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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#fake World Champion protests punishment for cheating

September 28, 2019 § 4 Comments

Dutch U-23 #fake world champion Nils Eekhof was astonished at being stripped of his #real world championship road win yesterday in England, a formerly great nation now being Brexited by Trump’s quarter-wit cousin.

CitSB sat down with Nils to discuss the travesty.

CitSB: So what happened?

NE: I won the title and the fraudsters on the race jury took it away.

CitSB: Why?

NE: Cheating. Because I cheated, ferfuxake.

CitSB: Wow. How did you cheat?

NE: I drafted behind a team car for an hour.

CitSB: Impressive. And they dq’d you for that?

NE: Yes. I’ve already assembled a legal team.

CitSB: Can you share with us the plan of attack?

NE: Pretty simple. I cheated obvious AF and now they’re saying I cheated.

CitSB: Can’t get simpler than that.

NE: If they’re going to dq me for cheating, what will happen to all the cheating?

CitSB: What do you mean?

NE: The cheating in cycling. Drugs, sticky water bottles, cutting the course, motorized bb’s, illegal aero fabrics, 8-inch sock cuffs, team car tows, line changes in the sprint, everything.

CitSB: I hadn’t thought of that.

NE: Right? You take down one cheater and the other cheaters stop cheating. Then what do you have?

CitSB: A bike race?

NE: Exactly. You want to fuck up this beautiful commercial and computerized endeavor with bike racing?

CitSB: I’m not sure the fans could handle it.

NE: They couldn’t. They don’t want it.

CitSB: So you felt like your cheating was fair?

NE: It was very fair. I cheated 100% according to the rules.

CitSB: What will you do if the dq stands? Will you stop cheating?

NE: (rolls eyes) Oh, sure.

CitSB: Good luck.

END


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See ya but not really

September 8, 2019 Comments Off on See ya but not really

I met Jess Cerra in 2012 on a BWR training ride of some kind in North County San Diego. She was crazy good, and as near as I could tell, had only recently begun road cycling as her main sport.

How good was she? In a matter of months she was riding professionally, jolting her way to the very top in an area brimming with top-level talent. I never spoke with her about it, but from the way she rode, Jess didn’t seem to consider herself a woman athlete.

She considered herself an athlete.

It didn’t matter who she was riding with, she tried to beat them, and usually, she did. Although she got into the pro cycling game late, she earned some impressive wins, not least of which Redlands, a race that is probably the most competitive race on the calendar. It was clear that she was headed for a career on the women’s world tour in Europe. That’s how good she was.

Until, as they say, life got in the way. Jess was hit with serious medical issues that required major surgery; she had to have her femoral artery re-routed, and then found herself battling with a host of auto-immune issues. World domination, in her words, never quite happened.

What did happen, though, was a different kind of domination, the domination that is the toughest kind of all–overcoming, persevering, pushing on not because there’s an Olympic medal waiting at the end but because the fire inside won’t let you stop. Jess fought through obstacle after obstacle, never giving up on her goal of racing at the very highest levels, even if ultimately it meant she’d never win “the big one,” whatever the big one is.

Jess retired from pro road racing this week, and left the profession with amazing grace and kindness; trademarks she was known for showing even when she rode you off her wheel. She thanked the people who had helped her, and was effusive in her praise for those who believed, encouraged, supported, understood. It wasn’t a retirement, as she said, but an “evolvement.”

In showing us how to fight the hard fights, how to share the success, how to not give up when the easiest word to spell and say is “quit,” Jess really did win the big one. The big one being, of course, life.

Hell of a ride, Jess. Hats off.

END


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Jess for the vee!

Cost of admission

August 30, 2019 § 12 Comments

I hadn’t raced all year. I’d let my license lapse. Done with it.

A buddy invited me to come check out the new vibe at the local sanctioned weekly race in Long Beach, the Eldo crit, so I thought I’d ride over. It’s about an hour and a half from my apartment, through hellish traffic, much of which includes lane sharing, lane switching, and maneuvering with 18-wheelers.

I’m inured to traffic but it was not for the faint.

I got to Eldo and people began giving me shit. “Are you racing?”

“No.”

“How come?”

“I #fakewon NPR this morning and already rode an hour and a half to get here.”

“So?”

“No license.”

“You can get a one-day.”

“No helmet.”

“Here man, I got a spare.”

“No cash.”

“They take credit cards.”

“I didn’t bring one.”

“Here’s ten bucks.”

“The race is about to start.”

“They’ll expedite your number and pin you up.”

That’s how I found myself on the starting line next to reigning national champion Justin Williams and ex-national champion Rahsaan Bahati. I deliberately opted not to race the masters, which started a couple of minutes before, because I figured if I entered the fast race I’d get shelled on the first lap and could then quit dishonorably.

The race started hellish fast. I was the final wheel and dangled for dear life. Each time I clawed back the gaps that started to open up, the speed would jump again and there’d be another opening between me and the field.

We approached the start/finish at blitz speed and saw the ref waving us to slow down. “Crash!” he was yelling. A rider was curled up on the left side of the road, but in bike racing you generally take note of crashes in a binary way: Will I clear it or am I going to hit it? If the former, you keep pedaling, only faster. If the latter, you brace for the impact.

The peloton moved over to the right, slowed, and we passed. The moment the leaders cleared the crash they hit the jets again and I resumed survival mode.

On the back side of the course the pack slowed briefly and then someone strung it out again. My legs were screaming, but I’d moved up to the top third. After it relaxed, I was going to hit out once, do a glory attack through the start finish, get caught, dropped, and call it a day. I was so, so done.

But you know? It never happened.

As we came through the start/finish, the ref ordered us to stop. The masters field had been stopped and we were shunted off the course. “We’re calling the race,” he said. I looked over at the fallen rider, now surrounded by half a dozen people, blood coming out of both ears. He wasn’t moving.

Nor did he ever move again. Gerry Gutierrez, 36-years old, teacher, dedicated husband and passionate cyclist, died early Thursday as a result of head injuries sustained in a bike crash.

The grief and shock were immediate, and radiated out from social media channels of every sort. I didn’t know Gerry, just as I didn’t know Chris Cono, the rider who died several years ago after hitting his head in a crash at CBR, leaving behind a wife and tiny child.

What I do know is that bike racing, although incredibly safe, is incomprehensibly risky when things go bad. You can fall at 30 mph in the middle of a pack and walk away with a bit of road rash, or you can fall at half that speed and spend a month in intensive care. Or, as in Gerry’s case, it can simply be life’s end.

We all sign waivers when we enter events, but it is so pro forma that we never really think what “catastrophic injury and death” really mean … for us. And in those rare instances where someone actually dies, the survivors are left wondering “What the hell was that for? What kind of a waste was that?”

We can’t ever know “what it was for” in the mind of the dead person, but I for sure know this: The cost of admission to the party of life is death. No one gets out without paying the full price.

The great majority of people live predictable lives in order to die predictably, in old age, with some sort of pension, hobbling about or mildly active as they degenerate into death. They choose not to burn out, but to rust. Nor do I blame them.

It isn’t my way though, and it isn’t the way of anyone who toes the start line at a mass start bike race.

You can’t get to the sharp, cutting edge of life, the place where life actually happens, without pushing all your chips into the middle of the table. You can’t get it watching sports on TV, reading books, painting, playing music, or by dedicating your life to making money. The only way you get the full thrill and intensity of life is by pushing in the chips.

I won’t say that Gerry died doing what he loved. I didn’t know him; that’s for someone else to say. But I will say this much after cruising his timeline and seeing the total commitment he’d made to racing his bike. Gerry Gutierrez got more out of his life on Tuesdays at 6:00 PM in Long Beach than most people alive will get from anything, ever.

I hope you rest, dude, but not in peace, not if there’s an afterlife, not if there are days of the week where you are now. Rest up for next Tuesday. I have a hunch I know where you’ll be.

END

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