Thursday, February 18, 2016
I don’t blog quite as often as I use to, but figured I’d blog again today as an issue arose recently….and I wanted to address it. Quite a few other topics came up the last few years too, which I’ll probably be addressing in future blog posts here – most deal with bicycle racing. The following is more of a minor rant or encouragement – whatever you want it to be:
I got an e-mail from a local bike racer recently who asked if I could put on more bicycle races in the coming year, or help put on more races for the local riders. The question itself is not the issue. The issue is the “why” of it all.
Since I was a kid – and a bike racer – I usually looked at results of sporting events – football, tennis, baseball, bike racing, etc. I still do it today – like to get an update on results now and again, see what’s up, especially with bicycle races. I’ve noticed something a little disturbing(to me) over the last couple of years with regard to bicycle racing and the Northern California & Nevada Cycling Association(NCNCA) racing district. And here it is – where in the world are all the local(Butte County, California) racers in USA Cycling sanctioned races??? I mean, seriously – where are they? We have 3(at least) racing teams just right here in town(Chico, CA), loads of racers who are licensed via USA Cycling, teams who are members of the NCNCA…..and yet, we have only a handful of people(or less) who are racing multiple events in a year in our district. Why??
If you bought a USA Cycling racing license, joined a racing “team”, and spent all the time/money/energy on your racing equipment/clothing/coaching, why not actually race?? I mean…..that’s why you joined up, right? To race? Isn’t that why you got your racing license??
Each week, I check out the NCNCA website to look at the race results – linked to the USA Cycling website. I’m blown away at some of the results I see at sanctioned races that are pretty close to home – Sacramento area and others – with less than 5 local riders in attendance. Some races have only one or two local riders racing – and others, none at all. And yet, there are TONS of riders here locally who hold a racing license, are on a team, have racing bicycles, know how to race, bought the team kit/gear, etc. Where are you all??
I don’t have to tell most of you that the NCNCA NEEDS people to race! Last year alone(2015), I have seen more races being canceled than I think I have seen in years. Why? Because these races – all of them – need racers in order to keep going! Clubs and individual promoters NEED racers in order to keep the events on the calendar year-after-year. Our district’s racing calendar last year was loaded with cancelations. However, we are very lucky in that the NCNCA district has tons of races anyway. But……it won’t remain that way if everyone stays home.
Look, I know what you’re thinking – the races are too far away, it is too expensive, it is too hard, we have rides here, etc. I’m sorry – but isn’t that why you bought a racing license in the first place – to try USA Cycling sanctioned racing, to race, to keep at it and overcome obstacles and hurdles in your way, and experience the racing life? To challenge yourself? To experience some new venues, people, friendships, obstacles, challenges?
When I was a kid(12 to 17 years old) back in the early 1980s, I was lucky living here in Chico because we had quite a few licensed racers here. We had a Tuesday night Criterium at the Chico Airport each week, we had a Thursday night Time Trial out at River Road each week, and we had daily training rides each day of the week – including weekends. However, we ALL looked forward to going to the sanctioned races out-of-town. We wanted to “practice” our racing and technique on Tuesday & Thursday nights here, train during the week…..but race when the races came on the weekends. Not every weekend, but way more than I see people racing now. We wanted to go and race, have an adventure, race on courses we only get to ride on once per year, ride and race with people we don’t see very often, etc. I use to get so excited about going to races – the trip with friends and teammates, the venues, the warm-ups, the race itself, the story-telling afterwards, seeing the results later – and it was so fun! We didn’t race for a living. We weren’t going to race the Tour de France. We were taking part in a sport unknown to many people, but which was HIGHLY rewarding both physically and mentally to all of us. We didn’t train to “race” the local rides and training races – we wanted to race the “real” races – the ones which were sanctioned, where everyone showed up from all over the district, in a great venue. Nobody cared – or even mentioned - who “won” the Tuesday night criteriums. But, when the topic came up of who won the Camellia Festival Road Race one year, everyone talked about it!(That race is now known as the Bariani Road Race).
Look, I get it – the local “races” are a lot of fun. I get it – I’ve been there as a racer and a promoter. But you got the license and you joined the “team”. Take what you’ve learned, earned and worked hard for – and go test it out at multiple races each year! Time trials, road races, criteriums, stage races, etc. Go for it!
“Rodney, you’re an idiot. YOU are the one who started all these local unsanctioned races recently – and now you’re telling us to go race out-of-town sanctioned races!! What gives??!!”
Here is my answer: At one point in time, R.A.C.E. – Rodney’s Amateur Cycling Events – was putting on up to 10 local bicycle races per week!! Per week!! One year, I think we put on 300 races! But, here was the thing – my goal was to put Chico, California on the “racing” map – especially for sanctioned racers from Chico. My thought was, introduce people to “racing” via R.A.C.E…….and get them to the point where they were comfortable enough to get a license and go race a sanctioned event. For the most part, it worked. There were lots of people who wanted to try a sanctioned race – and did! For others, they just used R.A.C.E. as their weekly riding venue. That’s fine and was strongly encouraged too, and many happy riders did just that. But…….watching things now, and watching the slight deterioration of the NCNCA calendar, I’m a bit worried. Most of all, I can’t figure out why people would purchase a racing license, join a racing team, buy the racing team gear…..and then race one time, or not at all….or maybe just a couple races per year. Yes, I know – the local criteriums are fun, the Fast 50 is fun, the time trials are fun(well, maybe not THAT fun!) – but use all that training and preparation that you now have and go try a sanctioned race! Better yet, try 10 or even 20 or more in a year!! Many will be hooked for life! When I was a promoter, people would tell me that my races were essentially pick-up basketball games – in preparation for the “real” races taking place all over our racing district on the weekends. That’s great – that’s part of why they were there – to practice, train, challenge yourself for other rides & races. When racing, we all used the weekends to either go to a sanctioned race somewhere in the NCNCA district – or, if not racing, we would spend one day doing a long epic memorable weekend ride with our friends and teammates.
The thing is, it’s nice and comfortable to hang out at home, ride with your friends, do a local ride/ race with your buddies week in and week out. I get it…..I’ve been there. But, I would encourage ALL to step out of your comfort zone and head out-of-town and race a USA Cycling sanctioned race this season….and beyond. And I’m not talking about some sanctioned Tuesday night Criteriums – I’m talking about some of the great NCNCA races we have here in northern California! Let’s show Nor Cal who we are here in Chico! I wanna see 20 local racers show up to race the Land Park Criterium , or the Folsom Criterium – or Nevada City! Car pool, go together, teach each other, help each other out, cheer each other on, experience the highs and lows of sanctioned racing together. You have a license and maybe even a team incentive to race – so use it!!! I want to look at the NCNCA results and see a HUGE contingent of Chico/Butte County riders at some or all of these events. I’m talking 10, 20, 30 racers. Can it happen?? I don’t know….at this point, well……I just don’t know.
I’ve been on racing teams in the past where we were obligated to race at least 10 sanctioned races per year – absolute minimum – and they HAD to be sanctioned by USA Cycling. In some cases, they had to be mass-start events only . The more we raced, the more we received from the team(entry fee reimbursement, clothing, equipment, etc.). Some on the team were career Cat. 4 or Cat. 5 racers – and they were probably the happiest people on the team! Racing 10, 20, 30 races per year as a Cat. 4 and/or Masters Cat. 4. No pressure really – no desire really to upgrade – just a desire to race competitively, push themselves, experience the races and other racers….and they were really happy! They trained when they could, they had good equipment – but not great equipment – and they just had a blast racing. They had a camaraderie with their teammates and fellow racers, and they loved the challenge of racing with people they only get to see now and again, racing on a course they might only get to ride once per year. The whole adventure of it all is what kept them at it – it was fun!! Especially after you’ve done your first 10 or 20 races – you gain a little bit of experience, and it can get even more fun! I always told people that very thing out at the R.A.C.E. events – get out there for 20-30 events, learn, develop, train…..and that’s when things really start getting fun!
Look, I know the hardships of racing – I’ve lived it, and I’ve been on both sides – as a promoter(and a ref) and a racer. I know what goes on and what it takes. But if you’re gonna do it, then do it. I know it is crude, but I’m going to say it anyway – shit or get off the pot. You got the license, you joined the team, you bought all the team gear, you have the racing bike, you ride and train…… go for it. Race! And don’t just race one time and call it a day. Give yourself a couple/few years – race 30, 40 races or more over that time – experience racing! If you decide it isn’t for you, just ride for fun and that’s it. Sometimes, your first 5 or 10 races just don’t go as planned. Make adjustments to your training, enjoy the adventure and journey, and try another 10 races and see how it goes. Stick with it. You’ll find that, as time goes on – and the more you ride and the more sanctioned races your enter – the better you tend to get at it…..and the more fun you’ll have. I’ve seen, through the decades, some riders will ride only a couple sanctioned races per year and they can’t understand why they’re not improving. You have to give the races/racing the same effort you give in your training – consistency, lots of riding, taking care of equipment and body. Race 20 sanctioned races in a year if you can and see what happens. My guess is that – and I’ve seen this repeatedly through the decades – you will become more comfortable at sanctioned racing…..which, in turn, improves your racing and overall riding dramatically.
Which brings me back to my point: The NCNCA has a loaded race calendar, even with all the cancelations last year. In our district, we have races almost every weekend – some weekends even have multiple events on the same day! Here in Chico, we have teams, kits, many bike shops – and loads of roads to ride – and tons of licensed racers. Let’s put all this to good use. Look at the NCNCA racing calendar for 2016, and try to pick out a minimum of 10 DIFFERENT races to do(not talking about doing two races in one day at the same venue, although that is loads of fun too). More if you desire. And plan on preparing yourself – mind, body and equipment – to do those events. Give yourself a couple years of racing, preferably more, and challenge yourself to do various races on our NCNCA calendar. Pick a few races which might not be to your strengths – but train your mind and body to do these events. Maybe pick one or two races where you have to travel quite some distance – make a weekend out of it. Just choose your 10(preferably more!) and challenge yourself. I know, I know – bicycle racing is not for everyone. But, you probably wouldn’t be reading this if you weren’t at least slightly interested in bicycle racing. In short, there really shouldn’t be that much need for “Rodney, we need more races put on in Chico next year”. No……what we need is to organize some car pools and go TO sanctioned races in northern California and race the races that are already put on every single weekend around our NCNCA district! Imagine showing up to an out-of-town NCNCA race with 20+ local racers! How cool is that?? How many stories will be told from that race?!
I know this sounds like a plea for the district……and, in some ways, it is. But, more importantly, it is a challenge to you, the racer. Pick some races to do, then do them. Want to do Copperopolis, but afraid that you just aren’t the climber that others are?? Well…..do something about it…..work for it. I’m not talking about winning the race – I’m talking about racing a good race, challenge yourself to prepare for it….and enjoy it along the way….then race!! It’s hard work – but nothing worthwhile really comes easy. Before you know it, you may be even winning a race like Copperopolis! Who knows?! Enjoy the adventure, the camaraderie, the whole package that sanctioned bicycle racing has to offer you.
When I raced, I always looked forward to the adventure awaiting me in the sanctioned races in the NCNCA. The venue, the sights and sounds, the hard work that went in to making the event, the event itself, the other racers, just everything about it. Even standing in line at registration and talking to a fellow racer, who was probably just as nervous as I was, provided many memories and lasting friendships. Some of the best memories I’ve ever had are from my own racing experiences – not necessarily winning, but just the whole adventure of racing – the preparation, the travel, coming home totally spent, the break I just missed being in, or the perfectly timed sprint for the win…..the stories go on and on. Time to make some stories of your own!
During the last couple of years, looking at results, we’ve had a few local riders show up to NCNCA races. Hey, I’ve seen it worse(in the 1990s, there would be NO local racers at ANY NCNCA race, week-after-week). At one race last year, a local racer won the event. But…..no teammates were there – not one other racer from Chico…at least, not that I saw from the results. Now…..imagine seeing that win with 10, 20, even 30 teammates/locals there at the event!! How crazy happy would that be for all??!!
Most who know me, know who I am. I’ve put over 2,000 cycling events and over 20,000 volunteer hours in the sport of cycling during my life. I’ve been a racer and a promoter. Of the two, I’d rather be a racer…..especially in our district. You are very lucky to be bicycle racers in the NCNCA – one of the best, if not THE best racing district, in the United States. My message here today, primarily, goes out to those licensed racers – or soon-to-be licensed racers – who are having some apprehension with regard to USA Cycling sanctioned races: GO RACE!! The clubs and promoters in this district work very hard, and spend loads of time/money/energy to put on races every weekend. Take advantage of it!!! It’s the worst feeling EVER to put on a race and have to cancel it because nobody showed up, or nobody signed up for it. It’s gut-wrenching, I know this personally. You hold a racing license, are on a team, have the kit, have the bike – time to flip the switch and put the hammer down – go race!!!
Don’t get me wrong – I think the riders who ride/race the weekly events here in Chico are great. That’s all they want, that’s all they need. As far as I’m concerned, that’s perfect – as long as it’s perfect for them. You go to the local events, you know most everyone as you ride with them week in and week out….a sense of familiarity makes it a little more comfortable. Plus, no travel, few expenses, maybe zero entry fee(like R.A.C.E. events).
But…..if you purchased a license and joined up with a team…..I have a hunch that maybe you had bigger plans for yourself with regard to your racing career. Maybe it’s time to step out of that comfort zone and put that license, bike, kit and team to good use! You may have even become a regular at some of the local events – well, quite frankly, that’s perfect!! Now you’re more comfortable riding in a pack & paceline, being at a race or group ride, riding fast, cornering, teamwork, etc. – that, alone, will put you far above many other racers. Go for the challenge – pick your sanctioned races this year and commit to it. I’m here too – if you need to talk or just chat about racing – I’m here. You’re going to have so much fun!!