Ol’ No. 56

July 27, 2017 § 12 Comments

The Manhattan Beach Grand Prix takes place this Sunday, July 30.

This year is the 56th edition, so long ago that when it first ran in 1962 iOS hadn’t been updated yet. There are two one-day races in the U.S. that are older, the Pipsqueak Dashnpuke held in Olde Towne Gaitersburg, and the Run for ‘Roids that goes through a suburban drug dealing park in Hooterville, Indiana.

The Manhattan Beach Grand Prix has been on the same course every year, but for 2017 it will run race counter-clockwise for the first time ever, avoiding the 200m sprint coming out of the final, decreasing radius turn that in the past has led to so many NASCAR incidents. Rubbing may be racing, but on bikes it also means falling. Running the race counter clockwise will provide a full kilometer after the last turn, giving racers the chance to organize their leadout trains, which is another way of saying “pretend to help teammates while trying desperately to come around your designated sprunter at the line.”

The race is organized by the South Bay Wheelmen and for the last couple of decades Chevron has been the major sponsor and uses the race as part of its public relations efforts in the South Bay. I will personally never forgive them for refusing to even acknowledge being a nominee and potential winner at the Wanky awards. If a major oil company can’t be a Wanker of the Year, no one can. For fuck’s sake.

Primes for the race make the event similar to buying lottery tickets where every fourth one is a winner, and the primes range from cash to awesome cycling products. Everyone needs a fifth pair of ugly socks!

Chevron also provides the purses for the Pro Men’s and Pro Women’s races which are $8000.00 each and go twenty deep as long as there are sixty or more entrants. It’s fantastic to see a race with significant prize money that also commits equally to men and women racers.

Manhattan Beach Grand Prix has never been regarded as a tough race. It is, however, technical due to the narrow roads, sharp turns at either end of the course, and in years past, massive fields. The race almost always ends in a sprint finish, and the key to doing well is sitting in and fighting like hell for good position on the last two laps. If you have an appetite for intense racing, MBGP is for you.

The other unique feature is the race’s setting in the center of the lily-white, absurdly affluent community of Manhattan Beach. There are few races left that can organize the permits or overcome the rabid opposition of lazy residents to wall off a few streets for a few hours every year just so that a handful of idiots can crash their bikes onto their front lawns. Weird. But South Bay Wheelmen manages to pull it off, and if you live anywhere in LA and pretend to race bikes, there’s no remotely good reason not to show up and race.

With USAC-sanctioned races disappearing locally and nationally, this one soldiers on. Ted Ernst, the race’s founder and continuing member of the organizing committee, was inducted into the South Bay Cycling Hall of Fame in 2015, and feted as a conquering and enduring hero in front of several dozen sloppily drunk cyclists who cheered him on. Or maybe they were cheering the World Series, idk.

In any event, whether you race or show up to spectate, you’re in for a good time. Pictures don’t lie. Except when they do.

END

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Simple Simon

July 26, 2017 § 18 Comments

Tuesday is the holy day of the bike racing week and I was praying, nose mashed against the stem, body swaying from side to side like a tree in a hurricane, and great oaths, curses, imprecations, and foul utterances doing everything they could to exit my mouth hole if only I would stop breathing so hard and groaning.

Frexit and Peachfuzz had caught me and Attila the Hun, but what momentarily looked like the champion’s breakaway from Telo had got pulled back by the pack. Thankfully I had a bunch of Team Lizard Collectors teammates in the chase and they had worked mightily to bring back our breakaway, which contained three of their teammates.

I had countered at the catch, gotten free with Frexit on my wheel, and then sat for a lap while he ground out another fearsome gap which, thankfully, wasn’t so great that my fake teammates couldn’t close it down. Two seconds before the actual catch I sat up in defeat and despair, perfectly marking the difference between winners and  losers: That’s the moment at which Frexit made one more giant effort.

Team Lizard Collectors and the slobbering chase group, satisfied at having caught the minnow, sat up and watched the whale swim away. I drifted to the back and tried to collect my broken bits of self-respect which, in truth, I’d had none of to start with.

At that moment it became clear to me: Life is really pretty simple. All it takes to make a Frenchman who is already insanely strong, insanely stronger, is to put him in a foreign land and offer him good, homemade bread.

Because that’s exactly what Ms. WM had done, and we all suffered the consequences. My wife, you see, bakes bread. Her repertoire is narrow; she bakes round loaves, always the same ingredients, always the same shape, and always the same taste.

Those who have eaten it are never the same because bread goes so incredibly deep in our human consciousness. It is the staff of life. It is the thing we earn. It is magical when fresh, durable and sustaining when old. It pairs with every food imaginable, or goes the distance solo, with nothing alongside it at all.

The taste of fresh bread well made, not the unbaked mush sold in plastic bags at Safeway, has no peer, or even anything else in its category. It sits alone atop the food pyramid, King Tutankhamun gazing down at the minions of flesh, vegetables, and other lesser comestibles.

And what is bread? Flour, water, yeast, salt. That, plus the magic sauce of the hands that knead, watch, rise, and bake, and in my home those magic hands have come up with bread perfection. My poor son-in-law is reduced to groveling when it comes off the cooling board. Visitors hang their heads in a spent, abject foodgasm when it crosses their lips. Pot luck party hosts whisper in muted tones of sad begging, “Would you mind asking Yasuko to bake a loaf of bread?”

That is how supremely her bread reigns among those who know, and woe was unto us on Tuesday because she had said that morning, “I’m onna bake some bread and give a bread prize onna Telo champion.”

“No,” I said. “Your bread will not be wasted on those terrible people. It will be wasted on me.”

“You onna just as terrible as they is.”

I couldn’t think of anything to say, except “Okay, but please bake two loaves and leave one here. Please?”

She did, and when word went out on Facebag that Mrs. WM’s Magic Bread would be offered up to the Telo winner, we had a true lineup of hitters, and all the pain I was feeling mid-race was due to the Frexit frenzy of getting a shot at bread he hadn’t eaten since the last time he was home in France.

The fight for second was vicious. Davy Dawg led it out with Hair on his wheel and with me on Hair. Peachfuzz was slotted in behind Pooh Bear ATX, who in the final turn made a power move by slamming his inside pedal against the pavement, causing me to shit a blue streak in fear as this is exactly where Hair had come up on the inside and thrown himself onto the asphalt a few months ago, with me on his wheel. I swung wide to let those willing to die do so, and Hair flew to the finish for a glorious podium finish as everyone else fought viciously for whatever scraps you call the scraps after the first set of scraps.

As expected, Frexit won despite an eleven, then ten, then nine, then eight, then seven, then six-person rotation spilling their guts, lunch, and spittle in a failed attempt to chase him down.

You want to make a French bike champion go even harder? Bread, baby, bread.

END

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Future shock

July 24, 2017 § 32 Comments

My legs had very bad cramps. “Yeah, whatever,” you say. “HTFU.”

So I did. But the cramps had started at the first water crossing on Big Sycamore Canyon and got worse. “Yeah, whatever,” you say. “HTFU.”

So I did. And they spread to both legs. “Yeah, whatever,” you say. “We don’t care about your menstrual cramps.”

As John Middleton passed me in a cloud of dirt and filth and sweat and grunting, he said, “Come on, Seth.”

“Come where?” I asked. “How much longer is this fucking road?” I silently thanked dog that it was mostly flat, an anomaly for anything in the Santa Monica Mountains.

“Couple miles,” he said. The last words I heard before he vanished were, “But the most horrible climb out here is just up the road.”

“What climb?” I wondered. I came to a water faucet where a dazed looking person was melting in his own sweat and filling his bottle, his hand shaking, his eyes glazed. When my turn came I lay under the nozzle and poured water all over my head, back, stomach, and legs. The cramps stopped for a moment. I contemplated living there under the spigot permanently.

Seizing the no-cramp opportunity I hopped on the bike and started up Horrible Hill. There were tiny little dots strewn out along it like insects stuck in flypaper, barely moving their little limbs across the painted blue skyscape that draped across the canvas of brown hills dotted with the odd green thing trying hopelessly to survive. Like me.

It reminded me of the time I got stuck on a mountain side outside of Shimogo-mura in Fukushima Prefecture. It was freezing cold and I almost died but the reason I remember that day is that it was the only time I had ever gotten off my bike because I could no longer pedal uphill.

I passed an insect on a mountain bike, barely turning a rear cog that was bigger than a UFO. He was panting. I was panting. The cramps resumed with a vengeance.

For the second time in my life I got off my bike because I could no longer pedal uphill. The insect passed me. “Good job,” I said, not adding the all important “you sorry motherfucker.”

My day ended about an hour later in wave after wave of cramping that lasted for hours. I had been attacked, dropped repeatedly, beaten mercilessly in the paceline from hell, and had had my lunch money stolen by a gang of bullies led by a meanie named Aaron Boyleston and his henchmen Marco and KK.

I’ve never felt worse, gone slower, or had so many people take gratuitous shots at my skull. I’ve never ridden slower on a 300-lb. cyclocross bike with 34mm knobby tires. I’ve never had so much post-ride pain. I’ve never had worse cramps, cramps so bad that the next day they still hurt. It was 72 miles, four hours-ish, and seemed like quadruple the distance.

In short, it was one of the best rides ever.

The Rivet Raid, as it was called, boasted a murderer’s row of elite riders, from world champion Keith Ketterer, who at age 102 smashed everyone to bits, to Aaron, Marco, Jonathan Woodbury, Jason Lavender, John Slover, Bart Clifford, Michael Penta, Todd Turley, Seth Huggins, and a whole bunch of people whose names I don’t remember and whose faces I barely saw as they blazed by me.

This ride also punctuated, for me, an amazing commentary about amateur road racing in America, if not the world. Bjorn Snider, a viciously strong dude who doesn’t race, i.e. pay stupid amounts of money to be treated like shit in ugly, faraway places by people who don’t like you, put on the Rivet Raid. It cost forty bucks, and here’s what you got (list sponsored by Pooh Bear-a-TX and Waldo):

  1. Incredible all-you-can-drink coffee, nitro/cold brew and spanking hot, from Gear Grinderz Coffee.
  2. Fresh pastries, energy bars, fruit, liquid hydration.
  3. Total tech support with VeloFix; their mobile van posted up at various points throughout the ride.
  4. Shortcuts that let you abandon when your legs fell off, and still got you back to the park in time to eat, hang out, swap lies.
  5. BEER. (Or, sigh, craft water.)
  6. Towering plates of delicious, freshly made Mexican food.
  7. Prize money in cash to the winners of selected Strava segments and to the person with the fastest overall time.
  8. Four to five hours of brain-splatteringly hard bike racing.
  9. Four to five hours of easy cruising with your friends if that’s what you preferred.
  10. Gorgeous scenery on some of the prettiest roads in SoCal.
  11. Bronchiole-incinerating climbs.
  12. All the camaraderie and friendship you could handle.

Did I mention that the whole thing cost forty bucks?

When you add up numbers 1-12, what you get is something called “fun.” It is a concept that USAC took out behind the shed and murdered with a tire iron decades ago. It is a concept that evaporated on the local level when race promoters realized that the costs of putting on an event would always create highly risky propositions that could result in huge financial losses, and in the best of times only result in very modest financial gains.

Fun died in bike racing when Lance brought his message of “you suck” to every cyclist, when the act of pinning on a number was submission to the whip of contempt by those who beat you, dropped you, and didn’t even provide a consolation beer and taco for having given them someone to abuse. Fun died when shit-ass dopers like Kayle LeoGrande, Rich Meeker, and the whole stupid gaggle of cheaters made your own puny but honest efforts count for nothing.

And people, unwilling to fork over $45 bucks for a 45-minute crit, decided to seek their fun somewhere else. Enter the Rivet Raid.

The ride was a distillation of the grand fondue, where you can ride with friends, ride slowly, ride hardly, or hop from grazing station to grazing station, and then pin it during the timed segments. The Nosco Ride has been doing this for years, and it’s only one of many reasons that thousands of people take off in the middle of the week to do that ride.

The Rivet Raid was a family affair as well. Bjorn’s lovely wife Barbara and his two brothers teamed up to pull off the event, and everything from the coffee to the food to the VeloFix tech support was spot-on. As if that weren’t enough, the Rivet Raid also hired the services of Steve Cohen, a top-notch photographer whose work speaks for itself. An adept of legends like Dan Munson and Phil Beckman, Steve’s photos truly captured the event.

Steve summed it up with stunning photography that should make you absolutely want to put this on your list for 2018, while Kristie Fox traveled the route in her pickup and took snapshots with her iPhone.

Nothing encapsulates the ride vibe better than the ending, when I struggled over Horrible Hill, legs cramping, bonking, and desperate to get back to the car so that I could make it to the airport by 3:00 PM. Bjorn came up to me. “Get on my wheel,” he said. I did. And despite my shot legs and snail’s pace he rode me back to the parking lot, but not before he had a blowout on his front tire.

“No worries,” he said. “I’ll change it when we get back.”

Then, as I slumped into the passenger seat and the pickup headed out of the park, Bjorn came sprinting up with a plateful of tacos, beans, and rice. “And don’t forget the Coke!” he added, thrusting an ice cold cola through the open window.

All I can do is sum up the Rivet Raid with a word that we need more of in cycling, and in life: Fun. And if the fun requires a beating out in the Santa Monica mountains at the hands of a gang of uber-legit riders, well, thank you, sir. May I have another?

 

END

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Your horrible children

July 12, 2017 § 39 Comments

I like kids. Have three of ’em myself, and a grandkid, too. Great folks, all four. Kids? I recommend them if you can afford them, and I almost recommend them if you can’t. Kids are good.

Mostly.

I say “mostly” because there are some horrible people out there who, when they have kids, wind up with — surprise — horrible children. Beastly, awful little people who in turn grow up into beastly, awful big people who abuse other people, lie, cheat, steal, and worst of all, vote.

We’ve all seen these horrible little people and their psychotic enablers in soccer, baseball, and basketball. They’re almost a meme. Some talented or untalented little brat, abused and egged on by mentally defective parents, makes life a living hell for everyone else.

Cycling’s not immune, either. In Colorado there is a family of d-bags who recently behaved thus at a bike race, as reported by the parent of the victim:

Reluctantly I’m going to share a story about today’s Junior race in Longmont because violence is not okay. And violence encouraged by a parent is well… During the last lap of this race when K. came around another racer that racer swerved into K. in anger. Luckily both boys stayed up but K. had to stop because his wheel was damaged. When he didn’t come in with the others we worried. Finally he arrived and while he was telling us what happened the boy’s Mom came up and said “he deserved it for sucking my son’s wheel at the end.” My jaw dropped. I said, “You’re telling me this happened on purpose?” “Yes I told him to do it.” We walked away because frankly I didn’t trust myself to stay near her much longer. But then I thought about it and went back to the Ref to tell him. He got immediately red and said he knows the family, was not surprised and would take care of it. We left but now with a few inquires I’m hearing this is common behavior for this family and they have yet to be sanctioned. Frankly if it were up to me these parents would not even have custody of their children but at the least why is the cycling community @usacycling@bracolorado turning a blind eye and allowing them at races? This child is fast and his sister is a very accomplished racer but that should not matter at all. Finally, this is not a reflection of the Colorado racers as nothing like this has happened before. I’m already a mess worrying about accidental crashes and cars but to think of kids getting injured intentionally by one another is disgusting.

USAC has set up an inquiry. Let’s hope these kids and their family are removed from cycling forever … although we know they won’t be.

Anyway, the aggrieved parent wants to know why the cycling community is turning a blind eye and allowing these li’l monsters at races. Let me help with that.

Here in SoCal we have a mini-douchebag of a junior rider, supported by his douchebag parents, who was briefly suspended for fighting. Everyone knows he’s a jerk. People have complained to USAC about him, and he’s been a jerk for years. Arrogance, rudeness, dangerous riding, and nasty aggressiveness are his stock in trade. But because he is a talented rider he has gotten away with behavior that would have seen other riders sanctioned, and in fact his current sanction is a slap on the wrist compared to what he deserves. He’s a despicable kid who is a few months away from being a despicable adult.

The reason he’s been allowed to fester is the “talented junior rider” thing. In cycling, that means you’re one of fifteen people in the state who competes, and one of half a dozen who goes to nationals. So yes, with a little luck, tens of thousands of dollars in equipment, a coach, the nation’s only indoor velodrome, a travel budget, and a modicum of ability you will be “talented” because you’ll be a “national champion” and “state champion” who will “dominate” the other fourteen people in your age group statewide.

We see every year what happens to these “talented” riders when they graduate to the U23 ranks here, or worse, in Europe. We never hear from them again. Why? Because despite their parents’ delusions, they weren’t really all that talented so much as they were subsidized to compete in a vanity niche sport to (mostly) satisfy their parents’ egos. The Coryn Riveras out there are the exception that prove the rule.

The second problem is that USAC is terribly afraid of lowering the boom with severe sanctions against almost anyone, much less “talented” junior riders. USAC is in the midst of a death spiral, where competitive racing is slowly giving way to fun rides. This is because there is no younger generation moving up through the ranks, or at least not in sufficient number to replace the leaky prostates who currently sustain the sport and who are rotating out due to age, infirmity, boredom, injury, or risk exhaustion.

Few normal parents will make the financial commitment it takes for their kids to race bikes. Fewer still will put their kids in such an inherently dangerous sport. And only a tiny handful will let their kids compete against bullies who are instructed to chop wheels and “punish” wheelsucking, i.e. smart racing. Every one of these horrible brats who the system protects is responsible for countless other parents seeing the lay of the land and either yanking their kids from cycling or encouraging them to do something else.

It’s the other end of the James Doyle spectrum, where bad behavior and violence create an environment so toxic that you want to wash your hands and walk away and for dog’s sake take your kids with you.

In the old days these punks would have been taught a lesson with a properly placed wheel chop or a punch to the face by an older, bigger rider. I’m not advocating that as a teaching style, but the fact is that these kids have nothing and no one to fear because the old way has been banned and there’s no system of discipline in its place. The other riders and their parents don’t want a lawsuit or criminal charges, the referees turn a blind eye because of the paperwork and headache, the promoters don’t want to turn away an entry fee, USAC doesn’t want to draw more bad attention to how dangerous the sport is, and voila! You have an instant recipe for toxic cycling soup.

Drink up.

END

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Recovery rider

July 11, 2017 § 19 Comments

A year is longer than you think. It was almost that long ago that John Abate was hit and left for dead as he pedaled on an early morning ride in Encinitas, California.

The person — if the category human applies, which I doubt — who committed the felony was never caught.

John suffered a range of serious injuries, as you might expect, and but for good timing, the presence of a friend, and the best medical care, he would likely not have survived. The one thing that the hit-and-run driver couldn’t damage, however, was John’s prodigious will to live, recover, and thrive.

Even so, I was surprised to see him at the 805 Criterium this past Sunday, looking fitter and happier and healthier than the last time I’d ridden with him, almost two and half years ago. Not content to make his comeback at a four-corner industrial crit, he had decided to test his legs in the most punishing event of the year.

And the people who ended up getting tested were the ones who rode against him. Quick, fast, aggressive, and the consummate team rider, he turned in a stellar ride in the 35+ race, making sure the door was closed for good when teammate Charon Smith went up the road in the winning break. But what was more awesome than that was to see John back in the mix, recovered.

Recovery is tough, as John will tell you. In some ways, you have to be ready for it. It’s not like a low-hanging ripe California orange that you effortlessly pluck off the branch. Recovery is a commitment, a dedication that you renew every single day, an idea that whatever it takes to recover, you’re going to do it.

The results are there for everyone to see.

abate_805_2017

Copyright 2017 by Phil Beckman; Purchased with Commercial Use License.

END

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Disrespect your elders

July 10, 2017 § 20 Comments

The sidewalk was hot enough to fry the frying pan after incinerating the eggs. There was a nasty crosswind howling across the desolate course, which was strewn with construction equipment and port-a-potties, doors ajar as they wafted their sweet aroma through the spectators’ area. The final turn led to an impossibly bitter finishing climb that topped out at 6% at the line, where the sweltering audience would be able to inspect the bits of puke dribbling down the racers’ chins.

To quote a famous bike racing film: “Dozens of spectators. Hundreds of dollars on the line. And the stakes? Medium.”

It was Mike Hecker’s and Tom Fitzgibbon’s 805 Criterium, a labor of love that showed the depravity of older men. I took one look at the course and the boiling, stretched, agonized grimaces of the riders toiling up the grade a mere five laps into their race and knew it was going to be a day of bliss.

The race was held a half-block or so from the Amgen Campus in Thousand Oaks; so in addition to the complimentary wheel pit, the wrench services by sponsor Win’s Wheels, and the crack bike injury lawyer services offered by Derryl Halpern, there was also a special EPO pit where I could drop off my syringes in the event I started running low on oxygen uptake receptors mid-race.

Before the race began I carefully reviewed Steve Tilford’s racing principles, thoughtfully taped to my top tube. I only needed to review Rule 1: Don’t Fuggin’ Pull. Before the race I had spoken with Head Down James, who had relentlessly attacked but was never able to make it stick. “No breakaways,” he said. “The group’s momentum on the downhill will peg you back.”

“Then why did you keep attacking?”

Head Down James looked at me blankly. “Dude,” he said. “Because it is fun!”

The 45+ Leaky Prostate Profamateur Full Carbon Made of 100% Carbon race went off, shortened from 50 to 40 minutes due to a terrible accident a couple of races earlier. I sprinted to the back and began fighting aggressively for last place with another fat, slow, and stupid looking racer who looked a lot like Anthony Reguero. It took a while for me to establish my dominance at the end of the chain.

A long way ahead in a galaxy far, far away, Off the Front Wars were taking place as Pat Bos, Tony Brady, and countless other real bike racers ripped away from the field with incredible displays of amazing power. All I noted was that Matt Carinio, that dude who won that national crit title that one time, was fighting hard for next-to-last place and wasn’t interested in the heroics up ahead.

Before the race I had felt him out for his condition. “How’re the legs?”

“Just trying to find some form,” he egregiously lied with a straight face.

“Really? Because judging from your legs you can probably stop looking.”

He laughed. “No, I’m riding for fitness. Hopefully I can come around later in the season.”

The great thing about bike racers is the way they shamelessly lie in the face of indisputable facts. First, it was already later in the season. Second, he was obviously in peak form. Third, no one “rides for fitness” in a steel smelter. Whatevs.

With two and a half laps to go, one of the hopeless breakaways got caught immediately before the final turn leading up to Barfnpuke Hill. I had done nothing the entire race. My legs felt great. The hill had taken nothing out of my legs. The field was looking at each other, calculating the math for “When do I start moving up without getting stuck too far forward?”

I hit it hard. With five or six Big Orange teammates back in the field, I knew it would have to be decisive in order for them not to chase me down, as our key team tactic at Team Lizard Collectors is “Never chase anything but orange!”

My strategem worked. As I flew away from the tired, wrinkled, sad, scabby, pickle-faced old men, Rahsaan Bahati and Tom Fitzgibbon in the announcer’s booth began screaming something that sounded incredibly similar to “Wanky wins the $50 cash prime!”

I caught sight of Ms. WM on the sidelines, who was swooning as she realized that after more than thirty years her husband was, instead of worn-out excuses, finally going to bring home actual cash from a bike race. The gap was huge, it was now two laps to go, and the only way they would bring me back was with an organized team effort. Since Team Lizard Collectors had inexplicably decided not to chase, the work was left to Pat Bos and Team Don’t Fuck This Up Bart Clifford.

With one lap to go I was still clear and the five or six fans paying attention were cheering wildly, or at least somewhat lukewarmedly. With a final shuddering push, Pat and his henchmen hunted me down like a mangy cur, put the bootheel on my neck, and listened to the popping and cracking sound of my cervical vertebrae as the life and fight slowly seeped away.

Unhappily for them, instead of having sat up and gifting me the awesome victory, they were now left in the sad situation of having brought Matt Carinio, fully rested national champion who’d been at the back all day, Dave Holland, fully rested Big Orange Lizard Collector who has a massively fast finish, and one other fully rested dude to the bottom of the hill.

Carinio put away his nail file, folded the Sunday paper back into his jersey pocket, adjusted his glasses, did a couple of mini post-up practices, unclipped the leash and let go with what is often referred to as a “sprint.” Brian Davis got second, Dave got third, and Team Don’t Fuck This Up Bart Clifford watched as Bart, totally gassed from his team’s chase, kicked hard for fifth. Moral to the story: It’s better to get beaten by a national champion than a worn-out, broken down, wheelsucky, desperation-move Wanky.

After the race Ms. WM, recovered from the shock of winning fifty whole cash U.S. dollars, propped me up beneath the tent, doused my head with cold Gatorade, and firmly instructed me rest.

“Rest? We’re going home.”

“No,” she said. “You gonna race the 35 little boy race.”

“Like fuck I am,” I said. “It’s not for four hours, it’s already 100 degrees, and they’ll all be fresh. Fuck that.”

“You gonna go out there and get onna more fifty dollars. Thatsa good bike racin.”

“Honey, I won my first $50 cash prime in 33 years. Lightning won’t strike again today. Trust me.”

Four hours later I was lined up with a smaller field. A younger field. A fresher field. An angrier field. Fortunately, the wind was blowing lots harder and it was now 105 degrees. “Don’t worry,” I told Holland. “A break won’t stick. All we have to do is suck wheel and when they get pissed, flash our AARP cards. I’ll lead you out and you can show Charon and Bahati what the word ‘sprint’ means.”

Holland rolled his eyes. “Please don’t get anywhere near me in the sprint,” he begged.

The whistle blew, the race started, and coming up the hill on Lap 1 Charon and two dudes attacked. “Don’t worry,” I told Holland. “It’s way too early. They’ll be coming back.”

Charon and his breakmates then put a minute on the field and Charon won the race by six furlongs.

Twenty minutes in, things were getting desperate. A chase group of five was up the road, including John Abate. Another group of about fifteen riders was also up the road. In the far back were Holland, I, and fifteen other idiots all wondering why it was so hot, why our lungs were on fire, and whether anyone would notice if we sat out ten or eleven laps and then hopped back in.

As we hit the bottom of Barfnpuke Hill I knew it was now or never, and most likely never. Somehow I got across to the chase group. Holland made it too, but later realized that he had a dentist’s appointment and was not seen again. Everyone in the third chase group got a case of acute reality poisoning as the facts indicated the race for them was over, and if they stayed they would feel terrible and be ridiculed by their wives for finishing 20th, or ridiculed by their wives if they gave up and quit. So most of them quit.

Now I was with Rahsaan, Brandon Gritters, and a large person in an orange outfit (not with Team Lizard Collectors) who was delusional enough to think that we could catch the break. He began shouting at me to pull through, not realizing that he was large, young, and a perfect draft, and that the only way I would pull through is if he had compromising photos of me and someone’s pet goat.

“Pull through!” he yelled, breaking the rule of Don’t Talk. I silently hunkered down, enjoying his width.

Soon other unhappy bicyclists, all twenty years my junior, joined the chorus. “Pull through!” they yelled, treating a tired grandfather like some stupid draft animal. I hunkered some more.

As we hit the bottom of the hill, the one person who had not broken the rule of Don’t Talk, Rahsaan, downshifted and accelerated hard. I hopped on his wheel as he dragged me out of the trench, through the concertina wire, through the mortars, past the bayonets, through the mustard gas, into the barrels of the .50mm Brownings, and somehow, miraculously, onto the tail of the second chase group.

Orange Shoutypants Dude learned two vital lessons: (1) Save your air for pedaling, not bicycle racing instruction. (2) Wanky don’t pull.

No one else made it across except for Eamon O’Reilly and Gritters. Now there were three up the road and about nine riders. Everyone else in the bike race had quit in disgust or was flailing, lonely and in pain, around the windswept hellhole of a course. We were only halfway through. And if you want to know what makes people in a 35+ bike race angry, it’s having a 53-year-old hairy-legged old fellow tagging along. It’s very hard for 35_ fellows to convince themselves that they’re any good when they’re riding with someone who isn’t, especially since every time through the start-finish the announcers would shout, “There’s Wanky, somehow hanging on by a meat thread! Boy, these guys must suck if they can’t get rid of that worn out old shoe!”

The obvious solution to this shameful disgrace was to begin attacking the elderly, which they did. However, a lifetime of wheelsuckery and general meanness somehow allowed me to hang on, even as the group got smaller. With a few laps to go all pretense of pride vanished and the young, strong, handsome, fast young fellows submitted to the incredible humiliation of having me pull them around the course.

“This is all being caught on camera,” I told them as they refused to rotate through. “Rahsaan, they’re going to take away your national champion jerseys when this video gets out,” I added.

Finally, Rahsaan and Gritters, after resting comfortably for a while, responded to my last-ditch attack with a hard counter at one lap to go. I was left with four other riders, none of whom felt inclined to pull. Why should they? We were probably the last five riders in the race. Rather than fighting for a shred of self-respect they would be duking it out for, uh, sixth. Somehow, that’s better than last.

With a few hundred yards to go they all found legs and a new lease on life. I got tenth out of the eighteen corpses who finished the race, the only wanker to have completed two full races on a punishing, miserable, excruciating, stupid, meaningless, regret-and-invective-filled day. Everyone else had quit.

My best race ever, or at least since Telo.

805_phil_beckman

Copyright 2017 by Phil Beckman; Purchased with Commercial Use License.

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The greatest?

July 3, 2017 § 15 Comments

Is Daniel Holloway a greater bike racer than Davis Phinney?

I know that some of you are going to roll your eyes, some will furrow your brows, and others will say “Davis who?”

At first glance, the two riders aren’t comparable. Phinney has an unmatched career, with three stage wins in the Tour de France, 2nd in the points classification in the 1988 Tour, a GC win in the Coors Classic, and the most ever wins by an American at 328. Holloway has never ridden, let alone won a stage in the Tour, and his biggest wins are domestic, including back-to-back national road titles and four national crit championships, all as an amateur.

So on paper it’s easy to say that Phinney’s career handily eclipses Holloway’s.

But in reality the comparison has a lot more substance than it does in the statistics. First of all, Phinney rode as the star for two teams that comprised the greatest assemblage of bike talent in U.S. history. Team 7-11 boasted riders like Andy Hampsten, Alexi Grewal, Tom Schuler, Ron Kiefel, Doug Shapiro, Alex Stieda, and Jeff Pierce. In every single domestic race Phinney could count on two things: The other teams would have to chase the entire race, and if the race came back together at the end, Phinney would have the best and most experienced riders in the peloton working for him.

Contrast that with Holloway, who has scored every single victory either riding solo at the end or having the limited help of only one or two teammates. Moreover, those teammates have changed virtually every season. Whereas Phinney could count on loyal lieutenants with whom he had hundreds of races to learn their every idiosyncrasy and to perfect his team tactics, Holloway has had to retrain and learn to work with new teammates virtually every year.

Moreover, the tactic of “riding against Davis” never worked. If you targeted Phinney, then Kiefel, Hampsten, Grewal, or Pierce would ride up the road. Riding against Holloway is pretty much all that many US pro/am riders do nowadays, and despite that he still beats them. In addition to having to make his own luck, Holloway can never count on two or three teammates who will go up the road and pose a credible threat every single race, let alone a finishing leadout train. That Holloway has been able to beat so many riders in so many races with such incredible consistency over a period of years when everyone knows how he races and what to expect is as remarkable a feat as I’ve seen in U.S. racing.

The only rider with that level of individual skill, the ability to beat an entire field again and again while basically freestyling, is Australian Robbie McEwen. Holloway’s back-to-back national crit and road championships were jaw-dropping; his second road victory this year proves that the guy who is “just a sprinter” is anything but.

Another factor that adds to the impressiveness of Holloway’s accomplishments is that he’s not really a sprinter, at least not in the sense that Phinney was. Phinney was simply faster than anyone else in the last 200 meters. He had a finishing sprint that proved itself to be world class time after time on a global stage against the fastest sprinters in the world.

Holloway’s sprint is something that he has had to groom. In any given race there are at least a couple of riders who are as fast, and one or two who may even be faster. But Holloway’s racing intellect is so superior to his competition that what he lacks in kick — and his kick is vicious — he makes up for with smarts. You may be able to outsprint him, but you will never be able to outsmart him, and the victory never goes to the strongest rider, it goes to the strongest smart rider.

Like Phinney, Holloway has proven himself versatile as a road racer and a crit racer. Like Phinney, he has nerves of steel. And like Phinney, he is a closer. Is Phinney still the greatest?

Yes.

But Holloway’s Me-Against-The-World style of racing is way more fun to watch, and his wins, without exception, are torn from the jaws of the beast every single time.

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