Walking into Biowheels Workshop, a modest bike shop in down town Madeira, you will notice an equal mix of current road, mountain, and cross bikes, parts, and accessories, much like any other shop of the kind. But as you look around you begin to notice that interwoven into the product for sale is a collection of trophies, medals, signs for the sole purpose of heckling riders on course, and the inevitable cowbells that tell the story of an area deeply rooted in cyclocross. When you mention the word “Cincinnati,” world caliber cyclocross isn’t the first thing that comes to mind, but thanks to the work of Mitch Graham and his promoting partner Corey Green, that’s exactly what you can expect.
This weekend, as the world elite prepare for the upcoming UCI World Championship of cyclocross in nearby Louisville, Mitch and Corey are putting on the Cincinnati Kings International cross race at Kingswood Park – a local park with a near permanent cyclocross course. A lot of big names are scheduled to attend – Niels Albert, Radomir Simunek, Joachim Parbo, Ryan Trebon, Tim Johnson, Jonathan Page and Wietse Bosmans to name a few, and the list is still growing.
We got a chance to sit down with Mitch and talk about what it took to get the local cyclocross scene to this point, and what’s in store for the future.
Check out the interview after the break.
(note: Corey wasn’t available at the time of the interview, but some of his thoughts can be read here.)
Bikerumor: How did the whole International race concept come about? Obviously, the riders are going to be in town for Worlds next weekend, but how did you go about getting them to come here first?
Mitch Graham: I think that was a bit unknown, I don’t think the promoters for Worlds really knew when all of the Europeans were going to come down, but they figured it would be good for both the Americans and the Europeans to have a “warm up” race in the US before the event so everyone can get their gear and their legs dialed in. Since we are so close to Louisville, and since we already had the experience of putting on decent size races they figured we would be the best partner to put on a warm up race.
Bikerumor: So this is an official UCI sanctioned race?
Mitch: It’s not an official “warm up” race – there’s no such thing, but it is a UCI sanctioned event that riders will receive points for their finishes and it is the last race of the year before Worlds. We honestly didn’t hear anything from really any of the riders until about two weeks ago, even after mentioning it to many of the riders back in November, which is pretty much how it usually is. Then all of a sudden the list of riders started flooding in and I’ve been getting requests from riders on FaceBook asking if they could race.
Bikerumor: So who is all confirmed for the race?
Mitch: Just about everybody really. For the most part most of the Worlds team for the US except for Katie Compton and Kaitlin Antonneau, but all the guys with Trebon, Powers, Johnson, Paige, still confirming Driscoll but I think he’s coming, and on the women’s side we have Gould, Miller. On the European side we have Helen Wyman, Katerina Nash, the Swiss National Women’s Champ, and for the men we have Nils Albert, along with Radomir Simunek, Joachim Parbo, and Wietse Bosmans just to name a few. The Americans will really face off against some European firepower, both the men and the women. We’re really happy with how everything has come together.
Bikerumor: As a race promoter, when did you get started? When was the first race you put together?
Mitch: 1996 was the first race that was on me, to do everything. That was my first race at Harbin Park in Fairfield, OH. From there until now it’s been about 16 years, I’ve just always wanted to push the local race scene and challenge myself. I was never really content to just keep doing the same races, so I’ve always wanted to see how far we could take things. This race is probably the culmination of everything so far.
Bikerumor: So you would say this is the biggest race you have ever put together?
Mitch: Yeah, easily. You know, having a world champion… (nervous laughter) It’s a big deal for us.
Bikerumor: How has your proximity to Worlds this year affect the cross season and sales here at the shop?
Mitch: We’re all seeing this steady growth that hasn’t let up since around maybe 5 years ago. It’s really ramped up with maybe a 30% annual growth in the cyclocross market. I don’t know if you can really point to one thing as the cause of growth, but whenever you have an event and you go from having 60 people, to having more like 200 people, whether it’s the competition or you just having more characters in the mix, it just becomes much more of a fun, party atmosphere. Once we hit that point, where we had 200 or so riders at an event, I think that’s when things really took off and we started seeing that consistent growth. Now we’re at 500-600 at a local race, and every year it just gets more fun for everyone involved.
Bikerumor: How does the whole set up with the Kings Cross course work out? How are you able to have a course there year round?
Mitch: Deerfield Township owns it, part of Warren County Parks. Right now they mow it, do a little maintenance, but the adjacent property is basically their home base where they store maintenance equipment for the rest of the parks. But they’ve been super cool allowing us to use it and have said yes to just about anything we’ve wanted to do with it. I can go out there at any time with the dogs, or to ride at any time and ride wherever you want. It’s just this open park that we’re co-existing with the dog walkers and the fishermen and everything has been good.
Right now we’re just trying to get the word out to everyone locally about the race. We have people come in and I ask them if they know about the race and they have no idea, so we’re really trying to gather an audience to show that Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky is big into cross. The footage of the race is also going to be played in Belgium, we have someone locally going to film the race and perform interviews in different languages and compress it to air over seas. They get like a million plus viewers, so we prefer there would be, like, crowds? (laughter). That’s the tough thing about January, people get burned out and put down their CX bikes like 3 or 4 weeks ago. And it’s cold.
Bikerumor: What’s been the biggest hurdle to putting this type of a race together?
Mitch: Umm, just the unknown. When you don’t know whether or not it’s going to be a big race until a couple weeks ahead, it’s tough to plan. We knew all along that that was going to be the deal, so we just went with the flow until we started to get the riders saying “hey, I want to do your race, do you care if I come?” They’re messaging me on Facebook saying hey, your race looks perfect, mind if I come?
Bikerumor: And these are World Champions messaging you on Facebook?
Mitch: (shaking his head in disbelief) Yeah… We’ve sent out invitations too, but it’s just kind of grown organically into what it is now.
Bikerumor: Anything you’d like to add?
Mitch: Yeah, just really want to thank all of our sponsors – United Dairy Farmers, Reece Campbell Construction, Toyota, Magnum Ice Cream, DeFeet, and Enzo’s ButtonHole. They’ve all played a huge part in the races so far and helping us get to this point. Without them, we would not be where we are today.
For anyone interested in attending the race, spectators get in free with the UCI Elite Women’s race at 2:00 PM Saturday, January 26, 2013, followed by the Elite Men’s race at 3:30 PM. For a full even schedule and registration info, check out the BikeReg page.