BRAC a Year in Review and What’s Ahead with President Andy Johnson

303Endurance caught up with Bicycle Racing Association of Colorado (BRAC) President, Andy Johnson to take a look back at 2020 and all the challenges and how they will help BRAC moving forward in 2021 and beyond to benefit not only bike racing community, but the cycling community in general.

303: Historically, summarize the role BRAC played in the biking community;  in other words what does BRAC do for those not familiar? 

Andy: The Bicycle Racing Association of Colorado has been the support organization for bike racing events in Colorado and surrounding area for nearly 45 years.  BRAC’s role has been to provide race calendar coordination, race officials to USAC sanctioned events, race resources to event organizers through our “race kit,” and now a new role is provide COVID-19 logistical support guidance.  

BRAC is a local association of USA Cycling, and so the organization’s main role is to be an officiating arm of USAC and we are partially funded by USAC through the number of racer days (the term describing each time a participant toes the line at a race) each year specifically for USAC sanctioned races.  There was a short time in BRAC’s history when the organization was its own governing body, similar to USAC but only specific to Colorado and our surrounding region, however most bike racers now will know BRAC as an extension of USAC. Historically, BRAC’s role in Colorado cycling community has been to specifically provide support for traditional bike racing events, like road races, criterium, hill climbs, time trials, cyclocross, and track; however, BRAC has provided support for recreation rides, like the Triple Bypass, and we have hosted numerous training clinics and intros-to-bike-racing events over the years.

303: When COVID hit and the races first started cancelling and then it became apparent the road racing season was all but lost, how did BRAC keep the doors open as an entity facing lost revenue from races and perhaps lost memberships?

Andy: We were extremely fortunate in 2020 because much of our annual budget was funded on the front end through membership and license renewals that occurred at the end of 2019.  Being front-loaded with a significant amount of our annual budget, we were able to keep our staff employed through the duration of 2020 and we were able to focus on long term planning for the organization.  We also took a number of measures to re-assess our budget throughout the year to reduce the overall burn-rate as much as possible.  

One of our goals for 2020 was to strengthen our relationships with USAC and other important cycling organizations throughout Colorado.  The relationships with Bicycle Colorado and USA Cycling were instrumental in strengthening our role in the cycling community and to ensure that whatever races were able to move forward did so with success.  The coordinated efforts to advise the Governor’s Office on providing unique opportunities specific to cycling events in our COVID environment were done so with the guidance and support of Bicycle Colorado and we had the full support of USAC on those efforts.  Re-opening the door to running select cycling events, most notably our cyclocross season and the Karen Hornbostel Memorial Time Trail series, allowed us to make it through this extremely lean year and keep our staff employed.

303: Once the dust settled a bit, describe the process BRAC went through to start putting a plan together to bring racing back. Who did you work with and what were some key things BRAC did to make it possible to begin racing again.

Andy: Well, it took quite a long time, much longer than expected, for the dust to settle.   Early pandemic assessments indicated that we would resume a more normal sense of day-to-day life by June or early July, however those overly optimistic predictions quickly turned pessimistic for any sense of normalcy in 2020.  Staff and the board spent a number of weeks assessing possible outcomes to the organization looking at everything from limited racing to no racing in 2020 and how that would effect the organization’s overall financial health.  A decent amount of racing allowed BRAC to “keep the lights on,” however limited racing was going to make things extremely difficult.  We were also very concerned about the financial health of our event organizers, particularly those who’s livelihood depends on successful events and for our club sponsored events who had already expended their 2020 resources to put on their specific event.

We had two tracks we were wanting to follow: 1) learn as much about the pandemic as possible and how it effects special events, like bike races; 2) learn about the different perspectives on the pandemic from our membership.  Staff and the board spent a considerable amount of time working with local and state government, as well as talking with major event organizers in Colorado, USAC, and Bicycle Colorado to explore ways for cycling events to move forward in 2020.  Staff and the board also received feedback from two membership surveys and hosted two separate Town Hall-style public forums to hear from our membership.  We learned a few things:  we were not destined to become experts in the complicated nature of the pandemic; and, the vast majority of our membership wanted to continue racing.

If cycling events were to move forward through granted permission by the governing authorities, it was to be our role to help advise how those cycling events could be successful while following the public health orders put out by the Governor’s Office.  With the help of Bicycle Colorado, USAC, and other individuals, our Executive Director, Shawn Farrell, authored the “COVID-19 Mitigation Operations Manual,” which specifically outlined how each of the different bike racing formats (including gravelers) could move forward following COVID protocol.  This document quite simply helped open the door to racing in Colorado.

303: It feels like BRAC is sort of taking on the role of advocates as well as helping organize, talk about your relationship with USA Cycling and Bicycle Colorado and where you fit in, especially as it relates to advocacy?

Andy: One of BRAC’s long term goals is to expand our membership beyond the traditional bike racing and capture the attention of gravel events, mountain biking, recreation rides, and even club rides.  We would even like to develop a stronger relationship with the multi-sport community given there is so much overlap in terms of lifestyle and interests.  We can’t make any of those relationships happen and we can’t help strengthen the larger Colorado cycling community if don’t also take a larger role in effecting how everyone comes together.  That said, we are not a bike advocacy group.  That role is masterfully done by Bicycle Colorado, and to be quite honest we owe a great amount of gratitude to that organization for all they have done to hold space for the greater Colorado cycling community.  In addition, I would like to make mention of Deirdre Moynihan’s leadership in 2020 and her years of unwavering commitment to cycling events around Colorado.  Anyone who knows De knows that she has been the glue that holds together many of the successful cycling events around Colorado.  Bicycle Colorado and Deirdre helped bring together all the big players in Colorado cycling events to talk about how to move forward in the COVID environment, and we all worked to find some successful outcome for the events that were in jeopardy (which was basically all of them).

303: A few crits happened in 2020, but making the Karen Hornbostel Time Trial series happen and getting the cyclocross season going seems to be two major accomplishments in this difficult environment. How did that happen? Who was instrumental and does this set the tone for a successful road season in 2021? 

Andy: BRAC hosts the CO State Time Trial each year, which was one of the first successful events to run this summer.  Aside from that, BRAC relies entirely on clubs and event organizers for the events that run in Colorado.  Time trials were a relatively easy event type to conceptualize running in the COVID environment, and the majority of our members who answered the survey said they would participate in a time trial.  We worked together with the hardworking COBRAS club to help support the rescheduling of the Karen Hornbostel Time Trial series, but it was Piep van Heuven of Bicycle Colorado, who leveraged her connections with Cherry Creek State Park, that ultimately made the event a logistical reality.

Criterium and road races were an entirely different story.  Both types of those race types, and especially criterium races, were much more difficult to conceptualize as being able to move forward.  A few things happened: the State PHO called out endurance sport events, particularly cycling events, as “unique” and allowed those events to essentially run as they typically would once the event was started; and second, we had event organizers with the gumption to make racing happen.  Barry Lee and John Haley made heroic efforts to run extremely successful criterium events at the Colorado State Patrol track in Golden.  They were fortunate that Jefferson County had received approval for PHO variances allowing for higher participants for outdoor events, but it was their hard work that blazed the trail for their success and other similar events to occur.  They had the added pressure of counties in Colorado observing them, like Boulder County who was evaluating whether they would allow similar events to occur in their jurisdiction.  They, of course, were resoundingly successful.
I think what has truly set the stage for 2021 is the success of our cyclocross season.  Both Without Limits and John Haley demonstrated that cycling events can run following public health guidelines, and can do so within the context of somewhat “normal” racing.  We knew from our surveys and the general buzz within our membership that there was a pent-up demand to race.  

I think we all were a bit surprised at the overall success of each event, and how similar they felt to the racing we have become accustomed to (with some very obvious differences).  One thing we were particularly concerned about was the change in the overall vibe that attracts so many to cycling events and to cyclocross in particular.  Without spectators, team tents, food vendors, etc., we though the overall feeling of being at the races would be diminished.  That was far from the truth, and it truly speaks to the power of simply toeing-the-line with your fellow competitor to gain that sense of community, and I can’t say enough how good it felt to be out there racing with friends and feeling that camaraderie amongst everyone involved.  Thanks goes to Lance Panigutti of Without Limits, John Haley, and Barry Lee for holding that space for us to be together doing what we love to do so much.  They definitely filled the emotional cups up for so many of our members.

303: You have mentioned in conversations that once BRAC took a breath, because of COVID, you took advantage of the opportunity with no races to re-examine the organization and look at ways BRAC could better serve the cycling community? Can you describe what areas you looked at what changes you identified needed to happen?

Andy: Absolutely!  This is one of the things we are most excited about, and much of it actually started toward the end of 2019.  2020 just afforded us the time and space to really focus on some organizational changes.  BRAC has served a really important role in the bike racing community for decades, however traditional bike racing event types have seen a slow decline nation-wide for years.  We are no longer the mainstay in cycling events, and have become somewhat of a niche sport.  Simply put, bike racing can no longer support bike racing financially, and its time for BRAC to find its role within the growing context of Colorado’s cycling community.  There are now so many ways to enjoy time pedaling on two wheels, and we are very aware that within our own membership many enjoy gravel, mountain bike, and recreational ride events.  We have so many great cycling organizations in Colorado and some of the most successful large-scale event organizers promoting cycling.  We are somewhat the envy of other parts of the nation when it comes to cycling.

But, ironically there is no organization holding that larger support space for cycling event organizers and participants as a whole in Colorado with a comprehensive event event calendar.  The BRAC board and staff find ourselves motivated and uniquely qualified to help provide a comprehensive message about all events that involve pedaling on two wheels.  We simply say that we want to widen our lens to explore all the avenues of fun pedaling on two wheels and promote a cohesive message about our amazing cycling community in Colorado – and do so by advocating for all the different types of cycling events available to us.  This is not a dilution of our current bike racing mission, but rather an enhancement of our membership’s interests and to align it more closely with the overall Colorado cycling community’s interests.  We will still put a significant amount of our energy supporting all the traditional bike racing events we have enjoyed for decades.

An important topic of discussion this year has been diversity, equity and inclusion within the sport of bike racing.  We have started what we call the Diversity Committee made of two board members and four BRAC members.  The goal is create specific DEI language embedded in our mission statement that speaks to our wish for bike racing for all (which will probably quickly be changed to cycling events for all).  As we widen our lens on cycling events, its natural (and quite honestly a long time coming) to also widen our lens on those who participate in cycling events.  There is a much broader population wanting to engage in cycling and in cycling events, and we would like to find ways to help make the sport more inviting and more inclusive on the whole.

303: You have mentioned a new name for BRAC, are you ready to reveal that at this time and if so what is it? 

Andy: Years ago when BRAC was under different leadership, the organization was keen on creating a URL that speaks to the larger vision of BRAC’s role in the Colorado cycling community.  So, if approved at Club Council in February, the Bicycle Racing Association of Colorado (which is a mouthful) and BRAC (which is always awkward to say and explain) will be known as ColoradoCycling.Org.  The name change affords us the ability to talk about cycling and cycling events in the broader context of our Colorado community.

303: Looking at the biking community, and thinking one year from now, assuming we will have a somewhat normal race season, describe BRAC’s role in the general cycling community if all goes to plan?

BRAC (ColoradoCycling.Org) is one of the largest and most successful USAC local associations in the nation.  We are proud of the leadership we provide to bike racing and cycling events in Colorado, and we are excited to continue deepening our relationship with USAC in 2021.  As USAC’s mission broadens we want to continue being one of their most successful partners in that process.  More details to come on excited changes for BRAC in 2021.

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