There’s been a lot discussion on the New England cyclocross distribution list lately about ways the Verge series can improve the schedule for 2009. Some suggestions are good, others are bad. Adam Myerson, to his credit, has been quick to respond. While I appreciate his willingness to listen, he did open this can of worms, so now he's had to deal with it. As I think about the next ‘cross season, here are my opinions on ways to improve the Verge series
1. Pay attention to those who “fund” the series
2. Reduce the number of UCI-categorized events within the series
3. Eliminate the payouts for all but the UCI categories
4. Force upgrades
5. Season passes
1. The biggest fields at the Verge races are the Masters 3/4, Cat 2/3, and Cat 4 fields. These racers are paying the lion’s share of the entry fees that essentially fund the prize lists and reimburse the promoters for their expenses. I appreciate Myerson’s desire to have a series that is top notch and worthy of the “New Belgium” moniker but not if it means $40 entry fees and 8 race weekends spread throughout New England and never within 45 minutes of Boston where most of the racers live. Let’s focus on improving the experience for those who fund the series. Give these big categories the course and start times they deserve.
2. I am all for a few marquee New England events such as G-stah, NoHo, and Warwick, but I don’t see how keeping 8 UCI weekends in New England is a benefit. Let’s face it, very few cross racers are going to make it to Europe to compete at the highest level and very few (5 maybe in the whole country) can claim cyclocross as a source of reasonable income. If the Verge series put its financial and historical resources towards promoting 3 top tier C1 races, “New Belgium” would be the only destination for top-tier elites in North America on those weekends. Instead of watching Jamey Driscoll ride unchallenged for the last 40 minutes of most Verge races among a field of 25-30 people, let’s raise the bar for a select number of weekends to watch all the best. Perhaps other areas such as the Pacific Northwest, Mid-Atlantic, and OH/WI area can follow our lead and take the same approach with 2 or 3 C1 level races of their own. On the weekends that the top-tier elites are chasing C1 points, our “grass-roots” promoters can thrive off the attendance of local amateurs and second-tier elites. If you are good enough to “need” UCI points or want to always race against the best then pick your weekends carefully and committ to traveling. Us local racers don’t need to fund your “need” for a few UCI points or your 20th out of 22 payout.
Another benefit of fewer UCI Verge series weekends is that multiple "grass-roots" races can be successful on the same weekend. If given the choice between a race in their backyard (relatively speaking) and a race of similar size and quality 2-3 hours away, the vast majority of people would stay local. That means a race in NH should be just as successful as a race in RI on the same day. Don't worry, you'll get to see your friends at the 4 or 5 Verge series weekends and you'll cherish those races even more as a result.
Also, by having fewer C2 races all over the country, the NACT and USGP become much more appealing and powerful races. There is no reason the Verge series events can't account for 3 of those series weekends, right?
3. If the amateur categories are overflowing and the elite field is too small, let’s eliminate rewards for the non-elite fields. I like what I hear about races in the NW giving prizes at random to the non-elite fields. Reward the people who show up every weekend and race for mid-pack because they love the sport even if they don’t excel. Those are the people investing money…for race entry fees, for parts, for clothes, etc. If racers want to be paid for their performance they should do so once they’ve reached the highest level. If you must reward people in the amateur fields, do it randomly so everyone has a shot at it, not just the top 5-10 people who win their amateur field each weekend.
4. If Verge races are trying to encourage competition and excellence at the highest level, then let’s force some upgrades. I’m not trying to say people can’t remain at a certain category level for multiple years, but there seems to be too much of a problem with people staying in a category they have dominated without being told (forced) to upgrade. It is likely that racers will get some pretty good beatings immediately after upgrading but everyone seems to feel the only way to improve is to race against those who are better than you. Once you reach the penultimate step, however, you face a dilemna. It is really hard to tell (force) a person to leap to the UCI level and that is exactly what one has to do to graduate from the women’s ¾ field or from the men’s 2/3 and master’s 1/2/3 fields. If we go back to the second point though, with fewer Verge races being UCI category events, this would be less of a problem. For the 3 marquee C1 weekends there should be a UCI race held separate from the 1/2 race (non-UCI license having people). If you have to start the schedule at 8am on these days, so be it. For 3 marquee weekends it is worth it.
5. Offering season passes seems completely logical. Growing up I was fortunate enough to spend nearly every winter weekend on the ski slopes. Unfortunately it was always at the same mountain because my family invested in a small condo on the slopes. But I digress. I remember pre-purchasing our seasons passes in June or July because the mtn offered a discounted rate in return for the off-season influx of otherwise non-existent revenue. Why wouldn't this work for the Verge series? With 8 (I think) race weekends on tap for next year, why not put together an early season purchase option? Here are some possible offerings:
- pay by May and save the equivalent of 4 race entry fees, plus the bikereg fee you'd have to pay on each individual race.
- pay by August and save the equivalent of 2 race entry fees, plus the bikereg fee you'd have to pay on each individual race.
- pay by September and save the equivalent of 1 race entry fee, plus the bikereg fee you'd have to pay on each individual race.
This way the promoters get money earlier than usual to reduce any out-of-pocket money they may otherwise have to front. Also, if this is a series and the promoters are working in conjunction with one another it will boost revenue to be shared among them. It also creates an incentive for racers who may not otherwise make the trip to VT or ME or down to RI late in the season because they can save as much as $100 with the early buy in. I'm not trying to say this is the only or best scenario but I do feel strongly that a season pass could work to everyone's benefit. Oh, and just like the ski resorts, all sales are final. If you break a wrist in pre (summer) season you don't get a refund. Yeah, it's harsh, but to make something like this work there has to be some rigidity.
I attend the Verge races because I like competing with and socializing with a great group of amateur cyclists. It is my strong feeling that the series would not suffer by eliminating the UCI status at many of its events and would in fact grow like the NW series if the emphasis were put back on growing participation, especially if the races were held in strong cycling based communities like Boston (why are there no Boston venues?) and Providence.