A Day at the Races: Lansing's First Crit in Years!
Lansing had its 1st bike race in many years, at the once-glorious campus of the School for the Blind near Old Town.
It was the first race put on by CFT Racing, the area's first team to be formed in a long time (just this year) -- and the racing itself was handled totally pro -- so kudos to the new gang! There were at least a hundred racers for a dozen events. They all seemed to have a dandy time, lingering for other events.
There was a live band, a taco stand, a free masseuse, a fast and challenging course, a lovely park, campus and neighborhood, an obstacle course for the kids, two playgrounds ... but no spectators. (Was there PR? I suppose that's a tall order. Probably costs $ that's already hard to find. But maybe without it the rest goes down, snowballing?)
Bike races are supposed to be public entertainment. In These Hard Times, free sports, free music and free socializing would seem to be a premium attraction.
Lack of spectators for outdoor sport in the USA is not a new thing -- it's not the burden of a fresh new team to crack such a tough nut! But some races have it figured out and become classics for it. Hopefully the vibe can spread! Why? We need to keep in mind the benefits for everyone from these things -- they can be easy to lose track of.
I've certainly done plenty of lonely parking lot crits. And certainly here's room for shoestring action. But the City Center Party or Lively Park Picnic are great fun.
It was dandy watching a couple hours of the all-day action. Henry and Martha were out of town, so I brought our daughter and her friend and our dog and lawnchairs and ice-cold sodas and we bought lunch and met up with friends and enjoyed finish-line thrills while listening to quality rock'n'roll coming from the natural amphitheater.
We were nervous for a friend of ours who entered the Over-35 Cat 5 event with zero group-riding experience, a rented bike, and lots of energy -- but he survived! Hooray!
On reflection, bike racing seems a bit weird when it's just the racers. They're so supercharged. Really, they deserve 10 spectators per racer. At the same time, race day should still mostly be about the party, the venue. It's civic, not simplistic.
The local pros were so smooth to watch as they hit a downhill corner on perfect new pavement then attacked, still in view, in all their colorful glory, on a far hill. Most vantage points were shady and offered views of several parts of the course. It's easy to get up-close-and-personal to bike racers, even at mobbed events. ...Unlike the expensive nose-bleed seating and invasive security of other sports.
I particularly enjoyed seeing one rider on a far street launch a streaking attack out of the field to bridge to a break forming a 100 yds ahead. It made me remember seeing national/world pros. Different regions/nations have such different styles of racing -- some bogglingly aggressive. (There's a helmet cam YouTube of a French crit that seems like it's all attacking, no group hardly. And Windsor's Italians are famously more aggro than Detroit across the river.) It would be amazing to see maniacs just crush a course like that, but you'd want 1000 spectators, or it would seem like a waste. There was one rough, downhill semi-hairpin corner that would make a great beer-tent party spot for pro mayhem spectating. I suppose it's why the best racing is in city centers. Maybe it's still part of the American style to put races "out of the way" -- I did a lot of parking lot crits back in the day. I suppose it's a lot easier getting access to streets that aren't in big demand, but other events do it, and some cities seem to go for it. And the old Blind campus is so nice and so near Old Town that it COULD work.
Actually, you'd want the gorgeous, classic, but boarded-up old park pavilion to be unboarded and bannered. As it is, it's just another sign of a dead city, dead society (since so many US cities are in the same boat). I suppose the area is lucky that the old School hasn't been razed yet. That sword is still hanging over the place. (It could probably be bought for pennies if you make the right backroom deal with the right minimall/casino-mongers.) What can be done with such a lovely facility in a ruined society like ours?
Heck, I'd heard of the School for years but never visited. The races got me there! See? --Races can work to boost civics.
Bike racing can show there's life, or help bring new life. It shouldn't be Invasion of the Mutants, it should be Picnic Day for Everyone at the Fresh Air Races.
The whole thing gets me to thinkin'... Trouble, I know...
I'm ambivalent about today's style of racing. Is it different from yesteryear's? My reflex is to think that racers now seem a bit alien -- the outfits, helmets, sunglasses, and bikes seem to combine to hide their humanity. Is that possible? Was it really any different Back in The Day? Am I just an Old Fart?
Well, the outfits back then seemed more like *apparel* rather than kaleidescope paint amid logo chaos. The rules enforced this, in fact, head to toe: jersies with limited colors with logos of a limited number and size. Black shorts, white socks, black shoes.
Helmets today look like Martian brains -- or, actually, like the head of the alien from Alien. Then there are the insectoid sunglasses -- they're great for eye safety but I remember when they first came out thinking that it was a shame that some riders chose to HIDE behind them. They seemed sneaky. The bikes... They're flat black and they clack, whack, clunk as they go over bumps -- I don't think I'm crazy to think that old bikes sounded musical. The new stuff all combines to create a Robo effect.
Now, this can be cool, intense and sexy. Legs are still legs. And ponytails look good sprouting out of helmets. So who knows. If the promoters can bring out the racers' humanity, then it works. But how? Encouraging attacking and creative action seems to be key.
Mostly, doing whatever it takes to attract SPECTATORS is the way to go, I'd think. The racers aren't there to entertain themselves. Maybe that's something to encourage in the sport. Of course, just executing in a sporting way is all that's really needed. But creative color never hurts. Drama! Even steady, sober drama works, but the public needs something to work with. A quality field is always a thing of beauty, a fine excuse for a picnic, but in the end the Beau Geste is the thing, really.