February 10, 2015 § 20 Comments
This past weekend saw me rise to my loftiest heights ever: With first, second, and third place finishes in SoCal road races, I am now the top racer on SPY-Giant-RIDE p/b GQ-6. As a result, after consultation with my agent and my attorney, I have decided to tender a request that SGR renegotiate my contract to reflect my significantly increased value to the team.
I’ve retained a forensic economist to formally evaluate the financial impact that my results have brought to my team and sponsors. In sum:
- After my win at Rosena Ranch, “Wanky Fever” has overtaken the SoCal, NorCal, and crappy-little-towns-in-DesertCal cycling scene.
- Facebag posts mentioning “Wanky Fever,” “leaky prostate,” and “he must be doping,” all affiliated with team SGR, have increased 2,504,882% over this time last year.
- The Twitter hashtag #wankyfever has appeared on cross-platform marketing campaigns as diverse as Pepsi, McDonald’s, and RuggedMaxx 2 organic male enhancement supplements.
- Share prices of SPY Optic rose 5.6% after Rosena Ranch, 3.4% after CBR Crit #1, and 2.9% after Tuttle Creek Road Race.
Although my success has resulted in some intra-squad strife, with other higher profile team riders somewhat perturbed at having their thunder stolen and replaced by Wanky Fever and its occasionally uncomfortable rash (red spots with occasionally open sores in embarrassing places), it makes sense that management carefully consider my demands. Competing teams have already begun to make inquiries as to my availability — Wanky Fever yellow wristbands have begun popping up on training rides.
The only real issue in my contract demand concerns the events at the Tuttle Creek Road Race this past Saturday. Although it was a decisive, powerful, emphatic second place podium spot, detractors are characterizing it as “totally fuggin’ lame” and a “last place finish” simply because there was only one other rider in my category.
In fact, here’s how it all played out:
Manslaughter and I made the 3-hour drive to Lone Pine, a cozy community located at the foot of Mt. Whitney, in about an hour and a half. We got to the parking lot and asked a question you normally don’t have to ask at bike races. “Where are the racers?” followed by “Where is race registration?” followed by “Is there a race today?” followed by “Goddammit Wanky, are you sure it’s the right day?”
After a while Motoman drove up in his white van and took out a card table. The bitterly cold wind mixed with freezing rain was sweeping down from Mt. Whitney, which at 14,000 feet was still covered in snow. Motoman disappeared and a couple of other cars with bikes on top drove into the parking lot.
One of them parked next to us and out jumped a rotund fellow wearing a yellow flappy rain jacket. “You here for the race?” Manslaughter asked.
“Yep,” said Flappy. “I’m doing the 35+.”
“You’ll murder that porker,” I snickered to Manslaughter as Flappy hopped on his bike to check out the 12-mile course.
About that time a rider dressed head to toe in Rapha, and obviously a rank beginner, began prancing around in the parking lot. “Oh, jeez,” I said. “That poor dork is gonna get destroyed. He should be trying to upgrade from Cat 5 at a crit, not out on a man’s course like this.”
I had preregistered earlier in the week, and as of the night before I was the only rider in the 45+ category who had signed up. So the odds of “there’s no way you can lose” were looking good, even for me. Motoman walked over to the car. “Hey, Wanky,” he said, sticking a number into the window. “Just put your number in your back pocket. I know who you are.”
“Is this race actually going to happen?” asked Manslaughter.
“Oh, hell yes,” said Motoman.
“I’m doing the 35+,” Manslaughter continued. “How many riders are you expecting?”
Motoman paused and thought. “About 15.”
“Twelve riders in the 35+? Are you kidding? That’s nothing.”
“Who said anything about the 35+?” asked Motoman. “I’m talking about the whole race.”
“How many in the 35+?” asked Manslaughter.
“About three, maybe four.”
“How can you run a race with only four people in it?”
“Easy. All the categories race together. Better get warmed up. Race starts in thirty minutes.”
We assembled our bikes and got changed, but decided against warming up because the weather was so miserable, so instead we got back into the car, turned the heater onto “steel smelter” and ate a couple of peanut butter sandwiches. Then we were still hungry so we had a couple of Harmony Bars, some fruit, and bunch of energy drink. Pretty soon we had to get out of the car because of the farts.
At the starting line Motoman gave a rambling speech, telling us about each curve, each turn, each cattle guard, and each pothole on the course. “And for everyone who finishes, we’re getting together across the street at Bubba’s Pizza — and the pizza’s on me.”
There appeared to be no one in my category, which meant all that I had to do was finish and I’d win. But at the last minute a craggy, wrinkly, haggard, spindly, broken down old man rolled up to the line. “What the hell is that?” I wondered. “An entry in the 100+ category?”
“Hey, man,” I said, sticking out my hand. “You doing the 45+?”
“Yep,” he said with a friendly smile. “Sure am.”
“Great,” I said. “Me, too.” What I didn’t say is that I intended to break him in half like a matchstick, kick him out the back on the first climb and leave him for dead. “Have a good race,” I said.
“You, too,” he said as Motoman blew the whistle.
Manslaughter was riding next to me as our peloton of fifteen idiots pedaled off at a pace that would barely have kept up with a Friday coffee cruise. Flappy had returned from his reconnaissance mission and was hanging at the back. A group of Black Star racers in the P/1/2 field were at the front, chatting.
I looked at Manslaughter. “This is the stupidest joke race ever.” He nodded. “I guess we’ll do a couple of laps and then maybe heat things up a bit. No need to do anything ’til then. If these wankers want to hold hands and pedal like grannies that’s fine with me.”
After about five minutes we came to a slight rise. It was very short, only a couple of hundred feet, and the road twisted away behind a rock wall so you couldn’t see where it went. The scenery was spectacular, the most beautiful backdrop I’ve ever seen at a bike race and the road was perfectly free of cars.
We went up the little rise, twisted off to the right and went up a little more, and then a little more, and then suddenly it wasn’t very little any more. The hand-holders got out of the saddle and punched it as the road climbed; in seconds I had gone from comfy to gasping.
The climb turned out to be the hardest one I’ve ever done in a bike race. It was three miles long and constantly switched between a moderate gradient and short, steep pitches. By the time we were halfway up there were only seven riders left, and then as I massively cracked, only six.
One of the six was, of course, Great Grandpa a/k/a Scott McAfee a/k/a Antivirus. Manslaughter developed a terrible pain in his hamstring, which spread to his muscles, arms, back, lungs, heart, and brain, and quit the race. As I struggled alone, Rapha Boy, who was indeed a Cat 5, came charging by. I jumped on his wheel and he viciously towed me back up to Great Grandpa, who had been shelled along with one of the Cat 2’s from the leading group.
“Now all I have to do is hang onto Great Grandpa,” I muttered, “and crush him at the end, preferably by driving a wooden stake through hit head.”
Rapha Boy never swung over, bulling his way up to the top of the climb, then turning onto the next three miles of rolling climb, then turning onto a final nasty half-mile headwind uphill pitch, then turning onto another endless series of rollers to the long 55-mph downhill that gave us an entire two or three minutes of rest before hitting the beginning of the loop and starting the entire miserable thing all over again.
Rapha Boy had obviously misunderstood the whole category thing, because he was in a fury and riding faster than anyone in the race except for the P/1/2 leaders, who had vanished long ago. As we approached the beginning of the climb he jumped hard. Great Grandpa and I followed. He jumped again, rested, jumped again, rested, and jumped again like a poisonous jack-in-the-box being wound up by a sadistic child.
Halfway up he jumped again, and I de-jumped. Great Grandpa went with him, breaking me in half like a matchstick, kicking me out the back leaving me for dead as he crushed my by driving a wooden stake through my head. With two and a half laps of utter misery to go, the freezing rain seeping into my crevices, the thin air shredding my throat and lungs like sandpaper, and the hellish climb making every stroke worse than declining German nouns, I soldiered on knowing that it would still be second place if I finished.
As I slogged through the finish at the end of Lap 2, Motoman yelled at me encouragingly. “Go to the front!”
At the bottom of the climb on Lap 3, a hairy Cat 2 dude with a beard like a Russian Tsar’s charged by and didn’t even say “hello.” A minute later I was caught by Tristan, another Cat 2 who was a tad large to be contesting such a bitter climber’s course, and Flappy, who was so happy to catch me he couldn’t contain himself.
He looked over at Tristan. “That’s the benefit of being an experienced time trialist,” he said. “I really know how to pace myself.”
It was bad enough to get shelled by Great Grandpa. It was worse to get abused by Cat 5 Rapha Boy. But to be chided by Flappy was more than I could take, so when Tristan upped the pace I went with him. Flappy ended up pacing himself backwards for the rest of the race and we didn’t see him again.
Tristan then hunkered down, creating a massive draft, and towed me around for the remainder of the race. We finally caught and dropped Tsarbeard, too. I angrily reflected that if I’d registered for the 35+ I would have won, and considered asking Motoman to retroactively change my category. But unlike me he’s a guy with integrity, so I didn’t bother. Great Grandpa had beaten me by well over five minutes.
In sum, the race was challenging beyond belief. The scenery gorgeous. The roads devoid of traffic. It was one of the best races I’ve ever done, and certainly the hardest. So I think my sponsors will understand it when my agent demands more money, a fluffer, and hotel rooms that always look east. It’s the least they can do for me.
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February 4, 2015 § 66 Comments
The Facebag almost broke on Monday when someone posted a photo of the results in the 50+ masters race at the Red Trolley Crit. There atop the leaderboard sat Richard Meeker, returned from a 2-year doping ban and picking up where he left off: Making fools of the best old fart racers in the state, make that the nation, make that the world.
According to eyewitness accounts, Meeker the Beaker a/k/a Loose Leaf Powder a/k/a Mr. Kleen rabbit-punched breakaway companions Mark Hoffenberg and Thurlow Rogers with a finishing sprint so vicious that all they could do was loll their tongues and do the Harpooned Whale Bellyroll of Death as Sir Toxic blew across the line in a blur.
None of this should have been surprising. Rich doped (to no one’s surprise), was busted (to everyone’s surprise), mounted a pathetic tainted supplement defense (to everyone’s undying hilarity), and has now returned with a vengeance, which he will be serving up nice and cold. If you plan on racing in the 50+ category in SoCal this year, and you’re super fit and super fast and super good, I hope you like the sound of “second place,” because whether it’s a time trial, a hill climb, a crit, or a rolling, windy course, the unrepentant, proud owner of a two-year doping ban is going to stomp your nuts.
‘Cuz you know, when it comes to bike racing, Rich Meeker does it all.
What was surprising, nay, astounding, is that the Beaker signed up for the race under the banner of Surf City Cyclery. This is surprising because according to at least one rider, he wasn’t even on the team.
Despite strenuous politicking to be allowed to join, the members reportedly held a ballot and emphatically voted not to let Sir Toxic on the team. No matter to Rich, though. Despite the vote reportedly taking place a month ago, which means he would have been well aware that he wasn’t on the team, he is listed on his 2015 license as a Surf City rider, and he apparently rode the race in a Surf City club kit that’s for sale to the general public. After this horrendous wardrobe malfunction, I heard that he received a call from management and was told to cease and desist.
It will be entertaining to see whether he continues to show up claiming to ride for Surf City and whether he changes his license. Alternately, it will be fun to see which team he rides for next and to hear the pathetic excuses that people give for allowing this unrepentant leper to ride on their team. The fact that he still maintains his innocence and refuses to admit to wrongdoing puts him on a lower level than Lance & Co., who at least admitted what they’d done and are now suffering the consequences, however mild they may be.
As far as I’m concerned, I could care less whether the guy races, although there’s no shortage of people who wish he’d find a different sport to cheat at. He’s done his time, and the rules say that he’s allowed to return to the fray. It was heartening to see people on Facebag comment that the real first and second in that race were Hoffenberg and Thurlow, and it’s encouraging that there are teams who refuse to be associated with him. Perhaps his strategy of throwing Hammer Nutrition under the bus is making teams and sponsors and potential teammates wonder who he’ll point the finger at the next time USADA rolls into town.
But of course we always save the best for last. Rich and his wife have opened an organic drink bar in Corona del Mar, catering to the beautiful set’s desire for healthful, tasty nutrition. The name?
Some shit you just can’t make up.
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February 2, 2015 § 19 Comments
I’m an idiot. I know this because I subscribe to Science, a magazine that makes me feel silly, innumerate, and illiterate every time it arrives in the mailbox. Since I can’t understand anything in it, when I read an article I play a game called “Name that acronym.” Here’s how it works:
Each Science article is chock-full of acronyms, for example TCRs, MHC, CEBAF, and “the EMC effect.” Since I’ll never understand any of it no matter how much time I spend on Wikipedia, I content myself with memorizing what the acronym stands for. So, each time I see the acronym in the article, I repeat to myself the fully spelled-out word. T-Cell Receptor. Major Histocompatibility Complex. Continuous Electron Beam Accelerator Facility. The European Muon Collaboration Effect.
What the fugg does any of it mean? No idea. But at the end of each article instead of feeling like a complete moron, I just feel like an idiot.
At our SPY-Giant-RIDE p/b GQ-6 profamateur Team Camp and Poser Assembly the day before the Boulevard Road Race I was listening to one of the presentations about energy drinks when I happened to notice that in one of the slides, in super tiny print, someone had written a paragraph that mentioned “mTOR.”
I jumped out of my chair. “Mechanistic target of rapamycin!” I yelled. Everyone stared.
“Excuse me?” said the presenter.
“Mechanistic target of rapamycin! It says it right there!”
“What are you talking about, dude? And could you please quit shouting? And sit down?”
I did as he said and he continued with the slide. King Harold tapped me on the shoulder. “What the fugg did you just say?”
“Mechanistic target of rapamycin,” I whispered breathlessly, pointing at the slide. “Right there! mTOR is the abbreviation for mechanistic target of rapamycin.”
“Okay, okay,” he said, patting me. “Just calm down and tell me what the hell it means. Can you use it in a sentence?”
“No,” I said. “I only memorized it from the acronym.”
“You’re a complete idiot,” he said.
Derek is not an idiot
This year I had decided to race the 40+ masters category at Boulevard because it was 22 miles longer than the 44-mile race for the 50+ leaky prostate category. My reasoning was simple: Since I had no chance of doing well in the 2-lap race with people my own age, perhaps I could do better in a 3-lap race with people who were much younger and faster and better than all of the people in the 50+ race put together.
In other words, it was an idiotic plan.
My friend Derek, however, who is ten years younger and who is easily one of the best road racers in his age class, had a very good plan. In order to win the season opening, most prestigious race of the year he would have his whole team line up to support him (except for Prez, who would spend the day drinking coffee with his feet up on the table). Even the sprinter dudes who could generally be expected to explode into tiny flecks of muscle and mush after the first climb were there to help.
With his full team at the race (except for Prez, who would spend the day drinking coffee with his feet up on the table), Derek’s team would send off bulletproof sprinter “Red Bull” Wike to cover any early moves. Team Captain Charon Smith would then ride the front to keep the field in check by threatening to knock down anyone who tried to pass by flexing his massive calves, which are wider than most mobile homes.
Rob the Blob would follow potential threats and neutralize them with stories of the hundreds of races he has won since 1996, one or two of which might actually have happened. Finally, team assassin Shawn van Gassen would mark potential attacks to make sure that SCC would have a man in any bridge move.
Next, Derek the Destroyer would either wait for or initiate a move on the third lap, crack the field with his wicked acceleration, and either time trial to victory or outsprunt his breakaway companions at the line.
In order to properly set the chessboard for this Sicilian Dragon opening, only one key move was left: Prevent “Full Gas” Phil Tinstman from pinning on a number, since he was the previous winner of the race in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014, as well as the holder of a string of victories from 1897-1956. Phil’s exclusion was achieved thanks to a terrible case of intestinal rumblings that left him standing on the sidelines, never more than two quick steps from the port-o-potties and two fistfuls of toilet paper.
As the race began I knew that I was a guppy in a shark tank. We shot through the first long downhill section, and as the speeds hit 55 mph on the turns, a massive cloudburst unleashed. Several riders skidded off the road, tattooing the asphalt with sheets of skin and copious quantities of bright red ink. We were very worried about them, but not really.
As the race unfolded, Derek’s team hewed to the plan. Red Bull Wike went with Crafty Coxworth in the early move and then detonated, sending Lycra and carbon shrapnel for miles into the air. Charon clogged the lane and prevented attacks by periodic calf flexes. Assassin van Gassen cut the heads off of would-be pursuers. The torrid pace continued as we hit the first long climb on the Green Road, with tattered and broken posers coming off the back in droves.
My personal race summary is as follows:
Lap 1: I felt like Eddy.
Lap 2: I was dropped, unlike Eddy.
Lap 3: I chased back on and was then throttled at the railroad tracks, struggling in alone for a pathetic 34th place.
Race day is payday, baby
For Derek the Destroyer, however, it was a tour de force. At the top of the brutal climb on Lap 2, Easter Egg ripped away from the tattered peloton like a giant piece of Velcro. Derek, Ollie, and Some English Dude on Vacation in California Who Showed Up out of the Blue followed the ripping attack of Easter Egg.
Now I don’t know about you, but when a 6′ 4″ dude who always carries a gun because he’s in the FBI and whose primary assignment is the liquidation of high value targets decides to ride away from you, I think that generally you should let him go.
But they didn’t. After a pulverizing four-man TT to establish the break the leaders eventually fell victim to Spontaneous Breakaway Degeneration Disease, an illness that strikes riders who aren’t close enough to the line to go it alone but who don’t want to work any more in order to be fresh for the sprunt.
As they turned onto the final 4-mile climb, the Destroyer turned to Easter Egg. “You gonna pull?”
“I didn’t race at all last year. I’m not going so well.”
“Is it your kid’s birthday?”
“Are you gonna sprint at the end?”
“It’s a bike race.”
“Thanks,” said the Destroyer. “That’s all I need to know.”
And then as they started up the climb, the Destroyer asked himself “WWFGD?”
What would Full Gas do?
Full Gas Phil would, of course, attack, and he would attack so hard that if you were still hanging around you would decide that second place was infinitely preferable to the stroke you would suffer if you tried to chase.
And so the Destroyer attacked. The other breakaway riders crumpled like tin cans beneath the wheel of a fully loaded, onrushing 18-wheeler. The Destroyer twisted the dial up to 300 watts and held it all the way to the line–a team win if there ever was one.
I dragged myself across the line a very, very, very, very long time later. My buddies Jan, Dean, and Honey were waiting for me with hot coffee, a towel, and lots of great excuses mixed with fake praise. “You looked good out there.”
“It was a fast pace today.”
“You finished before midnight.” Etc.
Then Derek walked over with his smoking hot wife and his hand on an envelope. He was nattily attired in the fanciest apres-ski cycling apparel, which generally means a clean t-shirt and pants. “How’d you do?” I asked.
“I won,” he said. “Thanks to the team.”
“And Prez,” I added. “You couldn’t have done it without Prez.”
Derek handed me the envelope. “Here’s some cash for your blog, man. I don’t do PayPal.”
“You don’t have to do that,” I said, thinking guiltily about the similarly generous gift that Dandy Andy had handed me the day before and that I’d immediately cashed and spent on craft water. “But if you insist … ”
“I do,” he said.
And suddenly, although I still felt like an idiot, I didn’t exactly feel like a loser any more.
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January 30, 2015 § 42 Comments
This is the toughest weekend of the year. All winter SoCal profamateur masters racers have trained like Olympians so that they can be fit and fast enough to completely crush the season on Facebook. Ever since September, legs have gotten leaner, veins poppier, guts have retracted, and WKO+ TSS scores have gone through the roof.
KOM’s on Strava have fallen like dominoes and sure enough, by the first week of January the top teams were going at it mano-a-mano, sparing no effort in the battle to see who had the coolest profamateur lycra underwear outfit. Wheelsets were bought, the mandatory full carbon quiver of wheels for TT’s, climbing, crits, and for sticking on the roof rack and cruising slowly through Manhattan Beach.
But none of the bulk protein drink purchases, 5-year gym memberships, incredible Instagrams of endless stair workouts, or gaudy finery of cross-posted Garmin files even begins to compare with the hardest, nastiest, toughest, gnarliest task that is staring us in the face a mere 24 hours hence: Of course I’m referring to the effort that’s going to be expended in coming up with excuses for not doing the Boulevard Road Race.
In the last few days I’ve heard everything from the imaginative to the awful. Here’s a sampling:
- I have a dinner date that night. (So reschedule.)
- My in-laws are going to be in town. (Drown them.)
- I’ve decided to focus on my work because that’s what pays the bills. (You are unemployed, remember?)
- The drive is too far. (Your team has a custom wrapped van, masseuse, and lounge chairs with your fuggin’ name embroidered on the back.)
- I heard it might rain. (Pack a raincoat and a clean diaper.)
Basically, an entire winter’s worth of training has dissolved into a lukewarm puddle of pee at the mere mention of “Boulevard.” You can’t talk to a crit racer for more than twelve seconds lately without hearing the phrase “I’m a crit racer.”
And that’s without you even mentioning the dreaded word.
There’s good reason to be afraid of Boulevard. It’s not the hardest road race of the year, so you can’t claim that it’s a climber’s race. The climbs are hard, but they don’t have the steepness or the viciousness of Punchbowl that allow you to get shelled on the first lap and then shrug, point at your beer gut and say, “This ain’t no race for Clydesdales.” [Note: Quit calling yourself a Clydesdale unless you’re strong enough to haul a 2,000-lb. dray of coal through the Ardennes.]
Nope, Boulevard is the bane of the profamateur masters class because it’s not so hard to be the exclusive domain of the twig-men, but it’s gnarly enough to strip bare your pretensions and leave you, beaten and crushed, three miles from the Mexican border where vultures and coyotes are waiting to gnaw off your quivering face after first picking the clumps of Clif Bar from the gaps in your teeth and shitting down your throat.
Boulevard has all of the terrible things you’d expect from a bad bike race — broke down trailer homes at the start-finish, toilets infested with vermin, and worst of all a very long drive during which you contemplate, mile after mile, all of the horrific things that are going to happen.
Will you careen off the road at 50 like Tree did that year, and wind up wrapped in a tight bundle of rusty barbed wire? Will you flip onto your head on the downhill, tear an artery, and come within seconds of bleeding out but for the dumb luck of an emergency room MD stopping to save your life like that year Mr. Chevy almost met his maker?
Or will something infinitely worse happen, like training crazily all winter only to be puked out the back on the first acceleration of the first climb, and left to stumble the remaining 40 miles alone, cold, wet, miserable, shivering?
The horror of Boulevard is that you have so much time to contemplate these and a thousand other miseries all the way there, and what’s worse, to contemplate them again all the way back: the missed winning break; the mechanical at just the wrong moment; the tactical superiority of another team; or, most likely, the galling truth that after all’s said and done, you simply suck.
What a bitter tonic, to parade around in front of your wife with shaved legs, to prance before the coffee shop windows in your tight little underwear outfit, to model your pretty bike to all the admirers only to have the whole charade popped quicker than a cherry at a frat party!
This is Boulevard, the Cinderella Ball where the dancers are tatted-up killers, where the belle of the ball is 6.0 watts/kg, and where the coach that brings you home won’t turn into a pumpkin, but rather a hearse.
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January 26, 2015 § 28 Comments
Rahsaan Bahati has been winning bike races since he was a kid. Including a national elite men’s criterium championship in 2008, he has won some of the biggest crits in America, including the Athens Twilight Criterium (2008). Rahsaan turns thirty-three this year, and after feeling the pain from a couple of his leg-searing efforts out on Westchester Parkway, I called him to find out what’s in store for 2015.
CitSB: What are your racing goals for 2015?
RB: I’ve put together a schedule of twenty-one races and would like to win five of them. There are no particular ones I’ve targeted, but of course Manhattan Beach Grand Prix and Dana Point Grand Prix I normally go pretty hard at because those are local races and I’m a hometown rider.
CitSB: What’s on your non-racing radar?
RB: In 2011 I began a business that has really developed. With my partner Anthony Reguero, we’ve put together a project similar to Costco; customers buy a membership and get bicycling products at a significant discount. We offer nutritional products, apparel, and bike products that you’d find in a bike shop. The web site is http://www.bahatiracing.com.
CitSB: What are you doing differently this year for training?
RB: First off, I’m cross training at the gym or at the park with a personal trainer. I’m doing pliometrics, box jumps, resistance training. I’m doing it for two months until March, it’s very similar to circuit training; I can already feel a big difference. I hit it hard, it’s a hour workout and feels like I’ve finished a hard bike race when I’m done.
CitSB: What particular aspect of your racing are you trying to improve?
RB: I’m trying to improve my snap in the sprint. The first 5-second burst is what you start to lose as you get older. It’s that high explosive kick that you need in crits because of those short, explosive sprints.
CitSB: Where are you in your career now?
RB: From an outside perspective it may look like I have a lot of career left, in terms of age and ability I’m still there. But after twenty years of racing at a certain point there aren’t many big crits that I haven’t either won or finished in the top five. And even with the prestige of nationals, perhaps it’s possible to win again, but then what? A big contract from a pro team? The reality is that I’m promoting my own brand and a sponsor is thinking “How do I get this guy’s efforts if he’s got his own business?” I’m in a good spot right now. I get to ride, my business is growing, I need to think about the future — I’ve got a wife and three kids.
CitSB: It’s pretty unusual that a guy of your caliber takes the time and makes the effort to ride with beginners and weekend hackers. What’s the motivation for that?
RB: I don’t take myself too seriously. I’ve been around, and I can ride with anyone, it doesn’t matter to me if they’re just starting out. When I was young and you did something wrong there was a lot of yelling and pushing, people told you you were screwing up but didn’t tell you what you were doing or how to correct it, they just called you an idiot. I may yell too sometimes, but I try to educate and help riders work on their skills. It makes it safer for them, safer for me, safer for everyone.
CitSB: What was it like to be the first African-American cyclist of a national caliber since Nelson Vails?
RB: When I was young I didn’t realize the impact. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I realized it was a big deal, and maybe it’s a good thing I didn’t realize it earlier. When I raced for Saturn my job was to represent my sponsors and race my bike. Realizing that I represented other people who looked like me, and that that could help people who, like me, had also come from tough circumstances, it changed the way I look at things.
CitSB: Is cycling more diverse now than when you started racing?
RB: Racing isn’t, but there are more cyclists. At the highest level down to the local level there are about the same number of riders who look like me, but there’s not one black female racer I can think of. There were a few on the track; we have a long way to go, but kids will eventually get into the sport and get hooked. I want those kids to have that support so they can succeed, the money, the mentoring.
CitSB: What was your first pro race?
RB: I think it was in 1998, the Merced Road Race. It was held in the pouring rain. I was a junior, but they let me ride it.
CitSB: How has the sport changed since you started racing?
RB: There’s less money in the sport, and there’s only one giant team — UHC — dumping money into it. They hire riders who race full time, that’s their only job and that makes it difficult for the guy making $12k from his team and holding down a part time job to make ends meet. When I started there were six or seven teams, Saturn, Mercury, Navigators, all with the same budget. Anyone could win. Now it’s lopsided; UHC is guaranteed to be on the podium, or to sweep it. You have guys like Holloway who can break up their train and win from time to time, but it’s just different.
CitSB: I watched your video from the 2014 Manhattan Beach Grand Prix. That was hairy beyond belief.
RB: Last year I was just going through the motions, racing on five or six hours of training a week. I was doing it just to do it. This year I’m going to put the effort into it. Maybe if I’d been a little more trained I could have been in the top three or even first place. That was a turning point race for me last year, getting fourth at an NRC race, realizing I can still go pretty well. I’ll be a lot more focused this year. I won’t be putting in the 18-20 hours that my competitors will, but 15 hours a week should be enough for a 90-minute criterium.
CitSB: What’s the hardest thing about winning an NRC crit?
RB: UHC is a well-oiled train. If you’re not in the exact right position you will miss out. They have it down to a science, and it will be interesting to see this year if other teams try other tactics from 2014. Smart Stop and Champion Systems have good teams but they tend to sit back and let UHC do their thing. Will they try to disrupt the UHC leadout in 2015? I’m a one-man band and I depend on other teams to disrupt the UHC leadout. My first race this year is in Florida, we’ll see how teams react to the blue train. It will be interesting.
CitSB: What’s the difference between racing at a masters level and at the NRC level?
RB: There’s a huge drop-off in talent and ability. The differences are graphic in the pro peloton. It may be the same ten or fifteen guys fighting for the win, but their teammates make the races so hard. Masters racing is very good and very fast, but the ability to maintain intensity drops off compared to the younger guys, the energy level is just different. Look at a guy like Holloway — he’s in his 20’s, bouncing off the walls, filled with energy. Ultimately it’s about top speed and how long you can hold it that differentiates the NRC from masters racing, and the same is true comparing the European peloton to the US peloton.
CitSB: What are the differences in cycling skills between domestic pros and masters racers?
RB: Domestic pros have no fear, bigger will, and they can control their bikes at faster speeds. They have better skills cornering, maneuvering. A lot of masters racers don’t like Brentwood Grand Prix because it’s a hard course in that it’s more technical than a four-corner crit and you have to sprint out of the turns.
CitSB: Is contact a part of pro racing?
RB: Absolutely. The spaces are a lot more narrow and there’s a lot of contact.
CitSB: Does it scare you when people slam into you?
RB: In 2014 I over-thought crashing, and that focus overcame what I wanted to do in races. Once it’s in your mind it holds you back. You can’t fear crashing and losing skin.
CitSB: Is there a pecking order in the pro peloton?
RB: Hell, yes! There’s a pecking order on the local rides, so just imagine at the advanced level. Looking back I wonder why no one ever explained it to me, but there’s definitely an old boy network. Hilton Clarke and I can go at it pretty fiercely but we respect each other and he’ll give me a push if I need it, and vice versa.
CitSB: How do you move up in the pecking order?
RB: Results. You have to earn it. You can’t talk your way into it or buy your way into it. It’s what you do on the bike.
CitSB: Are there riders who take unnecessary risks while racing?
RB: Yes, there are guys like that, but you know, I’ve taken plenty of risks. Corey Williams posted a video that showed a guy coming up from the inside, and you know some things you don’t do, but this guy was from a BMX background so maybe it’s okay in BMX, and sometimes you have to take risks. There’s a very fine line between a necessary risk and an unnecessary one, and at the time it’s not always easy to say which is which.
CitSB: What aspects of your cycling have improved with age?
RB: Endurance. And I suppose you may think too much, but on the other hand that can also mean being a little bit wiser and more strategic with your efforts. That helps when there’s a lack of training, which explains how I won four races last year.
CitSB: What aspects have diminished with age?
RB: My snap and my sprint. It’s that first five to ten seconds of acceleration. I can still hit 40-42 mph in the sprint but it takes a tad longer to get there.
CitSB: Who are the riders you’ll have to beat in 2015 to achieve your goals?
RB: Hansen, Keough, Myerson, Holloway — the usual suspects. I can give them a run for their money if I don’t make any mistakes. To beat guys like that, things really have to fall into place.
CitSB: Good luck this year, Rahsaan.
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January 23, 2015 § 25 Comments
I never do interviews for a simple reason: They require you to stick to the facts. Facts are fun, of course, but only as a stepping stone to the world of fake-believe. On the other hand, there are cyclists in our midst who deserve to have their exploits reviewed in a respected cycling publication, but since that’s hard to come by they will sometimes settle for this blog.
Daniel Holloway is the reigning U.S. elite men’s crit champion. In 2014 he won his fourth title, so it’s hard to blame it all on luck or good looks. Easily the most dominant crit racer in the U.S., Holloway’s 2014 season was a tour de force that saw him win 21 times, a massive victory haul by any standard. Tactically savvy and possessing a lethal finishing kick, Holloway is also feared for his ability to ride — and win out of — the break. He’s also a veteran rider of the European six-day circuit, and this week he lines up with some of the best madison racers in the world to contest the 104th Berlin Six-Day. Here’s the interview his mom has been waiting for.
CitSB: When is the race?
Hollywood: Thursday, January 22 through Tuesday, January 27.
CitSB: How’s your form?
Hollywood: Form is good. The race last Saturday at Rosena Ranch was a good test. I’m still not super sharp yet, though, don’t have those super supple track legs. [Note: Holloway attacked on the first lap of a windy, hilly course and rode a three-man break for 19 laps before dropping his companions on the last lap for the win.]
CitSB: What will be a good result for you in Berlin?
Hollywood: Obviously, to break into the higher results. A top six would be great. It’s my partner’s first Euro six-day [Jake Duehring of Tallahassee], so getting in the upper half of the group would be super.
CitSB: Who are your biggest threats?
Hollywood: The 2014 madison world champion David Muntaner, obviously. Bobby Lea and Christian Grasmann; Bobby’s got super form now.
CitSB: What’s the hardest thing about madison racing?
Hollywood: Staying alert and not making mistakes; one mistake affects your partner so you have to minimize them. Every night is a new night and there’s no course profile! A lot depends on what the top teams are doing. It can be the hardest night of racing you’ve ever done if the top teams are slugging it out.
CitSB: What are the key mistakes to avoid?
Hollywood: The big one is missing exchanges [note: missing an exchange occurs when the tired rider is supposed to exchange places with the fresh rider who has been resting at the top of the track, and they fail to exchange, forcing the tired rider to continue racing]. When you miss the exchange one of us has to do a double turn and when they’re going hard you can’t recover and you can quickly lose a lap which hurts your overall standing.
CitSB: What’s the difference between racing madison in Germany and the USA?
Hollywood: Six-day racing in Berlin will bring in ten, fifteen thousand spectators in one night. Trexlertown doesn’t get that in five races. People in Germany are passionate and the level of riders is two steps above anything the US could put together on its best day.
CitSB: Are you known in Berlin?
Hollywood: No. It’s only my second time here.
CitSB: As an unknown American, what are the promoter’s expectations?
Hollywood: Can we race? Be at the front? Be a part of the event?
CitSB: Why did the promoter invite you?
Hollywood: His name’s Dieter Stein, he’s seen I’m capable from my previous six-day races. I’m a little bit of a perosnality, something of a character, maybe? Anything could happen, right?
CitSB: How important is showmanship at a six-day?
Hollywood: It’s a little more difficult to put on a show and get away with it than it used to be. Things are a bit more serious now, it seems.
CitSB: What technical skills are most important for madison racing?
Hollywood: Situational awareness. Your teammate, you, other teams, order of riders on the track and off the track. That awareness is key so you can save energy, not cause a crash, set up an attack at 170 bpm for an hour! There’s a lot of decisionmaking and you’re doing it on the rivet in heavy traffic.
CitSB: What are the difficulties of racing in Germany?
Hollywood: There aren’t many. Racing is our common language and lots of people speak English. They’re very accepting and have taught me and helped me. Dieter knows we’re traveling and works hard to make sure we’re comfortable so we can do well at the event.
CitSB: What are the biggest difference between six-day and crit racing?
Hollywood: The constant hard accelerations and decelerations. Also, it’s extremely technical racing. The velodrome is very tight, only 200 meters and 12-15 feet wide. In a crit by comparison it’s like slow motion, wide open, easy to read, and six-day racing helps you get super sharp so that you feel like you’re almost over-prepared for crit racing when you come back to the States.
CitSB: How many hours per day do you race?
Hollywood: Berlin and Copenhagen six-days are two hours on the track per night at 47-52 kph while you’re on the boards.
CitSB: Does six-day racing have any potential here in the USA?
Hollywood: Yes. USA fans are ready for a good six-day promoter, but it has to be more than just a bike race. You need a diverse crowd, not just bike racers; you’re not only selling bikes, you need good music, good food, and an atmosphere. Put that together and it will sell itself. The Internet would explode with the live feeds.
CitSB: Do you project your data to the crowd while you race?
Hollywood: I’ve had it done in the past. The event provides the connection so that you can connect your powermeter to a huge screen and project it live.
CitSB: How does six-day racing affect your fitness?
Hollywood: It will sharpen me for the road season back home. No matter how good I feel when I get back, after twelve days of racing in thirteen days I need time to recover. Fitness doesn’t go away overnight; I have to listen to myself and follow the plan that I know works.
CitSB: Are you pretty regimented in your training?
Hollywood: Well, I know what works for me, and I don’t really have a daily plan. I listen to my body and if I feel good but it’s a rest day, I’ll use those good sensations to put in quality work. If it’s a five-hour ride on the schedule and I feel tired then I know I won’t be putting in a good effort to produce a beneficial training effect, so on a day like that I will curtail my training accordingly.
CitSB: Do you have problems with making food adaptations while on the road?
Hollywood: Not so much. Even when I’m at home I don’t cook from scratch every day, and when I travel stateside I have to be ready to occasionally eat Taco Bell and Subway and not let that bring me down. The races here provide really good food before and after racing and we have a really solid hotel breakfast.
CitSB: Do you do any road riding while you’re in Europe?
Hollywood: No, it’s too cold. There’ll be snow on the ground and the extra equipment is a huge hassle. We have access to the velodrome and get in a good 45-minute to one-hour ride every day on the track.
CitSB: Anything else?
Hollywood: Wanky is my hero.
CitSB: I’m sorry to hear that.
[Editor’s note: Update on Daniel’s first night of racing — “Night 1 here at the Berlin Six was a solid start. Jake and I made minimal mistakes and put our faces in the wind. The night started off with a series of five sprints straight into a team elimination. We were the eighth team out, which put us in the middle of the field while the top teams were fighting it out. The first chase of 30 minutes was solid. We finished two laps down tied for tenth with four other teams, five points from seventh place. In the last chase, 45 minutes of fun and circles, we wanted to move up a couple of spots. We took our first lap early with two other teams, our second lap solo (that was a long one), and a third one with a couple of teams. Again finishing in the middle of the group, we had a solid start considering that this was only the fifth time my partner and I had raced together, including the Four Days of Burnaby.”]
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