“Tapas Bar, Calle Escudellers, Barcelona”

March 4, 2015 § 6 Comments

My brother Ian, who got me into cycling, loved Barcelona and loved Spanish poetry. After he died virtually all of his unpublished writing and his translations were destroyed when a family member took his computer and destroyed it. My eldest son got this copy of one of Ian’ few remaining poems, perhaps from my mom, and shared it with me. Now I’m sharing it with you.

After grocery shopping I
stop by for coffee at the tapas bar.

Inside there’s sawdust on the floor,
and it’s still dark, as if the morning
weren’t the start of a new day but a
continuation of the night before.

Already drinking tinto with tortillas
several salty men sit at the bar,
being ribbed by an old woman with no teeth.

Shortly after I sit down she lifts her shirt up slightly to expose her paunch
and the man next to her pulls it further up over her breasts,
and squeezing at a dug he checks it like a loaf of bread or meat
for sale in the mercado up the street.

She says her only pleasures are to eat
and sleep, then slaps her crotch
repeatedly and with great strength and gusto,
to demonstrate the region’s perfectly
without sensation.

This accompanied
by laughs and densely worded argument,
another round of tit-grabbing,
then pointing by all at cocks and cunts.

Afterwards we all feel quite content,
happy to begin the day’s affairs
with breakfast at Café Escudellers.

By Ian Davidson

Doing the heavy lifting

March 3, 2015 § 13 Comments

There are people in the Internet world who mainly blab, like me, and people who do the heavy lifting, like Ted Rogers of Biking in LA. In addition to continual bike advocacy, Ted does the tough work of going through news, local and global, to find the stories that are most relevant to LA’s largest and most important population of cyclists: Those who use bicycles for transportation. Ted does much more than aggregate news stories; he also investigates them. With a particular focus on cycling fatalities, Ted’s blog is almost always on the cutting edge of reporting bike fatalities in Southern California, and he tints his reportage with incredible sympathy for the victims and their families.

Ted’s advocacy has teeth, too. Although he’s fiercely partisan he’s also fair, and he never hides facts or twists situations to fit his moods — unlike one $2.99/month South Bay blogger I have in mind. After years of this kind of advocacy, Ted’s words have heft, and as a member of the board of directors of the LA County Bicycle Coalition, he devotes considerable time to action.

Fortunately, I disagree with Ted’s strong support of cycling infrastructure and believe instead that the best path for cycling is enforcement of existing laws that allow us to ride in the roadway. I say “fortunately” because there’s nothing more boring than having to read someone with whom you agree 100%. A little red meat always makes the veggies taste better.

Whether he’s keeping us up to date on which bicycle friendly candidates to support, or spreading the word about yet another cyclist trying to recover from catastrophic injuries, the Biking in LA blog covers the cycling waterfront. And something that tickles me deep down inside is Ted’s ferocious adherence to correct spelling and good grammar. I don’t think I’ve ever found a typo. In sum, his work is fair, it’s fierce, and it’s often fun, making BiLA’s work such an amazing contrast to VeloNews and Bicycling, puffy and ad-bloated rags that couldn’t do an investigative report on their own stool sample.

If Ted’s not on your daily read list, he should be.

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Leading by bad example, or, “A Prayer for Neal Rogers”

March 2, 2015 § 55 Comments

I could only pedal slowly, my jaw scraping the tarmac as I rolled along, listening to the story. In brief, an up-and-coming youngster had chosen the wrong wheel with half a lap to go. The guy he was counting on to drag him to victory sat up, which made sense because he’d been out in a two-man breakaway for the last two laps, had been caught by a field averaging 30 mph for the entire race, and didn’t have the legs to sprint.

Junior, stuck on the wrong wheel, tried to come around when Mr. Deliverance stopped pedaling, but the train had already left the station.

To demonstrate his unhappiness with the actions of the lead-out man who wasn’t even on his team, Junior stormed off, threw himself into his dad’s car, locked the doors, and pouted. Fumble-futz dad sheepishly collected the gear, then went over to Junior’s teammates and began making excuses for Junior’s bad performance–not Junior’s dramatic performance of “Hamlet, Prince of Pout,” but his dramatic failure to seal the win.

There were so many things wrong with this story. First, why was a 19-year-old at a P/1/2 bike race in February? Didn’t he have coursework at college he was supposed to study over the weekend, and weren’t midterms around the corner? Second, why was the father of a grown man even at the bike race? Aren’t normal parents embarrassed by adult children who race bikes? Third, why was his father making excuses to the team? And fourth, why hadn’t the dad jerked Junior out of the car by the scruff of his neck and said something along the lines of “If you ever lock me out again I’ll kick your snotty little fucking ass and make you walk home, after I sell your stupid fucking bike for a tank of gas.”

The answer to all these questions is complex, but it boils down to “Mommas, don’t let your babies grow up to be bike racers.” Because if you do, chances are good that they’ll always be babies.

Junior’s story isn’t the first one I’ve heard from this trove of tales from the failed parenting vault. Somewhere along the way someone forgot to tell their son that bike racing, unless pursued as a hobby, is a dead end. Over the years, excepting Lance Armstrong and Marco Vermeij, I’ve never seen a kid being “groomed for the pros” who actually made it as a Pro Tour rider or even anything close. What I’ve seen are rabid parents throwing money and pressure on kids, teaching them to spend their time cycling instead of getting good grades, and winding up with almost-good-enough-but-not-quite long term deadbeats. I’ve seen a lot of that.

Unlike other pro sports, where the chance of success is also infinitesimal but the rewards are at least astronomical if you hit the jackpot, the biggest winners in pro cycling are still chumps compared to the biggest earners in soccer, basketball, and baseball. The reason is that sponsors won’t go near cycling at the pro level, and their avoidance of the sport is only partially related to the structure of teams and the UCI.

Despite the fact that the “industry” is worth billions–when’s the last time you saw a Local Basketball Shop–the money in cycling is at the retail level, not the pro level. And one reason the pro level is devoid of meaningful money is because it cannot extricate itself from its association with doping. After an entire history of pretending that drugs weren’t a problem and cheerleading the Lance & Floyd + Trek & Oakley show, VeloNews has now taken the opposite tack: Ensuring that no one will ever forget the sport’s sordid past and, what’s worse, its sordid present.

Last night Neal Rogers, the VeloNews editor, posted a link on his Twitter account to an article written by Michele Ferrari. The article estimates Chris Froome’s VAM and “stratospheric” w/kg in a recent race, and insinuates the obvious: Froome is doped to the gills. Rogers’s posting adds a level of insinuation onto Ferrari’s insinuation: If anyone should know about stratospheric levels of cheating, it’s Michele.

Apparently Rogers, with over 15,000 Twitter followers and a venerable position in one of the most globally influential cycling rags, sees nothing wrong with linking to a web site that offers coaching services by an unrepentant cheater who’s been banned from cycling for life and who was the mastermind behind Armstrong’s drug-enhanced Tour victories. When questioned about promoting Ferrari on Twitter, Rogers shrugged it off and aggressively defended a guy who is more than a cancer: The advocacy and use of EPO in its early stages led to the death of numerous young riders.

Instead, Rogers doubled down, saying that Ferrari is “highly intelligent and scientifically minded” and his status “doesn’t mean we shouldn’t listen to him, though. End of the day, he’s a number cruncher.”

And there you have it. Rogers couldn’t care less about Ferrari’s role in the exploitation of young athletes, his lifetime sanction for cheating, or the fact that one of the worst faces in cycling is now selling his services on the Internet to any and all comers. At the end of the day he’s a number cruncher, a harmless old fellow with wire-rimmed spectacles doing complex math for the benefit of all the innumerates out there.

No, Neal, you have it exactly wrong. At the end of the day Ferrari is a liar, a cheat, and an evil person who is so bad for the sport you supposedly promote that he had been banned from it for life. It’s like saying that at the end of the day “Dr. Mengele was just a scientist.” In fact, the Nazi researchers — like Dr. Ferrari — weren’t simply “highly intelligent and scientifically minded” people. They were highly intelligent and scientifically minded people who used their high intelligence and science to harm people, break laws, and blithely pretend that it was okay.

As a result, you, Neal, should be really careful about not simply shrugging off Ferrari’s misdeeds as you actively promote him on your Twitter feed. Ferrari is a bad dude and you’ve given him your stamp of authority, even though you temper it with feeble protests about his “questionable ethics.”

Can you imagine the NFL promoting Lyle Alzado’s dealer, or MLB doing a promo link to the website of Balco and Victor Conte? Of course not, because the sponsors would raise holy hell.

And therein lies one of the intractable problems faced by kids who enter the sport, a problem not limited to pouting brats and their fumbling, apologetic, pathetic parents: The worst examples still abound at the very highest levels of cycling journalism which, after all these years, is still fanboy writing in its most supplicating form.

On the bright side, discerning parents will see positions like those taken by Rogers and realize what a joke the sport is at the Pro Tour level, and will encourage their kids to take another AP calculus class rather than sign up for another four-corner crit in Hooterville. And that is progress.

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Matching tops and bottoms

March 1, 2015 § 52 Comments

One of my friends in the “industry” sent me this link to a review of Wal-Mart skateboards. Since the sound on my brand new HP computer is already broken, it took me a couple of days to get around to viewing it. When I finally saw the video, well, let’s just say you don’t need the volume. Two skateboard dudes take turns jumping off concrete stairs on cheap-ass, defectively designed products that are marketed to little kids.

The boards fail catastrophically. If you have kids, grandkids, know anyone who has kids, or were once yourself a kid, this video will scare the hell out of you.

I see this a lot in the bike “industry” as well. I love it when people call it “the industry” because it sounds like a huge conglomeration of space-age manufacturing facilities, globally designing, testing, marketing, and retailing sophisticated services and products, and it doesn’t sound like some smelly old unemployed guy in his underwear, hunched over his computer screen in his mom’s basement sipping his third cup of coffee after awaking at noon to put out his bicycle industry blog. In short, it doesn’t sound like Steve Tilford.

Fact is, part of the bike industry revolves around the same kind of deadly, low-quality, defective products that Wal-Mart loves to sell on its skateboard shelves. Full carbon wheels made of 100% carbon that disassemble on steep descents when ridden by over-the-weight-limit riders, a weight that is often “super plus” sizes like 190 or 200 pounds–weights that are completely normal for certain body types. New generation disc brakes (always the front) that mysteriously stop working. Front fork failures. And of course my personal favorite, a Specialized tire that was slightly non-round at the bead, which meant that it would seat and inflate, then blow off the rim once you started going downhill.

“Oh, you tore your face off and spent a month in the ICU like the guy who runs my sister publication at Red Kite Bore while exhibiting your descending skills down Las Flores? Here, have another tire. It’s on us.”

In addition to the physical danger of product failure, there’s the fraud that occurs in the advertising of such products. Mrs. WM likes to go to the Korean spa around the corner. It’s a place where chubby middle-aged women, Asian and non, go to sweat away a few pounds of water weight while chowing down on the pork noodles and ice cream. The key thing about the Korean spa is that you aren’t allowed to wear clothes.

The other day I went to pick her up after her day-long bathing session and she was hopping mad. “I’m so onna sick of these cheaters,” she said.

“Cheaters?”

“Yes, they are cheaters.”

“Who?”

“The blonde bathing ladies, all coming onna spa dressed up all onna fancy with a pretty blonde hair.”

“I didn’t know you had it in for blondes.”

“I like onna blonde hair it’s pretty hair but then they are takin’ off onna bottoms and it’s all black like a parking lot in a Wal-Mart, that’s a fake advertising.”

“Fake advertising?”

“That’s what I’m saying. If I was a boy and getting all happy at a pretty blonde lady and she’s dropping off onna her bottoms and it’s all a black patch like a motor oil I’m gonna cry and ask for a moneyback.”

As usual, Mrs. WM had a great point. Nobody wants to pay for blonde and get black, or pay for black and get blonde, or pay for carbon and get rim failure at 50 mph going down Tuna Canyon.

Super products that have been tested and that work make a difference, and yep, they cost more. In a pinch, and when you’re racing your bike there’s always a pinch, good products can make the difference between a bad accident and losing your eyesight. Just ask Ronnie Toth, who would have been blinded without his performance glasses, made of course by SPY Optic. Save a few bucks and get a cheaper brand? The worst that could happen is, well, you go blind.

Quality matters. Choose wisely.

END

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Astana forms new cycling league after being booted from Pro Tour

February 27, 2015 § 16 Comments

UCI President Brian Cookson announced today that team Astana would be asked to leave the Pro Tour due to irregularities in their application. “I told them they were drinking at the Last Chance Saloon,” said Cookson. “But they went ahead and ordered the drink with the pink umbrella. Oh, well.”

When asked about the procedure, Cookson’s assistant, Marc-Yves Surle Table explained: “We sent them a letter asking them to please not come to our races. It’s a very polite letter, firm but polite. Of course in the letter we vousvoyer.”

“If that doesn’t work,” said Cookson, “we get tough. We send a second letter, full-on tutoyer. We really ask them with incredible firmness, resolve, and indiscriminate use of the informal third person pronoun and its associated verb conjugations. They will see we mean business.”

Hans Castorp, the UCI’s third undersecretary for protocol and official correspondence, explained the next steps. “Sometimes even a letter filled with ‘tu’ doesn’t do the trick. So we start all over again, this time with sietzen followed by dutzen. They pretty much get the message then.”

Alexandre Vinokourov, doper-in-chief of Team Astana, was dismissive. “They can du or tu us all they want. We’re staying in the Last Chance Saloon and we’re gonna drink the fuggin’ place dry. Then we’ll beat up the barkeep, stuff potatoes down the toilet drains, and burn the fuggin’ joint to the ground.”

Vinokourov announced that he also has a “Plan B” in the event that an all-night drunkfest followed by arson at the Last Chance Saloon doesn’t pan out. According to the team’s publicist, Mohammed Emwazi, Team Astana has already formed a breakaway cycling league led by Johan Bruyneel with tanks, troops, armored personnel carriers, and artillery support from the Russian Federation. According to Emwazi, the new league will be based in the Donetsk People’s Republic, in Eastern Ukraine.

“We already have a full roster of teams,” Emwazi said. “The Donetsk Destroyers, the Luhansk Liberators, the Debaltseve Demons, the Mariupol Marauders, and the Crimea Killers.” When it was pointed out that Mariupol was still part of Ukraine, Emwazi said, “Not for long.”

The league’s first major event will be the Breaking Away Tour, which will pass through the most scenic and challenging areas of the fledgling separatist republic. “The Donetsk Airport, for example,” said Emwazi, “is a place rife with memories of sacrifice and heroism. We will probably do a crit around the rubble and then finish it off with a volley of long-range missiles towards Kiev.”

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The greatest masters racing team of all time?

February 26, 2015 § 31 Comments

I can see Roger Worthington now, seated atop a golden throne which is itself perched atop a mountain of tightly bound thousand-dollar bills, staring out the giant plate glass window of his mansion in Bend.

As he casts his lonely eye upon the surrounding valley shrouded in snow, he cannot focus his attention on his immeasurable wealth, on his palatial eco-home that houses three people and has a carbon footprint the size of Beijing, or on his empire of craft beer, retail pizza establishments, and hundreds of thousands of acres of genetically modified hops.

Instead, as he scrolls through his Facebag timeline and sees the racing exploits of Charon, of G$, and of lowly Wanky himself, he can only grunt in discontent and snarl thusly on his feed: “Facebag, Facebag on the wall. Who’s the greatest masters team of all?”

Who, indeed?

In 2015, everyone seems to be vying for the title of America’s Greatest Profamateur Masters Racing Team. Is it Surf City Cyclery with its cadre of hardened killers, customized bike stands, personal masseuses and wrapped RV? Is it Monster Media with its gnarled and vicious national champions, its color-coordinated team bikes and its capacious custom canopy? Is it SPY-Giant-RIDE with its 80-man team, each rider armed with his own personal collection of fancy sunglasses, and its omnipresent armada of rolling wrapped team vehicles?

Alas and alack, it is none of these. The greatest masters racing team of all time was Labor Power. Driven by the power hungry and depraved mind of Max Kash Agro, this collection of weird, antisocial, and utterly bizarre misfits created the mold for the modern profamateur masters team and then smashed it, along with Max’s hip, irrevocably in 2006 — never to be recreated or even vaguely approached.

Team of Rivals

Team of Rivals

The story began in 1983 or 1984 as I was pedaling around the track at Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas, when I first met Roger. He had an orange Viner. He raced a bit but aside from being reputedly “mean as a rattlesnake” there was little to suggest that less than a decade later he would burst onto the scene as the millionaire financier of Labor Power.

By the time he had been evicted from Texas and relocated to his Shangri-La in San Juan Capistrano, he had already invented the key elements of the profamateur masters bike team: Fancy Euro car with a decal, garish team clothing, “deals” for the team members, and teamwork that even today few teams can begin to approach.

In keeping with Roger’s ethos of “winning isn’t the only thing, it’s what I pay you to do,” Labor Power put together a cadre of racers who still make themselves known as the elite of the leaky prostates. Chris Walker, Louie Amelburu, and Greg Leibert are just three of the old Labor Power crew who still dominate when they show up to race.

Others have gone on to their reward or faded from view: Chris Hipp dead, Dave Worthington retired, Mark Scott mostly retired, and Chris Hahn still racing but only when he feels like it. Among them, the stalwarts of Labor Power amassed a record that is truly beyond compare, and what’s more incredible, they did it without any real suspicion of doping.

Consider this: In 1999 the team scored 40 wins and 78 podiums, including two state crit titles and a silver medal on the road. The next year Labor Power upped their tally to 42 wins and 95 podiums including state TT and road titles, wins at the Cascade Classic, and victories in every marquee masters event in California. In 2001 the team notched 42 wins, a world masters road title in Austria, and a gold medal at the Pan-Am masters championships. In 2002 Butch Stinson alone earned 31 victories as the team rolled up a mind-boggling total of 120 wins for the year. With 103 victories in 2003, the team had nothing left to win. So, dropping down to a “mere” 37 first place finishes in 2004, Labor Power masters racer Chris Walker won the elite men’s national road race at age 42.

By 2005 the team was falling apart, and so was team leader Roger Worthington’s hip. Labor Power officially disbanded in 2006.

What possibly explains this run of dominance, stretching from roughly 1995 to 2005? First of all, Labor Power’s guiding motto was “Win.” The team would block and sacrifice if it had a rider in the break, but that rider knew that 2nd place was unacceptable. There were no glory breakaways with Labor Power, where a rider finished sixth out of six riders as his team sacrificed in the rear. If you were going to ride the break you’d better not only have a plan to win, you’d better execute it to perfection. The fear of failure was driven by the manic despotism of MKA, and it worked.

Second, Labor Power, with one or two glaring exceptions, didn’t take wankers. If you were a proven winner you might get a ride with Labor Power. There were no bro deals. If you rode on Labor Power it was because you were either a closer or you were a closer. People weren’t recruited because of their ability to help, or work, or fetch water bottles. They got a ride because they knew how to cross the line first.

Third, Labor Power intimidated. They invented the cycling blog when things were still done on paper. The created the first mad-man race reports. The fecund and off-the-reservation mind of Roger Worthington made fun of everything, lampooned the enemy, lauded himself, and backed it up with vicious-but-fair, take-no-prisoners race strategy.

Fourth, Labor Power was ugly. Their uniforms were designed by Chris Hipp, a guy who had zero artistic talent and several galaxies’ worth of racing ability. Matching Hipp’s bad art with MKA’s bad taste, Labor Power designed jerseys that are notable even today for their garish ugliness and brashly bad mixture of offending colors. Yet the ugliness had an effect: When you lined up against the twisted minds of Labor Power you not only had to deal with the yelling, the intimidation, the race savvy, the steely legs and the cunning minds, but you also had to try and un-see the awful combination of colors that makes Monster Media’s kits look almost attractive.

Fifth, Labor Power had fun. It wasn’t the fun of “we gave it our best,” it was the fun of a gang of blood-soaked Mongol warriors, dripping in gore and sated from the spoils of razing a village, beheading the elderly, and selling everyone else off into slavery.

Sixth, Labor Power had money. Roger, despite being one of the cheapest, most tight-fisted people on earth, knew that to run a masters bike team it would cost money, and to that effect he made sure that at the end of each year his racers received the tiny pittance in shared winnings that are enough to keep an elite old bike racer cozy and warm in a cardboard box. For the amount of money that masters teams spend today, Labor Power could have outfitted a small country of bike racers.

So the next time you’re feeling good about your race results, or you’re thinking that the team is on its way to a winning season, take a moment to peruse the details of what is unquestionably the weirdest, whackiest, winningest masters racing team of all time: Labor.

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Three jerseys

February 25, 2015 § 19 Comments

My collection of cycling clothing is pitiful. A few years ago when we downsized I got rid of all the old stuff. Marco’s long-sleeved Chazal jersey that he wore in the Tour, my old Molteni jerseys (wool, of course), and the various iterations of miscellaneous club outfits. Big O, Cynergy, Ironfly, even my old SPY stuff.

Now my cycling closet has nothing in it that is more than two seasons old. However, in my chest of drawers I’ve saved three jerseys from the recycle man — my Belgian Waffle Ride jerseys from 2012, 2013, and 2014.

bwr_jerseys

Unlike a lot of other jerseys I’ve worn, these three I actually earned. And if you’ve signed up for the 2015 edition, which promises to be longer, harder, dirtier, and grittier than the previous three, what follows is some advice — some real advice — about how to earn yours.

I’ve broken it down into four approaches. Pick your poison.

  1. The 2012 Approach a/k/a “Win it!”: The first year I trained hard and did several BWR prep rides to learn the layout of the course. I envisaged a hard day in the saddle, and somewhere over the 119-mile course I would either contend for the victory or slog it out for a top-ten finish. I got dropped on the very first dirt section. By the time we hit it I was already gassed, and I stumbled along, blind and in confusion, for the remaining hundred miles. The 2012 Approach is not recommended. I vividly remember sitting in the finish area, starving and thirsty, having forgotten to bring money for food. If Christine Marckx hadn’t bought me a hot dog I wouldn’t be here today.
  2. The 2013 Approach a/k/a “Survive it!”. The second year I trained even harder and did even more prep rides. Knowing the impossibility of a good finish, as my name isn’t Neil Shirley, Brent Prenzlow, or Phil Tinstman, my goal was simply to do respectably. Unfortunately I got caught up in the excitement of the first dirt section below the bike path and fell off my bicycle trying to climb the stone wall from the dirt and gravel back onto the path. By the section gravel section I was gassed. Dave Gonyer blew by me en route to Couser Canyon, and then so did a hundred other people. This 130-mile miseracordia left me crushed and destroyed at the halfway mark simply because I had given into the temptation of “go hard” so early.
  3. The 2014 Approach a/k/a “Enjoy it!”. The third year, although MMX insisted on placing me in the first wave, I dropped off as soon as I realized that in the “neutral” zone we were cranking out 500 watts on the rollers. I fell back with Pilot and Junkyard, determined to ride at my own pace. Junkyard got sucked into the enthusiasm of a passing group on the dirt track after Lake Hodges, and sprinted off. “Junkyard!” I said. “Don’t!” I saw him at the 80-mile mark bending weakly over his bike as he tried to make sense out of the phrase “39 miles to go, and they’re the hardest ones with the most vertical and the most dirt.” I rode steadily the whole day and finished tired but not destroyed. 131 riders finished ahead of me, but none of them looked very good. This was the only BWR I’d done that I would call a success.
  4. The 2015 Approach a/k/a “Share it!”. The fourth year I’ll also train hard and I’ll also ride my own ride. There will be no getting sucked into the unwinnable competition for me–I’m even less Neil Shirley than I was in 2012. But unlike last year I’ll have a small group of riders who’ve been fileted and left for dead in previous years, who now know that the BWR is not to be conquered, only to be completed. Because whether you’re second or seven hundredth, the finisher’s jerseys are all the same.

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