• Tue May 13 2008
  • Posted May 13, 2008
Rachel Gallegos Iowa City Press-Citizen Mark Guthart still occasionally competes as a competitive cyclist, but cycling is a major part of his life in many other ways. He is a certified bicycle race official, does event promotion for sporting events -- with an emphasis on cycling -- and still hops on his bike for recreational riding and commuting. He served as race director for last weekend's Old Capitol Criterium, an annual downtown Iowa City cycling event that always draws a good field and plenty of spectators. He's led the event as race director for the past three years and was involved in the organization of the event for an additional two years before that. Guthart is one of about 115 bicycle race officials in the country to earn the distinction of being a level A official or higher by the USA Cycling governing body. That means he is eligible to work at national level events, taking on more of an event management role along with the hands-on aspects such as scoring riders and keeping track of the time differences between riders. Becoming a level A official "was a goal because it is an honor and a privilege to be able to work those types of races," he said. "It just makes me a better event promoter and event race director being able to see what those types of races have." Guthart raced competitively for 10 years, having "some moderate success" in the late '80s and early '90s, he said. When he stopped participating in the sport, however, it took only about five years before he realized he missed that element in his life and got involved in officiating. Although being race director for the Old Capitol Criterium is a hectic job, "it's a lot of fun," he said. "It's a ton of work, but I wouldn't trade it for the world." Having the background of being a racer turned official, "I feel like I have a good sense of what to anticipate," Guthart said. A criterium is one type of bicycle race, but it is the most spectator friendly because each one kilometer lap takes about only two minutes, so people who stop to watch the race have a short wait before seeing the cyclists race by again. Casual spectators don't need to know much about cycling and racing to enjoy the criterium, but people who know about the sport can pick up on qualities of the race, such as team tactics, he said. "Those kinds of details are fun to watch once you get into the sport a little bit more," he said. Greg Duethman said he's known Guthart for at least 15 years, partially because he was the previous Old Capitol Criterium race director for 10 years before Guthart took it over. "(Guthart) really is one of the key folks for cycling in the state of Iowa," Duethman said. "He does it all." Duethman said he thinks Guthart is a good person to lead the Old Capitol Criterium because he has both the business and cycling backgrounds along with intelligence and ingenuity. "He's very easy to get along with," Duethman said. "You really feel like you want to help this guy out." Growing up, Guthart cycled but was much more into competitive running, he said. When he became a student at the University of Iowa, he met other cyclists and got more involved in the sport. He said he enjoys cycling both from the physical and social aspects of the sport. "There's just that feeling of being in shape," he said. Meeting fellow riders, he describes it as "it's like you're brothers with people." "We all understand and know we're sort of a minority in the world," he said. Guthart said he thinks cycling still is a minority sport partially because society is mostly automobile driven, but also because cycling "has some perceived barriers to entry to it." Unlike other sports where there is a specific field or court, cycling can happen anywhere in unenclosed areas. "There's that risk element," he said. Bicycles also are an investment, with many in the $300 to $500 range "to even make a claim that you have a bicycle in most cases." It takes awareness efforts to show that cycling is a sport but also an alternate means of transportation or recreation activity. "I at least like to think that we're in a cycling-friendly state," thanks to events such as RAGBRAI, he said. Guthart said he thinks that for the sport to grow, people need to get through some of the stigmas. "Don't be afraid to ask someone who rides right now," he said. He encourages people to go into bicycle shops and talk to the people there to find out more about the equipment but also learn about where there are safe places to ride. "Now, I get more enjoyment out of trying to bring new people into cycling and helping them discover the sport," he said. There also is the Iowa City Bike Library, where people can check out a bicycle just like checking out a book. "Don't get discouraged," he said. "You're going to encounter hills, you're going to encounter winds ... (but) there are the downhills, too."

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