February 20, 2015 § 40 Comments
I often see friends post photos of their new bike/car/house/facelift and it usually makes me kind of sad, and a little jealous. There’s something about the act of saying “Look what I own!” that makes me cringe. And it’s funny because hardly anyone seems to put up photos on Fakebook of the books they read. It’s as if you can possess a nice, shiny Bulgemobile and that’s COOL, but you can’t brag about having read a book.
However, my friends who are full-on consumers, who have Porsches and Ferraris in the garage, who have palatial homes here, there, and over yonder, who have bike collections that include separate full carbon extra wheelsets made of carbon to go with each rig, these guys and gals are really just amateur materialists.
When it comes to things, no one is a more hard core materialistic bastard than I am. Just because I don’t put it on Facegag doesn’t mean I’m not the King of Consumerism.
Skeptics will argue that I’m no materialist and will point to my small apartment, my single Prius (a Smugster 4-door, 125k miles), the fact that my casual clothing lineup consists of two pairs of jeans, two hoodies, one gimme cap, and fifteen t-shirts, and they will put the nail in the coffin of their argument when they point out that I only own one bicycle.
But they’re wrong. I’m as materialistic as it gets, but unlike the amateurs with garages and homes full of the latest gewgaw they bought at the LBS or the Bentley dealer, I’ve only got about four prized possessions. What they lack in quantity they make up for in quality. Let me share one of them with you.
When my Grandfather Jim Turner died, he didn’t have very much. A .38 Smith & Wesson, an old 12-gauge with a unique pump-action barrel (trust me, you’ve never seen one), and a big plastic wafer that said “Birth Control Kit for Ladies — Hold between knees and squeeze.”
The top drawer in his chest had an envelope in it. Inside was his only family heirloom, and he left it to me.
His grandfather, John Turner, fought for the rebellion in the Civil War. One of the things that every soldier carried was a powder measure because they had to measure just the right amount of gunpowder to pour into their rifle. Too little powder and the ball would plop out of the barrel. Too much powder and the breech would blow up in your face.
Great-great-grandfather Turner took the breastbone of a wild turkey, which was hollow, and cut it off so that it held just the right amount of powder. Then he drilled a hole in the bone and ran a buckskin thong through it and hung it around his neck. In battle he could crouch down on his knee, dip his powder measure into his powder bag without looking, level it off with his finger, and always get the right amount.
You can see the black gunpowder on the inside. That’s Civil War gunpowder, and the last time my great-great-grandfather used it was shortly before Appomattox, where he surrendered with Lee. When you hold it in your hand it’s light but incredibly strong. Sometimes late at night when I can’t sleep and the demons are raging and I’m soaked in sweat and being dead seems preferable to getting up in the morning I hold the powder measure and roll it between my fingers. When I do, I think about my grandfather. He had a flat-bottomed boat that he would use to take me and my brother fishing on the Lake O’ the Pines. The name of the boat was the Ian-Seth.
I think about my grandfather and how gentle he was and how much he loved us, and how that love has strengthened me more than anything in my life. Then I usually fall right to sleep.
I wonder if other people feel the same way about their carbon bikes and Italian cars?
I hope they do.
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February 18, 2015 § 31 Comments
Scattered observations on a Tuesday afternoon, scattered because earlier today Outlook slammed shut and the .pst data file got corrupted. That’s okay! It’s only 15-gigs and it only has 99,000 files!
Fortunately, MicroStupid has the Outlook Inbox Repair Tool and his name is Bill Gates. You turn on the repair tool and it scans the .pst file, except the word “scan” doesn’t quite fit. When I was kid I learned that “scan” meant to quickly look over something, but in MicroStupidese “scan” means “pull out the Sunday Times or Thomas Mann’s ‘Magic Mountain’ in German because it’s gonna take a while.”
After scanning, or shall we say trundling, the Tool indicated that my file was corrupted. Was I surprised to learn that something associated with me is corrupt? No. So I hit the “repair now” button and it did what MicroStupid is famous for: Hanging.
“Perhaps there’s a repair tool for the repair tool?” I wondered. So I googled “repair tool repair tool” and it took me to http://www.bighairytools.com. I won’t hyperlink; you’ll have to find that fifty-first shade of grey on your own.
Like an idiot I then reinstalled MS Office and since we apparently have the Cox Discount Internet Package, where electrons are hand-carried over to my apartment one by one in a wheelbarrow, it’s going to take a while. And we won’t mention the unhappy fact that after it’s reinstalled, the .pst file will still be corrupt.
Chasing the money
On Sunday I was scattered, too. Scattered from chasing Greg Leibert a/k/a G$ as he attacked nonstop for fifty minutes at the CBR Crit #2 over in Carson. Greg didn’t win but he rode a real bike race while almost all of the eighty other riders in the field hunkered down, did nothing, and waited for the sprunt.
The mere act of following G$’s attacks makes you feel like you did something worthwhile, even though all it got me was worn out. And in their defense, the reason that most of the other wankers didn’t attack is because they couldn’t.
This is gonna be gnarly
Lots of social media howler monkeys have shrieked with glee upon hearing the news that Drugstrong got popped for a cool $10m when he lost his “I perjured myself like a fugger but a crooked deal’s a deal” defense at the SCA arbitration. He’s also being sued for the balance in state court, and the Feds + Floyd are about to give him the Sodom + Gomorrah treatment in the whistleblower suit as they seek $300m in damages. With an estimated net worth of $125m, Drugstrong is going to look back on 2015 as the year he moved back in with his mom.
I know that gives a lot of people pleasure. It’s fun to watch rude and mean people get hammered, I suppose. I have to confess that when he first got dethroned I thought he was going to make a clean breast of things and that he would take the noble route and be a noble guy. Color me garishly stupid. But none of it makes me particularly happy, any more than it makes me happy when a convicted killer gets life without parole. Mostly I just feel sad. Sad for the victims, sad for the perp, and sad for Betsy.
Bikes still make kids happy
On a super happy note, Matt Smith’s appeal on this wankerish blog netted a bunch of free bikes for his high school’s new MTB team, as well as clothing, equipment, and donations. What a wonderful bunch of people you are. You’ve made a difference in the lives of these kids. They’ll remember what you did long after you’ve forgotten. Too bad you have such lousy taste in reading material.
Tri-dorks heart Bike scum
Speaking of lousy reading material, I was blown away that my tongue-in-cheek rant about triathletes and bike weight got posted in the biggest tri-dork chat forum, Slowtwitch. Not surprised that they picked it up, but surprised that a bunch of them made friendly comments. Most of the time when something I write winds up on a forum it gets burned to the ground because apparently a lot of people think that I write news, or that I report facts, or that I really think I know anything about the subjects I write about.
Anyway, thanks to all you tri-dorks you got the joke, even if it was a pretty lame one. And thanks as well to the one tri-dork on the forum who took it all very seriously and was outraged that I’d be so outrageous and that I was also wrong and a hypocrite. That dude spends way too much time on my sister publication, Red Kite Bore.
Golf is “Flog” spelled backwards
Mega-props to Emily Georgeson, the “sprinter” who got 2nd at Punchbowl behind Katie Donovan, the quintessential twiggy climber type who sprints like a battleship, corners like a city bus, but climbs like blood pressure at the Heart Attack Cafe. Emily’s success is down to hard work, smart riding, and a great coach-riding partner in Aaron Wimberley, but the meat and potatoes of her climbing prowess is our Thursday Flog Ride around the Golf Course.
That ride turns everyone into shrapnel. It’s tactical, there’s nowhere to hide, there are no stoplights, and it’s flat fuggin hard.
Speaking of hard, Robert Efthimos took a nasty tumble leading out the Cat 3 sprunt at CBR on Sunday and separated his shoulder. What’s worse, he also separated his carbon seat stays which are full carbon. Heal up, Sausage! And the next time you get the bright idea to do anything in a Cat 3 race other than NOT SIGN UP, don’t do it!
For those who don’t know it, Robert is the president-elect of La Grange, one of the oldest and most venerated racing clubs in the U.S. He is doing everything right to refocus the club back on racing, and his efforts have resulted in a strong La Grange presence at races. Guys like Robert and Greg Seyranian, who have an open door policy and who emphasize racing for people who JOIN A FUGGIN BIKE RACING CLUB are the key to the grass roots development that saw such amazing turnout at the races on Sunday. Hats off, Sausage. Hope you’re herding the frogs there for years to come.
The eyes have it
On a related note, Ronnie Toth called me the other day to talk about his MB Grand Prix crash that I’d written up several months ago. I expected a tongue lashing but got nothing of the sort. He was funny, polite, intelligent, and slightly butthurt (his words), and in the end we saw eye to eye regarding his terrible accident and the danger of the ubiquitous steel barriers.
Had Ronnie not been wearing his SPY shades he would have lost an eye, perhaps both. He’s had titanium reconstruction on part of his skull, and his nose was rebuilt with bone and cartilage from a rib. It’s amazing that he’s recovered so quickly, and when he told SPY about the sight-saving effect of the glasses, they gave him glasses … for life. Lots of reasons I support SPY, but nothing exemplifies it like this kind of stuff.
Huge props to Ronnie for getting back on the bike.
My good friend Michelle L. did her first bike race on Sunday. She’s one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet, on the bike or off, and before she got into cycling she ran a lot and she ran fast. Michelle took the plunge and had a blast. She had a lot of encouragement which outweighed all the wankers who said “WHY DO YOU WANT TO DO SOMETHING LIKE THAT????”
Answer: Because it’s thrilling and kind of dangerous and hard as hell and fun. Michelle rode towards the front and then rode AT the front for the last five laps and still snagged seventh. Welcome to the sorority, Michelle! [Note: Michelle is also one of the riders who does the Flog Ride, and there’s no way any crit is as miserable as that.]
SPY Optic is having its grand opening on Friday, Feb. 20, from 10:00 AM to whenever at their full service retail outlet in Leucadia, located on the 101. There will be a happy hour and live music and male strippers and female porn stars and President Clinton and celebrity cyclists such as Greg LeMond, Sean Kelly, Jacques Anquetil, and Pee Wee Herman. So don’t miss it.
Rosena Ranch Circuit Race is this Saturday. It’s the best, most awesome, challenging, technical, impressive, wonderful, and truly incredible race course in the history of the sport even though it’s in San Bernardino. Cycling fans will recall Rosena Ranch as the place where I broke my 30-year jinx and rode to solo victory against a field of midgets and a corpse. However, a win is a win, and if I can win there, so can you. Plus, there is lots to do in the surrounding areas, like meth and stuff.
Okay, looks like Orifice has been reinstalled, and as expected the .pst file is still corrupt. Time to plunk down $199.95 for DataNumen Outlook Repair. I’m sure everything will be fine.
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February 13, 2015 § 44 Comments
It was 8:00 AM on a Wednesday. The world was going to work or was already there. None but the most inveterate slackers would have answered the call for a bicycle ride down the bike path in order to spend several hours getting a cup of coffee.
Manslaughter, Chief, and I pedaled away at 8:00 AM, pointy sharp, because my rides always leave when they say they will leave. That way when you get there two minutes late and no one’s there you don’t have to wonder where everyone is.
In the marina there was an obese runner staggering along with a limp who I thought I knew. “Hey, do we know each other?” I asked. In the split second it took to ask the question I realized we were strangers. I had mistaken him for a guy who’d had a stroke.
“No,” he smiled. “But we do now!”
We pedaled on while Chief talked about what is now the 25th of his 30-year plan to “get back in shape.” Shortly thereafter we heard a wheezing sound. It was Stonehenge the human enigma, one of Manslaughter’s teammates.
“I almost got killed back there!” he said. We politely pretended to listen and care as we thought about our wattage.
“Glad you’re okay,” Manslaughter pretended.
“And you know what I was thinking last night?”
We tensed up. “What?”
“That Manslaughter should really be pronounced ‘man’s laughter.’ Get it?”
Chief peeled off in Santa Monica so that he could do waif intervals, loops up and down San Vicente where he gazes fondly at the pretty young girls who he imagined he used to consort with. Stonehenge, Manslaughter, and I went to Philz Coffee on 5th and Santa Monica.
Philz is a pour-over coffee place. They don’t have any machines and they don’t make any froo-froo drinks. Instead they make frippy-frippy drinks. Weird and friendly pour-over chefs who are oddly excited about dumping boiling water on coffee grounds take your order. It costs $4 for a cup of coffee that you can make at home with a French press for forty cents.
The folks at Philz are smart.
What you’re paying for at Philz, however, is the waif quotient. Unlike the Sckubrats in Manhattan beach, where all the women are white, reasonably attractive, in their 40’s, and wearing yoga pants and tight tops to model what is almost never original equipment, Philz is filled with women who are too poor to afford new parts and too young to need them.
We paid $12 for our $1.20 worth of coffee and went outside to sit and stare at the talent. The sun was beating down directly on the aluminum bench and reflecting off the plate glass, so the little slice of sidewalk was about a hundred degrees, a perfect place to sit all bundled up with arm warmers, leg warmers, long-fingered gloves, shoe covers, and a boiling cup of coffee.
Stonehenge looked up. “Is that a glider?” he asked.
Manslaughter tried to be nice. “Uh, no. The wings aren’t long enough.”
“I think you’re wrong. That’s a glider,” Stonehenge insisted.
We all looked at the large airplane with four engines and pondered various things.
“So, guys,” said Manslaughter. “I’m gonna be in Vegas this weekend to take a little break from the job I don’t have. Any suggestions on what to do?”
“Whack off?” I offered.
“I do that here. In fact, I’m gonna do it today. I was thinking more along the lines of something new and different.”
“When you check in at your hotel ask the clerk what country most of the foreign guests are from,” I said. She’ll tell you something weird, like ‘Lithuanian.’ After you check in, go grab a Lithuanian phrasebook and start chatting up the Lithuanians. ‘Hi, I’m Manslaughter, trying to learn Lithuanian.'”
“That’s stupid,” said Manslaughter. “Where in the world are you gonna find a Lithuanian phrasebook in Vegas?”
Stonehenge took my side. “They’ll have them throughout the casino if that’s the predominant nationality of the guests. It might be fun. ‘What is it like in your country?’ ‘Do the people in your country eat cabbage?’ ‘How much for the little girl?'”
At that moment a waif walked by. She was wearing tight jeans that had a lot of holes, holes that came from hard use rather than from a designer’s shears. Her head was wrapped in a scarf and she had draped a loose red shirt over her shoulders. She was dragging a small two-wheeled cart filled with dog food and fresh cabbage.
“Hi!” said Manslaughter.
“I don’t have any sheep,” she snarled as she walked past.
“Did that woman just say she didn’t have any sheep?” asked Manslaughter.
Stonehenge rolled his eyes. “Of course not, dummy. She said she didn’t have any shape.”
At that moment the crazy woman standing on the bench across the street began screaming at us. “It’s a hit job!” she howled. “Titties and Moominvalley!” Then she squeezed her breasts, lay back down on the bench and began arguing with the four hundred insane people inside her head.
An enormous man exited the coffee shop and slumped down on the end of our bench. He stared angrily at our bicycles. “Those fancy bike frames don’t mean shit,” he said.
We looked at him.
“It’s all in the wheels. And the yaw angle.”
“Yeah?” I asked.
“Yeah,” he said. “What kind of energy drink is that?” He pointed to my water bottle.
“It’s called GQ-6.”
“Where do you get it?”
“Oh yeah? What’s in it?”
“They have various formulations, but this is their race electrolyte replacement.”
“Yep. Special formulation; contains oxygen and hydrogen.”
“Two hydrogens for every oxygen,” Stonehenge chimed in.
The bum looked interested. “Really? Sounds pretty high-tech. Can I try it?”
“Sure,” I said, and handed him the bottle. “It’s a formulation that’s been around for a long time.”
He took a swig and washed it around in his mouth. “Hmmm,” he said. “Kind of tasteless.”
“Yeah,” I said. “That’s the electrolytes. They don’t have any flavor.”
As we pondered this insight and continued to sweat profusely, an extremely short young security guard from Citibank, which was next door, walked by. He pointed to a stop light. “That’s what happens to you Jews,” he said.
“But we’re not Jews,” I protested.
He shrugged. “That’s what happens to you anyway.” The light turned green.
“What happens? The light turns and we drive off?”
“Yep,” said the security guard as he entered Philz.
A hipster rode up at that moment on a bright red Schwinn fixie with orange rims. It was covered with rust and dents. On the top tube was a sticker that said, “I fuck for money.”
“Hey, man,” he said, looking at us. “Mind if I put my bike here? Watch my ride while a grab a cup so no one don’t steal it. This baby is my pride and joy.”
Seeing that he was aiming to lean his bike on Stonehenge’s rather than his, Manslaughter said, “No, go right ahead.”
“Ummmmmm,” said Stonehenge as the steel Schwinn scraped against his full carbon $6,000 carbon Cannondale with full carbon.
The heatstroke was about to crescendo. “Guys,” I said, “I’m moving over to the shade.” A few feet away there was a shaded bench in front of the Citibank. Manslaughter joined me, but Stonehenge stayed put.
“I can’t come,” he said, looking sadly at his bike, which was pinned by the Schwinn. “I’m in bike jail.”
We finally relocated and the security guard came back out, angrier than he had been when he went in. He glanced at our bikes in a rage, which were now leaned against his bank. “I’m taking me one of these fancy bikes,” he announced, hands full of coffee.
“Sure,” I said. “Take any one that your feet can reach the pedals.”
He glared at us with a furious look. “Dude is going to go home tonight and beat the shit out his cat.”
“Yep,” agreed Stonehenge. “If by ‘cat’ you mean ‘penis.'”
Soon we were pedaling back home. Stonehenge flatted. He turned his bike upside down and set it on its seat. His open water bottle drained sticky goop all over the handlebars. I shut off the spigot and got ready to assist; of course my mechanical skills are nonexistent at best.
As I reached for his toolbag Manslaughter cut in. “Hey Wanky,” he said. “Stonehenge just designed and built one of the largest and most complex craft breweries in L.A. He probably knows how to change a flat.”
Chastened, I sat down as another plane flew overhead. Without looking up we all three said, “Glider.”
“Or a U-2,” said Stonehenge. “Gary Powers.”
“Francis Gary Powers,” I added.
At that moment the most beautiful woman in the history of the galaxy rode by on a cute blue bicycle with a basket. We stopped and gaped. She crossed Main Street and locked her bike to a post. I could tell that Manslaughter was committing that post to memory. As we sat there with long, filmy, sticky strings of drool hanging off our lips a pedestrian with a tattoo on his leg that said “Lick here” stopped and followed our gaze.
“Yeah,” he said. “She’s fuggin’ hot.” The woman went into a building and soon reappeared upstairs. She sat down behind a desk which was in front of a plate glass window looking out on the street. The guy began humming “How Much is That Doggie in the Window?”
At the refrain we all went “Arf, arf!” and stared at the window. A group of Chinese tourists walked by as we barked, drooled, and stared across the street, huddled around the upside down bicycle. They hurried by, holding tightly onto their cameras.
“You know,” said Manslaughter. We didn’t. “This reminds me of the time that we were in Leadville and Tri-Dork was running the pool table. This pickup-load of shitkickers came in and challenged him to a game. He started to run the table on them, too, so I said to the one really big, ugly, hair guy, ‘Hey, guess what.'”
“‘What?’ he answered. ‘You’re about to get your ass kicked in pool game by a guy who drives a Prius.'”
“Then what happened?” asked Stonehenge.
“Another group of cowboys came in and they were pushing this woman in a wheelchair. They helped her onto a bar stool and pushed the wheelchair over to the back of the bar by the pool table. Everybody got drunk and then one of the cowboys getting beat by Tri-Dork got in the wheelchair and started zooming around the room.”
“Then what?” I asked.
“I told him to get the fuck out of the wheelchair or I was gonna crack his skull open.”
“Then what?” Stonehenge asked.
“He got all pissed off and ready to fight. So I turned to Tri-Dork and said, ‘This is gonna get ugly. You got my back?'”
“Then what?” the guy asked who had been humming “How Much is That Doggie in the Window?”
“Tri-Dork looked at me like I was crazy. ‘Dude,’ he said, ‘I got a wife, kids, a job, and I just came to Leadville to ride my bike. If you want to pick a fight with a bar full of drunk cowboys you’re on your own.'”
“Then what?” we asked in unison.
“We sneaked out and drove back to our hotel.”
Stonehenge got his flat changed and we rode back to the South Bay.
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February 12, 2015 § 48 Comments
I got this letter from a reader. It speaks for itself.
Thanks for supporting the team. I really appreciate it.
I’ve been a Special Education and Social Studies teacher at a small charter high school in South LA for the past four years. During that time, some of my students found out about my cycling habit and began asking me about my cycling adventures. Competitive cycling is something that isn’t really seen as a possibility by many of the students. However, in the past year a small group of juniors and seniors came to me asking about the SoCal High School Mountain Bike League.
The kids were frustrated because basketball and volleyball games were often canceled. School busses would show up late or not at all. Referees would show up late to games. The football team existed, and then it disappeared.
These kids wanted to do something different. They wanted to go to the mountains, they wanted to ride trails, to camp, and to compete in a new sport. I told them that if they got the ball rolling, showed up for workouts, and took personal ownership of the club, then I would volunteer my time as their head coach. So they made the club happen.
We now have six boys and two girls who have been showing up for weekly practices after school. The catch? They don’t have bikes. They’ve been training by running, doing circuit workouts, and occasionally riding a trainer. But so far the mountain bike team has yet to actually ride a mountain bike on a trail.
Can you imagine what it’s like to have as your dream the hope that one day you will be able to ride a bike? I can’t. I’ve taken the easy acquisition of bikes and paraphernalia as a given all of my life. For these kids, what we do without even thinking is a dream so powerful that they show up after school and train their hearts out, propelled only by the slim hope that one day the dream will become a tangible, functioning, rolling bicycle.
The have have set-up their own fundraising campaign but fundraising is hard to develop within the community. So, having done their part, it is my turn to turn to the bigger and broader world, a world that their youth and their circumstances have until now made off limits.
If you can lend support in any way, either through hard cash, an old bike, clothing, shoes, helmet, or other equipment, you can make a difference in the lives of kids whose dream is the thing we do almost without thinking.
If you can put us in touch with people within the industry, that too would be profoundly appreciated. We aim to attend our first race in Temecula during the month of April. They may not have bikes, but they’re not lacking for big dreams.
Your support for these kids might include jerseys with our school’s name on the front; according to the SoCal League rules, that’s one of the requirements. Your support might also include helping us get registered for their first (and only) race of the season.
To put this in context, many of my students have to set aside scarce money simply to pay for taking the PSAT. They also have to set aside money for SAT prep classes, and a special trip to Washington D.C. offered only to achieving students. They’re a motivated, dedicated bunch, and however much I support their dream of riding bikes, I want them to keep their money for educational purposes.
The link to the student-created fundraising page can be found here: http://www.youcaring.com/synergyquantumcycling
If you have any questions about our school, our team, and our mission, please feel free to reach out to my personal email, and we can talk. Any way that you can support these amazing kids and gift them the Gift of Bike will be a wonderful contribution to the great wheel that endlessly spins, handing out good and bringing that same wheel eventually back to you.
Thank you for reading, and ride safe.
Resource Specialist/Social Studies Teacher
Synergy Quantum Academy High School
February 9, 2015 § 23 Comments
I showed up for the Sunday Wheatgrass Ride. There were a lot of people, and I was tired. When we hit the bottom of the reservoir climb Dutchie attacked and then shelled himself. Chatty Cathy took a hard pull. Uglyfoot took a hard pull. Aston Martin took a hard pull. I sucked wheel and suffered.
We crested the climb and not many people were left. We descended and then started the Better Homes climb. Aston Martin hit it again, followed by Uglyfoot, who was raging. I sucked some more wheel, along with Strava Jr., who’d also been sucking wheel the whole time, but unlike me he was waiting to pounce.
He did and shed everyone except for me and Uglyfoot. They took turns beating me up, then flicking me to come through, but I refused. Before the final bend up to the Domes I cracked. My legs really hurt.
Instead of waiting for the wankoton I descended and headed home. I was too tired for coffee and it was a cold, overcast morning, very humid and gray.
Up the bump past Terranea a tri-dork sprunted by me, then melted. I passed him out of pride, pedaling harder than I wanted to pedal. I turned right at Hawthorne, hoping he wouldn’t follow me. The last thing I wanted was a 2-mile uphill battle. I wanted to go easy and finish the ride.
Hawthorne is long but not too steep except for a brief bump at the beginning, after which it becomes a false flat, and then a steep wall section. After the short wall it turns into an easier grade, but you’ve been climbing for a long way so it doesn’t seem that much easier.
As I hit the false flat I saw a guy some way up ahead. “I won’t even have to speed up to catch him,” I told myself as I slightly sped up. I admit I was going slow and I was tired.
He got closer, but after a while I realized that he was going at a pretty fast pace, so I upped it a bit. And sure, it was not very fast. But still … About a hundred yards or so before we hit the wall he had ten seconds on me. Not like I was timing him or anything.
Ahead of him was a rider in a blue jersey, flappy pants, and tri-bars. The guy I was chasing — Andrew was his name as I found out later — pulled away from me as the road kicked up. I couldn’t believe it.
Then, he overtook Flappy Pants and blew by him. My jaw was scraping the pavement.
I got out of the saddle and started pushing it. He had eighteen seconds on me now, and at the next checkpoint he had twenty-five. He’d opened the gap easier than a can of beer. Sure, I was tired, and sure, I wasn’t going very fast, but still … are you kidding me?
I flew by Flappy Pants and rounded the curve, stomped the pedals over the last part of the little wall and hit the rolling section. Now that I had a head of steam going and the wall was past there was no way that Andrew would hold me off. I slammed it into the big ring and chased him down, chewing up the gap in no time at all.
I pulled up next to him, breathing hard. “Dude,” I said, “that’s the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen. I’ve been chasing you for over a mile.”
He smiled. “Practice, he said.” He was breathing hard, his arms swinging easily and efficiently by his side, but he never slowed his powerful stride as his running shoes kept up their relentless tattoo on the asphalt.
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February 5, 2015 § 20 Comments
Jessica Cerra is one of those riders who has earned her spot in the peloton through skill, toughness, resilience, and force of will. She came to road racing via triathlon and MTB, and burst onto the local North County San Diego scene a couple of years ago as she was recovering from surgery to correct a severe case of iliac artery compression syndrome in her right leg.
By the time she had healed, she was thrashing men on the group rides, and from there it was a short hop to dominating the local road races, riding as the marquee women’s racer for SPY-Giant-RIDE. With powerful performances on the national stage, notably at Redlands in 2014, Jess was picked up for the 2015 season by Twenty16 p/b ShoAir.
It will be her first full year with a professional women’s team, and although she had calendared an ambitious season, a few weeks ago she learned that she was also suffering from iliac compression syndrome in her left leg. She’s had the surgery and is expected to make a full recovery, though she’ll have an obviously different racing schedule. Jess was kind enough to talk with me about a whole host of topics related to racing. Enjoy!
CitSB: What are your goals for 2015?
Jessica Cerra: My biggest goal was a stage win at Redlands and a top-3 GC finish. I don’t know that that’s a reality anymore [due to surgery — ed.]. An NRC stage win, a podium at nationals, definitely a podium at Winston-Salem or in Philly. Qualifying for the road world championship team, I guess that’s the biggest goal that I have overall.
CitSB: What kind of mental prep goes into a shot at making the road team for worlds?
JC: The more I try to hold back expectations the worse things go. The more I go in relaxed, remembering that I’m here because I like to race my bike, then the more instinctual decisions I make and things turn out better. This year I planned to go in being the strongest, most durable, fittest person out there because in those situations you can think more clearly; you’re not hanging on, you’re affecting the race. That’s how I want to race this year. I put in a huge base this year, 2,000 miles just in December, and I took good care of my body, got consistent massages, and have been working with a coach now, documenting sleep and weight, and taking a more professional approach. But my coach also likes me just being me; I like numbers and knowing my power but I also like doing the group ride with Thurlow on the front just killing it, and putting myself on the front, in the wind, so I know what my body can do in those super tough scenarios and then I can rely on those things to get me ready for racing, where those super hard moments happen all over again. Since I don’t have a lot of experience as a racer, the group rides are a huge part of my training.
CitSB: How does it feel to be the only woman in the first 25 wheels or on the entire ride when Thurlow and company are drilling it?
JC: It’s my favorite part about riding my bike. It’s pretty cool! After a while I don’t even feel any different from anyone else. I compare myself exactly to the peers I’m riding with. I’m hard on myself, too, I only see my weaknesses.
CitSB: What’s the hardest thing for women throwing their hat in the ring on the hard group rides?
JC: A lot of women are intimidated. There’s the fear of getting dropped, that everyone will notice, and it’s so embarrassing. I always try to encourage other women and make sure to compliment them when they do well or make it to certain points in the ride. I remember being nervous going to the Swami’s Ride, feeling exactly like I was going to a race! It’s intimidating and you don’t want to do something goofy and be “that person,” and you’re obsessed about training and don’t want to ruin your training by getting dropped. I encourage every woman to get out there. It’s the reason I’ve gotten as strong as I am; I’ve put myself in situations that are harder than what I have the strength for. You learn so much about racing and handling when you’re over your limit. It’s true, too, guys have better bike handling skills. You learn so much by racing with guys in a crit, about the lines that they take, and you start to see things, like how they can squeak through the inside of corners. It’s faster and more aggressive so there’s less time to think about what you’re doing. Most of the riders have the fitness to race but a lot of it is, “Why am I getting dropped when there’s five laps to go?” The more you do it, you realize it’s not fitness, it’s efficiency and awareness. You keep putting yourself in those situations, and it’s scary and you just do it. That’s how I learned.
CitSB: Now you’re a fixture on the North County rides and guys know that you can grind them up into little chunks of meat and they fear you. How does that feel?
JC: I don’t know if I look at it like that. I’m so focused on my own internal fears of what’s going to happen when I get to the power climb, and I know the women’s pro field is so strong and they know what they’re doing and are so good. NRC races are so different from local ones. I was supposed to go with the national team to do the spring classics which I’m not doing now, but I think of those situations on the local rides getting me prepared to be in those types of pelotons. When you don’t have a ton of experience in these races but you live in a place where there are 150 people on a group ride, you can apply the same things you know are going to happen in a race. If you want to be part of a race, then I go into a group ride practicing rotating through in the first 10 or 15 positions, gauging the effort to pull through, really what I’m doing is preparing myself to have to do those things in the peloton. It’s nice to ride with the guys; it used to be fun but now it’s more about completing a job. I expect them to make it hard and I expect them to look at me like I’m one of the people up there where it’s windy and not to make it easy because I’m a girl.
CitSB: Do you feel guys cut you slack? Or do they try to slaughter you like everyone else?
JC: They treat me like everyone else.
CitSB: How do you make the jump from racing Boulevard to the national or international level?
JC: Without my mountain biking background it would have been harder. I have lots of natural positional awareness and muscle memory where things happen in a race and I can read where to be, how to navigate through tricky situations, and how to feel confident about how I ride my bike. That’s huge. The second you don’t have confidence it’s going to be the worst day. When you’re riding scared nothing goes smooth. You bobble and crash, and it’s the same in the peloton. Confidence is so huge. You take control and put yourself where you need to be. Combined with my fitness, I was lucky. I went into pro racing and figured I can handle a bike and am one of the best descenders, I’m fit enough to see what’s going on, to read how the lead-out will go, so in a lot of races I could freelance and observe and notice, and you know, I could also be focused on what I was bad at–I tried to practice those situations to get better because I didn’t have a lot of racing experience. I think the biggest thing about the transition was positioning and being efficient, and that same transition happens going from the national to the international peloton. It’s a whole different level. The courses are harder, the conditions are worse, the fight for position is constant, you have to keep putting yourself in position over and over and over again. I also learned that every time at end of a race when I decided to think through what was happening, I got my face kicked in, zero results. When I just “did” it rather than think it, something inside told me what to do and it seemed to work. It takes time to trust that inner feeling. I also didn’t feel I belonged. I was stoked with a top 20 at Redlands, and had no idea about my potential. I figured out that I was more prepped than I thought I was. It’s a hard balance, though. You can’t let it go to your head but you still have to be confident enough to trust your instincts to put yourself where you need to be.
CitSB: How are things going with Harmony Bar?
JC: We had a setback with the name. We filed for a trademark and then a couple of other companies filed for the same name and our application was denied. So now we’ve filed for a new name and have been in a year of a holding pattern because we can’t make our packaging and take the next step; without the name and the brand it’s hard to move forward. The good news is that we’re still consistently selling all of our inventory online and in the bike shops we work with. There’s no marketing except word of mouth. People say it’s the best they’ve ever had and they tell our story. The next couple of months will be quiet because we’re sorting out the name. We also signed up with SmartStop, which is a big opportunity for us. By Tour of California time we’ll be with SmartStop and ready with our new name, branding, and packaging.
CitSB: For someone not familiar with Harmony Bar, how is it different from the zillions of other energy foods out there?
JC: It’s unique because I never made it to market and sell. I made it because I have a master’s degree in exercise physiology, I was in the kitchen with ingredients, paper, and pen, and mixed them a hundred times over, over, and over until I got a bar that tasted like a cookie and had all the macro nutrients that I wanted for my training. This was something I was making for myself. I knew the research was there showing that bars higher in fat were good for endurance athletes. So basically, I wanted to eat cookies on the bike! I love food and eat a ton of calories on the bike and wanted to eat things that tasted good and were like real food. Everyone said “Holy crap, this tastes like a cookie and works so well and can I buy some?” It got popular on its own because, you know, athletes out there like cookies and like to eat!
CitSB: Do you see yourself as a role model for other cyclists?
JC: I’m starting to. Unfortunately, as much as we’re trying to grow the sport of women’s cycling, coming from triathlon and MTB, I can say that road racing is by far the most intimidating to get into. Its very clique-ish, the teams and their kits and the people keep to themselves. I remember feeling like “Whoa! This isn’t like mountain biking where we finish a race and all have a beer together!” It’s hard to feel like you have a place in it. For me it’s important to change that atmosphere and for women to feel like the sport is approachable, the people are approachable, that I’m approachable. People come up after a race and they’re intimidated and I don’t like that. I’m open to talking to everyone. Lots of people are continually asking for advice about food and particular race courses and I spend lots of time answering questions on Facebook and getting to know people. I’m genuinely interested in people and their goals. After having my setbacks, the biggest joy for me is seeing others succeed. I gave a girl my racing clothes from SPY because she didn’t have any; the team kits weren’t ready yet. There’s more I can do than just racing and trying to win.
CitSB: How do you help people break into the secret society of road racing? How do you get them to take the step to enter a race?
JC: Maybe it’s different for women? I just go up to women and tell them how well they’re riding. For women it’s different. A lot of people wlll approach me and say, “My friend said you’d be on the ride,” and it’s someone new or who’s not in a club and I’ll be cool and tell them to keep coming out, and find out what they like, do they like climbing or sprinting, and the more you start hanging around the more you’ll learn. It’s in my nature to help. When I started cycling in grad school I was a a Fred, or a Frieda, I didn’t have any money for equipment and cool, nice people helped and supported and gave me pedals, for example, and had that never happened I would have never gotten to the point I’m at now. I want cycling to grow, and rides to grow, and races to grow, and people who complain about prize money or promoters are missing the fun–it’s about knowing people and being excited about seeing people you know, not avoiding the race because you don’t fit in and aren’t going to beat Monster Media and Surf City and SPY and not get a result. I try to imagine if I were a Cat 5 dude how tough that would be and how intimidating. But there are enough people who are cool and who have the same perspective that I do, who want to help. We want local racing and good group rides and an atmosphere of mutual respect. There are a lot of really good people on SPY, the team I rode with last year, people who are great riders and humble and who want to help. Without the opportunities given me by SPY and Michael Marckx I wouldn’t have ever gotten to race Redlands and then gotten the call-up to the pro ranks. MMX knew I wouldn’t be at SPY in the long run but he saw the potential and the opportunity to help grow and launch an athlete. He really put his faith in me and I couldn’t have done it without him and the support–the financial support, the logistical support of getting to races, and just a group of people who were always so cool and who believed in me.
CitSB: Tell me about your new team.
JC: The new team is amazing! It’s called Twenty16 p/b ShoAir, and we’re a UCI team this year. The director is Mari Holden and the GM/owner is Nicola Cranmer. They appraoched me and had watched my racing earlier and saw something they liked and it seemed like a great match. We’re a unique team. We have a lot of team goals and do a lot of big races but we also emphasize individual goals like doing ‘cross or track or the national team and racing in Europe. The theme of the team is “Women that race with continued education.” They encourage college and want us to have things off the bike to contribute and bring to the team as well. I’m 32, I did the reverse — went to school first and then found pro cycling!
CitSB: How many teammates live in SD?
JC: Only me. A couple live in Orange County, but we’re from all over the place.
CitSB: Has the team targeted any races this year?
JC: Redlands, which is big for women, and this year TTT nationals is a good one for us because it will be good prep for TTT worlds, which is in the USA in Richmond. One of the big sponsors is SRAM so having them support the TOC women’s race is a huge addition to our calendar and something we’ll focus on. Tour of the Gila is UCI for women this year, so it’s a focus for all of the teams, as well as Winston-Salem and the Philly race, and Philly is a world cup event. All the races are around the same time as nationals, which will be key racing for our team.
CitSB: Anything you want to add?
JC: The team has been really supportive so it’s scary being the new person on the team and I’ve been waking up every morning with photos and texts from team camp. It’s a pretty good feeling to not have really met teammates and already be included. They truly have my best interests at heart! I know that it’s going to be a good season this year–a bunch of bad-ass women with a lot of horsepower on this team!
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January 31, 2015 § 18 Comments
The hotel clerk looked at me and then at my traveling companion, who, like me, was smelly and unshaven.
“Would you like two queens or a king?”
“Two queens,” we said together.
Fireman and I had spent the day at our profamateur team training camp listening to an extensive and detailed series of presentations on the importance of careful nutrition prior to important races. After finishing a huge meal at Denny’s, we waddled over to the hotel.
It had been a tiring day. All 80 team members had showed up to collect their racing glasses, team uniforms, nutritional supplements, and team burritos. Since the biggest and toughest road race of the year was the following morning, we did a casual leg-loosening 50-mile spin that required sustained 350-watt efforts just to stay on a wheel.
After the lectures broke up I ended up standing next to a very pretty young racer on our women’s team. One of the crusty old fellows on the 85-plus masters team was trying to chat her up with this winning icebreaker.
“So,” he said, “I just bought a new set of full carbon wheels, which are full carbon.”
She smiled politely, wondering why she was spending Friday afternoon in a nursing home.
I decided to take a stab. “Hi, I don’t think we’ve met. I’m Seth.”
She shrank back, which was a bad sign. “Are you that Wanky bogging dude?”
I looked around for King Harold, hoping I could blame it on him, but he was arm wrestling Bull for the last of the cheese scrapings in the bottom of the nacho tray. “Um, yes,” I said.
“You almost killed me, dude.” She wasn’t smiling.
“I’m sorry.” What else could I say?
“I’m from New York.” Her blazing eyes were drilling into the back of my skull, which was actually awesome because she was so hot.
“I moved out to California five years ago and got into cycling and decided to do my first race.”
“That’s awesome,” I said, wondering from which direction the haymaker was going to come.
“And my first race was Devil’s Punchbowl.”
“Oh,” I said. “I guess not so awesome, then.” Punchbowl is the root canal-plus-rectal-drilling of all races in SoCal.
“I was really pumped and fit for that race. I didn’t know anything about cycling or racing or the races or anything, and a friend sent me a link to your blog about Punchbowl.”
Now I knew where she was going, and it was along a mined road that was going to end in a plunge off a cliff. “Oh?”
“Yeah. I thought it was serious, you know, like how to do well at that race. You remember what you wrote about aspirin?”
“Aspirin. You said that because of the altitude a rider should eat half a bottle of aspirin to ‘thin the blood.'”
“I said that?”
“You said that.”
“But surely no one would have been stupid enough to eat an entire half bottle of aspirin before a bike race. I mean, how could you even do it.”
“I crushed it into powder and dissolved it into my water bottle. Then I drank it.”
“Wow,” I said noting that she had ignored the first part of my observation. “Then what happened?”
“I won in a solo break on last lap.”
“Then I began vomiting uncontrollably, spitting up blood, ruptured an artery in my throat and almost bled to death.”
“Yeah,” I said, “but you won!”
I was so excited for her that I missed the haymaker, which came from the left.
Back at the hotel I called up G$, the guy who had told me so many years ago about taking two aspirin the morning of the race. “Dude,” I said. “You know how you told me to take two aspirins before high altitude races like Punchbowl?”
“We gotta up the dosage.”