By Mark Zalewski, North American Editor
There are only so many weekends in a year, and even fewer dates with ideal cycling weather for much of the US. So when trying to plan an event, race promoters have a limited window in which to work. Combine that with all of the extra variables promoters have to consider or contend with: city, county and state officials and police; other local events; purchasing and approval of permits; and the headaches grow.
Oh yeah, and throw in the 2,500 other cycling events trying to fit together and the challenges grow exponentially. At the top of the list are a select group of races that go further and bid to become part of the USA Cycling National Racing Calendar (NRC). With the bid process for the 2009 season underway, Cyclingnews' looks at what is working and what is not.
In theory the NRC status should give an event stature and recognition as the top event on a given date, and thus should garner a majority of teams and riders from around the country. To get NRC status, a race needs to jump through many additional hoops, such as meeting prize money minimums (raised for 2008,) ensure quality infrastructure and show a proven track record of running high-end events. However, for many promoters the system just is not working as intended, with events crossing paths and cancelling each other out, as well as little in terms of specialized support from USA Cycling.
Such was the case recently with the Presbyterian Health Care Invitational in Charlotte, North Carolina and the Tour of Elk Grove near Chicago, both on the same weekend. While the Charlotte race had the NRC status the Tour of Elk Grove did not, due to a paperwork error last fall. As such it was run in the same category a plain-as-vanilla parking lot criterium albeit the world's richest parking lot criterium. The two races featured the richest prize purses of the year, with Charlotte at US$100,000 and Elk Grove at $275,000, making it the richest three-stage race in the world.
While the US domestic scene has evolved to the point where most of the men's peloton can split its talent across two events, having nearly $400,000 of prize money on one weekend was to many a poor allocation of resources. "It's unfair to the athletes too because this taken off a huge payday for them," said Thad Fischer, director of the Charlotte race. "They need that potential income." As well, the entire field in Elk Grove (though limited to pro teams only) was only 63 riders hardly worthy of the six-figure prize list on offer.
USA Cycling's man in charge of the NRC, Justin Rogers, said that problems like this are being addressed, particularly with a major fix to the bid process. "The most prevalent one is that [the bid application] is out earlier," he said. "Previously we followed the model of the UCI and gave promoters 30 days to submit their information. That doesn't give them a lot of time to get everything together so we've moved the process farther out to July 15 until September 15. We then hope to announce the calendar around Interbike."
Rogers said that the narrow window was part of the reason for the Charlotte/Elk Grove debacle. "Last year when the bid process took place, we received a bid from the Charlotte criterium but nothing from Elk Grove. At that point we moved forward with the calendar. Then we were notified that Elk Grove was on the same date and there were a number of conversations with the promoters to work out a solution. Both had their dates secured and had to move forward. So we were stuck with a weekend of nearly $400,000 of prize money. It's not ideal and would love to see those events move off each other, but it's scheduling."
Again the variables in race promoting reared their ugly heads. Both Charlotte and Elk Grove said that weekend was the only weekend on which they could hold their races Charlotte because the coveted city center location was booked every other weekend and Elk Grove because they were adding a road stage and a nearby major event would have made it impossible on the previous date, a week later than the two years before. Unfortunately, the date move by Elk Grove was not communicated.
"We applied for the date that we needed and didn't hear back from USAC," said Fischer. "We assumed everything was fine and when the schedule was released we had our date. But we did not see Elk Grove listed and I made a few calls and found out it was on our date. I called the guys in Chicago and they said they were in the same boat and said they did not know we were on that date. Our situation is that we have this date or no date, because [the location] is booked every weekend."
"USAC's response is that they are not an NRC event and that it isn't a conflict with you," Fischer continued. "I responded with that we are all using the same athlete pool. We are a six-figure event and having to share the athletes with another six-figure event."
Read the complete feature.