The decomposing dinosaur

August 15, 2014 § 35 Comments

Word on the street is that USA Cycling has become very concerned about the precipitous drop-off in the number of idiots who participate in masters racing, and they are going to convene some kind of meeting to identify the problems and propose solutions.

That’s too bad. They should have just called me. But since they didn’t, I’ve written this very helpful little post to guide them on their way.

First, let’s understand the landscape of masters racing: It is dead and, like T-rex, is never coming back. Rather, it is laying in a big heap and decomposing while those who can stand the stench still saddle up and pedal around the rotting corpse.

What killed masters racing?

  1. De-innovation. The only difference between bike racing today and bike racing in 1984 is … nothing. Imagine a business model that is the same today, with the identical approach to the customer, service, product, and cost, as it was in 1984. There’s a way to spell the name of companies like that: “b-a-n-k-r-u-p-t.”
  2. Taxation. While the promoters’ and riders’ costs rose, USA Cycling continued to take larger and larger pieces of the pie. That USA Cycling officials are paid even a penny is a sorry joke. They should volunteer and do it for the love of the sport or get the hell out. Oh, wait a minute … what love of the sport? Many of them don’t even ride.
  3. Cost. In 1984 you could race the best equipment for the equivalent of about $4,000 in 2014 dollars — including kit, shoes, spare wheels, and a bike that was essentially unbreakable, with wheels that were likewise difficult to damage. A top race bike now retails for about $9k. Kit and shoes another $1k. Oh, and it’s all disposable and very easily broken. Dog forbid you crash, because those Zipp 808’s retail for about $3k. And let’s not forget tires, which can cost more than new tires for a car and last for a fraction of the time. What business model triples the cost and actually lowers the value to the consumer?
  4. Poverty. In 1984, a solid middle class income was $27,393. In 2014 dollars, that’s $63,019. Today’s middle class income in that same bracket? $64,582. Yep. In thirty years the biggest consumer for bike racing has seen his income go up less than $1,500, while the cost of bike crap has gone up (conservatively) $6,000. Let’s see. Should I pay for food, rent, healthcare, education, or … bike racing? Tough decision for a few. But only a few.
  5. Buzzkill. The professionalization of masters racing has made it very serious. Serious people like to yell and shout and create heaps of drama at races. Not-so-serious people, which is pretty much everyone else, don’t really like spending their weekend getting yelled at or abused. So they stay home while a few self-important pricks strut around as if what they did in a Sunday crit really mattered.
  6. Hopelessness. In the 1/2/3/4/5 categories, there’s always a shuffle. Someone younger is always coming up through the ranks and knocking off the older riders. It’s the cycle of life. But not in masters racing. Once you race an age category, the same people who win will always be the same people who win — from age 35 to age 75 — so you have forty years of getting beaten by the same people over and over and over and over again. Good times!
  7. Time. We have less of it, bike racing requires more. Why do we have less time? Because of poverty. We’re working more to pay for essentials, and masters bike racing isn’t an essential.
  8. Rewards. What are they, again? There’s no money. There are no trophies. No one gets a juice box. It’s just the “fun” of competition. Well, that works for two kinds of people: the perennial winners who like staving everyone else’s head in, and the perennial losers who don’t mind losing. That’s a customer base of about 12 people, by the way.
  9. Cheating. Masters racers cheat, and promoters, who are taxed to the teeth by USA Cycling, and struggling under huge operating costs, can’t afford drug testing. So the cheaters get away with it, and the non-cheaters blame everyone who wins on “doping.”
  10. Safety. USA Cycling races are horribly dangerous compared to other leisure activities available to elderly men with leaky prostates. USA Cycling encourages risky behavior when its PAID officials fail to aggressively enforce rules against chopping, dive-bombing, elbow throwing, bar banging, post-race face-punching, etc.

However much all of these factors have brought low the mighty dinosaur, none has inflicted the mortal wound. The true killer not just of masters racing, but of bike racing in general, is Strava. And folks, Strava is here to stay.

Strava offers everything to the competitive cyclist except reality. It is free. It rewards you. It lets you set up special courses and categories that YOU can win, or at least get “on the leader board.” It is safe. Unlike USA Cycling, whose officials in SoCal don’t do squat for race safety, Strava bans segments that are reported as dangerous.

Plus, with Strava you don’t have to travel, and every day is a bike race. Strava lets you brag to your friends, compete with little “I stole your KOM” tits-for-tats, and doesn’t require any bike handling skills. On Strava, everybody’s a Cat 1.

The only downside to Strava, of course, is that it’s completely fake and that it eliminates the one thing that makes a bike race a true competition: Everyone has to race at the same day on the same course at the same time. But it’s the virtual, inauthentic nature of Strava that real bike racing can’t compete with.

And the icing on the cake? When’s the last time your wife ever complained about you going out to take someone’s KOM?

RIP, masters racing. It was sort of nice known’ ya.

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Additional participants in the mercy killing:

11. Cost Plus. In addition to the cost of a road bike, you now also need a time trial bike if you’re going to do 3-day races with a TT. Add $10k. Also, you will need a power meter ($1k – $4k), a computer ($500), and a set of race wheels to go with your training wheels ($2k). And a coach, because you can’t beat guys who train 30 hours a week just by riding hard. Trust me on that last one.

12. “The Competition.” In addition to Strava, whose value proposition overwhelms yours, in the last 30 years there has been an incredible proliferation of fun, challenging, “non-race” rides that are effectively unsanctioned races. In LA alone you can do the NPR on Tuesday morning (always race pace), the Major Motion ride on Tuesday evening (always race pace), the Amalfi Ride on Thursday morning (race pace, but with stops), the Rose Bowl Ride (pure race), the M500 (pure race), the Donut Ride (race), the Montrose Ride (race with stoplights) … and that doesn’t even count the Grand Fondos, century rides, and countless other road rides where you can mix it up without paying a fortune, driving across the country, and paying a fortune. Did I mention paying a fortune?

13. “The Competition” v. 2. Other types of racing have increased in popularity and they compete with USAC road events. That’s cyclocross and mountain bike racing. They have a better vibe. More interesting venues. More spectators. Better officiating. Safe courses. They’re cheaper and closer to home and at least for ‘cross the equipment is a lot cheaper and there’s less of it.

14. Pain. Road racing is too hard. People on training rides cut the ride, do a “B” ride, refuse to do new challenging additions. Why? Because they are weak and lazy and entitled and they don’t want to get their nuts pounded off with the handle of a chisel. The San Marcos crit (35 starters in the 35+, 19 finishers), was so miserably awful that I contemplated quitting every lap. And I was in the 45+. Road racing is worse and harder. It’s grueling and it goes on for hours. People don’t want that anymore. They want something that hurts a little bit, but not too much — certainly they don’t want to submit to 30-degree sleet at Devil’s Punchbowl for 2.5 hours, with 6k of elevation per lap, riding alone. The most important thing is that they look good, don’t wind up in the ICU or a wheelchair, and that for dog’s sake they don’t break their equipment. Because unlike brains and body parts, an expensive bike nowadays can’t be replaced.

How to hose off “masters” racing

November 25, 2013 § 68 Comments

  1. Quit calling it “masters.” A master is someone who has reached the pinnacle of his craft after years of study and accomplishment. If you were a “master” of cycling you’d race the Pro Tour. If you were a “master” of cycling you would need more than a license and a $35 entry fee to be recognized as such. Suggestion? Start calling it “Old Folks Racing.” Part of the problem with masters racing is the delusion that’s reinforced by calling yourself a “master.” You aren’t, so quit lying about it.
  2. Scrap the prize money. You don’t deserve one red fucking cent for winning an Old Folks bicycle race. Prize money fuels the delusion that you’re a pro. You aren’t. You are an old person racing a bicycle masquerading as a young person. Yes, you. If don’t want to be classed with the old people, race with the young ones, you know, the punks who line up in the P-1-2 race and can kick your sorry ass from here to Sunday and back. Let’s see how many of those 120-mile hilly road races you win, Ace.
  3. Test. Drug testing works. It may not catch all the cheats, but it catches some of them and scares away a bunch of others. Instead of wasting our money on officials, waste it on drug testing. Officials who don’t want to volunteer for free like every other person who helps out in a bike race should go ride their bikes. And spare me about how professional all of the paid refs are, thanks. If we have to race without officials, I bet the promoters and riders can live with it just fine.
  4. Increase the length of bans. Two years is a joke for Old Folks racers, or didn’t you get the memo that 90 is the new 20? Make it ten for a first offense. You drank some contaminated herbal tea? Sucks to be you. PS: Next time you drink a special herbal tea that you bought from a company that advertises in a weightlifting steroids online forum where everyone uses a nickname, maybe you better think twice.
  5. Permanently ban dopers from certain events. Once you test positive, you’re forever banned from national and district championships. Whaaa? Yeah. But at least you won’t have to explain to people what an “Old Folks Racer National Champion” is.
  6. Permanently note doper status on licenses. Indicate on every license, in bold black letters beneath the rider’s category, that he has been “Sanctioned for doping.” Welcome to the race.
  7. Allow promoter discretion to deny entry. Give promoters the right to unilaterally bar a sanctioned rider from the race even after the ban has expired. Sanctimonious, self-serving liars who refuse to come clean about their sordid cheating will have to drop the facade and live with permanently brown noses for as long as they want to race.
  8. Require nicknames. Assign mandatory demeaning nicknames to busted dopers, which names must be used whenever their names are announced or printed in the official results. “Douchebag Danilo,” “Lame-ass Lance,” etc.
  9. Assign a unique “scumbag” series. Dedicate a certain number series that may only be used by busted dopers, such as the 900’s. “There goes a Niner!” people will say. No matter what you do, your past as a drug cheat will not be forgotten.
  10. Limit the damage. Put a limit to the number of ex-dopers you can have on a single team, and make the number “1.”

Do all this, or even most of it, and we’ll go back to what we once had when we were called “veterans.” We’ll have old folks who enjoy life during the week, race on the weekend, and take geriatric competition for what it is, which isn’t very much.

Roxanne! (You don’t have to turn on the red light)

November 22, 2011 § Leave a comment

When USADA announced that Florida masters racer Michael Diamond, 63, had been suspended for refusing a doping control, the reaction was uniform: “What an idiot!” “He was fifth out of nine in a 60+ TT…what a loser!” “Why would anyone dope for the chance to win a salami and a can of Velveeta? What a dork!” “It’s a stupid fricking bike race! How could he?” Etc., etc.

A few weeks earlier, Michael Miller of Morgantown, Pennsylvania, was slapped with an 8-month ban after he tested positive for the banned stimulant methylhexaneamine at masters track nationals in Trexlertown. Stack that on top of Roger Hernandez, 45 (refusal to test), Josh Webster, 38 (meth/phen), Peter Cannell, 37, (‘roids), Alberto Blanco, 30 (test), and Andrew Tilin, 46, (non-analytical positive), and you have a nice little group of busted, past-their-prime dopers. This doesn’t include the 2011 crop containing Joe Papp, Juan Pablo Dotti, 27, David Clinger, Phil Zajicek, and Lisban Quintero, “normal” dopers who were either pro or young cheats.

If you listen to the South Bay and SoCal scuttlebutt, there are quite a few old farts out here mixing and matching poisons to produce results that range from first place to pack meat. What the fuck is going on?

Get this straight at least: it’s not crazy

As much as our community likes wrinkling its nose and scoffing at the creaky losers like Mike Diamond, even as we like ridiculing them for choosing drugs as a vehicle to cycling mediocrity, the thing that’s strange about these gray-haired cheats isn’t their crappy results. It may be shameful because they’ve been unmasked as cheats, but the aged wankers juiced on ‘roids so that they can win the state TT are doping from the exact same motivations as Floyd, Lance, Jan, Ivan, and all the other guys who’ve stood on the podium at the TdF.

“Yeah,” you say, “but those guys are pros and they actually stand to win something by cheating. The Florida state TT for 60-69 masters racers? Risk your health for an ill-fitting jersey that you’re still six minutes out of the money for? Gimme a fucking break.”

This kind of criticism implies, of course, that whereas Diamond’s futility in a lame field for a “who-cares” title is laughable, your endeavors in the 30+ masters, or the Cat 2 field, or with the regional semi-pro team (bikes at a discount, gas money, entry fees, and a couple of spare kits) are legit. This reminds me of sex when I was a teenager. Many’s the time I’d look at a woman in her late 30’s and think, “Goddamn, how could anyone that old have sex?”

Then, in my late 20’s, I’d look at a woman in her late 40’s or early 50’s and think, “Man, that’s just too old. They should retire.” Pretty soon, here came the late 40’s , and suddenly I was discovering a whole new world of beautiful and alluring women to look at–forty, fifty, and up seemed downright normal. Many of my peers have friends or relatives who’ve had to put elderly relatives into nursing homes only to learn that lots of people in their 80’s and 90’s are still screwing like there’s no tomorrow, perhaps because for many of them, there isn’t.

The point is graphic, but easily grasped: it’s easy to understand how young athletes dope for a chance to win an Olympic medal, and to kid yourself that older people don’t take it just as seriously. As you get older you realize that the desire to win burns just as brightly among many an oldster, and just because people age doesn’t mean they become honest or ethical. Don’t we see that daily with the U.S. Congress?

Get a life? YOU get a life.

The other faux explanation for masters doping is that these clueless clods don’t “have a life.” They are so wrapped up in the silly, unreal, insignificant world of USA Cycling events that they somehow lose their perspective on what’s important in life. Hence they plunge off into the dangerous, expensive, and bizarre world of doping.

Is masters cycling such a weird, distorted place? Of course it is. But would we be better off spending the weekends at NASCAR? Or buried on the couch from Saturday morning ’til Monday night watching football and swilling beer? Is golf a healthier or a cheaper obsession? X-Box? Porn, anybody?

For people who say that the obsessed masters racer should be spending time with his family, I say this: what if he’s been married so long that he doesn’t want to? What if the kids are grown, or if they’re at the age where they think dad’s a dork, or what if there are no kids? What if dad or mom is holding together a miserable, crumbled marriage as best they can, and the time away from the family is the only thing that keeps it together?

There are a lot of masters racers in California with successful careers, loving families, and accomplishments in their other avocations who simply love to race their bike. It’s their thing, they love it, and they do it because they want to compete and to win. I think it beats the hell out of most other pastimes for 40-something men, and is a lot cheaper even when you throw in the $10k bike. Priced a Ducati or a Harley lately?

And what if we’re not married or attached to anyone at all? What if, at age 45, we discovered a healthy, fun, social pastime that lets us travel, train, compete, and meet new people? What if we’ve found the bike, just in time, as a surrogate for a terrible alcohol or drug addiction? What if bike racing is the activity fending off other, deeper emotional problems? Is racing a bike such an obviously imbalanced, distorted thing? (Okay, of course it is.) Still, I don’t think you can really say that it is without knowing quite a lot about the person in question. Unlike some other adult leisure activities that come to mind, this one is pretty harmless.

Drugs are just another piece of the puzzle

Just like I don’t believe that people automatically lose their will to win when they realize they’ll never be UCI pros, and just like I don’t believe that people who are obsessed with amateur cycling are by definition imbalanced, I likewise refuse to believe that there’s anything abnormal or strange about doping to improve performance among masters racers.

If you’ve made it to age 21 you must have come to grips with the fact that it’s both normal and predictable for people to cheat, lie, and steal. That’s what lots and lots of people do. Not all people, and not all the time, but the possibility of cheating, lying, and stealing must be taken into account any time you deal with another human being. Cycling’s no different.

Masters racers who have invested huge amounts of time, money, and emotional energy into their avocation have every incentive to dope. There’s little if any risk of getting caught. There’s an endless online database in the form of websites, forums, and chat rooms where you can greatly minimize the dangers posed by using drugs. There are numerous doctors, particularly in L.A., who specialize in “anti-aging,” which is shorthand for drug dispensation to achieve any number of non-medical needs. Want to go faster longer? There’s a protocol for that. Want to go faster shorter? There’s a protocol for that, too. Just add the tail of newt, venom of scorpion, and web of spider. Want to raise your aerobic capacity? Can you spell E-P-O?

People in their forties are likely to have the time to train and the disposable income to afford the drugs. After putting together the top-end equipment, hiring a pro coach, logging the miles, and doing the races year in, year out, it’s natural to look for that extra edge whether you’ve been winning, almost winning, or pack foddering. Put another way, what’s left? In track disciplines where the margin of victory may only be a second or two, the right drugs incorporated into the right training plan can push you up onto the top step of the podium. At least, that’s the theory…63 year-old Mike Diamond didn’t do much to prove it, as his only USA Cycling results showed a desultory level of participation and awful results his entire career.

The bottom line is that doping is another logical and readily available weapon in the racing arsenal, just like aero wheels, ceramic bearings, slick shoe covers, aero helmets, and aero fabrics. Why not use it, especially when, without question, there are successful competitors in SoCal amateur races who are?

That darn “cheating” thing

Since the verdict is out regarding the long term health effects of a doctor-prescribed, carefully monitored, moderate doping protocol, the only real reason not to dope is your internal sense of right and wrong. If you grew up believing that cheating is wrong, you’ve got a pretty good firewall that will keep your hand out of the cookie jar. If you have a wife like mine, who combs through every receipt and credit card statement with a fine-toothed comb, and who would raise holy hell at a $2,500 monthly bill for drugs and doctor visits, your firewall is stronger still.

But even if you believe cheating is wrong, you may not believe that doping is cheating if you also think that most of your competition is doing it. I don’t know where I fall on that argument, but it’s moot because I really don’t think that most masters racers dope–so for me, doping is pretty clearly cheating. In any event doping requires you to lie, so that makes it even more repugnant.

Your band of improvement

Those pesky moral imperatives–don’t cheat, don’t lie, don’t even dream about hiding money from your wife–make the issue pretty clear cut. Yet there’s another reason that masters doping doesn’t really add up…for me. Since I started using a power meter, I have learned, more or less, my physical limits. The best 20-minute power I’ve ever put out is 325w. It was on July 17, 2011. Almost all of my other best 20-minute wattages have been in the 300-310w range.

To take it a step further, my three best 1-hour outputs have been 280, 285, and 295 watts. I may be capable of more, but not much more. Given my age, my ability, and a host of other limiters, this is pretty much as good as I’ll ever be. Drugs may be able to significantly boost these parameters, but so what? Take away the dope and, with lots of saddle time, I’ll still be a 295w FTP kind of guy, give or take a few watts.

Everyone’s different, but for me, knowing that my band of improvement is only a handful of watts beyond 295 makes the allure of drugs nil. It’s a kind of self-awareness and self-satisfaction, that is…enough. If only the men and women trying to find something extra through cheating and drugs could understand that whatever capabilities they have in their undoped state, it’s enough. If only.

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