If you have ever thought that there was more to bike racing than brainless, wide, right-hand turns in an industrial office park, being fleeced by the promoter and shrieked at by Donald Trump … you were right!
Velo Club LaGrange brought to life something that is almost impossible to imagine in SoCal, that is, a bike race with right AND left turns on THE SAME COURSE. Oh, but there was more, so much more.
Of course there was some history here. LaGrange for years put on the Brentwood Grand Prix, the best crit on the SoCal circuit, technical but not dangerous, great downtown setting that was spectator-friendly, lots of prize money, and most of all, fun.
It took year of wheeling and dealing for LaGrange’s Daddy Warbucks to hammer out a five-year agreement with Porsche USA to allow a bike race on Porsche’s brand new, crazy good driving/testing track. The pavement? Perfect. The shoulders? No unpadded light poles here to kill and maim unlucky riders. Instead, the course had wide grassy shoulders that were forgiving and safe and that, several times, allowed riders to avoid collisions, shoot off into the grass, then re-enter the course and chase back on.
The course? It was technical, fast, and challenging not simply to win, but for many, to finish. With sweeping turns and a short straightaway, moving took skill and, if you didn’t do it just right, it burned through many a match to boot. Forget the masters teams with ten riders lined up with one lap to go, neatly delivering their guy to the line.
This was a race where leadout trains were almost impossible to establish, and even if lined up, they were quickly broken up in the run-in to the line. But there’s more …
Instead of having Donald Trump howl and yowl silly nothings, there were measured, intelligent announcers who told you what was going on, and better yet, a high observation hill from which you could overlook the entire course and see every move, every attack, every mix-up, in realtime. With a pair of binoculars it would have been even better. What differentiated this crit from virtually all others in SoCal was the visual of an entire peloton in a single file for the entire race, as opposed to a giant blob of riders, 99% of whom were sitting in for the sprunt while a handful either drove the pace of tried to get away.
To top it off, there was no extortion in the finishing area, where the promoter charged outrageous fees for clubs to set up their tents. Have a tent? Set it up, bro. No problem!
This event, with its five-year guarantee, will swell to mammoth proportions in the coming years because it delivers so much more than the hack offerings synonymous with many other crits. When racers have a convenient and safe venue, a challenging race course, the cachet of a major brand, the backing of one of the country’s oldest and most respected bike clubs, deep prize lists that put real money in riders’ pockets, respect for the participants and the spectators, great announcing, and a welcoming vibe, racers will sign up.
And … they did!
The women’s pro field boasted two UCI pros coming off the Tour of California, Krista Doebel-Hickock and Amber Neben. The other women’s fields had deep turnout as well, and to top it off, the promoters made junior racing a centerpiece rather than an afterthought.
Of course none of this happened by waving a magic wand. Porsche was initially far from certain that opening up its facility to a bunch of bike racers was going to be a good idea, but the marketing certainly made sense: A percentage of riders on nice bikes are also in the market for luxury cars, and what better way to show them what Porsche has to offer?
One of the funniest objections was Porsche’s initial concern that the bike tires could potentially damage its pristine, multi-million dollar test track. At first blush it sounds silly. How could a bike tire do what a car tire can’t? But then I thought about it like this: What would I do if a bunch of bike racers came up and asked to use my multi-million dollar facility with the blithe assurance that “It’ll be fine, dude, trust me.”
I’d run, that’s what.
But after analysis and discussion, the scales tilted in favor of the bike tires, and then it simply boiled down to this: Could the bike racers show up and not make total jackasses of themselves? Turns out they not only could … but they did.
A more polite, respectful, rule-following crowd I have never seen. Not a scrap of litter, not a single broken rule (don’t walk out onto the track or past the barriers), and no James Doyle-type antics. The consequence was bitterly hard racing and what I hope were enough sales leads to make Porsche think that there may be the basis for solid synergy between bikes and Porsche.
Huge kudos to everyone on VC LaGrange who pulled it off, from the negotiators, to the board that supported the race, to the volunteers who manned the event, and to the LaGrange racers, who, from the looks of it, outnumbered every other club on a day when clubs were out in force.
Here’s to 2020.
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