Wes for the win

January 21, 2020 § 1 Comment

I remember seeing you your first season at Telo, always getting dropped, but showing up again the following week. “Man,” I thought, “that guy just keeps coming back.”

Then a few months later you rode a whole bunch of people off your wheel in a 240-mile beatdown on Seth’s Big Day; you left me for dead. You’d been riding less than a year, right?

Pretty soon you started showing up for the Flog, and you kept getting faster and better.

You were unusual because you weren’t interested in cycling drama. You got along with people and never took sides. You seemed comfortable with yourself and intent on learning how to ride faster. You didn’t seem to care who you learned it from.

I suspected that you had a serious athletic background, but learned I was wrong when you told me you had played football at University of San Diego. “It’s okay,” I thought. “He may not have any sports experience but he is obviously a fast learner.”

In the meantime you kept racing at Telo, and before long you weren’t getting dropped, then you were making the split, then you were sprinting for the win.

On the Flog, I knew you were going to bust some chops because on one lap we sprinted and you were so pissed at having lost, but angry at no one but yourself. I think you said “mother”-something and slammed your hands on the bars in frustration. “Uh-oh,” I thought. “That dude doesn’t like to lose AT ALL.”

Pretty soon, on Thursday Flog mornings you were a distant point on the horizon, hardly anyone could keep up with you, and those who could had to barf up a kidney to do it. Whatever you were good at didn’t matter. You wanted to be better at the things you weren’t good at. So if a ride had lots of climbing, like the Donut, you threw yourself into the teeth of the saw, battling with skinny little dudes who weighed less than your left bicep.

Most people cherry pick their rides because their egos can’t handle getting shelled. But not you.

And if a ride was suited to you, you never sat in waiting for the sprint, like on NPR, when you would just bulldoze to the front when the pace started to slow. “I’m here to get better,” you told me one time.

“I got eyes,” I said to myself.

What’s crazy is that you’ve done all this with zero drama. People who can help you improve, you know how to spot them and learn from them and then kick their ass. People who are all hat and no cattle, you are polite and keep moving.

Now you are winning races and it’s just the beginning. I’ve learned so much from you. Thanks for sharing.

END


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Doping in cycling formally ends

December 4, 2019 § 13 Comments

After reviewing data from 2019 doping sanctions in the sport of cycling, experts have concluded that doping in cycling has formally come to an end. “This is a great day for cycling,” said USA Cycling CEO Rob DeMartini, drink in hand. “And easy on the vermouth,” he told the lady in charge of license renewals as he gazed happily out from his basement window in a small tool shed.

With stepped up enforcement, aggressive educational messaging to athletes, and a national strategy to make bike races as interesting/challenging as a Chris Lotts/Jeff Prinz CBR, “Doping is done,” concluded DeMartini. “Six cyclists were sanctioned in 2019,” he mused, “an all-time low. They were truly the last.”

Independent experts agree with this assessment. Grigory Slavovich, the former doping czar of Russia who is currently living under an assumed name in Birmingham, was equally sanguine. “Doping used to be what everyone in the bicycle racing did. Now it is not.”

When asked what he thought the causes were, he quickly responded. “No one is racing the bicycle anymore.”

END


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Refocus

November 26, 2019 § 12 Comments

Last night I switched on the ol’ YouTube and watched A Sunday in Hell.

It’s good to remind myself sometimes about why I fell in love with bike racing.

If you’ve never watched this movie, please do. It contains everything you need to know about bike racing, the real kind.

I watch this movie every four or five years and each time I note how radically bike racing has changed since 1976. It would be a 10,000-word essay to chronicle all the changes. And as I age the movie’s hard reality is even more awesome, brutal, unforgiving, unrepentant, immobile as the giant paving stones along the cobbled sectors to Roubaix.

But the biggest changes? Muttonchop sideburns. In 1976 everyone had ’em. They were the coolest of the cool.

The other big change? Huge, floppy collars. Ordinary people who wanted to be fashionable had big, floppy collars.

Maybe the last, and the biggest change of all, is this:

Back then bike racers were tough.

END


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Paris-Roubaix 1976. Roger de Vlaeminck, Francesco Moser and Mark Demeyer move into the lead. Photo: Offside / L’Equipe.

Who killed ATOC?

November 7, 2019 § 19 Comments

The Amgen Tour of California went belly-up nine days ago, and like Jesus, it’s not coming back.

Why?

The Occam’s Razor answer is “money.” ATOC cost a lot more to put on than it ever brought in … for fourteen years … with nothing but spiraling costs in sight. Sometimes called “bad business model,” sometimes called “changing financial landscape,” sometimes called “bankruptcy,” it all amounts to the same fuggin’ thing.

There is a good article in Bicycling Magazine that talks about what those cost dynamics were; here’s the link. Not discussed much, but key to the whole discussion, is TV revenue. Like excitement in bike racing these days, there was none. And sporting events without TV revenue are like swimming races in an empty pool. You hit the bottom quick.

Which leads to the obvious question that no one wants to confront, “Why is there no TV revenue?” Answer: Because no one wants to watch bike racing except for (a very few) cyclists.

Compare that to NASCAR, whose fans don’t race cars, or the NBA, whose fans are too obese to walk up the stairs, much less dunk, or the NFL. Successful TV sports all have something in common, and it is known as a “fan.”

Why cycling has no fans

Roger Worthington used to place the phrase “Stoopid Sport” on his jerseys, and that’s an obvious reason why people don’t like cycling. But all sports are stupid, and the idea of watching corporate America pitch bad beer to lazy people watching TV is the stupidest idea of all.

Is cycling even more stupid than the NBA? And if it is, is it that much more stupid?

Not really. Cycling doesn’t have fans because it is boring, and although that can be ameliorated, it can’t ever be fixed.

“But but but! There were millions of people on the road over the last fourteen editions of ATOC! Downtown Sacramento was always packed! Sagan!!!”

To which I say, “That’s nice, but those aren’t fans. Fans are people who sit on the couch and watch the event on TV. The NFL isn’t funded by people in stadiums or by kids who played Pop Warner. It’s funded by TV viewers. For example, last year the average NFL game had over 15 million idiots slobbering at a their TV while anonymous men in their underpants beat the living shit out of everyone except the quarterback.

The people who went to watch stages of the ATOC weren’t fans, they were cyclists. And cyclists, for the most part, aren’t about to watch cycling on TV, at least not for more than a few minutes.

Cycling doesn’t have fans in the U.S.A., never has, and never will. Here’s why:

  1. Cycling is boring. One of the sport’s longest traditions is its boring-ness. “Hey, Pascale, let’s race around France for a month.” This is the most exciting thing that cycling has ever had to offer. Riding your bike around France. For a month.
  2. Cycling is more boring than it used to be. Race radios, computers, and power data tell you the ending before the beginning. Fans don’t like to know the ending until that point in the event known as the “end.”
  3. Kids don’t ride bikes. Fans aren’t created by MAMILs. Fans are evolved from little kids who used to play baseball and are now fat and lazy and watch it on the TV.
  4. Wives don’t ride bikes. Fans are created by wives who, resignedly at first and later with great enthusiasm, wear giant, stupid football jerseys and get slushy drunk with hubby because it’s better than being alone.
  5. Hubbies don’t ride bikes. Fans are created by boneheads in pickups “rolling coal” who think they can race performance cars around a track even though they never have and never will.
  6. Universities don’t ride bikes. Fans are created by drunken youngsters screaming at the TV for one group of people on academic probation to beat up another group of people on academic probation for the glory of their university, a place of higher learning.
  7. High schools don’t ride bikes. Fans are created by boys charged with testosterone willing to do anything to get laid, including baseball.
  8. Parents don’t ride bikes. Fans are created by parents who are in ill health, out of shape, delusional, and so greedy for the unicorn pro contract/college scholarship that they will spend tens of thousands of dollars and hours schlepping/browbeating their kid to games across the state.
  9. Cycling is too complicated. How many “disciplines” are there in cycling? Stage racing, time trials, crits, kermesses, hill climbs, Madison, scratch, pursuit, omnium, ‘cross, BMX, single track, downhill, AND MORE. How many disciplines in football? One.
  10. Nothing happens in cycling. Racer pedals. Racer sprints. Racer gets dropped. Racer has bicycle falling off incident. Who fucking cares?
  11. Pro cyclists are ugly. Pro road racers are badly undernourished and they look it.
  12. Cycling’s heroes aren’t heroes. I was talking to a guy who just did the Japan Cup and I told him about the time I saw the world championships on that course, in 1990, when Miguel Indurain was there. “Who’s that?” he asked.

Wise elder statesmen of the sport, people like Jonathan Vaughters who have played a leading role in sucking the corpse dry, talk about the future of “gravel racing” and “fondos,” as if these incredibly boring events will somehow create fans because, hey, the cyclists who do them pay “huge” entry fees of $180 … and more!!!!!!!!!!! Has JV ever priced a Nascar fan outfit?

Talk to Phil Gaimon about all the money he makes off of his grand fondue, or talk to the owners of Dirty Kanzaa, who have become billionaires off of those entry fees. Haven’t they?

No, they haven’t. Grand fondues and gravel racing simply eliminate the single biggest overhead of road racing, which are road closures and the costs associated with shutting down roadways. The idea that filthy bicyclists on a dirt road in Kansas will attract or create fans is hocus-pocus and snake oil, which is about what you’d expect from ex-doper-turned-pro-tour-team boss Vaughters.

The problem with cycling has always been that it’s fun to do and ugly to watch, kind of like sex.

Could be worse.

END


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Tales of the big ring

October 23, 2019 § 2 Comments

I got an email from some dude named Ramy Khalaf.

“Hey,” it went, “I found you on the Internet and I’m making a video about rides in SoCal can I come to your office and make a video?”

“Sure,” I said, knowing I’d never hear from him again.

A couple of weeks later Ramy showed up with a world of legit cameras and equipment. Thankfully, I’d bathed that morning. You can’t always count on that.

Ramy has a YouTube channel, Bar & Pedal, where he combines amazing video skills and a love of cycling into some fantastic stories.

I would tell you about the video, but then I’d be telling the tale twice.

Click on the link. It’s a goodie!

END


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Poke the bear

October 11, 2019 § 6 Comments

There are lots of rules in cycling. One of those rules is, “In the sprunt, get out of the way.”

This is the rule for 99% of riders. If you are not leading someone out or getting ready to unleash your killer sprunt, you are in the way. You are a “clogstacle.”

As a career clogstacle, I understand how this works. On the last lap of the NPR #fakerace, I tenaciously grab the wheel of EA Sports, Inc. People try to horn in but I elbow them out of the way.

With 1k to go the pace goes from torrid to unbearable. People are now fighting like mad for any shelter from the wind and are ready to kill in order to latch onto the wheel of EA Sports, Inc.

This is when I stand up, take my briefcase off the overhead rack, and quietly shuffle to the back of the bus while the real racers do their thing, i.e. risk death and catastrophic injury for the massive jolt of hormones that are released when you kill the mastodon with your sharpened stick.

Fortunately, there is constant churn at the #fakerace, and someone is always having to learn the Rule of Clogstacles. Last Tuesday the scholar-in-training was Aaron Somebody in a USC team kit.

There were a mere 400 meters to go and hardly anyone was left in the tattered front group. EA Sports, Inc., was locked onto the wheel of Dante Young as Davy Dawg wrapped it up so that the tires were whining like a cur getting beaten with an iron rod.

At this very inopportune moment, the USC rider decided that where he really wanted to be was where EA Sports, Inc. was, and physics not readily allowing two bodies to occupy Dante’s wheel at the same time, USC Boy did what any self-respecting sprunter would do. He leaned into EA Sports, Inc. to nudge him off the wheel.

Unfortunately, dense masses of muscle and ice cream do not nudge easily, and EA Sports, Inc. nudged back, sending USC Boy off on a somewhat different line of travel.

Undeterred, USC Boy came back to the buffet line to see if he could get another helping. This time the nudge was more of a hard bang, but dense muscle and ice cream and a 20-lb. weight advantage and a 150-lb. meanness advantage weren’t impressed.

EA Sports, Inc. moved his bars forward and then drifted back a few inches so that now the two gentlemen’s handlebars were locked together. “What do you think you’re doing?” EA Sports, Inc. politely inquired.

“That’s my wheel,” USC Boy said.

“I don’t see your name on it,” EA Sports, Inc. replied.

As the speed hit the mid-30’s and the actual sprunt was about to occur, and as EA Sports, Inc. was in the clear position to slightly twiggle his bars and send USC boy somersaulting atop the pavement, USC Boy relaxed on the pedals, the bars unhooked, and EA Sports, Inc. went flying around Dante for the immortal, unforgettable, legendarily mythic NPR #fakerace #fakewin.

I quit observing, folded up my Hubble telescope, and caught up to the scraggle at the light. EA Sports, Inc. and USC Boy were having what is often called an animated discussion but in cycling means “almost coming to blows” about who did what when how and why.

USC Boy tried to explain that he wanted to improve, that he was seeking instruction from the master, that he only wanted to rectify misunderstandings, but at the same time was insisting that EA Sports, Inc. had opened up a bit of a gap that he was merely trying to exploit.

“Dude,” EA Sports, Inc. said, “there was a massive gap all right.” He pointed his thumb at me. “But it wasn’t at the sharp end of the spear.”

USC Boy considered that for a moment, nodded, and went off to the university for what was presumably his second round of schooling for the day.

END


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Cheaper than a Lambo!

World destroyer

September 30, 2019 § 3 Comments

The playground is a good place to look at the future. I was there yesterday with my two grandsons; talk about future shock. The parents are all in terrible shape, without exception. One grandmom was so handicapped with her weight that she couldn’t lift her toddler up to the water spigot.

There was exactly one dad, a Brit, huffing and puffing as he tried to follow his toddler through the playscape. In the space of five minutes I counted him saying ten times, this: “That’s great honey! That’s great! Let’s go get lunch now, okay?”

Lunch.

Which means beer and fooball.

The half-dozen moms were glued to their phones, showing their stuff in impossibly tight workout clothes that, I can assure you, had never seen any work. The other kids had nannies. One boy, eight or nine years old, continually tried to get his nanny to engage with him at all. Sorry, dude, because phone.

My first reaction to all of this was disgust, especially as I was sprinting through the playscape, chasing my grandkids around the park, waving my arms in the air like a madman (like?), bombing down the slide after them, and generally behaving like, well, a kid. That’s what playgrounds are for, right?

But on reflection I didn’t feel so good, and not just because I slammed my ribs into a steel bar and crumpled up in a ball for a bit, providing lots of entertainment for moms and kids alike. No, the real reason I felt bad is because I was playing with my grandkids at all.

At a playground filled with kids, why weren’t the kids playing with each other? Why weren’t they chasing each other? Fighting with each other? Laughing with each other? The more I looked at it, the more bizarre it was. An entire park filled with kids, each kid paired with at least one adult if not two, and no kid able or willing to play with any other kid who wasn’t a sibling.

Kids who can’t play with kids, and grownups too lazy and unfit to meaningfully engage with their own kids? It’s not looking good, folks.

And then I saw the news …

Megan Jastrab won the juniors world road race!

All of my fear of the future dissipated, or at least most of it did. Here is a young woman who has been a stand-out on the bike since she began racing it, a young woman who went to Europe, snagged a world title in the Madison with Zoe Ta-Perez, and then ripped a rainbow jersey from the jaws of the continental best on their own turf.

How much more impressive does it get? This the title that Greg Lemond won, heralding his entry into the elite amateur ranks and foreshadowing his reputation as the greatest U.S. cyclist ever after Major Taylor.

Reading about the race gave me chills, and not just because it took place in brutal weather that dampened Megan not one whit. It gave me chills because when you read her comments about the race, you see a brilliantly strategic mind, one molded to win bike races after the likes of Coryn Rivera, the only American to ever win one of cycling’s monuments.

Megan’s dominance on the bike across multiple disciplines harks back to the lineage of great women bike racers who hail from the USA, including Connie Carpenter, Rebecca Twigg, Sarah Hammer, and Kristin Armstrong, women whose combined Olympic and world title exploits dwarf those of their male counterparts. Of course there’s many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip, but Megan’s thumping of the world’s best this past weekend gives cause for hope.

Lots and lots of it!

END


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