The incredible shrinking NORBA NCS
Philadelphia Flyers general manager Bobby Clarke once said that, “I havediscovered the less I say, the more rumors I start.” The folks at USA Cycling would be wise to heed the implied lesson here.In the past few weeks, a period of great silence at USAC headquarters inColorado Springs, the rumors have flown fast and furious regarding thestate and fate of the 2003 NORBA National Championships Series. Among thebest tittle-tattle: cancelled races, no prize money, no TV, no UCI pointsand even no series at all. Of course the truth — as it usually does — liessomewhere in between. After extensive
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Anne-Caro cuts back; Dad speaks
By Jason Sumner, VeloNews Associate Editor
Philadelphia Flyers general manager Bobby Clarke once said that, “I havediscovered the less I say, the more rumors I start.”
The folks at USA Cycling would be wise to heed the implied lesson here.In the past few weeks, a period of great silence at USAC headquarters inColorado Springs, the rumors have flown fast and furious regarding thestate and fate of the 2003 NORBA National Championships Series. Among thebest tittle-tattle: cancelled races, no prize money, no TV, no UCI pointsand even no series at all. Of course the truth — as it usually does — liessomewhere in between.
After extensive conversations with some of the major players here’swhat you need to know.
No. 1: The series has not and will not be cancelled, nor willany of the five scheduled events — Big Bear, Snowshoe, Mount Snow, Sandpointand Durango. The biggest change will be a shake-up in each event’s schedule.During the last couple years the pro slate went cross country on Friday,short track and mountain cross on Saturday, and then downhill Sunday. Thisyear as a cost saving measure, cross country and short track have beenbumped forward a day each. There have also been wholesale changes to theamateur schedules, with each venue now allowed to do whatever they seefit to get the most people out to the event and racing. That leads to…
No. 2: Because of a mass-exodus of NCS sponsors, the financialburden of putting on the races has been shifted to the venues. A year agothe NORBA series had eight major sponsors — Chevy Trucks, SoBe, BalanceBar, Outdoor Life Network, Shimano, Gatorade, United and Kenwood — whohelped put the series budget at about $800,000. This year four of thosesponsors are gone — Chevy, SoBe, Balance Bar and OLN — and only two ofthe remaining backers — Shimano and Gatorade — and kicking in cash (Kenwoodand United’s contributions are in-kind). That sponsorship “bombshell” asUSAC’s Eric Moore called it has reduced the series budget to $70,000, leavingthe local organizing committees (or LOCs as they’re called) to kick downthe rest — somewhere between $40,000 and $60,000 depending on whom youlisten to. That leads to…
No. 3: There will be no pro prize list this year unless the LOCscome up with one on their own, which Moore says is very unlikely. Obviouslythis is a direct result of the loss in sponsorship money, which in turnled to drastic cost-cutting measures. In addition to the elimination ofthe pro prize purse (which totaled $194,500 last year, $33,500 for eachevent and an additional $27,000 in overall money) other amenities suchas VIP rooms, multiple race announcers, construction staff and plasticnumber plates for amateurs have been cut back or eliminated all together.That leads to…
No. 4: The UCI status of the series is still up in the air. Accordingto section 18.104.22.168.4 of the UCI’s rules for mountain-bike races, majorone-day events, including races with an E1 status such as the NORBA events,“must offer a minimum prize list.” That sounds like a slamdunk for lostUCI status and points, but Moore says no so fast. “We have an e-mail intothe UCI letting them know what’s going on,” he told us. “We’re also tryingto make the case that the NORBA series is our national championship, whichmeans you don’t have to have prize money.” But it would appear Moore iswrong there. According to that same UCI document, “[national championship]events must adhere to stage race rules” and that “each category D1 andD2 event [the designation given to major and minor stage races] must carrya minimum prize purse.”
Whatever the case, it’s quite likely that the UCI will bend on thisone whether Moore is right or wrong. But that still leaves pro racers outin the cold when it comes to money, not to mention a substantial reductionin television exposure. That leads to…
No. 5: There will be TV coverage of the series this year, but it will be much less than in years past. Gone are the days when OLN aired two one-hour shows from each of the NORBA events, covering every pro race.
This year coverage will be limited to a portion of the cable network’snew weekly, one-hour show, Summer Sports Zone. The program will featurethe latest results and information from both the domestic and internationalroad and mountain biking scenes. Translation: the NORBA races will nowair as highlights on OLN’s version of cycling Sports Center. The upsideis that unlike the sometimes month-long delays between race date and TVairdate, NORBA action will now show up just days after it actually happened.That leads to…
No. 6: The bottom line is this. The NORBA series isn’t dead,but it’s hit a depth not seen before. But think of it like this: They saythe only way a drug addict can ever get off the junk is if he first hitsrock bottom. Well this may well be rock bottom for the NORBA series, andnow we’ll see if it can get better. The USAC brass has said they don’twant to be in the event management business, and frankly judging from thestate of this series, they shouldn’t be. This year the nuts and bolts ofthe operation will be in the hands of the local promoters, with NORBA handlingonly a smattering of duties. Next year, the hope is that it can get “anevent company to take away the whole thing and run it,” added Moore. Certainlythat could only be an improvement.
For now, though, we should all be thankful that there’s a series atall. Were it not for the moxie of the five venues, which all stepped upto face this financial crisis, that would not be true.
“I’ve been putting on races for 15 years and it seems like the onlytime I ever got interviewed was when the shit hit the fan,” said Big Bearboss Tom Spiegel. “Well, right now if it wasn’t for us and the other fourvenues, this whole racing industry would have been gone in the blink ofan eye.”
ANNE-CAROLINE TAKES A NEW TRACK
Keeping with our rumor theme, here’s one that been drifting aroundfor a while: Anne-Caroline Chausson has retired from racing. The truth:not quite, but we won’t see nearly as much of the fabulous Frenchwomanas in years past. In a recent exclusive interview with Chausson, the formerVolvo-Cannondale star told us that she is planning on splitting time between“free ride events and World Cups.” Chausson added that she may show upfor round 2 of the downhill/four-cross World Cup at Alpe d’Huez in France,but otherwise it will be “alternative” type events only until August’sworld championships in Switzerland. Chausson added that she’ll likely hitthe World Cup finals, which come a week after world’s at Kaprun, Austria.
The reason for the change? Well, there seems to be two. No. 1, rightnow she doesn’t have a downhill bike to ride because new-for-2003 sponsorCommencal doesn’t make one. “If the bike is ready by the World Cup in Francethen I will race,” was how she put it. “If not it is better to wait untilit’s ready.”
But beyond that, Chausson and her sponsor seem more interested in hittingevents that aren’t part of the traditional racing cannon. “I will go toevents that get good coverage on TV and in magazines,” she said. “I wouldlike to do the Mont-Ste-Anne World Cup, but it conflicts with a freerideevent in Europe and my sponsor wants me at those kinds of events.”
So will she miss racing? “When Sea Otter was going on I was thinkingabout it,” she admitted. “But not really missing it that much.”
And will she be able to turn it on come the world championships? “Idon’t know,” she conceded. “I will be training the same way as before,but I won’t have the World Cups to tell me where my level is.”
And who will take over for her? “Sabrina [Jonnier] for sure,” she saidof her fellow Frenchwoman. “She will be the one to beat at the World Cup.”
And is this a permanent move? “Maybe not forever,” Chausson predicted.“Maybe I will come back to racing the World Cups next year.”
A WORD WITH DAD
Lastly, I had an impromptu phone conversation with Gary Fisher theother day, and the mountain biking legend was his usual effervescent selfwhile espousing on a variety of fat-tire racing subjects. Here are thehighlights.
On NORBA managing the NORBA series: “I’ve been in the bike businessa long time and there are certain lines — like retail — that you just shouldn’tcross. I don’t know why NORBA is in the business of putting on bike races.That’s crossing the line.”
On the opportunity the NORBA crisis puts forth: “It’s a chanceto look at things and figure out what works and what doesn’t. Can you imagineif we had say a short track going on at the same time as a 24-hour race?We can do whatever we want. We’re back to the grassroots, the crop wasmowed down to the roots and now we get to see what grows.”
On MTB stage racing: “We need to have a national stage race.America could understand this. It would be so cool. Stages go places anddo things. You’ve got to have that to quantify races. No more rat-racemaze courses. I don’t think it would be that hard, because no matter whatpeople think — mountain bike racing is alive and well.”