California snowing

Monday, 16 May 2011

California snow

For Europeans, California brings up all sorts of images. From Hollywood to the goldrush, from Los Angeles to San Francisco, not to mention eccentric people and many creative industries.  Even the countryside, from the parks to the coastlines, are known. But snow isn’t one of the more obvious associations.

Yesterday’s opening stage of the Tour of California was cancelled, the weather had been bad all week and the day saw new flurries of snow. During the day the stage was on… then it was off… then it was back off. Plus the stage had been shortened to 80km. In the end the riders collectively said “no”.

Neutral parade
I support the decision but personally I would have liked to seen a small show. By this I mean the riders could perhaps have done, say, the last 20 miles of the stage, or even the last mile, but under neutralised conditions. So no race but at least a nod to the fans and the hosts of the race. This way some of the fans get to see the riders and the sport can show itself to the waiting media. Although the images of snow plus the signing-on and start line meant some visitors got to see their stars.

Remember this race is under financial pressure. If host towns in the future have to commit to spending money but can’t be sure of a race then some might well turn away. Before you leap to the comments, I’m not saying riders have to race in dangerous conditions, just that this race can’t afford much bad luck. Hence the benefits of a neutralised ride, although the benefits flow to the race organisers who get to sit in heated cars whilst riders get to taste the snow. This is just a tale of bad weather but here’s one race that needs a break.

Today’s stage descends from Lake Tahoe to Sacramento and it’s likely the racing goes ahead. Weather-permitting, expect a bunch finish.

Anonymous May 16, 2011 at 10:36 am

Or why don’t the organisers plan a sensible route? How about designng a route that goes from southern California to Lake Tahoe rather than starting in a ski station that is often still open in May because the snow is still plentiful enough?

Touriste-Routier May 16, 2011 at 2:43 pm

It is easy to second guess the organizers in light of the worst case weather, which they had, and which in some sense is not all that unusual. I think the ToC is a race in search of it’s true identity. While trying to expand it’s profile, and to increase its notoriety, they have made changes which have left me scratching my head.

In addition to the racers, the organizers have spectators, staff and volunteers to worry about. I wasn’t sure how they’d be able to change the route on the fly, considering how long it takes to set-up start & finish venues, as well as to get volunteers in place, and getting all of the municipalities and authorities involved to agree to the new plan.

I received a message from a friend who works on the race crew which stated, “The snow sucks. It was crazy today. If they had run the race counter clockwise they could have done the half lake and gotten to Northstar but the west side of the lake was really bad. We had 12 moto’s go down just trying to get from South to Squaw.”

So it is apparent that it really was that bad out there, and just goes to show how difficult last minute route changes are to implement. Although reasonable, this doesn’t bode well for a race which has yet to make a profit, or attract a significant number of sponsors.

Michael May 16, 2011 at 4:35 pm

I live in California and would love nothing more than to see the stage have taken place. The papers here were reporting that 6 of the Tour support motorcycles had crashed just testing the course before the 80km stage was to start. If the motorcycles can’t stay up, the danger to the riders is huge.

The race is getting bigger and more popular each year. I was at the final stage last year and it was packed and a great day. We were lucky to have tickets to the VIP section near the KOM line and got to see the peleton 4 times. The group behind the ATOC, AEG is a huge sporting events company that has deep pockets and is fairly committed to developing the race.

Duluth Baptist Clydesdale May 16, 2011 at 4:46 pm

I wasn’t really on board with the move to the Giro timeslot. I guess you can make the argument that they are still getting solid rider lineups and that fans don’t have to choose between the races since they’re on at different times, but I felt the February slot worked well and made for good racing. There’s more potential for rain, but the weather hasn’t exactly been great this year, either–and the simultaneous running of the Giro really hammers home this race’s secondary status.

I hope the race continues to run. California is a beautiful state and cycling is big there; there is a niche to fill. Sunday is an embarrassment, unfortunately, but I hope they hit a home run on Mt. Baldy and get some more support.

The Inner Ring May 16, 2011 at 5:54 pm

Looks like the race is on today, but with a revised route. There’s nothing you can do with weather like this, the Tour de France and Giro have seen stages shortened and cancelled thanks to snow in mid-summer.

hamncheeze May 16, 2011 at 5:57 pm

I think the organizers and Tahoe were being optimistic with the plan to host stages at 7000 ft in mid-May. Snowfalls are not uncommon at this time of year in the Sierras, and sometimes they can be pretty significant.

Now today we have a shortened stage 2 with a start moved to a different town. So for the groups with $$ behind the stage in Tahoe and the start in Squaw Valley today, they get almost no return other than a few expos and team buses floating around. If I was putting up $$ to host a stage start/finish and got nothing this year, I would not be too keen to do it again next year. There are many ways to spend money in event sponsorship, and getting no return almost guarantees they won’t be coming back. Maybe, maybe Amgen compensates the host committees for their losses here, I don’t know.

Inner Ring, you are correct that this race is trying to find its identity. The move from Feb to May was done to ensure better weather but I think the organizers got a little greedy with the Tahoe start. Also, despite the start list being reasonably loaded with ProTeams, I think most Euro riders who are at the race are not exactly 100% focused on getting results at Cali. Some of the teams would probably give the race a pass if they did not have large sponsors like Trek and Specialized. What the race needs is a move to a Pro Tour status to make it more valuable in the eyes of the riders, but this would also hurt the sport at the same time as the American UCI continental teams would be shut out.

ColoradoGoat May 16, 2011 at 6:00 pm

As I have stated before, they need to move this race to August. Yes, it can be brutally hot in the valley, but I guess what….it gets hot in Spain during the Vuelta as well. At least in the heat you can still hold the race. The coast line routes are moderated by the Pacific, and the mountains are cooler due to elevation.

And again – this gets back to the issue with NRC races and Pros in the States. You cannot just create a big cycling event here in the States and expect it to last long-term. Cycling is a minor sport, and NRC level races are really what is supportable (i.e. – Gila, Tour of the Battenkill, Tour of Elk Grove, Redlands). You need to grow the sport organically, but instead, the UCI thinks you can just create the Super Bowl and fans will flock.

The ToC is going to eventually fail, same with the Colorado Tour, because the backers have higher expectations for the events that are warranted. The Tour of Utah I am hoping will survive its plunge into the UCI rated field, if only because I think the backers are not as grandiose about what to get out of the race.

ColoradoGoat May 16, 2011 at 6:08 pm

@hamncheeze

Why do the States “need” a Pro Tour events? The fact is, the States cannot support Pro cycling at the same level as Europe. It is just not a main stream enough sport. I would prefer they grow this sport organically, letting smaller races flourish. One way to allow this would be to allow Pro teams to race NRC events, even if they limit the team size and/or are required to wear a different jersey (See Lance and Levi at last year’s Gila).

In addition, due to the nature of cycling, most fans (I think most people) cannot really tell in a race whether it is a Pro-Tour level race or not. Unlike other pro sports, where it is easier to delineate lesser pros from the Pro-Tour riders. If I see a Jamis guy attack on a climb, it is just as exciting as watching a Pro-Tour rider attack on a climb. Unless you are tracking speed and comparing it, it is difficult to really tell to most fans the difference between a race’s peloton’s overall ability. But in sports such as basketball, due to the amount of sheet athleticism/coorduination required to be a top pro, you can tell an NBA game from a minor league game easily.

Touriste-Routier May 16, 2011 at 7:16 pm

ColoradoGoat- you’ve hit the nail right on the head! Races don’t need to be ProTour in order to be successfully on a sporting or financial basis. All one needs to do is put on a good show. While being ProTour does allow for greater prestige within the established fan base, it comes with a lot of cost and baggage.

The US (and other developing cycling nations) need more developmental races (for elite Amateur & Continental teams). Europe needs more mid-level races, where the Continental Pro teams can be the headliners. If you develop the mid tier, it makes not getting a ProTour license a more viable option, and gives an incentive for the Continental Teams to move up.

The ToC has a lot of potential, but they too must grow organically, and find profitability. I have no problem with it going ProTour, but if it does, the US needs additional NRC and lower level UCI races to serve the domestic scene in its place.

Not to shift the focus, but I work for the Univest Grand Prix. We’ve developed into a sustainable developmental UCI race. A Belgian DS told me 2 years ago, “if there were 25 races like the Univest, there would be no reason for Americans to go to Europe”. Perhaps ToC should take heed of this, and Battenkill should not lose itself in its own PR. If you ask many current pros what their breakthrough races were (the one where they earned their real pro contracts), chances are the answer will be a lower profile UCI sanctioned event.

ColoradoGoat May 16, 2011 at 8:21 pm

Touriste-Routier:

The one way I think they might be able to make UCI racing work in the United States is to condense the racing into a period where there is not much going on in Europe…i.e. – August (as I have suggested earlier – hold the ToC, ToU and Colorado race in three successive weeks, but with each race standing on it own). It makes the cost and benefit of going to the States more in the favor of coming to the States, and provides a solid training period for the Worlds.

But that still ultimately does nothing to deal with the immense requirements for putting on a UCI level race, which to me just does not make much financial sense given the fan interest in the States. I think Quebec may have it right, where you make it more one-day races, which is both easier to put on, and makes the fan experience more interesting to the general fan/public as unlike Stage racing, at the end of the day, there is an ultimate winner (versus Stage racing, which for a casual fan in an ADD world is better).

Part of the problem cycling faces from a spectator sport perspective, is there are few non-cyclist cycling fans in the US. In other words, in the States, if you follow pro-cycling, chances are you ride… a lot, Which means you spend your free time riding your bike versus watching others ride their bikes. And because most serious cyclists spend a lot of time on their bikes, their time at home is often going to be spent tending to other matters, such as actually hanging out with their families.

In Europe, the reason for so many female oriented products advertised is because there are a lot of middle-aged women who watch cycling during the afternoons. It is why I struggle with the constant push for UCI level races which are going to last only as long as the initial sponsor wants to foot the bill. These races always eventually fail because there is just not enough interested spectator-wise to support the costs.

NRC events can succeed because the races are open to lower categories (amateurs), and their entrance fees help to foot the bill. Plus, it automatically ensures a sizeable # of people who are going to be staying in hotels, eating out etc… in the communities which host the events. It also brings in families/friends of those participating, further adding to the # of people spending money in those communities. You just do not get that with a race restricted just to Pros

Champs May 16, 2011 at 8:34 pm

I would travel cross-country to specifically watch an HC-designated UCI event in the US. Anything less, forget about it.

Changing the date was supposed to bring better racing conditions than the cold and rain that kept plaguing February editions. Who could have thought it would end up this way?

ColoradoGoat May 16, 2011 at 10:00 pm

Champs:
You are both in the minority, and why are you not there now, since 9 Pro-Tour teams are participating in the ATOC?

Damien May 17, 2011 at 12:37 pm

The ColoradoGoat makes some bleating good points.

Alex May 17, 2011 at 3:43 pm

Apparently there was ice on the road so that really clinched it. We all fondly recall Hamsten over the Gavva and Hinualt in L-B-L but this was a little different. So whilst I would have loved to see some racing in tough conditions I think that they made the right decision.

Perhaps they were being optimistic. Overall though I really support the move to May and I hope the ToC continues to develop and grow as a major stage race.

Alex May 17, 2011 at 3:44 pm

Gavia :)

Champs May 17, 2011 at 4:55 pm

Were races like Utah or The Gila local to me, I’d attend, but if not, I wouldn’t base a vacation around them. My time and means are better spent elsewhere. It doesn’t seem like going to California every year is the best use of them, either.

The ’09 California field was well worth seeing. My plans to go fizzled at the last minute. Fortunately, I made up for it by seeing the Giro. Last year was a bad time. This year’s out, because I’m going to California next month. Nevertheless, if there are hundreds of thousands of cycling fans like me, that’s tens of thousands who actually do come out.

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