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Can Scott Tedro save U.S. mountain biking?

Less than one year ago Scott Tedro was just another passionate and affluent cyclist whose growing love for the sport had persuaded him to invest some cash in at the grassroots level.

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By Fred Dreier

Mike Tedro

Mike Tedro

Photo: Fred Dreier

Less than one year ago Scott Tedro was just another passionate and affluent cyclist whose growing love for the sport had persuaded him to invest some cash in at the grassroots level.

These days Tedro’s name is on the lips of nearly every American involved in top-tier mountain bike racing. Tedro is the man who spearheaded the new US Cup, which has replaced the National Mountain Bike Series as the continent’s premier off-road racing series. Some see him as the sport’s savior, here to right the capsized ship that American mountain bike racing had become. Others view Tedro as a sketchy wildcard, whose passion and dollars might dry up at any moment.

One thing is for certain: Tedro’s own investment of cash, energy and time has grown exponentially in one year’s time.

Tedro owns and operates Sho Air International, a multi-million dollar California-based airfreight company that specializes in shipping event materials for expositions and showcases. He discovered mountain biking in 2004 as a means to shed pounds and kick his smoking habit. The sport took hold of Tedro, and within three years he was sponsoring a hundreds-strong club mountain bike team.

Tedro agreed to come on board and help jump-start the NMBS midway through 2008. Within a few weeks he was the middleman in a war of wants between the promoters, USA Cycling, professional teams and amateur racers. During the months-long discussions there were times when it appeared no top-tier racing would exist in the U.S. in 2009. But the parties involved eventually rallied around Tedro’s US Cup model.

The US Cup has already held three rounds: the March 1 Bonelli Park event; the March 29 Fontana National and the April 5 Sagebrush Safari. So far things are looking up — registration is high, rider feedback is positive and the industry, USA Cycling and Tedro are getting along.

VeloNews caught up with Tedro to discuss how the US Cup came together, how the series is organized and what mountain bikers can expect to see in the coming years. This is part 1 of the interview; part 2 will be published Friday.

VeloNews: You’ve had three races so far in the US Cup, what has been going right?

Scott Tedro: I’ve seen a lot of smiling faces. There were people who were really cynical in the beginning, and even they are being supportive. I think there were some who didn’t want to see something like this be successful. I can understand why — things at the national level have been bad for so long that it’s hard for people to put their faith in something new. People didn’t want to lend me their trust because they’ve been let down in the past.

Our numbers are up so dramatically, that the only bad thing is that we’ve had our butts kicked a little bit. For Fontana we had to bring in five extra people and 300 extra number plates, and we needed them all. We had 1222 cross-country and Super D riders, and we only allocated for 1000. And at Bonelli we were praying for 500 racers to show up and we got 702. At Sagebrush we had 580 and that’s way up from last year, which was 302. People are out there and they want to race, I think they just want to be treated with some respect and see a race that is well organized.

VN: What hasn’t gone so right?

ST: You know the turnout of our female pros has been really down. We had 10 or 12 at Bonelli and 26 at Fontana. I think we had 10 at Sagebrush. We’re trying to do everything we can to encourage the ladies. We put their positioning first and bill them equally on the race fliers. The women’s race is the co-main event. I think at Fontana the Luna team really made an example. They drove 100 miles and then flew in without a trailer because the race coincided with a team event. They raced, killed it and then flew home and drove 100 miles back to the event.

I want the women to be happy and to push them to feel good about the races. USA Cycling mountain bike events director) Kelli Lusk has agreed to help champion the women’s cause and reach out to the lady pros and get their feedback so that we can have bigger fields.

VN: Last fall when we first talked it seemed like the entire organization was at risk of falling apart. You, USA Cycling, the teams and the guys from the NMBS seemed to all be on different pages. What happened to pull things together?

ST: I came in from a point of ignorance. In the beginning I got bombarded by so much negativity. Everyone wanted this new series to look and feel a different way. I kind of shut down and told everyone that I didn’t care, and that I was going to do it my way. I realized that it wasn’t appropriate, so I decided to focus on going forward and trying to understand where things went sour.

I took input from other promoters and morphed the US Cup into a governing body and subsidy for mountain bike race promoters. Instead of putting on the races, we go out there and find the best venues and best promoters who need a helping hand. We give them the signage, the number plates and the prizes and swag and giveaways. You know, some people say amateur racers don’t care about swag — they sure as hell do. It’s a connection between you and the race. Everyone leaves our event with at least a tee shirt, and in two years when they see someone else wearing that shirt, they can say, “Fontana was off the hook!”

VN: So then the US Cup model is a way to help out promoters.

ST: Yeah, hopefully us being there will attract more racers, which will help the promoters make some money. I mean, they’re not going to be driving Hummers, but they aren’t going go have to go deep into credit card debt.

I feel like we have a successful model because we’ve found people with the passion for cycling who have been willing to donate things our way. Kenda and Specialized have been huge. Kawasaki motorcycles gave us a 250 FS for (marketing manager) Ty Kady to motor pace the pros. (Superbike racer) Jason Britton brought the camera crew from his show on Speed Television over to Bonelli to film an episode. I feel like the people with passion are there and they want to help, we just need to reach out to them.