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Tara McCarthy: Pixie Bike Racer Extraordinaire

Talk of the T-Town Podcast Show Art

Episode 2

There’s not a moment where I’m not giggling because it’s the stupidest, most fun thing of the year on bikes.

– Tara McCarthy, National Events Director USA Cycling

This week on Talk of the T-Town, we sit down with Tara McCarthy, the person who makes national events happen, and discuss racing pixie bikes, COVID protocol, national championships and selection processes, and fond memories.


Transcript:

Joan Hanscom:

Welcome to the Talk of the T-Town podcast where we discuss all things track cycling. Broadcasting from the Valley Preferred Cycling Center, I’m your host and Executive Director, Joan Hanscom, along with my co-host, Athletic Director Andy Lakatosh.

Joan Hanscom:

Hello. Welcome to today’s episode of Talk of the T-Town podcast. Today’s guest on the pod is Tara McCarthy, National Events Director at USA Cycling and my friend. Both Andy and I have been fortunate enough to work with Tara in a professional capacity over the years, and I’ve been fortunate enough to be real world friends with Tara. So thanks for coming and spending the time with us. It’s funny to be connecting over Zoom and not in person like we used to do in our desks weren’t all that far apart. But we really appreciate you taking the time. I know you’re a busy lady. So for everybody out there who’s listening, Tara is the person on the team at USA Cycling who makes your national events happen and she has a hard job. I think in some years, she’s had up to 18 national championships that she’s been quarterbacking. This year, I think was stressful in a whole different host of ways that didn’t involve quarterbacking national events, but rather quarterbacking the cancellation of national events. So Tara, welcome to the pod. We’re super happy to have you.

Tara McCarthy:

Thank you for having me. I’m very excited to be here with you all from across the country.

Joan Hanscom:

So for those of you who don’t know, Tara and I were co-workers at USA Cycling. And if I’m not mistaken, our actual first event working together ever was the 2013 Cyclocross World Championships, which for any of you who are not cyclocross people, were I think the absolute nightmare scenario of race production ever. And I think it was your first cyclocross race. Is that correct?

Tara McCarthy:

So it wasn’t actually my first one. I actually organized a small local cyclocross race at the property between USA Cycling, USA Triathlon’s properties here in Colorado Springs. I would say though, that it was a beautiful day. We had about 200 riders. So it wasn’t the true cyclocross organization that some folks have gotten to experience in their cyclocross event directing experience.

Joan Hanscom:

Yeah. So that week, back in 2013, we had the Masters course set up at an alternate venue. We were all stuck in our beds at the hotel on Wednesday morning. And at 4:30 in the morning, the tornado warnings started going off and we all had to seek shelter in the hallways of the hotel, and then we went to the course and there was no course. And so Tara and I have been in the trenches for a long time. And then that was Wednesday. And then Thursday, we got word from the Army Corps of Engineers that, “Oh, by the way, your entire venue is going to be underwater by 1 a.m. on Sunday morning, so your two day International UCI Elite World Championships better all move to Saturday.” So if we didn’t kill each other that weekend, I think there’s zero chance we’ll kill each other over a Masters National Track championships detail.

Tara McCarthy:

Oh, my gosh, that was, as you mentioned, one of the hardest events that I’ve ever worked. I mean, you mentioned a tornado. And we woke up one morning and went to the Masters venue, and there was a 40 by 40 Expo tent that had rolled through the start finish line. And there was like 400 feet of finished fence just laying on the ground. That I think was probably the moment where it just didn’t feel good anymore.

Joan Hanscom:

Well, and I have to say like looking at that, it was very intimidating as a race director because you’re like, “Ah, crap.” And then you took a step back and you went, “Oh, I’m so glad I’m not racing today.” Because that was horrible. That was horrible. So yes, enough of our cyclocross glory days. Let’s let people get to know you because I think everybody’s used to seeing you at national events with your radio strapped on and the focused march around the venue, getting stuff done. But your background is not in cycling, which I think this is a super rad thing to know about Tara. Tara started her sports background in rugby, which is not usual. It is an unusual sport for women to play, though widely embraced I think more on the East Coast than anywhere else as a women’s collegiate sport. But now you’re an avid cyclist. So tell us a little bit about that transition because it’s not normal. It’s not abnormal, it’s not usual, let’s say.

Tara McCarthy:

Yeah, so I think playing rugby was an extension of growing up with three brothers, two of which were older and one younger, and my older brothers would pretty much babysit me. They’re seven and 10 years older. And sometimes that babysitting turned into, “Oh, we’re going to play flag football with all of our friends who are guys.” And I think just growing up in that kind of rough and tumble environment made rugby a really attractive and normal to me sport. And it was really fun. The camaraderie with other women, getting to tackle other women and then have a beer after the game in a social manner, really kind of suited me. And during my rugby career, one of my teammates and I hate saying this on a cycling podcast, because people are going to be like, “Really, you’re going to mention triathlon?” But I mentioned triathlon. So one of my rugby teammates competed in a triathlon, I was like, “Oh, I’ll totally do that.” I used to swim when I was little, no problem, this will be easy.

Tara McCarthy:

So I actually used my mountain bike at the time to race on road triathlon and when I did not win, I decided to buy my first road bike, because I wanted to win the triathlon the next year. So that was my introduction really to being on a bike in a competitive manner. And after 12 years of playing rugby, the body just, it breaks down. It’s not an easy sport for your body. My nose is definitely crooked from playing rugby. Riding a bike became more attractive. I did use riding bikes as a training mechanism for rugby. And so it was a really easy transition from training for rugby into training just to be fit and then inevitably came racing and I’ve been racing now for the last number of years.

Tara McCarthy:

I would say that cyclocross is my favorite type of racing besides pixie racing. Cyclocross is actually I would say pretty similar to rugby. You’re chasing someone down. For my part, I don’t like getting the whole shot. I like kind of hunting people down as the laps go by. So there’s that sprinting aspect. There is the tactical aspect of okay, how am I going to take this run up? Am I going to try and ride it halfway? What’s my strategy here? And that’s really like rugby, and so I love cycling, I love getting outside, I like being on the bike for a bunch of hours, I like mountain biking with friends and grabbing a beer in the parking lot afterwards. It’s been a really good sport to transition into.

Joan Hanscom:

So that’s the most Tara like story ever though, like, “Oh, I’m just going to do this triathlon on my mountain bike and just crush it.”, and I love that because that’s so you, because Tara in passing mentioned pixie bikes, so I know Tara to have raced road because we were teammates and we raced crits together. That was fun. You obviously race mountain bikes. You race BMX, and you race pixie bikes. Does anybody know?

Andy Lakatosh:

I have to be honest, I don’t know what a pixie bike is.

Joan Hanscom:

It’s a little kid’s bike, like a tiny little kid’s bike.

Andy Lakatosh:

Oh, and you race on it.

Joan Hanscom:

That you buy at like a Goodwill store and every year in the springs, there’s this wacky group of people that do this pixie bike race but if you’re from Colorado Springs, you will appreciate where Gold Camp Road is and where Red Rocks is.

Andy Lakatosh:

I get cold shivers when you say that road name.

Joan Hanscom:

And so like the last time I went to the pixie bike race, Tara, you were in like a full downhill helmet like the full kit and they come hurtling down like the gravel parts of Gold Camp Road, and that whole surrounding environment and then onto the pavement and they are just hauling downhill on pixie bikes and it is hilarious. But Tara was the champion that year that I was there and I know you just had the pixie bike race a couple weeks ago. So did you repeat champion?

Tara McCarthy:

I did not win this year for the ladies. There’s two types of pixie bike racers in the springs. There are folks who purchase their kid’s bike and when we say a kid’s bike, it’s not like a smaller mountain bike. It is, I think it’s 20 inch or 16 inch wheels or under with coaster brakes. So you’re talking a true kid’s bike. My bike is a Huffy Rock It that I purchased the morning of the pixie race. So there are the two groups. So my group of friends who buy the kid’s bikes from Goodwill the morning of the race. We do a quick check, make sure it has coaster brakes that function, at least in the parking lot, the handlebars are on, the wheels are tightened down. And that’s pretty much our check.

Tara McCarthy:

Then the other group of people purchase their bike and modify it so that saddle height would be that of a normal bike. One of the guys welded two kid’s bikes together. So it’s essentially a tandem with one saddle and a wide enough top that you can actually ride it like a regular bike. So our group of friends just does it for fun, we don’t really care. Although yes, I am competitive, and I do want to win for the ladies. But given the fact that we are on very small bikes, and when you actually sit on the saddle, your knees are up to your shoulders, there’s not much winning on the morning Goodwill bike purchase. But there’s never a time in the 10 minutes that it takes to go down a two mile gravel road and then 30 miles per hour down pavement. There’s not a moment in that where I’m not giggling because it is the stupidest, most fun thing of the year on bikes, like it is hands down one of my favorite times of year, so I didn’t win, but still the best.

Andy Lakatosh:

So nothing that extreme, right? Nothing modifying bikes and stuff. However, T-Town has been known post national championships, funny enough that we’re going to have one here next year at the end of the year, because for a couple years that we were having, like Elite TrackNats would be here and they’d be here into Labor Day weekend, and then the season’s done. And that was the way that we end the season. So afterwards, this is before camera phones could take pictures of everything all the time. Staff and medics and some racers would hang out afterwards and share a couple beers. And inevitably, we would wind up having a Keirin pace by the tricycle, but the Keirin was done on the little yellow Harry Havnoonian or frog bikes that we have now with full grown adults. So I’m thinking I want to see an unofficial registration for that on the national schedule for next year as a final, so a bunch of masters are carrying on midget bikes, what could possibly go wrong? But that’s the closest I’ve gotten to seeing that. That’s a little bit on the, yeah, I don’t know if I’d go down a gravel road on a tiny bike.

Joan Hanscom:

Oh, I have to tell you like I was at the finish line with beers. And I have never seen little kid’s bikes going so fast in my entire life. And it was hilarious. And they had to turn. So they’re coming down this hill. And then there’s a turn into the park and you’re just like, “Oh boy, are we going to make it?” It’s crazy fun. So that segues nicely into one of the things we’re talking about for T-Town next year, which is big wheel bike racing. There’s a brewery in Easton that does it every year. They have big wheel bikes for grownups. And we are thinking about Thursday nights, we should really have a big wheel bike racing league here at T-Town. And so that’s something else we’re looking right now. We’re shopping for our big wheel bikes, because we want to do something-

Andy Lakatosh:

Wacky and fun-

Joan Hanscom:

Wacky and fun on Thursdays in addition to in addition to the dead serious business of track racing.

Andy Lakatosh:

With of course, a grand season league finale on a Friday night. We’re definitely thinking like, I was thinking we should do like a [inaudible 00:14:09] style start where they have to run to the bike and then like a full Grand Prix course go through the infield, ride the track backwards type thing.

Joan Hanscom:

Yeah. So stay tuned.

Tara McCarthy:

That’s awesome. Do that. Please do that.

Joan Hanscom:

And you’ll have to do one of the races, like the Thursday nights will be the qualifiers for the big Friday night show. So you’ll have to come and jump in, Tara. You’ll definitely excel at the big wheel bike racing.

Tara McCarthy:

Oh man, I love that there’s going to be qualifiers for a big wheel final. I love it.

Joan Hanscom:

We’re anticipating high demand for big wheel bike racing, Tara. Anyway, so you mentioned that you came to USA Cycling from triathlon. So you made the big move across the parking lot. How was that? Was that different cultures, same culture? I don’t know many people who’ve worked for multiple NGBs.

Tara McCarthy:

It’s a similar culture. The folks that work for national governing bodies in sport, it’s a nonprofit, even though it’s a sport environment. And I think the cultures in nonprofits are probably pretty similar. At least it was a pretty easy transition from triathlon to cycling. I will say that my mom for a number of years was telling her friends that I still worked at USA Triathlon, but I was only doing the cycling portion of a triathlon. So that was a bit of a challenge to get her to understand my new job. But working for national governing bodies and being involved in the Olympic movement is a phenomenal experience. And I don’t know, it’s just really cool to see people that you’ve helped at events, that you’ve had events for all, of a sudden be on a world stage and be world champions or Olympic medalists. It’s super cool.

Joan Hanscom:

Yeah, I agree. I mean, I think when I lived in Louisville, and we were doing the USGP in Louisville, we had a host of little kids that were from Louisville, and actually in Madison as well, and we saw them, but I think by virtue of the contact that they had with their role models and their heroes in the sport at the USGP events that happened in their hometown, we saw this whole little generation of kids then go on to become pro bike racers themselves. And I distinctly remember Emma Swartz being at the number presentation party in Madison handing the race number one to Katie Compton. And now, Emma Swartz is racing at that elite level as well and that’s super cool to see that generational shift and you watch people go from being like the 10 year old junior to be in the same race maybe with Katie Compton or at that level, and it is super cool and I think we see a lot of that here at T-Town as well. I mean even Andy, Andy started in the kids’ programs here.

Andy Lakatosh:

Also did James Mellen, and he now, first guy here to go sub 10 seconds and-

Joan Hanscom:

Mandy Marquardt-

Andy Lakatosh:

Holds the track record, like James came through all the same programs I did from peewee peddlers all the way up to racing in UCI events and World Championships.

Joan Hanscom:

Kim Geist started in peewees.

Andy Lakatosh:

Bobby Lea.

Joan Hanscom:

Yeah, I mean, it’s really cool to see that progression. And it’s one of the really fun parts of working, like you said an Olympic sport. You see people go from kid to absolute champion.

Tara McCarthy:

Yeah, I mean, I’ve gotten to watch Megan Jastrab literally grow up on a bike. And now, she’s a world champion in various disciplines, racing with Jennifer Valente in the Madison. Was she a junior when she first did that, Andy? Was she 18 still?

Andy Lakatosh:

Jen or-

Tara McCarthy:

No, Megan.

Andy Lakatosh:

Megan-

Tara McCarthy:

Megan was still 18.

Andy Lakatosh:

Yeah, so she, yeah no, she would have been. Her racing age would have been 18 last year, when they would have done… did they do the Milton World Cup together? I think they did the Milton World Cup together, which was the final one in January. So her race, I don’t know if she even physically would have been 18 but her racing age would have been 18.

Tara McCarthy:

Yeah, yeah. So it’s been super cool watching Megan grow up and become a phenom on the bike and getting to know her family. It’s just really special watching kids grow up and then all of a sudden become superstars in the sport.

Joan Hanscom:

Yeah. And you feel like you played a little part on that pathway, right?

Tara McCarthy:

At least I can say I know her.

Joan Hanscom:

Yeah, I feel like we did play a part. We give them the platform. What they do with the platform is up to them. But we at least provide the platform and a pathway. Without races, there are no racers, right?

Andy Lakatosh:

And I’ll say this, having sat on both sides of it now as the person complaining at nationals to Tara about X, Y and Z that shouldn’t be going that way because it doesn’t make any sense to me to be on the side of putting on those events. You really don’t realize how much it does depend on what Tara does and what we do to make events like that happen. If we weren’t doing it, there would be nothing and it wouldn’t matter if you had Taylor Phinney. He’d have no stage to go ride and perform on. So yeah, there’s a newfound respect for me after running events here of what goes into it.

Joan Hanscom:

Andy’s learning.

Andy Lakatosh:

Growing up and getting gray hairs, one you see [inaudible 00:19:43] at a time.

Tara McCarthy:

I’m good at that.

Joan Hanscom:

I’m good at giving Andy gray hairs. So speaking of the platform of national governing bodies, 2020 was no joke for a lot of national governing bodies. A lot of organizations had to reorganize, some went bankrupt and actually had to go through a really complete reorganization. USA Cycling was not exempt from that struggle obviously. You went through a lot of COVID upheaval and staff impacts. A lot fell on you, because you are one of the few people left on your particular staff, and for those who are listening, there’s sort of multiple staffs at USA Cycling. There’s the events team, there’s the elite athletics team, there’s the marketing team.

Joan Hanscom:

So on Tara’s team, a lot of people got furloughed, and that left Tara to carry a pretty big burden. But there was also some real innovation that was happening at USA Cycling during that time, which was interesting to watch you, your work. We were really impressed with what you guys did, you and Chuck on the creation of that safe return to cycling document. I can tell you that I used it, along with the guidance that we got from our hospital partners on how to run things safely here at the track this summer. And we were really fortunate that we did. We ran a robust training schedule, we ran TTs every weekend. We could not have done that without an awful lot of help from USA Cycling. And I don’t think the general listener fully appreciates how much work you guys did. I mean, you were consulting with the USOPC, with their medical team, you have your own in house medical officer. Talk to us a little bit about that, because I was enormously thankful for what you guys did. You helped us stay in business. So talk a little bit about that.

Tara McCarthy:

Sure. Well, I appreciate the accolades, Joan. That was a project that took a group of people. There were seven of us working on the documents from the return to riding and racing guidelines to the risk assessment tool to the club guidelines. It was a several week long project, just with seven people primarily focused on getting that out the door. We felt it was pretty critical to have a quick turnaround on that once we made the decision to move forward with the project. And as you mentioned, we worked with our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Michael Roshon and the USOPC, Chief Medical Officer Jonathan, excuse me, Dr. Jonathan Finnoff. And then we also utilized resources from the CDC and the WHO, and also tons of other resources to put together that guideline.

Tara McCarthy:

And if you think about it, the folks that worked on that, there’s probably about 100 years of bicycle racing experience in that document. So everything from make sure that trash cans have covers, here’s how you should run registration, here’s a scenario that you can use for your parking areas, that is the culmination of 100 years of experience in organizing bike races. And the group that put that together, we met pretty much every other day on that, bringing each other up to speed on the research that we had done, as well as some of the visual helpers in there, that Shawn Brett put together that looked phenomenal in document in regards to registration flow with a drive up window, tables, et cetera.

Tara McCarthy:

And we actually used that information that we put together to work with the Colorado Governor’s office for our state’s regulations when it comes to athletic endeavors. Prior to talking to the office, they had no information restrictions guidelines in regards to endurance events in the States. So there was only information about guided trips. So for instance, if you were taking a group on a raft down the Brown Canyon or adult sports leagues and the likes, so not only were we able to really push this out to event organizers and help them like we helped you. But we were able to work within the state’s legislation to help move forward the regulations for endurance sports in the state, which is super, super cool.

Tara McCarthy:

And then beyond those documents, we also held webinars. We discussed the current situation. We answered event organizer questions, and we also provided event organizers the opportunity to talk to Dr. Roshon and actually ask medical professional questions. During this whole time, we’ve had, so much information coming out is from the media that sometimes it’s a little bit hard to discern what could be true, what could be false and what really applies to you and your situation. So allowing Dr. Roshon to answer questions directly was one of the highlights that we heard from event organizers after the webinars were over.

Tara McCarthy:

And then lastly, we’ve held a number of calls with different event operations companies, venues such as velodromes, fundraising rides, Gran Fondos. And we’ve provided our staff expertise for them in order to really review their safety plan, go over the logistics and operations of their event, and really just what we’re seeing out with events that have taken place currently, being able to provide that experience and knowledge to them. So overall, it was a huge project. It’s still ongoing. We continually talk about what education we might need to bring to event organizers. Currently, it kind of almost feels like we’re in this down period where everyone’s almost, we kind of know what we need to do now and we’re kind of waiting to see what happens over the next couple of months. So probably within the next month, month and a half, we’ll actually have an event organizer summit and talk about some of the virtual opportunities that people have taken advantage of in our industry as well as what people have done for in person events.

Tara McCarthy:

So ongoing, we’ll kind of see what next year brings and what information we might need to bring to people. But overall, yeah, it was a huge project. And it was really something special to be part of because I think sometimes people don’t see USA Cycling as a leader in our industry. And I think this project and our expertise really kind of showed that yeah, we know what we’re doing and we are here to help you. It doesn’t matter if you’re a sanctioned event. It doesn’t matter if you’re the governor’s office, like we are here to give advice, we’re here to lend our expertise. So it was a pretty cool project to be part of.

Joan Hanscom:

Yeah, absolutely. And I think you know, I shared your document with the county. It was part of what I used to make the argument that we should be allowed to hold events here. It was super helpful to us. The updates for the webinars were always a very welcome opportunity to hear where we were, the latest understanding of COVID. And it would be, I think great if moving into 2021, before the season rolls out again, to just have a bit more of that. And you referenced something super interesting, which was the virtual events, and I know, I did a virtual road race here. And I did a virtual road race here, where I did a time trial, and it was super fun. and we experienced that. But one of the things that USA Cycling is doing is going into eSports.

Joan Hanscom:

And I was curious, I just got an email, I think about yesterday about sign up for this latest uphill climb or something. Who’s driving that initiative internally? Because at least as far as I know, when I left, there wasn’t a whole lot of expertise in that area. So is that something that, and I know in talking with Rob DeMartini, he definitely sees this as an emerging discipline of its own. And we’d like to see USA Cycling be much more relevant in that world. Who’s driving that internally? Who’s got the internal knowledge base?

Tara McCarthy:

So I mean, that’s really been a leadership initiative and on the ground, which doesn’t really apply when we’re talking about eSports. But I’ll use on the ground. On the ground in our staffing, the initiatives have been led by Stuart Lamb, our Director of Event Services. And I mean how long has Zwift been up and running and Strava? Strava was probably just before 2010 and Zwift, what, maybe five, six years ago?

Joan Hanscom:

2015, I think.

Tara McCarthy:

So I mean, what’s that?

Joan Hanscom:

2015, I think.

Tara McCarthy:

2015. So, I mean there’s a 10 year history in our industry of eSports in some capacity. And so we’ve been pretty lucky as a sport that we’ve had these technology solutions in place when the pandemic struck. I mean, think about, take rugby, for example. You can’t play rugby now. There’s not really a way to play virtual, maybe like a football video game. But there’s not really a way to test your capacity in a virtual manner for other sports. So we’ve been pretty lucky. And in the past, we’ve had conversations with Zwift about partnerships, so it’s not necessarily that this initiative is brand new as of this year or as a response to the pandemic. It’s always been in the background.

Tara McCarthy:

I would say though as an organization, and for folks who run events, the thought of virtual competition is somewhat challenging to our mindset, because there’s the question of the equipment. Is the equipment valid? Is someone putting the correct weight into the system? So there’s all these logistical challenges to a virtual environment that we still need to figure out. But there’s no question that eSports is here, and we’ve definitely worked on partnerships with various platforms this year, and those things are going to stick around.

Tara McCarthy:

I don’t see us going back to just in person racing once the pandemic ends. I think it’s going to be a mixture of in person and eSports for the very long future. Esports spans the continuum of riders, you have new people on pelotons clipping in for the first time ever, and who knows if that experience on that platform is going to get them outside and maybe racing at their local crit or their local time trial or Gran Fondo. This is something that I think our industry needs to and maybe not our industry, but USA Cycling and other event organizers needs to embrace because it widens our market. It increases the amount of people who are riding bikes and it’s here for the long term, so let’s capitalize on it.

Joan Hanscom:

Yeah, absolutely. On that note, we’re going to take a quick break and throw a little love to our sponsor, and then we’ll be right back.

Andy Lakatosh:

The Talk of the T-Town podcast is brought to you through the generous support of B. Braun Medical Incorporated. A global leader in infusion therapy and pain management, B. Braun develops, manufactures and markets innovative medical products to the healthcare community. They are also strong believers in supporting the quality of life in the communities where their employees work and live. We here at The Velodrome have a special affinity for B. Braun because not only are they innovators in the medical field, but they like to race bikes. Every season, you can catch the B. Braun team competing in our corporate challenge. And man does their team bring out the stoke. In 2019, they packed the stands with employees cheering for their team, and we can’t wait to see them out on bikes again soon.

Joan Hanscom:

All right, we’re back. And it’s time to get into the meat of the track related discussion, let’s say because we’ve been talking about all sorts of other fun and interesting things which I love. But national championships, that’s your big wheelhouse, USA Cycling, like we said, some years up to 18 that you’re quarterbacking and this year, obviously none because of the obvious circumstances that we find ourselves in.

Joan Hanscom:

I think you walked a really hard line this year, as did Andy and I. We kept hope alive, right?

Andy Lakatosh:

Every week.

Joan Hanscom:

Every week, it was a pivot, it was an evaluate, it was where’s the governor? Where’s USA Cycling? Where’s the-

Andy Lakatosh:

Where’s Florida?

Joan Hanscom:

Where’s Florida? It was a perpetual on your toes, be agile and adapt. And I think you guys were doing the same. I think you wanted to keep hope alive that something could be resurrected, if it all safe and possible. But ultimately, the decision was made much like our decision not to go to mass start racing this year was made that to be good citizens and to observe community safety to observe rider safety, national championships were canceled. We were in constant contact about the masters and para national championships, which we were very much looking forward to hosting here. But tell us about that. I think again, give us some insight into the world that USA Cycling on making those decisions as the summer progressed, and then maybe give us a little bit of insight into what you guys are thinking about 2021.

Tara McCarthy:

Yeah, so that’s a lot to unpack, Joan.

Joan Hanscom:

I know, it was a lot.

Tara McCarthy:

So I think the first thing that I’d like listeners to hear is that canceling an event for an event organizer is a heartbreaking thing to do. Even though we’re USA Cycling, we still run our national championships A to Z, and the people that have been working on these events has sometimes, they’ve been for years. So for instance, Mountain Bike Nationals, I’ve been working on that event for eight years. And I’m super excited to where it’s grown to, and it’s almost become my baby. And so having to cancel an event that you’ve kind of watched grow up is a really hard thing to do. It’s not easy. It’s not taken lightly, and not having events this year prevents us from doing the work that we love to do for the riders that come to our events.

Tara McCarthy:

And I mean, the situation like you said, Joan, definitely on your toes. Every single week brought a different answer to whether we would have a national championship. One week, it was changing dates, the next week, it was changing formats to meet county requirements, changing locations. There was not a week where there was not an emotional roller coaster of yes, I feel like this week 90%, we’re probably going to have Masters Road. And then the following week, it felt like 20%. So it was just, it was really crazy, and it was interesting watching how membership responded to our communications.

Tara McCarthy:

First of all, thank you to all the people who are really understanding as to the changes, as to the lack of information available at that current time. I really appreciate everyone who just kind of stuck with us as we worked through the months this summer. And then we also got to hear some of the outcries from folks. For instance, when I announced that we would not be holding any amateur racing, we would just be holding elite racing, there was quite an outcry from from the junior riders and junior parents and those viewpoints helped us make some decisions.

Tara McCarthy:

So sometimes it’s hard hearing from people that you didn’t make the right decision, but also it’s good because we can adjust and do things in the best possible manner for our membership. And I also want to convey that even though we talked about date changes, format changes, location changes, the most important thing on our mind was the safety of our host communities, our riders, our staff, our vendors, et cetera. And a lot of times, we felt like the changes to the race format were probably pretty safe in terms of bringing people together. But we felt like the travel with people from all over the country was probably not the safe part of holding an event.

Tara McCarthy:

Holding a local race, people are somewhat close together, you know what your caseload is. There’s no airplanes, there’s no someone handling your baggage, there’s no hotel stays. So that was a really important consideration when we did cancel pretty much all of the national championships this year. And it’s not fun to make those announcements of a cancellation. And I know it was heartbreaking for the people like our collegiate riders who May was their last race that they could have done in their collegiate career. We have juniors who will never race a junior race again. That’s a really big disappointment for those riders. And I completely, I understand that and I hope people understand that we also feel disappointed and heartbroken that we did have to cancel.

Tara McCarthy:

With that said, I’m really happy where I’m sitting today that we did cancel. I think it was the best decision that we could have made, and a disappointing year but we are looking forward to 2021. Right now, I am planning for a full contingency of national championships. Now, having said that, we don’t know what’s going to be happening. We don’t know what health department regulations are going to be. We don’t know what case loads are going to be. So even though there’s a calendar with dates and locations, that could still change. Formats can change. But I am going into next year planning full force and we’re going to see what happens.

Andy Lakatosh:

Yeah, I mean, I hear that 100%. Our season planning is well underway here. We have a lot of things outlined, sketched out, and I’m getting into the nitty gritty details of UCI schedules for races right now. And we say it every day, everything comes with a huge asterisk of like COVID dependent. And for us, the one upside is at least from a planning perspective, we went through so many different scenarios last year that we already have a tentative A, B, C, D, E, just keep going plans, which makes it a little bit more of a relief. But yeah, I mean, we’re all fingers crossed on let’s hope that this gets better and we can do things that seem or are normal coming into 2021.

Andy Lakatosh:

But I did have one interesting thing, I like the way that you phrased it of you guys made a decision. And then you had to deal with the outcry of people wanting something. I like that word outcry, because I just call it crying because you’re never going to please everyone. And one of the things that I learned being on the track committee, because before getting on the track committee, I was like, “This is very simple. This is what makes the most sense. And this is what we should do, because this is going to be the best thing for everybody involved. And so let’s go do it.”

Andy Lakatosh:

And then I got on the track committee and realized, “Oh no, some people will argue their point until they are blue in the face just to get what they want.” It becomes very frustrating. And one of the things that came up all the time was for track nationals, where they would be, when they would be, what the schedule should be. And I learned that you’ll never please everybody and that someday, you just have to make a decision. And so I’m sure that people that are listening would be interested to know what the bid process is. And if you could explain a little bit how locations are selected for nationals. And that sometimes, it might seem logical to do it at a particular location but that location might not have even put their hand up that they have any interest in it whatsoever. And that can really make things difficult. And the average athlete does not see the behind the scenes of how those things get selected or the kind of internal objectives of moving it around the country. So if you could explain a little bit some of the insight into how that works, not that any of the people that really like to cry are going to listen particularly to this or remember it, but it’s worth, I find it interesting when I learned it.

Tara McCarthy:

Yeah, sure. So I think one of the biggest misperceptions from our membership is that… I’m trying to think how to phrase this. People want us to go to certain places. People living in New York want us to go to the northeast. People living in California want us to stick to the West Coast. And while it seems really easy from an outsider perspective, just to say, “Hey, this city already has a crit, you should come here.” Our national championships, as you mentioned Andy, are bid out, which means that cities take a look at all of our requirements, and say, “Hey, I’m going to throw our name in the hat.” And throwing the city’s name in the hat means that they actually split the expense of the event with us. So the destinations-

Andy Lakatosh:

Which can be huge.

Tara McCarthy:

– that put their name in the hat actually have a financial requirement and service requirement in order to make the event happen. USA Cycling could not financially host a national championship on our own, so we find some great partners who are interested. They want to show off their destination to our membership, and we choose from the best destination of the bids that we receive. So like I said, very easy to say, “Hey, come to our town.” That town does have to put up money, services, hotel room blocks for our staff. And sometimes we don’t get bids from places where people want to go. And we choose the best option amongst the bids that we do receive.

Tara McCarthy:

And so that I think is the number one misperception about how we choose locations for our national championships. And for anyone listening, if you do have a city that you think would be a good fit, go talk to your city officials, talk to your convention and visitor’s bureau or your sports commission. We’d be happy to have a conversation with them. We definitely want to get to various places around the country but we can’t go there unless we have the support of your city.

Tara McCarthy:

So I think that’s number one. And then number two is the scheduling portion of this. We have 15 to 18 national championships a year. We have a staff of four, one right now, but a staff of four normally that manages all of those national championships. So you have to consider, can you have something on top of another national championship? World championships, where do those fall in the schedule? Do we want to be close to a world championship? Do we want to be six weeks away, four weeks away, et cetera? Other high level events, including sanctioned and unsanctioned events. So for instance, let’s see, Belgian Waffle Ride, are participants going to choose that over Masters Road? And how many weeks apart should those be?

Tara McCarthy:

And then we also actually have a lot of conversation with our Canadian counterparts up north and make sure that their calendar and our calendar are flowing well. We do know that folks do travel across the border to compete. And so we don’t want to overlap and take anybody’s participants away. And so those are just some of the things that we take into consideration in terms of dates and locations. I would say that we want to get to a legacy date for our track nationals. I do think it’s important to have a date that people know for the next five years, “This is what it’s going to be. I need to take off work. I need to submit vacation request. I just know when it’s going to be. I know when my training plan needs to be enacted. I know what races I need to hit prior to it.” But every year, the calendar changes and it’s getting harder and harder to come to a decision on September 1 through 7 is going to be Masters Track Nationals, there’s so many moving pieces that getting there has been really challenging. But I would love to get there. And I hope that answered your question. Did I miss any pieces of that, Andy?

Andy Lakatosh:

No, I think that it’s… I remember sitting on the board of directors, you see the financials of what nationals cost, and it’s not a profit, it is a cost. And that definitely factors into and I think our thing is, is that people don’t realize that for us, the velodromes have to take on that cost sharing. And that can be very expensive thing to undertake. And that’s why there’s not a lot of other tracks aside from us in LA and Rock Hill and Indy for collegiates that really want to take on that burden. And so it gives you limited options, and at the same time, you guys want to pick a place that’s going to run a great event, that has the infrastructure, has the staff, has the experience to really knock it out of the park. And yeah, so what your city does and what your township does for, I mean, there’s definitely a huge, you guys have all the metrics to show how much tourism dollars a nationals championship generates. And that’s a big deal to municipalities in terms of getting on board and saying, “Hey, we’re going to spend some money here because it’s going to drive people here, and it’s going to help our economy and stuff.” And now more than ever with hotels suffering, well especially back in the spring suffering for people traveling anywhere, it’s a big impacting factor to local economies.

Joan Hanscom:

Yeah. I mean I think one of the things that we learned during the USGP was there might be a venue that’s in a cyclocross hotbed. But if the city or the municipality doesn’t want you there, if the destination doesn’t want you, everything gets a lot harder. And when you have a partner, like we have here in Discover Lehigh Valley, they want to support events. That makes-

Andy Lakatosh:

Our jobs a lot easier.

Joan Hanscom:

It makes our jobs easier. It makes Tara’s job a lot easier. Having that relationship and instead of it being a sponsorship or whatever, it’s a true partnership. When you have a partnership with your destination, everything is easier in terms of event implementation. And that is such a true thing. That’s why we took cyclocross to Louisville. Everyone’s like, “Louisville, why are you going there with the GP?” And we’re like, “Because we had a partner in the Louisville Sports Commission that was incredible.” And you have to use that as a metric when you’re making decisions, like how much is your partnership going to help the event be better? How much is the local organizing committee going to get local restaurants and bars and attractions on board in addition to hotel rooms or police support, or any of that, permits, any of that stuff that people don’t appreciate about event production is so much easier when your destination really wants you and invests in you being there.

Joan Hanscom:

So yeah, I think that’s an untold story of how these venues are selected, but really, really, really important. I’m glad to hear you’re taking the same approach we are to 2021 though, like going into it with an optimistic outlook.

Tara McCarthy:

Yes.

Joan Hanscom:

Being optimistic, but being realistic as well. I think that’s sort of been our mantra, be optimistic, but be realistic. And be ready to pivot if need be. But fingers crossed that we are going to get to have our our Masters Nationals here next year and that you’re going to get to work your butt off at all 18 national championships next summer. I hope to see you hammered and worn out when you get here.

Joan Hanscom:

Yeah, so that was the serious portion of the conversation. For those of you who are listening, I think we touched on it a little bit with Tara’s love of every different bike discipline. But she’s also a complete Renaissance person. And I don’t know that this is completely appreciated by everybody. I view it as like, what wacky thing is Tara going to do next? Because I’m boring and all I do is bikes but Tara is not boring. Tara has done beekeeping, beer brewing, climbing, pottery. You’re obviously an excellent mountain biker. We convinced you, Tom Mahoney and I, we took you to a ballet class. So that was interesting. For those of you who don’t know, both Tom Mahoney and I have an extensive ballet background. That was probably the craziest fun day that I had in the springs just because Tom and I were flashing back to our wannabe ballet dancers. It came back like in a snap for the two of us but you’re a trooper.

Tara McCarthy:

Okay, hang on. Hang on here. We need to talk about this for a minute. So I go to ballet class with Joan and Tom as Joan described are professional dancers in the regular world. And then my friend Jocelyn who told me that, she took a couple dance classes here and there and I was like, “Okay, I’m not going to be like, I’m going to be okay, right? I took Ukrainian dancing when I was a kid for like two weeks. I did ballet and gymnastics when I was six. It will be fine, whatever.” We go, and I can’t even turn my foot a certain way. And Joan and Tom are literally doing a duet of dancing across the floor where I would have thrown up because they were turning so fast. And I look over at Jocelyn, my friend who’s like, “I took [inaudible 00:51:43].”, and she’s totally fine. She looks beautiful and gorgeous and all ballet and I literally was like, “You liars. You all lied to me. I even bought ballet slippers for this stuff. This is ridiculous.” So we went once.

Joan Hanscom:

It was really funny, like Tom and I, we’re doing partnering. It’s astonishing to me probably because I wasn’t thin enough. But had I been 20 pounds lighter, Tom could have gone right into doing lifts, like partnering lifts like we’d never left the ballet studio.

Andy Lakatosh:

That’s so funny.

Joan Hanscom:

It was hilarious. So for all of you guys who have seen Tom Mahoney at multiple national track championships, lo and behold, both Tom and I have an extensive ballet background and it was hilarious. And we will never-

Tara McCarthy:

Don’t go to ballet class with them, anyone.

Joan Hanscom:

Yeah, so how are the bees?

Tara McCarthy:

So the bees are good. My original hive swarmed this spring and luckily, I was home and for those of you that don’t know what a swarm is basically, the hive split in half because it was growing too large for the hive that was in. And so I actually got to scoop up thousands of bees that decided to park in a lilac bush on my property. And so now I have two hives. I don’t think the second hive is going to survive the winter. They didn’t fare very well. And I think they actually might have swarmed when I wasn’t home. So I think that we’ll be back down to one hive next year. So they’re doing pretty good. I haven’t really messed with them too much. I just kind of let them do what they wanted to this summer.

Joan Hanscom:

Nice. Are you still climbing? I miss CityROCK.

Tara McCarthy:

I haven’t been, I’ve been a little leery about being indoors with other folks and they have great safety precautions in place. But I haven’t been climbing, no.

Joan Hanscom:

CrossFit? We forgot to mention Tara is a big CrossFitter.

Tara McCarthy:

So I have been doing some CrossFit workouts at home, nothing like being in the gym. I did go to Olympic Lifting last Saturday for the first time in six or seven months and I was a little bit sore on Sunday and yesterday. So I’m going to try and ease my way back into the gym depending upon how I feel about it.

Joan Hanscom:

Yeah, I’m still gym nervous. I know Andy’s been going to the gym a lot. I instead chose to invest in a 35 pound kettlebell, which describes the extent of my lifting at this point, which is very sad. Let’s just say-

Tara McCarthy:

If you can even like buy kettlebells right now.

Joan Hanscom:

No, I found one on Amazon. I was very excited to get my hands on my 35 pound kettlebell because I thought, “Well, if I got heavier, I would just kill myself or drop it through the floor of my apartment building and kill my downstairs neighbors.” And so that is the extent of my lifting at this point, but I will have to get back to it at some point. Anything else in the wacky Renaissance Tara world that you’ve been doing lately?

Tara McCarthy:

So this year, since I’ve actually been home and not traveling every other week, I’ve been foraging-

Joan Hanscom:

Like for pine nuts, for example?

Tara McCarthy:

Yes. So Joan introduced me to this wonderful liqueur called the zirbenschnaps. And basically it’s Austrian, right?

Joan Hanscom:

Yeah, Austrian.

Tara McCarthy:

Yeah. So it’s an Austrian pine cone liqueur. And so I actually forage some pinyon pine cones this spring and I made pinyon pine zirbenschnaps. And one of our friends Brent was over. We were brewing beer last night. And so we actually tried it. It’s not too bad. It definitely has that drying in your mouth factor. And it doesn’t have quite the warming nature of what we had in Hartford, Connecticut at Cyclocross Nationals. But we were indoors. We weren’t outside in 20 degree weather for six days. So I might have to take it snowboarding and check out that property of it.

Joan Hanscom:

I was talking to Jim Miller yesterday, and he was in Austria for Mountain Bike World Championships. And I immediately, I had just seen your post on Instagram of your pine cone schnapps that you made and I was like, “Damn it, why didn’t I ask Jim to bring back pine cone schnapps?” I was so mad because my old business partner Bruce Fina lives in Austria and so he would, special request, bring me back goodies from Austria when he would come over to the States for the races. And one of the things that I always requested was Haribo with sugar, as opposed to the corn syrup that you buy here, so real Haribo, pumpkin seed oil, which now I’ve discovered you can actually buy at the Wegmans here in Pennsylvania. I’ve never seen it any other grocery stores anywhere else I’ve lived but pine cone schnapps was the third. So it was Haribo, pumpkin seed oil and pine cone schnapps. And then I saw that you actually successfully made the pine cone schnapps and I was very, very jealous because it is good. But yeah, I think that might have been like our super spreader event of the flu in Hartford that year because we all ended up getting the flu and we were all drinking out of the bottle of pine cone schnapps at various points during the week. And so that may have contributed to us all getting the flu.

Tara McCarthy:

That’s how we get through Cyclocross Nationals at USA Cycling. We just carry a bottle of schnapps with us every day.

Joan Hanscom:

Yeah, the pine cone schnapps, it was good. I miss that stuff. So if anybody knows how to make pine cone schnapps, send them to The Velodrome or Bruce if you’re listening, special delivery from Austria because it is the season where you want pine cone schnapps. So, setting all of that aside, Tara, we do what every podcast in the world does. We do the wacky round of questions at the end. So we’re going to put you on the spot for the wacky, wacky questions. This one is courtesy of Maura Beuttel, who is our new event marketing coordinator. If tomatoes are considered a fruit, does that make ketchup jelly?

Tara McCarthy:

Well, Maura, I made tomato jam this year, so yes.

Joan Hanscom:

So yes. Okay, ketchup is in fact jelly. In keeping with the 2020 theme, the apocalypse, asteroid or volcanic eruption?

Tara McCarthy:

I think I’m going to go for surprise, volcano.

Joan Hanscom:

Okay, could happen in Colorado. You never know. There are volcanic type things there. Favorite beer.

Tara McCarthy:

Oh, boy. This one’s hard. I don’t know. Oh well, actually, you know what? I can’t remember what brewery it is. But it’s called Princess Yum Yum. It’s a raspberry Kolsch. And I know Kolsches should be fairly even flavored and adding raspberry just kind of knocks that to the side but it is so refreshingly delicious. If you can find that anywhere you can buy beer, you should purchase it. It’s Princess Yum Yum. It might be the Denver Beer Co.

Joan Hanscom:

Okay, Princess Yum Yum. Candy corn, yes or no?

Tara McCarthy:

Just the white part of it.

Joan Hanscom:

Interesting. And finally, favorite foods, sweet or savory?

Tara McCarthy:

Savory. There are multiple times a week where I just eat popcorn for dinner.

Joan Hanscom:

Healthy, okay.

Tara McCarthy:

So much fiber.

Joan Hanscom:

On that note, Tara, we are going to let you go. You’ve been an exceedingly good sport, asking I mean answering all our wacky questions and diving into some of the more serious stuff as well. So we want to thank you for taking the time with us. And hopefully we’ll get you back in 2021 when we know if our optimism was the right way to go. But yeah, fingers crossed and stay well and thank you again.

Tara McCarthy:

Yeah, thank you all.

Joan Hanscom:

Bye.

Tara McCarthy:

Bye. This has been the Talk of the T-Town podcast with host Joan Hanscom and Andy Lakatosh. Thanks for joining us for this week’s episode brought to you by the B. Braun Medical Inc. Head on over to our website, thevelodrome.com, where you can check out the show notes and subscribe so you’ll never miss an episode.