Bike racing lessons

January 24, 2018 Comments Off on Bike racing lessons

I did two races on Sunday and finished mostly last in the first one and relatively last in the second. In the first race I attacked a bunch, got brought back a bunch, and sat up with a lap to go because one of the most basic bike racing lessons is “Don’t go where you don’t belong,” and I don’t belong UP THERE at the end of a crit that’s finishing in a bunch sprunt.

In the second race, being gassed from the first one, I sat at the back for forty minutes and then jumped free for a few laps in a doomed breakaway that was caught, swarmed, and discarded like so much used toilet paper. Again, it always pays to follow that most basic of bike racing lessons, “Don’t go where you don’t belong.” And by “pay” I mean “go home with all the skin you came with.”

Why does everyone sit?

During both races I watched while 90% of the field simply sat. A handful of people animated the race, and ten people placed in the top ten, but everyone else was content to go around in circles and then sprunt for placings 11-100. In case you think there’s a difference between 2nd and 100th, let me suggest that there isn’t.

But it’s more complicated than that and since I’ve witnessed the same imbecilic behavior in every crit I’ve ever been in, now seems like a good time to break down this whole bike racing thing, not so that anyone will ever do anything differently, but so that I won’t have to repeat myself the next time someone asks me about crit racing.

Bike racing lessons for the industrial park, 4-corner, crit wanker

Every race is different, and the biggest factor in how you place is who shows up, period. That’s why a local 70-year-old flailer who has never lined up in a mass start race calls himself a “world champion.” One other wanker showed up for the time trial, and the “winner” rode 2,000 meters faster than the “silver medalist.” The bronze medalist was an empty space.

For real bike racers, though, your competition is the most significant factor, and at CBR, where primes are generous, courses are wide and safe, the weather is good, and the atmosphere is fun, the riders who you cannot and will not beat, ever, are guaranteed to be there. From this we can take home the first lesson of industrial park crit racing, and the most important: YOU WILL NOT WIN, EVER.

Read that as often as you need to. Once you understand it we will move on to Lesson 2, and please don’t give me any “If!” and “But!” and “My coach says!” and “My Strava!” and “But wattage!”

I don’t GAF. You–yes, you–cannot win a CBR crit. Neither, of course can I, and please don’t remind me of that time last year when it was raining meatballs and I beat one other dude who quit midway through. That wasn’t “winning CBR,” that was “riding in the rain alone.” The reason you will never win a CBR crit is really simple. There will always be someone faster than you.

How do I know this? Because the same kinds of people have been winning this race, and races like it, for decades. You are not one of those kinds of people.

Understanding your crit racing limits

You may be wondering how I can be so certain that you aren’t ever going to win at CBR. Well, there are two reasons. One, you are too slow. “But my wattage!” you cry. Okay, perhaps you have the wattage. Perhaps you really do have enough power in the last 300m to win at CBR. But there’s a second reason you will never win, which is way more important than your power: You don’t know how to get in the right position, and stay there, on the last lap.

These two limitations, your speed and your position, can never both be overcome. This is because you are a fraidy cat slowpoke, and because at CBR there are at least a dozen riders who are consummately skilled at positioning, and who have a better sprint. And you could race and train and pay coach until the heavens go black forever, but you will still never come around Cory Williams, or Justin Williams, or Charon Smith, or Steve Gregorios, or Tommy Robles, etc. etc. etc.

I can’t overestimate the importance of understanding how hopeless your outlook is. It’s like walking on the surface of the sun, or breaking the two-minute mile, or chewing with your mouth closed. It will never happen, and it’s not until you accept that fact that we can proceed. By the way, if you think I might be talking about you, I AM.

Understanding everyone else’s crit racing limits

Once you accept defeat it’s time to study another of the important bike racing lessons, which is that none of the other racers can win, either. All those people around you? They are as hopeless as you are. You and they are one, together, joined at the hip. They, like you, have spent all that money and time on Facebook but they will be going home with something other than first place. This is called losing. You and they will lose.

Now don’t get me wrong. Coach will find something to praise you about and your numbers will be a navel for infinite gazing. Someone may have a photo of you charging around a corner and you will one day win a prime, or at least know someone who did. But you and they will still have lost and be losers. Remember this when you observe the field. “We are losers.” Repeat this as often as you need to.

However, sprinkled in among the losers are potential winners. You are not one of them and it’s pointless to speculate who they might be. It doesn’t matter; they are not you and you are not they. And since this kind of thing goes better with real names, I will give you a few from my own club. Ryan Dorris, Dave Holland, Anthony Freeman, Scott Torrence …

These racers can potentially win at CBR because they have top-end speed and the ability to position themselves on the last lap. There are other racers like them who can also win, but again, none of those racers is you, and never will be. It’s important to recognize that your team may have one or two potential winners in a bunch sprint and that you will never be one because this is the beginning of the process through which you can answer the key question about bike race participation: What the fuck are you doing out there if you’re not there to win?

To sum up: You’re in a bike race and your chance of winning is zero. Why are you there?

Breaking down purposeful racing

Leaving aside the only explanation for every junior racer ever, “My dad made me do this,” there are only four reasons for any human being to ever join a four-corner industrial park crit that is going to end in a bunch sprunt. Here they are:

  1. I’m here to win (this doesn’t apply to you, ever).
  2. I’m here for the training.
  3. I’m here to help my teammate win.
  4. I’m here to entertain the spectators.

There is no fifth reason to be in a four-corner industrial bunch sprunt crit. If you can’t peg yourself to #2, #3, or #4, it’s time for you to go into therapy. But first, go home because you don’t belong here, ever, and the pavement hurts.

I’m here for the training

This is actually a great reason to sit in the middle of a big pack, do nothing, and pedal hard the last lap so that you can get 58th. Bike races with lots of racers go fast, and speedwork is speedwork. Joining the bike race to improve your cornering, get used to racing in proximity with other imbeciles, and learning to bunnyhop body parts is all part of the skill set you will need if you plan to continue racing, which, by the way, is a bad plan.

However, in order to get much of a training benefit from crit racing where you ride around in the pack like a broken potato, you need to do more than one race. You need to do three, four if you can stand it. The additional races cost a measly fifteen bucks, and you will be absolutely frazzled if you put in three hours of crit racing, even if you just sit there like a wart.

The corollary is that if you only do one or two races you are not getting much training benefit from imitating a toenail. So once you accept that you will never win, if you decide that your goal is training, then do three races and make sure when you get home you can barely inject a steroid. That’s how tired you should be.

I’m here to help my teammate win

While this sounds like a good reason to do a four-corner industrial park bunch sprint, it’s usually not. Why? Because if your teammate is Ryan Dorris or Dave Holland or Anthony Freeman, they don’t need your help. At all. Not even a little bit. That fantasy you have of driving the pace on the final lap and dropping them off gift-wrapped with 200m to go is like the Tooth Fairy. Nuh-uh.

The most obvious reason this won’t ever happen is because if you had that kind of speed and that kind of positioning, you’d be capable of winning yourself, but as we’ve seen you have one or neither but not both. The less obvious reason and the sad one that your teammates won’t tell you is that they don’t need or want you anywhere near them on the last lap.

Your teammates are looking for a good wheel to latch onto, not yours, and you are violating that most crucial of bike racing lessons, “Don’t go where you don’t belong.”

It is painful to realize that you are worthless when it comes to helping others, but like gravity it is also a fact. You are a clogstacle, an object that gets in the way at precisely the wrong time, leading to crashes, bumps, shrieks of terror, and having thirty people pass you in the last hundred meters. I wish I had a nickel for every time I’ve seen a wide-eyed new racer tell me how he was getting fit so he could “help the team” by “leading out Ol’ Grizzles,” and me never having the heart to say “Ol’ Grizzles wants you as far back as you can get without being in Montana.”

So now is a great time to take that fantasy of you driving the leadout train behind the woodshed and shoot it. Actually, you don’t even have to shoot it because it is already dead.

Meaningful help

But don’t despair! There is a way that you, a loser, can help your teammates, who might be winners. It’s not glamorous or glorious and you may well DNF, but since you’ve accepted that you will never win, and have decided that you don’t just want to ride around in circles like a greasy donut doing nothing, you can be a helper.

Here’s how.

Your sprinter dude teammates at CBR are waiting for the end. That’s it. They know who they have to beat and how they have to beat them. What they are hoping is that their competition is just slightly more tired at the end than they are because unless you’re sprinting against Charon Smith the differential is often not that great. This is where you, lowly wanker, can actually attack.

Attacking is simple. You wait until the pack bunches up, then squirt up the side pedaling as if you are being chased by facial herpes. The pack has bunched up because it is going slow; you are squirting up the side because you are going fast. When you hit the front you will keep going and they will watch you go, in amazement, perhaps sprinkled with a few giggles at your awkward pedaling syle (pull your left knee in, please).

“Who is that wanker?” they will all wonder, but you won’t care because you will be off the front and pretty soon instead of wondering, they will have to chase. Don’t ever think, even for a moment, that they will not chase and you will somehow solo to glorious victory. They will, and you won’t.

Key point: This attack helps your sprinter/potential winner. You will get caught of course and there will likely be a counter and you could well get punched out the back of the field, dropped for good, pulled by the ref, and forced to tell your wife that you DNF’d a stupid crit, but you will have done something far more interesting and useful and bike-racerish than going around in circles like a turd swirling the drain. What’s more important is that if you have teammates who are also doing the toilet swirl thing, they can do these attacks, too.

Each attack, though weak and doomed to failure and instigated by a complete flailer (you), results in someone having to expend energy chasing you down. That is often one of the potential winners and your teammate will be back there chortling. Make a note of this: DOOMED ATTACKS ARE GREAT TEAMWORK AND HELP YOUR SPRUNTER. Even more incredibly, you are not limited to one of these attacks. You can do two, three, or even seventy, as many as your legs can stand. And another bonus is that it is good training. So the next time you are in a crit simply going around in circles waiting for your inevitable 58th placing, for fuck’s sake make an effort, and then another, and then another.

Here’s another fact. If the 90% who never do anything all did one hard effort, the races wouldn’t end in a field sprunt. They would break apart and an actual bike race would occur. However, this is impossible.

I’m here to entertain the spectators

It is easy to understand why you wouldn’t want to attack repeatedly to help your teammate. Most teammates aren’t worth helping at all, even a little. In fact, most teammates are best served by being chased down like scurvy dogs. There are few feelings in life as enjoyable as watching a teammate in a successful break, and then helping the enemy bring him back. Betrayal and treachery rule.

So it’s not necessary to carry out senseless attacks so your superior teammate can bring home yet another winner’s mug and $50 check while you have to show up at the water cooler on Monday and explain that you “helped by losing.” No one will understand. The only thing they will understand is “I won,” which you will never get to say, and even if you do, they will immediately forget because it is a ridiculous thing that causes their brains to stop the minute you say “criterium.” No matter what they say they are all thinking “What the fuck is a criterium?”

The final and only sane reason to be at the bike race, since you can’t win and you don’t want to train and you wouldn’t help your teammates on a bet is to entertain the spectators.

Keep in mind that although for you bike racing is a mortally serious event contested between serious adults displaying the ultimate in mental acuity, reflexes, endurance, fitness, and speed, to the rest of Planet Earth you are a middle-aged man slowly and anonymously riding a plastic toy in circles in his underwear clownsuit while his pot belly sags over the top tube and a few bored family members eat tacos and hope you don’t get killed or, depending on your insurance policy, that you do.

Although studies have shown that some activities shut down the brain more completely than watching a bike race, such as being dead, for the most part industrial park crit racing is the worst. Fortunately, at least at CBR, Kris and Jeff Prinz had the foresight to hire Archibald & Rufus to do the race announcing. These two guys are funny, witty, insightful, experienced racers and pro commentators.

The catch?

Something has to happen in the race. Even Archibald & Rufus can’t make chicken salad out of chickenshit, and it’s up to you to bring the chicken. A well timed attack, a badly timed attack, a hopeless surge for a lost prime, a mad dash for a pair of socks or some nutritional supplement that you don’t need, anything that is dynamic and noticeable and that distinguishes you from the other sods stuck in the middle of the peloton counting down to 58th place is exciting! And the announcers will either say your name or, less thrilling, your race number.

“Here comes Number 607 on a hopeless attack destined for failure!” Rufus will roar.

The crowd will wake up. They will look. They’ll note your determination, your focused drive, your matchy-matchy socks, and they will admire your effort, because no matter how silly you look, punching off the front in a solo move is hard and looks impressive, especially to the ignorant and ill-informed, and especially with Archibald & Rufus comparing your daring to Eddy Merckx.

In other words, if all else fails, at least put on a show. You got this.

Conclusion: Bike racing lessons that work

I hope you’ve been able to identify yourself. I know I have. Industrial park crit racing can be gratifying but you have to get out of the blob. Everyone can’t be a winner; it’s not a lottery ticket where the chances are equal. But there’s more to life than winning. Just ask Charlie Sheen.

END

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About SouthBayCycling.com: This the all-things-cycling blog about cycling in the South Bay and cycling in Los Angeles, maintained and authored by me, Seth Davidson, Torrance-based bicycle lawyer, bike racer, and personal injury attorney.

 

TUE for Tuesday

December 15, 2017 Comments Off on TUE for Tuesday

I read the sad news about Chrissy Frump’s adverse analytical finding which wasn’t a positive or a failed drug test and didn’t involve him breaking any rules but was more of a misunderstanding that requires further clarification to determine the complex, myriad factors that led to a non-doping violation positive potentially resulting in the loss of a grand tour title because of its non-dopingness.

Chrissy and Team Mystery Package will get to the bottom of it and have retained O.J. to help them find the killers, with Bone-Idle Wiggins on retainer in case there is a witch hunt.

In the meantime I did a lot of research about asthma and pro cyclists, which is another way of saying I typed in “cyclists asthma” and read the first three propaganda pieces churned out by Cycling News, which quickly interviewed a pro cyclist team doc (we’ll get the straight dope from him!) who explained that every pro cyclist is or should be an asthmatic and that the banned drugs wouldn’t help anyone perform anyway, certainly not by improving their breathing in an aerobic sport like … stage racing.

Anyway, after reading about how horrible cycling is for the lungs and that it is a gateway to asthma, I reflected on the past weekend’s upgrade race at our local parking lot crit, CBR. And now that I think about it, there were asthmatics everywhere. I don’t think you would see more pulmonary disease on an emphysema ward or in a West Virginia coal mine.

My own race, a Cat 2/3 upgrade event where people with nowhere to go in the sport of cycling beyond Suck Land pay money to get beaten again as they seek points rarer than the hammer that made the Ark of the Covenant, I realized that my inability to upgrade was a result of my lifelong asthma.

Unlike a lot of asthmas-come-lately, I had asthma from as early as junior high school. I remember wheezing and gasping horribly every time Mrs. Morcom handed out the Friday algebra test, and no amount of second-hand marijuana smoke inhaled in the bathrooms seemed to cure it. My asthma was crippling and led to an “F” which I had to make up in summer school in order graduate, which in turn led to even more asthmatic suffering that even more second-hand pot smoke (force inhaled) failed to cure.

It wasn’t until I began Serious Cycling at age eighteen that my asthma went away, but it was subcutaneous asthma, where it worked its invidious clogging of my lungs invisibly. To outsiders I appeared fit and quick and successful in a few shabby races and able to ride hundreds of miles a week, but inside I was a ruined asthmatic mess. Sometimes my asthma was so bad that when we hit a steep hill the only way I could get away from the pulmonary pain was by pedaling faster for an hour or two.

Anyway, as an older competitor it is clear that my asthma has prevented me from winning more races. Just the other day when Dave Holland was beating me in a time trial, I was on the verge of beating him but for the seven or eight asthmatic breaths that took almost a minute out of my finishing time. And in the hill climb, when everyone rode away from me, I would have beaten them had it not been for my asthma.

This played out again on Sunday at the upgrade race, where I was on the verge of winning except for my subcutaneous asthma. My only consolation is that everyone else in the race had asthma too, or if they didn’t, they would one day. In the meantime I’ll just send off my TUE for salbutamol with a sprinkle of EPO, HGH, and some Kayle Sauce, and keep my fingers crossed.

END

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CBR #5–bike racing for fun and not much profit!

May 30, 2017 § 5 Comments

I did two races yesterday, the 45+ and the 35+. This was held on the “left-hand” race course, which is the longer one with four turns and which is almost pancake flat.

The 45+ field had almost ninety riders and there was no wind, so I knew it was going to be very fast. After the race someone said we averaged 28.5 mph over sixty minutes. I don’t know if that’s true, but the handful of times I was off the front it was ridiculously painful.

Two moves that would have worked in CBRs past were the one in which I followed Pat Bos. Basically, once the first salvos have been fired and people are starting to tire, any move with Pat in it is going to be a winning one. We stayed away for about a lap, but each time he flicked me to come through we lost massive speed. The pack seemed to bring us back with ease.

The other move was with Red Trek Dude. I don’t know his name but he is fast and super smart. Same deal, though. They pegged us back after a couple of laps and that was that.

With twenty minutes to go it looked for sure like it was going to be a field sprint, so I slid to the back. It’s funny how a peloton has a group consciousness, where everyone realizes the same thing at the same time without ever saying a word. Sometimes it’s “field sprint,” or “that move is gone,” or “bring it back.” I don’t know how you know but you just know.

I settled back to watch the fireworks because I’m a firm believer in leaving the dangerous, dirty work of sprinting to the sprinters. It’s true I don’t win much but it’s also true that I have a pretty good record of going home with all the same skin I left with.

The second race was slower, I think, but just as ridiculously hard because it was a smaller field. The 35+ race looked like it was going to be a battle between Rahsaan Bahati and Charon Smith, two guys who wrote the book on crit racing. It’s always weird how in one race things stay together and in another race on the same course on the same day under the same condition a break goes, and there doesn’t seem to be a reason why.

I stayed at the back most of the race, where things would have been really easy were I not already gassed. The one time I moved up towards the front to see if any break action was about to happen, all I found was a lot of wind. So I slinked back.

While Rahsaan and Charon were watching each other on the last lap, Robbie Miranda hit out early and beat everyone to the line. It’s always exciting when an underdog beats the favorites, although Robbie wins so much he’s hardly an underdog. I was so tired after two hours of racing in circles that even sitting was a chore.

My Big Orange team tent was the happiest place at the race. We had several riders do their first race yesterday. Kevin Salk and Matthieu Brousseau were incredibly excited to race; Matthieu so much so that he put on a clown suit after the race and wore it on the podium. It was pretty awesome that while other people were fumbling for their podium cap our guy was buttoning up his entire clown suit. A huge contingent of Big Orange racers paid entry fees and raced. I could name them all, except I couldn’t. The NJ Of The Day award went to Andrew Nuckles, who did three races and never stopped talking for seven straight hours.

Sherri Foxworthy came to the race and snapped a ton of team pictures, as did Paul Cressey, so we have two team photogs who are each generously paid in granola bars and all the warm water they can drink.

Team members Delia Park showed up to cheer and chat and encourage, and Kristie Fox put up the tent at Dark AF:00, loaded the tent area with food and drinks, and spent the entire day pinning people up, refilling bottles, changing poopy racer diapers, then going out to race against some very fast women. Denis Faye of Beachbody Performance also came to cheer his wife, and Connie Perez, recovering from a bad fall, was there as well. Marilyne Deckman raced her way to fifth, Lisa Conrad had a strong showing in the 4s, and everyone agreed that Michelle Landes needs to woman up and switch back to Big Orange.

People who want bike racing to be more fun and who think that industrial park crits are boring need to see what happens when their entire team shows up, including spouses, kids, and S/Os.

Because it’s fun AF. Photos courtesy of THE Sherri Foxworth.

END

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Workin’ the mouth

April 7, 2017 § 14 Comments

I’ve always maintained that industrial park crit racing is really boring for spectators. A huge mass of people go round and round, they’re harder to distinguish than fall warblers, then someone shoots out at the end, throws her hands up, and the race is over.

Who’d want to watch that for fifty minutes, or even fifteen?

But then I thought about America’s most popular sport, throwball. The players are indistinguishable if you’re a neophyte. What they are doing is incomprehensible. Some umpire dude is constantly blowing a whistle and throwing a flag. Everyone suddenly decides to give the throwball to the other team. Someone runs across the finish line. Another dude kicks the throwball through the fork tines. Weird point combinations of six, three, one, sometimes two, appear at random. WTF?

And for all that, people go ape-fuggin-shit and hundreds of millions of dollars change hands online.

What do they got that we don’t got?

Then it hit me. Announcers. They got announcers. Some of them are great. Some of them are awful. All of them have mountains of crap to say. One dude talks about how four seasons ago one throwball dude dragged down another throwball dude. Another talks about somebody’s fifth knee operation. Some other dude compares one throwball team to the Pittsburgh Flintstones’ Stone Curtain from the 70s. It may be drivel, but it’s informative drivel.

But bike races? Crits have four types of announcers:

  1. This is my playlist. Hope you like the 70s.
  2. Nathan Newbie. “Hey everbody!! (Is this mic live)?”
  3. Jaded Fuddy Duddy. (“Looks like you all missed the break. Hahahaha.”)
  4. Awesome Announcer (“You’re not paying me? See ya.”)

Numbers one and two are self-explanatory and common. And guess what? Spectators don’t have to come to your industrial park crit to listen to K.C. and the Sunshine Band.

Number three is some dude who’s been around forever, is sarcastic and cynical, and when he pays attention, if at all, it’s for the pro race. Men’s.

This year the CBR Crit took a different approach. It got Rahsaan Bahati, David Worthington, and David Wells to create an actual commentating crew.

AND IT PAID THEM.

These three guys are all smart, glib, and experienced announcers, but most importantly they know the racers and they know how to race. Whether it’s the Cat 5 Crit or the Masters 55+, they call out names, real names. None of that “Here comes number 69 leading the pack!”

It makes all the difference to a mom, dad, brother, girlfriend, sister, or boyfriend to hear a name called out. And it makes all the difference to all the spectators to hear experienced racers break down what’s going on, lap by lap. Analyzing riders’ strengths, speculating about weaknesses, commenting on strategy, filling the time with anecdotes and explanations makes these races become for the spectator what they are for the racer: Fun.

It’s easy to get great bike race announcers, but after a day or two spent in the hot sun shouting yourself hoarse for eight hours it transitions from “fun” and “helping the community” to “work.” Professionalizing it by paying the announcers for what they bring to the event is one of the best investments a promoter can make.

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Wanky Race Predictor!

March 31, 2017 § 20 Comments

cbr_20170402

Wanky Race Predictor for CBR Crit #4

Last 20 laps of the MP12 race will be fast.

Last 20 laps of the WP123 race will be fast.

Last 15 laps of the Cat 3 race will be fast.

Last 15 laps of the Cat 4 race will be fast.

Last 15 laps of the Old Fart 35+ race will be fast.

Last 15 laps of the Oldest Fart 45+ race will be fast.

Last 15 laps of the Sandbagger 35+ 3/4 race will be fast.

cbr_20170402

END

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B(u)RP

February 21, 2017 § 12 Comments

It is pretty easy to complain about the state of road racing, which is why I enjoy doing it so much. Complaining doesn’t require any research (my forte) and can be done based exclusively on personal experience.

Although I often want to say good things about the state of road racing, the effort it requires is so monumental that I just go over to Cyclingnews.com and scan the latest podcast of Lance & Co. explaining how “he wouldn’t go back and change things,” which is really nice of him not to do that.

Problem is, when good news appears it always requires work to verify facts, get names spelled correctly, and make sure that I didn’t give Willy Walleye a shout-out for getting 27th in the 55+ men’s race when it should have been for Timmy Tosser instead. So when a buddy pointed out that the Beginning Racer Program that started this year at our local CBR crit series was overflowing with riders, I shrugged because, well, work, and also because there were some things I wanted to complain about, such as how Lance ruined my childhood dreams.

Then this afternoon I was talking with Jeff Prinz, the CBR race promoter, about the racing this past weekend, and he spewed forth an incredible number of facts about the B(u)RP program and how it has really taken off. Sensing an opportunity for someone else to do the work, I hurriedly took notes, okay, I didn’t take any notes, but am pretty sure he said this:

  1. B(u)RP participation sessions both maxed out at 50 riders each, and the first one began at 6:00 AM. Riders were queuing up at 5:30 to register.
  2. After B(u)RP-ing, every single B(u)RPee raced, except for those who couldn’t because the Cat 5 races sold out. Sold out. Does that mean anything to you race promoters out there? Did I mention the races sold out?
  3. Feedback was incredibly positive. Good coaching, an explanation of the fundamentals, and a welcoming atmosphere made the program a success.
  4. The program will be continued for the remaining four CBR races on the calendar, and will be greatly expanded for the April race.

Participants said mainly that they wanted to race but were intimidated by the “throw ’em to the dogs” approach for which cycling is famous. I still remember asking Fields if there were anything I should know before my first race. “Don’t fall down,” he advised.

Of course that’s still good advice, but the execution can be tricky, and trickier still when it’s your first race and it’s everyone else’s first race too, and there just happens to be that one person in the race who upsets the apple cart, a/k/a Mr. Physics. It turns out that the B(u)RP has been around in SoCal since 2015, and in NorCal for THE LAST THIRTY YEARS, but it is a long way from here to Fresno and you have to get past all those hog farms and etcetera so that’s why it’s taken so long. I mean the Donner Party died that time coming down Hog Farm Pass from Fresno to SoCal.

What’s more interesting is the fact that every single crit in SoCal doesn’t put one of these clinics on. It’s weird because you’ll see a scraggly field of masters racers–sorry, make that four different master’s category races in a single event–and not one single B(u)RP for new racers to learn about and get enthused about the sport. It’s weird because it seems like if you were a promoter you’d be really stoked to have new young racers filling up their fields and advancing through the lower categories and paying entry fees much more than you’d be stoked about having to spend half an hour arguing with some 57-year-old stockbroker who harangued your wife about why she overcharged him five dollars at the registration table.

But I progress.

The things you’ll learn as a B(u)RP participant are:

  • Basic Pack Skills – Protecting Your Front Wheel. This is the single most important aspect of racing, and BRP coaches will teach you how to headbutt, hook bars, and discuss the anatomy of someone’s mother as you viciously fight to the death for the best starting place ten rows back in the field of 100.
  • Cornering – Choosing and Holding Your Line. Cornering is misunderstood by almost everyone except the spectators who pile up in the corners in bloodthirsty anticipation of watching a whole bunch of sausage get shoved into the casing on a fast, downhill, off-camber, slightly wet hairpin that narrows into a cattle chute.
  • Pack Awareness & Skills — This also known as “effective cursing” and “screaming at max heart rate.”
  • Sprinting Basics — Where you learn the cardinal rule of sprinting: Don’t.
  • Bringing it All Together — This part of the session is most important for the longevity of your career, as it involves techniques for explaining to your family that you really did “win” even though you got 89th place because you were on the front a bunch and I know I spent $400 to go race for fifty minutes but it’s cheaper than a crack habit (actually, it isn’t).

Anyway, hats off to CBR and the the Beginning Racer Program. We need more of it. And next time I promise I’ll include some facts.

END

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A little leg-opener

January 22, 2017 § 29 Comments

I learned a great phrase in Book IV of my textbook, “Practical Chinese Reader,” which so far hasn’t been practical or even much of a reader. In addition to chapters called “I Want to Open a Law Office” and “The Foreign Son-in-law Spends the Spring Festival in the Countryside,” this series hasn’t been in touch with my daily experiences.

Until yesterday, when something happened in my life that finally fit with a new Chinese vocabulary phrase, 宁静致远, which means “Quietly achieving over a long time.”

Because that’s exactly what Dave Jaeger’s French Toast Ride is. It’s been going on so long that no one even remembers when it started. The earliest photos are from 2003, and it predates that by years. Of course Dave often can’t remember what he had for breakfast, so it’s no surprise that he can’t remember into the dim past of the late 1900’s.

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However long it’s been going on, it shows no sign of letting up, as each year a new crew of idiots combines with an old crew of sadists to set forth on a death march through Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. What’s most meaningful, though, is that each year Jim and Nancy Jaeger open their home to a random assortment of strangers, and then the combined forces of Steve and Gina Jaeger, Cindi and Heather Rogers, Lynn and Carly and Macy Jaeger arise long before dawn to make mountains of French toast, bacon, and scalding hot coffee. The love and effort and work that they put in to create the best day on a bike every single year is amazing, and their compassion at that time Stern-O clogged the toilet with four pounds of toilet paper so that he’d have a rear end clean enough to eat off of qualifies them for sainthood.

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Of course DJ’s idea isn’t to provide you with a hearty meal that will get you through the upcoming 117-mile beatdown, it’s to stuff you with bread, sugar, and plenty of grease so that when the sugar crash hits at Mile 20 you will climb into a tiny little hurt locker that gets put into a trash compactor and squeezed, harder and harder, for another five hours until you cry, quit, or take a break with Bull at the Santa Paula all-you-can-eat Mexican-and-Chinese buffet. Or you take Uber.

The key to a successful FTR is having enough new suckers riders, and this year we had a bumper crop. Of course there was the usual assortment of wankers who canceled the night before due to a sniffle or a diaper rash and the grim realization that all their bold talk was going to be tossed into the incinerator at Mile 100 a/k/a Balcom Canyon (Fireman, Johnny Boy, Dogg, Big Tex), and there were the stalwarts who couldn’t toe the line because they had broken legs (G3), infirm bladders, gout (Gussy), consumption (Iron Mike), extreme old age and vast wealth (Stern-O), congenital lethargy (Elron), degenerative tenacititis, a terrible illness that gradually reduces once-tenacious bike racers into soft and easily crushed buttercups, unable to withstand the slightest hint of adversity (Martin, Turtle, Hair, Manslaughter, too many to name), those who would absolutely love to have made it gosh they were so looking forward to it but kiddie soccer (MMX, G$), and those who did it once out of grim obligation and take me off the list now please (Phil, Randall).

FTR was the cornerstone of my 2017 race season, a building block upon which all others would rest. As my coach told me back in 1984, “You suck and you’ll never improve,” and I’ve been building on that for years.

After having tried to get beyond the “you suck level” of competition via the kimchi diet, the coffee diet, the beer diet, unemployment, 100% carbon made of full carbon that is pure carbon, Rugged MAXX II virility supplements, huge intensity + huge volume training, power meters, Garmins, training by sensation, nose breathing, and finally super low volume of everything except sleep, I decided to try the “leg opening” method of race prep.

Leg opening requires you to do one brief, 15-20 minute semi-hard effort the day before the race, and then spinning for an hour two, max. The idea is that with some moderate intensity and loosening of the spiracles, your pump will be primed for excellent performance on race day.

So naturally a 117-mile smashfest finishing up Balcom Canyon would be perfect. What could go wrong?

What went wrong

The first thing that went wrong was Skippy’s bike. By the second stop light out of town his chain refused to stay on the cogs, throwing the chain every time he put any torque on the pedals. By the time we had ascended the first obstacle, a tiny bump on Stockton Rd. that was won for the first time in decades by someone other than Roadchamp, Skippy was in tears.

I, on the other hand, was behind him and watched him dismount and howl in frustration. “That’s it!” he yelled. “I’m calling Uber!”

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“My chain! It won’t stay on!”

“Is it new?”

“Brand new! I put it on last night!”

“And the cassette?”

“What do you mean?”

“Is it new, too?”

“No. Why?”

“Oh, no reason,” I said, as I sprinted away to catch the group.

Fortunately, Skippy was able to put it in his 34 x 32, the only combo that kept the chain on the chain ring. I say “fortunately” because nothing makes for a better FTR than watching a hapless newbie about to ride the rest of the day in mini-gears, with a high likelihood that even if he made it most of the ride, he’d have to dismount on Balcom Canyon and walk the half-mile, 18% grade in his cleats.

In addition to Skippy, the old boys’ network, which was now a droopy old men’s network, had invited a woman rider after the only other female participant in 2003 promptly gave up cycling forever. I had suggested Iron Maiden as a newbie invitee because it seemed like having a ride where the only people who got ridden to pieces and kicked to the curb were men wasn’t fair. Why couldn’t we also get a woman out there who would implode, beg for a sip from our water bottle at Mile 110 while both legs cramped, and then get left for lost in Camarillo at ride’s end because she didn’t know the Jaegers’ address? I’m all for equality, yo.

However, Iron Maiden, who’d only been biking for a year, was suspicious. This is because to date everything I’d told her had either been completely wrong or an outrageous lie, frequently both. “Is this something I can do? The farthest I’ve ever ridden is 50 miles.”

“No problem. You can race twice the distance you train.”

“But I only train 25 miles a couple of times a week.”

“It’s not a race. It’s a fun ride.”

“It is?”

“Sure. Just friends going out for a pedal. Plus it’s a no-drop ride.”

Her antenna went up, because in her short tenure she had learned that “no-drop” was bikerspeak for “kill the weak.”

“No, thanks. It sounds too hard. Maybe next year.”

“Don’t worry,” I said. “I didn’t figure you’d do it, being a woman and everything.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Oh, nothing. It’s too hard for a woman now that I think about it. Only one woman has ever done it.”

“Fuck you,” she said. “I’m doing it.”

“Good call. Plus there’s no way you’ll be last. Junkyard is going to be there.”

She brightened. Having Junkyard on the ride was the ultimate form of pace protection. “I’ll just stay close to him,” she said. I forgot to mention that Junkyard had been doing 500-mile weeks preparing for FTR and was in top form.

Giants of the road

Perhaps the next worst decision of the ride was when DJ asked me who else to invite. “Someone who can do it, but who will fit in. A good dude.”

“Oh, that’s easy. Garrot. He’s great.”

“Garrot? WTF kind of name is that?”

“He was a Marine in the Special Forces. Or maybe it was the Ordinary Forces.  Or maybe the Special Ed Forces. I’m not sure. Anyway, he’s totally mellow and chill. Good dude.”

“I’m trusting you here, Wanky,” said DJ, which isn’t the first time that people have been led astray by climbing that particular decision tree.

I had forgotten to mention that Garrot only had two speeds, “on” and “off,” and I’d never seen the “off.” A short ride for Garrot was 150 miles. Plus, he was a monster climber. Plus, he had a fierce sprunt. Plus, he was always pleasant and kind, especially when slitting your throat.

And then there was the revelation of the Tour, a/k/a Taco Wagon. Taco Wagon had impressed all in 2015 when, in a driving hailstorm, he had spied a taco wagon and took down half the peloton as he skidded out in his haste to get a burrito, or to shelter himself under the taco wagon’s awning, or both.

This year he had come with a mission, and it was a mission that would clash with Garrot’s and eventually become a battle of the titans. After taking the Stockton KOM, Garrot fell victim to superior road knowledge, and Taco Wagon took the Fillmore sprunt. We had an interlude where Bull took fifteen minutes to change a tire and spiced it up by also yanking out a rear brake pad. In exasperation, DJ flatted too in order to show Bull how to properly change a flat. But no one, including Junkyard, knew how to use Junkyard’s new CO2 inflator, and twelve cartridges later we’d used up all of our air and DJ had used up every epithet he knew and had to start back over with the various combinations beginning with “f.”

The race to Ojai

Bull, Iron Maiden, King Harold, Junkyard, Pilot (who had already lost an engine and was scanning for the Hudson), and I were all immediately dropped on the climb heading towards Ojai. Radio reports confirmed that Taco Wagon took the Ojai sprunt, as Garrot didn’t know that the key to Ojai wasn’t a city limit sign but simply raising your hands when you got in front of everyone else. Now it was a blood feud.

As we droppees pedaled into Ojai, cold, tired, thirsty, hungry, and already beat to snot a mere forty-seven miles in, we were incredibly excited at the prospect of some more Barbie food, a toilet, and ten minutes of rest. Unfortunately DJ was on a schedule that had been delayed by his and Bull’s tire changing lessons, and we got zero rest and only seven or eight thousand calories of Hostess donuts to get us into Ventura, which was a billion miles away.

Mt. Casitas

Although I had been sandbagging like crazy helping the slower riders all the way to Ojai, my true goal for the day was to have a convincing climb over Casitas Pass. The problem with my goal was that in order to achieve it, I’d have to drop DJ, who I’d never dropped before, Garrot, who I’d never dropped before, and Young David, a 22-year-old who I’d suckered into coming but who was mostly flaying everyone alive. Plus, I’d have to keep Roadchamp in view, a virtual impossibility on the uphill but not out of the question on the descent, as he was famed for the descending skills of a one-legged turtle.

Garrot attacked early and dropped everyone, but had to contend with a bitter headwind, and more importantly with Aston-Martin, a quiet and friendly hairy-legged freddie whose palmares included several national titles as a collegiate rower. Roadchamp jumped and dropped everyone but me, as I had cagily held onto his jersey. Reaching Garrot, Roadchamp kicked again and I wished that I too had put on a brand new chain the night before.

Garrot saw me struggling and attacked, leaving me for dead. I paused and soon enough up came Taco Wagon, pounding like a madman with Aston-Martin in tow. We sat on his wheel, used him up like an old snotrag, and then Aston-Martin jumped. I easily went with Aston-Martin for three or two whole seconds before blowing disastrously. Taco Wagon scooped me up with Garrot in tow, Aston-Martin up the road, and Roadchamp a glimmering dot up in the Crab Nebulae.

Taco Wagon faltered and I engaged my bottom bracket motor, chasing up to Aston-Martin and, incredibly, dispensing with Garrot. A bunch of lies and extravagantly false memories ensued, and we comprised the final threesome over the last part of the climb.

However, we were soon overhauled on the descent, spanked for our temerity, and crushed in the sprunt for the Santa Barbara County Line.

Junkyard runs out of spare parts

After that, a bunch of stuff happened, most of it fast, or probably really slow, but we’d passed the halfway mark and I was done. Iron Maiden looked like Tin Maiden, or maybe Aluminum Foil Maiden. “How are you doing?” I asked, solicitously.

“Screw you,” she said.

Aston-Martin, DJ, and Garrot found the front all the way into Ventura and pounded our entrails, where we stopped at the Circle K, America’s nastiest convenience store. Fortunately, it had none of the things we wanted, like a toilet, but one of the things you learn quickly on FTR is that tradition reigns, and just because something is a terrible idea means nothing. Surfer Dan sidled up to me. “Dude,” he said. “We’ve passed a hundred cool coffee shops with real food in Ventura. Why are we stopping at this dumpster?”

“Urgle,” I said. “I mean, tradition.”

“Tradition? What’s tradition about NO PUBLIC BATHROOMS?”

“Tradition is forgetting the reason for something you’re afraid to change.”

Surfer rolled his eyes, swung off at the Sckubrats, had the only square meal of the day, and continued the ride without ever having broken a sweat.

The climb out of Ventura is gradual but murderous, like eating opened safety pins. Somewhere along the way Junkyard began running out of spare parts. First it was a lung, then a ventricle, then a kidney, then a right leg, but it wasn’t until a big puff of smoke came out of his butt that I realized things were serious. With a couple of perfectly timed pushes from friends he dug all the way to China, hung on, and made it through to Santa Paula, setting us all up perfectly for Balcom Canyon.

There’s not much to say about Balcom Canyon except this:

  1. Roadchamp annihilated it.
  2. Taco Wagon fell over and into a barbed wire fence.
  3. Skippy walked it.
  4. Junkyard, defending his hard-won last place, hitched a ride in a passing car and arrived without mussing a hair.
  5. Everyone else wanted to puke and die rode gallantly, and put in a pathetic masterful performance.

With only fourteen miles to go to the barn, I turned to Iron Maiden. “How are your legs?”

“Tired but I’m okay. You?”

“I’m cramping.”

“Where?”

“Both legs. Same time. Oh, shit.” I did the little wheezy-sheezy crampy moan.

“Where’s your water bottle?” she asked.

“I forgot it back atop Balcom.”

“I’ve still got some energy drink left. Will that help?”

“Yes.” I looked at her with pleading, big-doe eyes. “Can I have a sip?”

“No,” she said, and pedaled away. Then at the very end everyone dropped me on the golf course climb.

Tall tales

Back at the Jaegers’ home we ate, but not before Skippy complained about his chain some more. “Dude,” I said. “You killed it.”

“What do you mean?”

“You did the whole fucking FTR with a broken chain.”

“Yeah, but I wanted to …”

“Beat Roadchamp? Take a fucking number, buddy. You just did the most epic thing ever.”

“Yeah, but I …”

“Think about it. If you hadn’t had the wrong chain you would have just been another knucklehead out getting his dick stomped on a long bike ride. Instead you created an entire legend for an entire chapter of the FTR.”

“Really?”

“Really. Chapeau.” And for the first time all day I said something I actually meant.

A proper leg-opener

The next morning I awoke at 5:00 AM wondering who turned on the fire hydrant and who had beaten my thighs with a meat tenderizer while I slept. The hydrant, it turned out, was the deluge hitting SoCal, continuing the heaviest rainfall here in decades.

The stabbing thigh pains were apparently from my FTR leg-opener.

I put my bike in the car to go race. The closer to the race I got, the more my phone started to smoke with “I ain’t racing today, bro” messages. Our leaky prostate race captain, who had spent the last two weeks urging everyone to sign up and go race, rain or shine, had cleverly bailed at the last minute, leaving only the truly stupid to stand around beneath a freezing downpour in their underwear.

I could see why he abandoned us in our hour of need. There was zero feet visibility. The road was a river. It was raining meatballs. The risk of death and carbon destruction was high. The rewards were nil.

But–bike race!

And of course, Mrs. WM had said as I left, “It’s onna crazy rainin’ so you the only dummy and maybe win because other dummy all in bed.” Mrs. WM knew a thing or two about bike racing.

At the line there were only five other dummies, each clearly foiled in his race plan of “I’m doing this race because there can’t possibly be anyone stupid enough to do this besides me so I’ll automatically win and get $20.”

The race started and was miserable in a very fun kind of way and we went round and round until all the fun got washed off and we were left coated in hell and drinking each others’ rear-wheel spew and then we were numb and then with eighteen minutes to go I hit it and felt very tired and wheezy and suddenly it was sprunt time and everyone knows Wanky don’t sprunt and I didn’t today either, just pedaled a little harder and the other handful of numbskulls either gave up (unlikely) or weren’t strong enough (highly doubtful) or were unable to see the finish line due to the pounding sideways sheet rain (certainty) and somehow I notched a win and got a check for $50 which almost offset my $3,000 sponsorship of the race, and a sippy cup that says “Race Winner” and you know what?

I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat. But I might shave a mile or two off the leg-opener.

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END

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