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 love affair

March 20, 2014 § 9 Comments

Fields was all-knowing. “This is a stupid sport.”

MKA and Chris Hipp and others copied the tag line, but Fields invented it. There is nothing Fields didn’t know, or, put differently, if Fields didn’t know it, it wasn’t worth knowing. When he spat in the soup and headed off to Wisconsin to forsake his bike and become a lawyer, he provided a role model that few have had the nuts to emulate.

Cycling is a stupid sport. There is no money in it. Coda.

How she made me feel

You know the saying. “People may forget what you said, but they’ll never forget how you made them feel.”

I never lay in bed with Lesli Cohen, but she made me feel nonetheless. It was not erotic, except in a way, it was.

I had reached the umpteenth fine-toothed edit of my New York Times #1 Global Bestseller, “Cycling in the South Bay,” but something was missing. What was missing was someone once-removed to go over the manuscript who was in love with words, who fornicated with syntax, who stroked and massaged and erotically touched sentence structure until it was clean, pure, risen, the climactic pinnacle of what it could be.

What was missing was a real editor.

Lesli didn’t know me, biblically or otherwise, but she had generously shared my blog posts with her considerable readership. I turned to her and begged a favor. “Would you go over my manuscript and edit the hell out of it?” Then I added, “Of course I’ll pay you.”

Lesli refused payment and took the manuscript. What she did, no one else could have done. She loved on it.

How do you love on a manuscript? What is manuscript love? It is the embracing of each word, the deconstruction of each sentence, the application of the rules of spelling and grammar and structure and logic to every single word you’ve written. It can’t be done by an amateur with a handycam. It has to be done by a pro, someone profoundly versed in the erotica of the construction of language.

She “did” my manuscript, and when she was done, if there was anything there to sparkle, it shone brighter because of her. We smoked a cigarette together. Virtually, of course.

Ring down the curtain

Until yesterday Lesli edited Cyclismas.com, a cycling web site. Through a series of mistakes she wound up on the sticking end of a lawsuit. Through another series of mistakes that involved trusting the untrustworthy, and a final unfounded belief that there was something in the world of cycling that was truthful, she ended up investing in a big project that eventually failed. When the last splash of water swirled down the drain, she was left with nothing, and yesterday she sent out a note that the web site and her project were closing down.

Naturally, the draining litigation will continue, because of Newtown’s little known Fourth Law of Thermodynamics: The lawyers always get paid.

My thanks to Lesli aren’t enough, but they’re all I’ve got. Lesli, you are one of those rare people who I’d want above all others in my foxhole. You fought not simply the good fight, but the best fight. You made mistakes grounded in faith and trust and decency, and you sought to take the high crimes and misdemeanors of an errant pro peloton and turn them into something good for all of us. You did it with class and intellect and integrity.

I’ll miss your beautiful writing and your amorous affair with words, but I know that we’ll meet again. Paris, perhaps?


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Where the gains are made

March 19, 2014 § 21 Comments

One time Prez and I were racing through Pedro with Vapor on the old Donut Course. We’d sprinted away from the field and were barreling along Pacific Avenue doing everything we could to hold onto Rahsaan’s wheel. Things weren’t going well for us; it was like trying to keep up with motorcycle. Eventually Rahsaan kicked it hard, for real, and Prez and I dug so deeply we were scratching China.

Thankfully, we hit a red light. Prez looked at me, covered in slobber, eyes bugging out of his head, leg muscles so gorged with blood that he looked like a bodybuilder a minute before going onstage. “This level of pain,” he said “is where the gains are made.”

I’ve thought about that ever since, especially when the pain gets so intense that I pop and get shelled, making not so much gains as deficits. And I also wonder why pain in one venue is somehow endurable, but pain at the dentist isn’t. I can suffer on a bike — not MMX suffer, or Zink suffer, or Thurlow suffer, or Leibert suffer — but deep I can go. Unless it’s the dentist.

Extrusions of bone

“Big deal,” you’re thinking. “A post drilled down through your gum and into the fuggin’ bone of your jaw, or even a root canal can bring anyone to his knees.”

Except I’m not talking about posts and root canals. I’m not even talking about cavities. I’m talking about that most benign of dental operations, the dreaded bi-annual teeth cleaning.

“Bi-annual?” you say. “That’s fuggin’ disgusting! Your mouth must be nastier than a baboon’s ass!”

Indeed, my darling, it is. Nastier, for sure. But there’s a story behind it. You see, I have Davidson teeth. These are not the teeth of mortals. Pere Davidson, now in his 78th year, has never had a cavity. Grandpa N.F. Davidson (that’s “N” for “Nahum”) died in his 70′s without ever having had a cavity or lost a tooth. My brother Ian died with teeth that never felt a drill bit.

Davidson teeth are harder than the sentence of a hanging judge. They are impervious to sugar, fat, sugar, sludge, ice cream, abuse, never flossing, rarely brushing, bad diet, beer, sugar … they’re the only part of my body that has ever elicited the same reaction from health care professionals throughout my life: “Mr. Davidson, you have excellent teeth.”

Notice they never said “clean teeth,” or “pretty teeth,” or “well-aligned teeth.” No. Only “excellent,” as in “Any tooth that  could withstand these four pounds of plaque and abuse and mistreatment and still be this strong and cavity-free aren’t teeth, they are diamond-plated extrusions of bone.”

Every advantage comes with a price

For me, the price began in Galveston at age 6, when I went to the dentist. He pulled two of my teeth for no reason at all, and he did it without anesthetic. I howled and screamed bloody murder. It hurt like a motherfugger, and from that point on I was terrified of dental work. Simply walking into the dentist’s office made me break out in a sweat, and I never sweat.

My lifetime of dental pain was as nothing when I went to Japan and met Mrs. WM. Japanese people have the pain threshold of an ox, and she held me in pure contempt. “Why you askin’ onna pain drugs? Thatsa for little kids.”

“Because my teeth are covered in seven pounds of plaque and it hurts like hell when he scrapes my teeth.”

“I like onna teeth cleaning. Kimochii. Even onna cavity he never gives me a pain drugs because cheaper.”

“You get your teeth drilled without novocaine?” I asked, sweating at the mention of “drilling” and “novocaine.”

“That’s nothin’. Even when a Japanese girl push outta baby there’s no onna pain drugs. ‘Girl, you baby time is normal and you ain’t gettin’ no pain drugs because, cheaper. An’ Japanese girl just push out the baby like a watermelon. You ain’t talkin’ to no Japanese girl about a tooth cleaning pain drug. She’s gonna think you’re onna girlman.”

She was right. In Japan I was the wuss of all wusses. One time her dad had a root canal without any pain medication. “Just a tooth,” he said.

I think I fainted listening to the story.

The paradox of Dr. Hayashi

In L.A., my dentist is Dr. Hayashi, a Japanese dentist. He is the bomb. He is incredibly delicate and skilled and careful and pro, but even he has to bring out the heavy duty equipment with Mr. Davidson shows up lathered in sweat and teeth covered in plaque.

Today was hell.

“Hmm,” he said. “You have a pretty big build-up of calculus.”

“Yeah,” I thought. “I got more fuggin’ calculus on my teeth than on an AP exam.”

He gently stuck the metal scraper into my mouth. I clenched and released four pounds of sweat. The metal hook caught on a tartar outcropping as he yanked a big chunk of calcified scum off my tooth. It sounded like a calving iceberg. “Looks like we have some work to do today,” he said.

“We?” I asked. “If I have to do anything other than sweat and moan, there’s a problem.”

Pretty soon the scraping became so intense that he had to drop the steel chisel and pick up the electric whizzer thingy with the vacuum spit sucker. The sound alone hurt. The plaque drill might as well have been stuck into my eyes, that’s how intensely I reacted, with little urine puddles and sharts mottling the dentist’s chair.

“Nurse,” he said, planting his boot on my chest, rolling up his sleeves, and pulling on his thickest rubber surgical gloves, “hand me the #12 bit with the diamond tip. And be ready with the extra-coarse sandpaper.”

After a brief while his rubber gloves were covered in blood as my soft and sickly gums spewed gore. His welder’s goggles were covered with shards of razor-sharp tartar, more tartar than you’d find in Crimea. His cute assistant tried to suction up the blood and spit and chunks of plaque as my mouth spattered the room with bacteria and bodily fluids of the most contaminated sort. After fifteen minutes his hands looked like they’d been plunged into a chest cavity. My mouth spouted blood and spit, which drooled down into my matted mustache and beard. The pain was unbearable as I fought the suction thingy with my tongue and clamped down on the drill.

“Mr. Davidson,” he said. “You’ll need to open your mouth so I can reach the teeth.”

After forty-five minutes, which seemed like forty-five hours, he gave up, having dug out food items from last November, pieces of GU wrapper, slivers of gristle, and part of an old Life magazine from 1955. “That’s all we can do today. Why don’t you come back in three weeks after your gums have quit bleeding. You’ve still got plaque deposits that I can’t reach, as well as what look like pieces of bicycle inner tube, some fish bones, and a hard-to-reach clump of hair wedged down below the gum line. I’ll have to special order a hand-drill and some low-grade explosives, but we’ll get it next time for sure.”

Have you ever heard of having teeth so gnarly that they have to be cleaned in stages? I haven’t, but I was so glad to get out of the chair that I would have agreed if he’d suggested a follow-up visit that included a lobotomy with an icepick.

You’d think that with such a miserable experience I’d learn, and start flossing regularly, brushing after meals, and wearing a condom. But he said the magic words when I left, the words that guaranteed my box of dental floss from 1982 would remain in mint condition for another year or two. “Mr. Davidson, you have excellent teeth.”


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Digital detox

March 18, 2014 § 27 Comments

I can name what I was missing in the days that I was plugged in through every orifice to the personalized, customized, hand-tailored social media apps that have taken over the World Wide Web.

What I was missing is this: “Major” by Todd Balf, “The Chronology of Water” by Lydia Yuknavitch, “The Master and Margarita” by Mikhail Bulgakov, “On the Road” by Jack Kerouac, “Blood Medicine” by Kathleen Sharp, “Isaac’s Storm” by Erik Larson, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” by Ken Kesey, “Cry, the Beloved Country” and “Too Late the Phalarope” by Alan Paton, “The Anti-Abortion Movemement and the Rise of the Religious Right” by Dallas Blanchard, “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” by Hunter S. Thompson, and “The Oedipus Plays of Sophocles — Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Colonus, and Antigone,” translated by Paul Roche.

Instead of tweeting my meaningless opinions about guns and Republicans and death and taxes, instead of facebagging each of my wife’s latest oven creations, instead of slapping up new profile details on LinkedIn, and most time-devouringly of all, instead of tracking every single turn of the screw on Strava, I’ve pulled the needle out of my vein and been killing time the old-fashioned way, with books and bikes.

Don’t get me wrong. I still lurk for an hour a day on Facebag; no one kicks a habit that monstrous in a month or two. And I still suit up and blog. But hours and hours and hours out of my day have suddenly been freed, in no small part because every single social media app (can I call it S&M?) has been deleted. Gonna have some down time today, Mr. Davidson? Better bring a book …

Now for the down side

The sad fact is that the less I Strava, the less I ride. Something about being strapped to that particular digital bull means more saddle time. Call it peer pressure, or the self-reinforcing nature of surrounding yourself with similarly minded addicts, or the S&M (that’s “social and media,” right?) pleasure of watching trinkets and trophies and numbers and statistics multiply, Strava converts desire to pedal strokes.

In the same way that counting calories helps you keep tabs on your weight, counting bike data helps you stay mounted. When you know you rode seven out of seven days for 23 hours and 350 miles last week, it’s really easy to make sure that you plug in an extra lap or loop or trip up the strand to make sure you match the previous week’s productivity.

Don’t lie to me. I know I’m not the only one.

Of course the questions bubbling around the edge are these: Was it really all that productive? Why does bicycling have to be productive? Isn’t productivity a work term? And don’t we bicycle to get away from the strictures of the workplace?

How it used to be

Before we were plugged in, bicycling wasn’t as fast as it is now. Hack riders are faster. Weekend warriors collect scalps. And the really fast riders? They are superhuman, and no, I don’t chalk it up the old whine that “everybody’s doping.” They aren’t.

What people are doing is using social media like Strava to harness the incredible power of data generated by HR monitors, power meters, and cyclocomputers. Riders who train without data are in the distinct minority, and even they are plugged into friendship networks like Facebag that provide amazing amounts of information about how to ride faster, how to train and race better, what to eat, and what equipment works best. Throw in the detailed nature of ride routes where you can tailor your workout to incredibly specific road and trail parameters, and you have a perfect storm surge of cycling data that relentlessly pushes almost everyone higher.

The beneficiaries of this data sharing in terms of speed and fitness aren’t just racers or elite riders. They’re the everyday person too, who’s a commuter or a tourist or a rider who likes to pedal with his friends in between bar stops.

A complete fred at the Starbucks in Hermosa on Sunday gave me a long lecture about how to use Strava from my iPhone. He was kitted up; I was wearing shorts and a tee. Ten years ago this guy and his wife wouldn’t have even owned bikes. On Sunday they confidently lectured me about how I could use my iPhone to be a better cyclist.

What happens when you pull the plug

My first response to my digital detox was a kind of frantic insecurity. “What’s going on out there?” The second phase was an attempt to revert to my oldest habit, reading, in an attempt to fill the vast void of newly available time, but it was terribly hard because I couldn’t concentrate for more than a few minutes. You can’t click “like” on paperbacks. Even as my concentration has slowly returned, I’ve likewise gotten used to rides that under the iron law of “Strava or it didn’t happen,” well, I suppose they didn’t happen.

Absent all that data and all those interactions on Strava and elsewhere there’s nothing to reflect on after I lean the bike against the wall except the internal reflection and what I can remember of the ride. There’s no leaderboard or virtual contest with people I’ve never met, or worse, people I’ve met but never ridden with yet who are my “competition” on Strava. All I’m left with at the end of the ride is, like reading a book, what happened during the ride or the read. That is, what happened on the battleground of the tiny strip of real estate between my ears.

And for me, that’s enough.


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Old School

Old School

A funeral dirge

March 17, 2014 § 29 Comments

There is still more than a month left before you line up for the the third SPY Belgian Waffle Ride. But it might as well be tomorrow.

You see, training and preparation aren’t going to help you this time around. If you were paying attention, the 2013 version was the most challenging one-day event on the calendar. It dragged us over unpaved roads, 120 miles of relentless riding, and 9,000 feet of elevation. The ride was so awful that people milled around in the parking lot afterwards trying to smile, and failing. There wasn’t enough strength left to raise the muscles around the corners of their mouths.

I’m exaggerating, of course. A handful of riders were tired but happy at the end. They were either genetic freaks who have nothing in common with you and me, or they were clever people who kept a steady pace from start to finish, refusing to get suckered into the accelerations of faster groups.

Everyone else was vulture meat.

How bad, was it, really? I was so devastated that I fell off the 3-year teetotaling wagon and have been drinking incessantly ever since. Only recently have the bad memories faded, but not really.

The 2013 BWR, however, was a cakewalk

The 2014 route map has been mostly finalized, and it is senseless in its difficulty. The ride is longer. Instead of a leg-snapping 120 miles, the total distance is 136. The ride is hillier. Instead of 9k feet, it is now 11k. Worst of all, instead of 10 miles of unpaved road, this year offers up more than 30 miles of sand, dirt, rocks, and gravel. That’s bad enough, as in “He put out his own eyes with a fork is bad enough.” But the thing that makes it worse is that much of the off-road portion is uphill. And then, of course, downhill.

Any one or any two of these elements could be properly trained for if, say, you were a full-time professional cyclist in your 20′s or 30′s. But all three elements together — distance, elevation, and road surface — mean that there is no realistic way to be ready for it. It will grind you up and leave you forlorn and mostly lost somewhere in North County San Diego on a fiery hot day in the middle of our first official Globally Warmed Spring.

None of this hell and misery takes into account the high likelihood of a mechanical, or two, or seven, or flats, or ripped out sidewalls or destroyed rims or cracked frames or shattered forks. In other words, if your equipment is right, it will be so heavy and sturdy that you will almost certainly never be able to get up the climbs towards the end of the course. If your equipment is wrong, you’ll DNF somewhere in the hinterlands, eyed by hungry pumas and by buzzards who circle overhead. Once you’ve collapsed at the roadside rest assured that the survivors will part out your bike and empty your pockets for extra food.

What’s a poor registrant to do who’s already paid his entry fees?

Below are my suggestions for surviving this miserable beatdown of a day, a day in which you will go through the spectrum of human emotions, from anger to rage to resignation to exhaustion to depression to fear of impending death to not caring anymore to beer. The happy end of the emotional spectrum will not manifest until months after the event, if ever. So:

  1. Do not pedal hard during the first 120 miles. That’s right. If you squander so much as a pedal stroke early on, thinking you can hang with the Bordines, the Rogerses, the Shirleys, the Cobleys, and the Dahls, you will come apart at Mile 60 or earlier. Trust me. I’ve done it.
  2. Do not be suckered in by the tasty waffle breakfast. Have your normal big ride pre-dinner and your normal big ride breakfast, whatever that is. Last year I ate 17 waffles and a pound of eggs and washed it down with a quart of coffee and paid the price beginning at Mile 5. That price was destruction.
  3. Avoid the rest stops unless you need water. If your nutritional plan is to fuel up on the Barbie food that will be available by the fistful, you’ll never make it. Carefully pack substantial, real food, like peanut butter sandwiches or a large t-bone steak.
  4. If you stop for water, get back on your bike immediately. Every minute you stop equals fifteen minutes of pedaling to exorcise the coagulated death sludge that will immediately clog your vascular system. If you’re not moving forward, you’re rocketing backwards.
  5. Carry three spare tubes and a mini-pump. Share your tubes with no one. This is not the day to help out people who are unprepared, or who showed up with threadbare tires, or who were too cheap to bring an extra tube, or who are riding on paper thin race tires and latex tubes, or who are simply unlucky. This is their day to die. So it is written.
  6. If you’re not on ‘cross or MTB tires (either of which is a suicidal choice, by the way), run 25-mm heavy-duty training tires. Run new ones, but make sure they have a hundred miles or so on them.
  7. Inflate your tires to 80 or 90 psi, max. The course will be covered with sharp stones, thorns, rough gravel, roots, glass, and dead people. The lower psi will greatly reduce the number of punctures as you roll over the teeth and bones of the dead and will add immeasurably to your comfort over the course of this 10- or 12- or 14-hour day.
  8. Go all-out with your gearing. 50 teeth max in front, 28 in back … 30 if you can make it work with your derailleur. When you hit the slopes of Double Peak and can crank it into your 36 x 30, you will love me and buy me free beer for the rest of the year. If you cheap out or lazy out and show up with real road gearing you’ll founder and die somewhere in the sandpits of backroad North County, never to be seen again.
  9. Do not have a single article of clothing or piece of equipment that you haven’t thoroughly tested and ridden in adverse conditions. This is not the day to try anything new, even that cute chick or guy you picked up at Green Flash Brewery the night before. Sample them later, after you’re dead.
  10. Ride with full-fingered gloves and a shit-ton of sunblock. The sun will drain and waste and sap your vital juices, so cover whatever you can stand as long as you don’t overheat.
  11. Max out your uninsured motorist coverage. In the unlikely event you are injured or killed on the course by a car, this will provide you with an avenue for compensation that you or your heirs will badly need.
  12. Make sure you’ve got at least one 120-mile day on your legs before the Big Day, but don’t bother trying to recon the whole route or to simulate it. You can’t, and the attempt will only destroy your will to live. Treat it like the invasion of Normandy. Prep the best you can, but leave the actual catastrophe to the day itself.
  13. Spend the night in Carlsbad or somewhere close to the start. That way we can all go pound IPA’s until the wee hours. Really. Because whether you show up with a bleeding hangover or fresh and rested, the end result will be the same.


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Top pro surprised that time on front doesn’t lead to win at Tirenno-Adriatico

March 16, 2014 § 21 Comments

Richie Porte, the leader for Team Sky at Tirenno-Adriatico, expressed surprise today that his race tactics did not result in a stage win atop the climb to Selvarotonda. “I was on the front for most of the climb,” said Porte, in disbelief. “I was killing those guys.”

Alberto Contador, winner of the day’s stage, couldn’t explain the result either. “You know, Richie was up there on the front of the group, just drilling it really hard into a huge headwind up a very long and challenging climb. It’s hard to understand how he didn’t win.” Contador was seen shortly after the interview high-fiving his teammates on the bus and grinning slyly at his team director.

Overall leader Michal Kwiatkowski, who finished the stage with what analysts believe is an unsurmountable 34-second lead over Porte, was also at a loss to explain the outcome. “Richie was favored to win the race, and on the decisive climbing stage we were all sure he would win, the way he sat very impressively on the front for such a long time into such a bitter headwind with no teammates to help him and all of us in the leader’s group on his wheel like that. But somehow he lost.”

Second-place finisher Nairo Quintana was likewise mystified by Porte’s failure to win the stage and take control of the race despite his clever tactical riding. “We were all telling him, you know, ‘Wow, Richie, you’re killing us, dude,’ and ‘I’m cracking, I can barely hang on,’ and stuff like that, but then somehow just towards the end we all felt better and were able to pass him and put a lot of time on him. It’s weird. He was riding so strong and we were all so, how you say, in the box of hurt?”

Porte concurred with Quintana’s analysis. “It’s fuggin’ weird. Every time I looked back they had these faces that were filled with pain, awful grimaces, you know? And their shoulders were drooping and they were making loud breathing noises. I had ‘em, I had ‘em, I swear. Then, poof! We get about one kilometer out and suddenly everybody takes off and there I was, even though I’d done all the work, I couldn’t go with them. After pulling them up the climb like that you would have thought that they would at least have waited for me,” Porte added with a slight show of frustration. “It’s almost like they were playing me. If we weren’t all such good pals, I don’t know.”

Teammate Bradley “Wiggo” Wiggins was nonetheless upbeat at Porte’s chances on Sunday’s last mountain stage. “He’ll just have to hammer from the gun,” said Wiggo. “Tire ‘em out from the start, maybe take a little breather if he can, and then go right back to the front and drop the hammer on the climb. Ride ‘em off ‘is wheel. That’s the ticket, just like it was a triathlon, full fuggin’ gas from the get-go. They won’t know what hit ‘em, especially at the end when they hit the Muro di Guardiagrele with its 30% ramp.”

After the award ceremony, the top finishers congratulated Porte on his outstanding ride, saying “You were a beast,” and “I hope you don’t hammer us like that tomorrow. We won’t stand a chance!”


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What are you riding from?

March 15, 2014 § 27 Comments

My father rode a bicycle. It was a big, black Hercules with a Sturmey-Archer 3-speed hub and white handlebar grips. My father’s bicycle was a tool. He rode it to work.

Many years later, I rode a silver-with-brown-highlights Nishiki International. It had twelve speeds, Sugino cranks, Suntour shifters, and Dia-Compe brakes. I rode that bike away from the pain.

My mother rode away from my father and our family in 1979. Mom and Dad took us out to dinner, a very nice Italian place, though we never went to nice anythings. Our royal parents were strangely friendly and solicitous. No one told me to stop smacking or to quit clacking my teeth on the fork. The food tasted so good. I still remember the spaghetti and the crunchy bread with small shards of garlic toasted down the middle.

After dinner we went home and my parents seated my brother and me on the olive velour couch. I scratched Fletcher’s head while he happily thumped his tail on the floor. “We’re getting a divorce,” they said.

The spaghetti didn’t taste so good any more. My brother silently went upstairs and tried to fling himself out of the upstairs bedroom window. I still remember with clarity the panic in my father’s eyes as he gripped my brother’s leg at the last second, the last possible second.

It was organic how profoundly my mother hated her marriage, though her husband was a good man and simply insufficient. What was sufficient? Only a woman knows.

In truth, it wasn’t him she hated. How could she? She hated her father and every man cast in his image, which is to say on some level, all men.

I rode as hard as I could to escape the melee, never escaping it completely, but typically managing to stay a few bike lengths ahead, except, of course, for those times that it overtook me as if I were getting swarmed by a thousand-man field sprint. I learned to pedal like hell, miss the biggest pile-ups, then pedal some more. Or perhaps it was more like going over the falls at Teahupo’o. Hold your breath until you were ready to explode, then pop to the surface with milliseconds to spare. The price of not breathing deeply enough was drowning. In my brother’s case, it was drowning by a gunshot wound to the heart. That was on Father’s Day 2012, just yesterday.

I rode as hard as I could, switching bikes to take advantage of lighter weight, and eventually went all in for modern speed boosters like handlebar shifters and carbon components. The more I rode, the more I saw other people riding hard too, staying a wheel or so ahead of their own private monster. Cycling, the crazy kind, is that way. Everyone seems to be riding from something.

During the ride I had a daughter and two sons. You think that the necrosis of a broken family heals itself over time? You are wrong.

But still I rode and watched the riders around me, the ones who continued decade in and decade out, not the dilettantes or the ones who tried bicycling and then moved on to pilates or surfing or golf or sailing or spin class, rather, the ones who didn’t so much as persevere as they endured. It is, we were told, an endurance sport after all.

After three grueling years, my eldest son breached the surface, sucked in a lungful of air, and told us that he would graduate a year early. I relaxed on the pedals and celebrated in spirit. He was my son. He had never been forced to ride away from us. “How should I arrange all the graduation events and stuff with, you know, the grandparents?” he asked, and I could hear his knotted brow over the phone line.

So I said to him, “Their battle is not your battle. This day of celebration is for you.”

He didn’t say anything. He didn’t have to.

And in one way at least, my riding days are done.


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