September 6, 2012 § 20 Comments
Yesterday night I was dragging ass through the parking garage and this dude said, “Good ride?”
“Yep. I’m pretty whipped, though.”
“Where’d you go?”
“I did the race out at Eldo.”
“Oh, a race? I used to race.”
“Yeah, back when they had the Olympic village, I was a track monster. Raced the old velodrome.”
He didn’t look very monsterish. “Ever try the new one in Carson?”
“No, I just lost interest. I used to be an animal, though.”
I couldn’t help thinking about Paul Ryan and how he, too, had been fast when he was young. Yeah.
The main two reasons people quit racing or never start
Aside from the fact that it’s pretty stupid, the main reason is fear of crashing. All it takes is one good crash to make you realize that the risk-benefit analysis is all whomperjawed over on the side of risk, and not much more than $25 or $30 in race “winnings” on the side of benefit.
Crashing and getting hurt is scary, and it’s a given that if you race, you’re going to crash. So, like, I get that.
The other reason people quit racing is because they are afraid of losing. They’ve built themselves up so much on Strava, or on their solo rides, or on their beatdowns with their fellow wankers, that it’s too intimidating to actually go toe-to-toe with people who don’t give a rat’s ass about your motor-assisted KOM and who will happily pound you into oblivion.
It’s better to stay comfortable as a coulda-been contender than a real-life lump of pack fodder.
There are a whole bunch of other reasons that people don’t race, and they’re all valid, but Fear of Crashing and Fear of Losing are far and away the top two.
My best three races of 2012
On the flip side, there is really only one significant reason that people do race: They’re idiots.
As my road racing season mercifully came to a close yesterday, I’m happy to say that it couldn’t possibly have ended any better. On Sunday I raced the 45+ Elderly Gentlemen’s Tender Prostate Category at Dominguez Hills. The field of 54 riders was greatly reduced from the first crits of the year, which were often at or near the 100-idiot limit. Many of the heaviest hitters were out replenishing the Depends, or getting their dentures refitted, but a healthy contingent including national and state champion Rich Meeker showed up to fight for the day’s honors.
In typical fashion, a few laps into the race the winning break rolled up the road. I was mid-pack, marveling at all the bicycles and how they never seemed to crash even though they were all so close together. I think about this often. All those moving parts! Each bike guided by a separate idiot of highly questionable handling skills! Yet through each turn they swoop and swerve and curve and slow and speed, always within a few inches, and hardly ever bounce along the pavement in a shower of carbon scraps and shredded skin.
It’s generally at these times, when I’m wondering if this kind of mass communication is what happens when flocks of shorebirds fly in tight formation at astounding speeds on moonlit nights, that something significant in the race happens, like a break, which it did. Of course, I had no idea, because what goes on “Up there” has nothing in common with what’s happening “Back here.”
When the lead shorebird squawks
As I was wondering about Western Sandpipers, a dude in a SPY-Blue kit came whizzing up on the left. It was my teammate, Johnny Walsh. “C’mon, Zeth!” he yelled.
“Wonder why he’s yelling at me? And ‘come on’ where? And why?” It was quite cozy back there in mid-shorebirdville, and the nasty pace at which he passed me suggested lots of un-shorebirdy pain.
Then I noted that on his wheel was Alan Flores, our team leader and Dude Who Doesn’t Do Stupid Shit in Races. I’m still unsure why, but I hopped on his wheel. The next time I looked back, we were clear of the field. “Where are we going?” I wondered. Then I looked up. Around the bend was a break. “Wow!” I thought. “I wonder if we’ll bridge?”
Johnny just went harder, and my legs just hurt more. When he sat up, we were on the back of the break. He nodded, legs blown, and drifted back to the field. “Wow!” I thought. “So that’s how you do it! What happens now?”
What’s with all these colorful sleeves?
My temporary joy at being in the break was immediately muted as I took roll. There was a dude with a stars-and-stripes thingy on his sleeve. That meant he was a national champion in something; probably not chess. There was another dude with a stars-and-stripes thingy…another non-chess national champion. There was a dude who looked a hell of a lot like Brett Clare, the dude who passed me in San Marcos like he was a Ferrari and I was a lamppost. Out of us eleven, there was only one complete flailer, and it was me. Everyone else looked pissed off and ready to go even faster.
Despite trying a series of moves that would later be described as “the silliest in the 2012 annals of SoCal crit racing,” I miraculously didn’t get dropped from the break and finished eleventh, my best placing of the year by far. Was it worth the $1,590.33 in entry fees? Yes. The $527.12 in gas? Yes. The risk to life and limb? Yes. The $15,982.12 in equipment/clothing/accessory purchases? Yes. The admission of personal failure every night when I looked in the mirror and said to myself, “Self, you’re almost fifty but are still fascinated by riding a bicycle.” Ummm, well, mostly yes.
Awesome race result #2
The following morning I celebrated Labor Day with two hundred other cyclists, many of whom appeared to be be on what was at least their second or even third full day after having learned how to ride. If this ride didn’t frighten you, you were beyond hope, because it was terrifying.
Usually, in order to steer clear of the fat dude with the dangling buttcrack, or to avoid the yackety chick who thinks that the center of a fast-moving foolfest is the perfect place to turn her head to the side for minutes at a time, or to keep from getting rear-ended by the neo-neo-neo racer pro kid who’s picked today to show off the $10k wheels with lightly glued tubulars, usually, I say, in order to avoid the certain death and injury resulting from riding near these knuckleheads and their next of kin, you have to get up to the top 20 or 30 riders and stay there.
Not on Monday.
No, sir, on Monday, the crazies had all gotten the Wankmeister memo that said, “Go to the Front!” and so, like crazies, they all went to the front. At the same time. Constantly.
The wankoton looked like the beach on a huge surf day, with massive swirls of raging dorkbreak foaming up to the front, followed by another series of churning idiots pushing up behind them, but the bozos in front, unable to drift back, created a fredtide, which ripped backwards through the wankoton, sucking the unwary back with them into the deathly perilous undertow, where victims such as Old George were crashed out and run over by people who didn’t even know the thing they were rolling over was a live person.
Don’t they know they belong in back?
I got to the front, the absolute front, and ran as many lights as I could, hoping that the bait of a speeding leader would draw at least a few of the worst wankers out into the intersection where they would be crushed and mutilated by speeding cross-traffic.
It didn’t work, however, as the number of idiots careening down Mt. Chevron on Vista del Mar was so great that it clogged both lanes and spilled out into opposing traffic as well. Drivers were petrified and simply stopped, and who wouldn’t if your windshield suddenly filled with a bearded, pony-tailed idiot wearing a vomit-spray jersey, gangly hairy legs poking out at right angles from the bike, spit and snot spewing from his face, and a barely-in-control-bike swerving crazily in and out of the lane?
This, of course, is the huge difference between racing and dorking: In a race, we wankers know that we belong in back. Our chance of winning isn’t even mathematical, so the only reason to be in front is to either suffer more (not good), crash out the dudes who can actually ride (worse), or have one of the ride bosses push us into the curb (worst).
On a fredfest, without this natural policing of the weak and feeble, those who don’t belong don’t know that they don’t belong, so they charge pell-mell to the front and create unforgettable mental tableaux such as when Ponytail Boy whipped a 30mph beeline for the curb at the bridge for the Marina bike path with Eddie W. on his wheel, only to decide at the very last second that nah, that ol’ curb is too big to hop, so he veered off to the right, braking hard, and sending Eddie into one of his finest string of oaths, a string so foul that even the wankers fishing off the bridge were taken aback at the new and inventive string of expletives.
They mysteries of the universe
It was at San Vicente that Chaos Theory gave way to Hammer Theory. Somehow, the freaks and freds who laboriously pounded all the way to San Vicente began to thin out as the road, like the pace, tilted up. By the end of the first mile we had lost between fifty and a hundred idiots.
At the turn onto Mandeville, another huge contingent had vanished, and by the end of the climb it was a small group of fifty or so out of the original 200+ horde.
Where did they all go? Did they fall by the wayside, dead? Did they drag themselves, mostly lifeless, to the doors of the angry, cyclist-hating Mandeville residents, and beg for shelter or for a quick gunshot to the head to end their misery? Did they swerve into a bike shop and sell all their gear? Or were they simply vaporized by the pace?
In any event, on the non-race race to the top of Mandeville Canyon, I got fourth going up the climb, which is almost a best ever, and even managed to get it on video. Once this gets published, Jonathan Vaughters will likely be sending me my contract.
The lost city of El Dorado
After this signal accomplishment, on Tuesday I went over to Long Beach for the year’s final running of the El Dorado crit series, which was held in honor of Mark Whitehead, the legendary Olympian, keirin pro, and track coach who died last summer at nationals in Frisco. Anything done in honor of “Meathead” is required to have, whatever else is on offer, the following three items:
- Cash prizes (to fight over in the parking lot after the race)
- Beer (to quickly stimulate the fighting)
- Controversy (to justfy #1 and #2)
A four-man breakaway left early in the race and collected the $100 cash primes on offer, cleverly working a combine to work together and share the loot. It would later turn out that in the chaos of the post-race awards ceremony someone claimed the money who allegedly wasn’t in the break, a perfect controversy that Meathead would have met with both fists and a gang fistfight.
With three laps to go, Rahsaan Bahati took the reins in hand and closed down the 30-second gap in half a lap, bringing the bunch together for the finale.
Throughout the race there was a dude without a number who was constantly pissing me off with his numberlessness. He sure as hell could ride a bike, though, and each time the pack surged he easily kept the pace. The longer the race lasted, and the longer he lasted, the more pissed off I got. “Who does he think he is, crashing our race?”
Each time I thought that, he would put on another display of bike magic, squelching my urge to ride up and say something to him. “Dude can fucking ride a bike, sure enough.”
With half a lap to go, all hell broke loose, with the wheelsuckers charging freshly to the fore, the fried wankers giving it their all to keep from getting dropped, the canny sprinters slotting into position, and the handful of spectators screaming what sounded like “Ugghhgooattlexphlllmzxooooo!” as we shot by at warp speed.
The magical moment when the wheels come off the cart
It’s in these final moments of a bike race that you are living on the razor’s edge of insanity, alone, but separated from the idiots all ’round you by nothing more than chance. It’s shorebirdy, almost, with nothing making sense, yelling, grunting, hands pushing people out of the way, hunched shoulders squeezing wide bars between too-narrow gaps, narrow rubber strips of rubber slinging from side to side, and everyone thinking the same thing: “Don’t fucking crash, but for fuck’s sake hold the wheel, don’t gap out, and go faster!”
The union of opposites, where the fear of catastrophe is perfectly blended with the thirst for meaningless glory, cancels out the risk of death with the benefit of knowing you’ve gone as hard as your spindly legs will carry you.
Then it was over, like sex, and I was shuddering across the line, cruising along as my lungs and legs and brain caught up with my heart, eventually pointing my bike into the parking lot where the banter had already begun: Who did what when to whom and man, that was HARD.
The dude without the number was laughing and backslapping with Steve Hegg and Johnny Walsh and Suze Sonye and Rahsaan, and I felt pretty stupid when I realized it, and felt even happier at having kept my stupid mouth shut: Nelson Vails don’t need no fucking number.
December 7, 2011 § 2 Comments
Splimsy O’Mulligan, the world-famous Irish advice columnist from County of Kerry lists these five keys to living a vibrant, fulfilling life:
1. Get out of your comfort zone.
2. Try to excel at things people say you’re not suited to.
3. Rub shoulders with the very best.
4. Charge the morning.
5. Fail publicly.
In other words, get up at 4:30 a.m. (#4), ride down to the Home Depot Velodrome in Carson, climb up on the 45-degree banking (#1), take up match sprinting (#2), practice in the morning when Johnny Walsh, Roger Young, Dan Vogt, and Paul Che are on the boards (#3), ride like a dork (#5).
Charge the morning
Sleep, like a discriminating taste in wine, is your enemy. Both will rob you of things that you can only do early in the morning. The only way to truly defeat sleep is to get up. We live right next to the finest tarck in the country, and it’s now open from 6:00 a.m. in the morning. No matter what the weather or what time of year, the climate-controlled spruce boards are waiting for you to roll your bike around on them. Beginning in 2012, the tarck will operate like a fitness club, where you can ride as often as you like for a reasonable monthly fee and have daily access to the weight machines. And your excuse is…what? You need another hour’s sleep?
Get out of your comfort zone
If you haven’t done it in a while, tarck riding is simply stressful and unnerving.If you’ve never ridden the tarck before, it’s terrifying beyond belief. There you are, locked in a wooden cage, forced to ride your bike at the top of a 45-degree bank where the consequence of going too slowly is to slide ignominiously down to the bottom with your ass full of splinters. No brakes, no gears, people whizzing by in close proximity, 6-person pacelines whipping up the speed until the riders are foaming at the mouth, inches from destruction, the slightest mistake capable of knocking down everyone and earning the undying hatred of all your fellow riders, constantly trying to figure out how to get on, how to get off, how hard to pedal, how to slow down without crashing out the person behind you…this and a million other things make tarck riding a completely different universe, and no matter how skilled you are on a road bike, the tarck will make you feel like the incompetent clod that you are in real life.
Try to excel at things people say you’re not suited to
If you’re a fast finisher on the road, give the pursuit a whirl. If you’re an endurance rider, you can practice being a sprinter. You will suck, but the tarck gives you the opportunity to try new types of riding in a controlled environment. No one will laugh at your attempts because to those who know what’s really happening on the boards you’re already marked as a flailer, and it has nothing to do with your event. The other reason people won’t laugh at you is because, unlike road riding, the tarck riders are a friendly and welcoming community. They’ll help you change cogs, adjust your bars, patiently answer any question, and give you helpful advice like, “If you’re going to ride your road bike here through LA in the pitch black early morning hours, get a red blinking light for the rear, you idiot.” Once you show up a few times they’ll remember your name, and no matter how long between visits they’ll always be glad to see you again. At the tarck you can be part of the crew just by showing up.
Rub shoulders with the very best
The Home Depot Velodrome is like a world-class birdwatching wetland during migration. If you hang around, there’s no telling what will show up. Olympic champions? Yep. National champions? By the dozen. World champions? Those, too. In addition to the international superstars who occasionally race at the tarck, there’s a regular stable of coaches and competitors who are over-the-top good. Roger Young, Tim Roach, Connie Paraskevin, Johnny Walsh, Keith Ketterer, and any other number of phenomenal tarck riders regularly hang around the Carson boards. The U.S. National tarck team is in regular attendance as well. Of course with all these great riders, you’ll feel like a complete kook, but that’s okay: you are a kook, and as long as you don’t crash anybody out, it’s all good.
Road cycling lends itself to building the biggest castles in the sand. There you are, pedaling around PV or riding the canyons in the Santa Monicas thinking about this race or that race or the next stair in your stepping stone to greatness, imagining that you really can race a bike, or that this year is gonna be the year…etc. Then you go to some poorly attended race in Ontario, finish 55th, and slink home with hardly anyone the wiser. On the tarck, though, your suckage is seen by all and becomes part of the velodrome’s institutional memory: “Oh, there’s Wankmeister on his borrowed Bianchi again. Haven’t seen him since last year when he got yelled at by Walshie for stumbling down the track in his cleats like an idiot even though there’s a giant sign that says ‘Remove YOUR CLEATS.’ Hmmm, looks like he’s still clueless, let’s take a look. Yep, there he is, can’t hold a line, spinning like a sewing machine, yo-yoing off the back. What a wanker!” Like elephants, the tarckies never, ever forget.
So what are you waiting for? You’re gonna love it.