I like to say it’s the tedious and hard workouts of January and February that will win the races of June and July. Similarly, on an organizational level, it’s the boring and difficult planning of fall that lays the foundation for a smooth, productive season.
Much of that process is managed by the Illinois Cycling Association, our state’s bridge to USA Cycling, and the effort kicks off Saturday with its fall meeting in Lisle. (Note that the location has changed: It will now be at the police station, 5040 Lincoln Ave., close to the Metra station.)
This spring we talked with ICA president Steve Feehery (South Chicago Wheelmen). Since then, the ICA improved its reporting of Illinois Cup standings, found a venue for our state road race and introduced the Chicago Time Trial Series.
To see what’s in store for 2009, I checked in with new president Steve Hansen (North Branch).
What is the ICA leadership looking like in 2009?
It will be Steve Feehery, from South Chicago Wheelmen and also an official; Jon Knouse, from Alberto’s and promoter of the Glencoe Grand Prix; secretary Sharmin Doering from Team Mack and also an official; and I’m from North Branch Cycling and promoter of the Chicago Time Trial Series. Jon is new to the organization and will be vice president, Steve is stepping over to the role of treasurer, and I’ll be stepping into the role of president.
What are the big items on Saturday’s agenda?
For 2008 the goal was to show that the ICA was alive and working for the riders in Illinois. We updated the Web site and now keep it current. We got the Illinois Cup working again. We started our own time trial series. And we helped Tower Racing bring the road race championship to Oak Brook. All that was to lay the groundwork for 2009.
For 2009 we’ll be looking to build on that success. We’re looking at our strengths, weaknesses and opportunities. `We need to double or even triple the number of women who race.’We need to find more opportunities for juniors and get more of them into the sport. We need to double or even triple the number of women who race. We need to nail down results better. We need to work with promoters to improve the quality and venues of the races.
Saturday’s agenda is focused on laying the groundwork for our goals for 2009. The three main themes are organizational, involvement and communications.
Organizationally, we need to make better decisions faster. Involvement means getting clubs and their members to look toward the ICA as a way to help grow the sport of competitive cycling.To advance our goals we need people who want to help out in ways both great and small. People get involved when an organization makes real progress with issues that are important to them. So as we align the organization to achieve highly successful results, people will want to be a part of that.
Last is communication. Communication is a huge deal. Riders need to know about the ICA, what we do, what we stand for, and how we make a difference to the racing scene in Illinois. Communication will help to bring new people into the sport. Communication will help us work better with local communities to support races in their area.
The Illinois Cup took a major step forward this year, but it was still imperfect. It seems like most riders either weren’t aware of it or didn’t care enough to make Cup races a priority. What is the ICA going to be doing in 2009 to keep the Cup standings current and relevant?
We’ve already had a meeting with the Illinois Cup promoters to talk about the 2009 season and how we can get the word out better and get riders excited about the Illinois Cup. Most of the ideas are simple and straightforward. We’ll be trying to finalize the Illinois Cup calendar by the middle of February, and we have talked about putting out a poster to distribute to bike shops and other public venues. We’ll do a better job of advertising the series on our Web site and get the events listed as a series on VeloNews, True Sport and of course Chicago Bike Racing. We’ll be working on getting the standings updated quicker, and we’ll be doing call-ups at each race where the top three riders in each category will get called up to the line for some recognition.
The original premise of the Illinois Cup was to be a best all-around rider award. There were to be a few road races, criteriums, time trails, cyclocross and track races all on the Illinois Cup Schedule and those riders who did best overall would win the award. What happened in 2008 was a little different. This year the Illinois Cup focused on road and criterium races. Since all the other disciplines have their own stand-alone awards, we did the same for road and crits. Last year the ICA did not keep track of the points. We had dropped the ball. This year we made a determined commitment not to do let the ball drop again. Some riders did start to notice and did start e-mailing us on a regular basis with questions about the standings. So we are headed in the right direction.
The 4a and 4b separation in cyclocross seems to be a huge success. Has USA Cycling taken notice yet? Will there ever be a Cat 5 in cyclocross?
USA Cycling has not really taken notice yet to my knowledge. We have one of the larger, more successful cyclocross series in the country. I suspect as cyclocross continues to grow in popularity that adding a 5 category would get explored.
Chip timing: What’s the status?
We had two chip timing companies come out and test their setups this summer. Once test went well, the other test was not so good. The technology is cool but there are two issues that are holding us back from pulling the trigger and buying this technology:
1. Logistics. We’d have to set up a system to sell the chips to those who want to own one. We’d also have to set up a system to rent chips to those who prefer that option, which means we’d have to collect them after every race. How to make that happen consistently at all the races all season long is not easy. Every race is run by a different promoter, so to do it right, the ICA would need to be the constant in the equation. That means we’d have to provide the manpower at every race to make sure it runs right. At least two extra people would need to be at every race to handle the chips. We need almost 100 percent of the promoters willing to use chip timing at their events. I’m not convinced that we are ready to take on that role.
2. Cost. The overall cost structure does not make sense yet. It is $110 for each chip, and then there is the finish-line reader, and the extra manpower needed. I’ve been vocal to the chip companies that the price needs to come down to have it make sense. More competitors are entering this market and with competition I hope to see the prices fall to the point where it becomes a more obvious proposition.
Aside from some registration SNAFUs, the Tour of Oak Brook was a hit. People liked the course and its proximity to Chicago. Do you expect it will be our state championship race again, and will it again be in late August?
Tower Racing did an incredible job with this race. They were a first-year team putting on a very large first-year race in less than 45 days. It was a huge logistical challenge to safely manage a 3.1-mile loop in a major suburb of Chicago. The amount of work and effort that went into that race was enormous, and Tower Racing came though big time. And to be fair, the ICA contributed to the registration snafu with a last-minute request to change the bib number sequencing.
Tower Racing will host the state championship road race for at least one more year, and the plan is to keep it on the weekend after Downers Grove once again. Whether it will stay in Oak Brook is yet to be seen. The course needs to be longer to work well. While there is a proposed 5.5-mile route that would work, it may require too much effort and manpower to secure the course. There is another venue that Tower Racing is looking at that could be just as nice as the Oak Brook course. This alternative course is still near Chicago. We’ll have to wait to see how that unfolds.
Several of the big races this year had problems with payments. Some checks from Superweek bounced, and the Chicago Criterium payouts took forever to process. Is the ICA able to do anything to prod promoters in this regard?
Superweek is a product of Breakaway Event Productions, owned by Andy and Michael Garrison. I’ve personally talked with the both Andy and Mike, and I was told that the bank made an error that caused the account to be overdrawn, and some checks bounced. I was told that riders who had issues with checks needed to contact them and it would be fixed. To my knowledge it has not been fixed, which starts to affect the promoters’ credibility.
Superweek is a complicated issue. The ICA has little involvement with the series. Although many of the races are in Illinois, Breakaway Event Productions is based in Wisconsin and the majority of races are in Wisconsin. The event is permitted through our sister association, the Wisconsin Cycling Association. Because of the size of the series and the number of races, USA Cycling is involved too. Obviously it is in Superweek’s best interest to take care of the riders or they will stop showing up to their races.
The Chicago Criterium is owned by the City of Chicago but run by Chicago Special Events Management, owned by Hank Zemola. The issue there was how the city wanted to cut the checks. Chicago wanted every rider’s social security number to report taxes. There were instructions to the riders to make sure that they provided that information but many did not. Chicago Special Events has been trying to track down riders to get the needed information. Next year a different payout system will be used to eliminate the problem.
USA Cycling requires teams to put on at least one event a year. I was really impressed by all the new teams this year that hosted races, in some cases multiple races: Half Acre Cycling, Tower Racing and Beverly Bike-Vee Pak all come to mind. But there are still a lot of teams that have gone years without taking their turn. How do we change that?
Do we really want to change that? What is the goal? It’s involvement. Involvement is the issue and we should expect all the clubs to get more involved, but is hosting a race the best way to get clubs involved? Somehow browbeating a club into hosting or co-hosting a race when they don’t want to is not going to get them more excited about the sport or the ICA.
Certainly we should encourage clubs to host races and provide technical support to make it easier for them to do so. ` If a club is not really interested in hosting a race, they should consider providing several volunteers to help on another club’s race.’But I’ll take issue with USA Cycling on this issue. First, it is not a rule that is really enforced very well in any of the state associations I’ve talked to. Second, with over 60 licensed clubs in Illinois there are not enough dates to make it happen anyway. Last, it is impractical. We don’t have enough officials to effectively cover all the races we already have. It’s a bad rule that needs to change.
Every club should be involved in one way or another but there are equally good ways for clubs to be involved. We’ll be talking about this specific issue at the meeting this week. What I’d like to see happen is that every licensed USA Cycling club pledge to help the ICA promote the sport of competitive cycling in some way. If a club is not really interested in hosting a race, they should consider providing several volunteers to help on another club’s race. But another great way to contribute is to get involved is directly with the ICA. Help us develop a better juniors program. Help us promote women’s racing. Help us grow membership. Have a few members become licensed officials. There are a lot of ways that clubs could provide meaningful and significant support to this great sport. But is should be up to the club to find the way that works best for them and the ICA will be coming up with some ways to encourage the clubs’ involvement.
If I’m on a smaller team that might not have a lot of experience, would it be appropriate to join forces with another team to host an event?
Yes. The ICA has also develop some events and has the expertise where if a club wants to host an event, we can make it a lot easier for them to test the waters. The key is to find clubs that are curious about running an event and then find the right event for them so it is a success.
Running the ICA demands a lot of you and the other volunteers. What can teams and individual riders do to help out?
Teams and individuals start by showing up to our meetings. At the meeting this Saturday we will ask people to join our standing committees. From the Junior Racing Committee to the Women’s Racing Committee to the Marketing Committee and more, we will be empowering those committees with the ability to get things done and in many cases a budget too. As an example, I can see the Women’s racing committee getting some money to have posters made or to host a few introductory social events to encourage new women to get into the sport. I think everyone knowing that our committees will be geared to getting results and have some money to back them will start to get people interested in getting involved.
What is the ICA doing to make winter shorter this year?
I am very pleased to announce that we are helping Vision Quest start a new indoor time trail series that will start Sunday, Dec. 14, and run through Sunday, Feb. 8. There will be six races, all in Highland Park and all on CompuTrainers, with cash prizes. There will be individual awards and team awards too. Certain races will use actual course profiles of Tour de France stages. The profile of last year’s Stage 4 individual time trail from Cholet-Cholet will be used. Riders will be able to compare their power output to David Millar‘s on the same course. This will be a very exciting way to make winter shorter.
Ha! I wasn’t expecting a serious answer! ABD and American Bike Racing have been doing indoor time trials for years. I know the ICA and ABR are competitors but the relationship seems to be mostly collegial, with efforts made to avoid schedule conflicts. Was an effort to avoid conflicts with the indoor time trials?
We really do nothing more than look at the ABR and ABD calendar. If either have an event on the calendar, we’ll think about avoiding it. Right now their event is not announced, but Ithey typically start in January and run it into March so while there may be a little overlap, the Vision Quest series starts and ends earlier in the winter so hopefully those who want to do both can.
What is nice is Winfield and Highland Park are a good distance from each other, so this gives riders a nice alternative if they live nearer Highland Park and will save them a 45-minute to an hour drive.