February 5, 2016 § 22 Comments
You’ve done your intervals and you’ve dieted and you’ve tacked on another $5k in aero stuff to the Visa card and you’ve gotten a good night’s sleep and you’ve consulted with your coach on strategy and you’ve reviewed the course and paid particular attention to the wind and you’re going pretty darn good, until the next morning, which is race day.
Yep, you’re going super extra champion good until you get to the parking lot, whip in, and see defeat painted on the sign of another team’s van–maybe it says “Surf City Cyclery” (you’re not beating Charon in a crit today, sorry) or maybe it says “Monster Media” (you’re not beating Phil Tinstman in a road race today, sorry) but whatever it says, it’s the end of your race before it even begins.
Because bike racing is like WWII air-to-air combat. There are aces and turkeys, only, and the turkeys outnumber the aces by a hundred to one. And you’re a turkey.
In other words, my coach always tells me that if I really want to win, I need to make sure that no one who can beat me shows up. “How the hell am I supposed to arrange that?”
The absence of competition is the surest avenue to victory, and the presence of competition is the surest guarantee of defeat, and if you doubt me I point only to Brad House, who has more California state road titles than anyone in history.
If you’ve seen Brad get dropped on the climbs, dropped on the flats, outsprunted by dead people, run over by trucks in Portuguese Bend, and generally give up when the going is still hundreds of miles from “tough,” you may wonder how he got all those titles. Answer: He raced in events that were so sparsely attended that he could beat everyone, even when everyone was only one other person, or none at all.
When I first started following advice from strangers on the Internet, my mentor was Coach Cap Taintbag. Coach Cap Taintbag gave me a winning strategy, which I refused to follow. “Go to a race where you’re guaranteed victory. Somewhere far, inconvenient, in a district with hardly any racers. Go there. Sign up. Beat the other guy. Win.”
“That’s fucked up,” I said. “Why would I want to beat one other person? That’s not racing.”
“Of course it is,” said Taintbag. “And it’s winning. The only way to learn to win is to be number one. Until you’ve won you’ll never learn how to win.”
“That seems like a Catch-22,” I said.
“No, because there are races out there you can win. The mixed-man-woman-tandem-6km-TT-combined-age-150-and-over. On the track.”
I never took his advice and of course never won a race. But I started looking around and noticed that he was right. You can’t beat the aces if you’re a turkey. When you hit the parking lot, most of the time your race is done. Even Derek the Destroyer only got his amazing victory at Boulevard last year because Tinstman was sick and decided not to ride.
But I have too much pride for seeking out cupcake events, or I used to until last year when I got second place at the Tuttle Creek Road Race in the eastern Sierras. It is far away and the weather is horrible and it is hilly and brutal and lonely and filled with pain.
I got second because there were only two of us in the masters race. It’s not often you get a podium spot and a DFL in the same race.
And it gave me hope. Hope that at Tuttle Creek in 2016, where morning temps are in the 20’s and freezing rain is likely, I could do a tiny little bit better, even if it’s just one small placing up.
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February 2, 2015 § 19 Comments
I’m an idiot. I know this because I subscribe to Science, a magazine that makes me feel silly, innumerate, and illiterate every time it arrives in the mailbox. Since I can’t understand anything in it, when I read an article I play a game called “Name that acronym.” Here’s how it works:
Each Science article is chock-full of acronyms, for example TCRs, MHC, CEBAF, and “the EMC effect.” Since I’ll never understand any of it no matter how much time I spend on Wikipedia, I content myself with memorizing what the acronym stands for. So, each time I see the acronym in the article, I repeat to myself the fully spelled-out word. T-Cell Receptor. Major Histocompatibility Complex. Continuous Electron Beam Accelerator Facility. The European Muon Collaboration Effect.
What the fugg does any of it mean? No idea. But at the end of each article instead of feeling like a complete moron, I just feel like an idiot.
At our SPY-Giant-RIDE p/b GQ-6 profamateur Team Camp and Poser Assembly the day before the Boulevard Road Race I was listening to one of the presentations about energy drinks when I happened to notice that in one of the slides, in super tiny print, someone had written a paragraph that mentioned “mTOR.”
I jumped out of my chair. “Mechanistic target of rapamycin!” I yelled. Everyone stared.
“Excuse me?” said the presenter.
“Mechanistic target of rapamycin! It says it right there!”
“What are you talking about, dude? And could you please quit shouting? And sit down?”
I did as he said and he continued with the slide. King Harold tapped me on the shoulder. “What the fugg did you just say?”
“Mechanistic target of rapamycin,” I whispered breathlessly, pointing at the slide. “Right there! mTOR is the abbreviation for mechanistic target of rapamycin.”
“Okay, okay,” he said, patting me. “Just calm down and tell me what the hell it means. Can you use it in a sentence?”
“No,” I said. “I only memorized it from the acronym.”
“You’re a complete idiot,” he said.
Derek is not an idiot
This year I had decided to race the 40+ masters category at Boulevard because it was 22 miles longer than the 44-mile race for the 50+ leaky prostate category. My reasoning was simple: Since I had no chance of doing well in the 2-lap race with people my own age, perhaps I could do better in a 3-lap race with people who were much younger and faster and better than all of the people in the 50+ race put together.
In other words, it was an idiotic plan.
My friend Derek, however, who is ten years younger and who is easily one of the best road racers in his age class, had a very good plan. In order to win the season opening, most prestigious race of the year he would have his whole team line up to support him (except for Prez, who would spend the day drinking coffee with his feet up on the table). Even the sprinter dudes who could generally be expected to explode into tiny flecks of muscle and mush after the first climb were there to help.
With his full team at the race (except for Prez, who would spend the day drinking coffee with his feet up on the table), Derek’s team would send off bulletproof sprinter “Red Bull” Wike to cover any early moves. Team Captain Charon Smith would then ride the front to keep the field in check by threatening to knock down anyone who tried to pass by flexing his massive calves, which are wider than most mobile homes.
Rob the Blob would follow potential threats and neutralize them with stories of the hundreds of races he has won since 1996, one or two of which might actually have happened. Finally, team assassin Shawn van Gassen would mark potential attacks to make sure that SCC would have a man in any bridge move.
Next, Derek the Destroyer would either wait for or initiate a move on the third lap, crack the field with his wicked acceleration, and either time trial to victory or outsprunt his breakaway companions at the line.
In order to properly set the chessboard for this Sicilian Dragon opening, only one key move was left: Prevent “Full Gas” Phil Tinstman from pinning on a number, since he was the previous winner of the race in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014, as well as the holder of a string of victories from 1897-1956. Phil’s exclusion was achieved thanks to a terrible case of intestinal rumblings that left him standing on the sidelines, never more than two quick steps from the port-o-potties and two fistfuls of toilet paper.
As the race began I knew that I was a guppy in a shark tank. We shot through the first long downhill section, and as the speeds hit 55 mph on the turns, a massive cloudburst unleashed. Several riders skidded off the road, tattooing the asphalt with sheets of skin and copious quantities of bright red ink. We were very worried about them, but not really.
As the race unfolded, Derek’s team hewed to the plan. Red Bull Wike went with Crafty Coxworth in the early move and then detonated, sending Lycra and carbon shrapnel for miles into the air. Charon clogged the lane and prevented attacks by periodic calf flexes. Assassin van Gassen cut the heads off of would-be pursuers. The torrid pace continued as we hit the first long climb on the Green Road, with tattered and broken posers coming off the back in droves.
My personal race summary is as follows:
Lap 1: I felt like Eddy.
Lap 2: I was dropped, unlike Eddy.
Lap 3: I chased back on and was then throttled at the railroad tracks, struggling in alone for a pathetic 34th place.
Race day is payday, baby
For Derek the Destroyer, however, it was a tour de force. At the top of the brutal climb on Lap 2, Easter Egg ripped away from the tattered peloton like a giant piece of Velcro. Derek, Ollie, and Some English Dude on Vacation in California Who Showed Up out of the Blue followed the ripping attack of Easter Egg.
Now I don’t know about you, but when a 6′ 4″ dude who always carries a gun because he’s in the FBI and whose primary assignment is the liquidation of high value targets decides to ride away from you, I think that generally you should let him go.
But they didn’t. After a pulverizing four-man TT to establish the break the leaders eventually fell victim to Spontaneous Breakaway Degeneration Disease, an illness that strikes riders who aren’t close enough to the line to go it alone but who don’t want to work any more in order to be fresh for the sprunt.
As they turned onto the final 4-mile climb, the Destroyer turned to Easter Egg. “You gonna pull?”
“I didn’t race at all last year. I’m not going so well.”
“Is it your kid’s birthday?”
“Are you gonna sprint at the end?”
“It’s a bike race.”
“Thanks,” said the Destroyer. “That’s all I need to know.”
And then as they started up the climb, the Destroyer asked himself “WWFGD?”
What would Full Gas do?
Full Gas Phil would, of course, attack, and he would attack so hard that if you were still hanging around you would decide that second place was infinitely preferable to the stroke you would suffer if you tried to chase.
And so the Destroyer attacked. The other breakaway riders crumpled like tin cans beneath the wheel of a fully loaded, onrushing 18-wheeler. The Destroyer twisted the dial up to 300 watts and held it all the way to the line–a team win if there ever was one.
I dragged myself across the line a very, very, very, very long time later. My buddies Jan, Dean, and Honey were waiting for me with hot coffee, a towel, and lots of great excuses mixed with fake praise. “You looked good out there.”
“It was a fast pace today.”
“You finished before midnight.” Etc.
Then Derek walked over with his smoking hot wife and his hand on an envelope. He was nattily attired in the fanciest apres-ski cycling apparel, which generally means a clean t-shirt and pants. “How’d you do?” I asked.
“I won,” he said. “Thanks to the team.”
“And Prez,” I added. “You couldn’t have done it without Prez.”
Derek handed me the envelope. “Here’s some cash for your blog, man. I don’t do PayPal.”
“You don’t have to do that,” I said, thinking guiltily about the similarly generous gift that Dandy Andy had handed me the day before and that I’d immediately cashed and spent on craft water. “But if you insist … ”
“I do,” he said.
And suddenly, although I still felt like an idiot, I didn’t exactly feel like a loser any more.
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September 27, 2013 § 65 Comments
There is a Strava segment outside my apartment. I made it. Until a few days ago, only three people had ever ridden it, and two of those rides were before it became a segment.
Let’s get this straight. There is no reason for anyone to ride up the street, Ravenspur. It parallels Hawthorne and doesn’t go anywhere except to my apartment. It is steep as snot, but there are fifty dozen better climbs within a half-mile that can logically be incorporated into your ride. Among its other drawbacks, once you reach the end you have to make a left onto crazy-busy Hawthorne across four lanes of speeding traffic.
Why segmentize it? Because I don’t ride with a Garmin and I wanted to know how fast I could go up it. Oh, and to also sneak myself a little KOM-action, because I hardly have any left. “What the heck,” I thought. “No one ever rides up this street. It’ll be a nice little vanity-KOM that I can take out, polish, and caress for a few months, maybe longer.”
Uh-oh, looks like YOU SUCK!
So you can imagine my chagrin when, four days ago, I got the dreaded message. “Uh-oh! Your KOM was recently devoured whole by Spencer! Enjoy the rest of the day, gnawing on your own liver!”
If it had been anyone else I would have felt sad, despondent, and very blue. This is because I’ve never retaken a lost KOM. But to have it taken away by Spencer, a dude with eight entire pages of KOM’s, was infinitely worse. Why? Because one of the best Strava riders in our neighborhood had targeted me and my piddly KOM. It was important enough for him to track my activities, drill down to my rides, and wrench the precious little KOM from my soft, chubby hands.
I’m sure the moment he took it, the elaborately programmed disco ball in his living room went off, the stereo began playing “We are the Champions” by Queen, and he threw on his ermine robes and tinsel crown as he paraded naked in front of the mirror.
My sad face transformed into one of violent rage, and I set out to reclaim what was rightfully mine.
The devil is in the details
One of the things that was going to make my retake so hard was the very nature of the street. Coming home from work I’m headed uphill, and have to turn left across two lanes of fast, oncoming traffic in order to begin the short but steep climb. This means that when I set the KOM, I did it from an extremely slow starting speed. Spencer’s time was twenty-two seconds, one second faster than mine, and I knew that in order to claw back two seconds over a .1-mile segment it would take everything I had.
As I approached the left hand turn I slowed, hoping for a break in traffic so that I wouldn’t have to unclip before hitting Ravenspur. Sure enough, the timing was good and I slid through. The bump is quite steep, so I had it in my 39 x 25 and instantly ramped it up to max rpm. By the time I hit the finish, I could barely see. I got off my bike and, unable to stand, had to lean on the top tube to keep from falling down.
But I smiled. “Take that, Spencer.”
Imagine my shock when I uploaded my iPhone data and saw that not only was Spencer still the owner of my own little personal front-door segment, but my hardest effort ever was a full second slower than my earlier best time of 23 seconds. Now the devastation was complete, and a part of me died that day. I wiped away the tears and ambled to the dinner table while my family consoled me.
“It’s okay, you don’t suck at everything!” said Mrs. Wankmeister.
“I’m proud of you, Dad, because you’re helping me learn through failure,” said my supportive 15-year-old.
The spirit of a warrior
The next day I woke grim and determined. The day flew by, and I hastened it by leaving the office an hour early. My legs felt light, strong, powerful, rested. I warmed up on the ride home, doing quick bursts on Anza and two steady efforts on Via Valmonte and Silver Spur.
When I moved into the left-hand turn lane, I was going a solid ten miles per hour. Magically, a breach appeared in the oncoming traffic. Perfectly geared in my 53 x 21, I launched up Ravenspur. This time there was no question. I raced to the top, collapsing as I had the day before, but secure in the knowledge that I’d reclaimed my KOM.
As I whipped out my iPhone I crowed to Mrs. Wankmeister. “Finally put ol’ Snotnose back where he belongs!” She had no idea what I was talking about, but nodded and smiled.
What happened next was too terrible for words, and I collapsed in a heap, sobbing. My “record time” was a full second slower than the day before, which was already a second slower than my all-time best. The better I rode, the slower I went. A couple of hours later, after I’d stopped crying, I called Derek the Destroyer. Through chokes and half-sobs I explained my problem.
“Dude,” he said. “You’re never gonna get that KOM back.”
“These Strava geeks grab the segments strategically.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“The two biggest factors are temperature and wind. Go back and look at the time of day he took it. It was in the morning, when it’s cooler. You’re always going up that thing at the end of the day, when it’s hot. What were you wearing today?”
“I had on my long-sleeve winter jersey from my morning commute into work. I was sweating like crazy.”
“Your body won’t produce the same wattage when it’s 80 degrees as it will when it’s 70, or 60, or 50.”
“No, I’m not. That’s why you never see any of the Strava geeks take the hard climbs during a group ride. Do you actually know this guy?”
“I’ve never seen him, in fact.”
“It’s not that they’re stronger riders, it’s that they’re better Strava riders. Also, go back and look at your segment. Is there only one approach?”
“What do you mean?”
“You’re coming at it uphill, right?”
“Yeah. It’s a ball-breaker.”
“Is it possible to hit it by coming down Hawthorne and turning right? You’d have a huge head of steam there, wouldn’t you?”
“Oh, come on. There’s no way Spencer would do that. It’s a completely different attempt, doing a standing start up a 13 percent grade versus hitting the climb after a 25 mph sweeping turn. Nobody’s a big enough wanker to coordinate temperature, wind, and a downhill just to rob me of my one silly KOM.”
Derek laughed. “If you say so.”
The terrible team of titans
I opened up Strava, unwilling to believe what I’d just heard, and there it was. Spencer had hit the Lungpopper segment on the Hawthorne downhill, after dropping off Highridge. A more evil, sneaky, dastardly, unsportsmanlike thing I couldn’t imagine.
This morning after the NPR I was rolling around the Hill with Manslaughter, the Destroyer, Jake, and Whatshisname. They were very curious about the segment. As we discussed the awfulness of the whole thing, a gleam appeared in Manslaughter’s eye. “Whattaya say we go and ‘pay Spencer a visit’?”
Soon enough we were charging up Via del Monte. When we turned left on Hawthorne and hit the downhill the speed ratcheted up. I signaled the turn and one by one we swooped through it, then jumped as hard as we could, scattered across the road.
When Spencer checks his email later today, he’s gonna have to go looking for six spare seconds, because that’s how many he now needs to climb back atop the leaderboard. The Destroyer, Jake, and Manslaughter are ahead of him, too. And my front-door segment KOM? It’s back where it belongs. And just in case you’re thinking about coming out and taking it away, I’ll tell you right now: I have a car, and I’m not afraid to use it.