Separating the wheat from the chaff

October 20, 2014 § 12 Comments

Weekend wankers often wonder, “What makes the pros special?” and its corollary, “Why is that other wanker always ahead of me?”

The first question has been tackled in this blog post; read it if you really and truly haven’t been able to figure out why pros are fast and you are slow. The only things the writer left off the list are –

  • They are young, you are old.
  • They have good genes, you have blue jeans.
  • They use drugs to enhance performance, you use drugs to perform enhancement

Along the same lines, there is a reason that the same hackers on the weekend ride keep beating you, and will always beat you.

  1. Beer. You are a drunk, and the people who beat you are not. For example, when Boozy, Smasher, and I sat down after the Donut Ride with a giant box of donuts and two cases of IPA, it was still only 10:30 AM. Ollie, who had crushed the ride and left everyone in tatters, politely declined our post-ride invitation and went home to put on his compression boots and sleep for six hours in an oxygen tent.
  2. Fatness. You are fat, and the people who beat you are skinny. For example, when Stathis the Wily Greek pedals away from you 5 mph faster going up a steep grade, the last thing you will see are the intricate vascular patterns on his calves and thighs. The last thing he will see when he passes you are several folds of a soft, white, jiggly tissue commonly found on whales.
  3. Meanness. You are nice, and the people who beat you are cruel. For example, when you are on the rivet on the SPY Thursday morning ride, hanging by a thread to MMX’s wheel, he will never ease off. Instead, he will carefully judge your state by listening to the rapidly increasing sound of your breathing, and then twist the pedals just hard enough to kick you out the back. He will really enjoy it, like plucking the legs off an insect while leisurely roasting it to death with a lighter.
  4. Goals. The people who beat you have racing/performance goals, but your goal is to beat everyone to the fridge. For example, after our first case of IPA and box of donuts for breakfast yesterday, Boozy announced that next year he would go on a diet and get motivated. However, when he woke up a few hours later, he didn’t remember it and instead asked if there was still any ice cream in the freezer.
  5. Fear. You are afraid of getting dropped, and the people who beat you are afraid of being seen in your vicinity. For example, when Rudy shows up on the ride you cower and hide from the front, fearing lots of leg-pulling-off as described in #3 above. He, however, fears that merely being around you for more than a second or two will be proof that that his career is nearly over, and he will therefore pedal quickly away.
  6. Excuses. You have many, and the people who beat you have few. For example, when Boozy, Smasher, and I were finishing our second breakfast case of IPA (but before Mrs. WM had come home from Zumba and thrown us out), we agreed that we would have totally won the Donut Ride if Boozy had used a different bike, Smasher had not bonked when he saw someone else start eating a gel, and I had been on a motorcycle.
  7. Teammates. Yours suck and theirs don’t. For example, the only people I had to help me yesterday were Olive and Stanley, two chihuahuas who occasionally provide contract work services for my law firm on complex litigation matters. They didn’t even bother to show up for the ride, much less pace me up to the leaders. The Wily Greek, on the other hand, had 72 riders blocking for him by falling off their bicycles and gumming up the chase with ambulances and police vehicles.

There’s very little you can do to change any of this, by the way, with the exception of a good 12-step program. And hey, it’s almost lunch time.

END

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Astana launches doping investigation, discovers doping

October 18, 2014 § 18 Comments

UCI Pro Tour team Astana launched an investigation into team doping practices after Maxim Iglinskiy tested positive for EPO during the fourth stage of the Tour of Belgium. Within forty-seven minutes of the announcement, Astana general manager Alexandre Vinokourov announced that “doping had been discovered” within the team.

“I’m very sorry to announce that doping has been discovered within Team Astana,” Vinokourov said at a press conference held at the world famous tourist resort and secret rendition destination known as Kyzylorda-sur-Waterboarding. “The dopers have confessed and been properly disposed of.”

Despite the most vigorous anti-doping program on the Pro Tour, a program that includes asking riders to report if they dope and that makes extensive use of self-graded questionnaires to root out potential drug problems, Astana has suffered a shocking number of doping positives, beginning with general manager Alexandre Vinokourov’s 2-year suspension for doping in the 2007 Tour de France.

“After getting caught for doping, I made sure that my team would have a very strict anti-doping policy,” said Vinokourov at the press conference. “People like me would no longer be welcome on the team, and after I retired it was my goal to make sure that no one like me would ever be associated with the team again.”

Vim Vandy Pants, cycling journalist and noted notary public, questioned Vinokourov regarding the team’s policy. According to Vandy Pants, “Shortly after Vino was busted, Matthias Kessler, another Astana rider, received a 2-year doping sanction. How do you explain this?” he asked at the press conference.

“Kessler was an aberration, an anomaly, a synonym for ‘one-off.’ None of his self-reported doping exams or questionnaires ever indicated drug use,” said Vinokourov.

Wham Wankypants, yet another famous cycling journalist and an even more widely noted notary public, followed up by asking Vinokourov about Eddy Mazzoleni, the former Astana rider who was banned for two years in the infamous Italian oil-for-drugs-and-old-jockstraps sting carried out by the Italian anti-doping agency, CONI-BALONEY. “You say zat no doping inna Astana, but you, Kessler, and Mazzoleni all was doping onna banana.”

“It’s true that Mazzoleni was a doper,” said Vinokourov. “But his program was very sophisticated, very clandestine, very secret. We asked him about it one night when he was very drunk, and he simply shrugged and said ‘I no doping.’ There was no way we could have known.”

Vinokourov was then asked about Andrey Kashechkin (banned for doping in the Tour of Turkey), former rider José Antonio Redondo (banned for testosterone), Vladimir Gusev (fired from team for sort-of-doping), Valentin Iglinskiy (banned for EPO), Maxim Iglinskiy (brother of Valentin, also banned for EPO), and llya Davidenok (busted for steroids and general stupidity).

Vinokourov was unapologetic. “These were isolated incidences, coincidences, outliers, random occurrences. We could never have known about such team-orchestrated doping despite our focus on self-reporting and questionnaires. However, now that we have launched a full investigation we have in fact uncovered doping. It is unacceptable and in the future we will insist that all riders on Astana refrain from doping or cheating in any way. Or else.”

END

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My associates

October 17, 2014 § 7 Comments

The alarm went off at 4:00 AM. I had barely recovered from the NPR thrashing of the day before, and hurriedly gulped my coffee in order to make the 6:30 start time of the Thursday SPY ride in Encinitas. In addition to my busy pro masters off-season  group ride schedule, which would be a big part of my resume for the coming year, I also had some serious business matters to attend to regarding a couple of employees who live and work for my firm in North County San Diego.

The ride started gently but finished like every grisly airplane accident: Body parts strewn about the asphalt, muffled groans of the survivors, and horrified looks of impending death carved into the ghoulish faces of the dead. The raging attacks of Abate, Full-Gas Phil, Dandy, Stefanovich, MMX, and Smasher reduced the 50-strong group to less than ten riders at the end.

After the ride, Abate, Smasher, and I pedaled around aimlessly until we found donuts. A fat, greasy, sugary bag of dough later we pedaled some more and said good-bye. I still had my serious business matter on my mind, and it wasn’t going to be pleasant. My associates had frankly been under-performing in some key metrics. Although we’d had a number of performance reviews, nothing changed.

Oliver would always say, “Yes, sir, I understand, I’ll start doing [ ---- ] right away,” but he never did.

Stanley, on the other hand, would want to debate things. “That’s not how it happened,” or “You need to take into consideration the fact that … “

It was very frustrating to have these guys collecting a paycheck and refusing to do what they were told. Very frustrating. And since they’d been with me for a couple of years, and I’d invested considerably in their training, it was going to be hard to let them go.

“What should I do?” I asked Smasher.

“You should have a beer.”

“It’s 8:45 AM.”

“Okay, then you should have two.”

“Only a terrible alcoholic would have beer before nine o’clock, and only a hideously terrible alcoholic would know where to find any.”

“There’s a little cafe near my place,” he said. “They serve great breakfasts and cold beer.”

We went to the cafe and ordered. The “breakfast” was a scrambled egg in a paper cup and a piece of cardboard painted to look like toast. The beer, on the other hand, was tap-fresh Stone IPA served in iced glasses. After a couple, the employee problem didn’t look so bad.

“Look,” said Smasher, who shares an apartment with my associates. “They aren’t bad, they just aren’t super motivated. Some things they do well, other things, not so much. Focus on their attributes, try to see it from their perspective.”

We had two more pints, then another two, then threw away the cardboard and eggs. “Let’s walk over to your place,” I said. “Now’s as good a time as any to have the talk.”

“Agreed,” he said. Through the fog I could see three or four other early morning customers washing down their AM beer with cardboard.

“What a bunch of drunks,” I said disgustedly to Smasher.

We reached Smasher’s place and the associates were there. They knew I meant business, but no matter how much they wagged their tails I didn’t crack so much as a smile.

We sat down on the couch. “Look, guys,” I said. Then I faltered. “I’m gonna take a quick nap and then we’re going to have to talk business.”

I stretched out on the couch and fell asleep for thirty minutes or four hours. As I lay there I could feel the warm furry little bodies of Oliver and Stanley curled up around my feet, which went from cold to toasty. They snuggled against my leg, repositioning only to increase the toasty-leg-factor.

When I awoke they opened their eyes, then came over to lick my nose. “Let’s get to work guys, shall we?” I said.

They nodded and bounded downstairs. All good.

END

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Wankmeister cycling clinic #24: How to politely dump your team

October 15, 2014 § 15 Comments

Dear Wankmeister:

I got a problem. It’s kind of hard to explain but basically I am sick of my team and want to tell them to fuck off without hurting their feelings but also can I keep my bike and shoes and helmet until my new team gives me my new stuff for ’15?

Conflicted,
Tommy Twoface

Dear Tommy:

Breaking up is hard to do, but there is a humane way to let people know that you don’t like them even though you like their bikes and money and stuff. First, make sure the new team will take you. It’s bad karma to jump ship without having secured a landing place, otherwise you will probably land in a pile of shit. Second, well, there is no second.

Backstabbingly,
Wankmeister

Dear Wanky Dude:

I really like my current team, but there is another team that will give me more shit than my current team. What should I do?

Confusedly,
Thorsten Tornintwo

Dear Thorsten:

Swag > Loyalty. Duh.

Youknowyouwantit,
Wankmeister

Dear Wankmeister:

I hate team drama. One guy on our team is mad at some other guy on our team and the other guy is mad at the people who are mad at some other people. All I want to do is race my bike and be a professional masters racer. Also, our team deal isn’t the greatest. We only get a $10k bike for $3k, and aside from the four free kits and skinsuit and shoes and discounted wheels and free nutritional supplements (all of which are pretty much legal), all we get are race reimbursements and half-off tires and free helmets, along with team t-shirts and podium hats and jackets and free socks and a full winter kit and free performance eyewear. The winter kit is bullshit because we live in SoCal. I want to be a good team member but I can’t help feeling like I’m getting screwed. I placed in the top-20 three times last year, and got a top-10 placing in the Festering Pustule Race Series as a 55+ Cat 3 Masters racer. Should I be angling for a better deal, or is this pretty much the best I can hope for? Kind of sucks, right?

Disappointedly,
Billy Bigpants

Dear Billy:

You aren’t getting screwed, you’re getting raped. Most SoCal masters racers with your pedigree command all the above plus a free TT bike and track bike and ‘cross bike along with a monthly stipend of $500 to cover beer and Uber/Lyft to and from your favorite dive bar. You should sit down with your team director and calmly go over your race resume. Remember not to shout or to call him a “fucking moron d-bag.” Also, remind him that 2015 will be your breakout year. You got this, bro.

In solidarity,
Wankmeister

END

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Who’s at fault?

October 14, 2014 § 33 Comments

My friend Brent Garrigus recently began requiring customers to sign a contract when they purchase clothing that carries his shop logo. A copy of the agreement is posted below.

RIDE'r Contract

RIDE’r Contract

The idea is pretty simple. If you’re going to ride around North County with the name of Brent’s shop on your back, you should follow the law. Why would a bike shop owner care? First, because blatant lawbreaking may correlate with unsafe riding. Second, Brent doesn’t want his shop to be associated with riders who blow through red lights, run stop signs, and commit the other myriad infractions that seem to enrage so many motorists.

Brent has a solid record of practicing what he preaches. He runs his own rides out of his shop and doesn’t tolerate repeated traffic violations. People who can’t follow the rules of the road are first asked to do so, and then, if they still can’t figure it out, are asked to leave. This kind of leadership is necessary on large rides for lots of reasons. It enhances the safety of the group since everyone is riding by the same rules. It teaches new riders proper riding etiquette. And it probably results in better cyclist-motorist interactions.

On the other hand, focusing on scofflaw cyclists, in my opinion, is focusing on the wrong segment of the population. Few if any people I know have ever been hit while breaking the law. To the contrary, they are almost always law-abiding. The most recent outrageous cyclist deaths occurred when a texting sheriff’s deputy hit a biker in the bike lane and when an underage driver with a passenger killed a fully-illuminated recumbent rider who was carefully following the law. The same holds true for Udo Heinz, who was killed by a bus while riding in plain daylight following the law.

In other words, obeying the law on your bike is a good thing in theory, but it doesn’t address the real problem of cycling in traffic, which is careless motorists. You can stop at all the stop signs you want, but running stop signs isn’t what’s killing cyclists. Cyclists get hit because drivers don’t see them, which is often a function of edge-riding behavior, where cyclists hug the curb instead of occupying the middle of the travel lane where they can be seen.

Brent’s policy of helping educate and create a friendlier class of road cyclist deserves only praise. Road riders, like motorists, can often be rude; in extreme cases they can be violent. Helping enforce a policy of better behavior helps everyone, whether it saves lives or not. Leadership in the road community is a highly desirable commodity and deserves our support and respect — people who are willing to take a stand regardless of their bottom line are few and far between these days. And if you’d rather not sign the contract because you can’t resist flying through red lights on the Coast Highway during rush hour in order to snag that precious Strava KOM, well … you may have bigger issues than which jersey you wear.

END

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The way it’s supposed to be

October 13, 2014 § 19 Comments

Starting in September, people begin riding up to me and asking, “Are you doing ‘cross this year?”

“Yes,” I say. Then they kind of snicker and pedal off.

This year I delayed entering my first race until yesterday, reasoning that it would give me a bit of a breather and a chance to rest my legs and stomach after a road season in which I raced twice and drank hundreds of gallons of fermented electrolyte recovery drink. Also, prior to my season opener at the SPYclocross Series, I had hired a couple of coaches so that I could improve on my string of last place finishes from 2013.

My first coach, Rahsaan Bahati, gave me some excellent tactical advice: “Don’t be last.”

My second coach, Dan Cobley, gave me winning advice about the course: “Be sure to ride a race in between the beers.”

But the best advice came from my performance coach, Daniel Holloway. “Dude,” he said, “day before the race be sure to open up your legs.”

“What’s that?” I asked.

“Do enough brief intensity to stress the muscles, but don’t kill yourself.”

“I was thinking about pedaling down the bike path with Boozy on Saturday to stay fresh.”

“Bad idea,” said coach. “Rides with Boozy always end at the bottom of a ravine or on a bar stool, often both. Do the Donut instead.”

“The Donut? I always wreck myself on that stupid ride.”

“Exactly. This time, for the first time ever, sit in the pack and chill.”

“What if there’s a break?”

“Who cares? Let it roll up the road. Give it one hard effort, maybe two, on the Switchbacks then call it a day. You’re just trying to open up your legs so that they’re primed for Sunday.”

“What if Brad House is ahead of me?”

“Who?”

“Brad House.”

“Who’s he?”

“He’s the bulbous guy with flappy elbows and orange cat-fur earmuffs.”

“Okay. You can pass him. But that shouldn’t take much effort, right?

“Got it. Then what?”

“Then make sure that you get in a one-hour warm-up before your race starts. You’ll fly.”

The following day the race started as all 45+ ‘cross races do. It was a mad gallop of insane old people trying to kill themselves and each other in a cloud of dust, dirt, gravel, and grass clippings. The course had been laid out to take maximum advantage of the giant gopher holes, tree roots, and other obstacles.

Incredibly, I did not get dropped by the main field until the first five hundred yards, proving that Coach Holloway’s leg-opening exercise really did work. More incredibly, there were at least three riders behind me, something that has never happened in any race before; two of them were on bicycles.

The course included a couple of baseball diamonds, and I couldn’t pass up the chance to try and pick up a couple of points with my baseball bike as I rounded third and slid into home plate ahead of the tag, a chubby fellow covered with hair who was falling off his bicycle onto mine. Somehow I beat the tag, jumped up, and continued on.

When people ask me “What’s ‘cross like?” I ask them “Have you ever been in a car accident where the next day every joint and muscle and bone aches and your back is bent double and you can’t get out of bed? That’s how ‘cross feels after the first five minutes, only it gets lots worse.”

Soon I had fallen into a rhythm, as my leg muscles had opened up from the day before and my leg skin had opened up by the slide into home plate. As blood fell out of the wound I came to the first set of barricades just in time for my teammates, who were manning the SPY Optic booth, to provide me with copious quantities of fermented electrolyte replacement drink, without which I would certainly have come to my senses and quit.

Of course the key to riding well in cyclocross is to “not use your brakes.” This is one of those insane pieces of advice that only a fool would follow, akin to the MTB mantra of “speed is your friend.” No matter how hard I tried to not use my brakes, they were often the only thing standing between my face and various tree trunks, or my abdomen and the sharp steel poles on which the course markings were taped. And speed might have been my friend had I had any.

This race followed the typical ‘cross life cycle: Huge rush of adrenaline followed by massive effort followed by incredulity at not getting immediately dropped followed by getting dropped followed by falling off my bike followed by narrowly missing several trees followed by getting passed by Mr. Chubs followed by hearing the depressing sound of “four laps to go” when one lap hurts more than having a wooden stick bored into your ear followed by hopelessness followed by anger followed by despair followed by a small prayer that the previous race will lap you and terminate the race early.

However, just as things were looking pretty bleak and it seemed like all but three riders were going to finish ahead of me, I blazed across the finish line and dove straight under the team tent. As the other “finishers” chatted about the race I sprinted ahead of them in the second, most technical and challenging part of the race: The beer competition. One by one they dropped to the side, with various Bakersfield pretenders falling out of their beanbag chairs and others wandering off onto a horse path to get trampled.

I poured it on into the beer turns, sprinting up the short and dusty beer climbs, dismounting and leaping over the beer barricades, and finally lapping the beer field. Thank goodness I’d taken Coach Holloway’s advice and in addition to opening up my legs, had opened up my gut as well.

Winning!

Winning!

END

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Take a bite

October 12, 2014 § 10 Comments

Every city in America has a Saturday morning Donut Ride, where a handful of riders beats up on everyone else, and everyone else marks “success” in terms of how far they got before getting kicked out the back.

Jack from Illinois (not his real name), always despised the Donut Ride for being a “preenfest.” He wasn’t wrong. Local racers who get “coached” and who are on a “program,” tend to avoid the ‘Nut because it adds little to your fitness but can subtract lots. And of course there is a huge contingent of riders, thousands actually, who wouldn’t be caught dead on the DR because they hate group rides, they don’t like aggressive pelotons, they are in it for relaxation, or [ fill in your reason here ].

To those folks, I say, “No problem. You do your thing, I’ll do mine.”

But there is another group of riders out there who really should be on the Donut Ride. I was dropping down the hill this morning to the start of the ride, and I passed a guy riding a very nice bike, wearing a very nice kit, and looking pretty darned fit. “On your way to the Donut?” I asked.

“Ha,” he answered. “I wish.”

“What do you mean?”

“That ride is too fast for me.”

“Come on, man, give it a try. You look like you could handle it. It’s not hard anyway, especially if you sit in.”

“I’ve seen that pack come by,” he said enviously. “Too fast for me.”

“Okay,” I shrugged, and went on, but I could tell how badly he wanted to give it a try and I felt sorry for him because he was going to spend the rest of his riding days wondering about something that really wasn’t worth wondering about.

If you’re one of those people who wonders what the local Saturday beatdown ride is like, you owe it to yourself to give it a chance. Even if you hate it, you’ll at least have the satisfaction of having tried. More likely, especially if you’re a fairly hopeless wanker, you’ll get your head staved in sometime around the first or second acceleration, and the thrill you get from first riding with, and then getting ejected from, the middle of the surging, bucking pack will leave you happier and more elated than you’ve been since you first lied to your wife about the cost of your Giant TCR with electronic drivetrain.

Here, then, is a compendium of what you’ll find out if you take the plunge, swallow your pounding heart, gird your quivering loins, and toe the Saturday group ride starting line:

  1. You will get faster every week.
  2. The wankers you used to struggle to keep up with in your normal group will no longer be able to hold your wheel.
  3. Racer-type hammerheads aren’t all assholes.
  4. Some of the things that differentiate great riders from hackers can be learned through observation.
  5. Competition makes you better.
  6. Cars steer clear of big groups.
  7. There’s no dishonor in trying.
  8. Your wife will mostly believe whatever version of the ride you tell her.
  9. You won’t be the slowest rider the group.
  10. If you’re the slowest rider in the group, one day you won’t be.
  11. The ride’s not as hard as you thought it would be.
  12. You’ll surprise yourself — in a good way.

See you next week!

END

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