Honor, family, and the will to win

February 11, 2014 § 16 Comments

Some people climb the top step and the first thing they do is forget the people who helped them get there. For others, a sense of thanks is the thing they carry on their shoulders as long as they live.

When Rahsaan Bahati toed the line this Sunday at the Roger Millikan crit in Brea, he was looking forward to the throwdown. He was looking forward to it because Roger Millikan, an icon in SoCal cycling who affected the careers of countless cyclists before his early death due to cancer, was one of the first people at the velodrome who encouraged Rahsaan, a kid from the ‘hood who was destined to be one of the fastest racers in the American history of the sport.

Roger took Rahsaan under his wing even though his own son Chad was the best junior around, and even though everyone knew that if you wanted to win a junior race you had to beat Chad. Roger didn’t care that Rahsaan was gunning for his son, to the contrary, he accepted and embraced it as the apotheosis of sport. Rahsaan thought about all those things as he lined up with ninety other racers on a .6-mile course that would test the nerves, legs, and agility of every single racer who survived, from the fastest to the guy who crossed the line last.

As the pack rolled out, Rahsaan kept reminding himself not to miss the winning move, even though he doubted that anyone would be able to pull away from such a large, strong field on such a short, relatively unchallenging course.  Staying attentive and watching the legs of his opponents was key, and he stayed in the front the first 15-20 minutes to see who was on fire and who riding with sand in their legs.

By the first ten laps it was clear. They were flying at 29 mph and A-Ray, David Santos, Michael Johnson, Tyler Locke, and a handful of others were clearly on form. They attacked, followed moves, responded to counterattacks, and showed that all pistons were firing. Still, the safe money said that the course would work to bring back even the strongest riders if they made a solo effort.

There were a couple of times when Rahsaan found himself far out of position, forty guys back and coming out of Turn 4 when a good move looked like it was coalescing all the way up in Turn 1, but nothing stuck. The pain and the speed and the jockeying for position were relentless. At times like this Rahsaan’s teammates in the race,  Steven Salazar, Justin Savord, Christian Cognini, Bret Hoffer, and Arturo Anyna made their presence known by surveying the front, following moves, and motivating the field to follow.

In addition to a race victory that would pay homage to his mentor and friend Roger Millikan, Rahsaan’s family had packed the edges of the racecourse. With his wife, kids, nieces, and nephews all standing by and cheering him on, the pressure was high, especially since he’d placed fifth in two consecutive races and knew that his form was good enough to win.

Rahsaan also knew that the finish would be a battle of speed between him, Justin Williams, and Corey Williams. Between them these three rockets were marked in every single speed contest, and on a day like today when the course was tight, hectic, physical, and sure to end in a full-bore blast for the line, Rahsaan had no doubt that these two were his nemeses. As far as strategy went, it was simple: When the KHS p/b Maxxis guys went, Rahsaan had to be in their leadout train because they were the ones who would ramp it up to warp speed and set up the finishing explosion to the line.

The speeds were so high, though, that when the KHS team went to the front they would then sit up, which caused chaos as the charging field swarmed the slowing riders on the point. Rahsaan’s strategy got more complicated, because in order to avoid being swarmed he had to stay in the wind.

How did it feel?

“It hurt. It hurt bad.”

But he stayed with his nose in the wind and out of harm’s way, because it was the deceleration into the swarm that caused crashes, and suddenly it was five laps to go and all bets were off. SoCal Cycling threw its heavy artillery to the front and drilled like a sailor on shore leave for two full laps. With  three to go, they swung off and the KHS team blew through. This was the moment.

Rahsaan jumped onto A-Ray’s wheel, the powerful rider on Hincapie Development. Now it was two laps to go, tucked behind the churning legs of A-Ray, and on the bell lap all hell broke loose.  The KHS blue train hit the front with the force of a hurricane, and Rahsaan slipped into seventh wheel. At Turn 2 the blistering pace shed two KHS guys out of their own train, moving Rahsaan up to 5th wheel. This was perfect positioning because on the backside of the course, as the blue train notched it up another mph, another teammate exploded, leaving Rahsaan in 4th wheel and Corey Williams in 3rd.

Just before Turn 3, the cagey veteran Aaron Wimberley, riding for SPY-Giant-RIDE, threw his bike off the front, and the gap he opened up caught the KHS blue train completely off guard. Aaron was a closer and everyone knew it. By the time KHS closed the gap, they had sacrificed more riders, putting Rahsaan in 3rd position and Corey in 2nd. In the last turn Rahsaan gave Corey room and took a run, a hard one, with every muscle in his legs about to rip away from the bone.

Fearing a last minute move to the left that would box him in and give Corey the win, Rahsaan slung himself into the wall of onrushing wind and took the hard, stiff, unrelenting, in-your-face headwind approach around Corey’s right. The gamble paid as he shot to the line clearing Corey by a bike length. Justin, who had been slotted in behind Rahsaan, got boxed in as Corey shut down the left-handed alley approach.

This win wasn’t just for Rahsaan and his family. It was also for Roger.

Where do I lodge my official protest?

July 14, 2012 § 9 Comments

Dear Wankmeister:

I want to lodge a protest against guys who win a bunch of crits, especially that Charon dude. He sits in until the end and out-sprints everybody. What a big pussy. Plus, you know, there’s that OTHER thing…who does he think he is?

Krack R. Biggit

Dear Krack:

People like you make me barf. You are angry because he’s better than you are. If you put as much time into improving your own lack of skills as you do into criticizing his success, you might finish better than 43rd. But I doubt it. In the meantime, feel free to lodge your protest up your ass.

As for that OTHER thing, I can see how it would make you angry. There you were, on your nice ten thousand dollar bike with all your white friends, and then some black dude started winning all “your” races. Not just winning them, either, but winning them overwhelmingly, by multiple bike lengths. Plus, he’s such a nice and loyal guy that he’s become part of a team where everyone works for the victory, and everyone shares in the success, and no one cares about bullshit like what color the other person is.

That’s really different from your team, isn’t it, where everyone’s the designated winner, so no one ever wins, right? Where everyone’s jealous of everyone else? Where the composition of the team changes radically from year to year because everyone hates each other?

But back to the OTHER thing. Bike racing has always been a sport for white people. With the exception of tremendous riders like Nelson Vails, and one of the greatest cyclists in the history of the sport, Major Taylor, it’s been dominated by white people. When Major Taylor came to Europe and devastated the Euros at their own game, Henri Desgrange, founder of the Tour and racist, was so incensed that he demanded Taylor be paid in 10-centime pieces.

Most people who race against him could care less about Charon’s color, but a handful of grumblers and whiners and closet rednecks can’t stand getting their dicks stomped by a black dude in “their” sport.

See, Krack, here’s the thing: if you’re black in America and you rise to the top in ANYTHING it’s because you were better, and usually a lot better. Nobody ever woke up and had someone knock on the door and say, “Hey, any young black kids in here? We’d like to give them extra fancy horseback lessons or free TT bikes or a ten-year membership to the country club because they’re black.”

Doesn’t work that way. My buddy Lee, who grew up in Louisiana, finally quit riding bikes after five or six years because his family couldn’t afford tires, and riding around on steel rims just wasn’t very much fun, especially when the white kids came tearing by on bikes with tires and tubes.

If you’re a black athlete and you rip apart the competition a la Michael Jordan or Cam Newton, people say it’s because you’re “naturally talented,” i.e. you didn’t really have to work at it because it just came to you that way. If you’re a black athlete and you’re just average, or you’re projected to be great and you flame out, you’re called “lazy.” Natural talent, my ass. The Rahsaans and Charons and Justins of this sport work their butts off. Without an incredible work ethic their “natural talent” wouldn’t get them anywhere, much less on the podium.

When you’re a black dude breaking into a white sport, whether it’s cycling (Major Taylor), tennis (Arthur Ashe), baseball (Jackie Robinson), or any other job, you have to work harder, think smarter, and make the super-extra effort to improve and develop the personal relationships that underlie success, whether you’re trying to be a Supreme Court Justice, President of the United States, or world champion on the track. Show me a black guy who’s competing predominantly against white people and more often than not I’ll show you someone with far above average interpersonal skills, work ethic, and smarts.

The great thing about racing and riding in SoCal is that the vast majority of cyclists don’t care about color. We got the white dudes, the black dudes, the Hispanic dudes, the Asian dudes, and the dudes whose parents are from different races. It all works well, and for the most part color’s not part of the equation.

But when you’re blazing trails like Rahsaan Bahati, or Justin Williams, or Charon Smith, or Cory Williams, and when you’re blazing them over the dicks of white people, there will always be one or two who complain about the tread marks you leave on their tender parts. They were getting stomped before you ever came along, of course. But somehow it just hurts worse when they know you’re black.

So…

Please keep stomping.

New SoCal pose training camp for 8/13/2012

July 11, 2012 § 7 Comments

Upcoming event for SoCal racers: The First Annual Pose Training Camp for Bike Racers

When: 8/13/2012

Where: CBR Dominguez Hills Crit Course

Time: 8:00 AM – Noon

Instructors: Charon Smith, Rahsaan Bahati, Rich Meeker, Cory Williams, Dave Perez, Justin Williams, Greg Leibert, Thurlow Rogers

Participant Ability Level: Pretty low

Fee: $8.00

What You’ll Learn: Nothing is more important than the pose you strike when crossing the finish line. Whether it’s a first place finish or a well-earned 48th, friends, family, and the event photographer will be on hand to watch you conquer that 45-minute (or less) epic battle with fate. Tired of scrolling through those event photos only to find pictures of yourself with your head drooped over the bars, tongue lolling out, eyes crossed, and shoulders hunched in defeat? This training camp will help you find the best pose for your scrapbook so that you’ll look striking and stunning and championish after you’ve Photoshopped out the fifty or sixty people in front of you. You’ll leave this seminar able to do all of the following poses:

“The Godzilla”–Charon Smith will arc his massive arms and show you how to growl as if you were actually good enough to leave the competition snarling and snapping for second…without falling down!

“The Vaporglide”–Rahsaan Bahati will help you master the look of crossing the finish line at 50 mph while stifling a yawn (even though you’ll only be doing about 18 and weaving your way around that ten-man Cat 5 pile-up)…”Yo, was that the line? Shoot, I was just gettin’ ready to sprint…guess I didn’t really need to.”

“The Bricklayer”–Rich Meeker will demonstrate how to make your finish line pose look like the gnarliest manual labor since Dog invented the post-hole digger. Rough, serviceable, workmanlike, this is the look for every wanker who’s wanted to outclimb, outsprint, out time-trial, and outsmart the competition just like Rich…but simply can’t.

“The Jet Set”–Cory Williams will lay down the pose that made horizontal, black-striped socks famous. This is the pose when you want everyone to not just marvel at the fifteen bike lengths between you and second place, but at your sockwear as well. You’ll still look stupid in your Texas flag socks, but with your legs at the right angle you might look 1/10,000,000 as cool as Cory. Might.

“Rican Pride”–Dave Perez will illustrate the color-coordinated finish line pose that blends together terribly ugly colors that only look good when they’re going so fast you can’t see them. As an added bonus, he’ll teach you how to tell the barista your name is “Rico Suave” after ordering your double-white chocolate-soy-milk-decaf-raspberry-herbal-tea-frappucino.

“I Don’t Think He’s at this Race”–Justin Williams will provide participants with multiple ways to cross the line in such a way that people won’t even know you were at the race because you’re moving too fast to see. Wait, this might not be the pose for you because, you know, you’re so fucking slow that you got dropped by that fat dude with the triple chin.

“Happy You’re Dead”–Greg Leibert will introduce the smiling finish pose where everyone will think you’re a nice guy even though you just decimated the best racers in the state and gave them a dick stomping they’ll never forget. You’ll learn to say “Good job!” to the catatonic wanker who missed the last turn and launched headfirst into the fry-0-later inside Pepe’s Burrito Wagon.

“Wake Me When It’s Over”–Thurlow Rogers won’t teach you shit, other than to get the fuck out of his way. He doesn’t give a good goddamn how he looks crossing the line…as long as he’s first. Which, by the way, he always is. The take-home from your session with THOG is this: First place always looks good.

Bonus instructional: Learn why bright colors on your shorts (white, red, yellow, green) create highlights along the contours of your dingaling so that everyone can see each bump, ridge, and vein in that shrimpy li’l feller, and why black-colored shorts do a great job of hiding lots more than road grime.

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