Enthusiasm Breeds Success: Nicole Freedman

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It was a tight race, but in the end the only competitor unencumbered by a big foam head, Lucky and Leprechaun, mascot of the Boston Centics, won the Boston Mayor’s Cup, crossing the line ahead of the Red Sox’s Wally the Green Monster, the Bruins’ Blades and Baldwin, Boston College’s bald eagle. Was it the day’s greatest athletic achievement? Probably not – that honor was bestowed to the men and women contesting the professional criteriums later in the day. But, in the days leading up to last month’s Hub on Wheels and the TD Bank Mayor’s Cup Professional Criterium, promoter Nicole Freedman was looking forward to the fervent flailings of the costumed critters, and the small children who preceded them, more then the burritos, pros, or massages that accompanied the race.

“Between the kid’s race and the mascot race, it’s a toss up of which is more fun,” she said three days before the event.

Hub on Wheels has become a Boston fixture and a celebration of bike culture in Bean Town, with the professional criterium as its centerpiece since 2009.

In only two years, former pro Freedman has created the TD Bank Mayor’s Cup, a top-level race drawing thousands of spectators to at Boston’s City Hall Plaza. The race offers a $20,000 total purse for both men and women. After a successful debut, the event gained traction on Sept. 26, with fierce competition among pro and elite-amateur men and women.

Freedman, who administers Boston’s bicycle programs for Mayor Thomas Menino, organized both of the race’s two editions, and the attached Hub on Wheels (HOW), a city-wide, family-friendly ride designed to showcase improvements the city has made for cyclists, and which draws about 4,000 participants for 10-, 25-, and 50-mile routes.

Hub on Wheels is a fundraiser for Boston’s “Technology Goes Home” program, which aims to prepare Boston residents who do not have access to computers to work in a computerized workplace by placing technologies in homes.

After four successful years of HOW, Freedman said that a pro race was conceived as a way to showcase the city, and it worked: 10,000 spectators showed up to cheer on racers in the first edition in 2009. Cold wind and threatening rain kept turnout slightly lower in 2010, but interest in the race was increasing: the men’s race filled to its 135-rider limit three days before the race, and registrars sat on a long wait list.

“I’m not surprised to see the men’s field full. It’s a downtown course, with a great prize list, and there’s an energy and excitement to being right downtown in Boston,” said Freedman “There’s great excitement with Hub in the morning and pro race in the evening. It’s a great way to end the season.”

It was a great way for Bissell Pro Cycling’s Daniel Holloway, national crit champ to end his season, taking the win after lapping the field with five others. In a masterstroke, the HOW finish line was along the crit course, guaranteeing that more people would be exposed to the sport, even with cold and wind.

The key to the race’s success, said Freedman, was modeling the Mayor’s Cup on other successful races.

“I got a lot of help, and modeled it after some the best races,” said Freedman, naming the Athens Twighlight Criterium, and the Charolotte Criterium as some of the most impressive events she’d participated in during her career. Like most race promoters, Freedman used any knowledge and experience available to her. Dave Pelletier, who promoted a series of criteriums around the country, became an important consultant.

“He’s a genius in envisioning these races and we could not have done it without him,” said Freedman.

Input from promoters of California’s Sea Otter Cycling Classic and Philadelphia’s International Cycling Championship respectively offered lessons on planning a festival and attracting the best athletes.

A note to promoters of races at the local level: Freedman said the most important step to attracting top talent such as the Bissel, Team Mountain Khakis, United Health Care, Trek-Livestrong, and Team Type 1 is good organization.

And money.

Fortunately for Freedman in a time when major races are folding due to a lack of sponsors, title Sponsor TD Bank signed on for three years in 2009, securing the race at least through 2011. In addition, the race has seen support from an enviable number of businesses interested in supporting the sport, Boston’s improvements to cycling, and the event itself.

“We have fantastic sponsors,” she said. In addition to the major companies putting up the big money, lots of smaller businesses contributed as well. “We have the support of a number of the local bike shops, I think people get it that this is a very important event to the city.”

But money aside, an event like HOW and the accompanying criteriums has an even greater intrinsic value.

“This event showcases the city,” said Freedman. “I lived here my whole life and never knew how bike-friendly Boston was. That’s more important than any economic impact – to bring energy and excitement around the mayor’s cycling initiative. The city’s been working on the bike program for three years now, and the real attraction of the race was that we were ranked worst cycling city in the US, so it’s great to show that we’ve made great strides.”

 

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