Quitting for good

May 31, 2016 § 13 Comments

The great thing about quitting bike racing once and for all is racing again. It’s a freshener-upper, like ditching a girlfriend who you’re absolutely done with and can’t stand ANY MORE EVER until later that night when you get hungry.

I woke up this morning, the day after I’d competed in two races at the Old Fellows Droopy Sack Race in Thousand Oaks, and two races at the Same Old Droopy Sack Fellows Race in Compton. All I could think of was Brett Clare. It was his fault I felt this way.

“This way” was unable to stand properly, with shooting pains up and down my spine and legs. Worst of all, I stood on the Monday scales and realized that I’d gained five pounds in 48 hours. Apparently the math of a few hours racing + 49,000 calories = stretchy pants morning.

I hobbled into the kitchen to make coffee, wondering how it had ended this way. On Memorial Day, our nation’s greatest celebration of sending off young people to die and spend a trillion dollars in Iraq so that we can shop at Wal-Mart, I had made a clever race plan for the CBR Memorial Day crit to compensate for my tiredness from the previous day’s racing:

  1. Sit for 40 minutes.
  2. Attack at the 41st minute.
  3. Break the field with my tremendous power.

There were some obvious problems with this strategy, but the most obvious one (aside from the well-proven absence of tremendous power) was the promise I made to teammates FXH and Dave Holland, who had shaken their heads in disbelief at the idea that I’d wait even four minutes, much less 40, before making a pointless move.

“Guys,” I swore on a handy bible that I pulled out of my skinsuit, “if I do anything other than sit last wheel for the first forty minutes of the race I’ll buy you each a new bicycle.”

“Thanks,” said FXH, “but we don’t have any more room in the garage for a junker pulled out from the dumpster.”

“No, no,” I said. “Full carbon made of 100% Taiwanese carbon with fancy Italian name decals and all carbon. Di3 wireless with Transformer functionality so it also folds into an aircraft carrier.”

David shrugged. “Whatever you do, we’ll try to help.” He patted his cell phone which he had thoughtfully opened to 911-instant-send on my behalf.

At that moment Patrick, my beloved Texas compatriot who had disproven everything we knew about Aggies and who had brought his BBQ smoker to the race, was on his bell lap in the Cat 3 race. We watched him pull the slickest move in the book, the old “jump off your bike mid-pack and create a bit of confusion so your teammates can sprint to glory.” Video here.

Of course Patrick wasn’t only working for his teammates with this slick move. He was also shearing off a few choice cuts of skin and lean beef to add to the cooker so that we could feast afterwards on some incredibly tender cuts of bikerloin. And it was outstanding!

But back to the story …

The race began and I drifted to my allotted slot, #65. I watched far up ahead as Brett Clare, Brett Clare, and Brett Clare began whaling the living snot out of each and every droopy sack. In between Brett’s savagery, Thurlow Rogers would launch punishing counter after punishing counter, and off in the distance I could see my loyal teammates FXH, Dave Holland, Attila Fruttus, Chuck Huang, and Steven Ehasz closing gaps, attacking, and doing things of a various nature.

Each lap was made more interesting by the checkling of David Worthington, who, seated on a rusty bicycle, pedaled counter-clockwise and checkled everyone with bits of wisdom such as “Go faster!” and “Pedal harder!” and “The ’94 Rockets are better than your punk ass Warriors!”

It was surprising how un-tired I became sitting at the back doing nothing, and it appeared that the fellows doing all of the animating were not animating quite as hard fifteen minutes in as they had animated at the beginning, and after thirty minutes of animating their animating was much less animated, until, at forty minutes, there was a noted absence of much animation at all. A few laps prior Thurlow and another legend of the road had attacked and escaped.

I watched my watch to make sure I wouldn’t end up owing anyone a new bike or 100% carbon, coasted forward and did the Daniel-Holloway-accelerate-from-midpack so that when you hit the front you’re going 75 MPH and no one can even think about getting on your wheel. In my case, that has never worked because by the time I hit the front after my massive acceleration I’m only going about 25 and there are 60 other people on my wheel checking texts and emails.

This time, however, what with all the animation having evaporated into the ether, I hit the front and then hit the off-the-front and then hit the howling-fucking-headwind-on-the-uphill and then hit the breakaway and then hit the breakaway-chasing-to-get-on and then we rode around for a couple of laps and I noted:

  1. One bullet early equals two bullets late.
  2. If you’ve only got one match but the other dudes have none, you’re the only one who can light the fire.
  3. The pack loves to chase Wanky.

So we got caught and the pack sat up about ten yards before rolling up to my rear wheel. Which was when I noted something else:

  1. Go.
  2. Again.
  3. Now.

So I did and the pack sat up and Brett Clare, Steven Strickler, and Rigo Cruz bridged and I buried it and attacked the break after Turn 3 and they hollered at each other while I pedaled furiously away. My Big Orange teammates had been masterfully controlling the field with expert blocking, shouting, weaving, bobbing, threats, firebombs, and plentiful garlic farts.

With victory secured and my congestive heart failure doing its thing I noticed with two turns to go that Brett Clare was gaining on me, filling my field of vision more and more like an alien in a horror film until he opened his jaws and snapped me in half a hundred yards before the line. (Moral: Riding away from a time trial champion is harder than it looks, and it already looks really fucking hard.)

They carried me from the oxygen tent to the podium and set me gently upon it, where I demurely kept my arms at my side and tried not to breathe beneath the raised arms of the great.

END

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Serious fun with Serious Cycling at Barry Wolfe crit

May 30, 2016 § 6 Comments

I don’t listen to music very much any more because of mind control. The last listening binge I went on was Beethoven and there I was being forced to listen to paeans to Napoleon. I hate Napoleon.

But my cousin Josh had just released a new CD and it had arrived in the mail the day before so I put it in the player as I headed off for the races. It’s called “Love in a Hurricane,” and contains some of the best of his astonishing body of work — powerful blues rock, ballads, and re-works of iconic songs like Son House’s “Death Letter.” All of it is built upon incredible mastery of the guitar, and finished with an attention to lyrics that reflects his obvious love of poetry.

Napoleon I can’t dig, but Son House, well, uh, hell yes.

21

I got to the race and went over to sign-in. On the way there I watched the race that was in progress, the super old man’s category where Thurlow Rogers was mercilessly flogging the shit out of the field, then the break, then he rode off and won. Next I saw my friend Bart Clifford. Bart has only been racing for a few years but he’s one of the best old guy riders out there. He has a blazing fast sprint and if he winds up in your break he busts his balls to make the break stick, and still cans you in the finish. He was talking about the recent crash-fest at Old Fellows’ Fake Nationals in North Carolina. “Worse than a fucking off-season training crit in Ontario,” he said, which sums it up.

I put on my orange-and-black clown suit. Keith Ketterer, hour record holder, world champion, and phenomenal coach, came by to give me some advice. “Wanky,” he said, “just ride in a straight line.”

The 45+ race began and I stuck to my plan. On the way up I’d realized that there are only five moves in cycling:

  1. Sit.
  2. Surge.
  3. Attack.
  4. Sprint.
  5. Quit.

Since I can’t sprint, and my attack is kind of like a Big Blue Bus moving away from the curb after taking on 150 Cheeseburger Conventioneers, I had made up my mind to sit the entire race and surge to follow anything that looked like a promising break. Then, with ten minutes to go I would attack. Once. Devil take the hindmost.

Two hundred yards into the race I had forgotten all that nonsense and was back to my incorrigible ways, squandering energy, jumping around like a bunny, and making sure that if a legit move ever happened I’d be too tired to respond. Pretty soon the race finished, but in the final lap I ran out of talent and finished third-from-last. Bart won handily, although as a professional actor he had to add some drama by lying down on the grass and panting as if he’d been shot in the liver with a javelin. John Slover got second and my teammate Dave Holland got third.

While deciding whether or not to do the 35+ race I ate six spicy pork tacos with guacamole, figuring a little extra energy couldn’t hurt. The taco euphoria caused me to foolishly sign up for the young person’s race, which was not smart.

In the 35+ race it was the Everyone Do Nothing And Watch While Kayle And Charon Win Show. Although the first few laps were pretty quick, they weren’t nearly as quick as the taco sludge that kept sprinting up my throat, threatening to overflow the drainpipe at any minute. About halfway into the race I turned to the dude next to me and said, “What are all these motherfuckers doing sitting in like this?”

He looked at me and smiled. “They’re watching Kayle race Charon.”

We puttered around for 45 minutes and then Kogut rolled and Charon followed him. “I ain’t doing nothing until you establish the break,” Charon said, which made sense because Charon had 38 Surf City teammates back in the field, which only had 32 riders. Kogut busted a gut to make the break stick, Charon whipping him like he was a dog. “Come on man, we got this,” Charon said, urging Kogut to take the battering pulls into the headwind, but not bothering to explain that “we” meant “Charon,” since in a two-up sprint Kogut had as much chance of beating Charon as I have of growing a third arm.

After that race I watched Megan Jastrab and Summer Moak, aged 14 and 17 respectively, smash the elite women’s field for first and second. I drove back and listened to more Love in a Hurricane, and as soon as I got home I went immediately to work.

bottle_time

END

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Bikes or books?

May 28, 2016 § 20 Comments

I went to a banquet last night for my youngest son’s high school speech and debate team. I haven’t been to a banquet in years and was surprised at the format. After a brief series of introductions by one of the teachers, the incoming president of the club invited each of the twenty graduating seniors to the lectern and they all made a speech.

Most had no idea they were going to give a talk in front of about eighty peers and adults, but if they were nervous they didn’t show it. And speech/debaters or not, they proved this bit of wisdom: Mark Twain, who recovered from his frequent financial disasters with speaking tours, and who was the funniest and most skilled public speaker of his time, was once interviewed about the art of speaking in public.

“How long does it take you to prepare for a five-minute speech?” the journalist asked.

“About four hours,” Twain said.

“That’s incredible,” the journalist remarked, awestruck. “And then how long does it take to prepare for a two-hour speech?”

“I can do that right now.”

Brevity, according to one who knew, isn’t merely the soul of wit, it’s the most challenging form of it. Some of the speeches involved direct or indirect bragging about college acceptances, some mentioned how their minds had been formed by debate, most talked about the mental beatdowns they’d been exposed to at debate tournaments, all expressed thanks, one evoked tears. None of the students mentioned their devotion to bike racing.

I’ve seen a lot of young people fall off into the abyss of competitive cycling at a young age. With help from their parents, friends, and coaches, they have foregone things like debate in order to race a bicycle. Whereas the intellectual residue from debate, like music and art, stays with you for life, little remains once you quit riding around in circles for trinkets. In fact, people who quit cycling at any age are often aghast as they gaze around the garage at the bikes, the wheels, the clothing, the racks, the trainers, and the endless pile of gadgets that now have no meaning, no use, no application to anything, and no value except what they can claw back on e-Bay.

So ever since I ran across a kid fully soaked in the Kool-Aid who seems to be at the right age to make all the wrong decisions, I have thought about pulling him aside and saying, “Get off the bike. It won’t take you anywhere. You’ll never make a livelihood at it and it will derail every other meaningful opportunity currently in front of you. If you want to race something, race your mind, and race it with books.”

But I didn’t.

Instead, I’ve thought about the kids at the debate banquet and what they have ahead of them–four years at some of the best colleges and a “bright future.” But how bright? I graduated from one of the best debate programs in the history of the NFL — which was christened the National Forensic League decades before the pro football merger — and I don’t think any of the people I went to high school with have better lives than some of the young people I’ve seen grow up as bike racers. And if they do have better lives, I don’t think you can pin it on their experiences in debate.

Moreover, what is a better life? More money? Bigger house? More bragworthy college for you or your children? And unlike youth, which is the only time window that you can reach for the stars as an athlete, aren’t books and education available throughout your life?

And what about that small handful of kids who are filled, consumed, obsessed, absorbed with passion? Sure, it’s sad to see kids pushed and prodded through cycling by vicarious-thrill-seeking parents who themselves don’t/won’t ever pin on a number, but what about the ones who do it in spite of their families, the ones who you can tell from a mile away that they live to ride their bikes? Isn’t that pursuit worth the weight of every book ever written?

I think it is.

END

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Thrill of the chase

May 25, 2016 § 11 Comments

When your face is mashed against the stem and there is a 33-mph sweep up the left side and you’re already pegged trying to close a 3-foot gap just to get up to a wobbly, about-to-detonate wheel so you can (with much prayer) leapfrog over the next gap that is going from a bike length to a football field, when the pain is shooting up your legs into your lungs and rasping like a giant file on a block of concrete, when you’re at that point in the race when you have found THE WORD and THE WORD is “QUIT!” and you’re already making up reasons why QUIT is brilliant and clever and CONTINUE is for insecure insane people because WHAT DO I HAVE TO PROVE and HOW AM I GOING TO PROVE IT OUT HERE are the dominant models in your mind’s dialectical discourse re: the philosophy of not giving up, when all that is happening it is hard to feel fun, much less see it.

That was my Telo last night, a huge turnout with mighty hammers of enraged wrath swinging in the fists of Evens Stievenart, Josh Alverson, Evan Stade, Sam Warford, Dan Cobley, Garrett Olsen, Peyton Cooke, Dave Wells, and a host of other characters who found the front for long enough to dump a bucket of boiling pain down the throats of the suffering convicts who were chained in hell to the unrelenting single-file line of pain.

But one rider stood out, even among that throng of ill-tempered criminals. He was slight, he was small, he was young, he hadn’t really learned how to ride in a straight line or how to keep his head up when sprinting full bore in the middle of a pack, but he had this: He had the magic.

This kid went with every surge, attempted every breakaway, tried to bridge to every move, bounced around in the pack like a ping-pong ball, tore at his pedals to not get dropped in the back straight, launched off the front fearlessly in the draft of the big fast men, pushed his way to the point only to get batted to the back, surged, blew, attacked, blew, followed, blew, sprinted, blew, launched, blew, blew, blew, blew, recovered, hit the gas as hard as he could and did it all over again.

Bader the Bad made his mark not only with his tenacity, but with the effect he had on the aged, the grizzled, the cynical, the broken, the jaded, and the crusty old farts trying to decide whether it was worth hanging on. In sixty minutes this kid showed us why we first raced: For the abandon and complete immersion into the moment, where age doesn’t matter, gender is irrelevant, name/rank/serial number/national origin/sexual orientation all blend into the necessity of the moment, “Can you hang, and if so can you WIN?”

Bader didn’t win, but on the last lap with the pack in tatters and even the iron-legged titans feeling the burn, he leaped, he attacked, he gave it his all for the hundredth time, and he didn’t stop pedaling until he had crossed the line.

He he gave us hope, he gave us a bike race, he made us hurt, and best of all, after the gasping was done, he made us smile.

END

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USAC revives bike racing with dynamic masters fields

May 19, 2016 § 22 Comments

Thanks to an increase in license fees, the ratting out of several Depends-clad dopers, and a commitment to growing masters fields, cycling in the U.S. now stands at a pinnacle not seen since the 1980’s. Cycling in the South Bay sat down with Derek Bouchard-Hall, the new CEO at USA Cycling, to discuss the special sauce he’s added to spice up the moldy old sandwich of amateur road racing.

CitSB: How do you spell success?

DBH: Same way I spell love. “M-O-N-E-Y.” I think the single biggest indicator for how well we’re doing is pre-registration for masters nationals next week. We’ve got 150 riders in the 45-49 field road race and 110 competitors in the 40-44. How exciting is that? And we’ve got 95 entrants in the 55-59 field. It doesn’t get any better than that, right?

CitSB: Some people would say that massive masters fields aren’t proof of a healthy sport but rather proof that the only thing left to do is cremate the corpse.

DBH: Not at all. Over time it’s going to have a huge trickle-down effect on younger racers.

CitSB: I’m trying to wrap my head around using “huge” and “trickle” to describe something. Kind like saying it’s “giant tiny.” Last year there were 73 men in the national amateur P/1/2 road race, less than half the number of profamateurs in the 45-49 for 2016. There were seven P/1/2 women. That’s seven as in “the integer between six and eight.”

DBH: You’re missing the big picture. Over time, competitive masters fields will encourage youngsters to get into racing. What’s more thrilling than seeing a 52-year-old grandfather with snot dripping from his pacemaker as he sprunts for 45th place wearing a full designer Thorfinn-Dipsquatch kit and monogrammed blood bag?

CitSB: A pile of rusty cans?

DBH: Don’t be cynical. Masters racers are the heart of bike racing in America. These are the people who young people admire and from whom they learn the finer points of tantrum-throwing, post-race fistfighting, and bike-tossing after missing out on a podium in Biloxi. Once you’ve captured the young people’s hearts, their wallets will follow.

END

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South Bay round-up

May 17, 2016 § 8 Comments

Lots happening in the South Bay and environs, especially, say, France.

  1. How do you say “asskicking” in French? Big Orange rider and French transplant Evens Stievenart won the Route de l’Oise, a stage race just north of Paris that has over 200 racers and that includes the town of Compiègne, best known as the starting city for Paris-Roubaix. Evens is best known in the South Bay for riding everyone off his wheel on training rides; what’s less known is that he has only been racing for six years and already has close to 50 Cat 2 wins in France to go along with his most important victory, a win at the local Telo training crit a couple of weeks ago. Congrats, Evens!
  2. Blazingly fast! VC La Grange junior rider Ivy Koester won a state crit title at Barrio Logan Grand Prix on May 8. She is super fast, super smart, and has one of those smiles that let you know she’s having fun.
  3. I’ll have some victory on those pancakes, thanks. Southbay Wheelmen might consider changing its name to “Wheelwomen” thanks to junior rider Makayla Macpherson, who continued her batteringly good year in Bakersfield a couple of weekends ago, winning the Jumpstart crit, the road race, and then placing second in the women’s open 3/4 San Luis Rey road race. Oh yeah, forgot to mention that she’s 13.
  4. For a fistful of dollars. Big Orange junior  Bąđĕŕ Āqîł got his first race win on the challenging tough guy course out at Rosena Ranch this past weekend. Hats off to a dedicated and hardworking young man.
  5. Over the moon. Swami’s junior racer Ryder Moon Phillips picked up two more wins in what has been a breakout year, with victories in the time trial and crit at the Kern County Stage Race. We’re all looking forward to more great things from a talented competitor.
  6. The nerds strike back! Local South Bay riders were assaulted by a cager in a McLaren and they took what is now becoming the default defense for cyclists who are fed up with the casual violence directed against them: They went to the police, in this case the Palos Verdes Estates PD, and filed a complaint. The police not only took them seriously, but they opened an investigation. This clown’s world is about to get a lot more complicated. Please take a minute to read this post to see what you can do to defend yourself when you’ve been buzzed with a deadly weapon.
  7. Return of EA Sports, Inc. Rumor has it that the most feared sprunter in the South Bay, and the nicest guy anywhere, Eric A., is back on his bike after rebuilding his house from the nails up. Be afraid. Be very afraid.
  8. Watering the grass. Joe Yule of StageOne Sports, a company otherwise known for making the best fitting, most comfortable, most stylish apparel in the cycling world (go suck an egg Rapha, ThorfinnDopesquatch, etc.), has single-handedly revived the venerable Torrance institution of the Telo training crit by posting a leaderboard, keeping track of finishes, rustling up sponsorship with the generous help of Dave Perez and Samsung, and has now even created a weekly winner’s jersey (I wear a men’s S, thanks). Telo now regularly hosts the best riders in the South Bay, including Evens S., Smasher Alverson, Derek the Destroyer, Paul Che, and any day now, YOU.
  9. People who make a difference. If you don’t know Joann Zwagerman, you will. A California native, she has come back home from the East Coast and thoroughly embraced cycling. She has singlehandedly created rides that focus on fun, friendliness, and welcoming people regardless of ability (whatever that is) who share the passion to pedal. Her legendary FDR Saturday ride in the South Bay, a wholesome alternative to the Donut Ride, is massive and actually features real donuts. More than that, her smile, her selflessness, her pro knack at getting the best selfie angles, her toughness (did the BWR Wafer ride without a hitch and finished it smiling!), and her willingness to help get done whatever needs doing are unmatched. One Joann has sent out ripples of kindness and enthusiasm that have, at last count, touched thousands.

END

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The ebikes are coming! The ebikes are coming!

April 26, 2016 § 57 Comments

One time I was whining to friend about using computer technology to compose music. “So bogus!” I declaimed.

“STFU,” he advised, being a composer. “If Mozart had had it, he would have used it. Musicians always use the best thing available. The piano was a revolutionary instrument and Mozart owned it.”

“Maybe,” I said, “but if he’d used a program to compose I can guarantee you one thing.”

“What’s that?”

“His music would have sucked.”

The first time I saw an ebike up close was a few years ago. Greg S-J had a new Specialized ebike that, with a tweak and a twist of Old No. 72, had been programmed to go 30 mph. “Great,” I had said. “Next we’ll have Smedley Sagbottom on the bike path doing 30 as he learns about things like the grippyness of sand in a screaming turn.”

As old and change-resistant and bitter and grumpy people are wont to do, I predicted the following:

  1. People will begin racing them.
  2. They will become ubiquitous.
  3. It will be the end of civilization.

Two out of three isn’t bad.

When I was in Germany last summer dragging my son uphill along the Rhine from Cologne to Koblenz, we passed hundreds of ebikes going the other direction. We never passed a single ebike going in the same direction.

The ebikes were all pedaled by old German people who were getting exercise or running errands or casually whipping by the world’s fittest and most delusional 52-year-old profamateur SoCal bike racer from New Jersey who grew up in Galveston and Houston. And that last part made them sooooo happy. The first hundred times a creaky-kneed Opa showed me a wrinkly pair of heels it made me grind my teeth so much that I lost most of my enamel. But actually I was just following the Five Stages of Grieving for Getting Owned by an Ebike.

  1. Anger.
  2. Rage.
  3. Murderous rage.
  4. Wild, uncontrollable fury.
  5. Defeat.

So then back at home the ebike thing continued to grow, and continues. Some people complain because of e-doping, where pro cyclists put tiny motors in their bike to add a few watts when the going gets tough, cf. Fabian Cheatsalotta in the Tour of Flanders. Others complain because it ruins the purity of the sport, where results depend on training, diet, natural ability, computerized watt meters, a race director with a radio who can instruct you exactly how hard to pedal and for how long, and a doctor who can advise you how to beat the drug tests.

In fact, some people care so much about ebikes that they have left cush jobs in the cycling industry, as if any job is cush, and as if cycling is an industry instead of a mafia for dumb people.

But back at the Mozart Ranch, though, where you pretty much have to admit that people will grab whatever technology gives them a leg up on everyone else (Charles Darwin wrote a book about it once), the world is shrugging. Motors let fat sprunters climb with the goats, and they let skinny goats sprunt with the big boys. Just kidding. If you are a tiny climber you will never beat a sprunter, even if he’s on a Big Wheel and you’re on a Ducati. That’s because sprunters win mainly on balls not watts. However, I’ve heard that Specialized is coming out with a pair of eBallz that will take care of that problem, too, and also make a cool ornament for your trailer hitch.

No, the world doesn’t care that we’ve moved on from human power to e-power in bicycles. The slow will get really fast, the homebound will get out and take the lane, and the nature of racing will shift from drugs-radios-computers to drugs-radios-computers-and-motors. Ah, excuse me. IT ALREADY HAS.

And don’t cry on my shoulder. There is actually a world for people who like obsolete shit that performs badly and only looks good because it’s old–it’s called Penny Farthing Racing and Classic Car Collecting. Help yourself to some nostalgia, and don’t forget to wear a helmet.

END

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