White Plains Downtown Criterium

Normally our race focused journal entries emerge in the days following an event as we discuss success and failure on the bike, typically with a few photographs that capture the mood of the race and a few inside jokes interspaced in the storytelling.

However this entry is a bit different - more in the vein of our look at the economics of the 2016 edition of the Bear Mountain Classic in "Are Bike Races Broken?" and our discussion with Liz Marcello in "The State of NYC Bike Racing." What inspired this more frank look at the White Plains Downtown Criterium, which for the second year running serves at the New York State Criterium Championship?

This past weekend I pulled up the Bikereg Registration Page for the race and was shocked to discover that with less than one week to the race there were just 56 people registered for the event (as of Monday night that is up to 67). White Plains has always been one of my favorite events in the area because from my perspective it's a well run event where the 'pros' of attending easily outweigh the 'cons':

  • Unique/exciting venue - the course is deceptively simple as the gentle inclines and fast corners have launched a number of winning breakaways including in 2015 when Donnie lapped the field and won the Elite race for the squad.
  • Benefits a good cause - all net proceeds go to the Westchester affiliate of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. That's cool. 
  • Ease of access/transportation - it's a short drive/train/ride from New York City. Lots of options, including plenty of parking around the venue for those that drive. Pretty straightforward.
  • Glory - for the second year running and the third time in the race's recent history White Plains serves as the New York State Criterium Championship

As for the cons, very few come to mind. It's traditionally the same weekend as the CRCA Dave Jordan Central Park Classic, but that just makes for a great double header weekend of racing in the tri-state area. 

Registration for the 2017 edition of the White Plains Downtown Criterium.

Registration for the 2017 edition of the White Plains Downtown Criterium.

In the coming days registration will no doubt improve significantly as riders return from Killington Stage Race and Somerville fades into the rearview mirror. But once again I can't help but turn back to the notion of "Are Bike Races Broken?" when an event like the White Plains Downtown Criterium that requires shutting down a significant stretch of a major metropolitan area has so few registrants just days before the race.

In that original piece I focused on the economics of the Bear Mountain Classic and the prize pool in particular but looking at White Plains registration I can't help but wonder whether there is a larger problem that can't be fixed via prize pools alone. Longer-term how can a race like White Plains - with significant logistical challenges - exist when there are just five dozen registrants a week in advance? 

Going down that road there is certainly a world where local grassroots events continue to fade away and bike races evolve to be fewer in number but with grander execution and higher registration fees to match - in some ways shifting more toward a Gran Fondo or perhaps more aptly a triathlon model where amentenities and logistics contribute to registration fees that reach into the hundreds of dollars while the number of "race days" on the calendar plummets.

I'm not here to debate the pros and cons of this potential scenario - ultimately customers and the market will continue to dictate the outcomes for the broader event ecosystem. And even coming from a more traditional USAC-aligned perspective it's easy to see that most of the innovation in event promotion as of late is coming from outside the traditional elements of the sports - be it Lidia and Uli Fluhme building a fifteen race global cycling GNFY series in just a few years, the incredible run of explosive growth for the Red Hook Crit or the emergence of huge gravel races like Dirty Kanza which grew participation 65x over in its first decade. 

In comparison the path forward for many local USAC races has only gotten tougher with increased insurance and safety costs, lost venues and a smaller population of racers. Indeed we have already lost a number of excellent races and series in the area including one of my personal favorites, the Bethel Spring Series. 

Despite this we're still fortunate that a typical race week in New York City features as many as six race days - Tuesdays at FBF, Wednesdays at Kissena, Thursdays at Rockleigh/FBF, Fridays at Merrick and weekends in Central and Prospect Park. But the loss of just one venue - FBF or even more significantly Central Park - would have a huge impact on our local race calendar. Alternatively the 'retirement' of a single race director could have a similarly significant impact - when AVD walked away from the NYC Spring Series the cycling community lost a dozen prime race days in Central and Prospect Park. That's a loss that still hurts today.

All of which is to say that in the year since I wrote "Are Bike Races Broken" it's difficult to argue that the outlook for grassroots racing in and around New York City has improved significantly (despite the large continued efforts of any number of people and organizations including NYSBRA). There are some signs of hope like the emergence of the Velotooler Cup in New England and the Merrick Friday Night Criterium Series on Long Island. But at the same time when the White Plains Downtown Criterium - an event that again requires shutting down major thoroughfares in a major city - only has a few dozen registrants a week out it's hard to be anything but skeptical about the state of affairs in the area.

That said I don't want to veer too strongly into "Are Bike Races Broken Version 2.0" here. That's subject matter for another day and I'm sensitive to going down the "Old Man Screams at Cloud" wormhole as the sport continues to evolve around us. So instead I have a simple plea: I urge anyone with an interest in participating in and supporting a great event (an event that benefits a good cause) to go register for White Plains Downtown Criterium. With any luck turnout will be excellent, the racing will be exciting and we'll find ourselves returning to many more editions of the race for years to come:

Registration: White Plains Downtown Criterium Bikereg Page

There was a little bit of rain at the 2016 edition of the White Plains Downtown Criterium (photo: Patrick Schnell)

Race Typology: White Plains Downtown Criterium

A few years ago I compiled a few "Race Typologies" - overviews of significant regional bicycle races including a look at some of the history behind them. The overview that follows was compiled immediately after the 2013 edition of the White Plains Downtown Criterium and remains largely accurate:

OVERVIEW

Genre: Criterium
Scoring: Scratch
Location: Downtown White Plains, New York

RACE SETTING

Surrounded by medium rise office and government buildings, the White Plains Downtown Criterium takes place on a roughly rectangular course comprised of Martine Avenue, Marmaroneck Avenue, Quarropas Street and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.

With wide open streets the brutalist style Westchester County Courthouse constructed in 1974 looms nineteen stories over the western end of the course while the parking garage of the Galleria at White Plains consumes the northwest edge of the finishing straight.

In contrast to this sterile backdrop, the northeast portion of the course is comprised primarily of retail storefronts and restaurants and features a lively crowd with announcers calling the action and vendors distributing various trinkets to the gathered crowd.

SPECTATORS 

Cyclists represent the vast majority of spectators at the White Plains Downtown Criterium though area residents come out in reasonable numbers to line the finishing straight on Martine Avenue, creating a jovial atmosphere that is in stark contrast with the sparsely populated backside of the course which sees only a few volunteer marshals and police officers observing the action.

While most of the Government Offices are closed on the day of the event, local support is visible in the well manned street closures and White Plains Mayor Thomas M Roach was in attendance at the 2013 edition of the race.

RACE HISTORY 

In 1988 the White Plains Downtown Criterium course hosted the Subaru National Criterium Championships. Part of a seven-city $100,000 national tour the 1988 event featured a number of racers who were targeting the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea. The Men's field was won by mountain biker John Tomac of Chatsworth, California who went on to win the National Off-Road Bicycle Association (NORBA) Championship that same year.

The course was next used for the 2007 Empire State Games, where Joe Zaverdas of Commack Long Island won the Gold Medal, before being brought back into use as part of the inaugural 2012 White Plains Downtown Criterium.

RACERS

The White Plains Downtown Criterium draws racers primarily from the surrounding tri-state area, with the largest contingent from New York. The location provides New York City based competitors a variety of transportation options with many racers riding to the event from the city. The 2013 edition of the White Plains Downtown Criterium saw a New York City dominated podium that included Evan Murphy from CRCA/Foundation on the top step ahead of the Champion System Duo of Allan Rego and Ariel Mendez-Penate.

COURSE

The four corner course utilized by the White Plains Downtown Criterium features wide sweeping corners and generally good pavement excluding various rough patches on the eastern straightaway along Mamaroneck Avenue. From the start line the course is flat through corner two, with a slight rise on the back stretch that quickly gives way to a descent into corner three, the fastest but widest corner on the course. After passing under the Westchester County Courthouse walkway overpass, corner four leads to a modest climb to the finish line at Court Street.

Century Road Club Development Foundation in action at the 2016 White Plains Downtown Criterium (photo: Patrick Schnell)


Matthew Vandivort is a New York City based cyclist and sometimes photographer who was also a founding member of To Be Determined. You can follow him online at @photorhetoric or http://photo-rhetoric.com/