18 years Don Edberg has been the driving force behind the largest mountain bike
series in the nation Ė the Wisconsin Off-Road Series (WORS). While going sometimes unnoticed outside
the Upper Midwest the WORS series routinely hosts numbers of riders that would
make other race directors mad with envy.
week anywhere between 650 to 1,000+ mountain bikers travel up to 4 hours or
more to race in Edbergís events. What makes the WORS series so unique? It
appears this state series in a land dominated by beer and the Green Bay Packers
has uncovered the often-elusive secret to sustainable mountain bike racing.
he shares some of his secrets with MTB Race News along with the insights that
have made him the most successful mountain bike promoter of all time.
News - You run a series that many consider the Gold Standard in the USA. What
are the keys to WORS success? And why do you think so many others have failed?
Don Edberg -
originated in 1992 when the directors of three small races agreed that it would
be beneficial to create a series.
None of us were in it to make money. The primary motivation was to increase local racing and
riding opportunities. The
evolution to what is WORS today began with the sharing of resources. For example, our first racer handbook,
in 1995, reduced individual event cost by combining the mailing of race flyers. We also saved on awards by combining
used to tell everyone the secret to WORS success was that I didnít have to remember
my mistakes for a whole year I could fix them at the next event in two weeks. While that was helpful, the key to WORS
success really boils down to cooperation and education. As a business model, WORS is a
partnership of dedicated race directors, their local organizing committees, a very
hardworking group of WORS volunteers and myself. These individuals are passionate about the sport and have
bought into the principal that WORS events allow as many mountain bikers as
possible to participate in safe friendly fun competition. Combining events that are willing to set
aside some of their individual goals for the good of the series has been huge.
donít know that so many others have failed, but it is hard to succeed if your
measure of success or failure depends purely on financial gain. I am always striving to make the racer
experience better. Racers are not just
customers. They are our partner in
running great events. Listening to
them is essential.
News - Unlike many MTB events, your races include significant prizes, both
monetary and merchandise, for doing well. How does this help your series?
Don Edberg -
has only been possible because of the number of participants we have and our
generous sponsors. In the big
picture the awards are relatively small tokens for the time and commitment the
racers bring to the series. On the
one hand, I wish they could be much bigger but, on the other, I never want the
awards to be the primary motivation.
We are always looking for ways to recognize as many racers as possible. We found out a long time ago that
volunteers and racers alike really appreciate it when someone notices their
News - The Border Battle between Wisconsin and Minnesota is always a highlight
of the season. Tell us how this came about and why there is so much excitement
surrounding this event.
Don Edberg -
and the Minnesota Mountain Bike Series have strong ties. Greg Blasko, one of the originators of
the Minnesota series, was a consultant to WORS when we took our timing and
scoring in-house in 1998. Adam
Schmidt, the race director for the Border Battle, has long history with the
Minnesota series and has run numerous events in both series. The venue is at least a 4 hour drive
for many of the WORS regulars, so creating the rivalry event seemed a logical
choice to maintain the high level of competition and give racers a taste of
each others series. Bragging
rights most always trump awards.
News - How do you create courses that can excite and handle 1000+ racers on
race day? Do you change the courses every year?
Don Edberg -
is a constant learning process. I
always get out and ride the courses (in advance for new venues) and then
discuss with the race director and chief of course how we can maximize the race
experience for the greatest number of racers. Often trails that are extremely
fun to ride donít make the best race course. It is often hard to leave out a section of trail that took a
lot of work to create.
Communication is key. We
have a lot of experience, but we still make mistakes. We recognize those mistakes and work very hard to keep from
making them again.
timing and breakdown of our races along with the lead-out from the start are
paramount to making it work. We
strive to keep courses fun, challenging and interesting, but also firmly
believe that a race is about racing the other racers more than the course. The fast guys most always go fast
and their skills come out, but the key is keep it fun on the other end as
well. Our best-attended races have
generally been those that allow for the highest average speed. Someone once said that the one way you
can make any trail more technical is to ride it faster.
News - Many race series in the US go without USAC sanctioning. What are the
benefits to you as a promoter and to the racers that come with USAC
sanctioning? What are some of the downfalls?
Don Edberg -
sanctioning WORS events with USA Cycling, our events, racers, and WORS receive
the best possible insurance in the sport.
It also puts our racers on the map, as top racers get exposure through
national media and juniors can qualify for development camps. Also, by raising the profile of the
series all riders are able to take a little more pride in their
downfalls are primarily related to time.
There is the time that it takes to do the paperwork that is necessary to
reduce risk, the time it takes to work through the system to respond to the
desires of the racers, and the time it takes to educate racers on why a strong
national governing body is in the best interest of the majority of those racing
mountain bikes. It is much easier
to complain from outside than it is to get involved to make things better.
News - 2011 Is the 2nd year that a WORS race will be a part of the Pro XCT. What benefit does this designation
bring to you as a promoter and what benefit does it bring to your amateur
Don Edberg -
inaugural Subaru Cup Pro XCT event was a significant entrance for WORS to the
national stage. Having run a
successful event that was very well received by WORS racers, the top pros in
the US, the industry, and the press in attendance at the event has created the
interest to allow us to bring this yearís event up a notch. There was significant skepticism by
many regarding the benefit to WORS racers, but those that participated as
racers and spectators last year had a truly great experience. There is nothing like being able to interact
with the best of the sport. The
pros were very impressed by the enthusiasm of our racers and our racers were
impressed by how approachable and appreciative the pros were. Our ultimate goal, much like the
history of WORS, is to get our sport back to the level of participation and
awareness that mountain biking created in the mid nineties. There is not only strength in numbers,
but it makes the sport better on so many levels.
learned a lot from running the event and want to see just how good we can make
News - Do you believe the model of forcing Cat 1 and above riders to purchase
an annual license is reasonable?
Don Edberg -
as a member of the USA Cycling Board of Trustees for the discipline of mountain
biking I was in on the mountain bike category reorganization and although I
feel that the current system is not perfect, it is an improvement on what
preceded it. In my experience
there still is a lot of education needed about the new categories. Cat 1 was never meant to be a straight-up
replacement for Expert. It is
supposed be the top amateur level of the sport with an eventual goal of the Pro
category becoming a designation of profession rather than a description of ability. In other words, a top Cat 1 does not
move up to the Pro category unless he or she becomes a fulltime mountain bike
racer. We still have a long way to
go. When racers understand that
Cat 1 is the top level of amateur competition, licensing requirement just goes
along with the commitment to compete at the level.
News - If you had to choose one category of racers that makes or breaks the
sport, what would it be?
Don Edberg -
2, they are the real core of mountain bike racing and to keep the sport growing
the majority of races need to focus on them and their support (family and
friends). The sport needs them and
they need the sport as a source of entertainment and good health.
Race News - What is the strangest thing that you have ever had to deal with at
a race you promoted?
Don Edberg -
have been a few, but probably our best recovery would have to be in 1996 when
we found out less than three weeks before our series opener that the venue
where it was to be held had been foreclosed on and we would not have access to trails
at the area or staff to man the race.
A racer who grew up in the area helped by securing a venue and
developing a suitable trail, while I was able to put together a race staff of
family and friends allowing us to get the series started on time just two miles
from the original venue. The substitute
venue is currently in the series and boasts a very active local organization
and one of our most challenging courses.
Race News - Have you ever raced? If so, what category and what was your favorite
part of racing?
Don Edberg -
I fell in love with mountain bike racing in 1983 after doing my first
race. Near the end of the race, I
passed a couple of Cat 2 road racers (they would have killed me on road) and I
was hooked. One of my early motivations
in running the series was to have races that I enjoyed racing. I raced most all the WORS races until
2001 at which time WORS became a fulltime job. WORS has a category we call Comp (what I would like to see
USA Cycling make Cat 2 and add a Cat 4 for mountain biking). It was created to help balance our
fields (most Comps would race with Sport otherwise, making their fields very
large), to create a bridge to Elite for men (most WORS races deal with a five
mile lap and Sports do 3 laps and Elite men 5) and a spot for racers with
close-to Cat 1 skills for whom an extra lap would make it much harder to go to
work on Monday. In WORS, I race
the Comp category. Now I race one
or two WORS races a year, however after working from 6:30 a.m. right up to a 1:30
race, it is more like riding than racing.
I do race what we in the Midwest refer to as the triple crown -three
point to point races- the Ore to Shore, Chequamegon 40 and the Iceman. The point to point format is a real
hassle, but having large numbers of people to race with is the draw for me. If I didnít race, I donít think I would
still be promoting events as I fear I would lose my passion for the Sport.
best part of a race is the interaction with other riders. You could be in fiftieth, but if you
are battling back and forth with one or two other riders, youíre having a great
Race News - Which event is your favorite to promote?
Don Edberg -
the most part I donít promote individual events I promote WORS as a whole. However, I do have some favorite events
within the series. One is our
long-time finale of the series.
It is held in two city parks in Sheboygan, WI. The parks are connected by a viaduct under the highway that
runs between them. To be able to
have a fun mountain bike course in town is awesome and the local organizing
committee and community involvement is incredible.
should say the Subaru Cup, because it was an amazing event last year and it is
the only event in the series that WORS runs without a local organizing
committee. My brother and sisters,
my daughter, a lot of my daughterís friends, many great people I have met
through WORS, and our fantastic sponsors make the event possible. Leigh Smith, our chief of timing and
scoring does an amazing job with all of our events, but goes way beyond to make
all of the intricacies of the Subaru Cup work. We are working on increasing
community involvement for the event, but it is not very close to a significant
population. I donít think I would
have had the courage to take the risk of running the event without the
additional marketing and media savvy Claire Cannon has brought to WORS over the
last several years. My hesitation
stems from how much work the event is to put on, but as one friend always tells
me, "What have you got to complain about, you only work 12 days a year.Ē (For those who donít know, there are
twelve races in the series.)
Race News - Who is your favorite all time racer? Why?
Don Edberg -
Lalonde. He is close to folk hero
in WORS and Midwest mountain biking.
He won the series riding primarily Singlespeed bikes in 2007 & 2008. He wrote a great blog and is an awesome
ambassador of the sport. Instead
of training, he would "practice his bike.Ē He rarely races now as he is spending most of his time
at his computer doing graphic design for Trek. We miss him a lot at the races.
Race News - What advice would you give to:
friends with your local bike shop.
fun and remember quality not quantity when it comes to training. You have to be able to ride one
mile fast before you can ride twenty fast.
- Join a
club or team.
in a learn to race clinic.
some time to trail maintenance and support advocacy.
- Make a
schedule, publicize it, and make it happen.
small, donít try to do too much.
on the elements of your event that will benefit the greatest number of
become the chief of course.
You canít direct the event from out on the course. You need to be accessible to as
many people as possible. The
race is about the people, participants, volunteers, staff, families, and
good people to do your timing and scoring. Timely results and awards are highly valued by all
- Be eternally
grateful to your volunteers.
- If you
are in charge, you are responsible.
Own up to mistakes and try to make them right.
sure you have plenty of portable toilets and water.
- Work on
your skills and speed.
Endurance training is for when you are physically matured.
farther seldom makes you faster, but riding faster will help you ride
News - How do you think the sport can attract more youth? How can the sport
assist entry into racing for youth?
Don Edberg -
more family friendly the Sport is the better. Kids come from families. If mom or dad ride there is a much greater likelihood that
the kids will too. For parents
that donít race, we need to make sure that they have every opportunity to see
their son or daughter as they race.
Race courses need to be spectator friendly.
development of High School racing shows great promise for getting more juniors
excited about the sport. That development
is highly reliant on family involvement, making it an excellent vehicle for the
needs to be local trail access, but that is far from enough. The creation of a complete network to
promote mountain biking and mountain bike racing as an activity that is both
fun and social is the real challenge.
Too many times programs have the organizersí rather than the
participantsí goals in mind. We
donít need to be training young riders, we need to be offering them
opportunities to hangout with their friends, make new friends, and have fun.