What Makes a Good Event Great?

10.3.2011 | 11:59 am

What is it that makes a good event great?

It’s not as simple a question as you might think. Or maybe it is, and the simplicity misses me. But the fact is, some events — whether it’s a race or a big ride or a GranFondo — are OK, some are bad, somer are good, and a few are great.

I ask this because, so many times while riding Levi’s GranFondo yesterday, people would remark to me what a fantastic event this is. They had some concrete reasons, and some that had more to do with how the event felt.

Whatever that special sauce is that bumps an event out of “good” and into “great” territory, everyone seemed to agree that Levi’s GranFondo has a lot of it.

The Festa

Thanks to everyone’s generosity, The Hammer and I got to go to the Festa del Fondo, a swanky dinner and auction to help raise money for the charities supported by Levi’s GranFondo.

Then, to my surprise, I was whisked away by an intimidating-looking man man named Yuri, who unceremoniously dumped me into a small, dark room, whereupon a blinding light was shone into my eyes and I was asked a number of questions about what I knew about Levi.

Yes, really.

Except it wasn’t as bad as it seems, because it was actually Citizen Pictures — the people who did the Leadville “Race Across the Sky” documentaries — doing interviews for an upcoming documentary about Levi.

The first question was, “Tell us about how you first met Levi.”

I drew a blank. Just stared at the camera.

Then, thirty seconds or so, I remembered. And told the story, in excruciating detail.

And, as usual, I rambled on for a very long time, while in the back of my head a little voice critiqued me, saying things like, “You’ve completely lost sight of the original question, haven’t you? Do you even remember what it was? Is there something hanging from your nose?”

After Cyndi — the person interviewing me — fell asleep from boredom at my answers, I snuck back upstairs, where dinner was already in progress. This year, dinner was more substantial than last year, with pasta and meat and other food I could recognize pretty well.

There was auctioning. Milling about. Hobnobbing. And I got to introduce Laura — who won the trip to France to ride with Andy — to Michael, who won this particular trip out to meet and ride with Levi.

I have to say, that was a highlight of the trip. I love seeing people enjoying the incredible prizes I get to give away as a side effect of the amazing charity work Team Fatty does.

Then I pulled Michael and his girlfriend over to Levi’s table to introduce them to each other. Michael’s new to riding — in fact at the time he and his girlfriend were pretty much entirely new to riding — but he certainly knows his pro cycling. Better than I do, for sure.

Finally, at the end of the evening, BFOF and GranFondo volunteer Angie arranged for Levi and me to pick up our race packets at the same time.

The thing was, she had arranged for me to get the race plate with the 1 on it. Levi got a homemade race plate, made out of an actual paper plate.

As expected, Levi “persuaded” me to give him back his number.


Group Ride

On Friday morning, top fundraisers (and I) got to go on a group ride with Levi and Odessa out to Forget Me Not Farms, one of the charities the GranFondo supports.

The winners of the GranFondo Trip, Michael and his girlfriend, got a great photo with Levi:


And Michael would afterward tweet:


Yeah, that’s not a bad start to one’s cycling career. Kinda makes you wonder how they’re gonna top that, though.

Hanging out at the Farm was cool.


Though I have to say, that cow looks suspicious of Levi. Almost as if it had been put in a headlock a time or two.

I Gotta Say Thanks

The Hammer and I arrived at the starting line nice and early, which I believe is a first for us. It also turned out to be awesome, because it meant we had time to meet and hang out with other riders.

In particular, Team Fatty riders.

I was hugely excited to come across Janeen “TheNoodleator” McCrae:

Janeen, The Hammer and I would gorge on gelatto together after the race. Janeen would contend that she won, because she ate more. I contend that in an ice cream eating contest, there are no losers. Or maybe it’s that everyone loses. Hard to say.

And Nic:


And David:

I was startled to find that David of Marin, CA, whom I had always been led to believe would be a very tall man, is actually only five feet tall. On his tiptoes.

And Chuck Ibis:

Chuck is as startled as I am bewildered. About what, you may fairly ask? About the fact that we are both so ridiculously handsome, of course.  

And Lee:

Lee Applebaum is the CMO of RadioShack.

I saw Glenn Kasin, who’s the go-to guy for pretty much everything, Team RadioShack-Nissan-Trek-Hershey’s-FTD-Nabisco-FatCyclist.com-Hewlett Packard:

Oh, you haven’t heard about the latest additions to the team name?

I ran across this guy:

For the first time in the history of ever, Levi did not attempt to punch me in the throat, nor did he put me in a headlock. I was grateful.

And, finally, I hung out with an incredibly good-looking woman who looks like she could drop most guys in the climbs, and practically everyone in the flats:

Oh dear. It looks like we accidentally dressed the same again. How embarrassing.

The Ride

Last year, the GranFondo weather was atypical. By which I mean it was warm, perfect, and beautiful. You should watch the video.

This year it was a lot more typical. Which is to say, when we got high up in the mountains, it was windy. And there was fog. And some rain.

But between the new 2011 FatCyclist vest and Smartwool armwarmers, The Hammer and I were never really uncomfortable. And by the time we got out to the coast, the fog and rain and wind dissipated and we could enjoy the scenery.

Still, the mist and fog added something to this ride — an eeriness. A stillness. A sense that — even though you knew there were 7500 other riders out there — you were on your own.

Honestly, I don’t know if there’s an event out there that’s its equal.

You’ll have to trust me on this, because we didn’t take a lot of pictures once we got rolling, due to the fact that The Hammer’s camera fogged up:

No, the fog wasn’t really that bad.

Which brings me to something I’d like advice on: what’s a great point-and-shoot camera for cyclists? I.e., something that can live in a sweaty jersey pocket but still take great pictures, and can be easily — and quickly — operated with gloves on?

Then, after the ride, someone made the crucial error of not realizing that once I begin talking I lose track of time, and made me the MC of a recognition ceremony.

Which started with Levi choking me within an inch of my life:

I still cannot believe that Dave — the announcer guy on the right — didn’t intervene or call the cops or anything.

And then I talked:


And talked:


And talked:


You’ll notice that in all of those photos, it is almost as if I’m the one always doing the talking. While Levi stands there, letting me jabber away. Because, naturally, everyone was there to see me, right?

I am such a dope.

The Heart of the Matter

I’ve been to a lot of events (and even, for the first time, participated in promoting and producing one event) in the past few years, and think — finally — I’ve got a handle on what at least some of the factors are that can make an event good.

There are a few things that pretty much have to be in place in order for an event to happen at all: The course. Course and hazard markings. The starting and finishing areas. Aid stations. Medical and mechanical support. Volunteers.

The thing is, some events feel like these must-haves are items to be checked off a list; they have to be done, so get them over with. just check these items off because they have to be done. Other events treat them with passion, turning gotta-haves into something else: a selling point. A feature.

Take, for example,the Lunch aid station at Levi’s GranFondo. You can grab a pre-made sandwich if you’re in a hurry, or you can go to what is essentially a working deli and have a sandwich made to order. Last year, there was a fresh-squeezed lemonade stand at one of the stations.

At the Park City Point to Point a little over a year ago, when my SS dropped its chain as I rolled into an aid station, a mechanic ran up from the neutral mechanic aid booth and told me he’d have my bike ready to go in five minutes.

Stuff like that isn’t expected at an event. It’s not required to make me attend an event. But when it happens, I tell my friends.

I think that how much you care about your logistics can make the difference between a bad, OK, or good event.

But what about great?

I’m beginning to think that the only way you can have a great event is if it has a great personality. Something that makes it individual. Something that gives it heart.

And I think that something has got to be a person — or people — who inspire everyone around them to want to make the event something special.

Levi’s GranFondo has Levi Leipheimer, as well as the BikeMonkey dynamic duo of Carlos and Greg.

Levi is everywhere at that event. Hanging out with people, checking to see if folks are having fun, taking pictures with everyone who wants.

It’s obvious he loves riding, loves the route, and loves the event. Loves seeing so many people having a great time.

And the BikeMonkey guys, well, they’re no different. They somehow manage to produce an event that has a massive number of people — 7500+ riders! — that still feels personal. Not like you’re one more object on a conveyor belt.

From the course to the aid stations to the giant festival at the finish line, Levi’s GranFondo is one giant rolling party.

And it’s a party I’ll look forward to being at again next year.


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