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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Time crawls when you’re not having fun

January 10, 2016 § 15 Comments

tuttle_creek

The customer has spoken when it comes to the kind of race they like:

  1. Close to home.
  2. Easy and safe to finish.
  3. Mathematical chance of victory.

Oddly, when these people put on their cycling fan hats, they idolize riders who do well in far-flung stage races that are incredibly hard, amazingly dangerous, and virtually impossible to win. This fits the psychological profile of “I want to be like that person without all work.”

While looking over the SCNCA race calendar for 2016, I’d like to make a recommendation for a race that you certainly have not done. I can say that with confidence because  last year the combined field including all categories and age groups had about fifteen people. All but five or six quit somewhere along the way.

This race is the immoral Tuttle Creek road race, slotted for February 6th in Lone Pine, at the foot of the eastern Sierras. I will tell you this: It’s harder than any other race on the calendar, and the first separation will occur within the first fifteen minutes. Worse news? You won’t be in the split. Instead, you and I will be off the back, then further off the back, and then quite simply alone.

The scenery was magnificent; incredible stone formations was set off against the gigantic Sierras themselves, and the iron gray sky lent a hardness to the atmosphere that perfectly matched the grueling nature of the day.

The climbing in this race was far harder than UCLA Punchbowl, Boulevard, or Vlees Huis. The hills were steep and punchy, long and grinding, and mostly endless. The downhill was easy and straight and safe and fast, but it ended much too quickly. Rain is always a possibility in February, and with El Nino it could easily be pouring, or, with a few degrees drop in temperature, could morph into freezing rain, sleet, or snow.

One of the loneliest moments in my life on a bike occurred during this race, with no one behind me for miles, no one visible ahead of me for miles, and the lone sign of a bike race was race promoter Steve standing on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere asking me if I wanted a gel, when what I desperately wanted was to quit and a blanket.

So why do it?

The first reason is that it supports the whacky promoter, a/k/a Motorcycle Steve, who you see zooming around on his motorcycle as a race official. Races are tough to put on, especially hard-ass road races far from LA that can be cold, or wet, or snowy, yet miserable even in the best conditions given the brutality of the course.

The second reason is that this kind of race promotes event diversity. If you have EVER complained about “too many crits,” you should nut up and do this bastard. If you finish you will count it among your best finishes ever.

The third reason is that the SCNCA calendar in 2016 has put the Decrepit Persons Bragging Event and State Championship early, early, early in the season. Getting the road fitness you will need to do well at the State Bragfest will depend on doing more than PCKRR with its baby climb, and maybe Boulevard. Tuttle Creek will whip you into shape and is a far better race than anything San Dimas has ever put on in terms of difficulty.

But the best reason of all is that finishing the event shortly before dark, wrung out, frozen to the core, and depleted of all precious bodily fluids, you get to tank up on a very ordinary cheeseburger at the cafe in Lone Pine that nonetheless tastes like the finest meal ever made. Trust me. It’s worth it.

END

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If it’s broke, fix it

January 6, 2016 § 26 Comments

Two things you can do to help fix the broke-down, dysfunctional mess that is the SCNCA:

  1. Vote to approve the amended bylaws.
  2. Nominate yourself or some other poor sap for one of the nine board of directors slots.
  3. Post this info on Facebag or your club website.

Of course nothing is that simple. YOU can’t actually vote to approve the bylaws. That can only be done by the designated representative of your club, and your club has to be a USAC and an SCNCA member. Sound complicated? That’s because it is.

So here’s what you do:

  1. Send this link to the boss man or boss woman of your club.
  2. Although your club should have already received a ballot, if they have not, contact Tom Fitzgibbon at tfitz1@me.com.

Voting on the amended bylaws is super important and has to be done by January 9. That’s Saturday. What is the amendment? It will allow SCNCA to communicate with its members (who are clubs, not individual racers) electronically, and will allow them to vote electronically. This means that going forward the SCNCA can reorganize without having to spend huge chunks of its budget on mail notifications as required by current bylaws.

If the bylaws are amended, SCNCA will have an electronic election for its new board of directors. The timeline for this, however, is super short. Fortunately, the self-nomination process is working. Many people have self-nominated, and there are now more candidates than have ever before run, but the deadline is January 10. So here’s what you do:

  1. Send your name to perfectday4j@gmail.com and announce your candidacy. You can even put “I’m a dope” in the subject line.
  2. Include a brief description of why you want the job and what your qualifications are. (Example: “I like to get screamed at by people; 28 years of marriage.”)
  3. Your club will receive an electronic voting link after the nominating period closes.
  4. Wait for election results on January 23.

In case I haven’t made it clear, please make sure this is brought to the attention of your club president. The deadlines are upon us and voting for change is desperately needed at SCNCA.

How badly is it needed?

This reform movement began when local cyclist and attorney David Huntsman sent this letter to the SCNCA. The issues raised in the letter, which basically centered around whether SCNCA’s trustees have been acting in a legal manner, and whether or not they have been fulfilling their fiduciary duties to the organization, led SCNCA to hire a lawyer.

And don’t come pissing and moaning to me about “wasting your money on a lawyer.” If SCNCA had been advised properly in the beginning we wouldn’t be where we are today. And if you don’t like lawyers and law, then there is a spot for you on the Malheur Wildlife Refuge Racing Team. And … there’s money at stake. SCNCA has spent (frittered away?) hundreds of thousands of dollars since its inception in 1998.

The attorney retained by SCNCA for peanuts, Tom Fitzgibbon of Velo Club LaGrange, has been racing for decades, served on VCLG’s board for years, and is a person for whom I have a lot of respect. Since he’s been hired by SCNCA, he represents the organization, not the individual interests of the trustees. This means that issues about how the organization is run and how its finances are managed will be examined by someone whose job it is to help make SCNCA better. And if things aren’t being done legally or properly, it’s Tom’s job to deliver the bad news so that SCNCA can start doing what it gets paid to do.

Nimble decision making and a new board of directors are crucial first steps if SCNCA is ever going to fulfill its mission of advancing racing in SoCal. David Huntsman is one of the nominees for the board of trustees, and he’s got my vote; I hope he gets yours.

See-through is best

The current SCNCA way of conducting business is opaque. There are no publicly available financials aside from a drop-down link on the web site’s “About” tab that says “Financials.” I dare you to click on it.

In addition to a steamed-glass approach to finances, which in my mind equates to shoddiness at best, chicanery at worst, SCNCA doesn’t make the records of its meetings public. Although it’s been around since 1998, there are only two meeting minutes posted under the “About” section; both of them from late last year, just around the time that Huntsman began asking pointed questions about the board’s operations.

My estimate is that with about 7,000 licensees in the district, SCNCA should be getting somewhere between $35,000 and $70,000 from USAC every year. Now although that may not seem like a lot of money, oh, wait, YES IT SURE FUCKING DOES.

How that money is spent should be transparent. With Fitzgibbon as counsel and a new board coming in, we can expect transparency. In fact, we should demand it.

Thanks where thanks are due

Although it’s easy to poke holes in the mismanagement and glaring failures of SCNCA, it’s important to also give thanks. There are many board members over the years who have given heart and soul to making bike racing here a fun and exciting sport. People like Greg Aden have done their level best and deserve our thanks.

Don’t ever call me an optimist, but as far as the upcoming changes at SCNCA go, I can say that it’s absolutely headed in the right direction. Now, please go vote. Even though, technically, you can’t.

END

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Turning back the clock

January 5, 2016 § 27 Comments

One of the recurring themes here at CitSB is the crushing inevitability of age, decay, and death, with an especial emphasis on the fact that cycling doesn’t make you young and that if you feel better at 50 than you did at 25 you must have felt like a warmed over dunghill when you were 25.

Despite this grimly realistic view of the impersonal impact that physics have on our random existence, for some strange reason I am unable to accept the truth no matter how hard I preach it. Hence my decision to submit an upgrade application to USAC last year.

Now, then. The last time I was a Cat 2 was in 1986. For most of the rest of that century I lived in Japan and Germany, and the bike racing I did didn’t require a US license. When I finally returned to the US and tried to get my old Cat 2 license back, they said, “Sure. What was your old license number?”

“I dunno.”

“When did you last have it?”

“1986.”

“Oh … ”

“Oh, what?”

“When we changed to USAC from USCF we also changed computer systems and lost all our old records. But give us your name and we’ll look.”

Turns out I never existed, but after begging and pleading  with the SCNCA district rep they agreed to let me start off as a Cat 4 and skip the certain-death Cat 5 events for the almost-certain-death Cat 4 ones.

What amazed me was how hard the racing was, and how weak I had become. Once I upgraded to Cat 3 and could do masters racing, I was amazed even more. The “ex-everything” masters category here in SoCal, which includes ex-pros, ex-elite national champions, ex-world champions and Olympian medalists, is also rife with current age-graded national champs, world champs, and pharmaceutical champs.

After several years of careful point-hoarding I finally submitted my upgrade request last year, which was promptly denied. “Your results are a fuggin’ joke. ZERO points for your 2nd place finish at Tuttle Creek RR because it only had TWO FUGGIN’ ENTRANTS you sandbaggin’ sack of Geritol.”

“Fuck it,” I said, “who cares? It’s not like I’ll ever do a Cat 2 race. Even I have too much self-respect to get smeared by grandchildren.” In fact, word on the street here has always been that Cat 2 racing has all of the disadvantages of racing with Cat 1’s (living with your girlfriend or your parents or in a shopping cart) and none of the benefits of racing with Cat 3’s (beating up on weak and defenseless people who have real jobs except for Surfer Dan).

So I went on my merry way.

Imagine my surprise today when I got an email from my club’s race coordinator. “Dude!” he wrote. “I just downloaded all of our riders’ racing info from USAC and saw you’re a Cat 2! Congrats!”

Knowing that there must be some mistake I looked it up. Sure enough, there it was: “Road: 2.”

I tried to jump up and down to celebrate but my cracked pelvis which hasn’t healed hurt too badly to manage more than a slow-motion hop. Then I forgot what I was celebrating. Finally, Ms. WM came in to tell me to stop making such a racket.

“You onna jumpin’ itsa gonna make runny bowels again,” she said.

I sat back down and looked again at the computer screen. Would I actually enter a Cat 2 race now, with, like, you know, actual young people? Or would I do what every masters profamateur does, which is cat up strictly for bragging rights while continuing to do the leaky prostate events?

Easiest decision I’ve had to make all year.

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1986 … it was a very good year.

END

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