The horrible crushing death of anonymity

December 20, 2012 § 28 Comments

It happened on December 13, 2012, at 10:16 PM. I would have missed it entirely had Lee Slone not posted the briefest of requiems. It was the farewell of an Internet character known by his Twitter handle as Captaintbag1. Most people called him Captain Tbag. I called him Cap Taintbag.

He accepted either appellation, and many others besides. He was a genius.

And now he’s gone, vanished into the ether, or the Home for Deleted Tweeters, or the Stumblehole of Vanished Tumblrs.

He was a genius because he did something completely new with the English language. He invented a vernacular that was idiomatic, yet perfectly grammatical even as it upended all rules of speling and gramar to create something funny, and beautiful, and most of all, new.

“There is no new thing new under the sun,” it is written in Ecclesiastes 1:9, and with the exception of electronic shifting and Prez’s color combos, it’s true. Everything that is has, more or less, already been.

But not Cap Taintbag. He was beyond rare because he was truly an original writer. He left the orbit of rarity and reached the sublime by also being witty, and powerful, and able to convey the truth in his 144-character mind-and-sight-and-sound-bites.

Hope you got to enjoy him while he was around. He was the best.

Who killed Taintbag?

Sad to say, he killed himself. His last few tweets make the reason clear: His persona, his character, his wit and his art were unsustainable.

They were unsustainable, in my opinion, because of his anonymity.

The Internet’s chief promise to many is its assurance of anonymity. All of those things you’re afraid to say because of your job, your spouse, your kids, your teachers, the police, the New National Surveillance Society, whatever…you can say them on the Internet under cover of a clever handle.

Taintbag blazed a path through the lies and hypocrisy of doping in cycling. He became an interlocutor who easily cowed and trampled the false bravado and attendant falsehoods of Vaughters and his apologists. He became a knife-like analyst who could, with a few charts and a few ungramatical mispelings, slice to ribbons the claims that Racer A and Racer B and Racer C won the Tour de D clean.

He was funny as hell, and through it all he reeked of kindness and decency and self-deprecation and humanity.

He was a wanker who you just knew was smarter at the keyboard than he was good on the bike, but somehow you didn’t hold it against him, and you loved him for it all the more.

But he learned a hard lesson: When you become a masked avenger you have to forfeit the You under the mask. You become the Dark Knight, only, since it’s reality not tveality or movieality, there aren’t any super powers or smokin’ hot wenches or fantastic successes that come with it.

You’re just an anonymous slob afraid to rip off the mask and let the You fill up the space formerly occupied by the outsized mask and the superhero get-up.

Taintbag swirled down the drain of his own creation, the dissonance between his persona and his real self eventually becoming so great that he pulled the plug himself. Gurgle, gurgle, gurgle.

I imagine that he’s a school teacher or a bureaucrat somewhere, incredibly relieved at having set his burden down. Now he can go back to his beloved MTB and tech talk, only wistfully, every once in a while, thinking about Cap Taintbag and maybe even telling himself that he can pick it back up again whenever he wants, even though he knows, I know, we all know, he won’t, and more importantly, he can’t.

Once Bruce Wayne razes the cave and tosses the outfit, he’s done.

The power of your real name

I admired and envied Taintbag. I admired him because he always took the side of right. I envied him because he was an original and a brilliant writer. He was a guy worthy of the highest praise I can muster for anyone, ever: He was a writer worth plagiarizing.

But I pitied him in his anonymity. He was ultimately a coward, a man possessed of great talent and insight and wisdom and decency who was too afraid of the truth to throw himself headlong into it, to announce himself to us so that we could thank him, admire him, and put ourselves at his feet. He had all the qualities of greatness except the one quality that would have made him so: The guts to use his name.

I’ve seen the transformative power that comes with discarding anonymity. Patrick Brady used to be an anonymous blogger who wrote under a pseudonym. One day coming back from Cross Creek I told him to quit being a chickenshit, to ditch the pseudonym, and to start signing his real name to his opinions.

He took my advice and now steers the helm of one of the most influential publications in cycling. He put aside the crippling anonymity of pseudonymous writing and let the You fill the space, then grow beyond it. That’s the power that comes with owning your opinions, with signing your name, your real one, and letting the chips fall where they may.

That’s the difference between people of character, and just plain old people.

When I read the comments that people post to this blog, and I read them religiously, I feel so much respect and admiration for those who cast aside the protections of handles and monikers and fake names and come here to announce themselves as they are, with the names given them by those who brought them into this world.

They stomp around in this Internet cycling gutter and do it in the open. They know that the real currency of real dialogue is real names.

Taintbag, I miss you more than you know. You were master of the Twittersphere, chickenshit and all. The next time you step forward, if you ever do, it will be under your real name, and no one will ever know that you were he.

But shoot me a sly wink. Then I’ll know it’s you. And we can continue on our separate ways, if that’s how it’s meant to be.

The Checklist

December 16, 2012 § 22 Comments

Iron Mike was pedaling up and out of Malaga Cove. “Nice blog post the other day, Wankster!” he said.

“Thanks!”

“I’m gonna put pen to paper one of these days,” he said.

“Just remember the Golden Rule.”

“What’s that?”

“You’ll never be any good if you can’t steal other people’s ideas and claim them as your own.”

He laughed. “I guess I’m out, then.”

It’s not stealing if they give it to you, right?

I got back from the Wheatgrass Ride, had lunch, and then checked my email. There was a note from Mike, and it went like this:

“I got dropped on the climb the other day. In fact, I get dropped on the climb every day. While we were gathering our wits and our breath atop the Switchbacks yesterday, I and a few others began talking about The Checklist. You know, that mental list you go through before, during, and after you get shelled on a climb. Given your readership, I thought you might find it useful.”

And it is!

The Checklist

The scenario’s always the same. You’re weak, they’re strong. You’re slow, they’re fast. You start out in the field of dreams, a minute or so into the climb you enter the field of doubt, quickly transitioning to the field of dread followed by the field of devastation, and concluding with the field of dumb desperation tinged with shame and terminating in the gravel pit of relief at the end when you realize that you weren’t last.

As you plow through the fields, you go through the checklist of Proven Ways To Keep from Getting Shelled That Never Seem To Keep You From Getting Shelled.

  1. Shift to a bigger gear to increase power.
  2. Shift to a smaller gear to increase cadence/speed.
  3. Shift forward on the saddle to increase power.
  4. Shift back on the saddle to increase power.
  5. Stand up to increase power.
  6. Sit down to increase cadence/speed.
  7. Shift onto the drops to increase power.
  8. Shift onto the hoods to increase power.
  9. Shift onto the tops to really open your lungs and increase power.

Somewhere between 1 and 9, you’ve been hideously dropped, as each of these proven techniques is accompanied by a dramatic dropoff in (what else?) power. But the climb is nowhere near over, so you have to start running through the Checklist For Picking Off The Stragglers Ahead Of You.

  1. Let your heart rate recover.
  2. Select a steady cadence.
  3. Regulate your breathing.
  4. Focus on the guy 100 yards ahead.
  5. Forget that the guy 100 yards ahead is a girl. In her 60’s.
  6. Downshift to increase power.
  7. Upshift to increase power.
  8. Focus on a point in the road 20 yards ahead. Forget about the girl.
  9. Get out of the saddle to increase power.
  10. Sit down to increase cadence/speed.
  11. Admit to yourself that the girl is way faster than you.
  12. Look under your arm to make sure no one is using the Checklist For Picking Off The Stragglers Ahead Of You to, in fact, pick you off.

When you look back, you see, indeed, that there are several riders slowly reeling you in. So you go through the Checklist To Stay Ahead Of The Wankers Who You Thought Were Your Friends But Are Actually Trying To Pick You Off, The Sorry Bastards.

  1. Downshift yet again to increase power.
  2. Upshift again dogdammit to increase power.
  3. Get out of the dogdam saddle again to increase power.
  4. Look over your shoulder, accidentally swerve out into the lane and almost get clipped by pissed off motorist.
  5. Sit down to increase cadence/speed.
  6. Spit.
  7. Tell yourself to “find a rhythm.”
  8. Don’t listen to the inner voice saying that you’ve found your rhythm, and it’s in 7/13 time.
  9. Shift onto the drops to relax your back and increase power.
  10. Blot out the reading on your PowerTap, which shows your plummeting power.
  11. Blot out the voices that you can now hear over your own panting as your erstwhile friends run you down.
  12. Sit on the tops and try to keep a casual face to pretend that you weren’t really giving it 100% of every last fiber in your body to stay clear.
  13. Pretend not to notice that they pass you on the tops, their faces relaxed as they try to pretend they weren’t really giving it 100% of every last fiber in their body to catch you.

Now the wanketto of you, the dude with the two spare tires, the hairy-legged chick whose left knee cocks out at a right angle to her bike like she’s finishing up a karate kick, the kid with chainring marks on his right calf, the old fellow with the three rearview mirrors on his helmet, and the pro-looking guys in their twenties on 15K of bike and 15 cents of leg all come by. It’s time to go through the Checklist for Hanging Onto The Grupetto Of Shame In The Hopes That You Can Sit On For The Last Five Minutes Then Attack And Drop Them In The Sprunt.

  1. Downshift to increase power.
  2. Furiously wrench off PowerTap display and throw it into ditch.
  3. Upshift to increase power.
  4. Shift onto the drops to maximize draft from hairy legged dudechick.
  5. Refuse to pull through even though every elbow in the wanketto is flapping like it has a double hinge.
  6. Get out of the saddle to increase power.
  7. Sit down to increase cadence/speed and hopefully, prayerfully, oh please doggity, close that 6-inch gap opening up between you and dudechick.
  8. Regulate breathing to maintain power.
  9. Curse dudechick for not sitting up taller in her saddle to give you a better draft.
  10. Shift onto point of saddle to increase power and close the 2-foot gap between you and dudechick.
  11. Suddenly realize how dangerous it is to be riding so close to other people.
  12. Sit up.
  13. Watch the wanketto ride away.
  14. Tell yourself that today’s an easy day.
  15. Tell yourself that it’s only December.
  16. Tell yourself that you went really hard yesterday.
  17. Tell yourself that you went too hard coming up out of Lunada Bay.
  18. Tell yourself that it’s just a stupid training ride.
  19. Tell yourself that they’re all on drugs.
  20. Tell yourself how glad you are that you don’t take this shit seriously and why don’t these other people get a life?
  21. Tell yourself that you worked 60 hours last week at at a REAL job and you have a wife and kids to support.
  22. Tell yourself that maybe it’s time to get a coach.

Now you’ve caught your breath and the end of the climb is in sight. You look back and see, praise Dog! Someone is slower than you…but he’s gaining! And praise Dog even more, it’s Billy Snurfles, your nemesis, your shadow, the dude who’s never beaten you on a clumb or in a sprunt! Now you go through the final Checklist of Victory.

  1. Reach into your suitcase of courage.
  2. Empty the whole fucking thing out.
  3. Downshift to increase power.
  4. Watch your Garmin spike as you toss out 1,100 watts.
  5. Get out of the saddle to begin your big ring sprunt.
  6. Flail bike from side to side like it’s the 75th Annual Bjarne Riis Bike Toss Contest at Futuroscope.
  7. Grit your teeth like the Lion of Flanders.
  8. Go deeper in the pain cave, the zone of agony, the pit of hell, than you’ve ever gone before.
  9. Throw your bike across the line at the mailbox a scant two inches in front of Billy, who’s about to have an aneurysm of his own.
  10. Stuff the 12-inch string of spit and snot back into your mouth.
  11. Sit up in a victory pose, hands off the bars.
  12. Look over at Billy with your best “Twarn’t nothin'”
  13. Fall off your bike and collapse.

And next weekend?

REPEAT.

South Bay Year in Review

December 14, 2012 § 5 Comments

The year’s over. Stick a fork in it. Done. And what a year it was for the South Bay!

1. Dave Jaeger won the inaugural Belgian Waffle Ride, taking down pros Ryan Trebon, Neil Shirley, Phil Zincke, and oughta-be-a-pro Phil Tintsman. Granted, these other four got off course and didn’t make the mud section with the crazy lady brandishing a shotgun, but knowing the course and following it is part of bike racing.

2. Rudy Napolitano won the national championships on the road for 35+ masters. Don’t tell me he lives in Santa Monica. We’re claiming him anyway.

3. Keith Ketterer set the hour record for his age division. Yes, THAT hour record, the one that Eddy Merckx said was his greatest accomplishment, more than his five Tour wins. Don’t tell me Keith’s up in the Valley. He set the record where he trains…at the Velo Center in Carson. South Bay. Done.

4. Kurt Sato set the world record for his age group in the 500m track TT. Kurt is one of those quiet, unassuming dudes who practices his sport with a monkish devotion. He’s such a fixture at the Velo Center that for the few days this year he didn’t show up due to a pulled hamstring, people were afraid the building might fall down.

5. Jeff Konsmo got second at nationals in the Old Fellows Road Race. Go ahead and call him the First Loser if you dare. I will call him a badass and a superb road racer.

6. David Perez got force upgraded to Cat 2. Folks, that’s just friggin’ news. It’s like VIOS. It’s BIG.

7. Rich Meeker won everything, again. Don’t whine about him being from the OC. He won all the South Bay crits held by CBR and we’re claiming him.

8. Charon Smith devastated his category this year until, towards the end, the other 80 racers in the field figured out that the formula for beating him was DON’T LET CHARON GET IN THE BREAK. ‘Cause nobody’s coming around him in a field sprint without a gasoline engine.

9. Suze Sonye won a bunch of shit this year, establishing herself as the pre-eminent woman racer in the South Bay after a long and arduous comeback. Oh, yeah. She’s almost fifty and dukes it out with the guys.

10. Kristabel Doebel-Hickock earned the distinction of having the hardest name to remember and the most impossible name to write in the South Bay, which is saying something because we also have a dude named “Seyranian,” which is pronounced “gee-three.” Tink won a bunch of races and established herself as the female phenom of the South Bay. There are two, maybe three guys who can outclimb her. But I’ve never actually seen it happen.

11. Chris Lotts kept the drama cranked up by canceling his women’s races, as did the dude from Ontario. Chris brings attention, needed attention, to the fact that women’s racing is a money loser for promoters, and the greater cycling community needs to get its shit together if it’s really serious about increasing women’s participation in road events. Good discussion, cooperation, and maybe even some solutions are forthcoming.

12. Martin Howard took over the reins at Eldo and, after some fits and starts, has come up with a race for which we all have great expectations in 2013. Martin’s also been instrumental in the biketivism of his Long Beach freddies and their efforts to further make Long Beach the nation’s most bicycle and cadmium/mercury/heavy element-friendly community in America.

13. BJ Hale and Dan Munson launched Cycling Illustrated, a national publication that focuses heavily on SoCal and, yes, the South Bay. Hats off to these dudes and their great work.

14. Dorothy Wong proved that women’s participation in bike races (not to mention men’s) is no problem when it comes to ‘cross. She has turned this “new” event into an extraordinary force, with burgeoning line-ups, world-class participants, and fun venue after fun venue.

15. Michael Marckx took the lessons he learned in the South Bay, planted them in North County San Diego, added his own blend of inspired perspiration, and has created a whole new cycling culture “down there.” We’re claiming him, though, as he was born and raised in the South Bay, and mostly because the first time I met him he was wearing a jersey that had the outline of a skeleton on it. For reals. The SPY Belgian Waffle Ride, the SPY Holiday Ride, the SPY-Giant bike team, and the SPY sponsorship of myriad events across SoCal make Michael hands-down the biggest friend of grass roots cycling that we have.

16. The New Pier Ride became the most talked about wankfest in America. This South Bay institution, filled with crazies, has fully adapted to its new route and is now regarded as the quintessential flat road, early morning beatdown. Even Jack from Illinois (not his real name) has given it his seal of approval, and he doesn’t even have a seal.

17. Rahsaan Bahati inspired, motivated, and encouraged countless wankers in 2012 to ride more and to ride better, earning him the title of Dude Who Inspires People on the Bike. He shared, he gave, he laughed, he taught, and mostly he ripped our legs off in 2012.

18. Michael Norris continued his South Bay leadership by showing more and more people that it’s not all about racing–you can have fun, compete, and enjoy cycling in the South Bay just by doing a regular weekend ride with your friends. His Wheatgrass Ride proved in 2012 to be the most inclusive, enjoyable Sunday ride in the galaxy.

19. Gerry Agnew came back from a devastating accident that broke his neck at C2 and required five months in a halo followed by major neck surgery. Most people would be thankful to be alive. Gerry’s back on the track, gunning for the national title that eluded him in 2012. Guts of the Century Award to Gerry.

20. Adam Rybicki returned from an even more devastating accident after being taken out by a drunk carload of girls at 7:00 AM on the PV Sunday Doctor’s Ride. He’s walking, talking, laughing, and, we hope, is not far from being back on the bike. What an inspiration for someone who at the early point in his injury many believed would never move or even talk again.

21. Joe Yule, the creative genius of the South Bay, continued his one-man campaign to beautify the highways by pumping out more and more beautiful, sleek, elegant bicycle outfits for everyone from the Garmin pro team to the NPR wankfest.

22. Kevin Phillips went to US Track Nationals in Colorado. He saw. He conquered (again), this time with a national title in the scratch race. He also set a Strava KOM that couldn’t be beaten until it was ridden in earnest by Taylor Phinney. Kevin will continue his secretive ways in 2013, secret training, secret plans, secret Strava account, secret power data, until all is revealed in another tour de force. Dude’s amazing.

23. South Bay racer and general speedster Jon Davy launched the US division of Fast Forward wheels, a Dutch product that has an impressive list of world palmares in major track and road events.

24. Greg Seyranian proved that Big Orange Cycling of the South Bay is the best grass roots racing club out there, period. The club’s membership swelled in 2012 thanks to Greg’s open dork policy: Everyone welcome, even complete dorks. Those “dorks” of course, with a little support and tutelage, are now ripping our legs off. The club has so many members that the NPR looks like the Big O proxy ride. What if every club was as open and welcoming and skills-oriented as this one?

25. Brian “Tree” Perkins climbed over a million feet this year. That’s just sick. And awesome. We’ll forgive his Santa Monica zip code and claim him anyway.

26. Manny Guzman wore more outlandish outfits than anyone except David Perez. Pink bike? Green bike? Rapha candy stripes? Are you kidding me? No. He’s not.

27. Jake Sorosky became the official South Bay Photographer to the Wankers. In addition to mad photo skills, he’s tough as nails on the bike.

28. Sorry, but the South Bay has the surfboard-bike racer category nailed. Dan Cobley is all the name you need to know, hairy legs and all.

29. Greg Leibert and Leibert Designs continued to do magical stuff for corporate clients like Bonk Breaker, and he continued to give Big Orange their signature look. You’ll never have to wonder where the Big O riders are in the peloton!

30. Emily Georgeson won a bunch of races, dominated in ‘cross, and is on her way to being one of the top women racers in SoCal. Not sure if she’s South Bay proper, but she rides with us all the time so we’re claiming her.

31. The South Bay’s cadre of always dependable women riders were a core part of what makes the scene here so awesome. Chris Gregory, Tiff Meyers, Vicki V., Mel Phillips, Rene Fenstermacher, Julie Lansing, Cheryl Parrish, Laurie Peterson, Michelle Landes, Tara Unversagt, Monika King, Stella Tong, Lynn Ingram, Amy Hutner (not HUNTER!!), Michelle Ignash, Dara Richman, Kristi Morrow, Sarah Mattes, Juliana Bahr-Thompson (our Aussie import), Hani Freudenberger, and a ton of other rad women riders help us raise our game and enjoy our rides day in, day out.

32. Paul Che and Nick Pollack went down to Central America and knocked out a nine-day stage race. Awesome and impressive. Under the tutelage of Rudy Napolitano, we’re expecting Nick to bust ‘em up in 2013.

33. Adam Duvendeck made 2012 the Year of the Velodrome by putting the South Bay’s Velo Center where it belongs: front and center. Lots of  great racing, open training, and a whole new environment to help make the track more than just a “niche within a niche.” Kudos as well to LAVRA.

34. Connie Paraskevin quietly churned out another crop of talented, hard working cyclists. Her work over the years has been extraordinary, and this year is no exception.

35. Jules Gilliam the Young shredded fields, broke legs, and humiliated all but the strongest adult men on the Switchbacks this year time after time. What an impressive racer.

36. Diego Binatena upped his game, upped his category to Cat 2, pulled off another string of impressive junior and Cat 3 wins riding for Team Specialized, and hammed it up for the camera with Pippo Pozzato. Look for this talented and hard working young man to do even greater things in 2013.

37. Gus Bayle made sure that 2012 was another year of the most good-natured peloton in America. This year, though, Gus was more than funny, historical, and always there to help: He’s riding faster and leaner than he has in years. We’re not sure if this is good for, or bad for, his jokes. We’ll let you know.

38. Lauren Mulwitz went to some little race in Colorado, the Leadville Something, and pulled off an amazing result in addition to her stellar finishes in the qualifying races. Thank goodness she hasn’t dived into women’s road racing yet, as she’s got the speed, strength, and savvy to lay waste!

39. Although I know Bakersfield is a bit, uh, far from the South Bay, the contingent of Courtland Keith, Jim Pappe, and Gareth Feldstein made an impact on us. Courtland introduced the pink unicorn socks to the South Bay, courtesy of Gnarlube. Jim represented at countless local ‘cross races. Gareth showed up one day and destroyed on the Switchbacks. They’re doing something right up there in Hooterville.

40. I know I’ve left you off, forgotten something, but hey, it’s 5:25 AM and I’m ready to go back to bed. Drop me a line and I’ll be sure to add your impressive achievement to this signal list!

Where are all the women?

December 11, 2012 § 69 Comments

Chris Lotts recently (as in a few hours ago) pulled the plug on women’s 1-3 races in his local Southern California crits. His reason? For the last twelve years attendance in this category has been dismal. The extra category, as a money loser, has cost him about $5k per year, and he’s tired of losing the money when he could be filling the time with additional men’s races.

The response was swift and fairly clear. People either supported Chris’s right to make whatever business decision he needed to make, or they castigated him for further reducing the opportunity for women’s racing to expand.

The case for Chris

In its simplest formulation, promoting amateur bike races isn’t a charity, though anyone who’s done it will swear that it sure looks like one. Profit margins are usually loss margins after all the bills are paid. Headaches are legion. Whiny, complaining bicyclists act like prima donnas entitled to NFL star treatment, never mind that it’s their fourth Cat 5 race ever.

More to the point, after doing this for twelve years and continually offering the 1-3 category to women, Chris can say definitively that it’s a money loser, that he’s invested as much as he wants to invest, and that until something in the attendance dynamic changes, he’s using the slot to provide races for the people who are hungry to race and willing to pay.

As Chris likes to say, “If I was a restaurant and decided to stop selling goulash because it was the biggest money loser on my menu, no one would give a damn except the three people who like goulash. And even they would understand that it’s a business and I have to make money.”

To put an even finer point on it, Chris’s response is that people who would prefer a bigger, more robust, more enthusiastic environment for women racers should go put a few on and “watch the dump trucks of cash roll up to their door.” His obvious point is simple. There are 52 weekends a year, and anyone passionate enough to promote women’s racing should go out and do it.

His underlying point is not so simple. Women’s racing is poorly attended and it’s not his job to make it well attended.

The argument against

And in this corner, in the pink trunks, are men and women who think that the restaurant analogy fits poorly. Why? Because the decision to cut the goulash doesn’t disproportionately affect women. It’s gender neutral, whereas the decision to reduce the total number of women’s races to one makes women’s racing less than a second-class citizen and more like a tenth-class citizen.

The other problem is that Chris’s arguments are the same ones raised by opponents to Title IX back in the day, when male-dominated sports programs claimed that the absence of women athletes was due to women not wanting to play rather than to the absence of teams, fields, buses, equipment, coaches, and athletic budgets. Once the money flowed into collegiate women’s sports, athletic participation blossomed.

Women and men who have been through the gender wars know that the first club that the Neanderthals pull of the towsack, whether it’s job promotion, college admission, or athletic participation, is that “Women just can’t get their shit together to come out and [fill in the blank]. They just don’t wanna.”

The other argument is that Chris’s job is not just to make money. It’s also to encourage participation and increase the size of the sport for men and for women. His races are some of the biggest and most popular in Southern California, and they are the default race for countless LA riders who want a quick, safe, convenient, professionally run race in their own backyard.

In short, when Chris cuts out a women’s category, it’s felt on a much larger scale than when done by a smaller promoter who may only do one race per year. As a result, the argument goes, he has an obligation to go the extra mile, even if it costs him.

So who’s right?

Chris clearly has the stronger argument when looking at the number of years he’s offered this racing category and when looking at his right to make a buck. Indefinitely supporting an event that’s a money loser when it’s your money being lost makes no sense unless you’re engaged in philanthropy or are spending taxpayer dollars.

Those opposed to dropping the 1-3 races have the stronger argument when they point to Title IX. You can’t increase women’s participation by reducing their opportunities to race.

Rather than raising the fist of either party in victory, I’d suggest that both are right, but that the solution lies outside of Chris’s weekend crit series. Bike racers are lucky to have Chris Lotts in their backyard, promoting races for over a decade both on the weekend and, until this year, during the week as well. If the decisions he makes keep him in business, then more power to him. If the decisions he makes reduce racing for any given category, well, go organize a race and see if you can get people to attend. It’s not as easy as it looks, and it looks fiendishly difficult.

The bigger problem of “Where are all the women racers?” is affected by Chris’s decision somewhat, but I’d maintain that it’s not his job to solve the problem all by himself. As Title IX proved, increased participation and development of women athletes takes time, mentoring, and money. Especially money.

So where’s all the money?

I’m agog at the number of women cyclists in Southern California. Some local bike shops have entire squads of hobby cyclists composed exclusively of women. One of them, the PV Biker Chicks, has over 150 billion regular riding members.

Racing squads like Helen’s and LaGrange also sport large contingents of women riders, and the unaffiliated women riders who you can see at all hours of the day in all the usual cycling venues testify further to the strong financial support that underlies women’s participation in cycling.

What all this doesn’t translate into, though, is women bike racers of the 1-3 categories. Leaving aside for the moment that blowing snot rockets and farting on the bike at 30 mph while bumping bars through a turn doesn’t fit the traditional definition of feminine, it seems to me that the problem is no different from the problems faced by women’s collegiate sports before Title IX.

What if, instead of pounding away at Chris (which I’ll admit is fun), those interested in expanding women’s racing fully funded two or three new women’s categories in the CBR crit series? The venue’s already there. The organization’s already in place. The teams and clubs already have the riders and the budgets.

Best of all, it would be much cheaper and easier to integrate additional women’s categories into an existing, established race than to go out and promote a new one. This, of course, is where the rubber meets the road. Where money talks, and bullshit walks. Where cliches are so numerous they have to queue up in order to get mentioned.

If the people and entities who vocally support women’s crit racing  want to see it grow, they should offer to fund some of these races within the CBR framework. The worst that could happen is that it would fail for thirteen years in a row rather than just twelve.

The best is that, with some real skin in the game (cliche, check!), the clubs and organizations would start pushing harder to develop their riders and get them to show up and enter races. It would be…(cliche drumroll…)

A win-win!

Schooling the big dudes

December 10, 2012 § 29 Comments

Dave Gonyer. The name even sounds big. And it is. Two hundred pounds of big. “Gonyer.” Makes me think of a huge dump truck loaded with slabs of rebar.

“Hey, bubba. Back up the Gonyer a couple more feet so we can unload the concrete.”

“I almost got run off the fuckin’ road by a Gonyer. Damn operator didn’t even see me.”

Gonyer. It’s actually an Americanization of the French surname “Gagne.” But lest you think it’s French as in “Those wusses who drink lattes and discuss poetry on the Left Bank,”…nuh-uh.

The Gagne clan are from the Central Massif Departement of France, which means “Region of Massive Testicles.” They worked for generations in the mines, where their hereditary occupation was “prendre le merdre pendeleuse,” or “carrying heavy shit.”

The Gonyers are big people. Heavy people. Stoic draggers of useless things without complaint.

How’d our roles get reversed?

I had driven down to North County San Diego for the Swami’s Poker Ride. It’s a 51-mile, four-person team time trial. You get the time of your slowest rider. The only other rule is that there are no rules.

Over the last year or so I’ve developed a love-hate relationship with North County, but haven’t yet discovered the “love” part of the equation. My trips there follow a pattern.

Good buddy MMX: “Hey WM, why don’t you come down to North County next weekend? We’re having the [insert name of awful-sounding ride] and you could ride with us. It will be fun.”

Me: “Uh, okay. Sure. Thanks for the invitation.”

Once I get there I find out that the “fun” consists of MMX and the other North County zombies tearing my legs off, shelling me forty miles from home, and leaving me adrift in a sea of endless, stabbing rollers.

This time, though I’d been put on the Team from Hell with MMX and David Anderson, I was relieved to see that there was another rider on our team, Gonyer, clearly unfit for duty and in comparison with whom I would appear fit and fast, for a change.

Before the ride started, Jim Miller came up to me. “How you feeling, WM?”

“Great,” I said. “We might actually have a shot at winning this if it weren’t for the weak link.”

“Oh?”

I nodded over at Gonyer.

Jim looked at me quizzically. “Gonyer? He’ll do fine.”

I shook my head. “Not with this crowd. MMX is loaded for bear. David is coming off a state win in ‘cross. I’m as lean as I’ve ever been. Dude’s going to peg out on the climbs, and since our time is based on the slowest rider, Team Nemesis will beat us. Looks like I’ll be dragging weak link’s ass all over San Diego County.”

Jim laughed. “You’ve got it all figured out, don’t you, buddy? Ride safe.”

Warming up, then getting into a rhythm

We were the next-to-last-team to start, just in front of Team Nemesis, which consisted of Slasher, Assassin, The Hand of God, and Dandy. We rolled out and MMX slowly brought up the pace so that we had a chance to get good and warmed up.

Then, after those first 200 yards were completed, he sprinted away. One after another we clawed our way to his wheel as he continually looked back to see if Team Nemesis was gaining.

By the end of Mile One we’d overhauled Team Stefanovich. MMX and David took turns attacking the group. By the end of Mile Two I was done, hardly able to hold a wheel. Gonyer was gassed, too.

By Mile Ten we’d shed Team Stefanovich and passed Team Nemesis, who had taken a shortcut to get ahead of us but had gotten three flats courtesy of Karma, who is a bitch.

After the first checkpoint, at Mile Fifteen, I was unable to pull through. It had become clear that although Gonyer was equally gassed, his ample width meant that getting on his wheel was the Cadillac draft. “What the hell,” I thought. “He can tow me for a while. I’ll be towing him soon enough.”

Sharing the work by not working

Now my three teammates were doing all the work, and as we whizzed down one long descent Gonyer, who wasn’t very good at pointing shit out, rolled over a manhole cover. The civil engineers in North County had all decided that the best place to put big manholes with 2-inch lips was in the middle of the bike lane, so when Gonyer hit this one, his rear bottle popped out of the cage and exploded.

Karma Bitch paid me for my suckery when the contents of the bottle coated me from helmet to foot. This was the bottle in which Gonyer had put his triple-thick mixture of Fanta grape soda pop, with a viscosity of approximately 250 Pa·s, the same as peanut butter.

My glasses were immediately coated with grape goop, and long sticky goopcicles hung from my nose and helmet and chin. Everyone thought it was hilarious, but I was having a hard time getting the joke, so I figured if I sat in some more I would perhaps understand it better.

TTT tactics for people who hate TTT’s

Although we were nominally called “Team MMX,” in reality we were doing ITT MMX. As we rolled up one long climb, popping Gonyer off the back, I remarked to MMX, “You dropped Gonyer.”

MMX shrugged. “He knows how to chase.”

“But we’re only as fast as our slowest guy.”

“He’d better hurry, then.”

Unlike other teams, whose strategy revolved around sheltering the weak in order to maintain the highest average speed by keeping the group together and benefiting from the draft, MMX’s strategy was to destroy his teammates and make them go faster through fear, humiliation, and pain.

Gonyer caught back on. It was working.

Somewhat disappointed that his own team was still together, despite chasing down and dropping half a dozen of the teams in front of us, MMX gave the next set of death commands. “We will take the dirt.”

The ride had a “dirt” option where you could get an extra card for your poker hand by taking a “short” and “easy” off road section. At the Thirty Mile checkpoint we got our card plus an extra card for the dirt, and pounded on.

MMX and David shot off down the dirt trail, which was studded with boulders, gravel, a creek sporting 2-feet of soft mud on either bank, steep successions of sandy walls, plunging descents through off-camber corners with sheer drops and mined with sharp stones and numerous other “interesting features.” We passed countless dead and wounded Swamis in various states of bike carrying, bike dragging, flat repairing, or just holding each other and sobbing.

Before vanishing, David had admonished Gonyer to “ride lightly in the saddle” as he wasn’t a ‘crosser.

“WTF?” he said. “Two hundred pounds don’t ride anything light.”

I felt sorry for him, briefly, until my own self-preservation needs took over.

The last thing I heard him say, just before plunging into the mud pit, was “What the…..?”

Bring out your dead

Thankfully, MMX had flatted at the end of the dirt road. I staggered over to a fence and peed. Rummaging through my jersey pocket I pulled out a handful of GU gels and crammed them down my throat. We still had fifteen miles to go and I was done. Dead. Bonked. Cratered. Finished. Waxed.

“Where’s Gonyer?” asked David.

“Hell if I know. A long ass way back.”

“No he isn’t,” said Dave. “There he is!”

Gonyer whipped off the dirt just as MMX finished changing the flat. The other four-man SPY-Giant team was there too, and we left together.

“How you doing?” asked MMX. He had a thin smile cut across his face that said many things, but of all the things it said, none of them was “I hope you’re doing okay and if not I will help you.”

“I’m done,” I said.

“No, you’re not. Just one more climb and then you’re done. Questhaven.”

He punched ahead as the other riders accelerated up a short roller.

At the mention of Questhaven, my legs seized. Just one more climb. Questhaven. That’s like saying “Just one more island to hop: Iwo Jima. Oh, and you’ll be landing in the first wave. With a bow and arrow.”

Gonyer came undone ahead of me and I toiled up to his rear wheel. In more than thirty years of cycling I’ve never been so undone so far from the car. This was a level of emptiness, of bonk, of mental and physical collapse that could only be explained by the fact that I had been eating a diet to sustain a squirrel while making the physiological demands of a professional rock climber. I wasn’t going to make it.

“You okay, buddy?” asked Gonyer.

“No.”

“Just sit on, then.”

I nodded, licking the strings of grape shrapnel from my face, thankful for the carbs.

The tow truck

Gonyer proceeded to haul me up hill, down dale, and along straightaways at blistering speeds. Never flicking an elbow for me to come through, easing up each of the several dozen times I came off, waiting for me atop every climb, patiently signaling the turns and coaxing me along, he showed more grit and teamwork and camaraderie in those fifteen miles than I’d shown since 1982.

Somehow I got over Questhaven. “It’s all downhill from here,” he said. “Sit tight.”

Momentarily elated, I soon realized that in North County when they say “downhill” they also mean “uphill.” Dropped, reattached, repeat…

As we got close to the barn, he turned to me. “You just having a bad day?”

“No.”

“Did you do a lot of high intensity miles this week?”

“No.”

“Just getting back on the bike?”

“No.”

“What’s the problem, then?”

“I’m…just…not…very…good.”

Gonyer shook his head. “Well, good effort, anyway. If you have four dudes, someone’s got to be the weak link. No shame in that.”

No shame, indeed.

Fit, fast, and falling apart at the seams

December 8, 2012 § 16 Comments

This past year a number of fit, fast older cyclists here in Southern California have keeled over with various heart and cardiovascular ailments. The ones I know have survived. I’m sure that if they hadn’t been active cyclists, the illnesses would have been fatal.

We often treat cycling like it’s some kind of magic bullet against disease. It isn’t.

What cycling does, unfortunately, is mask some aspects of ill health by allowing us to engage in intense athletic activity. When we do the hard workout or finish the hard race, we imagine that we’re healthy. Sometimes, we aren’t.

The longest-lived people in the world, the Japanese, didn’t get that designation due to being competitive cyclists. They’re older than anyone else because of what they eat.

Every time I hear some cyclist proudly crow that “Cycling allows me to eat whatever I want,” I silently reply “No, it doesn’t.”

You can’t argue with the health benefits

I’ve met so many people who went from being a physical shambles to being in great health simply through cycling. A guy I used to be friends with in Japan, an undertaker, had high blood pressure, was about to go on beta-blockers, was at least eighty pounds overweight, had all kinds of joint pains, and looked about twenty years older than his real age of 40.

After one month of easy bicycling along the Tagawa bike path his blood pressure plunged to normal. After two months he’d dropped forty pounds. Once he upped the mileage and got “into” cycling he lost the remaining forty, shed an additional ten or fifteen, and became stronger and fitter than  he’d been since his football-playing days in high school.

While commuting home two weeks ago I ran into an older guy, mid-50’s, who’d also been told to drop fifty and get on blood pressure meds. Instead he started riding, and six months later, same thing: No need for medication, all the excess gone, and he was fit enough to do a daily climb up Via del Monte and a loop around the Hill after work.

Stories like this are so commonplace that they hardly bear repeating, as the pattern is the same. Person is fat and has high bp. Person takes up cycling. Person is transformed.

Cycling as an apology for bad habits

What we talk about less, especially among ourselves, is the other trajectory, the fit and fast cyclists whose lifestyles are posters for bad habits, but who, thanks to decades of hard athletic endeavor, can tolerate the abuse and still perform on the bike. They’re our friends, our acquaintances, our teammates.

Often as not, they’re shedding us from the group or breaking our legs, so who are we to criticize them?

What they also are is getting older, and no matter how tough or how able to tolerate the abuse, every human body has a limit where the booze or the grease or the big belly start to claim their due.  What I’ve seen this past year, and what I expect will become more commonplace as we age, is the “surprising” onset of heart disease among fit cyclists. It’s heart disease that would have or should have gotten underway lots earlier, and perhaps it did, but cycling somehow masked it or allowed the body to continue performing even as the illness progressed.

All this talk about health has made me hungry.

Pass the Hag bars, would you?

Wankmeister cycling clinic #16: Race strategy

December 6, 2012 § 10 Comments

Dear Wankmeister:

I was force-upgraded to Cat 2 just as I was on the cusp of the greatest victory and accomplishment and achievement of my life, yes, of course I’m talking about the Cat 3 SoCal Cup victory. No one was even in my zip code and they took it away from me just like that, depriving me of so much, taking away so much from my family, my wife, my children, and of course my legacy.

But I’m not bitter. Not at all. Not even a little.

Instead, I’m taking a negative and making it a positive. I’m taking lemons and making lemonade (you need oranges for that, right?). When one door closes I will kick another one in with my head and just hope it’s not the door to the ICU.

So I’ve set my sights on winning big in 2013. Taking home the glory with the big boys in the Masters 35+ field just like I schooled the punks in the Cat 3 and Cat 4 and Cat 5 except for those few times I splatted on my face and busted out all my teeth. The “BIG DUDE” I’ll be throwing down with is a dude named Norach Htims (that’s not his REAL name, “wink, wink,” it’s in CODE–hint, tnih). Problem is I need some strategic help because of the following analysis:

1–I’m a sprunter, Norahc’s a sprunter, except he wins a lot, which makes him more of a sprinter.

2–I’m a beast in the weight room, Norahc’s a beast in the weight room, except he’s kind of, like, more of a beast.

3–I’m dedicated to the program 24/6, but Norahc’s dedicated 24/7. As a family man I just can’t dedicate those 2.5 hours of family time while I’m snoring in church to go out and do something stupid like ride my bike. It’s just a hobby. I really feel sorry for people who are as old as me and think they’re going to get a pro contract some day. Sad, really.

4–I can’t climb, Norahc can’t climb. But we can both clumb.

5–My team is filled with deadbeats and wankers so I’m always on my own, but Norahc has a cadre of dudes who can cover breaks, chase attacks, and lead him out in the sprunt. This year they added more horses to the stable, but all my team got was this dude named Pepe who’s, like 127 lbs. and barfs every time we go over 23 mph.

6–My team kit this year is done by Joe Yule at StageOne, and Norahc will still be wearing some variation of that lame outfit designed with architectural drawing software.

7–I’m SPY, he’s Oakley.

So that’s the down and dirty. Help me, Wanky. If this works out I’ll make sure you get a cut from the pro contract I’m angling for.

Secretively,
Evad Zerep (That’s not my REAL name, “wink, wink,” it’s in CODE too–EDOC, get it?)

Dear Evad:

I’ve tried really hard to figure out the real names in this soap opera, but it’s beyond my feeble powers, so I’ll just call you “Frankendave,” okay?

After looking at the tip sheet, it’s clear that for looks and visual acuity, you have this Norahc dude beaten before the race even starts. Oakley is for wankers, straight up, and without a custom StageOne kit, he’ll always be second or third-rate when the race finishes and people start critiquing the podium-wear.

Problem is, as long you’re racing against him, you’re never gonna get to the podium unless you change things up. That’s where Wanky can help. So take out the ol’ pen and pencil and copy this shit down, because Wanky’s gonna give you some victory tips for 2013. I don’t care how good this Norahc dude is, he can be beaten (okay, maybe not by you), but more importantly, he doesn’t have the Wankmeister calling the strategy shots, and you do. He’s got the swank, but you’ve got the Wank.

1–After looking at his 2012 race results, Norahc is winning races for one reason and one reason only: He’s the first guy over the line. That’s it, simple as A-B-C. You can p*wn him every day, every race, by finishing in front of him. So it’s pretty easy, actually. Just go a tad faster and then you’ll be first, not him. Okay, a shitload faster. Okay, a few time zones faster. Whatever.

2–The best way to beat a sprinter is to get on his wheel and come around him at the end. For all your races next year, you will need to get on Norahc’s wheel with one lap to go. Then, just as he takes off, give him a couple of pedal strokes to accelerate, stay in his draft, then YOU push the pedals even harder and rocket by him. Then you’ll be the winner and he’ll be the first loser.

3–Since no one’s going to let Norahc ride in a break with them, your next best game plan is to get in the winning break. When you see the winning break go, just ride up to them and hop on. It may seem hard riding by yourself away from 150 people to cross a windswept, rolling 45-second gap, but that’s just in your head. Once you’re in the break just sit there and rest. Don’t do a thing. Then all the other guys like Paolinetti and Tintsman and MJ and DiMarchi, who will have been working like Trojans the whole race and who will have let you sit back there steeping tea and tightening the ratchets on your shoes, will all be TUCKERED OUT. You just hit the gas and dust ‘em in the sprint. Norahc will be so far back he’ll finish with the next age category.

4–If plans 1-3 fail? Downgrade. Or better yet, register as a new racer under the name Evad Zerep. No one will know! (Wink, kniw!)

Yllacigetrats,
Wankmeister

Hey, Wankmeister Dude:

I’m a Cat 2 sprinter champion all-star ladies’ man very humble person who races with the Masters 35+. I’m not afraid of anyone especially this new guy I’m gonna tell you about who just upgraded. I don’t want to use any names because it’s a small community and people start talking and Facebooking and pretty soon even though you just said, “She’s a nice girl,” people have made it out like you knocked up the chick and are marrying her sister at a shotgun wedding. So I’m just gonna call this dude “Evad Zerep,” kind of like my own code. Name’s not important anyway because I sure ain’t scared of this dude.

Nah, he’s nothin’, you can take my word for it. When he finally lines up against me next year I’m going to dismantle him I got no problems with this dude. He’s a friend but on the bike I’m not scared of him at all. You can take that to the bank. Just not Countrywide.

But, even though I ain’t scared of this dude, somebody like YOU would be because actually for a wanker dude he’s pretty quick. He’s not near as quick as me, got it? But he’s a thousand times quicker than YOU’LL ever be. No offense, but I’ve seen those pictures of you in the weight room and I’ve seen you race and dude, you suck. No offense.

So anyway, let’s say someone like you is really worried about this Zerep dude, right? You’re, like, staying up at night, and checking out his FB, and getting intel on him and watching everything he does because YOU’RE afraid, and you should be.

So now, here’s my question: How would a scared slow dude like YOU (not a super fast un-scared dude like me) race against this Zerep dude to beat his ass? That’s my question.

I ain’t scared of no one for nothing,
Htims Norahc

Dear Htims:

I’m actually not scared of this Zerep dude at all, except on Tuesdays and Thursdays when he shows up on the NPR, because I don’t have to race against him. You, on the other hand, should be terrified. You’ll have your hands full in 2013 with this Zerep character. Don’t ever underestimate a cross-dressing Puerto Rican who can wear green and yellow and not get immediately thrown in jail. Dude’s got skills.

You can beat him, though, because you’ve got the Wankmeister on your side. He’s got the swank, but you’ve got the Wank. Let me walk you through it.

1–Dude’s most dangerous move is the 200m head-throw. This is where you’re going full gas, you think you’ve got him at the line, when just at the last second he hurls himself off his bike and passes you, face-first, by a nose. It’s bloody and nasty and there’s tooth enamel everywhere afterwards, but a vee is a vee is a vee. To counter the head-throw all you need to do is wear one of those big Groucho Marx fake glasses-and-big-nose disguises. Zerep’s nose is too short to beat one of those, even with a solid face toss.

2–Dude’s next most dangerous move is the 350m skitterchop. Just as you’re coming through the last turn, he slides his back wheel and cuts the turn and sends the top-placed four or five riders over the curb and onto the gurney. Dude’s arms are raised for the last 200m, the only person even close is the paramedic. Your best counter when he starts to slide, wobble, and chop, is to scream out “Free Rapha socks right THERE!” He’ll twist his neck, let off on the gas, rear tire won’t skitter, and you’ll come through the turn and leave him in the dust. By the way, what the hell are you doing behind him?

3–Zerep Coffee Zing: Watch out for this one because it happens BEFORE the race starts. You’re standing under your team tent, getting your nuts waxed by some hot exercise physiologist, excuse me, I mean warming up on the trainer, and you’re also sipping on your favorite soy latte double froo-froo mocha caramel quaddro espresso, and that cup is hot. Fiery hot. Zerep comes up behind you and sticks his tongue in your ear. Poof! You spill the coffee on the head of the masseuse, scald her scalp, and she bites down on your, uh, pedal. OWWWW! Blood loss in the big tent! You lose half a pint while it takes four strong men to wrap a giant tarp around the massive bleeding and wounded, uh, pedal. That half a pint is the margin of victory, Htmis. So: Take care of all your “warm-up” the night before, and save race day for racing.

Well, that’s all the golden advice for today. Happy racing, and Doog Kcul!

Supportively,
Wankmeister

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