Not just propping up the corpse!

December 6, 2016 § 15 Comments

Despite the departure of Vlees Huis and Boulevard Road Race from the SoCal racing calendar, the patient is not yet dead.

This weekend, on December 11, the final crit of the year will be held at the CBR course in Compton. Flyer here.

It’s an upgrade race, and as in the last two races, promoter Jeff Prinz is offering cash primes to Cat 4, Cat 3, Cat 2, and women racers. The total cash pot is $2,500.00, doled out in $50.00 primes. This makes $6,200.00 in cash for Jeff’s Oct/Nov/Dec upgrade races that my firm has shoved into the open palms of eager bike racers, and not just any bike racers, but the ones who are motivated to race, upgrade, and head into the New Year ready to tumble. Er, rumble.

Several people have asked me what the “plan” is.

Don’t they know I don’t have a plan?

My theory has long been that people don’t come to bike races due to a number of structural, generational, and technological problems, to wit:

  1. USAC is actively killing racing (structural)
  2. Kids don’t grow up riding bikes (generational)
  3. Strava (technological)

None of these problems is going to be fixed with a few thousand dollars in cash primes, at least not by me.

But there is another answer to the question “Why don’t people come to races?” and you can only get there by twisting the question like this: “How can you get people to come race?”

The simplest and most direct answer is money. If you give away money at bike races, sweaty, aggressive athletes will come to tear it out of your clenched fist. The only real issues are how much money you give away, and how you distribute it.

If the prizes only go to the best finishers, then it will simply reinforce the pattern that is already so deadening. The top ten are always the same people and everyone else is filler. If the prizes are too small, even if they’re  distributed so that a much larger percentage of the peloton goes home with money, it won’t be enough to encourage people to come back. “Honey, I won five bucks!” probably won’t do it. Except at my house.

Put another way, if every CBR crit had $20,000 in cash prizes, distributed broadly throughout the men’s and women’s categories, race fields would be full. Perhaps it wouldn’t happen overnight, but it would happen over the course of a season.

Full fields work their own kind of magic. They bring families and friends and the curious. The races are harder and therefore more exciting. There are more people paying attention to the results so the competition is harder and therefore more exciting. The fuller fields and greater attention bring more tents, more sponsors, and more advertisers. The more electric sidelines make the races harder and therefore more exciting.

Entry fees rise. Prize lists deepen. More people want to race. In the last three events, upgrade events held long after the “season” is over, turnout has been gangbusters, surpassing Prinz’s expectations by far.

There are lots of problems with the simplistic model of “give away money and people will take it.”

But for 2017, until someone comes up with a better plan, we’re going with it. See you on Sunday.



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§ 15 Responses to Not just propping up the corpse!

  • Edwin says:

    Fantastic initiative – I see another Wanky award in your future!
    As for USAC, I read they are branching out to charity rides and gran fondos. Nothing left to cream from road races? Maybe you can do another interview to get the hard facts.

  • Brian C says:

    Seth lets make it 2600 let me know how to get another 100 to you or as I like to think of you – the Saint of Bike Racing(SOBR).

  • Brian in VA says:

    Way to step up, WM! I have the utmost respect for people who put their money where their mouth is and you’ve done just that and in a big way!

    I only wish I was on that side of the country so I could help fill a field with another also-ran. DFL should be my middle name.

  • channel_zero says:

    They bring families and friends and the curious.

    IMO, the friends/family/curious need some things to do while they are there mostly waiting.

    Manhattan Beach kind of solves this with restaurants so close by. I recall there being stuff for kids to do. The average office park criterium has a much bigger challenge in this way. All that said, the USAC’s structural problems make it very difficult to add other stuff to do.

    • dave says:

      Are cash prizes really such a draw? A few dollars in prizes really makes such a difference to us old farts with office jobs? Wow.

      Anyway, SoCalCross has managed to put on spectator friendly events. It doesn’t take much…a grassy area to sit, get a food truck or two to show up. People stay and watch the pro event, drink beers, its fun.

      I don’t care what the prize list is, life is too short to spend a sunday in an industrial park.

      • fsethd says:

        That’s your take. The people who are most motivated are the 4’s and 3’s who are not old farts with office jobs. And the OFWOJ’s like getting paid to race even if it’s just to cover gas and lunch. SoCal ‘cross has done well but I don’t know how big ‘cross racing really is since the races are divvied up into so many categories.

        One of the mistakes people make is saying “If I don’t like it, no one else will.” That works up to a point, but if something doesn’t change then road racing is done. And I like crits. So do others.

  • leo_d says:

    more prizes = more racers

    sell the dream, the peloton is full of dreamers

    but the dream wanes when the same guys always get the 3 prizes

  • mwandaw says:

    I ride regularly and pretty hard, but I’ve never raced. However, I’m an enthusiast to the point that I have gone to watch the El Dorado races a couple of times. My wife was with me both times (good wife, eh?) and my parents came along once. We all left very disappointed.

    The racers weren’t the problem. We could tell they were riding their wheels off and passing or being passed in efforts to get ahead. The problem was that we had absolutely no idea of which group of riders was which, and which group was finishing when. For us spectators it was a confused mess.

    In an effort to salvage our experience, I went to the finish line and asked the guys there for a simple explanation. I got a one sentence reply something like “Cat 1 is mmph and mmff and mppfff Cat 3 is blah blah and Masters are mumble mumble…” After that, they were back to the understandably important business of officiating the race. No wonder there were 75+ racers and about 5 spectators!

    If there had been a simple printed guide, it would have helped a lot. If the riders had obviously different number signs, it would have helped a lot.

    You and other sponsors are making a good effort to get the racers to race. However, the best racers in the world will be racing in silence if the events aren’t understandable and exciting for the spectators.

  • Naftali says:

    Curious. Has anyone ever held a “Learn to race Crits” clinic in your area? I was terrified of crits as I came to cycling late in life, (60) so bike handling skills are dangerous to others.

    For a very reasonable sum, we had 3 training sessions, riding the courses at the anticipated speeds, taking the corners again and again, alone and with a group. Then, the clinic instructor put on a Coach label instead of a race number and rode three races with us offering great advice and tips throughout. I am now hooked.

What’s this?

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