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What Can Cycling Learn from Other Sports?
By Staff
Date: 11/11/2006
What Can Cycling Learn from Other Sports?

What Can Cycling Learn from Other Sports?
ďTo the uninitiated it looks so simple. What could possibly be interesting about watching a car go in circles? Whatís the fascination with watching someone pedal a bike? Thatís a big stumbling block.Ē Randy Ruhlman at the Moab Century Ride for Lance Armstrong Foundation

By Dave Shields

Randy Ruhlman is a cyclist who makes his living racing professionally, and has for sixteen years. No, he doesnít race bicycles. He races cars and has become well known in automobile racing circles for using the bike to stay in top condition. I caught up with him at the recent 2006 Moab Century Ride to benefit the Lance Armstrong Foundation. He was fourth in overall top-ten finishes over his career in the popular Trans Am series. That race circuit gave way this past year to the Grand American Sports Car Series, which just happens to be owned by the France family. Those are the same people who grew NASCAR from a peculiarity of the South to one of the hottest sports in America. If they can transform turning left into such a phenomenon, imagine what that sort of promotional muscle could do for cycling.

Randy Ruhlman rides the for Lance Armstrong Foundation in Moab Century Tour- "100 miles on the bike to help raise money for Cancer Survivorship"

Randy is already seeing them work their marketing magic on the racing series heís now involved with. Heís watching the Grand-Am series grow from the inside, and he has interesting insights into the marketability of cycling as a result. He said that one of the greatest challenges bicycle racing has is the same one that NASCAR has already overcome. ďTo the uninitiated it looks so simple. What could possibly be interesting about watching a car go in circles? Whatís the fascination with watching someone pedal a bike? Thatís a big stumbling block.Ē

Randy Ruhlman in the office in the 500 horsepower PLP car.

NASCAR overcame the challenge with a combination of movies, celebrity involvement, and good television coverage. They taught large audiences that thereís a whole lot more to their sport than turning left. They capitalized on long-standing feuds regarding the merits of one automobile maker vs. another.

Why canít cycling do the same sorts of things? Iím obviously a believer that dramatic stories involving bicycle racing can teach strategy and tactics and consequently create new cycling fans in the process. Comments from readers of my books continue to convince me of this. Randy enjoyed reading The Race, and although heís been a long time fan of bicycle racing, he said it increased his interest in and understanding of the sport. Movies along these same lines would help even more.

Randy in Moab, Utah... ready to ride.

American cycling seems adept at attracting celebrity involvement. The American ski industry was similarly successful in bringing celebrities to their races, and then it occurred to someone to take it a step further: celebrity ski races. Not only did audiences enjoy watching the stars ski, either as a prologue or a separate event to the pros, but it provided a visual comparison that illustrated just how good the professionals really are. Similarly, pro cyclists make their job look easy. It can be enlightening to see what an ordinary human is capable of on the same course in order to appreciate how amazingly gifted the elite athletes are.

American race promoters have done such a spectacular job of running their events that icons like Saunier Duval director sportif Matteo Algeri recently told me that American cycling events are run far better than their European counterparts. This is no time for resting on laurels, though. How many additional spectators would come out to watch Robin Williams and Matthew McConaughey take a lap around Santa Barbaraís finishing circuit before the pros arrive for their three laps?

After the Moab Century

As for television, this is where cycling can potentially shine, and also where the sport has a great deal to learn from NASCAR. Bicycle racing translates fantastically well to television, especially once fans understand what theyíre seeing. Helicopter and motorcycle mounted cameras are perfect for delivering the action. NASCAR uses technology to help the viewer out, including on screen graphics that make key cars easily identifiable when the pack is tight, in car cameras, on screen diagnostics, and live team audio feeds. Every one of these technologies has applicability to bicycle racing. While the costs of implementing some of them might be high, the rewards would be, too. Expect innovative new technologies to continue enhancing the television viewing experience for cycling fans.

An advantage that NASCAR has over bicycle racing is that itís easy to watch in person. You can sit down in the stands and all the action is in view all of the time. The Grand America Sports Car Series is at a slight disadvantage here, because some of the road courses they race on wind out of view of the audience, but cycling is at a much bigger disadvantage. Usually the action passes any given point pretty quickly, and it can require a lot of physical effort on the spectatorsí part to even get to the best spots in the first place. Unfortunately, the percentage of Americans who equate that sort of physical effort with enjoyment seems to be diminishing every year.

NASCAR is rich because they can charge every spectator admission. Cycling is essentially free to the public, and must earn the bulk of their money from sponsorship. Fortunately, states like Georgia and California have quickly clued in to how valuable the television exposure of their natural beauty is. Some other states including Utah, Missouri, and Connecticut are now trying to take advantage of this publicity vehicle as well. When they do, itís a win/win situation for cycling. Georgia tourism executives tell me they are extremely pleased with the impact the Tour de Georgia is having on their state before, during, and after the actual races are held. Itís been a major boon, especially for outlying areas of the state. Speaking for myself, attending this event has changed my opinion of Georgia drastically for the positive.

But then thereís that monster in the closet that seems to trip up cycling each time it gets up a head of steam: drug cheats. Here again, cycling could learn a lot from other sports. Itís imperative that drug cheats be caught and punished, but to tarnish the sport each time somebody comes under suspicion is insane. Itís time for cycling to establish a protocol for testing and follow it. Enough of suspending athletes based on the name of their dog, or calling race winners validity into question based on incomplete test results. If following protocol dictates that the public might not be aware that a probable violation is proven to be sanctionable until six months later, then so be it. At least we wonít drive the sponsors and fans away in the process.

Road cycling is the most beautiful sport that I know of. It demands complex tactics, political strategy, nuanced alliances, athletic excellence, unmatched endurance, sheer force of will, and much more. Itís time to get the house in order and allow the sports viewing public to experience what an incredible competition this sport can be. Hereís hoping that those who oversee cycling can make the decisions necessary to help the sport realize its full potential in America, not just over the next few years, but for generations to come.
Photos courtesy of Ruhlman Motorsports Marketing

Dave Shields is the author of the bestselling and Benjamin Franklin Award Winning novel, The Race. The best selling sequel The Tour, is receiving widespread praise for confronting doping issues in sports from the perspective of the a professional rider competing in the tour de France under pressure to win at any cost.
His current work in progress is the story of Saul Raisinís miraculous recovery from a coma. Dave is often seen discussing these topics on networks such as CNN, ESPN, and Fox News. By special arrangements with the publisher, personalized autographed copies are available through the Daily Peloton by clicking here.

Randy Ruhlman
After finishing the 2006 season of the Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Special Reserve, Randy Ruhlman got to work again this past weekend. But rather than driving his 500 horsepower Preformed Line Products Daytona Prototype race car in preparation for the 2007 season, Ruhlman pedaled his bicycle up and down the steep Utah mountain slopes at the Moab Century Tour for the Lance Armstrong Foundation. Ruhlman also presented the Lance Armstrong Foundation with a sizable contribution, donated by his sponsor Preformed Line Products and the philanthropic, Cleveland-based T.F. Peterson Foundation.

Preformed Line Products car in action.

During the race season, Randy Ruhlman is a professional Daytona Prototype race car driver, but here in Moab, Utah, Ruhlman took off his driving shoes and put on his bike cleats to join 1,200 riders from all over the country to take part in this demanding ride for charity. While this was the second year that he has helped the Foundation by riding, this time Ruhlman was able to boost his support even further. After helping promote the ride through pre-race publicity, Ruhlman and former 7-Eleven/Motorola Tour de France rider Ron Kiefel both spoke to the group before the ride and had fun signing autographs and meeting the riders after the event. Randy gave the riders some insights from car racing about techniques to ride a bike down the steep 50 mph decent of the "Big Nasty" hill. At the pre-race gathering, Ruhlman also surprised the organizers by presenting them with a check for the Lance Armstrong Foundation of $12,000 from his racecar sponsor Preformed Line Products and the T.F. Peterson Foundation.

As an avid bicyclist, Ruhlman has found a way to combine his off-track passion with his professional life, lending his support and time to charities like the Lance Armstrong Foundation. Ruhlman is also expanding his focus throughout the upcoming 2007 season to help other bike-related Foundations. He will focus his efforts, not only on the Lance Armstrong Foundation, but Ruhlman has a strong connection to the Davis Phinney Foundation to fight Parkinson's disease and the many programs of Cleveland's University Hospital and Health Services Outreach Programs, including bicycle safety helmets and safety seats for children and seat belt awareness.

Ruhlman from Greensboro, NC has been a professional race car driver since 1990 and has extensive racing experience, predominantly in road racing in the Trans-Am Series, as well as in IMSA, ASA and the NASCAR short track series. Ruhlman drove the No. 40 Preformed Line Products Pontiac Riley in 2006 in the Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Special Reserve for Derhaag Motorsports with co-drivers Ron Fellows, Paul Dallenbach, Chris Bingham and Justin Bell.

Ruhlman, who plans to return to the Daytona Prototype Rolex Series for the 2007 season with sponsor Preformed Line Products, was the top American driver in the 2005 Trans-Am Drivers' Championship in the No. 49 Preformed Line Products Corvette, holding the points lead throughout the season, and scoring a pair of wins--the season opener at the Long Beach Grand Prix and the Cleveland Grand Prix. Ruhlman was named the 2005 BBS "Most Improved Driver of the Year" and makes the record books as fourth in Top Ten finishes in Trans-Am history. In addition, Ruhlman finished out the 2005 season driving in the Wesbank Series Championship at the infamous Kyalami International Raceway in South Africa.

Preformed Line Products (PLP) is an international manufacturer and supplier of hardware and support systems for the communications and energy industries. Products include the COYOTEģ Closure and GUY-GRIPģ Dead-Endused in the telecommunications, cable and energy industries. Manufacturing facilities are located worldwide in the USA, Canada, China, Brazil, Mexico, England, Spain, South Africa, Australia and Thailand.

For further information about the drivers, sponsor, team, visit the following links:
Randy Ruhlman
Preformed Line Products
Lance Armstrong Foundation
Moab Century Tour

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