Swallow the manure

January 31, 2016 § 11 Comments

The Hungarian picked me up at 5:15 AM. We drove over to the Ex-Military, who wasn’t offended at all by my previous rantings about the USMC’s asinine confiscation of bikes at Air Station Miramar.

Next we picked up Fireman.

Then we had to pick up Sandy Bagger. “Where are we getting him?” asked Major, who was driving the new Mercedes Sprinter van with leather captain’s seats that he’d just bought.

I checked my phone. “Says to pick him up at the Culver exit off the 405.”

“Yeah, but where? He’s not gonna be standing at the fuggin’ exit ramp.”

“Well, no. It says here he’ll be standing at the entrance ramp.”

There were no further directions so we got on the world’s gnarliest freeway and exited at Culver Blvd. Sure enough, there stood Sandy Bagger with his bike and his knapsack and his steel cup of coffee and his Spanish bible, perched on the curb, mere inches away from the 18-wheelers, drunks, and insane people entering the freeway quickly.

“What’s with the fuggin’ bible?” I asked. “The only foreign language you understand is British.”

“It’s from my bike mechanic.”

“He fixes your bike with prayers? Remind me to never get behind you.”

“No, he repairs bikes in that tent behind that shack next to the entrance ramp and his wife sells Spanish language bibles. I buy a couple a week to help them out.”

“What do you do with the bibles?”

“Leave ’em in the Starbucks.”

“Kind of a Gideon’s Bible program for Spanish-speaking coffee addicts?”

“You could say that.”

Four hours later we reached Santa Maria, which is an agricultural town in Santa Barbara County, not to be confused with any of the nice places in Santa Barbara County such as Santa Barbara.

Santa Maria’s chief feature is the cow shit that gets dropped out of the cow shit trucks which ply the various ag fields. The other chief feature for today was rain. It was pouring. The rain mixed with the oil on the road and the cow shit so that Major’s new white Mercedes was soon covered with a thick layer of shit sludge.

Thankfully we had all cleaned our bikes the night before. We parked by registration, covered the soles of our shoes with mud and cowshit, then lined up for the port-o-potty and covered our soles again with human excrement and fresh urine and toilet paper all of which we tracked into Major’s new van which formerly had white leather seats.

As we waited in the rain at the starting line, the women’s Cat 4 race finished with a huge crash. Bodies and bikes flew everywhere and women bounced and slid through the cowshit, peeling off prodigious amounts of skin but no one died even though they bled a lot and howled in pain and said, “Is my bike okay?”

Our race started and there were 70 riders and we were all terrified. No one’s carbon brakes worked on the 100% carbon wheels made all of carbon and the race started with two screaming descents and the rear tires were machine gunning shit spray until we were covered in it and blind and gagging. Three riders attacked about four miles in and that was the winning break.

We hit the back side of the course which was filled with more liquid shit and giant crevasses and chug holes. People flatted and skidded but no one fell off his bicycle. I sat at the back and quivered in fear, adding my own blend of shit to the mix. We hit the first and only real climb which was only a few minutes long.

The strong guys at the front were stretching their legs but at the back it was mayhem. Big fat dudes and tall dudes and dudes with all the wrong muscles and dudes who had drunk one mouthful too much of shit spray were lunging for wheels and choking and swerving and roaring backwards. Andy Jessup was there, making a return after a bad crash three years ago at Redlands where he had severed a femoral artery and almost bled out. The moral of that story is that after you almost die racing your bike it’s best to make your comeback in a wet shitstorm with screaming downhills and no brakes.

We crested the climb and a bunch of people were shelled for good. The break was a hundred yards ahead and three riders went across. I straggled at the back and watched the action as if it were a different race on a different planet, which it sort of was.

So far I’d completely fucked up my coach’s instructions, which were simple: 1) Stay in the first eight or ten wheels to mark any dangerous moves or bridges. 2) Start the climb forward so if the pace is hard you can float back.

Instead I’d missed the break, missed the bridge, and almost gotten shelled behind the Chee-toh riders.

The next lap was better because the shit had dried out a bit and wasn’t as slick. More people flatted in the Valley of Cracks, and the second time up the climb more people contemplated the evils of snack foods in lieu of asceticism and hard training.

On the third lap we hit the back side and the terrible pavement and I rolled up to my teammate, Chuck. My legs felt good despite the fractured pelvis and shooting pains up and down my nutsack and hands. “Hey, man,” I said. “Want to roll to the front and try to bring back the break?”

It was *only* three minutes up the road, but before he could say, “You’re insane,” I hit a gash in the asphalt and flatted. Everyone rode away. I reflected that this was better than my finish in 2015, when my saddle fell off and I had to ride five miles to the finish with a carbon post stuck up my butt.

I pulled over to the side of the road and tried to flag a vehicle. No one stopped but lots of drivers did scowl at me. The wind picked up and I shivered inside my soaking wet clothing. Finally a pickup stopped. I explained my plight and the driver had that “I don’t want that soaking wet bundle of shit-sopped rags in my cab” look.

“No hablo Ingles,” he said.

So I busted out my Grade-A Spanish and begged for a ride. “Sorry, man,” he said in perfect English. “I’m late for work.”

A sag wagon eventually came and took me back to the start/finish, where I learned that Major had flatted, Fireman had flatted, teammate Robert Itoh had flatted, and those who didn’t flat had finished as 94% lean ground pack meat.

We drove home and spent four hours discussing and critiquing everything that happened, including why our team jerseys were so ugly even without the patina of cow shit, oil, and mud. Some of the most insightful comments were:

  1. You guys are a bunch of idiots.
  2. I’ve never seen such a crappy bunch of racing.
  3. You missed the break. You missed the bridge. You were too weak to chase. You suck.
  4. It’s not a win just because you didn’t crash.
  5. Please wipe the shit off of my new seats.

In other words, it was a great start to the road race season. Especially if you like shit.

END

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Keep your happy

January 26, 2016 § 33 Comments

There are a lot of dicks in the world. It’s hard to define exactly what makes someone a dick, but here’s a definition that comes close: They try to take your happy.

One of the great things about bicycling, whether you race or whether you group ride or whether you pedal your rusted out clunker to the medical pot shop, is that it makes you happy. I know so many people who have found their happy on bicycles.

Sometimes it’s a happy from alcoholism, from a lost loved one, from a divorce, from an illness, or maybe a plain old lousy job. But the people I hang around with have bike happy in common.

So I take a dim view of people who try to take other people’s happy. For instance, the dick who came up to me after yesterday’s race and chastised me for my crummy tactics. He was right, I am pretty lousy at it. But in all the races I’ve done since 1984, no one has ever come up to me after a race and yelled at me because of that.

So I nicely told the dick to please stop yelling at me, the race had just ended, and after we’d cooled down we could go over to the team tent and he could explain my failings. I’d be more receptive–there would at least not be an inch of sheet snot hanging over my face–and he might be less angry and might choose nicer words. In fact, it was entirely possible that after a few minutes the most important thing that had ever happened in the history of the earth might not be the events of this 45+ old fellows bicycle race and splatting contest, and it was even more possible that whatever had happened in this incredibly important sporting event might not even be worth shouting about. Weirder still, with a few moments of rest and reflection, I might be able to even talk back rather than gasp.

He continued yelling at me and called me a tool, another true statement perhaps, but it made me wonder what kind of tool. A crescent wrench? One of those funny things you stick on the end of a cassette to remove the lockring?

A buddy came up and tried to calm him down but it didn’t work. I slowed to a super crawl and he rode off, haranguing and yelling and complaining about something that everyone already knows: I’m not very good at racing my bike.

Then in an unrelated happening, Friend told me today about a Significant Other who was on the I Hate Your Cycling warpath. Even though Friend doesn’t ride that much, and only does it when S/O is at work or otherwise engaged, S/O constantly rages about cycling. S/O is very miserable at S/O’s job and takes it out on Friend, ostensibly because Friend rides too much, but actually because S/O would like to be doing something else.

Friend’s significant other and the After Race Yeller-Atter have this in common: They are both trying to take someone else’s happy.

And I told Friend the same thing I told myself as I pedaled over to the tent after the race, musing about the miserable little turd who had rubbed some of his stink off on me. “Don’t let anyone take your happy. We get one trip down the path and there are no do-overs.”

When you think about it that way, it makes you determined to hang onto your happy pretty hard. And it makes you unsympathetic towards those trying to take it away.

END

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It’s not for everyone

January 25, 2016 § 18 Comments

Fear. If you want to see it in its natural state, gaze along the starting ranks of any Cat 5 men’s race or Cat 4 women’s race. You’ll spot the one or two faces that are frozen with it, the most horrible of all human emotions.

I have a friend whose head is harder than a block of concrete. It is impermeable to reason and utterly advice-resistant when it has to do with anything related to cycling. “You need to do more group rides so that you won’t kill everyone with your terrible bike handling,” I told her after she had almost killed everyone with her terrible bike handling. So she did more solo rides.

“If you want to not get dropped on the NPR you need to do fast flat rides more. Like, say, the NPR.” She went out and did hills for a month.

Most dreadful of all was when she asked me to be her coach. “Why?” I asked. “I know nothing and you listen to no one. What a colossal waste of time.”

But she insisted, so I drew up a training plan for her. It went like this:

Monday: Don’t ride your bike.

Tuesday: Ride your bike.

Wednesday: Ride your bike.

Thursday: Ride your bike.

Friday: Ride your bike.

Saturday: Ride your bike.

Sunday: Ride your bike.

“That’s bullshit!” she said. “That’s not a training plan.”

“Of course it is,” I said. “You just don’t like it.”

“That’s dumb,” she said, and promptly went off and rode three times a week, ran four times a week, and made sure that she was so exhausted that she eventually got sick and had to stay home for ten days straight.

“You need a bike fit,” I told her.

“What’s that?”

“It’s a thing where someone sets up your bike so that your ass gets closer to your hands.”

“Okay,” she said, “where should I go to do that?”

“I don’t know. I’ve never had one. That’s why my position is so bad.”

“You fucking hypocrite,” she said.

“Yes,” I agreed.

Then one day she said, “I want to do a race.”

“Fine,” I said. “Do one.”

“Which one should I do?”

“CBR. First one of the season.”

“What is it?”

“A flat, four-corner crit, 40 minutes long and  a ten-minute drive from home.”

“I hate flats,” she said, so so she signed up for Tuttle Creek, a mountainous, horrible, challenging road race located 5 hours away in the Sierras and subject to high wind, snow, and freezing rain.

Yesterday morning I raced CBR and she was there spectating with her kids. She was fuming. “What’s up?” I said.

“This race,” she said. “I can’t stand it.”

“Can’t stand what?”

“Watching. I hate watching.”

“So pin on a fucking number,” I said. She spun on her heel and went over to the registration desk.

An hour later she was standing in the staging area with her number pinned on. She was deathly pale and clenched up tighter than an oyster. Her lips were frozen in place and she was punching out sharp, stuttering breaths. I walked over. “Hey,” I said. “Relax.” I put my arm on her shoulder. She is slim but incredibly muscular, and it was like touching Charon’s thigh or a boulder, rock hard. Not that I’ve ever touched Charon’s thigh, but you can tell by looking.

“I’m so fucking scared,” she said.

“I know. You look like someone just told you that Santa Claus is coming down the chimney.”

“Santa Claus?”

“With an axe and a bag full of human heads.”

She laughed, a little. “I’m so fucking scared.”

“Look,” I said. “Relax. Just now. For ten seconds. Then you can tense all up again because the other women are going to beat your ass. Or you can quit.”

The thing about my friend I forgot to tell you is that she hates to lose and that she is a former champion figure skater and that she is the single most competitive person I have ever met, ever. “What did you say?”

“Quit. Just walk away. It’s a stupid bike race. There’s nothing wrong with being a give-up chicken quitter who is so easily intimidated that you can’t even start a wanker-filled Cat 4 women’s bike race in an empty parking lot. Lots of people are chicken that way.”

“You are such an asshole.” But my hand was still on her shoulder and I felt it relax like butter, and her eyes flashed.

“Just trying to help.”

She clipped in and rode to the start. The gun went off and she was nowhere to be seen for the entire race, hanging at the back and trying not to fall off her bicycle as she navigated turns that were wide enough to drive a space shuttle through.

Then on the last lap coming out the last turn, where she was dead last and 500 yards from the line, she jumped out of her saddle, passed the entire field one-by-one, and got fourth. It was like watching Secretariat without the midget and the whip.

I came up to her after the race. “That was awesome!” I said.

She looked at me defiantly, and she wasn’t afraid anymore. “I could have won.” And yes, her eyes were flashing.

Best. Coach. Ever.

January 24, 2016 § 13 Comments

My coach, who didn’t know he was my coach, had sat up and was drifting back. I had been dropped on the very first section of the Switchbacks after Charon, Prez, and Bruins had split the huge field into fragments going through Portuguese Bend. They spun out the back like used rocket stages, but the damage had been done.

The lead group had about twenty riders and they pedaled away.

When Canyon Bob came by and motioned me to get on his wheel, it seemed like a good idea. I temporarily forgot about my [insert sympathy-getting excuse here] broken pelvis and focused instead on how happy I was to be on my bike.

Bob quickly brought me back into the way-too-red zone, and then I was alone again. Up ahead was Coach. I call him Coach because he once gave me some advice. “Don’t be the strongest guy in the break,” he had said.

Lots of people give me advice, of course. “Sit in.”

“Don’t pull.”

“Conserve.”

“Don’t move around on your bike so much.”

“Quit being such a dick.”

Etc.

However, none of them won 26 pro races last year, have a fistful of national pro crit titles, or are considered the best bike racer in America.

Also, Coach became my coach because he hardly ever talks to me. I hate it when people tell me stuff. I am stubborn and dislike advice, especially when it’s unsolicited and free, and even more so when it’s paid for and requested. I once paid a woman $10,000 to not teach me how to pass the bar exam. That’s a true story, and I passed.

Ron Peterson, one of the top coaches in the business, has a word for people like me: “Uncoachable.”

Anyway, Coach has never given me any training advice. He doesn’t care about how I ride, when I ride, what gears I ride in, what equipment I ride on, what my schedule, diet, power numbers, heart rate, or what race calendar is. “You can find someone to advise you about all that on the Internet,” he’s fond of saying.

“Only thing I can help you with is, you know, actually winning a race.”

At first I thought he was kidding until, following his advice, I won my first two races since 1986. Do you know how hard it is to win a bicycle race, even a creaky-kneed, leaky prostate one? Let me tell you: It’s very hard. Very, very, very hard.

And it’s harder the older you get because there’s no churn. There are no younger guys coming up displacing the old guys. As you get older, so does your competition. They age grade right along next to you. The guys who were beating you in ’88 keep beating you in ’98, then in ’08, and soon enough in ’18. In math terms, they’re always doing calculus, you’re still struggling with arithmetic.

Coach is awesome because he fills in the huge void of ignorance that I live in, the ignorance of strategy. And the strategy itself isn’t difficult, but then again neither was sailing to America for the first time as long as you knew the earth was round.

So Coach drifted back. “Get on my wheel,” he said. I did, panting so hard it hurt almost as bad as my broken nutsack and fractured childbearing pelvis.

After a few seconds, you know, those really, really long ones that other people call “minutes,” normal breathing resumed. “Okay,” I said. “I can go faster.”

But coach didn’t go any faster. He kept me in this strange zone that said “I am doing a lot but I can do more.” My instinct, of course, was to do more. Isn’t that how you beat people?

Pretty soon we caught and dropped Canyon Bob, who I never catch and never drop. Then we got passed by a mini-three-man-train. Coach let them go. “They’re dropping us!” I wailed.

Coach looked back. “The climb’s not over yet.”

This bizarre purgatory of pain but not unendurable pain continued to ratchet up. We caught the mini-train. Where the climb jerks up for 200 yards they splintered and we left them for good without ever accelerating.

“Steep walls have a speed limit,” said Coach. “It requires exponentially more energy to accelerate on them and if you kick it there you have nothing left for the longer, easier grade where you can make time.”

We made time and picked off other riders, guys who are lots fitter and faster and younger and richer have prettier mistresses. They were not happy to get passed by Ol’ Gimpy Busted Nutsack latched onto the wheel of reigning national champ a/k/a Coach.

Now what had seemed like steady but endurable pain became suddenly awful. This corresponded with the short flat spot on the way to the Domes, where Coach sped up. I popped, he slowed, and I got back on, settling into purgatory again.

We caught and shed several more riders.

Afterwards he explained it. “Don’t ride in the red.”

“Okay,” I gasped.

I thought about that, and it prompted a billion questions until I reminded myself that one fool can keep a hundred wise men busy for a thousand years.

Then I pondered that out of that entire gaggle of idiots, only 11 had finished ahead of me, none was my age, none had a broken ballsack, and we’d picked off about half of the initial lead group.

“Hey, Coach!” I shouted. But like Racer X, he was gone.

END

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Money talks

January 21, 2016 § 23 Comments

Last year I put up some cash primes in a couple of local races. It wasn’t a huge amount, but $4,000 in cash primes is a lot more than what people here usually race for. The result was that entries doubled compared to the year before and the races that had the cash primes were fast, furious, and strung out from corner-to-corner, start to finish.

But what was interesting is that the big turnout in the men’s fields wasn’t matched by the women, whose fields were small. Where the guys were champing at the bit to haul in some extra dough at season’s end to pay for a slightly nicer cardboard box, the women weren’t, even though the primes were identical for men and women, something that’s a unicorn in bike racing.

Prior to plunking down the cash I had several people tell me that it was wasted money. “The women won’t show up to race because they don’t care about the money.” I was advised to give the women a token amount and put the rest of the cash back into the men’s fields, which would result in more attendance and harder racing.

I refused out of principle. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

In the second race there were 20 women who started in the P/1/2/3 field as compared to four the previous week. Given that it was the end of the season, that was pretty solid turnout–and the women raced hard for the primes, and most of them showed up specifically because there were $100 bills on offer, ten of them in a 40-minute race.

This year I’ve started out with another $2,500 in cash primes for this weekend’s CBR in Compton, and again I’ve matched the men’s P/1/2 field and the women’s P/1/2/3 field with identical prime amounts. So far six women have pre-registered; I’m betting that at least thirty will show up to race. That’s a solid women’s field in SoCal for a local crit.

The people who say that women aren’t motivated by money are wrong. The reason that women turnout is depressed isn’t because women don’t like to make money racing, it’s because the sport has refused for years to give women equal earnings. Year in and year out women are told that because they don’t race in sufficient numbers they don’t deserve equal prize lists.

This is exactly what opponents of Title IX said back when the federal government required equal funding for college athletic programs. Once the money kicked in and women’s programs had funds to travel, hire coaches, and pay for equipment, participation soared. Unfortunately, it’s going to take more than a few hundred bucks at a local crit to energize thousands of women to take up bike racing, but it’s worth trying to equalize payouts and primes for a lot of reasons.

First, it’s fair. The women who show up, even though they are smaller in number, should be treated equally.

Second, it sends the message that women’s racing isn’t an afterthought, it’s a key part of the day’s events.

Third, over time it will increase women’s participation.

END

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Gitcher Belgian on

January 20, 2016 § 11 Comments

BWR_Social_FBLINK

It’s that time of year. Oh, wait, no it isn’t.

That time of year is Spring, April  24, 2016 at 8:00 AM sharp.

What now is, is the time of year when you sign up for the Belgian Waffle Ride far enough in advance so that you think you’ll be ready for it. The good news is that you will be! The bad news is that you won’t.

This year’s edition, the fifth, features another leisurely spin through the gentle rolling hills and well-maintained road surfaces of North San Diego County. As in past years, the BWR will be pain-free, fun, easy to complete, and filled with happy conversation as you pedal long miles side-by-side with friends, catching up on family news and philosophizing about life, dark matter, and what’s really going on with Chinese stocks.

Of course there may be one or two riders with a different agenda, and who, rather than seeing the BWR as a casual LSD pedal, see instead a painful mix of dirt, tarmac, water, gravel, and rocky sections buffered on all sides by difficulty, epic challenges, and extremely tough riding conditions.

But what do they know?

Well, they may know this …

Although each BWR has been more monumental than the one before, the 2016 edition is the toughest yet. At 144 miles, it is the longest, has the most dirt sectors, and rarely traverses an intersections. The complexity of the course means that there’s something there for everyone, except those who really want to stop. For them, there will be six major and six minor aid stations, some of which will offer tequila or Belgian ale while still offering water, Coke, and event-sponsored beverages.

Some of the sections are so hard you’ll have to walk unless your name is Phil Tinstman or Neil Shirley. Some of the heroic dirt sections from past years such as Black Canyon, Canyon de Oro, and Lemontwistenberg will rear their ugly heads, but the new challenges of Lusardi and San Elijo also await. The rock garden of Lake Hodges has to be traversed in both directions this year, same as the Mule Trail. Perhaps the best feature is the Highland Valley beatdown, five miles of unvarnished climbing hell out to Ramona where you can contemplate forging ahead or calling it a day.

The only way you’ll find out, of course, is to do the dance and sign up for yet another year of full-gas pedalmashing. Better yet, if it’s your first time you can toe the line and discover what’s so fun about slamming a great waffle-egg-bacon-coffee breakfast, riding hard, competing against the best, capping off the ride with more good food and even better beer, then collapsing in a heap and hoping like hell you thought far enough in advance to arrange for a ride back home.

Registration is here: https://bitly.com/bwrreg2016.

Over the next few weeks I’ll put together a series of training plans tailored to the different needs of the various BWR participants. For now the simplest plan is also the hardest: Ride yer fuggin’ bike.

END

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Invest in yourself

January 11, 2016 § 2 Comments

rahsaan

Think about all the crap you’ve spent money on in order to go faster.

Right.

Now think about the rule of thirds for bike racing:

  1. 1/3 on training.
  2. 1/3 on aero.
  3. 1/3 on strategy.

Most people have it way out of whack. 2/3 on aero (and “stuff”), 1/3 on training, and 0/3 on strategy.

Why is that? First, it’s because people already think they know how to strategize a bike race. And second, for those who know they need help, it’s really difficult to find a top-notch pro who will let you pick his or her brain.

So here’s your chance to spend some time and money doing something that will improve you as a rider and as a racer–sign up for my friend Rahsaan Bahati’s race clinic here.

Rahsaan is a formidable competitor and an accomplished athlete. But what you will find out if you attend this clinic is that he is also a warm, friendly, funny, amazingly smart guy whose knowledge of crit racing is encyclopedic. His ability to break down a race, explain it, and draw teaching points out of the most mundane moments is unparalleled.

Take advantage of this. It will be a thousand times more beneficial than a new set of wheels.

END

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