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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January 19, 2015 § 93 Comments
I was struggling with a terrible addiction that almost destroyed my life and that had reduced me to an inhuman, contemptible, despicable pile of dung. With the encouragement of friends, caring family, and fellow addicts who have successfully kicked the habit, last November I was able to sell my knobby-tire bike and forever abandon the horrid lifestyle of a cyclocross addict.
At the same time, I also gave up the much less destructive habit of drinking, and embarked on a lifetime commitment to road bikes and the consumption of craft water.
Last night I went to a thank-you party for national champion Daniel Holloway, held at the South Bay dive bar of Naja’s. As Mrs. WM and I stood at the counter waiting to order our cheeseburgers, my eyes gazed lovingly at the giant menu and fastened on Russian River Blind Pig, my all time favorite beer. “I think I’ll have one of those!” I told myself. “But not until after I’ve had my cheeseburger.”
The party got going, people started getting hammered, and I found myself in the unusual position of being the guy with the cup of water. A very pretty woman was saying, “So my friend Bitsy claims she had a nine-minute orgasm. Do you think that’s possible?”
I couldn’t understand why she was asking the guys, and neither could they. “Well,” I said, “certainly not with her husband.”
“Maybe it wasn’t really an orgasm,” offered Bubba.
“What was it, then?” asked the pretty woman.
“Studies show that the female orgasm doesn’t really exist,” said Bubba. “It’s a made up event.”
Everyone was now so drunk that the opinions really began to fly. I looked at my cup of craft water when the pro-orgasmers raised the issue of squirters as irrefutable evidence. “Time to go get that pint of Blind Pig,” I said to myself. “Just as soon as I finish this water.”
Holloway looked over at me. “Isn’t it your bedtime, cowboy? You have a race tomorrow.”
It was already ten o’clock, and he was right. We had ridden together earlier in the day and he had laid out a path to victory for me, one that didn’t include Blind Pig or squirters. “Look, dude,” he said. “You gotta show up planning to win.”
“But I never win,” I protested.
“Okay, I haven’t won in a while.”
I thought for a minute. “1985. Tour de Georgetown, just north of Austin. I was a Cat 2 then.”
“Hmmm,” he said. “Two years before I was born. Okay, so it has been a while. Still, you won. How did you do it?”
“It was a stage race. I got 7th in the time trial and put a bunch of time on everyone in a break in the road race, where I moved into third overall. Then the last day I attacked and lapped the field in the crit and the two guys ahead of me on GC were caught out.”
“Think back to how awesome that felt. Can you visualize it?”
“What I can visualize is my burned balls. I didn’t even know I had won. I was sitting in the back of Matt McSuccess’s Suburban putting on my underwear after the race and he came running up, ‘Dude, you won!’ I dropped my undies and my nuts dropped down onto the bumper, which had been sitting out in the 107-degree sun all day. It wasn’t exciting at all, just searing pain followed by scalded sack. I didn’t really get excited until I got home, put some aloe on my nuts, and opened my prize winnings — a brand new water bottle and package of socks.”
Holloway shook his head. “Look. You gotta show up planning to win, and you gotta have a plan to win. So here’s what you do.”
“First, don’t attack from the gun. That is stupid. Only stupid people do that. Are you stupid?”
“Well, actually, yes.”
“No. You’re not stupid. You’re stubborn. There’s a difference.”
“What is it?”
He ignored me. “Next: after you don’t attack from the gun, implement Phase II.”
“What’s Phase II?”
“It’s where you don’t attack some more. A lot more.”
“So, the game plan is to first not attack and then not attack again?”
“How hard should I not attack?”
“With everything you don’t have. Give it everything except your all.”
“I can do that.”
“Good. Then, Phase III.”
“I don’t attack?”
“Check. Then what?”
“You wait until the end of the fourth lap. That’s the halfway mark.”
“And I attack?”
“No. The laps begin on a climb, where there’s a gnarly headwind. You can’t get away there.”
“So I don’t attack again?”
“This is pretty boring.”
“Just wait. You hit the turnaround, which is a downhill tailwind. And you … ”
“Sit in because there’s no way I can get away from the field on a fast downhill?”
“No. You attack. The field will do two things. First, they will sit up because they’re tired from the hill and the headwind. Second, they will see it’s you and say, ‘That wanker couldn’t break away from a crippled goat.’ They will let you go.”
“Then I ride as hard as I can to victory?”
“No. You establish a gap, back off, and see if anyone is stupid enough to bridge. If they are you work with them. If no one bridges you drift back because you are too weak to hold off a herd of stampeding bison by yourself.”
“There is no ‘then what.’ If you even accomplish Phase I it will be the greatest achievement of your career since 1985.”
“It doesn’t sound like a plan to win. More like a plan to get 34th.”
“Be patient, grasshopper,” he said with a smile.
Feels like Money
G$ wheeled up to the curb the next morning at 7:30 sharp, tossed my bike on the back of the Prius, and off we sped. An hour and a half later we were at the Rosena Ranch race course. “I think it’s windy,” Money said. The flags were whipping so violently at the subdivision’s sales office that the lawn crew had started taking them down. One guy’s lawmower blew over.
I cracked my window and a gust of wind blasted in so hard that it ripped my hat off my head. “Dude,” I said, “the wind blew off my hat inside the fuggin’ car. I’m doomed.”
“Now look,” said Money, who has won over 4,989.23 races in his career, most of them solo into the teeth of 100-mph winds or greater. “That’s loser talk. You’re here today to win. And I’m gonna help you.”
“Money,” I said, “that’s nice of you to say, but there’s no way I can win here today. It’s not possible.”
He got angry. “It is too possible.”
“Fine,” I said. “Give me three situations in which I could win today.”
He thought for a minute, which stretched into a half hour of silence. Then his face brightened. “Okay,” he said, “I’ve got it.”
“First scenario: there’s a terrorist attack and everyone is killed except you and the official responsible for certifying the results.”
“Second scenario: African sleeping sickness. Everyone gets trypanosomiasis and they all become too frail to finish and you out-sprint them.”
“Less likely, but okay, it’s possible, even though I’m not sure where the tsetse flies would come from. Last scenario?”
“Third scenario: aliens. Aliens come down from outer space and declare you the winner. Or zombies. Who’s gonna argue with alien zombies?”
“Fuggin’-A. So, let’s do this!”
The Rocky theme song began playing in the background as we pinned on our numbers and ran to pick up our bikes, which had been blown a few hundred yards by the gale force wind out into a pile of ash, creosote bush, sand, and the uranium mill tailings which make up the more scenic aspects of Riverside County.
You gotta be warm not to be cold
“Okay,” said Money, who knows a lot about winning races. “We gotta warm up.”
“We do? Won’t it make us tired?”
“Nah. I mean, yeah, but you need to have a little effort pre-race to open up your legs.”
We turned onto Lytle Canyon Road directly into the howling headwind. I decelerated to 4 mph as the wind pushed us off the road, off the shoulder, and into a sand bog. We pedaled for another twenty minutes at threshold, and managed to get a hundred yards up the road. “Okay,” said Money, “see that big thing about 200 yards off that looks like a giant horse carcass?”
“Yeah,” I gasped as the wind tore the words out of my mouth.
“We’re gonna do a hard surge and let up there. Don’t go all out.”
I had already gone all out, and when Money “surged” it felt like having my teeth pulled through hyperspace while the rest of me stayed home. We got to the giant lump, which was in fact a large horse carcass, and it stank.
Money caught his breath and I caught mine plus about a hundred others. “Okay, see that shack that looks like a meth lab? This time we’ll surge until halfway there and then sprint to that other lump.”
“The one that looks like a pile of radioactive waste?”
“Yep.” We finished the effort. “Now your legs should be good and opened up,” he said. “Let’s go race.”
Something was opened up, but it felt like my intestines. This wasn’t going to end well.
Guppy in a shark tank
At the line I looked around at the killers, murderers, felons, thugs, and merciless assassins who constituted the 45+ race. There was Tommy Robles, 46 years old and not even at male menopause, a guy who can sprunt, ride a break, climb, leap tall buildings in a single bound, and crack prison rockpiles with his teeth. He was the captain of Team Amgen, and his two loyal henchmen, Gentleman John and Dogg were salivating at the start. Next to them was Shreddumup Schroeder, the man who made scrap iron out of opponents and then sold their remains at a healthy profit.
Team Escaped Felons from Las Vegas had brought a full squad. I didn’t know any of the riders but it didn’t matter. They were covered with badly healed knife wounds and ugly tattoos made out of chickenwire and Sharpie ink.
My own teammates, who I was planning to work for by making sure the back of the peloton was well protected, sat manfully at the line: King Harold of the monstrous flatback, and Jumpin’ Jon Nist, who had the most neatly trimmed goatee in the bunch. The referee read us our last rites and we were off.
Money had not gotten Holloway’s “do not attack memo” and he leaped away with a vicious surge, following Marvin Gunwales who was even ahead of him.
The course started uphill into a fierce 58-mph headwind, with a small pillbox at the top strafing the bunch with heavy .50-mm machine-gun fire and mortars. “Over the top!” roared Money as the hapless new recruits followed him to the summit, only to be mowed down by an oxygen-depleting device that weirdly sucked away all their breath.
We went through the u-turn and whipped down the high-speed crosswind descent that forced everyone against the edge of the road, where the enemy had spiked the gutter with rocks, thorns, gravel, IED’s, IUD’s, and old condoms that got stuck in your spokes and make that flapping sound like baseball cards. At the bottom the road kicked up again, this time into an even more bitter crosswind. Money attacked and broke the field as howitzers lobbed 8-inch shells into our midst.
The rider next to me suffered a direct it and his head was torn from his neck. Behind me a luckless rider caught a mortar in his gut and was smeared across the road. We hit the other course turnaround and found ourselves in another cross-tailwind downhill. Money attacked again, along with Tommy and one of the giant baby lummoxes from Las Vegas. The field chased like mad on the uphill. Medics were dragging the dead and wounded off the battlefield in heaps, and at the end of the first lap the lead group was reduced to about twenty riders.
Money looked around and fished into his jersey. He had already used the iron maiden, the thumbscrews, the rack, the Chinese water torture plank, and the eyelid peelers. Then he filched out the NPR penis pounder, a well-worn and time-honored tool used to castrate and skin baby seals. With another series of expert whacks, penises throughout the peloton shriveled and were stomped to a gruesome mush.
The entire time I put in non-attack after non-attack. It was un-exhausting beyond belief. At the first turnaround on Lap 5, one of the giant baby lummoxes from Las Vegas attacked on the downhill, exactly where Holloway had told me to go. I bridged up to him, barely.
His name was Terry, and he was the most incredible specimen of Baby Lummox I had ever seen. Massively chiseled legs, the best chickenwire tattoo ever, and the strength of a thousand angry ovulating hippos. It was like sitting behind Jim Kjar, only wider, and 30-mph faster.
Baby Lummox towed me around as I remembered Holloway’s command: “Never be the strongest guy in the break. Be the second strongest, but never the strongest.” As Baby Lummox continued to hammer and pound, it became clear that out of the two of us I was clearly going to be the third strongest one in the break. I peeked out and took a couple of weak pulls that only slowed us down.
At each turnaround I could see the wankoton getting closer, and this was going to have the same ending as all my other hopeless breakaways: Bitter defeat, a crushed dream, and a 40-minute explanation with a chart, pictures, and Facebag posts to explain to Mrs. WM why I’d spent $60 to go get annihilated.
Then three miracles happened.
Miracle One: the sympathy Oscar
At each turnaround it became obvious that despite the huge pulls of Baby Lummox and my constant refining of Coach Holloway’s advice so that I had become the fourth, fifth, and finally sixth-strongest man in the two-man break, the peloton was still gaining.
I could see King Harold and Jumpin’ Jon clogging the chase like phlegm in the movement of a fine Swiss watch, but there was too much horsepower for them to singlehandedly stop the pursuers. The key to the race was Money, and each time he came to the front, instead of pulling out the dick stomper and bridging to our group, he swung over. Robles was not happy. “Dude!” he said. “Let’s go! You don’t have any teammates off the front!”
Money turned and grinned. “No, I don’t,” he said. “But that scraggly bearded, hairy legged, shoulder weaving wanker up there is my boy. And the Money Train don’t stop at his station.”
Robles then turned to his two mighty henchmen, Gentleman John and Dogg. “Get your furry asses up here!” he roared. “That creaky old turd is on his last legs! He’s only ten seconds up! Let’s go, men!”
Gentleman John, who has beaten me in the last forty races we’ve done together, drew circles in the sand with his big toe. “Uh, I can’t, Captain Robles,” he said.
“Why the fuck not?” roared the chief.
“I, uh, have a toothache.”
“Dogg!” shouted the commander. “Let’s go!”
Dogg, who still had tons of ammo left in his clip, shook his head. “Can’t, boss. My, uh, front anterior cruciate anhydrous dimers are broken.”
Shreddumup Schroeder, who has brought back more breaks by himself more times than Prez has fallen off his bicycle, also shook his head. “It’s Wanky,” he said. “I ain’t chasin’.”
In short, the sentimental Oscar favorite, though easily reeled back in by the field, was given a pass to fight it out to the end with Baby Lummox. And Baby Lummox was a cage fighter with brace of pistols, a blackjack, and legs of steel.
Miracle Two: the confused Baby Lummox
As soon as I had hitched onto Baby Lummox’s comfy wheel, he looked back. “Man, am I glad to see one of you SPY guys. You’re Phil Tinstman, right?”
“Uh, right,” I said.
He looked again. “You’re a friggin’ legend in Nevada. But somehow I thought you had more tattoos?”
“Oh, yeah, they’re, uh, mostly on my scrotum.”
Baby Lummox shrugged. “Right on. So anyway, what’s the game plan? I’ve never been in a winning break before.”
I couldn’t believe my luck. I had not only escaped at the right time on the right course, but my breakaway partner was the only person in the field who was dumber than me. “Well, last year when I won Tulsa Tough and the district road race and about forty other races, the winning strategy was simple.”
“Yeah?” said Baby Lummox.
“Yeah. The winning strategy for the other guy, I mean.”
“Oh. What is it?”
“See, you gotta hammer really hard. Then at the end I will give you a little tow up the last hill and then help you get to the finish.”
“Cool, dude. But don’t you want to win?”
“Nah,” I said. “You can have this one. I win all the time anyway.”
As we crossed the line with one lap to go I stood on the pedals and helped Baby Lummox as hard as I could. I helped him so hard I thought my head was going to explode. Pretty soon his shadow was gone, and my helping was complete. I flipped the turnaround and started to hammer. “If Baby Lummox catches me now he’s gonna die a thousand deaths.”
Then I settled into the hurt locker. However, the Wanky Hurt Locker isn’t quite as tiny and uncomfortable as your typical hurt locker. Mine had a big sofa, a plasma TV, a box of cigars, and room service. It was more like a mildly uncomfortable lounge than a pain cave.
No human has ever gone so fast on a bike, and I laughed to myself thinking about how Baby Lummox had been put to the sword. He couldn’t even catch me on a motorcycle, that’s how fast I went.
Then, just as the road kicked up, I saw the fatal shadow again on my wheel. Baby Lummox had battled back.
“Now what do I do?” I wondered. Coach Holloway had said to have a plan to win, but hadn’t bothered to give me one. Then I thought about Money’s three scenarios. I glanced around, wildly hoping to see a group of terrorists, or a swarm of tsetse flies, or some alien zombies. No luck.
Then I asked myself, “What would Money do?” With each passing second Baby Lummox was recovering from his hard chase. Then it hit me! I didn’t have to think of what Money “would” do, all I had to do was remember what he had already done! The three times on training rides that I had clawed my way back to his wheel, what had he done?
He’d stood on the pedals and dingleberried me.
So I stood on the pedals. Baby Lummox swayed. He heaved. He groaned. And then, as the cold bite of the harpoon’s steel tip sank pitilessly through his heart, gore spewing forth upon the seas, Baby Lummox rolled over, shuddered, and died. I hit the final turnaround and sped to victory.
Miracle Three: the tire that wouldn’t flat
A crushing swarm of two people ran up to congratulate me, but one of them wasn’t Baby Lummox. Instead, he rolled up with a funny look. “Hey, you’re not Phil Tinstman, are you?”
“Uh, well, you see … no.”
“You’re that blogger dude aren’t you?”
“Uh, well, I mean, uh … yes.”
“So I just got beat by the worst bicycle racer in the history of the sport? You’re a lying, conniving, dishonest sack of shit.”
“Aw, thanks,” I said, unaccustomed to such praise.
Then another guy came up. “Hey, are you Wanky?”
He stuck out his hand. “I just want to shake your hand. It was amazing to watch you out there, buddy. You’re proof that people can win a masters race in SoCal without doping.”
I drew back, appalled. “You don’t even know me, man. How do you know I’m not doping? Dude, do you have any idea how many years I’ve worked hard at this sport to finally be in a position where people can call me a doper? And you’re going to ruin it just like that? Get away from me. Next thing you’ll be asking me to wear a ‘Dopers Suck’ jersey or some bullshit like that.”
At that moment I looked down and saw my front tire was flat. It had waited until three minutes after the race to expire, giving me a perfect excuse to ride away before Baby Lummox and my former fan made creamed hash out of my face.
Coach Holloway was waiting for me at his truck. He didn’t say anything besides, “Where’s my cut of the payday?” I counted out his fourteen dollars and forked it over. “So,” he said, “what did you learn about winning?”
Here’s what I learned:
- Quit cyclocross.
- Sell your ‘cross bike.
- Drink craft water instead of craft beer.
- Always get in a breakaway with Baby Lummox.
- Get coached by the 4-time elite men’s national champion.
- Follow his advice.
- Have all your teammates sacrifice for you.
- Have all your non-teammates sacrifice for you.
- Tell people you’re Phil Tinstman.
- Stab your opponent in the back when he least expects it.
So there you have it, folks. Since I only have to win once every 30 years, I’ll see you again in 2045.
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January 17, 2015 § 10 Comments
My buddy Winemaker raced in Europe in the 1980’s. He occasionally sends me his reminiscences. Here’s one from Span. Enjoy!
Independence Day, Spain, 1987
“How came that blood on the point of your knife? My son, come tell to me.”
According Mr. Wondra, my tenth grade English teacher said, fratricide was a nasty action which has been the mainspring for much great literature. This story is about fratricide, and it was done to me.
I really liked Mr. Wondra. He taught me the structure of writing, and I still use it. He retired and moved to Morro Bay. This last weekend was a pair of road races around Zaragoza. I blame my friend Vierra, or KV, for it, as his distant relatives got me interested in this whole Spanish cycling thing to begin with.
KV did the introduction to his immediate relatives, who were intrigued by the idea of an American and his Irish buddies even trying to keep pace up the cols with the veined-out, speed-addled, underfed, poverty-stricken stick figures who made up the amateur racers in northern Spain.
Bike racing was weird, but getting to the bike races was weirder. Getting home, in comparison was always anticlimactic. We had flown to Madrid on the night of July 3, last Friday, got into the Holiday-effing Inn via the most rickety shuttle bus ever on a road, fand flopped into our beds at 11:30 PM. We got up the next morning because Brian, Graeme and I had to catch a train from Madrid to Zaragoza, which is a couple hours northeast of Madrid. The road race started at 1 PM, which seemed like a decent hour, but more on that later.
We piled all the bags and bikes into a van for a cab ride to the train station. It was 8 AM and we had been up since seven, eating eggs and bread and washing it down with bottled water, having learned that nothing else but wine and coffee were safe to drink in Spain. We schlepped all the stuff onto the train. The baggage went below and we sat up high, so as to have a lovely‘view of the parched wasteland that passed for the countryside.
We rode and slept for an hour or so and got out at the station in Zaragoza, gathered up the gear, and pumped up the tires. The plan was to ride about five klicks to the hotel, check in, drop the gear, dress, eat, and pedal over to the start. We walked out of the station and got hit with a wall of heat. It reminded me of that Grateful Dead line: Leaving Texas, fourth day of July, sun so hot, clouds so low, the eagles filled the sky.
I was made acutely aware of the transition from 60 degrees to 100. I hadn’t seen heat like that since last summer, and my body was almost instantly in revolt, telling me that this just was not a good thing, and ordering me to get my ass back in the shade, pronto!
We rode to the hotel. I was soaked with sweat and close to puking. We checked in and of course the room was not air conditioned, so we knew that night would be really, really fun. We dressed. Check. We ate. Check. We rode the 10k over to the start with 20 minutes to spare. Check.
Some lizard posing as the local race official blew his whistle, and we started, 85 madmen in 100 degrees out for a cute little 150k road race. The race started slow, a very casual 20-22 mph pace for the first hour and a half. Suddenly, and I mean, like in the space of five seconds, the whole group went gonzo crazy and hit it hard.
I became the gutter bunny caboose, jumping from wheel to wheel of the soon to be dropped emaciated locals, essentially doing sprint intervals every minute to stay on the back of this trail of ants winding its way to the death volcano which must have lain at the turnaround point. Yes, this road race was 75k out, 75k back, same road, same climbs, just in reverse.
I told myself that I would pay attention to the road on the descents on the way out, so that I would know the route on the way back. Right. That plan got canned about 13 seconds into hammertime. This road had exactly zero total elevation gain but over a million rolling hills that never stopped, up, down, up, down. The Spaniards couldn’t descend for shit, because they all weighed less than 130 pounds, and I could tuck and coast my way up to and off the front on every descent, and that was the only time my sorry rear end saw the front.
We turned around at the top of a particularly nasty climb, and some little dude attacked on the descent. I jumped on his wheel (we were going downhill, remember?) and 2 km later, after pulling through on a flat section, I noticed that we were now in a break of six. Yay for me!
Exactly ten seconds after that silent jubilation, we hit one of the rollers and I was spit out the back of this break like a booger from a redneck’s truck window in Oklahoma. I mean, I was on the rivet, and there was no coal in the furnace.
They rode away from me like I was sitting at a bus stop reading the newspaper. I pedaled on, convinced that I would just jump into the group when it rolled up, except that there was no group. There were collections of 2 to 5 riders all struggling to breathe. Remember that 1 PM start? Well, it was 3 PM now, and it was so hot and there was no wind, and I was about finished with my second bottle of water, and life was about to change. A Spanish guy rode up and haned me a full bottle of coke. He smiled, pulled off the road, and stopped. He was quitting the race, and I was about to find out why.
Like Kafka’s chrysalis, I entered the pain room, stayed there for two hours, and only finished 18 minutes down. And I was 20th out of 85, and there were 24 official finishers. The smart locals just quit after giving their bottles away to the idiots from Ireland. I was afraid to even ask for a scale because I was sure I had lost 20 pounds.
I mumbled something about needing water and food and lotion and sleep (sounds like, “Urgle,” the same in every language, and managed to pedal back to the hotel, clean up, and eat. That Spanish guy who gave me the bottle of coke knew I was going to finish, and he figured he might as well give me some sugar and caffeine, to soften my descent into sure death. He might as well have stabbed me with a sharp knife.
I couldn’t really remember the rest of the weekend, but then, it is only Tuesday now, and I am joyfully back in Kill, where it is raining and 58 degrees. I am pretty sure that I will have a good recollection of Sunday’s race by this Thursday, but for now, there is nothing there, like waking up from a coma. I did lose 12 pounds over the weekend. And, my resting pulse is now 60, where it used to be 45. So, the voodoo medical sense in me says I am probably sick or overtrained, or both.
That Spanish bike racing shore is fun, ain’t it?
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