April 28, 2017 § 5 Comments
Telo is pretty much a fake race, but it’s so gnarly, and such a good lab for learning how badly you suck that it deserves its own fake race report.
A really good race report needs to be simple. This one sure is: “Josh Alverson countered on Lap Two and soloed for the last 40 minutes.”
In between the start and the finish there were some teachable moments. One of them was that people don’t like wind very much. It was howling. It was so awful that only about fifteen people showed up.
So, top twenty!!!!
I think racing in the wind makes you better. You either get stronger by fighting the wind, or you get smarter by hiding from it and metering your efforts, or you improve your echelon/paceline skills. Sometimes all of these happen.
Josh had two breakmates at different times, but he rode them both off his wheel. I ended up in the first chase group with Aaron, Eric, and Dan Cobley. Dan was the strongest guy by far and he got us within twelve seconds before Josh nailed the coffin lid shut and pulled away.
Aaron rode the smartest, because he is the smartest. With a teammate up the road he rotated through and immediately swung over. If the three of us could bring back his teammate Josh, fine with him; he’d wax us in the finish. Which he did.
With five laps to go it became clear that we weren’t catching Josh. Dan and I are teammates but we didn’t ride that way. Eric and Aaron are both very fast so our only hope would have been to start attacking them and hope to get away. Instead we kept hammering at a pretty steady pace.
Funny how guys can be too tired to pull hard but when you round that final corner they catch a second wind. Good bike racing is always strategic. I love racing with guys who can think and race simultaneously. It’s very hard to do and I wish I could.
I got fourth for the second time in two weeks. Forever Fourth, or something like that.
David Wells and Emily did the best recap of all, which describes every Telo I’ve ever done, and none more so than this past Tuesday. I now share with you below:
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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:
- This is my playlist. Hope you like the 70s.
- Nathan Newbie. “Hey everbody!! (Is this mic live)?”
- Jaded Fuddy Duddy. (“Looks like you all missed the break. Hahahaha.”)
- 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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June 23, 2016 § 16 Comments
It’s not because you don’t put out enough power, or don’t have a good enough bike, or don’t have the right coach, or aren’t on the right drugs.
It’s not because you have a job, because this is just a hobby, because you take your family obligations seriously, or because you can’t leave work early or start work late.
It’s not because your legs are too short, your tummy’s too round, your neck’s too stiff, or your body is better at “endurance” than “short” events.
It’s not because you drank too much beer the night before, or you had to service someone, or they served you gluten pancakes by mistake, or the ectrolytes in your bottle were frazzy raspberry instead of chunky chocolate.
It’s not because you’re mostly a climber, or mostly a rouleur, or mostly a time-trailer, or mostly a lead-out rider, or mostly a sprunter but only from 100-yards with a lead-out train.
It’s not because your FTP is low, your HR is high, your VO2 is average, or your prostate is prolapsed.
It’s none of those things.
It’s because you aren’t Aaron Fucking Wimberley. And guess what? You never will be.
Aaron is of course a metaphor, but he’s a metaphor writ large. He’s been off the bike since last summer, logs a hundred miles a week if that, works 50 hours a week, has an actual personal life, and when stuff gets busy, as it has for the last year, his bike sits in the corner and gathers dust.
But on race day, which yesterday was, when Aaron came out to the Telo crit, the famed crit that now offers a champion’s custom jersey and SEVEN WHOLE DAYS of undisputed bragging rights, when he showed up along with Jules Gilliam, Rudy Napolitano, David Wells, Josh Alverson, Jon Davy, Francis Hardiman (omit the “i” and you’ll know all you never need to know about that dude), Alex Barnes, James Doyle, Chainbreak, Casey Macguire, and an entire throng of pack fodder, with every single rider planning on getting that jersey, and Rudy launching artillery rounds every lap and Josh countering with bunker busters and Jules slashing everyone with a machete and the group gradually reducing to its barest essence like a fine French consomme, and the pace so torrid most of the time all you could do was grit your fuggin’ teeth and curse blood, and Aaron, the guy with the least miles and the least fitness, hiding, thinking, suffering, thinking, following, thinking, waiting, and thinking until all the body blows had been landed and all the howitzer shells had been spent and the machete blades had broken off and the last lap was tear-your-cheeks-off-fast and people crumpled and folded like bad origami and with a thousand long yards to go whenJules sprang free, he had it he had it he had it he had it until he didn’t, which was about the time that Aaron gave it one perfectly planned and immaculately thought out hard kick, the only kick he’d given all day because it was the only kick he had, and he’d been saving it like North Korea with its one functioning nuke, and the timing was perfect and the power was perfect and the line was perfect and the acceleration was perfect and all everyone else could do was slump and sigh and groan as their jersey dreams went up in a puff of smoke and bad bong water.
Because winning bike races takes legs, but what it really takes is brains.
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June 15, 2016 § 16 Comments
We had six laps to go at Telo last night, which has evolved from a skull-splitting massacre by the strong of the weak into something even worse thanks to the introduction of the now-famed Telo World Championship jersey.
The rules are unclear as to whether you have to turn over your jersey if you lose, or whether former winners can wear their jersey during the race, but if you win the race you get the jersey, designed by StageOne Sports with curlicue flourishes to remind everyone that whatever else Telo is, it’s nastily windy.I showed up last night for the first time since the jersey was introduced and noticed that not only were all the hitters present and accounted for, but a Velo Club La Grange squad comprised of Austin Powers, Sausage, and Surfer Dan had shown up with the specific intent to rip the jersey off of David’s back and take it back to the west side, preferably with a few heads mounted on pikes to serve as warnings or as appetizers for Patrick Barret’s legendary barbecue.
The plan to keep my powder dry for the first thirty minutes didn’t survive first contact with the enemy, or the second, or the third, and in fact after five minutes my powder was soaking wet. The second 2:20 lap shed half the field and the third lap split the field again. Simple math suggested that if the field continued its torrid process of mitosis there would soon be no one left.
Stuck in the chase group I chased hard, which is another way of saying I sat on Davy’s wheel while he chased hard, then sat on Sausage’s wheel while he chased sort of hard, then sat on Carlos’s wheel while he didn’t chase hard at all, then sat on Patrick’s wheel while he sat on other people’s wheel, and then barely stuck my nose into the wind, realized it was blowing hard and directly into my face, and crawled back into my hole.
Soon the entire school of remoras were firmly attached to Davy’s mighty thighs, and after much sturm, much drang, and extreme discomfort, Davy dragged us back to the leaders.
Smasher and Derek attacked repeatedly and were repeatedly brought back. Then with six laps to go and everyone starting to calculate just exactly how they were going to get that pretty new jersey, I cruised into the headwind section and gradually pulled away.
I looked back and saw a huge gap which was bad. When you are old and weak and alone and in a headwind, the only possible outcomes are bad, worse, and worst. In this case of course it turned out being worst, because Smasher, Rico Swervy, and Austin Powers bridged up. Imagine being a guppy swimming happily with your other guppy tankmates and then suddenly some idiot dumps a catfish into the aquarium.
The first thing that the bridgers did, of course, is ride past me so that I had to swim extra hard to latch on. After a lap they began riding even faster. Then they began screaming at me. I wasn’t sure what they said due to the wind and my breathing but piecing each of the shouts together it sounded like this:
Smasher: …. through … catch … !
Austin Powers: Pull … you … the … gonna … you …!
Rico Swervy: … field … us … sake!
I marveled at the air from their lungs they were able to spare in order to repeatedly shout and spit at me; having none myself I endured the singularly horrible combination of verbal and physical abuse. At one point on the tailwind straightaway Austin Powers went so fast that my field of vision became a tiny dot of wheeze, not a speck wider than the 23mm of his rear tire.
Did they not know that I was 52 years old? Did they not understand that 52 is no match for 20, 30, and 40? Did they not understand that I had sprinters back in the field? Did they not understand that I wasn’t pulling through because I was totally pinned? Were they frustrated at my presence, which seemed to indicate that none of them were really all that good if they couldn’t ride away from a grandfather?
Smasher urged some more and then attacked and rode away and won.
Austin and Rico screamed and attacked but didn’t ride away, perhaps because they couldn’t. As we approached the finish they looked back in a panic. “You sprinting?” Austin begged, unaware that of all my bad qualities, sitting in a break at a training race and sprinting for second wasn’t one of them.
I said more nothing, as I’d been saying for the last six laps.
After the race Smasher was awarded the jersey as all of the dead, near-dead, and going-to-be-dead-later riders stood around and imagined themselves in that natty Lycra pullover. He smiled. He mugged. Then he singled me out: “Why didn’t you pull through?”
Everyone looked at me. “Congratulations, Josh,” I said.
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May 25, 2016 § 11 Comments
When your face is mashed against the stem and there is a 33-mph sweep up the left side and you’re already pegged trying to close a 3-foot gap just to get up to a wobbly, about-to-detonate wheel so you can (with much prayer) leapfrog over the next gap that is going from a bike length to a football field, when the pain is shooting up your legs into your lungs and rasping like a giant file on a block of concrete, when you’re at that point in the race when you have found THE WORD and THE WORD is “QUIT!” and you’re already making up reasons why QUIT is brilliant and clever and CONTINUE is for insecure insane people because WHAT DO I HAVE TO PROVE and HOW AM I GOING TO PROVE IT OUT HERE are the dominant models in your mind’s dialectical discourse re: the philosophy of not giving up, when all that is happening it is hard to feel fun, much less see it.
That was my Telo last night, a huge turnout with mighty hammers of enraged wrath swinging in the fists of Evens Stievenart, Josh Alverson, Evan Stade, Sam Warford, Dan Cobley, Garrett Olsen, Peyton Cooke, Dave Wells, and a host of other characters who found the front for long enough to dump a bucket of boiling pain down the throats of the suffering convicts who were chained in hell to the unrelenting single-file line of pain.
But one rider stood out, even among that throng of ill-tempered criminals. He was slight, he was small, he was young, he hadn’t really learned how to ride in a straight line or how to keep his head up when sprinting full bore in the middle of a pack, but he had this: He had the magic.
This kid went with every surge, attempted every breakaway, tried to bridge to every move, bounced around in the pack like a ping-pong ball, tore at his pedals to not get dropped in the back straight, launched off the front fearlessly in the draft of the big fast men, pushed his way to the point only to get batted to the back, surged, blew, attacked, blew, followed, blew, sprinted, blew, launched, blew, blew, blew, blew, recovered, hit the gas as hard as he could and did it all over again.
Bader the Bad made his mark not only with his tenacity, but with the effect he had on the aged, the grizzled, the cynical, the broken, the jaded, and the crusty old farts trying to decide whether it was worth hanging on. In sixty minutes this kid showed us why we first raced: For the abandon and complete immersion into the moment, where age doesn’t matter, gender is irrelevant, name/rank/serial number/national origin/sexual orientation all blend into the necessity of the moment, “Can you hang, and if so can you WIN?”
Bader didn’t win, but on the last lap with the pack in tatters and even the iron-legged titans feeling the burn, he leaped, he attacked, he gave it his all for the hundredth time, and he didn’t stop pedaling until he had crossed the line.
He he gave us hope, he gave us a bike race, he made us hurt, and best of all, after the gasping was done, he made us smile.
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February 24, 2016 § 34 Comments
The first time I did the Old Pier Ride on a December day in 2006, I got yelled at by Stern-O. My crime? Daring to be a new face contesting the sprunt on a steel Masi while wearing a wool jersey.
On my first few Donut Rides I was yelled at and pushed around, and was only able to create breathing room by riding some of the worst-behaved people off my wheel. The only way you could get people to lay off was by beating them down.
Those few short years ago road riding in LA was like it still is in many places. Cliquish, hostile, and full-to-overflowing with self-important preeners.
Nowadays LA is not that way, even though other parts of SoCal and NorCal are still rife with faux elitism. Guys like Rahsaan Bahati, Robert Efthimos, Greg Leibert, and especially Greg Seyranian have created an environment where inclusiveness is the norm. New faces like David Wells, and old ones like Gerald Iacono and Michael Norris have kept up a steady drumbeat that welcomes new faces.
Eventually the most offensive snobs relocated to faraway climes, or took to riding by themselves in tiny groups at odd hours where they come into contact with hardly anyone, or they’ve simply quit riding.
This environment has attracted a lot of people to the old group rides. The NPR now easily starts with 70 or 80 riders. There’s often shouting and sometimes a bit of jostling, but it tends to be based on actual riding behavior rather than to establish a pecking order.
One of the guys who started showing up one day was named Francis, but one look at him and you pretty much knew that:
- You weren’t the first person who’d thought about saying, “Lighten up, Francis.”
- He’d beaten up lots tougher guys than you for lots smaller infractions than that.
In a universe where bikers are the underdog and the police are the enemy, Francis was like that overgrown guy in the movie with beard stubble and a knife who shows up in the 7th Grade classroom after riding his motorcycle to school and befriends the twiggly dork getting bullied by the bad guys. Turns out that Francis was a homicide detective and beneath his tough, flinty-eyed exterior there lay a hardened, unflinching, barefisted interior.
This was amazing because suddenly when the group got pulled over by a cop responding to a call from an irate PV housewife who’d been slowed down four seconds on her way to Starbucks, instead of getting a lecture, four back-up squad cars, and tickets all ’round, Francis and the cop would have a conversation and that would be it.
It was also amazing because we now had a cop who backed us up when bad things happened. It’s a funny feeling to think that when some cager in a pickup buzzes you and flips you off and then gets it into his head to escalate the situation that he’s going to find out he’s grabbed the red-hot poker with both hands by the wrong end.
Of course, what are the chances that a hard-bitten homicide cop would even be named Francis, let alone also be a cyclist, and a good one, at that? One in several billion. So in an effort to let him know how much he was appreciated, I made an especial effort to give him as much shit as possible, which, to his credit, he always returned in rather unequal quantities.
But back to the NPR …
In tandem with the large size of the ride, the police whose jurisdiction is LAX International Airport have their own Wellness Department, which focuses on health initiatives for employees and for the broader community. After a particularly bad car-bike collision on Westchester Parkway, which abuts the airport’s runways, the officer in charge of Wellness decided to get involved.
This guy’s name is Officer Sur, and with the department’s backing he now escorts the group on Tuesdays. He drives an SUV patrol car with large magnetic signs that say “3 Feet Please!” indicating the minimum legal passing space a motorist must give a cyclist.
He assists with intersection control when we make the u-turns on the Parkway, and also helps control traffic at lights when the lights are changing and only half the peloton has made it through. Officer Sur even came to our 6:40 AM liftoff at the Manhattan Beach Pier and gave a talk about rider safety and police involvement with things like the NPR.
From the time that he has been escorting the ride, we have gotten noticeably less (as in zero) buzzing or harassment by cagers. So in addition to the lottery-like odds of having one guardian angel in the form of a homicide detective named Francis, we wound up with an even more improbable scenario: Having two policemen who ride and who look out for others on bikes.
So I was talking to Officer Sur after the NPR, and telling him about Francis.
“Francis?” he said.
“Yeah,” I said. “Pretty weird, huh? I mean, what are the chances of having a cop named Francis who’s not only involved in cycling but who’s also kind of a guardian angel?”
Officer Sur looked at me to see if I was pulling his leg. “Pretty long odds,” he said. “Because that’s my first name, too.”
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February 20, 2016 § 25 Comments
Not everyone has this problem.
It’s 6:00 PM on a Friday night. I’m alone. The one thing I’d really like to do right now is have a drink. This is different from people who just want to “have a drink.” When I say “have a drink” what I mean is “Have a whole bunch of drinks, tonight, tomorrow, and every day henceforth until blotto forever.”
There are a bunch of reasons not to do that. But you know what’s more important than reasons not to do it? People.
There are people who, wittingly or not, are my guides. Some are people I barely even know and watch from a distance, awestruck. One is a guy named David Wells. He’s from the East Coast, and showed up one day in the South Bay full of good cheer.
He did the local rides, established himself as someone who knew how to pedal a bike, got fitter week by week, and then joined Team Lizard Collectors. We all figured that the way he rode, he’d be ripping up the local races as soon as January rolled around.
But he didn’t. Instead, he took a scary level of fitness and shared it. He created a ride called “Thursday Night Thunder” where people of any ability level can get help learning the skills that we leaky prostate profamateurs have had for decades and done a lousy job of teaching.
At TNT you can practice descending, jumps, attacks, recovery, tough intervals, and friendly competition all done with kindness, encouragement, instruction, and enthusiasm. If you are riding with Dave and you’re not having fun then you’re doing it wrong.
There are so many club riders who want to improve but who don’t want to do it in the race crucible, or who don’t want to risk life and limb to learn how to maneuver in a group, and there are so few expert riders who will regularly carve out time to nurture, teach, encourage, improve, and enthuse.
What does Dave’s brand of human excellence and goodness have to do with Friday night and nothing between me and the refrigerated shelves at the supermarket around the corner?
As it turns out, everything.
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