Saturday, September 12, 2009

Promoting Races - Tour of Missouri Should Be For The Racers

Holy smokes.

The Tour of Missouri is an embarrassment to US racing.

To have a rider hit by a VIP vehicle in a time trial?

To block a potential stage winner twice in that same time trial? By the same people?


That's fine for a Cat 3 race where we don't race for anything. Or maybe if the racers got blocked by an ambulance, or something unusual was happening like a robbery or a hostage situation, something outside of the realm of bike racing. And, since I tend to give people chances, fine, if it was a first year effort, a ground-breaking race, I can understand some teething pains.

But not for the third year of one of five UCI 2.HC races in the US, one that attracts some of the best talent in the world.

I've helped in one stage race at that level, meaning at some level way above the Cat 3s. Fine, the race had some traffic problems in one particular stage. That was mainly due to a lack of coordination between different jurisdictions, in other words state and local. A bunch of vandals didn't help when they took down miles of directional arrows, but that's beside the point.

The main problem popped up due to an insistence by the state that the race be re-routed through some extremely busy roads because a new library was opening there. Against the strongest protests by the tech director the race went through those busy streets. And, in the caravan, I never saw the library, just the horrifying view of stacked up traffic trying to get off the course into side streets almost literally gridlocked.

There were some teething pains - in a first year event it's to be expected. The local police, inexperienced in running such events, came through most of the time. One town even roped in their public works department, stationing bulldozers, dumptrucks, and front loaders at various intersections. Another town shut down a huge potential nightmare of a problem, leaving the race a clear path down the big main street.

Sometimes the organization simply failed, and we found literally no local forces manning the turns in some of the smaller towns. In the one big city we hit, the police hadn't shut down the roads early enough. I know that before parades and such the streets in NYC can be closed for most of the day. In our case the police tried to shut down traffic just 10 or 15 minutes before the race came through.

The result was absolute chaos.

So, yeah, I've been in situations where the race hasn't been ideal.

However, the race personnel weren't causing the problems.

That stinks of incompetence and favoritism.

Incompetence because the drivers obviously aren't paying attention to the racers, and the organizers are letting the wrong people drive in the wrong places. Favoritism because it's painfully apparent that the drivers were not selected for their attentive driving habits.

In that same race above, I watched one particular guy work part of the race. He's a friend of the promoter and has his job simply because he's done it from day one. But 20 years down the road and he had other things he'd prefer to do. Unfortunately, in the prologue, he just disappeared from his post. If he was marshaling a turn, that'd be fine, we just need to get another marshal.

But he was lining up the team cars to follow their racers in the prologue.

I and another guy stepped in quickly, pretty much because we were the only two there that had an idea of how things should work. It worked out fine, but it illustrated vividly that personnel need to be selected on their ability to carry out a task, not because they're friends of someone.

There's a pretty simple solution to problems like the ones Tour of Missouri experienced.

First off, the other drivers need to understand the implications of, "Hey, whatever dude, just chill, it just kind of happened."

That's simply not acceptable.

One possible solution is to immediately and permanently ban the drivers in the two incidents. Like forever, not just in 2009, but for any future event that the promoters hold. Another is to fine the drivers some significant amount of money, and hand the money to the racers. When I say significant, I'm talking $5000 or so, something enough to help a top level pro racer and his team forget that the incident ever happened. Although it would help for a smaller team's budget, it would help assuage a larger ProTour team's sense of dignity.

Second, the race organizers should pay a tad less for the riders' start fees and pay some of the race personnel a bit more money. They should hire drivers blind, not because they're friends of the promoters or free volunteers. Then they can actually choose who works for them, get competent people, and hold them accountable for what they do.

Of course this may be a moot point, since the race may not happen next year.

It's too bad. With the potential of this race, and all the press it got (just search for Tour of Missouri - tons of articles on the race coming through town), it has to be a good thing for growing interest in the sport.

The problem is that it needs to be good for the riders already in the sport too.

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