Our own Armand Della Monica (Bandit Racing) catches up with Dieter Drake via IM. Although most of you know Dieter as the uber enthusiastic guy who promotes the Battenkill-Roubaix spring classic, Dieter has spent most of his adult life as an active member of the domestic bike racing world. A resident of Cambridge, NY, Dieter is a former US #1 ranked Masters-level time trialist (2004), 2-time NYS Masters Time Trial Champion, 8-time Empire State Games Medalist, and NYS Road Race Silver Medalist (Cat 3). Married 12 years to wife Amy, they enjoy their 5 children in quiet Southern Washington County, NY. Prior to entering the cycling world, Drake was an area elite-level runner; before competing at Div. 1 North Carolina State University where he graduated with a degree in Mechanical Engineering. He was a 3-time Section 2 Class A Champion in Track and Cross Country and a New York State Championships 2nd place finisher while competing at Guilderland High School near Albany in the late 80’s. When not training, racing, coaching, promoting races or being a proud dad and husband, Drake works for his own company, Anthem Thermal Solutions, LLC.
I got the idea of interviewing Dieter just before Christmas when I, like so many of us, got an email announcing that registration would soon open for the 2008 Battenkill-Roubaix. Although still a bit of a newcomer, this event – – now named the Tour of the Battenkill – – has quickly become one of the biggest races on New Englandâ€™s Spring calendar, due in large part to the enthusiasm of its promoter. Iâ€™ve met Dieter a few times in the past and was always impressed by the way he conducts himself, but I had no idea what I was in for. We can use a few more Dieterâ€™s in this sport . . .
ADM: So Battenkill has become a major regional race in a very short time. When did you first decide to promote this race and did you ever imagine it would become the Spring Classic that it is?
DD: Yes, I figured that if the people in the various communities that the race goes through appreciated its potential, then they would at least not deny me the opportunity to do it the next year. So here we are 4 years later and it’s really taken off. I dreamt up the idea after the first Balloon Festival Classic 2004. The relative success of that race and what I saw it do for the community here in the Battenkill Valley made me think I could duplicate what they’ve done in Europe for decades now – a visible, challenging cycling race that captures the attention of more folks than just the cyclists.
ADM: Well it certainly seems to have captured their attention. What is your relationship with the towns like these days?
DD: Very, very good. They are very supportive. I’ve really not been met with many obstacles at all. I ask for a little more each year in terms of municipal support – Police, EMS, road closures, etc. – all with hesitation, and have pretty much always been told yes to everything. It’s a promoter’s dream. Of course I live in a place where cycling races are relatively easy to pull off. But that said, the people here are incredibly supportive all around. .
ADM: Thatâ€™s certainly the impression I get. You seem to have a volunteer army of supporters. How many does it take to hold the race and how do find them all?
DD: We’ll have about 200 people out there on race day. 150 of those will be standing out on a corner or intersection somewhere. They are friends, Farm Team parents, neighbors, farmers, librarians, engineers, mayors, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. I think people here realize that – despite the fact that a nut-job from Cambridge runs the thing – the race(s) can have a positive effect on the various communities here. I’ve also been able to enlist the help of my wife Amy who handles the registration crew, and our friends Christine & Geoff Hoffer here in town who gather the race marshals and drivers needed. Having people dedicated to those very large tasks allows me to do what needs to be done to make the race as safe & successful as possible. The bottom line is that these people make it happen on race day. I may stay up late working on details, but the ambition and excitement they show to help out what we all consider a good thing is pretty inspirational.
ADM: How about the B-R training rides and the B-R Cyclo Sportif ride in the fall? Do these bring out a big crowd of riders and volunteers?
DD: Well, the training rides slowly grow as we get closer to race date. We’ll have one per month leading up to the race. I expect that if the weather holds, we’ll get 40-50 this weekend. [January 19th]. Those will probably double each month. The Cyclosportif drew maybe 50 people last fall. That’s about what I expected and that’s fine. My wife doesn’t need another large event in the fall at this point. Neither do I, really. One big spring race is fine.
ADM: Wow. I didn’t realize guys were scoping the course out so early. That’ll be sure to make some Cat 3s and 4s in NYC freakout for a few days!!!
DD: Oh yes. Lots of people out riding the course.
ADM: The course is obviously a big draw. And then coupled with the unpredictable Upstate New York early spring weather, youâ€™ve got the dirt, the climbs, the wind, the mud, the flats – – it’s pretty obvious why this race has become so popular so quickly. How did you come up with the course and did you pick an early race date intentionally to throw the potential of foul weather into the equation?
DD: People want a tough race. I think it’s all of those things in one happy bundle, plus the fact that it’s a single loop that’s a heck of a lot like Flanders or Roubaix in scope and challenge. Probably more like Flanders actually. It’s also about its place on the calendar – so early it just might be awful conditions on race day. People like hard bike races. Finally, it’s about all the folks we have out there supporting the race as volunteers. It doesn’t happen without them. The dirt roads add to the mystique. No other race seems brave enough to do this in the quantities that this race does.
Why such an early date? Why not? I think it sets the tone for the rest of the year for many people, starting back when I open up registration in December, just before Christmas. ‘Time to get off the couch and out of the fridge and back on the bike. I think it attracts the kind of crowd I want to hang around with too – people who want a tough bike race. There are a lot of those people apparently…
ADM: So what’s the future of the B-R? I recently saw that the Rochester Crit will be a UCI event this year as part of stage race. Do you have similar expectations for B-R? By the way, as you are from upstate NY, can you confirm for some of our readers that Rochester is NOT in Canada?
DD: Rochester is just a boat ride away, I think…
DD: Todd Sheske & Scott Page’s race in Rochester is growing as fast as this one. Itâ€™s a great event. We’ll see how making it an omnium affects things, but I am sure it will be a hit again.
The future for the Battenkill? Well, I was able to add a couple of more fields this year – the Cat 2 and the 60+. Really three if you consider the separate Juniors field. So adding any more fields might take an act of Congress. Since the Cat 4 wait list is almost 80 already, I am considering adding another Cat 4 field. But man, that’s it. That’ll be 1,500 racers out on the road. That’s a lot of people on bikes. More that I’ve ever seen at a race anyway.
I would really like the event to elevate to the international professional level in the next 2 years. That’s why I’ve modified the race name some (Tour of the Battenkill vs. Battenkill-Roubaix). If the race is to be taken seriously at that level, then it needs to stand on its own and without a tie to some place in Northern France. To get this done, I’ll make it a Pro/Am Saturday race, then perhaps a UCI Pro race on Sunday. Whether this means going first through the NRC thing next year, I don’t know. I don’t even know if that’s the route I want to take it.
ADM: That would be very cool. Those are some lofty goals, but you certainly have the momentum. The Cat 4 field filled in something like 1.5 minutes this year, and 80 on the wait list? Is there anything you wish to say to these fanatics? Remember, this is NY Velocity. You can pretty much say whatever you’d like.
DD: Funny. â€œThanks for registering! Now get off your computer and go for a ride!â€
As for registration, not quite 1.5 minutes – – – about 1.5 hours though. Alan Atwood & I have a running competition for who can close out the Cat 4 the fastest. His race has a max 100, while mine is 125, but it’s pretty much a dead heat to reach 100 registrants – about 8 minutes. Nuts.
ADM: That’s really incredible. Some say the sport has no future with all the doping scandals, but then you see data like that. The sport, at least in some corners, seems to be stronger than ever.
DD: Yes, cycling is not dead. At least not in NY.
ADM: Indeed. So shifting gears a bit, about a year or so ago Judy Miller lost her position as the NE Regional Coordinator for USA Cycling. It was a situation that engendered mixed emotions among the cycling community, but I think people were uniformly happy to see that you were hired as her successor. Happy because you promote The Tour of the Battenkill and, therefore, are a bit of celebrity. And you know how America feels about its celebrities. Anyway, what led you in that direction, and did you hold the position long enough to achieve any of your objectives?
DD: A celebrity? Right. My wife will love that one.
Judy’s departure was disappointing to almost everyone that knows her. She’s invested her life in the sport. I took the job principally to keep our interests in the Northeast at the forefront because we have a great cycling scene! I think I was able to hold the position just long enough to grow that exclamation point some more, and just long enough to realize the cycling infrastructure in the USA is flawed.
ADM: Well, there’s certainly a whole lot to discuss in that response. For starters, how long did you hold the position? And can you tell us about some of the improvements you pushed through during your tenure?
DD: I had the job for about 6 months – May to October 2007. My goal was to voice the concerns of racers and promoters in this region because they do the heavy lifting for the sport. I think I was able to do that to a large extent. There were some large races with issues with USA Cycling and I did my best to improve those relationships.
Rider upgrades are a large part of the job as well. Managing those was challenging in trying to be as objective as possible, while recognizing individual achievements – achievements worthy of acknowledgement.
ADM: I think a lot of people view the Regional Coordinator’s role as being to serve the riders; primarily dealing with upgrades but also policing the rules. But your answer implies that another large role of the RC is acting on behalf of promoters. Perhaps you can tell us about the types of issues promoters and USA Cycling have? And how would you generally describe the relationship between promoter and USA Cycling? One of tension? Or a comfortable, mutually respectful sort of thing?
DD: The RC has a considerable job description, dealing with riders, promoters, USAC and others. It now includes Mtn Biking too. That’s a big mistake, by the way. Sort of like combining Defense Secretary and HUD director.
Promoters generally want to know that they are being supported by USAC.
ADM: And I guess that’s not always obvious.
DD: No, not without someone to act on their behalf – hopefully in person, but it’s a large region as you know
As far as the relationship goes, it depends on the size of the race, really. The smaller racers just apply for the permit, get the insurance, file the results, and they’re done. The larger races are on the hook for a very significant portion of their payout to go back to Colorado. That creates some tension between the promoter and the head office
ADM: I’m sure. Nobody likes to pay for someone else’s ski house.
DD: No comment on the ski house….
ADM: Funny. So what sort of suggestions would you have for USA Cycling to improve the cycling infrastructure?
DD: Boy, that’s a loaded question. How much time do you have?