The big off-season news this year is that SPY Optic has lost its charismatic and cycling-centric CEO, Michael Marckx. It’s big news mostly because of the void that Michael’s departure will create in the local bike racing scene.
The most obvious result has been the merger between the former SPY Elite Cycling Team and Monster Media a/k/a Team Sponster. Whichever way you look at it, one less team is bad news. The obvious reason it’s bad news is that fewer teams means more strength among the teams that have stable squads and sponsorship. If you thought it was hard beating Surf City, try lining up against stacked Surf and stacked Monster.
But other things are swirling about, too. Michael’s interim replacement has indicated that SPY Optic won’t be the cycling-friendly company it has been for the last four and a half years. Sure, we’ll whine about the tourniquet being applied to all the cool stuff Michael so generously handed out, but there’s more to it than that.
SPY infused an amazing amount of enthusiasm and energy into SoCal cycling with Michael at the helm. Like any CEO he had his detractors, but I’ve never heard anyone dole out anything other than praise for his financial, time, and emotional commitments to bicycling. And those commitments were incredibly substantial, as Michael sponsored juniors, women, aspiring Cat 1’s, Cat 2’s living with their girlfriends, and legions of vain old men with too much money and too little sense.
At its zenith, SPY boasted a squad of 80 riders, a handful of whom were truly national caliber competitors, several handfuls of whom were state level competitors, and a whole bunch of posers and fakers like me who rarely raced but who flew the team colors with pride and who were visible and vocal proponents of competitive cycling. In addition to SPY’s own team/club, few people are aware of the degree to which Michael poured resources into other clubs, teams, and events, yet his encouragement gave a handful of truly talented racers the opportunity they needed to showcase their talent, get results, and turn pro.
From Udo Cross in honor of his good friend Udo Heinz, to sponsoring USAC at the national level, Michael willingly lent his logo to clubs and teams, offered great deals on world class eyewear that was innovative, stylish, and functional in the extreme, and did everything in his power to promote local events, including road, track, cyclocross, and MTB. If you were on two non-motorized wheels and were dedicated to it, Michael lent a sympathetic ear that was often backed with product, time, staff, and resources.
This grass roots approach was epitomized in his development of the Belgian Waffle Ride. “Most unique” or not, this 130-mile monumental beatdown over paved and unpaved roads became the high point for many people’s entire seasons, and the boneyard of dreams for many, many others. A celebration, a festival, a good old fashioned hard-ass bicycle ride that tipped its hat to the past while casting a hungry eye on the future of cycling marked everything that MIchael did at SPY. Thankfully, the BWR will survive his departure as a separately managed event under his new company, Creative Disruption, but it’s a loss to not have the full SPY corporate backing behind the event. Knowing Michael, the 2016 edition, which is already calendared for April 26, will be the best one yet.
As much as anything, local racing has been further hit by the departure of key staff at SPY who were hard core devotees of cycling. We may not have realized what a boon it was to have so many advocates within a company, advocates who showed up at races, who helped make events happen, and who worked social media to keep the world apprised of what was happening in SoCal cycling, but their absence is already felt. People like Phil Tinstman, Victor Sheldon, and John de Guzman, to name only three, were powerhouses on the bike and powerhouses in their corporate roles as well.
I can’t thank Michael enough for the support he gave me personally, and for the support he gave to pretty much anyone who asked for it. His impact on local cycling was huge and I, for one, am going to miss having him at the helm over at SPY. I have no doubt that his new business will boldly go where none has gone before, but in the meantime my hat’s off for the superlative work and the amazing contributions he made, contributions that have benefited every bike racer in Southern California, and thousands of others who’ve never pinned on a number.
I’m riding for a new team in 2016, but will proudly wear my SPY underwear costume until it reaches that Brad House level of threadbare when the rider behind is quite literally staring into the black hole of the abyss.
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