A shitty little sport

May 24, 2017 § 26 Comments

If there is a lamer sport than pro cycling, I hope to never watch it. Because the most exciting, dramatic, challenging, lungbusting leg of cycling’s most legendary stage race was decided today by a poopy diaper.

Say it isn’t so. And even if you say it isn’t so, Laurens Ten Dam will: “I think you all saw what happened on television, right? He had to shit,” said Ten Dam, commenting on the decisive move in the race, a move which involved the lower gastrointestinal tract.

How can you explain that to Grandma? She understands the vague basics behind the Cubbies, the Patriots, and the Spurs. “One team won because the other team scored more points, Grandma.”

“Oh, I see,” she says, briefly looking up from her knitting to see a tall, athletic looking fellow named Flubbs or Crowley or Hockinspittle doing something athletic with a ball. Everyone roars and the points on the scoreboard change. She goes back to her knitting until you prod her again. She looks up, new numbers. Even Grandma gets it. The nice fellows in the yellow suits got more points than the other nice fellows in the blue suits, so they won.

Contrast that with yesterday’s Giro d’Italia. “Hey, look Grandma! The fellow whose name I can’t pronounce just took off his shorts and is crapping behind a bush! Now the others are attacking! The decisive bowel movement of the race has begun!”

Grandma doesn’t look up, she looks away, mortified that you watch such filth, and unable to understand how pooping behind a bush is a sport. “Don’t they have port-a-potties for that?” she asks. “Even though it’s Italy?”

Then you fall into a long explanation about the “etiquette” of pro cycling, and whether those behind in the GC who are now off the front have an obligation to wait for the race leader like Tortellini did in ’37 when Effluvia, who was in the lead by ten seconds, flatted on the Mortirolo, and then on the descent in the ice storm when Fettucine slid out and fell off the 1,000-meter cliff, Effluvia, who had regained the lead, sent his sister’s third cousin Panini back to hoist Fettucine out of the crevasse, and as the patron of the peloton Effluvia then ordered Tagliatelle, Linguine, and Spätzle to slow the tempo until Fettucine regained the peloton and was able to help his team leader Tortellini, who had broken a fork and needed help with the bellows to fire up the forge down in the village in order to repair his bike. But after this gallant gesture, when Tortellini rejoined the leaders, he attacked Effluvia, who had stopped to complete some masonry on a cathedral, and ended up winning the stage and the race by a mere eleven seconds, which was almost exactly the amount of time that Effluvia had had when he flatted back at the bottom of the Mortirolo. And therefore, cycling tifosi have argued ever since about exactly when it is appropriate to win the race with a heroic attack and when it is instead appropriate to quit racing and let the other guy win because of random dumb luck. “That’s the whole thing about etiquette in cycling, Grandma,” you say.

“If they had any etiquette at all they wouldn’t be doing their business on the side of the road, and the t.v. certainly wouldn’t be broadcasting it,” Grandma says angrily. “And why does everyone in the race sound like the menu at the Olive Garden?”

As usual, Grandma is always right.



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Super Tink!

May 18, 2017 § 13 Comments

South Bay bike racer Kristabel Doebel-Hickok turned heads and blew minds a few days ago when she finished fourth overall in the women’s Pro Tour Amgen Tour of California, a race in which she got third on the queen stage and wore the best climber’s jersey for most of the race. As a fourth year professional riding for Cylance, she’s having her best season ever.


Queen Stage, Amgen Tour of California. Photo used with permission, courtesy of Cylance Pro Cycling.

So I called up Kristabel to talk with her about the race.

CitSB: How did the race unfold?

KDH: I didn’t expect a top five in GC going into the race. You don’t try any harder in any particular race; I tried that hard at Punchbowl, too. It was the same effort I always give, with a different result. It was nice to be back with a full team and support at a world tour race! Afterwards I have a fun week ahead and we all have a little break due to the Philly cancellation.

CitSB: How was each stage?

KDH: The first stage ended on a 5-minute climb; I was 5th on the stage. Stage 2 had a big climb and finished on small one; I got third and moved up to fourth on the GC. Stage 3 was completely flat but windy and the Euro teams created echelons; it was not easy but with time bonuses the fifth GC woman moved up, so I dropped to 5th. On Stage 4 the woman who was third on GC finished further back, so I moved back up. I was three seconds off the final GC podium but in the final stage there were time bonuses and the woman I had to beat is a great sprinter so it was a far reach for the team to line out for me to beat her in the finish. I was on the podium after the second stage, and on the flat stages you protect the GC, while the team was looking for sprint finishes for my teammate Kirsten on the flat stages.

CitSB: How did the super hilly second stage unfold?

KDH: It started atop a ski resort, 34 degrees, and started with a downhill neutral. My coach warned me about clothing because once you get cold it’s really hard to get full power back. I went to the line fully dressed and the sun came out. The first climb is twenty minutes into the race, so I tossed my rain jacket at the start to the soigneur, but the climb wasn’t raced hard, and there were flat sections and open windy areas where echelons formed, totally unexpected, and if you’re in a bad position you’d never see the leaders again if it happened in Belgium. It was really hard going to the next climb, I was frozen, didn’t eat or drink enough, and Kirsten helped me position while Boels drove it hard and I followed, while the road leveled, pitched back up, and finally I went to the front because the team plan was for me to see what I could do.

I doubted it in the moment because it was windy and Boels had made it so hard but I decided it was better to try and fail than not try, so I went to front and rode steady hard for a bit and then a big attack came off my wheel, I followed it, there were a few more attacks, I followed, and after Hall and van Breggen attacked I couldn’t follow, they went up the road halfway up the climb, and with 5k to go I was with Guarnier, who was in yellow, with a group of other really strong riders and I realized I wasn’t going to leave that group so I sat and saved until the finishing climb. From the base there’s three straightaways and on the second one I thought, “You gotta try now,” and I had quite a bit left and attacked hard and ten seconds after I jumped the radio said, “You can go now!” but I’d already gone and then my director said, “Go full gas!”

It’s a long way from the bottom, and with probably 500m to go I exploded and looked back and even though there was a big gap, Ruth was coming fast so I put my head down and went all the way to the line and that’s how I got third. I was second in the QOM points but wore the climber’s jersey because the yellow jersey can’t wear both, and I got to wear it all week!

CitSB: Where are you in your development as a pro?

KDH: This is my fourth season and there are so many aspects to the sport, physical and mental. I made a big jump two years ago when I changed coaches and training, and I saw my numbers go up a ton, but now it’s all small improvements which is fun but there are no more massive gains and all the other aspects get so much more important. Aspects such as eating, drinking, and dressing are much bigger than any physical gains you can get at this point. There’s lots of room for improvement but I’m starting to see my capabilities, it’s just a matter of getting it out of me. I’m learning to work with teammates, using strategy, putting the pieces together, now that I have all the pieces!

Last year I did more Euro classics, was really thrown into the deep end, but my ATOC success was from last year’s hard work. This year the team took a step back to make sure I was healthy in and one piece and not doing so many hard cold races, it was a different approach. I’m going Europe for the Giro and other races later in the season.

CitSB: What’s important for a young woman who wants to race as a pro?

KDH: First, you have to understand what it means to race professionally and what sacrifice is and what it will take. When I first started riding, Greg Seyranian asked me, “Do you want to do this professionally?” but I had no idea what it meant. In my first two weeks of riding someone also said, “You’re gonna crash and if you don’t accept that you should get out now.” It has taken more than I ever expected but has put a lot into my life I couldn’t have imagined. I’d tell the young rider to keep challenging yourself. My first Boulevard road race was as important to me then as the ATOC is today. Every race I wanted to win and really go for it, but at the same time I had to step back and learn. I had enough disasters to wonder, “What’s going on? What changes do I have to make to get better?” And you have to this analysis even when you have success.

CitSB: What’s the learning process like?

KDH: As a team we said, “Let’s review after ATOC, good job but what can we do better?” For me? Order new shoes!

You have to keep learning and not settle in. Some teams are domestic, some are Euro; there are lots of ways to do pro cycling and a young rider should understand that, too. For me, I want to see what I can do. I won’t be done racing until I know “That’s everything I had and that’s as good as I could have been, that’s what I’m made of, that’s what’s inside me.”

I love racing in the US, it’s my home, there’s less crashing, but the highest level of the sport is in Europe. Of course the ATOC is at that same high level but generally you have to go to Europe and do World Tour races and that’s where you really get to test yourself. I’m enjoying it now. I have to go all in. 80% isn’t enough and I’ve always been that way. I’m a one-track person, I give something my all and go on to the next thing. After cycling I’ll be in another career and be just as focused but now it’s where can I go? I don’t know where that endpoint is in cycling. For example, people have decided I’m a climber. Sure, I climb well, but I don’t know if three years from now I’ll be just a climber.

CitSB: What would you tell a beginner?

KDH: I’d say that group rides in the South Bay and West Side were way harder than my first road race. I was up the whole night beforehand, afraid about clipping in. But the race started and they clipped in just like on a group ride. Why did I worry about that? If you can ride with the South Bay rides you can race with Cat 3/4 women, no question. And I’d also say that the things you think are stressful are no more stressful than on a group ride, it’s just that the stakes are a little higher because it’s a race.

CitSB: What’s the environment like for women racers?

KDH: It’s good. From the time I was an amateur there were pros who reached out and created opportunities for me. My first big stage race was Redlands, and Amber Neben offered me a spot on her composite team, and I won the amateur jersey and got a ride with Tibco. There are people who want to help up-and-coming racers. A few would rather you leave but mostly women want to grow the sport and encourage others. Look for those people who want to help and approach those who want to help. You don’t need it from the whole peloton, just from a few. Lots of races are stepping stones and then bigger races like San Dimas Stage Race that are local but have a taste of pro racing and you take it bit by bit and challenge yourself.

CitSB: How has your physiology changed as you’ve developed from beginner to elite amateur to professional?

KDH: Running, where I got started, was drastically different from cycling. In running you can get lighter and lighter and only get benefits; a year or two and you’re flying. In cycling, losing weight and getting that thin is short lived because you lose power and strength and there are even more side effects when you try to walk to the fine line of getting to race weight. I eventually had to decide that I didn’t want or need a runner’s build for cycling. My new coach, Dean Golich, emphasized power, being strong, and skills. He was tough on me about everything. If you just train hard your body will go where it wants. You can ride for thirty hours up and down PCH all you want at a deficit, underweight, and you’ll be fine more or less, but to do max intervals and push your body you have to have reserves and be healthy and strong, especially in the spring classics where you’re not getting sick and you have to be more well rounded, and with that kind of training you develop more cycling specific muscles. It’s been a natural progression, so that now I keep focused on the important gains–not losing a few pounds, but things like eating/drinking/dressing right, or figuring out where I made mistakes. It’s not a matter of a couple of pounds. The pro life is also a lot of hard travel, and the lifestyle takes a lot too, a different body and mind.

CitSB: How long is your season?

KDH: February to August for sure, through September and October if possible.

CitSB: What does your off season look like?

KDH: My post season? Two days rest and coach tells me what to do! No, we take a break and a little time completely off bike, do some walking and then a little running. Last off season was the polar opposite from my usual off season. No long easy distances, we worked on my weaknesses, high intensity. I did some long distances here in California, where it’s warm and sunny, but worked on weaknesses and improvement.

CitSB: What about mental recovery?

KDH: I don’t go crazy while taking physical recovery. It’s difficult to get much mental recovery because I’m such a one-track person and don’t really need it, but on holidays I’ll see family, enjoy things outside cycling. No racing in the off season is the best mental recovery because it removes the stress. Leave me with my bike and I’ll recover; easy riding doesn’t take anything away from recovery. Some riders need one month off, they don’t even want to look at their bikes, but for me, after a few days off I’m looking at my bike again.

CitSB: What high points are you seeking for 2017?

KDH: I want to finish the year with results at the Giro. That was my big goal last year but I crashed a lot and separated my shoulder. I’d like to have a good block of racing in Europe with good results. Some good results wouldn’t be the end of my season but if they were highlights I’d be happy.



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Fake race report

April 28, 2017 § 5 Comments

Telo is pretty much a fake race, but it’s so gnarly, and such a good lab for learning how badly you suck that it deserves its own fake race report.

A really good race report needs to be simple. This one sure is: “Josh Alverson countered on Lap Two and soloed for the last 40 minutes.”

In between the start and the finish there were some teachable moments. One of them was that people don’t like wind very much. It was howling. It was so awful that only about fifteen people showed up.

So, top twenty!!!!

I think racing in the wind makes you better. You either get stronger by fighting the wind, or you get smarter by hiding from it and metering your efforts, or you improve your echelon/paceline skills. Sometimes all of these happen.

Josh had two breakmates at different times, but he rode them both off his wheel. I ended up in the first chase group with Aaron, Eric, and Dan Cobley. Dan was the strongest guy by far and he got us within twelve seconds before Josh nailed the coffin lid shut and pulled away.

Aaron rode the smartest, because he is the smartest. With a teammate up the road he rotated through and immediately swung over. If the three of us could bring back his teammate Josh, fine with him; he’d wax us in the finish. Which he did.

With five laps to go it became clear that we weren’t catching Josh. Dan and I are teammates but we didn’t ride that way. Eric and Aaron are both very fast so our only hope would have been to start attacking them and hope to get away. Instead we kept hammering at a pretty steady pace.

Funny how guys can be too tired to pull hard but when you round that final corner they catch a second wind. Good bike racing is always strategic. I love racing with guys who can think and race simultaneously. It’s very hard to do and I wish I could.

I got fourth for the second time in two weeks. Forever Fourth, or something like that.

David Wells and Emily did the best recap of all, which describes every Telo I’ve ever done, and none more so than this past Tuesday. I now share with you below:



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April 26, 2017 § 12 Comments

I hope you like reading about Steve Tilford and the things he said, wrote, and did. Since his death I can’t stop thinking about him, which is weird because I only met him twice. The more I read, combing through his War and Peace of-a-blog, the more things stand out and make me think.

Steve wrote a lot about risk, indirectly and indirectly, something especially germane to cyclists in general and road cyclists in particular. Here’s one of his quotes:

We hate to admit it, but we don’t have control of our lives minute by minute. This is the way in bicycle racing. And in the way in life. The best way I know to do exceptional things in the sport, or in life, is to live a bit on the risky side. Get out of your comfort level. Raise your comfort level. In racing, hopefully, this will become your new base, your new comfort level, and this will allow you to progress in the sport. In life, it is a way to gain new experiences and to realize that the barriers that were holding you back were really not there at all.

Steve was superficially the archetypal big risk taker, or so it seems when you read through the things he experienced, tried, failed at, and conquered. But in the most basic way he wasn’t a big risk taker. He was a very careful guy. He did things after careful preparation, he never leaped blindly with no plan or idea or concern about the possible outcomes, and he always reevaluated and used what he learned to hone his approach the next time.

For him, risk wasn’t something to be avoided. It was something to be embraced, analyzed, and wary of, all at the same time.

Steve engaged in a hugely risky sport and survived it by constantly reducing risk. Checking equipment, evaluating the course, evaluating himself, evaluating the competition, taking calculated risks … all these things allowed him to thrive and survive.

What’s interesting is that Steve died not as the result of an incident on his bike, but while driving. In a way, this kind of makes sense. Driving is the riskiest thing any of us will ever do. No matter how good you are, how careful you are, or how experienced you are, Interstate travel over long distances carries with it so many risks that are so difficult to mitigate, especially when you do it for the millions of miles that Steve did. Crisscrossing the US in a van is so boring compared to bike racing, but it was ultimately the hazard that ended Steve’s life. Weather, night time, trucks, and so many other factors all came into play at just the wrong time.

If it had happened to someone else, Steve would never have concluded that we should stop driving, or that we should quit racing, or that we should quit taking risks.

Instead, he would have learned from it and not made the same mistake twice. He didn’t get a do-over. But we do.



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Fondo worlds ?!?

April 22, 2017 § 8 Comments

The UCI did away with masters road world championships and USAC is now encouraging riders to race qualifying gran fondos in order to have a shot at becoming a “gran fondo world champion.”

At first I wondered if they were doing this to fatally poison the delusion of masters racers. Maybe they were thinking that no self-respecting delusional old person would call himself a “gran fondo” anything. By ruining the competition pyramid so that “mature” riders are no longer the base, maybe they were trying to get the competitive focus back where it belongs, on young people.

But then I realized that road racing is still falling off a cliff at the rate of 32.2 feet/sec2, and that’s not going to change by jiggering around the titles for old fart race winners.

Then I thought that maybe someone got really pissed at all these masters world champions. I know several masters world champs and they can smash me without even trying. But maybe it rubbed someone the wrong way.

Maybe they were thinking that a world champion by definition shouldn’t be delimited by the word “masters”? Just like a true World Series of baseball shouldn’t be delimited by the geography of North America, maybe someone got upset about sticking the word “masters” in there next to “world champion.”

Or, I thought, maybe someone got ticked off that the masters worlds champions wear the same arm bands as UCI pro world champs, kind of like trademark infringement. Someone out there in pro UCI Land was afraid the masses will think there’s some equivalency between a rider who wins the elite pro road race and a grandpa who wins the 65+ masters leaky prostate road race?

Perhaps they were upset that when you win a masters world title in anything, you’re not winning based on ability, you’re winning it on ability plus the artificial limiter of age. It’s a stacked deck, a grossly un-level playing field because you’ve excluded reams of people who could beat you like a drum, people who are so much better than you, you’d be dropped after mile one.

They might have complained that if you’re going to have world championships based on age, why not also do them based on race, or native language? Or better yet, further refine it based on weight + age, like Strava. And why stop there? Why not name people world champions of certain Strava segments? Maybe they were scared we would have thousands of world champions every year, each one entitled to wear the same UCI stripes that Eddy once wore. “Wanky McWankster, UCI World Champion of The Driveway In My Gated Community Segment.” Bands, please.

However, none of those explanations panned out. I think the UCI looked at the amazing number of people who do grand fondues and decided they wanted a piece of the action. That certainly fits with USAC’s new motto of “be everything to everyone.” And as goofy as being a fondue champ sounds to the average bike racer, most fondue participants don’t race bikes at all and don’t want to.

They want to do grand fondues, and to them it’s way more prestigious to win the NYC GF than the East Dumblecrook Jakeleg Crit.

What’s awesome about the new Gran Fondo Worlds is that the words “grand fondue” put an emphasis on what the participants of these events really are: Hobby cyclists who are very serious and very good, and especially good when compared to people near them in age. Having the words “gran fondo” make it clear that no matter how seriously the athlete takes it, in the end, this is all just for fun. Gran fun.

No cyclist I know is going to brag about being a grand fondue world champion. Instead, they’ll do the race, get the result they get, and come back from what was a fun vacation in Italy or wherever with their attitude in the right place: They did a good race, got a good result, and are ready to move on to the next one. In fact, I’m doing Phil’s Cookie Fondue in October.

Minus the arm bands. Please.



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Washed up seals

April 20, 2017 § 16 Comments


“When I was watching, I almost couldn’t understand how that small gap could be so nearly impossible to close. But I did understand because that gap has been in front of me so many times before. The cool thing is when you do close it.” — Steve Tilford.

I had great legs for Telo last night, which I chalk up to the last two weeks of time-trail training. It seems that 60-minute efforts are thoroughly miserable but they make you stronger. And they do help you close a gap.

Before the race I told Derek that I had great legs. “The first rule of having great legs is to never tell anyone you have great legs.”

“My legs feel awful,” I said.

“Really?” Derek asked.

Bike racing has lots of rules. One of the rules is don’t buy a poster from http://www.allposters.com unless you see it first. I have always liked Albert Bierstadt even though he is considered hokey by real art lovers. His work is overdone and drippy and maudlin, supposedly. I love his pictures because he really did paint the beauty of the West. If you think it’s overdone, that’s because you’ve never seen nature in its grandeur. He’s not overdone, you’re underdone.

Anyway, I bought one of his paintings called “Seal Rock.” I bought the poster for $10 because the painting’s $7,900,000 tag was out of my price range. My daughter and wife immediately said it looked horrible, and it was a pretty lousy reproduction, as if someone had fallen asleep with their finger on the “saturation” button. Still, I wasn’t about to throw away ten bucks so I hung it on the wall.

My daughter looked at it. “Well at least it fits with the other cycling stuff.”

“It does?”

“Aren’t you always talking about clubbing seals?”

She had a great point, and using that clever reasoning we now have another cycling work of art to go with my 1990 World Championship banner and my poster from the 1957 worlds held in Spain. So cycling poster purchase Rule #1 is Make Sure It Is Related to Cycling. And this one was because, seals.

There weren’t many baby seals at Telo yesterday. Mostly they were people I’ve never beaten before. But since I had great legs I planned to beat them anyway.

“What’s your plan?” Eric asked me.

“Hammer from the gun.”

“That’s not a winning plan.”

“What do you suggest?”

“Well, if Frexit shows up, he’s going to win. And Josh or Derek will make the split with him. So one of us covers Josh and the other covers Derek. That way one of us will make the split. They’ll still beat you, of course.”

“Makes sense. What about just following Frexit?”

“He will tire you out then counter while you’re putting a lung back in and you’ll miss the split. Like every week.”


The race started and we went easy for three laps. Then Aaron strung it out. It was a small group, maybe 25 riders, which is bad at Telo because there’s nowhere to hide. The headwind stretch was its usual howling headwind. My legs felt beyond good, like I could go with anything.

Daniel Park started the attacks, and pretty soon Frexit went. I couldn’t contain my enthusiasm so I forgot about marking Derek and Josh and went with him. It was hard but I was okay. Then there were a few more counters and we were about thirty minutes in and suddenly I wasn’t okay. Just as I came off the front a huge counter came with Frexit, Derek, Eric, Josh, Bader, and everyone else in a line, one of those grim-faced lines.

I got dropped and was in a chase group of about ten riders. We were all pinned. The leaders were about fifteen riders or so and they simply vanished. I recovered a little and started rotating hard along with Jon Paris and Tony Wang. Then Scott Torrence began putting in some massive efforts. He had been following wheels and had a lot in the tank. He finally put in one huge pull about the time that the leaders sat up.

That effort closed the gap and as we rushed up onto the tail of the leaders I could see that they were all sitting up and gassed. It was a case of a break going so hard it tired itself out, or it had too many people to get organized, or both. We caught them just before the right-hander into the driving headwind, so I swung wide and kept punching, which turned out to be the winning move, just not for me.

I was now in a break with Derek and Attila, who is ostensibly my teammate, but neither one of us can sprint. Then David Wells came across a hellish gap solo which made it 3-to-1 but still terrible odds because although Heavy D has a good finish, he’s not as fast as Derek.

We were in tactical hell. If I quit driving the break we’d get caught by Frexit, Brexit, Aaron, and Eric and my meaningless fourth place would go to meaningless-minus-four-places eighth. It’s funny the kind of loser math you do when you’re about to get your ass kicked. But if I kept my foot on the gas Derek would cream us in the sprint. He had no incentive to drive the break because he had two teammates in back, one of whom could likely close the deal. However, he wanted to keep the break going just enough to stay away from Frexit, who’d beaten him soundly last week, especially since the chance of losing to the three of us on Team Lizard Collectors was zero.

This is where if I’d have been a bike racer I would have taken the risk of getting caught and forced Derek to work harder. Instead I attacked him, which he easily followed, and neither of my teammates was able to counter, so we were back where we started, with the added disadvantage of having removed all doubt from Derek’s mind as to our respective energy levels.

On the final lap it was hopeless, so I told Attila I’d lead him out but he’d have to close the deal. That was wasted air, of course, because the only deal he closed was beating me for third. Derek attacked before the end of the chicane and came through the last turn clear. Heavy D gave him a run for a little while but Derek’s kick was too much.

The rest of the field, at least the part that hadn’t quit, finished in twos and threes. Everyone’s face looked green. I’m certain that’s the first time I’ve ever beaten Frexit or Brexit. Even though it seemed successful from the vantage point of instigating the break, driving the break, and getting one of my best Telo finishes ever, it was still loser math, fourth out of four with three teammates in the break.

I’ll keep doing the TT practice and see if that helps. That’s the first time I’ve made the split at Telo in about a year. But as Derek likes to say, the determining factor in winning any race isn’t how you ride, it’s who shows up. Maybe next time I’ll send out a group email telling everyone that the race has been moved to Wednesday.



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