October 13, 2014 § 19 Comments
Starting in September, people begin riding up to me and asking, “Are you doing ‘cross this year?”
“Yes,” I say. Then they kind of snicker and pedal off.
This year I delayed entering my first race until yesterday, reasoning that it would give me a bit of a breather and a chance to rest my legs and stomach after a road season in which I raced twice and drank hundreds of gallons of fermented electrolyte recovery drink. Also, prior to my season opener at the SPYclocross Series, I had hired a couple of coaches so that I could improve on my string of last place finishes from 2013.
My first coach, Rahsaan Bahati, gave me some excellent tactical advice: “Don’t be last.”
My second coach, Dan Cobley, gave me winning advice about the course: “Be sure to ride a race in between the beers.”
But the best advice came from my performance coach, Daniel Holloway. “Dude,” he said, “day before the race be sure to open up your legs.”
“What’s that?” I asked.
“Do enough brief intensity to stress the muscles, but don’t kill yourself.”
“I was thinking about pedaling down the bike path with Boozy on Saturday to stay fresh.”
“Bad idea,” said coach. “Rides with Boozy always end at the bottom of a ravine or on a bar stool, often both. Do the Donut instead.”
“The Donut? I always wreck myself on that stupid ride.”
“Exactly. This time, for the first time ever, sit in the pack and chill.”
“What if there’s a break?”
“Who cares? Let it roll up the road. Give it one hard effort, maybe two, on the Switchbacks then call it a day. You’re just trying to open up your legs so that they’re primed for Sunday.”
“What if Brad House is ahead of me?”
“He’s the bulbous guy with flappy elbows and orange cat-fur earmuffs.”
“Okay. You can pass him. But that shouldn’t take much effort, right?
“Got it. Then what?”
“Then make sure that you get in a one-hour warm-up before your race starts. You’ll fly.”
The following day the race started as all 45+ ‘cross races do. It was a mad gallop of insane old people trying to kill themselves and each other in a cloud of dust, dirt, gravel, and grass clippings. The course had been laid out to take maximum advantage of the giant gopher holes, tree roots, and other obstacles.
Incredibly, I did not get dropped by the main field until the first five hundred yards, proving that Coach Holloway’s leg-opening exercise really did work. More incredibly, there were at least three riders behind me, something that has never happened in any race before; two of them were on bicycles.
The course included a couple of baseball diamonds, and I couldn’t pass up the chance to try and pick up a couple of points with my baseball bike as I rounded third and slid into home plate ahead of the tag, a chubby fellow covered with hair who was falling off his bicycle onto mine. Somehow I beat the tag, jumped up, and continued on.
When people ask me “What’s ‘cross like?” I ask them “Have you ever been in a car accident where the next day every joint and muscle and bone aches and your back is bent double and you can’t get out of bed? That’s how ‘cross feels after the first five minutes, only it gets lots worse.”
Soon I had fallen into a rhythm, as my leg muscles had opened up from the day before and my leg skin had opened up by the slide into home plate. As blood fell out of the wound I came to the first set of barricades just in time for my teammates, who were manning the SPY Optic booth, to provide me with copious quantities of fermented electrolyte replacement drink, without which I would certainly have come to my senses and quit.
Of course the key to riding well in cyclocross is to “not use your brakes.” This is one of those insane pieces of advice that only a fool would follow, akin to the MTB mantra of “speed is your friend.” No matter how hard I tried to not use my brakes, they were often the only thing standing between my face and various tree trunks, or my abdomen and the sharp steel poles on which the course markings were taped. And speed might have been my friend had I had any.
This race followed the typical ‘cross life cycle: Huge rush of adrenaline followed by massive effort followed by incredulity at not getting immediately dropped followed by getting dropped followed by falling off my bike followed by narrowly missing several trees followed by getting passed by Mr. Chubs followed by hearing the depressing sound of “four laps to go” when one lap hurts more than having a wooden stick bored into your ear followed by hopelessness followed by anger followed by despair followed by a small prayer that the previous race will lap you and terminate the race early.
However, just as things were looking pretty bleak and it seemed like all but three riders were going to finish ahead of me, I blazed across the finish line and dove straight under the team tent. As the other “finishers” chatted about the race I sprinted ahead of them in the second, most technical and challenging part of the race: The beer competition. One by one they dropped to the side, with various Bakersfield pretenders falling out of their beanbag chairs and others wandering off onto a horse path to get trampled.
I poured it on into the beer turns, sprinting up the short and dusty beer climbs, dismounting and leaping over the beer barricades, and finally lapping the beer field. Thank goodness I’d taken Coach Holloway’s advice and in addition to opening up my legs, had opened up my gut as well.
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October 9, 2014 § 21 Comments
When Manslaughter, Surfer, Pablo, and Boozy showed up for this morning’s Wednesday Waffle ride, we didn’t immediately notice the wanker sitting off to the side in his anonymous blue-and-black kit. As we pedaled off I saw him roll out with us.
“Daniel!” I said as I recognized him. “You coming with us?”
“Sure,” he said with a grin.
It’s not often that the best bike racer in America shows up for a mid-week flailfest designed primarily to see how much abuse a road bike can take in an MTB environment before the bike fails, the rider falls, or both. That’s “not often” as in “never.” But Daniel Holloway isn’t like other champions.
As we rode along the deadliest, most technical part of the ride — a pan-flat bike path with one flat right-turn into a parking lot — Surfer took the opportunity to show us some skilz, which involved him falling on his butt, scraping his elbow, bending his derailleur, and creating a location on the bike path that will henceforth be known forever as Cobley’s Corner.
Holloway was immediately behind him, and I couldn’t believe that he hadn’t also fallen down and run over Surfer’s aorta. “How’d you keep from running over his aorta?” I asked.
Holloway looked at me funny and said, “As we approached the turn I was looking at his front hub and it was going at a funny angle and then I realized that he was going sort of fast, and even though you couldn’t see any sand in the turn we were on the bike path, and the bike path is surrounded on both sides by beach sand, so I just eased up a bit so that when he started to fall I was able to go straight and not hit …”
“His aorta?” I asked.
“Um, yeah, sure,” said Holloway. “His aorta.” He looked over at Boozy and Manslaughter but they gave him that look that says “Don’t worry he always talks like that just ignore it and it will go away.”
Since Surfer, who’s pretty good at not falling off his bike and has great off road skills, had fallen off his bike in a corner that most four-year-olds could negotiate blind, the pressure was off for the rest of the day for the rest of us. Now we could fall off our bikes with abandon and not feel too badly about it.
I first met Holloway late last year when he was in SoCal getting in some work at the Carson velodrome before shipping out for the Euro 6-day season. He had shown up on the NPR wearing a Mike’s Bikes kit that was unusual except for the red-white-blue stripes sewn onto his sleeve.
“Who’s that wanker?” I wondered, along with, “wonder where on eBay he found those stripes and I wonder if I could buy a set for myself, too?”
It turns out that “that wanker” was the fastest guy in America, which is fine and all that. But what was unusual, aside from the fact that he kept showing up to ride with the flea-bitten common herd was the fact that after the rides he’d pedal over to CotKU and hang out. It was Phil Tinstman-esque … a guy who’s head and shoulders above everyone else but is humble, fun, and down to earth.
Whoever Mike’s Bikes was, they had a guy who was making them look more than good. He wasn’t simply going above and beyond for the team that was paying his salary, he seemed to enjoy it. After meeting him I went home and bought twelve Mike’s Bikes jerseys, a Mike’s Bike multitool, four gallons of Mike’s Bikes chain and sex lube, and a gross of Mike’s Bikes spare tires. I was stoked.
In the times since we met that he’s ridden with us hackers, it has amazed me how he listens patiently to the sorry, delusional ramblings of 50-plus wankers and their pathetic pleas for coaching help. “So, Daniel, how can I get to the next level?”
“Which level is that?”
“You know, I want to go like Wiggins in a TT.”
Instead of saying “Consider purchasing a motorcycle,” he shares what he knows in amazing detail, and it doesn’t take long to figure out that he’s a hard-core advocate of clean cycling.
He’s also up for a crazy good time, as today’s ride showed. When we caught up to Manslaughter atop Sullivan Ridge, he was standing in front of a narrow chute that plunged off the side of the mountain to a place that resembled Horrible Injury, or maybe it was Certain Death. “Wanna try this little single track?” Manslaughter asked. “It’s called Joe Jr. Drop.”
“Where does it go?” I asked.
“Down to the old Nazi camp.”
“Sure,” I said. “Leaping off an unpaved cliff on a road bike into a Nazi camp. What could possibly go right?”
As I launched off the edge Manslaughter said, “Yo, Wanky. You might want to close the … “
I didn’t hear him, but soon figured out that he meant the little thingy on the side of the rear brake, which I always keep wide open and which now, on a steep, sandy, twisting trail wasn’t really slowing me down. At all. Fortunately, on MTB trails there are lots of things besides brakes to slow you down, and the one that worked quickest and most effectively for me was a big tree.
I fell off my bike, got up, and then braked again with a patented maneuver called, “I’m very afraid right now of falling so I’ll just fall down right here even though it’s straight and obstacle-free to get it over with.”
Also, who knew that road bikes didn’t work well on sandy, steep single track? Just before we reached the bottom, Manslaughter yelled back at us. “Hey, you’re almost done. But watch the last turn, it’s technical.”
Holloway, who was in front of me, took note of the danger, then fell off his bike and skidded down the last few feet on his shoulder, with his handlebar stabbing painfully into his knee. We sat on a rock wall and watched him take stock, pleased at having ruined the lucrative Euro 6-day season of America’s top rider without having done hardly any injury to ourselves. Apparently, though, he was going to live, although a giant, 4-inch, purple bruise-welt-charley-horse on his knee was growing larger by the second.
“If we call Life Flight,” I said, “you’ll at least set the KOM going back up.”
We rode through the old Nazi camp and over a trail filled with giant shards of razor shale, then climbed a twisty, steep wall back up to Sullivan Ridge, then rode to the ICBM site, then continued down the dirt trail until it dumped out at Mandeville. When we returned to Manhattan Beach we parked at Brewco and fought the recession with several well-timed beer purchases and plates of nachos.
Through it all, Holloway was good-natured, and didn’t seem bothered that we had ruined his career by taking him down a path that no sane person would have done on a road bike. He was a professional, friendly guy who exuded friendliness and goodwill.
Now that is a champion.
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May 14, 2014 § 8 Comments
The big weekend has come and gone. Three days of racing, big prizes, bigger wind, and top shelf competition have left their mark on the SoCal racing season. In many ways, it’s been a great mark. In others, not so much.
- SCNCA sucks. Why the fuck was this race on Mother’s Day weekend? Answer: because the best dates were “taken.” Mike Hecker puts his heart, soul, tree stumps, and the kitchen sink into this race series. This is precisely the kind of grass roots development that has the potential to build the grass roots. Better, he does it out in bumfuck nowheresville, one of the windiest damned places in California. This race is the only legitimate hardman crit in Southern California; to win it — hell, to finish it — you’d better be made of some stern stuff. It’s a premier race with premier prizes serving a premier purpose and attracting premier talent. SCNCA should be licking the sweat off of Hecker’s balls to get him to do this race. Instead they offer up the one weekend that, if you attend, will result in 51 weeks of Doghouse Hell because you spent Mother’s Day RACING YER FUGGIN BIKE.
- Daniel Holloway is a bike racers’ bike racer. Sleeps on couches. Tells funny stories. Congratulates the (few) people who beat him. Listens to Wankmeister’s tales of 50+ crit podiums. Whacks the snot out of all comers at the 805 Crit Series, Athens Twilight Criterium, and every other race you line him up at. We saw him take the Friday night event by the testicles, give them a squeeze, then fly down the lane to win with the same élan he showed at Dana Point et al. On Saturday he missed the break, but no problem. Sunday he made up for it by a tour de force win against Kyle and Brandon Gritters, shelling Kyle from the three-up break on the last lap, riding tempo all the way to the final turn, then leaving Brandon as if he’d been tied to a stump. And Gritters Bros. are badasses with an extra helping of whupass sauce.
- Monster Media is the master of disaster. I raced (sort of) the 35+ masters events and couldn’t believe how thoroughly they obliterated the competition. Meatballs DeMarchi finished the first day in second place overall and the team played its cards on Sat/Sun in such a way as to earn overall victory. Their cards were “hammer” and “crush.” The Monster MO was to send off Michael Johnson in a break with Kayle Leogrande and Rudy Napolitano that was so hard, so fast, and so nasty that anyone who chased would be assured of either leaving a liver on the pavement or a DNF. At the end of the day, Kayle had the win and MJ finished first among the omnium participants. This meant that Day 3, Sunday, would be a fight to get MJ or Chris DeMarchi to the line ahead of SPY-Giant-RIDE p/b MRI’s leader, John Abate. The Monster train started that Sunday race, which took place in a 25mph howling crosswind, so fast and so hard that of the 40 some-odd starters only 22 finished. Taking turns at the front to whittle down and crush the field, the teamwork of MJ, DeMarchi, Gary Douville, Scott Cochran, Shane Lawlor, and Bart Clifford absolutely demolished the wankers sitting at the back hoping to ride their coattails to the finish. The remaining corpses who survived the Monster Media a-bomb had nothing in their legs to either attack off the front or contest the sprint. Consummate riding by Surf City and their star sprinter-turned-leadout-man Charon Smith put Kayle Leogrande across the line again first, but since Kayle had missed the Friday race due to traffic he wasn’t in contention for the omnium. Note: Most terrifying item of the Monster Media mop-up is that their best racer, Phil Tinstman, wasn’t even there.
- This is how bike racing should always be. The events were well attended, the money was good, the courses were over-the-top challenging, there was a beer garden, the announcers were fantastic, everyone was in a great mood, and the cities of Lompoc and Buellton got to showcase their best side to a large contingent of out-of-towners. There were multiple levels of competition. You could race for the day or you could race for the series or you could drink Firestone beer and lie in the gutter for three days. I hope that next year the series is held on a better weekend, and that even more riders make the trip to experience such an intense and fun weekend of bike racing.
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