It’s a very nice sidewalk

November 4, 2014 § 10 Comments

I sat on the sidewalk, twisted up in the human pretzel that only comes when your quads, hamstrings, and calves all cramp at the same time. “Here, dude,” said Fireman. “Take these fuggin’ salt tablets and drink this water.”

I swallowed the tablets and drank. My legs knotted up even more, just as the wankers who had been shelled on the run-in to the finish of the 7th Mike Nosco Memorial ride whizzed by. They pointed and laughed, and they were right. Live by the attack, die by the attack.

The Nosco Ride is an amazing thing. Jack Nosco has taken the grief and loss of his brother’s death and transformed it into an event that today brought together almost 600 riders — on a Monday — to participate in a free, fully supported ride up and down the hills of the Santa Monica mountains. For participants who wanted to make a donation, and it seemed like almost everyone did, their contributions were heaped into a pile and given to two recipients suffering from life threatening diseases.

I don’t know how much money the event raised today, and it really doesn’t matter. What matters is that a host of sponsors joined in to make the event happen, and they all did it for no apparent financial benefit. They did it because it was a good thing to do.

Among the participants was Lance Armstrong. Road Bike Action magazine has long been one of his stalwart supporters, and as one of the major sponsors of the Nosco Ride they included him in the event. Many riders were excited to see him, and as near as I could tell he was just another rider, albeit one who rode up the dizzying pitch of Deer Creek at a blazing pace.

What was notable about his presence was its lack of significance. The ride was for the memory of Mike Nosco, and that’s what it was. With a killing pace out of the blocks, the brutal climb up Deer Creek, and follow-up punch-ups on Mullholland and Latigo, the 80 miles and 9,000 feet of climbing left everyone somewhat addled. At the end, the ride gave free, delicious Mexican food dinners — as much as you could eat — to the riders. Those who wanted to cap off their day with a beer could quaff free cans of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and Sierra Nevada Torpedo.

The terrible difficulty of the ride means that there’s no training or fitness reason to do it more than once. But the unique feel of people coming together for a cause makes it special, and the realization that Jack Nosco has taken profound loss and turned it into good is an example for everyone. It’s the kind of ride you can do over and over again, even though each time you swear that this time will be your last.

Part of the good vibe of this ride is that most people seem to know the story of Mike and his premature death. You can tell that among the riders and the volunteers almost everyone has suffered the same kind of loss, or something very close to it. The kind of monument that Jack has created to his brother, a monument of giving and of good, is the kind of thing we all wish we could do for those we love who have died, but somehow we can’t. Being able to participate and be part of this event, and to contribute to it in whatever small way, is its own kind of gift.

At the feed stops, at the registration table, and at every sponsor tent, whenever you thanked people for making this event happen they all said the same thing: “No, thank you for coming.”

Thanks for the gift, Mike and Jack.

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Burning down the house

November 3, 2014 § 40 Comments

I was reading about the overthrow of the government in Burkina Faso, the collapse of the economy in Ukraine, the stagflation threatening the EU, the corruption and totalitarianism of the new Russian oligarchy, the spread of Ebola, the implosion of international cooperation on reducing carbon emissions, the hegemony of ISIS, the widening gap between rich and poor in America, the radioactive contamination of the seas by the still-burning Fukushima reactors, when a truly important news item caught my eye: SCNCA has eliminated the 35+ masters racing category for 2015.

After careful analysis, it appears that 29 or even 36 racers will be affected by this calamity, and so I dropped everything to find out what was going on.

The gist of the decision-making process was this: The 35+ category has fewer and fewer participants, so it will be zapped. The new masters categories in SoCal will be 40+, 50+, and 60+. Everyone under 40 will have to race his category, which for a number of racers is extremely uncomfortable, as their license reads “Cat 1.” What was previously a winning hand in the mick deasuring world of amateur cycling has now become a terrible liability for riders whose license says “awesome sauce” but whose race selection says “older fellow with leaky prostate.”

Who’s to blame?

The first people to blame are the promoters, because they are the ones least responsible. Just like poor people are blamed for their criminality because they’re the ones most often arrested, race promoters are to blame for declining race participation because fewer people sign up for their races.

When I think back to the halcyon days of 1982, I wonder why and how race promoters got the burning tire of “building the sport” hung around their neck? I never entered a race or even thought about entering a race because of a promoter. In fact, Tom Boyden (dog rest his soul) was, if anything, the best reason known to man not to enter a bike race. He was thieving, unscrupulous, cynical, and interested only in lining his own pockets.

Yet his races were full and riders who got into the game during that decade still constitute the largest number of masters racers — the 45 and 50+ categories. People didn’t race because the promoter was nice or because he gave good prizes or because his races were safe or well organized or timely. They raced because they belonged to a club that encouraged them to race. There was an expectation that if you hung out with the fast guys you would pin on a number even if you were one of the sluggards.

In our tiny little South Bay microcosm, we have numerous bicycling clubs, but only one that explicitly encourages its members to race. The others focus on wearing neat-o kits, enjoying the chummy camaraderie of pre-and-post ride coffee, and slumming around the peninsula on fancy rigs, but there’s nothing in their club makeup that says to members, “Race yer fuggin’ bike.” Instead, the vast majority of bicycle clubs say the opposite: “Let’s pal around on Strava,” or “Let’s do a Grand Fondue,” or “Let’s do a century ride down to San Diego and have a beer.”

These are all noble endeavors, and the fact that bike racing is considered an insane, prohibitively expensive cul-de-sac activity best left to idiots and the delusional is a good thing and proof that humanity actually evolves. But for those of us left in the evolutionary dead end of USA Cycling, it bears consideration that entering races comes first and foremost from the peer pressure of the club. Like trying heroin or sanal ex, lining up for your first bike race requires exhortation, encouragement, and the promise of good things to come, however outrageous and bold-faced the lie.

After promoters, the next wrongly blamed entities are SCNCA and USA Cycling. These entities, it is said, have failed to promote the grass roots, have failed to encourage race participation, and have failed to make bike racing more popular than it currently is, which is to say more popular than elective dental work.

This ignores history. When have these organizations ever done anything to grow the sport? In 2015 a USA Cycling race license will cost $70, for which the racer receives what? Useless accident insurance that, in the event of death, pays a few thousand dollars if you can fight through the red tape to get it? Safer races? Tell that to the families of the two riders who died in 2013. More promotion of cycling? Ha. Ha. Ha.

USA Cycling exists to collect membership fees to pay the salaries and officials’ fees of people at USA Cycling. That’s all it is, and that’s all it has ever been. The two great cycling booms in my lifetime were in the 80’s and the Lance era, neither of which had anything to do with the USCF, USA Cycling, or race promoters. Both eras had everything to do with clubs who encouraged — nay, demanded — that their members raced.

As USA Cycling fiddles while its house burns by raping the meager profits of promoters like Chris Lotts and Dorothy Wong, 35+ riders are caught in a vicious crossfire. SCNCA doesn’t care, promoters can’t (and shouldn’t) work to lose money, and there are so few 35+ racers anyway that, really, who shives a git? So as a 38 y/o racer with a wife and kid and job you have to bang bars with snotnose, testosterone-filled Pro/1/2 punks who are willing to die to win and you think that the value matrix (candy bar prime vs. long-term hospitalization) isn’t skewed in your favor? Shough tit. As long as SCNCA can sacrifice the few (in secret proceedings) for the benefit of itself + the many, it’s not simply business, it’s business as usual.

If the west side and south bay bike clubs told their 35+ members to get off the preen wagon and race their fuggin’ bikes 5 times a year, if all the other wannabe, gonnabe, oughtabe pretenders in SoCal and the clubs they belong to spent 1/10th of the time racing that they spend putting together “sponsor packages,” this problem wouldn’t exist.

But it’s always easier and lots more fun to call yourself a race club than to drag your teammates’ sorry asses to an actual bike race, especially when you can play tit-for-tat on Strava. </endrant>

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The day the hardmen showed

November 2, 2014 § 27 Comments

I woke up yesterday and looked outside. It was the worst weather we have had in Southern California in over a year. The thermometer read a bitter 65 degrees, and the roads still had places that appeared to be wet, or at least damp. Twelve or eighteen raindrops pounded down, and a large cloud hung over the mountains.

These are the days that the hardmen greedily await, a day when we can disprove the calumnies spread about the softness, cowardice, and shickenchit nature of cyclists in the South Bay. I rummaged through my closet and took out my sturdiest, best insulated clothing. I drew on the armwarmers and wind vest, knowing that with these accoutrements I could weather any weather.

Sure enough, as I rolled down the hill to the start of the Donut Ride, the climate was even more terrible than I’d surmised. The wind in my face brought the temperature down to 60, or perhaps even 59 degrees. I shivered as I bit my lip. Drops of rain (I counted six) beat my face and eyes so hard I could barely see. The occasional roadside puddle required every bit of bike handling I had to keep from crashing. Parts of my bike got wet, and flecks of dirt and mud spattered onto my downtube.

I gritted my teeth and pedaled.

As I dropped down to the start, several minutes late, I saw the group coming towards me. It was as I expected. This awful combination of cool breeze, raindrops, and roadside puddles had kept all but the toughest tucked snugly into their beds. The usual sunny day contingent of 60 to 80 riders, decimated by the brutal cold and soul-drenching wet, was a tiny cadre of seven riders: The Wily Greek, Davy Dawg, PJ Pajamas, Cookie, some dude named Hector with a backpack, the Pilot, and I.

Although the first thirty minutes were run beneath sunny skies along dry roads, our bicycles became very dirty. No wonder the normally tough men and women of the South Bay had opted for breakfast and bex in sed. The effort and work it would take post ride to clean their bicycles, the terrible toll it would take on their fingers and wrists to hand-wring the dirty rain out of their kits, and the incredible labor it would take to clean their chains meant that only the craziest and hardiest would brave these bitter elements.

Wily kicked everyone in the gonads and road away at Trump, and just as we began the grueling ascent of the Switchbacks, the heavens loosed their fury. Rain began pouring down in an incredible wall, such a deluge as hasn’t been seen since the days of Noah. Each of us hunkered down in the pounding squall, feeling a handful of drops work their way through our rain vests as small splotches appeared on our sunglasses. The temperature plunged to 58 and our bodies froze to the core.

After a relentless, nonstop downpour of one full minute, we were each somewhat damp on our exposed legs, but we soldiered on. The descent was even more awful, with chills and biting winds cutting us to the core even though the temperature had bumped up to 65 degrees. Like the hardmen of Belgium and the iron soldiers of Roubaix, we pushed on down the hill and went home.

The entire ride lasted an incredible seventy minutes, each minute an eternity of suffering and misery. As I peeled off my somewhat damp clothing, soaked as it was with the frigid rain drops, I nodded in grim satisfaction to myself in the mirror: “It is the days like today,” I grunted, “that make the champions of tomorrow.”

END

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Brändle breaks hour record by .0000000018 Å

November 1, 2014 § 11 Comments

Both cycling enthusiasts poured out into the streets of Hohenems, Austria, to celebrate the accomplishment of local-boy-made-good Matthias Brändle, who crushed the hour record set on September 18 by Jens Voigt. “I never thought I would be able to set the record in such a dominating fashion,” said Brändle. “Usually you think perhaps you can take a win like this by a few ten-billionths of an angstrom, or perhaps a hundred-billionth, but to destroy the record by a full .18 billionth of an angstrom, that’s a record I can be proud of.”

The record was confirmed by the UCI through X-ray diffraction. By applying the present best value for a a, a = 543.102 0504(89) × 10−12 m, corresponding to a resolution of ΔL/L ≈ 3 × 10−10. This measurement allowed the calibration of the UCI’s official electron microscopes, extending measurement capabilities. For non-relativistic electrons in an electron microscope, the de Broglie wavelength is:

\lambda_e = \frac{h}{\sqrt{2m_e e V}} \ ,

Voigt, reached at his doping center in Belgium, concurred. “My math isn’t so great, but that’s a record that will stand for a long time, or at least until somebody learns how to use a calculator.”

Brian Cookson, head of the UCI who spearheaded the effort to allow hour record attempts with modern equipment, was euphoric. “This is what we were hoping for. The most exciting event in all of cycling, a lone anorexic pedaling mindlessly in circles for an hour covered in sputum, setting new records of human performance that require a Ph.D. in mathematics to appreciate. You know that video, ‘Jizz in my Pants‘? That’s how I feel right now.”

Local residents of Brändle’s blonde-haired, blue-eyed hometown were even more ecstatic. “In the past we have always been a rather rustic part of western Austria, a very small town,” said Burgermeister Adolf Reltih. “Our town’s deportation of the Jews to concentration camps was really the only thing we were known for, aside from converting their historic synagogue into a fire station after the war, and, you know, completely erasing all evidence of their existence and their significant contributions to our town and its history. Did you know that one of the greatest writers of the 20th Century, Stefan Zweig, had his family roots here before we deported them? But now we will be known for this amazing accomplishment. It will be years, decades even, before anyone goes a billionth of an angstrom farther than Matthias.”

END

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Helping the newbies

October 31, 2014 § 23 Comments

On the Donut Ride last Saturday there was a new face. He was a bigger guy, very smooth on the bike, wearing a nondescript kit. Smasher and Ollie were off the front, and gradually the chase group got smaller and smaller.

We hit the bottom of the Switchbacks and after a while it was just me, Newbie, and Toothdoc. Toothdoc is working on a Ph.D. in dentistry at USC and only rides once a week, thank dog. He’s small, fit, a very good climber, and always rides away from me with ease.

Newbie took a couple of very long pulls up the Switchbacks, and I helped him by sitting on his wheel and refusing to come through. He looked like he was in his late 20’s or early 30’s. I’d never seen him before. He was obviously a good rider, but would be too big to keep up with Toothdoc when we hit the short, steep little wall going up to the radar domes.

I scrambled hard on the wall to hang on. We could see Smasher and Ollie just ahead, which is kind of like saying we could see the Crab Nebulae. It didn’t necessarily mean we were ever going to reach it.

Toothdoc punched and I sagged like the old bag of skin, beer, and donuts that I am. He and Newbie pedaled away. I figured that it was a matter of minutes before Toothdoc punched again and Newbie would crack, hopefully enough for me to struggle onto his wheel. His size meant that unlike the usual cast of shrimps who lay waste on this 20-minute climb, I could actually get sheltered, kind of like sitting behind a barn door or Charon.

The twosome vanished from view, and when I eventually turned the corner just before the flat spot I was shocked to see Toothdoc looking like Newbie had given him a root canal with a rusty chain ring. Newbie was pedaling away, and almost caught Smasher and Ollie.

We regrouped at the college. “Good riding,” I said.

“Thanks,” said Newbie.

“What’s your name?” I asked.

“Robbie.”

“Do you mind if I call you Newbie?”

He laughed. “Not at all.”

“Good. Because I was gonna call you Newbie anyway.”

We descended, went through San Pedro, and started the next 20-minute ascent from Miraleste back up to the radar domes. Toothdoc had abandoned, and once we hit the first section of the climb in Better Homes, Ollie and Smasher were going full gas again. I hung onto Newbie’s wheel as he dragged me along, last in the line.

This time I hung onto Newbie as we punched up the wall, and made it to the top of the climb without getting shelled. Okay, I did get shelled. But only in the last 200m. “Man,” I said. “You climb like a beast for being such a big guy.”

“Thanks,” Newbie said. “But this isn’t really my forte. I’m struggling.” I noted that he hadn’t appeared yet to break a sweat.

We did another big regrouping and dropped down the hill, raced through Portuguese Bend, and chased down our own teammate, Smasher, who was off the front. It’s very pro when you’re a masters racer to chase down your teammate.

At the top of the Glass Church there were only six riders left, and Smasher attacked again. This time Ollie and I worked overtime to bring him back. Newbie had a funny look on his face, like, “Why are these idiots chasing down their own teammate?”

Ollie successfully brought Smasher back in the middle of the bump before the sprunt, and I attacked. When you’re extra pro you attack your teammate after catching him, but only if you’re sure that your attack will drop your other teammates and bring along the strongest guy in the group, in this case Newbie.

“Sprunt’s coming up,” I said.

“What?”

“The sprint.”

“Where is it?”

“I’ll tell you,” I said, but I didn’t add “after we pass it.”

Newbie put his head down and unleashed an acceleration that was inhuman. I suckily latched on and popped by just at the line. “There it was!” I shouted, raising my hand in victory.

Newbie grinned. “Good job, pal,” he said.

“You too,” I said. Then I gave him a little lecture about sprinting. He nodded at all the right times. It’s good to pass on your knowledge to those who are just starting out. This is the duty of the older generation. The ride ended and we all went our way.

On Thursday morning Tregillis was talking to Davy. “You going to the track this weekend?”

“Yeah,” said Davy.

“Have you seen Robbie Lea around?” said Tregillis. “I heard he’s in town.”

“Yeah,” said Davy. “He’s been at the track all week.”

The name “Robbie” rang a bell. “Who’s Robbie Lea?” I asked.

Tregillis and Davy looked at me as they often do, with a look that combines amazement at such ignorance and fear of appearing in the blog.

“You’re kidding, right?” Davy said.

“No. Who is he?”

“He’s America’s top Olympian on the track. More than two dozen national titles. He’s one of the most accomplished racers in the sport. Don’t tell me you’ve never heard of him.”

“Oh, him,” I said. “Yeah. I taught that guy how to ride on Saturday.”

END

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A bad time gone worse

October 30, 2014 § 17 Comments

For three years we enjoyed the New Pier Ride. But last week, a mortal blow was dealt to this mainstay morning ride in the South Bay of Los Angeles. Massive construction along Westchester Parkway meant that in addition to the normal avoidance of cars, crap in the road, and other bikers, we had to negotiate giant earthmoving equipment, massive trenches, construction workers, steel plates, ripped up pavement, plastic cones, and an entire parkway shrunk down to one tiny, narrow lane.

Many people, including me, decided that they would be taking a hiatus from the Tuesday-Thursday beatdown until the construction was finished. Some folks suggested a return to the Old Pier Ride, a classic urban fustercluck that included countless stoplights, lots of aggro morning commuters, and a deathly, screaming pedal along a narrow bike path in the marina.

Naaaah.

Then I got a note from Junkyard. It said something like, “Yo, Wanky. New route on Thursday around the golf course in PV. Four laps. Neutral descent. Finish on La Cuesta, with its 3-minute, 15% grade. Be there.”

At first it seemed crazy simply because it is so different from the NPR, which is flat. The loop around the golf course has three short, very punchy climbs, and that’s the opposite of what NPR aficionados want. In fact, the NPR is a place where pretty much anyone, regardless of fitness, can hang on due to the sucking draft of the 80+ riders barreling along a wide, flat parkway.

The illness of Junkyard’s route was that there would be nowhere to hide. The climbs weren’t long enough to select for “climbers,” but they weren’t easy enough to let the big and the lazy simply cruise over the difficulties by leveraging position and momentum.

At 6:35 AM we rolled out from Malaga Cove. One or two geniuses had left their headlights at home, but no matter. The crew consisted of Junkyard, Toronto, Tumbleweed, EA Sports, Inc., Cookie, Davy, Tregillis, South Bay Baby Seal, and me. “Let’s ride the first two laps neutral until we’re familiar with the course,” Junkyard advised.

We did in fact start at a neutral pace, but a hundred yards in we were going full-gas up PV North. Cookie made a groaning noise and popped. The next time anyone saw him, he was hanging over his top tube in the parking lot with his eyes spinning backwards in his head. When we crested the third and final riser at the golf course on lap one, only three riders were left. We regrouped and did another lap.

This time Davy and a couple of others opened a gap on PV North. Toronto closed the gap and then made an opportunistic attack at the bottom of the last climb. But then the transmission fell out of his chassis, a rod when flying through his engine block, and we didn’t see him again for a while.

By the end of the third lap Tumbleweed and Cookie had left in order to [go to work/ ride according to their proper off-season training plan/ do yoga]. Junkyard was shelled. Toronto was shelled. I was cracked.

On the final lap we hit the first climb up PV Drive hard. Then on Via Campesina, EA Sports, Inc. accelerated. Davy had taken a sabbatical and now I was about to do the same. Tregillis rolled by to bridge and I clawed onto his wheel. EA Sports, Inc. made it first to the top of the golf course, but unfortunately we had the beast of La Cuesta waiting. Tregillis hit the ascent and floated away, then caught EA Sports, Inc., and kept on floating.

I was so blown that even with EA Sports, Inc. paperboying up the climb I still couldn’t catch him. Atop La Cuesta we struggled and gasped and heaved.

Toronto joined us after a while. “My cleat kept wanting to come out of the pedal so I had to pedal just right,” he said, implying that but for the cleat issue things might have ended differently. Then he added, “Plus, I already rode hard and did some big climbs before we started.”

Junkyard trailed in, face and chest covered in sheet snot, eyes crossed, and strange sounds coming out of his mouth that sounded like English as it is spoken by wildebeests.

After a few moments we all agreed that it was a great course except that no one would ever want to do it. “Can you imagine the NPR crew showing up for this?” asked Junkyard.

“No,” I said. “I can’t.”

“And the whole thing was only 36 minutes,” he said. “Next week we’ll add two more laps. But the first lap will be neutral.”

We all looked at each other.

“Really,” said. “It will.”

END

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UCI blocks Armstrong participation in “Tots on Bikes” fundraiser

October 29, 2014 § 31 Comments

Brian Cookson, president of the UCI, announced today that disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong’s planned participation in the annual “Tots on Bikes” fundraiser would not be permitted. “It’s quite simple,” said Cookson. “He cannot ride.”

When reached at his Austin villa, Armstrong was surprised at the ruling. “I wasn’t planning on riding,” he said. “We stand behind our kids and help them balance on a bicycle. It’s a father-and-kid event, not a bike race.”

Cycling in the South Bay reached Mr. Cookson while on holiday in front of the Berlin Reichstag, and spoke with him about Armstrong.

CitSB: Why can’t Lance go to this kiddie event? It seems pretty innocuous.

Cookson: Armstrong has been banned for life, and under the terms of his ban, he cannot do anything that relates to cycling. Nothing. This includes seemingly harmless activities such as standing in the aisle at Wal-Mart and shopping for a bicycle, much less actually coming into contact with young cyclists.

CitSB: It’s a bit of a stretch to call 3-year-old children “cyclists,” don’t you think?

BC: Not at all. These children are the grass roots. Simply being around them will send the message that the UCI tolerates drug cheats.

CitSB: What about all of the other drug cheats who still play prominent roles in the UCI, not to mention the coaching and management of the sport?

BC: Those drug cheats are different. They simply cheated. We must never forget that Lance stole the precious dreams of children, and Betsy.

CitSB: But how can the UCI block his participation in a private charity fundraiser?

BC: It’s quite simple, actually. The Tots on Bikes program receives its event insurance through USA Cycling, and therefore all anti-doping restrictions apply.

CitSB: So there’s going to be drug testing as well?

BC: Of course. You never know when a particularly sneaky infant will transfuse a few blood bags in order to win the “Proper Pedaler” ribbon.

CitSB: Is this really a wise use of the UCI’s resources? Hasn’t Lance suffered enough?

BC: Oh, not at all. We’re currently working on an agreement with the state of Texas, where he currently lives, to sell insurance to the state for one or two of its outdoor events. We believe that this will give us complete jurisdiction to control everything that Mr. Armstrong does for the rest of his life, including when and where he’s allowed to, you know, …

CitSB: Shit?

BC: I didn’t know if I could say that sort of thing in this publication.

CitSB: Right.

BC: We must never forget that Lance stole all of those precious childhood dreams and Betsy. No punishment is severe enough, and we must remain eternally vigilant that he is not allowed to corrupt the morals of our youth again.

CitSB: Like the Iglinsky brothers, who just got caught doping on the watch of ol’ doper Vinokourov?

BC: Exactly. Never again.

CitSB: And Roman Kreuziger, and Jonathan Tiernan-Locke?

BC: Right-o. Never again after them.

CitSB: Do you ever see a time when the lifetime ban might be lifted.

BC: Oh, absolutely.

CitSB: When?

BC: After he’s dead. Possibly.

CitSB: Possibly? How can you continue to ban a dead person?

BC: It’s in the terms of the anti-doping agreement. We can prohibit his corpse from participating in any UCI-authorized event. But I do foresee a time, perhaps in ten thousand years or so, when the ban could be lifted, that’s assuming he comes clean with the Truth and Reconciliation and Dicking Off Committee.

CitSB: How can he come clean? He’ll be dead.

BC: I suppose he should have thought about that before stealing all of those precious childhood dreams.

CitSB: And Betsy.

BC: And Betsy.

END

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