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. RandyRuhlman.com
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.
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
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:
Preformed Line Products
Lance Armstrong Foundation
Moab Century Tour