Mengoni Grand Prix 2019: Perfect is the Enemy of Good
Spending my Sunday evening in front of a laptop, writing post-race emails for the Mengoni Grand Prix, I couldn’t help but reflect on the CRCA Open Race series that concluded today. The series started in early March with the Grant’s Tomb Criterium - a race that, despite annual fears that permits will not be available or that snow would force a last minute cancellation, featured record turnout, two national champions, and whole lot of exciting racing.
The next race on the calendar, the Orchard Beach Criterium, took place in an absolute downpour that dampened registration, but not the spirit of the racing. After various permitting and scheduling challenges we managed to sustain the event for yet another year, which given the continued loss of races in the region qualifies as a success in my book.
One week later the Bear Mountain Classic faced its own challenges - particularly with balancing the inherently fraught race financials. Despite this our small team of volunteers and staff managed to pull off a road race that featured more than five hundred racers in attendance - precisely the sort of event that is increasingly rare in the current State of the Sport.
More recently the Open Race calendar shifted to Central Park. In some ways the Central Park Open Race - the Dave Jordan Central Park Classic, the Lou Maltese Memorial, and the Mengoni Grand Prix - are the easiest race logistics to organize as they do not involve the complex overlapping permits of a race like Grant’s Tomb or the equipment transportation associated with Orchard Beach and Bear Mountain.
But at the same time, executing a race in the middle of the most densely populated park in the country involves a whole different combination of anxiety inducing variables from other Park users to vendor trucks using the roadway. Needless to say, between those risk factors and the 3:30AM alarm required to be in the park to open registration ahead of the 5:30AM start of racing, there is no such thing as a good night’s sleep before a Central Park Open Race.
Anxiety aside and race director burnout aside, by many measures I think the 2019 Central Park Open Races were a success. This year’s Dave Jordan Central Park Classic was the largest race CRCA has ever hosted in the park, with four sold out Men’s fields and more than 400 racers in attendance. It wound up being a pretty special day, all held in honor of a former CRCA President and NYC racing legend.
A few weeks later the Lou Maltese Memorial put up record numbers for the event - it was smaller than DJCPC, but even after going on a one-year hiatus in 2018 the Lou Maltese Memorial had nearly 400 registrants, while also memorializing a local influential CRCA leader (CRCA might not exist today without Lou Maltese). The actual Lou Maltese Memorial racing wasn’t the 'cleanest’ of events as a large box truck ignored race marshals and dangerously disrupted the Elite Men’s field sprint for 6th place. But again, by most measures I think the event should be considered a success.
Which brings us to today’s Mengoni Grand Prix. Mengoni is arguably the most prestigious of the three races, with a long history going back decades. I came into the New York City cycling scene during the latter years of Fred Mengoni’s involvement, but for those that pre-date me, Fred was a sustaining force for local (and national) cycling for many years. But with a recent date change to accommodate another race that was concerned about their event overlapping with our original Mengoni date, this year featured a tough schedule with Maltese and Mengoni on back-to-back weekends.
Despite this, and perhaps aided by the introduction of early number pick-up for each of our Central Park Open Races, Mengoni still managed to grow registration from 344 racers last year to 376 for this year’s event. While my typically sleepless night prior to the race was made even briefer thanks to some early Fourth of July fireworks just outside my window at 2AM, going into race morning I was excited to bring the 2019 Open Racing calendar to its conclusion (and to have USADA pay their first visit of the year to a CRCA race).
Right out of the gate there were challenges with Mengoni that had not been present at Dave Jordan or Lou Maltese. For instance, out of 66 marshals assigned to today’s race, 15 no-showed. That 20% no-show rate is far higher than we normally see, raising fears that we would fall short of the 50 marshals required to race in Central Park. Thankfully we prepared a back-up plan in advance and were able to start racing on time and with all marshal positions filled (even if the no show rate raises fears for the rest of the CRCA Club Series this year). Unfortunately from there, an early miscommunication led our officials to show an extra lap on the lap counter throughout the day for all fields. While the lap counter accurately reflected the distances that were scored, the extra lap created a degree of confusion for some racers and the inevitable result was an inbox full of critical post race e-mails.
For the purposes of this Journal entry it’s not worth rehashing the ins and outs of what happened, when it happened, why it happened, or how it fits within the USAC rulebook (though I did receive more than one screenshot of the USAC rulebook in my inbox today). The reality is that some racers walked away from the race disappointed by the experience and as a someone that strives for perfection with these races, that is the last thing I wanted. This is especially true because Mengoni will be the last CRCA race that I organize after rewarding but exhausting near-decade long streak on and around the CRCA Board.
Which brings us back to the title of this Journal entry: “perfect is the enemy of good.” As racers we strive for perfection in both training and racing. And when registering for an event we all have expectations for how the race will be conducted. However, over the past decade I have become forcibly attuned to the many challenges of sustaining bike racing in New York City: the increased costs for nearly every element of hosting a race, the dearth of local USAC officials, the days with 20% marshal no-show rates, and newfound permitting challenges. These challenges become particularly problematic when set against the backdrop of declining participation and registration trends. At this very moment, even as we celebrate some of the successes of the 2019 CRCA Open Racing calendar, NYC Bike Racing as a whole remains effectively held together with duct tape and a handful of volunteers and staff doing immeasurably hard work behind the scenes.
I don’t want to downplay the disappointment and frustration that some riders so clearly felt after the Mengoni Grand Prix. But I also don’t want to let the pursuit and expectation of perfection overrule some of the joys and successes from this morning. The reality is that nearly 400 folks were able to spend their Sunday morning riding very fast circles around a park in the middle of Manhattan. Yes, the races were run a lap longer than scheduled and yes, everyone involved feels bad about that. But in a world where its not at all clear whether Central Park racing will be around in five years or ten years, on this evening I am simply glad that - for now - it exists and we have the opportunity to spend race mornings with the incredible folks from the racing community.
Mengoni may not have been perfect, but I certainly hope that it was good.
We’ll sign off with a few shots from a lovely Saturday team ride that served as our warm-up for the Mengoni Grand Prix - reminding us that come crashes or race results related drama, any day on the bike, while maybe not perfect, can be a good one: