The act of calling a live sporting event is an art form.
And in the world of cycling, announcer Dave Towle is Picasso.
With just a few turns of phrase, Towle can paint a clear mental picture that connects as easily with the pure racing enthusiasts as it does with a passerby. It's a skill set that few can master -- and it's why Towle has become the unofficial voice of North American cycling.
"People don't have real long attention spans, so you have maybe 5 minutes to draw them in and make a connection," Towle said. "The best thing you can hear as an announcer is that you turned a passerby into a spectator. If you can do that, you have a chance to turn them into a fan or at least a fan of the event."
With a mixture of well delivered humor and wealth of racing knowledge, Towle has been doing just that on the streets of Merced for the past six springs.
The 2010 MERCO Cycling Classic will mark Towle's seventh year announcing the annual event. The now three-day cycling showcase gets underway Friday with the new Team Time Trial. The bulk of Towle's work will come on Saturday at the Downtown Grand Prix, and the race concludes on Sunday with the Foothills Road Race.
"I first came to Merced in 2003 as a mechanic with the Sierra Nevada team for a training camp and I just fell in love with the place," Towle said. "The MERCO Cycling Classic is always one of my favorite events. It basically kicks off the U.S. racing season and Doug Fluetsch and his group always do a fantastic job of putting it on."
Towle's resume is as impressive as his constant flow of play-by-play.
From the Amgen Tour of California to the USAC Masters Nationals, if it's a major race in the United States, Towle is likely providing the commentary.
It's the reason Fluetsch is perfectly happy to fly him out from his home in Boulder, Colo. each year.
"We've had other announcers over the years and it's been kind of disastrous," said Fluetsch, who founded the MERCO Cycling Classic. "He does all the major races and he has a very distinct voice, so riders associate him with a big-time race.
"He's very knowledgeable about the sport, because he was a rider, but he also knows almost all the riders on a personal level. That allows him to give the audience all kinds of extra information while the race is going on that they'd have never known."
Those anecdotes also allow Towle to make connections between the riders and the crowd.
"The preparation for a race is kind of an ongoing thing," Towle said. "I'll study the race entries and see who's doing well coming in. If there's riders I'm not familiar with, I'll do a little research and see what they've done. The fortunate thing is I'm involved in so many races these days, I have a pretty good feel for the riders out there."
As well prepared as Towle always is, he acknowledged his best commentary tends to come from moments of spontaneity. Anyone who has ever heard him call the Pee-Wee Classic would likely agree.
"For an announcer, it's all about timing," Towle said. "As the race is going on, you're constantly building towards something.
"People will be around listening to the call of 20 laps, then 10, then five. If you can jack it up at the right time, you'll see people racing out of the Port-O-Johns, pulling their pants up to get to the finish area.
"As an announcer, that's the best feeling in the world."
Sean Lynch is a Sun-Star sports writer. He can be reached at 385-2476 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.