Training crit

March 31, 2016 § 22 Comments

We have a training crit called Telo. No one is sure what it trains anyone for, but on Tuesday at 6:00 PM we do it anyway.

Telo, pronounced “this really fuggin’ sucks,” has one main feature, wind. Huge buckets of it sweep off the coast every afternoon without exception. Yesterday the buckets were Rubbermaid Industrial Sized; I’m guessing 25 mph.

The course is a long tailwind section, a short right-hander, then a long headwind section, a chicane, more headwind, another right-hander, and back to the tailwind part. You would think that the headwind section is the worst part and you would be right.

One of the great things about the Internet and being really famous is that when you announce you’re going to be at Telo a ton of people show up. So I announced my presence and got to see what kind of weight I pull in the South Bay as a tiny group of maybe twenty-five riders appeared.

telo_march_29_2016-2

The only thing that makes Telo harder than huge wind buckets is a small field. Yesterday the field included Evens, Smasher, Fireman, Destroyer, Surfer Dan, SB Baby Seal, Hair, and Family Jules. Clearly the worst thing to do would be to attack from the gun. All I had to do was mark Destroyer and I’d make the split, which is exactly like the old Aesops’ fable of Belling the Cat. All the mice have to do to stop the cat from eating them is put a big bell around his neck. Yep, that’s all.

Junkyard, who showed up to flash lap cards, waved us off. By refusing to participate, he once again proved himself the wisest person there, although as he scampered back and forth across the course with riders whizzing by he almost achieved the Trifecta of Bike Crashes: Falling on the Road, Falling on the Track, and Getting Run Over at a Bike Race While Not Even Riding.

I attacked from the gun, if “attack” is what you call dangling 50 yards ahead of everyone on the neutral lap. However, it served its purpose, which was to make sure I felt droopy and lacticky when the real attacks began, of which there was only one, and which came from Evens, and which was into the headwind, and which everyone could simply look at and drool hangdoggedly “You go.” “Nuh-uh. You go.” “Fugg tha, you go.”

The field had about fifteen people left and they all appeared to be small and thin and useless for my purposes, which was finding a good wheel to gasp onto.

I followed a couple of hapless moves and never slipped back more than fourth wheel, all the while wondering “Where are Destroyer and Smasher? Where are Smasher and Destroyer?” Nothing would happen without them, except what had happened, which was that the winning break of one had morphed into the winning group of five and I wasn’t in it.

Fireman, though, was. He had told me before the race, “Just follow my wheel and you’ll make the split.” So I followed several other wheels while he made the split and I didn’t.

As I took a few ineffectual pulls I kept wondering, “Where are Destroyer and Smasher? Gee I’m tired and exhausted and tasting that salty sour bitter stuff in the back of my throat and my legs have that ‘stop’ feeling but where are they? What are they doing? Smasher is always patient and waits until the first 30 seconds to attack but not today. Is he tired? Weak? Sick? Too much Cal-Mex queso before the ride?”

Of course I could have looked, but it’s hard to turn your head when you’re rollicking through massive pavement cracks dodging oncoming angry cagers and delivery trucks whipping out of industrial park driveways and 25-mph gusts that stand you up when you slam from the sheltered short top section into the wind and your eyes have switched sockets.

If I had looked back I would have seen D&S chillily sitting in the back not having yet pedaled. Which would have been a bad thing to see.

“When are they going to attack and bridge?” I wondered. So I slipped back and got on Smasher’s wheel, who was on Destroyer’s wheel. “Okay fuckers,” I said. “Do your worst and drag me up to the break.”

On cue, Destroyer hopped hard on his pedals and Smasher hopped with him. Surfer Dan slotted in ahead of me and it was just the four of us. First we went fast. Then faster. Then really fast. Once we hit the apex of this-hurts-so-bad-if-we-go-any-faster-my-face-will-come-off, Destroyer started going fast.

Surfer gapped, which was great because now I had an excuse. IF ONLY HE HADN’T GAPPED ME OUT I WOULD HAVE MADE IT. REALLY, MOM!!!

I watched the two of them pedal merrily off, satisfied that I now had an excuse and, since we’d slowed down, could breathe again and uncross my kidneys.

Ten riders came up to us. Everyone else who hadn’t already been dropped got dropped.

We rode the next forty minutes in a single line. Each time you got within three riders of the front the pain was unendurable. My pulls went from weak and ineffectual to lightning-brief cameos where my pull consisted of one pedal stroke, a 5-mph decrease in speed, and a wildly flapping elbow.

One by one the group shrank. Every couple of laps someone shuddered and quit. 11. 10. 9. 8. 7. 6.

This is what it must have been like to be stuck in a life raft with nothing to eat but each other, and nothing to drink but blood, salt water, and urine. When SB Baby Seal melted into a wet stain and slithered off the back with only a couple of laps to go I knew things were bad. With Hair, Boozy P., Jay L., and Surfer Dan the only people left in our pitiful chase group that wasn’t really a chase group so much as it was a don’t-get-lapped group, and with us all broken the only thing left of the glorious dreams from 60 minutes earlier, we each struggled across the line, downcast, downtrodden, filled with futility, defeat, and the reality that no matter how bad you are on a bike, racing will make you worse.

Up ahead the shenanigans had been vicious. Heavy D. and Brokeback Brokeleg had been ridden out of the break. Fireman had been worked over. Family Jules had been denied his second Telo victory despite cagey wheelsucking, sagging, pull skipping, and work avoidance of every kind. Evens had ground everyone up into fine powder. Destroyer and Smasher had attacked every lap the last five laps until one of them beat everyone else.

However, I finally realized that I had gotten it all wrong. Telo isn’t a training race. It’s a funeral train. And you’re the guest of honor.

END

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Crown jewel

September 10, 2015 § 14 Comments

This Friday at 5:30 PM in downtown Ogden, Utah, the next-to-last day of the 2015 Old People’s Vanity Strut will take place, when the 40-44 age category lines up to decide who among them has most thoroughly avoided advancement at work (or any employment at all), skipped out on family obligations for at least one full year, hired the best Internet coach, spent the most money on equipment and supplements of every kind, lied about how “it’s only a hobby,” and, finally, crossed the finish line of a 75-minute crit ahead of everyone else.

Unlike some categories in the annual Old People’s Vanity Strut, where national champions are crowned despite lining up against exactly zero other riders, and despite the shaky and physiologically random assignment of riders into 5-year groupings (why not 3-year? 19.4-months? 25-year?), the 40-44 race, otherwise known as DON’T LET IT BOIL DOWN TO A SPRINT FINISH AGAINST CHARON SMITH, has the potential to be one of the best old person crits ever.

Consider this. At 75 minutes long, the riders won’t have fresh legs at the finish. More importantly, the BEAT CHARON strategy can only work with aggressive racing. Negative racing that leaves everyone together with 300 yards to the line will put Charon so far ahead in the final sprunt that the winning gap will be measured in aircraft carrier lengths.

The strategy will be to split the field, form a non-Charon break, and let the breakaway riders duke it out for the meaningless jersey that means everything. How it’s being strategized:

  1. Phil Tinstman, the strongest all around rider and the Next Fastest Sprinter Who Isn’t Charon, brings teammate Karl Bordine (just picked up silver in the ITT yesterday, thanks) to shred the field and power the non-Charon breakaway. He’s also rumored to have formed a midnight blood pact with Chris DiMarchi and Mike Easter, former teammates at Monster Media and future teammates for 2016. Chris and Mike, also former national champions in something bicycle related, may be there to work for Phil against Team Charon. If so, no break will roll or remain established without Phil.
  2. Charon is bringing teammates to help for the first time in his quest for a national championship. With super motor Pat Bos he’ll be able to keep tabs on all but the strongest breakaways, and with consummate teammate Derek Brauch nothing will go up the road without Surf City in it. Derek will also fire everything he’s got to bring back a break and, more importantly, to give Charon the leadout he won’t need if it boils down to a sprint.
  3. Matt Carinio, last year’s victor, got third in the ITT yesterday so it’s pretty safe to say he’s showing up fit. He won’t have the team firepower of Charon/Phil, but he may not need it. He’s a fine breakaway rider and no slouch in a sprint, though in a head-to-head against Tinstman it’s hard to see him winning. Still, he’ll be all in for the BEAT CHARON breakaway plan.
  4. Rudy Napolitano will have little or no team support, but guess what, folks, he doesn’t need it. With Rudy in the race there’s virtually no chance it will boil down to a field sprint, and Rudy has shown time and time again that he can establish a break, ride a break, and then attack the break to win solo. He will save his efforts for laser-like precision, and when he unleashes them they will count.

Of course these are simply the favorites that I know of; lots of butt-hurt riders on the East Coast and in Wyoming will wonder why they’re not listed here. Answer: Because I make this shit up at 5:00 AM.

In any event it will be an epic race. The winner will of course look forward to spending one full year trying to explain the world shaking importance to non-cyclists that he’s the 2015 masters national champion of 40-44-year-old males in criterium racing. I’ll give you a nickel for every person whose eyes don’t glaze over after the word “masters.”

END

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Playbook

September 7, 2015 § 5 Comments

We dropped down off the Switchbacks in a line. Sweeping through the right-hander onto PV Drive South all of the familiar figures fell into place.

Charon, Rudy, Derek, Leadout, Michael, Cuttler, Stathis, X-Man, and Undercover formed the point while the rest of us jostled for protection on the screaming downhill followed by the punchy rollers through Portuguese Bend. Everyone knew what was coming and it was gonna fuggin’ hurt.

The scene of so much misery is called The Glass Church because, amazingly, it is a gradual roller that starts at the bottom of … guess what … a glass church. It’s not very long and it’s not very steep so it’s just the right distance for everyone to get in over his head.

Undercover pounded off the front in a hopeless kick destined for immolation and, always the one to pick the worst wheel at the worst time, I went with him. Chunks of sputum, toe jam, and tooth enamel began to bleed out of his eyes and after a couple hundred yards he began doing the Brad House arm flap. When he slowed to a pace that I could pass and maintain, I jumped past. The wankoton was well behind. I ground it halfway up the grade until I heard the telltale “whoosh, whoosh” of approaching carbon doom made of 100% full carbon.

It was Rudy. I grabbed on, then held on as he accelerated all the way up the roller and over the top. Derek was with him and we had a gap. I took something that looked like a pull, only it wasn’t. After a few rotations we were at the bottom of the little hill past Terranea. Rudy launched. Davy had bridged, somehow. Three-quarters of the way up the bump I punched it coming up the right-side gutter.

We flew down the short grade to the final uphill before the sprunt. Davy charged with X-Man, who had also come across, on his wheel. I faded backwards like the burnt out stage of a Saturn rocket.

We regrouped at the light and Rudy was grinning. “You hung on,” he said.

“Barely. There was that one point on the Glass Church when you came through and I had to bite down hard.”

“Those are always the moments when you either make the split or you don’t.”

“It felt like I was slowly chewing off my own tongue.”

“But then it lets up and you’ve made the split. Because everyone else backs off.”

“The taste of your own tongue isn’t very good,” I mused.

“I work with a lot of riders who are just starting out. They have that great ‘new’ fitness but the depth isn’t there yet, where they can max out and still bring their heart rate back down. They hit top gear and stay elevated.”

“There’s so much out there about how to train,” I said, “but I’m still waiting for someone to write a book about how to win.”

He laughed. “Yeah. Same as in poker. Cycling appears to be about training and fitness, or in poker it appears to be about luck, but in the final round it’s always the same five guys sitting at the table.”

“Because the guys who win have a playbook.”

He nodded. “And they follow it.”

“When are you publishing yours?”

We had hit the bottom of Via Zumaya and he glided away. “Someday!” he said.

END

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True grit

March 31, 2015 § 17 Comments

The first time I saw Charon Smith in a race he was sitting down in the middle of the asphalt with a hundred bikes flying by, his shorts torn and his wheel ground down from where he’d rolled his tire.

“What a wanker,” I thought.

That was back in 2007, I think, at the El Dorado Tuesday night crit, and since then he’s won countless races, state titles, stood on the podium at nationals, and I’ve pretty much won nothing. So, we know who the wanker is.

This past weekend at San Dimas, however, Charon really and truly took it to a whole ‘nother level. The rap has always been “Yeah, but he’s just a sprinter,” as if beating out a hundred crazy people in a death rush to the line is, you know, a piece of cake. Funny thing about that rap, it’s been wrong from the beginning.

While it’s true that over the years Charon established himself as the fastest masters finisher in SoCal, he’s worked hard each and every year to add new weaponry to his arsenal. Last year saw him tackle the San Dimas stage race where he snagged the green jersey in a hilly, tough road race and then said “Adios” to all comers in the final day’s crit.

With another off season of focus and preparation on the non-sprinting aspects of his race game, Charon showed up to play consummate teammate at the hilly Boulevard RR, where his team efforts resulted in victory for their designated road guy, and he showed up again at San Dimas. This time, however, he raced with the kind of toughness and smarts that you only find in the most hardened of road racers.

When the winning break in the road race rolled up the road, Charon bridged solo to a field that included the Who’s Who of masters racing: Phil Tinstman, Rudy Napolitano, Mike Easter, Derek Brauch, and Mark Noble, to name a few. When the break came back, Charon continually found himself OTB on the climb, only to repeatedly claw his way back on.

With everyone melted from the speed and the day’s withering heat, the remains of the peloton hit the finishing stretch wrung out and beaten to a pulp. Charon reached down deep and kicked hard, so hard that with “only” 900 watts he cleared the line first. So much for the “He’s only a sprinter” thing.

True grit is more than what happens on the bike, though. A mentor to junior racers, Charon is vitally concerned with what happens to those coming up in the ranks. Showing young riders how to obtain good, credible results through hard work and dedication is something that he does as a matter of course.

And in cycling, as in life, it’s the little things that reveal the bigger ones. Charon’s inclusive — he brought Prez onto the team, for dog’s sake — he shares what he loves, and he’s got time for anyone who has time for him. Stands up when people introduce their wives or parents, and opens the door for you. Those little things, which really aren’t so little after all.

No wonder that he’s built a team of devoted and dedicated followers who are making competition miserable for everyone else.

END

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Sandbag while you can

March 23, 2015 § 28 Comments

Before the race I saw Dave happily siting on his top tube.

“You racing with us?” I asked.

“No,” he said firmly and happily. “Masters 35+ 4/5.” Dave had won the Masters 35+ 4/5 sandbagger race the week before in Merced and was licking his chops, noting that none of his competition came anywhere close to his 400 weekly training miles.

“When are you going to upgrade? You’re a beast.”

He looked at me very seriously. “Oh, no I’m not. I’m still learning so much about racing. And the 40+ group is way too fast.”

“Let me know when you’ve learned everything you need to know about racing,” I said.

Our race was going to be whatever is worse than terrible. You would think that a bicycle race where you had to be at least fifty years old to enter wouldn’t be that hard, but you would be wrong. On the start line were Thurlow a/k/a The Hand of God a/k/a THOG, Konsmo, the Parksie Twins, G$, Mark Noble, DQ Louie, Jaeger, Pomeranz, and a whole host of other guys I’d never beaten, and wasn’t going to beat today.

The course was a 27-mile out-and-back. We were supposed to it twice. The total elevation was about 5,500 feet. Going out, the course had a series of punchy rollers that led to the bottom of a 1-mile climb. After a 2-mile descent, the road continually ascends through a valley with a half-dozen short climbs and a few false flats until you reach the turnaround at the 13 Mile point.

Then the road descends into a headwind all the way to the base of the 2-mile climb, which pitches up, flattens briefly about 2/3 of the way up, then crests and drops you back to the base of the rollers. The race finishes on a 1-km climb with a moderately steep final 200 meter “sprint.”

Less than a mile into the race I was fully occupied with Mr. Crash Magnet. He’s the guy I get behind in every race and every race has one. Crash Magnet was so scared that his arms were shaking and his entire bike was wobbling. The smart thing in these cases is to get away from Crash Magnet ASAP, but he’s called “magnet” for a reason.

In the Wrinkly Prostate Division, although most of the riders aren’t good at holding their water, decades of racing have made them masters at avoiding crash magnets. So there is a race-within-a-race: Get away from the magnet. And since I’m the worst bike handler after whomever the crash magnet happens to be, everyone slides and jostles and positions so that I’m the one stuck on Crash Magnet’s wheel.

I dashed off to the left and got ahead of him, but to no avail. The deck reshuffled and there he was again. After the fourth reshuffle I resigned myself to the terrible bicycle falling off incident in store if he hung around much longer. This is one of the great freeing experiences of bike racing. You are in destiny’s maw.

Robb came up next to me after we’d crossed the first four rollers. The bottom of the big climb lay ahead. “This is gonna hurt,” he said.

“Why,” I asked “are you using the future tense?”

About that time I edged around Crash Magnet just as he made a beeline for the shoulder, hit a rock, shimmied his handlebars, and launched himself headlong into a soft bed of cactus and ocotillo. As I sprinted away, wondering how badly he was hurt, I noted that THOG & The Co. from Hell had moved to the front. I slotted in behind him.

Now here is something that everyone who’s been dropped on a hard climb in a hard race surrounded by much better riders can relate to, but ordinary intelligent people who play golf and happily drink beer from the back of a golf cart cannot, and I call it the lighting of the fuse. It happens in stages.

  1. Terrible feeling of awful dread as you anticipate at the bottom of the climb.
  2. First acceleration at the bottom where you think, “I can do this.”
  3. Second acceleration shortly after the first where you think, “This is going to be hard.”
  4. Grit teeth as the pace settles in.
  5. Feeling begins somewhere in your calves, the feeling of give-up-and-quit.
  6. “I’m not quitting” + excessive teeth gritting. Brief look around to see that the group has halved.
  7. Third acceleration midway up the climb where you think, “Fuck you cocksuckers to hell.”
  8. Fuse burns up into lower quads. Pain however is no longer localized to legs and has spread to eyeballs.
  9. Fourth acceleration where the group halves again. Konsmo, who is leading the charge, is on the tops and doesn’t appear to be breathing. “Fuck you, Konsmo, if we ever stop I will kill you,” you think, or something like that.
  10. Almost at the top the fuse reaches the bomb and you explode. Body shudders, head droops, prostate deflates.
  11. “Quit gapping me out motherfucker!” is roared from behind.
  12. Race effectively ends.

When we reached Stage 11, I leaped onto the last rider’s wheel and latched on as we made it over the top. There was hardly anyone left. The pain immediately receded and all of my attention focused on why I’d chosen to try and ride with the leaders instead of doing the logical thing, which would have been following Crash Magnet face-first into the cactus bush.

At the bottom of the valley G$ took over. The pain returned and riders continued to pop off. At the base of each mini-peak G$ would punch it hard, but by now the people who had made it this far weren’t going to be dropped so easily. I looked up and saw the lights of the motorcycle that was following the 40+ field containing Mike Easter, Derek Brauch, Matt Carinio, Tony Manzella, Jon Flagg, and Chris DiMarchi. They had left five minutes earlier but the vicious climbing speed of Konsmo and G$ had devoured the time gap.

They were neutralized and we roared by, which led me to wonder this: Could someone please explain the biology behind how a group of riders, some of whom were in their mid-50’s, were riding faster than a group of men some of whom were fifteen years younger? Or maybe it was just mirrors and we had lighter wheels. But then I remembered that weight doesn’t really matter.

Whatever it was, we sped by with our teeth plastered to the stem as the 40+ pre-geezers stared over, insulted and slack-jawed. Shortly past the turnaround the butthurt 40+ field took matters into their own hands and came flying by us, proving the superiority of youth and better medical care. We never saw them again.

Before long our greatly reduced herd hit the base of the big climb. The fuse was re-lit, and burned all the way until shortly before the short flat. I was sitting on Mark Noble’s wheel making that last-gasp cry that lobsters make when you throw them into the boiling water, when I exploded for good. Race over.

With Chris Hahn, Scott McAfee, and Bald Tim on my wheel, we chased madly through the rollers, eventually picking up DQ Louie, who had inexplicably been shelled. After a few more miles of unutterable misery that left Scott and Bald Tim adrift, I dragged Chris and Louie back to the leaders. Of course we reattached at the bottom of the big climb, the fuse was lit, and it mercifully skipped Stages 2-11, going from Stage 1 to Stage 12 in about fifteen seconds. Louie and Chris happily pedaled away, the sorry bastards.

Left to wallow in my own misery, I slogged up the hill, was caught and dropped by teammate Andy Schmidt who had been stoned and chased out of the 40+ community, and was then overtaken by a mongrel group of 40+ and 50+ shellees including teammate John Hatchitt, and assassin/arch enemies Pomeranz and McAfee. I slunk to the back and struggled along to the turnaround, back down the valley, and to the bottom of the big climb.

This time I did something different, though. I put it into the small chain ring. Realizing that I’d been doing the massive climbs in my 53, it occurred to me that perhaps it would be easier if I used a smaller gear. Wow! Who knew???? Climbing is easier in a 39×28 instead of a 53×21. Gawrsh!

McAfee attacked and one by one our group reduced in size until there were only six of us. Hatchitt attacked, caught and dropped McAfee. Then after the false flat Pomeranz attacked, leaving me with a couple of 40+ racers who had no interest in or need to chase down guys who weren’t in their race.

With 1k to go I hunted down Hatchitt and McAfee. Hatchitt went early and blew. McAfee went a bit later, but I was able to sit on his wheel until the very end and throw myself across the line, beating out a couple of 40+ wankers and looking less like Mark Cavendish winning MSR and more like a fish whose bleeding mouth had been ripped from a hook and thrown mercilessly onto the rocks to flip, flop, gasp, and die.

After the race I saw Dave, who had sandbagged his way to another awesome win. “Good job,” I said, filled with bitterness and envy as I contemplated getting my downgrade for 2016.

Wankamodo snapped this immortal shot of my last-gasp lunge for a top-40 placing in our 40-man field.

Going 100%, pointlessly, against guys I'm not even racing against.

Going 100%, pointlessly, against guys I’m not even racing against.

50+ Leaky Prostate Category Race Notes:

Mark Noble played a smart waiting game, stayed out of the win, and smashed the four-man leading of group for the win, edging out Bennie Parks, Thurlow Rogers, and Jeff Konsmo. Race activator and head-banger Greg Leibert finished sixth behind Todd Parks, with SPY-Giant-RIDE p/b GQ6 teammate and 2014 winner David Jaeger coming in 8th.

My ride chauffeur, Derek Brauch, got second in the 40+ race behind winner Mike Easter. SPY-Giant-RIDE teammate Jon Flagg put on a display of incredible strength by bridging to the leaders and finishing fourth.

Emily Georgeson got a bronze medal in the women’s state championship road race, confirming again that this is her breakout season.

Other people in other races finished, or didn’t, with some going faster and others going slower.

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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Even the wankers (Get lucky sometimes)

September 2, 2014 § 19 Comments

Derek had been cajoling me to do the last CBR crit of the season for over a week. “C’mon, dude,” he said. “The field will be easy. All the fast guys will be at nationals or tapering for it.” And then the biggest lie of all: “It’ll be fun!”

When you are old and slow and tactically stupid and racing your bike on the fumes of dead dreams, you are vulnerable. “Okay,” I groused. “But I’m not shaving my legs. I’m done with that shit.”

Derek smiled. “No problem.”

I met him at the corner of Anza and Carson at 11:25. The race started at 12:35, and it was a forty-minute pedal if you caught all the lights, which never happens. This gave us a very comfy 40-minute safety buffer. We chatted and pedaled along the mostly empty Sunday streets of Torrance until the street became not-quite-so-empty, then pretty-trafficked, and finally stopped-completely-dead-in-a-sea-of-cars.

We threaded the lanes until we got to the source of the problem: The world’s longest freight train. “What the hell is this?” Derek asked.

“They run the really long ones through town on Sundays to minimize traffic disruption.”

“Crap,” he said, looking at his watch. “How long does it take?”

“I’ve never been stopped at one for more than thirty minutes.”

As the endless train endlessly rolled by at a whopping 5 mph, we sat stewing in the heat. The plus side was that if it lasted much longer we’d miss the race, which was fine with me because I didn’t want to do the 35+ category anyway. If it was hopeless racing with my own leaky prostate peers in the 50+, throwing down with the snotnoses was something much worse than hopeless. The last two 35+ races I’d entered I hadn’t even finished.

Still, the fast guys wouldn’t be there …

“Let’s go!” Derek said as the caboose rolled by. We were now touch-and-go for making the race, and the pre-race race began. Plowing into a nasty headwind and catching every single red light on Carson, we time-trailed to the race course moments before liftoff.

As we hurried to the sign-in tent, I saw that Derek had lied and lied well. There was Pat Bos, a guy I’ve never beaten. There was Dan Reback, a guy I’ve never even thought about beating. There was Michael Johnson, a guy that almost nobody has ever beaten. And there was Kayle LeoGrande, the guy who ritually beats everyone else.

The field was tiny and the course was windy, with a small bump leading up to Turn 4. The good thing about the small size of the field was that the race would start slow. I knew this from decades of experience — no one, no matter how good they are, wants to batter for a full fifty minutes in a race with no shelter.

Just before we started, Bart came up to me. “What the hell are you doing racing with these punks?” Bart had gotten third in the Old Farts’ Category earlier in the day.

“Funny, I was asking myself that same question.”

Armin the Great came over and clapped my shoulder, which hurt. “Don’t worry. You will do fine.”

I wanted to believe Armin, but when the gun sounded, his prediction sounded insanely optimistic. At Turn 1 Kayle jumped away from the field with Derek and two others in tow. The pain shot from my legs to my bowels to my eyes as the guillotine edge of reality made itself clear. This was going to be another day of “moral victories.” I already had them classified:

  1. Moral Victory #1: Getting out of bed and riding to the race.
  2. Moral Victory #2: Starting the race.
  3. Moral Victory #3: Finishing the first lap.
  4. Moral Victory #4: Beer.

As we finished the first lap the breakaway looked like it was gone and gone forever. Kayle had already kicked two of the breakaway companions out of the lead and they rocketed backwards, shattered, like pieces of a Morton-Thiokol booster rocket spiraling away from the Challenger space shuttle.

Then I heard the churning, whirring sound of accelerating carbon, and without bothering to look I sprunted hard. MJ came tearing through with Kayle’s teammate, Pat Bos, on his wheel. I latched onto Pat. MJ was flying solo and wasn’t about to let Kayle ride off the front like that.

The speed and wind and misery were so intense that I recounted my four moral victories and decided that now, as we finished Lap 2, was the perfect time to quit. I looked up and saw that MJ had reeled in the break, which contained Kayle and Derek. Everyone sat up except for Mario of Cal Pools, who attacked on the little riser. Derek and Rodrigo Flores went with him, and they pedaled away.

Then Dan Reback jumped and I went with him. A lap later we had bridged, leaving fistfuls of IQ points and galaxies of pointlessness scattered in our wake. We waited for Kayle or MJ or Pat to bridge, but somehow our ragtag group stayed off until, with fifteen minutes to go, we saw that miraculous sight of all miraculous sights: The remnants of the field that we were about to lap.

I have only lapped a field once. It was in 1985, at the crit at the Tour of Georgetown. There is nothing quite like it — it feels like a combination of having unprotected sex while mowing down your opposition on a battlefield with a machine gun. Only better.

We went around in circles for a few more laps. Teammate Eric Anderson set up Derek with the perfect leadout, and Derek responded with an amazing front-tire blowout as he railed through the final turn. I wound up fourth, losing to all my breakaway companions (including the one with a blowout) except for Mario, who sat up in Turn 3 and didn’t even try.

Still, lapping the field? (Yes, it was tiny.) Finishing ahead of two national champions who are contenders for a national championship next week? (No, this wasn’t a very important race for them.) Not getting immediately dropped and flayed by a field 15 years younger than my proper age category? (Dang, I’m old.)

I’m calling this one Moral Victory #5.

END

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