June 22, 2015 § 23 Comments
I attended Saturday’s Avenue of the Flags Criterium in Buellton. It was the best crit of the year by far. We can leave aside the prize money for now, which was substantial — $32,000 in cash prizes for three days of racing.
The course is the most challenging crit course in SoCal. It isn’t super technical, but it’s technical enough that you must be able to corner well or the accelerations out of the turns will devour you. The wind is a huge factor; it’s mostly a strong crosswind that ensures you will get no respite on the two long straightaways. There is also a significant finishing gradient, which guarantees that your legs will be toast when it’s time to sprint.
Buellton has resurfaced the entire course since last year so the paving is smooth, grippy, and very fast. The infield between the two straightaways is lined with booths, food vendors, and spectators. The races go off on time, and if you’ve traveled with an S/O, as soon as the race finishes you can jaunt off to any of the numerous wineries — or the legendary Firestone Brewery — that are minutes away. And if jaunting away isn’t your style, you can belly up in the beer garden right across from the announcer’s stand.
And did I mention prize money?
I got more finishing sixth place in the masters 50+ category than is on offer to win many crits. Top finishers got lots more, and those who won their category for the 3-day omnium received $1,000+ paydays. Oh, and he weather was beautiful.
You would think that with a great, safe course, huge payday, professional execution, and lots of other activities for fellow travelers, fantastic vibe, and classy central coast scenery, the fields would be full to busting. You’d think that a race like this would fill up online and waitlisted riders would be standing around on race day, trying to buy slots off racers who had pre-registered, or wheedling the promoter for a special favor.
But, well, nope.
Only 18 riders showed for the final day in the 50+, 23 riders in the 40+, and 36 riders in the P/1/2 field with thousands and thosands of dollars on offer. The promoter, Mike Hecker, was rewarded for putting on an incredible event, huge prizes, and great courses with a collective yawn from the amateur “racers” here in SoCal. Entire teams that sport about town in wrapped team vehicles and the trickest equipment were absent; other clubs that have hundreds of members showed up with one or two racers, max.
Whether Hecker will put on the event next year is open to question, and if he doesn’t all the people who didn’t bother to show up will bitch and whine about how “there aren’t any good races anymore.”
That’s right, dumbshits, BECAUSE PEOPLE LIKE YOU DON’T SHOW UP.
However, it’s easy to blame all the lazy, hypocritical, whiny, spoiled, frosted-cupcake race poodles who parade at the coffee shop but are always “otherwise engaged” on race day. And it’s easy to be sympathetic to Mike, who is a promoter’s promoter — puts his heart and soul into it, does a superlative job, and at the end of the day loses money.
What’s harder is to figure out the problem, and harder still to solve it.
The reason licensed racers don’t show up to races is because we don’t know why licensed racers don’t show up races. That’s right … we have no data. We know how many people hold licenses, we know how many events are held annually, and we know attendance numbers. But we don’t have the data that matters, i.e. the customer feedback about why they don’t race, and more specifically, why they didn’t show up for this race.
In other words, race promoters for the most part are running a business that depends on customer satisfaction without knowing what satisfies their customers. And when we do know what satisfies customers, because occasionally they tell us, we still don’t know if their answers are representative of others, and crucially, we have no idea whether they’re representative of the customers who have licenses and who never show up.
I don’t think that Toyota works that way. I think that before they roll out a new product, they find out what their potential customers think about it. Everyone with a racing license is a potential customer, but with a few exceptions we don’t know what makes them decide to race or stay home except on an anecdotal basis.
And here’s where everyone has an opinion: Some say it’s cost, or training time, equipment, the fact that it’s a dirty sport, danger, distance, time away from family, the list is endless. But until we can rank the reasons that people stay home, and as importantly, rank the reasons that they show up, superb events like the 805 Crit Series will struggle.
SCNCA of course has the resources to do this type of outreach, and of the 18 “services” they claim to provide, only two bullet points address member growth and retention, and they’re buried in the list. Can you imagine Toyota putting “customer growth and retention” in between “maintaining the web site” and “maintaining a presence on Facebook”?
I’d argue that nothing SCNCA does is even remotely as important as customer growth and retention, with the possible exception of “increasing race participation” which, of course, they don’t even bother to list as a goal. And why should they? SCNCA is primarily funded by licenses, not race participation. As long as you have a license, SCNCA gets funded.
Individual clubs could really help out here, but they won’t. All it would take is an email survey of members to find out answers to these questions:
- Do you race?
- Why or why not?
- Do you want to race?
- Why or why not?
- How many races do you do each year?
- How many have you done in the last five years?
- How many would you like to do next year if you could?
- How many years have you held a racing license?
- How important are these things to you in deciding whether or not to race:
- Distance from home
- Cost of equipment
- Hours of training required per week
- Entry fee
- Risk of crashing
- Prize money
- Course difficulty
- Course distance
- Technical nature of course
- Race reimbursements by your club
- Field size
- Type of race–crit, road, TT, SR, omnium
- Category upgrade points
- How often does your club send out race information?
- How easy is it to find another racer with whom to carpool?
- Do others on your team encourage you to race?
If ten clubs did this and aggregated the results, it would certainly be a start, and we wouldn’t be guessing quite as blindly. If the top 50 clubs did it we would be on our way to a real database. Ultimately, we desperately need promoters like Mike Hecker and events like the 805 Series. But if we can’t even be bothered to find out why our peers are staying home and why the’re making the effort to race, well, this is another great event that people will look back on fondly and say, “Remember when … ”
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May 14, 2014 § 8 Comments
The big weekend has come and gone. Three days of racing, big prizes, bigger wind, and top shelf competition have left their mark on the SoCal racing season. In many ways, it’s been a great mark. In others, not so much.
- SCNCA sucks. Why the fuck was this race on Mother’s Day weekend? Answer: because the best dates were “taken.” Mike Hecker puts his heart, soul, tree stumps, and the kitchen sink into this race series. This is precisely the kind of grass roots development that has the potential to build the grass roots. Better, he does it out in bumfuck nowheresville, one of the windiest damned places in California. This race is the only legitimate hardman crit in Southern California; to win it — hell, to finish it — you’d better be made of some stern stuff. It’s a premier race with premier prizes serving a premier purpose and attracting premier talent. SCNCA should be licking the sweat off of Hecker’s balls to get him to do this race. Instead they offer up the one weekend that, if you attend, will result in 51 weeks of Doghouse Hell because you spent Mother’s Day RACING YER FUGGIN BIKE.
- Daniel Holloway is a bike racers’ bike racer. Sleeps on couches. Tells funny stories. Congratulates the (few) people who beat him. Listens to Wankmeister’s tales of 50+ crit podiums. Whacks the snot out of all comers at the 805 Crit Series, Athens Twilight Criterium, and every other race you line him up at. We saw him take the Friday night event by the testicles, give them a squeeze, then fly down the lane to win with the same élan he showed at Dana Point et al. On Saturday he missed the break, but no problem. Sunday he made up for it by a tour de force win against Kyle and Brandon Gritters, shelling Kyle from the three-up break on the last lap, riding tempo all the way to the final turn, then leaving Brandon as if he’d been tied to a stump. And Gritters Bros. are badasses with an extra helping of whupass sauce.
- Monster Media is the master of disaster. I raced (sort of) the 35+ masters events and couldn’t believe how thoroughly they obliterated the competition. Meatballs DeMarchi finished the first day in second place overall and the team played its cards on Sat/Sun in such a way as to earn overall victory. Their cards were “hammer” and “crush.” The Monster MO was to send off Michael Johnson in a break with Kayle Leogrande and Rudy Napolitano that was so hard, so fast, and so nasty that anyone who chased would be assured of either leaving a liver on the pavement or a DNF. At the end of the day, Kayle had the win and MJ finished first among the omnium participants. This meant that Day 3, Sunday, would be a fight to get MJ or Chris DeMarchi to the line ahead of SPY-Giant-RIDE p/b MRI’s leader, John Abate. The Monster train started that Sunday race, which took place in a 25mph howling crosswind, so fast and so hard that of the 40 some-odd starters only 22 finished. Taking turns at the front to whittle down and crush the field, the teamwork of MJ, DeMarchi, Gary Douville, Scott Cochran, Shane Lawlor, and Bart Clifford absolutely demolished the wankers sitting at the back hoping to ride their coattails to the finish. The remaining corpses who survived the Monster Media a-bomb had nothing in their legs to either attack off the front or contest the sprint. Consummate riding by Surf City and their star sprinter-turned-leadout-man Charon Smith put Kayle Leogrande across the line again first, but since Kayle had missed the Friday race due to traffic he wasn’t in contention for the omnium. Note: Most terrifying item of the Monster Media mop-up is that their best racer, Phil Tinstman, wasn’t even there.
- This is how bike racing should always be. The events were well attended, the money was good, the courses were over-the-top challenging, there was a beer garden, the announcers were fantastic, everyone was in a great mood, and the cities of Lompoc and Buellton got to showcase their best side to a large contingent of out-of-towners. There were multiple levels of competition. You could race for the day or you could race for the series or you could drink Firestone beer and lie in the gutter for three days. I hope that next year the series is held on a better weekend, and that even more riders make the trip to experience such an intense and fun weekend of bike racing.
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May 6, 2014 § 13 Comments
This Sunday is a special day for mothers. It is a time when some of the biggest advertising firms in America urge us to display our love for our mothers, for example, by reserving tables at fancy restaurants. There is nothing that says “I love you” more than another charge on your credit card that you can’t afford, and there is nothing more memorable than mediocre food at a crowded eatery where you’re served by an overworked and pissed-off waiter.
I’ve never done well with days of remembrance. Take birthdays, for example. My idea of a great celebration for Mrs. WM’s 47th was dinner at the All Indian Sweets and Snacks carry-out buffet. We went formal and ate in the shop, jammed next to the buckets of ghee and some sweaty Pakistani dude with bad breath, but no one can deny that it is the very finest and most delectable Indian food you can get anywhere for $4.95.
I thought she’d be thrilled that I managed to take five people out for dinner for less than $35. She wasn’t. In fact, she still isn’t, and hints have been placed that Mother’s Day had better be a blowout of love. There had better be some dogdamned love shown, some appreciation trotted out, and some words of adulation bandied about, or else. You can probably even add a “fucking else” and it wouldn’t be an overstatement.
Buttercup, why do you build me up?
I can tell you right now that Mother’s Day is going to be a big disappointment, at least for her. Why? Because it’s on the same day as the 805 Series crit in Lompoc, and I’ve pitched in to rent an RV, reserved a keg, and made plans to spend the three-day weekend racing my bike.
There are gonna be three guys with their three wives in an RV for three days in Lompoc, along with a keg of IPA. Now tell me again why I’m supposed to give a crap about Mother’s Day? I mean, she’s not even my mom.
Race of the century
If you’re looking for a great way to climb into the doghouse for the next year and peg the door shut with a nail gun, you should be at the 805 Series, too. Pre-reg is already 60% full, and it’s going to be a fantastic weekend.
Tons of credit goes to woodchopper and local madman Mike Hecker, who, in a wildly delusional state, thought it would be great to bring a big, legit bike race to the Santa Ynez Valley, even though no one knows how to spell “Ynez.” Yet as with all delusional bike crazies, their delusions are built on the hallucinations of the madmen who went before them.
In this case, Mike owes a huge debt to Roger Worthington and the Dana Point Grand Prix. Dana Point was the first race on the calendar to bring huge quantities of beer, entertainment for kids, prize checks that cleared, and a festival atmosphere to local SoCal crit racing. Each year Dana Point has set the high watermark for a professionally run, all-in, big-name crit that everyone wants to win or at least finish or at least come home in a neck brace from.
Mike has taken the cue, broken it over the head of USA Cycling’s traditional model of “bike racing = Ontario” and put on an event that in its first year qualified it as the best crit series in California. This year there will be three days of racing rather than two, and Friday’s biggest races will take place at night. Just so you know, I plan to take Charon in the twilight crit. Hopefully it will end in a straight-up drag race, so he can taste the fury of my mad finishing kick.
The beer garden will be back, the prize list will be more veiny and swollen, and hopefully the weather will repeat last year’s trick of 100-degrees-plus with a searing hot headwind. Nothing is more fun than a technical course and unendurable heat, if only to watch the racers melt into puddles and stick to the pavement while you’re under a shaded tent sipping Firestone IPA.
See you there. Really looking forward to celebrating Mother’s Day with you.
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Also, if you haven’t picked up a copy of “Cycling in the South Bay,” you can order it on Amazon here.
You can also click here to see the reviews.