The bike-falling-off contagion

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.

END

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Bring lawyers, guns, and money. And beer. Don’t forget the fuggin’ beer.

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.

END

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Everything is true except the parts I made up.

Everything is true except the parts I made up.

No blood pools

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.

Visualizing defeat

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.

  1. Move up fifty places so you are on Thurlow’s wheel.
  2. Stay there until the final 200 yards.
  3. 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?”

END

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Cycling in the South Bay

Not necessarily life as it should be.

Give me forty

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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Diving for the gap

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.

Celebration

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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The five stages of time trial grief

March 28, 2014 § 27 Comments

Clinical psychologists have worked since the 1950’s to explain and understand the mental processes that underlie time trialling. The most famous of these, “The Five Stages of Time Trialling Grief,” was developed by Wouter Herndydoo, a Belgian time trial psychologist who observed riders as they progressed through the phases of a time trial. His research created a paradigm that we still use today to analyze, understand, and to help riders cope with the emotionally devastating consequences of finding out that in the “race of truth,” everything they’ve convinced themselves of is, sadly, a lie.

At the San Dimas Time Trial today, where I participated (vaguely) in the 4.25-mile climb up Glendora Mountain Road, I observed numerous riders attempting to cope with the mental collapse inherent in such a challenging event. What follows is a primer for wives, girlfriends, husbands, and significant others who have to live with the ruined and psychologically destroyed bicycle racer after coming home from San Dimas, tail between legs, thin crust of salt on the brow, and a bag full of excuses about why he/she “just didn’t have it today.”

By monitoring your cyclist you will be able to observe as they progress through the 5 Stages of Time Trialling Grief, and you will be able to help them adjust to the “new normal”: that state where they realize the profundity of how badly they really suck.

The stages …

Denial — As the reality of going hard, uphill, full gas, for 20 minutes or more is hard to face, one of the first reactions that occurs the moment when the rider begins to swallow his tongue is Denial. What this means is that the time triallist is trying to shut out the reality or magnitude of the situation, and begins to develop a false, idealized, completely false reality. The biggest lie the rider tells himself is this: “I’m gonna catch my minute man.” The minute man, of course has vanished forever into the haze.

Anger — “Why me? It’s not fair!”; “How can this happen to me?”; ‘”Who made me sign up for this bullshit event?” are thoughts common to this phase. Once in the second stage, the rider recognizes that denial cannot continue, and not just because the wattmeter shows an average output of 98. Due to overwhelming pain flooding the things, shortness of breath, and being passed by three fat people in granny gears who started 3, 4, and 12 minutes back, the rider is very difficult to soothe with the typical lies that supporters shout while out on the course, e.g. “You’re killing it!” and “Looking good!” The anger leads to misplaced feelings of rage and envy. “Why am I so slow?” “Why is everyone shouting at me?” “Where am I?”, etc. Anger can manifest itself in different ways. The rider can be angry with himself (extremely rare), or with others (extremely common), and especially those who are passing him like he is chained to an outhouse while taking a dump. It is important to remain detached and nonjudgmental when dealing with a rider experiencing anger from time trial grief. Pretend that his lame justifications are true, and nod sympathetically. “I know you were in the wrong gear,” “They’re all doping,” and “What a bunch of sandbaggers!” will likely defuse much of the rage, along with a baby bottle and a fresh diaper.

Bargaining — “I’ll do anything for a few more seconds”; “I will give my life savings to buy some faster wheels”; “Time to start doping … more!” are common responses to getting shit out the back in the first kilometer up Glendora Mountain Road, or worse, averaging 31 mph for the first mile and then 7 mph for the rest of the course. This third stage involves the hope that the rider can somehow “pick it up” as the course gets progressively harder, or avoid finishing with a time that is unbearably humiliating when posted on Facebook, where his mother is usually watching. Usually, the negotiation for a faster time is made with a higher power (Dog, Buddha, THOG) in exchange for a reformed lifestyle (“I’ll never drink again!”; “I’m gonna lose 30 pounds starting TODAY!” and, most common, “I promise to start training — really!”). Other times, the flailer will use anything valuable as a bargaining chip against another human agency to extend or prolong the moment before total collapse. Psychologically, the individual is saying, “I understand I am a clogstacle-like boulder trying to roll uphill, but if I could just do something to buy more time … is it illegal to sell my children on eBay?” Riders facing less serious trauma can bargain or seek to negotiate a compromise. For example “Can I sit on your wheel for a few seconds while you pass? The ref’s not watching.” Bargaining rarely provides a sustainable solution, especially in time trials, since even if the passer is willing, the fact that he’s passing means the wheelsuck will eventually get shelled anyway.

Depression — “I’m so sad, why bother with pedaling?”; “I’m going to die soon so what’s the point?”; “I miss my Tuesday crit practice where I can cut the course and raise my hands in victory, so why go on?” During this fourth stage, the grieving rider begins to understand the certainty of a humiliatingly slow time that will be analyzed, pointed to, and laughed at behind is back or worse, to his face. The riders’s result will be a mid-pack finishing time for a Cat 4 beginner, a 9-year-old girl, or a fast walker on crutches. Much like the existential concept of “The Void,” the idea of riding, if not life itself, becomes pointless. Things begin to lose meaning to the rider, who no longer fantasizes about Campy electronic shifting, winning a sock prime, or moving up in the SoCal Cup standings from 79th to 77th. Because of this, the rider may become silent, refuse to talk to anyone after the ride, and spend much of the time crying and sullen. This process allows the grieving time triallist to disconnect from his teammates and sponsors possibly in an attempt to avoid further trauma in the form of having to do additional TT’s later in the season. Depression could be referred to as the dress rehearsal for this “aftermath.” It is a kind of acceptance with emotional attachment. “I’m a slug-like bat turd, but that makes me unhappy.” It is natural to feel sadness, regret, fear, and uncertainty when going through this stage, especially when your magazine is empty at Mile 2 and Phil Tinstman or Chris DeMarchi come by so fast that their draft almost knocks you over. Feeling these emotions shows that the rider has begun to accept the situation. Often times, this is the ideal path to take, to find closure and make his way to the fifth step, Acceptance of Wankerdom.

Acceptance — “I suck like an industrial drainpipe, and that’s okay.”; “I can’t fight it, I may as well prepare for getting my gonads stomped with spiked boots.”; “All the women are faster than me, and the men, too. And the children. Such is life.” In this last stage, riders begin to come to terms with their utter unsuitability for time trialling despite the finest equipment, the slipperiest helmet and clothing, and no matter how many times they parade around on the Parkway on a TT bike. This stage varies according to the rider’s situation. Riders who have died a particularly awful death on, say, an uphill TT like GMR, can fantasize about alternate realities such as, “I’m really a sprinter.”; “I’m more of a rouleur.”; “Actually, I’m best at recovery.” TT-dead riders can enter this stage a long time before the people who have passed them, often close friends and teammates who just think their pal is a total wanker and hungover rather than someone whose entire collection of bike paraphernalia is about to wind up on Craigslist. Years later, the rider typically accepts a calm, retrospective view, such as that often heard by Fields, who is known to say, “What a stupid sport,” and “Bike racing is such a colossal waste of time.”

Anyway, I hope this re-cap helps, because tomorrow it’s going to be even worse with the road race. Good luck.

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You can ensure that I’ll be able to afford extended grief counseling after today’s TT (3oth out of 55 with a wankish time of 19:34) by subscribing to the blog! 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.

Chasing the shark

March 27, 2014 § 9 Comments

The phone rang. “Yeah?” I said.

It was Scooter. “The start times are up. Have you seen yours?”

“Start times? For what?”

“The time trial. You signed up for the San Dimas Stage Race, remember?”

“Oh. Yeah.” This was a massive salt-peter in the peter pill.

“And guess what?”

“I’ve already lost ten minutes on the field?”

“No, dummy. You’re the third rider off!”

“That makes sense. They always send the slowest guys first. That way everyone can fly by them 5 miles an hour faster and have a good laugh.”

“Not at San Dimas. Your 30-second-man is THOG.”

“You’re joking, right?”

“Nope. Go see for yourself. And your minute man is Jaeger.”

“Jaeger? My teammate who beat me in the 50+ Barnacle Butt category last week by fifteen minutes?”

“Yup.”

“So what you’re saying is that I have two guys ahead of me who I’ll never see, and the whole field behind me who will all pass me like I’m chained to a block of concrete going down a gigantic ocean waterspout.”

“Don’t be so negative. You’ve trained hard for this.”

“I have?”

“Sure! You’re peaking for this race, remember when we talked about it in January? San Dimas was the most important race on your whole calendar! Remember? You had a plan to do specific uphill time trial power workouts. Diet. Meticulous care and attention to your rest and recovery. You were gonna slash through this race like a Brazilian farmer chopping fresh acreage out of the jungle. Remember??”

“Vaguely. I mean, yes. I remember.”

“So? You been doing all that, right?”

“All what?”

“The TRAINING, you numbskull! The training!”

“Oh. That. Well, I got a little off course in January, then things didn’t work out so well in February because of a beer issue, and in March I had a couple of cases at the office start to heat up. But other than that, yeah, I suppose I’m still on schedule.”

“Good. Because Leibert is on fire. And Konsmo is just a few riders behind you; he’s flying, and going uphill is what he does. So it’ll take everything you’ve got.”

“What if all I’ve got is, you know, a droopy stomach and not much gas in the tank?”

“Dude! This is your race! Those guys are all beatable. THOG? So what if he’s a former Olympian and one of the greatest riders in the history of the sport? So what if you’ve never beaten any of the other 35 guys in the race ever, at anything? So what if time trialling is what you do worst? Tomorrow is the day you cut loose! Get into the pain cave! Bring the big hammer! Make it hurt so good, baby!”

“I don’t know,” I said doubtfully. “The last time I did a time trial was about five years ago and even though I did the perfect pre-race donut and chocolate eclair race prep, it didn’t turn out so good. And, like, I haven’t really practiced since then.”

“No problem. Here’s what you do.”

“Yeah?” Scooter was so enthusiastic, I started to get hopeful.

“Just go out there and hammer! Everything you’ve got!”

“Really?”

“Hellz. All that crap about going slowly and finding your rhythm … fukk that! Time trial equals balls out. Throw down from the go-down!”

“So I should just pound it from the start?”

“Like it was the last 200 meters on the Champs-Elysees! All out! You’ll catch everyone by surprise and go so fast you’ll be finished before you actually get tired.”

“Wow. I’d never thought of doing it like that before.”

“Of course not. You have to innovate to win, and you can do this. Full gas from the first pedal stroke. You’ll thank me when you’re standing on the podium.”

“With great advice like that, I’m thanking you now. I feel better. I’ve got a game plan. I can do this!”

“Hey, by the way,” said Scooter, who is often in financial difficulty. “Could I borrow a hundred bucks? I’ll pay you back next week.”

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You can ensure that I’ll be able to pay for even more entry fees ny subscribing to the blog! 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.

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