Cyclocross Magazine’sJoey Mullan has taken it upon himself to interview race promoters all around the country this season to provide you with some insider details on the huge amounts of work that go into planning races and series’, and the people who are just crazy enough to love what they do.
This week, we look at Travis McMaster of the AZCROSS.com Presented by Artisan Prosthetics Powered by Raleigh Bicycles Series. This non-UCI series runs October through December 2011 in the Greater Phoenix area of Arizona.
Travis McMaster taking a barrier at one of the dusty races in Arizona. Brandee Lepak
Cyclocross Magazine: Who started your series?
Travis McMaster: The series started in 2007 by Jeremy Bounds and Jay Seymoure. Josh Christensen and myself joined in 2008 along with Jarrod Barnes. As life happens, this year it is primarily Jeremy, Josh and myself.
JM: What made you want to start your own cyclocross race series?
TM: There were a couple of struggling races in Flagstaff and Tucson. We all wanted to make sure we had races to race; it was that simple. The fact that we put on a high quality event is a bonus.
JM: Any other inspirations that made you want to do so?
TM: I believe we all knew how important cyclocross was going to be in the next five years. Just look at the statistics from the Cyclocross Magazine article this month. This is the most important category for USACycling.
JM: How many seasons will your series have been active after this years?
TM: We started in 2007 so after this fall we will have been in biz for five years.
JM: What were the key steps taken to create the your race series?
TM: Securing permits / acquiring assets (cones, tape, trailer, etc.) / ensuring the course is challenging but fair / payouts! We primarily use City Parks in the Greater Phoenix Area. This poses several long-term problems including when staff turns over and the next person doesn’t give a rip about cyclocross. We are pursuing alternatives to City Parks in the future and maybe adding a race this fall that is on private land.
It has always been important to us to give good payouts to our racers. Even if there is a low turnout, we payout. We have all raced crits and gotten primes and winnings and want to make sure our racers get the same feeling when they are handed cash after a hard race!
JM: Do you contract help? If so who and what do they do?
TM: We do it all ourselves. There has been a core group the past several years. We rely on getting to races early and anticipating long hours of course set up and tear down if we don’t get volunteers.
JM: Do you ask for volunteers? If so, who and what do they do?
TM: This year we are working with Global Bikes to get volunteers. Brandee has helped us secure one of our big sponsors, Raleigh Bicycles, and her shop has the most interest in growing cyclocross in Arizona. We held a clinic at Global Bikes last year which had about 15 participants that came to learn about cyclocross. This year the shop is starting a cyclocross team and had has built a great program around it offering bike, jersey, etc. to new members.
JM: What kind of race experience do you have?
TM: Jeremy Bounds holds a Pro MTB / CAT 1 CX / CAT 2 Road license. Josh Christensen holds a CAT 3 Road / CAT 3 CX license. I hold a Pro MTB / CAT 1 CX / CAT 2 Road license. I started racing cyclocross when I lived in Portand, Oregon, in the late 90′s. I have raced Elite races the past few years starting with Mafia Racing in 2007, including races like Jingle Cross in Iowa City, IA, StarCrossed in Seattle, WA, Rad Racing GP, Tacoma, WA, Cross Vegas 2007-08, Nationals in Kansas City, MO and Bend, OR. In 2009, I built a National Cyclocross team, Pioneer Racing, which included Anna Young (NY) Junior National Champ, Kat Statman (TX), Dave Hutton (TN), Jake Arnold (NC), Macky Franklin (NY), TJ Woodruff (AZ), Jason First (CO).
My partners with Pioneer are Dave Griebling and Brian Scott in Colorado. We are the behind-the-scenes guys for cyclocross. This year we are the Official Merch Supplier to the USGP Series. We will be at all races around the country racing and selling wares in the Expo area. We have the coolest deisgns this year!
TM: Of course. In fact, the past few years as we have been growing, I have been the Chief Official and a racer. The racers and us are like a family. Everyone that races an AZCROSS.COM race knows they are going to get a challenging course and professional event.
JM: What sort of course style do you favor when building?
TM: When I got back from Jingle Cross in 2009, I felt like we had been letting the racers in Arizona “off the hook.” So, we made the Arizona Cyclocross State Championship course more challenging by making a long run up. I believed we spaced the barriers far enough apart and a 180 degree turn at the bottom so riders would have to dismount … needless to say, Tim Allen (Pro MTB rider for Niner) bunny hopped each barrier to the top! Kid has skeelz.
JM: Any sponsors that your series are affiliated with your series?
TM: The longest sponsor and friend to AZCROSS.COM is Artisan Prosthetics. As you know, money for teams and events mostly comes from outside the cycling industry. Steve McNamee, the owner of Artisan Prosthetics, is a long time Master Cyclocross Racer. In 2008, Steve won USGP in Louisville and went on to take third in New Jersey along with dozens of top ten finishes in National caliber races.
JM: How do you promote your series to bring in more participants?
TM: In the past we have used Facebook and Twitter to reach fans with information as well as producing a great looking poster the we have put in every bike shop in Arizona. This year I have been in contact with the bike polo crowd and local hipsters to draw them to cyclocross.
JM: Have you had any certain races that have been a financial flop? What happened?
TM: We have had a race that was a financial flop and it was scheduling related. In the fall in Arizona there are several MTB races, several triathlons and a couple holidays to schedule around. Early on, we held a race on a day that there was the day after a 12 hour MTB race. As I mentioned before, 80% of our racers are drawn from MTB. Fail. Also we have tried to hold races in Flagstaff with no love. One would figure that Flagstaff at 6000 ft in the fall would be a sick place to hold a two day cyclocross race. Nope. No love.
JM: Was there any point that you were about to stop race promoting?
TM: Geez. We had a loose conversation last year about it. Since we started the series to make sure we can all race cyclocross, we found ourselves working hard and not finding time to warm up or race the events we wanted. One of the top racers caught wind of it and tried to give his winnings back to us after one of the races because he really appreciated what we do and if giving back the money would help, then he was willing to give it back.
JM: Do you see any expansion or affiliations with USA Cycling and other race organizations for your race series?
TM: We have always been affiliated with USA Cycling for insurance and growing our AZ devo program. Arizona sent three juniors to the National Cyclocross Training Camp this summer including Ryan Geiger, Cypress Gorry and Tyler Coplea as well as sending a Junior to Cyclocross Worlds this coming year. Not bad for a state that that isn’t known for cyclocross! We are also affiliated with ABRA, the Arizona Bicycle Racing Association and MBAA, the Mountain Bike Association of Arizona.
JM: What kind and how many different types of insurance are needed to host your event (if any)?
TM: We got it covered by USA Cycling. I know they are mixed feelings out there on USAC but they give our Juniors a chance to get noticed and cover us on insurance. They can’t be all that bad can they?
JM: What is your ambition for your series in the next three years?
TM: We have talked about putting on a late season UCI race for Americans to get some last minute points. Todd Wells has a place in Tucson so I figure if he and Troy want to stop by, it wouldn’t hurt! As scheduling goes, I would like to be working with top teams like Cannondale / California Giant Berry / Clif Bar and their rider schedules to make appearances. In a conversation with Tim Johnson a couple weeks ago in Utah, he said, “I race 80 races a year. Doing smaller races isn’t always about the money and racing.” Riders submit their schedules to the teams and the teams match up their race ambitions to company goals. So a smaller race in Arizona may line up with company ambitions to grow sales in this state along with a riders schedule if he/she happens to be in So Cal near the time of our race.
JM: How many races are in the your series this year?
TM: We are doing four races this year, maybe five if we do a back-to-back weekend like we have done in the past in Flagstaff. We are more about quality than quantity and I think that the level of support we are getting from the community may allow us to put on more next year.
JM: Is the number of participants growing each year?
TM: Of course! Even in Arizona! As more shops take time with customers selling cyclocross bikes and telling them they can race their new bike, then we will grow. Arizona is challenged for participation for several reasons.
1. We don’t have gnarly weather that other regions have, therefore racers aren’t looking for a great way to get off the trainer and sweat it out for an hour!
2. The MTB and Roadracing calendar start the second week in January each year therefore racers think that racing cyclocross will be too much intensity for their “training schedule.” We all know that this is a misnomer and coaches around the country are trying to dispel this myth.
3. 90% of our participation is MTB racers or pure cyclocross racers. My theory is that road racers feel like they will get crushed because they have no skills. Have you seen lately that Tim Johnson is racing some MTB (Leadville, Brek Epic)? Look out!
JM: About how many unique participants did you have in total last season?
TM: We have had about 100 unique racers show up at the races this past year and growing!
JM: Any well known racers in your series?
TM: We have some local road pros that have shown up from time to time including JR Grabinger (Fly V Australia), TJ Woodruff (Pioneer CX/Boulder Trek Store MTB) and Eric Marcotte(Pista Palace/Skillz) local crit and road race destroyer.
JM: Any good stories you’d like to share?
TM: We have a racer named Phil that happened upon our races in 2008 by chance. He went to his LBS to buy a bike and raced our next race. He raced in a t-shirt and with toe-clips. He is a perfect example of how open and accessible racing ’cross can be. The guy epitomizes the spirit of cyclocross.
JM: For the other race promoters out there, what are some words of advice to make a race series possible/successful?
TM: Divide and conquer. I think this year we have tightened up the management but have made clear objectives for each of us. I don’t have to worry about permits and the others don’t have to worry about getting money, swag, etc. This year we are farming out the officiating and registration. Yes, it is going to take money away from our budget but it will allow the person previously responsible for it to focus on other tasks.
JM: Tell us something which not many people know about you?
TM: We don’t make a single dollar from putting on races. Some racers have the misconception that entry fees go to the promoters. In fact we had to pay money out of our pockets to put on races in the first two years. That is a hard one to justify to your wife!
JM: Tell us a joke?
TM:Why did the hipster burn his mouth? Because he took a bite before it was cool!
No Love from Flagstaff huh? You didn't pay ANYTHING, zero, zip, zilch to use the facilities in Flagstaff? Also, you did nothing, I repeat, NOTHING to help prepare the course. It seems to me that Flagstaff really hooked you up. How about a shout out to the high school bike club who helped cut a course for the race! Good luck with your series.
Dude, no love in flagstaff??? Both the races here had your highest turnouts, higher than the state champs. It's great your putting on races and we will continue to love your series even if you unjustifiably malign us.
I really have to respect the effort AZcross is putting into cultivating a 'cross scene in the Southwest. They're enthusiastic and open-armed: I grew up a few blocks from that venue (Freestone Park in Gilbert) and happened to be visiting at the right time to participate in the women's race and the AZcross guys lent me a bike. These guys (& gals) have the fitness, but can they step up the technical handling? Let's get them out to New England for some hardcore, muddy, messy 'cross! Keep it up.