Sunday, July 10, 2011

One-Day Road Races

Pictured above is the second of three critical moments of the 1992 Hottern' Hell 100 road race (picture from an old Velo News). At the third of four hot spot sprints, worth $100 to the winner and lesser amounts to second and third places, Roy Knickman kept going after the sprint, and I scrambled for his wheel. Roy actually told me he was going to do that, because, I think, he considered me the best choice to keep us ahead of the bunch while whittling down the numbers in the break. We had a group of five from about mile ten going for the first hot spot. Also in the group was my old friend Waz (Jim) Warsa from Albuquerque riding for the small local New Mexico Velo Sport Club (BR Gordon Construction/Harvard Bike House) and Ron Schmeer from Seattle (TCBY). The other guy was a local Texan whose name I'm sorry, I can't remember. Perhaps it was John Mayo. In any case, from the picture you can see, that even though I knew, I still had to strain to keep Roy's wheel, such was the ferocity of his acceleration. Further to the point that I should have been ready, Roy announced to the Coors Light crew in the feed zone, "Tell them I can win".

This is into the headwind something like ten or fifteen miles to the finish. Roy had me on the ropes the whole way. I was trying to think of how I might beat him at the finish, and my only option was to sit on and hope for the best. I didn't dare try that, however, because I knew that he would employ the right tricks to attack in response. If he jumped, for instance by slowing down and then accelerating, I wasn't so sure I could cover it, even though there was a strong headwind. Roy then offered to let me take the final Hot Spot if I conceded the finish. While I thought about it, Roy reminded me of a deal that had been worked out in very similar circumstances in our team's favor the previous year. I ended up accepting the offer, simply because I knew there was no way I was going to beat him. Additionally, we had no information as to what was going on behind us, and if I got dropped, I didn't know if any of my teammates were in position to mop up the mess I was in. Moreover, Roy was having one of his days, and there was no beating Roy on one of his days. Just like the year before at the Proctor Classic in Peoria, resistance was futile.
Domestically, Roy always had 'his days' in one day road races. Coors Light was a very talent laden team with a lot of emphasis on stage racing. They had guys who could win every overall, and guys who could go for every stage. Not being the best sprinter, or the best climber, Roy got slotted into the worker slot. Stage racing calls for control , while a one day road race rewards those who push for the front, who go out and grab at the chances offered. It was only in the very few one day road races that Roy had a chance to get loose for a win.

It was about this time that I had been thinking that I had squandered my years of racing trying to force myself to be something I wasn't: a stage racer. But it wasn't as if I had a choice. In the United States, at the national level, there are stage races, criteriums, and a lamentable lack of one-day road races. While I had won criteriums, I didn't put much stock in them because, perhaps foolishly, I had ambitions of making it as a pro in Europe, and criteriums are worthless currency internationally. Road race stages in stage races are also not the same as a one day road race, because, as I mentioned above, stage race tactics call for control. Certain riders are contained or not contained based on their overall position. There isn't nearly the urgent battle for position and call for tactical sense in road stages of a stage race, as there are for a one-day road race.

Every local scene has plenty of circuit road races, but at the national level, they disappear. Back in the late 80's and early 90's, there was the Hotter 'n Hell in Wichita Falls, TX, the Proctor Classic in Peoria, IL, and a few other scattered smaller races. Everything else were criteriums and stage races. Since then there was a push for city center road races. Seattle had one, San Francisco had another, but the only one left is the original U.S. city center race in Philadelphia.

The reason this matters for U.S. racing is that U.S. bike racers don't get enough exposure to racing that every European bike racer gets from the start. It's pretty big shock the typical U.S. rider gets riding their first race in's like starting all over again. Local, Regional, and National levels of racing need to replicate as much as possible the International level, so that racers (who always start, of course, at the local level) can know what to expect. Otherwise, if they reach the international level, they end up playing catch up with limited time, and most of time never gain footing. The exceptionally talented may not have this problem, but most do.

While I think it's important for U.S. racing to have more one day road races, I know it's difficult to promote them. Trouble is, a top quality national level road race is expensive to put on, and the return on those expenses is hard to make up. To promoters, criteriums seem a much easier proposition since they're easier to organize, and it's easier to get sponsors as spectators are an easier draw than a road race that may only pass by once or once every half hour. Road races need television coverage to make them an attractive draw to sponsors, and that's a nail in the coffin to most promoters straight away. Stage races also are an easier sponsorship draw for U.S. promoters because at least a stage race keeps a large number of people in a centralized area for several days, and provides a considerable economic boost to smaller cities and towns.

The solution to this is simple, and prohibitive. As always, it comes down to money. If several promoters could come up with the money that could bring quality courses along with television coverage (even if just local or regional), perhaps the U.S. could have a set of one-day road races that I think would vastly improve the quality of U.S. bike racing. I wouldn't count on this happening anytime soon, unfortunately. The last great one-day road race in the U.S. was the Univest Grand Prix in Pennsylvania. Even that got turned into a stage race.