Posted by Editor on 01/17/15
Greg Cushing has been a long time race director for the Tom Jehlicka Memorial Criterium, a provincial event held in Cobourg, Ontario. He has sent an e-mail [see below] explaining why Ontario is losing another road event.
The issues he raises are serious; not just for Ontario, but for all provinces facing increased costs due to policing and insurance, plus increased restrictions due to complaints from other road users and local residents.
Provincial-level events, such as the Tom Jehlicka Memorial Criterium, are crucial to our sport; they are the races where future provincial and national team athletes first experience bike racing. They are the events where riders who don't have national or international aspirations can participate, and they are the events where non-cyclists can learn to appreciate our sport and become supporters.
The loss of the Tom Jehlicka Memorial Criterium is yet another example of the growing crisis road cycling is facing in Canada. While it is great that we have more UCI events, such as the WorldTour races in Quebec and Montreal, the Tour of Alberta, Delta and Gatineau, without the grassroots races there will be less and less riders and teams able to participate in these bigger events.
We cannot continue to lose events like the Tom Jehlicka Memorial Criterium and hope to have our sport grow - or even maintain its present numbers. It is fantastic that the Milton velodrome is now active and offering youth programs and that there are proposals underway for other velodromes, but those venues have limited resources and reached limited geographic areas. Local bike races can reach so many more.
It is time that the cycling community steps up to save road cycling at the local level. Yes, I said SAVE local road cycling, and I do not believe I am being overly dramatic. Local clubs and organizers need help in this increasingly expensive and restrictive environment.
I have long been impressed by the way IMBA (International Mountain Bike Association) has resources to help local trail groups overcome resistance to trail access. IMBA (IMBA Canada up here) has Trail Crews that can come and hold trail building sessions with communities, that include how to deal with opposition. They also have resources, statistics and talking points to overcome resistance and build knowledge of the value of mountain biking.
Transportation, recreation and commuter cyclists have organizations such as Share the Road working on their behalf; lobbying government and working with local initiatives to educate and expand opportunities.
Road cycling needs this at the grassroots level. Provincial and national bodies need to work with clubs, teams and race organizers to help provide the resources needed to combat a growing trend towards shutting down road racing. Access to insurance, talking points and data to counter arguments that road racing is too dangerous or inconveniences too many drivers, programs and mentors to educate and encourage would-be race organizers... if mountain bikers and commuters can do it, if track supporters can get velodromes built, then why can't Road?
Here is the letter from Greg Cushing:
Greetings for the New Year and Hello,
As a fellow cyclist and bike racer I am sending you this email with mixed emotions. I thought it best that I explain things in writing as it provides me time to choose the best words. Please feel free to share this email with those that may have some interest in the news.
Over the past number of years, I have lost track of the exact number now, I have been the Race Director for the Tom Jehlicka Memorial Criterium. Along with lots of help from the Cobourg Cycling Club, friends and family, we have hosted what I believe has been a fun, small, local but very competitive event. The TJ Crit, as I like to call it, has taken lots of good energy. Everything has a lifecycle though and the race has run its course.
This week the Cobourg Club held a Board of Directors meeting where it was decided that the ROI (return on investment) was too great a risk. The Club is not adverse to working to renew an event if an interested party was to "magically appear". The Board agreed that it would work with another source to help host the race should fate have it. However, it was agreed that holding the race has become too onerous for this small club.
Noteworthy here is that personally, I do not have the contacts and/or resources to find good sponsorship. I know that a person with excellent sales and marketing skills would be able to rustle up some financial support with a little applied grit. However, this is out of the realm of my experience. This is simply just reality.
Unfortunately this is the way our "beloved" sport is going too. An aging demographic, the increased costs of insurance, the risks of litigation due to injury, community resistance and poor racer turnout all share the root of this decision. Holding bike races in this "mono-sport" country is discouraging to say the least. It is disappointing to me from the perspective of a racer but as for the TJ Crit, it is a fact that the majority of racers have been more than satisfied with the event. However with such low numbers over the years the Club is left with little choice. If it was a hockey game we hosted, the storyline would be different.
Being involved with the organization of the TJ Crit has been a rewarding challenge for me. I am very grateful for the experience. If I have not thanked you each in the past for your participation and/or support, I want you to know that you have earned my respect . With that I wish you a very, hardy "Chapeau" and "Adieu!"
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