Participation Redux

Friday's post was inspired by Wanky's blog entry on equality and prize money. His basic premise (which I agree with 100%) was that prizes should be equal for men and women. Where we differ is on the reasons people enter this race or that race.
His position is that large cash prizes attract large fields. My position is that most of the rank and file racers (the ones that pay the bills and don't have a legitimate shot at any money) race because racing is really fun.
Our views are likely shaped by our environments.
In Southern California (and other cycling hotbeds), there is a large population. There are surrounding areas and states that have relatively large populations. Even considering that road racing is a small segment of a fringe sport, there is a large population of road-racing cyclists relative to other areas of the country. Travel is not necessarily excessively expensive to get from race to race. Road systems are developed and varied. The climate is such that year-round road cycling is possible.
Contrast that with Alaska. San Francisco has a larger population than Alaska. The drive between the largest city (Anchorage) and the second largest (Fairbanks) takes over 6 hours. A handful of small towns lie between them, some of which wouldn't warrant a post office in the Lower 48. You can't drive to the third-largest population center (Juneau), which is also the state capital. To drive to the next state involves a 2,200 mile commute. The point is this- population is a finite resource here. Distance and geography further isolate the populace.
The road system is small. Look at a map. Despite the size of the state, there are only a handful of paved highways, connecting the population centers in the central to south central portions of the state to the outside world. Go off those highways more than 30 miles and you're looking at gravel roads at best. The vast majority of the state doesn't have pavement, and while it's fine with us, it doesn't make for a wide variety of cycling venues.
You have unfrozen pavement in Anchorage from April to October, give or take. In the winter, people find other pursuits to entertain themselves. Some cross-country ski, some alpine ski, some ride fatbikes, some get fat in front of the TV... Chances are, more than a few people I'm lining up against in July will be riding the chairlift with me in January. When the season changes, so does the activity.
Out of the cyclists in town, the vast majority ride multiple disciplines throughout the summer. Very, very few identify themselves strictly as roadies, and even fewer actually race. Of those that race, a lot will jump from crit to MTB race to triathlon, then get their late season endorphin rush with 'cross. None of the local race series offer cash prizes, yet some (like Arctic Cross) have exploded exponentially in participation. Some events max out their rosters, which are dictated by what the venues will bear and the logistical capacity of the organization. That doesn't seem to be a problem the road division has.
Why? It isn't money. Maybe a handful of racers come down annually from Fairbanks, but other than that, the only out-of-towners are here for business or vacation- and gee, there's a bike race too? Airfare isn't cheap, and then you have to eat and sleep as well. No amount of prize money we could offer could offset that expense. Again, a finite pool of potential racers.
Given the lack of pavement and the abundance of not-pavement, it makes sense that a lot of locals would gravitate towards mountain bikes. The relatively recent creation of new singletrack trail systems has reinforced that tendency. While the area has a large community of endurance athletes, a great many of them don't own a bike with slick tires.
I don't think that we're reaching everyone we can with the right message, and therefore maximizing the number of fish we get out of this small pond. I also don't think throwing a bunch of money out there isn't going to keep them coming back- especially given that ABC is not exactly sitting on Kardashian money.
Wanky and I disagree, and that's fine. We live in very different places. I, for one, am really happy about that.


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