September 26, 2013 § 10 Comments
A good friend gave me a book called “Hell on Two Wheels.” It’s about the Race Across America.
“It’s very poorly written,” he said. “But it’s a good book.”
I pondered that. Being a good book and being poorly written don’t usually go together, but in this case he was right. I won’t talk about the book’s bad points. It’s enough to say it is very poorly written, and maybe throw in another handful of “very’s.”
The good things about it, though, were pretty good. Good enough to buy? That’s up to you.
The hardest sporting event in the world
Every mindless endurance activity claims this, and each one has a long list of the deprivations you have to endure to win. Pro football. Walk across Australia. Iditarod. Tour de France. Triple Ironmans. And of course, RAAM — ride your bike from San Diego to Maryland as fast as you can.
None of these events is the hardest sporting event, or even close to it. Why? Because the difficulty of a sporting event is defined by the number of people who do it. If you’re the only person doing the sport, or if the participation pool is only a few hundred people worldwide, it’s just not that hard. It may be miserable. It may be mind numbingly hard. It may wreck your body forever. But the hardness of the event is defined simply: If a billion people are competing for the top spot, it’s harder than if your competition is fifty other athletes, no matter how tiring or demanding the event. In short, competition defines hard.
So, winning a World Cup in soccer is the hardest sport there is. Sorry, RAAM.
But isn’t RAAM still pretty damned hard?
From the standpoint of what your body goes through, I’m not sure there’s anything harder. But you could say the same about creating a new sporting event in which people competed to survive horrible car accidents. What’s interesting about “Hell on Two Wheels” is that it describes two facets of RAAM that have a lot in common with amateur cycling, that is, the physical discomfort and the bizarre emotional makeup of its participants.
In normal bicycle racing, which is hardly normal, winning occurs when a rider combines the ability to overcome extreme physical pain with strategy. It’s what annoys runners who become cyclists. The strongest guy rarely wins unless he’s also one of the smartest. In RAAM, the winner executes a complex strategy of minimal rest, maximal sustainable physical effort, and mentally overcoming days and days of physical pain.
In essence, winning RAAM takes the intolerable pain of bicycle time trialling and stretches it out for seven or eight days. “Hell on Two Wheels” walks you through the totally bizarre things that riders inflict on themselves, things like “Shermer’s Neck,” where your neck muscles fail and your head flops down on your chest, or saddle sores that turn your crotch into a raw, infected, bloody, agonizingly painful pulp that is almost unendurable with each pedal stroke. And you pedal like twelve zillion times.
In other words, good times.
The craziness inside
As with amateur bicycle racing, RAAM is a completely selfish activity. As the book introduces the athletes, most have cloaked their participation in some noble-sounding goal such as raising awareness for child trafficking, or doing something in solidarity with sick people.
But as you learn about what it takes to prepare for and compete in RAAM, you figure it out. These people just like to ride their bikes, all the time. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I’m not sure, after reading this book, how it’s a good one, either.
Of course, I can relate to the craziness. When I’m not riding I’m thinking about it, getting ready to do it, or blogging about it. Maybe the real take home from RAAM is that it shows how, when taken to its logical conclusion, bicycle riders are nutjobs.
If you’re like me, you’ll finish this book and be grateful that you’ve never signed up for RAAM. However deep into the Kool-Aid vat I’ve fallen, I’ve not fallen that deeply. Although, now that I think about it, it might be pretty cool. Yeah. Yeah.
September 16, 2013 § 22 Comments
I was pedaling up Western Avenue with Rudy Napolitano on Saturday. I never pedal anywhere with Rudy except to the extent that he is a small speck receding, quickly, in the distance.
“What’s going on with you this weekend?”
“I’m leaving Sunday for Trento, Italy,” he said.
“Trento, Trento, Trento,” I thought to myself. The name rung a bell. “Vacation?” I asked. The road season had ended the week before at nationals in Bend, Oregon.
“No. Headed off to world’s with Mike Easter.”
“Worlds?” I asked. “World championships?”
“Yeah,” he said.
“Like, rainbow jersey worlds?”
“Where if you win you’re, like, the champion of the whole world?”
He looked over and grinned. “That one. For masters racers.”
“What’s the course?”
“It’s the same one they’re using for the UCI pro worlds. We do one lap. 110 k or thereabouts, with a 20k climb at the end.”
“You’re fuggin’ kidding me, right?”
Again, the grin. “No. For real.”
“Is it like masters nationals? Any wanker with a license and an entry fee can enter?”
“Umm,” he said. “It’s a little different. You have to qualify.”
“They have a list of Grand Fondos that are qualifiers. They want to make sure you can handle Dolomite-type climbs. Grand Fondos are huge in Europe.”
“Dang. So which one did you qualify at?”
Again, the self-deprecating grin. “I didn’t, exactly.”
“So how did you qualify?”
“I got an invitation.”
The sound of my jaw hitting my top tube must have surprised him. “An invitation? Like the FB invitation I send out to my South Bay Year-End Drunkfest?”
“Yeah. Same deal.”
“Holy shit. What did it say?”
“Oh, you know, the usual. ‘We heard you were killing it every weekend on the Donut Ride and figured you could handle worlds.’” Now he was laughing. At me. A little bit. Maybe.
“So what’s the game plan?” I was already trying to figure out what my tattoo was going to say. “I rode the Donut with World Champion Rudy,” probably. The only question was whether I’d put it on my — or on my —.
“There’s a flat section where we might try to get away. It’s Europe, so the climbers are real climbers. Little dudes. 130 pounds, you know? They fly uphill. Maybe steal a march on the climbers and then have an advantage when we hit the climb.”
“And in between now and the race? What kind of training?”
“The hardest thing when you taper, you know, is not eating four bags of donuts and three pizzas every single day. Right?”
I didn’t say anything, having eaten four bags of donuts and two pizzas the day before despite not being on a taper. “Uh, right.” I thought about Mrs. WM’s daily freshly baked hot loaves of bread and the slabs of butter I slayed them with. “You gotta, uh, watch those calories.” My tummy jiggled a bit as we went over a bump.
“Yeah,” Rudy said. Then we hit Better Homes and he pedaled off, hopefully to a pizza-free taper, and even more hopefully, to a great race next weekend in Trento. When he wins, remember that it was me who gave him all that great advice about pizza and donuts. Right?
September 10, 2013 § 28 Comments
Used to be, you made friends by spending time with people. You got to know them by the things they said and the things they did, and there weren’t any shortcuts. You called a person a friend because you hung out with them, not because of their posts on Facebag.
Friendship used to take time, and it almost always involved some special event to metamorphasize. Friendship was a bond that resulted from some stressful occurrence, like clay that gets fired in a kiln or like a horseshoe that gets heated in the coals and beaten with a blacksmith’s hammer. We used to say friendships were forged for a reason.
Cycling has always been a place for friendships. We spend a lot of time together and we reveal ourselves, not in perfectly positioned social media posturing, but in the natural and crude and roughly varnished scenarios of 3-D reality. We crash, fight with motorists, swap tales over coffee, beat each other up on the climbs, help change flats, rib each other, and race, race, race, whether we have a racing license or not.
My two teammates, Josh and Eric, were just that up until a week ago. As we all know, teammates can be friends, or acquaintances, or even arch enemies. Then, after spending thirty hours together in a car, six days at a big bike race, and five nights sharing meals and accommodations, we became friends.
That’s because friendship comes from simple things that really aren’t that simple, like trusting some dude to drive while you’re snoring in the back seat. Friendship comes from that quick readiness to be the one to fill the tank, tip the waitress, or lend a hand with bike prep the day before the race. Friendship comes from that slow revelation of character, where the laughter is genuine and the sympathy is real.
Friendship forms when you earnestly plot and strategize and even argue about the best way to win the race, or to cover your opponents, or to designate different roles. Friendship is what’s left after a few good beers and trust have cemented the spaces caused by worry and hope and even fear that when the meatwagon starts hauling off bleeding bodies, one of them will be yours.
Maybe the thing about friendship that is the most surprising is the way it changes you. I went to Oregon convinced that the most important thing was to have a good time and ride a good race, but after seeing the intensity and the dedication and the focus of Josh and Eric I started to think that maybe I needed to be more like them. A freshly-minted Cat 2, Eric snagged an impressive 8th place finish in his first national crit championships after a mere two seasons of racing.
Josh pulled down what was an even more amazing result: A Cat 3 who has only been riding for two years somehow coming up with an 11th place. Both guys went out and finished one of the hardest masters national road races in history, a ride that ended in freezing rain with hailstones so big they actually broke the edges off of Josh’s helmet. Like friends do, these guys taught through example, always admitting their inexperience and trying to learn, but at the same time making no apologies for giving it everything they had, every single time.
These guys had more to show after two years than I have to show after more than thirty. Like friends do, they inspired me. Their ferocity on the bike was matched by their good humor off of it. If I’ve laughed more in the last twenty years than I laughed in the last week, well, I haven’t. And if I’ve ever seen anyone besides Derek the Destroyer come anywhere close to drinking as much beer as Josh and still rip legs on the bike, well, I haven’t.
You’d think that after all that adversity and being away from home and having to drink all that beer and eat all that junk food and sleep in a strange bed we’d have been sick of each other when it came time to pack ourselves and our shit back into the F-1 Prius at 5:00 AM and make the all-day slog back home. But we weren’t.
Because you know, that’s how friends are.
September 9, 2013 § 8 Comments
As I reflect on the past week at nationals, it was an incredible experience competing on the big stage and seeing such amazing people like the Shimano neutral support dude who thought Rudy had ridden off on the spare bike, so he ran over to the Time team and said, “Where’s my bike?” and the Time dude who was pretty chunky himself got all pissy and said, “Look here, fatso, you’ll get your bike back!” and it looked like it was gonna be a clash of the rubber tummy bumpers because Rudy, who had had his winning solo break brought back after riding so hard he’d broken his seat post, was in despair and had pedaled away on the neutral support bike to phone the suicide hotline.
Before the two fat people could tummy bump, however, the longest running junior high school girls’ catfight in SoCal cycling history, a vicious spat between Michelle Johnson and Joncy Abate, erupted into a violent stream of name calling and insults about each others’ lip gloss. The combatants almost came to blows until Michelle’s skirt got hung up on Joncy’s strapless bra and they were both ejected from the post-race festivities for indecent exposure. Michelle’s BFF, Crystal “Meatballs” DiMarchi, separated the two girls.
“Michelle!” he said, “Quit spitting on Joncy and let’s all go watch Sharon crash out with 13 laps to go.”
The three girls clasped hands and skipped over to Turn One just in time to see Sharon do a backflip over the barricades and into a bush.
In addition to the high level of name calling competition and tummy bumping, nationals showcased USA Cycling’s extraordinary marketing savvy. Having held nationals in Bend for three consecutive years, USAC’s marketing machine ensured that each corporate sponsor received maximal exposure for their significant investment in masters racing.
Everywhere we went in Bend, we’d tell shop keepers and town denizens that we were there for the national championships.
“Of what?” they invariably replied.
“Really? Here? In Bend?”
“Yes. Racing’s been going on all week.”
“Wow! I had no idea!”
In addition to their stealth marketing, USAC made sure that race finishes were packed with dozens of spectators. In my entire life there has never been anything as exciting or thrilling as finishing an arduous road race to the enthusiastic cheering and applause of three spectators and a small crying child.
On a serious note
Despite the dickbag disorganization of USAC and the kindergarten hairpulling dramas, nationals was the best racing I’ve ever done. The quality of the field is so high, except perhaps for Mr. Poopypants. No matter how much we brag about the quality of racing in SoCal, a week at nationals confirms how many great riders there are, even though SoCal racers claim their share of podium spots, the rest of the country and NorCal make every race a hard fought battle.
The competition raises your game and gives you a clear measuring stick regarding how good you really are. The road races are stacked with great roadies. The crits are filled with sprint monsters. The time trials are loaded with pain merchants, and the tandem events are packed with butt snorkelers.
Most of all is the team camaraderie that we built by spending a week together completely drunk. On our final night we celebrated at Deschutes Brewery and then slept on a park bench. As a team we’re already making plans for nationals in Ogden, the polygamous child-bride capital of Utah. Training begins today.
September 5, 2013 § 23 Comments
“Dude,” Josh said, “your face is fuckin’ covered with chocolate. Looks like you been bobbing for corn in the port-o-potty.”
Eric wiped a smear of sweat and spit across his face with the back of his hand. “Gone now?”
“Not even close.”
For well over three hours they’d been racing in the warm sunlight along the undulating roads that would ultimately lead to the mountaintop finish atop Mt. Bachelor. You couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful day, at least as far as the weather was concerned.
Eric put his hands back on the bars and grimaced as the pack surged up the easy roller. They were three miles from the base of the climb and seven miles from the finish of the national championship road race for older fellows. The last forty miles had been an endless series of easy rollers, so easy that Eric’s legs were cramping and he could no longer hold onto the end of the peloton.
“I’m done, dude,” he said to Josh.
Josh glanced up at the darkening sky. “That looks bad, man. Hang on if you can.”
Eric slid off the back. As the gap widened, the pack seemed to slow. Now at the rear of the caravan, Eric dug and started working his way back. He re-connected. The pack surged again. He came unhitched, this time for good.
Alone now, he felt something hard hit his cheek. Then it hit him again. “That’s hail,” he said to himself. As each minute passed, the hail intensified. By the time he hit the bottom of the giant climb that eventually, theoretically, according to the race bible, led to the finish line, he was being pelted with golf ball-sized hailstones and blown sideways by 30 mph gusts. The hailstones hurt so bad that he wanted to cry out, and the larger ones raised giant welts where they struck his bare legs. Mixed in with the hail was a freezing rain. Then, as he got out of the saddle to pull himself up the climb, his legs cramped.
He was now officially as cold, exhausted, and miserable as he’d ever been in his entire life.
How in the hell had it come to this?
Taffy, beer, and the lure of immortality
On the fourteen-hour drive from L.A. to Bend, Oregon, Eric, Josh, and I had taken turns behind the wheel of the Prius. Initially maligned for its lack of power, its odd appearance, and its soccer-mom mystique, the Prius had quelled all criticism at the first gas stop.
“Dude,” Josh said. It was his turn to buy gas. “It only took thirty bucks and it’s full. What the hell?”
Hundreds of miles later, when we refilled again, no one was complaining about the lack of acceleration, as we’d all agreed to put the savings into a mutual beer fund. Every thirty minutes or so Eric would reach into his bag and whip out a new giant stick of taffy. Once Josh had found the taffy stash, the competition began. In addition to the giant Trader Joe’s bag of trail mix that we inhaled, I wondered about cycling nutrition before the Big Race. The taffy competition got so intense that several giant sticks, which had melted inside their wrapper, had to be placed directly under the AC vent so that they could be cooled enough for the competitors to peel off the wrappers with their teeth.
Getting the lowdown on the big ride
We reached Bend and checked into our team house, and convened a special team strategy meeting. Alan, who had done the race the year before, was blunt. “Look, dudes, it’s a really simple race. We go downhill for twelve miles, turn right, do a bunch of easy rollers for about forty miles, then hit the climb. First one up the climb wins. It’s a fifteen-minute bike race.”
“How easy are the rollers?” asked Eric.
“They’re nothing. You might be on the rivet once. Then it’s just easy.”
“How hard is the climb,” I asked.
“It’s the hardest fifteen minutes you’ll ever do.”
“What if you’re not, uh, like, you know, a really good climber?”
Alan looked at me. “Then you’ll look like a burnt fragment of flesh at a Hawaiian pig roast.”
“So what should my strategy be?” I asked.
Alan thought for a minute. “Sit in the whole way, and when you hit the climb, don’t be surprised when everyone leaves you.”
“Okay,” I said.
“What’s most important is rest and nutrition, so get to bed early, stick to your diet, and you’ll do fine.”
The perfect nutritional storm
Josh, Eric, and I were thrilled to find a nice little brewpub around the corner from the SPY Team HQ, a little place called The Old St. Francis School Brewery.
“Why are they fuckin’ serving brewskies at a school?” Josh asked. “Not that that’s a bad thing,” he said as we took a table.
“What are you having?” I asked Eric.
“I’m so not hungry,” he said.
“How can you not be hungry? We just sat in the car for fourteen hours.”
“I think it was the taffy.”
“You gotta be nutritionally energized,” Josh said as the waiter came by. “Eric wants a double cheese baconburger and a 32-oz IPA.”
“And I’ll have the same thing with double cajun fries and a pizza.”
“Yes, sir.” The waiter looked at me.
“Uh, I’ll have the garlic bleu cheese bacon and sausage pizza with artichoke and creamed corn. And the IPA.”
We got home shortly after the brewpub closed at two. The five-minute walk took a solid half hour, but we made it, and got ready for bed.
“Dude,” Eric said as he pulled out a gigantic pair of orange earplugs, each one of which was long enough to go from one side of his skull to the other. “Do you snore?”
“Only when I sleep. Do you?”
“Yeah, but not too loud. Do you fart?”
“Never, except at night.”
Eric dug around some more in his bag and pulled out a giant pair of nose clamps. “See you in the morning.”
The big bike box flail
The next morning we drove out to the time trial course in Prineville, where USAC had moved the registration, almost an hour from Bend, the city that everyone was staying. It made sense, you know, to have registration and packet pickup as inconvenient as possible. We got there just as our teammate Mike Williams was finishing. “How’d it go?” I asked, knowing that there’s only one of two ways a time trial can ever go. Horrible, and you win, or horrible, and you lose.
“It was horrible,” said Mike. “But I beat one dude.”
“More than one, I hope.”
“Yeah, but this one was awesome. My minute man came up to me at the start and said ‘Take a look at this jersey and memorize this number, ’cause you’re never gonna see it again.’”
We began laughing. “You’re joking! Even a bike racing douchebag wouldn’t say that!”
“Oh, but he did. So I caught him at the turnaround and as I passed him I said, ‘Have I seen you before?’”
Mike had schlepped up several bikes for the team from L.A., including Eric’s and Josh’s. His parents lived nearby, so we went to their house to get the bikes. The moment we stepped inside his house, his mother came up. “You boys look hungry.”
This is a polite way people have of saying to bike racers, “You look sickly and malnourished.”
“Well, now that you mention it … ” we said.
“Let me see if I have anything for you to eat.” In a matter of minutes she had laid out a huge spread of turkey sandwiches, fresh vegetables, homemade fudge, upside down pineapple cake with ice cream, and beer. There was enough food for twenty people. We ate ourselves sick and then went outside, where we had the dilemma of putting three bikes and four wheelsets into the Prius. We’d been joined by our teammate F-1 Jim Pappe, so nicknamed because he drove so slowly that even the local rusted out redneck pickup trucks passed him at will. We somehow got all the bikes and people crammed into the two cars and headed back to Bend with all our gear and our registration goodies.
One by one the team began to show up, with MMX arriving that afternoon, and John Abate arriving with Jess that evening. The road races were scheduled for the following morning, with the 50+ going first at 8:00 AM (me, Alan, F-1 Jim, and Randy Tinney), followed by the 40+ race (John A.), then the 35+ (Eric and Josh), and finally the 45+ with MMX, John Hatchitt, Andy Schmidt, and Peter Anderson). We all gathered that night again at the brewery and prepped for the race with copious amounts of greasy bar food and fresh beer. F-1 JIm, who had gotten sick on his drive up from Bakersfield and vomited all along the way to Bend, had recovered somewhat. Randy, however, was feeling awful.
“Dude,” he said. “I can’t race tomorrow.”
“Can’t race?” I said. “Why the hell not?”
“I have a headache.”
“We’re not asking for sex,” I said. “We just need you to toe the line and help Alan in the road race. You don’t even have to finish.”
“You don’t understand,” he said, as he wandered off to the men’s room to throw up again.
Back at the SPY HQ, I readied my gear for the race the following morning. The horribly dry air and the altitude left me gasping every time I walked up the stairs. “I hope the bike race isn’t harder than the staircase,” I muttered, before falling asleep.
The morning dawned to reveal at least one terrible hangover tinged with dry mouth and the overpowering urge to vomit. I somehow overcame the urge.
Abate had gotten in at two o’clock with Jess, minus their bicycles, which United had conveniently lost in between San Diego and Bend.
“No problem, sir,” United said as John frantically dialed their “service” department. “We should have them to you by the end of the day.”
“Dude,” said John. “We’ve got a bike race in a couple of hours. We need those bikes now. How do you lose a hundred-pound giant plastic container filled with bicycles? How?”
“Well, when we find it we’ll send it over to our service delivery center, and Delta will bring it to your hotel.”
“I didn’t know Delta had merged with United.”
“They haven’t, sir.”
“THEN WHAT THE FUCK DOES DELTA HAVE TO DO WITH MY LUGGAGE?”
He slammed down the phone and implemented Plan B.
“Hey, Randy,” John said as the phone awakened Randy from his dried pool of puke.
“You still not racing this morning?”
“Can I borrow your bike?”
John raced over to Randy’s condo and got his bike. Then he and Josh swapped machines, since Josh’s bike was closer to his size, and began the meticulous process of recalibrating seat posts, cleat positions, handlebars, and all the other important modifications that have to be made if your $10k bike is going to earn you the 57th place you have worked so hard to attain.
The leadenness in the sky
Since our race started three hours before John’s in the 40+, F-1 Jim and I left the SPY HQ at 6:15. MMX stuck his head out of the bedroom. “Weather forecast is for thunderstorms, hail, and temperatures in the 30′s.”
“At least we have that to look forward to.”
At the start of the 50+ elderly fellows’ national championship road race, the temperature was forty degrees, but the skies were clear. Greg Leibert, who was riding solo for Big Orange, did a few efforts with me up a short hill, and we chattered like chipmunks in the biting air, which, when you added in the wind chill, was easily 30 degrees. “Glad it’s going to be a sunny day,” I said.
We started off shortly past eight o’clock and in order to freeze us even more the race pointed immediately down a screaming twelve-mile descent. As the speeds began to ramp up over fifty mph, various riders who had never descended at those speeds in their lives began to get high speed frame chatter. One rider’s bike began to shimmy and twist like a flag on a pole in a hurricane as he rocketed off the road at speed and careened into the gravel, then the brush, and then into the soft landing of the sharpened ends of pine boughs.
The terror of avoiding the chattering bikes was almost enough to counteract the sub 20-degree chill that had penetrated into our internal organs.
How the race was won
Even though Alan’s race plan was solid, it was clear to me after looking at the national champions, world champions, and galactic champions in the race that my only hope lay with Godzilla showing up and eating everyone except me. After a handful of initial attacks, with Godzilla not showing up, the winning break of four mutants “rolled” of the front, which is another way of saying they went so fast that no one could catch them. Pretty soon the sun came out and we warmed up. The riders who’d been wrapped in several layers of plastic began undressing, which created a second level of terror almost as bad as avoiding the downhill catastrophic crashes caused by the frame shimmies.
The undressing riders would sit up, hands off the bars while packed in the middle of the clotted peloton, and begin fighting madly with zippers, sleeves, hats, and gloves, and then packing it all into a tiny rear jersey pocket. The merest chughole or wobble would have taken out half the field, but somehow no one crashed. However, one dude couldn’t get an arm of his rain jacket stuffed into his rear jersey pocket, and the flapping sleeve began driving me crazy.
“Is it going to droop down into his spokes and crash us all out?” I wondered. Each time I tried to get close to him to tell him, the Law of Cyclist Proximity kicked in. This is a basic racing peloton rule that says you will always get stuck behind the one person you don’t want to be stuck behind, or, you will never be able to get up to the rider you need to get up to.
I finally gave up, and just in time, because the easy rollers had begun to do serious damage to the peloton.
Easy for you, impossible for me
The easy rollers that Alan had promised were in fact a grueling, grinding series of endless, short climbs that, one by one, gradually sapped everyone’s legs even as the winning break of mutants disappeared forever. I hit the front exactly once and took a mighty pull, but after the peloton stopped laughing they reeled me back in just in time for the big final climb. I’d not eaten anything except a few Gatorade gummy chews which had been included in my preregistration goodie bag.
The gummies were wrapped in a long plastic tube best opened with a buck knife or blow torch. Each one was in a separate, hermetically sealed compartment made of industrial-strength rubberized plastic, and I almost tore out my rear molars opening the thing up. Then, in desperation I chewed not only the gummy but also the rubberized wrapper. It was nice that USAC had partnered with a company that knew how to make cycling-friendly food products.
As Alan had foretold, everyone over 140 pounds, which was virtually all of the elderly fellows in the race, was hideously shelled on the lower slopes of the climb. As the climb continued, the destruction became more pronounced. Sag-bellied, multi-chinned fellows who had begun with fantasies of glory were now relegated to wheezing, gasping, square-pedaling oafs who looked like they were being flayed to death by Captain Ahab.
Roger Worthington, who had won the tandem TT the day before, decimating a field of three other teams in the 50+ Men Who Are Willing To Spend $15k On A Custom Carbon Tandem That They Will Never Ride Again While One Has His Nose Jammed Up The Other’s Ass, was wasted from the effort. He took a long hard pull in the lead-up to the climb and then, as he imploded, began to shout “Pizza and beer, one dollar off at Worthy Brewing tonight!” as the wounded, stampeding elderly fellows roared up the climb.
I roared, too, but only for two hundred yards or so. Then I was stuck by myself, the field maddeningly close but hopelessly and forever unreachable. I could see the field break into smaller bloody clots as the final climb did its terrible work. Just as I had resolved to get off my bike and cry, a big white Nissan drove up alongside me. It was MMX, whose race wouldn’t go off until three.
“What are you doing back here?” he sternly asked.
“Flailing,” I said.
“Those guys up ahead,” he said. “Catch them.”
The guys were way ahead, and I had to choose between saying “Fuck you,” and “Yes, sir.” I chose life. I chose “Yes, sir.”
What unfolded was the most glorious 38th-place finish in the history of Elderly Fellows road racing. Whether it was MMX’s encouragement, my fear of looking even worse than I already did, the photo crew that was shooting close-ups of my awful grimaces, or the slight draft from the passing vehicles, I somehow got atop the gear and picked up speed.
Everyone who races loves to talk about pain, misery, and the hell of enduring a hard climb, but in addition to all that I had a special collection of facial grimaces that I practiced religiously at home to make sure I seemed more heroic than 38th place would normally seem. I gritted. I contorted. I drooled. I blew flecks of snot. I bobbed. I weaved. I thrashed. And incredibly, I began picking up one wanker after another. As Rudy Napolitano had said before the race, “Just don’t give up hope. Even though you’re hopeless.”
Each freddy freeloader I passed leaped onto my wheel, but quickly came off. With a last lunge I reattached to the seventeenth chase group, a collection of ragged and tattered and chubby and demoralized riders who were only thinking about the finish line 500 meters hence. I sped by, bringing BBI’s Brad Hunter with me. We had a brutal, heroic, incredible struggle for 37th place, with his final kick propelling him to a step on the sub-sub-sub-sub podium and a prize that included all of the unopened Gatorade gummy chews that had been thrown to the roadside in disgust.
Our race finished with the strongest of the mutants dropping the other mutants and me crossing the line in thirty-eighth place, one of the strongest placings imaginable and much more awesome than “38th” sounds. I checked with lots of people after the race and they all told me that thirty-eighth was truly impressive.
The amazing fart explosion
John Abate’s race, which rolled out shortly after ours finished, got caught in the hailstorm just as the climb began. But an even worse storm had descended on his smallish peloton a mere twenty miles into the race. A dude who shall forever hence be knowns as “Mr. Poopers,” raised his rear end up off the saddle in order to unleash what he thought was a mighty fart. Unfortunately, there was a major miscommunication between his sphincter and his brain, because when he released the gas, it was a fully loaded breakfast burrito turd with all the trimmings.
More impressively, he was wearing white shorts, and the gigantic brown bomb shot straight up the back of his bibs, staining everything brown and gagging everyone nearby. The smell was overpowering and it forced the pace up as each rider struggled mightily to get in front of Mr. Poopers. What was even more terrifying to the riders was the onset of the rain, because everyone knew that the water would start washing the poop out of Mr. Poopers’s shorts, and from there onto the bikes, shoes, and kits of whomever was behind him.
John surged to the front of his group at the base of the climb. The winning break was already up the road as the hail unleashed with such fury that it shattered his Garmin. Neither snow, nor sleet, nor hail, nor sideways wind gusts of 30 mph were enough to slow a man trying to escape the now-sopping-and-dripping Mr. Poopers, and John charged through the flying hail like a madman.
John hit the finish line and saw that the barricades and the entire finishing area had been destroyed by the hail and the gusts of wind, which had exceeded 50 mph atop the ski resort at Mt. Bachelor. The USA Cycling organizational team, which was extremely adept at cashing the checks of the riders. was less adept at handling problems on the actual race course, leaving it to racers, their wives, friends, and some dude in a wheelchair to pick up the barricades so that the finishing riders weren’t crashed out and killed as they finished. Hiding somewhere far from the calamity and sipping hot chai lattes, the USA Cycling brass convened an emergency meeting.
“Shit out there is gnarly,” said one.
“Glad we’re not out in it,” said another.
“Want to send off the rest of the races?”
“Sure. Worst that could happen is someone gets killed.”
“Plus if we cancel we’ll have to deal with scheduling and possibly refunds.”
At the mention of the word “refund” everyone panicked. “Send ‘em off, no question. Hey, waitress! Could I have another tea?”
Just as they decided to order a few frozen and wet volunteers out to the PA system, a troop of angry motorcyclists stomped in. These were the men and women who followed the races and various chase groups. “If you think we’re going out in that deadly hail and snow and rain and sleet, you’re nuts,” said the leader.
The chief USA boss shook his head. “But what about refunds?”
Everyone quailed and several of the veteran staff began sobbing. “We can’t do refunds. We just can’t!!”
“I know!” said the boss. “We’ll move the race to tomorrow!”
“But what about the riders who just flew in for this one race and who can’t stay?”
“Fuck ‘em!” the others yelled in unison.
“And what about the riders who were going to do the tandem road race on Friday? The two events will overlap!”
“Fuck ‘em!” everyone roared, even more loudly.
“No refunds ever! Crank up the email machine and notify everyone. Chai tea lattes on the house!” roared the boss as everyone applauded.
What teammates are for
No sooner had John dismounted than the winners, then the remnants, of the following 35+ group came straggling in. Josh and Eric were covered in sleet. Josh’s helmet had been dented in by the hail, and Eric’s legs were covered in giant red welts. Neither could speak, and both had to be helped off their bikes. John, who was still frozen from his race, kicked into gear. With Jess providing towels, blankets, and warm clothing, the riders were stuck beneath the heating vents, which were going full blast. Both riders looked like they had just been through a terrorist attack.
Josh looked over at Eric. “Did we finish?”
“I think so.”
“Dudes,” said John with a grin. “You didn’t just finish. You finished the toughest, most grueling nationals road race ever.”
Eric cracked a smile. “It was a piece of cake until that final climb thanks to all those easy rollers.”
“Where’s my recovery beer?” Josh asked.
There was the hiss of a cap flipping off a bottle as Jess pressed an ice cold brew into his hand. “Right here.”
Josh drained the bottle as the icy cold beer warmed his frozen insides. “Yeah,” he said. “Yeah.”
September 3, 2013 § 25 Comments
Lots of people I ride and race with are winners, and they have a winning mindset.
“When I line up, I line up to win!” they say.
“You have to believe in yourself,” they say.
“You’ve gotta have confidence that your training has prepared you to win,” they say.
“Visualize the victory,” they say.
“Plan the work and work the plan,” they say.
“Fuck that,” I say.
The losing mindset
Winners win because they have a winning mindset. Good for them, hats off, and all that shit. But us losers, we have a mindset, too, and since I’m heading off to Bend, Oregon tomorrow in order to race nationals and make snarky comments about Roger Worthington’s beer, I think it’s important to share my “Race to Lose” philosophy with all the losers who will be lining up to take their dose of humiliation and defeat, because let’s face it, all of you are going to lose except for one or two winners.
If you’re going to buy a $10k bike, take a week off work, train for a year, spend thousands on a coach, live a monkish diet lifestyle, and quit having sex in order to take the time to lose, you need to do it the right way. Any fool can lose, but a real loser loses from the inside out.
Racing to lose: The importance of hopelessness
The first step in a losing race campaign at nationals is hopelessness, which I define as “The complete, utter, total absence of even a scintilla of hope.” This is different from despair in the immediate face of getting shelled at Mile 10. It is a long-term hopelessness that begins long before you even show up for the race.
“Even a miracle wouldn’t allow me to win.”
“The probability of victory is the same as the point at which all molecular motion ceases: Absolute Zero.”
“Abandon hope, all ye who enter.”
These are excellent preparatory mindsets that will, over time, erase even the possibility of thinking that you might actually hope to win. However, the mindset of hopelessness must be augmented with detailed analysis of the course.
In the case of Bend’s RR course, a diet of hopelessness should be beefed up with facts like the following:
- I am racing against the guys who beat the guys who always beat me.
- 6,200-feet altitude makes it impossible for me.
- It’s a climber’s race. I can’t climb. At all.
- My race starts early when it’s going to be very cold. I do terribly in the cold.
- My race starts in the afternoon when it’s hot. I do terribly in the heat.
- Bend is too dry. I can’t win when it’s dry.
- The course isn’t selective enough in the beginning; I’ve got to have a hard start to win.
- The course is too selective in the beginning; I’ve got to have an easy start to win.
See? Tailor the facts of the course to fit your losing philosophy. No fact is so irrelevant that you can’t use it as a starting point for total capitulation.
Racing to lose: Psyching yourself out early
Most losers wait until race day to admit that they can’t win ever, no matter what. Don’t wait until you toe the line to be frightened by your competition. USA Cycling’s pre-reg list lets you analyze in detail the overwhelming superiority of those who are destined to defeat you. If you recognize someone like Christian Walker, who’s better at his worst than you at your best, remind yourself that he’s a former elite national champion. If it’s a reigning national champ like Rudy Napolitano or Mike Easter, focus on their results, victories, successes and contrast them with all the races you DNF’d.
If it’s the crit start list and it’s someone like Craig Miller or Charon Smith, people who you couldn’t keep up with if you were in a motorcar, visualize how frightened you are by sprinting, by contact, and by their scary, powerful, veiny legs. Stand in the mirror for at least ten minutes each day and analyze the fat pockets around your chin, knees, elbows, and gums.
Racing to lose: The importance of data
The best way to focus on defeat is to utilize your power meter data from the last six months, or better yet, six years. Carefully analyze watt/kg tables for TdF winners, and think about how that one time when you averaged 260 watts for 60 minutes, your best ride ever, you were in the hospital for the following week.
Look at graphs and spreadsheets that indicate decreasing power over time in order to predict “slumping,” which is a loser’s equivalent of “peaking”; that point where all physical factors have coalesced to make you your slowest the entire year (or perhaps your slowest ever). Pay close attention to heart rate trends, and look for indications that although slow and weak and overweight, you are likely overtrained as well.
If that doesn’t work, perform a reverse analysis to see if you are undertrained. Any recent loss of KOM’s on Strava or “PR’s” that put you in the bottom quartile of a segment should be studied in detail, memorized, or even tattooed on your forearm for quick reference in the race in the unlikely event you’re not dropped by Mile 2.
Racing to lose: No excuses
Unprepared losers reach into their bag of excuses to explain failure. Effective, thoroughly prepare losers, however, never seek excuses. They admit openly, before, during, and after the race that “I wasn’t good enough. I’ve never been good enough. I never will be good enough. I suck.”
Memorizing this mantra can help you lose completely before you even check into your hotel.
Preparation is key: Don’t let victory sneak up on you
Every once in a blue moon, a perfectly prepped loser will find himself in a winning break or in fifth wheel coming through the final corner of the crit. It’s important to defeat yourself at the last moment, since the temporary euphoria of being ahead of everyone else could potentially lead to victory.
Proven losers know how to ride dumb in a break by either pulling too much and dropping themselves, or by not pulling enough and getting dumped by the stronger riders. Either approach is okay, whereas potential sprint wins can be snatched from the jaws of victory simply by drooping your head and sighing heavily. The winners will take care of you from there.
(Next: Proper Diet for Losing on Race Day)
August 13, 2013 § 15 Comments
The previous week we raced the Brentwood GP, set in the heart of glamorous West L.A., smack in the middle of the homes owned by the rich, the famous, the divorced, and those serving life sentences in Nevada. What could be better than a craft beer garden, silicone breasts galore, curbside cafes with froo-froo drinks and menu items that end in -eaux, -aises, and three digits to the left of the decimal?
Ah, Brentwood! Home to Brooke Shields, who swung by to check out the action, home to a fabled bike race intertwined with L.A.’s oldest and most respected cycle club and high-dollar payday for the fastest wheels in the West, all recorded with a Hollywood sound truck and 50-man crew from Time-Warner Cable.
But I digress …
Taking it down to the next level
This Sunday, with only a few races left on the 2013 road calendar, marked the running of the Torrance Crit, a race as different from Brentwood as a $5,000 hooker is from a jar of peanut butter. By the middle of August we were all completely exhausted and even sicker of bike racing than we were in January, which was very.
After seventeen races at which I spent an average of $75.00 per race (for a total of $1,275.00, plus $1,932.83 in equipment, clothing, beer, and lodging), I had already wasted — yes, wasted — $3,207.83 in order to garner an average race finish of 31.6th place. The good news was that after Brentwood I was clearly on an uptick in performance, having crossed the line in an almost impossibly good 19th place. If I could only keep doubling my results like that, I’d be winning in no time!
It would be the challenge of a lifetime to improve on the Brentwood finish here at Torrance, but I was up to it. At season’s end when others were running on fumes, I could feel victory, or at least 18th Place, coursing through my veins.
Killing for crumbs
As I looked around the starting line I realized what a profound mistake it had been not to sign up for the 45+ race in which I had a .000003% chance of winning instead of the 35+, in which my chance was zero. Around me the riders all looked youthful, strong, and fast, with the exception of Bart, who looked older than the rest of us put together but still beat me like a drum.
The only consolation I got was that they, like me, were sick to death of pedaling around ugly office parks with no hope of victory, and, like me, were here out of force of habit, like a heroin addict who inserts the needle with no hope of relief, but prays only for maintenance of low-level misery. Like me, they were desperately hoping and praying that now, at the end of the year, some miracle would occur that might deliver a victory — a moving van running amok on the course that ran over all the other riders, or a giant sinkhole that swallowed everyone but me, or, even more impossibly, a last-minute miscalculation by Charon, Hair, Wike, or the other habitual Alpha males of the SoCal crit scene. But the most hopeful omen of all was the absence of Tinstman and DiMarchi, who had gone off to Vietnam in order to test their intestines against the local cuisine, and their legs against that nation’s top riders.
Where Brentwood was tony and well-heeled, the Torrance crit was the impoverished cousin with the extra toe, a wind-swept, barren hellhole held on the Telo training crit course so infamous in the South Bay. The wind-tossed, pock-marked, rock-strewn frontside of the course was buffeted by the standard 25 mph headwind that blows off of the ocean every afternoon. The field had a meager 31 riders, meaning that the strategy of “hide, then hide some more” wouldn’t work.
The prize, though somewhat smaller than the $13,000 on offer at Brentwood, was still enough to make the racers willing to fight and kill for it. Such is the value of a tank of gas among the hopeless addicts of the Pro Masters Crit community. When our race began there was a collective sigh of relief as we all knew we were just a few minutes closer to the end of an already endless season, and therefore the chance of receiving a serious brain injury this year while riding through potholes at warp speed on skinny tires was ever so slightly reduced.
A recap almost as miserable as the ride
You know how, when you read a race recap, it’s filled with mindlessly boring descriptions of what various riders did throughout the entire fifty minutes, though it could and should best be summed up by William Stone’s immortal race reports, which are all the same? That is, “Someone won. The others did not.”
Well, this race report has two versions.
The Stonish version: Charon Smith won. The others did not.
The Wankmeister version: Grab yourself a beer. Settle into a comfy couch. Get ready for a long, boring, painful read.
Since it was going to be a long, miserable, windy, high-speed beatdown, my teammate Josh Alverson decided to play it conservatively by sitting in, resting, and hoarding his energies until the end of the first one hundred yards, at which point he attacked. Everyone was relieved to see him go, because of all the no-hope moves that anyone could have pulled, this was the no-hopiest.
Five laps later, Josh returned to the fold just in time for John Wike to attack. My game plan since the night before had been to sit in. Rest. Save everything for one hard attack with a couple of laps to go. Follow nothing. Try nothing. Remember that these were all young men and that I was a feeble and infirm elderly fellow with a leaky prostate, terrible vision, and a dislocated pancreas. Seek whatever shelter from the wind I could find. Stay far from the front. Never attack. Say “please” a lot.
So of course I jumped on Wike’s wheel, which is like saying, “I poked the guy in the eye who was wearing the hockey mask and carrying the chainsaw.” Wike’s an unusual fellow in that his ferocity has multiple sources. Most bike racers can only conjure up “the angry” from some early childhood beating, or having lost a thumb while cleaning the chain on a track bike, or getting beaten up and having their stamp collection taken away while walking home from Mrs. Broughton’s 4th Grade class at Braeburn Elementary in Houston.
Wike’s fury, though comes from the usual places plus his junkyard dog loyalty to his team. I overheard the whole team pre-race meeting. Charon and Wike and Special K were sitting under the tent.
Charon: What’s the plan today, boys?
Wike: You will win.
Charon: Okay, but what’s the plan?
Wike: I will chase down everything.
Special K: Dude, you can’t chase everything. We only have three guys. Nobody’s gonna help you.
Wike: Okay. I will chase almost everything. You chase the other one or two moves.
Charon: Sounds like a plan.
Fools rush in where Wike isn’t afraid to tread
Many people say that Wike has no fear, and they cite these two examples:
Example A: Wike set the downhill speed record for the Red Bull Challenge on Tuna Canyon in the Santa Monica Mountains, well in excess of 55 mph on a suicidal, twisting, gravelly, washed-out, off-camber descent of death, and he set it despite crashing, remounting, and hitting it full-gas all the way to the bottom.
Example B: Coming into the final 400 yards of a mass sprint that featured ex-Euro pros like Ivan Dominguez, Wike was glued to the wheel of the Cuban Missile. A young and hormone-crazed Cat 1 tried to bump Wike off the Missile’s wheel, at 35 mph. Wike casually looped his arm under the youngster’s, then hooked their two handlebars together as the speed increased. From six inches away, Wike looked coolly into the eyes of the terrified child. “If you try to take that wheel from me again … ” Wike paused for dramatic effect as the speed increased, the finish line approached, and the roar of crowd became deafening. ” … then we’re both going down.”
The punkster trembled, Wike unlocked arms and bars, and uncorked for the finish, which was so close they had to review it with a team of officials on video replay. The enormous clunk on the concrete when Wike got off his bike was the sound of his 300-lb. testicles, and they left a divot in the cement the size of a wrecking ball.
But he seemed like such a nice axe-murderer, Mommy
The thing about Wike, though, despite his fury and his rail-like cornering skills and his devastating sprint and his fearless approach, is this: As long as you don’t try to douchebag him, he is the fairest, most honest, cleanest rider around, kind of like an ethical Great White Shark with guns and nunchuks.
Now I was on his wheel, and what had started off as a bike race quickly became an advanced lesson in high-speed cornering. Whereas most crit riders set themselves up for a turn, and it’s fairly predictable how they intend to enter the corner, Wike seems to come at each turn straight up-and-down, as tightly inside as possible, with no angle or lean at all. It looks impossible until, at the last second, rather than gracefully swooping through the apex of the turn, he grabs his stupid fucking bike by the scruff of its neck, rubs its nose in the poop, and violently slings it through the corner.
The bike is too afraid to do anything except go, and Wike never misses a pedal stroke. I, on the other hand, am ten feet back and digging like a DitchWitch in a mud trench to get back on his wheel. By the time I’d latch back on, John would be gouging the pedals again, which meant that the “recovery” from “sitting on his wheel” was in theory only.
Josh to the rescue
Soon we had another rider, and our three-man break looked promising, except for the fact that I was barely hanging on and we were a mere ten minutes into the race. Fortunately, my teammate Josh pulled the entire pack up to our break, relieving me of the indignity of getting dropped and making sure there was no way I would get on the podium. A lot of people don’t understand the teamwork in bike racing, which is complicated and hard to explain, and frankly, neither do I.
Now that I had squandered what little reserves I’d begun with (did I mention that I did a “warm-up” 30-mile ride that morning around PV that included 4k of climbing?), I slunk to the rear and swore to hide until the finish. This was the exact same moment that Special K attacked, followed by searing jumps from Wike, Josh, Jolly Green Giant, and most of the CalPools team.
The wounded and bleeding flailers huddled in a small lump, looking at each other and wondering which of the following would happen:
- We’d play “Yugo! Uh-uh, YOU go!” until the pack went off and left us for good. Then we’d be able to go home and give our pals “kudos” on Strava and tote up our weekly mileage.
- Some idiot in our midst would tow us up to the peloton, thereby frying and dropping himself from the race.
- The pack would miraculously slow down.
We got lucky, and it was Door #3. The wind and the accelerations were so fierce that the pack had winded itself, kind of like a dog that mindlessly chases a stick over and over until it collapses in a heap, never really sure why it was chasing the stick in the first place, and resolving never to do it ever again as long as it lives, or at least until someone throws the stick again.
A big lob
Josh attacked again for the 357th time and was up the road with Ollie before the pack brought that stick back, too. As everyone caught their breath, I seized my chance and rolled off the front with six to go. After the race a dude came up to me and said, “Yo, Wanky. New nickname. After that Big Blue Bus on flat tires acceleration, we’re gonna start calling you ‘Dangle.’”
As I dangled, each time I came through Turn 5 a hopelessly besotted clot of drunks screamed my name. At first I thought they were my friends, because it sure looked like Hoof Fixer Dude, New Girl, Frenchy, Tumbleweed, G3, Surfer Dan, Francisco, Toronto, Shannon, and Peyton Place.
Then I realized that they were standing in the driveway of the Strand Brewery, a local beer maker with a 10,000 gallon brewing tank that sells growlers to the public on the weekend. Noting that it was a weekend, and noting that everyone was clenching a growler, I paid closer attention the next time I came through, this time with another rider in tow.
“Get off the front, you fucking idiot!” is what they seemed to be saying. I wondered if they meant me?
With three laps to go, I and CalPools Dude were joined by the Jolly Green Giant, only he was more like the Grumpy Green Giant than the jolly one. I didn’t care, as he pulled like a giant, and now the game plan began to coalesce. None of us could sprint, but I could sprint at least as less badly as the other two. Victory was entirely possible. Best of all, my two teammates, Josh and Eric, would be at the front slowing down the pack, soft pedaling through the turns, and messing up Wike’s inevitable chase of death.
Josh to the rescue, again!
Fortunately, with two laps to go, Josh did such a great job of blocking that he blocked the whole peloton right up to our breakaway, then attacked us. “C’mon!” he said. “Let’s go!”
I wasn’t sure what he meant, since the only place I knew to go to was the finish line, and I’d been trying like hell to get there for the last four laps. Now there was a small gap, and Grumpy looked at me. “Close that gap!” he ordered.
“But that’s my teammate. Why should I?”
“You moron,” Grumpy snarled. “You need to learn how to race your bike.”
“That’s true,” I said. “But I’m still not chasing down my teammate for you.”
Grumpy lumbered up, but by that time the peloton was together again.
Final lap fireworks
With one lap to go, Charon woke up. He went over to the wash basin, brushed his teeth, put in some menthol-flavored mouthwash, and adjusted his helmet. Then he stretched, and with a moderate yawn rolled up towards the front.
“Hey,” he said. “Which one of you babies has the candy?”
“I do!” yowled one baby.
“Me, too!” hollered another.
“Me, me, me! Me got candy!” shouted a chorus of others.
“Okay, then,” said Charon. “Hold your hands up real high so I can take it from you easier.”
With three hundred yards to go he stretched again, checked his mouth in his pocket mirror to make sure there weren’t any pieces of black pepper between his teeth, and put his hands on the drops. Now the others were sprinting at max speed, giving it everything they had.
Charon pulled the morning newspaper out of his jersey pocket to make sure that the 15% Off Sale at Bill’s Bible Store was still going on, carefully refolded it, and put it back in his pocket. With a hundred yards to go he checked his phone. There was a text message from his fan club. “Hey, Charon!” it said. “Now might be a good time to go.”
“All right, then,” he said, and pushed one of his legs down, hard.
The bike shot forward.
Then he pushed down his other leg, harder. The bike shot forward even more.
“Aw man,” he said, seeing Hair and Eric almost at the line. “Am I going to have to push down AGAIN?” He gave the pedal one more mighty push with his leg and passed the two leading riders by thirty feet. Both of them wobbled and almost smacked into the curb as the wall of wind, combined with the sonic boom, knocked them into each other.
Sure, those guys stood on the podium. Eric even clinched third place zero help from his teammates. But me? I finished 18th, one whole placing better than at Brentwood. If I can just squeeze in seventeen more races between now and August 31, well … you do the math.
August 5, 2013 § 15 Comments
Our SPY-Giant-RIDE team had spent a lot of time analyzing the course for the Brentwood Grand Prix in West Los Angeles, scouting the competition, and figuring out the best battle plan for bringing our main man, “Nails” Flores, to a second consecutive win. It was kind of a complicated plan and I drifted in and out of the pre-race discussion, catching only bits and pieces.
“…counterattack…after the prime…”
“Watch out for…”
“…going well right now…make sure to…”
“…breakaway but keep the pack…”
Problem was, I couldn’t focus because I had my mind on much more important things, like the colors of our new summer kit and whether everyone would be matching. I had always wanted to be on my junior high school cheerleading team so that I could wear perfectly coordinated clothing, right down to the shoelaces, but that was back in the day when male cheerleaders were laughed at, teased, called “sissies,” then gruesomely beaten to death. So, as they say, I chose life.
As everyone knows, in order to be a pro masters 45+ prostate-challenged bike racer, you have to have at least two kits. You need a spring-ish one that has dark colors to represent the departed winter and the windy, rainy, muck of March along with a splash of color for the flavor of flowers and greenery in April and May. Summer, however, must be bright and sunny and redolent with the smell of freshly mown lawns and new car purchases that you can’t really afford but that you were suckered into by the Toyota Tent Sale.
Master designer Joe Yule had been commissioned to do our summer kit, and had apparently knocked it out while watching re-runs of “I Dream of Jeannie” or while wearing a dress and heels. I pulled it on, admiring the way it flattered my chest and butt, and thought it looked great until I saw Brett Clare.
“Hey, Wankmeister! You guys all wearing Tink’s old SPY kits now?”
Then the other riders chimed in. “At least you won’t need separate orders for the men’s and women’s team!”
“Powder puff blue will go great with your eye shadow!”
Of course I recognized that they were simply jealous, and continued to focus on what really mattered: Making sure our team was properly coordinated. It wasn’t my fault that their mothers had raised them to think that electric green kits looked good with tongue studs and tattoos of dragons eating the sun while fighting St. George in front of a death’s head on top of a naked woman with angel wings and huge breasts.
At that moment up came Erik the Red. “Dude, you got my kit?”
“Uh, no. Why?”
“I thought it was being shipped up to you from San Diego.”
“Crap! Maybe I left it in the van.”
We only had a few minutes before the race started, so I rushed back to the parking lot. I was driving a borrowed 1975 Chevrolet van that had originally been “customized” with a bed and blue shag carpet and then used for another thirty years as a plumber’s truck. I tore the thing up looking for Erik’s kit.
He came over. “Find it?”
“No. But this may help.” I handed over a dust-covered dildo and a broken monkey wrench.
“Um, thanks, dude,” he said, and wandered off in search of clothing to borrow.
Getting on the same page
As we lined up I noticed that Nails was wearing the wrong color helmet. His was black with blue highlights, whereas the proper matching helmet should have been blue with black highlights. Before I could say anything to him about this horrific fashion faux pas, the gun went off.
The pace was fierce. Of the hundred starters, twenty decided that they had better things to do that Sunday by the end of the third lap. Each time I tried to advance towards the front to tell Nails about his helmet and offer to switch, a sweep would come up the side and put us all back into the gutter.
On the fourth lap a nice fellow wearing a kit that said “Ryan Construction: Building Relationships” chopped the shit out of my wheel in the fourth corner and almost ground me into the curb, into the air, onto a barrier, and into the meatwagon. I looked at him as he chopped me. “Really?” I asked.
He glowered in fury, unapologetic for having tried to kill someone for a bike length’s advantage in the middle of an old fellows’ race. We entered the 180-degree turn after the start finish, and Mr. Relationships was on my wheel. Just before I came out of the turn he reached over, grabbed me by the chest, and threw me backwards in order to pass me and sprint out of the turn for an “attack.”
I hopped on his wheel and watched him lay down a searing, brutal, inhuman, impressive effort for a solid 400 yards, after which his piston threw a rod, the transmission fell out, the wheels came off, and he went spinning wildly off to the side, never to be seen or laughed at again.
Helping my teammate
By now Nails was off the front with nine of the best riders and mix of the biggest teams in the race. Their gap was substantial; they were gone for good, it seemed. I began to panic, thinking that there was no way for me to tell him about his helmet, so I decided to ride up to where he was and let him know.
The ten-man breakaway hammered as hard as it could, but nothing was going to keep me from helping my buddy. I went to the front and, lap after lap, poured on the coal. Stupid teammates of mine who don’t know shit about color coordination screamed incessantly.
“Ease off, dumbass! You’re pulling back the break!”
“Quit hammering, dumbfuck! That’s our guy up the road!”
Teams Amgen, Surf City, and BBI also panicked, as their breakaway riders were imperiled by my efforts. “Quit pulling, you moron!” they screamed.
But I was on to their wily tricks. They wanted Nails to cross the line first in that uncoordinated outfit and make him a laughingstock, and it wasn’t going to happen on my watch.
Fortunately, with one lap to go I was able to cross over to the breakaway and bring the remaining fifty riders with me. As I sprinted for the front to tell Nails about his desperate helmet mismatch, my legs failed and I coasted in. My teamwork had paid off, though. By bringing fifty fresh riders up to the exhausted breakaway, I had ensured that six other riders crossed ahead of Nails so that his awful fashion mistake would be lost in the excitement of celebrating the winner.
Nails didn’t appear too happy when I told him about my efforts. “Dude, are you telling me you pulled the whole fucking race to chase down my break because you didn’t like my helmet?”
“Yeah. That’s what buddies do for buddies.”
“But I wanted to win that race, you dumbass.”
I nodded sympathetically. “You did. The guy who crossed the line first was wearing a terrible red-and-black combination with mismatched socks. Not even close. You owned his outfit by a mile.”
July 23, 2013 § 55 Comments
Does anyone know Lance’s cell phone? ‘Cause we need him bad.
This Wiggins-Froome thing has gotten totally out of hand. One day we were watching a doped up superman who boinked models and actresses and rock stars, who owned ranches and mansions and private jets, who was devilishly good looking, whose ego was bigger than Dallas and twice as gnarly, who ground people up into hamburger meat on and off the bike, who beat cancer, cured cancer, sued enemies into oblivion, had an entourage of global financiers, Italian dope doctors, starlets, drug mules, presidents and scientists and who, with only one nut still had bigger balls than the entire pro peloton, and then, BAM!
We were watching Chris fucking Froome, a human insect who can’t even pedal properly, a craven little wussmeister whose doping program is “marginal gains” instead of “ram the whole 12,000 cc up my ass,” an awkward, unappetizing robot who confirms what every motorist instinctively knows: Cyclists are contemptible arthropods deserving nothing so much as the heel of a boot.
Sure, I used to bag on Dopestrong…until I saw the last two years of Dopeweak. What happened to the drug-crazed cannibals of yore, handsome, muttonchopped, steel-willed manly men who ate raw meat with their fists and swallowed their cocaine-heroin-strychnine cocktails in one-pint tumblers? How could we have banished the lying, cheating, brash and big-balled Texan who rode a chrome Harley, threw massive charity balls, charged 100k to jocksniffing millionaires for a group ride appearance, won triathlons, raced marathons, conquered Leadville, and ruled the entire UCI with the iron grip of a drug kingpin, which he was, and traded him in for the sniveling, milquetoast, dainty British softmen who drink tea, slurp warm beer, and race like simpering weenies or, what’s infinitely worse, like British people?
Where is the wrath, the insane bloodlust fueled by too many drugs in the wrong combination, the tortured beastly exhibitions of athletic porn, the Texas gunslinger who rode over the bones of his challengers and fell as mightily as he rose, in full color on a giant screen surrounded by a frothing media scrum and presided over by the queen of daytime TV? I’ll tell you where: He’s been replaced by “champions” who are no cleaner but a thousand times less entertaining to watch, the insect class, the automaton class, the zombies of the road.
Please, if you have his number, call Lance for me and beg him to either come back or to give these pasty-faced cab drivers a few lessons in how to race like the future of the galaxy depended on it. I’ll take les forcats de la route over the zombies of the road any day.
July 21, 2013 § 27 Comments
Part of the bike racing culture is greed. It’s caused by several things, but these are the main ones.
First, the travel cost to weekly races is high, the cost of equipment is high, and the constant manufacture of improved products means that the expense is never-ending. Racers are either perpetually broke or perpetually fighting with their wives/husbands about bike-related expenses.
Second, bike racers spend a lot of time on the bike “suffering,” which means “self-induced discomfort.” This suffering — not to be confused with actual suffering, which is the condition of excruciating misery that cannot be alleviated of your own accord — makes racers feel superior to mere mortals, and therefore entitled to get everything free or for a ridiculous discount.
Third, athletes of all types are narcissists.
How bad is it in cycling compared to other sports?
I don’t know. But friends who’ve been heavily involved in sports like triathlon, running, surfing, and motor sports say that cycling is by far the worst. I can’t comment on that other than to say that I never cease to be amazed at the cheap-ass, petty, greedy stunts that get pulled by bike racers of all ages.
This behavior is contrasted with the word “pro” which racers throw out so casually. It has occurred to me that many bike racers don’t have a clue what “pro” means. Many seem to think it means having a professional contract, or having professional gear, or performing exploits on the bike that are of a superlative, professional quality.
I’m here to tell you that it’s none of that. Professional grade is something else entirely. So to help figure out if you’re pro, or just another greedy, mooching, narcissistic ingrate, I’ve compiled the following list.
Professional grade is always saying “Thank you,” and saying it face to face.
Professional grade is knowing when not to ask for the “bro deal.”
Professional grade is never hitting, grabbing, or threatening someone after a race, no matter what they did to make you mad.
Professional grade is taking the time to tell your friends how much you like your team issue or club-discounted products.
Professional grade is not bad-mouthing the clothes and equipment you ride for free or that you bought with a club deal.
Professional grade is giving your sponsors useful input on their products to let them know what works, what you like, and what their product did to help you achieve your goals.
Professional grade is giving feedback on how to improve your sponsored products to the right person at the right time and in the right way, bookended by thanks.
Professional grade is understanding and appreciating that every discount and bro deal you’ve been offered has cost someone money.
Professional grade is posting race results and ride write-ups.
Professional grade is getting people excited about bicycle riding by being excited about it yourself.
Professional grade is thanking your teammates after the race.
Professional grade is not confusing amateur with professional.
Professional grade is exchanging names with the new faces, and making a serious effort to remember them.
Professional grade is not being embarrassed to ask someone’s name if you’ve forgotten it. They’ve probably forgotten yours, too.
Professional grade is stopping when someone falls.
Professional grade is helping change a flat.
Professional grade is reaching out and giving a struggling rider a push.
Professional grade is taking leadership when a rider behaves dangerously.
Professional grade is talking with your team and your sponsors in person before you jump ship and move on to another team mid-season, even if it’s your first pro team, and especially if the entire team was built around you to begin with.
Professional grade is thanking people in writing when they’ve made it possible for you to attend some far-flung race or big event.
Professional grade is a Facebook or Twitter shout-out when your sponsor ships you a replacement bike or helmet or kit to allow you to continue racing after a crash.
Professional grade is always being nice to the kids who are just starting out. They will eventually be eating your lunch anyway.
Professional grade is sharing what you know when people ask you.
Professional grade is letting someone into the rotation or giving them a preferred wheel when it’s a group ride.
Professional grade is doing your share of the work.
Professional grade is complimenting people who beat you.
Professional grade is complimenting those whom you beat.
Professional grade is not making excuses.
Professional grade is forgiving, asking forgiveness, and never forgetting to laugh.