Letter to a little kid

May 30, 2013 § 81 Comments

When you grow up you’re going to ask about your father. You’re going to ask how he died. You’re going to feel the wordless pain of going through life without your dad. You’re never going to have the guy who gave you half your blood, half your genes, and all of your heart standing next to you at those moments in life when you most desperately need a father. Little kid, you’ve lost half of the most important thing any kid can ever have before your life has even begun.

Your dad died racing his bike in a stupid weekend crit. And you want to know why, and no one’s been able to explain. How can anyone explain something as senseless and pointless as dying in a weekend bike race, chasing the glory of a candy bar prime and twenty-five bucks in prize money?

Why we race

Before I try to explain why he died, let me try to explain what he was doing when he died. Your dad, who had been racing his bike for years, was taking a risk, a big risk, a life or death risk, and he knew it. He even signed a piece of paper that said he knew the risk was so big it might kill him.

But here’s the thing, little kid: He knew it, but he didn’t really believe it. If he had known, or had any idea that getting killed in that bike race might actually happen to him and leave you behind without your dad, he would have never been in that race. He wanted you and your mom at that race not to watch him get hurt, but so you could watch him compete and maybe even win. You were only a couple of years old, but you were so excited by the race and seeing your dad in it that even after he crashed, each time the pack came around you pointed at the peloton and said “Daddy! Daddy!” It was so cute, before we found out that your dad had died. After that it was heartbreaking.

Your dad was well known and respected in his bicycling community. He raced his bike for the same reason we all race our bikes: To see how good we are compared to the other people that day, that time, that event, when we stick the safety pins into our numbers and mass at the start line. To see how much we can endure. To battle with our friends without fighting them. To put everything on the line.


Why you were at that race, little kid

If we just looked at that bike race and at what you’ve lost, there’s no way it was worth it. No stupid hobby is worth dying for. No little kid deserves to lose his dad like that.

But it wasn’t just a stupid hobby, little kid. These people who were around him when he died, they were his friends. They were the people who helped him when he flatted on training rides, they were the people he helped when it was they who had a mechanical.

They were the people he laughed with. The people he suffered with. The people he sat down with at day’s end and shared a beer with.

Little kid, living in a community, whether you’re lucky enough to have a community of friends, a community of family, or both, is the only thing that makes life worth living. Without people around you to love, and to share the good, to help fend off the bad, and to laugh at the absurd, we’re not living. That loneliness of not having a community of friends can kill people, little kid, just as surely as a blow to the head killed your dad. It’s the loneliness that took the life of someone I loved, too.

But your dad, he lived. And when he entered the world of bike racing he entered the world of a bleeding, life or death intensity that those who haven’t done it can never understand. It’s a world of fear, of loathing, of pain, of exhilaration, of speed, of triumph, of defeat, and of unmitigated battle. It doesn’t make you better, or smarter, or even happier, but while you’re doing it you’re as completely, intensely, and thoroughly alive as anything else you’ll ever do, living so that your mind and body expand to fill the entirety of the time and space you occupy. You become, so briefly, the moment itself. When it’s done, you can only vaguely believe that it ever really happened.

That was your dad’s world, and the people he did it with were his people. What’s funniest, little kid, is that in our bike racing community, we’re friends even with people we’ve never even met. And I’ll try to explain that part, too.

Passing the torch

Your dad loved you more than you’ll ever know. How do I know? Because I’m a dad. Dads love their sons deeply and profoundly and wildly and also with the recognition that the little kid is going to be a man some day, and the man that the little kid becomes will outstrip the dad. It’s pride and love and expectation and respect and even a little chagrin, all mixed into one.

Your dad loved you so much that he wanted you to be part of his community. You would have grown up around bikes and bike racers and you would have learned some lessons, lessons like “The correct number bikes to own is n +1, where ‘n’ equals the current number of bikes you own.” Lessons like “Don’t sneak new bike purchases on the credit card. Discuss it with the wife first, then buy it.” Lessons like “Beer goes with bikes, but don’t overdo it.”

You would have learned other things, too, crucial ingredients that go into the recipe of making a little kid into a man.

“There is no ‘try.'”

“Give it everything you’ve got.”

“Overcome your fear.”

“Don’t give up.”

“Help your friends.”

“Take big risks.”

“No regrets.”

And the biggest one of all: “Teach by example.”

That’s the biggest one of all, little kid, because through his community and his hobby your dad was setting you up to learn all those lessons. He was setting you up to learn about adversity, about good times, about doing your best, about taking big risks, and about friendship. So when you ask why your dad had to die doing a stupid weekend crit, there’s part of your answer. He loved you and knew no other way to teach than through example.

Whether you ride bikes or race them later doesn’t matter. What matters is that you know how much he loved you, and how much he wanted you to learn those life lessons that every man has to learn in order to make his way.

The wheels around you

After your dad died, it created an earthquake of shock in his bicycle riding community. People who knew him and people who didn’t immediately thought of you, little kid. We thought about you because some of us have little kids, too, little kids who clap and cheer in between soda pops on race day. But those of us without kids had you uppermost in our minds, too. We love you, too, little kid, even though we don’t know you.

We love you because what happened to your dad could have happened to any one of us, and we know it. We felt the awfulness this way — “That could have been me.” — and we, because we’re part of your dad’s community and therefore yours, want you to know that you’ll never be alone.

We can’t replace your dad, little kid, or even come close. But your dad’s life will be memorialized, and he’ll have left behind something for you that’s worth more than any insurance policy: A legacy and reputation in his community, a community of friends who won’t ever forget him, and a community of friends who will be there for you if grow up and decide to follow where he led.

Peace out for now, little kid. We’ve got your back.

Lance 3.0: Lay down your cudgels, please

May 26, 2013 § 57 Comments

Newsflash: Lance Armstrong has been stripped of…pretty much everything.

Tour titles? Gone.

Reputation? Gone.

Income stream from his cancer foundation? Gone.

Ability to compete in sanctioned athletic events and the attendant income? Gone.

Mansion in Austin? Gone.

Self-respect after not getting hugged by Oprah? Totally gone.

Bonus newsflash: It’s not over yet. The Justice Department has joined Floyd’s whistleblower suit…former sponsors are suing to get their money back…he will be paying for his transgressions for a long, long time.

I don’t know about you…

But I believe in redemption. Not the Shawshank kind — I believe in the kind of redemption that says once you’ve been punished for your transgressions according to rule and/or law, you’re redeemed.

This type of redemption may not mean that you’re a sterling moral character, or even that you admit guilt or feel sorry for what you’ve done. It just means that you broke the rule, got punished, and are now free to move on just like new. Something worthless has been exchanged for something useful and new. Just like a coupon.

When you murder someone, rape someone, abuse a child, defraud the elderly, skim from the company till, or run a red light, your redemption begins when you’ve served your time or paid your fine. Redemption means trading in the old for the new. It means a fresh start.

And in case you were wondering, along with the punishment fitting the crime, redemption is the premise upon which our entire legal system is built.

Redemption gives convicted felons the right to vote, the right to work, the right to have a passport, and the right to fully participate as citizens once they’ve served their time. Redemption doesn’t mean you have to like the sinner or the ex-con. It just means you can’t legally continue punishing and persecuting him.

Lance is no convicted felon. If you don’t think he’s been punished, see above. If you’re still harboring resentment and anger, that’s understandable. But he’s not going anywhere, and I’d suggest that there’s a better way to deal with him than continually bludgeoning him for his transgressions.

It’s an old concept, actually. It’s called forgiveness.

Cranking up the PR machine

Lance has recently begun doing what he does best: Going on the offensive. Whether it’s calling Patrick Brady and chatting with him for an hour or unblocking Lesli Cohen and a bunch of other diehard Lance opponents, it’s clear that he has a plan in place and has begun to execute it.

What’s the plan?

The plan is to get back in front of the sports media and build Lance 3.0. This newest iteration is simple. Lance 3.0 is a…

  1. Survivor.
  2. Family man.
  3. World class athlete.
  4. Friend.

What will Lance 3.0 do? He will sell something. What will he sell? I don’t know. But I do know this: He won’t be setting up a pyramid scheme to defraud Medicare, or a criminal syndicate to assassinate journalists. Most likely, he’s got a plan that will let him earn a living as a speaker/athlete/patient advocate.

Is that so bad? How many other people get out of prison and see their mission in life as one dedicated to helping others? Mind you, I don’t know that that’s his plan, but what does he have left? And why is it contemptible for him to try and rebuild a career that’s been destroyed through his own mistakes?

Ultimately, though, does it really matter what his end game is? No.

What matters is you

A group of local riders were climbing Latigo Canyon Road yesterday, and guess who they met at the top? Barry Bonds.

Remember him?

He’s the guy who was held up as one of the most evil and crooked baseball players of all time, a guy who stole Hank Aaron’s record on the strength of drugs and lies. Today he’s a slim and fit bicycle rider.

When the gang ran into him on Latigo, no one cringed, or cursed him, or called him a scumbag doper. Instead, they mugged for the camera and posted photos on Facebook.


First, of course, is star power…and we are here in LA. Second, though, is the fact that Barry has paid for what he did, and he didn’t even go on Oprah and confess. We know that he was caught, that he’s been punished, and that now he’s just a dude on a bike who used to hit a lot of home runs. Our lives are too short to keep hating on a guy who’s been punished to the full extent that the system demanded, particularly since all he seems to do now is pedal around, show up at the occasional crit, and generally act like a normal dude.

We’re done with his crime, and so is he. Now we just want to say hello and ride our bikes.

What about Lance?

Lance is different from Barry because the latter earned hundreds of millions of dollars and wisely invested them over the course of a long career. Barry doesn’t have to work.

Lance has five kids, huge ongoing legal bills, and a lot of years left to live. It’s impossible that he’s got anywhere near the pile that Barry is sitting on, or even anything close to it. Unlike Barry, Lance has gotta work. Rather than pulling up the drawbridge and living inside the fort, Lance has got to get out and mingle in order to rebuild.

For people getting out of prison and living in halfway houses, it’s called “You have to get a job.”

Lance showed us that pro cycling is a corrupt freak show. Danilo di Luca confirmed yesterday that it still is. Nibali, Wiggins, Dave Brailsford, Chris Froome, Pat McQuaid, Hein Verbruggen, and USA Cycling reaffirm that anyone who thinks the sport is clean isn’t thinking very hard.

If you hate Lance because he “ruined the sport,” maybe it’s time YOU moved on. The pro sport is rotten. If you follow it and still bury your head in the jocks of its stars, there’s a problem all right, and the problem is with you. If you can watch Nibali repeatedly hit the gas in the snow at the end of the most grueling stage of the most grueling stage race while his competition is rolling over and dying on the slopes, you’re the one who needs to analyze my modification of this old saw: “Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me over and over and over, and I’m a fucking moron who enjoys being fooled.”

As Billy Stone might put it, “And the dopers ruined your life as a Cat 4 masters athlete exactly how?”

Where’s it all going?

Now that Lance 1.0 and 2.0 have been airbrushed out of the history books, what’s wrong with giving 3.0 the same degree of redemption that should be afforded to axe murderers, tax cheats, misdemeanor DUI’s, and kids on grade probation in college? How is our agenda advanced by refusing to lay down arms, and instead insisting that he still be treated like the unrepentant, unpunished cheat that he was a year ago, when he’s repented and been punished?

Does it ennoble us to keep shrieking “Off with his head!” after his head has been offed, stuck on a pike, and paraded around his kids’ schoolyards? I think it does the opposite. It shows us up to be petty, vengeful dorks who actually think that pro cycling is so important it transcends common notions of justice and fair play.

Five years hence, ten years hence, Lance 3.0 will have been fully rebuilt. He’s that smart and a whole lot smarter, he’s that hard working, and he’s that motivated. He’s also got close to four million people on Twitter who want to know what he says and thinks, as well as five kids to feed, clothe, and put through college.

Most importantly, he’s not going anywhere. Do you want to be the wild-eyed crazy standing in the corner screaming, “But he doped! He cheated! He lied! He ruined my Cat 4 masters racing career!” long after he’s been punished and the rest of the world has moved on?

I don’t.

If the UCI and USA Cycling and WADA are done with his case, then I am, too. Keep clubbing at him if you want, but don’t expect me to join in. I’d rather go club some of the baby seals on next Tuesday’s NPR.

Ride like Thurlow

May 25, 2013 § 10 Comments

I’m only three or four years younger than Thurlow, which is like comparing myself to the greatest basketball player of all time by saying, “I’m only three or four inches shorter than Michael Jordan.”

Yeah. So?

I first saw Thurlow at the Tour of Texas in 1984 at the Camp Mabry crit in Austin. He was racing for Raleigh. Nelson Vails was his teammate. Dude was old even then.

There’s no name in the peloton that is as heavy as “Thurlow.” It weighs about four thousand pounds. You can slacken a room full of bike racer boners just by whispering “Thurlow.” It’s the only word in the English language that makes grown men hunch over and start to droop. Generations of cyclists have been flogged, tortured, punished, and then dropped by “Thurlow.”

The only residue remaining in this, his fifth decade of bike racing, is the residue of pain and defeat. Yours.

“Thurlow’s not his old self”

Commentators have remarked that in 2013 there’s something missing from the arsenal of America’s winningest bike racer. He only got second in the BWR behind Neil Shirley, a pro who is young enough to be his great-grandson’s grandson.

He’s only won a couple of races so far this year, and has only gotten top three placings in about a dozen. “You should have seen him at SLR,” said one of my buddies. “He just folded. Never seen Thurlow fold like that.”

I mused. Thurlow has more national championship jerseys than my buddy has race participations for the last two years. Oh, and a rainbow jersey. And that Olympic team stuff. Then there was that season that he raced with Bernard Hinault and Greg Lemond on La Vie Claire.

“Oo eez Bernard Hinault?” asked our homestay French student who comes from, of all places, Bretagne.

“Eez joos ze greatest fucking French bicycle racer ever,” I snarled.

“I don like ze sports,” said Homestay before going out onto the veranda to smoke a cigarette and wash it down with some Colt .45.

Imitation is the most pathetic form of idolatry

I’m always trying to race like Thurlow. You know, the way he always understands what’s always going on all the time. The way he rides close to the front and never misses the split. The way he rests, then attacks, then rests if they bring him back, then attacks again. The way he seems to summon the most strength at the one point in the race when everyone else is at their weakest. The way he stuffs the painburger down your throat with a red-hot poker, then beats the end of the poker with a 30-pound hammer.

Of course, I’ve never Ridden Like Thurlow, starting with the omniscience thing. Where Thurlow knows what’s going on all the time, my awareness seems to focus on stuff like that family sitting on the picnic blanket on Turn 4. “Wonder what’s in their sandwiches?” I wonder.

Boom. Break is gone and Thurlow has a 45-second gap.

Or the ride towards the front thing. Try as I might, as far forward as I get, pretty soon I’m back in 87th position, right behind Lardball with the Grand Canyon asscrack and the Serengeti grassland of hair sprouting from the waistband of his non-bib shorts.

Then there’s that attacking thing. Thurlow attacks the way an angry farmer with a pitchfork stabs the head of the king as it rolls off the guillotine’s blade. My attacks, to quote Aaron Wimberly, “Are like a huge commuter bus on four flat tires going up a mud mountain with a full load of passengers.”

And of course Thurlow rests, then goes again. I rest, and then there’s a football field between me and the peloton, a DNF, and a personal request from the family in Turn 4 to give me some of their sandwich.

But still, that doesn’t stop me from trying and experimenting. Whether it’s a fancy power meter, or nose breathing, or the water + kimchi diet, I’m always up for something new, because the difference between me and Thurlow can’t be that he’s just better…there has to be a trick, and one day I’ll find it.

Me & Prez

A couple of weeks ago Prez and I were riding back from the NPR. Prez notices everything when it comes to biking. Nothing escapes his attention, so I usually ignore him when he’s talking, but this particular day he mentioned Thurlow.

“There are guys out there whose pedaling is so efficient, it’s incredible,” Prez said.

“Uh-huh,” I answered, watching the cute nubbin in the Smart car prepare to back over the dude pushing the stroller.

“Like Thurlow, you know? That guy’s pedaling is so incredibly efficient.”

Now I was all ears. “Yeah?”

“Yeah. One reason is that he seems to pull up as much as he pushes down. He’s got that little muscle on the hams just on the inside of his thigh that you never see in cyclists. Him and Charon, they’re about the only two around here with it; it’s because they’re so efficient.”

All I had to hear was “Thurlow” followed by “Charon” and now I was hanging on every word. But I pretended to be bored and only half-interested. “Yeah?” I said.

“Yeah,” Prez said. Then he launched into a complex and insightful description of pedaling efficiency and why most of us, him included, were so inefficient. “It’s the pulling up,” he concluded.

Secrets stolen stealthily

Chuckling to myself at this new-found secret, which I had wrested from the knowledge banks of Prez without him even knowing it, I immediately began pushing and pulling up simultaneously. Then I discovered that this was impossible, because after about four strokes your legs give out. It appeared that rest was part of the pedaling equation.

Nonetheless, by the time I’d reached the office, I had figured it out. You didn’t actually pull up with your feet, you pulled up with your thigh. It was not so much a push and pull effort as much as it was extremely short intervals between the flexing of the thigh. I went noticeably faster. I was noticeably more exhausted.

“Could this be the long lost key to victory?” I wondered. “Have I finally cracked the Code of Thurlow?” I raced through the day’s work, bounding out of the office at 4:00 in order to Thighflex ® all the way back home. Preliminary plans showed that I would now be able to crush all the competition, earn every Strava KOM I desired, and sell the newly trademarked Thighflex program to coaches worldwide. I might even realize every cyclist’s dream of finally getting a pro contract and riding the Tour without too many drugs, or the Giro with way too many.

Thighflexing up the Mt. Home Commute

As I warmed up my thighs with the proprietary Tiny Muscle® Thighflex® limbering method, I felt the incredible strength and speed from this new system. Poor Prez. What a sucker. He’d revealed the most important secret of riding and I was now on the cusp of millions, huge victories, and taking a Strava KOM away from Lane Reid when he least expected it.

“Heh, heh,” I chuckled gleefully as I roared up Mt. Home and its vicious 2% grade. “Wait ’til I unleash this at the CBR Dogpoop Memorial Day Crit.”

In preparation, I showed up to contest the Lower East Side Long Beach Shopping Ride, an incredibly intense, competitive, powerful informal race disguised as a shopping excursion of 65+ elderly ladies with baskets on their mamachari bicycles. As we approached the first stop light, which was turning yellow, I Thighflexed®. The grandmothers couldn’t follow my jump, and in seconds I had opened a gap. The youngest grandmother, whose basket was filled with a 10kg bag of rice, leaned on the pedals and clawed me back.

I glanced over my shoulder and attacked again, this time putting maximum power to my Tiny Muscle® while Simulflexing® the Thighflex®. Undeterred, the granny held my wheel, forcing me to decelerate slightly, cause her wheel to overlap, and allowing me to take her to the curb.

She grabbed a handful of brakes as her front wheel caught the curb. The rice bag burst on impact as I redoubled my Thighflex®, now a solid 100-150m ahead of the hard-charging grandmothers, who weren’t about to let me get to the Costco pallet of discount diapers before them. They were no match. With a couple of more threshold efforts I pulled free and was gone.

With this independent verification of the Thighflex® system’s incredible power transer, I actually pity the fools who have signed up for Monday’s CBR Memorial Day Crit at Dominguez Hills. I’ve told Chris Lotts that he can go ahead and mail me the winner’s check, minus the entry fee to save me the inconvenience of actually having to show up and race. If he forces me to toe the line, well, all I can say to the riders out there who haven’t yet subscribed to the Tiny Muscle® and Thighflex® performance systems is this: You’ve been warned.

Downtown donut

May 21, 2013 § 25 Comments

I had a wonderful bike ride Sunday morning.

It started at 4:55 AM. I rolled down the hill, met Half-Wheel Chris at Malaga Cove, and then pedaled with her along PCH to Crenshaw. From there we rode north to Wilshire, then over to downtown LA, then east to Central Avenue, and back through south central LA to Compton, then Carson, and from there to Manhattan Beach.

No one honked at us. No one yelled at us. We didn’t even get killed.

Instead, we had a good ride, and punctuated it with fresh donuts and hot coffee on the corner of Normandie and PCH. If you want good donuts in LA, ask Raja Black, then listen when he answers.

From bubble to bubble

The thing about Los Angeles is that it’s a city with a tiny bubbles of wealth separated by huge minefields of not-much-wealth and, yes, grinding poverty. The goal of many people is to get from bubble to bubble without having to venture out into the minefields, which are mostly black and brown.

Cars are the bubble shuttles for LA residents, zipping us from one “safe” area to the next. Multi-multi-multi-billion dollar freeways create safe bubble corridors so that we can take our safe bubble shuttle to the office or the beach or the museum or the bike race without the discomfort or the danger of having go out into the minefields. LA’s freeways are safe, right?


The benefit to this system is obvious. You don’t have to encounter or deal with actual humans. But the downside becomes clear until you get outside the bubble on a bike and start figuring out how to navigate without hitting a mine.

Suddenly, moving around LA goes from being a drive to being alive. Your choices have consequences. Getting from A to B requires more than a tank of gas and your favorite radio station.

What Los Angeles really is

…is a city. It’s not a series of disconnected bubbles as seen through the windshield. On a bicycle you see the transitions and you feel how abrupt they are. As you descend — literally — from the heights of Palos Verdes into Gardena and Lynwood, you notice that no one is starting their day with a Starbucks latte. They’re starting it at the bus stop. At 5:30 AM. On a Sunday.

I always feel nervous pedaling through someone else’s neighborhood like that. Then the bus stop folks give me a smile and I smile back, for just a second, before I return to my chat with Chris, which goes like this: “Quit half-wheeling me.”

Isn’t it daaaaaangerous?

Most of my friends don’t ride their bikes through Gardena, Lynwood, Hawthorne, Lennox, and Inglewood. They don’t even drive it. “Is it safe?” they ask.

What they mean is, “Are the black and brown people going to attack me because I’m a skinny, shrimpish white dude, and take my expensive bike?”

The answer to the first question is easy. Of course it’s not safe. Riding a bicycle in LA puts you in close proximity to cars, who are driven by people actively trying to kill you.

The answer to the second question is not as easy. Depending on the time of day and the location, there are places on this tour route where people would attack you and take your bike no matter what color you are. LA has some rough neighborhoods, and if you hang out on corner of Long Beach Boulevard and Greenleaf on a Friday night with a 12k TT rig, I suppose someone might relieve you of it.

But the simple act of putting on your fancy bike uniform and hopping on your fancy bike and pedaling — briskly — through south central LA early on Sunday morning seems a lot less risky than riding on PCH north to Malibu.

One thing that’s hard to miss if your regular beat includes the pretty coastal cities is the people who serve food out of the trunks of their cars. People living out of shopping carts. Understanding that the best insulating material for the poor isn’t a Patagonia jacket, it’s cardboard.

The downtown LA loop also puts you on what is often cracked, pothole-filled asphalt, the kind of paving that would tear up the undercarriage of a nice car…if there were any nice cars. So don’t forget your spare tire and a couple of extra cartridges.

Flat ‘n chat is the new drill ‘n grill

If you ever do this ride, or even suggest doing this ride, someone’s going to ask, usually with a wrinkled nose and skeptical brow, “Why?”

“Because it is there” worked for Hillary. It won’t work for Crenshaw.

The “because” is simple: Because it’s flat, and because you can chat. I’m not saying you have to give up the drill it and grill it approach that involves hammering your brains out. I’m just saying that every once in a while it’s nice not to have to do 100 feet of vertical for every mile you ride. Sometimes it’s nice to have a bikeversation that contains more than “How are ya?” “Fine. You?” and is followed by hammering ’til you crack.

Most of all, though, by a factor of at least eleven, is the supreme reason to Do The Downtown: It turns into a Donut Ride with real, honest to goodness donuts at the end and cheap, hot coffee enjoyed from a plastic bench.

There’s something special about sharing a quiet, sugar-drenched, lard-filled moment with a friend, when you can look over at her with a smile after having ridden sixty miles together from dawn to sunrise, and say from the bottom of your heart, “Would you please quit half-wheeling me?”

Wigged out

May 19, 2013 Comments Off on Wigged out

When Brad Wiggins abandoned the Giro, he abandoned his pro career. Actually, he abandoned it shortly after winning the Tour when he declared that, unlike any other Tour champion in the history of this drug-addled sport, he would not focus the following year on a repeat victory. Then, more incredibly, he announced that he would support teammate Chris Froome–an unproven nobody–for the win.

You will never see Brad Wiggins at the top of the sport again. His chances of finishing the Tour are less than 50/50, and his chance of winning it is zero.


The mystery trajectory and even more mysterious abdication

No one has ever explained how Wiggins went from being a Tour donkey to a Tour champion in a way that excludes the virtual certainty that he did it with performance enhancing drugs. No one in the history of the sport, with the exceptions of admitted druggies Bjarne Riis and Lance Armstrong, has ever gone from stage race mule to stage race racehorse of the Tour.

Wiggins’s success was based on the following:

  1. A training plan in Tenerife that kept him protected from unannounced testing.
  2. A training plan based around “Sir” David Brailsford’s philosophy of “marginal gains.” This is code for “just enough dope to push the natural envelope, but not enough to be detectable.”
  3. Massive weight loss.
  4. Extensive psychological counseling.
  5. A “marginally gained” team dedicated to delivering the victory to Wiggins.

Remove any of these elements and Wiggins could never repeat his success of 2012, a year that saw much more than “just” a Tour victory. It was a year that saw a former stage race non-entity go from dragging ass to driving the peloton in the Tour of Romandie and then pulling out a sprint victory at La Chaux-de-Fonds at the end of the stage. Oh, and winning the overall. Marginal gains? I prefer to call them superhuman gains.

Sitting atop a season that saw him knighted, saw him anointed as the first ever British winner of the Tour, and saw him dominating the entire pre-Tour stage race calendar, it was equally unprecedented when he announced he would not be seeking a second Tour win, but would instead focus on the Giro.

This is like the defending NCAA basketball champion announcing that next year’s goal would be the NIT. The Giro and the Tour have nothing in common in terms of prestige, difficulty, luster to one’s career, or meaning in the record books. He certainly didn’t abdicate because he thought that he would do better in the Dolomites or because he suddenly wanted to win the Giro more than anything else.

He did it because Brailsford told him to.

Why Brailsford told him to

Brailsford has long seen the writing on the wall in terms of doping. The days when riders like “Mr. 61 Percent” Bjarne Riis, or Capo di Tutti Capos Lance Armstrong could jack themselves up with maximum drugs and face minimal risk of detection, the new doping paradigm, ironically, favors wealthy teams even more than the old one did.

That’s because the new doping paradigm employs all of the weapons in the training arsenal, especially weight loss and insulation from unannounced tests, along with extremely careful moderation of drugs so that they don’t upset biological passport parameters. The cost of the medical team and medical monitoring, and the cost of hideaway camps in Tenerife, is beyond that of all but the richest teams.

Without me, she’s NOTHING

May 18, 2013 § 2 Comments

Many South Bay locals celebrated Kristabel Doebel-Hickock’s graduation into the pro ranks this week, as she continus her rocket trajectory from local wanker with Big Orange to statewide force at SPY-Liv-Giant to pro racer for Tibco. Some celebrated because they like seeing a smart, hard working, talented rider make the big time. Others celebrated because she won’t be effortlessly crushing their sausage egos quite as often. A few celebrated because it gave them a cheap excuse to crack open another beer, get drunker, and post the photos on Facebook.

One lone rider, however, had mixed feelings about the success of this young woman. That would be me. Of course I’m happy for her and wish her all the best. Blah, blah, blah and etcetera.

But I’m kind of pissed that in all of the press releases, public encomiums, and grateful notes of appreciation, no one saw fit to acknowledge MY contributions to this woman’s success. What am I, chopped liver?

So I thought I would take the opportunity to set the record straight. Ten years hence, when historians reflect on the dazzling ascendancy of Kristabel’s extraordinary career, I want them to have a paper trail that documents her earliest efforts in the world of cycling and that gives me proper credit for helping her when it mattered most.

Discovery of an incredible talent

Everyone knows she’s talented. But who discovered her? Who, I say? Well, it was Chief. He was riding along the bike path and he ran into her. They chatted. He recommended she connect with Big Orange. The rest is history. Now I didn’t have anything to do with that discovery directly, but I do have coffee with Chief regularly. And if it had been me who had seen her first instead of Chief, I would have discovered her. So please make a note of that in future press releases and Wikipedia entries.

Race like you train

After I met Kristabel I immediately taught her everything I knew about racing and training. She uses that stuff DAILY. Here are the biggies:

  1. If you hammer like an idiot all the time you will get dropped and lose. I showed her this technique repeatedly, both in my training rides and on race day.
  2. Once a wanker, always a wanker. She would never have learned this without me, ever. Each time we rode together I showed her a new element of wankerdom and how I had always been this way. She totally got it.
  3. Advice sausages who are always telling you what to do should always be ignored. I advised her TONS about racing and training and stuff. She ignored all of it. Look at her now. QED.
  4. Power meters suck. I taught her that power meters are useless and she didn’t need one and she would be fine if she just hammered a lot. Unfortunately, she started getting coached by Ron Peterson, the wanker who turned guys like Jeff Konsmo and Greg Leibert into succesful bike racers, and he was all about training with power, and shortly after that she began winning huge. I still think it’s a coincidence.
  5. Food and water are for wusses. This speaks for itself. If you’re gonna be tough, you need to learn to ride on air and determination. I’m not sure she really “got” this, but if she ever does, she’ll win even more.
  6. There’s no “I” in team, which why you don’t need one. I tried hard to convince her that all she needed in order to win stage races and NRC events was to hammer from the gun. Eventually everyone would give up. At the same time, people like Michael Marckx at SPY were whispering in her ear that with a SoCal women’s squad backing her up she would have better chances in the big races. I was totally against this, by the way, but she and Michael put together this women’s team, got it funded, and won/earned podium spots in a ton of races this year. Is that effed up, or what?
  7. Friends in cycling are your worst enemy. I taught her from the beginning that guys like Greg Seyranian and Dan Cobley, although they seemed like good people who wanted to help her out, were actually going to ruin her career. They were talking up all this gradual increase in distance and intensity bullshit, and “helping” her with things like bike handling and choosing races, whereas what she should have been doing is huge miles and hammering. It pissed me off so much to see them talking her off the cliff of 9-hour group ride hammerfests in favor of rest, recovery, nutrition, and a “sound” training plan. We’ll never know how good she could have been if she’d only listened to me.
  8. Ditch your parents. Kristabel’s dad, Mike, was going to all her races, helping her with the feeds in long road events, and making sure she was completely taken care of. I tried telling her that getting hand-ups was a sign of weakness. I tried telling her that she would race better if she had to strip down and rebuild her bike herself each night before a race, pack the car at 3:00 AM, drive herself there, race, carry all her own food and water, and drive herself back. “Your dad’s an albatross, Kristabel. Every bottle of water he gives you makes you mentally weaker.” Somehow she overcame all that “love” and “support.” Dad-gum if I know how.
  9. Treat cycling like a drunken knife fight in the mud over a two-bit hooker. One of Kristabel’s greatest weaknesses was her tendency to thank people, show appreciation, and never forget a kindness. That so bummed me out. I spent lots of time shouting at her from a long way off (I’d let her outclimb me for her self-confidence) that she should use people up, toss them to the side, and immediately take credit for everything herself. This is how successful people operate. Instead, what does she do? Thanks people. Expresses gratitude. Bullshit like that. It’s kind of charming, but not really. People only like you when you treat them with contempt.
  10. Understand your place. In the beginning, she had this attitude like “I’m here to learn and improve.” I tried to tell her that my way was better: “I am the greatest and the rest of you are worthless.” That’s what got me tenth place in an old-dude’s crit last year, BTW. She insisted on the “learn and improve” thing, though.

Kind of bums me out that it’s been an uphill battle getting her to do things the right way, but I’m still sending her emails on this topic. She’s blocked me on FB and all my emails keep bouncing (must be some technical glitch), but if any of you out there know her cell phone number please send it to me so I can keep sending her coaching advice via text message. I just want what’s best for her.

Primal scream therapy

May 17, 2013 § 10 Comments

Nature is beautiful. The tiny chicks hatch, featherless, and are carefully tended by momma bird until they fledge. As they get too big for the nest, the timid fledglings are gently nudged out onto the limb. Anxiously, their loving mother sits by their side, gently chirping and encouraging them as they prepare to take their first flutter into the air.

It is a scary moment in a little bird’s life, but made tolerable by the constant cooing of momma bird as she helps the little chickie take its first tentative flaps before leaping off the branch. Momma bird watches nervously and immediately flies to baby bird’s new perch, praising and cooing and urging him to take another tentative flight.

Love, support, encouragement, and the watchful eye of mommy all lead to success. Baby bird quickly gets his “flight wings” and by day’s end is proudly flitting from tree to tree, but never too far from his warm little nest where momma bird can praise him and yes, even reward him with a moist, plump earthworm or two. Baby bird snuggles against momma’s cozy feathered breast and enjoys his yummy snack, proud of his accomplishments on his big day and looking forward to more in the days to come.

The North County Puke & Gulp isn’t quite as tender

When we rolled out from the Starbucks at La Costa and El Camino Real, an entire flock of baby birds was nervously perched on the corner. But rather than being protected by anxious and encouraging momma bird, they were eyed hungrily by  ravenous, toothy wolves with names like Full-Gas Phil, Battering Ram Abate, Red Light Davis, Bad Magic Johnson, and MMX.

The baby birds chirped nervously as Full-Gas tossed it into the big ring and simultaneously swallowed a fistful of fledglings — feathers, feet, beaks and all. He spit out the beaks.

When the peloton hit PCH, Bad Magic opened the throttle and, with stomps of his hob-nailed, steel-toed boots, he mercilessly ground up another handful of baby chicks into pink slime, ready-prepped for the McNuggets factory. Battering Ram  barreled to the fore, knocking an entire row of terrified fledglings off the branch and into the blood-stained maw of MMX, who chewed off their heads and spit the mangled carcasses onto the bowed shoulders of those who cowered at the back.

I had made the mistake of stirring the North County pot, and on this morning the testosterone stew bubbled and boiled and gurgled and roiled with the intensity of a steel smelter. The first crew of forty-eight was, by ride’s end, reduced to less than a dozen. None was wearing Swami’s blue.

How DO they ride down in San Diego County?

I’ve ridden enough in North County to know that they love welcoming newcomers with a fistful of nails and broken glass rammed down your throat. If you want an extra helping of hard, they always seem eager to serve seconds, then thirds. Moreover, a handful of North County natives have been kind enough to come up to Los Angeles and do our New Pier Ride, so I wanted to return the favor and sample their wares — but not before taunting them as weaklings and slackers. [Note to self: Do not send out boastful emails prior to showing up for a North County ride.]

No matter what anyone says, it’s fun to have visitors on your local ride. The North County Tuesday/Thursday ride I especially wanted to do because one of the people who’s been instrumental in ramping up its popularity and difficulty — my buddy MMX — never fails to pop in on the NPR when he’s in town and ladle out an extra scoop of misery.

If you’re in town on a Tue/Thu, I recommend this ride. It’s exceedingly hard and challenging, but as with any ride it has its drawbacks. Before I extol the virtues, here are the blemishes:

  1. It’s too short. The whole thing is well under an hour.
  2. Although there’s some good pre-ride congregating, as soon as the ride finishes everyone hurries off to work or to complete a longer ride. There doesn’t seem to be a permanently unemployed or underemployed leisure class who can sit around post-ride and burn up the rest of the morning quaffing coffee in the sun.
  3. They don’t have anyone remotely close to Prez. They don’t even have anyone who wears neon yellow shoe covers with bright pink gloves.
  4. It is a relentless beatdown with nowhere to  hide. This is good if you want to leave 90% of the participants inert and blown out the back, but the death knell if you want to have a 100+ wankoton on sunny days, where baby seals and fledglings can leech off the strong while doing little or no work at the back.
  5. No warm-up. You get on your bike and you’re doing 30.

But then there are the pluses…and are they ever pluses.

The course, the characters

I call this ride the North County Puke & Gulp. It started so hard and fast that I tasted breakfast multiple times on the ride, and especially in the first ten minutes. Tinstman, Bad Magic, et al. set out at a wicked pace on La Costa, and after a couple of miles we hit the coast highway. The leaders sprinted up to speed, a solid 35 or faster, and a handful of riders churned the front with brief, intense pulls.

“Full-Gas” Phil Tinstman made the pace so hard that no one could pull for more than a few seconds. The vast majority of the 48 riders got nowhere near the front, but unlike NPR, where there’s safety at the back, the tiniest of gaps sent riders rocketing backwards, alone, shelled, before the ride had barely begun. Battering Ram, Red Light, Mike Williams, Bad Magic, and MMX busted more freeloaders off the back and put them out to pasture.

There is a small hill going up to Palomar Road but people were already so fagged with the speed that it was devoid of the crazy attacks I’d been assured would be on offer. By now pages of Strava KOM’s had been rewritten, if you’re into that kind of thing, and everyone in North County apparently is, as the short 20-mile ride has been broken down into fourteen thousand segments.

The ride reaches its first neutral zone in downtown Carlsbad, a picturesque little seaside town that would be even more picturesque without the snot and spit and bloody stool that people were leaving on the road. The group had thinned considerably; perhaps a third of the fledglings had already been rolled in batter and dipped in the fryalator.

This first section, the “Front Half,” was the easy part, though I was barely able to hang on. Several riders came up and told me to “be ready” for the “hard part.” I don’t know how you get ready for something that you’re too weak to do, especially when the moment of truth is five minutes away or less. Once on the Back Half, the relative flat of the coast gave way to the punishing rollers for which North County is infamous. It is here that the ride completely and forever leaves aside all comparisons with the NPR.

Unlike our L.A. ride, where a bit of tenacious wheelsucking will get almost anyone through the hard bits, once you hit the rollers on the back side you either have the go-legs or you have a lot of time alone with yourself. MMX drove it to the top of El Camino Real and separated the group for what I was sure was for good. I blew apart halfway up, and the leaders made it easily through the light. My chase group hit the light on dead red, and we were all eternally grateful for the chance to stop, catch our breath, and blame the breakaway on the traffic signal rather than our weak legs and puny lungs.

To shout or not to shout? Primal scream therapy or gentle remonstrance?

There are two schools of thought on shouting at people who screw up on the bike. One school holds that shouting is rude, counterproductive, frightening, and that it ruins budding friendships. The other school holds that if you ride like a dumbshit you deserve to be yelled at, since studies show that dumbshits learn best after a good solid hollering.

In our case, the chase group was populated with adherents to the second school, and when two riders blew through the dead-red light that had traffic stacked up at opposing ends of the intersection, there was more yelling and screaming and cussing than a Westboro Baptist funeral protest.

One wanker turned around mid-intersection; the other sped up the road to join the disappearing leaders. It was impressive to see how the entire group reamed this poor dude out; almost as impressive as watching him humbly accept the tongue lashing and then apologize. Wanker #2 got yelled at later in the ride, yelled at on Facebook, and privately reprimanded by MMX. Like an adult, he accepted responsibility, proffered no lame excuses, and apologized.

This, more than anything else, impressed me. Whereas our ride shout-outs result in lifelong enmity, or in riders pouting for months on end, these guys were able to be dressed down by their good friends and cursed at like sailors, apologize, and have their apology accepted. Cool stuff.

Key ride facts

The beatdown delivered by SPY, Full-Gas Tinstman, and Battering Ram Abate left everyone else hanging on for dear life. It was a record day on Strava in case anyone doubted the intensity; MMX got 9 KOMs on a course he has ridden twice a week for the last two years. Everyone who finished the ride chalked up PR’s, top 10’s, and many set course records for various segments.

The finishing group would have been truly microscopic in size had we chasers not reattached with the leaders who got stopped at the world’s longest light.

Unquestionably, Full-Gas was the single biggest factor in keeping such a torrid pace. If one other thing contributed to the intensity, it was likely the desire of the local crew to show that whatever kind of ride we have in L.A., they’ve got that and then some in North County.

They are, however, now running short on baby birds.

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