Race ready

June 15, 2015 § 14 Comments

When people sniffing around the edges of competitive cycling ask me about bike racing, I always tell them this: Preparation is key.

Not, of course, that there are any such people, but if there were that is what I would tell them.

And of all the critical preparations, none is more important than nutrition. Since Mrs. WM abandoned me for a 3-month orgy of Japanese food and home cooking courtesy of her mom, the world’s best cook in a nation of great cooks, I have been making do admirably because nutritional preparation is key to major races like the CBR crit #6.

This is a major race even though, despite diligently promoting the hell out of it and shaking the crust off my teammates to get them to show up, CHRIS LOTTS STILL HASN’T COMPED A SINGLE FUGGIN’ RACE ENTRY.

Anyway, I wanted to do well at this race and so I prepared nutritionally for it. However, the day before the race we were running low on food, well, actually we’ve been running low on food for a long time now since I’ve decided to boycott the supermarket until we eat through the stores that MRS. WM HAD LAID UP IN ANTICIPATION OF THREE NUCLEAR WINTERS.

This isn’t a contradiction; we are running low on fresh foods but not on flour, for example. You can’t have enough flour, and we don’t not have enough.

A flour for all seasons.

A flour for all seasons.

So sure, it’s going to be hard to eat all that flour, but not as hard as it will be to eat the twelve large cans of salt. So getting ready for the race meant preparing some flour and salt. Fortunately, the one thing Mrs. WM had left an ample supply of was Nestle chocolate chips. She bakes cookies once every three years, so we had twelve bags of chocolate chips in case someone needed to get diabetes over the weekend.

“Honey,” I said before she left, “please don’t go to the store and buy anything. Whatever it is, we have enough.”

“Okay,” she said.

Later that afternoon she came in, loaded down with grocery bags. “Did you just go grocery shopping?” I asked.


“I thought I asked you not to.”

“I didn’t buy any ‘food’ food.”

“What did you buy?”

“Toilet paper and chocolate chips.”

“But we already have twelve bags and I’m on a diet.”

She smiled and unloaded the bags.

The night before the race I took out the flour and butter and sugar and salt and baking soda and vanilla extract and chocolate chips and pecans, and I made a giant bowl of cookie dough for dinner. It was getting late and I didn’t feel like cooking because I wasn’t sure how the oven worked so I took out the peanut butter and Nutella jars and the remainder of the ice cream and put it all on top of the cookie dough and ate a couple of big bowls and drank some milk and a lot of coffee and then I went to bed.

The next morning I didn’t feel very good but I felt worse after breakfast, which was more cookie dough. For vegetables I sauteed an onion and some garlic and mixed it with Cheerios because I’d drunk all the milk the night before.

At the bike race I saw Prez, the most well prepared bike racer in history. He always gets to the race early to warm up, and this time was no exception. He’d arrived eight whole minutes before the race started, which is a long time for him. He was in a great mood. “Hey, Wanky,” he said. “Guess what?”


“I forgot my bike bag and don’t have any shoes. And my bike.”

Pretty soon twelve people were scurrying around to find him a pair of shoes. No one would loan him any because his foot fungus is pretty infamous, but a Cat 5 who didn’t know any better offered up a pair of New Bongasnoop Xtra Race Shoes. They were four sizes too big but Prez didn’t care.

“Hey,” he shouted to no one in particular, “does anyone have a helmet I can borrow?”

Someone did, but they knew that no helmet on Prez’s head is safe, so we ended up going up and down the line of parked cars trying to find one that was unlocked. We did and borrowed a really nice $400 POC aero helmet. “I’ll put it back as soon as I’m finished,” Prez said as we checked to make sure the sheriff patrol wasn’t around.

Back at the starting line with one minute to go Prez yelled to the onlookers. “Does anyone have a bike? I forgot my bike.”

He was in fact the only fully kitted out, aero-helmeted guy on the line without a bike. The same Cat 5 guy who just wanted to be nice gave Prez his $10,000 carbon bike with full carbon wheels and 100% carbon. “Be careful!” he said.

“That’s my middle name!” Prez said, pleased that he’d be able to wreck someone else’s machine this weekend.

With two laps to go Prez, who is the key lead-out man for Surf City’s train, roared up through the pack to take control of the lead-out and give his boss, Charon Smith, another lightning bolt pull to victory. “Dammit, Prez!” Charon shouted, “you’re doing it again!”

Prez had boxed in his boss, forced him into the curb, and was about to take out his front wheel. “Sorry!” he said, but not before the sound of screaming, cursing, and twelve broken bikes rent the air. A loose wheel arced overhead, temporarily blotting out the sun. Prez stepped on the gas, took out four people, ran over a pylon, hit a small child on the sidewalk, bounced off a tree, and flipped into a tent. The poor Cat 5’s bike shattered into a billion pieces at the poor kid’s feet.

Prez staggered to his feet, shading his eyes to watch Charon hit the jets and win his 67th victory of the season. As the poor Cat 5 cried inconsolably, sobbing about the five years it had taken him to save up for his bike, Prez stripped off the fungal shoes and patted him on the back. “Don’t worry sonny,” he said, “next time you just need to be a a little bit better prepared.”



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Three days of pain

June 13, 2015 § 4 Comments

The best race series in SoCal happens every year in the vacation resort cities of Buellton and Lompoc, nestled cozily in the Santa Ynez Valley of Santa Barbara County. The 805 Series is promoted by bike racer and all-round good guy Mike Hecker, and as with most bike races that are put on by actual bike racers, it’s a good one, and that doesn’t even get to the more than $38,000 on offer in cash prizes, plus over $7,000 in merchandise.

I’ve done the series the last two years and can vouch for the following:

  1. There will be wind.
  2. The races will run on time.
  3. The prize money is great.
  4. The vibe is even greater.

The 805 is run as an omnium and racers can compete all three days, one day, or two days. The last two years, the second day of racing has been run on the Avenue of the Flags in Buellton. It’s a breakaway course with a long finishing straight and is just moments from the Firestone Brewery, on of California’s best.

The third day’s course is in downtown Lompoc, a very cool little town that really supports this event. The course is technical compared to the typical four-corner crit, but by no means screamingly so. As with the races on Friday and Saturday, wind is always a factor.

Last year after the Saturday race I stopped into a shop for some coffee in Buellton and remarked to the clerk about how windy it was.

“Windy?” she said. “This ain’t windy.”

Maybe not, I thought, but it was blowing at a solid 20 mph.

The small town vibe is enhanced by the beer garden and wine garden that are usually set up across from the finish line in Buellton. From a racing perspective, the races are a fantastic change of venue from the usual, and the fact that the event is run as an omnium makes the racing especially fun.

Pre-registration closes Wednesday night. Don’t miss it!



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Who needs Pescadero?

June 10, 2015 § 55 Comments

Two days ago I ran a little thing about the NCNCA rule that prohibits outsiders, aliens, foreigners, ineligiblers, and anyone south of the Calmason-Caldixon Line from competing in the Elite District Championship Road Race, which is the state championship road race for the State of Northern California, the 51st star sewn onto Old Glory.

I was shocked that my nasty, rude, mean-spirited, offensive, and vitriolic post could possibly upset anyone, but it did, and the unhappy comments poured in, along with a new nickname, “Sparky,” bestowed by one Timothy Burgess, an NCNCA board member, non-racer, and Official Nickname Bestower. He also blessed the comment section with the phrase “penis wagging,” which was frankly a classic. It made me think of a dog, only standing up, sort of.

What was more shocking than the outrage was that anyone in NorCal agreed with me, but apparently two or seven people did. I will have to find out who they are and block them.

After the electrons settled, a couple of things became clear. One, I was wrong about the rule. NCNCA can do whatever they want and no one can stop them. One of the things they want to do — since 2013, as I was told on the phone — is to exclude every P/1/2 rider who doesn’t have “California–NCNCA” listed on their license from competing in their State of Northern California Elite District Championship Road Race, a/k/a the Pescadero RR.

I was wrong because apparently the USAC rule that defines eligibility for state championship road races (US citizen, resident of the state) doesn’t actually mean “state” in the sense of one of the states that makes up the USA. What “state” means, I was told is “racing district” (supporting documentation for this claim was provided by an official who claimed USAC “forgot” to put it in the rule book), which can sometimes be a state but other times can be a “racing district.” There is nothing in the rule book that says this, or that defines a racing district, or that equates such a district with a state, or that says a state championship is an elite district championship, but that doesn’t matter.

What matters is that NCNCA does it this way, and as the promoter so eloquently put it, SoCal riders are *NOT* welcome in the P/1/2 race at Pescadero.

So, I was wrong.

But that’s okay because my post was really about something else. It was about actions that depress rider turnout at races, and many commenters focused instead on whether or not the exclusion was fair, or legitimate, or founded on the USAC rules. Let’s punt the point for the sake of discussion and return to my real motivation, which is to have more people race their bikes in road races. The promoter and others pointed out that Pescadero is just one race and that there are many others in NorCal that anyone can enter. One commenter exuberantly claimed there were “hundreds of race days.”

I doubt that there are hundreds of road races in NorCal each season, but perhaps there are. What I doubt strongly more is that a business model based on insulting, abusing, and excluding potential customers is really very much of a business.

Let’s imagine that a grouchy, irate customer with a blog and a leaky prostate wrote a vitriolic letter to Wal-Mart complaining about lousy service and being made to feel unwelcome. Do you think that the customer service department would tell the person that he was *NOT* welcome at that store, but that there were hundreds of other stores to choose from? Would Wal-Mart call the customer a lousy shopper, or a drug user, or suggest that the customer’s mere presence interfered with the shopping of locals from the neighborhood?

Of course not, and Pescadero is no Wal-Mart. The road racing in NorCal has a bit of the mythical about it, at least when viewed from down here in the SoCal ghetto. People speak about the courses, the aggressive racing, the spectacular scenery, and the high caliber of riders in something close to hushed tones. “This,” they say, “is real road racing.” [Disclosure: They say nothing of the sort about the crits.]

Much of it may be hyperbole, or that hard courses are harder when you’re far from home and don’t know the route, but many guys I respect have vouched for the brutality of NorCal road racing–and always in a good way. It is the hard racing that keeps this tiny cadre coming back, the kind of hard racing that lots of people never even aspire to try. To summarize, it is hard, very hard, and filled with hardness. I don’t know for sure, but would not be surprised to find lots of 100% carbon made fully of carbon there as well.

Whether NorCal is better, or less doped than any other –Cal is beside the point. It’s different, and lots of good riders live and race there, and word gets around about the excellence of the road courses. My own attraction to Pescadero was simple. It’s billed as one of the best and most beautiful and most challenging and most flat-fucking-awesome races in a state (the State of Northern California) that is already known for setting the bar high. On a tour a few years back we had lunch in Pescadero. I’d say it was beautiful but that word is much too poor to reflect the place.

Plus, all-around stud Kevin Metcalfe had a very cool race description of the event.

There was another reason to nut up, book a room, and make the drive, which would have started at 7:00 PM on Friday and required another rider to spell me at the wheel. That reason is simple: SoCal doesn’t have anything comparable this late in the season. In fact, Pescadero breaks a six-week road racing drought in the State of Northern California and the State of Southern California. If you want a tough, 75-mile masters road race, that opportunity ended here in Bakersfield back in April.

SoCal’s calendar is of no concern to NorCal, but maybe it should be. Not everyone here wants to race crits every weekend. There are riders who would make the trek north if there was a bit of momentum, and even the addition of five racers in an event can “affect the outcome of the race.” I can see groups from south of the Calmason-Caldixon Line making the trek north, especially as the epicness of the racing gets broader exposure. I even have connections with a bike racing blogger who has been known to trumpet the awesomeness of a venue as loudly as he excoriates poor sandbox behavior, doping, and cycling “advocates” who support helmet laws.

Yet the current nontroversy has trumpeted to one and all that SoCal riders are *NOT* welcome at Pescadero in the P/1/2 race. Sure it’s beautiful, epic, challenging, and unforgettable, but hey, sucks to be you. As Tim Burgess suggested with a twist of either cutting sarcasm or blase stupidity, this sounds like a great opportunity for an enterprising promoter to put on a race!

[Note to Tim: That enterprising promoter is *NOT* welcome John, and the race already exists. It’s called “Pescadero.”]

There is of course the whole issue of why any self-respecting bike racer would want to win a championship jersey against a weaker rather than a stronger field, but as the TV show was called, “Diff’rent Strokes.” In my case, I’m sorry to have missed the race although there was excellent circuit racing in Chula Vista that day and I got an undreamed-of fourth place in the 50’s and a miracle 10th in the 40’s on a tough, windy, hilly course. Had I gone to Pescadero I would have been lucky to have finished.

So, really, who needs Pescadero? Well, I do, but Pescadero obviously doesn’t need me. Yet all is not lost. What’s this place called “Leesville”?



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How to depress race turnout #2 by NCNCA

June 8, 2015 § 143 Comments

The failure of licensed racers to race is the biggest barrier to a thriving sport, but there are other factors. After non-participation, the biggest obstacle in California is the local racing association. The SNCNA and NCNCA seem locked in a deadly competition to see who can strangle the sport the quickest.

I’ve always thought that the northern district was better than the southern one, a misperception that definitely falls into the category of wishful thinking. This past weekend I signed up for the Pescadero Road Race.

I’ve never raced in NorCal because it is too far away, even though their road races are legendary. “NorCal,” people whisper, “is where you find real road racing in California. Not this punk crit SoCal crap.” I wondered what road race could be harder than Punchbowl, or Boulevard, or Castaic, or Vlees Huis, or Tuttle Creek, and decided to find out.

Of course in order to make the trek I’d need company, and Wily, ever eager to do hard road races, agreed to split the $96.00 we’d have to pay at Ye Old Millipede Motel in Redwood City. Two days before liftoff Wily shot me an email. “Dude,” he said, “they won’t let me register.”


“It’s their state elite championship race and they only allow district residents to race it.”

“That can’t be right. Every state lets non-residents race, they just can’t compete for the jersey. Anyway, you’re a resident of the state.”

“Nope,” he said, and forwarded me the emails.

Of course the only possible reason to ban non-district elite racers from the race is so that the tiny penis NorCal riders can not only win the jersey but also be first across the line. In our own elite championship race, the SoCal champion got fourth place, being beaten by out-of-state/out-of-district riders. No one cared, of course, least of all the promoter, because the more riders the more competitive the field the better the race’s reputation and the more money.

Wily first inquired as to whether or not he could race. The promoter responded:

Nope. Norcal only. Why not try one of the other 1/2/3 races?

Sounds good, Wily thought, What other race is it he’s referring to? Answer: There isn’t one. This was the promoter’s very clever way of saying Kcuf Ouy.

Wily next took a more analytical approach.

Pursuant to USA Cycling Rule 7J3(b), “State Championships are open to US Citizens and permanent residents (green card).” This plainly entitles me to register and race, as I’m a US citizen and licensed USA Cycling rider. Subsection (d) only gives the Administrator discretion with regard to ineligible riders, which does not apply to me as I am clearly eligible. Subsection (e) only applies to members of the local association, i.e. NorCal, which again, I am not. Can you cite me to any rule or authority that would allow you to prevent me from entering? If not, please confirm that I will be allowed to register and race.

He quickly learned, however, that analysis is useless with idiots. The promoter responded with this gem:

This is an Elite district championship, not state. You must be in the NCNCA district.

It’s a gem because this is not a rule except in the very loose sense of “I’m saying it therefore it is a rule.” Events held under USAC permits must conform to the USAC rule book with regard to all aspects of the race. What’s funnier is that the promoter calls it an “Elite district championship, not state.” There is, of course, no such event.

Other SoCal riders began inquiring and the promoter gave them the same runaround — you can’t race in THIS P/1/2 race but you can race in one of the OTHER 1/2/3 races, unless you don’t qualify because those are all masters races, which means you can’t race ANY of the races.

It’s not up to me to bypass the registration restriction. The flyer publicly states NCNCA only and the officials
expect me to enforce that for the two championship fields. You’re always welcome to come and race another field. If you reg’ed online there is a no refund policy in effect.

My favorite is the last line: If you already paid, Kcuf Ouy.

So now the asshole promoter claimed that it was up to the officials whose rules he was merely enforcing. So Wily pinged the chief poobah. As soon as I saw her 281 area code at the bottom of her email, I knew she was going to be an idiot because that’s the area code for Houston, my hometown.

Wily then tried this tack:

Is there any other rule than the ones you’ve cited that allows you to ban me from entering this race? If there is, please point me to it, as the rule you’ve cited to mentions state championships, an event you now claim that you are not hosting. If there is no other rule and you still won’t allow me to register, please confirm that you won’t allow me to register since it is a 7-hour drive and doesn’t make any sense for me to come up the night before, stay in a hotel, and show up only to be refused entry due to some rule that you claim USAC forgot to put in its rulebook because they somehow forgot that California has two districts, even though there are specific provisions that talk about states with multiple districts.

The promoters should be aware that their flyer constitutes false advertising and, according to an attorney who has reviewed the rule book and the flyer, it is a possible violation of the Consumers Legal Remedies Act as well.

I and the other SoCal racers who have contacted the promoter are very upset about this arbitrary exclusion from the race. It’s a violation of the USAC rules and it’s also illegal.

Please advise.

Instead, Wily received a response that will go down in history as one of the best pieces of Kcuf Ouy that anyone affiliated with NCNCA has ever sent out. And of course the maroon who sent it has the excellent email handle of papa.mike.bike@gmail.com, which is, you know, so cool.

These championships were once called “district” championships.  USACycling, for reasons of its own, decided that they should be called “state” championships and that is how they are addressed in the rule book.  It is likely that USAC forgot that California is divided in half along with Nevada, so Northern California and Nevada are administered by NCNCA as one state and Southern California and Nevada are administered by SCNCA as another.  Most other Local Associations in the country coincide with state borders.

The dividing line between the two “states” is the line running east-west across California with San Luis Obispo, Kern, and San Bernardino Counties to the south, and Monterey, Kings, Tulare, and Inyo Counties to the north.  Clark County Nevada is southern and the rest of Nevada is northern.

Your license states your residence as Palos Verdes which, of course, lies well south of that line, deep in southern Los Angeles County.  That puts you in the “state” administered by SCNCA.

NCNCA has determined that only riders living in its “state” of Northern California and Nevada are allowed to race in its “state” championships, much like other state’s championships are restricted to in-state residents. NCNCA has held NCNCA-only elite championships for many years and this very question has arisen before.  USAC has long stood by NCNCA’s determination.

Rule 7J1. “State Championships are allocated by the Local Associations to race directors based on the criteria that the LA or its administrator shall determine.”

Rule 7J1 puts the race director in the position of having to enforce NCNCA’s ruling even though he would love to have you pay your entry fee and race on the spectacular Pescadero course.

I’m sorry that you will miss out on this great race.

Mike Hardaway
NCNCA Officials’ Committee Chair

The first bit of analysis is priceless. NorCal is excluding SoCal because the USAC rules committee “forgot” about California being divided into two districts. They forgot about it so totally that there is an entire subsection devoted to states with multiple districts, of which there are two: Nevada and California. I will remember this argument the next time I’m in court. “Hey judge, the legislature forgot to put this in the law so I added it for them.”

Then the Hon. Hardaway launches off into crazyland, explaining that since districts are the same as states according to the forgotten rule, you have to determine a rider’s “state of residence” by a fictitious line that divides NorCal and SoCal, kind of like Mason-Dixon. It’s in the forgotten rulebook, look it up.

Then, carried away by his Civil War remembrances, he reminds Wily that Wily is “deep in southern Los Angeles County,” who voted to secede and join the confederacy and is therefore not entitled to the protections of the Union army. Finally, we are directed to Supreme Court precedent, as we are told that USAC has “long stood by NCNCA’s determination.” You can find the text of the decision here:  60 U.S. 393 (1857).

Best of all, Hardaway quotes a rule, 7J1, and then simply invents what it says even though the actual rule, which he goes to the trouble to type out, says nothing of the kind.

In case Wily hadn’t gotten the message, it’s this: KCUF OUY!

The idiot with the Houston area code then piles on with this beaut:

I believe your question about racing Peacadero has been answered based on the rule book, our district boundaries and the race flyer which indicates the Elite 1/2 race is for NCNCA racers as well as the email from Mike Hardaway, the chair of our officials committee where he clarifies how the Nor Cal and So Cal districts are viewed.

Then, with everyone singing from the same page, the promoter decides to dispense with all of the indirect rigamarole and cut to the chase scene:

I have reviewed your communications with the officials and myself as well as several other SCNCA individuals. My decision is SCNCA members are *NOT* welcome to race in any of the elite championship races in 2015 that I promote.

Everyone understand what *NOT* welcome means? It’s the new stealth marketing ploy to get people to drive seven hours and pay nonrefundable entry fees in order to *NOT* race.

So to hell with the rules, to hell with promoting races, to hell with getting more riders to race, and to hell, especially to hell, with everyone who holds a racing license from The State of Southern California as Defined by the Invisible Mason-Dixon Line, in other words, in case you have trouble with all this backwards spelling and convoluted reasoning: FUCK YOU.



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British cycling fans at fever pitch over Wiggins’s upcoming hour record attempt

June 4, 2015 § 18 Comments

Sir Bradley Wiggins, a Tour de France winner, four-time Olympic gold medalist, and member of the Royal Order of Knights Who Say “Ni” will attempt to break the hour record set on May 2, 2015 by Alex Dowsett this coming Sunday at the London Velodrome. The venue sold out thirty minutes after tickets went on sale as British cycling fans went on a purchasing rampage to get seats at what promises to be a historic ride.

Nigel Sagbottom, a lifelong cycling fan who had queued up the night before to get a ticket, was euphoric. “I love cycling, it’s my life, and this is going to be exciting beyond words, really. The entire nation will be holding its breath to see if Sir Wiggins can, you know, get up the mountains in less than an hour.”

Gertrude Appledore, another excited ticket holder, was similarly enthusiastic. “We’ve been following Sir Wiggo’s career since his first cycle races as a lad, I believe it was the 50cc class that he started out in, and now the chance to see him win on a superbike at the track is once in a lifetime, really. He’ll be running a 1000cc with a four cylinder, I hear. So yes, we’re thrilled.”

The British public, long fixated almost exclusively on football, has taken to cycle racing with intense passion, and Wiggins’s continual media exposure through the SKY media network and his own unique brand of lethargic charisma has brought the sport to unparalleled heights in this football-crazed nation. According to David Dongle, sports media analyst at Britties Love Footy, a cable sports channel in West Anglia, much of the groundwork is owed to super sprinter Mark Cavendish.

“Before Cav,” says Dongle, “the average Briton didn’t know a cycle race from a menstrual cycle. But now that’s all changed. After Cav won that ‘ere Tour, and Wiggins won that ‘ere other ‘un, and then when they was teamed up with Lance to cure Betsy’s cancer, it sort of caught on, almost as big as the time Liverpool’s Traore catastrophically back-heeled the ball into his own net to gift Burnley a shock victory at Cardiff.”

The British man on the street, although unable to afford the tickets which were fetching up to $2.99 each, expressed the nation’s fascination with the sport of cycling when Smugsy McStains, a Manchester pipefitter, said this: “Boik racin’s for fuckin’ pussies, mate. If I wanted to watch skinny fellas ride around in their bloody underpants I’d sure not do it in public, y’know?”



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Kerry breaks leg on Col de la Colombière; Tour slot in jeopardy

June 2, 2015 § 16 Comments

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry broke his femur yesterday while training for the 2015 Tour de France outside of Geneva, Switzerland, putting his 2015 Tour campaign in doubt.

“According to my team boss Jonathan Vaughters, I was always on the bubble but with the compound fracture it’s possible I’ll sit out until 2016,” said Kerry through a spokesperson. “But I’ve got three purple hearts and I’m not giving up yet.”

Garmin-Cannondale owner Vaughters did not immediately confirm Kerry’s statement. “Well, uh, yeah, I know the Senator, he’s a great guy, we’ve done a few rides together, he’s strong as a horse, I mean, a 71-year-old horse, but this is the first I’ve heard about him doing the Tour with us. Isn’t he like the Secretary of Parks or something? Doesn’t he already have a job?”

The accident occurred at the bottom of the Col de la Colombière, a 16.3-km climb that has featured in the Tour twenty times, most recently in 2010. Although short, the steep 10.2% section at the end of the climb often weakens riders prior to the finish of the stage, which typically ends on a more challenging col such as Morzine, La Plagne, or Alpe d’Huez.

Kerry, who describes himself as “More of a 265-lb. rouleur to help with the sprint train than as a weapon in the high Alps,” had been in Geneva negotiating the final text of a nuclear arms deal with his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif. John Kirby, a State Department spokesman, denied that the high level talks would impact Kerry’s training for his Tour campaign. “Not in the least,” said Kirby. “He’ll be back on the trainer in two weeks. He’s let his staff know that Job One is preventing loss of muscle mass. The centrifuge inspection thing can wait.”

Zarif was less sanguine. “What is, how you say in English, the fuck up with this? He is riding bike while we are doing bomb Israel plan? This crazy.”

Kerry emphasized his Tour readiness by pointing to public statements made by Vaughters, who described him in an interview with the Wall Street Journal as one of the best American road riders in his age group. “I’d be top ten at nationals, easy,” said Kerry, “if I raced.”

When asked how many 71-year-olds typically compete at nationals, Vaughters said that it was, “Uh, like, seventeen or so, I think. So I can confirm that from what I’ve seen he’s definitely top ten out of most of those seventeen. Ten of them, anyway.”

Kerry’s grueling schedule as America’s top diplomat has not interfered with his mission to get a pro contract, ride the Tour, and make $12,000 per year. Since his presidential bid in 2004 Kerry has evolved from what Boston regulars called “A complete Fred, just another rich dick with too much money and not enough mirrors at home to show him how he looks in spandex,” into “A completely delusional masters racer who, like all true profamateurs, doesn’t bother to race. Think Robin Williams without the jokes.”

The accident occurred at the beginning of the climb, when Kerry, one of the most powerful people on earth, ran into a curb and flipped over the bars like you might have done in Third Grade. Phillipe Patek de Nutella, the governor of Haute-Savoie in France, had accompanied Kerry with his security detail when the accident happened. “I no know what passed, n’est-ce-pas? He riding, comment dit-on ‘Fred’ en anglais, as a Frederique with wheel not straight and overlapping rear wheel rider in front. Then turn to whistle at girls and boom-boom he hit curb and bam-bam down like old cheese.”

Photos show that at the time he fell Kerry was wearing a pair of floppy yellow arm warmers that have not yet been released to the general public by Ugg Cycling as it transitions from women’s footwear into cycling apparel.

Kirby, the State Department spokesman, was upbeat about Kerry’s recovery, although he conceded that dealing with the crisis in Burundi, Boko Haram, the collapse of Iraq, Islamic State’s control of Syria, the outbreak of war in Yemen, the strong likelihood of armed conflict between Saudia Arabia and Iran, Grexit and the collapse of the euro, China’s aggression in the South China Sea, and the deaths of thousands of Rohingya as they flee brutal oppression in Myanmar may have to take a back seat for a few months.

“We’re confident that we can rebuild him stronger than he was before. And if he makes the Tour squad this year, at least he’ll know a critical part of the route.”



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The sport assassins

May 29, 2015 § 47 Comments

Is bad behavior killing the sport?

There was a big Facebag dustup a few weeks ago involving a Southern California rider who allegedly got into a pushing and shoving match during a race in Northern California, followed by much cursing, hollering, and screaming in the parking lot after the race. (Think kindergarten, only not that mature).

If you are a normal person, or even a raving lunatic, you will shake your head in disbelief. Do grown men do this? Is this how you race a bicycle? Are these the only skills you’ve developed for conflict resolution after four decades of existence amidst other homo sapiens? Didn’t your mother ever slap the shit out of you, and if she did, why is there still so much of it left?

You may also be wondering whether the rider was immediately canned by his team for, um, failing to properly “represent the brand” as we say in the delusional world of old fellow bike racing, where we imagine that getting a free tub of nut lube is like repping Nike in the NBA finals. You may also be wondering whether the rider who was allegedly misused has consulted with a lawyer, or whether the offending rider’s team forced him to apologize.

Or, like me, you may simply have moved on because there are more important things to contemplate, like whether or not you got it all on the second wipe.

Still, bad acts have a ripple effect, and as the remnants of amateur cycling swish around the edge of the toilet bowl prior to that final gurgling sound, a lively debate has sprung up over the future of cycling. The gist of the argument goes like this:

The real problem with our sport in SoCal lies with bad behavior, and everyone is afraid to confront it. This failure is just one example in a long line of bad behavior, and it’s this bad behavior that suppresses rider turnout at local races and enhances rider turnoff. Stuff like this hurts cycling worse than handlebar doping, and it furthers the SoCal reputation as a douchebag repository where guys break rules with impunity and the USAC refs, team owners/sponsors, and promoters look the other way, thereby encouraging it.

The problem, so the argument goes, is that bullying bike behavior fits right into the behavior of dominant teams that do little to support junior racing or women’s racing, two areas that everyone agrees are crucial to develop if the sport is going to become something more than a playground for whiny, bratty old men with too much time, too many trinkets, and too much stagflation in the penis length department.

This results in no grass roots event sponsorship, and focuses only on the silliest of all categories—masters men’s racing, a niche within a microfissure whose only growth prospects are at the mortuary. Worse, dominant teams stack the races they do show up for, and those races are almost never hard road races. Who wants to race against ten guys, five of whom are arguably the fastest ones in the state, and who can go with every move, counter every attack, pull back every dangerous break, and deliver their guy with a ribbon on top via a bullet train leadout to win every sprunt?

It’s fun if you’re on the team, but if you’re not, “I’m busy that day” is the way that racers vote with their feet.

If the powerhouse won with class and humility its domination would still be a problem, but what about scenarios where it combines victory with threats and physical bullying? Do you want to come home from a race with your front teeth missing because some psychopath didn’t like what you said? No, you don’t.

In sum, when people are trying to decide how to spend their weekend they get to choose between an informal group hammerfest with friends or trench warfare with bullies who shout, scream, hit, bodyslam, and threaten. Oh, and for that privilege you get to drop $150 and spend five hours in a car in weekend LA traffic.

This toxic environment allegedly deters riders who are skilled and experienced, so imagine how it affects riders just starting out, or riders whose dream day is a top ten finish. They will endure this hazing ritual once and then never return because the rider you call a dork and who you head-butt and threaten with your fists is often a man who signs paychecks, litigates in court, runs a corporation, or lives in the real world with real responsibilities — he isn’t a glorified bike bum who thinks that what happens in a bike race matters in the big picture, and he’s not willing to waste his time being humiliated by a functionally illiterate, too-cool-for-school, marginally subsisting middle-aged man with profound emotional problems.

This brings a negativity to the sport that is a roadblock to progress, and it will only get worse because the one thing we know about bullies is that left unchecked they only get meaner.

Along these lines, the argument continues, we need junior rider development, we need  more women in races, we need a more varied race schedule, we need categories and a points system that make sense, we need to be safety minded, and we need to nurture a sport in which events leave participants glad they showed up (can anyone say “triathlon”?), not bitter that they wasted a day engaging in the ritual humiliation of threatened violence and a 45th-place finish. We need more grass roots events and we need to tell the bullies that their bullshit won’t be tolerated. Then, and only then, will the sport be something other than a shit-filled sandbox filled with spoiled and violent old men.

Anyway, this is how the argument goes, and I disagree with it.

With regard to the dustup mentioned above, it is a tiny problem and there are plenty of mechanisms to deal with this and similar scenarios. First of all, where were the officials when all this was happening?

I’ve said before that SoCal officials do not take safety seriously, and that their tolerance for bullying and aggro racing has made both acceptable. Apparently the officials have similar attitudes, because this all happened up yonder, not down here. Second, where was the promoter in all this? Promoters put on races by selling sponsorships. Is this how you want your marquee event remembered, as the place where spectators with their little kids got to see grown men throw public tantrums?

Promoters sometimes say they hesitate to take action because they want to avoid controversy, but imagine this happening in a grocery store. Can you see a Safeway manager letting someone push and berate a little old lady who has too many cans for the express lane because they’re afraid of the “controversy”? Of course not. They’d call security and throw the bum out.

Race promoters like Chris Lotts do exactly that. If you pee in the bushes, cheat, give his volunteers a hard time, disobey race director orders, or act like an idiot he will toss you out of the race and enjoy it.

And where was the Big Sponsor? Presumably there was a sponsoring bike brand. Do they think this is how you sell bikes? If they don’t, getting back the bike and jersey is a phone call away, you would think.

Where were the teammates? Allegedly a couple of them had their hands full while restraining the rider in the parking lot, but why did their intervention stop there? Why didn’t they vote him off the team if he behaved this way? Why was there no show of solidarity, emphasizing that the good guys on the team will not be associated with violence, threats, and awful behavior, if that’s what happened?

Where were the other riders in the race, and indeed, where are they ever? Why didn’t all twenty or thirty people who supposedly witnessed the incident make their voices heard to Kayle, to the officials, to the promoter, and to anyone else who would listen? Why didn’t the rest of the peloton behave as if this reflected on them, which, if it happened, it did? Why was everyone lathered up on Facebag but not in the flesh? And who’s the big chicken who took down the thread?

In other words, there were a lot of people who could have immediately punished this behavior if it really happened, and who could have made enough of a stink to warrant a suspension or a fine or a spanking with a soup spoon or a timeout in the corner with a dunce cap.

But regardless of how this incident played out, the rider in question is just one guy and his team is just one team. Cycling always has a bad boy team and that’s part of the fun, apparently. These antics may scare some people out of one race, but it’s not the reason that rider participation is anemic in all categories. I raced a handful of 35+ masters races last year and they were safe and drama free. The “bad boy” was even in a couple of those races, and he was fine in every respect. And even if it’s the 35+ (now 40+) category that is suspect, what about the other categories?

The 45+ category (it’s been changed to 50+ this year to make sure everyone stays angry and confused) is safe, fun, and a blast, yet turnout in those events is hardly thriving. Most importantly, the areas where turnout really matters, i.e. junior racing, women’s racing, Cat 4 and Cat 5 racing, aren’t affected by what goes on in masters racing whatsoever. Those people couldn’t pick Kayle out of a fresh vegetable aisle, and their numbers are not good.

Nor is NorCal some mecca for racing participation. One of their most storied and challenging road races, the Mt. Hamilton Classic, had twelve guys race the 45+ 1/2/3, and the race didn’t even bother with categories for juniors or Cat 5’s. Are the SoCal crit bullies scaring all the NorCal roadies away from that race, too? And the NoCal crit fields are so tiny that events like the Lodi Criterium combine the 35+ and 45+ fields. Last year’s Lodi Cycle Fest had twenty-six riders in the 35+, and a pathetic nineteen in the 45+. Is that SoCal’s fault as well?

The idea that SoCal is a dungeon of cheaters and terrible racers that kills the sport is also wrong. One SoCal racer who went to Mt. Hamilton this year and raced with the elite P/1/2 racers got to witness this: After the initial ascent of Mt. Hamilton the road becomes a hair-raising downhill. One of the Mike’s Bikes riders missed a turn and went off the mountain. Mike’s Bikes, by the way, had seven riders, or 20% of the entire field.

Later on Mines Road this same rider came flying by the SoCal racer’s chase group a good 15 mph faster, tucked in behind his team van. The racer made it back up to the leaders where he finished far ahead from where he otherwise would have, and worse, where he added firepower to his teammate who won the race. When the SoCal rider complained to the officials, they shrugged.

I’d argue that this kind of local favoritism and refusal to enforce the rules turns off just as many people as parking lot name calling, maybe more, because name calling doesn’t affect the outcome of the race and name calling doesn’t require the collusion of race officials, organizers, team bosses, and follow cars. As a fun note, the race flier said that follow cars weren’t allowed and that anyone receiving help from one would be DQ’ed.

I also disagree that one team is the cause of low racer turnout in SoCal. In many ways, the current dominant masters team, Surf City Cyclery, exemplifies the very best things about amateur racing. First and foremost, they actually show up and race their bikes. Second, when you look at their race day setup with a motor home, gigantic tent, trainers, bike racks, and directors’ chairs, it’s impossible not to notice how cool they look and how much fun they’re having. These guys love to race their bikes and it shows. Isn’t that why people are supposed to go to bike races and hang out? Because it’s fun?

Third, they’re led by Charon Smith, a rider who is non-confrontational, who never curses, who praises you when you beat him, who encourages everyone, and who, despite his impressive accomplishments is accessible and friendly and willing to share. He also invests huge amounts of his personal time helping junior racers. In the heat of battle I’ve seen him reach out and push struggling riders to keep them from getting shelled, riders like, um, me.

Fourth, one bad apple doesn’t ruin the bunch. The other riders on SCC are fair, fun, dedicated, and friendly. I don’t believe that one aggro racer negates the positive actions of everyone else, and if you think the contretemps mentioned earlier is the first time this has ever happened in cycling, you probably also believe that the earth is 4,500 years old and Jesus rode on a dinosaur. There have been numerous parking lot screaming matches in the last few years, not to mention the post-racing screaming matches on the cool down lap.

SCC boss Mike Faello has his hands full with one masters team, and he has apparently made the decision that he’d rather have one team that’s run great than three teams that are run mediocre. Who’s to say he’s wrong? Not I. And who’s to say that he should spend his marketing money in one way rather than another? If his business is focused on selling bike stuff to delusional old men, then shouldn’t he be allowed to do that without being criticized for not also spending his money on kids, women, young people, recumbents, unicyclists, gravel grinders, ‘cross racers, BMX, trackies, or adaptive vehicle riders?

It’s his money, it’s his marketing budget, and by all accounts he throws his heart and soul into running his team. Isn’t that the kind of investment and partnership we want at all levels of cycling? Yes, it is.

Moreover, people forget that it wasn’t always like this at SCC. The first time I ever saw Charon he was sitting on his ass in the middle of the panicking peloton at Eldo, where he’d rolled a tire and taken a fall in the middle of the field. Charon worked his way up from Cat Fred to Cat Stud over a period of years that have involved hard work, hard work, hard work, and a lot of hard work.

The team that he now captains wasn’t always flush with money and stacked with great riders; it’s been a building process that has overcome lots of obstacles. Now that they have a hierarchy, a strategy, and the discipline to implement it, people are suddenly complaining about Surf City’s dominance — don’t worry — a few years ago it was Monster, then Amgen, then before that it was someone else, all the way back to the days of Labor Power. When you kick everyone’s ass they don’t like it, ever, period.

So if we can’t pin the tail on one rider or one team, whose fault is it that the sport has stagnated and that it can’t seem to grow?

Well, I’d suggest that the fault is yours. Yes, yours. If everyone who had a license did five races a year, which is hardly a challenging schedule in virtually any state but an especially low hurdle here in SoCal, our races would be bursting at the seams. Instead of complaining about SCC’s dominance, if teams that had big rosters actually showed up and raced like a team, Surf’s patented lead-out train and chase-down-all-breakaways would not own the 35+/40+ category. They’re not only beatable in theory, they get beaten in fact every year at nationals. Ask Matt Caninio if Surf can be beaten.

However, it’s easier to complain about Surf’s race tactics than it is to organize your team, train together, and implement strategy.

I was slackjawed a week ago when I showed up at the Torrance Crit and saw embarrassingly tiny fields in all categories. This is a challenging but safe course. It’s well run. It offers lunch money and trinkets. It’s smack in the middle of the South Bay of Los Angeles, home to the world’s greatest concentration of preeners and fakers, and a 30-minute drive or 50-minute pedal from West LA, where weekend rides easily garner 100+ faux racers with genuine $10k rigs.

Where were all the racers?

They certainly weren’t scared off by SCC. Surf City wasn’t even at the race, a fact you could have easily confirmed by looking at pre-registrations on USA Cycling’s web site. And this brings us to the real problem faced by amateur cycling: Bike racing has mutated from an activity where people want to grow up and be like Thurlow or Fields and has become a posing activity where people simply want to accumulate cool stuff.

Labor Power realized this years ago and wore hideous clothing, rode rusty-edged equipment, and rubbed plutonium into the wounds of its victims with the motto “Gritty, not pretty.” They won races by being cunning, vile, despicable, infighting, foul-mouthed bike racers, preening not allowed unless you knew how to climb a podium.

When you can join a team that gives you a steeply discounted pro bike, when you can wear clothing that is professionally designed and customized for Team Wank, when you can pedal from coffee shop to coffee shop advertising that YOU ARE A RACER without having to actually go to a race and fall off your bicycle, then why would any rational person actually race? Answer: You wouldn’t, and they don’t.

The toy/gadget/rag merchants are perfectly happy with this because they would rather have the streets of Brentwood and Manhattan Beach overflowing with non-racing racers decked out in their logos on Saturday morning than they would have those same people crammed into an office park in South Compton battling over a $25 prime. In other words, the sponsors and teams themselves don’t care if you race as long as you’re pimping them on social media and playing rolling billboard.

How do I know? Because week in and week out it’s the same guys and gals. There are people on my SPY-Giant-RIDE team who, after four and a half years, I have never seen at a race, and my team this year had 80 members at last count and bills itself exclusively as a “racing team.” You couldn’t beat people away with tear gas and rubber truncheons at team camp in January when the freebies were being handed out and the new outfits were being unveiled, but at the Barry Wolfe Grand Prix on Sunday I counted ten teammates across all categories. More embarrassingly, the CBR Crit the following day had one rider from my team in the 40+ Category, and two “helpers” who had already done the 50+ and whose help consisted of hanging on for dear life.

It’s true that Surf is hard to beat, but they will never, ever, ever be beaten like that.

You can say whatever you want about Surf City, but they show up and they pay entry fees and they race their bikes. What promoter would boot out a team that comprises 15% of the field when hundreds of local racers who could be there are too lazy or too chickenshit or too cheap to pay and race, even when it’s in their own backyard?

Why won’t we call bullshit when we hear it, and stop accepting all of the lame excuses about how the course is too long, or too short, or too hard, or too easy, or too far away, or too hilly, or not hilly enough, or you can’t find a ride, or your wife won’t let you, or you’re peaking for something else, or you’re in a build phase, or your Internet coach says, or blah fucking blah fucking blah?

The mentality won’t change until the teams and their peers pressure them to. Where are the pre-race emails, the phone calls, the gentle urgings that often make the difference between sitting at home and going to the race? To put a nice ending on the Torrance Crit story, this same course is utilized as the TELO training race, a Tuesday ride where “racers” show up at 6:00 PM to get in the speed work that will prepare them for race day. The Tuesday before the Torrance Crit, TELO was packed. The Tuesday after, it was packed. There’s even a Facebag page dedicated to bragging about the exploits of who “won” the training ride each week, and riders love to tout how tough they are when they “do the double,” i.e. do the morning NPR and the evening TELO beatdown.

But on race day the Torrance Crit was a ghost town, and please don’t tell me people stayed home to protest Surf City. They stayed home because no one called them up and called them out. They stayed home because they’d already gotten their participation ribbon on Facebag and that, you know, was enough to justify the fancy bike and fancy outfit and four crates of electrolytes.

The problem with race participation numbers lies at the feet of the riders themselves. We know who our teammates are, we know they’re AWOL on race day, and it’s not a complicated problem that needs more secret USAC meetings to anguish over. It’s a simple problem that requires you to get off your ass and go race your fuggin’ bike. It’s a simple problem that requires team bosses to tell their prima donnas that the gravy train comes with an obligation: You want to wear the stuff and ride the rig, you have to race, no exceptions, and if five weekends out of the year is too tough on your schedule, maybe you don’t belong on something called a “racing team.”

And while we’re at it, let’s not take our eyes off the ball by blaming USAC or SCNCA. These organizations have never figured out how to grow the sport and never will because it’s not in their DNA. They exist to skim money off license fees and soak money from race promoters so they can pay officials and promote the national team and pay their own salaries. They do not care if the sport grows because it’s currently big enough to fund their existing pork projects. If amateur cycling has ever had a constant, it’s that USAC and the local organizations cannot and will not increase membership and will not make it easier or cheaper or more profitable for promoters to put on races.

At the same time, I don’t think physical racing and violent confrontations should be tolerated, but bike racing is a sport, it is dangerous, people do get worked up, and at least in the above-mentioned case no one fell off his bicycle or had to make a detour to the dentist to get a fist removed from his gums. But these problems aren’t what ails our sport. What ails it are the thousands of SoCal cyclists with valid racing licenses who don’t show up.

We have met the enemy, and he bears a striking resemblance to the guy in the mirror.



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