Blind Date at the Dairy Series Brings Portland Midweek Cyclocross Romance

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Steven Hunter, in the series leader's jersey, rides the steep climb © Mark Blackwelder

Steven Hunter, in the series leader's jersey, rides the steep climb © Mark Blackwelder

I’ve always been a fan of midweek racing – events are inexpensive, it’s an easy way to get an extra hard day of riding in, and the races are somehow more casual and less stressful than most weekend competitions. Turns out that if you put one on in a cyclocross hotbed like Portland, you can get close to 700 participants to spend the night riding around in the dark – the event now even features a real-deal series leader jersey. The Blind Date at the Dairy Wednesday night series of cylocross races wraps up its sophomore year at the Alpenrose Dairy this week, and I checked in with promoters Joe Field and Tony Kic for a progress report.

by Josh Liberles

CXM: Whose idea was the Blind Date and how’d you get it off the ground? When you first got started, what kind of turnout did you expect, and what did you get?

Joe Martin leads Michael Gallagher © Mark Blackwelder

Joe Martin leads Michael Gallagher © Mark Blackwelder

Tony Kic: It’s a little blurry, but I feel like Joe’s son Rubin was the first to propose a midweek race here in town. Joe and I had known each other from racing track, and he brought it up to me last year. Our capabilities and attitudes complement each other really well so we make good “co-promoters.” It seemed pretty far-fetched at first, but after a couple meetings with the folks at the Alpenrose Dairy, things became more logistically feasible.

Last year we had four races – we’re so limited by the terrain and lighting, I was afraid to do more and have the course become stagnant. But we decided to do five this year and see how it went. We were blown away by the turnout the first night and completely unprepared. I can’t remember the numbers [Ed.: It was almost 500!], but they were about triple what I expected. I think it was the first time I’d ever seen Candi [Murray, Blind Date chief referee and OBRA assistant director] get truly frazzled – scoring in the dark was nearly impossible as the lighting we used interfered with the finish line camera.

CXM: Is it in danger of getting too big?

Kic: This season has been just about perfect as far as turnout. I’d like to see the Elite fields a bit larger, but we have to run so late that it’s understandable that we get fewer riders. There’s still some great quality racing taking place, and if the earlier fields get much larger I think the event would suffer a bit. I try to design a course that allows for passing but still has technical elements, and it’s worked well thus far.

The Blind Date's generator juice © Mark Blackwelder

The Blind Date's generator juice © Mark Blackwelder

CXM: What do you do to light the course?

Kic: The course is lit by a whole lot of portable halogen work lamps and some of the lighting from the dairy. We use three OBRA generators and a large one that we rent, as well as power from the dairy. Our equipment collection is getting ridiculous. Unlike last year, I’ve tried to work in new elements to the course each week, which proposes some real challenges as far as lighting. It would be easy to light the same course each time, but I’d get bored with it, so I can only assume others would too.

CXM: How has feedback been for the races?

Kic: Feedback has been awesome. It’s not for everyone … but that just makes it better for the folks that “get it.” It’s so much work – design, layout, lighting, teardown … not to mention registration, results and money (where Joe takes over). If we weren’t getting so much support in turnout and positive comments, it would be tough to keep it going.

CXM: Tell me about the names for the different categories – Beginners are “First Dates,” Singlespeeders “Monogamists,” Elites “Speeddaters,” etc.

Kic: Joe came up with that one, and I feel like it’s a good example of the mood we want to set. We are so busy just making the race happen, I feel like a lot of solid silly ideas got pushed aside … but the category names came through.

Brigette Brown on the run-up © Mark Blackwelder

Brigette Brown on the run-up © Mark Blackwelder

CXM: What’s cost of entry? Any individual race or series prizes?

Kic: It’s $15 pre reg and $18 day of the event. We really wanted to keep it as inexpensive as possible, but the online registration fees are pretty substantial, and we couldn’t afford to eat them. So, the day-of fees had to go up to promote online registration and take the pressure off the rush at 5:30. We payout the a men and women three deep each night, and our sponsors have given us some sweet stuff for series prizes. The holeshot primes have been rad – I like giving folks a chance to win something for riding aggressively at the start.

CXM: What’s it like using Alpenrose as a venue? There’s a velodrome there, a Cross Crusade race, I think a USGP used to be there. Why do they support cycling?

Kic: Alpenrose is so supportive and awesome, they really enjoy folks coming out and having fun at the facility. The groundskeepers and electricians have put a lot of time into setting the place up for us, and obviously we wouldn’t be able to do it without them. It’s the family aspect that they really are drawn to – it’s not just a marketing thing for them. The little league, the go-karts, all the events they host, the farm animals … they run all of it just to bring folks together. When we mentioned to the owner that we’d have several kids categories and Junior races, he was on board.

Series promoter Tony Kic makes sure to get out and race his own events © Mark Blackwelder

Series promoter Tony Kic makes sure to get out and race his own events © Mark Blackwelder

CXM: Your weeknight turnout dwarfs the state championship attendance in most places. Tell me about the cross scene in Portland. Where’s it headed? Think there’s still room for more growth?

Kic: I never would have guessed it would come this far in popularity, so it’s hard to project where it will end up. OBRA and the Crusades led the way by making events inexpensive, fun and relatively easy to put on, and entering a bike race became something that didn’t require a ton of money or total dedication to enjoy. The athleticism of cyclocross attracts all sorts, and the category structure has something for everyone. I love being part of something that you don’t need fancy equipment to compete in, and I feel like that degree of accessibility dictates the scene.

CXM: What can we expect for next year?

Kic: If we can pull this mess off again next year, we’d really like to streamline registration – there were still plenty of fumbles with numbers and some nights with long lines. I’m also super excited about the terrain changes at the facility – a lot of dirt was in the way this year, and while we made due, it wasn’t perfect. Figuring out how to set up, race, and tear down inside of 12 hours would be awesome. I’m pretty thrashed on Thursdays.

CXM: What advice do you have for would-be promoters in other cities interested in a midweek series?

Kic: Having a venue close to town is key – if it’s going to be on a weeknight it has to be accessible. Keep the overhead as low as possible so you can afford low entry fees. Setting up as much of the registration process as you can online will help minimize the inevitable after-work rush. Have a partner you enjoy working with and trust, there’s no way either Joe or I could pull this off individually, and we manage to make it fun. Don’t underestimate the time you’re going to have to put into it; I put in a full work day before and after the race dealing with logistics and Joe spends countless hours on his responsibilities with the registration, prizes, results and finances. And unless there is a huge emergency, make sure to go ahead and race your race! I keep my phone on me in case something goes sideways, but I’ve managed to compete in all but one of the Blind Dates, when we were having generator trouble. It’s tough to be critical or to have the proper perspective until you are in it, and you will remember why you put this mess on when you are riding your ass off on a Wednesday night.

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