Monday, January 23, 2012

Upcoming: San Dimas Stage Race 2012 (and growing the sport)...

If you did not notice it, registration for the 2012 San Dimas Stage Race (SDSR) opened, I believe, on Thursday of last week. SDSR is a three stage event falling this year on March 16-18. This will be the thirteenth edition of the race, originally known as the Pomona Valley Stage Race, and throughout its history the race has been an early season magnet attracting some of the best local talent and top professionals. You can check the list of past victors on their new website, a list which includes names such as Chris Horner, Scott Moninger, and three time winner, Ben Day for the men; Kristen Armstrong, Ina Teutenberg, Lynn Bessette, and Amber Neben who won the first edition as well as the most recent, on the women's side.

Regardless of the attraction of witnessing the professionals performing at a top level, the action tends to be fast and exciting no matter what category happens to be on the course, flashing past at any particular moment. This is no more true than during the third stage circuit race along the streets of downtown San Dimas. The crowds always come out for this Sunday race, lining the finishing straight along Bonita Avenue, and scattered along the back streets where the drama often unfolds. 

Regretfully, and as was announced on the race's Facebook page, one group of racers who will not be participating this year are the women category 4's (unless I am wrong I don't believe there was a women's 4 race last year either). With many local races becoming weighted toward the older, more experienced side of the spectrum (and not that I mind having so much opportunity to be able to race) it was unfortunate to hear that there would be no women 4's race. For those of you who do not race, in women's racing, Category 4 might be described as entry level. In practice, many women do start out as Juniors and gain experience at a younger age, but for many other women who come to the sport at an older age, Cat 4 is where they begin. As someone who cut his teeth in racing in an era predominated by short criteriums, with an occasional road race sprinkled in, the annual pilgrimage to Utah to participate in a three-day stage race there, was the big highlight of my racing year. For most of us who race, or have raced, these short stage races are the closest we will get to the big-Tour experience. Three consecutive days of racing, three different disciplines, and the challenge of mastering three different courses is a thrill.

I am not sure what the reason was to withhold the women's Cat 4 race this year; whether there was one overriding reason, or several factors in combination, is irrelevant at the end of the day. The race organizers have said that the decision was out of their hands and I don't see any reason to dispute that claim. The organizers have always put on a quality, exciting race, one that has been both racer and spectator friendly. As the peloton continues to age, we need to see more opportunity to attract and hold fresh blood, so to speak, to provide a quality racing experience. It is hard to say where the answer lies. If races have to be cut, for what ever reason, where are the cuts made? Do you reward the Masters 40+, 50+, and 60+ racers, the people who have provided the backbone of local racing for the past 20, 30, or more years by cutting into their races? Do you cut into the middle groups, the Cat 3/4's, the largest block of racers? Or do you cut into the entry levels and risk losing athletes and hampering opportunities for the growth of the sport. 

It can likely be argued that one race won't make a difference, that there are plenty of other races, and thus opportunities, for the women Cat 4's. The problem is there are not plenty of other stage races and the unique opportunities that they provide to experience a type of racing not available at the local weekend criterium, or even one-day road race. I would love to be able to look back on this a few years from now, and view it as a symptom of growing pains, as the sport trying to figure out how to handle and balance the needs of an aging group of veteran road warriors, a active core in the middle, and the group of newcomers attempting to make their way into the sport. The problem is, we know that without entry-level opportunities, growth can stagnate. If you look closely at the sport of cycling, there is reason to be optimistic for its growth, but the governing bodies of the sport, the smaller race organizers, and on down the line to the local clubs, need to assure that opportunities for newcomers to experience the thrill and excitement, the camaraderie and cohesion remain available.

Alright, enough of that for now. The 2012 San Dimas Stage Race is coming up - less than two months away. So, after extolling the virtues of the small stage race, will I be doing it? I just don't know; I will want to see some rapid improvement over my performance of a week ago at the season's first race, before I make that decision. Which ever way it goes, whether I race or spectate, it is going to be good. Don't miss out. See you in San Dimas, if not before.

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