Dieter Drake has organized more than 100 rides and cycling races over 15 years, and started his own company running bike tours in southern Chile. Olivia Sun, Des Moines Register
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A veteran organizer of cycling events will take the handlebars of the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, RAGBRAI announced Sunday.
Dieter Drake, 48, of Colorado Springs, Colorado, comes to RAGBRAI after organizing more than 100 rides and cycling races over 15 years. He started in 2004 with a small race in Cambridge, New York, that grew into the annual Tour of the Battenkill, now one of the largest pro-am cycling events in the United States. He has since put together cycling events throughout the country.
Currently, Drake and his wife, Amy, run their own company, Anthem Sports Tours, organizing bike tours primarily in southern Chile. He will host a final Anthem ride there before moving to Iowa to begin his new duties Dec. 16, he said.
Drake has no previous experience with RAGBRAI but said he is ready to start working with community leaders throughout Iowa. RAGBRAI officials typically announce in January the list of towns where cyclists will bed down each night.
The 48th edition of the event will run July 19-25, starting in western Iowa and going east to the Mississippi River.
“It’s exactly my speed,” said Drake. “It’s small towns. It’s bicycles. It’s beers. It’s exactly the kind of crowd I want to be around in cycling.”
Also joining the RAGBRAI team as a logistics consultant will be Wes Hall, who was the assistant director of RAGBRAI from 2007 to 2013. Anne Lawrie, RAGBRAI’s senior marketing manager, said Hall will work closely with Drake on operational strategy, communication with towns along the route, the timeline for the ride and route planning.
Hall, 40, is the general manager of Cedar Point Sports Center in Sandusky, Ohio. He previously served as executive director of the Hampton Roads (Virginia) Sports Commission and in similar roles in Omaha, Nebraska, and Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
“My decision to become involved with RAGBRAI the second time around is just an effort to help a tradition that has been going on for 47 years continue,” Hall said. “I have some historical knowledge of the event and how it operates logistically, and I hope to share that information to help the next ride director continue this great tradition.”
The Register and RAGBRAI are separate entities, but both are owned by Gannett Co.
Lawrie said RAGBRAI chose Drake because his expertise in organizing both competitive and recreational cycling events made him well-suited to lead the cross-Iowa tour, whose thousands of annual participants range from organized teams to casual riders joining for a single day.
“I think for us his past experience stands on its own,” Lawrie said. “He has engineered over 100 cycling events and he’s qualified to lead RAGBRAI operations both now and into the future.”
Drake replaces T.J. Juskiewicz, who quit as RAGBRAI director in October. Juskiewicz said his decision to resign was the result of a disagreement stemming from controversy surrounding the Des Moines Register’s handling of a profile of Carson King, who became a viral sensation when his request for beer money on a sign he held up during an ESPN “College GameDay” segment in Ames morphed into a fundraising drive that brought in $3 million for the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital.
Juskiewicz announced Oct. 15 he would stage his own cross-state cycling event, to be called Iowa’s Ride, during the same week and in the same west-to-east direction as RAGBRAI. Some longtime vendors associated with RAGBRAI, including operators of food and drink trucks and owners of charter companies that provide logistical services for cyclists on the ride, expressed concerns about both the apparent competition and the loss of institutional knowledge represented by Juskiewicz’s departure from RAGBRAI.
But in recent weeks, three of RAGBRAI’s most popular charter companies — Pork Belly Ventures, Brancel Charters and Out of Staters — recommitted to the historical ride. In addition, Iowa’s Ride changed its schedule to run from July 12-18, the week before RAGBRAI, and its direction, going from east to west. It said in a Facebook posting that it was responding to concerns raised by cycling teams that were divided over which ride to take.
Drake acknowledged there is still work to do to heal divisions in the cycling community and ensure RAGBRAI goes smoothly.
“There are some bridges that need to be mended,” Drake said. “But Anne (Lawrie) has been kind of the default director in the interim. She’s done an incredible job of reaching out to communities that the event touches.”
He said he looks forward to working with Lawrie and others on the RAGBRAI team.
“Our goal is to make it as good as it’s ever been and better,” Drake said. “I think we’ve got some great ideas for growing the event and growing the participation base.”
Drake said he is especially excited about drawing more international riders.
“Everyone I know, knows RAGBRAI,” he said, “Even people in Iceland, people in Spain. We want to get them here and get them spending their dollars here.”
Drake has long treated the cycling events he organizes as family affairs. He said his wife manages registration, and their seven children also are involved. One of their sons began directing traffic in event parking lots when he was 6. Another son drives the support van that helps riders who fall behind. Their oldest, Wyatt, 22, most recently oversaw one of their ride’s aid stations.
“That’s been our family for a long, long time,” Drake said. “I just say ‘go’ a couple of weeks before the event — or even the day before the event — and they know what to do.”
Drake said Lawrie and officials with the endurance event company Rugged Racing recruited him to the RAGBRAI job. Rugged Racing previously took over the Tour of the Battenkill, though Drake remains involved as an unofficial adviser.
Rugged Racing is a division of the former GateHouse Media Inc., which finalized a merger with Gannett Co. on Nov. 19.
A graduate of North Carolina State University with degrees in mechanical engineering and in fisheries management and wildlife biology, Drake was a scholarship student on the track and cross country teams.
Forced to cut back on running because of injuries, he took up cycling in the late 1990s at the urging of a friend and became a competitive rider. A native of upstate New York, Drake moved back there to organize rides and work in heating, ventilation and air conditioning. When that business slowed down during the Great Recession in 2008, he turned his attention full time to cycling and moved to Colorado in 2015.
In addition to Drake, Hall and Lawrie, the RAGBRAI team includes:
- Suzanne Milosevich, RAGBRAI creative director, who is the designer behind the annual logos, merchandise and marketing pieces, and oversees brand strategy. Milosevich has worked on RAGBRAI since 2012 and at the Register in marketing roles for 26 years.
- Madison Stegman, merchandise and customer service coordinator, who has been with RAGBRAI for five years.
- Nic Lovan, registration coordinator, who handles fulfillment and shipment and has been with RAGBRAI for two years.
Meet Dieter Drake
Dieter Drake, the new director of the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, and Anne Lawrie, RAGBRAI senior marketing director, are scheduled to speak and answer questions Sunday, Dec. 1 at an event organized by the North Iowa Touring Club at Fat Hill Brewery, 17 N. Federal Ave., Mason City. The event begins at noon, and Drake and Lawrie are scheduled to appear at 1 p.m. (Drake is scheduled to fly to Iowa Sunday morning; Lawrie will speak alone if Drake’s travel is delayed by weather.) Also on the bill is Iowa’s Ride director T.J. Juskiewicz, who is to speak and answer questions at 2:45 p.m.
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