|The Cat. 4/5 group on Lakeshore Drive|
After being basically disinvited by Covington after last year's Tour de La, likely precipitated by the small fields and resulting difficulty justifying closing down the city streets that long, it was again time to re-think the race format. Around mid-October I was over in Chalmette to officiate the annual Swamp Otter CX races and when I drove past Torres Park I thought, "that looks like it could be a criterium course. After checking out the distance I contacted Howard, who is on the parish council, to see if it would be feasible to close off the streets and the parking lot that constituted one side of the course, and he said it probably wouldn't be a problem. So I thought that maybe we should try to have all three stages here on the southshore since there are probably 150 people out on racing bikes on any weekend day around here and maybe some of them would come race if they didn't have to spend most of the weekend across the lake. It was basically an experiment. So around February I contacted the Orleans Levee District about the possibility of closing the east end of Lakeshore Drive for a circuit race and time trial. I had thought that should be less expensive than the seven or eight deputies we usually have for the road race course and the three or four that we usually have for the time trial on the northshore. Turned out it wasn't, but by that point the wheels were in motion so we went with it. For the record, the Lakeshore Drive police cost was just under $3,500 for police and the extra $500 fee. That turned out to be practically all of the pre-registration revenue, but more on that later. I'd wanted to have the course turn onto Franklin Avenue to make an L-shaped course but then they told me that I'd need to get a separate permit from the City of New Orleans for that little 900 feet of city street. We'd done numerous races using that section of road before but this was the first time they wanted us to get a city permit that, I had no doubt, would be a huge PITA and might increase the already high cost. So I worked it out with the Levee District to have the course make a U-turn just before the flex-post obstacle course at Elysian Fields. I didn't really like that, but it was the best I could do at that point, and at least it increased the lap length to about 3 miles. Anyway, as we got closer to the race date I contacted BikeLaw and they generously offered $1k in sponsorship. Then Joe Paul called on some of his contacts on the Westbank and came up with another $1.5k. That helped a lot, even though I was still figuring the club would lose $2,500 - $3,000 (which it did) if turnout wasn't higher than last year (which it wasn't). Robert had suggested making the criterium also serve as the LAMBRA criterium championship, so I went with that which meant allowing riders to race individual stages of the stage race rather than requiring them to register for and ride all three. I knew that would cause some complications and confusion since only those who registered for all three stages would qualify for the prizes, but what we really wanted was more bodies on the starting line and figured this might help.
So then I started promoting the race with help from Mignon and a number of local racers and clubs, especially Semi-tough, who all want to see the racing scene get back on track. It was especially nice to have a few people contact me an offer to make donations to the event. That's pretty rare and it added another $150 or so to the cause. The final result, judging by pre-registration, was definitely disappointing. We had only 45 people register for the full stage race and a total of 62 for at least one stage, all of which was below last year's number. In 2009 we had over 200 riders and were supporting a much larger prizelist as a result. On the plus side, we didn't need as many volunteers and didn't need to bring in as many moto-refs and didn't need motel rooms for officials and me.
Saturday: Having a race on Lakeshore Drive is always a roll of the dice. If the weather is good, it's great but if a thunderstorm comes through it can be a disaster. Fortunately the weather was good and with the small fields everything went pretty smoothly. I think we cut the Cat. 4/5 race short by one lap since we were running a little bit behind and didn't have much time between the circuit races and the time trial. I was back home with Ricky and Steve, the referees, by mid-afternoon. I think riders were OK with the course, but a lot of us kind of missed having the real road race.
|The 1/2/3 field was bolstered on Sunday by a few people who had already ridden in|
the Masters or Women, plus a couple who were registered only for the criterium.
Sunday: The course in Chalmette turned out to be excellent. Howard had gotten most of the more significant cracks in the concrete fixed, although I'd missed marking one of them on the inside of Turn #1 because it was under water when I was there. I think there were two minor single-rider crashes the whole day and the police were great with keeping the course closed. Steve drove lead Moto which is always helpful just in case some local person is walking across the course to get to the park or something. At one point he had to get a turtle off the course. I had put the start/finish on the west side of the park in the shadow of some big Oak trees, which really made the officiating as pleasant as you could possibly hope for. The police were fine with us, and ultimately a bunch of other people, parking on the neutral ground, which was great. The criteriums turned out to be really competitive and fast and interesting. Everything went great and feedback on the criterium course was extremely positive, so that course is definitely a keeper. Pat and Mignon and Ty did a great job with the awards and podiums which were kind of complicated since we had both the overall GC prizes and podiums, some "bonus" categories that had additional prizes and podiums, and then the LAMBRA championship medals and podiums where only LAMBRA riders were eligible.
Right now I'm thinking of trying to do the RR and TT on the northshore on Saturday next year and then the criterium in Chalmette. For that, though, We're really going to need significantly more sponsorship and hopefully more riders. We were missing a number of very strong riders who are out there every weekend at the front of the group rides, and I really don't know what has to happen for them to actually race. I feel like COVID really hurt the smaller areas like ours because the field sizes were already on the smaller side and when you cut that down by like 40% people start to wonder if it's worth entering, which of course practically guarantees that the field sizes will stay small. Riders need to step up and register and get their friends to race. Bigger fields are much more fun, especially if you are riding basically as pack-fill like I usually do nowadays. I'm clearly the world's worst fund-raiser and promoter, so all I can do reasonably well is organize the actual racing parts of the event and then just hope someone can help with sponsorship and the other things that make the event fun like food and drinks and stuff.