Written by e moneybags on Monday, 10 Mar 2008.
Mountain bike racing is a tricky game. All the venues are far away from each other, and not near much of anything else. It’s nearly prohibitively expensive, the level of competition is extremely high, and it requires a commitment that few can understand. Nonetheless, in droves, mountain bikers are clamoring to race. Those of you reading this article who are avid mountain bikers, or have a similar passion, can understand that sometimes when the odds are stacked against you, the rewards you reap are that much sweeter.
People interested in racing are looking more and more to local teams and groups for racing support for myriad reasons. Travel time to races in the car by yourself can be lonely, and expensive. Same with hotel rooms. Having someone to split the cost and share a few laughs with can go a long way. Not to mention that an organized team of racers gains a real competitive advantage over the individual racer… Receiving information from your fellow racers about course conditions and hot times can be priceless beta when you’re sitting in the starting gate waiting to drop in.
Finding a team that you may want to apply to is one thing, then presenting yourself as a strong cyclist, and worthwhile investment to the team is a project as well.
So I decided to ask a few questions to Roland ‘Duffy’ Dufresne about him (Team Manager) and his team (Crankfire Racing) about the whole deal. Hopefully what I learned from him can be passed on to you, so that you (as an amateur racer) can learn what kind of things will be expected of you as a team member, what kinds of things you may expect from an organized team, and how best to market yourself to potential teams and sponsors.
Duffy has been riding competitively since about 1999, and has been managing the Crankfire Racing team for the last 4 years. In 2008, Crankfire Racing will field it’s biggest ever 10 person squad including 6 experts in 3 age groups, 3 sport class racers, and 1 semi-pro (Duffy himself). Team member Peter Scannell put it best when he said “Crankfire Racing is simply a group of guys that love to ride, race, and win... My teammates on Crankfire have become my best friends. We not only race together, we also ride recreationally, go on trips, hit up skate parks, and when the snow comes we ski/board together! We are constantly pushing each other to ride faster and go bigger.”
Duffy has fielded sponsors for his team for the last few years from companies as diverse as: Morewood Bikes, Truvativ, Avid, SRAM, Crank Bros., SDG USA components, Fox Racing Shox, Maxxis Tires, MTB Strength Training Systems, Central Wheel bike shop in CT, and their namesake, Crankfire.com website, “a Connecticut Mountain Biking Community.” In December, he already had repeat offers for the 2008 season from Morewood Bikes, Crank Bros., FOX Racing Shox, Maxxis tires, SRAM, Truvativ, and Avid. Crankfire Racing also has new offers for the 2008 season from 661, Royal, Sunline, and Bicycle Works in Middlebury, CT. of ‘07
Landing a spot on the Crankfire Racing team isn’t exactly child’s play however... While Duffy is looking for racing results and bike skills, he is also resolved to signing up individuals with certain intangible qualities. Duffy himself is cool, composed, and professional at all times, and he expects that from his racers as well. Duffy says “sponsors look for how their company will be exposed” and for him it is important the team is viewed with an appeal that exudes grass-roots talent and racers who participate because there really is nothing they would rather be doing. This is the same view held by the entire team including Scannell who mentions “Having a good attitude will pay off! No one likes a poor sport or overly cocky rider. Be respectful to fellow racers and the trails you ride.” Their sponsors agree… Jason First who works in Rider Support for Crank Brothers responds, “What makes CF stand out? Great ambassadors in the field, great communication, organized team, and what seems like really likable people. And after seeing your end of year resume – great results!” Most of the racers on Crankfire Racing are people who ride together recreationally on a regular basis, and most of which found DH racing on their own. Then as serendipity would have it, other teams closed their doors, displaced racers were back on the hunt for a new team, and Duffy knew a good thing when he saw it. Simply being at races and posting decent results may not be enough in the competitive mountain bike racing atmosphere. Duffy’s advice for landing a spot on a team like his is that it is easier to become friendly with someone on the team and work in from the ground floor. Another option is a resume..
Just like a resume for your professional life, a serious racer should also have a resume for their mountain biking life. This document should include a little about them including contact info, recent results, racing class, valid racing license number, a couple pictures from their races, and any goals for the following season. Remember, sponsors are looking for what kind of exposure they will get from you and your team, so DIVERSIFY! This year Crankfire Racing is planning activities as diverse as having some members race competitively BMX, team up with CT NEMBA to host a bike safety clinic in the spring for local children, donate kids bikes to needy inner city children, participate in NEMBA organized trail building activities, and possibly fielding a Crankfire based team for a 24 hour race in 2008. So don’t forget to think outside the box! But before you simply slap together a couple PowerPoint slides and figure you’re on your way, here’s some valuable advice from Richard Beytagh of Morewood Bikes USA: “As a bike manufacturer we get swamped daily with individual sponsorship requests and, while each one has to be seriously considered, most have little substance other than an attempt to get cheap frames and parts. As can be envisaged, sifting through these requests and managing the individual riders becomes a monumental task. Sponsoring a well managed team such as Crankfire Racing is definitely the preferred option for a sponsor. In most cases the team members are pre-screened by the team manager and they have a collective identity and team spirit that gives the sponsor better exposure than an individual rider. Another benefit for the team is the team manager can negotiate on behalf of the whole team and use their combined purchases to get the best deal from the sponsor. Most sponsors also require the riders to provide feed-back and comply with certain conditions; working with a team manager makes this process a lot easier.” Remember, the team aspect to racing builds presence and gives you economies of scale. These concepts have a home in your competitive mountain bike racing life just as in your business life.
Like any other team, not only is it your obligation to support the team, but it is up to them to provide you some support you as well. Now, not many teams on a local level are getting monetary contributions from their sponsors, but they are helping to defray costs through deals on gear such as clothing, components, hard-goods, and on-the-mountain support during the race. In fact, during the 2007 Nationals at Mt Snow in VT, Dan Phillips had an issue with his front suspension and the Fox Racing Shox group at the race was kind enough to lend him an unreleased 2008 fork in order for him to be able to complete the race. After a 3 hour drive from CT to VT, lodging, food, registration, your practice runs, and everything else, the last thing you want is to miss your race due to an equipment failure. So having a relationship with your sponsors who are willing to work with you is absolutely invaluable. Mark Fitzsimmons of Fox Racing Shox says” The team does an excellent job of promoting FOX and the sport of mountain biking.” And as I mentioned before, having teammates with whom you can discuss line selection, course conditions, start times, and other race day info is extremely helpful. In a race that can separate 1st and 2nd place finishers by fractions of a second it is of paramount importance to have a plan before you even think about racing. This is another area where a diverse team of racers can be a major benefit. A veteran can provide some ideas and insight on courses and line selection to newbie racers. Likewise a beginner (or someone new to the course/venue) can provide a new set of eyes and perhaps some new ideas for someone who has raced the course already many times. The best way for aspiring young racers to learn is to spend some time looking over the shoulder of an experienced individual, and that’s what teams are for. As team member Daryl Deprey, a current University of Vermont student puts it, “We all support each other in a mental and physical sense. Positive reinforcement and pushing each other's limits helps us all progress in our sport.”
At the end of the day, a race team like Crankfire Racing is looking for individuals who are willing to make some sacrifice for the team, be good sports, be humble, and most of all- be proud to be on the team. And they are getting help from organizations that are proud to be associated with them as well. Jason from Crank Bros. says “I’m definitely stoked to support you guys.” “It has been a pleasure working with the Crankfire Racing Team under the capable leadership of Roland Dufresne and it is great to see the team grow with enthusiastic young riders and achieve the success they have on the race courses,” says Beytagh from Morewood.
Managing a team of 10 individuals and coordinating their efforts across 6 or 7 states and 6 or 7 months of racing, plus the rest of the months compiling info, presenting to sponsors etc. is a tough and oftenthankless job. There’s no doubt it’s worth all the work when the guys and gals around the start gate at the top see your team jersey and realize they have something they should be worried about…
E$ wrote this profile/how-to on DH racing with input from Crankfire Racing's own Dufman and his sponsors. Article originally published in the March '08 issue of NEMBA's regular publication Singletracks.