “racers” easily spend that much time on their bikes … except on hard race weekends, when they’re busy, or it’s not in their “program,” or coach says no, or Strava, or group ride, or grand fondue. Anything to avoid the fierce and bitter reckoning.

      • Bns says:

        Long climbs like Wilson/GMR etc. aren’t the best training for the hills in a typical SoCal RR either. The best training for those climbs can be found on the Flog ride. Which come to think of it is also not usually well attended…

      • fsethd says:

        Hahahaha!!!

  • Snicko says:

    That sucks!

    I’m in my 2nd year living in NorCal. When I first looked at the calendar I was very surprised to see such a large number of road races. Not just that they are really really well attended. On more than one occasion the 35+ and 45+ races both sold out (50 – 75 each) and laggards were forced to race a catch-all 30+ 1-4.

    Don’t know what is different about NorCal vs SoCal in terms of attendance – feels like the NorCal guys just plain willing to drive 3 hours to get beaten into a pulp in a road race and then do it again the next week. . .

    Seth – We would welcome your glorious presence up here. Come up and be ground into dust like the rest of us wankers up here!

    • fsethd says:

      Looks like I’m gonna have to go get mauled by a whole new bunch of assassins.

    • Marcus Cannon says:

      I’d be curious to hear from NorCal road race promoters what they’re doing differently to attract more racers or keep costs down. It seems NorCal too has plenty of boys who like to take pretty pictures in Rapha clothing riding to the hipster coffee shop. Cultures vary some, but people are people; I doubt the presence of many road races can be attributed solely to the fact that people who live north of Monterey are cut from a wholly different, stiffer cloth.

      • fsethd says:

        Agreed and I don’t know. Cheaper to put on races? Better coffee shops?

      • Sholom Jaeger says:

        Velo promo is also struggling to keep a lot of their road races going. They posted their costs to ruin races on Facebook last year and their attendance is dropping. But the good road races always have competitive field along with the guys that keep coming back because they got crushed the year before and want redemption (me).

      • fsethd says:

        A friend of mine, Dutch rider Marco Vermeij, former TdF rider with Chazal, confirms that in Europe the hard races don’t get the attendance either. Life is easy enough to make the bitterness of a tough road race too much.

      • chris says:

        There are some discrepancies within the realm of road races up here in Norcal. The “harder” road races with travel in excess of 2 hours from the Bay Area are experiencing falling participation annually and many of the tougher/climbier ones have been omitted from the calendar (e.g., Challenge Road Race). Ward’s Ferry (6 in the P12), Pine Flat (9 in the P12), and others are likely on the brink of shutting down as well. However, the flat races with travel like Dunnigan Hills (don’t let the name fool you), Snelling, or Bariani sell out on a regular basis.

        Seems folks prefer to avoid the travel and subsequent sufferfest and hit up the local business park, square crit series instead. Because you know … if they miss that crit their standing in the annual omnium will drop.

        Hilly races in and around the Bay Area still appear to do quite well. Wente RR, Pescadero, Hamilton, and Berkeley Hills all have sizeable fields. So, if you’re fixing to come up this way for a race with hills and want to actually race against other people, pick something closer to the Bay Area.

      • fsethd says:

        Nice info, thanks.

      • Micro says:

        We’re not doing anything different in the NCNCA. We’re having the same issues. But in addition to people not doing road races due to their difficulty, we have a glut of crits on the schedule (especially business park crits). Because most crits are lower cost, they can continue to exist with smaller fields. And many people would rather drive 1 hour to a crit than 2 hours to a road race. Part of the good and bad of a full calendar. Thus, we’re seeing more and more road races being pushed out. It’s a BIG PROBLEM. I’ve been pushing the NCNCA board to stop allowing more crits on the schedule (i.e crit creep), but it’s difficult because you can’t just tell someone that can’t put on a race. The NCNCA is on a steady slide towards what you’re seeing in the SCNCA unless somebody takes control of the calendar. Don’t know if that should be the promoters, the board, the riders, or all of the above. But it needs to happen, and fast.

      • fsethd says:

        Wow …

  • Dan Eitman (yep, not afraid of putting myself out there) says:

    Getting crushed into a pulp on a regular basis means you’ve got enough self-worth to throw yourself into the lion’s den of ego, adrenaline, and smack-talk…and care not that you finish, or finish last, but that you have dared put yourself out there.

    That, and commiserating the shared experience over a post-race beverage is what makes racing a true test of yourself against others. Those who wear kits and celebrate with pride their PR/KOM on “Nicky’s BMX Driveway” segment are welcome to their arguments of “I can do the same ride without paying for it.”

    Its true in all forms of bicycle racing. HTFU. And for those who are about to get crushed, I salute you with the beverage of your choice.

    Full disclosure…I don’t race road…I race on the dirt…but that doesn’t mean I don’t respect those that shave their legs to gain that Cat 3 2-second aero advantage in mile 55…my wife prefers that her legs are smoother than mine.

    • fsethd says:

      Love the real name. That others would emulate!

      Yes, better to know you suck than to Strava yourself to sleep at night.

  • Evan says:

    Side observation, two and a half years since the last Turner chapter…..

  • Lare Wardrop says:

    I’ve participated in all these races and trained for these races
    I’m bummed they are gone
    Road racing is a lot tougher than Crit racing
    I hope they come back

  • Naftali says:

    As someone who raced a bike for the first time last year at age 61, I sort of understand why people might hesitate. They don’t know what to expect, there are no mentors or guides. Now, I guess running is different, I did that for 25 years and raced everything from track, road, cross-country and from 800 to the marathon. Again, had good guidance and coaching.

    In our club, we are VERY lucky. The President of our club took us a group of neophytes to the race course, rode around with us showing us the speed we could expect, the cornering issues, where to be in the pack, how to help other teammates etc. Then he actually rode with us in several races, with Coach on his back and offering advice in several races on different courses. I NEVER thought I would do a criterium.

    Our club also offers training for road races in a similar vein. We also have a great womens’ race team who offers clinics to women who think they might want to race.

    At the track, we did Learn to Ride for 4 sessions, a Learn to Race that covered three types of races, that we actually simulated. We get novice coaching every Saturday and practice all sorts of skills required to race.

  • Ray Wright says:

    DFL >> DNS anyday!

  • John Wike says:

    We always have NorCal. Pine Flat RR, Snelling RR and others.

    • S Jaeger says:

      Actually, pine flat has been removed from the calendar. Cantua Creek was moved from Saturday to Sunday.

  • Poochie says:

    Maybe because road racing is expensive, and the culture is wired to encouraging winning at all cost, and there’s other events out there that are more appealing to people who aren’t Alpha-Male professionals.

    • fsethd says:

      It’s always been expensive, but now it’s ridiculous. All sports are wired to win and all sports dope, cheat, lie, and steal. Road racing isn’t a sport for alpha male professionals, that demographic is triathlon. But there are lots more appealing events out there where you can compete with actually competing, where you can ride without having to get ground up and spit out, and where you can *enjoy* cycling without having to *unenjoy* the limits of your performance. Those other events are also more appealing because you can always point to Strava as proof of your awesomeness. Etc.

  • Don MacGregor says:

    I’m actually calendaring some races in Texas this year, an otherwise mostly pancake flat state that actually has more RR’s and almost no crits.

  • Brandon says:

    You Socal peeps need to make your way up North. Some epic road races up here. Oh and we are nice too! Chico Stage Race Feb 24-26 2017 – Mark your calendars!!!!!

    • fsethd says:

      Yes, but in the past we’ve always had plenty of misery without having to drive so far. Looks like that’s about to change.

      • Brandon says:

        Well we welcome you all with open arms. Bring the intensity and competitiveness , just leave the SoCal agro home =)

      • fsethd says:

        You mean the drugs.

      • Lol, no, I’m referring to the imfamous socal cyclist aggression. SoCal racers have built quite the reputation for themselves.

      • fsethd says:

        There are one or two racers who have behaved abominably in NorCal crits. I’ve never heard of that happening in road races. SoCal riders such as Dave Holland, Dan Cobley, Eric Bruins, and many others regularly race NorCal incident-free.

      • Oh for sure, we have our bad apples. Having the luxury of multiple road disciples, we are able to make a full weekend of racing, road race on Sat, crits or circuit on Sunday. A lot of team racing. I guess I would be more referring to the socal crit racers – the agro riders.

      • fsethd says:

        Go ahead, you can say his name. It won’t offend anyone who reads this blog!

      • debster822 says:

        Your new reality is that you don’t have enough local misery. Migrate north; I have 2 spare bedrooms for out-of-area bike racers and am happy to offer them.

      • fsethd says:

        I am coming. Misery loves company.

  • PB says:

    Just curious your thoughts re: San Luis Rey RR. Back in the day I got ground up and swept out there in Bonsall just as thoroughly as I did at Boulevard (3x), Pine Flat, Visalia, Devil’s Punchbowl, et al. SLRRR is still on the calendar (the weekend before Sea Otter—where I also got smashed).

    • fsethd says:

      I only did the old course. And consistent with all my road racing was thoroughly mediocre. But the course was pretty forgiving.

  • Evan says:

    Rather than a reluctance to accept it, I think it indicates a firm grasp of reality to take a pass on races that are outside of one’s purview. These types of races are not sport, they are a lab test, and that’s boring.

    • fsethd says:

      What’s within your purview? Only things you can win? Only things that aren’t miserably awful? Only things that are close to home? I’m suggesting that bike racers suffer from a split personality: They love to come across as hardass tough-guys who belong to the heritage of Hinault, LeMond, Coppi, Merckx, and Devlaeminck, but in reality are couch sitters who are afraid to go out and do the hard stuff along with the easy stuff. And that’s part of what’s making races dry up and blow away. How does it hurt you to do one massively hard race a year? Think of the grand fondues, the tough group rides, and the other stuff you do as part of your “bike racer persona” that ARE NOT BIKE RACES.

      We’ve cherry picked for so long the tree is bare.

  • Billy Stone says:

    Bicycle racing is to suffering as holding your breath to get what you want. You can stop it any time you choose. Pain is not weakness leaving the body or the stuff of which character is forged in the caldron of a couple hours without air conditioning and coconut water. A guy finishes an Ironman in some time or other and the next day is at the water cooler in short sleeves with he number and his new Ironman Tat. A co worker looks and says ‘that must have been hard’ and as the IronPerson starts to exclaim that ‘you cannot possibly know what I sacrificed’ his co worker turns to another and say “so, did you see the Giants game yesterday? “Those guys really know how to play hurt.”

    Or, as I would have it “if you can beat the point spread you don’t care who won.”

    • fsethd says:

      I’ve not used the word suffering as a justification for doing anything. If you want pain, slam your finger in the door.

      But hard road races are sufficiently painful that they scare off the vast majority of racers in SoCal … which is fine, it’s a product and they don’t want it … but these are the same people who claim to be part of a sport that is brutally hard. They want the glamour of tough but don’t want to do anything tough.

      That’s fine but these events are going away. That’s a huge loss if you like these races, which I do. It’s a huge loss if you like the road racing community. It’s a huge loss if you think there’s some value in doing things for a long time and enjoying the patina of tradition and nostalgia and yes, what passes for history.

      Virtually everyone who’s completed a gnarly road race has some measure of pride and feeling of accomplishment for having done it. Few if any people have anything remotely similar to winning a football bet. A little satisfaction and a little pride at doing something that takes huge physical effort, mental tenacity, and a few shakes of gutsiness are good things.

      I’m not worshiping at the shrine of Tough Guy, but these races have been good to me and to many others, and before they’re all gone I hope that people realize what’s slipping away.

      Because they are different from, and better than Strava.

  • Don MacGregor says:

    I wish someone would (could?) resurrect the old Tour de Santa Ynez. That was a great weekend of racing with the Solvang Criterium and the Los Olivos Road Race. Great rolling hills course using many of the roads (Foxen Canyon, etc) that the Tour de California TT would use years later.

    Not a Boulevard or Punchbowl climbfest, but beautiful roads and a course that could be raced by many while still creating hard racing.

  • Bob Pellkofer says:

    It’s interesting that SoCal has been able to produce a number of young talented climbers without offering road racing on the calendar, they’ve been schooled at CBR and the likes. Having started racing in the late 70’s road racing, circuits and stage racing was the focus, Willows, Visalia, Mammoth, Bisbee, Gila, Redlands, Washington Trust, Cascade etc etc. Criteriums were the “fill in” races back then. Now days, in the minds of many Como Street is a road race in SoCal…bummer is, I’m like the rest of the cycling community where convenance, complacency, family and life has taken over, driving one hour or less to show your wears, win a box of Power Bars, pair of socks and $40 is bike racing. Maybe, its a generational thing, do you think the criterium population will decline replacing it with road racing, is mountain bike racing replacing the road and is road racing dead for good? Your so right, the toughest times I remember on the bike were “do or die” moments wether to hang or get dropped, not saying criteriums don’t put you on the rivet, just saying boys are separated from the men when going up hill…it’s a lost art and it’s a sad day for SoCal cyclists.

    • fsethd says:

      It’s generational to this extent: We’ve failed to make bike racing interesting and available to kids, i.e. the younger generations.

  • Eric Geier says:

    I’m the president of UCSD cycling and have been involved in promoting Boulevard for the last 6 years. Decreased participation did play a role in the race folding, but that’s only 30% of the story. We were prepared to operate the race at a loss, and had a partnership with Adrenaline ready to go, but SD county chose to shut us down.

    Not that I don’t agree with your sentiment…

    • fsethd says:

      Hi, Eric. Thank you for all you have done. Can you share what it was that the county shut down? Refusal to permit the race? What was their reasoning?

      • Eric Geier says:

        This probably deserves it’s own article (and we may put out some sort of statement later), but all permits for SD county have to get by a single gatekeeper. This person has the power to enforce – or not – a bunch of regulations. Taken together, they make permitting a race not just difficult but essentially impossible.

        To permit a brand new road race, your investment is probably ~200 hours of organizational work and > $25,000. This is why you see no new road races being permitted in the county. You can’t recoup your original investment in the first year, or maybe ever.

        Races that have been happening for years are essentially grandfathered in because you can make a case for skipping some of the steps. But the gatekeeper can “call due” those requirements basically at any time. This happened partially last year and was financially devastating to the team. To gain some stability, we brought on Omar Lozano (who is a real hero of the SD racing scene) and his company Adrenaline Cycling. This was all the gatekeeper needed to call due the rest. KO’d

      • fsethd says:

        Amazing. Because it would be so disruptive out in Boulevard, CA …

      • Chria says:

        Eric, thanks for weighing in, I had a feeling there was a lot more to this story. I was actually the point person for UCSD in 1999 when we resurrected the race (it hadn’t been run as a USCF event for several years) and I only got that race off the ground because of blind luck and a benevolent county official who took pity on us. We got all kinds of things donated (I do fundraising for a living now, it was good experience!) and in an insane but lucky bout of stupidity, we made a profit by having teammates do all of the traffic control and not hiring an ambulance or even an EMT (I say lucky because thankfully nothing went wrong). Even after cutting such critical expenses, we may have lost money (hard to say because I ran Blvd and Snake Bite, which later became Red Trolley, out of the same budget), and that was with pretty full fields, including a Pro/1/2 race that had riders from Mercury, Saturn, and Postal Service riders (along with an unknown freakshow named Floyd Landis). That race, and many like it, just aren’t tenable with the current entry fees.

      • fsethd says:

        Wow …

      • Eric Geier says:

        Chris, thanks for chiming in! It’s a shame there’s not more institutional memory around here, I didn’t know a lot of that.

        It’s funny because we were still using a lot of the same tactics (i.e teammates doing traffic control) to scrape by. Nice to know that the scramble is a tradition going all the way back 😉

        Maybe the racing climate will change enough that in a decade or so some motivated person can resurrect the race. I doubt the county regulatory climate will.

        People are willing to pay $160 for BWR, somehow we have to make them willing to pay $80 for Boulevard…

  • ROGER FRIEND says:

    At least there are still races on your calendar. In the Mid-Atlantic, particularly Virginia, even the industrial park crits are disappearing. Road racing is just too hard/unrewarding for the average recreational athlete.

    • fsethd says:

      This is the way things are going. People let the road races slide and they’re like, “Oh, it’s just the hard road races for skinny climbers,” and then it’s the road races that have an all-rounder profile and people are like, “Road races are too time consuming and too far away and etc.,” and then the crits get axed and people are like “What happened?”

      It is too hard and too unrewarding for the average recreational athlete. You have perfectly summed it up and everything from Strava to grand fondues to spin class prove this.

  • Jeff says:

    Want to see a resurgence in road racing? Break out the Pro Master’s (aka Master’s XP – ex pro) into a separate category. Cycling’s demographic is aging, making for a large amount of 40+ riders looking for an outlet for their time and money. Unfortunately, there are also a lot of Lance-generation pros retiring, also looking to keep competing, in addition to the hard-core older guys who’ve been 100% focused on racing for the past 10-20 years.

    It’s not fun getting a guaranteed ass whooping, regardless of how much you like to suffer. Here’s the fix:

    Make everyone over 40 a “master.” Then, categorize it – Masters A, Masters B, Masters C. This would give the average mature guy who wants to try racing a place to go without the certainty of getting dropped after the first mile, the weekend warrior who can’t train 20 hours a week a place to race, and the A-level guys a showcase. All while providing a system of upgrades for those who are motivated to move up.

    As a side benefit, it wouldn’t change anything about how the race promoter does business – A-B-C would simply replace the 30+, 40+, 50+ races most events have now.

    • fsethd says:

      There have been many fixes oriented around masters racing. But masters racing can’t keep it afloat. The sport needs youth, and youth have way too many other fun and rewarding things to do than race bikes.

      The previous commenter said it perfectly: Bike racing is to hard and unrewarding for the average recreational athlete.

      ‘Cross does this exact kind of categorization and it sort of works, but in ‘cross you never end up on a wind-blown course thirty miles from the car, plowing by yourself into a headwind with no water and a flat rear tire.

      One context is that bike racing came about when life was generally harder than it is now, so the disparity between riding and one’s other activities wasn’t as great. Now there is virtually lifestyle from which cycling isn’t a big step down in convenience and comfort. Phil Gaimon’s writing about what it’s really like to race professionally puts it all in great perspective: IT SUCKS.

  • Aldo C says:

    It’s a weird phenomenon. I started racing in 2006 as a junior, when there were 2-3 races happening every weekend. Now, with more “fun” oriented events, the whole dynamic is changing, fast. Everyone is looking at gravel fun events, CX, where even though you pin up a number, it is hard for spectators to tell first and last place apart. People just want to have fun, and there is nothing wrong with that, but there are still a lot of people who want to pin up a number and show up and RACE every now and then.

    I think a non-USAC weekly crit, or monthly crit could help this disease. Paying a $15 entry fee vs $45 for a weekend race is not a bad deal, it would bring all the racers in the area together and would be more accessible for any local riders wanting to try the whole racing thing.

    Let’s hope something happens that can save the racing scene in Socal, but for 2017, it is not looking good.

    • fsethd says:

      Agreed. If people want to have fun, i.e. “not deal with the stress of racing and the disappointment of getting crushed,” that’s good. What matters is that they are outdoors on bikes!

      But for the people who really do “want” to race but are siphoned off by Strava and fondues and “fun rides,” they need to devote a couple of weeks a year to really racing. They’ll be happy they did!

      Sort of.

  • Kevin Turchin says:

    Nothing better than lining up for a RR you have no chance of winning and everyone knows it. And then you surprise them…

    • fsethd says:

      And yourself … by waking up.

      • debster822 says:

        Exactly. I entered bike racing as a middle-age crisis response to being given an Orbea Diva for Christmas in 2007 by my husband. I took some bike handling workshops, the NorCal Early Birds series, learned that I hate crits, love the pain and personal growth of the road race, and an 18 and 40 km TT is my jam. Bike racing has offered me ways to find myself that meditation never did. It’s not making the podium; it’s making the best of you, on that day, with those conditions. Most people don’t want that kind of learning. They want the easy, feel-good stuff. And that’s a shame.

      • fsethd says:

        YES. THIS.

  • Sarah Muench says:

    Mind if we publish this on clippedin.bike? Could the author contact me at sarah@clippedin.bike?

  • SuperDave says:

    Give a man a fish, teach a man to fish: http://pedalindustries.com/yes/

  • Rec rider says:

    San Dimas Stage Race got rid of the Cat 5 group last year because the year before it only had 25 riders. Cycling is clearly having an issue drawing in new racers.

    Masters teams are part of the problem. Why does cycling need 45 year old professional masters Crit teams? Shouldn’t that money be spent on junior teams/programs?

    • fsethd says:

      How exactly are masters teams part of the problem? What money are you talking about? Kind of like masters racers should stop racing, and instead should donate what they would have spent on racing to junior teams?

      San Dimas is an example of a race that really rips off riders. The last year I did it, they shortened the already too short, 45-minute crit, to 35 minutes. You pay close to $150 for a time trial, a road race that went through a crash-filled park, and a 35-minute crit.

      No race at all is preferable to something like that.

  • Alan Fischer says:

    It is not that riders don’t want hard road races — they do. But the hassle/cost/regulations/etc. involved in putting on a road race are much greater than a for a parking lot crit. Promoters can find the challenges of putting on a good road race while losing money in the process to be prohibitive. That, along with encroaching/expanding cities and towns, is why classic road events around the country are no loner happening.

    • fsethd says:

      I’m not sure that’s right. What explains the thin fields at the races we already have? 30% decrease in race entries across all category of road race in 2016, and bigger drops among “hard” road races.

      Most licensed riders don’t want to go out and get hammered at a race. They want to be able to survive in the pack, not get dropped, and feel like they “participated.”

      The ethos of “go do a hard race” just isn’t there anymore.

      • Alan Fischer says:

        fsethd, Here in Arizona riders are crying for road races, many of which have disappeared from the ABRA calendar. Other factors, like having to drive hundreds of miles to a road race in a desolate area where a road race may be held, may discourage some racers. And there are some who, as you say, don’t want to go out and get hammered in a race. Some of them quit the sport quickly, whether they get shelled in a crit or a road race — the venue does not matter.

        The lack of/disappearance of road races has been discussed here (Arizona) extensively, with evidence pointing toward promoters not doing road races any more because of the growing hassle/expense involved. We cannot even place our own cones at race venues now, we need to have professional (expensive) barricade companies do it for us. The jurisdictional permitting required to put on a road race — particularly when an event crosses numerous jurisdictions — can be incredibly difficult. All this is enough to cause promoters to put on an “easier” parking lot crit. instead of a road race.

        And for explaining thin fields, ridership and number of licensed riders are down in many areas of the country. We need to work at attracting riders who do fondos/charity rides/triathlons/etc. to USAC racing. There are tons of riders out there, they just are not attracted to the “real” USAC race experience for many, many reasons. We need to change that, particularly to bring in more young riders. There is growth in Master’s racing but where are we going to get the future Masters?

      • fsethd says:

        This is so fucking depressing.

  • Greg L says:

    You all are happily welcomed to come race in the NCNCA (Northern California and Reno Association). Our race schedule is jam packed with Crits, RR’s, TT’s, and other events for both men and women.

  • Eric K Richardson says:

    I totally agree that the lack of participation is bad for the sport. Even sprinters and non-climbers need to make it to the finish on a grand tour and even the time limits don’t make it super easy. I managed to make it to quite a few of these road races. I never could really even support teammates as I was so mediocre. My successes were measured in cresting the first climb without being dropped or most of the time just finishing. You have to check your ego at the start except for the top road racers. I suffered and it is hard beyond belief but it is worth it. Many people never finish near the top in a crit but that is somehow better than finishing DFL in a hard road race just because you finished with the pack? Most of the time a break is off the front too in a crit so you essentially got dropped there too.

  • Reid Olson says:

    Thank you for this article. I believe in what you are saying. Racing in California is a life goal of mine. Maybe I’ll see you out there.

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