Recovery rider

July 11, 2017 § 19 Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

The results are there for everyone to see.

abate_805_2017

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

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Disrespect your elders

July 10, 2017 § 20 Comments

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

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

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

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

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

“Then why did you keep attacking?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Rest? We’re going home.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My best race ever, or at least since Telo.

805_phil_beckman

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

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The greatest?

July 3, 2017 § 15 Comments

Is Daniel Holloway a greater bike racer than Davis Phinney?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes.

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

END

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The seven stages of Telo

June 28, 2017 § 6 Comments

It was a nasty little evening. Hot. Windy. And a full roster of seal clubbers … Frexit … EA Sports … Tothenstein … Destroyer … the Hun … Heavy D. … Bader the Bad … Alx Bns … various members of Team Lizard Collectors … various members of Le Bleu Blow …

And then we started. Lap One, chatty, easy, leg-stretchy.

Lap Two, Frexit attack, four-man break for three laps.

Lap Six, absorbed by the gassed wankoton.

Lap Seven, a handful of weak accelerations.

Lap Eight, Frexit attack, shattered the already broken field, and the six-wanker break was firmly established, quickly putting 1:30 on the crushed and hope-deprived chasers. The break consisted of Frexit, Tothenstein, Destroyer, EA Sports Inc., Bader the Bad, and Wanky.

After we settled in, Bader the Bad began shirking pulls. I rode up to him. “Dude,” I said.

“Yeah?” he answered.

“This six-man break only has room for one worthless, weak, lazy, scheming, shirking, no-good piece-of-dung rider. And that rider is me. Everyone else, especially the 19-year-old unemployed dude who isn’t in school and who rides full time, has to take their fuggin’ turn at the front.”

Bader the Bad shrugged and took a half-hearted pull before going to the back of the bus. EA Sports, Inc. was none too pleased, and he showed his displeasure with a 1500-watt explosion that detonated the breakaway. We struggled up to his wheel, and he swung over. Everyone made it across except for The Bad, who was kicked out the back like a reporter at a White House press conference and sent to the chase group to reflect on his errant ways.

However, what looked like a race that would end up pitting EA Sports, Inc. against Frexit and Tothenstein in a sprunt finish, was not to be.

Various lapped members of Le Bleu Blow fell in with the chasers and it was all legs on deck as Heavy D., the Hun, and Alx Bns undertook Mission Highly Unlikely: Bring back the break! With Foxy whispering the gap times so that it sometimes sounded like we were 50 seconds up and other times 5 seconds down, disarray reigned as everyone waited in vain for Frexit to tow us around at 30 mph.

The Hun and Heavy D. bridged across with three laps to go, and then the entire remnants of the chase caught back on. Everyone sighed as we waited for the “new” formulation of the race finish, which would, instead of pitting EA Sports, Inc. against Frexit and Tothenstein in a sprunt finish, would now pit EA Sports, Inc. against Frexit and Tothenstein in a sprunt finish.

With half a lap to go, Heavy D. and the Hun tiredly put a few bike lengths on the twelve-man wankoton, but no one cared. The real finish would unquestionably involve Frexit, EA Sports, Inc., and Tothenstein.

As we rounded the last corner and Frexit opened up the sprunt, a wave of terror spread through the field! Heavy D. and the Hun were still out front, if only by a few yards! Even the rockets of the fast finishers weren’t enough to close the gap, with the Hun pipping Heavy D. for the glorious win and the adulation of three people, especially me.

As we sat around and moped, complaining about how unfair it was that a group of chasers rode smart, worked together, never gave up, utilized the efforts of the Hop-in-Wankers, reeled in the break, then countered and won in a bold move, it occurred to Foxy that we were in fact going through the seven stages of Telo grief, set forth below.

  1. SHOCK & DENIAL. You will react with numbed disbelief as you witness the field shatter on Lap Two, and you, of all people, get kicked to the curb despite your awesomeness. You will deny that they are faster than you and that the group is gone for good. You will be shocked that you drove all the way down from Santa Monica only to participate for five minutes. You will deny that your poor training, absence of stamina, weak resolve, and general worthlessness had anything to do with it. You will tell yourself that “It’s all coming back together in a lap or two and I’ll have a second chance!”
  2. PAIN & GUILT. You will feel excruciating pain everywhere and feel profound guilt at having abandoned your work and family obligations simply to get your head staved in and your precious seal pelt stripped shamelessly from your back. If you are in the break you will feel pain at sitting on Frexit’s wheel and feel waves of guilt at being a leech who sits on the back doing nothing (unless you are The Bad). The pain will crescendo if you’re in the chase and people begin berating you or worse, attacking you and causing you to utterly fail and get lapped.
  3. ANGER & BARGAINING. You will shout back at your oppressors and strike crude bargains in the break to allow them to allow you to hang on. “I promise I won’t sprint,” “I’ll give you ten bucks,” “Do you like my wife?” and other nonsensical trades will be offered, all of which will be ignored. If you are in the third chase group or have been lapped you will feel rage at everyone who races by. If you are in the first chase you will feel fury at those whose inattentiveness allowed that fuggin’ break to roll away.
  4. DEPRESSION, REFLECTION, LONELINESS. After doing five laps solo you will feel sad, very sad, and people standing on the sidelines will note your sad facial expressions. You will reflect on the stupidity of the endeavor, the slowness of your legs, the dullness of your talents, and the incredible stupidity of spending $2,000 on full carbon wheels, made 100% of pure carbon, only to get dropped five minutes into a training race, which is itself an oxymoron. If you are one of the chasers you will feel great loneliness as you do all the work and your wheelsucking chasemates wait for the opportunity to dump you and bridge solo to the break.
  5. THE UPWARD TURN. Now the chasers will catch sight of the break! Suddenly it will all make sense. You were doing this for a reason! The carbon wheels and 3-Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit were worth it! Your wheelsucker douchebag chasemates are pals after all! Just a few more laps and you’ll have reeled them in!
  6. RECONSTRUCTION & WORKING THROUGH. Now the breakaway, caught, gassed, and thoroughly chastened, works through the steps that led to its demise. What could we have done better? Why did we start soft pedaling? Now that we’re all back together, it’s time for a new strategy. Perhaps it’s time to do some more TT intervals or buy a different (but more costly) set of carbon wheels that are 100% carbon. Hey, it’s only a training race.
  7. ACCEPTANCE. Everything happens for a reason. The Hun is a sorry sonofabitch but he rode tough and outsmarted everyone. That bastard Heavy D. acts friendly but is actually a badass. It’s okay to lose sometimes. I am who I am. Telo is Telo. Plus, just wait til I get that shipment from China. Then I will flay some sealskins for realz.

END

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Leadout

June 21, 2017 § 28 Comments

I’m a simple person.

I like cream in my coffee.

I like toast for breakfast with butter and jam.

And I want to win Telo.

I’ve come to terms that #3 is never going to happen, but every week rebel mightily against reality. I have it in my head and there are 24 or 25 chances a year to win and this is the week.

When I say win I don’t mean set a new PR or make the breakaway. I mean cross the finish line first.

It’s a very simple concept, except that after innumerable starts, it’s never happened, and as I get older and slower and apparently a bunch dumber, the chance of winning, which was always infinitesimal, keeps getting smaller.

As Derek the Destroyer says, “Your race results are largely decided by who shows up,” and at Telo there are always at least four people who can sprint faster than I can, if not forty.

Yesterday, there were seven.

Before the fake race started, Derek, explained the race strategy, which went like this:

  • Frexit wasn’t there.
  • Smasher wasn’t there.
  • EA Sports, Inc. wasn’t there.
  • Hair wasn’t there.
  • [Complicated race analysis] + “follow my wheel.”

The analysis part actually meant something, but for me, once the race started I knew I would forget everything. But I remembered “follow my wheel.”

At the last moment Alx Bns showed up, along with the Hun, and then at the very last minute Surfer Dan, and of course Heavy D., none of whom I was ever going to beat in anything, much less a sprunt. However, with [complicated race analysis] + “follow my wheel,” there was a chance that something good might happen.

Until Ronnie showed up. Ronnie is the current Pro/Cat 1 leader in the CBR Sprint Cup standings. He’s about 25 years younger than I am, and about 30 times faster. We started the one-hour beatdown at 6:00 PM pointy-sharp and everything was fine until it wasn’t.

Somewhere between 6:NOAir and 6:VOMIT I looked up and there were only eight riders left. Ronnie and Derek had methodically attacked until there was nothing left, and each time they got pulled back someone else would counter.

With three laps to go Derek said something to me that I couldn’t hear so I nodded as if I did. The entire race I had followed Rule 1 of Steve Tilford’s Bike Racing Ten Commandments, which was “stay off the front.”

With one lap to go everyone slowed down and got ready for the sprunt. Patrick Barrett slotted in behind Derek but I somehow got back on the wheel after Turn 2, into the headwind. Derek motioned for me to stay there, as if anything other than a punch to the face could have dislodged me. We entered and exited the chicane and everyone bunched up on the right.

At just the right moment, Derek jumped to the left, into the wind. Miraculously, I was in a small enough gear to accelerate with him. Miraculously, I was able to follow. Not so miraculously, he then began pulling away. Miraculously, I realized that if I didn’t get on his wheel at that very second I would be finishing eighth out of eight. Not so miraculously, waves of doubt and pain overwhelmed me. Miraculously, my legs kept pushing. Not so miraculously, I wanted to cry. Miraculously, I didn’t crash into his back wheel as he whipped through Turn 3. Not so miraculously, I couldn’t see or breathe or think and then boom Derek went wide, leadout finished with one turn and 400 yards to go and the last words I heard were “At least you got second, Seth!” and I had no idea what that meant because there were eight of us and I could see Ronnie’s shadow on my wheel and I whipped through the last turn and it was weird because Derek’s leadout had been so vicious and fast that even though I was gassed just by turning the pedals the momentum kept me going and as I waited for the swarm to pass me it didn’t and only Ronnie was left who easily kicked by for the win without much effort and in that split fraction of a second I was about as happy as I know how to be and parenthetically as I write this several hours later I still am.

END

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The death of first

June 20, 2017 § 25 Comments

My dinner table can be a pretty unforgiving yet hilarious place, especially when all the kids, spouses, and my grandson are gathered around. No matter how witty your repartee, it’s hard to keep a straight face when at least one of the dinnertime combatants is eating rice with his fist.

There’s a great deal of story one-upsmanship, with each person trying to tell a funnier tale than the one before, and at times you have to put down your fork, forget about chewing, and laugh for a while at the ridiculousness of people, like the angry constituent who called to complain about Obamacare. My youngest, who was interning at a congressman’s office, took the call.

“I don’t eat at McDonald’s! How come I have to pay for all those fat people with crappy diets?” the caller demanded.

“Well, sir, do you have a pre-existing condition?”

“Yes. I’m diabetic.”

“Obamacare forbids your insurer from canceling your insurance due to that. Without Obamacare, it will be much easier to drop sick people from health insurance, which sort of defeats the purpose of having it.”

“Really?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Well, all those fat people should shop at farmer’s markets,” the caller said before slamming down the phone.

As the comments ricocheted around the table, my son, who took countless of these calls over the last few months, shrugged. “It’s post-modernism. Facts are negotiable. They aren’t even facts anymore.”

Which got me to thinking about bike racing and USAC. I had spent a while earlier in the day talking with an SCNCA board member about the challenges facing sanctioned bike racing. My point, unbeknownst to me, had been very post-modern. I’d opined that there was no such thing anymore as winning; there were only different metrics for success.

This, more than anything else, is why sanctioned bike racing will only decline, even as ridership mushrooms.

Time was, when you wanted to respond to the gnawing insecurity troll that lived in your head who was constantly asking, “How fast are you?” the only way to answer was to race yer fuggin’ bike.

Every bike race had a winner, and except for one-off events like Madison or the TTT, “winner” was singular. Everyone else lost the race and would try again next week, where they would almost certainly lose again. All outcomes were binary.

And not only did every race answer the question “How fast are you?” but it answered simply: Your speed was determined by how long it took you to cross the finish line as compared to everyone else who started with you.

The nature of bike racing therefore meant that you didn’t win very much, if ever. But you were guaranteed a clear answer to the question. That’s what you were purchasing. An answer.

In our post-modern world, we are ruled by quantum physics. Things are this, unless they are that, and of course sometimes they are both at the same time, and by the way, you can never know how fast you are going unless you’re willing to not know your position, and conversely, we can tell you where you are but not simultaneously your speed.

The quantum physics, post-factual nature of the universe has crushed a lot of things, bike racing included. You can be a winner without ever doing a race — on Strava. You can beat a world-class field in a major Euro stage race without ever leaving your garage — on Zwift. You can drug dope and you can data dope. You can adjust your speed and placing by weight, gender, age, location, and year of competition to twist the outcome as surely as you can sniff an inhaler, inject EPO, or take testosterone to be faster than you would have been without it.

And there’s no winner-loser in a grand fondue, which is a race that isn’t even a race that qualifies for a world championship masters title that itself is a race … except when it’s not.

Your variable metric for success can be applied to gravel racing, to century rides, to group rides, or to personal races run on power meters, heart rate monitors, and Garmin head units. You had the biggest left-leg power output of that Strava segment ever. Or among 50-55 men who weigh between 200 and 210 pounds. Statistics may be worse than damned lies, but they are infinitely comforting because they will whisper back to you whatever you want them to say. OTB in a hilly road race or 47th in the sprunt won’t whisper anything back except “You suck.”

If you did a ride and didn’t win SOMETHING that is quantifiable, demonstrable to others in the form of an e-trinket or data point, you are clearly doing it wrong. All wrong.

The anachronistic search for a winner offered up by USAC-sanctioned events is as vain a search as trying to explain the perihelion shift of Mercury using Newtonian physics. The theory won’t fit the observable phenomena because no one wins anything anymore, except at the temporary slot in spacetime where they choose to set the goal posts.

Thanks to this post-modern acceptance of #altfacts and #quantumphysics, more people seem to be riding bicycles as a result, and enjoying them.

I’m good with that, except of course when I’m simultaneously not.

END

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Justice for Johnny

June 14, 2017 § 169 Comments

I will make this brief. USA Cycling is now “grappling” with whether or not James Doyle intended to knock down John Walsh in this video. Several commenters, here and on Facegag, have argued that you can’t really know what was in Doyle’s mind when he hit Walsh’s bars and therefore it wasn’t intentional.

Newsflash: You don’t understand intent or how it is shown.

  1. Intent can simply mean knowing the likely outcome of your actions. If you shoot a pistol in a crowded movie theater you can’t claim you didn’t intend to kill someone because in your mind you weren’t trying to kill the specific person who was hit by the bullet. You are presumed to know that firing the gun is dangerous. Therefore you had the requisite intent to be convicted of the crime.
  2. Proving intent doesn’t require the defendant to sign a confession saying “I intended to knock down John Walsh and send him to the ICU with life-threatening injuries.” You can prove it by physical evidence, by statements, by circumstance, and by past behavior.
  3. One eyewitness said that during the neutral lap after the crash, Doyle said that he had told Walsh to “give him more room and too bad for Walsh when he didn’t.” There was also allegedly a now-deleted Facegag post on Doyle’s page that intimated that the taketown was intentional. Countless riders have notified USAC that Doyle repeatedly exhibited the kind of aggressive behavior that crashed out Walsh. Admission, allegedly written statement, video, repeated past behavior–and USAC can’t immediately reach a decision?

USAC is already prepping the surgical field for a punishment that is less than a lifetime ban from sanctioned events. Chris Black, an SCNCA board member who has admitted that he has no role in the process but who nonetheless is close to the USAC official in charge of discipline, sent this gem yesterday to an outraged racer:

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Wow. Not enough to take substantial action? What would it take? And why would he possibly say “the video by itself” when USAC has received numerous statements about Doyle’s behavior? To top it off, USAC is advising that it is more helpful to have eyewitnesses–sure, just like it’s more helpful to have a signed confession. But absent that there is plenty of evidence to carry the burden of proof here. Why are all these non-lawyers, non-judges, non-bike racers trying to pretend they are the U.S. Supreme Court?

My guess is that Chris Black has no idea what an intentional takedown is. [Note: several readers wrote to correct my misstatement regarding Chris’s racing background. Chris is an active racer with a long history.] What’s even more extraordinary is that Black is a former CHP officer and USAC official, proving once again that a lifetime of law enforcement and officiating has zero correlation with proper understanding or application of the rules.

Instead of making an outraged statement to the effect of “SCNCA will not tolerate reckless or dangerous riding in its events, much less intentional takedowns,” Black makes his unasked for and unprofessional judgment of what the evidence actually means and, more incredibly, how he thinks USAC will behave as a result.

Compare that with Manhattan Beach Grand Prix, whose organizing club, South Bay Wheelmen, is considering whether to ban Doyle from their upcoming race after viewing the video. Unlike Chris Black, non-bike racer, SBW members actually race and they don’t want a jackass like Doyle anywhere near them. SCNCA has lost over one-third of its members in the past year and a half, and with people like Black making absurd and reckless statements like the one above, it’s easy to understand why.

It’s also interesting to note that the promoter of the race where this occurred, Jeff Prinz, has been studiously silent, no doubt hoping that this won’t negatively affect participation in his upcoming July 2 race. Note to Jeff: Now would be a great time to reassure racers that Doyle won’t be allowed to race CBR, in July or ever. If you need someone to cover Doyle’s $35 entry fee so that you don’t suffer personal hardship by losing a race entry, hit me up and I’ll see what I can do.

Also, a criminal complaint has been filed regarding Doyle’s despicable actions. The Orange County Sheriff’s Department has assigned DR number 17-022995 to the complaint. Please call (714) 647-7000 if you were an eyewitness or have video evidence that can assist with the investigation. Give them the DR number above so they can route you to the proper person.

END

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