Tulsa Tough may be the greatest overall weekend of Pro/Am racing in the USA. Tulsa is an absolute gem in the rough, the rough being Oklahoma. From the onset, the promoters did a fantastic job, starting with host-housing applications on the race website. Host housing is much more than just a way to save a few bucks, but a way to be part of the community and to live with another person or family for a few days. In my experiences, they have always been good and the hosts are always very interested in racing, diets, training and the overall lifestyle. Our host for the weekend was a gentleman named Bob, an avid cyclist and outdoorsman living in the coolest part of town. Lucky us.
The race is a three day series setup omnium style, meaning you can start one day without finishing the previous day. Also, each day is scored separately, although at the end of the series points are added from the three days to determine the overall winner.
Friday- 9:15pm. Starting well after dark we had a 70 minute, figure eight course through the Blue Dome District. The longest section was two city blocks, making for a very technical crit that averaged 28mph. Everyone was on par in terms of fitness within such a tight course, but it was technique that made the difference. Also, you had to skip the heart attack when a massive fireworks show started about halfway through, to the surprise of everyone. With 7 laps to go in the 40+ lap race I crashed with three others. I think I was hit from behind, but not sure. Regardless, I hit the pavement at 35mph on a slight downhill, to the excitement of about 500 onlookers. I did a full 360 then laid there for a few seconds, waiting for a tire to run over my face. That Never happened. I jumped up to the applause of the crowd and made it back to the SRAM pit to get back in on the very next lap, about 60 seconds later. Zach, Wade and I all finished in the pack, while Brad Huff (Jelly Belly) sprinted to the win.
Saturday- 8:30pm. 80 minute crit. Another night crit, but this one started in dusk so our eyes had some transition period midrace. This race was in the Brady Arts District, and even more people showed up to cheer us on. Soundpony, the greatest bar outside of Durango, CO, had beer on tap to lubricate the throats of its majorly awesome hooligan crowd. Mega-phones in tow, they lined the streets spewing beer and yelling at every single rider. Just as in the night before, Dave Towle announced the entire race while having access to live TV coverage from his booth. Also, there were two huge jumbo-trons on course to spectators could see about 80% of the race at all times. All three of us kept it upright this time, finishing in the pack, again behind eventual winner Brad Huff.
By the time we left the race at 10pm not much was left open for dinner. We finally scored a place, and refueld our tired yet blood pumped bodies. Long story short, over a glass of wine I expressed one of my biggest fears in life to Wade and Zach. I’m afraid that one day in the not too distant future I will meet someone younger than myself, and they won’t know who Michael Jordan is. Seriously, I am scared shitless of this. So, Zach thinks it’s a great idea to ask our teenie bopper waitress what she thinks when she hears “I wanna be like Mike”. I cringe. She looks at each of us separately, then hesitates for what seemed like an hour. Zach- “So, do you even know what that means?” I punch Zach because I can tell what is about to happen in my life. She says “Umm…like Mike Jones”. I melt into the booth, and my only response to her is “I’ll take another glass, now!”
We proceed to get at least once drink at Soundpony after my oh-so depressing dinner. I see a temporary tattoo machine, with prints of the Soundpony itself. Perfect mark for the place that fueled the emotional side of my race just two hours earlier. It went right next to my fresh roadrash from the night before.
Sunday- 4:25pm. 80 minute circuit race, with ‘crybaby’ hill. About 30 laps. This is the queen stage of the weekend. $4,000 to the winner, and even more hooligans on the climb than ever. AT&T sponsored a prime at the top of the climb to keep things extra hard. After a morning spin we were loosened up and ready to romp for the third and final time. We begin, and the first time we make the bend around the top of the climb the road looks almost entirely closed with people. It’s insane. There is a live band and about 500 people having a civil war with supersoakers, back and forth across the road we take. From the extreme stench, you would think nothing but beer exists on this hill. It almost made me sick to my stomach, the hot Bud Light flowing on the 100 degree pavement. Flag poles, man thongs, race car outfits, astronauts, men in diapers….it was all there to cheer and push us along each lap. Wade ended up making a monster attack and bridging up to the eventual winning break. After his efforts to get up the road, he lasted a few laps and was back with us. Regardless, he went for it and did a really impressive move with nothing to regret. I did all I could to stay in the top 1/3 of the shrinking pack, while Zach had to retire from heat exhaustion. In the end Wade was pushed aside with one lap to go when a guy slid across the pavement infront of him at near 30mph. I held my position on the other side of the road, and finished up 31st out of about the 60 remaining. I was quickly scurried to a photo booth for a post-race headshot, Rouleur style.
Overall Tulsa Tough once again set the standard for Pro/Am events in America. Here is what helped to make it work-
- Bring the course to the people, not the people to the course. Hold races in already crowded downtown districts.
- Keep the courses tight, length short, and money high. Fans (or virgin fans) do not want to see us go by once in 110 miles. This includes only seeing a finishing straight for 30 seconds. 80-90 minutes in a tight circuit are fun for racers, and evidently even more fun for fans. St. Francis Hospitals were the top sponsor, overall the race had over $100,000 in prize money. $47,000 in the Pro/1 field alone, meaning $50,000+ in the NON-pro fields.
- Volunteers and hired professional staff. Corner marshals and jumbo-trons are all huge benefits in their own way. Having renowned announcer Dave Towle kept the veterans and first time crowds on the tips of their toes, he is well worth the fee. Tons of first time fans expressed their new found excitement in bike racing to me directly after the race.
Tulsa, keep on keeping on. Your cycling community is among the best and Team Panther will continue to return. Other towns/races, take notes.