Two years ago this spring I saw an article in "Exposed Magazine" about the Almanzo 100 race. At that point in my life I had never ridden 100 miles, the race was only a few weeks away, but I was inspired. I found contact information for Chris and sent an email pleading to be allowed to ride. Race day came up quick! The 2nd half of the race was incredibly hard, but I kept my head down, literally, and battled my way back to town into that horrible wind. It was a great experience.
It was also free. At the time I didn't think too much about that- I was too busy just being excited about bike racing. Since that 2009 Almanzo I've been in 40 or 50 more official cycling events. None of them have been any more fun or provided anything beyond the experience of the Almanzo. Many of them have cost $40-70. I didn't mind paying, but I've thought a lot about it. Where was that money going? Is it right that any individual should make a profit from running amateur bike races? A good bit of that money has gone towards things that were absolutely necessary, but too much of it has not. I appreciate the importance of insurance, licensing, venue fees etc., and that they cannot always be avoided. That said, cycling should be affordable to everyone. More importantly, it CAN be affordable to everyone.
All it will take is for more individuals to step up and organize free races. The Almanzo this year will have over 500 people take the line. If just 1/10 of them get inspired, go home, and create something of their own we'd really have something. We would have an entire race season of free races. I believe this can happen. I will purchase and wear the Almanzo kit because I believe this can happen. I will wear this kit in every race I do this year with the belief that doing so can make a difference.
There are some limitations of this model when it comes to Mountain bike races (insurance and fees for using venues may make totally "free" impossible), but the entry fees could certainly be radically reduced. The Sandwich 50 is another local race and an example of this. They've got the entry fee down to a $20 club membership which is used to cover insurance costs and still leaves money leftover to go towards trail improvements.
I don't believe that the free races can or should ever take over the place of the higher level sanctioned races. Nor do I think they will pose any threat to those types of races. I was 100% happy to pay my $30 or $40 a race at Jinglecross. It was awesome to race the same course as Olympians and Tour de France riders. I do not think it is inconsistent to push for more free races while also enjoying racing Jinglecross and the like. I will certainly continue to support USA Cycling by purchasing yearly licenses. I may even donate some extra money toward youth development programs.
Along those lines, as the "free riding" thing keeps growing WE will all be able to choose how to spend our extra funds. We will be able to allocate them appropriately in order to build more trails, support youth cycling, educate people about the environment or animal causes, to cure breast cancer, or whatever suits each of us. Maybe the Almanzo can change the world.
Looking forward to wearing my new colors!
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