Polluting the Pond- Tour of Fairbanks Part V (The Ugly)

Before I go on, let me again state that this is not an attack on the organizers of the event. The amount of energy it takes to pull this off is staggering. The personalities, agencies, and red tape you have to deal with can be soul-sucking. The behind the scenes politics that the rest of us never see wear you down. The upside is the pride you feel in what you helped create. You deserve that feeling, because you worked hard for it. You created an outlet for others to live out their Walter Mitty fantasies in a healthy way. In today's world, that's a very good thing. You should be rewarded for your labor instead of having some fat internet blogger tell you the child you raised from an embryonic stage is ugly.
Your baby looks like Honey Boo Boo.
Just like with Honey Boo Boo, some people like that sort of thing. I don't, so I'll explain why.
First and foremost, combining fields of widely differing capabilities is the gold-standard recipe for killing motivation for the back half of the pack. If the stage results are any guide, I should have been the very bottom of the list of riders in that group, and I was almost 30 minutes behind Tyson. The next guy came in over 15 minutes later in the overall. Once you're dropped, you bleed time. If you get dropped during every mass start race, you hemorrhage time. We don't enter races to ride alone behind the pack. We enter races to compete with riders of similar abilities. Anyone with half a brain soon realizes where they fit in the food chain. If you're a fox, you don't go head-to-head with a wolf around the moose carcass. You compete with other foxes. Playing far above your head is great training, but doesn't make for fun racing.
With a balanced pack, the differences are smaller- even on a longer course. Guys are going to get dropped, but that's racing. Everyone has bad days. I had a couple. However, there is a greater chance of riders hanging on longer and feeling like they're in the mix- and that's the goal. We're not all special snowflakes and not everyone can win, but feeling like you're part of the race is extremely important to any rider's self esteem.
In the crit, I benefitted from presence of the Open riders. The majority of the Masters field did not. 12 out of the 17 riders in that race were lapped because of the Open influence. There is no way I would have gone that fast without wheel sucking the stronger riders, and I was bleeding out of my eyes for the majority of the race. In other mass-start races, bridging to Open breakaways allowed riders to gain gaps that they would not otherwise have attempted. I didn't have the legs to go, so the other riders were stronger, but it's obvious that the race was unduly influenced. It's great when you get the upper hand, but not so great when you are left behind. Having been on both sides, it's something I don't particularly like.
With the migration of riders away from Open, combining the packs was almost a requirement. I get that. I was asked about combining, and didn't think beyond myself when I said yes. I know good and well where I fit in the food chain, and figured I might be able to hang on the back and get beat up. I didn't think about the other riders around me that would be dropped because they didn't have my high degree off wheel-sucking prowess.
That migration shouldn't have happened. Given the way the GC results shook out on the exact same courses, the top 4-6 of the Masters field and the Sport rider should have been in the Open class. None of us are on the same level as Tyson and Riley, but it would have made for more cohesive fields and allowed for separate starts. Yeah, that would have put me dead-last in Open, but I probably could have hung in there with that pack. Maybe not most years, when the top end is a little stronger, but maybe this year.
Once registration closed, the organization should have looked at the fields and made sure they were balanced. Ask a rider here or there to shift. It's a small pool of racers, and most of us are known quantities at this point. The race results are out there, people ride with each other on group rides... very few of the racers came out of left field. Sure, getting bumped up from a lower-class podium to pack fodder in the bigs can hurt a little, but you're in the show. Put in perspective, somebody thinks you're strong enough to take that next step. People can always say no, and you never know when a rider is going to completely blow up, but making that effort to ensure people are racing instead of just participating goes a long way. That's the reason USAC has upgrade progressions, and why the Arctic Bike Club has moved in that direction.
Fairbanks has a smaller pool of racers than the plastic SpongeBob wading pool that is Anchorage racing, so recruitment for the smaller races is actually more important than publicity for the Tour of Fairbanks. The more racers you get doing the one-day races, the larger the pool of potential stage racers. Your entry class, Sport, should be just that- entry level. Guys with fenders on steel touring frames shouldn't be intimidated to enter, thinking they're going to be lining up against guys with shaved legs and 100% carbon fiber bikes made entirely of carbon with full carbon deep-section wheels and extra carbon-wrapped carbon. Yes, I stole that from Wanky. Every road bike sold in Fairbanks and the surrounding moose bogs should come with a flyer advertising the wonders of road bike racing. Group rides should abound with conversations about how awesome that last race was. Racers should be accosting other riders on the bike trails with pamphlets. Go all Seventh-Day Adventist on them. If you get five riders out of the deal that do more than one race, that's five you didn't have before. It's going to take more than "Chris the village road racing idiot" to ring the bell, though. It's going to take a whole village of idiots. I know they have them in Fairbanks, because... well... Fairbanks.
I want to see this race grow, because I really like racing in Fairbanks. I like telling people about the magnificent stages that I experienced and the great people I raced with. I like reflecting on races and where I did well and where I completely hosed myself. Like I said, it's the best road racing venue in the state.
All of this was written from the consumer's point of view, and may or may not reflect actual reality. Too many factors impact such an event (permits, volunteers, experience...), but I just don't think going smaller is the answer. The all-out blitz that was the 2012 edition may have been a bit over the top (interesting having a DJ, though), but somewhere in the middle may be the formula for growth.
Once again I am compelled to note my capacity for frequent wrongness.
Do what you think is right, and I'll review the race bible before I make the investment next time. Hopefully that race bible will more or less align with USAC standards next time. If you need any help (that can be provided from a distance), let me know. I've been known to be a bell-ringing idiot from time to time.


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