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:
- USAC is actively killing racing (structural)
- Kids don’t grow up riding bikes (generational)
- 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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