Posted Online: March 09, 2014, 12:00 am

Don't ignore past in deciding Criterium's future

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By Roger Ruthhart

The venerable Quad City Criterium Memorial Day bike race is in the news as organizers try to focus its future. My advice is not to forget the past.

The Criterium started in East Moline, moved to Moline's Old Towne for many years before settling in the Downtown Rock Island Arts and Entertainment District for the last 16 years. Now, under new management, it is considering a move to the Village of East Davenport.

The fact that the races will move isn't a big deal -- especially for an event closing in on its 50th anniversary next year. Times change, people change, the sport changes as do community attitudes. The fact that new promoter Tom Schuler is considering East Davenport because he says cyclists prefer a hillier course is really no different than the Heart Walk moving to The District because it got tired of dealing with spring floods in Davenport or other festival changes that have occurred.

Since the Criterium moved to The District in 1997 it has enjoyed the support of Rock Island's downtown event planners who do a great job of partnering with other organizations. The professional help is a definite plus for an event like the bike races which up until this year were produced by volunteers. It has also enjoyed some synergy with the Labor Day weekend Rock Island Grand Prix kart races which provide course fencing and materials.

Mr. Schuler, 57, who lives in Wauwatosa, Wis., where he runs the sports management company Team Sports Inc., brings a solid cycling and management resume to the job. He is a retired professional bicycle racer. He represented the U.S. at the 1976 and 1980 Summer Olympics and was one of the original members of the 7-Eleven cycling team. He was the 1987 USPRO national road champion and the 1981 US professional criterium champion. He was inducted into the U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame in 2007.

For more than a decade Team Sports has specialized in providing team management and marketing serves for prestigious cycling and multi-sport teams and events, according to its website.

The District has a lot invested in the event. In hosting the races these last 16 years, it has been a money loser for The District and staff has witnessed firsthand some of the angst surrounding the races.

That brings me back to the original notion of not forgetting the past.

The Criterium thrived in Moline. It enjoyed huge crowds -- not necessarily because of anything it did, but because the races wound through a residential neighborhood where residents would gather friends and family for a day of races, food and drinking.

But the races blocked residents from getting in and out of their homes. Large crowds created the types of problems you find anywhere that there are a lot of people who have had too much to drink. In the end, everyone was happy when the races moved to The District where events are a way of life.

In Rock Island, the race landed sponsors and lost them; landed new ones and lost them. It has gained and lost volunteers. There have been issues with downtown businesses and a lack of cooperation by promoters focused almost solely on racing. Some businesses see a benefit while others close rather than deal with the disruption. Crowds never transferred in great numbers from the comfort of their front steps and lawn chairs to downtown.

Any event that has been around almost 50 years collects a history of both good and bad. The Quad City Criterium is the second longest continually running bike race in the country. But like anything else, it is important to learn from what has come before. The staff in Rock Island understands the many nuances of the event; I'm not sure the new out-of-town promoter has a full grasp yet and I'm even less sure that the Village of East Davenport and its neighbors do.

In the end, the Quad City Bicycle Club and Mr. Schuler will do what is best for the event -- by now a decision may have already been made. Rock Island would like to keep the races, but if the decision is made to move for reasons beyond its control, that's OK.

The District will move on and the newly available staff time will be used to bring a new event or two to the downtown. If the decision is made to stay in Rock Island, the new promoter will have the benefit of The District's professional staff and what it has learned -- like how quickly sponsors, volunteers and promoters can come and go, and what kinds of issues need to be addressed with local businesses.

The decision is a matter of setting priorities. But the lessons learned can't be ignored in deciding on a venue. A decision based only on the concerns of competitors, and ignoring all that has come before, takes the first step down the wrong path.
Roger Ruthhart is managing editor of The Dispatch and The Rock Island Argus. He can be reached at rruthhart@qconline.com. He is also a board member of the Downtown Rock Island Arts & Entertainment District.