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New RAGBRAI director says 'Band Aids' ready to come off after bike ride brouhaha

Dieter Drake, new RAGBRAI director (Supplied photo)
Dieter Drake, new RAGBRAI director (Supplied photo)

A new director will take over leadership of the 48th edition of the iconic cross-state summer bike ride known as RAGBRAI in 2020, seven weeks after the previous director and his small staff abruptly quit.

Dieter Drake, 48, comes from Colorado Springs, Colo., where he specialized in technical cycling event production including adventure tours, recreational events, charitable rides and amateur and professional competitions, according to a news release from Gannett, the parent company of the Des Moines Register, which founded the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa.

Next year’s ride, which typically draws thousands of cyclists, is just eight months away.

Drake, in an interview Monday with The Gazette, said he hopes to grow the ride’s international brand.

“I envision growing the exposure of the event, making it more of an international brand to bring more value to some of those communities that we pass through,” said Drake, who most recently served as president of Anthem Sports Tours, a company he founded in 2015 and has directed more than 100 cycling events.

Drake said he has never ridden or attended RAGBRAI, although he knew of the event. He said a friend of a friend put him in touch, initially as a consultant but then in the mix of candidates to be the permanent director.

Longtime RAGBRAI director TJ Juskiewicz, along with three others, quit in October. In a scathing Oct. 15 public Facebook post, he cited being silenced by the Register as the reason for his quick exit. In leaving, he launched “Iowa’s Ride” — planned for around the same time as RAGBRAI, causing consternation in the cycling community about which ride to support.

The rift also gave rise to concerns among some tourism officials about what happens to the proceeds from RAGBRAI, which is one of the state’s top draws and financial spark plugs.

Dieter, who officially starts Dec. 16, addressed some of the questions surrounding RAGBRAI.

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Q: How do you begin planning for RAGBRAI 2020? Are you able to pick up where the previous team left off or are you starting from scratch?

A: We are definitely not starting from scratch. There’s been so much work that’s been done. RAGBRAI is one of those events where it’s just like a giant flywheel. Things happen whether or not there’s a ride director. So many people are planning. They definitely have questions, but the planning has been ongoing throughout this whole process.

[Logistic consultant Wes Hall] already has got several routes planned and ready to go, but we’re going to have some discussions with him shortly … He knows all the towns. He knows all the people more so than I do honestly and probably anybody at this point inside this organization. So he’s been instrumental.

We’ve got some timeline considerations. We’ve got a route announcement party at the end of January, so that’s on our minds. We definitely have some planning ahead. We’ve got 229 days until the ride next July. In my mind, I’ve already kind of done the math as to where we need to be by XYZ spots on the calendar. We’re pretty confident we can put it together, put together the tactical piece of that.

Q: Do you anticipate changes to RAGBRAI?

A: There’s definitely going to be some new flavors to the event, and that will hopefully attract more riders to the event, more than we’ve had in the past … But beyond that, RAGBRAI is almost a 50-year-old event … so there’s no good reason for me to get in this event and start changing things. We have so many people, so much momentum tied up in making RAGBRAI happen every year. It would be exceedingly unwise for me to rock the boat too much. I think what has made it work in the past is what’s going to make it work in the future. The people that we have and all the great communities that support the event.

Q: How will RAGBRAI coexist with Iowa’s Ride?

A: When you get more people riding bicycles in Iowa, that can never be a bad thing. More bicycles in Iowa, more people, more exposure on the road, really helps everybody. His event is a week prior, and maybe that brings visibility to cyclists on the road that happen to be going through that area perhaps the next week. There’s no reason to be super competitive.

Q: How do you respond to concerns RAGBRAI does not do enough to support towns along the route and is not transparent about how proceeds are used?

A: We’ve already had some discussions just in the short time that I’ve been here about how we’re going to address that and how we’re going to make it better. And beyond that, what are we going to really do — are we going to be more transparent? Are we going to be providing more opportunities for the towns to participate in an active way? Are we going to be giving back more and we’re going to be more transparent about that? Those are really the questions. And the answer is ‘yes’ to all of those questions. I can’t tell you exactly what we’re going to be doing, but in the next 30 days I think you will be surprised at what we do.

Q: A lot of drama is surrounding bicycling in Iowa right now. What do you foresee happening?

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A: I think what you’ll probably find in the next week or so there’s going to be some resolution to some of that. I won’t divulge what that is, but we’ve had some great discussions just in the 24 hours I’ve been here, 30 hours that I’ve been here in town since yesterday. There is an incredible amount of discussion and passion about how can we move off this and promote cycling in the state of Iowa. It’s kind of a trauma the state has gone through, but we’ve all got Band Aids on our shoulders right now and I think the Band Aids are about ready to come off.

Q: Has alcohol and partying gotten out of hand on RAGBRAI?

A: We’re going to be meeting with State Patrol and they will have some input on that, for sure. So we’re going to make sure that they’re interests are met. We want to make it a safe and successful event. Alcohol, bikes and cars mixing is probably not a great equation. We want to minimize that obviously, but again we’re on a listening mission, and we’re going to take some valuable input from the stakeholders when it comes to that. In terms of being a party, it should be. It is a party on bikes, no doubt about it. We definitely want people to be respectful of the towns that they pass through or that they stay in. That’s a real concern. We want to be respectful so they’ll want to have us back again.

In addition to Drake, Hall was named as a logistics consultant for the 2020 ride, providing “expertise and time overall operational strategy, town communication, event timeline and route planning.” He was assistant director of RAGBRAI from 2007-2013.

Anne Lawrie, senior marketing manager, who stepped in as interim director; Suzanne Milosevich, RAGBRAI creative director; Madison Stegman, merchandise and customer service coordinator; and Nic Lovan, registration coordinator, were also announced as part of the team.

Comments: (319) 398-8310; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

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