This article may be controversial to some, but make perfect sense to others.
I have competed in Florida road racing for more than 30 years and until a few years ago, loved every minute of it. There are permanent scars on both knees, elbows, hips ankles, hands and other places unmentionable.
Year after year I came back for the thrill, the comradery and the sweaty desire to get even faster and tougher. I learned the game, knew who could sprint, who could climb and who could stay away.
It was like chess and boxing combined.
But a few years ago everything changed.
I became disenchanted. Physical scars became mental scars. Master’s races weren’t fun anymore. They became large, unruly, selfish and just plain mean. It seems every other racer is sure they’re destined to win. If they don’t they loudly blame everybody but themselves.
Road packs used to be made up of friendly, skinny little runts like Andy Hampsten. Now they are more like beefcake Olaf Ludwigs. Big brats with a migraine… and suspicious muscle groups.
I can’t swear doping is rampant but news reports, pro scandals, and easy access to “aging clinics” creates a climate of distrust and disgust. Doping poster child Dave Leduc was busted at Master’s Nationals, fueled by EPO, steroids and amphetamines. He was in his mid 60’s and had a reputation for being ill tempered and dangerous during races. Now we know why.
Note from JOM – there were several doping busts in the Florida Master’s ranks a few years ago. These were made possible because of testing by the Florida Clean Ride Fund.
Are Grandpa’s so shallow these days they will cheat to get a tiny taste of glory? Is your tombstone going to say… “Here lays a liar?”
It wasn’t perfect in the 80’s and 90’s but the Florida packs were smaller – you could actually move up more or less at will. Nowadays, unless there is some huge hill to break it up you are often trapped into a field sprint at the end – sketchy and boring at the same time.
Prize lists were better too. Masters and category 4 races often paid $1,000 10 places deep. Category 3’s paid $1,500 and up. Pro 1/2’s often several thousand. Entry was rarely over $25. Top talent could actually meet or exceed race expenses in every category.
I confess I have never been a promoter trying to make decent money. But I know from experience it is hard and frustrating work. The sport needs to be profitable so promoters continue to put on races – but there is room for improvement.
A few weekends ago I raced in a 50+/60+ Masters road race.
There were approximately 60 of us. They announced we were the biggest field by far. That is the inescapable demographics of us Baby Boomers. Entry was about $45 each so the promoter took in about $2,700 for our race alone.
Payout was $100, 4 places deep shared by 50+ and 60+ competitors combined. No trophy, no ribbon, no explanation. Cash payout was hours late. They must realize we won’t linger hours for $10 and a 200 mile drive home.
We masters don’t need the money. We race for the love of it and to stay in shape. But in this capitalist society money = respect. It would be nice for the winner to at least get his entry back and to not be the brunt of sarcastic age remarks by announcers. They will be in our shoes sooner than they think.
Now I am divorced from toxic road racing and am happily married to gravel grinding.
What I like about gravel grinder races:
- Laid back. More like early mountain bike races.
- New technology. Who doesn’t like new technology?
- Beautiful, epic terrain. Often mountainous, hilly or park service land.
- Virtually no cars.
- Nice people.
- No rude promoters – gravel promoters treat you as a friend.
Unlike roadies, nobody yells at you if you crash. They stop and help or at least ask if you are alright.
Nobody will put you on the ground except yourself. Long switchback descents are scary enough without 50 people clogging all the good lines. Most often you descend nice and alone. I have never smelled burning brake pads in a gravel race.
Mountain bikers insist they do all the pulling.
Multiple times I’ve tried to help mountain bikers break the wind but they never seem to want it. I asked a mountain biker friend why… “Dude, mountain bikers NEVER let anybody pass if they can help it. If you get passed you are LOSING the race!” Fine – my roadie ego will not be hurt if you tow me to the next climb or finish line. I do want to help however since that benefits both of us.
Ten minute winnowing zones.
Unlike road races, most gravel fields are drastically thinned in the first five minutes. Climbing, dirt, or dirt climbing starts are the norm so things break up fast.
No field sprints – never seen one. The course is your biggest competition. You are the only person that might put you on the ground. Unlike road races I have never heard a gravel cyclist utter the “I coulda, woulda, shoulda won” excuse.
In gravel races the nice humans around you are just a bonus. They can’t wait to hear your story, not your whining.
JOM endorses this article. He too is divorced from Florida Road Racing.