Head hopping

February 25, 2017 § Leave a comment

We pulled up at the world infamous Rosena Ranch race course, where teammate Dave Ellis had just finished racing. “How’d it go?” I asked.

“Great,” he said. “I was in a good position the whole race, stayed out of the wind, and didn’t kill that guy.”

“What guy?”

“The guy who fell down in front of me.”

“What happened?”

“Dude had a bicycle falling off incident and put his head in front of my front wheel going 35. I had to bunnyhop it.

“What happened after that?”

“I’m not sure. I think the other riders all ran him over.”

“Oh yeah, I think I saw the emergency medical services U-Haul rental pickup.”

“The one with the hay bales in back and the loose bottle of cheap tequila bouncing around in the bed?”

“That one,” I said.

Major Bob, Surfer Dan, Baby Seal, Congressional Quarterly, the Hun and I had driven up in Major’s unmarked Mercedes van. We were champing at the bit to race our bicycles and hopefully not fall off of them.

My race, the combined 45+/50+ leaky prostate division (raced together, scored separately), went off at a torrid pace, so torrid in fact that after my first fruitless flail I fell back into the pack, caught my breath, and then moved back up by conveniently hopping over the bright yellow line.

I think that even may have been the yellow line we were advised about by the moto ref prior to the start. “Gentlemen [lie], do not cross the yellow line or you will be immediately dq’ed. No exceptions. This means YOU.”

No sooner had I moved over the yellow line and advanced fifty places than the moto ref came up next to me and screamed, pointed, and sent me to the back without any supper. Was I dq’ed? Who knew? What I knew was that Klasna, Kirk Bausch, and the Hun were dashing up the road in the first serious move of the day, and it was time to chase after them.

Soon enough we had a break of nine, including Major Bob, which was fortunate because it meant that he now had a reason not to drive home without us. We lost a rider, and after much pedaling Klasna and KB pedaled harder than we did and pedaled away up a hill and around a corner and they were not seen again until many laps later, a/k/a after the race finished.

However, unlike other sports where the first person across the line is the winner and everyone who is not the first person across the line is a loser, leaky prostate bicycle racing has a number of clever conventions to make sure that many people can be winners even if they technically are losers. The most perfect of the conventions is the “raced together, scored separately” convention.

This means (and you will need a notebook here) that if you have a 45+ and a 50+ race together, some people will register as 45+ and others as 50+, and the first person in each of those categories is the winner, in other words, you could have a situation where you had, for example, a breakaway of eight people, and seven of them were 45+, and they all finished ahead of the 50+ entrant, but since the 50+ entrant was the first 50+ entrant he would be declared the winner of his race and get fame, acclaim, worship, and the $45 winner’s check while the 45+ riders who finished in places 2-7 would all be losers even though they finished ahead of the 50+ winner.

If this seems simple, there is something wrong with you (number one), and you should get a job as a bike race official (number two) because a scrum of people rushing past is hard enough to score in the proper finishing order, much less the proper age category. This is actually great because it allows for the second great thing about leaky prostate bicycle racing, which is known as the “results protest.” Experienced masters racers always brink extra wheels, gasoline, and a pitchfork. More about that later after you wake up.

Anyway, there I was in a chase group of six while Klasna, who is over the age of 50, and KB, who is older than 45 but less than 50, were up the road. So it seemed like the best I could hope for was 2nd place in the 50+ category, since everyone else in the chase group was in the 45+ category.

However, another great thing about leaky prostate bicycle racing, in addition to its multiple opportunities to declare yourself the victor, is the odd fact that you will occasionally have a rider who is over 50 and racing in a combined 45+/50+ field, but who has registered as a “45+” rider. So just because a rider is over fifty and riding in the 45+/50+ race, it doesn’t necessarily mean he has registered for the 50+ category, since by definition anyone who is over 50 is also over 45 and can therefore choose either category.

So why would an older rider choose a younger category? Can you say “vanity”? The answer is simple: To the leaky prostate racer himself, there appears to be a huge difference in age between 45 and 50, and even though the rest of the world simply sees a bunch of wrinkly old balls going slowly around in circles, the wrinkly old balls would rather be 45+ than 50+ because it seems younger and not quite as wrinkly and potentially in need of fewer illegal testosterone supplements.

Therefore, the only way to tell whether a particular racer is 45+ wrinkly balls or 50+ wrinkly balls is by looking at his race number, since the clever race officials give a different number series to the 45+ to distinguish them from the 50+. In our race the 45+ number series began with prime numbers divisible by seven, and increased in half-integers up to the square root of pi. The 50+ numbers all began with the number 8 billion. So it was pretty easy to tell the difference if you were paying attention and had an advanced degree in math.

Unhappily, when Klasna and KB rolled I neglected to look at Klasna’s number, but rightly assumed that he was an aged 50+ wrinkly balls like me and therefore he would win and I would get second, since all the remaining numbers in the chase were prime numbers divisible by seven. We continued to race, which is another way of saying that everyone screamed at everyone else to “work together,” invoking the spirit of Jack from Illinois (not his real name) as no one worked, and certainly not together.

I finished the race and went over to Klasna to congratulate him on his win, only to notice that his number was a prime number divisible by seven, which meant that I, who had finished last in the chase group, was the only rider who had a number that began with 8 billion, making me the winner of the 50+ race. It was a glorious if complicated victory indeed and I savored the thought of how I would spend my $45, minus the $35 entry fee, minus the $15 fee for the second race, minus the $15,000 in gear.

So I sauntered over to the stinky toilets, which was appropriately where they posted the race results, and saw that I was nowhere on the result sheet, and that Dandy Andy, who had finished in the second chase group, had been declared the glorious winner and was entitled to the $45 emoluments appertaining to race victor.

Now the real race began, otherwise known as the “results protest.” I and fifteen other disappointed riders went over to the officials’ station to complain about having been left off, misplaced, or given 56th place instead of 57 1/2. Many tantrums were thrown, grown men challenged one another to duels, statements were made about various people’s mothers, and the obligatory money changed hands in order to make sure that the integrity of the process was properly respected.

In other words, I was crowned 8th place finisher champion winner, given the $45, and went proudly back to Major Bob’s van only to see that in his race Surfer had experienced a bicycle falling off incident so severe that it left his 100% carbon bicycle, made of pure carbon, broken into fifteen pieces, seven of which were the fork alone.

Much sadness and gnashing of teeth were had, particularly since all agreed that the shards and remnants qualified as “Even Fireman Can’t Tape That Back Together And Resell It On Craigslist As Like New.”

Eventually someone asked Surfer Dan how he was, and of course he was fine since he only landed on his head at about 40 mph. Baby Seal’s race had been uneventful, and Congressional Quarterly had decided after eight laps that he should probably return to the van and check to make sure his coffee thermos was still there, which thankfully it was.

Happy and brimming with confidence at my eighth place championship victory I started the 35+ race and immediately made my mark by quitting some few hundred yards after the starting line. It was just as well, since Karl Bordine was feeling particularly ill-tempered and rode by himself for 15 laps until he won and everyone else did not.

I returned to the stinky toilets and took the obligatory podium photo with Dandy Andy, who is also a strict adherent of “Don’t Raise Your Arms On The Podium Unless You’re Holding A Bouquet And Are Surrounded By 100,000 Screaming Fans On The Champs-Elysees After Winning The Tour.”

We piled back into Major Bob’s van, promised to send him gas money through PayPal, never did, and got home tired and hungry and happy, except for Surfer Dan, who had agreed to list the bike’s condition as “Fair” after he got it back from Fireman.

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END

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B(u)RP

February 21, 2017 § 12 Comments

It is pretty easy to complain about the state of road racing, which is why I enjoy doing it so much. Complaining doesn’t require any research (my forte) and can be done based exclusively on personal experience.

Although I often want to say good things about the state of road racing, the effort it requires is so monumental that I just go over to Cyclingnews.com and scan the latest podcast of Lance & Co. explaining how “he wouldn’t go back and change things,” which is really nice of him not to do that.

Problem is, when good news appears it always requires work to verify facts, get names spelled correctly, and make sure that I didn’t give Willy Walleye a shout-out for getting 27th in the 55+ men’s race when it should have been for Timmy Tosser instead. So when a buddy pointed out that the Beginning Racer Program that started this year at our local CBR crit series was overflowing with riders, I shrugged because, well, work, and also because there were some things I wanted to complain about, such as how Lance ruined my childhood dreams.

Then this afternoon I was talking with Jeff Prinz, the CBR race promoter, about the racing this past weekend, and he spewed forth an incredible number of facts about the B(u)RP program and how it has really taken off. Sensing an opportunity for someone else to do the work, I hurriedly took notes, okay, I didn’t take any notes, but am pretty sure he said this:

  1. B(u)RP participation sessions both maxed out at 50 riders each, and the first one began at 6:00 AM. Riders were queuing up at 5:30 to register.
  2. After B(u)RP-ing, every single B(u)RPee raced, except for those who couldn’t because the Cat 5 races sold out. Sold out. Does that mean anything to you race promoters out there? Did I mention the races sold out?
  3. Feedback was incredibly positive. Good coaching, an explanation of the fundamentals, and a welcoming atmosphere made the program a success.
  4. The program will be continued for the remaining four CBR races on the calendar, and will be greatly expanded for the April race.

Participants said mainly that they wanted to race but were intimidated by the “throw ’em to the dogs” approach for which cycling is famous. I still remember asking Fields if there were anything I should know before my first race. “Don’t fall down,” he advised.

Of course that’s still good advice, but the execution can be tricky, and trickier still when it’s your first race and it’s everyone else’s first race too, and there just happens to be that one person in the race who upsets the apple cart, a/k/a Mr. Physics. It turns out that the B(u)RP has been around in SoCal since 2015, and in NorCal for THE LAST THIRTY YEARS, but it is a long way from here to Fresno and you have to get past all those hog farms and etcetera so that’s why it’s taken so long. I mean the Donner Party died that time coming down Hog Farm Pass from Fresno to SoCal.

What’s more interesting is the fact that every single crit in SoCal doesn’t put one of these clinics on. It’s weird because you’ll see a scraggly field of masters racers–sorry, make that four different master’s category races in a single event–and not one single B(u)RP for new racers to learn about and get enthused about the sport. It’s weird because it seems like if you were a promoter you’d be really stoked to have new young racers filling up their fields and advancing through the lower categories and paying entry fees much more than you’d be stoked about having to spend half an hour arguing with some 57-year-old stockbroker who harangued your wife about why she overcharged him five dollars at the registration table.

But I progress.

The things you’ll learn as a B(u)RP participant are:

  • Basic Pack Skills – Protecting Your Front Wheel. This is the single most important aspect of racing, and BRP coaches will teach you how to headbutt, hook bars, and discuss the anatomy of someone’s mother as you viciously fight to the death for the best starting place ten rows back in the field of 100.
  • Cornering – Choosing and Holding Your Line. Cornering is misunderstood by almost everyone except the spectators who pile up in the corners in bloodthirsty anticipation of watching a whole bunch of sausage get shoved into the casing on a fast, downhill, off-camber, slightly wet hairpin that narrows into a cattle chute.
  • Pack Awareness & Skills — This also known as “effective cursing” and “screaming at max heart rate.”
  • Sprinting Basics — Where you learn the cardinal rule of sprinting: Don’t.
  • Bringing it All Together — This part of the session is most important for the longevity of your career, as it involves techniques for explaining to your family that you really did “win” even though you got 89th place because you were on the front a bunch and I know I spent $400 to go race for fifty minutes but it’s cheaper than a crack habit (actually, it isn’t).

Anyway, hats off to CBR and the the Beginning Racer Program. We need more of it. And next time I promise I’ll include some facts.

END

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The Atheist Training Bible for Old Bicycle Racers, Chapter 24: Recovery tips

February 12, 2017 § 4 Comments

Well, the accolades have been pouring in after yesterday’s tour de force at the UCLA Road Race, like this one:

“Great job out there Wanky, your 12th place out of 22 riders makes it an almost-top ten, and a solid top 5% of all participants (Trump math). As your fan out here in Ittoqqortoormiit, I was wondering if you could share some Wanky Post-Race Recovery Tips for those of us who are wondering what the Complete Wanky Racing Package looks like?”

Thanks for the subtle inquiry, but there’s only one person who gets to gaze admiringly at the Wanky package, and it isn’t anyone in Ittoqqortoormiit, sir. Or any sir, for that matter.

With regard to recovery, however, I’m super glad to give you some tips, tips that, if assiduously followed, will one day allow you to get some great Top Five Percent Trump Math results in your local bicycle race and underwear contest.

  1. Facebag stretches. First step to restoring health and vascular vitality after a hard race is checking out all the people who might have posted pictures of you struggling off the back or other glory shots. Solid 3-4 hours of Facebagging, minimum.
  2. Jaw limbering. Call up a friend who didn’t do the race and gently exercise out all the kinks in your jaw by telling them every detail about the race. Bonus points if they’re engaged in a family activity or standing in line at Disneyland with a screaming kid in one hand and a diaper bomb in the other. Gold stars if you can use the words “super hard,” “incredibly hard,” “so fuggin’ hard,” and “dude, unbelievably hard” in every sentence.
  3. Bounceback calories. You probably burned 1,00o to 1,500 hundred calories in the race, so here’s the replenishment math: book1
  4. Carbon massage. If you didn’t win, you clearly need more equipment. If you won, you clearly need to reward yourself with more equipment. Post-race you must dedicate a couple of hours to shopping for new full carbon doodads that are 100% carbon and made exclusively of carbon and also contain 100% aero.
  5. Hasthtag push-ups. Since you’re a profamateur it is crucial that you say nice things about the products and services you don’t deserve and may not even actually use. This will relax your wallet and allow much new swag to enter your garage/man cave/bedroom.
  6. Calendar pilates. Now that you’ve done one race you can brag for the rest of the season that you are a bike racer. No recovery is complete without a search of all 2017 upcoming races and finding excuses not to go to any of them.
  7. Obligatory lunch out. In order for your muscles to recuperate from the stress of racing, it is imperative to take your S/O out for lunch so that she/he will let you go do the same thing next week. [Practice notes: Refrain from any race recaps or mention of anything pertaining to bikes. Refrain from complaining about how you can’t “lose that last five pounds” even though the waitress keeps asking if you’d like an extra basket of bread. DO ask her how her day was. DO pretend to listen. DON’T suggest she take it easy on the extra bread. DO try to lock her into permission for the next race when the check comes, but do it nonchalantly: “Wow, that’s an expensive lunch. McDonalds has gone through the roof!! But you are worth it times a million, honey! By the way, I’m doing the Fifteen Days of Meat Strings starting next Friday and will be gone for a month at the altitude training camp in Italy. Is that okay, honey-buns?”

END

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Saturday, bloody Saturday

February 11, 2017 § 20 Comments

I love racing against Jeff Konsmo, and have raced against him countless times. Jeff has never raced against me. Whatever Jeff does in a race affects me profoundly. Whatever I do in a race doesn’t affect him at all, except for that moment when he looks over his shoulder and sees a tiny dot in the distance.

That’s me, Jeff!

My favorite race to race against Jeff where he isn’t racing against me is the UCLA Road Race. I love this race because it is very predictable and at my advanced age I do not like surprises.

Here’s what always happens. I ride my bicycle very earnestly in November, December, and January. During that time I gain lots of confidence because, group ride.

Then I show up for the UCLA Road Race, which is the hardest race on the calendar and the hardest race in the galaxy of leaky prostate races. I warm up, chit-chat with friends who are going to tear my legs off, preen a bit, and do a book signing or two. (This really happened. An awesome dude named George came up to me on the start line and asked me to autograph my world-famous book, “Cycling in the South Bay.” I blushed, and it’s that slight diversion of crucial blood flow that partially explains what happened next.)

Then the race starts and Jeff Konsmo goes to the front. Jeff is beautiful. He has no spare anything. Every part of his body is perfectly joined together to do one thing: Ride bicycle uphill fast.

When Jeff gets to the front, which he does after the first 100 yards, he coasts because the first 300 yards are downhill. Then the road begins to go up and Jeff begins to pedal. The more the road goes uphill, which it does for the next five miles, the more he pedals. Suddenly the happy old oysters are not happy anymore.

There’s no more conversation.

The clump becomes a bit streamlined.

Then it becomes single file.

Then holes begin to appear as if mortars had fallen into the ranks and scored a direct hit.

Then the universe becomes a black pinhole of the rubber in front of you, washed over by the roar of your own gasps.

This is when I look up and see that Jeff is still on the front and I am what is affectionately known as “off the back” followed by “way off the back” followed by “time to re-analyze my winter preparation, especially the part where I insert the delusion of not getting dropped into my race plans.”

This year, however, was gonna be different. I had trimmed my riding schedule down to four days a week. I had reduced my tummy rolls from four to two. I had won the NPR last Tuesday when no one else showed up.

THIS YEAR AT UCLA WAS GOING TO BE MY YEAR.

Then the race started and Jeff went to the front and it was Wanky redux all over again. Less than ten minutes into the race my heart rate had been jacked up to 220 and I’d been mercilessly smashed out the back. So much for reducing my training to improve my fitness. But this year something different happened. After getting shelled by Jeff’s torrid pace, a group of other shellees came by. I latched on and they dragged me over the climb and then flew down the descent at speeds so insane that the post-ride ritual of checking one’s skidmarks revealed some impressive stripes.

And hallelujah! We made the right turn and reattached to the small band of leaders. Unlike years past, where reattachment was simply a preamble to permanent disjunction, I hung on and hung on and hung on.

Through the start/finish climb I hung on.

Up the climb the second time I hung on.

Through the start/finish climb I hung on.

Up the climb the third time I hung on.

Through the start/finish climb I hung on.

Then as we began the final climb on the final lap it became real. I was going to finish the race with the lead group for the first time ever. All the DNFs, the 38th place from last year, the litany of bitter defeats were going to be made up for on this glorious day. All I had to do was make it up one last time.

The course goes up for a couple of miles and then makes a right turn, where there’s an endless stairstep ascent to the top. That right turn is crucial because if you make it there, it’s followed by a brief downhill where you can catch your breath and get ready for the final five minutes of being completely pinned.

I saw the right turn, put my head down, and flailed for what seemed like a minute or two, hanging on like one of those tiny little meat strings that attach a baby tooth to the gum right before the tooth is ripped mercilessly out by a piece of twine that your brother has tied to the door. As the meat string stretched I looked up and saw in horror that after pedaling for so long we had only moved a few yards, which either meant that I was in so much pain my brain had begun distorting time and distance, or that we were moving at .00000002 miles per hour.

I put my head down again and pedaled for an hour, the meat string twisting and twisting as it yanked on the shrieking nerve. I looked up and saw we had moved ahead another ten feet.

After a couple of days I reached the right turn. The stairstep loomed. But Jeff, who had sat on the front for two solid hours, pounding the field into shredded meat strings until only a handful of mauled riders remained, was out of accelerations. There was zero chance that he would put in one of the vicious little kicks at the end designed to snap the meat strings and further cull the herd.

As we approached the top I finally knew what it felt like to be in the running, theoretically at least, for a podium spot at the hardest race I’d ever done. After years of trying, years of failure, years of gnashed teeth, and years of broken meat strings I was going to crest the climb, bomb the descent, pedal along the rollers sucking wheel at every opportunity, and then unleash my tremendous 165 watts of seated sprinting power on the unsuspecting suckers who had dragged me along for the entire day.

Two hundred yards was far but the top was right there and nothing was going to dislodge me, especially because I knew that if I got gapped out here I’d never reconnect with the pack once the crested the climb.

Then I noticed something troubling. That something was named Thurlow, and Thurlow had looked back and surveyed the situation.

If you don’t know Thurlow, don’t worry. He doesn’t know you either. I’m sure that in his normal life he is a kind fellow, a gray-haired, avuncular old chap who says “thank you” and “please” and offers his seat to pregnant women on the bus.

But on a bicycle he doesn’t do any of those things. On a bicycle he is simply the greatest road racer in this country’s history. Olympics, check. La Vie Claire, check. Won every major U.S. race ever, check. Kept winning at the local pro level, check. Kept winning at the masters level, check. Still wins more races than he actually participates in, check. Terrifies other riders by looking at them. Speaks only when necessary, and it’s never necessary.

And the sad news is that Thurlow is a moving, living lesson in how to race a bike and you are the blackboard on which the lessons are going to be written. With a knife. Expressionless, taking in all of the peloton’s motions with the lifeless eyes of a shark, Thurlow sees all, knows all, understands all. And when the eye of Thurlow alights on the cockroach hiding at the back of the group, the cockroach who has never done a thing all day except gasp while waiting to sneak into the kitchen and steal some crumbs in the darkness, Thurlow only has one reaction. Stomp the roach until its yellow guts are forced from its very eyes. And stomp it now.

As Thurlow stomped, the remaining riders avoided getting shelled as they struggled to match his acceleration, which was vicious, and after a few seconds of disarray each rider found a wheel, gasping, and they labored together over the top of the climb in a ragged file of grim desperation, after which they all raced together to the finish.

All but one, of course.

END

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Read your bike

February 2, 2017 § 26 Comments

Seriously, there is so much going on nowadays to make you feel rotten. We’re in the middle of a slo-mo coup d’etat, ruled by a man so insane that Kim Jong-Dong looks normal. Every day we lose 37 civil rights and a whole new sector of the population gets put on the drone assassination list.

This makes us squishy libs really angsty, really, it does, and it makes the racist Cheeto lovers angry, too, because even though they got their Hitler, the fact that they hate blacks, Mexicans, Muslims from Muslania, civil rights, and democracy means that they were in a terrible mood even before all this started.

So when I got this book in the mail the other day I was plunged into deeper despair. Why would I want to read a book about bicycling? I’d written one a few years ago and what else was there to say?

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Plus, it was about pro cycling, the lowest form of life and the most hopeless career choice in the world today, with the possible exception of being this administration’s presidential hair stylist and skin tinter.

But there were other problems, starting with the title, “Ask a Pro.” Ask him what? Why he didn’t yet have a real job? Why he was still riding a bicycle and calling it work? It didn’t make sense to me that there could be more than one or two questions that any normal person could ask a pro, and neither requires a response.

So I did the thing that I always do with unsolicited gifts from kind people, which is toss it in the trash. However, our trash can is a paper bag with the edges folded down, and every evening our grandson comes over, goes straight to the trash bag, dumps it over, and strews shit all over the living room. This time, when I picked up the book to throw it away again, it was laying on its back, and the back looks like this:

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That’s when I noticed the line “Advance Reader Copy for Media Use Only.”

“Oh my dog,” I thought. “Phil thinks I’m media. He’s mailing me this book so I can review it and hopefully say nice things about it and maybe even write something on my blog so that my two dedicated readers will tell their two dedicated readers who will tell their two dedicated readers and soon it will be a billion-seller and he won’t have had to do anything but tell the publisher to spend $1.50 on postage.”

I sighed with much sadness as I contemplated how little he knew about my media credentials, and about how, as an ethical person immune to bribes like free books, I could never say something positive about such an obviously awful book. Plus, in the interest of mostly full disclosure, I’d have to tell my readers about that time I crushed Phil on the Holiday Ride at that stop light on San Vicente.

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This was a super tricky race and one of my best days on the bike. Phil was barely able to stay seated, as you can see from the way he’s not really on his saddle. My rear light was jarred off to the side due to the incredible power I put down that day. Anyway, I’m pretty proud of that finish and you’ll agree it was pretty stand-up of me not to embarrass him by posting up. But anyway, back to his “book” (you can PayPal me $50 and I will autograph this for you, you’re welcome).

BOOK REVIEW OF “ASK A PRO” BY PHIL GAIMON, ALLEGED PRO, THOUGHTFULLY REVIEWED BY SETH DAVIDSON WHO TOTALLY OWNED THE ALLEGED PRO AT THAT STOP LIGHT ON THE HOLIDAY RIDE THAT ONE TIME

Let’s start with the book’s obvious failings. First of all, you’re laughing starting from the dedication page. How do you think this makes me feel? Do you know how hard I worked to make MY book funny? Why does this guy get to start with a funny dedication?

Complete bullshit.

Anyway, moving along. Worst thing about the book is that it’s hilarious. You might think that’s a good thing, but I don’t. It really makes me feel terrible to see a dude train a hundred hours a week and just write shit in between flights and crank out a side-bustingly funny book whereas here I’m chained to this stupid computer for years on end bloviating bullshit for $2.99 a month and even my mom doesn’t think it’s funny. Really. Check the comments, especially the one where she told me I cuss too much.

For fuck’s sake, mom!!

Okay, so the book is really funny. I will give him that. Okay, really, really funny. Like, “people look at you funny because it’s that funny” funny.

And I give him that it’s an easy read. Quick, lots of laughs, well written. Okay, okay.

And I’ll give him the insight. There’s a lot of insight here. Okay, check the “insight” box for fuck’s sake.

But you know what really crushes me?

The book is a subversive “tell all” about why you’ll never be a pro even if Phil tells you how to be a pro by detailing what food he eats, how he sets his saddle, and that thing about the time he got lost in Bangkok and woke up in a hotel room tied to a dead elephant (really the funniest  part of the whole book). His subversive message about pro cycling, even as he answers your questions, is this:

  1. You’re old.
  2. You’re slow.
  3. It’s not all it’s cracked up to be.
  4. Please go enjoy your life.

This is totally subversive because the book is a compilation of columns published over a span of years in a bike magazine whose message is:

  1. Older = faster!
  2. Go faster with more purchases!
  3. You’d be happier if you were a Pro Tour rider!
  4. Emulate!

Crammed into the one-liners, the funny stories, the non-sequiturs, and the fart/shit/piss jokes, Phil Gaimon also demonstrates formidable writing skills. He’s coy about it at times, but it doesn’t take much effort to see that there is a lot of work, a lot of skill, a lot of talent, and old-school craftsmanship in the way he handles a universe of stupid, smart, and downright hilarious questions.

In his self-effacing way he also drills home how hard the job is, how uncertain it is, how dangerous it is, but how, like a Picasso painting where the nose is pushed over against the back of the head and the ears abut the neck, it all kind of hangs together in a pretty cool way.

Unless you’re a pretend auteur with thin skin who has also written a cycling book and whose envy is easily aroused, you’ll enjoy the hell out of this book, laugh a lot, forget for an hour or two that we’re about to be plunged into slavery and nuclear war, and most importantly, you’ll be fired up to register for Phil’s grand fondue this year. Anybody who writes this well about something this ridiculous is, as Stern-O would say, the real deal.

END

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A little leg-opener

January 22, 2017 § 29 Comments

I learned a great phrase in Book IV of my textbook, “Practical Chinese Reader,” which so far hasn’t been practical or even much of a reader. In addition to chapters called “I Want to Open a Law Office” and “The Foreign Son-in-law Spends the Spring Festival in the Countryside,” this series hasn’t been in touch with my daily experiences.

Until yesterday, when something happened in my life that finally fit with a new Chinese vocabulary phrase, 宁静致远, which means “Quietly achieving over a long time.”

Because that’s exactly what Dave Jaeger’s French Toast Ride is. It’s been going on so long that no one even remembers when it started. The earliest photos are from 2003, and it predates that by years. Of course Dave often can’t remember what he had for breakfast, so it’s no surprise that he can’t remember into the dim past of the late 1900’s.

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However long it’s been going on, it shows no sign of letting up, as each year a new crew of idiots combines with an old crew of sadists to set forth on a death march through Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. What’s most meaningful, though, is that each year Jim and Nancy Jaeger open their home to a random assortment of strangers, and then the combined forces of Steve and Gina Jaeger, Cindi and Heather Rogers, Lynn and Carly and Macy Jaeger arise long before dawn to make mountains of French toast, bacon, and scalding hot coffee. The love and effort and work that they put in to create the best day on a bike every single year is amazing, and their compassion at that time Stern-O clogged the toilet with four pounds of toilet paper so that he’d have a rear end clean enough to eat off of qualifies them for sainthood.

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Of course DJ’s idea isn’t to provide you with a hearty meal that will get you through the upcoming 117-mile beatdown, it’s to stuff you with bread, sugar, and plenty of grease so that when the sugar crash hits at Mile 20 you will climb into a tiny little hurt locker that gets put into a trash compactor and squeezed, harder and harder, for another five hours until you cry, quit, or take a break with Bull at the Santa Paula all-you-can-eat Mexican-and-Chinese buffet. Or you take Uber.

The key to a successful FTR is having enough new suckers riders, and this year we had a bumper crop. Of course there was the usual assortment of wankers who canceled the night before due to a sniffle or a diaper rash and the grim realization that all their bold talk was going to be tossed into the incinerator at Mile 100 a/k/a Balcom Canyon (Fireman, Johnny Boy, Dogg, Big Tex), and there were the stalwarts who couldn’t toe the line because they had broken legs (G3), infirm bladders, gout (Gussy), consumption (Iron Mike), extreme old age and vast wealth (Stern-O), congenital lethargy (Elron), degenerative tenacititis, a terrible illness that gradually reduces once-tenacious bike racers into soft and easily crushed buttercups, unable to withstand the slightest hint of adversity (Martin, Turtle, Hair, Manslaughter, too many to name), those who would absolutely love to have made it gosh they were so looking forward to it but kiddie soccer (MMX, G$), and those who did it once out of grim obligation and take me off the list now please (Phil, Randall).

FTR was the cornerstone of my 2017 race season, a building block upon which all others would rest. As my coach told me back in 1984, “You suck and you’ll never improve,” and I’ve been building on that for years.

After having tried to get beyond the “you suck level” of competition via the kimchi diet, the coffee diet, the beer diet, unemployment, 100% carbon made of full carbon that is pure carbon, Rugged MAXX II virility supplements, huge intensity + huge volume training, power meters, Garmins, training by sensation, nose breathing, and finally super low volume of everything except sleep, I decided to try the “leg opening” method of race prep.

Leg opening requires you to do one brief, 15-20 minute semi-hard effort the day before the race, and then spinning for an hour two, max. The idea is that with some moderate intensity and loosening of the spiracles, your pump will be primed for excellent performance on race day.

So naturally a 117-mile smashfest finishing up Balcom Canyon would be perfect. What could go wrong?

What went wrong

The first thing that went wrong was Skippy’s bike. By the second stop light out of town his chain refused to stay on the cogs, throwing the chain every time he put any torque on the pedals. By the time we had ascended the first obstacle, a tiny bump on Stockton Rd. that was won for the first time in decades by someone other than Roadchamp, Skippy was in tears.

I, on the other hand, was behind him and watched him dismount and howl in frustration. “That’s it!” he yelled. “I’m calling Uber!”

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“My chain! It won’t stay on!”

“Is it new?”

“Brand new! I put it on last night!”

“And the cassette?”

“What do you mean?”

“Is it new, too?”

“No. Why?”

“Oh, no reason,” I said, as I sprinted away to catch the group.

Fortunately, Skippy was able to put it in his 34 x 32, the only combo that kept the chain on the chain ring. I say “fortunately” because nothing makes for a better FTR than watching a hapless newbie about to ride the rest of the day in mini-gears, with a high likelihood that even if he made it most of the ride, he’d have to dismount on Balcom Canyon and walk the half-mile, 18% grade in his cleats.

In addition to Skippy, the old boys’ network, which was now a droopy old men’s network, had invited a woman rider after the only other female participant in 2003 promptly gave up cycling forever. I had suggested Iron Maiden as a newbie invitee because it seemed like having a ride where the only people who got ridden to pieces and kicked to the curb were men wasn’t fair. Why couldn’t we also get a woman out there who would implode, beg for a sip from our water bottle at Mile 110 while both legs cramped, and then get left for lost in Camarillo at ride’s end because she didn’t know the Jaegers’ address? I’m all for equality, yo.

However, Iron Maiden, who’d only been biking for a year, was suspicious. This is because to date everything I’d told her had either been completely wrong or an outrageous lie, frequently both. “Is this something I can do? The farthest I’ve ever ridden is 50 miles.”

“No problem. You can race twice the distance you train.”

“But I only train 25 miles a couple of times a week.”

“It’s not a race. It’s a fun ride.”

“It is?”

“Sure. Just friends going out for a pedal. Plus it’s a no-drop ride.”

Her antenna went up, because in her short tenure she had learned that “no-drop” was bikerspeak for “kill the weak.”

“No, thanks. It sounds too hard. Maybe next year.”

“Don’t worry,” I said. “I didn’t figure you’d do it, being a woman and everything.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Oh, nothing. It’s too hard for a woman now that I think about it. Only one woman has ever done it.”

“Fuck you,” she said. “I’m doing it.”

“Good call. Plus there’s no way you’ll be last. Junkyard is going to be there.”

She brightened. Having Junkyard on the ride was the ultimate form of pace protection. “I’ll just stay close to him,” she said. I forgot to mention that Junkyard had been doing 500-mile weeks preparing for FTR and was in top form.

Giants of the road

Perhaps the next worst decision of the ride was when DJ asked me who else to invite. “Someone who can do it, but who will fit in. A good dude.”

“Oh, that’s easy. Garrot. He’s great.”

“Garrot? WTF kind of name is that?”

“He was a Marine in the Special Forces. Or maybe it was the Ordinary Forces.  Or maybe the Special Ed Forces. I’m not sure. Anyway, he’s totally mellow and chill. Good dude.”

“I’m trusting you here, Wanky,” said DJ, which isn’t the first time that people have been led astray by climbing that particular decision tree.

I had forgotten to mention that Garrot only had two speeds, “on” and “off,” and I’d never seen the “off.” A short ride for Garrot was 150 miles. Plus, he was a monster climber. Plus, he had a fierce sprunt. Plus, he was always pleasant and kind, especially when slitting your throat.

And then there was the revelation of the Tour, a/k/a Taco Wagon. Taco Wagon had impressed all in 2015 when, in a driving hailstorm, he had spied a taco wagon and took down half the peloton as he skidded out in his haste to get a burrito, or to shelter himself under the taco wagon’s awning, or both.

This year he had come with a mission, and it was a mission that would clash with Garrot’s and eventually become a battle of the titans. After taking the Stockton KOM, Garrot fell victim to superior road knowledge, and Taco Wagon took the Fillmore sprunt. We had an interlude where Bull took fifteen minutes to change a tire and spiced it up by also yanking out a rear brake pad. In exasperation, DJ flatted too in order to show Bull how to properly change a flat. But no one, including Junkyard, knew how to use Junkyard’s new CO2 inflator, and twelve cartridges later we’d used up all of our air and DJ had used up every epithet he knew and had to start back over with the various combinations beginning with “f.”

The race to Ojai

Bull, Iron Maiden, King Harold, Junkyard, Pilot (who had already lost an engine and was scanning for the Hudson), and I were all immediately dropped on the climb heading towards Ojai. Radio reports confirmed that Taco Wagon took the Ojai sprunt, as Garrot didn’t know that the key to Ojai wasn’t a city limit sign but simply raising your hands when you got in front of everyone else. Now it was a blood feud.

As we droppees pedaled into Ojai, cold, tired, thirsty, hungry, and already beat to snot a mere forty-seven miles in, we were incredibly excited at the prospect of some more Barbie food, a toilet, and ten minutes of rest. Unfortunately DJ was on a schedule that had been delayed by his and Bull’s tire changing lessons, and we got zero rest and only seven or eight thousand calories of Hostess donuts to get us into Ventura, which was a billion miles away.

Mt. Casitas

Although I had been sandbagging like crazy helping the slower riders all the way to Ojai, my true goal for the day was to have a convincing climb over Casitas Pass. The problem with my goal was that in order to achieve it, I’d have to drop DJ, who I’d never dropped before, Garrot, who I’d never dropped before, and Young David, a 22-year-old who I’d suckered into coming but who was mostly flaying everyone alive. Plus, I’d have to keep Roadchamp in view, a virtual impossibility on the uphill but not out of the question on the descent, as he was famed for the descending skills of a one-legged turtle.

Garrot attacked early and dropped everyone, but had to contend with a bitter headwind, and more importantly with Aston-Martin, a quiet and friendly hairy-legged freddie whose palmares included several national titles as a collegiate rower. Roadchamp jumped and dropped everyone but me, as I had cagily held onto his jersey. Reaching Garrot, Roadchamp kicked again and I wished that I too had put on a brand new chain the night before.

Garrot saw me struggling and attacked, leaving me for dead. I paused and soon enough up came Taco Wagon, pounding like a madman with Aston-Martin in tow. We sat on his wheel, used him up like an old snotrag, and then Aston-Martin jumped. I easily went with Aston-Martin for three or two whole seconds before blowing disastrously. Taco Wagon scooped me up with Garrot in tow, Aston-Martin up the road, and Roadchamp a glimmering dot up in the Crab Nebulae.

Taco Wagon faltered and I engaged my bottom bracket motor, chasing up to Aston-Martin and, incredibly, dispensing with Garrot. A bunch of lies and extravagantly false memories ensued, and we comprised the final threesome over the last part of the climb.

However, we were soon overhauled on the descent, spanked for our temerity, and crushed in the sprunt for the Santa Barbara County Line.

Junkyard runs out of spare parts

After that, a bunch of stuff happened, most of it fast, or probably really slow, but we’d passed the halfway mark and I was done. Iron Maiden looked like Tin Maiden, or maybe Aluminum Foil Maiden. “How are you doing?” I asked, solicitously.

“Screw you,” she said.

Aston-Martin, DJ, and Garrot found the front all the way into Ventura and pounded our entrails, where we stopped at the Circle K, America’s nastiest convenience store. Fortunately, it had none of the things we wanted, like a toilet, but one of the things you learn quickly on FTR is that tradition reigns, and just because something is a terrible idea means nothing. Surfer Dan sidled up to me. “Dude,” he said. “We’ve passed a hundred cool coffee shops with real food in Ventura. Why are we stopping at this dumpster?”

“Urgle,” I said. “I mean, tradition.”

“Tradition? What’s tradition about NO PUBLIC BATHROOMS?”

“Tradition is forgetting the reason for something you’re afraid to change.”

Surfer rolled his eyes, swung off at the Sckubrats, had the only square meal of the day, and continued the ride without ever having broken a sweat.

The climb out of Ventura is gradual but murderous, like eating opened safety pins. Somewhere along the way Junkyard began running out of spare parts. First it was a lung, then a ventricle, then a kidney, then a right leg, but it wasn’t until a big puff of smoke came out of his butt that I realized things were serious. With a couple of perfectly timed pushes from friends he dug all the way to China, hung on, and made it through to Santa Paula, setting us all up perfectly for Balcom Canyon.

There’s not much to say about Balcom Canyon except this:

  1. Roadchamp annihilated it.
  2. Taco Wagon fell over and into a barbed wire fence.
  3. Skippy walked it.
  4. Junkyard, defending his hard-won last place, hitched a ride in a passing car and arrived without mussing a hair.
  5. Everyone else wanted to puke and die rode gallantly, and put in a pathetic masterful performance.

With only fourteen miles to go to the barn, I turned to Iron Maiden. “How are your legs?”

“Tired but I’m okay. You?”

“I’m cramping.”

“Where?”

“Both legs. Same time. Oh, shit.” I did the little wheezy-sheezy crampy moan.

“Where’s your water bottle?” she asked.

“I forgot it back atop Balcom.”

“I’ve still got some energy drink left. Will that help?”

“Yes.” I looked at her with pleading, big-doe eyes. “Can I have a sip?”

“No,” she said, and pedaled away. Then at the very end everyone dropped me on the golf course climb.

Tall tales

Back at the Jaegers’ home we ate, but not before Skippy complained about his chain some more. “Dude,” I said. “You killed it.”

“What do you mean?”

“You did the whole fucking FTR with a broken chain.”

“Yeah, but I wanted to …”

“Beat Roadchamp? Take a fucking number, buddy. You just did the most epic thing ever.”

“Yeah, but I …”

“Think about it. If you hadn’t had the wrong chain you would have just been another knucklehead out getting his dick stomped on a long bike ride. Instead you created an entire legend for an entire chapter of the FTR.”

“Really?”

“Really. Chapeau.” And for the first time all day I said something I actually meant.

A proper leg-opener

The next morning I awoke at 5:00 AM wondering who turned on the fire hydrant and who had beaten my thighs with a meat tenderizer while I slept. The hydrant, it turned out, was the deluge hitting SoCal, continuing the heaviest rainfall here in decades.

The stabbing thigh pains were apparently from my FTR leg-opener.

I put my bike in the car to go race. The closer to the race I got, the more my phone started to smoke with “I ain’t racing today, bro” messages. Our leaky prostate race captain, who had spent the last two weeks urging everyone to sign up and go race, rain or shine, had cleverly bailed at the last minute, leaving only the truly stupid to stand around beneath a freezing downpour in their underwear.

I could see why he abandoned us in our hour of need. There was zero feet visibility. The road was a river. It was raining meatballs. The risk of death and carbon destruction was high. The rewards were nil.

But–bike race!

And of course, Mrs. WM had said as I left, “It’s onna crazy rainin’ so you the only dummy and maybe win because other dummy all in bed.” Mrs. WM knew a thing or two about bike racing.

At the line there were only five other dummies, each clearly foiled in his race plan of “I’m doing this race because there can’t possibly be anyone stupid enough to do this besides me so I’ll automatically win and get $20.”

The race started and was miserable in a very fun kind of way and we went round and round until all the fun got washed off and we were left coated in hell and drinking each others’ rear-wheel spew and then we were numb and then with eighteen minutes to go I hit it and felt very tired and wheezy and suddenly it was sprunt time and everyone knows Wanky don’t sprunt and I didn’t today either, just pedaled a little harder and the other handful of numbskulls either gave up (unlikely) or weren’t strong enough (highly doubtful) or were unable to see the finish line due to the pounding sideways sheet rain (certainty) and somehow I notched a win and got a check for $50 which almost offset my $3,000 sponsorship of the race, and a sippy cup that says “Race Winner” and you know what?

I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat. But I might shave a mile or two off the leg-opener.

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END

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$15,000.00 for the pack fill

January 17, 2017 § 18 Comments

A lot of people have a lot of explanations about why road racing is declining. They are probably right in varying degrees.

My explanation is that there is no money in it for the racers. By “racers” I don’t mean the winners, although there’s precious little money for them, either. I’m talking about the pack fill, the cannon fodder. You know, us racers who pay the entry fees that make the event possible. For the pack fill, if you race you don’t have much of a chance to win money.

Pack fill like me doesn’t care. But other pack fillers do. Instead of judging them, it seemed like it was worth giving it a try by giving the customers what they want. This is a revolutionary concept in bike racing.

This year I’ve committed $15,000.00 in cash primes to Jeff Prinz’s 2017 CBR crit series. That means there are $2,500 in cash primes on offer every race, split up between categories so that there are plenty of chances to win. If turnout justifies it, I’m willing to consider more.

We tried this in the last three upgrade races of 2016 to the tune of about $5k, and the results were amazing. It turns out that racers like showing up, sprinting their guts out for prime cash, then doing it all over again. Who knew? The races were full gas as well; every time a prime was offered, which happened over and over each race, it went super hard, and the “easy” parts were still hard as nails and broken glass.

Jeff had turnout in December that was better than CBR’s spring races in 2016.

It’s weird to me that people will spend five grand to sponsor a team but not to put cash in the hands of racers. Racers remember it when you give them cash. They don’t always remember the fine print on their kit, or the water bottle they won.

The first CBR of 2017 is this Sunday, on January 22. Here’s the flyer.

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Racing for primes means that other people have a shot at the glory, and it means they’re more than willing to pay entry fees and do multiple races. As one racer told me, “I calculated that I had eighteen chances to win fifty bucks. How can I turn that down?” He didn’t, and went home with $350, which paid for lunch and a spare tube.

Let’s race.

 

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