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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Stop

December 17, 2013 § 13 Comments

Sometimes the things he says take a bit of decoding, and sometimes the things he says leave you scratching your head, but sometimes my pal G$ will let a pearl of wisdom drop that is practically Buddha-like in its wisdom. So you gotta be on your toes and you gotta be patient, sometimes extra, extra patient, because when one of those nuggets plops down if you’re fiddling with your Garmin or yapping about your last indoor training session, you’re gonna miss it.

We were coming back from a sedate little pedal up Mandeville Canyon, and we had hit a traffic light, I think it was on San Vicente. When it comes to traffic signals I am like a Republican mom who’s got a double tall chai mocha soy latte in one hand, an outgoing text message on her iPhone in the other, three squalling kids in the back seat, all while running five minutes late for li’l Becky’s ballet lesson.

In other words, my preferred mode of travel when riding alone is to blow through anything that doesn’t have a cop or oncoming traffic. Red lights are suggestions, and stop signs are bad ideas that won’t be adopted in this draft of the presentation.

As I’ve gotten older and more concerned about the opinions and terror of others, though, I pretty much stop at red lights when I’m with a group, and I’ll even slow way down for a stop sign. It freaks people out too much otherwise.

So we came to that ol’ stop light and put our feet down. G$ looked over at me and grinned. He’d been talking about pole vaulters and how they were put together different from other track and field elite athletes, especially when it came to beer and curfews and careful dieting — that is, pole vaulters apparently didn’t believe in either. I was concentrating as hard as I could, trying to remember what pole vaulters did, and trying to follow the details of the bus ride back in 1983 from Kansas down to El Paso in which the pole vaulters had caught a skunk and fed it beer and then let it loose in the opposing team’s locker room.

I was trying might and main to wrap my brain around how you “caught a skunk,” much less “fed it beer,” into a reality framework, and it wasn’t happening, when G$ let drop a nugget. “You know,” he said, apropos of nothing, which is his finest contextual context when it comes to nuggets. “Stopping is good.” Of course, we were stopped.

My brain ground to a halt. He might as well have said “Wife beating is good,” or “Heroin injected through the tip of your penis is good,” or “Bat sandwiches are good.”

Stopping? Good?

“Dude!” my brain screamed, but didn’t say. “Stopping is TERRIBLE! Stopping is the OPPOSITE OF WHAT WE DO! Stopping is to biking what books are to Kanye West!” But instead I just looked at him kind of mutton-headed and said, “Huh?”

“Yeah,” he said. “I used to want to go all the time. But now? Stopping is good. Every time I stop it’s like, you know, good.”

“How’s that?”

“Aw, you know. It just feels good.”

We waited for the light to change while he picked up the story where the skunk and the other team’s star miler found one another, but I had tuned out because I was focusing on my leg, the one that was anchored to the ground and not pedaling my bike. Then I focused on my other leg, which was also not pedaling my bike. All of the pedaling juice that had backed up inside my veins from the trip up Mandeville ebbed away as we stood there doing nothing.

My heartbeat tailed off. Everything relaxed. I looked to the left and smiled at the Brentwood mom and her double latte.

The light turned green and off we went. At the next stop light it happened again; we stopped and it was good. It wasn’t an annoyance or an obstruction or a deliberate plan by the auto-industrial-military-Republican-anti-Obamacare-complex to force me to carry a gun, it was … good. Stopping was so good in fact that, once I’d left the group and couldn’t be observed by anyone who knew me, I stopped for a stop sign.

Then I began to ponder the Oracle of the South Bay and the deeper meaning of his utterance. “Stopping is good.”

What if it wasn’t just about cycling?

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