By Mark Zalewski, North American Editor
The 40th anniversary of the longest-running multi-category cycling event in the USA was in question in many minds until recently, with USA Cycling permits on hold for various reasons, including two lawsuits and lack of payment. As well one race was listed as TBA until last week. However, enough of the issues seem to have been put to rest, as well as the announcement of the last new race to be held in Richton Park outside Chicago, for the event to go ahead.
A lot of the issues stem from financial areas. USA Cycling said it had not been paid for the 2007 race series as of mid-June, despite the race collecting pre-registration fees from racers for this year. Larry Martin, the North-Central Regional Coordinator for USAC, told Cyclingnews that the hold on issuing permits was based on the payment for 2007.
"They hadn't paid us for last year and we were waiting," he said. "We were waiting for them to submit the permits, and the permits were filed [recently.]"
Co-owners of the race series, brothers Michael and Andy Garrison, said that the lack of payment was a result of miscommunication between the USAC officials and them. "The chief had not sent in the paperwork from last year and once we found out we paid them immediately," said Michael Garrison.
"The chief referee had asked us for payment right after the race," said Andy Garrison. "We said we would issue a check once everything is in the account. For some reason it fell through the cracks and she never talked to us again. She never sent the paperwork in. I called her numerous times and she eventually told me I could go online and do it. I tried and then called numerous times and Beth [Vialpando (USA Cycling Membership Coordinator)] said we didn't have the paperwork from the chief referee."
That issue aside, the race is also currently involved with two separate lawsuits – another nonpayment claim made by a local county and a wrongful death case from three years ago when a rider collided with a truck during the Alpine Valley road race. While the wrongful death case is being settled between the various insurance companies, and not affecting the series, the lawsuit by Walworth Country in Wisconsin means one less road race for 2008 – bringing the total amount of road races down to just two out of seventeen total races.
According to Michael Cotter, deputy corporation counsel of Walworth County, the dispute is over a bill of around $4,000 USD for sheriff's deputies to marshal the MGA Proving Grounds road race course.
"As of a year ago [the race] had not paid for 2006 and we said we were going to cancel the race in 2007," said Cotter. "[Michael Garrison] asked us not to cancel it since he had all these riders coming from all over the world that had booked travel. We said we wanted a bond of $10,000 for 2007. He said he couldn't do it but he said 'I will pay you for 2006 and then pay you for 2007 by August'. Naively I agreed with him because I felt badly for the riders who had booked travel to come to the race.
"He did pay for 2006 immediately before the 2007 event because we had an agreement that if he did not cut the check we would pull the event," he added. "He agreed and so we had deputies out there for 2007. We sent him an invoice in July for a little more than $4,000 and never heard from him. We called him numerous times and threatened the lawsuit, and still heard nothing. We filed the lawsuit and now he is fighting it."
Andy Garrison responded by saying the county had changed their policies at the eleventh hour due to complaints from local citizens about non-police personnel directing traffic. "Walworth told us at the last minute that we needed deputies at every single intersection," he said. "The captain suggested we use his own private security – we said we would use ours, but he said we couldn't and essentially held a gun to our head. So we disputed the bill."
Cotter said that this issue is only with Superweek and that the county enjoys working with a number of bike races throughout the year. "We have other bike races in the county and they have been great to work with," he said. "They meet with our law enforcement folks and it's never a problem. They provide all the insurance, pay their bills, meet ahead of time and make sure everything works perfect. I never should have let him get off without a bond, it's not that I cared about him but cared about the people coming in for the event."
Since the race is not attempting to have the road race at MGA, the series will continue. In its place are a number of new criteriums. According to Andy Garrison, one of the intents was to link the first six races together in the Chicago area to reduce the driving burden, particularly in light of high fuel prices.
Another highlight of the race is the infamous Downer Avenue bike race, which is considered by many professionals to be a top criterium win. In previous years the non-pro categories raced a road course near the lakefront. But with that roadway under construction, the organizers decided to have an entire day of racing on the Downer Avenue.
"There is going to be an all-Belgian beer fest. that day, so we decided Downer Avenue will be an all-category race," he said.
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