A Different Perspective

Photo by Kristin C Lynch
I had the honor to volunteer this morning at the USA Cycling National Championships and let me tell you, the intensity and determination these athletes have is inspiring. Over three days and three locations (Whitewater, DeBeque and Downtown Grand Junction), 250+ college athletes tested their skill and endurance on the roads of Mesa County.

After driving around downtown this morning, I finally was able to find parking. With the final race being held downtown today, a good portion of the area was blocked off. In usual style, I failed to pay any attention to the "Roads will be closed so park here!" emails. Apparently I wasn't the only one because I had quite a tail of cars following me, looking for a spot to ditch their car. Together we found the assigned parking area (a place I passed at LEAST 3 times) and we rolled out of our cars and headed to the volunteer tent to check in.

After 5 years of putting on my own road race, I was excited to see how something as big and as different as a bike race was put together. This is a large scale race - with trucks and motorcycles and teams of volunteers setting everything up - but basically all races, whether running or biking or swimming, are the same. The goal is to give a safe course where the athletes can test their endurance and push beyond their boundaries all while giving volunteers, staff and spectators opportunities to cheer the racers on (and remain injury free).

I was assigned as a Course Marshall and my one job was to keep spectators from crossing the course while the peloton (a fancy word I learned today that basically means "group of cyclists") swooshed by. The corner I was assigned was a tight turn and it was exhilarating and terrifying all at once to see 30-50 cyclists taking up the space about the size of a Smart Car while turning a tight corner and paying no attention to anything or anyone around them. Usually they were successful, sometimes they were not and I witnessed quite a few beautiful crash and burns where only 2-3 cyclists were taken out. I was quite amazed that the whole peloton wasn't on the pavement. And I was even more amazed that the worse injury I saw was a possible concussion (her helmet, thankfully, did its job). I had a 4 hour shift in the morning, and I witnessed about 5 crashes. I'd say that's not bad, given the amount of cyclists that were peddling pell mell to the finish line.

The biggest difference I noticed between cyclists and runners is that cyclists tend to be a little more, um, ignorant, of the volunteers on the course trying to keep everyone safe when they are not on the course. From my experience today (and this is my only experience with a cycle race so take that with a grain of salt), cyclists don't really care about the spectators and volunteers around them - they're trying to get some place, they want to root on their teammates, and they have no problem ignoring the guidance of a course marshall and riding their bikes through a crowd of spectators. At running road races, volunteers are told "thank you" more often then they breathe, and someone in a fluorescent vest is to be listened to. I know that cycling is a LOT faster than running and I certainly did not expect someone to yell over their shoulder their thanks while on their course but I was surprised the cyclists not racing yet were indifferent to the volunteers around them. This is probably a culture of the sport thing but it was glaring to me.

I also discovered that the bigger the camera someone was carrying, or the more camera equipment they had attached to their body, the deafer they were to directions from course marshalls, volunteers and officials. I don't know how many times I had to tell some dude with a 12 foot camera to move back behind the barrier nor the number of times another dude with probably 40 pounds of camera equipment strapped to him like he was going to cross the DMZ ignored me when I told him to wait to cross the street. Photogs. They really can be quite the pain. But mostly, they can really be quite unsafe to everyone around them. Any event photographers out there - please pay attention to the event officials. They really aren't trying to get in the way of your money shot. They just don't want you to inadvertently kill anyone while you're trying to get that money shot.

My friend, Jen, was the RD (race director) for the race and my respect for her just tripled. The time, talent and dedication she put in to this race is admirable. She would be the first to tell you that it wasn't just her but I know, as a fellow RD, it took her vision and ability to communicate to a variety of individuals to pull off the 3 day event. And while I find runners to be more people-able than cyclists, I would gladly volunteer again.

Before the fun began.

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