How to beat the best

February 5, 2016 § 22 Comments

You’ve done your intervals and you’ve dieted and you’ve tacked on another $5k in aero stuff to the Visa card and you’ve gotten a good night’s sleep and you’ve consulted with your coach on strategy and you’ve reviewed the course and paid particular attention to the wind and you’re going pretty darn good, until the next morning, which is race day.

Yep, you’re going super extra champion good until you get to the parking lot, whip in, and see defeat painted on the sign of another team’s van–maybe it says “Surf City Cyclery” (you’re not beating Charon in a crit today, sorry) or maybe it says “Monster Media” (you’re not beating Phil Tinstman in a road race today, sorry) but whatever it says, it’s the end of your race before it even begins.


Because bike racing is like WWII air-to-air combat. There are aces and turkeys, only, and the turkeys outnumber the aces by a hundred to one. And you’re a turkey.

In other words, my coach always tells me that if I really want to win, I need to make sure that no one who can beat me shows up. “How the hell am I supposed to arrange that?”

“You can’t.”

The absence of competition is the surest avenue to victory, and the presence of competition is the surest guarantee of defeat, and if you doubt me I point only to Brad House, who has more California state road titles than anyone in history.

If you’ve seen Brad get dropped on the climbs, dropped on the flats, outsprunted by dead people, run over by trucks in Portuguese Bend, and generally give up when the going is still hundreds of miles from “tough,” you may wonder how he got all those titles. Answer: He raced in events that were so sparsely attended that he could beat everyone, even when everyone was only one other person, or none at all.

When I first started following advice from strangers on the Internet, my mentor was Coach Cap Taintbag. Coach Cap Taintbag gave me a winning strategy, which I refused to follow. “Go to a race where you’re guaranteed victory. Somewhere far, inconvenient, in a district with hardly any racers. Go there. Sign up. Beat the other guy. Win.”

“That’s fucked up,” I said. “Why would I want to beat one other person? That’s not racing.”

“Of course it is,” said Taintbag. “And it’s winning. The only way to learn to win is to be number one. Until you’ve won you’ll never learn how to win.”

“That seems like a Catch-22,” I said.

“No, because there are races out there you can win. The mixed-man-woman-tandem-6km-TT-combined-age-150-and-over. On the track.”

I never took his advice and of course never won a race. But I started looking around and noticed that he was right. You can’t beat the aces if you’re a turkey. When you hit the parking lot, most of the time your race is done. Even Derek the Destroyer only got his amazing victory at Boulevard last year because Tinstman was sick and decided not to ride.

But I have too much pride for seeking out cupcake events, or I used to until last year when I got second place at the Tuttle Creek Road Race in the eastern Sierras. It is far away and the weather is horrible and it is hilly and brutal and lonely and filled with pain.

I got second because there were only two of us in the masters race. It’s not often you get a podium spot and a DFL in the same race.

And it gave me hope. Hope that at Tuttle Creek in 2016, where morning temps are in the 20’s and freezing rain is likely, I could do a tiny little bit better, even if it’s just one small placing up.



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§ 22 Responses to How to beat the best

  • Dirty Mike says:

    What’s the racing scene like in the Dakotas? Might be road tripping this summer!

  • Johnny French says:

    You lost me at “you’ve done your intervals….”

  • Tobylima says:

    Gobble, gobble….

  • sibex9591 says:

    I am a turkey. Pretty much always have been. Besides being a turkey, I have for many years, the last 10 at least, been unwilling to sprint through/with a bunch of other old men of questionable bike handling skills for a few lousy bucks, glory, and the pride of beating other old men in their underwear (as you like to say). It just doesn’t seem worth the risk, and like many of my fellow racers, we have witnessed countless crashes in the sprint. So, unless I am lucky enough to be in a break with non-turkeys (I am hardly ever that lucky) there just isn’t any point in risking that kind of carnage.

    However, I do recall fondly that the only race I ever placed in, I was lucky enough that the crash that began on the inside of one of the last turns in the crit, by the time it got to me, the racer on my inside just happened to line up with me when he hit me, and I stabilized him, and he, and the racer to my right were the only ones to make it through, and they both beat me in the sprint!

    The last time I almost won, but of course didn’t, I attacked too damn far from the line, which didn’t seem that far when I did it, and I did get a huge fuggin gap, but the wind and the lactic acid just took the wind out of my sails, and….. well, it was fun while it lasted :).

  • Spinner says:

    Well, it helps to have tough teammates. I won a race on a crap day via my teammate grabbing another team’s best sprinter, by his helmet strap, and shoving him (the grabbed guy) into the ditch. The officials in the following car said they “saw nothing”. Maybe it wasn’t such a crap day after all? There is a long preamble that goes along with this story but I think I’ve bored everyone with it already.

    • fsethd says:

      And if that won’t work, I think there was a movie once that showed somebody using a frame pump or baseball bat in the spokes or something.

  • Waldo says:

    I seem to remember, waaaay back in ’15, you wrote about another way to win — getting one as a gift from an ace. Must have been so long you’d forgotten…..

  • TomH says:

    Another strategy is chronologically outlasting everyone else, and be the last man standing. My goal in another 30 yrs or so is winning some Nationals — but I’d settle for podium — in perhaps the 90+ or 95+ road race categories.
    If I’m shriveled and hunched over, the 25 yr old podium girls will still smooch me, right?

  • go baby! GO!!!…BTW…Rosena Ranch is coming up!!!!…#ThreePeat

  • Matthew Hall says:

    I remember going back to my home state of Ohio a few times in March just to poach the early season road races. Man, did my tanned, California legs look fabulous next to white, Ohio-winterized gams…

  • GT says:

    I’m shit outta luck then, as the first race of the season that I made it to had 300 registered riders…

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