Thursday, January 15, 2015

Human failing-the CX nationals Austin , Texas 2015

There are many people involved in putting on a national championship event-not all of them see things the same way but they have to find a middle ground somewhere so that the event can happen. This is the story, or better- my take on how things went very wrong during the course of planning and then running the event. I don't know the people I am writing about and I can only give my feelings on what I confronted on Sunday morning, the time the elite races were to start.
           When I got to the course I noticed a lack of activity and a significant police presence at the entrance to Zilker park-the venue for the race. As I walked toward the start I noticed that there was course tape across the first turn of the course , something that didn't make sense-that was unless the course was closed. As it turned out, the park service and police of Austin had indeed closed the course and had suspended all racing. People were being ushered away from the park and word was spreading that the race was to be cancelled-a first for a CX national race in the U.S.A.  As I walked further I encountered a USA cycling official who gave me the lowdown. The story was that the race the day before had been run during a rain shower and that the resulting erosion had exposed a few roots of the 300 year old heritage oak trees. The local heritage oak tree foundation had called the park service with this news and demanded the cancellation of the race.
            To me, this seemed like an overreaction to the problem. Re-routing the course could have been done the previous day. Truthfully, re-routing the course could have been done before the event even started if the heritage tree foundation had spoken up then. Instead , this tree foundation group got in touch with the park service around 7:15 Sunday morning -not to find a solution to save the tree roots while allowing the race to continue but to just shut the whole thing down regardless of who would be hurt by doing so.
            Don't get me wrong-protecting trees is in all our best interest. The thing that does not sit well with me is the timing of the action by the heritage tree foundation and their enthusiasm for stopping a national bicycle event - an event that the city of Austin lobbied hard for. Yes, the cities that host these events have to really spend a lot of effort to attract a race of this importance...... the irony of a small but seemingly powerful group having the power to scuttle the entire event makes me remember something that almost happened here in Santa Cruz county.
            A number of years ago a group of residents who lived near a large park that happened to be a popular mountain bike mecca seeked to enlist the help of the Sierra club to ban all bicycles from the park. This group of residents probably consisted of less than 20 household but they were determined to prevent thousands of local and visiting cyclists from riding in the park-a park that had always allowed riding on selected roads and trails within the park boundaries. It took a large effort on the part of the populace to defeat this small group of 'not in my back yard' zealots. I feel that the same sort of group is at work in Austin.
             My theory is that the heritage tree foundation is probably comprised of some influential and probably powerful folks that live near Zilker park. I also think that they never wanted the race at the park in the first place but did not have the ammunition to stop it until the rains came. The rain and subsequent erosion was all this group needed to shut down the race as they appear to have the parks department by the short hairs. How the police got involved is a mystery to speaks to the profound influence of this 'heritage tree foundation'. I guess that you don't want to mess with these folks-at least not on a bicycle. What is puzzling is that there are other much larger events held at Zilker park that truly trash the place on an annual basis. On event draws more than 90,000 people and is frequently held in the rain. I wonder why the heritage tree foundation does not try to shut down these larger events........
              This gets me to my final point. It looks like the CX nationals were a small enough event with   considerably less revenue for the city of Austin than the larger events that cause far more damage to the park. Its the same old story-if you got the bucks, you get a pass from the powers that be. This is another example of a small group of people claiming a public place as their own. A park like Zilker belongs to the public at large , not to a small group of people regardless of their zeal to protect the trees or how much power they might wield in the city government.
              The result of the cancellation / The race was re-started at noon on Monday. Many folks, mostly juniors had to leave and miss their chance to race at the biggest event of the season. Lots of other folks had to spend more money for another nights lodging and/or changing a flight. This postponement cost a lot of people money and put the race organizers into a hopeless situation in which no good options were available.
              It is unlikely that USA cycling or any major race promoter will ever hold an event in Austin again. This is really sad for the thousands of racers and spectators who wanted this race to come to this city but the heritage tree foundation is probably celebrating right now-a few dozen folks under the guise of protecting some venerable trees completely fuck up a national sports event for thousands of people, many of whom live in their city. All I can say is that I came to Austin for the event and I will not be returning any time soon. The many levels of disappointment handed to the public by a small group of zealots is hard to stomach.

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