It takes a lot to organize a race. More than I will ever know. I reckon it’s like building a house: no one sees what’s behind the drywall; whatever we see in the finished product is a small representation of what all went into it.
Race organizers do so much for cycling (obviously) and some go so far above and beyond making the race happen to make it more of a spectacle, more of an event. Most recently, one organizer in particular who has stood out to me is Ace Bollinger, the main man behind Tour de Bloom in Wenatchee, Washington.
As a relatively young race, Bloom has become an absolute fixture in the Pacific Northwest race scene. This year it’s one of three stage races that comprise the Washington Stage Race Series. It’s been one of my favourite races since I first did it in 2015, and was actually host to my first ever Pro ½ podium all those years ago.
Since then, the race has grown. Months before the gun goes off, Ace is active on the race’s Facebook page asking for rider feedback or suggestions as he constantly makes changes to please the riders.
He talks to each racer he sees at every venue, organizes evenings with free wine and beer, and even a dinner. I’ve heard other riders bragging that he’s seen them around town on the eve of a stage, and bought them a round (Ace, I’m next!).
While the race grows, and Ace is keen to make it as great as possible, he made a clear error with this year’s crit which is a highlight of the three day, four stage race. The elite men raced at 8 pm, with a large crowd and a full beer garden, which meant lots of fans were contributing to the primes and the overall prize purse. We were certainly the main event. However, tradition is usually that the elite men and women races are back to back, so that both are the highlights of the evening. This year the women raced at 3:40, which meant that more entry level men’s races occurred between the elite women and men.
There were fewer spectators, fewer primes, and less stoke during the women’s race. The men had a true twilight crit, and the women raced at the hottest time of day. Our first lap was worth $500, and I believe the total purse of the women’s crit was worth significantly less than our first lap. We also had a $1000 prime, and many others worth hundreds of dollars.
I heard a lot of frustration from the women on my team, and I totally see why.
Most races send a survey out following its completion to invite feedback that could help the organizers improve the race. No one really ever knows if this feedback is heard. Ace, however, received his criticism, and responded accordingly.
Ace’s original motivation for having the women race earlier was to honour their earlier start the following morning and maximize recovery time. Of course, he did overlook the other issues that could arise through this.
Aside from an apology, Ace has taken full ownership of his mistakes, and has highlighted what efforts he will make to ensure he corrects this for the next edition of Tour de Bloom. He’ll put the women’s race directly before the men’s next year, guarantee a $500 prime (which has already inspired another $100 prime donation for the women’s race), and will be contributing $100 to a few women’s crits in Washington along with some free race entries to Bloom in 2020. He’s also discounting the women’s ⅘ race entries and donating entries to the ⅘ race to not only mend the mistake he make with the elite women’s field, but also to encourage the more entry level racers to attend!
My team mate, Holly Simonson had this to say when I asked for her thoughts on Ace’s response:
“I think it’s pretty great how quick to respond he was to the concerns that many felt! I hadn’t submitted any survey response yet but he has addressed all the things I was feeling about the inequalities at this year’s crit. Moving the women’s race to directly before the men’s is how it should be, and will allow for more equal opportunity, both monetary-wise and in terms of visibility/spectator ship! The more people who can see how exciting women’s racing is the better for the sport. I’m super pleased with Ace’s fast action once these issues were brought to his attention!!”
I was sad to see such a solid organizer in my mind make this mistake. I couldn’t help but wonder why he had decided to schedule the crits as he did, because as a fan of Ace, I didn’t want to see him lacking in support of equity in racing. To see his response today has added to my admiration of his prowess as an organizer!
Can’t wait for Tour de Bloom in 2020!
Oliver Evans 20-year-old cyclist from Winnipeg, currently living in Victoria. In 2019, he will race with Trek Red Truck Racing.