CrossVegas co-promoter Brook Watts not only promotes big-time races but also races himself. © Mia Sullivan
Held in the heat of a Vegas with nary a spot of mud in sight, CrossVegas has defied the terrain and climate stereotypes of cyclocross and surprisingly become one of the country’s biggest races in just a few short years. This year’s race promises to be bigger than ever, but the changes are not without controversy. We grabbed a few minutes with CrossVegas co-promoter Brook Watts to chat about the event.
CXM: It’s CrossVegas’ third year. What’s the best new thing this year?
BW: More Euro pros. The bicycle industry has realized what a showcase CrossVegas can be since it coincides with the Interbike show. You bring a guy over to race and then he or she can be available to help promote your brand at the show the next couple of days. We’re at a tipping point and I think we’ll see more and more companies taking advantage of that.
CXM: Biggest surprise of CrossVegas 2009?
BW: That the Wheelers & Dealers race sold out in about 12 hours. It pretty much shocked me when I consider the effort racers will be making to travel with bikes. It’s a great sign for ‘cross support among bike industry members, these guys walk the walk.
CXM: $8 spectator fee? What’s up with that? Isn’t this supposed to be the people’s sport?
BW: We’ve had the option of charging admission from the first year but chose to go the free route until we were pressed to the wall this year with increased crowd control expenses. It’s pretty cut and dry, the parks department said fence the venue to gain control of the crowd or take CrossVegas elsewhere. So our decision was to go with the lowest admission fee that would cover the added expense of the long length of fencing the city required.
Free admission has been the U.S. model for some time but there are other U.S. cyclocross events that charge admission so it’s not as if we’re the first. It’s certainly the European model where the admission fee is considerably higher than $8.
The guys who accuse us of ruining the party are probably the same guys who, for example, parked illegally in Carl’s Jr. and jaywalked a Vegas street carrying cases of beer to get to the park. Unfortunately, breaking city ordinances and disregarding safety is what got us in this situation.
CXM: So were you surprised by the reaction to the news?
BW: The harsh criticism seems to be from a small fringe faction of so-called fans. I’m a bit surprised by the almost cynical reactions that those few have had. I was crucified by one blogger who after complaining about the fee blogged about a movie he just saw. The thing is, both the movie and CrossVegas are providing entertainment that costs money to produce. Did the theater let him in for free?
Chris Grealish, my partner in CrossVegas, and I have been accused of everything from trying to make a bunch of money to busting up the biggest party in Vegas. If I sound defensive, perhaps I am. But anyone that knows our history in cyclocross, or knows the history of CrossVegas, knows we’ve lost money every year bringing a great event together. It’s a labor of love and our only motivation has been to spread the gospel of cyclocross, introduce the sport to new regions of the country and elevate the level of competition in the U.S. Where’s the praise for keeping the party together and not just saying “screw it, we’ll save ourselves the misery and stay home.”
CXM: Are you worried in a tight economy that might keep a few folks from coming out?
BW: Of course I worry that it might scare some folks away but the real supporters and fans of cyclocross will be there and understand it costs money to put on any race, especially one at this level. Then factor in the free shuttle busses for Interbike attendees with badges-that eliminates taxi charges. And then consider that a beer is cheaper at CrossVegas than on the Vegas Strip. On top of that we’ve got the best field of racers EVER in the U.S. since our National Championship doesn’t feature the additional European talent we’ll have.
CXM: One complaint has been the course isn’t very technically challenging – anything planned this year to change that up? Can we just happen to turn on the sprinklers during the race?
BW: How about flaming hoops to jump through? Seriously, course critics should talk to the racers who seem to think it’s as tough as any course should be at that point in the season. Without contriving an artificially hard course I feel we’ve balanced difficulty with ideal fan viewing. If CrossVegas was a December race or a couple of weeks prior to Worlds I’d say we’d need a considerably harder course; for late September it’s just right.
CXM: Plans for a World Cup at some point at CrossVegas?
BW: I think everyone would love to see a World Cup in the U.S., including me, but there are more obstacles to overcome than the poor economy alone. Let’s just take live TV, for example. To reach European fans we’d have to race at noon in the desert heat to hit prime-time viewing hours in Belgium and Holland. Tape delay is not a common feature in European TV programming as it is here in the states, and it’s unreasonable to expect European fans would wake up at 3 am to watch it live. Another factor a lot of American cross fans don’t consider is that a World Cup format limits U.S. team participation to a maximum of eight riders. So a lot of our CrossVegas racers would be on the sidelines. We’ll continue to look at a World Cup as a future possibility but it’s not on the immediate horizon.
CXM:You obviously have a huge potential audience with Interbike right there, but many of us believe in the potential of cyclocross to really bring in spectators who are not associated with cycling. Do you have any thoughts on how we might do that, and have you attempted anything to achieve that in Vegas?
BW: First and foremost it’s about giving value to your core audience-the ‘cross fans-while also cultivating a new audience among active people who want to see new exciting sports that are easy to understand. Cyclocross satisfies that desire. Like you mentioned in one of your articles a few weeks ago, it’s great to see how print partner Mountain Bike Magazine has come on board to help spread the word to non-crossers. Through Rodale Press we’re sending postcards and e-mails to tens of thousands of subscribers of Men’s Health, Women’s Health, Runner’s World and other magazines across the southwest. This is one example of potential fans we can easily convert if they come out and feel the ‘cross vibe. Hopefully, if we’re successful, that will help both the sport and Cyclocross Magazine as well.
CXM: We’ve heard some of the Elite Men racers, but are there any big name Elite Women from abroad going to be there?
BW: We’ve still got some things we’re working on but I’d point to Helen Wyman of Great Britain who is making the trip over, Helen has been a tough competitor and holds her own on the Euro circuit. Let me call out some of the North American women besides the obvious returning champ Katie Compton. We’ve got Alison Dunlap making her return to ‘cross with her Luna Chix teammates from the 2008 CrossVegas podium Katerina Nash and Georgia Gould. Alison Sydor is back, she had a heck of a ride in the first CrossVegas taking fifth.
CXM: You’ve probably seen in our interviews with the top Euros in our print magazine that all of them have a keen interest to race in the States. Any chance we’ll hear about other famous European racers in the next few weeks?
BW: Well we’ve got Christian Heule from Switzerland coming back to name just one, he’s the rider Trebon nipped at the line at CrossVegas 2007. There’s a good chance that a couple of the things we’ve got cooking will gel in the next couple of weeks. Like I said before, the bike industry is catching on to the value of CrossVegas to help build the sport and their brands in the U.S. As you can imagine, it often comes down to dollars.
CXM: It’s too bad Interbike and the Outdoor Demo are closed to the public, because those events combined with CrossVegas would be a triple-threat to any racer’s vacation days. But with the biggest names and deepest field we’ll see until Nats, the racing alone should attract some ‘cross fans. Do you have any advice, host housing or packages to help a ‘cross fan see the action?
BW: I’d say don’t forget the Crit Finals and a big post-race party on Thursday night following CrossVegas. It’s a great event that takes place at the Mandalay Bay who happens to be our Host Hotel as well. If you check out our website crossvegas.com you’ll find a link to special rates for rooms at the Mandalay Bay. Or go to Allegiant Air, another Las Vegas company that’s run by cyclists to find cheap flights from all corners of the U.S. There’s still plenty of time to plan a getaway to Vegas in September.
CXM: Okay, sounds like there are deals to be had. Those who are looking for a couch can coordinate through our race housing section in our forums.
Any about predictions for a winner among the strong men’s field?
BW: I’ll stick with my stock line, some guy on a bike will win. But I’ll go out on a limb and say I agree with Vervecken’s comment, it’ll get down to some move on the last lap.
CXM: Thanks for talking with us.