The Gravity East Series round at Windham, New York, did not live up to expectations of many people last weekend. The downhill and dual slalom races were supposed to showcase the 2010 World Cup gravity courses on June 27-28.
"'Debacle' is the word that comes to mind," said Ken Getchell of the public relations firm representing the Gravity East Series. "It's scary that Windham is a World Cup venue. Guys will go back to the World Cup circuit and may say negative things."
The biggest problem was that Windham organizers never officially sanctioned the race - with USA Cycling or the UCI. "They never sent the forms in. None of us knew it at the time," said Getchell. "We had 190 riders show up. Guys came over from Europe."
Gravity East Series organizer Dan McDonald, also a USA Cycling official, first became aware there was a problem when he noticed two different kinds of rider release forms being used for registration.
"We were on the phone with the insurance company, who was saying, 'no you can't get insurance for a race already in progress.' The race was run as a USAC race, even though it wasn't really one," said Getchell, who added that USAC has since decided to count the results as a nationals qualifier, nonetheless.
In addition to the sanctioning mistake, more minor problems added to the weekend's confusion.
"They had registration all messed up. The person doing the data entry had made a lot of mistakes. Dan started catching the errors because he is familiar with a lot of the riders," said Getchell. "They tried to fix registration before each class, but the changes overwhelmed the scorer, who then started making mistakes."
"It was a case of cascading errors. People were in the wrong class. People's names were mispelled. At this point, many of the racers don't even know it wasn't a sanctioned race."
When the pros were awarded on the podium, they received a pint glass as their prize - less than typical pro compensation. A few days later, McDonald reached into his pocket on behalf of the series and paid a purse to the pros - checks are in the mail.
In contrast, last year's cross country events held at Windham Mountain, as part of the US National Mountain Bike Series (NMBS) received rave reviews from racers.
Getchell theorized about what happened, "I think they [the organizers] were preoccupied with the course. Last year's cross country series was part of the national series. You had this self-contained program that came in and did everything. Gravity East is more like most regional series - where each individual race promoter is expected to do certain things, and we provide marketing support. It was all in the contract, but there wasn't the needed communication."
"Most of these were normal mistakes that could have been rectified."
Getchell is optimistic that things will improve in time for a successful World Cup next summer. "Hopefully this is a wake-up call. The good thing is that when things go a little bad, it can mask true problems. When you crash and burn this spectacularly, there's no missing the fact."
"In the aftermath, USAC has put together a committee with Dan McDonald and some athletes to ensure the quality of the future World Cup event. The general feeling is that if this World Cup gets screwed up, we can't expect another World Cup in America for a long, long time."
Windham Mountain is scheduled to host a round of the US ProXCT on August 16.