September 23, 2015 § 22 Comments
The big off-season news this year is that SPY Optic has lost its charismatic and cycling-centric CEO, Michael Marckx. It’s big news mostly because of the void that Michael’s departure will create in the local bike racing scene.
The most obvious result has been the merger between the former SPY Elite Cycling Team and Monster Media a/k/a Team Sponster. Whichever way you look at it, one less team is bad news. The obvious reason it’s bad news is that fewer teams means more strength among the teams that have stable squads and sponsorship. If you thought it was hard beating Surf City, try lining up against stacked Surf and stacked Monster.
But other things are swirling about, too. Michael’s interim replacement has indicated that SPY Optic won’t be the cycling-friendly company it has been for the last four and a half years. Sure, we’ll whine about the tourniquet being applied to all the cool stuff Michael so generously handed out, but there’s more to it than that.
SPY infused an amazing amount of enthusiasm and energy into SoCal cycling with Michael at the helm. Like any CEO he had his detractors, but I’ve never heard anyone dole out anything other than praise for his financial, time, and emotional commitments to bicycling. And those commitments were incredibly substantial, as Michael sponsored juniors, women, aspiring Cat 1’s, Cat 2’s living with their girlfriends, and legions of vain old men with too much money and too little sense.
At its zenith, SPY boasted a squad of 80 riders, a handful of whom were truly national caliber competitors, several handfuls of whom were state level competitors, and a whole bunch of posers and fakers like me who rarely raced but who flew the team colors with pride and who were visible and vocal proponents of competitive cycling. In addition to SPY’s own team/club, few people are aware of the degree to which Michael poured resources into other clubs, teams, and events, yet his encouragement gave a handful of truly talented racers the opportunity they needed to showcase their talent, get results, and turn pro.
From Udo Cross in honor of his good friend Udo Heinz, to sponsoring USAC at the national level, Michael willingly lent his logo to clubs and teams, offered great deals on world class eyewear that was innovative, stylish, and functional in the extreme, and did everything in his power to promote local events, including road, track, cyclocross, and MTB. If you were on two non-motorized wheels and were dedicated to it, Michael lent a sympathetic ear that was often backed with product, time, staff, and resources.
This grass roots approach was epitomized in his development of the Belgian Waffle Ride. “Most unique” or not, this 130-mile monumental beatdown over paved and unpaved roads became the high point for many people’s entire seasons, and the boneyard of dreams for many, many others. A celebration, a festival, a good old fashioned hard-ass bicycle ride that tipped its hat to the past while casting a hungry eye on the future of cycling marked everything that MIchael did at SPY. Thankfully, the BWR will survive his departure as a separately managed event under his new company, Creative Disruption, but it’s a loss to not have the full SPY corporate backing behind the event. Knowing Michael, the 2016 edition, which is already calendared for April 26, will be the best one yet.
As much as anything, local racing has been further hit by the departure of key staff at SPY who were hard core devotees of cycling. We may not have realized what a boon it was to have so many advocates within a company, advocates who showed up at races, who helped make events happen, and who worked social media to keep the world apprised of what was happening in SoCal cycling, but their absence is already felt. People like Phil Tinstman, Victor Sheldon, and John de Guzman, to name only three, were powerhouses on the bike and powerhouses in their corporate roles as well.
I can’t thank Michael enough for the support he gave me personally, and for the support he gave to pretty much anyone who asked for it. His impact on local cycling was huge and I, for one, am going to miss having him at the helm over at SPY. I have no doubt that his new business will boldly go where none has gone before, but in the meantime my hat’s off for the superlative work and the amazing contributions he made, contributions that have benefited every bike racer in Southern California, and thousands of others who’ve never pinned on a number.
I’m riding for a new team in 2016, but will proudly wear my SPY underwear costume until it reaches that Brad House level of threadbare when the rider behind is quite literally staring into the black hole of the abyss.
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April 29, 2015 § 29 Comments
The story of the 2015 Belgian Waffle Ride was the story of a bunch of people, the majority of whom didn’t even do the ride.
My slog across the dirt and somewhat-paved roads of North County San Diego was essentially a mosaic image of good-hearted volunteers, beginning on Saturday morning when scores of orange-shirted SPY employees began setting up the expo area. The weather was rainy and cold and it seemed as if the day of the big ride would be a true Belgian mudfest, but no one seemed in the least bit perturbed. Dispositions were as sunny as if the sun had been out and forecast for the next 48 hours.
Led by Victor Sheldon, volunteers like Logan Fiedler, Brian Zink, Stephen Lavery, Tait Campbell, Dan Cobley, and a whole host of others sallied forth to put up markers and hammer in wooden staked directional signage for over 125 different turns, many of which were set along dirt paths miles from pavement.
The pre-registration tent was staffed with people who cheerily took on the task of putting names and ID’s to packets, and of course dealing with the inevitable registration snafus of “Where’s my fuggin’ packet?” and “Can I register for my pal Dilbert?” and “I ordered an S but do you have an XXL?” Didn’t matter. They were equal to every task.
The day of the ride everything was more intense by orders of magnitude. A giant start/finish area had to be set up and a short cobbled section was installed, but participants saw none of that effort because we were welcomed to the area, seamlessly and flawlessly, by more orange-clad volunteers. It’s easy to believe that they were smiling at the beginning. It’s incredible that 8 or 9 or 10 hours later they were still smiling and cheering us on as we crossed the home line.
For sheer survival the vast majority of riders could not have finished without the volunteers who staffed the refreshments stands. The bananas, electrolytes, energy gels, cokes, and gallons of water made the difference between finishing and not, and the aid stations provided their services under incredible stress: A group of 20 or 30 would roll up, screaming, gasping, choking, famished, begging, elbowing, and in a matter of seconds each rider would have multiple refilled water bottles, pockets filled with food or gels, a pat on the back, a shout of encouragement, and a push to get going again.
The volunteers did this for twelve solid hours.
Our survival was further abetted by the turn volunteers. Tricky or potentially problematic turns like Lemon Twist and Questhaven (staffed by my friend Serge Issakov), or the turnaround at Del Dios, had small crews to slow or stop traffic, wave us along, and make sure that our safety was paramount. They did all this with smiles and extra bottles of water for those who needed them. The small crew who had set up their own tent en route to Fortuna saved my BWR by plying me with the last two bottles of GQ6 electrolyte. Without it I’d still be out there somewhere, mumbling, dessicated, looking for the beer garden.
Getting back in one piece was also a function of the sheriff’s deputies and city law enforcement who stopped traffic at intersections, provided rolling enclosures for the leaders, waved us through intersections, and made sure that the cagers gave us a wide berth. They were professional, expert, and seemed to appreciate Sam Ames’s giant waffles heaped with ice cream, fruit, and chocolate fudge after their shifts finally ended.
The physical act of survival was one thing, but the mental part was a whole other world. My mind had come unhinged going up Double Peak when up jumped the devil. “Want a push?” he asked.
“Hell yes!” I said, and he gave me a fiery lunge that propelled me yards up the road.
Another bystander watched me flail and gave me another huge push (was that you, Kelsey?), and just as I caught my breath cresting the top I got the cheer of all cheers from Jenna K. who made me feel, despite my earlier faceplant and ragged appearance, like the champion of champions.
Each person who shouted, cowbelled, cheered, encouraged, handed up, and stood out in the hot sun for our benefit made the ride, to say nothing of the bikini-clad babes and guys at the Oasis who bathed our sore eyes in the most beautiful of sights while simultaneously offering us kudos, cold cokes, and a hug if we needed a shoulder to cry on. And we did, right Marvin and Pablo?
Once the ride finished “we” had done our job, but the people running the BWR still had hours of labor ahead of them. The Strava validation table worked feverishly to ensure that riders had in fact completed the route; the Gear Grinder folks cranked out miles of sausage and yards of chicken; the Lost Abbey beer tent loosed the heavenly fermented waters; and David Wilcox at the Rapha tent slung the world’s tastiest espresso like it was last days on earth.
And none of this even touches on people like Maddy I., who poured out the pre-event PR and made sure our inboxes were populated with funny and enticing emails. Trina J. is probably having nightmares from the thousands of emails she got asking if “I could move my registration to next year ’cause I got a boo-boo on my bo-bo,” and if Phil T. ever reads another message starting “Can I get into Wave 1?” he will probably shoot his iPhone. Roving SPY johnnies-on-the-spot like Aden, Zach, and slew of other people whose names I don’t know were always there and always getting ‘er done, whatever the ‘er of the moment happened to be.
In sum, this year’s BWR was so big and so seamless and so well executed that it transcended ride status and ascended to the status of cultural event. And how did that happen?
I’m honored to say that it happened by dint of the imagination, inspiration, originality, and relentless quest for improvement of my friend Michael Marckx. Great things only happen with great vision, and the BWR has, thanks to Michael’s efforts, turned a fun gathering of friends into a broad-based cultural event that spotlights bicycles, food, drink, fun, camaraderie, challenge, and Belgium in the epicenter of Southern California’s bike culture.
Michael’s passion for cycling and his restive will to always make it better than it was before have infused the BWR with a new and funny way of looking at the world. And while I wouldn’t say that pounding the pedals on some dogforsaken stretch of gravel-studded mountain path made me any happier, finishing my fourth BWR and relishing the accomplishment sure did. For that little piece of serenity, we’re all in Michael’s debt.
If you missed this signal good-time-gone-great in 2012, 2013, 2014, or 2015, don’t worry.
We’ll be back!
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February 5, 2015 § 20 Comments
Jessica Cerra is one of those riders who has earned her spot in the peloton through skill, toughness, resilience, and force of will. She came to road racing via triathlon and MTB, and burst onto the local North County San Diego scene a couple of years ago as she was recovering from surgery to correct a severe case of iliac artery compression syndrome in her right leg.
By the time she had healed, she was thrashing men on the group rides, and from there it was a short hop to dominating the local road races, riding as the marquee women’s racer for SPY-Giant-RIDE. With powerful performances on the national stage, notably at Redlands in 2014, Jess was picked up for the 2015 season by Twenty16 p/b ShoAir.
It will be her first full year with a professional women’s team, and although she had calendared an ambitious season, a few weeks ago she learned that she was also suffering from iliac compression syndrome in her left leg. She’s had the surgery and is expected to make a full recovery, though she’ll have an obviously different racing schedule. Jess was kind enough to talk with me about a whole host of topics related to racing. Enjoy!
CitSB: What are your goals for 2015?
Jessica Cerra: My biggest goal was a stage win at Redlands and a top-3 GC finish. I don’t know that that’s a reality anymore [due to surgery — ed.]. An NRC stage win, a podium at nationals, definitely a podium at Winston-Salem or in Philly. Qualifying for the road world championship team, I guess that’s the biggest goal that I have overall.
CitSB: What kind of mental prep goes into a shot at making the road team for worlds?
JC: The more I try to hold back expectations the worse things go. The more I go in relaxed, remembering that I’m here because I like to race my bike, then the more instinctual decisions I make and things turn out better. This year I planned to go in being the strongest, most durable, fittest person out there because in those situations you can think more clearly; you’re not hanging on, you’re affecting the race. That’s how I want to race this year. I put in a huge base this year, 2,000 miles just in December, and I took good care of my body, got consistent massages, and have been working with a coach now, documenting sleep and weight, and taking a more professional approach. But my coach also likes me just being me; I like numbers and knowing my power but I also like doing the group ride with Thurlow on the front just killing it, and putting myself on the front, in the wind, so I know what my body can do in those super tough scenarios and then I can rely on those things to get me ready for racing, where those super hard moments happen all over again. Since I don’t have a lot of experience as a racer, the group rides are a huge part of my training.
CitSB: How does it feel to be the only woman in the first 25 wheels or on the entire ride when Thurlow and company are drilling it?
JC: It’s my favorite part about riding my bike. It’s pretty cool! After a while I don’t even feel any different from anyone else. I compare myself exactly to the peers I’m riding with. I’m hard on myself, too, I only see my weaknesses.
CitSB: What’s the hardest thing for women throwing their hat in the ring on the hard group rides?
JC: A lot of women are intimidated. There’s the fear of getting dropped, that everyone will notice, and it’s so embarrassing. I always try to encourage other women and make sure to compliment them when they do well or make it to certain points in the ride. I remember being nervous going to the Swami’s Ride, feeling exactly like I was going to a race! It’s intimidating and you don’t want to do something goofy and be “that person,” and you’re obsessed about training and don’t want to ruin your training by getting dropped. I encourage every woman to get out there. It’s the reason I’ve gotten as strong as I am; I’ve put myself in situations that are harder than what I have the strength for. You learn so much about racing and handling when you’re over your limit. It’s true, too, guys have better bike handling skills. You learn so much by racing with guys in a crit, about the lines that they take, and you start to see things, like how they can squeak through the inside of corners. It’s faster and more aggressive so there’s less time to think about what you’re doing. Most of the riders have the fitness to race but a lot of it is, “Why am I getting dropped when there’s five laps to go?” The more you do it, you realize it’s not fitness, it’s efficiency and awareness. You keep putting yourself in those situations, and it’s scary and you just do it. That’s how I learned.
CitSB: Now you’re a fixture on the North County rides and guys know that you can grind them up into little chunks of meat and they fear you. How does that feel?
JC: I don’t know if I look at it like that. I’m so focused on my own internal fears of what’s going to happen when I get to the power climb, and I know the women’s pro field is so strong and they know what they’re doing and are so good. NRC races are so different from local ones. I was supposed to go with the national team to do the spring classics which I’m not doing now, but I think of those situations on the local rides getting me prepared to be in those types of pelotons. When you don’t have a ton of experience in these races but you live in a place where there are 150 people on a group ride, you can apply the same things you know are going to happen in a race. If you want to be part of a race, then I go into a group ride practicing rotating through in the first 10 or 15 positions, gauging the effort to pull through, really what I’m doing is preparing myself to have to do those things in the peloton. It’s nice to ride with the guys; it used to be fun but now it’s more about completing a job. I expect them to make it hard and I expect them to look at me like I’m one of the people up there where it’s windy and not to make it easy because I’m a girl.
CitSB: Do you feel guys cut you slack? Or do they try to slaughter you like everyone else?
JC: They treat me like everyone else.
CitSB: How do you make the jump from racing Boulevard to the national or international level?
JC: Without my mountain biking background it would have been harder. I have lots of natural positional awareness and muscle memory where things happen in a race and I can read where to be, how to navigate through tricky situations, and how to feel confident about how I ride my bike. That’s huge. The second you don’t have confidence it’s going to be the worst day. When you’re riding scared nothing goes smooth. You bobble and crash, and it’s the same in the peloton. Confidence is so huge. You take control and put yourself where you need to be. Combined with my fitness, I was lucky. I went into pro racing and figured I can handle a bike and am one of the best descenders, I’m fit enough to see what’s going on, to read how the lead-out will go, so in a lot of races I could freelance and observe and notice, and you know, I could also be focused on what I was bad at–I tried to practice those situations to get better because I didn’t have a lot of racing experience. I think the biggest thing about the transition was positioning and being efficient, and that same transition happens going from the national to the international peloton. It’s a whole different level. The courses are harder, the conditions are worse, the fight for position is constant, you have to keep putting yourself in position over and over and over again. I also learned that every time at end of a race when I decided to think through what was happening, I got my face kicked in, zero results. When I just “did” it rather than think it, something inside told me what to do and it seemed to work. It takes time to trust that inner feeling. I also didn’t feel I belonged. I was stoked with a top 20 at Redlands, and had no idea about my potential. I figured out that I was more prepped than I thought I was. It’s a hard balance, though. You can’t let it go to your head but you still have to be confident enough to trust your instincts to put yourself where you need to be.
CitSB: How are things going with Harmony Bar?
JC: We had a setback with the name. We filed for a trademark and then a couple of other companies filed for the same name and our application was denied. So now we’ve filed for a new name and have been in a year of a holding pattern because we can’t make our packaging and take the next step; without the name and the brand it’s hard to move forward. The good news is that we’re still consistently selling all of our inventory online and in the bike shops we work with. There’s no marketing except word of mouth. People say it’s the best they’ve ever had and they tell our story. The next couple of months will be quiet because we’re sorting out the name. We also signed up with SmartStop, which is a big opportunity for us. By Tour of California time we’ll be with SmartStop and ready with our new name, branding, and packaging.
CitSB: For someone not familiar with Harmony Bar, how is it different from the zillions of other energy foods out there?
JC: It’s unique because I never made it to market and sell. I made it because I have a master’s degree in exercise physiology, I was in the kitchen with ingredients, paper, and pen, and mixed them a hundred times over, over, and over until I got a bar that tasted like a cookie and had all the macro nutrients that I wanted for my training. This was something I was making for myself. I knew the research was there showing that bars higher in fat were good for endurance athletes. So basically, I wanted to eat cookies on the bike! I love food and eat a ton of calories on the bike and wanted to eat things that tasted good and were like real food. Everyone said “Holy crap, this tastes like a cookie and works so well and can I buy some?” It got popular on its own because, you know, athletes out there like cookies and like to eat!
CitSB: Do you see yourself as a role model for other cyclists?
JC: I’m starting to. Unfortunately, as much as we’re trying to grow the sport of women’s cycling, coming from triathlon and MTB, I can say that road racing is by far the most intimidating to get into. Its very clique-ish, the teams and their kits and the people keep to themselves. I remember feeling like “Whoa! This isn’t like mountain biking where we finish a race and all have a beer together!” It’s hard to feel like you have a place in it. For me it’s important to change that atmosphere and for women to feel like the sport is approachable, the people are approachable, that I’m approachable. People come up after a race and they’re intimidated and I don’t like that. I’m open to talking to everyone. Lots of people are continually asking for advice about food and particular race courses and I spend lots of time answering questions on Facebook and getting to know people. I’m genuinely interested in people and their goals. After having my setbacks, the biggest joy for me is seeing others succeed. I gave a girl my racing clothes from SPY because she didn’t have any; the team kits weren’t ready yet. There’s more I can do than just racing and trying to win.
CitSB: How do you help people break into the secret society of road racing? How do you get them to take the step to enter a race?
JC: Maybe it’s different for women? I just go up to women and tell them how well they’re riding. For women it’s different. A lot of people wlll approach me and say, “My friend said you’d be on the ride,” and it’s someone new or who’s not in a club and I’ll be cool and tell them to keep coming out, and find out what they like, do they like climbing or sprinting, and the more you start hanging around the more you’ll learn. It’s in my nature to help. When I started cycling in grad school I was a a Fred, or a Frieda, I didn’t have any money for equipment and cool, nice people helped and supported and gave me pedals, for example, and had that never happened I would have never gotten to the point I’m at now. I want cycling to grow, and rides to grow, and races to grow, and people who complain about prize money or promoters are missing the fun–it’s about knowing people and being excited about seeing people you know, not avoiding the race because you don’t fit in and aren’t going to beat Monster Media and Surf City and SPY and not get a result. I try to imagine if I were a Cat 5 dude how tough that would be and how intimidating. But there are enough people who are cool and who have the same perspective that I do, who want to help. We want local racing and good group rides and an atmosphere of mutual respect. There are a lot of really good people on SPY, the team I rode with last year, people who are great riders and humble and who want to help. Without the opportunities given me by SPY and Michael Marckx I wouldn’t have ever gotten to race Redlands and then gotten the call-up to the pro ranks. MMX knew I wouldn’t be at SPY in the long run but he saw the potential and the opportunity to help grow and launch an athlete. He really put his faith in me and I couldn’t have done it without him and the support–the financial support, the logistical support of getting to races, and just a group of people who were always so cool and who believed in me.
CitSB: Tell me about your new team.
JC: The new team is amazing! It’s called Twenty16 p/b ShoAir, and we’re a UCI team this year. The director is Mari Holden and the GM/owner is Nicola Cranmer. They appraoched me and had watched my racing earlier and saw something they liked and it seemed like a great match. We’re a unique team. We have a lot of team goals and do a lot of big races but we also emphasize individual goals like doing ‘cross or track or the national team and racing in Europe. The theme of the team is “Women that race with continued education.” They encourage college and want us to have things off the bike to contribute and bring to the team as well. I’m 32, I did the reverse — went to school first and then found pro cycling!
CitSB: How many teammates live in SD?
JC: Only me. A couple live in Orange County, but we’re from all over the place.
CitSB: Has the team targeted any races this year?
JC: Redlands, which is big for women, and this year TTT nationals is a good one for us because it will be good prep for TTT worlds, which is in the USA in Richmond. One of the big sponsors is SRAM so having them support the TOC women’s race is a huge addition to our calendar and something we’ll focus on. Tour of the Gila is UCI for women this year, so it’s a focus for all of the teams, as well as Winston-Salem and the Philly race, and Philly is a world cup event. All the races are around the same time as nationals, which will be key racing for our team.
CitSB: Anything you want to add?
JC: The team has been really supportive so it’s scary being the new person on the team and I’ve been waking up every morning with photos and texts from team camp. It’s a pretty good feeling to not have really met teammates and already be included. They truly have my best interests at heart! I know that it’s going to be a good season this year–a bunch of bad-ass women with a lot of horsepower on this team!
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April 25, 2014 § 20 Comments
There are three things that make a course: the route, the weather, and the riders.
The 2014 SPY Belgian Waffle Ride offers up a route like no other. Much has been written about it, and each rider will discover the extraordinary difficulty of this 136-mile torture chamber at his leisure. The weather will likely be dry and cool with a moderate wind.
When it comes to riders, though, most of us will have only a fleeting glance of the strongest participants, as they will storm away in the first wave, never to be seen until the finish. If you are one of the people who is showing up to the BWR in order win a jersey, here’s a snapshot of a few of the people you’ll have to beat.
- Ryan Trebon. Pro cyclocross racer and sponsored SPY rider, former U.S. national champion.
- Neil Shirley. First place finisher in the Belgian Waffle Ride’s 2013 edition, and one of the best professional riders in America.
- Dan Cobley. Don’t let the Cat 3 fool you. He finished fourth last year behind Neil, Thurlow Rogers, and Karl Bordine.
- Brent Prenzlow. He’s an uncategorized “public” rider. He also made mincemeat of virtually the entire field in the inaugural 2012 BWR.
- Phil Tinstman. The best all-around masters racer in America. He time trials, sprints, climbs, and has exceptional off-road skills. Former sprint jersey winner in the 2012 edition. If Neil misses a pedal stroke, Phil’s my pick to win it all.
- Chris DeMarchi. This is Chris’s first BWR, and you can expect that he will ride it with a vengeance. Chris is also one of the best masters racers in America and is teammates with Phil. Look for a one-two combo from these two titans.
- John Abate. Lokalmotor from San Diego, John has the legs and the knowledge of the local roads to be there at the finish.
- Lars Finanger. Unhappily (for us) shipped off to Houston last year, Lars returns to his old stomping grounds where he can be expected to stomp people’s heads in if he’s on form.
- Michael Marckx. Will this be MMX’s year? He knows every inch of the course because he designed it. He’s riding with exceptional speed and strength. Could be awkward if the head honcho wins his own race!
- Ryan Dahl. Truly one of the beasts of North County and always a top finisher at the BWR, in 2013 Ryan earned the hardman jersey for toughest rider on the course.
- Brian Zink. The question mark here is fitness. If Brian is on form, he will storm the field, much as he did in 2012 when he won the hardman jersey, and last year when he finished sixth.
- David Jaeger. Winner of the inaugural BWR in 2012, DJ is currently on fire as evidenced by his podium finish in the state road race. If he carries it over to Sunday, he will be lethal.
- Logan Fiedler. If he hadn’t been felled by a broken elbow earlier this year, Logan would be higher on this list as he’s an excellent climber, skilled in the dirt, and has tremendous endurance.
- Robert Frank. Major Bob placed 16th last year with minimal training. This year he’s scorching, earning 2nd place last weekend at the state road race. Lean, fast, an excellent climber, and equally comfortable on dirt and asphalt, a podium is not out of the question.
Given the fact that over 500 riders have signed up for the 2014 SPY Belgian Waffle Ride, there will certainly be surprises as well as strong riders who I’m simply unfamiliar with and have omitted out of ignorance. This list, however, should include at least a handful of the top finishers. Game on!
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March 3, 2013 § 20 Comments
The 2013 Belgian Waffle Ride will be harder than the 2012 inaugural edition. I’m sharing this post to help you prepare for it. After riding the entire course yesterday, it drove home what a monumental day in the saddle the actual ride promises to be.
Lots of my friends are posting their mileage on Strava and doing big days in order to prep for the BWR. This is good. What follows is some sound advice on how to make sure you arrive on April 7 in the best condition possible.
It’s more than miles and climbs
The course covers about 130 miles and has about 12,000 feet of climbing. You would think that by doing 120-mile training rides with 8,000-9,000 feet of climbing you were preparing adequately.
However, the difficulties of the BWR are greater than distance and elevation. The ride is made exponentially harder by the dirt climbs, the unpaved descents, the grueling 2-mile section of soft sand on Country Club Road, and the longer (but firmer) dirt and rock section along Lake Hodges.
The elevation numbers are also deceptive because they don’t come in long sustained climbs like Piuma or Latigo. Rather, they accumulate in dozens and dozens and dozens of stabbing rollers that sap your strength and endurance.
This difficulty is increased because all of the hard dirt sections occur well past the halfway mark. The Lake Hodges dirt and rock trail happens with less than 20 miles to go, and the soft sand steep climb of Questhaven happens towards the very end. After all your resources have been plundered, you’re then faced with the unthinkable: Getting to the top of San Elijo and then climbing Double Peak.
The ride will be harder because more people will have prepared for it, more people will know the course, at least two UCI pros will be toeing the line along with some of the best amateur racers in SoCal, and therefore the nation.
There’s only one way to prepare
That way is to ride the course. Whatever excuses, reasons, obligations, or conflicts you think you have, if you’ve signed up for the 2013 BWR you must ride the course at least once before April 7. You can pick up the entire route by looking at my Strava map for 3/2/2013 (begin at the Bonsall River trail; the first part of the ride was a true stop-and-start in cul-de-sac hell reconnaissance).
There’s also a full recon ride on 3/17/13. Anyone can come, but you should have a buddy who knows the course or have a map because there will be no waiting or regrouping.
Pick your goals beforehand
Even pre-riding the race won’t help all that much if you haven’t selected a goal prior to the ride. Here are the goals you should choose from. Don’t be greedy.
- I just want to get the finisher’s jersey and complete the ride without it being a living hell.
- I want to ride as long as I can with the leaders.
- I want one of the special jerseys: Sprint, Hardman, KOM, KOD.
- I want to win.
If you’ve selected 2, 3, or 4, I can’t help you, except to say that you are one of the top racers in the nation in your category, or you are hopelessly deluded and need a good therapist. My friend Noel O’Malley is currently accepting referrals.
I categorize #1 as “finishing strong.” The ride will be hard. You will be challenged. You will be exhausted. But 95% of the ride will feel well within your limits, and 5% will take you outside your comfort zone. In short, at the end you’ll have a lot of great stories and will still be able to stand, talk, and carry on semi-normal functions.
None of the alternatives to finishing strong are good ones. They are all nightmare scenarios, and I’ve lived through them all both on my two recon rides last year, my one recon ride so far in 2013, and my numerous unhappy road cycling encounters in North County San Diego riding with my “friends” on “tempo rides.”
So, here’s what I’ve gleaned. It can help you if you let it.
- Pre-ride the course at least once. Do it twice and you’re 80% of the way to being golden.
- Run your tires at 80 psi. This will be sufficiently hard to roll well on the pavement, and soft enough to get you through the dirt and sand without tipping over, skidding out, or puncturing on the rocks.
- Run new, heavy duty tires. I used Hutchinson Intensive2’s yesterday and they worked like a charm.
- Leave your diet at home. The day before the ride, eat a big, substantial meal. The day of the ride, no matter how nervous and loose-boweled you feel, eat big at the waffle and sausage and egg breakfast. You cannot finish strong on Barbie food and candy bars.
- The group will accelerate once it comes off the Bonsall bike path, then shatter on the first dirt climb. Let the leaders go. You may be strong enough to follow, but they will drain you and drop you around mile 40 or before, leaving you with the entire ride and all its hard sections to do on gassed legs.
- Don’t fall in with a small grupetto of hammerheads. Choose your companions wisely, and don’t put yourself in a position where you’re taking glory pulls or pulling hard for mile after mile.
- Take advantage of every rest stop, but don’t dismount for more than five minutes. Fill your bottle, eat if you need to, and get right back on.
- Whenever you start feeling good or strong, remind yourself that it’s a trick and a trap. Unless you’re ten miles from Double Peak or less, any “good” sensations are meaningless. In fact, you’ll feel wondrous up to Couser Canyon; it’s after this climb that most people realize they’ve gone too hard too early, they’re totally blown, and they’re only halfway in.
- You’ve got to get some dirt practice on your road bike, so go get some dirt practice on your road bike. Not your mountain bike. Your road bike, unless you plan to do the BWR on your MTB.
- Take a minute to review the BWR rides by me and by Michael Marckx a/k/a MMX on 3/2/2013. It’s a good comparison between what one of the leaders will look like and what a flailer looks like when the wheels come off the wagon at the end of the dirt section at Lake Hodges.
- Do the route at least once. The full route, no matter how awful. You will thank me later. Effusively.
Finally, start taking measurements for that beautiful Joe Yule/StageOne finisher’s jersey that you’ll wear with pride and satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment for the rest of your life!
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February 10, 2013 § 17 Comments
Last night Spivey and I prepped for our first BWR recon ride of 2013 by eating sausage, noodles, cooked intestines, gristle, rice broth, kimchi, strips of fatty beef, cabbage, and miso. Yes, there was dessert. Yes, it involved ice cream. Yes, we shouldn’t have. No, we did. The result? 4:00 AM today came real fucking early.
We got to Encinitas a little after seven. It was cold. We had coffee at the Lofty Bean. Spivey had a triple organic chocolate fudge brownie cake croissant tart. “My lady love has me on a new healthy diet,” he said. “So I have to cheat like hell whenever I can. Want to grab a double-cheese stuffed pizza with sausage after the ride?”
“No,” I said. I was concentrating on a growler of oatmeal and coffee, topped off by more coffee with extra coffee on top.
The plan was to do the SPY slugfest from RIDE Cyclery, then regroup and tack on 50-60 miles of the Belgian Waffle Ride in order to review some of the new dirt/mud/water crossing sections that have been added for 2013. Spivey and I got to RIDE Cyclery and were joined by the usual collection of misfits, lardkettles, and doomed-to-a-nasty-shelling wankers who habitually show up for this weekly beatdown only to get, of course, beaten down.
In addition to the thick and sagging cannon fodder, there was a mighty contingent of heroes, listed below, with the tail-dragging, weakest wanker listed last.
- Thurlow Rogers a/k/a The Hand of God a/k/a THOG
- Michael Marckx a/k/a MMX a/k/a “Yes, sir.”
- Brian Zink
- Lars Finanger
- Erik Johnson
- Steven Davis
- David Anderson
- Ryan Dahl
- Caitlin Laroche
- Harold Martinez a/k/a King Harold
- Josh Alverson a/k/a Gearhead
- Kelsey Mullen
- Dave Gonyer
- Michael Williams
- Katja the Awesomeness
- Josh Goldman
- Anthony Vasilas
- Andy Schmidt
- Tait Campbell
- Brent Garrigus
- Paul Douville
- Jim Miller
- Jimmy, Dude in DDS Kit
- Marc Spivey
- Stabbing Rollers
Coming in hot
It seemed like a terrible idea, mostly for me, to start the recon with the weekly SPY Saturday beatdown ride. The reason? It’s really hard to have a good 50-60 mile recon ride after you’ve been shelled and shattered and mutilated and ground into powder on a 20-mile “warm up.”
We came up the first stabbing climb in the neighborhood so hard that about one-third of the wankoton evaporated in the first 300 yards. Spivey’s chocolate tart decided to lock horns with the pig intestines and the forty or so pounds of “cheating” that were still “hanging around,” and he kicked things in high reverse with the next acceleration of the group, not to be seen again for a few zip codes.
I’ve done this stupid ride several times now, and it always hurts worse than the time before, and I always swear I’ll never to it again. Today I faced the reality of getting dropped for good on the neighborhood climb, and just as I started explaining to myself how awesome it would be to grab Spivey, do a u-turn, fuck this stupid bicycle stuff, and go back to Lofty Bean for a second (and third) round of chocolate tarts, up came Caitlin.
“Hey, Wankster! Glad to see you!”
I cursed her silently. She wasn’t even breathing hard. Bitch. “Uh. Ugggh. Ahh,” I said.
“Glad you’re here to show me where the turns are! I don’t know the route!”
I wanted to tell her that I’d be happy to act as tour guide but she’d be doing it off the back, but at that moment the torrid pace relented, I caught my breath, then caught my legs, and somehow made it to the top of the climb. The group had crumbled into less than half of the eighty or so who rolled out.
Spivey caught us at the light, but the next push up Rancho Santa Fe spit him out the back again to do battle with the chocolate/intestine/noodle/Haagen-Dasz mixture that had become so toxic to the up-and-down motion of his legs.
Full gas ’til midnight
MMX, THOG, Lars, Brian, Ryan, and Erik kept pushing the pace up San Elijo to Elfin Forest Rd., with more little fritters wrapped in soft and chewy dough frying and popping in the heated oil, then bounding off the back where they were gobbled up and quickly digested by the twelve-headed beast known as Ego Devouring Reality.
I kept staring down at my legs, which did nothing but turn slowly and burn as if they were roasting on a spit, and then stare up at Caitlin and Katja, and curse them silently as they went easily with each and every hard surge. When we finally got onto Elfin Forest Rd. I sat up and drifted to the back for some additional wheelsucking and rest, when I discovered that I already was the back, “back” meaning “last fucking wanker in the slaughterhouse,” and it was only with great mashing of panicky pedals that I reattached.
Spivey was so far back now that he’d radioed ahead for coffee and donuts at the church a few miles up the road.
When we did reach the church I’d learned several secrets of the ride, the most important being that if you wanted to meet and greet and learn the names of the Swami’s dudes, you had to go to the back. Those wankers had such an allergy to the point that I thought they’d been imitating me. I mean, the back end of the peloton was pure Swami’s blue, with one lone SPY jersey (mine) to dishonor the otherwise manly and womanly work of the team.
At the church we regrouped and waited for the detritus while taking turns urinating in the parking lot, urinating by the dumpster, urinating in the bushes, urinating in plain view, urinating by the fence, and urinating over by the swingset, which was vacant, otherwise certain riders would now be wearing orange jumpsuits and frantically calling 1-800-BAIL-BND.
Spivey limped in ten minutes later looking like he’d finally come to terms with the chocolate and the intestines, but still had an outstanding issue or two with the noodles and the ice cream. His face was an odd shade of gray, somewhere between near-death and a two week-old corpse.
“Where’s the donut shop?” he asked.
I shrugged. “Back in Encinitas, maybe.”
Running on empty
I could tell from the minute we left the church parking lot that my ride was over. My legs stung with that leaden sensation on every little riser, and we were going slow. Brent came up to me. “That was fast. PR fast.”
I felt a little bit better about having been on the rivet from the beginning to the end, but worse as I contemplated doing the rest of the ride completely gassed.
We picked up the BWR route on Summit, which hurt beyond belief. It hurt me, anyway. Chris Williams laughed when he heard me wheezing. “Easy, hoss!” he said.
King Harold, who hadn’t cracked a sweat yet, tried to make small talk. “So you and Spivey had a big meal last night?”
I ignored him as we turned down the little dirt section before the climb up Bandy Canyon. Just the tiny undulations of the dirt sapped what little I had left. I sat up. Dave Gonyer slipped back to take my pulse.
“I’m done. Don’t wait for me,” I deja-vu’d him.
“Nah, I’m waiting.” Gonyer never leaves the corpse of a teammate on the field of battle.
I got surly. “No, dude, really, I’m done. Go on.” My speed had dropped to a few mph. He could see the prow of the bony ship settling beneath the waves.
“You know the way home?”
“Sort of. But I’m in my own private hell. Thanks for waiting, but get up there. I’m done.”
He nodded and rejoined the group as they pulled away. Spivey looked back, gleefully, then receded with the group. Revenge, as he well knew, is best served at the bottom of a steep canyon climb on blown legs miles and miles from home in a cold headwind on unknown roads.
New dirt, old dirt, new hell, old hell
The group proceeded to do the new dirt section at Little Dieguito River, and conquered the old dirt at Questhaven, with a few intrepid souls (including that bastard Spivey) manfully charging all the way up Double Peak as the others wisely opted to finish the ride without swallowing that final live scorpion in the tequila bottle.
But they did it all without me. I limped back to Encinitas as broken and slow and beatdown and crushed as I’ve been since…the last time I did a BWR recon ride. As I tried to determine the source of my collapse, I identified all the likely causes:
- Still hadn’t recovered from Boulevard the week before.
- I’m weak.
- Pace on the first part of the ride was too brutal.
- I’m slow.
- Night before gluttony had sapped me of the will to do battle.
- I’m not very good.
- Three hours of sleep had deprived me of recovery.
- I really suck.
Back at the car I rendezvoused with Paul and then Marc. Paul had been towed home by Tait. Marc had been shepherded by Jim, and was euphoric at my epic collapse. In the car ride back to LA he gloriously recounted his conquests to Dan Cobley, neglecting to mention any of the difficulties he’d encountered when the sledgehammer was applied to his nuts at the beginning of the ride
“That was kind of a one-sided recounting,” I said.
He grinned. “Everybody has an angle, buddy, and I have mine.”
“Is our next stop gonna involve a double-stuffed cheese pizza with sausage and Canadian bacon?” I asked.
“You know it!” he said.
And it did.
October 4, 2012 § Leave a comment
Michael Marckx is one of the top 45+ cyclocross racers in the state. He also takes this shit way too seriously, which apparently is just the right amount. He gently encouraged me to give the sport a try, and I’ve almost forgiven him. Although we both started the same race this past weekend in Costa Mesa, he remained at the front, I at the back. What was it like up there? What really happened?
Rather than a narrative, I’ve bulleted it, as it was sort-of-but-not-really retold to me by him.
- The season opener was held on dirt and grass in 90-degree weather. ‘Cross should be in some mud, grass, and should feature sand and a bridge, and it should be dreary, cold, rainy—typical fall weather in Belgium. So while waiting for Belgian weather to start up in SoCal, the race got underway.
- Last year the 35+ and 45+ A races went off together. This let the leaders rail it, rather than making the old fucks start behind the young fucks and then spend the rest of the race trying get around them.
- Last year, sending the categories off together ensured that the job of weeding through all the lapped flailers happened later in the race when it was all strung out and the leaders could navigate through the detritus of the field’s rear end one wanker at time.
- When sent off at two-minute intervals, though, the faster old dudes had to filter through multiple clumps of flailers; dangerous on a narrow course like this one, and it artificially depressed the speed, letting slower riders who would otherwise be shelled rally back up towards the front.
- The Costa Mesa half-grass/half-BMX track served as the season opener, replete with jumps, whoops, a dangerous downhill sand section, a clogged run-up, and single track that made passing impossible. This was hardly a real ‘cross course, and one that catered to racers with experience racing dirt bikes. It was a course for them to lose.
- At the start, someone had already pushed the dysfunctional chaos button. “Chaos precedes great changes,” so the saying goes, but also precedes great clusterfucks. Behind schedule. Revised schedule. Not enough timing chips. There was a deep field of riders, both 35+ and 45+. In the 45’s there were multiple state champions including Lance Voyles, Jim Pappe, Mike McMahon, and Johnny Dalton, just to name a few.
- Jeff Sanford, a guy with a strong moto background, lined up fit and ready to rumble. Victor Sheldon was also racing in 45+ A’s this year instead of sandbagging in the B’s. Victor had spent all summer racing his MTB and was in the best form of his bike racing career. With his moto background, he joined Sanford as the other favorite.
- The series promoter changed things up on the starting line, opting to let the 35’s go in front of the 45’s. This became a huge factor, as the old dudes, on the whole, are faster than the 35’s, meaning the 45 leaders would eventually have to thread the needle through the anus of the 35’s on a course as wide at times as a string bean.
- The 45’s finally took off, sprinted the first turn, settled into a line for the next two right turns and entered the dirt with Voyles, Sanford, MMX, and McMahon in the lead while Anderson, Hatchitt, Pappe, Sheldon, Stephenson and the rest chased.
- The BMX section was a breeze for Sanford, so the power section of the grass was the only place MMX could do any damage. Unfortunately, his whole game plan was about to change.
- On the second lap they hit the crazy downhill sand section and its chicanes at the bottom, which then led to the dismount and run-up. Sanford neatly scooted around an entire gaggle of flailing 35’s, with the leading 45’s now gapped by Sanford and at a standstill as the 35’s fumbled their way through the chicanes and run-up, blocking the course like a clogged artery.
- Behind the wall of wankers, Sanford made good his escape. MMX then got taken out by a knucklehead (this happens a lot in ‘cross, apparently), and broke his right pedal. Now Voyles had passed him along with an entire group of 35/45 riders. MMX settled into the awkward motion of pedaling with his heel for the rest of the race, at a disadvantage throughout the numerous sections where the riders were airborne or close to it.
- Anderson and Sheldon rejoined to make a SPY-GIANT threesome, along with Voyles. Sanford was gone with the wind, while the chasers ripped through the body parts and dangling participles of the wretched shellees.
- Anderson put in a monstrous two-lap tow, with Voyles in the easy chair while SPY did his work for him. Who said there’s no hiding in ‘cross? Oh…MMX did.
- Anderson sat up, and Sheldon attacked, leaving Voyles with the devil’s dilemma of towing the other two riders up to their teammate or watching second place ride up the road. On the dirt section, Sheldon was in his element, and he tightened the screws.
- The chasers slowly pedaled away from the hapless finishers littering the course like bodies after an “Over the top!” trench charge in WW I. MMX capped off his race on the last 180-degree turn by sliding out and crashing, giving the hecklers plenty to laugh and heckle about in between swizzles and swozzles on their beer nozzles.
- McMahon finished 30 seconds behind MMX, followed by SPY rider Hatchitt, and the rest of the field trickled in looking even sorrier than they’d placed. SPY rider Wankmeister held the distinction of being the only rider to actually be lapped by everyone at least once, including the nice old lady in the lawn chair drinking tequila shots.
- Pappe had a mechanical and DNF’ed; otherwise he would certainly have had a strong race. SPY had three of the top five spots and four of the top seven. In the 35’s, SPY missed a 1-2 finish when Ryan Dahl rolled a tire.
That’s pretty much it. I know because I was there, even though I wasn’t really, you know, “there.” Tune in next week for Round 2.