September 23, 2015 § 22 Comments
The big off-season news this year is that SPY Optic has lost its charismatic and cycling-centric CEO, Michael Marckx. It’s big news mostly because of the void that Michael’s departure will create in the local bike racing scene.
The most obvious result has been the merger between the former SPY Elite Cycling Team and Monster Media a/k/a Team Sponster. Whichever way you look at it, one less team is bad news. The obvious reason it’s bad news is that fewer teams means more strength among the teams that have stable squads and sponsorship. If you thought it was hard beating Surf City, try lining up against stacked Surf and stacked Monster.
But other things are swirling about, too. Michael’s interim replacement has indicated that SPY Optic won’t be the cycling-friendly company it has been for the last four and a half years. Sure, we’ll whine about the tourniquet being applied to all the cool stuff Michael so generously handed out, but there’s more to it than that.
SPY infused an amazing amount of enthusiasm and energy into SoCal cycling with Michael at the helm. Like any CEO he had his detractors, but I’ve never heard anyone dole out anything other than praise for his financial, time, and emotional commitments to bicycling. And those commitments were incredibly substantial, as Michael sponsored juniors, women, aspiring Cat 1’s, Cat 2’s living with their girlfriends, and legions of vain old men with too much money and too little sense.
At its zenith, SPY boasted a squad of 80 riders, a handful of whom were truly national caliber competitors, several handfuls of whom were state level competitors, and a whole bunch of posers and fakers like me who rarely raced but who flew the team colors with pride and who were visible and vocal proponents of competitive cycling. In addition to SPY’s own team/club, few people are aware of the degree to which Michael poured resources into other clubs, teams, and events, yet his encouragement gave a handful of truly talented racers the opportunity they needed to showcase their talent, get results, and turn pro.
From Udo Cross in honor of his good friend Udo Heinz, to sponsoring USAC at the national level, Michael willingly lent his logo to clubs and teams, offered great deals on world class eyewear that was innovative, stylish, and functional in the extreme, and did everything in his power to promote local events, including road, track, cyclocross, and MTB. If you were on two non-motorized wheels and were dedicated to it, Michael lent a sympathetic ear that was often backed with product, time, staff, and resources.
This grass roots approach was epitomized in his development of the Belgian Waffle Ride. “Most unique” or not, this 130-mile monumental beatdown over paved and unpaved roads became the high point for many people’s entire seasons, and the boneyard of dreams for many, many others. A celebration, a festival, a good old fashioned hard-ass bicycle ride that tipped its hat to the past while casting a hungry eye on the future of cycling marked everything that MIchael did at SPY. Thankfully, the BWR will survive his departure as a separately managed event under his new company, Creative Disruption, but it’s a loss to not have the full SPY corporate backing behind the event. Knowing Michael, the 2016 edition, which is already calendared for April 26, will be the best one yet.
As much as anything, local racing has been further hit by the departure of key staff at SPY who were hard core devotees of cycling. We may not have realized what a boon it was to have so many advocates within a company, advocates who showed up at races, who helped make events happen, and who worked social media to keep the world apprised of what was happening in SoCal cycling, but their absence is already felt. People like Phil Tinstman, Victor Sheldon, and John de Guzman, to name only three, were powerhouses on the bike and powerhouses in their corporate roles as well.
I can’t thank Michael enough for the support he gave me personally, and for the support he gave to pretty much anyone who asked for it. His impact on local cycling was huge and I, for one, am going to miss having him at the helm over at SPY. I have no doubt that his new business will boldly go where none has gone before, but in the meantime my hat’s off for the superlative work and the amazing contributions he made, contributions that have benefited every bike racer in Southern California, and thousands of others who’ve never pinned on a number.
I’m riding for a new team in 2016, but will proudly wear my SPY underwear costume until it reaches that Brad House level of threadbare when the rider behind is quite literally staring into the black hole of the abyss.
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September 15, 2015 § 19 Comments
“You oughta go to nationals!” a buddy said the week before the race.
“Nah,” I said.
“Dude! The course is perfect for you!”
“Nah,” I said.
“Ah, you know, work, family, stuff … ” I trailed off. And I didn’t tell him the real reason: I was too scared.
I still hadn’t recovered from the trauma I received at the Very Old But Not Yet The Oldest Fellows Crit Nationals in 2013. At that race I figured it would be kind of a more challenging four-corner CBR with better riders. “How bad could it be?” I had told myself.
My reasoning was that when you are over fifty you don’t have very much sperm anymore. And the sperm-making chemical in your body, testosterone, dwindles to tiny, mostly dried out, shallow little test puddles that reside in the gonads, where it can only be roused with great attention, effort, Photoshopping, and repetition.
When you bike race over age fifty everyone lines up and no one is nervous, and if there’s any testosterone anywhere to be found it’s coursing through the veins of the one or two dopers who are easy to spot because they look fierce and, more telling, like they actually care. Plus, they have chewed away their own molars and are already yelling at you before the gun goes off. So back in 2013 I figured that crit nationals would be chill + a whiff of test.
Boy, was I wrong.
I saw more crashes in the first ten minutes than you’d see in a Chinese stock exchange. The mention of the word “nationals” and the prospect of an ill-fitting jersey turned normally risk averse people with IRA’s and equity in their homes into frothing, lunging, elbow stabbing, wheel chopping lunatics hellbent on homicide, suicide, or “doing the double,” where they kill the guy next to them and themselves as well.
Of course I also had something else going on this week. My daughter was having a baby shower and I’d volunteered on Friday to help with the shopping and driving and such. We went to Target and got some cotton singlets that the guests would paint little pictures and messages on. We went to Michael’s and got acrylic paint, and then to Marukai for ingredients, and puttered around the whole day. If there was any testosterone in my gonads it was in ppb.
On Saturday, the day that all my pals were squirting sperm around the 8-turn, technical course of death in Ogden Utah, I was parked on a bench at Griffith Park while my daughter, son-in-law, and scads of young people celebrated an impending new life. For the first time in my life I was set gently off to the side, given 200 balloons to inflate (“Dad has amazing lungs!”), and left to my own devices, which involved eating, chatting with the one or two people who wanted to talk with a grandpa, and sunning myself.
To say it was pleasant completely understates it. I had no pressure, no obligations to gather and squirt my sperm amidst a morass of crazy people, no fear of crashing (although I did nod off and bump my head on the park table), and I didn’t even need any Tegaderm. All I had to do was sit there like a beloved old piece of family furniture, useful from time to time but mostly reassuring to the others by simply being there.
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September 10, 2015 § 14 Comments
This Friday at 5:30 PM in downtown Ogden, Utah, the next-to-last day of the 2015 Old People’s Vanity Strut will take place, when the 40-44 age category lines up to decide who among them has most thoroughly avoided advancement at work (or any employment at all), skipped out on family obligations for at least one full year, hired the best Internet coach, spent the most money on equipment and supplements of every kind, lied about how “it’s only a hobby,” and, finally, crossed the finish line of a 75-minute crit ahead of everyone else.
Unlike some categories in the annual Old People’s Vanity Strut, where national champions are crowned despite lining up against exactly zero other riders, and despite the shaky and physiologically random assignment of riders into 5-year groupings (why not 3-year? 19.4-months? 25-year?), the 40-44 race, otherwise known as DON’T LET IT BOIL DOWN TO A SPRINT FINISH AGAINST CHARON SMITH, has the potential to be one of the best old person crits ever.
Consider this. At 75 minutes long, the riders won’t have fresh legs at the finish. More importantly, the BEAT CHARON strategy can only work with aggressive racing. Negative racing that leaves everyone together with 300 yards to the line will put Charon so far ahead in the final sprunt that the winning gap will be measured in aircraft carrier lengths.
The strategy will be to split the field, form a non-Charon break, and let the breakaway riders duke it out for the meaningless jersey that means everything. How it’s being strategized:
- Phil Tinstman, the strongest all around rider and the Next Fastest Sprinter Who Isn’t Charon, brings teammate Karl Bordine (just picked up silver in the ITT yesterday, thanks) to shred the field and power the non-Charon breakaway. He’s also rumored to have formed a midnight blood pact with Chris DiMarchi and Mike Easter, former teammates at Monster Media and future teammates for 2016. Chris and Mike, also former national champions in something bicycle related, may be there to work for Phil against Team Charon. If so, no break will roll or remain established without Phil.
- Charon is bringing teammates to help for the first time in his quest for a national championship. With super motor Pat Bos he’ll be able to keep tabs on all but the strongest breakaways, and with consummate teammate Derek Brauch nothing will go up the road without Surf City in it. Derek will also fire everything he’s got to bring back a break and, more importantly, to give Charon the leadout he won’t need if it boils down to a sprint.
- Matt Carinio, last year’s victor, got third in the ITT yesterday so it’s pretty safe to say he’s showing up fit. He won’t have the team firepower of Charon/Phil, but he may not need it. He’s a fine breakaway rider and no slouch in a sprint, though in a head-to-head against Tinstman it’s hard to see him winning. Still, he’ll be all in for the BEAT CHARON breakaway plan.
- Rudy Napolitano will have little or no team support, but guess what, folks, he doesn’t need it. With Rudy in the race there’s virtually no chance it will boil down to a field sprint, and Rudy has shown time and time again that he can establish a break, ride a break, and then attack the break to win solo. He will save his efforts for laser-like precision, and when he unleashes them they will count.
Of course these are simply the favorites that I know of; lots of butt-hurt riders on the East Coast and in Wyoming will wonder why they’re not listed here. Answer: Because I make this shit up at 5:00 AM.
In any event it will be an epic race. The winner will of course look forward to spending one full year trying to explain the world shaking importance to non-cyclists that he’s the 2015 masters national champion of 40-44-year-old males in criterium racing. I’ll give you a nickel for every person whose eyes don’t glaze over after the word “masters.”
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September 9, 2015 § 48 Comments
I don’t like electrobikes. They go too fast on the bike path, which doesn’t bother me. Their riders have lousy bike handling skills, which doesn’t bother me. They zoom up behind me without notice, which doesn’t bother me. The riders are completely unfit hardly every pedal, which doesn’t bother me.
They pass me as if I were tied to a math word problem.
THAT BOTHERS ME.
It doesn’t just bother me because they are faster; okay, a lot faster. It bothers me because of what I suspected but wasn’t revealed until the other night, listening to ARD’s Infonacht radio program.
The reporter was interviewing some schmo in Munich who sold electrobikes. “They are great,” said Schmo.
“You can go much farther than on a regular bike. They are cheaper than a racing bicycle. They are very eco-friendly. And of course you can go uphill without much strenuous pedaling.”
“So you expect sales to increase?”
“Oh yes, they have tripled in the last eighteen months.”
“Why do you think they are so popular?”
“Many reasons, but one in particular.”
“What’s that?” asked the interviewer.
“When you pass a bike racer or a fitness enthusiast it is such a wonderful feeling.”
So there you have it. As rotten as you feel when some unfit schmo blows by you at 30 on the bike path, he feels inversely happy at leaving you chewing on the sand and grit kicked up by his back tire.
It doesn’t matter that he’s cheating, that you’re fitter, or that he’s beating you with a fuggin’ motor. What matters is that he is faster and you can’t catch him. So, I pretty much hate that.
But it’s the tip of the iceberg, and you can say in a couple of years that you read it here first: Electrobike racing is right around the corner. What could be more awesome? Unlike ho-hum crits, a pack filled with bikes that can chug around the parking lot at 40 will be thrilling. The crashes will be epic and the technology will be off the hook.
When wankers tangle wheels, a single pile-up will cost $100k. Talk about a yard sale!
Forget getting an edge with a few millimeters of carbon on your rims; racers will be getting more and more motorized wattage crammed into lighter and lighter frames. You think weight weenies are a bore? This will cross the unbearable boredom of weight weeniedom with the agonizing mindlessness of gearheadism.
“But that’s not bike racing!” we will screech and scream.
Not in the beginning, perhaps, but as the manufacturer money flows in and the races become more like motocross and less like bicycles, real bike racers will move in. Instead of a sport where you need 60 minutes of fitness to ride a break or win a field sprunt, you’ll need spurts of power to complement the bike’s wattage for short bursts. A sprint will mean tacking on 5 mph of human power to a 45 mph top end of the electrobike.
The electro horsepower will allow riders to wear real protective gear instead of lycra underwear. The sport will be incredibly fast, incredibly exciting, and incredibly dangerous. Best of all, there will be no masters categories–just young kamikazes pedo-racing their souped up electro bikes for cash primes and closed head injuries.
It’s coming in a couple of years. You’ll see. I hope I’m dead by then, and if I’m not, please shoot me.
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September 5, 2015 § 10 Comments
“Here’s your dinner,” I said to Woodrow.
He stared at the plate in fear. “What is it?”
“It’s a sloppy Joe.”
It hit me like a stubbed toe: My kids have never eaten a sloppy Joe. “You’re kidding, right?”
He angled away from the plate. “No. It sure looks sloppy, though.”
“Wait ’til you taste it,” I said, having already sampled it and confident that it was probably the best sloppy Joe ever made in the history of poor people.
“Can’t you tell me what it is first?”
“What, you’ve been going to Chester Karras negotiating seminars? It’s a fuggin’ sloppy Joe, the finest cuisine known to redneckdom. It’s cheap hamburger meat grilled in a pan and mixed with onion, green pepper, garlic, cayenne pepper, some more garlic, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, a bit of garlic, and tomato sauce.”
“That sounds nasty.” He sniffed the plate. “How do I eat it?”
“With a fuggin’ fork, for fuck’s sake! Sloppy Joe days used to be the best day on the school lunch menu back at ol’ Jane Long Junior High. That is some good eatin’!” I cut off a slab of toasted wheat hamburger bun that was groaning under the weight of the sloppy and jammed it in my mouth. “MMMMM, mmmm!” I said. And it was awesome. There is nothing like the rubberized gnawing on cheap ground beef to take you back to your childhood.
He cut off a tiny corner and placed it on his fork, then he sniffed it and carefully put it into his mouth. I waited for him to swallow and got ready to enjoy the explosion of satisfaction on his skeptical face. He swallowed. “Well?” I said triumphantly.
He cut off a slightly larger piece and ate it. “It’s okay,” he said.
“Okay? That’s it? Here you’re eating dog’s gift to American poor folks cuisine, loaded with ketchup and cheap fatty gristle meat smothered in ketchup with extra ketchup and the best you can say is ‘It’s okay’?”
He ate some more. “It’s not bad, Dad. Really.”
“Let me tell you something, Mr. It’s Not Bad Dad Really. I got a friend who is a fuggin’ expert at taking sloppy, messed up shit and turning it into filet mignon.”
“Really?” He knew what filet mignon was = I’ve failed as a parent.
“What’s his name?”
“Charon. Charon Smith.”
“That’s a funny name.”
“He’s a funny guy.”
“You throw him into a nasty, messy, sloppy, fucked up shark tank of idiots and supercharged bad bike handlers and he pounds the motherfuckers into a smooth slurry of fine cuisine and slices through them like a sharp knife through a soft eyeball.”
“Gross,” he said, polishing off the sloppy and getting up to make himself a second one.
“And I’ll tell you something else,” I said. “Ol’ Charon doesn’t let it get him down when someone says It’s Not Bad Dad Really, no sir, he does not.”
“People been telling Charon that he’s a fast old fart crit finisher but he can’t road race and he can’t outsprint the pros.”
“You should have seen him on Sunday. He skipped the leaky prostate race because he knew his teammate Leadout would be with him and he did the pro race. Talk about sloppy fuggin’ Joe. There were 122 sloppy-assed idiots on the line who were messy and aggro enough to eat nails and broken glass.”
“Hundred dollar primes, also known a biker chum. But Charon didn’t give a damn.”
“Nope. He hung on for ninety minutes while the shrapnel flew, the body parts banged, the shit stains squirted, and everyone threw a Hail Mary pass every five minutes.”
“Then what?” The second sloppy Joe was much reduced.
“He took all that sloppy shit and cleaned it up with one whisk of his snot rag. Blew through the youngsters so fast that instead of cash primes, next time they’ll be offering those tykes diaper primes. He won by a country mile, clean as a whistle.”
Woodrow scraped up the last of the sloppy and licked his fork. Twice. “Sounds like an awesome dude.”
“Damn straight,” I said. The plate, it sparkled.
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September 1, 2015 § 16 Comments
Although I generally despise the “off season” let me say that I’m really looking forward to tomorrow, which is the first day of September, which in turn marks the first day of my off season.
I need a break. For the first time in more than 30 years I didn’t flame out in early April, to which I can only credit having finally learned that you can’t keep training hard once race season starts, and to this little pearl of wisdom: The older you get, the less you recover.
It was an exciting year of racing even though I only fell off my bicycle once, at the BWR going around a turn with my head down into a cactus. A smattering of top-ten placings hint at even more mediocrity to come, which is encouraging. Best of all, I have no idea how many miles I rode this year, but it was at least 500, maybe even more.
In addition to the euphoria of not having to lace up my cycling jockstrap for a while, there was the sad news about my sobriety. “What sad news?” you ask. “The sobriety,” I answer. “That’s the sad news.”
But every sad occurrence is balanced by something not totally awful, and in this case for the first time in four years I won’t be entering September with the awful, heavy, painful dread of cyclocross hanging around my balls. I sold my ‘cross bike and won’t be buying it back. Thank you Major Bob for cutting the seat post so low that I couldn’t ride it even if I wanted to.
Will I miss not racing for a few months? Probably. What joy compares with having “Payday” Johnny Walsh, alleged teammate, chase me down in a breakaway with two laps to go so that he can score a $20 prime? Johnny, next time just come up to me after the race. I will give you the twenty dollars and a spare inner tube.
What thrill compares with bridging to the monsters of the crit peloton, Pat Bos, Derek Brauch, and Thurlow Rogers, with two laps to go in the 40+ race, only to get mown down and discarded by the hungry peloton and finishing so far back that they didn’t even put me on the results sheet?
What joy compares with getting dropped at Boulevard, dropped at Punchbowl, dropped at Lake Castaic, and dropped at Bakersfield? I know! It’s the joy of having my saddle fall off with one lap to go at the Poor College Kids RR and the super, super, super joy of having pro photographers like Danny Munson and Phil Beckman take exciting photos of me whizzing around a corner looking fast when actually I’m in 78th place with one lap to go.
And of course 2015 is ending with a sort of sputter, as all years in profamateur cycling end. The great SPY-Giant-RIDE p/b GQ6 team is merging with Monster Media to form … what? SPY Monster? Media SPY? Team Blurge? And then the best of all reasons to take a break in September is so that I can properly evaluate the high dollar offers pouring in from masters teams around the state who want my services. Perhaps I’ll hire an agent.
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August 27, 2015 § 44 Comments
When I decided to contribute some cash primes to our backyard CBR crit, I figured that the first week I’d donate to the P123 men’s race and the master’s 40+ category, and then the following weekend I’d donate to the P123 men’s race and the P123 women’s race. It made sense to donate equal amounts to the men’s and women’s races because I’m an old school feminist.
But everyone didn’t see it that way. A few people suggested to me, privately of course, that it was silly to give equal amounts to men and women. “Women won’t show up, you’ll see.”
A variation on this theme was, “Prizes should be awarded in proportion to participation. The men’s field will have 120 racers and the women’s field, if you’re lucky, forty. Prizes should reflect that.”
This is the way prizes are apportioned throughout cycling. ‘Cross Vegas puts up half the prize money for women that it does for men.
Aside from the participation “issue,” people — almost always men — will tell you that women’s racing is boring, that it’s slower, that it’s less tactical, less exciting, less EVERYTHING than men’s racing. This attitude is entrenched on the pro level and it is a given on the amateur level, where women are lucky to have a category in many races. And since it’s so “less” everything, the implication is that it deserves less money.
I’ve often wondered how people would react if you substituted the word “women” for the words “African-American” or “Hispanics.”
My take on women racing is different. Women deserve the same opportunity as men to compete regardless of the numbers who show up. This is such a basic principle that if you are a university and you don’t offer equal opportunity in athletic dollars to women pursuant to Title IX, which was passed in 1972, you will lose all of your federal funding and essentially be forced to close up shop. Universities long ago dispensed with the canard that women don’t want to compete in sports and focused on doing the one thing that matters most in increasing women’s participation: Funding.
Naturally, as the funding ballooned, so did participation at the college level of women athletes across virtually every sport. In other words, you can’t use participation to justify low funding because it’s the funding that holds back the participation. It would be like going to a country where women don’t receive an education and denying them funding for schools because they don’t go to the school. This is the kind of circular reasoning at which cycling excels, not limited to women’s racing.
Cycling hasn’t yet caught up with August 26, 1920, when U.S. women got the right to vote, so of course cycling still thinks that participation can be addressed without providing equal opportunity. They are wrong. One elite woman racer told me that when she sees a flyer offering half the men’s purse to the pro women, she crosses that event off her list. Her list must be covered in black marks.
Truly equal opportunity means that funding isn’t contingent on equal participation. If there is $1,000 in cash primes on offer and only four women show up, the small turnout doesn’t diminish the opportunity or mean that the people who raced got more than they deserved or justify excluding equal prizes from future races. To the contrary, it emphasizes that people who make the effort to race are treated the same regardless of gender.
As Title IX proved, over time equal opportunity in terms of funding means that participation will grow exponentially. It will be nice when cycling graduates to the early 20th Century, but even better when it reaches the modern era of 1972.
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