The five stages of time trial grief

March 28, 2014 § 27 Comments

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

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

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

The stages …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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You can ensure that I’ll be able to afford extended grief counseling after today’s TT (3oth out of 55 with a wankish time of 19:34) by subscribing to the blog! Everything here is true except for the parts I’ve made up, which is all of it. Click here and select the “subscribe” link in the upper right-hand corner. I’ll be glad you did.

Chasing the shark

March 27, 2014 § 9 Comments

The phone rang. “Yeah?” I said.

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

“Start times? For what?”

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

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

“And guess what?”

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

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

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

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

“You’re joking, right?”

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

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

“Yup.”

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

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

“I have?”

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

“Vaguely. I mean, yes. I remember.”

“So? You been doing all that, right?”

“All what?”

“The TRAINING, you numbskull! The training!”

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

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

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

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

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

“No problem. Here’s what you do.”

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

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

“Really?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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First trimester summary

March 24, 2014 § 3 Comments

In SoCal, the road racing season starts Jan. 12 with the Ontario Shitfest Grand Prix, and ends September 7 with the Droopy Breasts and Leaky Prostate Old Persons’ National Championships. That’s nine months of racing, about the same amount of time it takes to gestate a baby.

We’re fast approaching the end of the first trimester, so I thought it would be a great time to do a mid-season analysis of who’s doing what, when, how, where, and why, and maybe even make a few predictions for the rest of the season. It’s the time of year that you start to hear the rumbling and grumbling of “Are WE the next Labor Power?” And it’s as good a time as any to say, “No, you aren’t. You are to Labor Power what a dingleberry is to a dinosaur turd.”

To be clear, the bar set by Labor Power is unattainable, so quit trying to be its heir. What do I mean?

  • Labor Power rode the ugliest kits ever. No matter how stupid and repulsive your outfit is, Labor Power’s was worse. If Roger and Chris couldn’t sublimate an abortion, no one could.
  • Labor Power was the cheapest team ever. Your team spends more on water bottles than Roger spent on his team car, race entries, and kits. Labor Power was so tight with money that even bike racers considered them cheap.
  • Labor Power won more races in a season than most teams today even enter. In 2002 they had 110 first place finishes in everything from crits to road races to stage races to track events to circle jerks. They were so dominant that if you finished 2nd or 3rd no one cared. At all.
  • In 2003 they only won 103 races. Get it? “Only” 103. So quit bragging about your string of ten wins.
  • In 2004, they won the ELITE men’s national championships with Chris Walker putting everyone to the sword. This isn’t the shrunken and leaky prostate division, folks, it’s the full-sized, covered-with-dog-hair testicle race. And Labor Power won it.
  • From 2005 to 2007, the year that Roger imploded with a full brain-and-hip replacement, no one from Labor Power wound up in prison.

So just in case you’re wondering whether your string of seven or eight victories puts you in the “Labor” class, the answer is “No. It doesn’t. Not even close.”

Is there any hope for this younger, weaker generation?

Yes! Great things have been accomplished so far in 2014. Let me tell you about them.

  1. Jessica Cerra is the best all-around racer in SoCal, if not the USA. She wins hilly, windy, brutal road races. She wins four-corner crits. She time trials. Best of all, she’s always ready with a smile and encouragement before she tears your ego out and pops it in the shredder. Plus, she makes a mean Harmony Bar. Word on the street is that sooner rather than later she’ll be snatched up by a pro team.
  2. Rahsaan Bahati has confirmed (again) that he’s the fastest and best crit racer in America. 2014 has seen Rahsaan absolutely tear things up in the pro crits, and the only people who’ve been able to give him a consistent run for his money are Corey and Justin Williams. Over the last decade Rahsaan has remained the single best crit racer in America. And he still shows up on the local Tues/Thurs NPR in L.A. to smack down the locals. Sometimes, literally.
  3. Charon Smith’s legend keeps growing. What began as a wanker who couldn’t glue on a tire (crashing at Eldo thanks to a rolled front tire on the last lap) has metamorphosed into the most consistent winning masters racer in SoCal. Charon’s always there to encourage, to lift up, and to laugh — unless you’re muscling for the sprint, in which case you’re going to learn the disappointment of second place.
  4. Surf City Cyclery has put together premier masters crit racing club. Along with Charon we’ve seen Kayle Leogrande, Ben Travis, and other SCC riders keep a stranglehold on the SoCal crit circuit. Will they ever venture out from the safety of four corner crits? I’m guessing … no.
  5. Kings of the road? That title goes to Monster Media and the Troublesome Trio of Phil Tinstman, Gary Douville, and Chris DeMarchi. These three musketeers have dominated in the hardest, most grueling masters’ road races that SoCal has to offer, taking impressive wins at Boulevard, Punchbowl, and Castaic. If you plan to win a 35+ road race, take a ticket and stand in line. A long line.
  6. Biggest contingent of women racers? That’s Monster Media again, with Emily Georgeson, Patricia Calderon, Suzanne Sonye, Shelby Reynolds, and a host of other strong women riders taking wins and letting promoters know that women race and they race in numbers.
  7. Best all-around team? That’s SPY-Giant-RIDE, of course. Not just one-trick crit ponies, the SPY team has won races in every division from women’s to extremely old and mostly brokedown 50+ geezers. (That’s you, DJ.) With two big wins against the Surf City machine — Derek Brauch and Aaron Wimberley — SPY has also taken stage race victories in the 45+ division with Greg Lonergan, as well as stage wins with Kyle Bausch. However, SPY’s strongest division is the pack-fodder category, topped by Wankmeister, who is able to convincingly defend 52nd place against all comers. SPY’s dominance in ‘cross is also unparalleled, and SPY promises to again put riders in the top-1o of the hardest road event in America: The SPY Belgian Waffle Ride.
  8. The top of the mark in the Pro/1/2 division seems pretty much occupied by the Jakroo/Maxxis team. However, since they’re all under the age of 40 I don’t really pay much attention to them and assume that the weakest rider in that category is faster than me by a factor of ten.
  9. You’d be crazy not to acknowledge that the one team that is over-the-top in terms of filling categories with its riders and therefore PROMOTING the sport of bike racing is Big Orange. This South Bay conglomeration of wankers packs the fields in every division. Hats off to a club whose emphasis isn’t just on racing, but on encouraging people to get out there and have a go.
  10. Young punk getting outta town? That would be Diego Binatena, who, after an early season of consistent top-10 finishes and a few key victories has been invited by Team USA to storm the beaches of Normandy for a Euro campaign.
  11. The Ageless One: That would be Thurlow, still ripping the legs off of young, snot-nosed punks in the 45+ division. Rumor has it that The Hand of God a/k/a THOG is going to celebrate his 400th birthday this year, but we know that’s a lie. He’s older than that.

Did I leave you out or forget to mention you? Better fill out a “Hurt Butt Report” and submit it to Chris Lotts for public comment and review.

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Where the wild things are

March 23, 2014 § 14 Comments

Wankmeister awoke with a vicious hangover. The inside of his mouth was dried to a crackly paste of spit from the massive order of pork bulgogi he’d eaten the night before to try and dilute the effect of the four pints of Dirty Virgin double IPA. As he smacked his parched lips, trying to unstick his tongue from the bottom of his mouth, he realized that the pork bulgogi anti-hangover method had failed. He should have drunk more water and less beer instead.

Quickly slamming a cup of coffee and eating a piece of toast, Wanky pedaled to the office, got the van, and drove over to Jaeger’s place. Jaeger hadn’t won a race in ten long years, and decided that today he’d do the 50+ senior veteran’s old people’s race rather than duke it out with the youngsters in the 45+.

They got to the Lake Castaic road race course. The wind was howling and Wankmeister thought about the various reports that had come in via Facebag from the riders who’d reconned the ride the previous week. They were all in agreement, and their thoughts are summarized below:

  1. Brutal course.
  2. Windy, long climbs.
  3. Awful temperatures.
  4. Dry as hangover mouth.
  5. Difficulty amplified by small fields.
  6. Bring survival gear.

Proper nutrition is always key

Aside from the piece of toast that he’d had for breakfast, Wanky’s stomach was empty. After signing in he saw Canyon Bob kitting up. “Got food, dude?” he asked.

“Sure, pal,” Bob said, and handed over a mostly-eaten miniature chicken sandwich.

Wanky scarfed it down, but it only made him hungrier. Numbers pinned on, he rode to the start/finish with teammates Jaeger and Randy to watch the various finishing races.

The end of the race was atop a long, grinding 1k finishing hill. The 45+ field was coming in, and G$ had kicked it from pretty far out. Thurlow was closing fast, but it looked like G$ would hold him off. In the last 50 meters, which was the equivalent of the last twelve miles of a normal road race, Thurlow came by for the win.

While everyone cheered the conquering heroes, the only thing Wankmeister really noticed was the salt sheets staining their faces and jerseys and the twisted looks of pain and misery on the face of every single person who crossed the line. Jess Cerra, who had won the women’s Pro/1/2 race and was watching the finishers, handed Wanky a Harmony Bar. “You might need this for later,” she said.

Wankmeister unwrapped the energy bar and scarfed it down. “To hell with that, Jess. I need it now.”

“Are two water bottles going to be enough?” she asked. “Your race is 55 miles, right?”

“Yeah, no problem,” Wanky answered. “I don’t ever drink much water in races anyway.”

“It’s hot and dry, though,” she said.

Wanky looked again at the finishers straggling in, all of whom had a strangely desiccated, dehydrated, salt-covered, dying-of-thirst look. “Nah,” he said. “I’ll be fine.”

Is there a race here today?

As Jaeger, Wanky, Randy, Canyon Bob, and Hoofixerman stood waiting for the race to begin, they noticed that the field was … them. “Where is everybody?” asked Jaeger.

“We are everybody,” said Hoofixerman.

“But there were 16 pre-regs,” said Canyon Bob.

Jess walked back over. “Aren’t you guys racing?”

“Yeah, we go off, like, now.”

“Why aren’t you at the staging area, then?” she asked.

“What staging area?” Wanky said, panicking.

“You have to stage a mile or so back that way. The race doesn’t start here.”

The five idiots leaped on their bikes and sprinted back to the staging area, an all-out time trial that would cost Wanky dearly later in the race somewhere about Mile 2.

Sure enough, it was a minuscule field of sixteen riders, and they pedaled off with the enthusiasm of children going to the dentist. Wanky eyed Hoofixerman, who was doing his first big race with the tough and experienced and battle-hardened 50+ giants of the road. “That wanker’s gonna get shelled quick,” he surmised as Hoofixerman went to the front and picked up the pace. “Hey, dude,” Wanky said. “Better take it easy. This is a long hilly race. Don’t shoot your bullets in the first five miles.”

Hoofixerman ignored him, and took turns into the teeth of the wind with Jaeger.

“This isn’t so bad,” Wanky thought. “Kind of like a training ride with your pals.” The course was rolling with a couple of small, easily surmounted walls.

Then they hit the first big climb and Wanky realized that these weren’t his pals, they were mortal enemies who hated him and wanted to kill him quickly and without mercy. Canyon Bob rolled to the front and Wanky was soon on the rivet. It was an endless 2-mile charge up an 8% grade, and the four or five people cheering at the top meant only one thing: the next time up the spectators were expecting to see the riders drop like flies. This was the praise before the last rites.

Alone again, naturally

Once over the big climb the riders descended forever, which was a terrible thing because the out-and-back course meant that they’d have to come back up this beast. A couple of miles before the turnaround Chris Hahn began chasing the four-man breakaway that had rolled off, and this effort kicked Wanky out the back without so much as a second thought. Hoofixerman, who had squandered precious energy and ridden like a complete idiot in the first part of the race, was, of course, with the leaders in the breakaway.

The break was caught and Wankmeister somehow latched back onto the leaders after the turnaround. The tiny field meant that people were already tired and fearing the climb on the return, while Jaeger, disgusted at the slow pace, got off his bike, took a leisurely piss, overhauled his bottom bracket, and easily caught back on.

A short way into the big climb, Wanky got kicked out the back for good, and up in the distance he could see that Hoofixerman was finally paying for his early excesses. Slogging up to the Big Orange farrier, they pounded through the rollers to the start/finish, where they were ignominiously passed by the 35+ 4/5 riders, who had started five or ten minutes behind them.

The moto ref came by and grinned at Wanky. “At least you’re not getting passed by the Cat 5’s!” he said.

The leaders in the 50+ Really Old and Slow and Have to Pissalot Category had eased up and Hoofixerman was determined to catch back on.

With the aid of a timely neutralization to allow the 35+ 4/5’s to pass the 50+ riders, Wanky & Co. reattached. He was elated. “We made it!” he said to Hoofixerman. “Now all we have to do is hang on and let these other knuckleheads do all the work!” Wanky slinked to the back, got behind the tallest and widest rider, and made himself as tiny as possible.

A few minutes later they were back at the Big Climb. Wanky chortled with pleasure, knowing that the leaders were now thoroughly tired and all he had to endure was a brief seven or eight-minute interval. As fate would have it, he only had a 30-second interval left in his legs, about thirty less than Hoofixerman. Everyone and everything vanished from sight.

You know your day is done in a bike race when …

… you start noticing the scenery. Wanky appreciated the beautiful canyon, the trees growing along the edge of the creek down in the valley, and the cooling late-afternoon temperatures. This was about the time he ran completely out of water. At the turnaround a kind elderly fellow shouted, “Water? Need some water?” Miracles, apparently, were still occurring even in this late day and age.

Teammate Randy, who had been dropped from the leaders due to a mechanical and, since he didn’t have any tools, was forced to carefully repair his damaged $4,000 drivetrain by pounding the shit out of it with a rock, closed a five-minute gap and caught back up to Wankmeister. “C’mon, Wanky, let’s go!”

This was like a physicist with a large chalkboard saying, “C’mon, Wanky, let’s do some calculus!”

Wankmeister, who had only barely passed Algebra II with Miss Morcom in 11th Grade, did no better hanging onto Randy’s wheel than he would have solving for x. In a flash the teammate was gone. Now there were only eleven and a half miles left, including the giant climb. At the bottom, riders began to swarm by, first the remnants of the 35+ 4/5 race, and then the Cat 5 leaders, and then the bits and pieces of the entire Cat 5 field.

The moto came by again. “Bet you’re glad there’s no Cat 6,” he said before gunning the motor and driving off.

No matter how slowly the Cat 5’s went, Wanky went slower, until eventually, like a bad case of gonorrheal drip that has finally run its course, the race ended. Out of sixteen starters in the 50+ race, twelve finished, two of whom were actually slower than he was. “Top 10,” he said to himself, “doesn’t sound nearly as bad as ‘3rd from dead fucking last.'”

The race at the front

Jaeger had waited until the bottom of the big hill on the return leg, and then attacked the six riders who remained with him. He soloed in the final eight miles to collect his first victory since 2004. “Wasn’t that a hard race?” Wanky asked him back at the van.

Jaeger tried to be diplomatic, aware that his friend Wankmeister had been in difficulty long before there was really any difficulty. “Yeah it was hard,” he said. “I mean, it was hard for you.”

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I’ll have another bag of sand, please, with an extra dollop of cream on top

March 21, 2014 § 46 Comments

The most recent South Bay cycling kerfluffle and 24/7 Facebag drama was a beaut. The facts, such as they weren’t, went something like this: Gimme Mah Trinket, a super fast live-to-ride badass MTB racer showed up at the Third Annual Fredfest and Dorkathon Cross Country Bicycle Race in Scratchypits, CA. Having won the Leadville-qualifying Barburner, and having completed Leadville itself once and sort-of-but-perhaps-not-really completed it a second time, Gimme signed up for the beginners’ Cuddly Puppy Division race.

It was a full cuddly puppy field with six or seven riders, all of whom except for Gimme were excited to be racing their first ever, or second ever, or whatever MTB cross country race. Now I must insert here that I didn’t even know that you raced cross country on a bicycle. I thought cross country was a kind of foot race, so when I was told that the controversy occurred at a cycling cross country race my first reaction was “Fugg’ yeah, I bet those runners were sure pissed at getting beat by the bikers. I would be, too.”

But not.

The cuddly puppies lined up with battle-hardened, steely legged Gimme Mah Trinket and got devoured. How badly did they get devoured? Gimme stomped their dicks by seven minutes. She finished so far ahead of the puppies that race officials temporarily lost contact with her ACARS.

The cuddlies struggled in across the line, puppy butts covered in dirt and briars and brambles and sweat and gel packs that had exploded in their jerseys and drizzled down into their buttcracks. And they did what puppies do when they get their noses rubbed in their own shit. They whined. And the whine they whined was the greatest, most famous, most oft-repeated complaint ever made anywhere by any wanker in the history of the USCF: Gimme Mah Trinket is a SANDBAGGER!

Gimme didn’t really care. Her license listed her as a Cuddly Puppy despite being one of the strongest South Bay women on the road and in the dirt, she’d raced her category, and most importantly, she got her trinket. It was a beautiful, hand-carved, antique, hand-decorated water bottle from 1998 made during the Chee’ Pass Dynasty in China. Then she went to the official and upgraded to a Cat 1. Apparently you can go from a Cat 3 to a Cat 1 in MTB just by saying, “Gimme a one, please.”

Who knew?

Let the wailing begin

The cuddly puppies were outraged. They’d trained hard. They’d committed millions of dollars to this fine sport. They’d hired a coach, given up smoking meth, and told all their friends at work that they were going to do a “bicycle race.” How unfair that a pro, a superstar, a hard woman, a ruthless, toothy, shark-blooded killer with a zillion miles under her belt would sandbag the Cuddly Puppy division? At the Scratchypits race, no less! The outrage!

A measure of just how much of a beginners race it was bubbled to the surface merely by airing the “Sandbagger!” complaint. If USA Cycling were a book with a subtitle, it would be this: “USA Cycling: Sandbagging for Fun and Trinkets.”

The whole purpose of categories is to allow for organized sandbagging. If bikers wanted a real bike race, here’s how it would be run:

  1. Men, women, mutants, cuddly puppies, ex pros, current pros, leaky prostates, loose bowels, juniors, seniors, and almost-corpses would line up together.
  2. The ref would blow a whistle.
  3. The first person across the line would be declared the winner.

This would result in a genuine bike race with genuine results. The winner could say, “I was the best racer that day.” The down side is that races would have only thirty or forty riders, all of them would be in their late 20’s, and the same three people would win every single race. In other words, hardly anyone would get a trinket. The bigger down side is that USA Cycling and the various race promoters wouldn’t be able to promote races, because with entry fees from thirty riders you can’t cordon off a street, supply ambulances, promote the event, and hire a couple of cheap plywood boxes for a podium.

This is why cycling has zillions of categories, groupings, rankings, and divisions, so that no matter how weak, feeble, inexperienced, or strategically stupid you are, there is “some” chance that you’ll get a trinket. Trinkets get spread more democratically, race promoters get paid, and USA Cycling gets to send out another surly, obese, ill-tempered official to scream at you on a motorcycle.

Think of race categories for what they really are: Affirmative action for the weak, slow, and stupid. Without cycling’s affirmative action program, 99.999% of all racers would never experience the thrill of getting a $20 prime, or enjoy the glory of standing on a plywood box in the blazing sun, or posting their “results” on Facebag. Our society would be poorer as a result. Moreover, at least in the SoCal crit scene, without affirmative action no white people would ever win anything, and we can’t have that.

Do you really want a bike race?

The Scratchypits kerfluffle, if anything, proved that trinket racing really works, and it’s not the first time that a veteran sandbagger has been booted upstairs to a harder division due to whining cuddlies. The most famous sandbagging case in SoCal history was the Great Prez SoCal Cup Upgrade and Meltdown, where our hero sandbagged as a Cat 3 for several years. Just as he was on the cusp of winning the SoCal Cat 3 Cup, some cuddly puppy’s angry mom complained to the refs. “Prez is a sandbagger! Little Pookums can’t win anything! Upgrade him!”

Prez got force upgraded, and so emotionally destroyed that the trinket was so rudely snatched away despite being within inches of his sweaty grasp, that he dropped out of racing for an entire year. Worse, now that’s he’s back as a Cat 2, he is forced to race with the 35+ Masters division, the biggest category of sandbaggers in the entire sport. These are the guys who are for the most part Cat 1’s, Cat 2’s, and ex-pros, but who’d rather win most of the time than lose all of the time. However, unlike the Cat 3 races, riders like Prez go from winning sandbagger to pack meat, as it’s often difficult to finish and impossible to win. No more trinkets for Prez.

G$ tells a similar story about his own history of sandbagging. “When I was a Cat 3, I never wanted to upgrade. But after winning four out of sixty races, they force upgraded me. Some junior’s mom complained and said me and Roadchamp were dominating everything. Boom. Cuddly puppy upgrade. But I was like, dude, I’m forty years old. How’m I gonna race with the Cat 2’s? Their road races are a hundred miles long. I have a job, sort of. But they upgraded me anyway.”

G$ went on to collect plenty of trinkets, but only as a masters sandbagger. In sum, the category system is there for you to sandbag. You pick the race you think you have the best chance of winning, and the race you can most likely win is always the one against the weakest field. The weakest field is always the oldest or the slowest or the least experienced category. This is how trinkets are won, how juice boxes are collected, and how well-practiced podium poses are executed for the three adoring fans.

Any other system would result in a bike race, and no one in their right mind wants one of those.

Least of all the cuddly puppies.

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A real sport

February 22, 2014 § 12 Comments

This morning as I whizzed down towards Malaga Cove I saw a rider in a blue and electric green kit. She was ahead of me, but my momentum from the long descent meant I was going to catch her without hardly pedaling. From a distance she didn’t look familiar, but as I closed in on her she kind of did, but then again she kind of didn’t. I was looking at her legs, which were lean but super cut. Didn’t recognize the legs.

Then as I got closer I realized it was Tink. “Hey, Tink!” I said as I pulled up alongside her. “Damn, your legs are cut! I didn’t recognize you!”

She laughed. “How’ve you been?”

“Fine, but how have YOU been?” Tink was coming off a long layoff after breaking her femur late last year. She had turned pro with Team Tibco in the middle of the 2013 season, and at the time she went down on the bike path and broke her leg she was on pace to hit the season with both barrels blazing.

“Great, actually,” she said. “I’m a bit sore, had a hard day yesterday, but I’m ready for the Donut Ride!”

This was horrible news for me, as I’d been hoping to have a good Donut Ride, and knowing that Tink would be there going full bore meant I’d be fighting for table scraps. She is a world class climber, and the primary feature of the DR is climbing.

Buckle your seat belts

The ride unfolded as I feared it would, only worse. Sam Warford and Mackenzie Champlin rolled off the front as we left Malaga Cove, and stuck it all the way to the top of the Domes. By the time we hit Portuguese Bend, Mark Alvarado and Tink attacked and opened a gap leading up to Trump National. Stathis Sakellariadis, who had been biding his time, kicked it hard and ruined what was left of the peloton. Glued to his wheel he towed me, Greg Leibert, and a handful of others up to Tink and Mark, then pushed on by.

After pulling up the first section of the Switchbacks he flicked his elbow for me to come through, but it’s a cold day in hell when this 50-year-old beer belly will take a pull on a climb that involves a gang of snotnose punks who all weigh less than 140-pounds. However, Greg Leibert, who is 52 years old, acted on the First Principle of Climbing: When the others hesitate out of weakness and fear, that is when you attack.

So he did.

Stathis slipped to the back of the small group, disgusted at having me shadow him and knowing that in order to escape my sneaky wheelsuckery he would have to take me by surprise. Several sad sacks flailed up the next couple of turns, flicking me to pull through and finding out that they’d sooner dislocate an elbow than get me to do a lick of work.

As Greg dangled, Stathis punched it from the very back, flying away from the six riders who were left. Sitting second wheel I jumped, but had about as much chance of catching him as I did of catching a motorcycle. He bridged to Greg and the two of them flew away, not to be seen again until the Domes.

Back in the best-of-the-rest-bunch, I sucked some more wheel until we turned up Crest to the Domes. Then I punched it and only Tink and Wanker McGee followed. After a few more surges, slowdowns, surges and slowdowns, Wanker popped, hit the eject button, and parachuted to safety. Now it was just me and Tink as we raced the final half-mile to the Domes. She hit me several times, I sucked wheel and countered, then she’d hit me again, then I’d suck some more wheel, wheeze and cough, make dying-old-man sounds, and she’d hit me again until she finally ran out of hit about 200 yards from the end.

I did the Big Blue Bus spruntaround, slowly grinding by her while she laughed. Atop the Domes I saw stars. “Good job!” she said, not even out of breath.

What’s a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?

The place, of course, is bike racing. What’s a nice girl like Tink, or Jess Cerra, or any other number of pro-and-pro-caliber women doing racing their bikes?

The reason I ask is because the system is so grossly sexist. The Tour de France, after more than a hundred years, offers pro women a single day of racing. The Tour of California, America’s premier bike race, finally offers women a TWO WHOLE DAYS of racing. Of course after a mere nine years it makes sense that the race acknowledged the existence of a pro women’s peloton, so you “girls” should be grateful. At least it didn’t take a hundred years, like the French.

The sexism in pro racing begins with races, or rather the absence of races, and it extends to every nook and cranny of the sport, right down the nuances of pro women’s teams riding Di2 Ultegra instead of Dura-Ace. It includes prize list disparity (as of 2014 USA Cycling will offer prize list parity for NRC races), media coverage, salary parity, the development of amateur women, and a gross inequality of financial resources at the national and international governing body level.

What’s so bizarre about this inequality isn’t the blatant sexism; we’ve come to expect that in every sport. What makes no sense is the fact that women’s cycling has every bit the financial potential of men’s cycling. Women cycle in huge numbers and are a completely untapped market for manufacturers and service providers trying to peddle their wares to pedalers. The economic power of women, if harnessed in terms of club/racing license membership, would bring a much-needed infusion of new dollars and new racers into the rather niche sport of bicycle racing.

The list of reasons — above and beyond “it’s the right thing to do” — to promote parity between professional men and women bike racers is a long one. And fortunately, there’s something about it that you can do.

Every revolution should begin with a great breakfast

The Women’s Cycling Association hosts a tour called “Join the Ride” on March 2, 2014, in Calabasas, CA, beginning at the legendary Pedaler’s Fork restaurant. Rider entry fees will support the WCA, the first organization in the U.S. dedicated solely to promoting women’s professional bike racing. This is part of a series of ongoing outreach efforts to include riders, promoters, and sponsors in the movement to develop a robust, independent women’s pro racing scene that will be around for years to come. Hope you can make it.

Two for two

February 15, 2014 § 2 Comments

The 35+ race at Boulevard was relatively uneventful unless you were one of the riders who got shelled on the very first lap. Or the second lap. Or the third.

It was the first tough road race with all the major players except for Chris DeMarchi, who’s still recovering from a broken femur that he sustained in an MTB accident. Without Chris the race would be slightly different, as his trademark “bring the pain and thin the herd” brand of killing accelerations would be absent.

The riders didn’t know where they stood fitness wise, so there was a lot of watching and waiting, but only up to a point. It was Boulevard after all, a race of attrition that eventually was going to wear you down whether you waited or not. The general pattern in the 35+ race is this:  If the race stays together, only shedding the lame and infirm, the big explosion happens halfway through the last lap. The start of the race was freezing and two minutes into the race it began to snow. There were also a couple of new faces, which is always a troubling question mark. It’s the new faces that can completely screw up a well-planned race.

The 2014 edition played according to formula, with Mike Sayers and Marco Arocha putting in huge attacks that did damage but failed to shatter the group. Marco launched halfway into the race, but that’s a long, lonely distance to hold off a super field like this one over such a demanding course. He was  brought back on the downhill, where a solo rider has difficulty keeping ahead of a peloton that can easily hit 50 mph.

While Marco was away Monster Media strongman Karl Bordine set tempo up the big climb and made sure Arocha’s advantage didn’t extend too far. By keeping the gap in check on the second lap, Bordine’s solid tempo prevented the dangerous move by Arocha from suddenly turning into a  3 or 4 minute breakaway. That would have forced the Monster Media team to organize a chase, waste valuable energy, and take away their ability to keep team boss Tinstman safe and out of the wind. It was Bordine’s tempo that allowed the group to bring Arocha back and then set up Gary Douville for the big move on the last lap.

When the remnants of the field turned onto La Posta, Gary Douville and Phil Tinstman went to the front, attacking just over the railroad tracks and whittling it down to five riders, later joined by two others.  Tony Restuccia, Tinstman, Douville, Derek Brauch, Sayers, Paul Vaccari, and Randall Coxworth made up the final selection. The two who bridged, Vaccari and Coxworth, made it across at just the time the break briefly slowed.

From that point the break drilled up La Posta and put a big gap on the field, a gap that no one would be able to close once the breakaway hit the frontage road and began the final three-mile climb to the finish line. Sayers was the biggest threat to the Monster Media machine, which had four of the seven riders in the break. Sayers coaches the USA U-23 team and in addition to being a great coach is also a beast of a rider. Sayers attacked the break a couple of times but was countered by Tinstman and Douville.

This is the point in Boulevard where things come unraveled. The break was on the rivet and Tinstman was still feeling good. With teammates Restuccia, Douville, and Coxworth covering the SPY-Giant-RIDE duo of Brauch and Vaccari, Sayers put in a huge attack and, taking Tinstman with him, opened up a 20-second gap on the chasers. With Sayers urging Tinstman to pull through, the Monster Media rider declined the invitation. The math was simple: Better to get pulled back to the group, where there was a 4-to-7 advantage and where Tinstman was confident of winning the field sprint, than to trade pulls with Sayers and lower his chance of winning to 50 percent.

Once the Sayers-Tinstman duo was back with the chasers, Coxworth unleashed a flurry of attacks, swinging off with 250 meters to the line. Sayers was now out in the wind and had no choice but to go, and he gave it everything he had, but 250 meters out at Boulevard is like a kilometer anywhere else because the race finishes on a hard pitch after a long climb. With Sayers firing his final volley too early, Vaccari then jumped with Tinstman on his wheel. At the last minute Tinstman hit the wind and passed the SPY rider with room to spare. Vaccari got second and Brauch got third, making a good podium haul for the SPY-Giant-RIDE p/b MRI team, especially considering the quality and quantity of Monster Media riders at the finish.

Teamwork

This was a classic example of a road race going according to plan. It was simple in theory: Keep Tinstman out of the wind as much as possible and save it for the end. Although he was feeling good, the fact that his teammates were doing such a great job increased his pressure to close the deal as they sacrificed everything to put him in position for the win. Having raced together for a couple of seasons the Monster Media team has reached a point where the riders can communicate in key moments without talking because they know what the other guy’s thinking and what they’re going to do. This is the kind of clockwork teamwork that only comes from lots of races.

Tinstman’s secret? There are none, other than the things that all successful athletes have in common, such as maximal preparation. Spare wheels in the car, food, bottles, clothing, then double check everything. Reassured that the prep was done, the victory was going to depend on using the least amount of energy and conserving until the end. By being alert and continually reading the race, Tinstman made sure that every second in the race he had a reason for what he was doing doing. Whether watching a guy, resting, or chasing, it was the continual mental alertness and rational planning that brought the victory to bear.

Saturday helped Sunday

Tinstman followed up his hardman win at Boulevard with an equally impressive win the following day at the SPY Red Trolley Crit in San Diego. Much of Sunday’s victory was the result of how well the team kept him fresh on Saturday. He wasn’t wrecked on Sunday because he hadn’t had to do the lion’s share of the work the day before.

Unlike the other dominant SoCal 35+ crit team, Surf City Cyclery, the Monster Media team never wants the race to end in a field sprint. 2013 was an extended clinic of breakaway crit victories by DeMarchi and Tinstman, and although SCC was absent from this year’s edition of Red Trolley, the plan was still to avoid a field sprint.

On the other hand, with accomplished finishers like Coxworth, Tinstman, and Danny Kam, if it came down to a sprint, there were options there as well. Coxworth had just finished second in the 45+ race after getting nipped at the line due to a premature victory salute, and felt like the snap was gone from his legs. He therefore volunteered to be the guy who would position Tinstman if it came down to a field sprint. In the last two laps he placed his team leader into position with laser precision.

With a tailwind on the climb and a headwind on the downhill it was going to be a hard course on which to establish a winning break because it was easy for the swollen pack to sit and then charge full bore up he hill. The Monster Media team attacked repeatedly with the SPY riders, trying to make things happen, but the field wouldn’t split. In the final laps SPY went to the front, with Tinstman on Coxworth’s wheel. A couple of intense efforts towards the very end even looked like they might create a winning move.

Everything came back together for the finale, however, so with Coxworth on the SPY train and Tinstman slotted in behind his pilot fish, the two Monster Media riders came around SPY’s Eric Anderson and locked in first and second place.

On February 15, Tinstman and the Monster Media tribe will have a go at the second hardman event on the SoCal calendar, the UCLA Punchbowl road race. If Boulevard and Red Trolley are any indication, they will be tough to beat. Very, very tough.

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