July 20, 2014 § 16 Comments
After years of lagging behind their more talented brethren in Southern California, bike racers in Northern California are finally beginning to make incremental improvements that, they hope, will eventually bring them on a par with the more accomplished southerners.
“It’s going to take years,” says top racer Johnny Metoprol “but we have to close the gap. It’s a total embarrassment, and thank goodness that Logan has stepped up.”
CitSB was able to sit down with NorCal racer Logan Loader and discuss his recent results.
CitSB: So, it’s a been whirlwind these last few days, I suppose.
CitSB: And I guess it gives new meaning to your last name.
LL: (laughs) They used to call me “loaded” in junior high, actually.
CitSB: How did this all come about?
LL: NorCal has been several steps behind SoCal for a really long time; it’s that simple. It got to the point to where we were asking ourselves practically every day, “When is USADA going to start showing us some of the love?”
CitSB: How do you feel now?
LL: I’m pretty pleased. SoCal racers aren’t the only ones who know how to get busted. My inbox has exploded with congratulations.
CitSB: Why methylhexaneamine? That’s a pretty weak drug to get popped for.
LL: I knew I’d hear criticism that it wasn’t really big time, I mean, we all know about the guys in SoCal shooting cortisone up into their superficial dorsal veins before races …
CitSB: Their what?
LL: Dorsal veins. You know, the superficial dorsal vein. It’s the one on your … you know … gee, this is kind of embarrassing.
LL: Right? And frankly the guys in NorCal aren’t at that level yet. Not to mention the girls. But methylhexaneamine seemed like a good place to start. After my 8-month ban runs I’d for sure like to try some of the better stuff. One step at a time.
CitSB: Any other reasons that an aspiring doper might start off with methylhex? Do you have some advice for the youngsters out there?
LL: Sure. Best thing is that it works great with the “loose powder” defense that was used so successfully by your masters guy down in SoCal last year. You get popped, fill a container with some contaminated substance, and blame it on the manufacturer. And you smile a lot and say “I’m sorry.” Got me down from 2 years to 8 months.
CitSB: Don’t you think the manufacturers are getting a little tired of being blamed every time some hacker turns up positive?
LL: No doubt, but as long as you don’t actually name the manufacturer and just blame it on an “over-the-counter supplement,” it’s pretty much a victimless crime.
CitSB: Let’s go to your tearful confession for a minute, the one that was posted in VeloNews. Pretty funny stuff.
LL: (really laughs) Right? My favorite line was “I will take full responsibility for my failure to properly read the manufacturer’s label and check for prohibited substances and fully understand the consequences.”
CitSB: That’s a howler, all right. Makes it sound like instead of being a douchebag drug cheat you’re just some moron with a reading problem.
LL: (really, really laughs) Right? (Guffaws, drizzles spit)
CitSB: The apology part was pretty funny, too, especially apologizing to your family.
LL: Like they give a flying fuck, right? It’s shameful enough that I’m a bike racer.
CitSB: Right. My favorite line was this one: “At no point was I attempting to enhance my performance or take part in any unethical practices or sportsmanship.” I mean, if you weren’t trying to enhance your performance why were you taking a supplement? To diminish it?
LL: Hee, hee. We talked a lot about whether to throw in the line about taking part in unethical practices or sportsmanship.
CitSB: I’m sure. What does it even mean?
LL: Nothing. It was just stupid-sounding flummery that we figured was dumb enough for VeloNews.
CitSB: How has your team responded?
LL: High fives all around. We think that with practice and getting used to handling the superficial dorsal vein and a 65-guage Tuohy needle, we can step up our game. No pain, no gain.
CitSB: Goals for 2015?
LL: I think the entire NorCal racing community is behind me when I say we can get a solid 5-year ban in the next twelve months.
CitSB: A second violation might do the trick.
CitSB: Any last thoughts?
LL: My ultimate dream? A lifetime ban. That would even the score pretty darned quick.
CitSB: Good luck. You can do it.
July 15, 2014 § 11 Comments
With the recent crash-abandons of Andy Schleck, Chris Froome, Mark Cavendish, Frank Schleck, Fabian Cancellara, Alberto Contador, and the remaining 189 riders, the lead in this year’s Tour de France passed today to unheralded Mathers Tumpkins, a little-known domestique for Team Diaper. Diaper was the last team to receive a wildcard invitation, and Tumpkins, a/k/a “Jellyroll,” was the last rider to be selected.
Tumpkins appeared astonished at being led to the podium and asked to pull on the coveted leader’s jersey. “One minute I’m the lanterne rouge and the next I’m on a stage sticking my tongue down some bimbo’s throat watching the Badger punch out some bum in a wheelchair. Dayum!”
Evgeni Mxyzptlk, director of Team Diaper, was also suprised. “That’s the shits, as we say on Team Didy. Only reason Tumpkins even got on the team was because his father owns the company.”
After Froome’s multiple bicycle-falling-off incidents and resultant boo-boo, the biggest news of the day aside from everyone giving up was Contador’s falling-off-incident. El Dopalero was eating a banana when he inadvertantly flung aside the remains and his bicycle slipped on the peel. Dramatic photos show El Dopalero’s bike frame cracked in half; bystanders said that Contador rode into a small 12-foot pothole and snapped the frame.
Specialized immediately issued a press release denying that its frame was weak, substandard, shoddily made, or in any way less than perfect. The release is printed in full below:
Specialized deeply regrets losing El Dopalero from the 2014 Tour de France. However, the catastrophic failure that appeared to occur when he slipped on a banana peel and rode off into a mine shaft had nothing to do with the integrity of the frame despite alleged eyewitness accounts.
Eyewitnesses were flown to a Specialized Rendition Center in Uzbekistan where it was determined through perfectly legal measures that they were drunk at the time of the accident. Each witness signed a full confession admitting that Specialized makes perfect bikes of uncompromising structural integrity.
Specialized fully intended to make the witnesses available to the media, but after signing their confessions they accidentally fell down some stairs and died. Moreover, in the event that El Dopalero did not fall into a volcano crater, we are prepared to offer evidence that the frame broke because it was damaged while passing the Belkin team car, or because it got run over by accident after El Dopalero fell, or because it was mauled, but not eaten, by the dog.
Race leader Tumpkins was circumspect about the crash and mass abandons as he chewed on his fourth donut and swigged from a bottle of beer. “Look, it’s all the same to me whether he rode off a cliff or is having a heavy monthly flow. Fact is, there’s no one left in the Tour except me and I intend to take my fuggin’ time.”
Mxyzptlk concurred. “There is no reason to rush anymore. Everyone else has gone home. This last 450-mile cobbled uphill headwind freezing rain and ice stage was too much, even for Jens Voigt and his pharmacist.”
When asked whether fans would stick around for a 2-week victory parade, Mxyzptlk shrugged and turned the corners of his mouth down in that funny Euro way which essentially means, “Who gives a fuck?”
Facebag issues Tour de France news blackout
In related Tour news, Mark Suckerberg, president of social media giant Facebag, issued a press release regarding the new Tour Blackout algorithm. “We have set up Facebag so that nothing can be posted on it anymore before the entire Tour concludes, thus saving sensitive members of our community from having the event spoiled for them.”
The new algorithm was apparently developed in response to the piteous cry made by Mr. Mailliw Enots, winner of the not-so-coveted 2013 Most Time on Facebag Award. Enots’s plea for help is reproduced below:
It is really terrible when blatherskite people post the Tour results before I return home from work because, juice box. Those who do this apparently have a deep seeded (sic) disorder marked by wanting to be considered important and knowing when they have done nothing to suggest they are either. This posting of spoiler things must be stopped.
Although it was later pointed out that Enots hasn’t been to work since 1974, and a study team posed the question of why he was on a web site that exists specifically to spoil everyone’s fun about sporting results while posting photos of last night’s dinner and cats, Suckerberg took pity on the orthographically challenged Savant from Hooterville.
“While it does seem strange that someone would be surfing Facebag at work (you get fired for that here at Facebag), and even stranger that they would be surprised to find out what happened in the day’s major sporting event, some people deserve pity, and if not that, at least a healthy measure of contempt, or both, and he is one.”
It is not clear how Facebag or Enots will deal with the fact that Mathers Tumpkins seems poised to win every successive stage until Paris.
July 9, 2014 § 52 Comments
Ronnie Toth qualifies as a phenom. In one year he went from a beginner trying out his first race to a Cat 1. Those who know him and who have raced with him agree that he is talented, hard working, and destined for success in the bike racing world. He entered the Manhattan Beach Grand Prix on Sunday, his first Pro race.
Today he’s on the incredibly long and painful road to recovery from a horrific accident in which he hit the steel barriers face first as he sprinted for the finish. His facial and head injuries are significant, and a fund has been set up to help defray his medical costs. You can donate here.
Whether Ronnie will be able to return to racing is unknown. But what is known is this: USAC in Southern California is complicit in his injuries and in many of the bad crashes that occur here on a regular basis. Our safety record is horrific, and testimony to USAC’s failures includes the death of Chris Cono in a Pro 1/2/3 race last year.
People who race in the Pro 1/2/3 races and in the Masters 35+ races, where the speed is often higher than the pro race, recount a battleground environment in which the most aggressive racers throw elbows, dive-bomb turns, brake-check, hip-check, and engage in a whole host of shitty maneuvers that have nothing to do with bike racing and everything to do with risky, violent intimidation. The worst offenders are well known, both the masters and the pros.
However, this isn’t the fault of the racers. They only do what the USAC officials will let them get away with, and one of the state’s top masters racers, recently returned from Tour of America’s Dairyland in Wisconsin, was blown away by the chief official there, Brett Griggs, who also happens to be the 2013 USAC Official of the Year.
Unlike SoCal, where officials don’t know anything about racing and don’t care what’s going on in the peloton, Griggs (an ex pro) and his team are watching the corners and after each race are proactively quizzing the riders. “Anyone dive-bombing? Chopping?” Riders who get reported or who are seen riding unsafely get a stern talking to, or they get pulled. Unsafe behavior isn’t tolerated. Crashes happen, but not due to repeat offender-type offenses because repeat offenders are disciplined and yanked.
Compare this with SoCal, where at one very publicized race this year a masters racer chopped and brake-checked another rider in a fast turn, almost causing a horrific crash. When the two riders took their complaint to the chief official, he stood there like a tree stump while the riders shouted at each other for half an hour. The official never said a single word. The riders walked away in disgust and the races went on, even though there were numerous eyewitnesses to the egregious and dangerous chop.
USAC officials in SoCal are famous for having no racing experience and for their random, clueless officiating, and it shows with regard to their approach to safety, or lack thereof.
I’ve never had a race official in SoCal or heard of one enforcing safe behavior in a crit or quizzing riders after a race. That’s because they are on site to collect their extortion from the promoter and they don’t give a rat’s ass what happens to the riders. The promoters can’t run races and monitor racer behavior, nor should they. That’s why they pay precious entry fee money to USAC officials, who rarely do anything beyond blowing the whistle.
Ronnie Toth’s terrible accident proves it. Many riders who are incredibly gifted and who jet up through the ranks in a compressed period of time do not always have the bike handling skills to match their physical prowess. This is such a well known aspect of cycling that categories exist to separate those with skills (supposedly) from those who don’t. Although I have never raced with him, one racer in the MBGP race on Sunday reported that Ronnie was “all over the place” and discussed it with other riders after the accident.
Moreover, the nature of his crash — a single rider sprinting, perhaps with his head down, in a straight line, into side barriers, with no other riders hitting him seems to indicate that his bike handling skills were not on a par with his Cat 1 license. There was a similar into-the-barriers crash by a relatively new Cat 1 or Cat 2 rider at the first race in the 805 crit series this year as well, and it too resulted in serious injuries.
Whether an aggressive and safety-oriented official would have been aware of this during the race or at other races and would have been able to proactively deal with the problem by pulling Ronnie is open to question, but judging from the way officials like Griggs in Wisconsin monitor safety, it certainly seems like they could have. At the very least, an aggressive policy of policing the peloton during and after races would decrease the mayhem that seems to characterize racing here which, thanks very much, is already dangerous enough.
Of course, that would require officials to do more than graze through the donut boxes.
With fatalities, lots of bad crashes, and officials who stand around with their thumbs up their asses, USAC in SoCal has the burden to start taking their job seriously. Our lives (News flash!!) depend on it.
I received an email from a person involved with the San Diego Velodrome and the aftermath of the death of rider Jackie Dunn. He criticized my article in detail. I asked him to post it as a comment, or to allow me to reproduce it anonymously, but never heard back. Since some of his criticism is valid I will summarize an edited version below. More importantly, he referred to a number of changes that have occurred since Jackie’s death which clearly show that better officiating and changing the culture at USAC can have important ramifications for riders.
1. At the time Jackie died, there was no USAC official because it was not a USAC race, therefore my attempt to link her death to bad USAC officiating was inaccurate, and it wrongly directed Internet outrage to USAC.
My response: I’ve deleted this inaccurate reference from the article.
2. The velodrome responded to Jackie’s death by:
– Harder promotions through the A/B/C/D series [not sure what this means, perhaps making it harder to move up through the categories, which is great]
–Embedded, vocal “mentor” riders in C/D [categories]
–Much more liberal use of official warnings, disqualifications in A/B [categories]
–Much more liberal use of unofficial “talks” to certain riders
–Updated emergency plan, with assigned roles
–A new role, which is in the event of any crash, no matter how insignificant, there’s a person who goes around and interviews any rider who saw the crash, and asks them what happened, and writes down the answers. This is used by the non-USAC officials to decide how to handle it, and to develop a record if there are patterns involving certain people.
My response: This shows two things. First, that whatever officiating was taking place at the velodrome when Jackie died, even though it was non-USAC, it was deemed insufficient and drastic steps were taken to improve it. That’s great and is a model for what USAC officials should be doing at SoCal crits and road races. Although my criticisms were directed at USAC, the above shows that officiating in non-USAC races as well can benefit from the kind of changes that SD Velodrome has implemented. It was my fault for calling Jackie Dunn’s race a USAC race, but the relationship between bad officiating and bad accidents still stands, no matter who’s at the switch. I wish the USAC officials would do, in the aftermath of the deaths of Chris Cono (2013) and Suzanne Rivera (2012), what SD Veldrome has done. But they haven’t.
3. There’s one official at the SD Velodrome behind a lot of the changes. She has made safety her mission. She helped implement the above changes, and joined the USAC officiating program with the mind of bringing some change to USAC. She’s now qualified to be a head USAC official, and has been head official of some of the Saturday Night races at the velodrome. She’s working to change the culture of USAC, too. She’s young, and a former racer who’s crashed bad. She’s “gets it.”
My response: This is great, and an example of how one person can make a difference. But the culture hasn’t changed yet in SoCal crits and road races, and officiating is still pretty much “anything goes,” with no follow-up on crashes, investigating why/how they happened, how they can be prevented, and identifying riders who need more hands-on help. In sum, I apologize for linking Jackie’s death to USAC, but it sounds like my premise was spot-on: Officials can make a difference, and they have an obligation to do the hard work of policing the peloton. That’s what they get paid to do.
May 24, 2014 § 69 Comments
I’ll be the first to admit that the patient was never particularly robust, but in 2014 there has been a noticeable decrease in the number of racers who line up on the weekend. At one of the best and toughest road races all year, Vlees Huis in Bakersfield, there was an incredibly tiny lineup despite this being one of the best organized, safest, and most challenging races on the calendar.
Plus they fuggin’ had beer. Now, when bike racers won’t show up to a bike race where it’s hotter than Beyonce doing the nasty with Heidi Klum and you get to slake your post-race heat prostration with cold, locally brewed beer, the Dogs have gone crazy.
We will leave aside for a moment the obvious: if Fields had ever heard you weren’t going to race your bike because it was “too hot” or “too cold” or “too rainy” or “too dangerous,” he would have kicked you off the team, repo’d your kit, and made you give back all the beer you had drunk. We will also leave aside for a moment that the “weather” in SoCal is the most wussified, gentle, bike-friendly weather in the continental United States.
Many factors may be at play besides the general cowardice, tenderness, and babyfication of modern SoCal bike racers, but there are only so many absentees you can blame on an angry spouse, the cost of entry fees, the fear of quadriplegia, and the general wussdom of all the riders who said they couldn’t do Vlees Huis because it was “too far to drive.” [Check the mileage sometime when you live in Houston and have signed up for the Fort Davis Stage Race for a bit of perspective on "too far to drive."]
Flapping of the gums
The other day I got into an argument about whether some guy was the best climber in the South Bay. Back in the day this would have been a relatively easy argument to resolve. The guy who had won more hilly road races, or the guy who was always at the front on the long climbs would be crowned the champ, even more beer would be drunk, and we’d find something else to argue about.
But this time my adversary pulled out a shocking counter-argument: his Strava KOM’s. A guy who’s done a handful of hilly road races and has consistently gotten shelled on the tough climbs — or who hasn’t even showed up — maintained that his sexy Strava performance on segments as short as 200 meters meant that he was somehow a really good climber.
What the hell is going on here?
It used to be that the best riders were the ones who won bike races. Rahsaan Bahati, I thought, was the best bike racer around because he’s won the most races. Charon Smith, Phil Tinstman, Thurlow Rogers, Mark Noble, and guys like them, I thought, were the best old guy bike racers around because they’ve won the most races.
It would never have occurred to me that a person might consider himself excellent in some aspect or other of competitive cycling based on his Strava KOM’s.
But you know what? Lots of riders do.
They choose three or four carefully selected races each year, they do a weekly group ride, and they do the vast bulk of their “head-to-head” competition on Strava. Will someone please tell them that if it’s on Strava and you’re by yourself, it’s not head-to-head? No matter how many times you self-dial, you’re still just doing yourself.
The race of truth
Every bike race is a race of truth because the fastest rider always wins. For many, that’s a downer because there’s only one winner. You can’t go home and tell yourself that you’re at the top of the leader board of 50+ troglodytes with a BMI of 200. Worse, when you lose a bike race you don’t get any trophies or crowns on your iPhone.
Strava perfectly satisfies the urge to achieve what I call DIP — distinction, improvement, praise — it’s an urge that resides in all of us, particularly, it seems, those of us who cycle. Bike races don’t provide much DIP for most participants, even with the dozens of age/gender categories per event. Instead, they provide proof of what we all instinctively know about ourselves but wish wasn’t true: MOP — mediocre, overweight, pudknocker.
In any contest between DIP and MOP, DIP will always win out. Ride your bike and get a trinket every time beats ride your bike and get your spirit shattered every time, especially when the shattering may also include collarbones and carbon fiber.
Don’t be a DIP-shit
This Monday Chris Lotts will put on his Memorial Day Crit in Dominguez Hills. The Barry Wolfe Grand Prix, Death Valley Stage Race, and State ITT Championships will also happen this weekend.
If you’re in SoCal, I hope you’ll make an effort to attend at least one of these races. If you’re in L.A., I really hope you’ll at least make it to the Memorial Day Crit. If you can spare 50 minutes to analyze all your weekly rides on WKO and Strava, you can lug your ass out for a one-hour race at Dominguez.
Guys like Chris promote races year in and year out. It’s a gratifying job for them in that they play an integral role in the sport that they love, and it’s a blast getting to deal with overfull port-a-potties at the end of the day. But it’s a huge amount of work and expense, and when “racers” who live in the area choose to spend their time on Strava digitally satisfying themselves rather than competing in organized events, it eventually kills off the event. The margin on bike races is tiny, to put it mildly.
Maybe as a Stravasturbator you think that’s fine, and I suppose if your idea of being an accomplished racer is 0′s and 1′s endlessly strung together to make an image on a computer that makes you look tougher than Eddy Merckx, that’s okay. I suppose if it’s more fun to wear $500 worth of kit riding $7000 worth of bike to compete against your “friends” on Strava than it is to ride against your mortal enemies in a real bike race, hey, to each his own.
But let’s not confuse sitting at your stupid computer and clicking “kudo” with racing your fuggin’ bike.
May 14, 2014 § 8 Comments
The big weekend has come and gone. Three days of racing, big prizes, bigger wind, and top shelf competition have left their mark on the SoCal racing season. In many ways, it’s been a great mark. In others, not so much.
- SCNCA sucks. Why the fuck was this race on Mother’s Day weekend? Answer: because the best dates were “taken.” Mike Hecker puts his heart, soul, tree stumps, and the kitchen sink into this race series. This is precisely the kind of grass roots development that has the potential to build the grass roots. Better, he does it out in bumfuck nowheresville, one of the windiest damned places in California. This race is the only legitimate hardman crit in Southern California; to win it — hell, to finish it — you’d better be made of some stern stuff. It’s a premier race with premier prizes serving a premier purpose and attracting premier talent. SCNCA should be licking the sweat off of Hecker’s balls to get him to do this race. Instead they offer up the one weekend that, if you attend, will result in 51 weeks of Doghouse Hell because you spent Mother’s Day RACING YER FUGGIN BIKE.
- Daniel Holloway is a bike racers’ bike racer. Sleeps on couches. Tells funny stories. Congratulates the (few) people who beat him. Listens to Wankmeister’s tales of 50+ crit podiums. Whacks the snot out of all comers at the 805 Crit Series, Athens Twilight Criterium, and every other race you line him up at. We saw him take the Friday night event by the testicles, give them a squeeze, then fly down the lane to win with the same élan he showed at Dana Point et al. On Saturday he missed the break, but no problem. Sunday he made up for it by a tour de force win against Kyle and Brandon Gritters, shelling Kyle from the three-up break on the last lap, riding tempo all the way to the final turn, then leaving Brandon as if he’d been tied to a stump. And Gritters Bros. are badasses with an extra helping of whupass sauce.
- Monster Media is the master of disaster. I raced (sort of) the 35+ masters events and couldn’t believe how thoroughly they obliterated the competition. Meatballs DeMarchi finished the first day in second place overall and the team played its cards on Sat/Sun in such a way as to earn overall victory. Their cards were “hammer” and “crush.” The Monster MO was to send off Michael Johnson in a break with Kayle Leogrande and Rudy Napolitano that was so hard, so fast, and so nasty that anyone who chased would be assured of either leaving a liver on the pavement or a DNF. At the end of the day, Kayle had the win and MJ finished first among the omnium participants. This meant that Day 3, Sunday, would be a fight to get MJ or Chris DeMarchi to the line ahead of SPY-Giant-RIDE p/b MRI’s leader, John Abate. The Monster train started that Sunday race, which took place in a 25mph howling crosswind, so fast and so hard that of the 40 some-odd starters only 22 finished. Taking turns at the front to whittle down and crush the field, the teamwork of MJ, DeMarchi, Gary Douville, Scott Cochran, Shane Lawlor, and Bart Clifford absolutely demolished the wankers sitting at the back hoping to ride their coattails to the finish. The remaining corpses who survived the Monster Media a-bomb had nothing in their legs to either attack off the front or contest the sprint. Consummate riding by Surf City and their star sprinter-turned-leadout-man Charon Smith put Kayle Leogrande across the line again first, but since Kayle had missed the Friday race due to traffic he wasn’t in contention for the omnium. Note: Most terrifying item of the Monster Media mop-up is that their best racer, Phil Tinstman, wasn’t even there.
- This is how bike racing should always be. The events were well attended, the money was good, the courses were over-the-top challenging, there was a beer garden, the announcers were fantastic, everyone was in a great mood, and the cities of Lompoc and Buellton got to showcase their best side to a large contingent of out-of-towners. There were multiple levels of competition. You could race for the day or you could race for the series or you could drink Firestone beer and lie in the gutter for three days. I hope that next year the series is held on a better weekend, and that even more riders make the trip to experience such an intense and fun weekend of bike racing.
Did you know that you can subscribe to “Cycling in the South Bay”? So, subscribe already, okay? Jeez. Think of all the money you spend on bullshit that doesn’t give you any satisfaction at all, for example Mother’s Day flowers. Plus, everything here is true except for the parts I’ve made up, which is all of it. Click here and select the “subscribe” link in the upper right-hand corner. I’ll be glad you did.
Also, if you haven’t picked up a copy of “Cycling in the South Bay,” you can order it on Amazon here.
You can also click here to see the reviews.
May 13, 2014 § 23 Comments
There was a very big women’s bicycle race on Sunday for the Amgen Tour of California. In America, women’s bike racing is unimportant compared to men’s bike racing, which is saying something because men’s bike racing was recently rated as being less important than an old TV dinner.
There are many reasons that women’s bike racing is less important than something that is already less important than an old microwave chicken pot pie. The three reasons are sexism, gender discrimination, and misogyny. Those reasons came to bear explaining why so many women fell off their bikes on Sunday.
Eleven separate bicycle-falling-off incidents were catalogued, an impressive number even for cycling, where people regularly fall off their bicycles and often do so into steel barriers, beneath the wheels of speeding trucks, and off steep cliffs. The causes of this terrible contagion made their way to the only place that people ever calmly discuss anything, i.e. Facebag. Many explanations were put forth, including reasoned analyses that ended in “fuck you” and “you suck” and other indicia of dispassionate discourse.
Wanky solves the bicycle-falling-off problem
Some pointed to the grave problem of Internet coaching as the culprit. “People get coached on the Internet but they don’t get coached on how to ride their fucking bikes in a group and fall off their bicycles properly.”
Others pointed to the rose-tinted glasses that find the solution to every modern problem in a past world where everything was perfect. “Back when we used to ride our bikes with wooden rims and we had to flip the wheel to change gears, everybody knew how to ride. It’s this influx of [fill in name of contemptible influx here] who weren’t raised the old-fashioned way that are causing all the problems.”
Still others pointed to the need for clinics. “People should only get a racing license when they pass my skilz klinik. Everyone who passes my skilz klinik never krashes.”
None of these folks really nailed the problem, although there did seem to be quite a bit of self-dialing as various posters proffered their various qualifications. The problem is quite simple, and is expressed by the Peter Principle:
Anything that works will be used in progressively more challenging applications until it fails such that all people rise to their natural level of incompetence.
This means that if you have been racing for very long, you’re as bad as you’re going to get, which is just bad enough to get shelled, gap out other riders, cross wheels, smash into barricades, and ultimately fall off your bicycle. If these things are not happening to you, you aren’t racing in your proper category yet. If they are, you know you have arrived.
The bad news: it’s not just everyone else
Indeed, the entire Amgen women’s race was designed to rapidly promote as many people as possible to their maximum level of incompetence by putting regional racers in the mix with the country’s top pros, then expanding the normal women’s field size of about 40 riders to a whopping, road-clogging peloton of 108 racers.
As you might expect, the winner was one of the best riders in the land, Carmen Small, followed by another of the best riders in the land, Corinne Rivera. As you might also expect, the forty-three riders who DNF’ed included a hefty contingent of regional riders who were far, far out of their league. In accordance with the Peter Principle, the best riders for the most part did fine, and many of the riders who were promoted en masse to the next level instantly found their level of incompetence by crashing once, twice, even multiple times.
The good news: it’s okay to suck
Since everyone eventually sucks, and since most people suck sooner rather than later when it comes to riding in the middle of an internationally televised world-class bicycle race when their normal fare is a parking lot crit, there’s no dishonor or even much to be surprised about when it comes to the bicycle-falling-off phenomenon. It either has happened to everybody who races or it eventually will, and it’s certainly no one’s fault in the sense that “the peloton is filled with incompetents” because every peloton is always filled with incompetents.
As with most bike races, it’s much easier to point the finger at the bonehead who “crashed you out” (still waiting for the bandaged rider in a neck brace to come up to me and complain that “I crashed myself out because I suck”) than to look at the real problems with women’s bike racing, alluded to above.
Any configuration of a bike race will contain a certain percentage of incompetents, and the larger the field, the higher the percentage. So what? If you find yourself at the bottom of one too many piles, and you don’t like neck braces, it’s time for you to choose smaller, easier races. There’s a certain level of bike handling you will never exceed. That’s okay, and all the skilz kliniks in the world won’t help you … much.
Since most metrics show that women like to ride and that there is a bustling trade in women’s bikes and gear, the real question is why doesn’t Amgen put on a women’s tour that parallels the men’s? That way you would have a smaller field with fewer incompetents. The crashes would still happen (see Peter Principle, above), but presumably they would be fewer because the selection criteria would be more strict.
In fact, if the same thing had played out in the men’s field and ten or eleven regional men’s teams had swelled the ranks of the Amgen men’s tour, there would have been mayhem. Guys in SoCal who are legendarily awesome (especially in their own minds) would turn into barricade fodder if they suddenly had to race with UCI Pro Tour elites. Actually, they wouldn’t last long enough to crash, as the peloton would pull away so quickly that their race would finish before it started.
So if the question is “Why does Amgen promote just one lousy Waring Blender mix-and-mash race for the women?” then the answer is fairly unsettling, but unsurprising. Races organized by men, for men, to include men are never going to provide equal platforms for women.
Now that sucks.
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May 6, 2014 § 13 Comments
This Sunday is a special day for mothers. It is a time when some of the biggest advertising firms in America urge us to display our love for our mothers, for example, by reserving tables at fancy restaurants. There is nothing that says “I love you” more than another charge on your credit card that you can’t afford, and there is nothing more memorable than mediocre food at a crowded eatery where you’re served by an overworked and pissed-off waiter.
I’ve never done well with days of remembrance. Take birthdays, for example. My idea of a great celebration for Mrs. WM’s 47th was dinner at the All Indian Sweets and Snacks carry-out buffet. We went formal and ate in the shop, jammed next to the buckets of ghee and some sweaty Pakistani dude with bad breath, but no one can deny that it is the very finest and most delectable Indian food you can get anywhere for $4.95.
I thought she’d be thrilled that I managed to take five people out for dinner for less than $35. She wasn’t. In fact, she still isn’t, and hints have been placed that Mother’s Day had better be a blowout of love. There had better be some dogdamned love shown, some appreciation trotted out, and some words of adulation bandied about, or else. You can probably even add a “fucking else” and it wouldn’t be an overstatement.
Buttercup, why do you build me up?
I can tell you right now that Mother’s Day is going to be a big disappointment, at least for her. Why? Because it’s on the same day as the 805 Series crit in Lompoc, and I’ve pitched in to rent an RV, reserved a keg, and made plans to spend the three-day weekend racing my bike.
There are gonna be three guys with their three wives in an RV for three days in Lompoc, along with a keg of IPA. Now tell me again why I’m supposed to give a crap about Mother’s Day? I mean, she’s not even my mom.
Race of the century
If you’re looking for a great way to climb into the doghouse for the next year and peg the door shut with a nail gun, you should be at the 805 Series, too. Pre-reg is already 60% full, and it’s going to be a fantastic weekend.
Tons of credit goes to woodchopper and local madman Mike Hecker, who, in a wildly delusional state, thought it would be great to bring a big, legit bike race to the Santa Ynez Valley, even though no one knows how to spell “Ynez.” Yet as with all delusional bike crazies, their delusions are built on the hallucinations of the madmen who went before them.
In this case, Mike owes a huge debt to Roger Worthington and the Dana Point Grand Prix. Dana Point was the first race on the calendar to bring huge quantities of beer, entertainment for kids, prize checks that cleared, and a festival atmosphere to local SoCal crit racing. Each year Dana Point has set the high watermark for a professionally run, all-in, big-name crit that everyone wants to win or at least finish or at least come home in a neck brace from.
Mike has taken the cue, broken it over the head of USA Cycling’s traditional model of “bike racing = Ontario” and put on an event that in its first year qualified it as the best crit series in California. This year there will be three days of racing rather than two, and Friday’s biggest races will take place at night. Just so you know, I plan to take Charon in the twilight crit. Hopefully it will end in a straight-up drag race, so he can taste the fury of my mad finishing kick.
The beer garden will be back, the prize list will be more veiny and swollen, and hopefully the weather will repeat last year’s trick of 100-degrees-plus with a searing hot headwind. Nothing is more fun than a technical course and unendurable heat, if only to watch the racers melt into puddles and stick to the pavement while you’re under a shaded tent sipping Firestone IPA.
See you there. Really looking forward to celebrating Mother’s Day with you.
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May 5, 2014 § 27 Comments
I teed up at 9:20 AM. There were sixty other old people, all over the age of 50. The checkered flag fell and we clipped into various levels of anxiety. Me, I, mine was minimal because it was just another bicycle race and the worst that could happen was death.
Roger had smoothed out the course from its heyday in 2009. That was my first and only attempt, when we spit down the quick hill onto a hard right-hander. There is a channel across the street when you hit the turn, and back in the bad old days the disorganizers had only shut down half of PCH, which meant you went screaming, flying, then oh-shit-Mary-mother-of-dog gimme a fucking handful of the biggest brakes you got because you were following the numbnuts in front of you who was following the numbnuts in front of him who was following the numbnuts in front of him who was coming in way too hot, hot like honey-I’m-so-glad-to-be-home-after-three-months-on-the-road-hot, and by the time the bad, broken tune of the accordion effect had reached you, mid-pack, you were squealing brakes and coming too damned fast too damned close to the giant steel barricades that cordoned off the highway.
Chris Hahn’s brother had flipped his bike and broke his frame and his wheels and shattered his hip that day. The medic tent had been a MASH unit, and none of that bothered me nearly as much as this, the terrible nightmare I still have and see with the same Technicolor I saw it in 2009: the giant, wet, glistening red pool of blood in the turn, a pool augmented lap by lap, race by race until it was a bona fide puddle of gore.
Progress in the name of sport
Today there was none of that. The course took the full two lanes on PCH and the inconvenienced commuters, made minutes late for their afternoon drunken stupor, could either stew in their juices or pull over and hop into the beer garden. Many did.
We were off and running, forty minutes of sad testosterone, sagging skin, incipient melanoma, drippy urinary tracts, and memories of what we thought we used to be but in fact never really were. I sat at the back and cruised through the turns.
It is easy racing in a giant blob of old people on a short closed fast course. No matter how fast the fast riders go, the blob goes faster, reabsorbs them, belches, farts, picks its teeth, waits for the sprunt.
Three riders dashed away and their teams “blocked,” which is another way of saying none of the old people wanted to race their bikes, especially if it meant going as fast as the three people out there in the wind. But the blob has its own fears and desires, and before long it came to life and sucked them back.
I may have been part of that.
With old people, even sixty or seventy of them, there are several core principles that define their bicycle races. The first is that none of them wants to die. This differs wholesale from all of the 5′s, all of the 4′s, all of the 1′s and 2′s, most of the 3′s, and half of the 35+ racers.
Those people race their bikes truly, because if you are not willing to die now, today, this moment, then you are not racing, you are simply following other racers, or, in the case of the entire 50+ field, in which no one even wants to get paralyzed or to lose a limb or to come home covered head to toe in bandages, you’re simply pedaling fast. I should note that exactly forty-one of them pedaled faster than I did.
With six laps to go we were all back together. This was the point where that which we expected, predicted, and knew would happen did in fact come to pass. The great unwashed mass of riders acknowledged what math could have told them before they ever signed up: their chance of winning was zero percent. But cyclists are generally innumerate, and it takes the blunt trauma of reality to demonstrate what could have been learned with a calculator over a beer and a sandwich. The blunt trauma was this, the same thing it always was: in order to win the race you must now do three impossible things in succession.
- Move up fifty places so you are on Thurlow’s wheel.
- Stay there until the final 200 yards.
- Pass Thurlow and whomever is in front of him.
None of these things was possible. In order to move up, you would have had to go 35 miles per hour. As an old person, you could not do this. Even if you could, you would have found twenty other people just as hopeless as you fighting for that one magical wheel. None of them would have given it to you, so you would have been pedaling at 35 miles per hour, which you couldn’t do, by yourself, out in the wind, which, after the first turn, would have thrust you all the way back to sixtieth place, where you began.
Even if you had been able to get to the front and barge your way onto Thurlow’s wheel, then what would you have done? You would have had to come around him. How would you have done that? You’ve never passed him in your life, except for that one time before a race when he was standing on the sidewalk adjusting his brakes. And then, even if you had done all of these impossible things in succession that you had never done before singly, and in fact don’t even know how to do, there would still have been the issue of the one or two people like Craig Miller or Mark Noble who would still have been in front of you. How would you have passed them?
Answer: you wouldn’t have, and you didn’t.
This was all a best case scenario, of course. More likely, you would have gotten to the front gassed and done something stupid, crashed onto your chest or spine or neck and had forty people run over your head and teeth.
How to properly finish the race
As a result, with six laps to go the race separated itself. Everyone who knew that 1-2-3 above was impossible drifted to the back. That was most of the field. Twenty riders either surged to the fore or locked in their position. They were still not willing to die, so it wasn’t technically a bike race, but at this point they were certainly willing to kill someone else, which was extra incentive to stay at the back and mug for the cameras.
Having won neither a placing nor a prime, I came up to Roger after the race and congratulated him for having removed the blood puddle corner. He smiled and gave me a free giant bottle of beer, proving that you can often get better results in a bike race by knowing the right person than by showing any type of athletic talent or skill.
On the way back to my car I saw Peta. She waved me over to her table, where she was having a cup of coffee and a light breakfast with David Miller, a Cat 4 who had been willing to die that day and had earned 3rd place as a result. I was so excited to be invited to join her that I tripped, dropped my bottle of beer on the paving stones and shattered it into a million pieces. My shoes filled with cold beer. Peta didn’t seem as happy to see me anymore.
I went beerless back to the car, leaned my bike against it, and changed. I had signed up for the 35+ race later in the day but after losing my beer had lost my enthusiasm as well. I got into the car and drove off, forgetting about the bike, which landed with a loud crash in a pile of gravel and dirt.
Once home I read the newspaper and thought about signing up for the 805 Race Series next weekend. I took out my calculator and ran some numbers on a napkin. “Zero percent,” it said.
“Yes,” I nodded, well into my second bottle of beer. “But I wonder to how many decimal places?”
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April 1, 2014 § 21 Comments
On the last day of the San Dimas Stage Race I hurried to the line. The ref read our last rites, blew the whistle, and off we went, careening through six turns, a modest incline, and a screaming downhill that dumped into a 90-degree turn onto the finishing stretch.
My goal was simple: earn another DNC crown to go with the string of them I’d won in every crit now since the Dana Point Grand Prix in 2008, when a lummox clipped one of the steel barriers on the left and started a pachinko cascade of bikes, wheels, screaming idiots, and soft-cartilage-and-bone smearing along the pavement at 30 mph. “DNC,” by the way, stands for Did Not Crash.
Downtown San Dimas was an idyllic place to race. The start/finish was packed with spectators. The town was charming. The weather was perfect. Nothing could possibly go wrong, and in fact nothing did until the last turn on the last lap, when things not only went wrong, they went horribly wrong while slinging ass downhill at 40 mph some dude on the BonkBreaker team took the hard right hander a bit too hard and wound up splaying himself against the barricades, crashing out Steve Klasna in a great glorious finale of crunching, smashing, cursing, and opprobrium.
This of course is the price of trying to win bicycle races. You must take chances. Those chances will not always pan out. When they do not, you will pay with skin and gristle and purple scars that you can point to years later, grotesquely, as you pull up your pant cuff and itemize the scars to queasy-looking coworkers at the water cooler. This is generally a day or two prior to the time you get your termination notice, assuming you have a job, which of course as a self-respecting masters pro bike racer, you don’t.
You know you’re in trouble when the liberal arts major is calling you out for your bad math
I knew that by skulking in the rear, sitting up long before the sprunt, and letting Troy Huerta madly dash by to beat me for 46th place, I would almost certainly earn another DNC crown, and I did. What caught me unawares was the announcement “One lap to go!” and the Pavlovian shark attack that ensued when they rang the bell lap.
It caught me by surprise because I checked my watch and noted that they had rung the bell at about 32 minutes into the race, meaning that we finished our 40-minute event in about 34 minutes. Nor was it the first time that a masters race had been shorted. In fact, it’s a tradition at virtually all SoCal crits to hear the bell lap five minutes shy, sometimes more, of the scheduled forty or forty-five minute race.
The rationale, of course, is that it’s better to end the race a few minutes early than a few minutes late — better for the promoter, that is. The inanity of a 35-minute crit for the 45+ racers (and incredibly, for the 35+ racers as well) was shown on the course itself. With a star-studded field of truly great racers, the peloton averaged over 28 mph for the entire race. The 35′s averaged over 29. In other words, it wasn’t a bike race. It was a drag race.
Forget tactics. The strongmen kept the foot on the gas for the entire time, ramped up a lead out train at the end, and awarded the spoils to the flat-out fastest guy in the field. In our race that was Bill Harris. In the 35′s it was Charon Smith.
And although those two guys can win any crit of any length, it greatly diminishes the racing element of the event when it’s set up to be so short that there isn’t even a mathematical possibility of a breakaway. Why not just make it two laps? Thirty-five minutes isn’t long enough to make a dent in the big engines, and it’s not long enough to create the pauses that lead to attacks, breakaways, and the thrill of, you know, tactical bike racing.
Don’t blame the promoters, they voted for McGovern
Of course the real illness is the proliferation of categories. Promoters only have a limited amount of time to close off downtown or to occupy an office park. Many crits have as many eleven categories, without even providing kiddy races or junior racing events. Dana Point in 2014 has thirteen events beginning at 7:50 … and no junior races, either. The Cat 5′s and the 30+ 4/5′s race an absurd — yes, absurd — twenty minutes.
The attraction of multiple categories for promoters is maximal entry fees. The attraction for the bicycle riders is the illusory hope of a trinket. The victim is the sporting event itself, where the spectators are virtually guaranteed to witness a mass gallop finish every single time. Is that fun to watch? Hell, yes! Who doesn’t want to watch Charon out-kick a hundred guys in the last 200 yards so that it looks like a greyhound racing a bunch of pet rocks?
But we don’t need to stand around baking our brains in the hot sun to watch an outcome that will be the same whether the race lasts forty minutes or four.
Also … don’t piss down my back and tell me it’s raining. Unless it’s also raining.
When the flyer advertises a 40-minute or 50-minute race, then the promoter should run a race for the advertised length, the same as when a gas station advertises gas for 4.15 a gallon: it means a gallon, not 3.75 quarts.
If, because I’m old and slow, I only deserve forty minutes of competition, don’t short me on my lousy forty minutes unless you’re prepared to welcome me back to the registration table and refund my money. Five minutes hacked out of a 40-minute race is 12.5%, and for a $35 entry fee, that’s $4.37 that just got lifted out of my back pocket. In real terms, that’s half a six-pack of Racer 5 IPA.
Of course the simplest solution is the worst one. Make the races longer and decrease the number of events. Maybe the sport would be more exciting if my precious 50+ category and all the other sandbagger categories got axed, leaving us with longer, more exciting events for six or seven categories of genuinely fast people who had the legs to race a technical crit like San Dimas or Dana Point for an hour or more. Maybe lengthier, tougher courses would produce, better, tougher racers.
Or maybe not. Maybe without a 30+4/5, a 50+, or a 65+ category the sport would just dry up and blow away. You know, like it has in Europe.
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March 29, 2014 § 11 Comments
The 50-mile road race in San Dimas started at 7:50 AM.
The day began by charging into narrow spaces, skittering across the road avoiding insane people who were trying to crash me out, slamming on the brakes to avoid instant death, crazy accelerations to pass the clotted clump of confused obstacles in my way, screeching around potholes, racing into crowded turns, tense hands clenched in a death grip, and barely avoiding being rammed from behind … and that was just on the freeway driving to the race.
As I stood in line waiting to sign in, I couldn’t help but marvel at the wonderful volunteers who had gotten up at dark-thirty in order to help make this event happen. Unpaid, smiling, and happy to lend a hand, they had to wait a few minutes until the race organizers provided them with the sign-in sheets. While 50 or 60 riders waited patiently in line, the biggest prick-ass prima donna from the South Bay began loudly criticizing the volunteers.
“Where are the sign-in sheets? This isn’t right!” he bitched. “I have to get ready! Where’s my sign-in sheet?”
Everyone looked surprised at this amazing display of douchebaggery until they recognized who it was, then they shrugged. “Oh, it’s him. Again.”
Strategy is key
The SPY-Giant-RIDE team boasted 37 riders in a field of 23, so before the race we huddled to plan how we would wrest control from PAPD (prick-ass prima donna) even though our best placed rider was so far back we needed a calculator, sextant, and sundial to figure out the time difference.
“If we get all three time bonuses, then win first, second, and third, conquer the field with a breakaway that puts thirty minutes on the peloton, and the rest of the riders get swallowed in a giant sinkhole, there’s a slight chance we could get on the podium,” one of our riders said. “Absent that, we’re hosed.”
As each loyal rider asked what role he could play, duties were explained.
“Hit it hard on lap two. Keep the pace hard, so that PAPD has to work. He’s only human.”
“Define human!” one rider demanded.
One of the other team leaders chimed in. “We’re going to have to ride the front and go with constant attacks. Stay towards the fore and as soon as there’s a lull, launch. Make them chase.”
Everyone agreed to give it their best and to use our superior numbers to put the rest of the field in difficulty.
After the team huddle I pulled Dandy and Mongo aside. “Look, wankers,” I said. “Fuck that shit. We gott execute Sub-plan B.”
“Sub-plan B?” asked Dandy. “What’s that?”
“It’s simple. This race is packed with guys who will devour us whole. Team Leader told us to ‘ride the front.’ Dude, that’s where the pain is. The only thing that will happen at the front is bad. Screw the team. We gotta survive. So, Sub-plan B has two steps: 1-Cower. 2-Hide.”
They mulled it over. “Doesn’t that make us weasly non-team player traitorous dickweeds?” asked Dandy.
“Yes,” I said. “But it also means we have a chance of finishing and not getting dropped on the very first lap.”
“What do you calculate the chance?” asked Mongo.
“One in half a billion.”
Their faces brightened at the possibility. “We’re in!” they said in unison.
Planning the work, working the plan
Although I hadn’t told them, Sub-plan B had an ulterior motive: protect my 31st placing. It would take a whole crew of sub-par wankers working together to keep me in thirty-first, but with Mongo and Dandy committed to the strategy, I knew it might work.
“Anyway,” I told them as we rolled out, “chill at the back. The first lap is going to be a warm-up effort anyway, nothing crazy.”
Within minutes we were all on the rivet, struggling to hang onto the poisonous tail of the swinging whip as the maddened peloton charged up a grade that felt steeper than the interest rate on a payday loan. I struggled over the top, gassed. “Jon!” I shouted over to my teammate who was in his first race back after having a full hip replacement. He’d ridden less than thirty miles in the last six months, yet was easily keeping up with the murderous pace. “That was the big climb, right?”
He gave me a funny look. “Climb? No, dude. That’s just a roller. When we hit the climb, you’ll know it.”
I slinked to the back and hung on for dear life. Far too soon we hit the actual climb, and as Jon had predicted, it was unambiguous. I’ve felt worse and gone harder and done more intense efforts, but they all involved being chased, caught, and beaten by my older brother and his friends.
Dandy and Mongo were fine. “Kind of fast for a warm-up, though,” said Mongo as six or seven fatty tuna riders got chucked out the back.
As the pack shrank the pace never let up. Each time we neared the top of the climb we had to go over fifty feet of faux cobbles that were really nothing more than little bricks with cracks in between. The shaking and jarring that attended each passage was intense, and I could only think about how pathetic this was compared to the European races where the cobbles are actual cobbles, the climbs go on for a kilometer or more, and the weather is often cold and wet and miserable.
By the fifth lap the pack was much reduced and I barely struggled over the climb. The sixth time over I popped, along with Mongo and Fireman. The final lap we rode together in a smooth and professional paceline, with me sitting on the back and shouting instructions. “Go faster! Pedal harder! Give me some food!” etc.
Thanks to their ability to follow my instructions, we made the time cut, then dashed off to Eureka Burgers to enjoy a jalapeño and egg cheeseburger with fries and four or five double IPA’s. I don’t remember exactly what happened after that, but I woke up under a tent several hours later as a concerned teammate kept saying, “Are you okay? Are you okay?”
I mumbled that I was, which was excellent because it was just in time for our pre-race strategy for the final day of the stage race, a 40-minute crit over a twisty, technical course.
“Okay guys, listen up,” said Team Leader. “Tomorrow everyone’s going to be tired after three days of hard racing.” Then he looked pointedly at me. “And some of us were tired, or appeared to be tired, before the race even started.” He looked at me some more. “But we have to use our superior numbers in the crit.”
Assistant Team Leader chimed in. “Yeah. The weak-ass flailers, er, I mean, uh, the lower-placed GC riders need to go to the front early on.” He looked at me as I pretended to be asleep again. “Wanky! You and Mongo and Dandy can do something tomorrow to justify all the eyewear and kits and discount swag for once in your sorry lives by taking a fuggin’ pull. Got that?”
“Who? Me?” I said.
The team turned on me in unison. “YEAH! YOU!”
“Aw, c’mon guys,” I pleaded. “I couldn’t do anything today. My feet hurt. My legs were sore. I cramped. I ran out of salt tablets. I had a vanishing twin. My wheels were out of true. It was an herbal tea. My meat was tainted. I didn’t have the right warm-up. I’m not good at fast descents. My taint was meated. I’m a slow climber. Beer.”
They had already returned to the strategic discussion, but at least I had my marching orders.
Take. A. Pull.
To me, that sounded mighty singular. As usual, when tomorrow rolls around, I’ll be all in. Maybe. Unless I’m not.
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