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Have you ever been riding along a nice stretch of road with your mates and thought “this would be perfect for a race”? You wouldn’t be alone. But as Ross Hamilton writes, when it comes to turning an idea into an official race, there’s a lot more involved than you might think.
Bike races can vary in the amount of work required to get them off the ground. Some races, such as multi-day tours are immensely complex while smaller events allow a volunteer crew to run a slick operation. Somewhere between these two extremes sit a handful of single-day races run by the Blackburn Cycling Club, including the 1 in 20 Time Trial and the Damian McDonald Memorial.
For the last couple of years I have been on the organising committee for the Damian McDonald Memorial Road Race held at Eildon in September. Here’s what’s involved in putting on the Damian McDonald as a sanctioned one-day race.
Where to start
It all begins with finding an appropriate course to race on. Sure, you might know of some interesting parcours to race on, but you also need to consider what it will take to manage that course.
There are many factors to consider when choosing a course, including the number of intersections, houses or businesses along the route, whether or not the road is used by trucks, event parking, where the start/finish area will be and, of course, general traffic. This initial planning needs to be done about 12 months out from the event.
Once you have your route in mind, it’s time to make a course mocka. This is the time to start getting people on board to help you out. Unless you can pay someone to run your race, your club will need to commit volunteers for the day to make it happen. You will already need a decent idea of how many volunteers will be needed.
Next you will need to find an appropriate date. Like choosing a route this is easier said than done. The Victorian State Open calendar is quite busy at the moment. Combine that with other club races and of course non-cycling events in the town you want to hold the race and it’s hard to find a free date.
Even with appropriate planning your event can fall to pieces. Just look at the cancellation of Stratford to Dargo in 2012.
Now it’s time to get serious. If you want to run an event you’ll need to fill in some paperwork. Lots of paperwork.
Firstly, you need a permit from Victoria Police. Then it’s on to VicRoads. Then the relevant local council, the local police and finally to Cycling Victoria.
Each organisation has its own requirements that need to be met before you can run a race. The local council will want to see that you have planned for every eventuality. They want to know how you will manage a flood, a bushfire and so on. One of these days I wouldn’t be surprised to see a question about how we’re going to deal with meteor strikes.
VicRoads and Victoria Police are concerned with safety. The key document required here is a traffic management plan. Blackburn Cycling Club is fortunate to have its plans prepared by Deploy Management Solutions. This document is integral to helping you run a safe race on the day. It details exactly where every road sign needs to be and where every volunteer waving a flag will be.
A common misconception is that it costs a lot to get race permits. Unless you want police escorts and full road closures though, permits are free.
That said, traffic management is getting more complex as the years go by. It is not unheard of for the club to have to spend $3,000 on traffic control equipment at the last minute to satisfy the requirements of VicRoads and Victoria Police. This is why road races are moving further and further out from metropolitan areas.
Once you have permission from the aforementioned authorities, Cycling Victoria can sanction your race. Finally, make sure the local cops know about how the event will run and any changed traffic conditions on the day.
All in all, you can expect to fill out around 45 pages of forms.
By now you have the all-clear to run a race. But for your efforts to be worthwhile, you need riders.
What exactly encourages people to come and race is still a mystery to me. Prize money needs to be decent, but it doesn’t seem to be a major motivating factor for cyclists.
The success of the Tour of Bright makes me think riders want to feel like they are a pro for the day. We stop short of making race winners pee in a cup, but otherwise aspire to deliver a quality race.
Whatever it is that motivates riders to pin on a number though, they firstly need to know your race is on.
The club website is an obvious place to start. If you are running a State Open, Cycling Victoria will promote your event on their website.
Finally, an entry system is required. To ensure a smooth operation on race day, we use an online entry system. This way riders can simply turn up on the day and we collect their license. There is no fumbling around counting or calculating prize money.
Running a race purely off entry money is hard work. Many costs need to be covered for the day, so it’s best to have some race sponsors. A major sponsor would typically provide $1,000 to contribute to prize money. It’s also worth securing a few minor sponsors.
Sponsors need to be contacted long before the race happens. Quite often a major sponsor will stump up some money for your event year after year. Without these sponsors supporting racing, most of the races on the calendar simply wouldn’t happen.
Putting it together
Life gets a lot busier a month or so out from race day. A visit to your race course is in order now. Local residents and business owners need to be informed that 200 cyclists will swiftly demolish their coffee supplies and be present on their quiet country roads for a day.
If you have been running a race for a few years, most locals will be happy to have those cyclists drinking their coffee and emptying the pie warmer, but there will always be a few locals spitting hate about cyclist registration or government UFO conspiracies.
It is polite to leave a letter with all of the houses on the race course explaining your race. It’s also worth putting up several signs around town informing locals of changed traffic conditions on race day.
Anyone else that uses the roads regularly, such as bus companies or logging companies need to be informed of your intentions, as do the local police.
Two weeks out
By this point every volunteer needs to know their role on the day. Each volunteer needs a folder with instructions included. These contain details such as how to operate race radios, the course and when each grade is expected to finish.
Every race entrant will need his or her numbers prepared with a corresponding timing transponder. It’s also worthwhile getting the council to take a street sweeper out on course at this stage.
The biggest task is to pack up all of your traffic control equipment for the day. This takes two or three people and about half a day.
The backbone of bike racing is the volunteers driving cars, standing on corners or taking your race entry. It’s often the same people at every race. For the Damian McDonald Road Race, we require:
- 5 commissaires
- 10 lead/follow drivers
- 8 people for course set up and pack up/parking marshals
- 3 people for event timing and the photo finish
- 2 volunteers for the entry desk
- 2 first aiders (we use St John’s for this)
- 10 traffic controllers (these guys are priceless)
- 2 riding marshals for the junior race
- 1 event photographer
- 1 event overlord to administer the operation
Be prepared to wake up early. Course setup is the number-one priority. Signage for the road needs to be clear, so does event parking and race entry.
You can expect a visit from the local police reminding you of the importance of road rules. This is a good cue to call VicRoads and tell them you are changing speed limits for the next few hours.
As riders arrive, parking needs to be managed carefully. Coaches have a habit of turning up and setting up marquees right where you need to organise your lead and follow cars to roll out. Then volunteers all need a race briefing. With that, you can herd some cats in to the grades they race and the race is on way.
From now on, you cross your fingers and manage any disasters that spring up.
Once your race is over, results need to be confirmed and posted quickly. Riders will be sitting around waiting for presentations and most of them are rather impatient.
You will usually need to deal with complaints from the cops about riders crossing double white lines (if you do this, you are THE major reason it is hard to get permits).
Call VicRoads now and let them know the race is over. Then any mess left behind will need to be cleaned up and all of those road signs need to go back in the trailer.
The Race Budget
Many costs go in to running a race. Paying for our event timing system takes up $5 of each entry. The online entry system takes another $2 per entry. Each driver needs some reimbursement for petrol. Event first aid takes a big chunk out of the budget. Finally, prize money is the biggest outgoing.
After a good 80 hours of work, plus all of the other volunteer time, an event like this makes a profit of around $1,000. All the money goes back into the club.
The 2013 Damian McDonald Memorial Race is on this Sunday. Entries close at midnight on Thursday September 18. Click here to sign up.
About the author
Ross Hamilton is a member of the race committee at Blackburn Cycling Club. He’s currently working as a public servant and bike shop lackey while inching ever closer to finishing his masters degree in osteopathy. Ross gave up his dream of going pro eight years ago and spends his time chasing an elusive mountain top win in B grade.