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?