June 27, 2013 § 24 Comments
I rolled into the velodrome on a flat rear tire, an empty stomach, and the beer needle buried on “Empty.” The first person I saw was Plotkin.
“Hey, Plotz, you drink beer?”
“Take me down to the supermarket so I can get a sixpack.”
“Nah. I want to stay and watch the races.”
“You’re kidding, right? The 55+ 2k ITT? Hockeystick’s the only entry anyway. Even with that ol’ beer belly, he still has to win.”
“Come on, Plotz.”
Plotz is a (beer loving) devoted Christian. “I’ll do it if you say ‘I believe in God.’” He gave an impish smile, settled back in his chair, and got ready to reconcentrate on Hockeystick.
“I believe in God. There. Let’s go.”
Plotkin jumped up. “You do not!”
“Do not what?”
“Believe in God! You’re an atheist!”
“Yeah. So? Let’s go get some beer. I upheld my end of the bargain. I’ll buy the beer anyway.”
He was really upset. “You were just saying it! You don’t really believe it!”
“Hold on, pal. You didn’t say I had to believe anything. You just said I had to say it.”
“It was implied!”
“That you had to actually believe in God, too!”
“Well, that’s mighty Christian of you. Promise to do something in exchange for something, then crawfish on me when I uphold my end of the bargain.”
“You’re a liar!”
“So? Was it also implied I can’t be a liar?”
“I only meant I’d do it if you really believed it.”
“Okay, you win.”
Plotkin settled back, still flustered.
“I believe in God. With all my heart. I have accepted Jesus Christ as my personal savior and I believe the Bible is the literal truth, even Leviticus 19:7.”
“Yeah, the law against cutting your hair or shaving. You’re going to hell, by the way, for that Gillette look you’re sporting.”
“You do not believe any of that.”
“I don’t now, but I did a few seconds ago. C’mon, let’s go get some beer and argue about whether or not we’re going to have stone Fukdude to death during his hour record attempt for violating Leviticus 19:19.”
“Which one is that?”
“The law against wearing clothes of more than one fabric.”
Plotkin waved me off like a pesky gnat and went back to the race.
Tiptoeing on needles
I had arrived two and a half hours before Fukdude was going to try and break the U.S. national one-hour speed record for left-handed myopics with astigmatisms in the right eye under 6’3″ but taller than 5’11 1/2″ PBF-insufficient men aged 40-45 Category. As Fukdude had said earlier, “It’s a small pool but everyone in it is fukkin insane, dude.”
Before long Fukdude himself showed up. I was incredibly respectful of the awesome pressure I knew he must feel, and stayed away at first, not wanting to unbalance his finely tuned mental condition, which was almost at fever pitch. After all, he’d invited the press, rented out the entire velodrome, paid for three USA Cycling officials, paid for the college educations of the children of his coach, his dietician, his chain-lube dude in Colorado, and the entire stateside staff of Fast Forward Wheels, USA. Plus, he’d invited his friends and family, including the Bonganator and Fireman, both of whom were guaranteed to show up with a pony keg apiece jammed down the leg of their jeans.
However, just to make the pressure absolutely unendurable, he’d also invited Greg St. Cinema and Smokin’ Hot CU Tomorrow, he a pro Hollywood cameraman and art photographer, and she a smokin’ hot babe in tight jeans with unreal skills as a sports photographer. Any possible flail on Fukdude’s part would result in photographic evidence (half-life of digital images = 3.4 trillion years), and worse, looking bad in front of an entire gallery of bike babes tricked out in tight pants and chesty t-shirts.
The fever pitch
I finally walked over to Fukdude, nervously, hoping not to disturb him. “Hey, man,” I said timidly in an obsequious voice, my eyes averted so as not to rattle him.
“Hey dude!” he said.
I jumped. “Don’t want to bother you, I know you’re getting into the zone, but…”
“The zone, I know you’re doing the athlete visualization focus thing and…”
“What the fuk you talking about, dude? Hey, check out my chain. Rad, huh?” I was shaking out of nervousness as Fukdude threw his bike up on the rollers. What if he crashed off the rollers and broke his collarbone?
Fukdude was instantly pounding away. “So hey, dude, hope I don’t fukkin flail. That would be lame, huh?” At that instant his bike wobbled on the rollers and skittered off the edge. He laughed, yanked it back, and kept going. I almost fainted.
“How’re the legs?” I asked.
“Fuk, who knows? Doesn’t matter now, does it?” He grinned and continued his warm up. So much for the finely-tuned, highly strung athlete.
It’s a screamathon
Shortly after 4:00 PM, Fukdude left the starting gate. The velodrome, which is normally not even full for World Cup events featuring the greatest track riders on earth, wasn’t full for this, either, by a long shot. Still, the legion of Fukdude Followers had made the trip and were already pretending to be interested in watching a grown man with the shoulders of a pre-pubescent junior high school girl ride around in circles by himself, drenched in sweat and suffering like a dog for an hour.
Hockeystick was at the mike, and even though Motoman, Bonganator, and Fireman had showed up with liberal quantities of cheap beer, dispensed for free, it promised to be boring beyond belief. Every once in a while Hockeystick would chime in with an anecdote about Oscar Egg’s hour record attempt in ’29 or remind the crowd that Fukdude’s favorite singer was Doris Day, but aside from those fascinating bits of commentary, people were nodding off.
Then Hockeystick’s wife leaned over to him and said, “Tell people to come down to the rail and cheer, for goodness’s sake!”
Whatever Hockeystick thought about the suggestion, he didn’t dare gainsay it, so he began to call folks down to the balustrade. And they came. Within moments the morgue-like atmosphere of people so bored they wanted to kill themselves became a screaming, frothing, wailing, clapping, and sideboard-banging house of mayhem.
At a relentless 19-second-per-lap tempo, we began screaming ourselves hoarse and pounding our palms into swollen lumps of meat every time he came by. With half the crowd on the far side, half on the other, and the other half completely drunk, the place was electric. Down on the track G$ and MM screamed and gesticulated like people having a seizure. Brian G. had handed out several cowbells, and as Fukdude buried himself into his 28 mph+ pace the entire velodrome went from Bleak House to Fire on the Mountain.
The pain in the brain
By the time Fukdude hit the 45-minute mark his face was distorted into the look of someone who’s pulling his own teeth out with a rusty pair of pliers and doesn’t know why, but can’t stop. At one point he lost focus for a split second and shot up to the blue line, then over-corrected and clipped a foam cushion, but with that exception the electronic “beep” of the timer told us that he was right on schedule. That certainty didn’t dim the screaming and yelling one bit.
With a handful of minutes to go, Fukdude sunk an already buried needle as deeply as it could go and from some dark, unhealthy, generally-to-be-avoided place within himself he cranked it up another couple of miles an hour for the remainder of the hour. When the timer marked one hour he sat up to thundering applause, drunken screams, clattering cowbells, and the silent fantasy of Hockeystick at the mike, imagining himself as the next Hour Record Holder By The Dude With The Most Massive Beer Gut Ever.
Davy Dawg peeled Fukdude off his bike, and for an instant that sweat-soaked, frail, girlish, wispish, 145-lb. waif held barely together with a few stringy muscles and even stringier tendons, looked even frailer. We all peered into his eyes, trying to grasp, even for a second, what he’d endured in this event that Eddy Merckx swore had taken years off his career, if not his life.
Dawg thrust the mike up to Fukdude’s quivering lips. “Any words for the crowd, Kev?” he asked.
Brief pause. Long breath. Drizzle of sweat pooling on the floor. “Fuck, dude,” said Fukdude. “That was hard.”
June 16, 2013 § 26 Comments
Fukdude woke up one day with a completely crazed obsession, which was completely different from the completely crazed obsession he’d had the previous year, or the year before, or the year before.
“I gotta fukkin do the hour record,” he said to himself.
So he went down to the velodrome, hopped on his bike and did a practice hour record ride. He missed setting a new mark by 300m.
With zero preparation, coming so close to the mark on a test ride would give mere mortals cause for celebration. All it gave Fukdude was a case of raw sack.
“My fukkin left nut was out of position, pushed up against a nest of hairs on the inside of my thigh.” (FD is extremely analytical.) “Those three or four hairs rubbed up against the sack nonstop for one fukkin hour. Like scraping your balls with a wire brush. Fukkin saddle sore on my nut was the size of a small fukkin Frisbee. Couldn’t wear underwear for two weeks and had to soak my balls in an avocado-linseed oil poultice. Shit fukkin hurt.”
Why are bicycle riders insane?
This is what I was asking myself, having swung by FD’s place to pick up a copy of “The Hour” by Michael Hutchinson, an insane British bicycle rider who had misguidedly taken aim at the most holy record in sports, and predictably failed.
“You gotta fukkin read this book if you’re gonna blog about my attempt,” he said. “Then I can tell you about bearing friction and chain drag coefficients and tire thread counts and crr and Cda. Pretty cool shit, actually.”
“It is?” I asked.
“Fuk yeah, dude.” Then FD reached down onto a shelf and pulled out a bag with a chain in it. “Imported from Japan, dude,” he said with pride.
“Like my wife?”
“No, dude, this is special. Bro deal.”
I nodded. “Any other special stuff?”
“Fuk yeah. Check this shit out.” FD reached into another shelf and pulled out a box, in which was a bag, in which was a cloth sack, in which was a plastic covering, in which was a monstrous 55-tooth chainring that looked bigger than the reported Frisbee on his nutsack.
“Wow,” I said.
“Fukkin Japanese dude makes these things. Imported from Japan. Japanese. Fukkin rad shit, huh? $200 bucks, dude.”
“Wow,” I said. “That’s some coin.”
“No big deal. We just dial back the hot water, gas, and electricity for six weeks, slash the food budget and drink more water. It’s healthier, actually. Good for your fukkin hour record diet too, dude.”
When the fad is bad
This whole hour record thing got started in SoCal by Keith Ketterer, otherwise known as “KK,” “Superman,” or just plain “Sir.” A quiet, unassuming guy, KK did his preparation and set the hour record in two separate age divisions.
His successful assaults were the picture of suffering, and when he finished his second record ride he was pulled off the bike looking like a corpse that was way past its expiration date. The epic nature of his ride and the unspeakable nature of what he endured lit the fire of emulation under many who saw him.
Fortunately, most of the emulators did a few trial laps at speed around the velodrome and instantly realized the folly of their fantasy, and more importantly, the unspeakable pain of riding so fast even for a lap. So they quit and went back to the events that required something less, like ice hockey, drinking beer, and of course the most popular cycling event, Talking About Cycling And Spending Money On Bike Crap.
Not Fukdude. For him, the pain and the flogging and the obsessive attention to every possible detail made the fire burn brighter. It didn’t hurt that he has long been one of the best amateur bike racers in the state, and owns a pair of national titles on the track.
I found out about it through a Facebook invitation to the event that FD had sent out.
“It’s gonna be fukkin boring beyond belief,” he enthusiastically assured me. “Some dork riding in circles for fifty minutes, dude, people will be looking at each other going ‘This is some boring shit.’”
“Yes,” I tentatively agreed.
“It’s not ’til the last ten minutes if you’re on track that the misery and agony and suffering and flogging and hell sets in. That shit’s fun to watch. Dork goes from ‘I’m kicking ass’ to ‘I’m about to get totally fukkin humiliated in front of my family and friends plus waste all that money on tires and chains and shit from Japan,’ and then he fukkin goes balls out and flogs himself and you can see the fukkin fear of failure scratched all over his face like a bad tattoo. That’s when it’s fun to watch.”
“Oh,” I said.
“I mean, bike racing is a fukkin niche sport no bigger than a termite’s ass. And track racing is a fukkin tiny crevasse in the crack of the termite’s ass, right? And the fukkin hour record is a fissure in the crack of the termite’s ass’s microniche. Like, who fukkin cares?”
“So why are you doing it?”
“I’m obsessed, dude. If I don’t have a fukkin goal I’ll be eating a dozen baked chocolate donuts for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and drinking beer by the keg. Gotta have goals in life, right, dude?”
Preparing for the flogging
If I had done a practice run and only missed the new record by 300m and some raw skin, I would focus my training exclusively on proper nut positioning and maybe do a couple of intervals to sharpen up for the real day of reckoning.
He assembled a team to conquer that last 300 meters that was truly incredible. Roger Young, former Olympian and curmudgeonly genius track coach feared by all, but who is really quite talkative on Thursdays between the hours of 3:00 and 3:15 AM. Philip Goglia and his eating program in Santa Monica, who is The Man for pasty, skinny dudes like FD who want to look even sicklier without losing leg power. Thanks to Phil, FD was able to develop entire new vein displays on his abdomen and thigh.
Roger put together a training plan that included things like eight 10-minute threshold sessions with 3-minute rests between intervals; three 40-minute threshold sessions (done three times a week); two 30-minute climbing intervals on a 9% grade at 350 watts…etc. Experts agree that if simply reading through the workouts doesn’t physically exhaust you or make you sob uncontrollably, you have what it takes to attempt the record.
Phil put together an eating plan that was based on the concept of gaining strength and power while losing weight and eating everything out of a Tupperware box. No more baked choco donuts. No more entire loaves of French bread. No more buckets of ice cream. No more Five Guys. In short, no more fun.
FD, however, was quick to point out that this had nothing to do with fun. “Fukkin starving yourself on lettuce and spending the best part of your adult life on an indoor trainer, dude, that’s fucked up. Which is why we do it. Right?”
“Uh, right,” I agreed, secretly planning to swing by the donut shop on the way home.
“Okay, cool dude. Nice talkin but I have to get back on the fukkin trainer. See you next week?”
“Wouldn’t miss if for the world. Hey, one question — “
“What happens if you do the hour record in, say, 59 minutes?”
*NOTE TO READER (singular): FD attempts the hour record in the 40-44 year-old age category at the VeloCenter in Carson, CA, on June 23 at 4:00 PM, immediately after which we will celebrate his NEW hour record with lots of fermented liquid electrolytes, chocolate donuts, more fermented electrolytes and awesome tales of how awesome he is. Which, in fact, he is.
June 14, 2013 § 18 Comments
I’ve been racing dirty.
There. I said it.
The signs have been out there for a while, but I thought people wouldn’t connect the dots, especially since I’ve been such a vocal advocate for clean cycling. But the thing that pushed me to confess, aside from my conscience, was an email from a friend. “It doesn’t add up, dude. Why don’t you come clean?”
The “it” he was referring to was a series of eyebrow-raising results, starting with a CBR crit at the end of last year where I got tenth out of a break that included some pretty phenomenal competition.
Then, this year I finished Boulevard with the group. Typically I get dropped on the first lap. Next was a third place crit finish, 50+ CBR. Icing on the cake was third place last week, where I overplayed my hand by riding in every break and collecting three primes.
Now that I’ve confessed, I’m going to do what others who’ve been caught most often refuse to do: I’m going to explain how an older masters racer goes from racing clean to racing dirty. It’s not a pretty story.
The problem is, of course, rooted in my childhood
When I was a little kid, I hated taking baths. Getting me wet and soaped down was always what my mom called a “production.” After cajoling, threatening, chasing, and finally manhandling me into the tub, a process that took a solid hour and was utterly exhausting to a woman with already frayed nerves, once I was in, I was equally hard to get out.
My brother and I would have water wars, spill most of the tub water out onto the mildewy tile, and leave the large white porcelain claw-footed bath with a thick black grease ring that took a can of Ajax and a bad case of elbow tendinitis to remove. If she could get me bathed twice a month it was a good month. In the summertime the success rate was even lower.
Why was I such a filthy, dirty little kid? Because I was from Texas, because we didn’t have a TV, because I was always outside, because I was always barefoot, and because of Fletcher.
When there’s a funny smell…blame it on the dog
Fletcher was our mixed German Shepherd – Airedale – Snipsnsnails mutt who rescued us when we went to the La Marque ASPCA to get adopted by a pet. Fletcher grew up into a rather large mammal, and like every dog in Texas from his generation, that meant he had an even larger contingent of fleas.
Dogs, yes, used to have fleas. There were no magical flea collars, or special flea-icide that you rubbed into their coat, and there sure as hell weren’t any mobile on-demand mutt washers painted pink with cute names like “Poochy Pedicures” or “Scrub-a-Dub Doggie.”
In those days, the only way to kill the fleas was with a garden hose and a box of flea powder made by DuPont or Dow, a chemical so strong it would make your fingers rot off, or dissolve the enamel on your teeth when you added it to the bathub gin, but that never, ever, ever killed one single solitary flea.
Instead, the lethal flea powder made the fleas stronger, bigger, jumpier, and supercharged their flea libidos such that after the flea bath Fletcher would, within days, have twice as many as he did before the rubdown. Since Fletcher slept in my bed and on the couch, and since I laid and played with him on the floor, and in the grass, and in the mud, I, too, was covered in fleas.
Many was the lazy summer afternoon when my brother and I would sit on the white couch and catch fleas, expertly laying them on their side, up against the hard edge of our fingernails as we popped them in half for having the audacity to bite us. In sum, Fletcher was a filthy, dirty dog, and not just because of fleas.
He was also especially nasty because he was constantly licking his balls. Nowadays the first matter of business when you get a dog is to whack off his gonads, but not in 1968. Dogs in those days had balls, and big dogs had big ones. Dogs grew to maturity with their nuts intact. Fletcher’s balls were big and purple and of all his body parts, they were the one that never got bitten by a flea. He licked and slurped and kept those things scrupulously clean, and woe betide the flea who tried to suck the blood out of either of those big doggie nuts. Whatever else you could have said about Fletcher, you couldn’t question his priorities.
Of course, in addition to constantly licking his balls, Fletcher would often lick us boys as well, on the hands if we were eating something, on the face if he saw a bit of peanut butter that hadn’t made it down the gullet, or on the legs if he just needed some salt. So I grew up, I suppose, in addition to having fleas, with a protective layer of dirty dog slime that covered me from head to toe.
As a side note, and in confirmation of what recent studies suggest, suffice it to say that I never got sick.
When the boy becomes a man
I cruised through elementary school a dirty and greasy little urchin and never thought much about it. Then, in seventh grade, we were sitting in the cafeteria at Jane Long Junior High, and the guys started talking. It was 1978, and boys had long hair.
First was Danny Martin, who had long, black, shimmering, beautiful hair. “When do you shower?” he asked Steve Wilson, who had long, shiny bronze hair.
“Before school, for sure.”
“Me, too,” said Danny.
Bill White, who had long, silky, blonde hair, piped up. “I shower at night, too. But I only shampoo in the morning.”
Everybody looked at me, including Glynis Wilson, the lovely girl with the gorgeous long hair. I stammered. “Uh, only in the, uh, morning,” I said.
A fiery curtain of red started at my neck and enveloped my entire head as I realized I couldn’t even remember the last time I’d bathed. In my entire life I’d never showered. That was for girls. Then I looked at Glynis and a light went on. Maybe girls weren’t so bad…
If I could have covered my head in a bag the rest of the day, I would have. I rushed home and ran to the bathroom. There, staring out at me from the mirror was an oily face topped with a rat’s nest of long, thick, matted, greasy hair. I jumped into the shower. I washed my hair. And I never intentionally missed a morning shower for the next thirty-six years.
When I started racing my bicycle in 1984, I raced clean, and I believe that most of the peloton did, too. There was always the dirty racer here and there, but for most of us there were too many compelling practical reasons to stay clean.
First and foremost were the shorts. Word was that if you wore the same shorts for even two days running, you’d end up with butt boils and ass chancres and festering saddle sores the size of a fried egg. That scared us. So we washed ourselves, and we washed our shorts.
Second of all was the stink thing. We were young men, and we smelled rather badly rather quickly. Unlike the halcyon years of little boydom, when I could go unbathed for weeks and never smell much worse than a mild case of mildew, all that changed with puberty.
Any mom who’s opened the closed door of a teenage son’s room knows this smell. It’s the dank, rank, febrile, fertile smell of boymones, those chemicals that lace everything they touch with the strong smell of reproduction. Stick a young man on a bike, make him pedal around in the hot Texas sun for a few hours, and you’ll wind up with a case of the Serious Stanks, the noxious B.O. that screams “I’m in France!” or “Next we invade Rome!”
Yeah. That smell.
So between the stink and the sores, it just didn’t make sense to race dirty. And I didn’t. For over thirty years I rode clean.
When the levee breaks
I have to admit, though, that it was frustrating, especially as I got older, slower, weaker, and more stupid. People who had once begged for mercy on my mighty wheel now came around me barely cracking a sweat. Was I that slow? Had my decline in my 40′s been that rapid? Was that massive sucking sound at the end of every chain gang me?
I tried everything. Diets. Power meters. I once spoke with a coach. I even talked to a guy who knew someone who had been properly fitted on a bike. I traded in my steel for carbon. Wool for lycra. I buried myself in the physics and metrics of performance, with the singular goal of cycling success. But the only compromise I refused to make was riding dirty. I’d win clean or I’d not win at all.
But then I’d look around and see some dude who wasn’t nearly as experienced, who didn’t train nearly as hard, and he’d spank me without even trying. I knew those guys were dirty, and I finally decided, if just to prove it to myself, that if I were as dirty as they, then I could win, too.
The long descent into corruption
The first thing I learned about racing dirty is that you don’t get fried egg-sized saddle sores. That’s just a fairy tale they use to scare away the goody two-shoes and keep them from going to the dark side. I found that you could wear the same pair of shorts three, four, five times (six if you were Brad House), with no ill effects.
Riding dirty wasn’t so bad, and the money you saved on laundry could go straight to gas money and entry fees. That’s how the system works. Sad, but true.
The other big fear riders have about riding dirty is that they’ll smell bad. This is true for the young dudes, but old fellows lose that stink of youth starting about age 40, and by 45 the testosterone odor has been completely replaced by Ben Gay. You can sweat for days on end and go to bed with a salt crust encasing your entire skin and it will only barely out-duel the smell of those joint creams and diaper balms.
In short, I got on the dirty racing program, and it worked. Even though you don’t smell that bad, it’s bad enough for guys not to want to draft off you, or at least not to draft too closely. And once I knew the secret, I could immediately tell who else was riding dirty, and who was riding clean. That’s how it is when you’re on the program. And it would shock you to hear some of the names.
Anyway, I’ve tried it and I’ve had enough. It’s time for Mrs. WM to let me move back in from the porch. From now on I’m going back to riding clean. But if there’s real money or prestige on the line, you just never know…
June 13, 2013 § 27 Comments
You, dude, are a clogstacle.
Look it up, Merriam-Webster’s New Dictionary of American Cycling: “Clogstacle: A bicycle racer who clogs the lane in a finishing sprint, then rapidly decelerates so as to become a deadly obstacle to the real sprinters who are still accelerating to reach maximum speed.”
I can hear it already. “Me? A clogstacle? No way! I’m a sprinter!”
Uh, no, dude, you’re not. Take this handy-dandy (not to be confused with Dandy Andy) quiz and you’ll see what I mean.
YANAS: You Are Not A Sprinter
YAS: You A Sprinter
YUNT: You A Sprunter
YANK: You A Wanker
Step 1: Sprinting Self-Evaluation Quiz
1. You are sitting on Jon Davy’s wheel at 35 mph with the finishing line in sight. You say to yourself:
a. “What am I doing here?” = YANAS
b. “There’s no way I can come around.” = YUNT
c. “Faster, motherfucker!” = YAS
2. You come through the final turn with 500m to go. John Wike is on Ivan Dominguez’s wheel. You want the wheel, so you muscle over onto John. Wike hooks his left elbow under your arm as you lean against him, and says to you in a voice as cold and steely as a sharp knife shoved into a warm belly, “You move one more millimeter and we’re both going down, buddy.” You say –
a. ”Sorry, dude.” = YUNT
b. “Eek!” = YANK
c. “See you in hell.” = YAS
3. In a race there is first place and ______.
a. A participation ribbon = YANK
b. A hot contest for 57th = YANAS
c. Nothing else = YAS
4. The crazier the finish, _______.
a. The happier I am to make it home alive = YANAS
b. The more I prefer giving a good lead out = YUNT
c. The better = YAS
5. You’re in a two-up break. The other rider turns to you and says, “How much do you want? My wife and kids are here, this is my biggest race of the season, and I’ve never won before.” You say –
a. “And you won’t today, either, motherfucker.” = YAS
b. “$500, but we’ll have to make it look close.” = YANAS
c. “$5,000, ’cause I haven’t, either.” = YANK
6. You’re in a two-up break. You turn to the other rider and say, “How much do you want? My wife and kids and grandparents and boss are here, this is the biggest race of my life, and I’ve never won before.”
YOU ARE NOT A SPRINTER, PERIOD.
7. You’ve had closed-head and spinal injuries in previous sprint crashes. You’re the sole breadwinner and have five young children. You speed through the final, twisting turn when suddenly Twitchy MacGruder goes sideways and the domino effect starts, with the sprint train on the left starting to brake and rub tires and scream and curse. You can brake and stay upright and still get second place and $500 bucks or you can gun it through a rapidly closing, impossibly tiny window of daylight which, if it slams shut, will send you headfirst into the pavement at 40 mph. The last thing that flashes through your mind is –
a. “Nuh-uh.” = YANAS
b. “My family is too important for this nonsense.” = YANK
c. “I’ve GOT this.” = YAS
8. It’s the bell lap, there’s been a pile-up in front of you, and you’re now 75th wheel with three turns to go. A superhuman effort with balls-out risks will net you a top-ten finish, so you –
a. Give it all you’ve got because it’s a great workout. = YANK
b. Give it all you’ve got because it’s gas money to get home. = YUNT
c. Get off your bike and throw it into a pond. = YAS
9. When someone slams you hard in the middle of a full-on sprint, you –
a. Steady yourself to keep from crashing. = YANAS
b. Slam them back. = YUNT
c. No one ever fucking gets anywhere near you in a sprint and lives to tell about it. = YAS
10. The key to winning sprints is –
a. Core strength and workouts in the gym. = YANAS
b. Having a good lead out train. = YUNT
c. Being crazier than a shithouse rat. = YAS
Step 2: Textbook racing advice for clogstacles
If you took the above quiz and selected any answer other than one that led to “YAS,” you are by definition a clogstacle. And although you will never win a sprint, all is not lost for your cycling career, although, frankly, it pretty much is. Below are some rules for what to do and what not to do now that you know your chance of ever winning a sprint is zero or much less.
Cat 5 Clogstacle Tactics and Strategy
As a Cat 5, every pedalstroke of every turn of every race is fraught with potential carnage. Therefore, it doesn’t matter what you do. Bull your way to the front, or hang onto the tail of the whip, the risk factor is the same. So, on the bell lap, you should go all out no matter where you are in the field. The worst that can happen is permanent debilitating injury or death.
Cat 4-3-2 / Masters Clogstacle Strategy
Now that you’ve left the 5′s, it’s evident that you will never be a sprinter. This means that on the last couple of laps of every crit, your goal is the same: Get home alive, get out of the way, and leave the bike racing to the bike racers. This means you should ease off on the pedaling, drift to the back, and put as much space as possible between yourself and the field. Quitting is fine, too. Below is a list of things you should not do under any circumstances:
1. “Lead out” your teammate. If you’re not good enough to sprint, your pathetic lead-out attempt will get you far enough forward to really gas you, make your head droop, and smash into the curb, endangering everyone else as well as yourself.
2. Go for a podium spot. This is madness. Those spots were reserved long ago by people with last names like Williams, Smith, Bahati, Wike, etc. Go to the back of the bus. Now.
3. Take a flyer. If you were too weak to ride off the front with Tinstman and DeMarchi, why would you suddenly be strong enough to hold off a field charging at 35 with Danny Kam, Tomo Hamasaki, John Slover, and Kenny Rogers driving the train? Answer: You won’t be. What will happen is you’ll get out there, blow, and then become a wobbling, weaving, rapidly decelerating lump that everyone else has to swerve around in the finishing turns.
4. Follow the wheel of anyone named “Charon” with five laps to go. Dude! 85 guys want that wheel, and sixty of them are ex-pros. What are you thinking? Aaron Wimberley will bust you off that wheel with two to go easier than taking a wallet from a corpse.
5. Join a gym. You are wasting money, son. It’s not about the strength in the core, it’s about the craziness in the head. You ever see Johnny Walsh or Aron Gadhia hanging out at a stupid gym? ‘Course not.
6. Ask Bahati for “sprinting tips.” He will tell you everything about sprinting, but you will still suck. When it’s showtime, go to the back and stay there. He’ll respect you for that lots more than crashing out thirty people in a mid-field sprunt where everyone else has sat up and you’re still charging for the line like a bull with his balls in a vise.
Any questions? Good. Now get out of my way. I’m going to win me a sprint on Sunday.
June 1, 2013 § 22 Comments
So there I was, with a game plan. Sort of.
I had met up at 5:40 AM with Jack from Illinois (not his real name), and we did a couple thousand feet of climbing along with a couple thousand more feet of lying about our fitness, and then gave up the whole charade at the Sea Bean and Olde Larde Shoppe at Terranea. After three rounds of coffee and sugary honey buns, I checked my watch.
“Shit! I’m gonna be late for the race!”
Jack nodded sympathetically, the way people do who recognize profound mental illness in a friend but nonetheless tolerate it. “You better get going, then.”
“Yeah!” I answered, seeing the opportunity to dash off and stick him with the check, which I did.
I sped by San Pedro and its Memorial Day weekend hookers, then Torrance and its Republicans who love Medicare, and over to the race course at Dominguez Hills. My race started at 9:00, and I was just in the nick of time. “Yo, Vera!” I shouted to the organizer and money collector and Boss of the Race. “Give me a number and pin me up! I’ll pay you later!”
“You’ve got plenty of time,” she said.
“My race starts in five minutes!”
“The 50+ Elderly Gentleman With Incipient Prostate Issues Race! Hurry!”
“They went off at 8:00. Slowly. You missed the start. The 45+ Not Quite So Old Gentleman Who Still Enjoy Regular Erections Race goes at 10:30, if you want to do that one.”
I didn’t really want to do that one
The 45+ race is filled with fast youngsters, and I don’t like racing against them because they always trounce me. Left with no alternative, I drew up my battle plan and lined up.
- Sit in.
- Sit in a lot.
- Sit in the whole race.
- Wait until the last lap.
- Get a double-double cheeseburger with bacon and extra lard at the Five Guys in Carson.
- Roll home. Literally.
- Explain to Mrs. WM how I’d almost won.
The race began and a pair of wankers got off the front. A couple of laps later they came back. The peloton slowed to a crawl as the riders thought about the Barry Wolfe crit beatdown on Sunday, the state TTT beatdown on Saturday, the uber-beatdown ITT the week before, the impending beatdown of death in Bakersfield on tap the following weekend, and about how they’d really prefer to chill for 45 minutes and sprunt at the end, all things being equal.
Stick to the plan, man
As soon as the peloton slowed, I attacked with my signature Giant Red Bus Loaded With Passengers Going Up A 25-Percent Muddy Slope attack, and caught everyone off guard. They apparently thought I had a mechanical.
A few pedal strokes later and my effort had succeeded. One passenger tagged along, a guy with as little tactical sense as me, or less, Tony from Pinnaclife.
We traded pulls, with him throwing down Fabianesque efforts that immediately put the field out of sight. “This,” I laughed to myself, “has got the smell of victory.”
Two laps later, Tony swung over. “I’m done, dude.”
I sniffed, sensing the all-too-familiar reek of total defeat. “You fucking kidding me? We’ve got forty minutes to go.”
“Sorry,” he said as giant plumes of flail poured out of his ears, nose, eyes, mouth, and butt.
“Shit,” I said. “Just sit on my wheel, rest, and come through when you can. We’re screwed.”
Keep your head up
Of all the disciplines I’m not known for, the one I’m most not known for the least is time trailing. Every couple of laps Tony would come through, but after a few pedal strokes he would do the Gasket Droop, which happens when you’ve blown a head gasket and your head starts to droop as you look stupidly at your Garmin and think “Wow this is slow but why’s it so painful?” and then your head droops some more as you stare at your thighs and think “Wow this is so painful where is all this pain coming from and why am I here?” and then your head sags so that your eyes are gazing at your navel and you hit a manhole cover at speed even though Lotts has painted it electric green and you crash out the dude behind you and flip yourself over the curb and into the blanket with the nice lady and three kids who are eating peanut butter sandwiches which is now smeared all over your face and derailleur.
“Keep your head up, stupid!” I’d shout, and Tony would jerk his head up for a few strokes, only to let it start to sag again.
There is an art to keeping your head up when you’re gassed and miserable and hopeless and mashing in a two-up flailaway that’s doomed to be caught and shelled, and Tony hadn’t mastered it, so each time he came through, and it wasn’t very often, I yelled at him to keep his head up in a cheerful and supportive way, using friendly modifiers like “fucking” and “dogdammit” and other terms of encouragement.
Save it for the end
During our doomed expedition, the announcers called two primes, one for a bucket of Cytomax Pomegranate and Liver Flavored Decovery Drink, and another for a bag of coffee. Tony let me have both primes, clearly unaware that they were the first primes I’d won in 30 years of bike racing (except for the used water bottle with mold stains that I won at a Tom Boyden race outside Dallas in ’84), and with these two primes alone I’d notched more glory than in any bike race, ever.
Bored with our slowing flailaway, and with the pack now in sight, the announcer announced a “field prime” to hurry up the chasers and put us out of our misery and them out of theirs, because in the world of stupidly, incomprehensibly, unenduringly boring things there is nothing more numbingly dull and untertaining than watching a slow breakaway in a slothlike Old Folks Crit. Coming out of Turn Three, national champion and General Hero from the Planet Zetron-X, Steve Strickler, launched an attack to bridge to our flailaway.
With him was Gary Wall, who zoomed by me in search of the field prime. What Gary didn’t know is that I had heard that this prime was for a free CBR race entry ticket, i.e. something that would actually save me money, so I stomped after Gary had sat up and pipped him for the incredible, unbelievable, almost inhuman record of collecting three primes in one race. In those few seconds I began to think about doing drugs and turning pro, or at least doing drugs.
When the force be’s with you
Our little sprunt + acceleration had gapped the field, and another Pinnaclife flailer joined us with a La Grange gentleman of the brain-dead variety. We now had a new Breakaway of the Hopeless, and we gunned it. The peloton receded again, and a quick time check after two more laps showed that we had less than ten minutes to race.
Suddenly, fourth place looked possible. As I rotated off and slid to the back, I checked over my shoulder and saw the awful sight from Hell, otherwise known as the Surf City Cyclery Bridge of Death.
Strickler was towing his minions to our flailaway. With him was Kenny Rogers, fresh off his triple platinum recording of The Gambler, and, worst of all, was Smilin’ John Slover.
They caught us, hammered through, and instantly transformed our weak and tattered flailaway into that magical, mythical thing of beauty, an actual breakaway. I now had instantly transformed a nondescript fourth place finish into seventh. Rad!
Strickler, Wall, and Rogers pounded on the front, and I stupidly got into the rotation, occasionally looking back at Smilin’ John, who refused to do a lick of work. “Why doesn’t he pull through?” I wondered. “If he sits in like that all day and lets his teammates do the work, he’s going to win. Idiot.”
Finally, exasperated, I started to whimper. “Hey, John, why don’t you take a pull? It’s fun up here! Really!”
Smilin’ John just smiled as Strickler and Rogers drilled and grilled with such fierce nastiness that now I was the only other idiot rotating through with them.
The man, the myth
Slover isn’t just one of the strongest and fastest riders in SoCal; he’s one of the most experienced and one of the best workhorses. He’s been racing for decades, and when he races in the 35+ crits he’s the go-to guy for bridging, riding the break, and leading out whips like Charon Smith. Sitting pretty in the break, with two of the biggest motors gaining more and more real estate from the field, he’d grin at me each I came through, the grin of a shark about to munch on a plump, tender little baby seal.
On the final lap, with Strickler hammering into the headwind and Slover shouting at him in third wheel, “Faster! Faster!” it was an out-of-body experience. They were going to kick my ass.
“Wait,” I told myself. “They’re already kicking my ass.”
Strickler’s pull was so long and my fourth wheel slot afforded me so much rest that when we whipped through the third turn I’d recovered, and so I dove tight into the turn and made my bid for glory. Three strokes into it, I realized that perhaps I hadn’t really recovered after all.
Kenny jumped hard far over to the right side, which was actually the longer line, and in moment of stupid decisiveness, poor judgment, and lack of confidence, I drove back to the other side of the street and latched onto Slover.
This was like latching onto a rocket just before liftoff, because when we hit Turn Four, Slover was just flat fucking gone. My legs and arms were dismembered at the joints, but I now at least had second place down cold because Kenny was fading.
Like any good thoroughbred, though, once he’d launched his teammate to victory, Kenny heard me panting, gasping, thrashing, and flailing to come by. He put his head down and gave one more huge effort, easily besting me at the line for the giant tub of Gizzard Flavored Cytomax and a $35 check.
Smilin’ John rolled over and clapped me on the back. “Good race, dude!”
I stuffed my tongue back into my head. “Thanks. Urgle. Gurp.”
He did the next race, rode the break and got on the podium.
I went to Five Guys and drowned my happiness in cow parts. Praise be to cows. Oh, and I’ve got a nice tub of Pomegranate and Liver decovery drink for sale. Cheap.
May 30, 2013 § 81 Comments
When you grow up you’re going to ask about your father. You’re going to ask how he died. You’re going to feel the wordless pain of going through life without your dad. You’re never going to have the guy who gave you half your blood, half your genes, and all of your heart standing next to you at those moments in life when you most desperately need a father. Little kid, you’ve lost half of the most important thing any kid can ever have before your life has even begun.
Your dad died racing his bike in a stupid weekend crit. And you want to know why, and no one’s been able to explain. How can anyone explain something as senseless and pointless as dying in a weekend bike race, chasing the glory of a candy bar prime and twenty-five bucks in prize money?
Why we race
Before I try to explain why he died, let me try to explain what he was doing when he died. Your dad, who had been racing his bike for years, was taking a risk, a big risk, a life or death risk, and he knew it. He even signed a piece of paper that said he knew the risk was so big it might kill him.
But here’s the thing, little kid: He knew it, but he didn’t really believe it. If he had known, or had any idea that getting killed in that bike race might actually happen to him and leave you behind without your dad, he would have never been in that race. He wanted you and your mom at that race not to watch him get hurt, but so you could watch him compete and maybe even win. You were only a couple of years old, but you were so excited by the race and seeing your dad in it that even after he crashed, each time the pack came around you pointed at the peloton and said “Daddy! Daddy!” It was so cute, before we found out that your dad had died. After that it was heartbreaking.
Your dad was well known and respected in his bicycling community. He raced his bike for the same reason we all race our bikes: To see how good we are compared to the other people that day, that time, that event, when we stick the safety pins into our numbers and mass at the start line. To see how much we can endure. To battle with our friends without fighting them. To put everything on the line.
Why you were at that race, little kid
If we just looked at that bike race and at what you’ve lost, there’s no way it was worth it. No stupid hobby is worth dying for. No little kid deserves to lose his dad like that.
But it wasn’t just a stupid hobby, little kid. These people who were around him when he died, they were his friends. They were the people who helped him when he flatted on training rides, they were the people he helped when it was they who had a mechanical.
They were the people he laughed with. The people he suffered with. The people he sat down with at day’s end and shared a beer with.
Little kid, living in a community, whether you’re lucky enough to have a community of friends, a community of family, or both, is the only thing that makes life worth living. Without people around you to love, and to share the good, to help fend off the bad, and to laugh at the absurd, we’re not living. That loneliness of not having a community of friends can kill people, little kid, just as surely as a blow to the head killed your dad. It’s the loneliness that took the life of someone I loved, too.
But your dad, he lived. And when he entered the world of bike racing he entered the world of a bleeding, life or death intensity that those who haven’t done it can never understand. It’s a world of fear, of loathing, of pain, of exhilaration, of speed, of triumph, of defeat, and of unmitigated battle. It doesn’t make you better, or smarter, or even happier, but while you’re doing it you’re as completely, intensely, and thoroughly alive as anything else you’ll ever do, living so that your mind and body expand to fill the entirety of the time and space you occupy. You become, so briefly, the moment itself. When it’s done, you can only vaguely believe that it ever really happened.
That was your dad’s world, and the people he did it with were his people. What’s funniest, little kid, is that in our bike racing community, we’re friends even with people we’ve never even met. And I’ll try to explain that part, too.
Passing the torch
Your dad loved you more than you’ll ever know. How do I know? Because I’m a dad. Dads love their sons deeply and profoundly and wildly and also with the recognition that the little kid is going to be a man some day, and the man that the little kid becomes will outstrip the dad. It’s pride and love and expectation and respect and even a little chagrin, all mixed into one.
Your dad loved you so much that he wanted you to be part of his community. You would have grown up around bikes and bike racers and you would have learned some lessons, lessons like “The correct number bikes to own is n +1, where ‘n’ equals the current number of bikes you own.” Lessons like “Don’t sneak new bike purchases on the credit card. Discuss it with the wife first, then buy it.” Lessons like “Beer goes with bikes, but don’t overdo it.”
You would have learned other things, too, crucial ingredients that go into the recipe of making a little kid into a man.
“There is no ‘try.’”
“Give it everything you’ve got.”
“Overcome your fear.”
“Don’t give up.”
“Help your friends.”
“Take big risks.”
And the biggest one of all: “Teach by example.”
That’s the biggest one of all, little kid, because through his community and his hobby your dad was setting you up to learn all those lessons. He was setting you up to learn about adversity, about good times, about doing your best, about taking big risks, and about friendship. So when you ask why your dad had to die doing a stupid weekend crit, there’s part of your answer. He loved you and knew no other way to teach than through example.
Whether you ride bikes or race them later doesn’t matter. What matters is that you know how much he loved you, and how much he wanted you to learn those life lessons that every man has to learn in order to make his way.
The wheels around you
After your dad died, it created an earthquake of shock in his bicycle riding community. People who knew him and people who didn’t immediately thought of you, little kid. We thought about you because some of us have little kids, too, little kids who clap and cheer in between soda pops on race day. But those of us without kids had you uppermost in our minds, too. We love you, too, little kid, even though we don’t know you.
We love you because what happened to your dad could have happened to any one of us, and we know it. We felt the awfulness this way — “That could have been me.” — and we, because we’re part of your dad’s community and therefore yours, want you to know that you’ll never be alone.
We can’t replace your dad, little kid, or even come close. But your dad’s life will be memorialized, and he’ll have left behind something for you that’s worth more than any insurance policy: A legacy and reputation in his community, a community of friends who won’t ever forget him, and a community of friends who will be there for you if grow up and decide to follow where he led.
Peace out for now, little kid. We’ve got your back.
May 26, 2013 § 57 Comments
Newsflash: Lance Armstrong has been stripped of…pretty much everything.
Tour titles? Gone.
Income stream from his cancer foundation? Gone.
Ability to compete in sanctioned athletic events and the attendant income? Gone.
Mansion in Austin? Gone.
Self-respect after not getting hugged by Oprah? Totally gone.
Bonus newsflash: It’s not over yet. The Justice Department has joined Floyd’s whistleblower suit…former sponsors are suing to get their money back…he will be paying for his transgressions for a long, long time.
I don’t know about you…
But I believe in redemption. Not the Shawshank kind — I believe in the kind of redemption that says once you’ve been punished for your transgressions according to rule and/or law, you’re redeemed.
This type of redemption may not mean that you’re a sterling moral character, or even that you admit guilt or feel sorry for what you’ve done. It just means that you broke the rule, got punished, and are now free to move on just like new. Something worthless has been exchanged for something useful and new. Just like a coupon.
When you murder someone, rape someone, abuse a child, defraud the elderly, skim from the company till, or run a red light, your redemption begins when you’ve served your time or paid your fine. Redemption means trading in the old for the new. It means a fresh start.
And in case you were wondering, along with the punishment fitting the crime, redemption is the premise upon which our entire legal system is built.
Redemption gives convicted felons the right to vote, the right to work, the right to have a passport, and the right to fully participate as citizens once they’ve served their time. Redemption doesn’t mean you have to like the sinner or the ex-con. It just means you can’t legally continue punishing and persecuting him.
Lance is no convicted felon. If you don’t think he’s been punished, see above. If you’re still harboring resentment and anger, that’s understandable. But he’s not going anywhere, and I’d suggest that there’s a better way to deal with him than continually bludgeoning him for his transgressions.
It’s an old concept, actually. It’s called forgiveness.
Cranking up the PR machine
Lance has recently begun doing what he does best: Going on the offensive. Whether it’s calling Patrick Brady and chatting with him for an hour or unblocking Lesli Cohen and a bunch of other diehard Lance opponents, it’s clear that he has a plan in place and has begun to execute it.
What’s the plan?
The plan is to get back in front of the sports media and build Lance 3.0. This newest iteration is simple. Lance 3.0 is a…
- Family man.
- World class athlete.
What will Lance 3.0 do? He will sell something. What will he sell? I don’t know. But I do know this: He won’t be setting up a pyramid scheme to defraud Medicare, or a criminal syndicate to assassinate journalists. Most likely, he’s got a plan that will let him earn a living as a speaker/athlete/patient advocate.
Is that so bad? How many other people get out of prison and see their mission in life as one dedicated to helping others? Mind you, I don’t know that that’s his plan, but what does he have left? And why is it contemptible for him to try and rebuild a career that’s been destroyed through his own mistakes?
Ultimately, though, does it really matter what his end game is? No.
What matters is you
A group of local riders were climbing Latigo Canyon Road yesterday, and guess who they met at the top? Barry Bonds.
He’s the guy who was held up as one of the most evil and crooked baseball players of all time, a guy who stole Hank Aaron’s record on the strength of drugs and lies. Today he’s a slim and fit bicycle rider.
When the gang ran into him on Latigo, no one cringed, or cursed him, or called him a scumbag doper. Instead, they mugged for the camera and posted photos on Facebook.
First, of course, is star power…and we are here in LA. Second, though, is the fact that Barry has paid for what he did, and he didn’t even go on Oprah and confess. We know that he was caught, that he’s been punished, and that now he’s just a dude on a bike who used to hit a lot of home runs. Our lives are too short to keep hating on a guy who’s been punished to the full extent that the system demanded, particularly since all he seems to do now is pedal around, show up at the occasional crit, and generally act like a normal dude.
We’re done with his crime, and so is he. Now we just want to say hello and ride our bikes.
What about Lance?
Lance is different from Barry because the latter earned hundreds of millions of dollars and wisely invested them over the course of a long career. Barry doesn’t have to work.
Lance has five kids, huge ongoing legal bills, and a lot of years left to live. It’s impossible that he’s got anywhere near the pile that Barry is sitting on, or even anything close to it. Unlike Barry, Lance has gotta work. Rather than pulling up the drawbridge and living inside the fort, Lance has got to get out and mingle in order to rebuild.
For people getting out of prison and living in halfway houses, it’s called “You have to get a job.”
Lance showed us that pro cycling is a corrupt freak show. Danilo di Luca confirmed yesterday that it still is. Nibali, Wiggins, Dave Brailsford, Chris Froome, Pat McQuaid, Hein Verbruggen, and USA Cycling reaffirm that anyone who thinks the sport is clean isn’t thinking very hard.
If you hate Lance because he “ruined the sport,” maybe it’s time YOU moved on. The pro sport is rotten. If you follow it and still bury your head in the jocks of its stars, there’s a problem all right, and the problem is with you. If you can watch Nibali repeatedly hit the gas in the snow at the end of the most grueling stage of the most grueling stage race while his competition is rolling over and dying on the slopes, you’re the one who needs to analyze my modification of this old saw: “Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me over and over and over, and I’m a fucking moron who enjoys being fooled.”
As Billy Stone might put it, “And the dopers ruined your life as a Cat 4 masters athlete exactly how?”
Where’s it all going?
Now that Lance 1.0 and 2.0 have been airbrushed out of the history books, what’s wrong with giving 3.0 the same degree of redemption that should be afforded to axe murderers, tax cheats, misdemeanor DUI’s, and kids on grade probation in college? How is our agenda advanced by refusing to lay down arms, and instead insisting that he still be treated like the unrepentant, unpunished cheat that he was a year ago, when he’s repented and been punished?
Does it ennoble us to keep shrieking “Off with his head!” after his head has been offed, stuck on a pike, and paraded around his kids’ schoolyards? I think it does the opposite. It shows us up to be petty, vengeful dorks who actually think that pro cycling is so important it transcends common notions of justice and fair play.
Five years hence, ten years hence, Lance 3.0 will have been fully rebuilt. He’s that smart and a whole lot smarter, he’s that hard working, and he’s that motivated. He’s also got close to four million people on Twitter who want to know what he says and thinks, as well as five kids to feed, clothe, and put through college.
Most importantly, he’s not going anywhere. Do you want to be the wild-eyed crazy standing in the corner screaming, “But he doped! He cheated! He lied! He ruined my Cat 4 masters racing career!” long after he’s been punished and the rest of the world has moved on?
If the UCI and USA Cycling and WADA are done with his case, then I am, too. Keep clubbing at him if you want, but don’t expect me to join in. I’d rather go club some of the baby seals on next Tuesday’s NPR.
May 25, 2013 § 10 Comments
I’m only three or four years younger than Thurlow, which is like comparing myself to the greatest basketball player of all time by saying, “I’m only three or four inches shorter than Michael Jordan.”
I first saw Thurlow at the Tour of Texas in 1984 at the Camp Mabry crit in Austin. He was racing for Raleigh. Nelson Vails was his teammate. Dude was old even then.
There’s no name in the peloton that is as heavy as “Thurlow.” It weighs about four thousand pounds. You can slacken a room full of bike racer boners just by whispering “Thurlow.” It’s the only word in the English language that makes grown men hunch over and start to droop. Generations of cyclists have been flogged, tortured, punished, and then dropped by “Thurlow.”
The only residue remaining in this, his fifth decade of bike racing, is the residue of pain and defeat. Yours.
“Thurlow’s not his old self”
Commentators have remarked that in 2013 there’s something missing from the arsenal of America’s winningest bike racer. He only got second in the BWR behind Neil Shirley, a pro who is young enough to be his great-grandson’s grandson.
He’s only won a couple of races so far this year, and has only gotten top three placings in about a dozen. “You should have seen him at SLR,” said one of my buddies. “He just folded. Never seen Thurlow fold like that.”
I mused. Thurlow has more national championship jerseys than my buddy has race participations for the last two years. Oh, and a rainbow jersey. And that Olympic team stuff. Then there was that season that he raced with Bernard Hinault and Greg Lemond on La Vie Claire.
“Oo eez Bernard Hinault?” asked our homestay French student who comes from, of all places, Bretagne.
“Eez joos ze greatest fucking French bicycle racer ever,” I snarled.
“I don like ze sports,” said Homestay before going out onto the veranda to smoke a cigarette and wash it down with some Colt .45.
Imitation is the most pathetic form of idolatry
I’m always trying to race like Thurlow. You know, the way he always understands what’s always going on all the time. The way he rides close to the front and never misses the split. The way he rests, then attacks, then rests if they bring him back, then attacks again. The way he seems to summon the most strength at the one point in the race when everyone else is at their weakest. The way he stuffs the painburger down your throat with a red-hot poker, then beats the end of the poker with a 30-pound hammer.
Of course, I’ve never Ridden Like Thurlow, starting with the omniscience thing. Where Thurlow knows what’s going on all the time, my awareness seems to focus on stuff like that family sitting on the picnic blanket on Turn 4. “Wonder what’s in their sandwiches?” I wonder.
Boom. Break is gone and Thurlow has a 45-second gap.
Or the ride towards the front thing. Try as I might, as far forward as I get, pretty soon I’m back in 87th position, right behind Lardball with the Grand Canyon asscrack and the Serengeti grassland of hair sprouting from the waistband of his non-bib shorts.
Then there’s that attacking thing. Thurlow attacks the way an angry farmer with a pitchfork stabs the head of the king as it rolls off the guillotine’s blade. My attacks, to quote Aaron Wimberly, “Are like a huge commuter bus on four flat tires going up a mud mountain with a full load of passengers.”
And of course Thurlow rests, then goes again. I rest, and then there’s a football field between me and the peloton, a DNF, and a personal request from the family in Turn 4 to give me some of their sandwich.
But still, that doesn’t stop me from trying and experimenting. Whether it’s a fancy power meter, or nose breathing, or the water + kimchi diet, I’m always up for something new, because the difference between me and Thurlow can’t be that he’s just better…there has to be a trick, and one day I’ll find it.
Me & Prez
A couple of weeks ago Prez and I were riding back from the NPR. Prez notices everything when it comes to biking. Nothing escapes his attention, so I usually ignore him when he’s talking, but this particular day he mentioned Thurlow.
“There are guys out there whose pedaling is so efficient, it’s incredible,” Prez said.
“Uh-huh,” I answered, watching the cute nubbin in the Smart car prepare to back over the dude pushing the stroller.
“Like Thurlow, you know? That guy’s pedaling is so incredibly efficient.”
Now I was all ears. “Yeah?”
“Yeah. One reason is that he seems to pull up as much as he pushes down. He’s got that little muscle on the hams just on the inside of his thigh that you never see in cyclists. Him and Charon, they’re about the only two around here with it; it’s because they’re so efficient.”
All I had to hear was “Thurlow” followed by “Charon” and now I was hanging on every word. But I pretended to be bored and only half-interested. “Yeah?” I said.
“Yeah,” Prez said. Then he launched into a complex and insightful description of pedaling efficiency and why most of us, him included, were so inefficient. “It’s the pulling up,” he concluded.
Secrets stolen stealthily
Chuckling to myself at this new-found secret, which I had wrested from the knowledge banks of Prez without him even knowing it, I immediately began pushing and pulling up simultaneously. Then I discovered that this was impossible, because after about four strokes your legs give out. It appeared that rest was part of the pedaling equation.
Nonetheless, by the time I’d reached the office, I had figured it out. You didn’t actually pull up with your feet, you pulled up with your thigh. It was not so much a push and pull effort as much as it was extremely short intervals between the flexing of the thigh. I went noticeably faster. I was noticeably more exhausted.
“Could this be the long lost key to victory?” I wondered. “Have I finally cracked the Code of Thurlow?” I raced through the day’s work, bounding out of the office at 4:00 in order to Thighflex ® all the way back home. Preliminary plans showed that I would now be able to crush all the competition, earn every Strava KOM I desired, and sell the newly trademarked Thighflex program to coaches worldwide. I might even realize every cyclist’s dream of finally getting a pro contract and riding the Tour without too many drugs, or the Giro with way too many.
Thighflexing up the Mt. Home Commute
As I warmed up my thighs with the proprietary Tiny Muscle® Thighflex® limbering method, I felt the incredible strength and speed from this new system. Poor Prez. What a sucker. He’d revealed the most important secret of riding and I was now on the cusp of millions, huge victories, and taking a Strava KOM away from Lane Reid when he least expected it.
“Heh, heh,” I chuckled gleefully as I roared up Mt. Home and its vicious 2% grade. “Wait ’til I unleash this at the CBR Dogpoop Memorial Day Crit.”
In preparation, I showed up to contest the Lower East Side Long Beach Shopping Ride, an incredibly intense, competitive, powerful informal race disguised as a shopping excursion of 65+ elderly ladies with baskets on their mamachari bicycles. As we approached the first stop light, which was turning yellow, I Thighflexed®. The grandmothers couldn’t follow my jump, and in seconds I had opened a gap. The youngest grandmother, whose basket was filled with a 10kg bag of rice, leaned on the pedals and clawed me back.
I glanced over my shoulder and attacked again, this time putting maximum power to my Tiny Muscle® while Simulflexing® the Thighflex®. Undeterred, the granny held my wheel, forcing me to decelerate slightly, cause her wheel to overlap, and allowing me to take her to the curb.
She grabbed a handful of brakes as her front wheel caught the curb. The rice bag burst on impact as I redoubled my Thighflex®, now a solid 100-150m ahead of the hard-charging grandmothers, who weren’t about to let me get to the Costco pallet of discount diapers before them. They were no match. With a couple of more threshold efforts I pulled free and was gone.
With this independent verification of the Thighflex® system’s incredible power transer, I actually pity the fools who have signed up for Monday’s CBR Memorial Day Crit at Dominguez Hills. I’ve told Chris Lotts that he can go ahead and mail me the winner’s check, minus the entry fee to save me the inconvenience of actually having to show up and race. If he forces me to toe the line, well, all I can say to the riders out there who haven’t yet subscribed to the Tiny Muscle® and Thighflex® performance systems is this: You’ve been warned.
April 18, 2013 § 8 Comments
My most recent post is on the Cycling Illustrated web site at http://cyclingillustrated.com/2013/04/shift_er-by-seth-davidson/
They’re running it for five days on their web site before I port it over to my blog. I’m going to be posting two columns a month on their site. They’re doing an incredible job publicizing local and national cycling events, and I’m really pleased that they’ve included me in their efforts.
You can order a print version of their magazine from their web site. They were kind enough to ask me to do the lead-off column for their inaugural issue, and even threw in a photograph that made me look like I was semi-sort of-halfway-potentially legit on the bike. You and I, of course, know better.
June 30, 2012 § 8 Comments
Everybody needs a hero.
When I was growing up in Houston, I used to walk a lot. In summer I walked to the pool or the library. It was always long and hot and boring, so when I walked I imagined I was a superhero.
Buck Davidson was one righteously badass dude. His outfit was a leather suit with lots of buckskin fringe and big, pearl-handled six-shooters. He had long red hair and huge muscles. He was handsome and stronger than a hundred men. Buck Davidson was always saving the world or the galaxy or the universe from all kinds of shit.
Sometimes he’d pick up a bus and throw it at a skyscraper, knocking off an alien who was gnawing the tip off the Empire State Building. Another time he’d use his genius laser brain ray to look at bacteria and figure out how to cure cancer. Other times, handsome and super as he was, he’d run off to a quiet place and have awesome sex with Penelope Watkins, the beautiful actress who followed him everywhere and who he was always rescuing.
Although I was pretty clear on the bus-throwing stuff, the sex thing was kind of fuzzy. I knew that Buck had a penis, and that it was a honking one, and I knew from the one or two times I’d seen my mom naked that there was a furry bush to which the penis was somehow supposed to connect, but the actual mechanics were a mystery.
Having an active imagination, though, I didn’t sweat the details and just made it up, same as with curing cancer. I didn’t need to know jack about Stage 4 or metastasis in order to heal the world. Buck just stared with his brain waves and pow! Cancer was fucking dead. Then he’d flop his big ol’ penis towards Penelope’s bush and pow! They’d do sex, whatever that was.
Buck Davidson was real to me. As soon as I walked out the door he’d get involved in every kind of escapade and death-defying heroic act I could imagine, and let me tell you, I had an imagination that just wouldn’t quit.
One time Buck was tied up and about to be dipped in a vat of plutonium. Snaxellander, the evil villain from Dorskabenixx, got up close to Buck and gloated over his imminent demise. “Prepare to die, Buck!” he snarled in his alien dialect, which, because he was so fucking smart, Buck could understand perfectly.
Unable to move his superhumanly strong arms or legs, he opened his mouth and knocked the shit out of Snaxellander with his super strong tongue. Snaxellander was knocked out cold and fell backwards into the vat of plutonium, starting a chain bomb reaction that, if not defused, would detonate and explode the planet.
Buck then craned his neck and used his super strong tongue to snap the chains that bound him. Once free, he stretched his super-stretchy leather shirt with the cool buckskin fringe over the vat, revealing hugely massive and powerful muscles that were awesomely strong, and which made Miss Penelope Watkins faint, as she had also been tied up by Snaxellander. The buckskin cover deprived the plutonium of the oxygen it probably needed to start blowing up.
Then Buck lobbed the whole fucking mess into outer space, where it hit an asteroid, which then got knocked off course and wound up smacking into Dorskabenixx, killing all of the Hoganimms (the race of aliens to which Snaxellander belonged) and making the galaxy safe again. Then Buck untied Penelope and they a good ol’ sex together.
He did all that shit just walking to the pool.
The absence of super-villains isn’t the absence of villains
The thing that bummed me out, though, was that no matter how hard I wanted to be Buck Davidson, superhero, by the time I got to the library I was still just skinny little nerdly Wankmeister Jr. Almost as bad, I couldn’t help but notice that we didn’t have any super-villains or aliens or ticking plutonium vat bombs.
Most depressing of all, there was no one remotely like the devastatingly beautiful Penelope Watkins, with the possible exception of Doris Scrantly, the sixteen year-old babysitter who called me and my brother “little disgusting creeps.” I was pretty sure if I ever tried to show her my penis she would tie it around my neck until I choked to death.
Even though Snaxellander never reared his four heads on the way to the library, the world in 1972 did have plenty of villains. One of them, cancer, is still around and still killing people. No Buck Davidson has appeared on the scene to zap the fuck out of cancer with his genius laser brain waves.
There is, however, one globally renowned athlete who has made “curing cancer” his mantra. He has touched the lives of thousands of cancer patients, stumped for cancer awareness, and reached out personally to countless people struggling with the disease.
For this, he’s been called a hero.
Let’s accept his narrative as true, for a moment, and push all of the scandal and grand juries and witness testimony and the impending USADA hearing off to the side. Instead of weighing his heroism against accusations of cheating and foul play, let’s weigh his heroism against something else.
Let’s weigh it against the heroism of a cyclist a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…
In 1938, Gino Bartali won his first Tour. Hailed by Mussolini’s Fascist government as proof of the genetically dominant Italian race, this devout Catholic and distinctly apolitical bike racer found himself used as a symbol of racial superiority just as the Fascists had allied with Hitler and adopted the basic German social framework for Italy that the Nazis used to plan, organize, and implement the extermination of the bulk of European Jewry.
In an extraordinary book by siblings Aili and Andres McConnon, “Road to Valor,” we have been given that rarest of things: instead of a bike book about a bike racer written by half-literate bicycle fanboys, we have a beautifully written history that took ten years to write and research by two Princeton grads, one a journalist and the other a scholar.
The Italian Jews were first stripped of their property, fired from their jobs, booted from the schools, and ripped from the fabric of the society they had been a part of for hundreds of years. Most importantly, their citizenship was essentially revoked, and along with it the all-important identification cards upon which life itself depended. Without a card, you couldn’t get food rations, rent a home, or work.
People who once led prosperous lives were forced into beggary in a matter of months. By 1943, when Hitler took direct control over the part of Italy that the Allies hadn’t yet conquered, Himmler’s SS arrived and began arresting and deporting Jews to the northern death camps in earnest.
The real suitcase of courage
Bartali, whose fame had allowed him to avoid combat, was recruited by a Catholic cardinal from Florence for a horrifically dangerous mission: to carry forged identification cards from Assisi back to Florence, where they would be distributed to Jews who could use them to either flee Italy or to obtain jobs, food, and housing.
With the cards rolled up and secreted in the seat tube of his bicycle, under the ruse of “training” Bartali regularly made the 170-mile one-way ride to Assisi, met clandestinely with his conspirators, and rode back to Florence. Along the way he ran the constant risk of detection. The stress of being discovered at the numerous military checkpoints led to such fear and anxiety that he eventually developed PTSD.
At one point he was interrogated in one of the most infamous torture chambers in Italy, and only escaped because the inquisitor’s assistant vouched for Bartali’s honesty, as he had previously been Bartali’s commanding officer. As a result of heroism that saved the lives of hundreds of Jews from the Nazis, Bartali was recognized poshumously by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations.
After the war, Bartali tried to resurrect his career but was far past his prime. He took up smoking as a way to improve his performance, and put in the huge miles of a younger man, with no time for his older body to recover. Moreover, he had lost virtually all of his fitness over the course of the long war, which for all Italians was an extended exercise in malnourishment.
Adding to the challenge, greats such as Fausto Coppi and Louis Bobet were much younger and in the early, rocketing trajectory of their legendary careers even as Bartali was at the end of his own. In 1948, Bartali returned to the Tour with virtually no chance of winning. After Stage 12, Bobet had a lead of more than twenty-one minutes, and Bartali knew his campaign was hopeless. He was prepared to quit the race and go home in defeat.
That night, Bartali received a phone call while he was in bed. Alcide De Gasperi, prime minister of Italy, told him that Palmiro Togliatti, leader of the opposition had been shot, and Italy might be on the edge of a civil war. De Gasperi asked Bartali to do his best to win a stage in order to distract people from the impending conflict. Bartali replied that he would win.
Against all odds and prognostications, Bartali set out on Stage 13 of the Tour with an attack almost from the gun, an audacious and incredible tactic considering the stage’s 170-mile length and the fact that it traversed five of the worst cols in the Tour, finishing with the legendary Izoard. From the very first serious ascent the heavens unleashed freezing rain, sleet, and snow that continued for the entirety of the race. Frozen to the core, Bartali attacked each climb until none could follow. He took back virtually all of his 21-minute deficit.
The following day he clinched the lead with a devastating win on the 163-mile mountainous stage to Aix-les-Bains, and the next day won the 159-mile Alpine odyssey to Lausanne. No rider would again win three consecutive stages until Mario Cippolini took four sprint stages in 1999. The ten-year gap between Bartali’s first and second win has never been matched, and only three riders have ever won a Tour at his age or older. Bartali won the 1948 tour by more than 26 minutes, put more than 32 minutes on Bobet, and finished more than an hour up on the tenth place finisher.
This incredible victory convulsed Italy into celebrations, such that it temporarily forgot its divisions and drew back from civil conflict due to the exploits of this singular, indomitable man who had reclaimed his position as victor of the Tour a decade after his first win.
But he never made a yellow wristband about it
Like so many others who lived through the war, Bartali never spoke about his participation in this heroic resistance to fascism and the Holocaust. When asked about his silence, he would say only this: “I was no hero. Those who gave their lives, they were the heroes.” Others–particularly the Jews who owed their lives to Bartali’s heroism–disagreed.
Today is the first day of the 2012 Tour de France. We’re at the edge of our seats, waiting to see who will be crowned our newest Tour hero. Which man will conquer the field? Which one will conquer the clock? Which one will conquer the mountains? Which one will cross the finish in Paris wearing yellow?
We’re right to call them heroes in the limited sense of “champions.” We’re right to admire their heroic exploits in the physical sense.
But heroes cut from the same cloth as Gino Bartali, a man who combined physical prowess with profound courage? Heroes cut from the same cloth as…Buck Davidson?