I think I’ll follow that guy

March 9, 2015 § 35 Comments

Most CBR races that I do start the same way. About twenty guys push and shove and jostle and squeeze to make sure they’re in the very first row. After the race starts, I never see any of them again.

I always lollygag at the back before the race with Big Steve. He doesn’t care where he starts. He’s more concerned about where he finishes.

There is another guy who always starts at the back of the back of the back, and then two wheels behind that. He’s at every race, and he’s one very rotund fellow. You look at him and you think, “Dude, lay off the Oreo triple stuf. You are going to have a heart attack before we get to Turn One.”

Then you notice that even though his belly is testing the physical stretch limits of his jersey, so are his massive quads. Then, if you’re still paying attention and haven’t written him off because he’s obviously pushing sixty, you notice the bands on his shirt sleeve, the rainbow ones. And you’re like, “Whaaa? World champion of what? Carrot cake?”

The race starts and it always starts fast, and my goal is always the same, every single time: Follow that guy. There are a lot of good reasons to follow him, and not just because Gibby Hatton is one of the best track racers in the history of U.S. cycling. For me, following Gibby is a lesson in humiliation, and I’m never happier than when I’m under the lash.

“What could be easier than following an oxcart?” you wonder. Well, it’s harder than it looks. For one, even though he hardly ever pedals and it looks ridiculously easy, you quickly find out that he’s the most efficient rider in the peloton by a factor of ten. That would make sense, because at his professional zenith he was the No. 2 highest-earning keirin racer on the Japanese professional circuit.

For another, Gibby doesn’t use his brakes. Whereas I’m the kind of rider who replaces his pads in between events, Gibby has been using the same set since 1982. They still have the shrink-wrap on them. This means he slingshots through the turns. While the idiots are grabbing brakes and wobbling and dodging curbs and spraying up fountains of carbon brake pad powder, Gibby is coasting at 35. Out of the turn he pedals once or twice to hold his momentum, and in the process he’s passed forty people.

There’s another great reason to follow Gibby’s wheel. It will give you your adrenaline rush for the decade. Sure, he looks like a walrus on a bike. But a more delicate, graceful, perfectly coordinated rider I’ve never seen, or imagined seeing. He floats through gaps that shut with a clang once he’s through. He edges around kooks with the gentlest shift of weight on his saddle. He creates openings by lightly tapping on someone’s thigh … and it’s the tap of authority that doesn’t say, “May I come in here?” but that says, “I’m coming in now.”

The best reason of all to be on Gibby’s wheel is that if there’s no breakaway, he’s going to put you in the top five or higher if you can come around him (you can’t). At 58 years old, by the time everyone has wheezed and gasped and struggled to the final 200 meters, Gibby will finally activate the thighs, and the acceleration is vicious, fearsome, and effective.

I’ve never been able to follow his wheel for more than two laps. It’s like following a solo by Louis Armstrong, or matching the steps of Fred Astaire, and today was no different.

After the race started, some people went fast and some went slower, some people dreamed big dreams and some people dreamed small ones, some people got tired and some people quit. Leading into the final turn three riders decided to throw all of their bike parts and bodies high into the air and then splatter painfully on the ground. With 200 meters to go, the Walrus, ever perfectly positioned, mashed hard on the pedals. It was his first real effort in the whole 60-minute race.

Two riders were ahead of him, much younger and much faster. But not cagier, and not better at using all the right effort at just the right time. Gibby nipped them at the line.

Again.

END

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Wanky Fever

February 10, 2015 § 20 Comments

This past weekend saw me rise to my loftiest heights ever: With first, second, and third place finishes in SoCal road races, I am now the top racer on SPY-Giant-RIDE p/b GQ-6. As a result, after consultation with my agent and my attorney, I have decided to tender a request that SGR renegotiate my contract to reflect my significantly increased value to the team.

I’ve retained a forensic economist to formally evaluate the financial impact that my results have brought to my team and sponsors. In sum:

  1. After my win at Rosena Ranch, “Wanky Fever” has overtaken the SoCal, NorCal, and crappy-little-towns-in-DesertCal cycling scene.
  2. Facebag posts mentioning “Wanky Fever,” “leaky prostate,” and “he must be doping,” all affiliated with team SGR, have increased 2,504,882% over this time last year.
  3. The Twitter hashtag #wankyfever has appeared on cross-platform marketing campaigns as diverse as Pepsi, McDonald’s, and RuggedMaxx 2 organic male enhancement supplements.
  4. Share prices of SPY Optic rose 5.6% after Rosena Ranch, 3.4% after CBR Crit #1, and 2.9% after Tuttle Creek Road Race.

Although my success has resulted in some intra-squad strife, with other higher profile team riders somewhat perturbed at having their thunder stolen and replaced by Wanky Fever and its occasionally uncomfortable rash (red spots with occasionally open sores in embarrassing places), it makes sense that management carefully consider my demands. Competing teams have already begun to make inquiries as to my availability — Wanky Fever yellow wristbands have begun popping up on training rides.

The only real issue in my contract demand concerns the events at the Tuttle Creek Road Race this past Saturday. Although it was a decisive, powerful, emphatic second place podium spot, detractors are characterizing it as “totally fuggin’ lame” and a “last place finish” simply because there was only one other rider in my category.

In fact, here’s how it all played out:

Manslaughter and I made the 3-hour drive to Lone Pine, a cozy community located at the foot of Mt. Whitney, in about an hour and a half. We got to the parking lot and asked a question you normally don’t have to ask at bike races. “Where are the racers?” followed by “Where is race registration?” followed by “Is there a race today?” followed by “Goddammit Wanky, are you sure it’s the right day?”

After a while Motoman drove up in his white van and took out a card table. The bitterly cold wind mixed with freezing rain was sweeping down from Mt. Whitney, which at 14,000 feet was still covered in snow. Motoman disappeared and a couple of other cars with bikes on top drove into the parking lot.

One of them parked next to us and out jumped a rotund fellow wearing a yellow flappy rain jacket. “You here for the race?” Manslaughter asked.

“Yep,” said Flappy. “I’m doing the 35+.”

“You’ll murder that porker,” I snickered to Manslaughter as Flappy hopped on his bike to check out the 12-mile course.

About that time a rider dressed head to toe in Rapha, and obviously a rank beginner, began prancing around in the parking lot. “Oh, jeez,” I said. “That poor dork is gonna get destroyed. He should be trying to upgrade from Cat 5 at a crit, not out on a man’s course like this.”

I had preregistered earlier in the week, and as of the night before I was the only rider in the 45+ category who had signed up. So the odds of “there’s no way you can lose” were looking good, even for me. Motoman walked over to the car. “Hey, Wanky,” he said, sticking a number into the window. “Just put your number in your back pocket. I know who you are.”

“Is this race actually going to happen?” asked Manslaughter.

“Oh, hell yes,” said Motoman.

“I’m doing the 35+,” Manslaughter continued. “How many riders are you expecting?”

Motoman paused and thought. “About 15.”

“Twelve riders in the 35+? Are you kidding? That’s nothing.”

“Who said anything about the 35+?” asked Motoman. “I’m talking about the whole race.”

“How many in the 35+?” asked Manslaughter.

“About three, maybe four.”

“How can you run a race with only four people in it?”

“Easy. All the categories race together. Better get warmed up. Race starts in thirty minutes.”

We assembled our bikes and got changed, but decided against warming up because the weather was so miserable, so instead we got back into the car, turned the heater onto “steel smelter” and ate a couple of peanut butter sandwiches. Then we were still hungry so we had a couple of Harmony Bars, some fruit, and bunch of energy drink. Pretty soon we had to get out of the car because of the farts.

At the starting line Motoman gave a rambling speech, telling us about each curve, each turn, each cattle guard, and each pothole on the course. “And for everyone who finishes, we’re getting together across the street at Bubba’s Pizza — and the pizza’s on me.”

There appeared to be no one in my category, which meant all that I had to do was finish and I’d win. But at the last minute a craggy, wrinkly, haggard, spindly, broken down old man rolled up to the line. “What the hell is that?” I wondered. “An entry in the 100+ category?”

“Hey, man,” I said, sticking out my hand. “You doing the 45+?”

“Yep,” he said with a friendly smile. “Sure am.”

“Great,” I said. “Me, too.” What I didn’t say is that I intended to break him in half like a matchstick, kick him out the back on the first climb and leave him for dead. “Have a good race,” I said.

“You, too,” he said as Motoman blew the whistle.

Manslaughter was riding next to me as our peloton of fifteen idiots pedaled off at a pace that would barely have kept up with a Friday coffee cruise. Flappy had returned from his reconnaissance mission and was hanging at the back. A group of Black Star racers in the P/1/2 field were at the front, chatting.

I looked at Manslaughter. “This is the stupidest joke race ever.” He nodded. “I guess we’ll do a couple of laps and then maybe heat things up a bit. No need to do anything ’til then. If these wankers want to hold hands and pedal like grannies that’s fine with me.”

After about five minutes we came to a slight rise. It was very short, only a couple of hundred feet, and the road twisted away behind a rock wall so you couldn’t see where it went. The scenery was spectacular, the most beautiful backdrop I’ve ever seen at a bike race and the road was perfectly free of cars.

We went up the little rise, twisted off to the right and went up a little more, and then a little more, and then suddenly it wasn’t very little any more. The hand-holders got out of the saddle and punched it as the road climbed; in seconds I had gone from comfy to gasping.

The climb turned out to be the hardest one I’ve ever done in a bike race. It was three miles long and constantly switched between a moderate gradient and short, steep pitches. By the time we were halfway up there were only seven riders left, and then as I massively cracked, only six.

One of the six was, of course, Great Grandpa a/k/a Scott McAfee a/k/a Antivirus. Manslaughter developed a terrible pain in his hamstring, which spread to his muscles, arms, back, lungs, heart, and brain, and quit the race. As I struggled alone, Rapha Boy, who was indeed a Cat 5, came charging by. I jumped on his wheel and he viciously towed me back up to Great Grandpa, who had been shelled along with one of the Cat 2’s from the leading group.

“Now all I have to do is hang onto Great Grandpa,” I muttered, “and crush him at the end, preferably by driving a wooden stake through hit head.”

Rapha Boy never swung over, bulling his way up to the top of the climb, then turning onto the next three miles of rolling climb, then turning onto a final nasty half-mile headwind uphill pitch, then turning onto another endless series of rollers to the long 55-mph downhill that gave us an entire two or three minutes of rest before hitting the beginning of the loop and starting the entire miserable thing all over again.

Rapha Boy had obviously misunderstood the whole category thing, because he was in a fury and riding faster than anyone in the race except for the P/1/2 leaders, who had vanished long ago. As we approached the beginning of the climb he jumped hard. Great Grandpa and I followed. He jumped again, rested, jumped again, rested, and jumped again like a poisonous jack-in-the-box being wound up by a sadistic child.

Halfway up he jumped again, and I de-jumped. Great Grandpa went with him, breaking me in half like a matchstick, kicking me out the back leaving me for dead as he crushed my by driving a wooden stake through my head. With two and a half laps of utter misery to go, the freezing rain seeping into my crevices, the thin air shredding my throat and lungs like sandpaper, and the hellish climb making every stroke worse than declining German nouns, I soldiered on knowing that it would still be second place if I finished.

As I slogged through the finish at the end of Lap 2, Motoman yelled at me encouragingly. “Go to the front!”

At the bottom of the climb on Lap 3, a hairy Cat 2 dude with a beard like a Russian Tsar’s charged by and didn’t even say “hello.” A minute later I was caught by Tristan, another Cat 2 who was a tad large to be contesting such a bitter climber’s course, and Flappy, who was so happy to catch me he couldn’t contain himself.

He looked over at Tristan. “That’s the benefit of being an experienced time trialist,” he said. “I really know how to pace myself.”

It was bad enough to get shelled by Great Grandpa. It was worse to get abused by Cat 5 Rapha Boy. But to be chided by Flappy was more than I could take, so when Tristan upped the pace I went with him. Flappy ended up pacing himself backwards for the rest of the race and we didn’t see him again.

Tristan then hunkered down, creating a massive draft, and towed me around for the remainder of the race. We finally caught and dropped Tsarbeard, too. I angrily reflected that if I’d registered for the 35+ I would have won, and considered asking Motoman to retroactively change my category. But unlike me he’s a guy with integrity, so I didn’t bother. Great Grandpa had beaten me by well over five minutes.

In sum, the race was challenging beyond belief. The scenery gorgeous. The roads devoid of traffic. It was one of the best races I’ve ever done, and certainly the hardest. So I think my sponsors will understand it when my agent demands more money, a fluffer, and hotel rooms that always look east. It’s the least they can do for me.

END

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Kids these days

December 16, 2014 § 15 Comments

I carefully went over my race plan with Derek on Saturday night. “Look, Wanky,” he said. “Don’t be an idiot.”

“That’s a tall order. Sears Tower tall.”

“I know. But you can do it. Here’s the deal,” he said. I was so excited because I love talking pre-race strategy. Not that I ever implement it, but it’s fun. “You have to wait ’til halfway. Don’t smash yourself at the beginning.”

“Yeah?” I asked.

“Yeah. Halfway through everyone will sit up.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. And they’ll be tired.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. Because of all the knuckleheads who’ve been killing themselves from the beginning.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. But not you. You’ve waited until … how long are you gonna wait?”

“Halfway!” I shouted.

“Exactly! And because it’s halfway and all the knuckleheads have been attacking from the gun, you’re gonna be fresh.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. And that’s when you’re gonna attack. One time. And make it stick.”

“Then what?”

Derek shrugged. “Cross that bridge when you come to it.”

On the morning of the race my teammates were really happy to have me there. They were as excited as I was. “Hi, Eric!” I said. Eric is our team leader and super fast guy. He and I are pals. I said hello a few more times and he turned around.

“Oh, it’s you.”

“Yep. Here to work for the team!”

Eric came over to me. “Look, Wanky. Do two things.” He looked kind of upset.

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. One — stay out of my way.”

“Okay!”

“Two — don’t chase me down. Got that?”

“Yep! It’s gonna be a fun race, huh?” I don’t think he heard me because he had already turned away. Then I saw my other best friend, Josh. “Hey, Josh!” I said. He didn’t answer for a few minutes but I kept calling his name and since he was standing next to me he finally heard me.

“Yeah?” he said.

“Well, ol’ pal, it’s gonna be a fun race today, huh?” I said.

“Look, Wanky, I don’t have time to fuck with your bullshit today. If you chase me down again in another race I’m going to kick your ass with a tire iron.”

“Did I chase you down last time?”

“No. You chase me down every time. And we’re all sick of it.”

“If someone would just tell me what to do.”

“We yell at you until we’re hoarse and you still chase us down. So cut the crap.”

“Okay, pal,” I said. “I’ve got a special plan for today anyway.” The rest of the team kind of glowered, but it was a happy, friendly sort of glower.

Soon the race started. Just like Derek said, the idiots all attacked from the gun, but not me. I did exactly what he said and waited until I was halfway through the first lap. Then I attacked. However, no one had sat up and no one looked very tired. In fact, they all looked quite fresh because they were all on my wheel. So I moved over and waited for another lap. “Maybe he meant halfway through the second lap,” I thought, and so I attacked again, but no luck. “Well it must have been halfway through some lap,” I told myself, so each time I got halfway through a lap I attacked I but never got anywhere except really tired.

Finally, about halfway through the race, everyone sat up. I was pretty beat from all the attacking, but I attacked again and they let me go. After a while out there I got even more tired. The wind was blowing and my bike wasn’t going very fast and I had all kinds of breakfast stuff gurgling up into my mouth. Yuck. Then some guy bridged up to me and I remembered the winning advice given to me by Daniel Holloway, 3-time elite national champion, which was this: “Be the second strongest guy in the break.”

That was gonna be easy since there were only two of us, except the guy I was with must have heard the same advice, as he kept trying to be second to me, and me second to him, until before long we were going about twelve miles an hour and another guy came up to us, a teammate, and then three more guys, including Josh. I was so happy to see Josh because he is a hammer. “Hey, pal!” I said happily.

“Don’t you dare chase me down. Or Ino, either,” he said, pointing to the other teammate.

“Oh, I won’t!” I promised.

“And remember, the fastest guy in the race is Eric and he’s back there, and none of us three can sprint so we’re not going to win out of this break, so let the other wankers do all the work so that either Eric can bridge and win or one of us can attack at the end when the others are all tired. Whatever you do, don’t fuggin’ work hard.”

I tried to remember all of what he said but it was too darned complicated and plus being in a break is the most exciting thing ever so I just went to the front and hammered as hard as I could. There was a young kid who had also bridged who never took a pull and sat on the whole time, but I didn’t pay any attention to him. Lazy kid. He was probably thinking about his math homework.

Josh kept yelling at me something about sitting in or sitting down or sitting duck but I was too tired to understand what he said. Towards the end someone attacked hard and opened a big gap; it looked like the winning move but thankfully I shut it down with a superhuman effort, then I realized it was my teammate Ino, darn it.

Then the lazy kid with the math homework who’d done nothing the whole break leaped away with one and a half laps to go. For a little punk he went fast. Somehow I caught him and then everyone slowed down. Next thing I knew our ringer Eric had bridged with 3/4 of a lap to go. He looked fast and primed for victory.

Then things got confusing. Some guy who looked pretty sprintworthy jumped hard right before the last turn. I got on his wheel and then some other things happened, I’m not sure what, but afterwards I heard some people saying that perhaps I had exploded in the middle of the sprunt and blocked all my teammates so that the lazy kid actually won. Not sure that’s true, by the way, but after the race none of my teammates would talk to me.

I think they were just tired.

END

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When being completely lazy isn’t enough

December 15, 2014 § 31 Comments

You might think that Louis Zamperini, Michael Brown, Milton Olin, this weekend’s CBR upgrade crit, and the midterm congressional elections are unrelated.

You’d be wrong.

Louie Zamperini was the poster child for the Greatest Generation, the men and women who fought World War II and made the world safe for democracy. Michael Brown was the unarmed man gunned down by a killer cop. Milton Olin was the bicycle rider mowed down by a deputy who wasn’t paying attention, and who wasn’t even prosecuted. The CBR upgrade crit this weekend was a bicycle race that about a 10% increase in participation from 2013.

There’s a reason that Americans love WW II stories like Louie’s, the story of an Olympic runner from a tumbledown house in Torrance, CA who crashed in the Pacific while flying as a bombardier, survived 47 days in the open ocean on a raft, and then somehow made it through more than two years of torture in various Japanese POW camps. Americans love these stories because World War II is the last time this country did anything good for the world commensurate with our resources and our capacity. Since then our achievements have been defeats in Korea and Vietnam, defeats in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a national government that thinks torture is a good thing. Maybe they need to read Unbroken to remember why it isn’t.

World War II was a war for many things. One of those things was democracy, which is the right to choose our own form of government and to have a voice in the laws that we decide to abide by. Twenty years after the war, almost 50% of Americans voted in congressional midterm elections, a high watermark in modern midterm voter turnout. It’s no coincidence that this happened alongside the civil rights movement, and it’s no coincidence that we more opportunity and more equally distributed wealth than we do today.

Michael Brown was killed and the killer was no-billed by the grand jury. He walked. People responded with riots, protests, and fury. But they didn’t respond with votes. The midterm turnout in 2014, when Americans were outraged enough to riot over our police state, was 36.4 percent, the lowest in 70 years.

Milton Olin’s killer wasn’t prosecuted because the district attorney chose to ignore the evidence and protect a member of the police. She’s an elected official, but doesn’t have to worry because she knows that angry cyclists will vent their fury on Facebook, chat forums, and listservs, but they won’t vote. And she’s right. Less than 30 percent of the electorate bothered to vote.

This weekend’s CBR upgrade crit grew ten percent over last year. Once reason it grew is because various people in the bike racing community did something more effective than jizzing over Strava, or posting sexy bike photos from the latest group ride. They actively encouraged their friends to show up and race.

Is there a lesson here? There is.

The most satisfying thing is to vent, whether it’s by burning a few cars, smashing out a few windows, marching in solidarity while chanting chanty chants, or bashing race promoters because their races are too boring/too expensive/ too far away/ too [fill in your complaint here]. But the most effective thing isn’t always the most satisfying thing, at least not in the beginning.

The most effective thing is voting. It may be hard. There may be huge barriers to doing it. They system may be set up to keep you away from the polls. But you know what? People were willing to die to cast a vote in Afghanistan’s presidential election this year. I’m pretty sure that whatever’s keeping 70% of the electorate from rolling off the couch and signing up for a mail-in ballot isn’t as challenging as the risk of getting your brains blown out by the Taliban.

Bike racing is the same. It’s only by encouraging people to race that they will go race. If we want a robust racing scene, it’s on us. And if we think that a 10% increase is nothing, imagine that 10% compounded every six months or every three, something that’s totally doable if everyone who claims to like racing takes the time to call, prod, and push. In two years’ time we’d have full fields, every category, every race.

That’s the same with voting. I respect the right to march and to voice discontent. Hell, I agree with it. But until we’ve voted, or urged a buddy to come out and race, we haven’t really done anything. Social media protests give the illusion of action, but really they just turn us into one more yammering idiot who’s got all the energy to bitch, and none of the conviction to back it up. A ten percent increase in voter turnout over two or three election cycles would revolutionize this country without firing a shot. But to do it, like encouraging people to go race their bikes, we have to do something more arduous than firing up Facebag and hitting “like.”

The Louie Zamperinis of World War II took action. Maybe we should, too.

END

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She told two friends, and she told two friends, and …

December 10, 2014 § 14 Comments

There are three kinds of people with racing licenses.

  1. Racers. They race pretty much every weekend.
  2. Sorta racers. They race a few races each year.
  3. Fakesters. They have all the stuff, but none of the “stuff.”

If you promote bicycle races, aside from your obviously miserable financial judgment, your need for public abuse, and the strange satisfaction you get out of dealing with angry/stupid/selfish people, you have one really big need on race day, and it’s that people show up and race. For the most part, we expect you, the promoter, to promote your race. We’ll come if we feel like it, maybe.

This is a stupid model. Sure, the promoter should do his best to get people to race. He’s a fuggin’ promoter, for fugg’s sake.

But full fields have as huge a benefit to bike racers as they do to promoters. Full fields increase prize money. They increase sponsorship. They increase spectatorship. And most importantly, they help the promoter turn a profit, which encourages him to keep living in a tent and to promote more races next year. It’s my belief that fuller fields rather than emptier ones can be accomplished by the bike racers themselves, and in 2015 I’ll be giving my theory a shot. Here it is:

People who fit into category #1 above are the backbone, the meat and potatoes of racing. Guys like Brauch, Tinstman, Wimberley, and Charon are just some of the riders who show up week in, week out, with no prodding or encouragement. They live to race. More about them later.

People who fit into category #3 we can forget. They will never race. It doesn’t matter why; the fact that they’re on a race team, that they have team race gear, that they love to talk and read about bike racing is irrelevant. They would rather do a hundred group rides, team training camps, and century rides, than sign up for a single 45-minute USA Cycling crit. Forget them.

People who fit into category #2 are the rest of us, and we hold the key to successful turnout on race day. Sorta racers make annual race calendars, target certain races, and do lots of actual training. Sorta racers are sorta fit in January and sorta wrecked by late April. Sorta racers have no trouble putting in 15-20 hours a week on the bike, but lots of trouble doing more than a handful of races. Sorta racers have detailed excuses for not racing on race day, even when they’ve planned to race. Sorta racers think a lot about racing early in the season, and focus on kiddie soccer games, “work,” honey-do’s, “the high cost of racing,” safety, and butt pimples as reasons to stop thinking about racing later in the season.

In short, we sorta racers are fence sitters. We wanna, but most of the time we don’t.

The difference between a felony conviction and staying at home is often the difference between a buddy saying “Let’s do it!” and not. Same goes for racing. As any salesman knows, the customer has to be asked to buy. And as any good salesman knows, “No, thanks” is simply an opportunity to ask again with greater skill and persuasiveness.

My best race in 2014 resulted from Derek B. asking me to go race with him. I didn’t really want to go, it was the last race of the season, I’m not good at crits, at age 50 I don’t belong in the 35+ superman category, I was tired from Saturday’s Donut Ride, I didn’t have a good set of race wheels, the entry fee was too high, the race was too short, and my butt pimples were suppurating.

All of those objections were overcome by the simple act of being asked because being asked to go race your bike with a friend is flattering, and it also puts you on the spot. The super excuse of butt pimples sounds awesome when you’re talking to yourself, but not so great when you have to mouth it to someone, especially someone you respect, as a reason for not lining up and actually using your $10k in gear and your 25 hours a week of profamateur preparation.

In short, the people who are committed to going to a race can boost race attendance by sending out three, or five, or ten emails, or even more outrageously by actually telephoning, or even more extremely by asking a pal face-to-face to sack up and go race together. If you’re one of the people who’s a dependable ironhead, make sure you ask a couple of other people to go race, and for dog’s sake don’t limit it to your teammates.

Why ask non-teammates to race? Because one of the reasons that guys who aren’t on big teams don’t race is because they hate rolling alone against the big teams and they need extra motivation to go out and get crushed. Again. Asking non-teammates shows that you value their presence, and it stimulates smaller teams to get their act together. A powerful motivator for people to race is having a rider complain to his teammates that he’s the only fuggin’ one in the race, so please come out and help.

Another reason that sorta racers don’t race is they simply forget. I’m going to this weekend’s CBR race because yesterday, on a training ride, I asked EA Sports, Inc. what he was doing this weekend. “I’m racing, dude. And so are you.” It wasn’t a question. It was an order, but it was also a reminder as I’d completely forgotten about the race.

If you’re one of the sorta racers who sorta races, on the days when you’re actually committed, make sure you ask several friends to go race with you. This locks YOU in when it comes time to scratch the b.p.’s and prevents you (hopefully) from bailing at the last minute, and it will encourage one or two other riders to join you. (Hint: Asking others to race with you can also involve sharing rides, splitting gas fees, and saving money!! If it’s a CBR race in LA, it means having someone to ride over to the race with.)

Finally, if you’re the leader of a team, have you reached out to every single rider via email and encouraged them to line up? Have you made two or twelve phone calls to the sorta racers who have hogged all your swag and been conspicuously absent on race days? No? Well, get callin’!

So, does it work? I think it does. I’ve sent out about ten emails and had one buddy confirm that he’s in. His comment? “I’m not very fit, but it’s been over a year since anyone asked me to go race, so, hell yeah.”

If you tell two friends, and he tells two friends, and he tells two friends, well, who knows? The “problem” of declining race participation might simply vanish.

END

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I’m probably not gonna make it

January 17, 2014 § 12 Comments

My excuse isn’t great, but it’s pretty damned good: 118 miles on Dave Jaeger’s French Toast Ride, where I’ll have to smack down young posers like Jay-Jay LaPlante, Aaron Unpronounceablelastname, Greg “I have another mortal virus” Seyranian, Dan “when does the ride start” Cobley, and one or two other flailers like King Harold and DJ himself. Yeah, I’ll bust their chops up the Lake Casitas climb, on the 101, and then with G$ I’ll time trial from Ventura to the top of Balcom while Stern-O, Bowles, Spivey, and the Long Beach freddies take turns licking each other’s open wounds.

Shorthand: I’ll be too tired for the season opening crit in Dominguez Hills, but I’ll try to make it anyway.

What’s your excuse?

The man with the plan and the white Mercedes van

When Chris Lotts kicks off the season opening SoCal crit on Sunday, January 19, lots of people will be complaining. Why? Because it’s a lot easier to complain than to race your bike. Studies show that complaining exerts a biological cost of less than .00001 homeostatic watts, whereas putting on a single bike race shortens your lifespan by roughly twelve years. Chris is now -459.7 years old, and getting younger by the week.

There are a shit-ton of reasons that you need to be at the CBR race on Sunday, and to show you why, I’ve compiled a list of whines that I’ve heard over the years. If you’ve thought or uttered more than three, I’ll call the whaambulance and have you taken (at your cost) to UCLA Harbor so that they can rub salves and ointments on that special place to relieve your butthurt.

1. “That’s a stupid fuggin’ four-corner industrial crit. That’s not bike racin’.”

Riiiiiiight. What you really want is a 100 km kermesse over wet cobblestones in 42-degree weather and spitting rain, because you’re hard like that. So what if you’ve never finished Boulevard or Punchbowl? In your Velominati fantasy life, you are a Hard Man who can’t be bothered with “easy” races like this. Fortunately, your doctor continues to renew your prescription as soon as it runs out.

2. “CBR races are too easy.”

Easy? Then why do the same handful of guys win every race, races that have 100+ entrants? Hint: Because the other 99 wankers feel strong and fast and fit until a) the winning break rolls up the road, or b) Charon opens up his sprint.

3. “Those races are way too expensive.”

Let’s see … $2,500 for your carbon tubulars … $750 for your three team kits and skin suit … $140 every other month for your training Gatorskins … $72/year for your stupid Strava Premium subscription … $3,900 for your Campy SRM power meter … tell me again about how that $35 entry fee for close to an hour of full-on racing is gonna bust your budget?

4. “Lotts annoys the shit out of me.”

Poor baby! Break out the butt salve! So you can take bumping bars, hitting the asphalt at 30 mph, and racing until your eyes pop out of your head, but you can’t take a little diversity of opinion? You crumple up and die when Chris talks about his “Christian Tingles” web site? Awww, I feel really sorry for you, and I envy the little glass bubble you live in and the inheritance that protects you from getting out and LIVING IN THE REAL FUCKING WORLD.

5. “Those races are a clusterfuck. A handful of big teams control everything.”

Guess what, limpster? The guys on those “teams who control everything” got there by racing their dogdamned bikes, not by sitting at home reading Jonathan Vaughters’s Twitter feed. What’s stopping you from making the break, sitting in, and letting the “big teams” do all the work as you cannily outsprint them to the finish line (besides the fact that you always race at the back and don’t train hard and are 30 pounds overweight)?

6. “I’m more of a stage racer than a crit rider.”

Yeah, and I’m more of a Martian than I am a New Jerseyite. Look, stupid, if you want 21-day stage races, you’re living in the wrong city, county, state, nation, and body.

7. “It’s too early in the season.”

Oh, I get it, the Interwebs coach you pay $399 per month to tell you that you’re “making great progress” has advised you to wait until, say, April? Did it ever occur to you that he wants you to wait until April in order to delay the crushing reality that’s going to batter your ego when you still finish 51st after an after-tax-dollar investment of $15k? Hint: P.T. Barnum said it.

8. “Crits are too sketchy.”

I see. Because you’re the one steady wheel out of the 100+ numbskulls, and, like the mother who watched her son in the marching band and commented “Look! Everyone else in the band is out of step!” you think that no one knows how to properly handle a bike except, of course, you?

9. “Crits are too short to give me a good workout.”

Yes, I understand completely. No one in history has ever ridden to a race, raced, then ridden home. You’re obligated to drive to the race. It’s in the bylaws.

10. “We need more road races in SoCal, like they have in NorCal.”

So you’re going to promote a road race? I didn’t think so. Or you’re going to race in NorCal? Nope — too far and hard and expensive, right? So why not shut the fuck up and support the one guy who shows up week in and week out, who has the genius of being able to put on a bike race and make money at it (okay, so the genius is Vera), and who can take your abuse and never take it (too) personally? Answer: Because you’re not very good, your ego is tender, and it’s easier to talk about bike racing than to race your bike.

See you on Sunday. Or not.

Ride like Thurlow

May 25, 2013 § 10 Comments

I’m only three or four years younger than Thurlow, which is like comparing myself to the greatest basketball player of all time by saying, “I’m only three or four inches shorter than Michael Jordan.”

Yeah. So?

I first saw Thurlow at the Tour of Texas in 1984 at the Camp Mabry crit in Austin. He was racing for Raleigh. Nelson Vails was his teammate. Dude was old even then.

There’s no name in the peloton that is as heavy as “Thurlow.” It weighs about four thousand pounds. You can slacken a room full of bike racer boners just by whispering “Thurlow.” It’s the only word in the English language that makes grown men hunch over and start to droop. Generations of cyclists have been flogged, tortured, punished, and then dropped by “Thurlow.”

The only residue remaining in this, his fifth decade of bike racing, is the residue of pain and defeat. Yours.

“Thurlow’s not his old self”

Commentators have remarked that in 2013 there’s something missing from the arsenal of America’s winningest bike racer. He only got second in the BWR behind Neil Shirley, a pro who is young enough to be his great-grandson’s grandson.

He’s only won a couple of races so far this year, and has only gotten top three placings in about a dozen. “You should have seen him at SLR,” said one of my buddies. “He just folded. Never seen Thurlow fold like that.”

I mused. Thurlow has more national championship jerseys than my buddy has race participations for the last two years. Oh, and a rainbow jersey. And that Olympic team stuff. Then there was that season that he raced with Bernard Hinault and Greg Lemond on La Vie Claire.

“Oo eez Bernard Hinault?” asked our homestay French student who comes from, of all places, Bretagne.

“Eez joos ze greatest fucking French bicycle racer ever,” I snarled.

“I don like ze sports,” said Homestay before going out onto the veranda to smoke a cigarette and wash it down with some Colt .45.

Imitation is the most pathetic form of idolatry

I’m always trying to race like Thurlow. You know, the way he always understands what’s always going on all the time. The way he rides close to the front and never misses the split. The way he rests, then attacks, then rests if they bring him back, then attacks again. The way he seems to summon the most strength at the one point in the race when everyone else is at their weakest. The way he stuffs the painburger down your throat with a red-hot poker, then beats the end of the poker with a 30-pound hammer.

Of course, I’ve never Ridden Like Thurlow, starting with the omniscience thing. Where Thurlow knows what’s going on all the time, my awareness seems to focus on stuff like that family sitting on the picnic blanket on Turn 4. “Wonder what’s in their sandwiches?” I wonder.

Boom. Break is gone and Thurlow has a 45-second gap.

Or the ride towards the front thing. Try as I might, as far forward as I get, pretty soon I’m back in 87th position, right behind Lardball with the Grand Canyon asscrack and the Serengeti grassland of hair sprouting from the waistband of his non-bib shorts.

Then there’s that attacking thing. Thurlow attacks the way an angry farmer with a pitchfork stabs the head of the king as it rolls off the guillotine’s blade. My attacks, to quote Aaron Wimberly, “Are like a huge commuter bus on four flat tires going up a mud mountain with a full load of passengers.”

And of course Thurlow rests, then goes again. I rest, and then there’s a football field between me and the peloton, a DNF, and a personal request from the family in Turn 4 to give me some of their sandwich.

But still, that doesn’t stop me from trying and experimenting. Whether it’s a fancy power meter, or nose breathing, or the water + kimchi diet, I’m always up for something new, because the difference between me and Thurlow can’t be that he’s just better…there has to be a trick, and one day I’ll find it.

Me & Prez

A couple of weeks ago Prez and I were riding back from the NPR. Prez notices everything when it comes to biking. Nothing escapes his attention, so I usually ignore him when he’s talking, but this particular day he mentioned Thurlow.

“There are guys out there whose pedaling is so efficient, it’s incredible,” Prez said.

“Uh-huh,” I answered, watching the cute nubbin in the Smart car prepare to back over the dude pushing the stroller.

“Like Thurlow, you know? That guy’s pedaling is so incredibly efficient.”

Now I was all ears. “Yeah?”

“Yeah. One reason is that he seems to pull up as much as he pushes down. He’s got that little muscle on the hams just on the inside of his thigh that you never see in cyclists. Him and Charon, they’re about the only two around here with it; it’s because they’re so efficient.”

All I had to hear was “Thurlow” followed by “Charon” and now I was hanging on every word. But I pretended to be bored and only half-interested. “Yeah?” I said.

“Yeah,” Prez said. Then he launched into a complex and insightful description of pedaling efficiency and why most of us, him included, were so inefficient. “It’s the pulling up,” he concluded.

Secrets stolen stealthily

Chuckling to myself at this new-found secret, which I had wrested from the knowledge banks of Prez without him even knowing it, I immediately began pushing and pulling up simultaneously. Then I discovered that this was impossible, because after about four strokes your legs give out. It appeared that rest was part of the pedaling equation.

Nonetheless, by the time I’d reached the office, I had figured it out. You didn’t actually pull up with your feet, you pulled up with your thigh. It was not so much a push and pull effort as much as it was extremely short intervals between the flexing of the thigh. I went noticeably faster. I was noticeably more exhausted.

“Could this be the long lost key to victory?” I wondered. “Have I finally cracked the Code of Thurlow?” I raced through the day’s work, bounding out of the office at 4:00 in order to Thighflex ® all the way back home. Preliminary plans showed that I would now be able to crush all the competition, earn every Strava KOM I desired, and sell the newly trademarked Thighflex program to coaches worldwide. I might even realize every cyclist’s dream of finally getting a pro contract and riding the Tour without too many drugs, or the Giro with way too many.

Thighflexing up the Mt. Home Commute

As I warmed up my thighs with the proprietary Tiny Muscle® Thighflex® limbering method, I felt the incredible strength and speed from this new system. Poor Prez. What a sucker. He’d revealed the most important secret of riding and I was now on the cusp of millions, huge victories, and taking a Strava KOM away from Lane Reid when he least expected it.

“Heh, heh,” I chuckled gleefully as I roared up Mt. Home and its vicious 2% grade. “Wait ’til I unleash this at the CBR Dogpoop Memorial Day Crit.”

In preparation, I showed up to contest the Lower East Side Long Beach Shopping Ride, an incredibly intense, competitive, powerful informal race disguised as a shopping excursion of 65+ elderly ladies with baskets on their mamachari bicycles. As we approached the first stop light, which was turning yellow, I Thighflexed®. The grandmothers couldn’t follow my jump, and in seconds I had opened a gap. The youngest grandmother, whose basket was filled with a 10kg bag of rice, leaned on the pedals and clawed me back.

I glanced over my shoulder and attacked again, this time putting maximum power to my Tiny Muscle® while Simulflexing® the Thighflex®. Undeterred, the granny held my wheel, forcing me to decelerate slightly, cause her wheel to overlap, and allowing me to take her to the curb.

She grabbed a handful of brakes as her front wheel caught the curb. The rice bag burst on impact as I redoubled my Thighflex®, now a solid 100-150m ahead of the hard-charging grandmothers, who weren’t about to let me get to the Costco pallet of discount diapers before them. They were no match. With a couple of more threshold efforts I pulled free and was gone.

With this independent verification of the Thighflex® system’s incredible power transer, I actually pity the fools who have signed up for Monday’s CBR Memorial Day Crit at Dominguez Hills. I’ve told Chris Lotts that he can go ahead and mail me the winner’s check, minus the entry fee to save me the inconvenience of actually having to show up and race. If he forces me to toe the line, well, all I can say to the riders out there who haven’t yet subscribed to the Tiny Muscle® and Thighflex® performance systems is this: You’ve been warned.

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