Superb racing in the 805

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 … ”

END

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The amazing race (805 Criterium Weekend, Part 1)

July 2, 2013 § 4 Comments

With only a handful of minutes to recap this fantastic weekend, I’m going to be succinct because there’s so much to say.

— Thanks to Mike Hecker for putting together an event that will surely grow to be the best bike racing in Southern California.

— Thanks to the City of Buellton. You have a lovely town, friendly people, and an egg-frying dry heat that will separate the wheat from the chaff in one or two laps.

— Thanks to the City of Lompoc. You too have a lovely town, friendly people, and a challenging course that is hard and safe and windy enough to blow a fleet of tall ships all the way to Japan.

— Thanks to Gordie and to Steve Hegg. You guys are a ton of fun and great announcers.

— Thanks to the Firestone Walker Brewery. You make great beer, and the beer garden added a wonderful relaxing touch that just drew people in. The location in the heart of each crit course made it spectacular.

— “Tough guy” / “Tough gal” bike racers who missed this event: You’re not that tough. This was real bike racing on brutally hard but short courses that included wind, heat, slight elevation, and something more complex than four turns around a square. The crowds were enthusiastic, the prize money amazing, the ambiance of the host towns fun beyond belief…this is what bike racing is supposed to be. Show up next year and show us what you’ve got.

— Thanks again to Mike Hecker for putting together two fast, hard, safe courses. There wasn’t a single crash in two full days of racing.

— Thanks to the myriad sponsors who kicked in cash and prizes. Legit prize list for the pros on Saturday? $7,500. Compare that to the nickels and warm spit you’ll win in Ontario’s pro race.

–Props to Alan Flores, my SPY-Giant-RIDE teammate who dismantled the field in the 45+ Old Dudes’ Race. Props to John Hatchitt for playing henchman, and to teammates Taylor Fenstermacher, Andy Schmidt, Bill Lupo, and Jimbo for coming out and busting things up.

–Hats off to Thurlow Rogers and Mark Noble, two hellacious bike racers who proved their mettle over two hard days of racing.

–Kudos to Phil Tinstman and Chris Walker who busted loose on Lap 2 of the 35+ and held it for 70 minutes. Only 20 riders finished their race, so viciously hard was the course and the competition.

–Hats off to Rudy Napolitano, general buttwhomper, winner of the 35+ race on Sunday and 3rd Place finisher on Saturday after attacking 10,000 times and generally shredding the field.

–Props to Surf City Cyclery racer John Slover who made the split and the podium on Saturday, and rode two great races on Sunday as well. Props also to Charon Smith, the man who’s not afraid to go out and compete even when the cards are stacked against him. I wish every bike racer had that guy’s guts, kindness, and good grace. He’s as honorable and friendly in defeat as he is in victory.

–Ben Jacques-Mayne thrashed the field on Saturday and won the pro race on Sunday by lapping the field. Amazing rides by Mr. Forbes from Arizona, Brandon Gritters, and a host of other pros.

–Super performance in the 35+ by Derek Brauch, the dude who does a little bit of everything. He rode off with the split and stayed with the leaders until the very end, when a devastating Rudy Napolitano Tailwind Acceleration peeled the skin off of his face and relegated him to a still-impressive 6th Place.

–Knife fight in the mud between Aaron Wimberley and Mike Easter for ascendancy in the SoCal Cup. Aaron had difficulties reading his gas gauge on the way up Saturday and ran out of fuel, thereby missing the Saturday 35+ race and ceding points to his rival. However, on Sunday he dogged Easter’s every move and wrapped it up with a slim one-point lead. Don’t think Easter is going to let it go as easily as all that…

— Big win on Sunday in the 45+ race by big German Armin Rahm. Armin got away with the elite break that included Thurlow, Brett Clare, Slover, Steve Gregarios, and another rider or two, then smoked the breakaway in the sprint.

— John Abate won the “mismatched kit and bike award,” riding now for SPY-Giant-RIDE but still pedaling the green Masi of his former team. The color clash must have added fuel to the pistons, because he finished the 35+ race on Sunday with an awesome 4th Place. He bridged the gap from hell, leaping out of the charging field to finally hook up with the loaded break that included Rudy et al.

— Chris DeMarchi showed his impeccable form and strength on Saturday and Sunday, finishing solo between the break and the field on Saturday, and riding herd on the pack as he blocked for his teammates in the break on Sunday.

— Suze Sonye…wow! Third in the pro race on Saturday, top step on Sunday. If she’s not the best racer to come out of SoCal, who is?

— Michelle Ignash scored third for Helen’s on Saturday in the women’s 3-4 and won the same event on Sunday.

— The list goes on and on of all the racers who rode hard and did well, and by failing to list them all here I’m sure I’ll offend those who performed valiant deeds of glory only to go ignored or unnoticed in this blog which, on a good day, may have as many as three readers.

— Hats off as well to the flailers and wankers who got shelled, quit, gave up, collapsed from heat stroke, or bailed out early so they could swap the pain for the good, cold beer.

Hope you’ll put this race series on your calendar next year. It’s a winner.

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