Cow Pasture Tails

The Letter and the Truth

Sometimes you can do the right thing for the right reasons, and you’ll stilll piss somebody off.  Cowbell has always been a volunteer effort, with the goal of contributing back to the community.  That’s a good thing.  We grew the race into something that’s been on the USA Cycling Endurance Calendar, that offered equal payout to the tune of more than $12,000, that raised $40,000 for charity, and drew racers from all over the country…. those are all good things too.   Near as we can figure, despite all those good things, we managed to ruffle the feathers of some local folks in mountain biking, who subsequently set out on a quest to sabotage Cowbell.  Unfortunately it worked.

This letter, drafted by Tarheel Trailblazer member Rick Pyle, with a lot of help, was sent to US Cup, and their marketing director subsequently distributed  to others around the country.  It made getting sponsorships even mor3 difficult than the economy did, and because of the slanderous, vicious lies it conveys, it deserves a rebuttal.  You can download a pdf of the letter as it originally appeared when delivered to US Cup.  We’ve also addressed the claims, point by point, below.



 Feedback letter for the KENDA CUP EAST RACE SERIES.


I would like to thank you for taking the time to talk with me during our recent phone conversation concerning the Kenda Cup East race series. I would also like to thank ShowAir for sponsoring a great national event series. Without your efforts there may not have been a series this year. Thank you again.

→ Since Ty Kady refused to tell us who wrote the letter, I initially narrowed the possible author down to 5 people and then to only one in the Charlotte area that have competed in the Kenda Cup East, Gone Riding events, CSC events and would know Neal Boyd very closely, name: Richard Pyle. The orginal Word document, sent to me by Ty Kady confirms that Rick sent him the letter, and Rick himself confirmed it in a telephone conversation.  During that call, Rick also confirmed that he was persuaded into writing the letter by Bart Stetler, owner of SouthPark Cycles and former president of the Tarheel Trailblazers, Neal Boyd, owner of Charlotte Sports Cycling, employee of SouthPark Cycles and race coordinator for the Tarheel Trailblazers, and Jeff Wise the Executive Director of the US National Whitewater Center.

Myself, including many racers I’ve talked with this year feel the series has gone very well and all venues have thus far presented themselves with an excellent racing experience for all level of racers; with the exception of the Cowbell XC race. The following are some of the concerns expressed by fellow racers at that race:

  •  Parts of the course were built at the last minute and did not conform to IMBA standards in any way.

I didn’t think IMBA has a say in any trail for a onetime use for a race, but to be certain I wrote IMBA to find out. Answer:  IMBA has no say on trail use for races, so there are no IMBA standards to conform to.

I had permission from the Town of Davidson, Parks and Rec department to use a few areas to connect sections of the course. I had talked with Mark Sullivan (no relation), the trail coordinator for Fisher Farm Park, to make sure it would be okay to put connecting trail in. Mark and I worked together to lay out some new trail that would be worked into the trail system that is going to become permanent trail for 2010.  Mark Sullivan did not want me to “bench” the trail in before the race, since he wanted to see if the new sections he laid out would work for future trails before any hard labor work went into building the trail. In years past, I have had to do the same for other Cowbell courses. Other race promoters have had to do the same for their events.

  • Many off camber turns that were barely negotiable when dry and impossible when slightly wet.

→This probably refers to the new section that Mark Sullivan laid out to become permanent trail in 2010, as explained above. Yes, some of the turns were off camber, but were rideable wet or dry.  All of the course was rideable, depending on the skills level of the rider or racer.

  • Technically they were very challenging and Pro and Cat 1 racers appreciate and need that part. However, It would have been impossible for many racers in the Cat 3 and 2 categories to negotiate such terrain. Taylor created some sections that were “highly technical” and quite rideable and some sections that were “highly technical” yet almost unrideable. Personally I feel a national caliber trail should have all elements of cross country racing but not any one element to the extreme. This lends it self to all styles of riding and presents a challenge to all. A good example is the Bump and Grind trail system in Alabama, Good long climbs that are not too steep or too rough with good technical sections (Blood Rock) that are quite rideable. That is a very attractive trail on the east coast to veteran racers.

There are courses out there that have been on a national series, not just merely “national calibre,” where trails have been very difficult to ride, such as SnowShoe, WVA,  and Sugar Mountain, NC– in fact,  hike-a- bike sections are common on some national race courses. Blood Rocks has only been fixed within the past couple of years, it got its name from all the riders and racers who fell down on that section of trail. And, I also fixed and corrected one section to make more rideable by adding in rocks and dirt.

  • Race shortened for Cat 2 and 3. Taylor promoted the race as 24 miles for Cat 1 (3 laps), 16 miles for Cat 2. At the last minute he shortened the length for Cat 2, 3 and took out many elements that presented any sort of challenge to racers. The feedback I got from Cat 2, 3 was that it did not present any sort of challenge and many felt they traveled too far to race a technically easy race that did not challenge in distance. Many said they would not return next year if they had the same course.

This is one section that could be considered truthful, but the reason was  simple human error. When I went out marking the course for the class 2 and 3, I missed a taped-off section that made the course shorter. I realized this after the first set of racers came in and went out to find out why; that’s when I noticed where I missed the taped section. There wasn’t much I could do at that point but say “I am sorry” and take the heat from the racers.

As more background on the nature of this particular claim, it should be noted that:

  • The first US Cup Race, SERC #5, was cut short too, due to heavy rains, but announced before the race. The course was shortened to a 6.5 mile course, not the 8 mile course that was advertised. Racers wanted to do more laps to make up for the shortened course, but the lap count stayed the same.
  • Bump N Grind had three different courses:   The class 3 racers had a short 8-mile loop ,  class 1 had a long 34 mile loop, and class 2 had a 17 mile race. The Pro class had  five laps on a 5 -mile loop for a total of only 25 miles.

Each race had a different loops and mileages per course.

  •  Lack luster Cowbell. In years past the Cowbell was an exciting and challenging race held at the U.S national white water center (USNWC) here in Charlotte NC. It was gaining momentum on the east coast as a premier endurance event due to being professionally organized and having a course that many thought of as    national caliber. This past year it has declined and many top level pro competitors have bowed out due to the change of venue. I realize the marathon is not part of the U.S Cup but many competitors do both races and feel it was a better event when held at the USNWC.

→As this was the first year for the Cowbell XC, Rick is mainly referring to the Cowbell Endurance race. The Cowbell XC had 20 pro men and 4 pro women racing, this is the advantage for the Kenda Cup East series that are not part of the USAC Pro Tour XC. Cowbell XC had a total of 225 racers for the Cowbell XC, which turned out to be about the norm for the Kenda Cup East races. The US Cup, USAC Pro Tour XC attracts all the elite world cup racers and top national pro racers due to the fact the races have UCI point awarded to them. Attendance may have been affected (we’ll never know) because there was also a US Cup Pro Tour XC race in Colorado the weekend before Cowbell, and the USAC National Championship races two weeks after the Cowbell race.

The Cowbell Endurance race had Harlan Price, USA representative to the World Cup Marathon Championship; Dejay Birtch and Sonya Looney, World Single Speed Champions;  Rebecca Rusch, 3-time 24-hr World Champion, Carey Lowery National Ultra Endurance Champion, Rebecca Tomaszewski, National College Champion; and Sandra Tomlinson, 24-hr World Champion. Many of these racers raced in the Cowbell XC as well.

Some pro racers  who attended in the past did not make it the Cowbell race in 2009, mainly due to the economic downturn, race schedule conflicts, retirement from racing, and health issues.

  •  Scoring Issues for Cat 2,3. Many were upset. Personally I believe It’s hard to criticize electronic scoring as long as you get it right in the end. However it can make a bad impression of the promoter.

For the Cowbell XC race, many, many class 2 and 3 racers came in late to pick up their timing chips. Some racers signed up that morning, and were added to system as fast as we could. The timing systems company did a great job at adding the names as fast as they could, and after each race matched up the chips with names, and had the results posted within 30 minutes after the race.

Other Kenda Cup East races had timing/scoring issues as well:

  • The SERC #5,  Race 1 in Kenda Cup East, race 1, had a few scoring issues with the age groups.  There was no chip timing, just racers slowing way down to for the workers typing numbers into the program.
  • During Bump N Grind, Kenda Cup East race 2, the timing system and scoring completely failed. Racers were yelling at the organizers (all volunteers), while the timing company packed up and left.
  • The Hoo-Ha, Kenda Cup East race 3, sort of had a timing system program with a tear-off racers tag and stampling the numbers onto a wooden broad. A few racers were off in times and places.

 All the races had a timing and scoring issues whether a chip timing system was used or not. Some of the issues were easily fixed while others are still not solved or worked out.


4 Comments so far
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Taylor. I understand you being upset and I don’t claim to know the whole story and it’s not important that I do. BUT, you are obviously singling out the Tarheel Trailblazers and casting a negative shadow on the club. The club that has been the voice of the MTBing community for the past 20 years. The club that has spent tens of thousands of volunteer hours to build and maintain 90%-95% of the trails in the local area. And trails that you have had the privilege of using for the races you have promoted in the last 8 years. Don’t let your own personal disagreements with a few club members over shadow what opportunities the club has afforded you and other race promoters in this area.

Comment by Mark Sullivan

Mark, I am not singling out the Tarheel Trailblazers, because the organization has done a lot of good work, and put a lot of effort into building and maintaining the trail systems in the Charlotte area over the years; and there are a lot a good members that belong to the organization as well. I have been extremely fortunate to hold the Cowbell on well-maintained trails, particularly the trails you and other members have built and maintained at Fisher Farm, and we have been more than happy to show our support by making several good donations over the years. I am however singling out a few members of the club, and if anyone is casting a shadow on the club’s reputation, it is these three. Mr. Pyle is a member himself, and got the information he used from a past president, and the race coordinator, as well as whatever loose association they may have with the director of USNWC. All of them used Mr. Pyle as an “scape goat” to attempt to keep their hands clean, and he’s the one who took the hit. This past Cowbell race in 2009, I contacted the president and asked for Trailblazer involvement with the MTB movie night we had on Cowbell weekend, and he declined. But another small mtn bike group did take up the offer. I even contacted the Trailblazers’ volunteer coordinator to asking if the club would be interested in volunteering for the Cowbell. He replied no and that the Tarheel Trailblazers were busy that weekend, the same weekend that the race had been held for six out of the previous seven years. So, in fact, there was no club presence at a national race series held in their own backyard at their own well-built trails at Fisher Farm. That told me a great deal about the support for one of the two mountain bike event promoters in the area.

I don’t believe that you, or most of the membership, shares the point of view espoused in this letter, but there isn’t any evidence to suggest the leadership actively discouraged the behavior of these three. I am not letting the few members over shadow anything that I worked on to bring a higher level of mountain bike racing to the area, the voices of three members, plus a few more, overshadowed the Cowbell.

Comment by cowbellchallenge

Taylor. If you weren’t singling out the club you wouldn’t have mentioned them not once or twice, but three times. I personally never had a problem with you or Connie, but I can’t speak for anyone else. On the same note, I’ve never had a problem with Neal Boyd and feel you have unnecessarily pulled him into a blood feud that you have with Bart and and Mr. Wise.
Your “Truth” is going to do more damage to the cycling community than you can even fathom. It has the potential to widen the gap between the two MTB clubs in the area that many of us within the club have been working hard to rebuild/repair.
As far as the involvement with the Cowbell movie, you came to “US” as a club and asked “US” to pay the $250.00 fee to host the movie. We ran the numbers for how much admission was going to be charged and realized there was a great possibility to not make back our investment. The board members of the club (of which I am one of a dozen or so) weighed the pros and cons and collectively voted against doing it. Not against you personally but as a business decision. It is not the club’s aim to invest money where there isn’t a good potential to at least recoup the original investment. I was part of the decision and I did vote no under those conditions. Again, it was nothing personal. It was a business decision by the club.
We build trails, we don’t “donate” to charities from the clubs operating budget. Every penny we spend is accounted for as operating costs; club insurance, equipment/tool purchases and repairs, fuel costs. Other monies that are spent are for rides or parties that the club sponsors that pay for food and drinks. We also spend money for club jerseys that make us money.

“I don’t believe that you, or most of the membership, shares the point of view espoused in this letter, but there isn’t any evidence to suggest the leadership actively discouraged the behavior of these three.”
That’s not the responsibility of the club leadership to interfere in personal matters of individual members. We will only act if it has a negative/derogatory on the club’s image. Which none of this ever did.

The only person that I see doing that is unfortunately you. Please stop as this path has no merits and no positive outcomes.

On a personal note: I don’t appreciate you involving Steve Fraher in this whether or not you felt he needed to know. It was unprofessional and unnecessary. I’ve worked very hard for the last 7 years to foster, grow and continue the strong relationship that the club has with the Town of Davidson on my behalf. I’ve had to work extra hard this Fall and Winter to continue that relationship. Please leave it alone.

In parting, I wish the best Taylor. You don’t need to burn bridges. Just walk away and go on about you life.

Comment by mark

Mr. M. Sullivan,
Let me again re-emphasize that I have no problem with “the club” as a whole or the vast majority of the members. “The Club” does a lot of good work building trails and maintaining the trails as well. However, the behavior of its leadership, specifically “the club’s” race coordinator and past president, (those are two members that would have a good deal of influence, plus a park director, and the writer; there are four other less active members that have harassed me as well over the year, for a total of eight this past year) in deliberately setting out to sabotage an event like the Cowbell race does reflect badly on “the club”—but that’s not my doing, or the one to take the all the blame, it’s the leadership’s.

The “blood feud” was started by both Mr. Stetler and Mr. Boyd, and fueled and continued by Mr. Wise. Mr. Boyd is not blameless, but he is very talented in getting other people to do his dirty work, and for him that meant trying to destroy the Cowbell race and me personally. I can guess at, but never really know what any of their motivations are, but I can tell you my motivations for making this public—they were to explain why Cowbell will no longer happen, and to shed some light on the behavior of people who claim to have the best interest of the sport at heart.

To clarify about the Cowbell movie: the movie title is “Freedom Riders,” and the movie is about building trails the right way and how to go about it, something that I thought “the club” would be interested in helping out with. I did not ask for a donation, we asked for help with the cost of underwriting the movie (which totaled $500) in exchange for some of the proceeds from the event. I’m sorry if I didn’t make that clear initially. We have never asked for a donation from the club, but have instead made donations to the club to the tune of a couple thousand dollars over the last eight years. I am not questioning what “the club” does with its grant money it receives, membership dues, or money-making jerseys. I already know and respect the accomplishments of the club.

Perhaps my definitions of “professional” and “unprofessional” are far different from yours. Is it professional to:
-Hire someone to put out flyers at another race and try to disrupt the proceedings of an event that is neither supported nor attended by the organization who hired him?
-Have your “volunteers/employees” post comments to a public forum about how a new event produced by someone else is going to be “boring”?
Refuse to return calls or emails about providing paid services to a race event, and then complain when someone else is hired?
-Have a friend write and publish a letter that complains untruthfully about events and activities that he didn’t’ even witness?
-Have the club accept donations from a non-profit race, but decline to work with the promoter to do joint fundraising or even be represented on-site?
-Provide product support to an out-of-state race, in exchange for a good parking space, but provide only “time” to the local event because of the cost?

I’m not sure you can fathom the difficulties in getting sponsorships for a race that requires more than $10,000 to put on. Difficulties exacerbated by a terrible economy, but made completely insurmountable when the only other promoter in town is actively working to sabotage you. All for a result that benefited no one! “The Letter” was distributed to other promoters and sponsors who afterwards did not and have not returned phone calls or emails back to me, as I was trying to getting things ready for 2010.

It was and still is my belief that in writing this letter, Mr. Pyle and his advisors—Mr. Boyd, Mr. Stetler and Mr. Wise—defamed the Town of Davidson and Fisher Farm Park. I did not write the letter, stating that “Davidson in located in the middle of nowhere.” Because of my tremendous respect and appreciation for Mr. Fraher and the Rec & Parks department, I felt that he should know what was being said, particularly in light of the fact that we decided we could not continue with the Cowbell race—a decision that greatly impacted their planning. The impact on you and your relationship was not a part of that decision, nor should it have been. I’m sorry you feel as if you’ve been hurt by it, and I can assure you, no other involvement of Mr. Fraher is planned or required.

As for getting others involved, I did contact Mr. Boyd individually through email asking him about his involvement with the letter written by Mr. Pyle, after Mr. Pyle admitted to getting his information from Mr. Boyd. Mr. Boyd responded with CC’s to his lawyer, Mr. Stetler, a CMPD officer and you, Mr. Mark Sullivan. I can understand the lawyer, but I still can’t figure why he chose to involve others.

It is a free country, and everyone is entitled to their opinions and to freely express them. The reputations of the Cowbell race, me and others associated with it were heavily, irreparably damaged by Mr. Boyd and Mr. Stetler expressing those opinions as fact. After being poked, pushed and shoved, literally and figuratively, over the past two years, the day I received “the letter” was when I realized enough was enough. I have the right to present the facts as I see them before moving on… and that’s exactly what I did. As for “my truth”, I am not saying that anyone should stop racing in the Charlotte area or enjoying their day on the bike. I am not saying stop going to Mr. Boyd’s racing events or stop supporting a cycling group or club one may belong to.

Standing up for oneself, may make one stand alone and that strength will only carry one self.

Comment by cowbellchallenge

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