Bill Schiecken asked how my club made the Tacchino happen, and how we made the course at Rosaryville State Park on Sunday. What I told him might be of interest to the promoters, would be promoters, or lovers of race geekery among you.
Rosaryville is a gem of a park close to D.C. that is as nice as it is because it is very well cared for by its stakeholders. The Rosaryville Conservancy operates the park for the State of Maryland, a caterer called Pineapple Alley Catering operates special events at the park's Mount Airy Mansion and caters events like our race, the mountain bikers of MORE (Mid Atlantic Off Road Enthusiasts) do a lot of work on the multi-use trails, and various equestrian groups pour thousands of dollars each year into keeping up the nice turf on the fields we rode on. We are extremely grateful that all the stakeholders agreed to let us have a race there - and yes, getting the "owners" on board with your race is always the first step, and maybe one of the hardest ones.
The basic layout was pretty simple. We were worried because the main field near the pavilion has no dramatic features that jump out at you. Then the equestrian events consultant pointed out some equestrian trail spurs off the fields, and the meadow with the crazy sweeper on it. Ken and Jean Woodrow and I walked and rode around it repeatedly on different days. I spent time meeting with the Rosaryville Conservancy president and their equestrian events consultant, who gave me some great ideas for trail diversions. Then we had a team ride / thinking session out there and found a lot of little features, and tried a bunch of different little loops. We sort of linked the sections together by avoiding the sensitive equestrian areas (with high quality, paid-for grass we didn't want to chew up in a rainstorm) and by looking for interesting ways to do it, on off-cambers, with little turns and so forth.
When things came together with the caterer and a band, it was clear that we could run the course around the pavilion repeatedly and make it extremely spectator-centric. At this point, you know me - I started getting *really* excited and creative.
A bit of play with pen and pad helped us work out that crazy nested loop. Then Ken Woodrow and I nailed down the details last week, riding some sections different ways and then flagging / chalking them for the groundskeeper to cut the grass. We had the groundskeeper cut lines into the grass (for transit areas) and boxes for areas where we'd work out specific features on Saturday (stake and tape day).
You can't totally pre-plan everything on your course. Parts of a course have to fit together and make sense. It's like composing music. There are verses and choruses, and little bits of bridge music. If the parts fit together, you get a song that is more than the sum of its parts. If they don't fit together well... then you get something like Mahler's controversial re-arrangements of Beethoven, which a few people love but which seems out of tune to many people.
The tape job took about 3 hours for the main part of it. The goal was to make riders handle and corner if they had the skills, not to force them to stop and then turn. (I hate losing my flow). Most of the stakes went down according to how we had sketched it out on paper, and Andrew Welch - a fast and fairly skillful rider - test rode corners while MABRACross Technical Director Judd Milne helped us tweak difficult corners and set up a killer pit. He also talked me out of a double hairpin in that bowl past the pavilion, arguing that riders should have more recovery time on the course, a good position that kept that section consistent with the rest of the course.
Setup was made easier by having some pre-cut 3 meter lengths of rope to help the volunteers keep a uniform width through corners and tight spots. On race day the refs had a few tweaks, and noted we were just shy of the regulation distance, necessitating the last minute addition of the powerline loop. We put a lot of thought into that section prior to race day but rejected it as surplus, thinking the course would ride a bit slower and that Woodrow's GPS showed it as long enough. But it was very dry leading up to the race, and when the ref's GPS came up short it meant lapped riders were going to be getting pulled, probably some quite early given the large fields. I truly didn't want that to have to happen; getting pulled early sucks. So I shouted for a handful of members to grab stakes and tape, and follow me. I walked around dropping stakes on the outside of the line we'd looked at earlier, and a couple members walked behind me, taping. Meanwhile, another member pulled the stakes that were on the old line and reoriented them. We measured the width with the pre-cut lengths of rope and staked the inside line, with a member walking behind taping. We added 3-400 yards with two technical turns in about 10-15 minutes, and darned if it wasn't a sweet little section that was pleasant to ride. The refs were surprised we could pull that off.
I wasn't shocked that we did it. We had thought ahead and we knew the terrain really well, and the team members were prepared (as usual) to step up to meet any challenge. I can't say enough good things about my teammates.
The day played out really well. The early morning was chaos; at a new venue you have to dial in a lot of things and the parking / transit to registration issue was tough for us. We were told it's also a problem for the equestrian events and everybody else. We'll improve that next year, I promise! The last minute course change was a major headache too, but by 10:00 AM things had settled down into a routine and the race went on auto pilot, with all the amazingly good Coppi volunteers doing their jobs, and the refs and Lindsey's registration crew managing the actual races. The caterer was rocking by the time the C race got going, so I got to ride a couple laps of 3/4 35+, but the legs were not opening at all so I pulled out and went back to the pavilion.
When I got to the pavilion, the band (the excellent Gallons to Ounces) was setting up, the food was cooking, the beer was flowing, and I could walk around and enjoy the scene. I'd found them via Craigslist ad - I asked for bands, described what I wanted, got a bunch of responses from local bands, checked out their samples, and picked one. I liked this band because their musical style was good, very versatile but focused on jam, funk and jazz, and because the price fit the budget. The vendor came with the Park. Pineapple Alley runs the Mount Airy Mansion and other special events at the Park. I checked out their autumn fest a few weeks ago and found a great couples / family event, with things like Alpaca products vendors, artisanal craft products vendors, and a food tent that pretty much blew me away. Tom Mueller, who is one of the operating partners of the company, seems to be a foodie. He doesn't do things by half measure. That's how we wound up with authentic styled "belgian" sausages (okay, they were German, but what do you think Belgian sausage usually is?) and proper broetchen and mustard, and appropriate frites and beer.
I don't know how we got the other sponsors, other than to say I begged Ommegang, and as part of the Belgian Duvel / La Chouffe / Ommegang beer conglomerate, supporting bike racing made sense to their local distributor. Contes is our team bike shop, and they support the hell out of us with top quality gear and service, so when our races come around they step up big time. The rest of it? You got me. Coppi members worked their magic I guess. So there was a good elite prize list, and lots of nice swag on the line, and a solid catering picture.
Having all this stuff lined up meant everybody was happy, and centrally located. I was able to walk around and if FatMarc is the Minister of Love for Granogue, then maybe I got to be the Chancellor of Cheer at the Tacchino. All sorts of people clustered in the pavilion, with young families near the front, the beer & cheer crew near the back by the band, and a buzz in the area. Team tents lining the course near the pavilion were picnic sites, and I only saw smiles and heard compliments and laughter as I walked around chatting people up.
We thought it would be a good race yesterday but the ingredients came together and added up to something a little better (he said modestly...) than the average race. We'd hoped for that, but weren't sure it would happen. I've had an experience like that at other races here and there - Charm City got me that way one year, Granogue does that repeatedly, the 12 Hours of Lodi did it for me. I hope we created that for other people.
Before yesterday I had never spoken to Greg Faber, a really strong young racer for NCVC, but we sat and had a chat toward the end of the day and I decided I really like his outlook. To paraphrase his comments, for a while he had wanted to beat the world in cross, but days like yesterday made him realize that what he really wanted was to race really well, and to enjoy cyclocross. He said that when he thinks about cyclocross, he pictures days like yesterday as his image of the sport.
I think he is right, and that's the takeaway we wanted to give people yesterday. Train hard. Race your brains out on a course that destroys you. Become the world champion if you want. But have fun. If the people who raced and cheered yesterday did that, I consider it a huge success. My teammates and I spent a lot of effort trying to figure out how to make it fun, then tried to sell it to you guys on that principle - that we would have our normal race, but that we were going to really bring the fun. There wasn't much extra to do to bring the fun, once we figured out how to do it. Put spectators in the middle of the course like Charm City and DCCX do. Have a good food vendor (or get food donated). Thanks for attending, folks - we put together a venue but you people made the scene. The real secret to putting on a good cross race is to make sure that 400 of your closest friends show up with bikes. It's easy once that happens.
Ultimately, our EMT Adrian gets the last word on the race. Adrian had to attend to an 1-2-3 racer who had keeled over towards the end of the race. Steve Stone asked him how the racer was doing. Adrian's response was an instant classic that should become the race motto:
"He'll be okay. He's just exhausted."