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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May 31, 2016 § 13 Comments
The great thing about quitting bike racing once and for all is racing again. It’s a freshener-upper, like ditching a girlfriend who you’re absolutely done with and can’t stand ANY MORE EVER until later that night when you get hungry.
I woke up this morning, the day after I’d competed in two races at the Old Fellows Droopy Sack Race in Thousand Oaks, and two races at the Same Old Droopy Sack Fellows Race in Compton. All I could think of was Brett Clare. It was his fault I felt this way.
“This way” was unable to stand properly, with shooting pains up and down my spine and legs. Worst of all, I stood on the Monday scales and realized that I’d gained five pounds in 48 hours. Apparently the math of a few hours racing + 49,000 calories = stretchy pants morning.
I hobbled into the kitchen to make coffee, wondering how it had ended this way. On Memorial Day, our nation’s greatest celebration of sending off young people to die and spend a trillion dollars in Iraq so that we can shop at Wal-Mart, I had made a clever race plan for the CBR Memorial Day crit to compensate for my tiredness from the previous day’s racing:
- Sit for 40 minutes.
- Attack at the 41st minute.
- Break the field with my tremendous power.
There were some obvious problems with this strategy, but the most obvious one (aside from the well-proven absence of tremendous power) was the promise I made to teammates FXH and Dave Holland, who had shaken their heads in disbelief at the idea that I’d wait even four minutes, much less 40, before making a pointless move.
“Guys,” I swore on a handy bible that I pulled out of my skinsuit, “if I do anything other than sit last wheel for the first forty minutes of the race I’ll buy you each a new bicycle.”
“Thanks,” said FXH, “but we don’t have any more room in the garage for a junker pulled out from the dumpster.”
“No, no,” I said. “Full carbon made of 100% Taiwanese carbon with fancy Italian name decals and all carbon. Di3 wireless with Transformer functionality so it also folds into an aircraft carrier.”
David shrugged. “Whatever you do, we’ll try to help.” He patted his cell phone which he had thoughtfully opened to 911-instant-send on my behalf.
At that moment Patrick, my beloved Texas compatriot who had disproven everything we knew about Aggies and who had brought his BBQ smoker to the race, was on his bell lap in the Cat 3 race. We watched him pull the slickest move in the book, the old “jump off your bike mid-pack and create a bit of confusion so your teammates can sprint to glory.” Video here.
Of course Patrick wasn’t only working for his teammates with this slick move. He was also shearing off a few choice cuts of skin and lean beef to add to the cooker so that we could feast afterwards on some incredibly tender cuts of bikerloin. And it was outstanding!
But back to the story …
The race began and I drifted to my allotted slot, #65. I watched far up ahead as Brett Clare, Brett Clare, and Brett Clare began whaling the living snot out of each and every droopy sack. In between Brett’s savagery, Thurlow Rogers would launch punishing counter after punishing counter, and off in the distance I could see my loyal teammates FXH, Dave Holland, Attila Fruttus, Chuck Huang, and Steven Ehasz closing gaps, attacking, and doing things of a various nature.
Each lap was made more interesting by the checkling of David Worthington, who, seated on a rusty bicycle, pedaled counter-clockwise and checkled everyone with bits of wisdom such as “Go faster!” and “Pedal harder!” and “The ’94 Rockets are better than your punk ass Warriors!”
It was surprising how un-tired I became sitting at the back doing nothing, and it appeared that the fellows doing all of the animating were not animating quite as hard fifteen minutes in as they had animated at the beginning, and after thirty minutes of animating their animating was much less animated, until, at forty minutes, there was a noted absence of much animation at all. A few laps prior Thurlow and another legend of the road had attacked and escaped.
I watched my watch to make sure I wouldn’t end up owing anyone a new bike or 100% carbon, coasted forward and did the Daniel-Holloway-accelerate-from-midpack so that when you hit the front you’re going 75 MPH and no one can even think about getting on your wheel. In my case, that has never worked because by the time I hit the front after my massive acceleration I’m only going about 25 and there are 60 other people on my wheel checking texts and emails.
This time, however, what with all the animation having evaporated into the ether, I hit the front and then hit the off-the-front and then hit the howling-fucking-headwind-on-the-uphill and then hit the breakaway and then hit the breakaway-chasing-to-get-on and then we rode around for a couple of laps and I noted:
- One bullet early equals two bullets late.
- If you’ve only got one match but the other dudes have none, you’re the only one who can light the fire.
- The pack loves to chase Wanky.
So we got caught and the pack sat up about ten yards before rolling up to my rear wheel. Which was when I noted something else:
So I did and the pack sat up and Brett Clare, Steven Strickler, and Rigo Cruz bridged and I buried it and attacked the break after Turn 3 and they hollered at each other while I pedaled furiously away. My Big Orange teammates had been masterfully controlling the field with expert blocking, shouting, weaving, bobbing, threats, firebombs, and plentiful garlic farts.
With victory secured and my congestive heart failure doing its thing I noticed with two turns to go that Brett Clare was gaining on me, filling my field of vision more and more like an alien in a horror film until he opened his jaws and snapped me in half a hundred yards before the line. (Moral: Riding away from a time trial champion is harder than it looks, and it already looks really fucking hard.)
They carried me from the oxygen tent to the podium and set me gently upon it, where I demurely kept my arms at my side and tried not to breathe beneath the raised arms of the great.
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February 26, 2015 § 31 Comments
I can see Roger Worthington now, seated atop a golden throne which is itself perched atop a mountain of tightly bound thousand-dollar bills, staring out the giant plate glass window of his mansion in Bend.
As he casts his lonely eye upon the surrounding valley shrouded in snow, he cannot focus his attention on his immeasurable wealth, on his palatial eco-home that houses three people and has a carbon footprint the size of Beijing, or on his empire of craft beer, retail pizza establishments, and hundreds of thousands of acres of genetically modified hops.
Instead, as he scrolls through his Facebag timeline and sees the racing exploits of Charon, of G$, and of lowly Wanky himself, he can only grunt in discontent and snarl thusly on his feed: “Facebag, Facebag on the wall. Who’s the greatest masters team of all?”
In 2015, everyone seems to be vying for the title of America’s Greatest Profamateur Masters Racing Team. Is it Surf City Cyclery with its cadre of hardened killers, customized bike stands, personal masseuses and wrapped RV? Is it Monster Media with its gnarled and vicious national champions, its color-coordinated team bikes and its capacious custom canopy? Is it SPY-Giant-RIDE with its 80-man team, each rider armed with his own personal collection of fancy sunglasses, and its omnipresent armada of rolling wrapped team vehicles?
Alas and alack, it is none of these. The greatest masters racing team of all time was Labor Power. Driven by the power hungry and depraved mind of Max Kash Agro, this collection of weird, antisocial, and utterly bizarre misfits created the mold for the modern profamateur masters team and then smashed it, along with Max’s hip, irrevocably in 2006 — never to be recreated or even vaguely approached.
The story began in 1983 or 1984 as I was pedaling around the track at Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas, when I first met Roger. He had an orange Viner. He raced a bit but aside from being reputedly “mean as a rattlesnake” there was little to suggest that less than a decade later he would burst onto the scene as the millionaire financier of Labor Power.
By the time he had been evicted from Texas and relocated to his Shangri-La in San Juan Capistrano, he had already invented the key elements of the profamateur masters bike team: Fancy Euro car with a decal, garish team clothing, “deals” for the team members, and teamwork that even today few teams can begin to approach.
In keeping with Roger’s ethos of “winning isn’t the only thing, it’s what I pay you to do,” Labor Power put together a cadre of racers who still make themselves known as the elite of the leaky prostates. Chris Walker, Louie Amelburu, Chris Hahn, and Greg Leibert are just three of the old Labor Power crew who still dominate when they show up to race.
Others have gone on to their reward or faded from view: Chris Hipp dead, Dave Worthington retired, Mark Scott mostly retired, and Chris Hahn still racing but only when he feels like it. Among them, the stalwarts of Labor Power amassed a record that is truly beyond compare, and what’s more incredible, they did it without any real suspicion of doping.
Consider this: In 1999 the team scored 40 wins and 78 podiums, including two state crit titles and a silver medal on the road. The next year Labor Power upped their tally to 42 wins and 95 podiums including state TT and road titles, wins at the Cascade Classic, and victories in every marquee masters event in California. In 2001 the team notched 42 wins, a world masters road title in Austria, and a gold medal at the Pan-Am masters championships. In 2002 Butch Stinson alone earned 31 victories as the team rolled up a mind-boggling total of 120 wins for the year. With 103 victories in 2003, the team had nothing left to win. So, dropping down to a “mere” 37 first place finishes in 2004, Labor Power masters racer Chris Walker won the elite men’s national road race at age 42.
By 2005 the team was falling apart, and so was team leader Roger Worthington’s hip. Labor Power officially disbanded in 2006.
What possibly explains this run of dominance, stretching from roughly 1995 to 2005? First of all, Labor Power’s guiding motto was “Win.” The team would block and sacrifice if it had a rider in the break, but that rider knew that 2nd place was unacceptable. There were no glory breakaways with Labor Power, where a rider finished sixth out of six riders as his team sacrificed in the rear. If you were going to ride the break you’d better not only have a plan to win, you’d better execute it to perfection. The fear of failure was driven by the manic despotism of MKA, and it worked.
Second, Labor Power, with one or two glaring exceptions, didn’t take wankers. If you were a proven winner you might get a ride with Labor Power. There were no bro deals. If you rode on Labor Power it was because you were either a closer or you were a closer. People weren’t recruited because of their ability to help, or work, or fetch water bottles. They got a ride because they knew how to cross the line first.
Third, Labor Power intimidated. They invented the cycling blog when things were still done on paper. The created the first mad-man race reports. The fecund and off-the-reservation mind of Roger Worthington made fun of everything, lampooned the enemy, lauded himself, and backed it up with vicious-but-fair, take-no-prisoners race strategy.
Fourth, Labor Power was ugly. Their uniforms were designed by Chris Hipp, a guy who had zero artistic talent and several galaxies’ worth of racing ability. Matching Hipp’s bad art with MKA’s bad taste, Labor Power designed jerseys that are notable even today for their garish ugliness and brashly bad mixture of offending colors. Yet the ugliness had an effect: When you lined up against the twisted minds of Labor Power you not only had to deal with the yelling, the intimidation, the race savvy, the steely legs and the cunning minds, but you also had to try and un-see the awful combination of colors that makes Monster Media’s kits look almost attractive.
Fifth, Labor Power had fun. It wasn’t the fun of “we gave it our best,” it was the fun of a gang of blood-soaked Mongol warriors, dripping in gore and sated from the spoils of razing a village, beheading the elderly, and selling everyone else off into slavery.
Sixth, Labor Power had money. Roger, despite being one of the cheapest, most tight-fisted people on earth, knew that to run a masters bike team it would cost money, and to that effect he made sure that at the end of each year his racers received the tiny pittance in shared winnings that are enough to keep an elite old bike racer cozy and warm in a cardboard box. For the amount of money that masters teams spend today, Labor Power could have outfitted a small country of bike racers.
So the next time you’re feeling good about your race results, or you’re thinking that the team is on its way to a winning season, take a moment to peruse the details of what is unquestionably the weirdest, whackiest, winningest masters racing team of all time: Labor.
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June 11, 2012 § 9 Comments
Monday, the day after a hugely successful day at the races, is so depressing. The office still looks the same. The pile of shit that was on your desk, the pile from which you so joyfully fled at 4:59 PM on Friday, is still there, towering, leaning, and reeking of procrastination babies that have been sitting at the bottom of the pile for so long they’ve sprouted chest hair and developed deep voices.
You try as hard as you can to do the thing that you’ve done every other Monday in 2012: shove the hard shit further down the stack and cherry pick the easy shit that can be knocked out in a minute or two. Check your email. Refill your coffee. Peek again at the bottom of the pile to see if the procrastination babies have grown fangs yet. It’s when they’re at the fanged stage that you’re fucked and will have to wrestle with them as they spring free from the pile, scattering everything else to the four winds as you battle what was once an easily solved problem but what has now grown into a fire breathing monster sprung from the gates of hell.
Fortunately, the biggest procrastination baby hasn’t fanged yet and only has tiny little bumps on its gums, which means a few more reams of shit can be heaped atop the pile to weigh him down for another brace or two of Mondays until he’s strong enough to claw his way out and ruin your week for real.
Rich Meeker: Dude won the 45+ category in a sprint, which doesn’t need saying because he showed up. The last time I was in a race with Rich I never saw him, so this was cool because I got within 30 or 40 yards and gawked good and proper. THOG-like, he notices everything that happens in the race. He’s always towards the front, but never at it unless attacking or bridging or smoking the field for the win. Bastard. At least my helmet cam makes his butt look fat.
Charon Smith: Dude won the 35+ category in a sprint, which doesn’t need saying because he showed up. Some guy in second place almost nipped him at the line except that he was forty-seven bike lengths back. A bunch of people I don’t know won the other races, so fuck them. Then Charon went and did some ridiculous shit in the P/1/2 race, winning the field sprint or some shit like that. At least he got smoked on the climb by a girl on the Saturday ride, even though he busted a gut trying to catch her.
Eric Anderson: Second race after upgrading to Cat 2, he nails fourth in the 35+ and 12th in the P/1/2. Eric is the only sprinter I know with the Bahati-esque quality of pulling so fucking hard that your entire body trembles and shudders from the pain. How long before Eric makes Charon quit sitting up with 300m to go and actually pedal to the line?
David Perez: The reason DP is always praying so hard is because of all those demons inside. The big hairy one with four tails, twelve eyes, and a rusty pike with skulls on it is called “Upgrade Demon.” It’s the demon that he coughed up at the starting line after linking hands with the atheistic antichrist spawn of satan otherwise known as HoverHawk. Once the demon was out in the open, DP rode a hell of a race, tossing the demon back into the eternal lake of fire and nailing down 13th place in a star-studded field of legitimate crazies. This is a great result for our local South Bay boy, and here’s hoping that more are on the way!
Chris Lotts: Seeing Chris come bombing by me in the crit was like watching a giant bowl of jello being flung from a fast-moving car. You keep watching to see if it’s going to come apart, but the only thing that came apart was Wankmeister. Chris showed again that no matter how much of a strain he puts on the 500-lb. test line that holds his clothing together, he CAN STILL KICK YOUR ASS IN A CRIT.
Wankmeister self-evaluation: Attacking with Gary Walls and John Nist 10 minutes into the race was really stupid. Chasing down David Worthington was awesome, as he flipped me off for the camera. Rad!! Chilling at the front with Greg Leibert while our teammates rode in the breakaway was interesting. What’s with all those lazyfucks who go to all that trouble to get in a break and then won’t work together? Are they related to Jack from Illinois? Or do they think they’re going to beat Rich Meeker in the sprint? Or do they just not know they’re in a break? Props to teammate Alan Flores, even though he was herding frogs, for getting up the road with those doofuses. My attack on the incline with just over one lap to go was meaningless, but better than doing nothing. Maybe. Although I finished next-to-DFL, it was my next-to-best race ever, thanks to my GoAmateur helmet cam, which captured all of the spitting, snot-blowing, bad cornering, time spent out in the wind instead of intelligently drafting, and cries of fear from the hapless schmoes stuck behind me.
Next up on WM’s race schedule: The Castaic Jailhouse Crit, an awesome 3.75-mile circuit race with a hill, providing a rare alternative to the typical four-corner crit that makes racing in SoCal so boring. Ooops…recent update by the promoter: Due to zillions of new rapists, child molesters, killers, and marijuana smokers being incarcerated at the same time that the state budget’s being cut, the Castaic jail grounds have canceled the circuit race. However, a race will still go on, only as a (surprise) four-cornered crit, .75 mile in length. Nice work, felons.