Event organizer

Great Trip: Take off my runner cap and put on an organizer cap at Stetina’s Paydirt

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Last weekend, my career development took a new step. I took off my runner’s cap and put on one on the other side of the barriers, that of the organizer of the event. The one who is responsible for everyone else’s day. After two years of false starts, first due to Covid and then the Caldor fire at Lake Tahoe, Stetina’s Paydirt has finally opened its doors to 500 souls.

Three years of preparation, the starting line of Stetina’s Paydirt (Photo: Stetina Paydirt)

The Paydirt is a joint venture between me and Bike Monkey, a team of event organizers who are close friends. I create the look of the event, organize both social and traditional media exposure, line up sponsorships, recruit luminaries, and create my ideal itinerary. Then Bike Monkey does the real work: in addition to awkward brainstorming and getting creative with me, they take care of permits, registration, contracts, scheduling, insurance, finances and, in general, concretize the concept. We balance ourselves; and while there’s always a push-pull dynamic back and forth, in the end it works because our friendship transcends business.

Read also: Gallery: Paydirt by Stetina

Together we had created what my best day of gravel riding would look like. Of course there was competition, but hopefully it’s clear to readers now that I didn’t come to the gravel just to race my bike – I would have stayed on the tarmac if I had it desired. I’m serious that I’m in love with the communal lifestyle and adventure. The question was, how could I keep my racing peers happy while focusing on all the runners? Additionally, how could I make a positive difference to our growing discipline?

“In the gravel, you make your own house rules”

Along the Carson River. (Photo: Stetina Paydirt)

To answer this first question, I needed a route that told a story, a route where the distance and vert metrics would be arbitrary. After many dead ends and cries for help while exploring, we landed on a route that incorporated both sides of the Carson Valley. Riders would ride up the largely undiscovered Pine Nut mountain range, then later cross the valley and ride the coolest singletrack for gravel bikes I know of in the eastern foothills of the Sierra Nevada. The hiccups crossing the valley meant crossing the busy 395 freeway.

Enter Bike Monkey and their problem solver. Our solution was the one we had tested in our old road fondo, Stetina’s Sierra Prospect: timed segments. The format was very popular as it allowed riders to race but also encouraged grouping and recreational riding. We could safely ensure that the 395 traverse was outside of race timing, removing the dangerous aspect it posed if runners were stressed about timing.

A tire throw for a time bonus (Photo: Stetina Paydirt)

Beyond that, I had a whimsical idea to include alternate time bonuses. My whole road career there were split sprints for bonus time, so I decided to riff on that. Gravel has always been a normal fun person beyond a singular pedal pusher. I enjoy socializing and drinking beer as much as riding. To keep us runners from taking ourselves so seriously, and to celebrate the western theme that pervades Nevada, we brought in sponsors for a mechanical bull and tire lasso, which runners could play for bonuses of time at the arrival party to boost their result while waiting for the rewards.

There are no UCI gravel rules, we develop our own internal rules.

Be the change you want to see

I also needed to explain why I was doing this. Why was I embarking on another corsair project? For me, this event is about giving back to the community that has given me so much. Beyond a great day on two wheels, how can I leverage my position to make this space better for everyone?

First, the event supported the High Fives Foundation, a group of people near and dear to my heart. High Fives exists to help athletes who have suffered life-altering injuries regain the athletic lifestyle they love. Beyond fundraising, we made sure to bring some of their athletes to the event. We used donations to open the door to five para-athletes. I hope when other para-cyclists can see an entire podium full of riders, maybe they will be motivated to challenge themselves in this space one day.

The para-podium (Photo: Stetina Paydirt)

Secondly, any growing event benefits from a media boost from the professionals present. What would our professional field look like? In this space that celebrates equality, I’ve had the privilege of making so many amazing friends who happen to be very fast. Throughout my career, I realized that the women’s race was often seen as the opening act of the men’s race, and simply because of my gender, I took advantage of that. We decided to make the women’s event our main show. I believe greater exposure brings more opportunity, healthier endorsements, and more stable career opportunities.

It was feared that it would backfire in the public eye with some male runners. But we also realized that I, maybe better than others, could take that step just because I’m a pro man; obviously I don’t want to hurt men’s cycling. Shimano believed in this vision and bought a large women’s handbag. We would still have catwalks for all, but the historically undervalued sex was the one we highlighted with money and media.

The women’s podium, sharing the $4,400 purse reserved for women.

As perfectly exhausting as your own wedding

Every event planner can recognize it – it’s the overstimulated look and the look of being too spread out. It’s like your own wedding – you’re so concerned about everyone having a good time and about making sure you’ve put out minor fires backstage for days. It’s kind of exhausting and exhilarating at the same time. I slept for four hours the night before but woke up needing no coffee.

The day went well, and whether you want to relive it or live vicariously through the experience of others, there’s a photo diary of the event here. Together we mourned the loss of Mo – it was the first public appearance for many of his friends. Then we crossed two mountain ranges together. We raced hard but stopped for photos, rode a bull, threw tires and had a full para podium. Our female and male winners, Flavia Olivera and Griffin Easter, were deserving, kind and embraced the mood of the event perfectly.

The female winner Flavia Oliveira (Photo: Stetina Paydirt)

Flavia donated the majority of her winnings to the #RidelikeMo Fund, while Griffin slammed a hot dog mid-race and still won. They were perfect ambassadors. Lots of people pulled me aside and thanked me for one of their favorite days on the bike, ever. I now turn my eyes to my daily work, Unbound 200 is on the horizon. I can’t wait for Paydirt 2023, but once a year is enough for me, I’ll let the Bike Monkeys continue to do the heavy lifting all year round.