Best. Coach. Ever.

January 24, 2016 § 13 Comments

My coach, who didn’t know he was my coach, had sat up and was drifting back. I had been dropped on the very first section of the Switchbacks after Charon, Prez, and Bruins had split the huge field into fragments going through Portuguese Bend. They spun out the back like used rocket stages, but the damage had been done.

The lead group had about twenty riders and they pedaled away.

When Canyon Bob came by and motioned me to get on his wheel, it seemed like a good idea. I temporarily forgot about my [insert sympathy-getting excuse here] broken pelvis and focused instead on how happy I was to be on my bike.

Bob quickly brought me back into the way-too-red zone, and then I was alone again. Up ahead was Coach. I call him Coach because he once gave me some advice. “Don’t be the strongest guy in the break,” he had said.

Lots of people give me advice, of course. “Sit in.”

“Don’t pull.”

“Conserve.”

“Don’t move around on your bike so much.”

“Quit being such a dick.”

Etc.

However, none of them won 26 pro races last year, have a fistful of national pro crit titles, or are considered the best bike racer in America.

Also, Coach became my coach because he hardly ever talks to me. I hate it when people tell me stuff. I am stubborn and dislike advice, especially when it’s unsolicited and free, and even more so when it’s paid for and requested. I once paid a woman $10,000 to not teach me how to pass the bar exam. That’s a true story, and I passed.

Ron Peterson, one of the top coaches in the business, has a word for people like me: “Uncoachable.”

Anyway, Coach has never given me any training advice. He doesn’t care about how I ride, when I ride, what gears I ride in, what equipment I ride on, what my schedule, diet, power numbers, heart rate, or what race calendar is. “You can find someone to advise you about all that on the Internet,” he’s fond of saying.

“Only thing I can help you with is, you know, actually winning a race.”

At first I thought he was kidding until, following his advice, I won my first two races since 1986. Do you know how hard it is to win a bicycle race, even a creaky-kneed, leaky prostate one? Let me tell you: It’s very hard. Very, very, very hard.

And it’s harder the older you get because there’s no churn. There are no younger guys coming up displacing the old guys. As you get older, so does your competition. They age grade right along next to you. The guys who were beating you in ’88 keep beating you in ’98, then in ’08, and soon enough in ’18. In math terms, they’re always doing calculus, you’re still struggling with arithmetic.

Coach is awesome because he fills in the huge void of ignorance that I live in, the ignorance of strategy. And the strategy itself isn’t difficult, but then again neither was sailing to America for the first time as long as you knew the earth was round.

So Coach drifted back. “Get on my wheel,” he said. I did, panting so hard it hurt almost as bad as my broken nutsack and fractured childbearing pelvis.

After a few seconds, you know, those really, really long ones that other people call “minutes,” normal breathing resumed. “Okay,” I said. “I can go faster.”

But coach didn’t go any faster. He kept me in this strange zone that said “I am doing a lot but I can do more.” My instinct, of course, was to do more. Isn’t that how you beat people?

Pretty soon we caught and dropped Canyon Bob, who I never catch and never drop. Then we got passed by a mini-three-man-train. Coach let them go. “They’re dropping us!” I wailed.

Coach looked back. “The climb’s not over yet.”

This bizarre purgatory of pain but not unendurable pain continued to ratchet up. We caught the mini-train. Where the climb jerks up for 200 yards they splintered and we left them for good without ever accelerating.

“Steep walls have a speed limit,” said Coach. “It requires exponentially more energy to accelerate on them and if you kick it there you have nothing left for the longer, easier grade where you can make time.”

We made time and picked off other riders, guys who are lots fitter and faster and younger and richer have prettier mistresses. They were not happy to get passed by Ol’ Gimpy Busted Nutsack latched onto the wheel of reigning national champ a/k/a Coach.

Now what had seemed like steady but endurable pain became suddenly awful. This corresponded with the short flat spot on the way to the Domes, where Coach sped up. I popped, he slowed, and I got back on, settling into purgatory again.

We caught and shed several more riders.

Afterwards he explained it. “Don’t ride in the red.”

“Okay,” I gasped.

I thought about that, and it prompted a billion questions until I reminded myself that one fool can keep a hundred wise men busy for a thousand years.

Then I pondered that out of that entire gaggle of idiots, only 11 had finished ahead of me, none was my age, none had a broken ballsack, and we’d picked off about half of the initial lead group.

“Hey, Coach!” I shouted. But like Racer X, he was gone.

END

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Start stalking

December 27, 2015 § 16 Comments

People are funny. If you give them a good tip they ignore the hell out of it, like the weird black mole that’s been blossoming on my shin and now looks like a rotten cauliflower that is oozing goo and has probably metastasized to my liver.

I went to the doctor a while back. “How long has that been there?” he asked.

“I dunno.”

“Long time? Short time?”

“Short time I guess. It was a gash and how it’s just some dried blood under the skin I think.”

“If it changes at all or doesn’t go away in a couple of weeks come back and we’ll take a look at it. Don’t ignore it.”

That was a looooong time ago and I ignored the shit out of it even as I noted its terrifying growth profile. So now that it is about the size of a child’s bowling ball and has learned to read and write and can even say its name, I finally made an appointment to go back to the skin doc.

I know what he’s going to say. “Well, Mr. Davidson, you’re dead now.”

And I know what I’ll say. “Who cares? My leg’s still jacked and I can’t ride for beans.”

But you? You won’t ignore some sage advice, will you? Because I’m going to give you some. Here it is: Go stalk Daniel Holloway’s ride schedule and follow him like a bad case of Neisseria gonorrhoeae.

Here’s the deal.

Daniel is the best bike racer in America. That’s not hyperbole or exaggeration. He won 345 races this year, half of them only pedaling with one leg. He races against the fastest lead-out trains on the continent and smokes them like a brat left overnight in the BBQ cooker.

But, whatever. This isn’t nearly as important as the fact that he’s in LA through the end of January, and what’s more important, shows up on most of the dork rides–NPR, Donut, etc. In other words, you have a chance to ride with the country’s winningest pro. And in other other words, five minutes spent riding with Daniel is worth 500 hours of Internet coach time and bike forum chat room palaver and Strava auto-titillation.

Unlike lots of supermen, Daniel has time for DLU, Dorks Like Us. Have a question you’ve always wanted answered? Daniel will answer it. He may be wrong, but at least you’ll be getting it from a pro.

Plus, he’s friendly. He intends to get in his workout, which often means all you’ll see is a tiny dot vanishing in the distance, but other times he’s pedaling around at DS, dork speed, trying to burn off the same cheesecake and lard-covered-butter cookies that you are.

Best of all, and most mystifying is when Daniel shows up on the NPR. Best because NOW IS YOUR CHANCE. Mystifying because when he hits the jets hardly anyone even tries to follow.

Dude! Pedal harder, please. This is your free coaching lesson. Even if you hang on for .0001 seconds, you will have gotten a better workout and will have seen what kind of acceleration it takes to escape the gravitational pull of 75 hackers pounding with a tailwind.

Better, if you’re like Smasher and manage to grab his wheel when he goes, he will absolutely beat your face in. All you have to do is hang onto his back wheel while he gins out 450 watts for four laps. You can do this, really, you can’t.

I know that you have a carefully planned workout regimen that is going to allow you to place mid-pack next year, but at least while Daniel’s in town you need to toss that plan out the window and follow this guy around, bothering the snot out of him with stupid questions. In addition to being a complete wizard with regard to tactics, he’s knowledgeable beyond belief when it comes to aero equipment and riding position, and has an ability to read a field that you won’t believe.

Of course I fully expect you to ignore this, because good, free advice is just that way.

END

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The three pieces of the performance pie

November 6, 2015 § 12 Comments

I decided to write down everything I know about performance cycling.

There. That sure was quick.

Then I decided to write down the things that, although inappropriate for others or unorthodox, have helped me achieve competitive success on the bike.

Okay, done.

So that leaves me with my observations, and the problem with those is that they’re filtered through a brain that is politely described as “eccentric” and clinically described as “in need of strong medication.” But I regress.

The performance cycling pie has three equally sized slices. Well, they should be equally sized but they aren’t.

I. The training slice.

This is the one that in most pies covers  90% of the plate. I won’t tell you about training because you already know everything there is to know about it, which is why you won Paris-Roubaix last year. But I will tell you about my training slice for 2016 because it meets the only two criteria for a training plan that matter: It’s simple and I can do it.

  1. Don’t tire myself out. For decades I slogged and flogged, never passing up a long ride, never refusing an offer to take an interminable, stupid pull, never hesitating to follow up one hard workout with another, and then after that, another. But no mas. My new rule? If my legs feel flat I’m not riding. Why? Because I am old and wear out quickly, and if you’re over 40, so do you. You know how steel will wear out eventually? We’re not steel.
  2. Two hard efforts a week. Or less.
  3. Avoid any training regimen that involves data, or worse, social media, or worst, data and social media.
  4. Keep my weight at 150.
  5. Study Chinese more.
  6. Continue to finish each day with several tall, cold glasses of un-drunk beer. Recently I’ve been super enjoying not drinking Racer 6 IPA.

II. The aero slice.

This is the piece that some people focus on, but typically only as it concerns equipment.  The current battle for “Most Aero” is being viciously fought between Strava Jr. and Sausage. The one ground down his carbon stem (full carbon, that is) so that the bolts no longer protrude. The other booked a room in the Specialized wind tunnel for his tenth wedding anniversary.

Fully 1/3 of your performance pie should be devoted to aerodynamics. The easy part is buying shit and loading up on 100% carbon components that are full carbon and taking your wife to the wind tunnel. The hard part is riding aero (and ever getting laid again).

Riding aero differs from buying aero, and as an inveterate cheapskate I’ve failed at both. In addition to a lifetime devoted to poor training habits, I’ve also developed bad positioning into an art form. The idiot out on the edge of the peloton, catching all the wind? Me.

The dolt riding three bike lengths behind the last rider? Me.

The clod who’s always on the wrong side of the echelon? Me again.

Unsurprisingly, stupid training and bad positioning go together. The bulk of your aero efforts should be comprised of wheelsucking, something that most cyclists gravitate towards naturally, and selective drafting, something that few riders excel at. None, it should be noted, surpass Vinny D.

Selective drafting is like having to sample fifteen wines before you pick one to drink. You don’t guzzle the whole tasting glass, just like you don’t commit to Twitch Thudpucker’s wheel for half the race. You put a little in your mouth, swish it around, then spit it out. Same with drafting. The wheel you suck should itself be well positioned. It should be ridden by someone who typically makes the split. And it should feature a big old ass, one that is wide and with overtones of blackberry, perhaps even including a tart yet buttery finish that goes well with fish. The rear panel should not be beyond its expiration date a-la-Brad House. And if Kjar isn’t around, you must learn to never follow riders who are smaller than you.

This can be a challenge, because little people are often the best racers. No matter. Spit them out and ride behind the bigger butt.

One difficulty I have always had in wheel selection is the delusion that I am small. Because I sometimes end up with the climbers, I mistakenly assume that I’m like them. I’m not. They are tiny and delicate and cute and you want to cuddle them and hook them up to a cheeseburger I.V. bag. But I am not. I am long and stretched out and a kind of elongated wind sail. So sitting behind tiny people doesn’t work for me, and henceforth I will not sit behind them. You shouldn’t either. What you will find, however, is that tiny people are constantly sitting on YOU. Use this to your advantage by throwing back your rear wheel, veering unpredictably, or stopping for no reason. Think PREZ.

The final piece of aero riding is navigating within the pack. This isn’t that hard (I’m told), but it is terrifying. The lugs who occupy the middle of the pack are using 78.3% less energy than I am as I slog over on the side in the wind, but they are scary because they have head tattoos, pierced teeth, facial scars, jangling ear dangles made of brass that play jingle bells against their top tubes, and they don’t cry when their bars bump. If you can develop the steel nerves to sit in this viper’s den of angry killers, you will arrive at the finish fresh and rested. Good luck with that.

III. The strategy slice.

For a very few riders, this is 90% of the pie, and they always win a few races a year. Do you know Gibby Hatton? He shows up to races with no teammates, not very fit, and always wins a few. Why? Because he has perfected aero pack riding and because he knows exactly when to pedal hard–once, in the last 200 meters, sitting fourth or fifth wheel in the last turn.

The rest of us had strategiotomies at an early age and are more or less profoundly stupid and incapable of thinking during a race. That’s too bad (for us, not Gibby) because it means that at no time in the race do we actually try to answer this question: “How am I going to win today?” [Note: “Go from the gun and solo the whole race” is not a strategy, just like “Be president of the United States” is not a career plan.]

Why are we so stupid? Because strategy involves constantly evaluating your “plan to win” against what’s happening on the ground. It’s a great idea to attack on the final climb unless there’s already a break three minutes up the road. It’s a great idea to come around Charon at the finish but 30 other people have the exact same plan and most of them believe in open carry. It’s a great idea to splat on your face in the last ten meters but Prez already has that sewn up. Plus, it’s not really a good idea.

Although dynamically strategic thinking is impossible for me, it is possible to pick one concept and stick to it. For example, “Don’t be the strongest one in the break.” Or “Don’t lead out the sprunt.” Or “Pay off the best rider.” That last one generally works very well.

So that’s it. Go forth and win. And remember who taught you how.

END

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The root of all evil is not enough money

October 16, 2015 § 35 Comments

People wonder why masters racers have hijacked SoCal amateur bike racing, as shown by the incredible explosion of anger over the burning question of the day:

  1. Should masters categories be 35/45/55? OR
  2. Should masters categories be 40/50/60?

Wrinkly trinket-hungry cyclists went ballistic over this life-or-death issue and forced the opaque, shifty-eyed, self-serving SCNCA board to hold an emergency late night telephone conference, reverse their earlier vote, and then come up with a new vote that satisfied the angriest of the old people who, by the way, were angry indeed.

So now bike racing has been saved. Horrible declines in participation, non-attendance by anyone other than angry S/O’s and resentful children, fewer races, and a smaller pie to squabble over are all going to be remedied because the needs of several hundred greedy trinket hunters have been shifted down five years. Riiiiiiight.

Showing how inane the whole thing is, one upset fellow posted that since he’s going to soon be thirty, “WHAT ABOUT ME?” This perspective perfectly defines the modern masters racer: The unfairness of it all! 30-year-olds having to race with 20-somethings! Pretty soon the 12-year-olds will be outraged that they’re racing with the thirteen-ers, and so on down to swaddling diaper pre-racers.

None of this is surprising because the only thing on offer in bicycle racing nowadays is  the faux glory of a few seconds on an ugly podium, hands raised in a stupid salute, a quick posting of the photo on ‘Bag and ‘Gram, and a 5,000-lb. bag of entitlement.

No one’s fighting for money because there is none. The best racer in America, Daniel Holloway, goes from year to year without any long term security even though he wins more big races in a season than any other elite US pro will win their entire career. What would Rahsaan Bahati’s pro career have looked like if he’d made six figures as a bike racer? Why is Hilton Clarke looking for work?

If there were money on offer for actual bike racers, cycling would be a different game. People who could make a living at bike racing would throw the dice and try it as a career, the pool of athletes would grow, and the ripple effect of more races, more spectators, more sponsors, more fans, and more junior racers would grow the sport. It would take several years, but a million dollars on offer in prize money each year in SoCal would turn the region into a global center of cycling.

“A million dollars????” I can hear the screeching laughter now. What a ridiculous idea! What an absurd amount of money? For prizes that go to actual BIKE RACERS? ARE YOU FUCKING CRAZY?

Yes, but that will never happen of course. The people who have a million dollars to invest aren’t about to put it into the checking accounts of cardboard box-dwelling bike racers because it’s not an investment, at least in the sense that they’ll ever get their money back. It’s more of a Bernie Madoff type investment, and they’d rather have a new beautiful second home, a new airplane, a new boat, or a new investment vehicle that will turn the million into multiples of a million. And no group of ten affluent cyclists would dream of kicking in $100k each to revolutionize the sport. It’s not for a shortage of dollars, though, you can be sure of that. We ride with stock brokers, real estate moguls, millionaire lawyers, independently wealthy businessmen, super rich doctors, and a variety of people for whom a hundred thousand bucks would mean absolutely nothing at all to their big picture or even their small one.

As a case in point, the suckers who dumped $19 million into the USA Pro Challenge wound up with the same raw assholes of everyone else who tries to fund the sport through the well oiled USAC graft machine. The money goes everywhere except to the one place that matters most: The hands of the men and women who turn the pedals. As soon as you pump money into an event or a team, it gets hoovered up immediately by everyone except the riders, who are expected to ride for free or close to it, and be damned glad of it.

The sad thing is that the donor/investor always has good intentions; he wants the sport to prosper. But as long as the employees who make the show happen are starved, insecure, broke, living at home, and paying for health insurance through Medi-Cal, it never ever will. There may be a sucker born every minute, but they play the lottery or go to Vegas. Hardly anyone is a big enough gambler to stake a career on bikes.

And why should donors pour money into the sport they profess to love? What has cycling as an organized activity ever done for anybody? Because of USA Cycling’s pervasive and long-term support of doping, cheating, and shunting rider funds to programs run from Colorado Springs, the governing body is toothless, stupid, greedy, lazy, and mean. It hates grass roots wankers with big bellies (the guys who fill the lower ranks and pay the salaries in ‘Springs), and it thumbs its nose at any pretend racer who doesn’t hit “the right numbers.”

And that’s why Strava is so devastating. It provides competition and it provides value; USAC provides limited competition, and does so at ridiculous cost with zero financial reward. Our recent survey showed that, surprise, people are afraid of crashing. No fucking shit? You mean people are afraid of falling off their bike at 30 and getting their balls run over by ten other riders? Who’d be afraid of that? Worst that can happen is that you die, dude. Man up.

By choking development, ignoring obvious problems, and by creating a culture that makes any potential investor loathe them, USAC is now having the rotten, digested fruits of its corrupt labor shoved down its throat in the form of lower numbers, lower license revenue, lower salaries for the staff who grew up living on Lance and who are now finding out that in addition to being petty and greedy, the masters racers now calling the shot are all that’s left and they happen to be the cheapest most cantankerous bastards alive. I know I am.

And now the new godfather of USAC has declared that the organization will never hire another doper, but he’s silent about what really matters: How is he going to put money into the hands of the people who race bikes? How is he going to make any rational person want to take a chance on the sport? No answers there, sorry.

So it’s left to a handful of leathernecked race promoters to develop a profitable system with no support, no investment, no safety net, and no incentive to hang onto the few races we do have. The reward from USAC? Paying more fees, of course. Bet you didn’t know that the bigger your prize list, the more the promoter pays USAC, did you?

The other reward is having their paying customers, the cranky and greedy and perennially dissatisfied old farts, clamor and complain when races are set up that don’t revolve around them. Young racers are filled with loathing at the actions of us, their elders, and they either smarten up and go back to school (always the best choice, by the way), or they wait to age-grade up and become the overlords.

Sane parents on the sidelines shake their heads in disbelief and encourage their children to chase his dreams anywhere but in cycling. All of the junior summits and SCNCA board deliberations and age category machinations won’t mean shit until there’s enough money in the sport for athletes to make a living at it. Until then the economic engine will be retail sales of high-end bikes to mid-40-ish people who can afford them, and as long as that demographic powers the engine, USAC and race promoters will do as they’re told.

This bankrupt policy is why so few new riders are coming up. The day’s not far off when the fight over how to split the tiny little masters pie will be a fight over who’s going to promote the three races left on the calendar.

Half of any given masters race has people who make their living through “the industry.” We know where they stand on age categories. What about the same level of activism, backed with money, when it comes to putting dollars into the hands of the young men and women who actually have something called a future?

/END RANT/

The real Tulsa Tough, Part 2

June 25, 2015 § 6 Comments

The whole team was amped up as they got ready for Day Two. Everyone was still buzzing from the victory of the first day and the fact that none of the ten thousand Tulsa drunks had staggered onto the course in the final 200m or started shooting their automatic weapons for fun and good times. Huge sweaty Tulsanians lumbered through the streets with manure shovels as they cleared out the neatly piled mounds of partially digested pizza, beer, sausage, tequila, and tenderized stomach linings.

Our hero and eventual champion Daniel Holloway sat down in the war room with his team of chieftains to plot out the plan of mayhem and slaughter. Everyone was assigned a particular and especial role for the day, which was this:

  1. Don’t fuggin’ crash.
  2. Hide.
  3. Take Holloway through the last corner at 40.
  4. Get the fugg’ out of the way.

The team headed over to the start of the race. As they warmed up, Holloway saw that his family had driven up from prison in Texas to watch him obliterate the field. He enjoyed seeing them not wearing orange jumpsuits and manacles and to have a quick catch-up on the status of their death row appeals before finishing his race prep.

At the neutral service tent he dialed in air pressure for the race, as the final corner would be the key to success or death on this day’s course. Rain was predicted, but this was Oklahoma, where weather forecasting is more an illusion than a science, and where you can always be right at some point in the day if you predict “withering heat, gale force winds, heat prostration, death for the elderly, and another year of failed crops and dead livestock.”

The radar showed rain for the first thirty minutes, but in Tulsa in June the ambient air temperature is so scalding that any rainfall for less than an hour turns to steam before it ever hits the ground.

The pro men’s field finally lined up to race. The roads were soaked from the twelve raindrops in the downpour that hadn’t evaporated. Holloway started on the front row due to the previous day’s win, which was a great advantage as any fool could see that wet roads, Oklahoma bike racers, and more than five cash dollars at stake would mean bodies stacked up higher than a woodpile in the first turn.

The riders who didn’t fully understand tire pressure and whose bike handling on slick roads was sub-par were about to get what is known as “on the job training,” kind of like they did in World War I when you got your first practice with live fire the first time you got shoved over the lip of a trench into the mouth of a machine gun.

On the third lap a rider slid out in front of Holloway, practicing his best ballet pointe upside down on his head. Cued by the shrieks and shattering carbon, Holloway ramped it up to thin the herd and give the medic tent something serious to work on.

A small break of seven formed formed with the acceleration, but one of the members who was racing without a team decided to “pull an Alverson” and quit working in the break. This was greeted by the other breakaway riders with the same enthusiasm as when one member of a group dying from thirst in the desert seizes the last bit of water and uses it to wash his hair.

The sit-in-wanker could have simply rotated through and kept up appearances, which would have let the smoothly functioning break lap the field. SIW, who was a good bike handler and fast sprinter, could easily have wound up on the podium. However, having washed his nasty scalp with the last cupful of water, his dying mates decided to rip out his throat and drink his blood as they eased up and let the pack devour the break.

With twelve laps to go, Holloway’s teammates Murderella and Despot adjusted the rhythm of the field so he could rest. They stayed patient, let the other teams who wanted facetime and bragtime do the work, and saved their legs. Murderella hit the wind with three to go and strung out the field for three straight laps like a good pole dancer stretches out a g-string. Despot again kept Holloway hidden from the wind until the perfect moment.

Just after the second to last corner Despot turned on the gas, giving Holloway a major panic attack as he tried to stay on Despot’s rapidly accelerating wheel. As with the day before, Despot let Holloway slide slightly inside to deter anyone from sneaking under for the win, and left the ideal and fast line just outside for his captain. Holloway had a good gap at the start of the sprint and held it until the line, with enough time to prepare a twelve-course Japanese kaiseki meal, change clothes, and overhaul his car’s transmission before second place crossed the line.

Day 3: The Day that Holloway Cried on Cry Baby Hill

Overcome with excitement and nerves as he awoke on the final day, Holloway was thrilled to be leading the race and to have had two wins. Cry Baby Hill is tough and would be made tougher by the throngs of screaming, puking, collapsing, tit-baring, grabassing, cycling-crazed fans who were lining the road like jackals on meth fighting over the entrails of a dead wildebeest.

The team’s plan was somewhat complicated, but boiled down to this:

  1. Don’t fuggin’ crash.
  2. Hide.
  3. Keep Holloway from getting shelled on the climb.
  4. Drag Holloway over the line dead or alive, preferably alive.

Everyone got a good spot on the starting line to control the race and keep an eye on things, “things” being Holloway, who was rapidly falling apart at the seams.

The first time up the hill he knew something wasn’t right. Was it the 250-lb. guy on Team Lasagna and Meatballs who passed him like he was tied to a stump? Was it his knee, which had swollen to the size of a grapefruit? Or was it the moan of pain he was uttering even though it was only Lap One and no one was going hard yet?

His legs were off, his body was off, and no matter how he tried, Lasagna and Meatballs Guy kept passing him in the turns. Holloway didn’t have his normal pop that he could use to move around giant clogstacles like Lasagna and Meatballs Guy. He didn’t have the ability to carry his cadence up the hill, no gear felt right, and every so often he would almost pass out as Lasagna and Meatballs Guy would reach into the back of his jersey, haul out a giant slab of cold pizza and wolf it down, spraying Holloway with day-old grease and large pieces of pepperoni.

It was going to be a very long day and he would probably gain ten pounds to boot.

Finally the grease and pepperoni and 120-degree heat and screaming drunks and tattooed breasts and piles of puke in the turns got to be too much and all he could do was pray for ice water to pour on himself. As he raced by at 12 mph he croaked out “Water! Please!” to one of the spectators. It was a last ditch effort to stay out of the ditch, and the spectator had a son in the race who Holloway often raced against. The dad didn’t have to help, but he did and the water got Holloway to the end of the race, where the generous spectator had to watch his progeny lose yet again.

After the finish and some panicked calculations, Holloway learned that despite collapsing into a puddle of grease and getting beaten by Lasagna and Meatballs Guy, he had held onto his lead and won the overall. With a sigh of relief after one of the hardest days he’d ever had on a bike, the team went out to the Tulsa Hooter’s and Pipe Fitting Supply Co. and Brewery and Super Rooter Servicing Company, LLP, Inc., and blew the entire $12 overall cash prize on a beer coaster.

The boys were tough, but Tulsa, it seems, was tougher.

END

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The real Tulsa Tough, Part 1

June 24, 2015 § 8 Comments

When you say “Tulsa Tough,” most people think of a very hard bike race, but I just think of what Tulsa spells when I read it backwards.

Fact is, Tulsa is one of the most miserable places in Oklahoma, which is like saying it’s the dirtiest port-o-let on the construction site. Tulsa is hot. Tulsa is windy. Tulsa is filled with college kids who have nothing to do except choose between studying to pass classes to get jobs that won’t make the slightest dent in their six-figure student loans, or drink nonstop for seven years or however long it takes to pass Bonehead English.

Fortunately, the things that make Tulsa a miserable hell-hole filled with drunken, redneck, bigoted bumpkins are the very things that make it the perfect venue for one of America’s best bike races. The nasty climate, the art deco architecture planted pointlessly in a shabby oil town, and most of all Crybaby Hill all combine to make bike racers ride as fast as they can to get the damned thing over with and back to infinitely better places, like Dallas.

The 2015 edition of the race is the story of Daniel Holloway, a guy who I practically taught how to ride a bike. The weekend before Tulsa Tough he’d had some very discouraging rides in bumfuck Illinois or Indiana or Iowansas. Along with sagging morale that was drooping lower than a sailor after two weeks of shore leave in Bangkok, his knee tendon had flared up again, a lingering injury from last year when Manslaughter, Surfer Dan, Pablo, A-Trav and I took him off a cliff on his road bike and watched him fall teen feet off a ledge and onto his knee.

If you can’t beat a four-time national champ, at the very least you can injure him and hopefully ruin his career.

The tendon kept him off the bike for a couple of days, made it impossible to walk, and caused massive sleep disruption and anxiety that he would not only miss Tulsa Tough but also not get to take a couple of Strava KOM’s.

Lacking transportation, and too cheap to go to a doctor, he turned to Dr. Google, and after watching the Home Surgery Channel (Note to readers: DIY Craniotomy is cool!) and ruling out mesothelioma and gout, he concluded that he probably maybe perhaps had an LCL strain. He realized that if the sixteen feet of RockTape didn’t cure the strain and fix his bad breath, he’d have to back out of Tulsa Tough and spend even more unhappy time in Iowansas. The next morning he experienced radical improvement, as he could walk five or six steps with only mild screaming.

Holloway boarded the plane for hell, and on the first day of racing he realized what a mistake he’d made. His legs felt stiffer than glaciers and the knee joint articulated like an old man with no teeth or tongue trying to speak Chinese. Before heading over to meet his team, he rehearsed his speech: “Guys, when the going gets tough, quitting is often advisable.” But somehow that didn’t sound right.

So he did the next best thing, he lied like a Christian: With a fully adjusted mindset he infused ten minutes of no b.s., no negativity, just the positive wavelength associated with winning, delivering for his team, and crushing the life out of the competition. Being the captain on the team, he had to show up and set the example, and failing that, he’d have to drink another stiff cup of coffee sludge and hope that he could make up with caffeine what he lacked in conviction.

The stragegy was simple: “Guys, let’s go smash the shit out of these wankers,” was Plan A. There was no Plan B.

They headed out onto the course and immediately sensed the energy of a crowd that had been drinking hard since February of 2011. The crowd outside Holloway’s host house showed its enthusiasm for the race by displaying large piles of vomit and what appeared to be insensate bodies lying in the gutter. He had enough time to take one lap around the course before the body bags were all zipped up and the course cleared for take-off.

The race began and Holloway started at the very back, picking lines, evaluating the field, and getting his knee to bend ever so slightly. In the first two laps three different riders got caught up in the energy of the moment by splatting on the ground like the pro crash dummies they were.

Fifteen minutes in, Holloway made a meaningless move, and for the rest of the race he sat in and watched his team control the race, covering what needed to be covered, resting when needed and working together to stay safe while the other vicious animals tried to run them into the curb, chop them in the turns, take them into the barricades, and say nasty things about their mothers. Going into the final five laps he found teammate Aldo’s wheel, a rider who commands enough room to park the space shuttle, but when the time is right can compress space and time so that there is only, like in any cheap motel, room for two.

Teammate Jim kept the pace high and the field single file, as nothing gets more sketchy than anxious sprinters and slow speeds, with the possible exception of anxious sprinters, slow speeds, and a big cash purse. Aldo hit out on the last lap to begin a leadout that went from corner one all the way to the last corner and which was accelerating the whole time. Teeth, cheek flaps, fingernails, and bleeding digits came off as riders tried to match Aldo’s speed, and failed.

Going into the last corner Aldo left the inside open for Holloway to carry maximum speed. With a quick check under his by-now-smelly-armpit at thirty meters to go, Holloway was able to post up, show off the sponsors, and not crash across the finish line like that time Danny Kam lifted his arms and fredded out in Ontario.

It was an amazing finish to an amazing day, and once off the bike Holloway could almost walk.

Tune in tomorrow for Tulsa Tough, Part 2.

END

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Good old-fashioned tunnel vision

April 1, 2015 § 18 Comments

I don’t do the New Pier Ride much anymore. Every Tuesday and Thursday morning a massive group of idiots meets up at Westchester Parkway and races for four laps. The “idiots” part I totally relate to, and the “races” part I relate to even more. But after the ride was suspended last October due to construction, a different routine began for me, and the only thing harder to change than a routine is a well-glued-on tubular. In the freezing rain. Bare-handed.

Simply put, the NPR has its pluses and its minuses.

Pluses:

  • Happens punctually twice weekly.
  • Lets you suck wheel if you’re too weak to GTTF.
  • Lets you get in a solid workout before work.
  • Lets you suck wheel if you’re too lazy to GTTF.
  • Intense sprunt finish the last 400 yards after sucking wheel for four laps while you refused to GTTF.
  • Plentiful opportunities to suck wheel and let others GTTF.
  • See your friends.
  • See your enemies.
  • Hide and cower in the back, sucking wheel as you chat with friends or curse enemies.
  • Epic post-coital coffee at the Center of the Known Universe, where you deny ever having sucked wheel and brag about how you incessantly hammered at the front.
  • Lets you think you’re getting stronger as you suck & cower at the back.
  • Occasional appearance of really good riders who drill it from the gun and shatter the field.

Minuses:

  • Occasional appearance of really good riders who drill it from the gun and shatter the field.
  • Almost impossible to shake the wheelsuckers due to stoplights.
  • Fresh-legged wheelsuckers who try to kill you in the sprunt finish.
  • Rare but crashtacular Fred-and-bike-pile-ups.

On Monday I got a special request from Sausage to come do the NPR. Svein the Unhandsome, a Norwegian national masters champ and all-round dickstomper was in town for a vacation. When he lived in LA, Svein the Unhandsome had a policy of “kill the men and sell the women and children into slavery,” and Sausage was hoping that I would come out and relive good old times with the gang, which had never been good.

The morning of the ride there was a bit of nervousness on the Pier as we stood around in the gloom and evaluated each others’ body fat percentages. “Did ya see Hollywood’s Facegag post?” Sausage muttered to me.

“No.”

“He suggested that the South Bay wankoton should have an extra cup coffee before the NPR.”

On cue, up rolled Hollywood with his mile-high henchman, Mack Cassin. Hollywood had flatted out of the San Dimas Stage Race and had some, uh, excess energy, as we soon found out. The punch up Pershing immediately split the field; only Svein the Unhandsome could hang. Thankfully, a stoplight gave us all a second chance.

With torrid stomping of the dicks and clubbing of the baby seals, by the time we hit the Parkway more than half the field had implemented NPR Strategy #1: race across the street and hop in with the leaders when they came tearing back by. Josh calls these folks “hop-in wankers.”

Hollywood and Mack took turns braining the baby seals, with some hard efforts by the Unhandsome, the Wily Greek, and a single cameo appearance by Sausage, who looked like he’d had the skin removed. Huge gobs of droopy, gooey snot hung up in my mustache and beard, mixed in with flecks of bloody spit and pieces of twice-eaten oatmeal.

The collection of hop-in wankers grew and grew, but the merciless clubbing never abated. Gaps opened. Heads hung. Teeth gnawed stems. Brown stains sprouted in the chamois of many.

On the third lap Hollywood, the Wily Greek, James C., and I sprunted away. After a few moments it was just Hollywood, with me plastered to his rear wheel as he inexorably went faster and faster, his club raining nail-studded blows on my head and balls, the gobs of bloody spit dangling into my chain, and my field of vision shrinking and shrinking until it became a pair of tunnels focused exclusively on the rear wheel and triangle of his bike.

Locked in the lethal hanging-head position I knew that I should look up. What if there was something in the road? What if he was headed straight for a brick wall? What if I died?

None of it mattered. I was so completely filled with pain that I had reached a perfect state of detached consciousness: no anger, no fear, no sadness, no happiness, no future, no past, only pain, the vessel filled up and slopping over with pure pain, a giant body-wide root canal being performed with a hand drill and a rusty pocket knife.

Then we hit a light and reality returned, along with the chasing wankoton.

As Billy Stone would say, some went faster, others slower. Someone won, the rest did not. Svein the Unhandsome was seen crawling back to finish his vacation on his hands and knees. Cat 4 Dave had curled up in a small bush and was chewing on leaves and pieces of bird nest. Chunks of the hop-in wankers were strewn about the Parkway like bits of corn in an explosive bowel evacuation.

Back at the Center of the Known Universe, we all bragged about how great we were. “You coming out again on Thursday?” Sausage asked.

“No,” I said. “This ride is too easy for me.”

END

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