Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Racing - Rock Racing Rocks

Can you believe the title of my post?

Well, trust me, it's not what I thought I'd be writing about.

It started when I stood and watched the Philly race over the course of six sun-beaten, humidity laden, brain frying hours. It might be that my brain started acting funny or something. I mean cameras were doing it, why not humans? I'm just another human after all.

(btw Zui is the guy that hooked me up with ice cold water during Philly which probably helped prevent me from keeling over in front of the field).

This was my first introduction to Rock Racing. I didn't see Michael Ball, I didn't see the big bus parked over by the pits, but I did see the boys in green and black rolling around before the race. And during the race, they slotted a good rider in the early break (Tyler, along with a formerly local guest Davide Frattini in Colavita colors to the back of the picture), letting their designated hit man Oscar Sevilla rest his legs in relative comfort in the 95-100 degree heat. Backing them all up was their ace in the hole, two time winner Fred Rodriguez.

Once the field came back together only a few teams really had the horsepower to launch serious attacks. Rock Racing was one of them. Although they ultimately didn't win, Fast Freddie podiumed to make it a nice close call.

Of course who could miss their team car, the black Caddy emblazoned with the lime green curly cues and the big white skull. I'm not partial to skulls but it gets the point across.

Bad Boys.

Okay, so Rock Racing, for all their glitz and glamor, they faded a touch without a Cipollini in the midst of all the hardened Euro pros, and since Philly is a complete and well run race, Philly always had a boppin' sound system cranking tunes. They even had podium girls, so RR was kinda sorta seemingly-not-as-brash.

Cut to Harlem, a once deteriorated section of New York City.

Someone went there with two enormous TV screens (each requiring its own 18 wheeler), a full size 18 wheeler trailer just for video type equipment and the subsequent power required, more 18 wheelers for TV related stuff, an 18 foot trailer (or was it a 24 footer?) full of cameras and booms, a tour/team bus, a sound system so loud it was painful across from the announcing stand, and a bazillion other things.

Rock Racing.

They made Harlem rock.

I mean, you couldn't help but have a fun time out there at the races. Okay, fine, a crit that passes by every 90 seconds is fun to watch too, but just the sound of tires and chains? No, that's not that compelling to most people. But being able to watch the whole course on TV, listening to the beat of the music way in the background, a frenzied announcer that we could hear 300 meters away, and lots and lots of primes... that makes for a good combination of stuff.

I've never, ever been to a race where you could watch the whole race on TV. Or two TVs. Okay, sometimes one, because the 4th Turn TV would sometimes blink out. But you get the idea. Full TV coverage of the whole course. You could see all the moves, watch each and every corner.

(That got me thinking about Bethel of course but that's a whole different story.)

They even, get this, set up little bullet-type cams all over the course, strapped to the barricades, recording into waterbottles stuffed with electronics.

They even had them on bikes!

No helmet cams (yet), but they want their stars to appear in their clips. So Tyler had two cameras, one pointing forward (it's on his top tube) and one pointing up at his face.

I asked about it and one guy said they're working things out for now, but we should see clips by the end of the season. You know the kind, the MTV constantly changing clip where it cuts from one thing to another with epileptic seizure inducing frequency.

They brought the MC from Lemon Hill in Philly, a Boston area guy familiar to a lot of racers in the area, Richard Fries. He's a bit more amped than Michael Ball which is saying a lot, and he got the crowd going into a frenzy.

The one thing I didn't notice were any Rock and Republic jeans for sale, but that's okay. The cool t-shirts were enough, and they had some other stuff (I can't recall exactly what, except they also had caps). No kits though, and if they had, I'd have been tempted to buy one.

The thing about Rock Racing is that they put on a show. It was entertainment. Yeah, I know it's not like that when you're out training on some quiet mountain road, but a bicycle race is part performance, part spectacle. If it wasn't it simply wouldn't be as exciting.

I'm not a fan of WWF where it's all spectacle and not much else, but Rock Racing certainly made it more exciting to watch than, say, an early spring series of races. Okay, it's fun to watch if you know someone in the race, and yes, I hollered for the guys I knew in the race at Harlem, but you could easily become a fan of a Rock Star, so to speak.

Get 5 teams like Rock Racing and every race will be a huge spectacle. I almost said "carnival" but that has an element of non-seriousness. It would be serious for sure, because there's bike racing, but from a spectator fan (and consumer) base, the spectacle would be just as important. When baseball fans go to the game, they wear caps, they wave little flags or bats or something, and they drink out of team cups. They may not have swung a bat for 30 years (ever?) but that's okay. They're fans and they support their team.

It should be the same for cycling.

Although some teams tried it half heartedly, no one's done it full bore, not like Rock Racing. I remember a slew of Saturn bells being passed out at races, and recently Toyota waterbottles, but not the head to toe offerings of Rock Racing. A dinky bell seems weak by comparison, even though I've saved mine from way back when.

I'm actually surprised Rock Racing doesn't do baseball cards of each of their racers, even the temporary composite ones. They could even do the other teams, what the heck, it would make them that much more collectible. "Yeah, I finally got the David Millar Rock Racing card."

Talk about getting Juniors into the sport.

I guess that most teams simply don't have the endless flow of cash that Rock Racing has, and they can't do these kind of things. The tech for the little waterbottle cam thing shrugged nonchalantly when he mentioned to another crew member that one of Tyler's recording devices fell off his bike. Apparently the pounding of the NYC pavement was too much for one of the bottles, and it lost its cap. Eventually the bottle ejected its contents. For Rock Racing, it's a shrug. For another team it's more like, "Oh, snap, we just lost the equivalent of a front wheel!" Or maybe a frame, I have no idea how they got such a small recording device.

With all the controversy surrounding the team, the resistance from the established community, it's hard to see beyond the glitz and glamor. But sometimes that's what you need to look at because sometimes that's what the sport needs.

So, to Rock Racing, I hope you come out with RR trading cards. I hope you virally market them to all the junior high school kids out there, get them psyched about bike racing. And maybe, just maybe, we can justify having a separate Junior race at Bethel one year.

Wouldn't that be something?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Boy, way to wade in to the Rock Racing debate! I have to admit I'm not quite decided about them yet, but appreciate the first-hand insight from the past couple of weekends. The sport certainly needs a shot in the arm, *figuratively* speaking. Dunno if RR is it, but it's the only one out there trying this hard. Interestingly, Slipstream is trying too - on the other end of the spectrum.

Hmmm... Argyle vs. Skull - who wins?