I was reading about the overthrow of the government in Burkina Faso, the collapse of the economy in Ukraine, the stagflation threatening the EU, the corruption and totalitarianism of the new Russian oligarchy, the spread of Ebola, the implosion of international cooperation on reducing carbon emissions, the hegemony of ISIS, the widening gap between rich and poor in America, the radioactive contamination of the seas by the still-burning Fukushima reactors, when a truly important news item caught my eye: SCNCA has eliminated the 35+ masters racing category for 2015.
After careful analysis, it appears that 29 or even 36 racers will be affected by this calamity, and so I dropped everything to find out what was going on.
The gist of the decision-making process was this: The 35+ category has fewer and fewer participants, so it will be zapped. The new masters categories in SoCal will be 40+, 50+, and 60+. Everyone under 40 will have to race his category, which for a number of racers is extremely uncomfortable, as their license reads “Cat 1.” What was previously a winning hand in the mick deasuring world of amateur cycling has now become a terrible liability for riders whose license says “awesome sauce” but whose race selection says “older fellow with leaky prostate.”
Who’s to blame?
The first people to blame are the promoters, because they are the ones least responsible. Just like poor people are blamed for their criminality because they’re the ones most often arrested, race promoters are to blame for declining race participation because fewer people sign up for their races.
When I think back to the halcyon days of 1982, I wonder why and how race promoters got the burning tire of “building the sport” hung around their neck? I never entered a race or even thought about entering a race because of a promoter. In fact, Tom Boyden (dog rest his soul) was, if anything, the best reason known to man not to enter a bike race. He was thieving, unscrupulous, cynical, and interested only in lining his own pockets.
Yet his races were full and riders who got into the game during that decade still constitute the largest number of masters racers — the 45 and 50+ categories. People didn’t race because the promoter was nice or because he gave good prizes or because his races were safe or well organized or timely. They raced because they belonged to a club that encouraged them to race. There was an expectation that if you hung out with the fast guys you would pin on a number even if you were one of the sluggards.
In our tiny little South Bay microcosm, we have numerous bicycling clubs, but only one that explicitly encourages its members to race. The others focus on wearing neat-o kits, enjoying the chummy camaraderie of pre-and-post ride coffee, and slumming around the peninsula on fancy rigs, but there’s nothing in their club makeup that says to members, “Race yer fuggin’ bike.” Instead, the vast majority of bicycle clubs say the opposite: “Let’s pal around on Strava,” or “Let’s do a Grand Fondue,” or “Let’s do a century ride down to San Diego and have a beer.”
These are all noble endeavors, and the fact that bike racing is considered an insane, prohibitively expensive cul-de-sac activity best left to idiots and the delusional is a good thing and proof that humanity actually evolves. But for those of us left in the evolutionary dead end of USA Cycling, it bears consideration that entering races comes first and foremost from the peer pressure of the club. Like trying heroin or sanal ex, lining up for your first bike race requires exhortation, encouragement, and the promise of good things to come, however outrageous and bold-faced the lie.
After promoters, the next wrongly blamed entities are SCNCA and USA Cycling. These entities, it is said, have failed to promote the grass roots, have failed to encourage race participation, and have failed to make bike racing more popular than it currently is, which is to say more popular than elective dental work.
This ignores history. When have these organizations ever done anything to grow the sport? In 2015 a USA Cycling race license will cost $70, for which the racer receives what? Useless accident insurance that, in the event of death, pays a few thousand dollars if you can fight through the red tape to get it? Safer races? Tell that to the families of the two riders who died in 2013. More promotion of cycling? Ha. Ha. Ha.
USA Cycling exists to collect membership fees to pay the salaries and officials’ fees of people at USA Cycling. That’s all it is, and that’s all it has ever been. The two great cycling booms in my lifetime were in the 80’s and the Lance era, neither of which had anything to do with the USCF, USA Cycling, or race promoters. Both eras had everything to do with clubs who encouraged — nay, demanded — that their members raced.
As USA Cycling fiddles while its house burns by raping the meager profits of promoters like Chris Lotts and Dorothy Wong, 35+ riders are caught in a vicious crossfire. SCNCA doesn’t care, promoters can’t (and shouldn’t) work to lose money, and there are so few 35+ racers anyway that, really, who shives a git? So as a 38 y/o racer with a wife and kid and job you have to bang bars with snotnose, testosterone-filled Pro/1/2 punks who are willing to die to win and you think that the value matrix (candy bar prime vs. long-term hospitalization) isn’t skewed in your favor? Shough tit. As long as SCNCA can sacrifice the few (in secret proceedings) for the benefit of itself + the many, it’s not simply business, it’s business as usual.
If the west side and south bay bike clubs told their 35+ members to get off the preen wagon and race their fuggin’ bikes 5 times a year, if all the other wannabe, gonnabe, oughtabe pretenders in SoCal and the clubs they belong to spent 1/10th of the time racing that they spend putting together “sponsor packages,” this problem wouldn’t exist.
But it’s always easier and lots more fun to call yourself a race club than to drag your teammates’ sorry asses to an actual bike race, especially when you can play tit-for-tat on Strava. </endrant>
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