January 4, 2015 § 9 Comments
Normally I answer all of my own correspondence, but every once in a while I get a cycling inquiry that is best handled by someone else, especially questions regarding getting a ride as a professional. This is a technical subject. Luckily, I am friends with a super excellent professional bike racer who gets paid money to race his bike and even owns his own sleeping bag. You may know this guy; his name is Profy McProstate and he has won the Tour of Buzzardguts four times, most recently in 2011. He has generously agreed to write the responses to this issue of WMCC #27.
I want to be a pro but I’m not sure about all of the traveling because I like to stay home with my cats and do fun rides with my friends. Plus, I get carsick and don’t like to drive or fly or travel. Also, my Internet coach has me on a strict training plan and diet that I can’t vary from. I need 30% of my calories to come from kale. And I have to have lots of massages. Also a bit concerned about what my income will be as a first year pro, as I have a mortgage. So, my pro career hasn’t really taken off. Do you have any advice for me?
I also want to be a ‘cross pro, a pro six-day racer, and a circus dancer.
Dedicatedly but unsure,
Although I am a dog person I can admire your passion for wanting to keep the relationship with your cats on the good side. I recommend getting a basket for the front of your bike so you can take them along on your training rides. They have nice ones now that you can take off very easily for race day. Your cats will have a greater appreciation for when you come home bonked and eat their catnip instead of putting it in their play toys. Lose your fun ride biking friends, the cats don’t like them anyway. With regard to the tough travel schedule of a pro, you should know that I hate cars, too. Most pros don’t even own cars, they ride to the races. If the race is further than six hours away they ride there the night before with their cats in the basket.
You can also save money on food by sharing canned tuna with your furry friends. They will be super stoked to be getting real tuna instead of those ground up horse hooves that are packaged as “cat tuna” and sold in that congealed oil that smells like last weekend’s barf bucket. After sitting in the basket all night as you pound through the rain and snow and ice, the cats will understand your need to have most of the can, as they will have personally seen how hard you have been riding.
Next advice, and this is a toughie: dump the Internet coach. The pro training regimen is pretty easy. Go as hard as you can in the first hour of your training, bonk, then limp around for another 4-7 hours. That’s what you need to make the break in all the big races, which will in turn get you noticed by the big pro teams. Plus, once you’re in the move, your break mates will share food and drinks, and they will give you cool tips “on the down low” about how to win that day.
Gotta have buddies to make it to the finish.
If you get dropped from the break, no need to worry, because bike racing isn’t just about winning. You can update everyone on Facebag, your blog, Twitter, Pinterest, and your Hairy Donkeysex app about how the energy drink or the energy bar made you sick because it wasn’t gluten free or vegan. Be sure to mention that you were the strongest guy in the break and you did the most work, and throw out some power numbers and maybe even a link to your Strava segment for the part where you were killing it the hardest just before you weren’t.
Back to diet, although I think the tuna has it covered, kale is overrated. I’ve actually raced on all sorts of dried dog food. It’s easier to find in bulk and you don’t need a Costco membership. Also, it’s more nutritious than most frozen vegan meals from Whole Foods, and lots cheaper. You’ll need to economize lots of things as a “firsty” (that’s what we call first year pros) if you want to hang onto that mortgage, and dog food is where most of us start. And finish.
With regard to massages, you won’t really be able to afford much more than the typical asphalt massage you’ll get your first few races, so stock up on Tegaderm. Since you are a cat person, you might try putting some of the catnip under your clothes on the area you want massaged. You get double the benefit, because the cats will knead the area and also give you free acupuncture. SO great for recovery, just make sure they haven’t been digging in the litter box because that shit gets under their nails and cat poop infections are nasty, literally.
‘Cross racing is easy. Do the same training as road, but by the time you bonk the race will be over, so you won’t need food. Your cats may not like the venue as they are typically louder than the epic local road race, if you can believe that there’s anything in this world louder than a couple of nervous housewives whispering prayers that their husband and sole breadwinner doesn’t go flying into the barriers.
Sixday racing will require you to fly, so you’re screwed. Plus at the Ghent velodrome they have a “no cats in baskets” sign right there at the entrance.
Circus dancing is better to think of later, once you retire from pro racing in a couple of months. You’ll have amazing stories of eating bad food and sleeping in places typically only used by farm animals, so they’ll bring you right in and probably give you a choice manger right next to the elephant stall, along with a 40-pound shovel. Plus the years of stretching you do as a bike rider will only help.
Yours in confidence,
I have noticed in races that there are dudes who go really hard at odd times. Then, there are other dudes who suck wheel all day and never seem to go hard. What is up with those wankers and how do I beat them?
As I’m fond of saying, there are only two kinds of people in a bike race: stupid strong, and stupid.
Just kidding. There’s a third kind, called “people who know what to do at the end of a race.” Generally that’s only three or four people, and I’m sure you’re one of them. Anyway, below is an anxiety graph that will help you understand.
Racing behavior among the stupid and the stupidly strong is driven exclusively by anxiety. Once you understand the scenarios in which riders are the most anxious, you will be able to exploit this weakness, unless you are the anxious one (likely) in which case you will be the exploitee. But on to the graph.
In the upper graph of the Blow-up Wanker, the top line represents his max potential effort. The bottom line shows his effort during the race. The farther away current effort is from max effort, the more anxious he becomes. In short, when the race feels “easy” he will attack, launch pointless breakaways, and squander his precious resources at the wrong time because he’s afraid the race hasn’t gotten hard, and therefore the decisive “winning” moment hasn’t arrived. He’s the guy drilling it at the front on Lap One, and coming in 54rd because he “didn’t want to get taken down by all those idiots in the field sprint.”
The shaded area shows that as his efforts get more intense, his anxiety decreases. He is only comfortable when deeply in the red, which always occurs at some random time and is unrelated to the dynamics of the race. He is the guy who always finishes the race/training ride/massage session and says, “That was the hardest one ever.”
In the lower graph of the Wheelsuck Wanker, the anxiety gap is reversed. It is only as the race gets harder that his anxiety increases because he associates hard efforts with getting dropped. Therefore, the Wheelsuck Wanker spends the entire race avoiding anything that might be more painful than his current state, including following or instigating the winning break, bridging, or max efforts with less than three laps to go. He is the guy who always finishes the race and says that it “wasn’t really that hard.”
In other words, you don’t need to do anything to “beat” them, as they will do that on their own.
Yours in confidence,
January 3, 2015 § 51 Comments
I recently bought some carbon beer wheels. These are carbon bicycle wheels that were funded by the money I would have spent on the beer I no longer drink. In order for this math to work out, I would have needed to drink two cases of beer a week for the next 45 weeks, which was totally doable.
I have always wanted a set of full carbon wheels. My buddy Jon Davy is the boss at FastForward Wheels USA here in Torrance, and we ride together a lot and race on the same team. Once I made up my mind to buy the wheels from him, I decided to do some intensive research. “Hey, Jon,” I said, “do you think a set of full carbon wheels will make me go faster?”
Jon is a very honest guy, but we get along anyway. “Probably not,” he said.
“What if I were riding them in a wind tunnel?”
“Oh, then they would,” he said.
“How much does a wind tunnel cost?” I asked.
“About 30 million euros, give or take a million.”
“I think I’ll just start with the wheels,” I said, figuring that the beer equivalent of a wind tunnel would be about 15,672 weeks at two cases of Racer 5 per week, or roughly 1,313 years, and therefore hard to justify to Mrs. WM, who was going to be pretty upset about the wheels anyway, let alone finding space on our balcony for the wind tunnel.
Anyway, I’ve had the wheels now for about a month and have ridden them every day. In order to really understand why carbon wheels are far, far superior to merely mortal bicycle wheels, you have to first learn a bit about computational fluid dynamics. This is about as much fun as chewing out your own fingernails and eating your thumbs. You also have to learn about aerodynamics concepts such as yaw, which is suspiciously similar to “yawn,” and the one will absolutely lead to the other.
I re-read the Wikipedia entry on yaw four or five times, then read it backwards, then turned the screen upside down, but still couldn’t understand it. Apparently yaw is fundamental to sailing, and before you can really understand a bicycle wheel’s aerodynamic properties you have to be a sailor, and I flunked the Cub Scout rope badge for bowlines, half-hitches, and square knots, so that ain’t gonna happen.
Fortunately, the fine folks at Bontrager have written a white paper on why their carbon wheels are the best ones in the world, which kind of sucks because I didn’t read it until after I’d bought the other brand. It’s pretty technical and if you think yaw and CFD and tared data and flow separation are hard to understand, that’s okay, because the conclusion of the whole 34-page mishmash can be boiled down to the photo on p. 30 where Fabian is putting the wood to some wanker from Quick-Step on the Oude Pekkerstommper climb in the Tour of Flanders, and if it’s good enough for Fabian it’s sure the fugg good enough for you and me.
So I’m not able to comment on the FastForward wheels’ aerodynamic properties except to say that they accelerate quicker than late fees and interest on a no-background-check car loan, they hold momentum longer than an angry mother-in-law, they go uphill faster than a Sherpa on amphetamines, and they stop like a runaway locomotive going over a cliff with no brakes. Hopefully the engineering guys will get to work on that last part soon.
None of these performance benefits really mean anything to me, though. I was riding with 4-time national elite crit champion Daniel Holloway today. We were talking about racing. “Doesn’t matter how strong you are if you don’t know what to do at the end of the race,” he said.
I thought about that. Aside from being slow and not very good, it was an excellent summation of why no amount of technical performance will ever get me out of the mid-pack — the last five words I’ve ever thought at the end of any race ever are, “What do I do now?” and “Shiiiiiiiiiittt!”
On the other hand, my new FastForward wheels have completely revolutionized my cycling. First and most importantly, they are black and white, and my bike frame is black and white, so they match. I also got two free FFWD water bottles that have a cool shape, and are black and white with a little red highlight on the side. I am killing the bike fashion thanks to those wheels.
Second, my new FastForward wheelset, since it is full carbon (did I mention that it is full carbon?) it makes a cool whooshing noise. Full carbon wheels really do whoosh, and the deeper the profile the bigger the whoosh. The whoosh comes from the hollow wheel’s carbonized full carbon body with carbon — bigger body, bigger whoosh. Simply put, when you pass someone going whoosh they get completely unnerved. And if they pass you, you still sound cooler than they do because aluminum wheels don’t whoosh at all, if anything they whizz, like a little boy tinkling on the pavement. It is much more awesome to sound like an angry whooshing motherfugger about to bash someone’s skull in with a giant crowbar than to sound like a little kid with a tiny pizzle whizzing in the street.
How excellent is whooshing? When you get dropped, instead of berating yourself for being a fat, lazy slug, you can listen to the whooshing wheels and how cool you sound. I’m not kidding.
Third, even though the brakes on a full carbon wheelset don’t actually stop or even slow down the wheel, the space age technology of the brake pads, a combination of darmstadtium, a transition metal, and ununoctium, a noble gas, makes the coolest shirrrrr sound ever when you squeeze the brake levers. When you are riding with a bunch of other cool people with full carbon wheels and you all hit the carbon brakes together it’s shirrrrr, shirrrrr, shirrrr, and then you stomp on the gas and it’s whoosh, whoosh, whoosh. You don’t even have to talk to each other any more, that’s how cool it sounds.
In other words, there you are, tricked out in an all black-and-white rig with black-and-white wheels and a black-and-white-and-red-highlight water bottle, whooshing along like crazy, then going shirrrrrr when an SUV pulls out in front of you just before you go splaaaaat and graaaaack through the rear windshield. It’s a fuggin’ bike symphony.
So I rate this product twelve stars out of, like, four. You should get some, too, and tell Jon that Wanky sent ya.
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December 22, 2014 § 29 Comments
We had been stuffed into the box, the lid had been nailed shut, and now there was nothing left to do but suffer. As Greg and I struggled up Fortuna Ranch Road, Sam and the Wily Greek kept slowing down to wait, and it wasn’t because they liked us. It was because they needed all four guys in order to finish.
This was the SPY Joker Ride, where for ten bucks a rider you got to form a four-man team and race your bike for sixty miles on a variety of paved and unpaved North County San Diego roads. It was early in the ride and the road was decidedly unpaved. Unfortunately, as we reached the end of Fortuna, our fortunes took a turn for the worse.
The road leaped off and down into a deep muddy trench filled with rocky craters and every type of igneous obstacle. The day before I’d bought a slick new pair of FastForward full carbon clinchers. This was the first time in over thirty years that I’d ridden real carbon wheels, and the difference between these magical hoops and the concrete, 32-hole, aluminum box rim Open Pros that I finally smashed into bits a few weeks ago was amazing. In addition to floating uphill and accelerating like a juggernaut, they had another amazing quality, a quality I’d been sort of warned about. “Just be careful at first because, you know, carbon doesn’t brake so good.”
As my bike launched into the trench of death I grabbed on the rear brake. Something happened, but it didn’t feel like braking. More like a gentle love tug, or perhaps a nudge. The bike didn’t slow, and neither did the uncontrollable urge to soil myself, so I grabbed the brake even harder. The bike gradually scrubbed speed and I made a mental note to bring extra diapers when running full carbon.
Wily led us over the rocky moonscape and back to pavement, where we caught our breath and Greg continued with the truly most complicated part of the whole ride, which was navigating. The organizers had kept the route under wraps until the morning of the ride. As each team sat at the starting line, going off in one-minute intervals, you were given a playing card and a direction card, one of three that would take you to the next waystation. At each of the waystations you’d pick up another playing card to make your hand, and another direction card to get you to the next stop. At the end of the ride, the team with the best hand got a prize, and the team with the best time got a prize.
As the seconds ticked down to our start — we were the first team off out of forty — we stared frantically at the direction card. Instead of saying “PCH L to La Costa. R on La Costa, etc.” it was a riddle tucked inside a rhyme. You think I’m kidding? Try to figure this out while your heart is pounding, everyone’s yelling, and your colon is telling you that you might have some unfinished business:
If you weren’t a local, and all but a couple of teams were, you could perhaps figure it out, but if you were a local you could simply scheme your way to the next waystation without doing nasty, unpaved climbs like Questhaven. But if you were Team Wank Special you were already lost and if you didn’t follow the directions you’d get extra lost, plus lose time, plus not get your card, plus look like a total cheating flailer when your team’s data got uploaded to Strava.
We whipped out onto Elfin Forest and made a right towards the turnoff for Questhaven. At that moment a rider came up behind us. “Hi, guys!” he shouted. “I’m not doing the Joker Ride! Which team are you?”
“We’re the first team off,” said Sam.
“Awesome,” he said. “Let’s go!”
We looked at each other. “Let’s?” said Gret.
“Where are you heading?” He was so excited to have found us.
“Questhaven,” I said.
“Perfect! I’ll take you to it!” Though Fireman and I knew where it was, having done the Belgian Waffle Ride and numerous rides in North County, we shrugged as Cliff charged ahead. Soon it became clear that he was a member of that most despicable species of rider, the Ride Bandit.
Too cheap to fork out ten dollars for an entire day’s worth of riding, food, support, and fun, and/or too much of a Delta Bravo to get anyone out of the 256,911 population of avid cyclists to ride with him and form a team (even though you actually show up, pay your ten bucks, and get paired with three other riders), Cliff was trolling the course to find someone he could ride with, getting the benefits of a fun race-ish ride without having to contribute.
Now that he had us, he was in a frenzy, asking to see our direction card and playing card and desperately behaving like he was one of our “team.” Greg had a pretty good idea of where the course went, and after finishing Questhaven we began climbing to San Elijo.
“Turn here!” Cliff shouted at a stop sign intersection. “It’s a great shortcut!”
We turned and pedaled for about a hundred yards, then all looked at each other. The guy was obviously a cheater and had already annoyed us beyond belief in less than three miles of riding. “Dude,” I said as we flipped our bikes around, “you can go wherever you want, but we’re sticking to what we think is the course. See ya.”
Cliff hurried up to us. “Okay!” he said, with the happy nonchalance that ride bandit delta bravos have when they’re called out. “No problem!”
At the next waystation Cliff sped up to the tent. “Gimme our card!” he shouted. Then he turned and looked at Greg, who was just rolling up. “Do you want a queen? I can get you a queen!”
Greg yelled to the guys manning the tent. “That kook is not with us! Don’t give him anything! He’s not on our team!”
Cliff looked crestfallen as we scooped up our cards and tried to figure out the next phase of the route, which was this:
Cliff soon recovered, though. “Hey, guys!” he yelled. “This way!”
Wily rode up to me. “Dude,” he said. “I’m not pedaling another fucking inch with that motherfucker. Let’s hide behind a tree until he goes away.”
In a flash the four of us dragged our bikes behind a giant bush and hunkered down, peering through the branches while Cliff did circles in the parking lot, looking like an abandoned puppy. After a while another team rode up. “Hey guys!” he shouted at them. “I’m not on the Joker Ride!”
We hopped on our bikes and scampered down the road, leaving Cliff to his next set of victims.
An hour and a half later we wheeled into the SPY Happy Camp, utterly spent. We’d covered 58 miles in 3:04, four miles longer than the actual route, and a good chunk of that time had been spent soft pedaling while Greg plugged roads into his phone. The sapping climbs, the stretches of dirt, and the endless rollers of the North County byways had made it a grueling ride. Our effort hadn’t amounted to much, despite being dragged around all day by Wily and Sam, since other teams either knew the course and didn’t have to navigate, or cut the course, or were just flat out faster — although we hadn’t been passed by a single other group on the road. The winning time was 2:25, set by a threesome of pros including one ex-Cannondale rider.
Back at the SPY Happy Camp we changed into civvies and began helping ourselves to the delicious pizza and refreshments. After a while Cliff arrived. He hung up his bike and sat down on a nearby bench and began talking loudly as he piled his plate high with pizza he hadn’t paid for. “Yeah,” he crowed, not recognizing me as I was in jeans and t-shirt, dark glasses and ballcap, “I met these SPY guys from LA who were totally lost. I saved them! And those guys were so lame. They were the first ones out on the road and they’re not even back yet!”
“What was your team number?” someone asked him.
“Oh, uh, I didn’t race with a team today,” Cliff said, stuffing his face with another five square-foot slab of purloined pizza. “I just, you know, ran into them. But I finished with a couple of groups, we had a big bunch.”
Of course one of the “rules” was that 4-man teams couldn’t form a big group, but that didn’t bother Cliff at all as he got up and went over to the display table where two very nice women were handing out samples of high end fruit drinks. Cliff scooped up two big handfuls of the drink bottles, each of which looked like it retailed for five or six bucks, and crammed his rear jersey full, then pulled on his vest to hide the booty.
I watched Cliff prance throughout the exhibit area, chatting with people and scooping up so much pizza that I was pretty sure he was going to start jamming pepperoni, cheese, and tomato sauce into his jersey pockets, too. It was funny how people all seemed to know him and no one seemed to want him nearby, a kind of human being repellent. I wondered whether packaging his essence of Delta Bravo and genetically modifying it to repel mosquitoes could perhaps cure the global scourge of malaria.
Prior to the announcement of the winners, though, the real competition began: horse trading cards for a better hand. Within minutes some pretty amazing hands began appearing, and although no one was able to create four of a kind or a straight royal flush, the winning hand was an impressive ace-high full house with two kings. Much good beer from the Lost Abbey was swilled as I forlornly sipped from a bottle of craft water.
“Don’t worry, this beer tastes like shit,” Greg reassured me as he downed his fifth cup.
“Yeah,” said Mike the Cop, sitting next to me with a foamy cup in each fist. “This stuff is awful.”
Greg handed me the car keys. “But at least we have a designated driver!”
I tried to find the happiness in that, then looked around at the happy bikers, the killer venue, the good vibe, the beautiful sunshine spilling down on us, and realized that the Happy, indeed was all around us.
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December 16, 2014 § 15 Comments
I carefully went over my race plan with Derek on Saturday night. “Look, Wanky,” he said. “Don’t be an idiot.”
“That’s a tall order. Sears Tower tall.”
“I know. But you can do it. Here’s the deal,” he said. I was so excited because I love talking pre-race strategy. Not that I ever implement it, but it’s fun. “You have to wait ’til halfway. Don’t smash yourself at the beginning.”
“Yeah?” I asked.
“Yeah. Halfway through everyone will sit up.”
“Yeah. And they’ll be tired.”
“Yeah. Because of all the knuckleheads who’ve been killing themselves from the beginning.”
“Yeah. But not you. You’ve waited until … how long are you gonna wait?”
“Halfway!” I shouted.
“Exactly! And because it’s halfway and all the knuckleheads have been attacking from the gun, you’re gonna be fresh.”
“Yeah. And that’s when you’re gonna attack. One time. And make it stick.”
Derek shrugged. “Cross that bridge when you come to it.”
On the morning of the race my teammates were really happy to have me there. They were as excited as I was. “Hi, Eric!” I said. Eric is our team leader and super fast guy. He and I are pals. I said hello a few more times and he turned around.
“Oh, it’s you.”
“Yep. Here to work for the team!”
Eric came over to me. “Look, Wanky. Do two things.” He looked kind of upset.
“Yeah. One — stay out of my way.”
“Two — don’t chase me down. Got that?”
“Yep! It’s gonna be a fun race, huh?” I don’t think he heard me because he had already turned away. Then I saw my other best friend, Josh. “Hey, Josh!” I said. He didn’t answer for a few minutes but I kept calling his name and since he was standing next to me he finally heard me.
“Yeah?” he said.
“Well, ol’ pal, it’s gonna be a fun race today, huh?” I said.
“Look, Wanky, I don’t have time to fuck with your bullshit today. If you chase me down again in another race I’m going to kick your ass with a tire iron.”
“Did I chase you down last time?”
“No. You chase me down every time. And we’re all sick of it.”
“If someone would just tell me what to do.”
“We yell at you until we’re hoarse and you still chase us down. So cut the crap.”
“Okay, pal,” I said. “I’ve got a special plan for today anyway.” The rest of the team kind of glowered, but it was a happy, friendly sort of glower.
Soon the race started. Just like Derek said, the idiots all attacked from the gun, but not me. I did exactly what he said and waited until I was halfway through the first lap. Then I attacked. However, no one had sat up and no one looked very tired. In fact, they all looked quite fresh because they were all on my wheel. So I moved over and waited for another lap. “Maybe he meant halfway through the second lap,” I thought, and so I attacked again, but no luck. “Well it must have been halfway through some lap,” I told myself, so each time I got halfway through a lap I attacked I but never got anywhere except really tired.
Finally, about halfway through the race, everyone sat up. I was pretty beat from all the attacking, but I attacked again and they let me go. After a while out there I got even more tired. The wind was blowing and my bike wasn’t going very fast and I had all kinds of breakfast stuff gurgling up into my mouth. Yuck. Then some guy bridged up to me and I remembered the winning advice given to me by Daniel Holloway, 3-time elite national champion, which was this: “Be the second strongest guy in the break.”
That was gonna be easy since there were only two of us, except the guy I was with must have heard the same advice, as he kept trying to be second to me, and me second to him, until before long we were going about twelve miles an hour and another guy came up to us, a teammate, and then three more guys, including Josh. I was so happy to see Josh because he is a hammer. “Hey, pal!” I said happily.
“Don’t you dare chase me down. Or Ino, either,” he said, pointing to the other teammate.
“Oh, I won’t!” I promised.
“And remember, the fastest guy in the race is Eric and he’s back there, and none of us three can sprint so we’re not going to win out of this break, so let the other wankers do all the work so that either Eric can bridge and win or one of us can attack at the end when the others are all tired. Whatever you do, don’t fuggin’ work hard.”
I tried to remember all of what he said but it was too darned complicated and plus being in a break is the most exciting thing ever so I just went to the front and hammered as hard as I could. There was a young kid who had also bridged who never took a pull and sat on the whole time, but I didn’t pay any attention to him. Lazy kid. He was probably thinking about his math homework.
Josh kept yelling at me something about sitting in or sitting down or sitting duck but I was too tired to understand what he said. Towards the end someone attacked hard and opened a big gap; it looked like the winning move but thankfully I shut it down with a superhuman effort, then I realized it was my teammate Ino, darn it.
Then the lazy kid with the math homework who’d done nothing the whole break leaped away with one and a half laps to go. For a little punk he went fast. Somehow I caught him and then everyone slowed down. Next thing I knew our ringer Eric had bridged with 3/4 of a lap to go. He looked fast and primed for victory.
Then things got confusing. Some guy who looked pretty sprintworthy jumped hard right before the last turn. I got on his wheel and then some other things happened, I’m not sure what, but afterwards I heard some people saying that perhaps I had exploded in the middle of the sprunt and blocked all my teammates so that the lazy kid actually won. Not sure that’s true, by the way, but after the race none of my teammates would talk to me.
I think they were just tired.
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December 12, 2014 § 48 Comments
I came across this Dec. 10, 2014, Facebook post by Louie Amelburu: “I know that many of you are aware I was targeted by usada and tested—for the fourth time in one year—at the Mt. Charleston Hill Climb this year. I am sorry to report that unfortunately my test results were such that you will have to race the Hispanic that creates panic for yet another year. For all my supporters, teammates and family, thank you. I would never let you down. As I always say, there is no substitute for hard work. If you ever have a doubt as to what my results are attributable to, you have an open invitation to train with me. Just turn the cookie and make it crumble.”
I thought it was a strange post. First, there’s some pretty obvious anger at having been “targeted” four times this year. According to Louie, he was tested twice at nationals in 2013, once at the Pan-Am Games, and once at the Mt. Charleston hill climb where he beat former elite men’s champion Chris Walker. Why the indignation at being tested? At the 2013 masters nationals Louie got a bronze medal in the mixed-tandem road race, fourth in the time trial, 11th in the road race, and 12th in the crit. At the Pan-Am masters cycling road race in Guadalajara in 2013, Louie won the road race. The top three finishers at nationals and at major international events are always highly likely targets for testing. Instead of scorn at being targeted for a test, anyone who’s been around the block knows that being tested is how results are validated. It’s not that the organizers think you are a cheat, it’s that they know cheating occurs, and this is one way of trying to root it out.
Even stranger is the proud publication of his USADA letter. Dude, newsflash: A certain former professional now banned for life claimed to have been tested more than 500 times and never turned a positive result. He’s got a library of letters like that. The absence of a doping violation doesn’t prove you aren’t doping, it just means that your test was negative and you get to keep your plastic medal and box of Clif bars. Cycling is a sport where some people dope, and if you win there are people who will suspect that you cheat. Get used to it. I’ve heard so many whispers about so many people that if all the rumors were true everyone would be a doper, including the refs, spectators, and their dogs. Self-righteous publication of your non-positive letter will never convince those who think you’re a cheater, but it will make people who’ve never thought about it one way or another start to consider the matter. It’s like screaming from the rooftops, “I don’t beat my wife!”
Really? I didn’t know people said that you did. Hmmmmmm.
Strangest of all is the proud declaration that your results are attributable to your incredible work ethic. Do you really want to say that? Because if your results are solely attributable to how hard you train, it means that no one trains as hard as you, and we’ve heard that somewhere before. How do you know you train harder than all of your competitors? And since when does the hardest trainer in bike racing win the race? The real message about “how hard I train” is that you are simply better than everyone else, not just because you train harder, but because you’re smarter, quicker, more tactical, and genetically superior. The problem with that explanation is that in your SoCal category, the leaky prostate division of 50+ riders, you’re racing against former Olympians, Tour riders, classics campaigners, and elite national champions. You’re smarter and more genetically gifted than they are AND you train harder? Really?
In truth, your results are suspect for two simple reasons.
First, everyone who wins a big bike race, a whole bunch of races, or often even a small one, is suspect. That’s what the sport has become. Get secure in your skin, man, because if you want to stand on the top step people are going to accuse you of cheating, and it’s not because you’re Hispanic. It’s because doping is still a big part of the sport today, cf. Pro Team Astana.
Second, you have a resume that some find incredible. Ten top-five places, and an astounding twenty-one first places in 2014 including a national championship, according to the USA Cycling web site. 2013 wasn’t a bad year either, with 25 victories and a slew of podiums.
In 2012 you “only” had 19 victories, but you kind of made up for it with 15 top-five finishes. Then there were 14 wins in 2011, 10 wins in 2010, 17 wins in 2009, 9 wins in 2008, and 6 wins in 2007. Before that, things weren’t quite so stellar, at least by your standards, with 3 wins in 2006, 1 win in 2005, 1 win in 2004, 1 ‘cross win in 2003, one win in 2002, and no wins at all in 2001.
I’m no statistician or sports physiologist, but you have gone from being a pretty solid bike racer to the dude who, as you say, creates panic. I remember one year at Devil’s Punchbowl when you had a mechanical on the first climb. I’d already been shelled, and I passed you as you fumbled with your chain or tire or whatever it was. You caught me on the backstretch and I sat on your wheel for about three miles until you just rode me off it, and then chased down the pack which was in a different time zone, and then you attacked and caught the break. I think you won that year.
Some people might point to the fact that you almost doubled your wins between 2006 and 2007 in what is one of the most competitive racing categories among masters as evidence that you’d started putting something special in your Wheaties. However, although I’ve wondered about it in the past, after thinking about it and looking critically at your results I’d argue that your trajectory fits pretty well with a talented athlete who starts cycling as a masters racer, begins as pack fodder (2001), and over the course of thirteen years develops into a skilled and elite competitor. It’s not as if you went from fodder to unbeatable in a season, to the contrary — you’ve been working doggedly at this for years and years and years, racing against the best, learning, improving, and above all, racing. You’re a middle school health teacher and seem to have plenty of time to train.
Moreover, your wins tend to come in hilly road races or stage races. The champion masters doper profile of “wins TT’s, crits, stage races, hill climbs, road races, and everything else” doesn’t fit your resume. Also, your supposed dominance isn’t really all that dominating because much of your racing is in Utah, Nevada, and Arizona where fields aren’t as deep or as fast as they are in California. And although you put the wood to plenty of the best SoCal roadies, you’re by no means a shoo-in. In fact, the deeper the field the more normal (for an excellent bike racer) your results become. Tour of the Gila, 18th in the road race. In the SCNCA district championships this year you didn’t win the 50+ and you got 13th in the 40+. You got 3rd at the hilly Vlees Huis RR and could “only” manage 9th in the nationals road race and 10th in the crit. Your big wins were stage races, which makes sense because you excel at road racing and time trialing. Although the sheer number of wins is impressive, when you break them down they really do fit a narrative about ability, dedication, and focus on one or two disciplines.
But since it’s masters bike racing we’re talking about, there should always be a degree of skepticism. Check the USADA list of sanctioned athletes and you’ll find plenty of old cycling farts who thought they could dope their way to victory and never get caught. Welcome to 2014, where if you aren’t somewhat skeptical, you’re a fool.
With results and performances like yours, not to mention the personal humiliation of having you crush and destroy countless fragile egos, some people will always suspect that you cheat. This is where, instead of being offended, you need to shrug and say, “I understand where you’re coming from.”
People also suspect that LBJ killed JFK, that President Obama is a Muslim born in Kenya, and that Neil Armstrong’s moonwalk was done in a Hollywood movie studio. Get comfortable with your results if they’re legitimate, and don’t lash out at the testers who are not only doing their job but who are also validating everyone’s results, including yours. If possible, don’t hold it too much against the “haters” who’ve been around the block a few times and view your performances as suspect. It’s hard to have stars in your eyes when they’ve been previously poked with a stick.
I’ve seen you race plenty, and as near as I can tell you’re flat out better than the people you beat on that particular day. You don’t win every race, you don’t dominate every discipline, and people I know and respect vouch for the intensity of your training and the depth of your commitment. And if you ever do test positive, it won’t have ever affected me. I was fighting for 45th place.
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December 10, 2014 § 14 Comments
There are three kinds of people with racing licenses.
- Racers. They race pretty much every weekend.
- Sorta racers. They race a few races each year.
- Fakesters. They have all the stuff, but none of the “stuff.”
If you promote bicycle races, aside from your obviously miserable financial judgment, your need for public abuse, and the strange satisfaction you get out of dealing with angry/stupid/selfish people, you have one really big need on race day, and it’s that people show up and race. For the most part, we expect you, the promoter, to promote your race. We’ll come if we feel like it, maybe.
This is a stupid model. Sure, the promoter should do his best to get people to race. He’s a fuggin’ promoter, for fugg’s sake.
But full fields have as huge a benefit to bike racers as they do to promoters. Full fields increase prize money. They increase sponsorship. They increase spectatorship. And most importantly, they help the promoter turn a profit, which encourages him to keep living in a tent and to promote more races next year. It’s my belief that fuller fields rather than emptier ones can be accomplished by the bike racers themselves, and in 2015 I’ll be giving my theory a shot. Here it is:
People who fit into category #1 above are the backbone, the meat and potatoes of racing. Guys like Brauch, Tinstman, Wimberley, and Charon are just some of the riders who show up week in, week out, with no prodding or encouragement. They live to race. More about them later.
People who fit into category #3 we can forget. They will never race. It doesn’t matter why; the fact that they’re on a race team, that they have team race gear, that they love to talk and read about bike racing is irrelevant. They would rather do a hundred group rides, team training camps, and century rides, than sign up for a single 45-minute USA Cycling crit. Forget them.
People who fit into category #2 are the rest of us, and we hold the key to successful turnout on race day. Sorta racers make annual race calendars, target certain races, and do lots of actual training. Sorta racers are sorta fit in January and sorta wrecked by late April. Sorta racers have no trouble putting in 15-20 hours a week on the bike, but lots of trouble doing more than a handful of races. Sorta racers have detailed excuses for not racing on race day, even when they’ve planned to race. Sorta racers think a lot about racing early in the season, and focus on kiddie soccer games, “work,” honey-do’s, “the high cost of racing,” safety, and butt pimples as reasons to stop thinking about racing later in the season.
In short, we sorta racers are fence sitters. We wanna, but most of the time we don’t.
The difference between a felony conviction and staying at home is often the difference between a buddy saying “Let’s do it!” and not. Same goes for racing. As any salesman knows, the customer has to be asked to buy. And as any good salesman knows, “No, thanks” is simply an opportunity to ask again with greater skill and persuasiveness.
My best race in 2014 resulted from Derek B. asking me to go race with him. I didn’t really want to go, it was the last race of the season, I’m not good at crits, at age 50 I don’t belong in the 35+ superman category, I was tired from Saturday’s Donut Ride, I didn’t have a good set of race wheels, the entry fee was too high, the race was too short, and my butt pimples were suppurating.
All of those objections were overcome by the simple act of being asked because being asked to go race your bike with a friend is flattering, and it also puts you on the spot. The super excuse of butt pimples sounds awesome when you’re talking to yourself, but not so great when you have to mouth it to someone, especially someone you respect, as a reason for not lining up and actually using your $10k in gear and your 25 hours a week of profamateur preparation.
In short, the people who are committed to going to a race can boost race attendance by sending out three, or five, or ten emails, or even more outrageously by actually telephoning, or even more extremely by asking a pal face-to-face to sack up and go race together. If you’re one of the people who’s a dependable ironhead, make sure you ask a couple of other people to go race, and for dog’s sake don’t limit it to your teammates.
Why ask non-teammates to race? Because one of the reasons that guys who aren’t on big teams don’t race is because they hate rolling alone against the big teams and they need extra motivation to go out and get crushed. Again. Asking non-teammates shows that you value their presence, and it stimulates smaller teams to get their act together. A powerful motivator for people to race is having a rider complain to his teammates that he’s the only fuggin’ one in the race, so please come out and help.
Another reason that sorta racers don’t race is they simply forget. I’m going to this weekend’s CBR race because yesterday, on a training ride, I asked EA Sports, Inc. what he was doing this weekend. “I’m racing, dude. And so are you.” It wasn’t a question. It was an order, but it was also a reminder as I’d completely forgotten about the race.
If you’re one of the sorta racers who sorta races, on the days when you’re actually committed, make sure you ask several friends to go race with you. This locks YOU in when it comes time to scratch the b.p.’s and prevents you (hopefully) from bailing at the last minute, and it will encourage one or two other riders to join you. (Hint: Asking others to race with you can also involve sharing rides, splitting gas fees, and saving money!! If it’s a CBR race in LA, it means having someone to ride over to the race with.)
Finally, if you’re the leader of a team, have you reached out to every single rider via email and encouraged them to line up? Have you made two or twelve phone calls to the sorta racers who have hogged all your swag and been conspicuously absent on race days? No? Well, get callin’!
So, does it work? I think it does. I’ve sent out about ten emails and had one buddy confirm that he’s in. His comment? “I’m not very fit, but it’s been over a year since anyone asked me to go race, so, hell yeah.”
If you tell two friends, and he tells two friends, and he tells two friends, well, who knows? The “problem” of declining race participation might simply vanish.
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November 24, 2014 § 23 Comments
Dear Miss Cyclocross,
I’m finally over you. I can’t handle any more of your abuse. Oh sure, it was fun in the beginning and yeah, we had a good run of three years together. But after a while having you push my face in the dirt and beat the crap out of me just wasn’t fun anymore. Every weekend it seemed like things would start out great, then you’d knock me down while your friends stood around and yelled at me and took embarrassing pictures of me all twisted up on the ground, then we’d get drunk, and then the next morning I’d wake up with pains in body parts I didn’t even know I had and bruises all over and a horrific hangover. You’d apologize and say that next time it wouldn’t end that way, but it always did.
And you were never a cheap date. I had to drive all over hell just to hang out with you, and when I did there were a couple other hundred guys — and girls — I had to share you with. I still remember when we started together and you were satisfied with my top-end machine. Next season you weren’t even glancing at anyone who hadn’t upgraded to discs. I hate to namecall but you are a fickle bitch. Every time I looked around it was $35 here, $35 there. That shit adds up.
And the food we ate when we were together wasn’t all that great, you know? The first forty times we snacked at some taco truck with a name like “Amos’s Fiery Anus Burritos” it was romantic, but after a couple of years it was mostly indigestion.
Sure, I met some cool people through you, guys like Phil Beckman, Dot Wong, and all those rednecks in Bakersfield who’ve never even heard of a good time that didn’t involve beating someone’s ass while standing around drunk under the scorching sun in a dirt field, but for the most part your friends suck just like you do. I mean, do you know how tired I got of having your stupid friends yell “Get out of the way, dumbass!” and “You belong in the beginners’ race, dumbass!” and “You crashed me out, dumbass!” My name isn’t dumbass. Got that?
Yesterday, though, I really knew it was over. You’d caught the eye of Derek, one of my best friends ever, and he was asking about you. I warned him that you liked it rough, but he didn’t care. He kept begging me to show him how to get off and I kept telling him you didn’t care how he did it but I finally showed him. Then he was asking me all these questions about how dirty were you, how hard would he have to go, etc., and I told him that if he wanted to run around with you he had better put in for the long haul because you were mean and a tough nut to crack.
Plus, he only had a rental.
But he begged me to introduce you to him and so I did. Beforehand you know what I told him? I said, “Dude, she is going to kick your ass.” He was pretty afraid of you after all I’d told him about all of your nasty tricks and what a vicious bitch you are.
“Which race should I do?” he asked me.
“Because you suck and she is going to stomp your dick very hard you should race the 35+B race. Start at the back so you won’t clog the turns and hurt anybody, and so you won’t fall off your bicycle. It will take a couple of seasons before you’re comfortable riding towards the front, if ever.”
Then on our first warm-up lap you knocked me down in one of the loose sandy turns and Garnet V. almost ran over my head. “Is that how you’re supposed to do it?” Derek asked me.
“Your turn is coming,” I said. And it was.
Pretty soon Derek’s race started and he won it. The next closest person was on a mountain bike and riding in a different race.
So, you humiliated me again, Miss Cyclocross. I won’t mention the fact that you let my pals Slasher, Ryan Dahl, Eric Johnson, David Anderson, Mike Williams, and Carey Downs all climb on top of you. But I will mention the fact that my neck and shoulder hurt like hell, that I can’t walk very well, and that I’m tired of being used. Plus, I can get a vicious hangover on my own.
Go ruin someone else’s life, Miss Cyclocross. Mine is in tatters.