Monday, September 27, 2010

Interbike Report - Leaving Las Vegas

Interbike 2010 was in Las Vegas last week. Just before the this year's show, we learned that Inrebike will move from a long time run at the Sands Convention center in Las Vegas to Anaheim CA, and it will be six weeks earlier in the year running the first week of August in 2011.

In recent years with many of the big companies in the bike business pulling out of the show, there has been a great deal of discussion about the utility and usefulness of Interbike (the changes for next year being made to supposedly address this). Indeed, some even question why Nineteen, a company that only makes triathlon wetsuits, would even be at a trade show called Interbike! The reality is that there is no specific trade show for the triathlon business, and many of our retail customers, prospective retail customers, distributors and the triathlon media all attend this show. Years ago there had been some discussions about a Triathlon zone or area at Interbike that never came to fruition. I take no credit for it, but when we (Nineteen) started going to the show four years ago, I sought out where the leader in the tri wetsuit business was, Blue Seventy, and I took a booth across the aisle from them. They were fine with this, and now, almost all the wetsuit companies can all be found within a very small area or short walk on the Interbike show floor - as well as more than a few other companies interested in the triathlon market. There is now an informal Triathlon Zone at Interbike that has developed over the past few years in the back left corner of the show floor.

Of course, with the move to the Anaheim Convention Center next year, it will be interesting to see how this will be replicated - formally or informally. Naturally the move to Anaheim, generated considerable talk amongst vendors and dealers at this year's show. If it was Interbike's intention to make the show "better", by drawing back in, some of the big players who no longer book booth space on the show floor( TREK et al . . ), and more dealers, they may be sadly mistaken in this regard. The reaction on the part of fellow vendors that I spoke to, and dealers was mixed at best.

I understand why Interbike has become not at all helpful to big players in the bike business, such as TREK and others. Pre-season orders are now taken in July and August, and these larger companies these days are in the habit of inviting in, all expenses paid, all or their best accounts to special events that they host either at their own facilities or elsewhere at nice hotels and resorts. Even smaller companies such as Cervelo have gone this route with their BrainBike events!

Ironically, for really small companies, micro businesses really, Interbike still full-fills a valuable a key role - it puts vendors(sellers) and dealers(buyers) under one roof for a few days. I know that for us at Nineteen, Interbike is perhaps the most important three days of the year for us and this year, was the best Interbike show that we have ever had - we met with more people, talked to more good prospects, and interacted with more key media in the triathlon business than we ever have.

Hopefully next year, despite the move to Anaheim and it being six weeks earlier, it will be more of the same!

Finally, it's important to know that Interbike is a Trade Show. In the gear oriented sports of cycling and triathlon, many consumers are obsessed with finding out what is the latest and greatest, but the general public is not welcome at the show. People who do get in or newcomers to the show, are often overwhelmed by all the gear and all the cool tech stuff or the VIP's just wandering around - Is that George Hincapie over there? I know I was like that, when I went to my first Interbike show years ago. However, it's important to note that often the key things that go on at a show like Interbike, are the quiet conversations that go on in the aisles, with customers, competitors, prospects and key movers & shakers in the business. This is where and how the real action in the business happens.

That being said, everyone wants to know what was the coolest thing I saw at the show. Well, truth be told, I barely got out of the Nineteen booth for the whole show and I really did not get a chance to walk the whole show or see much of it for that matter. This being the last Interbike in Las Vegas, that to me was the news of the show. I have been coming here for many years now, so on the last night of the show, I took a short walk up and down part of the strip near our hotel for one last time just to take it all in. I have always had a strange relationship with Las Vegas - it's not the kind of place I would ever go to on vacation, but thousands of people do. That walk of nostalgia amongst the masses strolling the Strip, past the Venetian, Treasure Island, Caesars, The Flamingo, Mirage and the Bellagio, and the other grand hotels and casinos of Las Vegas seemed a fitting way to end it all!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Ironman Canada is Different

Ironman Canada is different. Yes it shares the same race distances as all the other growing ranks of Ironman races around the world, but this is a very different event.

First of all it has some history. This year was the 28th running of Ironman Canada. Some of the greatest triathletes of all time have raced on this course. They say one of the single greatest Ironman Triathlons ever raced - Thomas Hellreigel's 8:09.42 winning performance in 1996 - was done on this course. Yes, they have broken 8:00 and gone faster elsewhere, but this is not an easy course - it can be very challenging.

Speaking of the course, this is perhaps, at least in North America, the only Ironman race that sticks to it's single big loop routes on each of the swim, bike and run. You feel like you are doing something - not just going around in circles. This can be daunting. Particularly as you make the turn at the half-way point in the marathon run, climb a little hill out of Okanagan Falls, and then if you look to your left, you can see the town of Penticton 11 miles off in the distance over the full length of Skaha Lake. It dawns on you that, I now have to run all the way back there!

This is a race that has tradition and honors it's champions. Few know this, but there is a large bronze plaque for each years mens and womens race winner, that has been put into the ground in a very nice arrangement surrounding a beautiful flower bed in Rotary Park. The plaque honoring Lori Bowden's win in 1998 is pictured at the top. During the race, Rotary Park serves as the transition area, and many athletes taking part in the race, will have run right over some of these winners plaques, perhaps drawing power and strength from the great champions of the past.

This was the race that defined what being a volunteer at an Ironman race was all about. This is were the 3000+ strong Iron Army came to be. Unlike many of the other IM races, at Ironman Canada, almost all the volunteers come from Penticton and other communities in the South Okanagan. This is their race. They want it to be the best. They want each and every competitor to feel welcome and have the best day that they can have out there. Everyone pitches in. The planning for next years race and the anticipation amongst the Iron Army has started already.

Then there is the stunning beauty of the area. Of course, it's a wine growing region growing some of the best wine grapes in the world. That helps to. Why is it that all the key wine growing areas around the world are like this? The Okanagan Valley is an amazing place.

This race is put on and run by the best race and event management people in the sport. Not only do they do a great job of putting on what logistically is an absolutely extraordinary event( people would not believe the details that need to be covered - and they are all covered), they are really down to earth people who really care about the sport of triathlon, this one event, Ironman Canada in particular, and each and every participant in the race. To see Graham Fraser or Joe Dixon talk, you can see the care and passion they have in their faces and you can hear the emotional connection to the event in their voices.

Finally, there is Steve King - the Voice of Ironman Canada. Yes there are other great race announcers of triathlon around the world, but it was Steve who really defined the term Triathlon Race Announcer making sure that each and every finishers name was called out and noted. I don't know how he keeps going and how he's able to keep all that information in his head, but he is so extraordinarily passionate about this sport and this race - that you can't help but want him to keep going on forever doing this.

I will admit that for me it is a bit personal. I had my single greatest day as a triathlete out on the Ironman Canada course - and so did my wife. And so have a number of my closest triathlon friends. I also raced the last triathlon I ever did, at this amazing race. I was glad and fortunate to go out on a good note and on good terms with this race, but the high-light for me that day was holding my then one month old son in my arms, after I crossed the finish line. He's 13 years old now, and when I look at him, I often reflect back to that day at IMC in 1997 and marvel at how much he has grown.

Ironman Canada . . it's different!