Opinions Differ.

"The justice of sport, yes. The sacrifice without end."
                           -Gene Hackman in Downhill Racer
 
I wore out my VHS copy of that movie years ago, back when my whole life revolved around being the absolute best low-average Masters alpine ski racer I could be. The scene this line is from is in a hospital room, where an athlete who has dedicated his whole life to being the best at a sport lies with a possible career-ending injury. Also in the room is another racer, played by Robert Redford, who lacks the injured athlete's dedication and discipline but has surpassed him because of natural ability and other traits. Robert Redford's character goes on to win the Olympic gold medal, while the dedicated-but-injured athlete isn't mentioned again.
 
The justice of sport.

What brought this to mind was a recent Wanky post. He was ranting, as he is prone to do, about how a large infusion of cash would solve all of domestic cycling's issues- especially at the junior level. He pointed out that some of the best cyclists in the country don't make a living wage and being a professional racer is not a viable career choice, even for the best of the best. We agree that no sport is a good career path for a kid, because the chances of the years of dedication and expense required to reach the top level paying off are extremely small. Then you can throw in the very real possibility that they will incur an injury somewhere along the line that will likely affect them for the rest of their lives.

The justice of sport.

A better investment in their future would be a math tutor.

That's not to say I think kids should be avoiding sports because they won't make them rich and could likely lead to injury. I think sports are pretty darn awesome, and life is better when you play them. I think, on the whole, the benefits an active life bring justify the cost. If you find a sport that truly speaks to you, you should participate in that sport as much as you can reasonably afford.

Wanky and others I know believe that larger cash awards will bring more participation. I personally believe that model is unsustainable for amateur racing- especially at the lower levels. I believe you need to figure out exactly why people who don't ride bikes aren't riding and why people who do ride bikes aren't road racing. Not guesses from people who already do both activities (because perceptions are very, very clouded by experience), but actually ask that very large segment of the population for the reasons why. Ask the new racers why they didn't try before and what they would do to improve the process. Then gather up that data and find a way to speak to the new guy. Find a way to sell road racing so it sounds as exciting and awesome as it is for the experienced racer. In other words, build the future instead of catering to the present and the past. The feeder pools of beginner junior and adult racers are the future. Those are the guys that make the sport viable.

I'm not talking about watering down the sport so that it has all the dangers of fighting in an inflatable sumo costume (which does sound like fun). I'm suggesting finding a way to make their transition into racing less daunting. Until we truly understand the perception of road racing from their level, we won't be able to effectively mentor the new guys and make it inclusive an environment as possible.

Once they're in and committed, then we can crush their souls with repeated attacks. You have to hook them first.

The sport has a finite amount of resources. I believe that publicity and recruitment is where they should be used. Retention is important, but it becomes a an investment with diminishing returns. We should be casting as wide a net as possible to let the public know that we exist, that racing is an option, that it's a lot of fun, that it's a great community... all of the stuff that those on the inside already know.

Once we introduce them to the possibility, we have to show them how to do it. No more letting new riders flail until they either learn to swim or drown. Clinics. Group rides. Training races. Hell, a kind word or suggestion now or then from one of the big dogs would go a long way. Show the new guys that we actually give a shit.

Then we give them a path to follow. Unlike USAC, the ABC doesn't have a real upgrade policy. Races don't have a connection to each other, and the upgrade policy is disjointed and arbitrary. I say give everyone some sort of ranking system so they can gauge their progress and have something to work towards.

I don't have all the answers. Just the vast majority of them. Most of them are wrong. Horribly, horribly wrong. However, at the end of the day I want to see road racing stay a viable sport in the Anchorage area for a very, very long time. What's true today won't be true tomorrow, and we need to stay flexible to respond to the needs of the racing community. If we don't, there are countless other recreational options out there that will.

"The justice of sport, yes. The sacrifice without end."

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