How hard WAS it?

February 19, 2016 § 11 Comments

I was talking with Major Bob about road racing the other day. “It’s funny,” I said. “The races that we profamateurs admire the most are the really hard races. Flanders. Roubaix. The Tour. But when it comes to actually doing hard races, people flock to crits and avoid the monsters like UCLA, Boulevard, Tuttle Creek, and anything that says ‘NorCal’ … why?”

“Because people,” said Major without missing a beat “don’t like to work.”

“Really? Like Congress?”

“Look at the peloton. Same old faces taking the hard hits, making things happen, riding the breaks, while everyone else kind of hangs around towards the back hoping they get lucky.”

That reminded me of a day-long argument I had with G3, followed by several terabytes of email discussion in which we fought tooth and kneecap over whether the leaky prostate 45+ category at UCLA was harder than the Cat 3 race.

“Dude,” I said. “The fuggin’ old farts’ race had a faster overall time, ergo harder. Plus, THOG.”

“Nope,” he said, after analyzing various sections of the course for different racers who’d won their category. “The Cat 3’s climbed faster on two of the laps. Old farts were faster overall, but Cat 3’s suffered more, ergo harder.”

“How can you say they suffered more? They are all young and stupid and recover in 30 seconds and can enjoy conjugal relations the night after the race. That’s not suffering. Suffering is being a worn out shoe, getting stuffed in the box, staying there for 2.5 hours, then drinking Alleve six times a day for the next week until you can get out of bed without groaning.”

The argument was put to rest by Leibert, the guy who actually won the race, and his logic was impeccable. “Would you two please shut up?”

It is kind of odd when you think about it. Road races, especially hilly ones, may be harder to finish in terms of watts and carbon and weight weenies and 100% carbon wheels and Chris T. doing a 50-mile race on half a water bottle to save a few grams.

But crits are more difficult to win because they require actual bicycling skills like cornering, positioning, maneuvering in tight places, timing, fakery, coordination with teammates except for Prez, preening, fist-pumping, and cauterized nerves in the finale. So you could argue that as a complete package, crit racing is actually harder.

Then I got a great idea. Why not call up Filds? It was 2:00 AM, which meant it was only 4:00 AM in Milwaukee. With any luck he’d still be on the third bottle of Cutty.

“Hey, man, it’s me, Seth.”

“What do you want?”

“Is it harder to win road races or crits?” Filds had won them all.

“You called me at four in the morning to ask me that?”

“It’s for the blog, dude.”

He chewed his cud for a second. “Listen up.”

I listened.

“There’s no such thing as an easy win.”



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Who’s Johnny Weltz?

August 16, 2012 § 8 Comments

In March 1985, Johnny Weltz and some of his Danish national teammates came to Austin to do the Tour of Texas. Most of the foreign teams stayed at the Villa Capri, nestled cozily in the shadow of the elevated lanes of I-35, and in the morning they would do various training rides, getting ready for the Tour which started the next week.

The Villa Capri, like so many other awful things about old Austin, got torn down so that we could think fondly about it now that it’s no longer there. I wish someone would do that to the Erwin Center.

It was incredible to see the cream of the amateur peloton right there in Austin, before it was ATX, before it was SXSW, before it was anything other than a college town with lots of hippies and the state legislature–“Thirty square miles surrounded by reality,” as we called it. I’d been desperate to go on a training ride with one of the Euro groups, and Filds, sick of the whining, said “Just go fucking do it. Show up. Roll out when they roll out. What are they going to do, fire you? It’s not Breaking Away, you knucklehead.”

Does anyone here speak English?

I picked a group that turned out to be the Norwegian national team. They were riding with some of the Danes, and Johnny was one of them. The group was ten riders strong, and they all spoke perfect English. “Where are you guys going?” I asked.

“We want to do some miles so we are going out to the town called Burnet on the road called 183 and coming back on the road called 1431.”

“Do you mind if I come along?”

The Norseman shrugged. “If you want to.” He looked at my legs. “It will be a long ride.”

US 183 had a nice wide shoulder and hardly any traffic back then, especially once you left town. The team car followed us. I was the only wanker who had crashed the ride, and there was an uneven number of riders, so I was always paired with someone different. In the rotation, everyone took paired five-minute pulls and then swung off. After a couple of hours I was starting to get hungry, and this was long before Clif or GU or Stinger, or even anything remotely like it. This was the era of banana, and PB sandwich if you had the sense to pack it, or, most commonly, the era of “Pray for a convenience store.”

It hadn’t occurred to me that these guys would ride for three and a half hours without stopping. The VC gang I normally rode with would usually have pulled over for the fifth time by a low water crossing on a dirt road and smoking their tenth joint of the ride by the 3-hour mark. These dudes didn’t look like they were stopping, or smoking, or doing anything except pedaling. Pedaling fast.

I started praying. As usual, my pleas went unheeded and my bonk began for real. I started to drift off the back, resigned to quitting before we’d even hit the halfway mark. Fuck and triple fuck.

A little encouragement goes a long way

The team car drove up. “Hey,” the driver said. “You been riding strong. You are hunger knocking, eh?”

“Yeah,” I said.

“I have a lot of food in the car.”

My face said everything in reply.

“But I can’t give you any. It is for the team.” He kept staring at me as my spirit went from breaking to broken. “But still you should not give up. We are two miles from the Burnet. There is a store there with water and the food. You can make it.”

I forced myself back up to the peloton. Somehow I made it to Burnet, where we pulled into the convenience store.

The driver got out. “You did okay. That was hard for you.”

Nobody rides for free

Once inside the store I realized I had no money. Of course I didn’t. No one goes on a 125-mile beatdown with the Norwegian national team carrying money. Pride wouldn’t let me ask for any, and neither would pragmatism: If they wouldn’t share their food, they sure as hell weren’t going to share their money. They were all talking in Norse anyway, and looking at me and kind of grinning. I knew what they were saying.

“He wanted to ride with the team. He don’t look like wants to ride much now.”

“Let’s see how long it takes him to beg. I bet you ten kroner he will beg in two minutes.”

“You think he’s broke? I think he’s broke. Look, he don’t have any money! Har!”

By now the bonk was profound. I went to the back of the store and looked around. There was the coffee pot, but I didn’t drink coffee and didn’t have any money for it anyway. Next to the coffee pot, though, was a giant glass sugar dispenser. It clearly was meant for the coffee, but it didn’t have a price tag on it.

I took the sugar dispenser and filled up my water bottle with most of the sugar. Then I went into the bathroom, turned on the hot water tap, and added the hot water to dissolve the massive amount of sugar. I took a sip. It was the taste of life. I drained half the bottle, went back out and filled the bottle up again with sugar. Suddenly, RR 1431 with its endless hills and winding tarmac wasn’t looking so daunting.

Crime doesn’t pay

As I headed for the door, the large gentleman covered in tattoos behind the counter yelled at me. “Hey! Where do you think you’re going?”

The Norsemen and Danes stopped and looked. The color drained from my face as my mind raced, trying to think of what to say. I’d been caught in the act. “Yeah, I’m talking to you. Think you can come into my fucking store and steal all my sugar and just walk the fuck off? This ain’t fucking Austria or Russia or wherever the fuck you’re from.”

It was the “Austria or Russia” part that saved me.

“Excuse to me?” I said in my strongest fake Euro accent.

“I said you can’t fucking take my sugar. Pony up, pal!” His red face had darkened redder.

“So sorry me, not good English. How problem?”

The Norwegians were doing all they could to keep from cracking up. Johnny Weltz came over and said in his perfect foreigner English. “We’re very sorry to you, sir. He’s from the Belgium, he’s not so good on the English. The Belges are a little slow in the head.”

“Well if he tries ripping off any more of my shit he’ll have a hole in his skull to speed up his stupid fucking thinking. Get the hell out.”

We got the hell out. The second the door closed everyone burst out laughing except me, who was madly sucking down the warm sugar water.

Johnny came up to me. “Hey, you sound like pretty good stupid Belge!”

“Stupid comes natural. I’m from Texas.”

We’re almost home

If you’ve never done RR 1431 from Burnet to Austin on a hot March day with the Nordanian national team, it’s no use me telling you how manly and epic and heroic it was. But I will tell you this: The sugar rush was so intense that on the first several small walls I rolled to the fore and pushed the pace so hard that Johnny rolled up beside me and said, “Easy, Texas. There’s no more sugar water between here and the hotel.”

They dropped me hard on the giant wall where 1431 widens into four lanes, but I managed to catch back on, and of course they went in through Volente.

My apartment wasn’t far from the Villa Capri. I peeled off on my turn, beaten to a pulp. After I recovered, I told the whole story to Filds.

Later that year Filds called me up. “Looks like your training ride got those sorry Danes into shape,” he said.

“Oh, yeah?”

“Yeah. John Weltz just got silver at the amateur world road championships. Isn’t that the guy you rode with back in the spring on that death march?”

“Yeah! It was!” I hung up the phone and thought about it. “Was it?” I said to myself. “Oh, well. It is now.”

The taste of bitter, Devil’s Punchbowl 2012, Part 1

April 28, 2012 § 2 Comments

Humans receive tastes through sensory organs called taste buds, concentrated on the top of the tongue. There are about 100,000 of

them. According to Wikipedia, the sensation of taste can be categorized into five basic tastes: sweet, bitter, sour, salty, and umami. “Umami” is originally the Japanese word for “meaty” or “savory,” or more commonly, “vagina.”

Cycling in general, and bike racing in particular, are filled from top to bottom with bitter. Occasionally, after a hard race in some godforsaken shithole that is strewn with blowing trash and meth whores, a rider will describe the event as “bittersweet.” This is because he got second when he could have won, or almost didn’t get dropped on the climb when he got dropped on the climb, etc. However, mostly all the time it’s just plain old bitter.

“How’d you do?” “Bitter.”

“How was the Bakersfield course?” “Bitter.”

“What does your wife think about all the time and money you spend training that supposedly makes you fit but in reality makes you too tired to have sex on the rare occasions when she wants it?” “Bitter.”

Sometimes, but not often, cycling actually tastes like “umami,” or “vagina”

My buddy Filds once went to race in Belgium for a while. His Iowan parents didn’t quite understand. When the locals back in Tipton asked “So what’s Filds up to?” his mom would say, “Oh, he’s riding his bicycle around Europe.”

Yeah, he was just riding his bike around good ol’ Europe on little ol’ group rides like Het Volk.

What’s more to the point, though, is that before doing the Spring classics, he spent the winter training with locals who rode out of Ghent, characters such as Johann van der Velde and Jan Raas. Whatever you do, pretend you know who they are.

The winter Filds spent in Ghent he was accompanied by his girlfriend, who stayed back in the flat during the long hours that Filds rode in the cold, wet, Belgium winter. The Belgians and Dutch thought it was funny that a guy would bring his girlfriend to Europe while he trained to race. It was a sign of weakness, as if Filds couldn’t endure the hardness without having a woman back home so that he could “lick de pussy” as they said in their broken, laughing, heckling English.

When the whip comes down

One day in early January Filds met up with his training partners, including Raas. It was just above freezing. A hard rain was pelting down. The cobbled roads were treacherously slick. The wind was blowing at gale force. No one said a thing as they rode out of Ghent. As they completed a loop back into Ghent, a loop containing 80 of the hardest, coldest, wettest, most miserable miles that Filds had ever endured, all he could think of was his heated flat, something hot to drink, hot food, warm clothes, and the hours it was going to take to thaw out his broken and frozen body.

Filds was counting the pedal strokes until he could turn down his street. He moved over to the left as he saw his turn up ahead. “Wat you doing?” asked Raas.

Filds looked over. “I live over there. My apartment is over there.”

“I know dat,” said Raas. “So wat? We going make anudder loop.”

“Another loop? Are you kidding?” No sooner had he said it than he saw that no one was kidding. The hard part hadn’t even begun.

“Ja, you wanna ride bike in Belgie or you wanna go back to de house to lick de pussy?”

The other guys started to laugh. “I can’t, Jan. I’m completely done. Completely. I can’t go any farther.”

Raas turned to the bunch. “He’s going back to de house to lick de pussy!” They all howled. “American boy going back to de house to lick de pussy!”

Filds slunk home in shame. He was broken, frozen, exhausted, defeated, and crushed by the knowledge that the outer limit of his physical and mental endurance was barely half that of the men against whom he would have to race in a few weeks’ time. Whether or not he went home and licked de pussy is unknown. But it is certain that the aftertaste of the ride was bitter mixed with umami.

[Tune in tomorrow for “Wanky Eats Sand and Thinks It’s Bitter, but Not As Bitter As Drinking from the Pukebowl”]

Wankmeister’s 2012 goals…Part 2

January 1, 2012 § 11 Comments

As I review my cycling resolutions from 2011, one thing stands out: there weren’t any. I logged over 12,000 miles, but that was by accident. There were a couple of vague references to “winning Boulevard” and “dominating at Punchbowl,” but they seem so stupendously silly and preposterously impossible under the harsh light of January 1, 2012, that I can’t believe I was sober when I wrote them, even though I’ve been on the wagon for three years.

For 2012, then, the goal seems simple enough: have a goal. After reading the first half of the first chapter of Gemba Kaizen, it seemed obvious that this year’s cycling goal should be…and just before I wrote down the perfect cycling resolution, in walked my eldest son, just home from college.

It’s so nice to have your kids back home with you after their first semester. They grow so much in that short time. They see the world differently, have a sense of their own strength, and begin, ever so slightly to reflect on the hard work you as a parent have done to make this chapter in their life possible. In a word? Appreciation.

“Man,” he said, surveying the kitchen and the living room. “This place is one nasty fucking shithole.”

“Well,” I admitted, “it could use a bit of picking up.”

“Picking up? More like blowing up. It would take years to clean up this mess and you’d need a gross of flamethrowers and a hazmat team. How do you guys live like this?”

“The same way you did for about eighteen years, I guess.”

“Very funny,” he said, making a beeline for the towering, heaping, tottering, massive pile of dishes that filled the sink and spilled over onto the counters. He rolled up his sleeves and got to work cleaning. I watched with much satisfaction and pride, enjoying his keen sense of sanitation, responsibility, willingness to pitch in while I shirked on the sidelines. “You know what?” he said.


“You guys need to get your shit together. This place is unbearable. I can handle it for a couple of weeks, but Jesus, look at all the Mom piles spread all over the fucking living room. You can’t even walk without knocking into one. And what’s with the case of bottled iced tea next to the couch?”

The “Mom pile” he was referring to is the affectionate name we give to the little mounds of paperwork, sometimes 8 to 10 inches high, that cover every inch of our apartment. Mom will be working hard at something and then the phone will ring or someone will post to her FB or she’ll get a text message or the moon will enter a new phase and she’ll have to drop what she’s doing and rush off to the Nijiya market to get the last package of kenpira gobo for $2.13, down from $2.45, and so she’ll drop whatever she’s working on into a “Mom pile.”

She then kind of forgets what she was working on when she gets back home, but that’s never a problem because while at the market she also picked up twelve large shopping bags’ worth of essentials such as fermented soy curd and pig’s blood. By setting the shopping bags atop the Mom piles, the paperwork pretty much goes away, at least until we’ve eaten all the pig’s blood.

“Well, son,” I said. “It’s not that easy.”

“Sure it is. Get off your ass and help out, Dad.”

I sat for a while longer, admiring the speed and skill with which he plowed through the monster tower of dirty dishes.

Know (and experiment on) Thyself

I once had a buddy who we’ll call “Dogbait” (not his real name). Dogbait was famous for many things, not least of which was the time that he and Filds gave Porky a musette bag hand-up in a long, hot summer road race. Porky, famished and on the brink of bonk, reached into the bag and discovered it had been filled with his least favorite energy food: blocks of wood.

Then there was the time that Dogbait and Filds loosened a bolt or two on Porky’s rig before a big crit and got ringside seats to watch the crank fall off in mid-sprint. Porky was hardly hurt, and the neck brace came off within the month.

But the most famous period in Dogbait’s life was his career as a scientist. Somewhat underemployed, and rather hungry, and only living under a roof when he could find a bridge, he learned that by volunteering for medical experiments he could make plenty of money for beer and bike parts. For several years he supplemented his income by participating in all manner of experiments, trials, grafts, tissue removals, drug tests, and novel procedures not yet approved for use on animals.

As I considered my son’s challenge, to “get off my ass and help out,” I thought about Dogbait and his exemplary, even noble, willingness to stand up and volunteer for the scientific firing squad. Sure, I had formed ideas about setting goals, reaching goals, motivation, and bending the human mind to accomplish difficult tasks, but it’s one thing to preach the gospel of New Year’s cycling resolutions…it’s a different thing altogether to set them for yourself, not to mention attempt to reach them.

The problem behind the clutter

In fact, the house was a mess, and had always been a mess. The last time we had moved, a mere eight months ago, we had so thoroughly de-cluttered that our cast-offs filled half of the garage to the ceiling. To get rid of it we’d had to hire two laborers with a dump truck. They shoveled for three hours straight, filling half the dump truck with the useless crap we’d accumulated in a mere four and a half years.

My cycling resolutions, whatever they were, had no chance at all in the midst of this chaos. In fact, by applying some of the basic tenets of Gemba Kaizen, it was doubtful that my problems had anything to do with cycling at all. How can you assess the functionality of the production line when it’s covered with clutter? How can you isolate the obstacles to your cycling improvement, or make rational goals for anything at all, when your personal life is, quite literally, one big mess?

I concluded that I can’t. In order to make a meaningful goal I needed to see what lay underneath and I needed a clean space in which to live.

Starting small and the 5S System

The enormity of our junked up apartment was so overwhelming that even a wildly optimistic crazyfuck like me had to admit that this would have to be done in tiny, tiny increments. So I whipped out my handy dandy Gemba Kaizen manual and reviewed the 5S System: Chunk, Organize, Clean, Hygiene, Repeat.

All family life begins in the kitchen, so, waiting until my wife had left the country to visit her family, I began the first part of 5S, chunking. I started with the wine glasses. No one here drinks. The occasional drinker who shows up, although certainly in need of a strong one due to the chaos and clutter, doesn’t need fifteen wine glasses. So I narrowed it down to one glass and threw away the rest.

Then I moved on to the plates. We’re a five-person family and that’s only when the two older kids are around. We had thirty plates. I chunked all but eight. Twenty-five saucers? Eight. Fifteen miso soup bowls massacred down to six. Forks, spoons, chopsticks, serving trays, coffee cups, teacups, nothing was sacred. After about an hour, I saw something I’d never see before: space in the kitchen drawers, space in the kitchen cabinets.

The more deeply I dug, the more I discovered. One reason the big pots never get put away is because the biggest cabinet is always full. “But full of what?” I wondered. Down on my hands and knees I peered into the gloom. There it was, a Tupperware breeding pod. Square Tupperware, round Tupperware, oval Tupperware, large, small, medium Tupperware, and an endless supply of lids. Clearly we had a breeding pair in there somewhere, and they were mass birthing the Tupperware babies.

Unfortunately for the Tupperware party, I’m pro choice, and I vote, especially with my hands. Our stock of Tupperware, enough to supply a dozen bomb shelters for ten years, was reduced to seven pieces.

As the last plastic tub clunked down the garbage chute, it hit me: when my wife gets home on Tuesday I’m going to be in very deep shit.

Next: Wankmeister doubles down on suicidal self-improvement endeavor

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