Don’t just do it

April 17, 2015 § 25 Comments

I always wondered about that slogan. Just do what? It? Really? What if “it” is jumping off a bridge? Letting a drunk frat dude shoot an apple off my head with a compound bow? Have another one for the road? Because as we all know, the more you drink the more awesome the road becomes, especially when you’re behind the wheel of a car.

Don’t just do it. First, think about it, then, 99 times out of a 100, don’t do it. Then watch how time and unfolding events reward the cautious, the timid, the conservative, the frightened, the calculating, and the weak as the brave Just Doers plunge over the falls in a barrel.

When it comes to the state road race in Bakersfield tomorrow, however, you should definitely just do it. I know I’m going to. Why? Because it will be steel-smelting hot, dry as a California drought in the Central Valley — where Bakersfield actually is — and monumentally tough.

“Those are all reasons NOT to do it,” you’re saying to yourself.

Not quite. I forgot to add that it’s 75 miles long, hilly as hell, and the roadway is lined with stinging giant bees and rattlesnakes and oilfield trucks who think you would make a great piece of grill meat, right next to the mushed up grasshoppers and other bugs.

“Fuggit,” you’re saying. I can hear you. “No fuggin’ way.”

If your racing age is 50, though, maybe I can entice you because the 50+ Rather Leaky Prostate Category is going to be fun. As of today the pre-reg shows that at a minimum the race will be attended by Konsmo, Leibert, The Hand of God, Jaeger, and a bunch of other people I’ve never beaten in any bike race, ever. Day-of cameos will likely include Mark Noble, DQ Louie, The Parksie Twins, and one or two other carbon-eating bikeovores.

Since past behavior is the single best predictor of future performance, the fact that I’ve been dropped from the lead group every year since 2008 racing against essentially the same cast of crazies seems to indicate that this year will be more of the same, and since the race is 75 miles instead of 50, paying tribute to the biological reality that we get faster and stronger as we get older, I may be able to add a big fat DNF to my state road race palmares.

Delusion, however, dies hard, especially when it lives in tandem with massive infusions of cash. Fact is, I’m ready for this race. My monthly mileage is up to 150. I’ve bumped my FTP up from 185 to 189, and at 170 pounds I’m even svelter than I was when I worked as a burger chef. The cash infusion, however, will be decisive.

Since Mrs. WM doesn’t ever read this blog I can confess that three days ago I picked up a pair of FastForward back-ordered Super Ultra F-12 Full Carbon Tubular Climbing Carbon Four Spoke Heliomatrix Elevator Racing Wheels, which are full carbon with a carbon content of 100%. They are carbon and even though I got the super-down-low-don’t-tell-a-soul-this-is-just-for-you Bro Deal, my credit card started smoking when they ran it through the little card reader thingy.

Next, not worried at all about how I was going to pay the rent, okay, a little worried, I dashed over to Boozy P.’s place. Boozy P. is my ace mechanic. He lives behind a massive craft brewery and has franking privileges there like the US Congress does at the post office. I’m not making this up. It was the crack of noon, so Boozy was just getting out of floor when I banged on the garage door.

“Yo, Boozy!” I yelled. “I got some work for ya!”

There was a long silence followed by lots more silence. I banged harder and Boozy silenced harder. He eventually rolled up the garage door and blinked at the sunlight. “Sure is getting light earlier now,” he said.

“It’s noon, Boozy. It’s always light at noon.” I handed him the wheels. “Dude, Saturday is the most important race of my life. I bought these full carbon 100% carbon wheels just for the race and I need you to glue on the tires. We’ll be hitting 50 mph on the downhills so it has to be done right. A rolled tire and I’m a dead man. My life is in your hands.”

“Yeah, of course,” he said, absentmindedly reaching over for a hammer.

“Not the hammer, Boozy, the rim cement. And you need to use more than half a thimble on these puppies.”

“Yeah, sure thing, dude.” Boozy sat down on the bench and began wiping away the rivers of sweat that poured off his head and stomach. “What color bar tape did you say you wanted?”

“I didn’t say anything about bar tape. We’re talking about tubulars and how my life depends on you doing this right and how you’re gonna glue ’em on perfectly and not with that fuggin’ hammer.” Boozy was fiddling with the hammer again, and it was making me nervous.

“Sure thing, dude.” Boozy wiped away more sweat. “Hey, I think the brewery’s open now. Wanna go grab a quick one for the road?”

“I quit drinking, remember?”

Boozy looked sad. “Oh yeah, that’s right. Mind if I go get a couple IPA’s? One for me, and I’ll drink your one for the road.”

“Sure, but glue on the tires first.”

“Right,” he said. “Could you hand me that screwdriver?”

I left before the migraines began. Two days later I picked up the wheels. The fact that three quarts of rim cement were not smeared from the the rims to the tires to the spokes to the hubs meant that Boozy had either done an immaculate job or he’d used the industry-standard 1/4 thimble of glue and half a gob of spit.

I got home and put on the wheels. The were so light that my bike kept jerking up off the pavement. I floated up the Cove Climb. I dance up Via Zumaya. I jetted up Hawthorne and Monaco faster than I’d ever pedaled before. The tires were glued to perfection. My legs felt good, and suddenly the prospect of being thrown into the cage with Greg, Jeff, THOG, DJ, and the Parksie Twins didn’t seem scary, only pointless and stupid.

I was gonna do it on Saturday. Just do it.

END

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You can’t say that, No. 6

April 14, 2015 § 18 Comments

Ah yes, the old pray-for-a-miracle or form-changing-in-the-middle-of-a-five-day-stage-race race plan: “If I got lucky and the form changed or something then maybe I’d win it.” Chris Horner on his strategy for winning the Redlands Classic. CyclingNews, April 13, 2015.

It’s true, there weren’t a lot of fans jumping up and down saying “18th! He did it!”: “Some detractors may say him finishing 18th is a little underwhelming.” David Brailsford, trying to make the best of Brad Wiggins’s disappointing, final road race at Paris-Roubaix. CyclingNews, April 14, 2015.

The question tormenting your team is “Why didn’t you win?”:  “A question has been tormenting me since yesterday!!!” Luca Paolini, complaining about why riders were allowed to slip through the closed railway crossing during Paris-Roubaix. CyclingNews, April 14, 2015.

END

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At least NASCAR and American football are comparatively safe

April 7, 2015 § 44 Comments

What do Peter Stetina, Sergio Pardilla, Nicolas Edet, Adam Yates, Pierre-He Lecuisiner, Tom Boonen, Fabian Cancellara, Jesse Sergent, Angel Vicioso, Joaquim Rodriguez, Giampaolo Caruso, Gert Steegmans, Matti Breschel, Edvald Boasson-Hagen, Martin Velits, Chris Froome, Alberto Contador, Marcel Kittel, and Lukasz Wisniowski have in common?

They are just a tiny handful of the world’s top riders who have broken bones or suffered injuries serious enough to take them out of major races in the last year. It doesn’t begin to include riders like Sylvain Chavanel (run over by a service vehicle) or those who “simply” crashed out of the race and lined up again the following week.

The absence of the big hitters has completely changed the outcome and dynamics of the biggest races in the season, including the Tour and the spring classics. But let’s forget the racing. The toll this takes on the actual human beings racing the bikes is enormous in financial, physical, and emotional terms.

European bike racing didn’t used to be this dangerous. What happened? How did the supposed champions that the fans supposedly love become disposable pieces of meat?

It’s pretty simple, actually.

  1. Speeds are higher.
  2. Pelotons are bigger.
  3. More riders are in contention for the win.
  4. Riders don’t wear safety equipment.
  5. There are no standards for cancelling races due to hazardous weather.
  6. The courses aren’t required to meet safety standards.
  7. Organizers are “old school” and believe that lots of crashes and injures, and maybe even a fatality or two add to the “beauty” of the sport.

Of course the fans are part of this crippled dance and many are conditioned to believe that mayhem is part of what makes cycling such an exciting sport. Why not just hang out at the ER and enjoy the “beauty” of people coming in off the meat wagon?

Those spectators are wrong. Motor sports used to think that the excitement was in danger and death until they began implementing safety standards and equipment. They learned that the danger is still there — you can’t make a car “safe” at 180 miles per hour — but by making the race as safe as possible fans still love the sport.

Normal people don’t want to see their heroes get hurt, and with regard to the sickos who do, the sport will be better off without, including the old school organizers. Bernard Hinault was one of the first superstars to openly criticize the punishment that riders were subjected to when he famously called Paris-Roubaix a shit show; Hinault suffers lifelong disability in one of his hands from the “epic” day in Liege-Bastogne-Liege when he got frostbite in his hands.

The technology exists to make safer riding equipment. Fabrics that don’t shred, reinforcements in the shoulders, back, hips, and elbows should be required. There is also no reason to run races over incredibly narrow and dangerous courses in horrible weather conditions. You think that canceling Gent-Wevelgem due to high winds makes the riders pansies? Then YOU go out and ride the wet cobbles in a packed peloton at 30 mph in a 40 mph crosswind. See you in intensive care, you tough guy, you.

As anyone who’s done a Cat 5 crit knows, the single biggest accident factor is the size of the field. Ten idiots on a tight course are safer than a hundred. The pro peloton used to be 50-60 riders smaller and there was order in the court imposed by the patron. Now there may be 190 riders crammed into the same narrow roads going much, much faster, and drugs, training, equipment, and radios mean that a huge swath of that peloton has the capability of winning. More people going faster, less space, higher average speeds and faster sprints, and you’re going to have more crashes, and the ones you have will be worse.

It’s an easy fix — reduce the fields, require safety gear, impose weather and route standards, and fewer people will get hurt. But it’s a hard fix because so many in cycling think that “spectacle” means permanent injury or that the “beauty” of the sport requires extreme danger or that safety is for wimps, which is yet another set of reasons that it will never be a mainstream sport, or even a legitimate one.

END

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True grit

March 31, 2015 § 17 Comments

The first time I saw Charon Smith in a race he was sitting down in the middle of the asphalt with a hundred bikes flying by, his shorts torn and his wheel ground down from where he’d rolled his tire.

“What a wanker,” I thought.

That was back in 2007, I think, at the El Dorado Tuesday night crit, and since then he’s won countless races, state titles, stood on the podium at nationals, and I’ve pretty much won nothing. So, we know who the wanker is.

This past weekend at San Dimas, however, Charon really and truly took it to a whole ‘nother level. The rap has always been “Yeah, but he’s just a sprinter,” as if beating out a hundred crazy people in a death rush to the line is, you know, a piece of cake. Funny thing about that rap, it’s been wrong from the beginning.

While it’s true that over the years Charon established himself as the fastest masters finisher in SoCal, he’s worked hard each and every year to add new weaponry to his arsenal. Last year saw him tackle the San Dimas stage race where he snagged the green jersey in a hilly, tough road race and then said “Adios” to all comers in the final day’s crit.

With another off season of focus and preparation on the non-sprinting aspects of his race game, Charon showed up to play consummate teammate at the hilly Boulevard RR, where his team efforts resulted in victory for their designated road guy, and he showed up again at San Dimas. This time, however, he raced with the kind of toughness and smarts that you only find in the most hardened of road racers.

When the winning break in the road race rolled up the road, Charon bridged solo to a field that included the Who’s Who of masters racing: Phil Tinstman, Rudy Napolitano, Mike Easter, Derek Brauch, and Mark Noble, to name a few. When the break came back, Charon continually found himself OTB on the climb, only to repeatedly claw his way back on.

With everyone melted from the speed and the day’s withering heat, the remains of the peloton hit the finishing stretch wrung out and beaten to a pulp. Charon reached down deep and kicked hard, so hard that with “only” 900 watts he cleared the line first. So much for the “He’s only a sprinter” thing.

True grit is more than what happens on the bike, though. A mentor to junior racers, Charon is vitally concerned with what happens to those coming up in the ranks. Showing young riders how to obtain good, credible results through hard work and dedication is something that he does as a matter of course.

And in cycling, as in life, it’s the little things that reveal the bigger ones. Charon’s inclusive — he brought Prez onto the team, for dog’s sake — he shares what he loves, and he’s got time for anyone who has time for him. Stands up when people introduce their wives or parents, and opens the door for you. Those little things, which really aren’t so little after all.

No wonder that he’s built a team of devoted and dedicated followers who are making competition miserable for everyone else.

END

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Sandbag while you can

March 23, 2015 § 28 Comments

Before the race I saw Dave happily siting on his top tube.

“You racing with us?” I asked.

“No,” he said firmly and happily. “Masters 35+ 4/5.” Dave had won the Masters 35+ 4/5 sandbagger race the week before in Merced and was licking his chops, noting that none of his competition came anywhere close to his 400 weekly training miles.

“When are you going to upgrade? You’re a beast.”

He looked at me very seriously. “Oh, no I’m not. I’m still learning so much about racing. And the 40+ group is way too fast.”

“Let me know when you’ve learned everything you need to know about racing,” I said.

Our race was going to be whatever is worse than terrible. You would think that a bicycle race where you had to be at least fifty years old to enter wouldn’t be that hard, but you would be wrong. On the start line were Thurlow a/k/a The Hand of God a/k/a THOG, Konsmo, the Parksie Twins, G$, Mark Noble, DQ Louie, Jaeger, Pomeranz, and a whole host of other guys I’d never beaten, and wasn’t going to beat today.

The course was a 27-mile out-and-back. We were supposed to it twice. The total elevation was about 5,500 feet. Going out, the course had a series of punchy rollers that led to the bottom of a 1-mile climb. After a 2-mile descent, the road continually ascends through a valley with a half-dozen short climbs and a few false flats until you reach the turnaround at the 13 Mile point.

Then the road descends into a headwind all the way to the base of the 2-mile climb, which pitches up, flattens briefly about 2/3 of the way up, then crests and drops you back to the base of the rollers. The race finishes on a 1-km climb with a moderately steep final 200 meter “sprint.”

Less than a mile into the race I was fully occupied with Mr. Crash Magnet. He’s the guy I get behind in every race and every race has one. Crash Magnet was so scared that his arms were shaking and his entire bike was wobbling. The smart thing in these cases is to get away from Crash Magnet ASAP, but he’s called “magnet” for a reason.

In the Wrinkly Prostate Division, although most of the riders aren’t good at holding their water, decades of racing have made them masters at avoiding crash magnets. So there is a race-within-a-race: Get away from the magnet. And since I’m the worst bike handler after whomever the crash magnet happens to be, everyone slides and jostles and positions so that I’m the one stuck on Crash Magnet’s wheel.

I dashed off to the left and got ahead of him, but to no avail. The deck reshuffled and there he was again. After the fourth reshuffle I resigned myself to the terrible accident in store if he hung around much longer. This is one of the great freeing experiences of bike racing. You are in destiny’s maw.

Robb came up next to me after we’d crossed the first four rollers. The bottom of the big climb lay ahead. “This is gonna hurt,” he said.

“Why,” I asked “are you using the future tense?”

About that time I edged around Crash Magnet just as he made a beeline for the shoulder, hit a rock, shimmied his handlebars, and launched himself headlong into a soft bed of cactus and ocotillo. As I sprinted away, wondering how badly he was hurt, I noted that THOG & The Co. from Hell had moved to the front. I slotted in behind him.

Now here is something that everyone who’s been dropped on a hard climb in a hard race surrounded by much better riders can relate to, but ordinary intelligent people who play golf and happily drink beer from the back of a golf cart cannot, and I call it the lighting of the fuse. It happens in stages.

  1. Terrible feeling of awful dread as you anticipate at the bottom of the climb.
  2. First acceleration at the bottom where you think, “I can do this.”
  3. Second acceleration shortly after the first where you think, “This is going to be hard.”
  4. Grit teeth as the pace settles in.
  5. Feeling begins somewhere in your calves, the feeling of give-up-and-quit.
  6. “I’m not quitting” + excessive teeth gritting. Brief look around to see that the group has halved.
  7. Third acceleration midway up the climb where you think, “Fuck you cocksuckers to hell.”
  8. Fuse burns up into lower quads. Pain however is no longer localized to legs and has spread to eyeballs.
  9. Fourth acceleration where the group halves again. Konsmo, who is leading the charge, is on the tops and doesn’t appear to be breathing. “Fuck you, Konsmo, if we ever stop I will kill you,” you think, or something like that.
  10. Almost at the top the fuse reaches the bomb and you explode. Body shudders, head droops, prostate deflates.
  11. “Quit gapping me out motherfucker!” is roared from behind.
  12. Race effectively ends.

When we reached Stage 11, I leaped onto the last rider’s wheel and latched on as we made it over the top. There was hardly anyone left. The pain immediately receded and all of my attention focused on why I’d chosen to try and ride with the leaders instead of doing the logical thing, which would have been following Crash Magnet face-first into the cactus bush.

At the bottom of the valley G$ took over. The pain returned and riders continued to pop off. At the base of each mini-peak G$ would punch it hard, but by now the people who had made it this far weren’t going to be dropped so easily. I looked up and saw the lights of the motorcycle that was following the 40+ field containing Mike Easter, Derek Brauch, Matt Carinio, Tony Manzella, Jon Flagg, and Chris DiMarchi. They had left five minutes earlier but the vicious climbing speed of Konsmo and G$ had devoured the time gap.

They were neutralized and we roared by, which led me to wonder this: Could someone please explain the biology behind how a group of riders, some of whom were in their mid-50’s, were riding faster than a group of men some of whom were fifteen years younger? Or maybe it was just mirrors and we had lighter wheels. But then I remembered that weight doesn’t really matter.

Whatever it was, we sped by with our teeth plastered to the stem as the 40+ pre-geezers stared over, insulted and slack-jawed. Shortly past the turnaround the butthurt 40+ field took matters into their own hands and came flying by us, proving the superiority of youth and better medical care. We never saw them again.

Before long our greatly reduced herd hit the base of the big climb. The fuse was re-lit, and burned all the way until shortly before the short flat. I was sitting on Mark Noble’s wheel making that last-gasp cry that lobsters make when you throw them into the boiling water, when I exploded for good. Race over.

With Chris Hahn, Scott McAfee, and Bald Tim on my wheel, we chased madly through the rollers, eventually picking up DQ Louie, who had inexplicably been shelled. After a few more miles of unutterable misery that left Scott and Bald Tim adrift, I dragged Chris and Louie back to the leaders. Of course we reattached at the bottom of the big climb, the fuse was lit, and it mercifully skipped Stages 2-11, going from Stage 1 to Stage 12 in about fifteen seconds. Louie and Chris happily pedaled away, the sorry bastards.

Left to wallow in my own misery, I slogged up the hill, was caught and dropped by teammate Andy Schmidt who had been stoned and chased out of the 40+ community, and was then overtaken by a mongrel group of 40+ and 50+ shellees including teammate John Hatchitt, and assassin/arch enemies Pomeranz and McAfee. I slunk to the back and struggled along to the turnaround, back down the valley, and to the bottom of the big climb.

This time I did something different, though. I put it into the small chain ring. Realizing that I’d been doing the massive climbs in my 53, it occurred to me that perhaps it would be easier if I used a smaller gear. Wow! Who knew???? Climbing is easier in a 39×28 instead of a 53×21. Gawrsh!

McAfee attacked and one by one our group reduced in size until there were only six of us. Hatchitt attacked, caught and dropped McAfee. Then after the false flat Pomeranz attacked, leaving me with a couple of 40+ racers who had no interest in or need to chase down guys who weren’t in their race.

With 1k to go I hunted down Hatchitt and McAfee. Hatchitt went early and blew. McAfee went a bit later, but I was able to sit on his wheel until the very end and throw myself across the line, beating out a couple of 40+ wankers and looking less like Mark Cavendish winning MSR and more like a fish whose bleeding mouth had been ripped from a hook and thrown mercilessly onto the rocks to flip, flop, gasp, and die.

After the race I saw Dave, who had sandbagged his way to another awesome win. “Good job,” I said, filled with bitterness and envy as I contemplated getting my downgrade for 2016.

Wankamodo snapped this immortal shot of my last-gasp lunge for a top-40 placing in our 40-man field.

Going 100%, pointlessly, against guys I'm not even racing against.

Going 100%, pointlessly, against guys I’m not even racing against.

50+ Leaky Prostate Category Race Notes:

Mark Noble played a smart waiting game, stayed out of the win, and smashed the four-man leading of group for the win, edging out Bennie Parks, Thurlow Rogers, and Jeff Konsmo. Race activator and head-banger Greg Leibert finished sixth behind Todd Parks, with SPY-Giant-RIDE p/b GQ6 teammate and 2014 winner David Jaeger coming in 8th.

My ride chauffeur, Derek Brauch, got second in the 40+ race behind winner Mike Easter. SPY-Giant-RIDE teammate Jon Flagg put on a display of incredible strength by bridging to the leaders and finishing fourth.

Emily Georgeson got a bronze medal in the women’s state championship road race, confirming again that this is her breakout season.

Other people in other races finished, or didn’t, with some going faster and others going slower.

END

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I think I’ll follow that guy

March 9, 2015 § 35 Comments

Most CBR races that I do start the same way. About twenty guys push and shove and jostle and squeeze to make sure they’re in the very first row. After the race starts, I never see any of them again.

I always lollygag at the back before the race with Big Steve. He doesn’t care where he starts. He’s more concerned about where he finishes.

There is another guy who always starts at the back of the back of the back, and then two wheels behind that. He’s at every race, and he’s one very rotund fellow. You look at him and you think, “Dude, lay off the Oreo triple stuf. You are going to have a heart attack before we get to Turn One.”

Then you notice that even though his belly is testing the physical stretch limits of his jersey, so are his massive quads. Then, if you’re still paying attention and haven’t written him off because he’s obviously pushing sixty, you notice the bands on his shirt sleeve, the rainbow ones. And you’re like, “Whaaa? World champion of what? Carrot cake?”

The race starts and it always starts fast, and my goal is always the same, every single time: Follow that guy. There are a lot of good reasons to follow him, and not just because Gibby Hatton is one of the best track racers in the history of U.S. cycling. For me, following Gibby is a lesson in humiliation, and I’m never happier than when I’m under the lash.

“What could be easier than following an oxcart?” you wonder. Well, it’s harder than it looks. For one, even though he hardly ever pedals and it looks ridiculously easy, you quickly find out that he’s the most efficient rider in the peloton by a factor of ten. That would make sense, because at his professional zenith he was the No. 2 highest-earning keirin racer on the Japanese professional circuit.

For another, Gibby doesn’t use his brakes. Whereas I’m the kind of rider who replaces his pads in between events, Gibby has been using the same set since 1982. They still have the shrink-wrap on them. This means he slingshots through the turns. While the idiots are grabbing brakes and wobbling and dodging curbs and spraying up fountains of carbon brake pad powder, Gibby is coasting at 35. Out of the turn he pedals once or twice to hold his momentum, and in the process he’s passed forty people.

There’s another great reason to follow Gibby’s wheel. It will give you your adrenaline rush for the decade. Sure, he looks like a walrus on a bike. But a more delicate, graceful, perfectly coordinated rider I’ve never seen, or imagined seeing. He floats through gaps that shut with a clang once he’s through. He edges around kooks with the gentlest shift of weight on his saddle. He creates openings by lightly tapping on someone’s thigh … and it’s the tap of authority that doesn’t say, “May I come in here?” but that says, “I’m coming in now.”

The best reason of all to be on Gibby’s wheel is that if there’s no breakaway, he’s going to put you in the top five or higher if you can come around him (you can’t). At 58 years old, by the time everyone has wheezed and gasped and struggled to the final 200 meters, Gibby will finally activate the thighs, and the acceleration is vicious, fearsome, and effective.

I’ve never been able to follow his wheel for more than two laps. It’s like following a solo by Louis Armstrong, or matching the steps of Fred Astaire, and today was no different.

After the race started, some people went fast and some went slower, some people dreamed big dreams and some people dreamed small ones, some people got tired and some people quit. Leading into the final turn three riders decided to throw all of their bike parts and bodies high into the air and then splatter painfully on the ground. With 200 meters to go, the Walrus, ever perfectly positioned, mashed hard on the pedals. It was his first real effort in the whole 60-minute race.

Two riders were ahead of him, much younger and much faster. But not cagier, and not better at using all the right effort at just the right time. Gibby nipped them at the line.

Again.

END

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The greatest masters racing team of all time?

February 26, 2015 § 31 Comments

I can see Roger Worthington now, seated atop a golden throne which is itself perched atop a mountain of tightly bound thousand-dollar bills, staring out the giant plate glass window of his mansion in Bend.

As he casts his lonely eye upon the surrounding valley shrouded in snow, he cannot focus his attention on his immeasurable wealth, on his palatial eco-home that houses three people and has a carbon footprint the size of Beijing, or on his empire of craft beer, retail pizza establishments, and hundreds of thousands of acres of genetically modified hops.

Instead, as he scrolls through his Facebag timeline and sees the racing exploits of Charon, of G$, and of lowly Wanky himself, he can only grunt in discontent and snarl thusly on his feed: “Facebag, Facebag on the wall. Who’s the greatest masters team of all?”

Who, indeed?

In 2015, everyone seems to be vying for the title of America’s Greatest Profamateur Masters Racing Team. Is it Surf City Cyclery with its cadre of hardened killers, customized bike stands, personal masseuses and wrapped RV? Is it Monster Media with its gnarled and vicious national champions, its color-coordinated team bikes and its capacious custom canopy? Is it SPY-Giant-RIDE with its 80-man team, each rider armed with his own personal collection of fancy sunglasses, and its omnipresent armada of rolling wrapped team vehicles?

Alas and alack, it is none of these. The greatest masters racing team of all time was Labor Power. Driven by the power hungry and depraved mind of Max Kash Agro, this collection of weird, antisocial, and utterly bizarre misfits created the mold for the modern profamateur masters team and then smashed it, along with Max’s hip, irrevocably in 2006 — never to be recreated or even vaguely approached.

Team of Rivals

Team of Rivals

The story began in 1983 or 1984 as I was pedaling around the track at Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas, when I first met Roger. He had an orange Viner. He raced a bit but aside from being reputedly “mean as a rattlesnake” there was little to suggest that less than a decade later he would burst onto the scene as the millionaire financier of Labor Power.

By the time he had been evicted from Texas and relocated to his Shangri-La in San Juan Capistrano, he had already invented the key elements of the profamateur masters bike team: Fancy Euro car with a decal, garish team clothing, “deals” for the team members, and teamwork that even today few teams can begin to approach.

In keeping with Roger’s ethos of “winning isn’t the only thing, it’s what I pay you to do,” Labor Power put together a cadre of racers who still make themselves known as the elite of the leaky prostates. Chris Walker, Louie Amelburu, and Greg Leibert are just three of the old Labor Power crew who still dominate when they show up to race.

Others have gone on to their reward or faded from view: Chris Hipp dead, Dave Worthington retired, Mark Scott mostly retired, and Chris Hahn still racing but only when he feels like it. Among them, the stalwarts of Labor Power amassed a record that is truly beyond compare, and what’s more incredible, they did it without any real suspicion of doping.

Consider this: In 1999 the team scored 40 wins and 78 podiums, including two state crit titles and a silver medal on the road. The next year Labor Power upped their tally to 42 wins and 95 podiums including state TT and road titles, wins at the Cascade Classic, and victories in every marquee masters event in California. In 2001 the team notched 42 wins, a world masters road title in Austria, and a gold medal at the Pan-Am masters championships. In 2002 Butch Stinson alone earned 31 victories as the team rolled up a mind-boggling total of 120 wins for the year. With 103 victories in 2003, the team had nothing left to win. So, dropping down to a “mere” 37 first place finishes in 2004, Labor Power masters racer Chris Walker won the elite men’s national road race at age 42.

By 2005 the team was falling apart, and so was team leader Roger Worthington’s hip. Labor Power officially disbanded in 2006.

What possibly explains this run of dominance, stretching from roughly 1995 to 2005? First of all, Labor Power’s guiding motto was “Win.” The team would block and sacrifice if it had a rider in the break, but that rider knew that 2nd place was unacceptable. There were no glory breakaways with Labor Power, where a rider finished sixth out of six riders as his team sacrificed in the rear. If you were going to ride the break you’d better not only have a plan to win, you’d better execute it to perfection. The fear of failure was driven by the manic despotism of MKA, and it worked.

Second, Labor Power, with one or two glaring exceptions, didn’t take wankers. If you were a proven winner you might get a ride with Labor Power. There were no bro deals. If you rode on Labor Power it was because you were either a closer or you were a closer. People weren’t recruited because of their ability to help, or work, or fetch water bottles. They got a ride because they knew how to cross the line first.

Third, Labor Power intimidated. They invented the cycling blog when things were still done on paper. The created the first mad-man race reports. The fecund and off-the-reservation mind of Roger Worthington made fun of everything, lampooned the enemy, lauded himself, and backed it up with vicious-but-fair, take-no-prisoners race strategy.

Fourth, Labor Power was ugly. Their uniforms were designed by Chris Hipp, a guy who had zero artistic talent and several galaxies’ worth of racing ability. Matching Hipp’s bad art with MKA’s bad taste, Labor Power designed jerseys that are notable even today for their garish ugliness and brashly bad mixture of offending colors. Yet the ugliness had an effect: When you lined up against the twisted minds of Labor Power you not only had to deal with the yelling, the intimidation, the race savvy, the steely legs and the cunning minds, but you also had to try and un-see the awful combination of colors that makes Monster Media’s kits look almost attractive.

Fifth, Labor Power had fun. It wasn’t the fun of “we gave it our best,” it was the fun of a gang of blood-soaked Mongol warriors, dripping in gore and sated from the spoils of razing a village, beheading the elderly, and selling everyone else off into slavery.

Sixth, Labor Power had money. Roger, despite being one of the cheapest, most tight-fisted people on earth, knew that to run a masters bike team it would cost money, and to that effect he made sure that at the end of each year his racers received the tiny pittance in shared winnings that are enough to keep an elite old bike racer cozy and warm in a cardboard box. For the amount of money that masters teams spend today, Labor Power could have outfitted a small country of bike racers.

So the next time you’re feeling good about your race results, or you’re thinking that the team is on its way to a winning season, take a moment to peruse the details of what is unquestionably the weirdest, whackiest, winningest masters racing team of all time: Labor.

END

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