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September 04, 2006

"Greenville doesn't deserve the US pro championship"

rec.bicycles.racing | WOW

The Falls ParkA post from “MagillaGorilla,” a regular on RBR, links to a number of pictures from the rural section of the pro road race championships on Sunday, none of which show spectators, to suggest the move from Philadelphia is a disaster. Since it's the internet, he couldn't resist a “...they need to put this race in a city that has more college graduates than people convicted of incest.”

For those coming in late, the US Pro championship has traditionally been decided as part of a June race in Philadelphia. That race, which continued this year as the Commerce Bank International Cycling Championship, was open to amateurs and riders from other countries, which often led to a US champion who hadn't even won the race. Folks who live in Philadelphia, or love the Philly race, aren't happy to see the event format changed and moved out of town.

I'm in the unenviable position of having actually attended the race, so I'm at a disadvantage to random angry internet posters. Greenville's downtown was bustling for 3-5 blocks on either side of the start/finish, and up and down the exhibit mall organizers set up on Main Street. News reports (which are generally optimistic) put the crowd at 45,000, against as many as 10 times that (again, generally optimistic) in Philadelphia.

My take: That's a pretty good crowd for a new event in a city whose population is around 50,000.

Greenville's downtown itself is pleasant, with parks, pubs, coffeeshops and restaurants, and I have to imagine the logistics of closing roads, arranging police escorts, and getting the necessary permits is a lot simpler in Greenville than in Philadelphia. The racing was good, even if I wish Leipheimer had been riding for himself. I will definitely come back for another round, and would consider spending the whole weekend in Greenville, instead of trekking back and forth from Atlanta.

In short, Greenville did a great job.

A suggestion for organizers: Why not run the time trial, whose attendance was genuinely minuscule, on Saturday, then run the road race on Labor Day?

Even the Tour de France runs stretches in front of nobody. Unless the USPRO course in Philly was both short and totally in-town, it did as well. The Greenville route takes advantage of nearby Paris Mountain, and provides the convenience of a downtown circuit (places to eat and drink between laps, parking) as well. Even out on Paris Mountain, there were areas with throngs of fans.

So, would there have been more spectators in Philly? Absolutely. Would there have been as good a race, one that could include (at least a few) American ProTour riders? Probably not. Would fans have the fabulous access to the course and riders at a Philadelphia race? No way. Once the date and format change was decided, I think the location change was pretty much assured. If it had survived, the San Francisco Grand Prix might have been a perfect combination as the championship race host: Labor Day scheduling, established race, and big city crowds.

Posted by Frank Steele on September 4, 2006 | Permalink

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Comments

As a Greenville resident, I am a bit biased, but I think the turnout was pretty good on Sunday considering it was the first year. Early predictions were for only 20,000 spectators. Many local residents came out to see what the fuss was about and I bet the event will grow in popularity here over the next two years. I spent the day explaining cycling to people who were full of questions and seemed genuinely interested.

I was a course marshall at the time trial on Friday and I was disappointed with the turnout. Aside from two fans who got a great view of the road from a rocky ledge, my section of road was dead. I like your idea of moving the time trial to Saturday.

Posted by: James at Sep 5, 2006 8:57:01 AM

Having attended the Philly race for fifteen years and worked for promoter Threshold Sports at the last four, I respectfully disagree.

The USPRO course was roughly fifteen miles and almost completely in town and city parks. While people didn't stand shoulder to shoulder along the entire course, there were people scattered everywhere. Of course they were most heavily concentrated at the start/finish, the wall and Lemon Hill, but plenty of people could be found at sidewalk cafes along Main Street in Manayunk, and along the long four mile stretch of Kelly Driver that paralells the Shuylkill River.

Did/do fans have access to the course and riders? Of course. It's pro bike racing, and like races I worked at in San Francisco or New York, any fan can get an autograph near the sign in, in the pits, while riders are warming up, etc. The course is wide open and easily accessable.

Posted by: fixedgear at Sep 5, 2006 1:46:37 PM

Pete,

I had a feeling you might comment on this :-).

The only reference I've seen to crowd size for this year's Philly race suggests it still drew 350,000-400,000 spectators, not far off USPRO numbers, if at all. One way to think about this is that instead of one 400,000-spectator event, we've now got two with 400,000-450,000, and room to grow.

I seem to remember some back-and-forth between USA Cycling, which wanted, first and foremost, to change the date, and the race promoters, who didn't want to mess with a successful race format. You probably followed it more closely, so please correct me if I'm wrong. I absolutely feel the US-only format, more in line with the rest of the world, is a step forward.

My point about access is that at any event, access is partly the inverse of crowd size. The 2006 Tour de Georgia was more fun for me because crowds were smaller, and I didn't have to worry about catching (or throwing!) an elbow to get a good spot for pictures.

With 400,000+ attendees, it's bound to be hard to get near the start/finish, the presentation stand, etc.

Posted by: Frank at Sep 5, 2006 3:01:34 PM

Whomever made the incest comment was out of line and is probably on a childs emotional intelligence level. Greenville's southern charm and warm people make it a desirable place for any event and it's terrain and roads are perfect for a bike race. Keep it here and the crowds will only increase.

Posted by: jb at Sep 5, 2006 5:56:33 PM

I covered The USPro Championship in Philadelphia last year on OperationGadget.com. The turnout for that race was bigger than any of the stages of the Tour de France that have I ever attended, with the exception of the Champs-Elysees of course.

The question I had when I covered what turned out to be the final USPro in Philadelphia was, "How come this feels like such a local event, despite the huge crowds?" It seemed like the only people who were there came from within the broadcast limits of WPVI Channel 6, the ABC affiliate that broadcast USPRO locally for a number of years. (I live 25 miles north of Philadelphia, but lived over 2 hours away in Northern New Jersey for most of the my life. I'm sort of a New York Metropolitan Area expatriate here now.)

If one of the big goals that USA Cycling set for itself was to get more national attention for the race by moving it out of Philadelphia, I can't believe that Greenville was a step forward.

I wish USA Cycling success in their effort to change the nature of USPRO. I think it should be a race between the best-available professionals from the United States. I don't even care where they run it, so long as we get live coverage on a cable channel that's available from coast-to-coast within the next few years.

Too bad every blogger with an interest in cycling didn't show up for USPRO this year. It was probably the best opportunity to break into the ranks of credentialed media that we'll see in a long time.

--Dave Aiello, Editor, OperationGadget.com

Posted by: Dave Aiello at Sep 6, 2006 12:58:32 AM

Frank, don't get me wrong, it's a little bit of sour grapes on my part. I'd love to have seen the all-USA USPRO Championships be in Philly. With that said, two races are better than one and I think a rising tide lifts all boats so whatever gets pro racing in front of the public is a Good Thing.

It was time to get in line with the rest of the world and have a USA only races, even if it led to the kooky situation of Levi with no teammates and Gorgeous george with one (or maybe two ;-) depending on how you count).

From my POV, the crowds were considerably thinner in Philly this year (2006) but I'm not sure why. For most casual fans the fact that it wasn't the USPRO Championship wouldn't have made a difference.

Posted by: fixedgear at Sep 6, 2006 7:54:36 AM

Greenville's city limit population is very misleading, due to SC's strict annexation laws. For what it's worth, the Greenville metro is just over 1 million people. Greenville county is South Carolina's most populated county (~420,000) and most densely populated county, and the city of Greenville is also South Carolina's most dense. I know it's much smaller than Philly, but for people to think of it as a podunk town because *they* haven't heard of it is ignorant.

And how childish of someone to mention Greenville and "incest" in the same sentence. I suppose some people still view the South as rural, slow, and backwards. For what it's worth, nobody from Greenville would stoop so low in talking about another city that way...not even Philadelphia.

I am sure Greenville will do a good job hosting the event over the years. It is certainly a different race than it was in Philadelphia, but time will tell how it compares.

Posted by: JS at Sep 7, 2006 12:51:55 AM

greenville resident, though not a lifer or a defender.

i wondered about the turnout, and whether it would discourage future races here. but it was the best possible scenario for a bike fan. the crowds were enthusiatistc and bike-savvy without being so thick you couldn't move.

the result: we drove all over town, intercepting the race close to 10 times. we didn't miss a single lap. we saw three or four passes downtown, where the crowds were, we drove up the big climb for a nice, steep spot near the top, had a great vantage point on the tree-lined north main street and got back in time for the hincapie finish -- all while stopping by my house for drinks and running up the street for food!

from a fan's perspective, the course and overall setup were superb.

crowd-wise, i would love to see more people.

Posted by: bz at Sep 7, 2006 12:49:31 PM

I also live in Greenville (but only since June of this year), and thought the US PRO road race was superb. Philly surely could never end up with 32 finishers out of over 100 starters! I did think, though, that the TT was very poorly promoted and located in a remote and tough to find location. Remember also, when comparing this year's race to the Philly race, that they had 20 years to grow their race's interest and reputation. I am willing to bet that in 5 years Greenville will draw 100,000+ fans easily. Last night I rode a local weekly "training race" here in town, and we had over 100 riders take part, despite drizzle and cooler than normal temps. Not bad for a small city! Greenville's cycling reputation is becoming stronger every year, due in large part to George Hincapie's connection to it as well as his brother Rich's hard work in prmoting the sport locally. The Greenville Spinners bike club has a very strong and active membership, and we boast some of the best riding conditions in the country!

Good luck next year; I am confident we'll draw many more riders and spectators to the US PRO event.

Posted by: Phil at Sep 13, 2006 10:04:35 PM

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