Catgate

February 9, 2015 § 50 Comments

Before the first waffle has been eaten, the first sausage scarfed, or the first ale quaffed, the 2015 Belgian Waffle Ride has its first bona fide controversy: Catgate.

On the online entry form, riders were asked to list their USAC racing category. Mistakenly thinking that their starting position would be determined by their racing category, some registrants took the opportunity to misstate their category and thereby get placed ahead of the lowly Cat 5’s, public, and “unranked” riders, not a few of whom are absolute beasts. Unfortunately for the sneaks, each registrant was checked against USAC records, and several riders were caught red-fingerboarded.

Since the “ride” will go off in three waves, some riders apparently believed that there was an advantage to going in the first wave even though it’s a timed event, with each wave starting at 0:00:00. A lively discussion of Catgate ensued on Facebag, where various punishments were discussed. Although I offered to do the beheadings, that option was not selected, and the fate of the would-be cheaters remains undecided.

Choices on the table include public shaming, relegation to the last wave, being banned from the ride, and having a note sent to your mother.

On the other hand, if there’s one thing about bikers you can count on, it’s the certainty that given the chance they will cheat. Actually, they will cheat even when they aren’t given the chance. Why?

Because cheating is fun.

The whole concept of the bike race is little more than organized cheating. You hunker behind the rider with the biggest butt to cheat the wind; you descend pell-mell or bang bars in the sprunt to cheat death; the winner of the race is the one who forces everyone else to work more while he hides like a thief in the night, waiting to slit the throats of those who ride with courage and honor. What could be more natural for a cyclist than cheating on a registration form, or cheating your way to the finish of a fun ride?

Moreover, the Belgian Waffle Ride was quite literally born amidst the pangs and throes of cheating cheaters who love to cheat. I will never forget the inaugural 2012 BWR, when a certain South Bay rider showed up and pirated it from beginning to end, eating the free breakfast, stopping at each aid station to gobble the food and drink, and enjoying the post-ride festivities to a fare-thee-well.

I caught up with him the following week and said, “Don’t you feel bad for being such a thieving, cheating, Delta Bravo, and generally worthless POS?”

“Nope!” he happily smiled. And he meant it.

Other infamous characters stamped the first BWR with a miscellany of misbehavior. One wanker held onto a truck for miles at a pop over the deathly dirt section of Country Club Road. Another cut the course. Another infamous cheater whose mendacious misdeeds were rewarded with the dreaded purple card not only cut the course but sneaked past Double Peak at the end of the ride, zoomed into the start-finish area, changed into his bicycling lounge suit, and displayed an “I got here first!” grin while those who had manfully done the ride struggled in beaten and exhausted wondering “How did that brokedown wanker beat me here?” — then he topped it off by disappearing with his finisher’s swag once people got suspicious and started asking to see the stamp that every honest rider received for passing the checkpoint atop Double Peak.

Your cheatin' heart!

Your cheatin’ heart!

The invention of the purple card, in fact, was an acknowledgment before the ride ever started that bicyclists are some of the scurviest, cheatingest, least reliable mendicants known to man. Before the first BWR ever rolled out, a series of Freddie Freeloader cards were printed and handed out to the ride’s “Secret Police,” who were ordered to patrol the peloton and punish the perpetrators for their purplish pecadilloes.

In the second edition, even though there were no purple cards awarded, numerous riders who claimed to have completed the entire course failed to upload their required Strava data to confirm that they did in fact finish the route. You would think that having GPS data would be sufficient to deter the cheats, but no — if forced to choose between cheating and not, cheating wins out every time.

Last year the noose tightened a bit, with timing chips making it impossible for veteran course-cutters to ply their trade, and wholly eliminating the ride pirates, but misdeeds abounded. The most egregious included vehicle assistance at critical points in the ride.

Short of sailing a cargo ship bound for the Horn of Africa to smoke out the pirates, there’s no way to run a cheat-free event. And that’s a good thing.

For 99.9% of participants, the ride is so hard that whatever advantage you might eke out from marginal gains cheating is nullified somewhere around Mile 80, if not far sooner. And while it’s patently untrue that cheaters never win, especially in cycling, no cheater has ever won the BWR. To the contrary: In the inaugural event the leaders went off course, which couldn’t be detected because there were no chips being used, and rather than hop back on course they retraced their route to the point where they left the course, got back on, and finished — even though it cost them the win as Dave Jaeger, who had made all the right turns, beat them to the line and claimed the yellow jersey.

Neil Shirley, two-time winner of the non-race, is regarded as one of the cleanest, most honorable guys in the sport. No matter how many places in line you try to jump, you still have to pass Neil. Good luck with that.

The BWR is beautiful because it showcases the best and also the worst. You get to ride with champions and chumps, heroes and whores.

And at the end, if you’ve done it right, you finish with a satisfaction unlike any other. So go ahead and cheat your little heart out. If you dare.

END

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Down that path lies madness

February 8, 2015 § 18 Comments

The 2015 Belgian Waffle Ride is full. It took four days. Riders who didn’t get one of the coveted 700 slots are now on the waiting list, which will have 200+ names on it by the time the event goes off.

When the ride was announced, a big hoo-hah of publicity went out, which was awesome. However, not all of it was particularly beneficial. Especially disturbing were the “Top 10 Tips to Finish with Dignity” by Neil Shirley, and the “SPY Belgian Waffle Ride Tips” by some foreigner named Hupthur. If either one of these tip sheets comes across your inbox, please delete ASAP as they will lead you to ruin.

Shirley’s list should be ignored simply upon seeing the title. There is no dignity left when and if you finish the BWR. In fact, there’s not much of anything left. Spit, sweat, mucous, blood glucose, pride, dreams, hope … everything will have been torn from your chest, beheaded, and left wriggling on the roadside back around, say, Mile 100. If you’re lucky. Many will have suffered the Junkyard Implosion much earlier. Others will have simply quit. Still others will have abandoned before the race even started.

When Shirley talks about “finishing with dignity,” he’s referring to about ten people, and you will never see them except perhaps, briefly, at the start. Everyone else will finish with desperation. Exhaustion. A sense of bodily collapse and mental defeat. But not dignity. No fuggin’ way.

You are also advised to ignore everything Shirley says because he’s a two-time winner. Right. We have nothing in common with him. If he’s talking about the BWR, go ahead and turn up your iPod. As one of the best and most accomplished riders in SoCal, a guy who is devastatingly good no matter the discipline, he simply has nothing to offer the rank and file, not to mention the file shavings like you and me.

So here’s my reality tip sheet for the 2015 BWR. It won’t help you do better, but that’s because there is no “better.” To crumple and fold like bad origami is your destination. Trust me on this.

  1. Blab & Brag: Tell everyone you’re going to crush the BWR. This is the only pleasure you will get from competing in the event. Everything else will be a reduction of your humanity into a quivering puddle of failure and defeat.
  2. Polish & Purchase: Have your bike polished, cleaned, overhauled, and detailed. Then add the trick shit you’ve always wanted — Di2, full carbon wheels made of carbon, and lots of carbon. Plus carbon. The only chance you have of looking good and making next year’s video is either in the Preen Area at the start finish, or with your guts torn out after crashing along Lake Hodges. Also, lots of lightweight trick shit ups your chance of a ride-ending mechanical, which will get you back to the celebratory sausages and beer that much more quickly.
  3. Stamp Your Authority: True, the BWR is a 140-mile long odyssey that demands almost perfect resource management and conservation of energy simply to finish. But you don’t care about that. Those sausages are calling your name and Sam Ames has extra ice cream for the waffles left over from breakfast. Finagle your way into the first starting wave and drill it. If you’re not pushing 450+ watts on the rollers out of town, you’re losing. Plus, this is a great way to maybe get into one of those cool photos that has you riding next to all those hammerheads at the front.
  4. Ink up: The Preen Area will be filled with the legends of SoCal. They will be doing last minute equipment checks, reviewing the course map for changes, and making sure everything is ready. Take the time to interrupt them and request autographs, preferably onto obscure body parts. “Hey, Phil, I’ve always been a fan of yours. Would you autograph my scrotum?” is always a winner. Plus, you’ll have a unique memento to show your wife as she wraps you in a huge sheet of Tegaderm.
  5. Cower and Hide: If you really are planning on finishing the BWR, don’t ever take a pull. Ever. Not even one. My best moment in 2014 was drafting for 20 miles behind Hines, Chatty Cathy, Junkyard, and a string of South Bay wankers all the way into Ramona from Black Canyon, then sprunting by them as they stopped for drinks and organ transplants.
  6. Use Up Others: When you get shelled, immediately soft pedal until you’re overtaken by the next group. Slink to the back and occasionally yell encouragement to the people doing all the work. When they collapse and fall of the back, just remember, “Sucks to be them.”
  7. Cheat Where You Can: The BWR has a long and illustrious history of people who cheat, cut the course, hang onto follow vehicles, and take advantage of the fact that there are no race commissars or firing squads. Have your S/O wait for you at the 25, 75, 50, and 100-mile marks with her Prius and give you little 5-mile tows. If your conscience is a bit squeamish, just remember the BWR Wanker Motto: Rules are for losers!
  8. Dope: This one is obvious, but with no doping controls you should be loaded up with your favorite brand of cortisol, HGH, EPO, and steroid inhalers for your “asthma.” The joy of destroying some hairy-legged Fred to secure your 286th place is something you will cherish forever.

END

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HTFU: Happy to Finish Undestroyed

April 29, 2014 § 58 Comments

If you rode the 2014 SPY Belgian Waffle Ride and your name wasn’t Neil Shirley or Brent Prenzlow, you cracked, entered a very bad place, and either quit or soldiered on to the finish. For some people the destruction happened far from home in the middle of the course on a dogforsaken section of dirt on a miserable and lonely mountaintop. For others it happened the night before at the pre-ride celebration somewhere between beer #5 and tequila shot #3.

For me, it happened during the neutral rollout.

How can something be the “most unique?”

The ride bills itself as the most unique cycling even in America. It’s not the hardest or the longest or the one with the most dirt or the most climbing. Is it unique? Yes. The BWR brings together all the elements of a tough one-day event and lets you make it into a ride or a race, as your legs are capable.

Still, I’ve wondered how something can be more unique than something else. If it’s unique, it’s the only one, right? Aren’t my fingerprints the most unique fingerprints in America?

Set in North County San Diego attended by over 500 riders (three hundred or so of whom managed to finish), and built around a grueling course that includes 12k feet of climbing, 30 miles of dirt, and an endlessly challenging series of undulating roads, the BWR is unquestionably unique. It’s something more than that, though. It’s a lens through which we can personally and vicariously experience amazing intensity of positive emotion.

It’s the happiest ride in America.

And now would someone please define the word “neutral”?

The first 23 miles of the ride, which was broken up into three waves, was designated neutral. When I hear the word “neutral start” I think about a warm-up at conversational pace, so I was surprised to feel the full-leg burn that comes from a 500-watt effort simply to get over the beginning rollers. People were panting, forcing the pedals, and half-sprinting within the first mile.

I’d been placed in the first wave, which contained most of the contenders for overall victory. I wasn’t one of them, having struggled in mid-pack in both my previous BWR cataclysms. I knew that if you weren’t planning to hang with the contenders, the worst thing you could do in the opening miles was to try and hang with them.

The effort of the leaders was so hard in the neutral section that I sat up somewhere around Mile 10 and watched them roll away. In addition to finally coming up with a plan and sticking with it, something else had happened at the beginning of this third edition of the BWR.

The food makes the ride

No matter what anyone says, the food and beer concession that your ride offers is what makes or breaks the experience. This year the pre-ride waffles and post-ride brats were prepared by legendary race chef Gear Grinder, a/k/a Sam Ames and his crew from Bakersfield. I’ve never had better food, or anything close to it, at a cycling event, and that’s not just because they had a bottle of private-label Bowen whiskey distilled in Bakersfield that I sampled the day before. Adding to the ambiance of the event was a fantastic selection of wine donated by Dean Patterson, vinted not far from the site of the ride itself.

This kind of pre-ride power food set the tone for the entire day, because the vendors like Sam and the volunteers who thronged the 134-mile course are what turned a tough day in the saddle into unforgettable fun. We had flashers throughout the course in various costumes as well as what first seemed like a mirage but was in fact, at Mile 115, a group of Hooters girls in bikinis at the top of the Canyon de Oro climb who filled our bottles, handed up cokes, and cheered as if I were a hero rather than a broken down, flailing, salt-and-snot-encrusted old gizzard trying not to tip over.

Watching a morning filled with self-immolation

I was overtaken by the second wave of riders in the middle of the first dirt section, and it was there that countless eager and fierce riders charged by me, intent on getting to the beer line in the shortest time possible. By Mile 45 I was already seeing many of them again with haggard faces, drooping shoulders, and completely fried legs that tried to lift them out of the endless climb up the back side of Bandy Canyon and Hidden Valley.

One guy passed me early on, waved cheerily as if to say “You’re slow!” and then reappeared on the long grind up to Ramona. “How much farther?” he asked, covered in sweat and desperation.

“You’re almost to the top, buddy, keep it up.”

“Thanks!” he said.

“And then after another 90 miles and the actual climbs, you’ll be done!”

The key feature is the dirt

Although none of it is exactly technical by MTB standards, the dirt sections on the BWR are what really break up the field. They come throughout the ride, with the hardest sections baring their fangs in the final 40 miles, and the jarring, pounding, grinding effect of rocks, holes, water crossings, and treacherously deep sand add and add and add to the building exhaustion of the day.

The deep sand pits along the “Sandy Bandyweg” sector was filled with glum riders walking through sand that went up to their ankles, others who stood desperately trying to bang the sand out of their cleats, and riders who simply didn’t know that to get through the deep sand you had to pedal and pedal fast. Whether it was the rock garden at Lake Hodges that had to be taken twice, and where a fall would result in broken bones, deep puncture wounds, and cactus quills, or whether it was the agonizing climb up Fortuna at Mile 113, which then segued to the insane drop down Canyon de Oro, the dirt defined this year’s BWR almost as much as the food.

Almost.

Putting a happy spin on things

The SPY slogan is “Be Happy,” but it’s not the kind of happiness you achieve by sitting on the couch. Much of the happiness was quirky and ironic, like the beautiful girls in bikinis (did I mention the beautiful girls in bikinis?) atop a nasty climb towards the end of the race, or the “HTFU” signs strategically posted on all the climbs at just the point where your legs were burning and your mind was rebelling, or the tacit admission that even though we all wanted to stand out and be special, even the best among us is simply an ordinary person seeking refuge, or enlightenment, or introspection, or excitement by pedaling a bike.

These things all came together at the end of the ride when SPY CEO Michael Marckx presented awards, and when riders basked in the sunshine drinking fresh, strong, delicious, and cheap craft beer from Stone and Lost Abbey. Smiles and laughter bubbled as much as, or more than, the foam in the cups.

Despite the grins and backslapping, the BWR is an actual bike race for some. The men and women seeking a winner’s jersey, athletes tackling and conquering the route with a prosthetic arm or leg, people trying to do something they’ve never done before, or the wild-eyed riders oblivious to the fun and seeking a slightly higher spot on the leaderboard … all of these people looked for something, and many of them found it.

For me, it was a chance to end up in the beer garden without dying a thousand deaths the final fifty miles. And I did.

First wave riding "neutrally." Photo copyright 2014 by Jake Orness, under license and used with permission from SPY Optic.

First wave riding “neutrally.” Ha. Photo copyright 2014 by Jake Orness, under license and used with permission from SPY Optic.

 

Greg Lonergan and Lisa Conrad off roaring it. Photo copyright 2014 by Jake Orness, under license and used with permission from SPY Optic.

Greg Lonergan and Lisa Conrad off-roading it. Photo copyright 2014 by Jake Orness, under license and used with permission from SPY Optic.

The good stuff! First wave riding "neutrally." Photo copyright 2014 by Jake Orness, under license and used with permission from SPY Optic.

The good stuff! Photo copyright 2014 by Jake Orness, under license and used with permission from SPY Optic.

On top of the world! First wave riding "neutrally." Photo copyright 2014 by Jake Orness, under license and used with permission from SPY Optic.

On top of the world and eyes bulging! Photo copyright 2014 by Jake Orness, under license and used with permission from SPY Optic.

John Abate powering up Bandy Canyon. First wave riding "neutrally." Photo copyright 2014 by Jake Orness, under license and used with permission from SPY Optic.

John Abate powering up Bandy Canyon. Photo copyright 2014 by Jake Orness, under license and used with permission from SPY Optic.

Down but never out. First wave riding "neutrally." Photo copyright 2014 by Jake Orness, under license and used with permission from SPY Optic.

Down but never out. Photo copyright 2014 by Jake Orness, under license and used with permission from SPY Optic.

Chris DeMarchi bringing the pain. First wave riding "neutrally." Photo copyright 2014 by Jake Orness, under license and used with permission from SPY Optic.

Chris DeMarchi bringing the pain. Photo copyright 2014 by Jake Orness, under license and used with permission from SPY Optic.

END

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The course is only part of the course

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.

  1. Ryan Trebon. Pro cyclocross racer and sponsored SPY rider, former U.S. national champion.
  2. Neil Shirley. First place finisher in the Belgian Waffle Ride’s 2013 edition, and one of the best professional riders in America.
  3. Dan Cobley. Don’t let the Cat 3 fool you. He finished fourth last year behind Neil, Thurlow Rogers, and Karl Bordine.
  4. Brent Prenzlow. He’s an uncategorized “public” rider. He also made mincemeat of virtually the entire field in the inaugural 2012 BWR.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. John Abate. Lokalmotor from San Diego, John has the legs and the knowledge of the local roads to be there at the finish.
  8. 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.
  9. 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!
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. 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!

END

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I don't think I'd give you this shirt off my back.

I don’t think I’d give you this shirt off my back.

Wankmeister cycling clinic #23: Last-minute advice for the SPY Belgian Waffle Ride

April 24, 2014 § 10 Comments

Dear Wankmeister:

I saw that the Belgian Waffle Ride is full. I’m gonna bandit the ride anyway. How can they stop me? The roads are free, right?

Defiantly,
Frito Bandito

Dear Frito:

There are some excellent ethical and practical reasons not to bandit the ride. First, the ride only exists because of the 500+ people who have paid. So for you to only take from others who have only given is unfair. Second, by failing to properly pay and register for the ride, you are complicating efforts to ensure that the event runs smoothly. Paid police escorts, insurance, and city/county permits depend on having an accurate head count of participants. Third, the ride has been open since February. You had plenty of time to register, and the organizers and other participants should not have to foot the bill for you because you “waffled” about doing the ride. Finally, numerous two-wheeled bouncers will be on the ride, prepared to throw you out on your ass if you try to crash it.

Counter-defiantly,
Wankmeister

Dear Wankmeister:

23’s? 25’s? 28’s? Compact, right? 28 in the rear? Or 30? 32 too extreme? ‘Cross bike? Road frame? MTB? Pre-race nutrition? Steak and eggs? Carbs? So many questions …

In a quandary,
Dazedan Confused

Dear Dazedan:

I think Nike has a slogan about this.

Advertorially,
Wankmeister

Dear Wankmeister:

I signed up for the Belgian Waffle Ride because it sounded like fun. But I’ve been really busy at work and Billy’s soccer games have chewed up my weekends plus date night with Lucille, honey-do’s etc. so I haven’t gotten in much riding hardly any at all in fact. I know that it’s only three days away but I’m thinking some hard hill intervals, try to squeeze in an 80-miler, and a compact crank, maybe a new wheelset so that I can at least finish. Thoughts?

Dedicatedly,
Hard Pushin’ Poppa

Dear Hard:

There is a massively fortified coastline in Normandy with three German divisions, concertina strewn along the surf line, thousands of pill boxes, land mines, machine-gun  emplacements, and heavy aerial bombardment. I’m going to storm it in my underwear with a rowboat and a pea-shooter. Thoughts?

Invasively,
Wankmeister

Dear Wankmeister:

I’m not interested in the Belgian Waffle Ride. You know why? Because you guys are a-holes. Acting like it’s such a big deal, purple jerseys, such a macho ride, only the tough guys finish, blah blah blah. What a joke. You goons will clog up the roads and make motorists hate us even more plus it’s a ripoff I’d never pay money for something I can crash for free. Can’t wait to sneak into the beer garden. HA HA HA!

Hilariously,
Da Joker

Dear Da:

The fact that the BWR does not appeal to people like you is not a coincidence.

Designedly,
Wankmeister

Dear Wankmeister:

I was gonna do the BWR and had trained like mad, crazy mad. Dude, if you could see my fitness you would be so awed. I was gonna roll with the leaders and drill & grill & totally kill. Been practicing on all the dirt around here, 450-mile weeks, some of my KOM’s are getting Neil Shirley-like fast, yeah, that fast. I was gonna put the hurt on. But I went to see my doctor yesterday and he said I can’t because of this condition I’ve had so I can’t do it. Was so looking forward to doing the thang!

Bummedly,
Bummsy Bummser

Dear Bummsy,

No problem; hope your rash clears up. I’m sure you would have killed it.

Antibiotically,
Wankmeister

 Dear Wankmeister:

I was all excited about the Belgian Waffle Ride until I found out I was put in the third wave, with all the slow wankers and the beginners. Balls!

Disappointedly,
Cattin’ Up Carl

Dear Cattin':

The administrators provisionally placed you in the first wave as you indicated on your registration that you were a Cat 1 on the road. Before finalizing the waves, they went to USA Cycling to verify that registrants had honestly entered their real category. Under “Cattin’ Up Carl, license number 498029,” here is what they found: Pooodleville Crit, DNF [Cat 5], Snarkton RR, 67th out of 68 [Cat 5], Hocknspit TT, 10th out of 10 [Cat 5], Swampass Circuit Race, 109th out of 109 [Cat 5]. All other events (fifteen total) you were listed as either DNF or DNS. So this year you will not be placed in the first wave, along with the Continental and domestic pros, Cat 1’s, state and national champions. However, they look forward to watching you cat up in 2015.

Regretfully but not really,
Wankmeister

END

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Did you know that you can subscribe to “Cycling in the South Bay”? Your donation will go directly to a beer fund that makes me feel better about my terrible race results! Plus, everything here is true except for the parts I’ve made up, which is all of it. Click here and select the “subscribe” link in the upper right-hand corner. I’ll be glad you did.

Drippy when wet!

Drippy when wet!

 

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