For more information about bike race promotion, email Matthew Lasala at matthewlasala@gmail.com

Dozens of bike racers whizzed through a closed course that wraps around Pacific Crest Middle School in west Bend. Competing in the Worthy Brewing Criterium Series, where speeds can average near 25 mph, lets local bike racers hone their edge each Wednesday evening during the height of summer. The series occupies a lull in the Oregon race calendar between a brisk spring road season and a jampacked autumn cyclocross season.

But the six-race Worthy Series, which culminated this past Sunday (a makeup of an early-season Wednesday rainout), may not be around next year, along with 11 other local bike races.

TFG Racing, a Bend-based bicycle race promotion company responsible for putting those races on, is calling it quits.

“We’ve done it for long enough,” said TFG Racing co-founder Matthew Lasala. “It takes a lot of time. It’s a passion, a labor of love. But the fun went out of it and it became more of a job.”

Lasala, 51, who is an internal medical physician with Summit Medical Group Oregon-Bend Memorial Clinic, is already busy. So is his TFG partner Chuck Kenlan, 56, who became the president of Oregon Bicycle Racing Association (OBRA) earlier this year. Despite their workloads, Lasala and Kenlan have shouldered about 40 local races since they began TFG Racing in 2014.

“When we first started this, it was a ton of fun,” Kenlan said near the start/finish line during Sunday’s season-ending race, which had a beach theme. Kenlan wore swim trunks and Lasala wore a grass skirt and a coconut bra. “Matthew can talk about this, too: You do a weekly time trial series, you get a little gap before the criterium. If you want to take a week off and go on vacation, you can’t do that.”

This year, TFG Racing organized 17 races from early June to early August. Those races included the Sagebrush Cycles Bust Your Butte Gravel Challenge, the Sagebrush Cycles Time Trials & Duathlon Series, the Worthy Brewing Criterium Series, the 10 Barrel Brewing OBRA Criterium Championships and the 10 Barrel Brewing High Desert Omnium. Entry fees ranged from $15 for one-off weekday races and as much as $80 for the 81-mile Bust Your Butte course option. But cyclists are increasingly uninterested in racing.

“Road racing in general is in a decline everywhere,” Lasala said. “It’s hard to make it profitable.”

TFG Racing began as a rescuer of beloved, if wayward, local bike races. But race promotion entails more than setting up a few traffic cones and cajoling friends to show up and race for a six-pack of beer.

Permits must be obtained from the appropriate city, county or Forest Service authority nearly two months in advance. Promoters pay a rental fee to OBRA for a trailer full of equipment that includes tents, tables, signage and a sound system. There is also an insurance fee.

TFG Racing’s sponsors covered each race day’s total of $300 in cash prizes, along with other costs such as corner marshals, whom TFG paid $30 to four or so each shift. Winners of weekly races were awarded six-packs and cash. Still, the weekend races struggled to draw out-of-town competition, Lasala said. This year, the High Desert Omnium and the OBRA Criterium Champion lost money.

But the weekly series are still in the black.

About 50 to 90 racers showed up to the Worthy Series each week. While juniors raced free and women’s categories were consistently thin, the men’s 3/4/5 category sometimes saw 30 racers. Lasala said TFG Racing netted about $300 from each installment of the time trial and duathlon and criterium series this year.

“The TTs (time trials) and crits have enough local support and sponsorship. They’re profitable,” Lasala said, adding that he and Kenlan would help new promoters with the transition. They have a couple of leads but nothing concrete, they said. “Weekday racing,” Lasala said, “is still doable.”

During this year’s Worthy Series, Alex Martin, 20, raced in the men’s category 4/5 field, winning several races and finishing second in the series. These and the Sagebrush Cycles Time Trial Series are the first bike races Martin has competed in. He’s sorry to see them go.

“I’m kind of bummed,” said Martin, back home in Bend from the College of Idaho, which he attends on a track and field and cross-country scholarship. Training and racing on a bike is an ideal way for him to stay fit while he nurses a running-related foot injury, he noted. That his father, Eric Martin, is an elite masters bike racer who is active in TFG races made it easy for Alex to jump into racing. His father, who has the same inseam, lent him one of his bikes. Now that Alex has gotten a taste for bike racing — and has dealt with numerous running injuries — he is considering turning his training and racing energies to cycling exclusively while he pursues postgraduate education. He wonders if, when he is home from college next summer, he will lose the sense of community he gained through these weekly races.

“The people I race against tend to be the same guys,” Alex Martin said. “I thought that was cool. I don’t know what the future of Bend cycling is going to be like without TFG. If you wanted to get started cycling at a young age, these races are great for that.”

Eric Martin, 52, has competed in local races since the 1980s. He remembers a time trial series on Skyliners Road that was organized by local bike shops and manned by a lone official equipped with a clipboard and a stopwatch.

“There was no entry fee and the results weren’t published anywhere,” the elder Martin said. “You’d hang out there afterward and he’d tell you how you did.”

Local bike races wax and wane, said Eric Martin, who finished second overall in the Worthy men’s 1/2 category. He is impressed by TFG Racing’s organization.

“It’s been awesome the last few years that TFG did it. They upped it a bit,” he said, mentioning the lap prizes (premes), and the weekly $50 payouts to men’s and women’s category 1/2 winners. “Fifty bucks! For a weekly crit, that’s kind of unheard-of.”

He hopes local cycling clubs will pick up the criterium and time trial series.

“The people who do these races love them so much,” he said. “I think they’d help out if you just asked them to volunteer their time.”

Martin said his preparation for big series such as the Cascade Cycling Classic will be lacking without the weekly time trials and criteriums. He said that in the several-year gap when no weekly time trial or criterium series was staged in Bend, his performance suffered in the CCC.

“If we don’t have the weekly series, I’ll hope for top 10 (placement),” he said. “If we have them, I’m maybe a minute faster in the (CCC) time trial. I’ll hope for a top three.”

Ryder Uetrecht, 16, also appreciates how local weekly races let him tweak his racing technique in preparation for the junior national level bike races he competes in throughout the country. When the incoming Summit High School junior is home in Bend, he races in TFG races, as he did last Sunday, winning the men’s 4/5 category by a wheel-length margin.

“Although these races are local, I love them,” Uetrecht said while sitting in the grass and watching the men’s category 1/2 race whip by. “These races are good check-ins for me to see how I’m racing, to see if I’m fine-tuned or not. When I do those bigger (national) races, they’re high risk, high reward. If you don’t have everything together, a lot can go wrong. That’s where these races come in. They’re a big part of my training. They’re super fun.”

Uetrecht, a member of Bear Development’s men’s junior 15-16 elite team, began racing in the men’s 4/5 category during last year’s Worthy Series. He continued to race in the junior category as well so he can shepherd younger racers. Without a weekly criterium series, Uetrecht worries whether juniors will miss an opportunity to grow a love of racing.

In the wake of TFG Racing, one question remains: What does TFG stand for?

“It means ‘Two Fat Guys Racing,’” Lasala said with a laugh.

— Reporter: 541-617-7816, pmadsen@bendbulletin.com

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