That funny taste in my mouth

August 23, 2012 § 19 Comments

In the same week that Lance Armstrong’s challenge to USADA got tossed out of court, Bicycling Magazine released an in-depth interview with Jonathan Vaughters about his doping past. The irony was exquisite.

On the one hand, Armstrong is in the final throes of being ground down by a long, tortuous process that punishes drug cheats. On the other, Vaughters has escaped all punishment, been rewarded as a hero and spokesman for clean cycling, and continues to make a comfortable living at the pinnacle of the sport whose rules he once abused with abandon.

Is it justice? Or is it Memorex?

To be sure, Armstrong still has a few cards left to play, but they’re certainly not face cards from a strong suit. At this point, however, it’s hard to imagine his athletic career and sporting legacy ever reviving. You just don’t come back from a lifetime ban unless you’re a zombie.

There is, in the anti-Armstrong camp, a sense of jubilation, or grim satisfaction, or plain relief that the doors of the doping jail are closing shut. What there isn’t, and what there shouldn’t be, is a sense of justice having been done.

Vaughters proves it.

Unlike Hamilton, or Landis, or Basso, or Ullrich, or Pantani, or Virenque, or Millar, or any of the numerous riders sanctioned for cheating, Vaughters walked. The same system that has zeroed in on Armstrong and made sure that he gets punished for cheating has turned a blind eye to Vaughters. It has done more than turn a blind eye: It has anointed him.

How can this possibly be fair, even in the weird world of pro cycling? The sops at Bicycling can barely even raise the question, let alone pursue it with the rigor of a journalist.

Lips moving? He’s lying.

In the interview, Vaughters contradicts himself with previous statements so quickly that it’s as if he doesn’t believe in the Internet. Here’s Vaughters, a scant ten days ago in the NYT:

If the message I was given had been different, but more important, if the reality of sport then had been different, perhaps I could have lived my dream without killing my soul. Without cheating.

Here he is today:

Obviously, I’m not a victim. The decision (to dope) was mine and mine alone.

Which of these two versions would he like to have for dinner? They’re mutually exclusive. If a rotten system forced him to choose between cheating and quitting, he was a victim. If, on the other hand, the decision to dope was his and his alone, he’s not a victim, but rather a douchey cheat. Sound confusing? It is, even to Vaughters. That’s what happens when you’re a habitual liar: You can’t keep your bullshit straight even in the same article.

Immediately after telling us that the decision to dope was his and his alone, he describes the process through which his team director, a devout and principled man, told him that henceforth he would be put on EPO. Vaughters:

I quickly figured out he was talking about EPO. As much as I should’ve said no, and as much as I was intelligent and should have said, ‘Wait, this is bullshit,’ in my mind he’d just spelled out that I wasn’t going to dope; we’d just make my hematocrit what it would have been had I not been riding my bike so damn much.

In this scenario, Vaughters was either forced into it by his team boss, ergo victim, or he knew what he was doing and did it anyway, ergo douchey cheat.

Let the ends justify the means

Vaughters flips back and forth between “I’m not a victim” and “The system made me do it” over and over, and he does so with good reason. Not only is the interviewer, Joe Lindsey, a patsy, but these mutually exclusive explanations are the only way out of the dense forest of logic and morality that has him hemmed in on all sides.

To be a victim is untenable because no one would believe him. To have done everything of his own free will strips him of the moral high ground he’s so desperately seeking to gain in the eyes of the cycling public.

Vaughters plays his readers for fools, and his interviewer for a buffoon, by talking about what a difference doping can make. Here, in the NYT:

How much does that last 2 percent really matter? In elite athletics, 2 percent of time or power or strength is an eternity.

Then, a few days later, he patronizingly lectures his audience that the true evil of blood vector doping is that it gives certain users massive advantages that are far more than marginal:

“He [Vaughters] goes on to explain that the largest gains in oxygen transport occur in the lower hematocrit ranges—a 50 percent increase in RBC count is not a linear 50 percent increase in oxygen transport capability. The rider with the lower hematocrit is actually extremely efficient at scavenging oxygen from what little hemoglobin that he has, comparatively. So when you boost his red-cell count, he goes a lot faster.”

Vaughters’s point for Bicycling is not that dopers dope for an extra two percent, but that they do it for potentially massive gains depending on their physiology. Which is it? Two percent? Or the logarithmic increase depending on your body’s natural capacity for scouring oxygen?

Does it even matter?

Not really

In the context of pushing for cleaner pro competitions, we can and should excuse this mumbo-jumbo that’s easier for Vaughters to say than, “I’m a lying douchey cheat, thanks for all the money.” But in the context of fairness, he shouldn’t get off so easily.

Or, since he has, maybe we should take a minute and deflate for a minute now that Judge Sparks has sent the Armstrong legal team packing. If Lance gets hung out to dry, and Vaughters is deified as the admitted madman running the asylum, was justice done?

Are we good with calling one douchey cheat a douchey cheat, and calling another douchey cheat a role model and hero?

Doesn’t that stick in your throat?

Just a little?

Sure does in mine.

You’re starting to look like a hamburger

August 22, 2012 § 22 Comments

Since my first training session with Marcella Piersol about four weeks ago, I’ve lost about seven pounds.

“You don’t need to lose any weight! You’re already skinnnnny!”

“You don’t need to lose any weight! You’ve got a high metaaaaaaabolism!”

Check out Kristy Morrow’s photo sequence of my stomach jiggling on my top tube and get back to me, okay?

An inconvenient truth

The only way to lose weight is through eating less. Period. You can exercise ’til you’re blue in the face, you can buy the low-fat, the non-fat, the nega-fat, but if you want to get rid of what’s hanging out around your gut, you’re gonna have to diet.

And if you want to keep it off you’re going to have to diet.

And you’re going to have to do it the rest of your life.

Now, if that seems daunting, you can console yourself that every fucking minute in between meals from now until the day you die the only thing you’ll be thinking about is food, because once the first couple of pounds come off, hunger kicks in.

I don’t mean hunger as in “Hey, honey, are you hungry? Let’s go get dinner!” hungry.

I mean, “I will kill anything and do anything to anyone in order to eat.” I mean hungry as in “If something hamburger-like doesn’t find its way between my teeth here shortly I will die. And rather than die I would prefer that you die.”

This, folks, is dieting. And why it’s doomed to fail. And why people who remain rail thin who deny that they’re starving are fucking liars. All of ’em.

The human reaction to starvation

We all know that the human body evolved to adapt to starvation. That’s why we bounce back so quickly from most nutritional deficits. It’s also why the other end of the spectrum, nutritional excess, is so devastating: our bodies don’t know how to cope with it.

What we also know, thanks to the scientific project/art installation/weird PR stunt known as Biosphere 2, is that when people are forced to live on greatly restricted diets, they thrive. They get really skinny. They get cranky. And all systems function at their absolute optimal peak.

In my case, the Wanky Diet meant cutting back a bunch and combining my regular biking with 45-min to 1-hour sessions at the gym. “Wanky at the Gym” is a new sitcom, by the way, where a weak and tweezly elderly fellow nearly kills himself doing things like sit-ups, and that crazy-ass thing I saw that hot chick do on a YouTube workout video where you put your hands on the floor and balance your feet on a giant exercise ball and then flex your legs, which is supposed to strengthen your core but in fact shoots the giant ball across the gym and hits the old lady with the pink dumbbells and smashes your knees so fucking hard against the cement floor that it takes your breath away and leaves these huge contusions that hurt so bad you can hardly walk.

Functioning at optimal capacity

Within a couple of days I had gone from hungry to Code Red. Code Red occurs when every organ in your body sends a continual message to your brain that says “Eat a hamburger now or you will die. You just passed another In ‘N Out, you stupid fucker.”

At first I was like, “I’m not even that crazy about hamburgers,” but after a couple more days had passed I will swear to you that everyone and everything looked like a hamburger. That nasty sweaty dude with the droopy bosom on the NPR? Hamburger. That glass in the road? Hamburger. The gas pump? Hamburger.

This kind of intense and relentless hunger was new to me. I’d gotten glimpses of it before but had always quashed the hunger with…a hamburger. Now I was all in. I had sworn a blood oath that I would live on a restricted calorie diet such that I was in continual starvation mode for the rest of my life or until I cratered or until dinner, whichever came first.

By Week 2, or Week 3, although I’d lost the ability to count, I noticed that my faculties were indeed sharper. Work that had languished on my desk in the DIL pile (Do It Later) got done, and it got done right, and it got done right the first time.

I was finishing up morning rides and hitting the office ready for work because the sooner I got through the morning the sooner I’d get to eat lunch. I was finishing weekend rides and feeling eager for more activity, because the sooner I was done with my activities the sooner I could eat. Every single day, with only one or two exceptions, I was getting in some kind of routine in the gym, although they had banned me from the giant exercise ball. The gym was fun and exciting, because the sooner I finished my workout the sooner I’d get to have lunch or dinner.

All good diets come to an end

Weighing in at a consistent 158 lbs., I felt that there was nowhere to go but down. Suddenly, 150 lbs. was doable. And why stop there? Why not give Konsmo a run for his money, and strip all the way down to 140? I’d conquered the hardest part of dieting, which is the realization that for the rest of my life I would be completely miserable, and everyone in my family would look like a hamburger. To put the final nail in the coffin, a phone conversation yesterday with a high school buddy went like this:

Him: You know, the older you get, the fewer pleasures there are in life.

Me: Yep.

Him: And you don’t want as many things as you used to.

Me: Nope.

Him: Life’s more complicated in some ways, but it’s a heck of a lot simpler, too.

Me: Yep.

Him: As long as you can have a good, satisfying, filling meal twice a day, you know the kind of meal that really fills your belly, life’s perfect.

Me: Fuck off.

For the record, I did the NPR this morning on a cup of coffee and a piece of toast. Skinny milk in the coffee, no butter on the toast. At work I made it through to four o’clock with nothing but an apple and a tiny PBS. From five to six I frightened people at the gym.

By dinnertime I was so faint with hunger that all I could do was lie in bed and moan, “Honey, is dinner ready yet?”

When she finally said “Yes,” I made it to the table on all fours. Of course, the table looked like a hamburger. Even the dinner, which was spaghetti with meat sauce, looked like a hamburger. But she had piled the plate so high that after I’d gotten halfway through, it started to look like what it was.

I hit the magic “STOP” point, where I knew that anything more would wreck my lifelong diet. I ploughed on. Through the spaghetti mountain. Through the salad forest. Through the yogurt bowl with fruit. Through the strong black coffee.

And for the first time in memory, my hunger was banished. Here’s hoping it never comes back.

Red, white, and blue

August 21, 2012 § 1 Comment

I got all prepared to do a story about masters road nationals in Bend, Oregon. I was gonna get a list of all the SoCal men and women who are going up north to vie for a star spangled jersey. I was gonna give ’em all a cool bio. I was gonna do a rousing send off blog for the whole crew. I was gonna fill it with facts. Figures. Race results. Predictions. I was gonna really do some serious journalizing reportage stuff.

I was also gonna help out with the laundry and wash the dishes.

Old habits are old habits for a reason

The main reason they are old habits is because you like having ’em more than you like breaking ’em. My old habit is, rather than doing serious writing, to just slap shit together at the last minute and call it good. There’s never enough time to do it right, but there’s always time to do it over.

Plus, I got to thinking, “How many of these dudes and chicks do I actually know? How many have I raced with? How many have I ridden with? How many have ever laughed at one of my jokes?”

It’s a pretty short list.

So now I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’m going to leave a lot of people off my “Rousing Send Off to Nationals List,” and that’s just how it’s gonna be. If you’re really offended, send me a quick synopsis of who you are and what you’re gonna do, and I’ll make up some grand ol’ crap and slap you onto the tail of the list.

The Roll of Heroes

Jeff Konsmo: Jeff is racing the biggest, and therefore the hardest field at masters nats, the 45-49 road race. It has 88 dudes registered, which proves that this is the age when men truly lose all judgment and common sense in the vain attempt to recapture the glory of their youth. Jeff’s made a run at this race for the last few years and has never gotten the jersey, although he is, without a doubt, one of a handful of old dudes capable of wearing it. His preparation this year has been off the charts. He’s gone into double secret probation hiding. The only people who can finish his training rides use mopeds. Large ones. He’s putting the finishing edge on his razor by training at altitude near Lake Tahoe. He’s dropped all that excess weight he’s so famous for and is now down to 112 pounds, fully clothed and carrying a pair of dumbbells. Mostly, I want him to win because he’s gritty, dedicated, and a class act. Plus, he’s the only dude I’ve ever known who takes trophies from former wins to races, and isn’t afraid to do the hardest road race of the year the day after having half his jaw replaced.

Rich Meeker: Rich is coming off the winningest year in cycling since Merckx was a junior. It’s amazing that one man could have a home and garage large enough to hold all the hardware that Rich has won. It’s gotten so bad that he’s had to rent his third storage unit just for the trophies he’s won since July. His pistachio primes alone fill up a small dump truck. Whether it’s against the clock, against a field full of nutheaded whackadoodles, against the heat, against the wind, against the hills, or against anything except The Hand of God himself, Rich has proven himself, without question, the finest racer in any category. I want to see him win the 50+ RR and crit because the rest of the country’s top riders need to experience the hopelessness, the despair, and the crushing feeling of defeat that we all get just watching him put on his cleats. Take that, America! Once Rich rolls up to the line, you’d better hone your strategy for nailing down second.

Charon Smith: This is the guy who, week in and week out, does the most with the least. He’s never got more than a couple of teammates, it seems, and he’s constantly doing battle against Monster Media and their stacked fields of ten, twelve, or more riders. And they’re not just good riders, some are flat out great. With every eye glued to his flashy orange shoes, and with every sprinter keying on him in the final lap, he’s managed to bring home at least eight big wins this year that I know of…maybe more, and sometimes it’s just him and Slover. Talk about David whipping up on Goliath. I really hope he wins because he’s always willing to ride with us wankers, laugh at our jokes (some of them), and be a part of the community rather than above it. He’s a role model to a lot of people, and always focuses on the positive. So nobody’s perfect. He’s got his work cut out for him in Bend in the 35+ crit, but it won’t be the first time he’s been down for the count and come up on top.

Karl Bordine: I don’t really know Karl, but he said “hello” to me in the parking lot the only time I did Como. I rode with him a couple of weeks ago on the Swami’s ride. Well, in his vicinity. No one really rides “with” Karl, as he’s in a league of his own. He’s going for the 35+ ITT and the road race. If he’s half as good as all the stories I’ve heard, and half as nice as he seems to be, he’ll not only win the time trial but get Gentleman of the Year as well.

Phil Tintsman: This dude is just over the top awesome. Family man, easy going, and bloody hammer of death when the whip comes down. Slathered up one side and down the other with tattoos, he is truly a complete road racer, able to bust your chops in a breakaway, beat you in a sprint, ride away from you on a hilly road course, and of course smash the snot out of all comers on the Belgian Waffle Ride. I don’t have the time to check USA Cycling and make sure which events he’s doing, but whichever ones he does, I expect he’ll do a phenomenal job representing SoCal, and maybe bring home a jersey as well.

Jamie Paolinetti: This is another dude I don’t really know, except to the extent that I see him every race in a break, or winning out of a break, or chasing down a break, or bridging up to a break, or initiating a break. The other way I know him is by the name “Fuckin’ Paolinetti.” As in, “I had the race in the bag but at the last minute you know who came around me? Fuckin’ Paolinetti!” or “We had a minute on the field, but Fuckin’ Paolinetti bridged and dropped us.” If he wins a championship he’ll do it in aggressive, full-on style.

Roger Worthington: He’s the inventor of beer, curer of cancer, and toughest curmudgeon on two wheels, and despite our checkered history and the time he kicked me out on my ass right before Christmas, with bills to pay and three hungry kids and never so much as a “Thanks, buddy,” I can’t not hope that he comes up aces just because he’s so damned good. Of all the things that differentiate RGW, Legal Beagle, Max Kash Agro, Hoppy Rog, and Crafty Beerboy (pick a personality) from the herd, aside from his indescribable wealth nothing differentiates him more than this: He’s the toughest bike racer out there. He’s got more grit in his belly than a hominy factory. He’s done it all, and is quite literally the progenitor of the professional masters bike racer: Before it was any of the current masters pro teams, it was Labor Power. Like whores and bad architecture, even bike racers can eventually become respectable, or close to it. Seeing him bring home a hard-won jersey would mean that the best racer really did win.

Brett Clare: He’s another dude I don’t know too well except from his ass and his shoulder. His ass I got to meet at the San Marcos race when he blew by the field with half a lap to go in a display of speed and power that reminded me, once again, why I should be knitting instead of bike racing. I also know him from his shoulder at the Brentwood GP, where he took a hard fall, separated his shoulder, finished the race, and is still registered for nationals. That’s just incredible stuff. Anybody that tough has a jersey in him. Plus, he friended me on Facebook.

Alan Flores: Alan’s my teammate, and I could tell you about how great he’s been riding, how he won Brentwood, and how he won San Marcos, and how he got second or third at Ladera, and how he’s on form, and how he’s canny and always picks the right move, and how he bridges, and how he attacks, and how he sprints, and how he’s a really good guy to be around…but I’m not going to tell you any of that shit. I’m going to tell you about the only time I finished a race with him, at Ontario several years ago. We were in a break and I got last. Moving right along, although he’ll be battling it out with Roger, Rich, and the other badasses of SoCal, Alan’s got the right stuff. Here’s hoping he brings it home!

John Geyer: John’s another teammate, but he’s going to have to forgive me for the short entry. I’m beat to crap, it’s dinnertime, and BJ is drumming his fingers wondering where the Tuesday installment is. With the right combination of luck and smart moves, John could prove instrumental in getting Alan into the break. He’s been the consummate teammate all year and played a big role in San Marcos. Like they say, “There’s no ‘I’ in ‘team,'” although, unfortunately, there’s no “beer,” either. Safe to say that after nationals, held as it is in the craft beer capital of the universe, that will be remedied and a few glasses will be drained. Here’s hoping that someone from SoCal is draining a glass in victory.

The best bike gadgmo I ever didn’t buy

August 19, 2012 § 36 Comments

I was sitting in my office last December when the secretary buzzed me. “Wanky,” she said. “Mr. Geiger is here to see you.”


“Mr. Geiger. Mr. Alan Geiger.”

“I don’t know any Alan Geiger. What’s he want?”

“I’m not sure but he says he has something for you.”

“What? He’s selling radiation readers?”

“Do you want me to tell him you’re busy?”

“If he knows me at all, he’ll know that’s a lie. I’ll come out.”

Wanky, meet Mr. Geiger. Mr. Geiger, Wankmeister.

I went out into the lobby and he was sitting in the chair as if he owned it. He was short, looked like he was in his late 50’s but he had that fit cyclist look which meant he could have been in his 70’s. He hopped right up. “I brought a couple of things for you,” he said.

In my line of work no one ever just pops in to “bring me something” unless it’s a summons and complaint. I raised an eyebrow. “Okay…”

“First, I want you to have this magazine. It’s the best bike mag in Japan. You’ll love it.” He handed me a giant, full-color bike magazine, all in Japanese, that makes anything ever put out by Bicycling look like it was done on recycled tissue paper.

“Uh, thanks.” How did he know I read Japanese?

“But most importantly, I want you to have this.”

I tensed, waiting for the hammer. He fished into his pocket and pulled out a little plastic zipper pouch. “I got it at the hundred-yen shop in Harajuku. Perfect for your iPhone, a couple of bucks, and a credit card. Waterproof. Fits in your back jersey pocket like it was made for it.” He held out the little plastic pouch, which was made of clear plastic and shot through with reinforcing strips.

“Are you fucking kidding me, dude?” was what I thought. But incredibly, the only thing that came out was “Wow. Uh, thanks. Thanks a bunch…Alan.”

“Gotta go,” said Alan, then he said, “That is that.” And then he was gone, with a tip of his hat.

My secretary had watched the whole thing, and after he left, she couldn’t suppress a giggle. “Who was he?”

“Damned if I know.” And damned if I did.

Change your life forever!

My life partner

I looked over the little pouch once I returned to my office. It was sturdy as hell. It had a nice, easy grip ring on the zipper. It was perfectly sized for an iPhone. Curiosity being more than a land rover on Mars, it got the better of me. I put my phone inside. Then I clicked the round hole at the bottom of the phone and up came the screen. “Will it really work through the plastic?” It did. Then I placed a call to Mrs. WM.

“Hello?” she said.

“It’s me. Nothing.”

“Okay. Bye.” This was one of our deeper conversations. Amazingly, the sound came right through the plastic.

Two weeks later I and my pouch had become inseparable, so much so that it had led to a rift with my trusty leather wallet. I’d transferred all my stuff to the pouch, and in the process had weeded out all of the crap that accumulates in wallets, kind of like the spontaneous regeneration that occurs in shoe closets.

That pouch went with me on every single bike ride. It was bullet proof, rain proof, sweat proof, and key proof. Soon I took to dropping it into the pocket of my suit coat. The sheriff’s deputies would look at me kind of funny when I showed them my bar card as I prepared to go through security at the courthouse. It’s not every lawyer in a wool suit and shiny black shoes who whips out a plastic zipper pouch.

Hard travelin’

After six months of constant use, and no small amount of abuse, the side of the pouch began to tear. No problem. We had a roll of Granny’s Special Japanese Duct Tape at home, and I taped it up while also reinforcing the other corners. Some things are disposable. This pouch wasn’t. It was without question the best non-bicycling product I’d never not bought for cycling. No more fumbling for shit in my back pocket. No more swapping stuff from wallet to jersey. No more forgetting shit in the jersey until the credit card and the Jackson got new and improved with a stiff dose of hot water and Tide.

Best of all, it was the ultimate fashion statement. As it got rattier, the deputies’ eyebrows raised higher and higher. And to say that it matched the ding in the rear bumper of my Camry, well, that hardly needs saying.

By last Thursday’s edition of the New Pier Ride, however, as I sat on the bricks and fiddled with my phone, it became apparent that the pouch was not going to last a whole lot longer without another round of duct tape surgery, which was fine with me. But it also occurred to me that if I knew where to get replacements, assuming they were to be had somewhere other than Harajuku, I could lay in a few for stock. With care and a roll of duct tape, they’d last me the rest of my life.

I turned to the SBW dude on my left. “You know Alan Geiger?”

“Alan? Sure? Why?”

“What’s his email?”

My neighbor gave it to me. I sent the email. In five minutes Alan had pinged me back. “You used to only be able to get them in Harajuku. But there’s a new Daiso, a couple of blocks down from the big Marukai in Gardena. Don’t go to the Daiso in Torrance. They won’t have ’em. In the office supply section. You want size B7. The price has gone up, though. They cost a buck fifty now. If they’re in stock, buy a fistful. That place is funny. They’ll have something you like, and then you’ll never see it again.”

What goes around, comes around

Mrs. WM and I made the trek out to the Daiso in Gardena. Everything was exactly as Alan had described it, down to the location. His perfect description made it a five-second affair to choose from the plethora of pouches: B7. I scooped up ten of them. At a buck-fifty, that was a price even I could afford.

This morning as I got ready to roll out I happily chose a new pouch from the new stack, stuffed it, and consigned the tattered one to the trash. Then it occurred to me as I looked at the remaining ones. Maybe, instead of hoarding them all for myself, and despite the vagaries of the supply chain, maybe I should try and pass on the karma? I grabbed two extras and shoved them into my jersey.

As we rolled out of Malaga Cove I handed one to New Girl. “Here,” I said. “Don’t ask what or why. Just put your phone and money in it. You’ll thank me later.” She nodded.

When the wankoton hit the bottom of the reservoir I grabbed Sparkles’s jersey. I could see her phone making a sharp outline in her jersey pocket. “Hey, Sparkles. Here. For your phone. You’ll thank me later.” She looked at it, smiled, and tucked it away.

I got a funny feeling that lasted the rest of the ride.

Back at the ranch

Later today it occurred to me to find something out about this mysterious giver of pouches and Japanese bike magazines. I made a few calls until I hit pay dirt: Cary the Elder, he who knows everyone, connected me with Alan. Moments later we were chatting on the phone.

“Oh, yes,” he said. “Everyone in Central Park has one of those. I discovered them ten years ago at the Hundred Yen shops in Japan, and since I go back and forth, I always brought a few boxes with me to hand out. I thought my popularity in New York, such as it was, depended on it!”

“You just…handed them out?”

“Oh, absolutely. People had no idea what they were or what they were good for until they used it. Then it was like, ‘How did I ever live without one?’ followed by ‘Where can I get a replacement?'”

“I saw Tara with one.”

“Yes. A friend of mine was having lunch with a friend, and my friend took out her pouch to pay the tab. The other woman looked and said, ‘Do you know Alan?’ They’re everywhere now.”

“We picked up ten yesterday, and I…well…I gave out a couple.”

Alan’s voice warmed even more over the phone. “Oh, then you’re carrying on the tradition. That’s how it should be. They’re small things, but somehow, they’re bigger than they look.”

I thanked him for the gift, but I wasn’t talking about the pouch. And he knew it.

The city mouse and the country mouse

August 18, 2012 § 2 Comments

Once upon a time there was a city mouse named Wanky. He was snooty, and he thought that Big City was the best place in the whole world. He was even conceited enough to think that one of his local coffee shops was the center of the known universe. He owned a fancy bicycle and only wore designer bicycle clothing.

Wanky had a poor country cousin mouse from Bakersfield named Lem, who had a cousin named Cletus. Although Lem and Cletus were cousins, like most Bakersfield mice one never inquired too closely as to the consanguinity because it often turned out that “cousin” was a euphemism for “illegal relationship in the lower 48 except Texas.”

Cultural exchange

One day Wanky called up Lem on the Twitter. “Lem, why don’t you come down and do our Donut Ride. You country mice will learn a thing or two about how to ride your bicycles.”

“Why thanky, Wanky,” said Lem the country mouse. “That’s mighty nice of you. Do you mind if I bring Cousin Cletus?”

“Cletus? Is he the one with the saggy tummy and stumpy tail?”

“That’s him,” said Lem. “But he would like to come and see what all that Big City riding is like. He don’t get out much, except for when him and me get over to Fresno ever now and agin for chain lube and clean underwear.”

“How often is that, Cousin Lem?”

“Oncet or twice a year, for sure.”

“That would be fine,” said Wanky. “Be sure to tell him that our Donut Ride is the most glorious and fame-inducing ride in Big City. All the Big City mice will be there, as well as one or two Big City rats. They will more than likely gnaw out his entrails.”

Glory or fitness? Glory.

“Will us’n get a good piece of training on your Big City donut?” asked Lem.

“No,” said Wanky. “My third cousin twice removed on Uncle Theodosius’s sister’s side, Jack from Illinois (not his real name), says that the Donut Ride is the dumbest and worst preenfest of wankers he’s ever seen. And he’s from Illinois, so he knows a thing or two about wankers.”

“Me and Cletus was hopin for some training.”

“We have lots of training in Big City,” Wanky said snootily. “You can train with Roadchamp at 3:00 AM and break every Strava record known to mice and men.”

“I kinda think we’d like to do that ride,” squeaked Lem.

“Only problem is that no one will ever see you. You’ll be invisible, eating your pre-ride cheese at Peet’s Cheeseshop in the dark. You’ll have done a hundred and ten with 8k of climbing by the time we even get started on the Donut Ride.”

“What do mean by ‘glory’?”

“Glory?” Wanky said with a condescending squeak. “When you roll out on the Donut Ride in Big City, you’ll be surrounded by rodentia royalty. The Italian Stallion might even be there.”

“Who’s that?”

“You might as well ask me ‘Who was Ratty?’ in the Wind in the Willows,” Wanky said. “Or ‘Who was Stuart Little?’ Or ‘Who was Mickey?’ Crikey, Lem, the Italian Stallion is the most famous rat in Big City. When he shows up on the Donut Ride, it’s Katie bar the door.”

All aboard for the Pussy Riot

“Katie bar the door?”

“Yep. Katie Donovan, a/k/a Razor, will slice you into thin little ribbons of mouse meat and feed you to the cats. She did the Leadville 100 walking all the descents and still finished in under four hours. She even carries around an ego bag.”

“A what?” Lem’s voice quivered on the other end of the Twitter.

“And ego bag. It’s a giant bag hooked up underneath her saddle. Bigger than Dallas, even.”

“What’s it for?”

“She fills it up with all the broken male mouse egos that get shattered on the Donut Ride. Starts the ride empty, goes home full to busting.”

“But she’s a girl mouse?”

“Not a girl mouse like you have out in the country, Lem. She’s a Big City mouse. She’s pretty, and smart, and well educated, and knows how to use a napkin, and only blows snot out of her nose when there’s no one on her wheel.”

“Holy Gouda!” squeaked Lem admiringly.

“But when the hammer comes down, she’s the one with her fingers wrapped around the handle. And it’s all the little boy mice’s testicles who get smushed.”

Lem squeaked in terror. “Are you sure she’ll be there?”

“Pretty sure. And even if she’s not, Tink will be.”

“Who’s Tink?” Lem’s squeak was so soft that Wanky could hardly hear it.

“She’s the climbingest mouse in the South Bay after Razor. Lots of big tough boy mice have tried to pin her in a trap, but the only way to get Tink’s attention is to finish with her on the top of a climb. And none of the boy mice have been able to do that yet.”

Beware of fools bearing gifts

On the day of the big ride, Lem and Cletus showed up at the Cheese Bean and Cheese Leaf in Big City. Wanky met them and introduced them to much of the Big City royalty. New Mouse was there. Sparkly Mouse was there. Polly Mouse, Douggie Mouse, Jensie Mouse, Gussy Mouse, Junkyard Mouse, Friedrich Mouse, Pilot Mouse, and a host of other rodents assembled to greet the out of towners. The only big rat missing was G$ Rat and Mighty Mouse herself.

Lem reached into his homespun carryall and pulled out a pair of pink unicorn socks. “Here y’go, Cousin Wanky. These here magic unicorn socks will give you extra special riding powers. Plus they are so loud and ugly and bright that I will be able to find you no matter how far back I am.”

Pink unicorn power for Wanky!

Wanky pulled on the magic unicorn socks and felt a special strength surge up into his incisors. “Thank you, Cousin Lem and Cousin Cletus!” His long and greasy and hairless tail quivered in anticipation.

All rats great and small rolled out, an armada of rodents more than one hundred strong. Even the evil and nasty Big City police cats and Deputy Knox cat were afraid to approach the rolling entourage of cheese eaters.

Country mice squeak strongly

On the dreaded Switchbacks, the selection occurred with the Italian Stallion, Razor, Tink, Dentist, Stathis the Wily Greek, John Mouse Hall, and Petey Mouse. Lem lasted for a while and was then fed to the cats. Cletus had his entrails gnawed out. Wanky wanked in no-mouse-land after getting his head caught in the mousetrap after the third turn.

Lem rode well through Homes and Gardens, finished mousefully on the Domes, sprunted well at Hawthorne, and dusted Wanky on the final climb up Zumaya. Cletus was honored at a roadside burial later that afternoon.

Back at the cheese shop in Big City, Lem and Wanky talked over the day’s events. “You Big City mice sure ride hard.”

“You country mice are no slouches.”

“My tail and haunches are pretty sore.”

“Wait ’til tomorrow.”

“What was that big lake thing on the left the first part of our ride? Was it the Big City sewage pond? Only body of water that big in Bakersfield is the sewage pond.”

“It’s called the Pacific Ocean, but China calls it their sewage pond.”

“Well, someday soon we hope you’ll make it up to the country so’s we can return the favor. Big City mice was shore nice to us. That John Mouse Hall feller told me where the turns was. And that Polly Mouse feller did the same thing for Cletus afore he up and died on us.”

“I’d like nothing better, Lem. When’s a good time?”

“In December it gets down to the low hundreds. Which is good because the sewage pond don’t smell so rich.”

“I’ll put it on my calendar.”

“And bring some Big City mice with you. We’d like to see if they ride as quick on our roads as they do on yours.”

New offering! Taintbag translation service!

August 17, 2012 § 12 Comments

I wish Captaintbag would come out of the closet and identify himself, mostly because then I could stop having to deny I’m him. I wish I had a nickel for every wanker who’s sidled up to me and said, “Hey, dude, I saw that Captaintbag link on your web site. That’s really you, isn’t it?”

Fuck no, it isn’t me, and any idiot ought to know it isn’t.

For one, I can’t write fuggin dna spel like capn. Even if I trid I coul’dnt

For another, I don’t pseudonymize.

And for another, unlike my gasbag opinions that are founded on sand and thin air, Taintbag is a razor sharp, analytical bastard who knows the nuts, bolts, pins, needles, and science behind human performance. If you think that’s me, you’ve never fuggin ridden with me for even five minutes.

The biggest news to hit the Internet since Bukka White’s “Poor Boy A Long Way From Home” got uploaded to YouTube

Taintbag is a wicked cross-examiner because he knows his stuff and doesn’t back down. So I was surprised when Jonathan Vaughters decided to respond to him in a Twatter exchange. Of course, Vaughters considers himself a “Jedi” at indirection–his word, believe it or not–which is a kind of hubris that will serve you mighty fucking poorly when you’re lying to a skilled questioner.

Sir Jedi, in a halfhearted attempt at transparency, tried to explain to Taintbag the actual details of his doping and how it related to his career and decision to quit and ultimately cause him to become the Jedi in shining armor for clean cycling.

In a brilliant takedown of this sagging and lead-filled balloon of lies, Taintbag extracted on Twitter the key elements of JV’s explanation, and then dismantled them. Unfortunately for some readers, there were two problems with his analysis. First, it was written in Taintbagese, a language that requires years of study to understand, a special dictionary, and the ability to conjugate “fug,” and is therefore not accessible to the general cycling public. Second, although Taintbag shredded Vaughters’s explanations from a scientific and logical vantage point, there was an even bigger sleaze that didn’t receive the full attention it deserved.

So I’m going to offer my services, which is kind of like a 150-lb weightroom newbie offering tips to the 295-lb Mr. Olympia.

But since I do go the gym…

The JV post-confession confession

Vaughters admitted to doping in the Times. Then he explained on the Twatter that he had a naturally high hematocrit of 54, which limited his EPO doping to a small amount because a heavier doping regimen would have raised his hematocrit such that it would have earned him a yellow card. After locking himself into this box, Taintbag exposed JV’s contradiction that a little dope don’t help, but nevertheless that this small amount of doping drove him from the sport, as he couldn’t stand “living the lie.” Vaughters also threw in, offhandedly, that it just got “old” getting top ten placings in one-week stage races.

If that level of performance is the best you can do, he admonished the pabulum licking wank-and-file on Twatter, it’s time to “shit or get off the pot.”

Wow. And there I was hoping for a top fifty placing next week in Ontario’s 45+ bizpark crit.

And that’s when I realized that pros must really be different from you and me, even though every one I’ve ever met–and I’ve met a bunch–seem pretty flesh and blood.

And when I realized that Vaughters had made a really good point, I knew something was terribly wrong, so I did a little Intersleuthing.

How many riders in Vaughters’s current stable, I wondered, regularly pull in top-ten placings in any ProTour event, much less one-week stage races?

On the Pro Tour’s 2012 calendar, Vaughters’s squad got zero top-ten placings in the Tour Down Under, Paris-Nice, Tirreno-Adriatico, MSR, Gent-Wevelgem, the Ronde, Tour of Pais Vasco, the Dauphine, Tour of Poland, and Eneco Tour. With the exception of Hesjedal’s Giro win, which was massive, the remainder of the 2012 ProTour results were a fourth, (Tour of Catalan), fifth (E3-Harelbeke), ninth (Paris-Roubaix), eighth (Amstel), sixth (Fleche Wallone), fifth (Liege-Bastogne-Liege), second (Tour of Romandie), seventh (Tour of Switzerland), and fourth at San Sebastian.

Oh, and no top ten placing at the Tour de France.

Guess it’s time for Martin, Danielson, Talansky, Wegmann, Van Summeren, and Vanmarcke, the guys with those lousy top-ten finishes, to find a new team (Oopsie! Vanmarcke just did!). And what of the bone idling, highly paid dudes who never even got a crummy top-ten? Time to get off the fucking pot and start their own transparent team dedicated to clean cycling, I guess.

In other words, that part of Vaughters’s explanation was a big, stinking pile of lying shit.

The reason it’s pointless to analyze the Jonathan Vaughters doping confession based on his NTY op-ed, his Tweets, and his “numbers”

There’s one reason only. The guy’s a complete fucking liar. If you haven’t gotten the memo by now, and your stupid hat is that tightly affixed with a chinstrap, I’m putting it down for you here in black and white: Habitual liars lie habitually.

Got that?

Good. Which leads to the next step: If a habitual liar is explaining something to you that exculpates or mitigates his wrongdoing, assume that every single word is a lie unless he can demonstrate otherwise. Note that nothing in his Twatter exchange or NYT op-ed is substantiated with regard to the how-and-how-much of his doping history. It’s just his word. And what do we know about habitual liars? (Go back and review).

This methodology leads to a supplemental analysis:

  1. JV has a naturally high hematocrit? He’s lying.
  2. JV only took small doses? He’s lying.
  3. JV’s top-ten placings were unsatisfactory to management? He’s lying.
  4. JV’s hematocrit gains from doping didn’t help him? He’s lying.
  5. JV’s moral struggle from doping drove him from professional cycling? He’s lying.

So we’re left with a very different narrative now that we know that we’re speaking with Jedi Liar, and the new narrative goes like this:

Jonathan Vaughters was a talented bike racer. He had a normal hematocrit. When he turned pro during the Wild West of EPO use, he took massive doses of drugs with zero risk of detection. Even with a well-funded, scientifically executed doping and test avoidance strategy, and a fat salary, he couldn’t close the deal. Vaughters realized that even with a top-notch drug program he didn’t have what it took to win. He also saw the handwriting on the wall with regard to stricter drug enforcement, which would further depress his results, and increase his cognitive dissonance: Not the cognitive dissonance of a moral failing, but the dissonance caused by his fear of getting caught, and, perhaps, the dissonance of knowing that such a massive and long term drug habit might harm him. So he quit and embraced “Clean Cycling,” a/k/a Inmates Running the Asylum.

That’s the narrative, folks. And it has the added benefit of ringing true, and not requiring you to believe anything that Jonathan Vaughters says.

And now, Captain, with all due apologies, back to you…

Who’s Johnny Weltz?

August 16, 2012 § 8 Comments

In March 1985, Johnny Weltz and some of his Danish national teammates came to Austin to do the Tour of Texas. Most of the foreign teams stayed at the Villa Capri, nestled cozily in the shadow of the elevated lanes of I-35, and in the morning they would do various training rides, getting ready for the Tour which started the next week.

The Villa Capri, like so many other awful things about old Austin, got torn down so that we could think fondly about it now that it’s no longer there. I wish someone would do that to the Erwin Center.

It was incredible to see the cream of the amateur peloton right there in Austin, before it was ATX, before it was SXSW, before it was anything other than a college town with lots of hippies and the state legislature–“Thirty square miles surrounded by reality,” as we called it. I’d been desperate to go on a training ride with one of the Euro groups, and Filds, sick of the whining, said “Just go fucking do it. Show up. Roll out when they roll out. What are they going to do, fire you? It’s not Breaking Away, you knucklehead.”

Does anyone here speak English?

I picked a group that turned out to be the Norwegian national team. They were riding with some of the Danes, and Johnny was one of them. The group was ten riders strong, and they all spoke perfect English. “Where are you guys going?” I asked.

“We want to do some miles so we are going out to the town called Burnet on the road called 183 and coming back on the road called 1431.”

“Do you mind if I come along?”

The Norseman shrugged. “If you want to.” He looked at my legs. “It will be a long ride.”

US 183 had a nice wide shoulder and hardly any traffic back then, especially once you left town. The team car followed us. I was the only wanker who had crashed the ride, and there was an uneven number of riders, so I was always paired with someone different. In the rotation, everyone took paired five-minute pulls and then swung off. After a couple of hours I was starting to get hungry, and this was long before Clif or GU or Stinger, or even anything remotely like it. This was the era of banana, and PB sandwich if you had the sense to pack it, or, most commonly, the era of “Pray for a convenience store.”

It hadn’t occurred to me that these guys would ride for three and a half hours without stopping. The VC gang I normally rode with would usually have pulled over for the fifth time by a low water crossing on a dirt road and smoking their tenth joint of the ride by the 3-hour mark. These dudes didn’t look like they were stopping, or smoking, or doing anything except pedaling. Pedaling fast.

I started praying. As usual, my pleas went unheeded and my bonk began for real. I started to drift off the back, resigned to quitting before we’d even hit the halfway mark. Fuck and triple fuck.

A little encouragement goes a long way

The team car drove up. “Hey,” the driver said. “You been riding strong. You are hunger knocking, eh?”

“Yeah,” I said.

“I have a lot of food in the car.”

My face said everything in reply.

“But I can’t give you any. It is for the team.” He kept staring at me as my spirit went from breaking to broken. “But still you should not give up. We are two miles from the Burnet. There is a store there with water and the food. You can make it.”

I forced myself back up to the peloton. Somehow I made it to Burnet, where we pulled into the convenience store.

The driver got out. “You did okay. That was hard for you.”

Nobody rides for free

Once inside the store I realized I had no money. Of course I didn’t. No one goes on a 125-mile beatdown with the Norwegian national team carrying money. Pride wouldn’t let me ask for any, and neither would pragmatism: If they wouldn’t share their food, they sure as hell weren’t going to share their money. They were all talking in Norse anyway, and looking at me and kind of grinning. I knew what they were saying.

“He wanted to ride with the team. He don’t look like wants to ride much now.”

“Let’s see how long it takes him to beg. I bet you ten kroner he will beg in two minutes.”

“You think he’s broke? I think he’s broke. Look, he don’t have any money! Har!”

By now the bonk was profound. I went to the back of the store and looked around. There was the coffee pot, but I didn’t drink coffee and didn’t have any money for it anyway. Next to the coffee pot, though, was a giant glass sugar dispenser. It clearly was meant for the coffee, but it didn’t have a price tag on it.

I took the sugar dispenser and filled up my water bottle with most of the sugar. Then I went into the bathroom, turned on the hot water tap, and added the hot water to dissolve the massive amount of sugar. I took a sip. It was the taste of life. I drained half the bottle, went back out and filled the bottle up again with sugar. Suddenly, RR 1431 with its endless hills and winding tarmac wasn’t looking so daunting.

Crime doesn’t pay

As I headed for the door, the large gentleman covered in tattoos behind the counter yelled at me. “Hey! Where do you think you’re going?”

The Norsemen and Danes stopped and looked. The color drained from my face as my mind raced, trying to think of what to say. I’d been caught in the act. “Yeah, I’m talking to you. Think you can come into my fucking store and steal all my sugar and just walk the fuck off? This ain’t fucking Austria or Russia or wherever the fuck you’re from.”

It was the “Austria or Russia” part that saved me.

“Excuse to me?” I said in my strongest fake Euro accent.

“I said you can’t fucking take my sugar. Pony up, pal!” His red face had darkened redder.

“So sorry me, not good English. How problem?”

The Norwegians were doing all they could to keep from cracking up. Johnny Weltz came over and said in his perfect foreigner English. “We’re very sorry to you, sir. He’s from the Belgium, he’s not so good on the English. The Belges are a little slow in the head.”

“Well if he tries ripping off any more of my shit he’ll have a hole in his skull to speed up his stupid fucking thinking. Get the hell out.”

We got the hell out. The second the door closed everyone burst out laughing except me, who was madly sucking down the warm sugar water.

Johnny came up to me. “Hey, you sound like pretty good stupid Belge!”

“Stupid comes natural. I’m from Texas.”

We’re almost home

If you’ve never done RR 1431 from Burnet to Austin on a hot March day with the Nordanian national team, it’s no use me telling you how manly and epic and heroic it was. But I will tell you this: The sugar rush was so intense that on the first several small walls I rolled to the fore and pushed the pace so hard that Johnny rolled up beside me and said, “Easy, Texas. There’s no more sugar water between here and the hotel.”

They dropped me hard on the giant wall where 1431 widens into four lanes, but I managed to catch back on, and of course they went in through Volente.

My apartment wasn’t far from the Villa Capri. I peeled off on my turn, beaten to a pulp. After I recovered, I told the whole story to Filds.

Later that year Filds called me up. “Looks like your training ride got those sorry Danes into shape,” he said.

“Oh, yeah?”

“Yeah. John Weltz just got silver at the amateur world road championships. Isn’t that the guy you rode with back in the spring on that death march?”

“Yeah! It was!” I hung up the phone and thought about it. “Was it?” I said to myself. “Oh, well. It is now.”

Where Am I?

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