April 7, 2017 § 14 Comments
I’ve always maintained that industrial park crit racing is really boring for spectators. A huge mass of people go round and round, they’re harder to distinguish than fall warblers, then someone shoots out at the end, throws her hands up, and the race is over.
Who’d want to watch that for fifty minutes, or even fifteen?
But then I thought about America’s most popular sport, throwball. The players are indistinguishable if you’re a neophyte. What they are doing is incomprehensible. Some umpire dude is constantly blowing a whistle and throwing a flag. Everyone suddenly decides to give the throwball to the other team. Someone runs across the finish line. Another dude kicks the throwball through the fork tines. Weird point combinations of six, three, one, sometimes two, appear at random. WTF?
And for all that, people go ape-fuggin-shit and hundreds of millions of dollars change hands online.
What do they got that we don’t got?
Then it hit me. Announcers. They got announcers. Some of them are great. Some of them are awful. All of them have mountains of crap to say. One dude talks about how four seasons ago one throwball dude dragged down another throwball dude. Another talks about somebody’s fifth knee operation. Some other dude compares one throwball team to the Pittsburgh Flintstones’ Stone Curtain from the 70s. It may be drivel, but it’s informative drivel.
But bike races? Crits have four types of announcers:
- This is my playlist. Hope you like the 70s.
- Nathan Newbie. “Hey everbody!! (Is this mic live)?”
- Jaded Fuddy Duddy. (“Looks like you all missed the break. Hahahaha.”)
- Awesome Announcer (“You’re not paying me? See ya.”)
Numbers one and two are self-explanatory and common. And guess what? Spectators don’t have to come to your industrial park crit to listen to K.C. and the Sunshine Band.
Number three is some dude who’s been around forever, is sarcastic and cynical, and when he pays attention, if at all, it’s for the pro race. Men’s.
This year the CBR Crit took a different approach. It got Rahsaan Bahati, David Worthington, and David Wells to create an actual commentating crew.
AND IT PAID THEM.
These three guys are all smart, glib, and experienced announcers, but most importantly they know the racers and they know how to race. Whether it’s the Cat 5 Crit or the Masters 55+, they call out names, real names. None of that “Here comes number 69 leading the pack!”
It makes all the difference to a mom, dad, brother, girlfriend, sister, or boyfriend to hear a name called out. And it makes all the difference to all the spectators to hear experienced racers break down what’s going on, lap by lap. Analyzing riders’ strengths, speculating about weaknesses, commenting on strategy, filling the time with anecdotes and explanations makes these races become for the spectator what they are for the racer: Fun.
It’s easy to get great bike race announcers, but after a day or two spent in the hot sun shouting yourself hoarse for eight hours it transitions from “fun” and “helping the community” to “work.” Professionalizing it by paying the announcers for what they bring to the event is one of the best investments a promoter can make.
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February 24, 2016 § 34 Comments
The first time I did the Old Pier Ride on a December day in 2006, I got yelled at by Stern-O. My crime? Daring to be a new face contesting the sprunt on a steel Masi while wearing a wool jersey.
On my first few Donut Rides I was yelled at and pushed around, and was only able to create breathing room by riding some of the worst-behaved people off my wheel. The only way you could get people to lay off was by beating them down.
Those few short years ago road riding in LA was like it still is in many places. Cliquish, hostile, and full-to-overflowing with self-important preeners.
Nowadays LA is not that way, even though other parts of SoCal and NorCal are still rife with faux elitism. Guys like Rahsaan Bahati, Robert Efthimos, Greg Leibert, and especially Greg Seyranian have created an environment where inclusiveness is the norm. New faces like David Wells, and old ones like Gerald Iacono and Michael Norris have kept up a steady drumbeat that welcomes new faces.
Eventually the most offensive snobs relocated to faraway climes, or took to riding by themselves in tiny groups at odd hours where they come into contact with hardly anyone, or they’ve simply quit riding.
This environment has attracted a lot of people to the old group rides. The NPR now easily starts with 70 or 80 riders. There’s often shouting and sometimes a bit of jostling, but it tends to be based on actual riding behavior rather than to establish a pecking order.
One of the guys who started showing up one day was named Francis, but one look at him and you pretty much knew that:
- You weren’t the first person who’d thought about saying, “Lighten up, Francis.”
- He’d beaten up lots tougher guys than you for lots smaller infractions than that.
In a universe where bikers are the underdog and the police are the enemy, Francis was like that overgrown guy in the movie with beard stubble and a knife who shows up in the 7th Grade classroom after riding his motorcycle to school and befriends the twiggly dork getting bullied by the bad guys. Turns out that Francis was a homicide detective and beneath his tough, flinty-eyed exterior there lay a hardened, unflinching, barefisted interior.
This was amazing because suddenly when the group got pulled over by a cop responding to a call from an irate PV housewife who’d been slowed down four seconds on her way to Starbucks, instead of getting a lecture, four back-up squad cars, and tickets all ’round, Francis and the cop would have a conversation and that would be it.
It was also amazing because we now had a cop who backed us up when bad things happened. It’s a funny feeling to think that when some cager in a pickup buzzes you and flips you off and then gets it into his head to escalate the situation that he’s going to find out he’s grabbed the red-hot poker with both hands by the wrong end.
Of course, what are the chances that a hard-bitten homicide cop would even be named Francis, let alone also be a cyclist, and a good one, at that? One in several billion. So in an effort to let him know how much he was appreciated, I made an especial effort to give him as much shit as possible, which, to his credit, he always returned in rather unequal quantities.
But back to the NPR …
In tandem with the large size of the ride, the police whose jurisdiction is LAX International Airport have their own Wellness Department, which focuses on health initiatives for employees and for the broader community. After a particularly bad car-bike collision on Westchester Parkway, which abuts the airport’s runways, the officer in charge of Wellness decided to get involved.
This guy’s name is Officer Sur, and with the department’s backing he now escorts the group on Tuesdays. He drives an SUV patrol car with large magnetic signs that say “3 Feet Please!” indicating the minimum legal passing space a motorist must give a cyclist.
He assists with intersection control when we make the u-turns on the Parkway, and also helps control traffic at lights when the lights are changing and only half the peloton has made it through. Officer Sur even came to our 6:40 AM liftoff at the Manhattan Beach Pier and gave a talk about rider safety and police involvement with things like the NPR.
From the time that he has been escorting the ride, we have gotten noticeably less (as in zero) buzzing or harassment by cagers. So in addition to the lottery-like odds of having one guardian angel in the form of a homicide detective named Francis, we wound up with an even more improbable scenario: Having two policemen who ride and who look out for others on bikes.
So I was talking to Officer Sur after the NPR, and telling him about Francis.
“Francis?” he said.
“Yeah,” I said. “Pretty weird, huh? I mean, what are the chances of having a cop named Francis who’s not only involved in cycling but who’s also kind of a guardian angel?”
Officer Sur looked at me to see if I was pulling his leg. “Pretty long odds,” he said. “Because that’s my first name, too.”
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January 11, 2016 § 2 Comments
Think about all the crap you’ve spent money on in order to go faster.
Now think about the rule of thirds for bike racing:
- 1/3 on training.
- 1/3 on aero.
- 1/3 on strategy.
Most people have it way out of whack. 2/3 on aero (and “stuff”), 1/3 on training, and 0/3 on strategy.
Why is that? First, it’s because people already think they know how to strategize a bike race. And second, for those who know they need help, it’s really difficult to find a top-notch pro who will let you pick his or her brain.
So here’s your chance to spend some time and money doing something that will improve you as a rider and as a racer–sign up for my friend Rahsaan Bahati’s race clinic here.
Rahsaan is a formidable competitor and an accomplished athlete. But what you will find out if you attend this clinic is that he is also a warm, friendly, funny, amazingly smart guy whose knowledge of crit racing is encyclopedic. His ability to break down a race, explain it, and draw teaching points out of the most mundane moments is unparalleled.
Take advantage of this. It will be a thousand times more beneficial than a new set of wheels.
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November 12, 2015 § 10 Comments
Two items from two friends:
ITEM 1: The Road Ahead
My friend Dave Worthington is working with the cycling community in Orange County to put together a ride this Sunday that will benefit legendary SoCal racer Mark Scott. Mark is undergoing chemo for advanced leukemia. The ride leaves Bike Religion, 34150 PCH in Dana Point at 8:30 AM. Click on this link to register and learn more about Mark.
Here is what it’s all about, in Dave’s words:
August, 8th Floor, Hoag Memorial Hospital. Surgical masks at the door, tubes and monitors everywhere. I held his arm for a moment. Sick, but still solid gold, and asked my friend Mark Scott, “What music are you playing to help you through the night?”
“David, lately, ‘Shine Like it Does.’
‘This is the story
Since time began.
There will come a day
When we will know
And if you’re looking you will find it.’
“Shit, Mark, that’s a good one. Helped me through my freshman year at Texas. And bro, the chemo diet seems an extreme measure just so a sprinter like you can climb with the goats.” Our tears pooled like rain.
But you know something? We got this.
News We Can Use
Last June a cycling champion, advocate, and all-around great guy named Mark Scott was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML). After several rounds of chemo, Mark is still in need of a life altering bone marrow transplant.
With the help of his healthcare team and with your support, Mark is poised to return to life as he once knew it, filled with love, surrounded by family and friends, driven by hard work and by his love for pedaling about this amazing planet.
Until the exact genetic markers are matched for the transplant, the immediate concern is to minimize the effects of the cancer via chemotherapy and blood transfusions. The entire oncology department at Hoag has fallen in love with Mark, and as far as we’re concerned, there’s no surprise there. Mark is so strong, always cool with his Colgate smile and sapphire eyes.
Inside, of course, it hurts like hell, but from the smile on his face you’d never, ever know.
Mark’s eyes were coal. Who dimmed the lights? “Mark … WTF?”
Mark was unresponsive. He was digging deeper than ever before, at war on the inside. For the first time in a long friendship he had nothing to spare for my tiny Me-Problems. “Mark, I’m your little brother, WTF?”
At his bedside, Mark told the enemy, “I’m gonna keep fighting.” Every cell in his body under attack and every cell fighting back.
“Now back off! I’m gonna keep fighting, man.”
More News We Can Use
To date Mark has endured four grueling chemotherapy sessions. From head to toe, his body has been riddled with a battery of probes, needles, bone core drills, aorta catheters, lumbar punctures, spinal taps, x-rays, and MRI’s. Through it all, Mark has yet to utter a single word of complaint, not one. All he’s done is smile, then grit his teeth and battle back. Mark Scott has spent a LIFETIME being the first guy to step up for his friends and for his community, and since he’s too humble to ask for your help, we are asking for him: We need your help.
This Sunday, Nov. 15, we are raising funds to directly benefit Mark during this fight with cancer. Additionally, Team Mark Scott wants to increase awareness of leukemia and those it afflicts. Simply by registering for ride, whether you attend or not, you’ll be helping MARK SCOTT.
Cancer can hit any of us at any time. Why Mark? We don’t know, but we know he’s not the only one. Another champion, Rahsaan Bahati, has an 8-year old nephew suffering from leukemia. Rahsaan will be joining us on Sunday, too.
Words from a Friend
Mark loves and appreciates you all. He has the stomach and backbone to beat this. Though not out of the woods, he’s made huge strides. Still, the hard part is yet to come. Remember, more than the rubber on the road, it’s the inner tube that’s 100 times stronger because it carries the pressure and the load; it’s what’s inside that counts.Whether you can make it or not, a donation of any amount will make a huge difference since Mark will be unable to return to work during this fight. www.gofundme.com/markscott
You can also support simply by registering for the ride. And like the song said:
“Shine Like it Does
Into Every Heart.
Shine Like it Does.
And if you’re Looking
You will Find It.
You will Find It.”
ITEM 2: Celebration of the Life of Udo Heinz
The Belgian Waffle Ride was conceived to challenge limits and to connect us as a community. Udo Heinz, a husband and father of two who was struck and killed near Camp Pendleton in 2013—is the closest to our heart.
Join us as we celebrate Udo’s life with a 55-mile memorial ride featuring friends, road and dirt on Saturday, November 14, starting from Stone Brewing Co. at 8:00 AM.
But that’s just the beginning. Udo’s wife Antje shared this beautiful letter.
My Dear Udo,
It has been more than two years that I could ride behind your wheel and hear you yelling at me to “hang on to the wheel.” How I miss your wheel, my love.
I still feel closest to you when I am in the saddle of my bike. Sometimes a simple bike ride makes all the difference in my day. Blue sky above me, road under me, my heart pounding and my legs screaming, climbing up the hill.
I love riding my bike. You loved riding your bike. And we both loved riding our bikes together.
In the first year after you left us, my grief was raw and obvious. And the first anniversary was not a benchmark, really. It was merely the day after day 364, followed by 366, 367 and so on. Year one was a struggle to get up, get the kids to school and to figure out all those things like car title transfers, new health insurance, the mechanics of life.
By year two, most of those things were resolved. But now there is another big job waiting to be resolved: Learning to live life alone, a new identity because you are still GONE and you will always be gone. Year two means struggling to live life again. And it is hard.
Some days I don’t care about anything, some days I am just tired. Tired of fixing the printer without your help, tired of making big decisions alone, and tired of caring for our children by myself.
It is hard because I have to live without the one I can’t live without.
But I always go on. I take breaks when I am really dark but I always come out the other end. I have so many wonderful people in my life that carry me. They didn’t disappear after the first year of initial grief. They are still by my side and encourage me, listen to me, hug me and ride with me. Like all those friends that come to the memorial ride again this year to celebrate your life, your birthday, your smile, your love for riding. We will all ride for you and with you, Udo. We will remember you and talk about you. Because we cannot forget you. You were the kindest and most loyal and smartest guy I have ever met. You touched all of us.
I am still working on trying to live without you. C.S. Lewis said that getting over a painful experience is much like crossing monkey bars. You have to let go at some point in order to move forward.
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October 16, 2015 § 35 Comments
People wonder why masters racers have hijacked SoCal amateur bike racing, as shown by the incredible explosion of anger over the burning question of the day:
- Should masters categories be 35/45/55? OR
- Should masters categories be 40/50/60?
Wrinkly trinket-hungry cyclists went ballistic over this life-or-death issue and forced the opaque, shifty-eyed, self-serving SCNCA board to hold an emergency late night telephone conference, reverse their earlier vote, and then come up with a new vote that satisfied the angriest of the old people who, by the way, were angry indeed.
So now bike racing has been saved. Horrible declines in participation, non-attendance by anyone other than angry S/O’s and resentful children, fewer races, and a smaller pie to squabble over are all going to be remedied because the needs of several hundred greedy trinket hunters have been shifted down five years. Riiiiiiight.
Showing how inane the whole thing is, one upset fellow posted that since he’s going to soon be thirty, “WHAT ABOUT ME?” This perspective perfectly defines the modern masters racer: The unfairness of it all! 30-year-olds having to race with 20-somethings! Pretty soon the 12-year-olds will be outraged that they’re racing with the thirteen-ers, and so on down to swaddling diaper pre-racers.
None of this is surprising because the only thing on offer in bicycle racing nowadays is the faux glory of a few seconds on an ugly podium, hands raised in a stupid salute, a quick posting of the photo on ‘Bag and ‘Gram, and a 5,000-lb. bag of entitlement.
No one’s fighting for money because there is none. The best racer in America, Daniel Holloway, goes from year to year without any long term security even though he wins more big races in a season than any other elite US pro will win their entire career. What would Rahsaan Bahati’s pro career have looked like if he’d made six figures as a bike racer? Why is Hilton Clarke looking for work?
If there were money on offer for actual bike racers, cycling would be a different game. People who could make a living at bike racing would throw the dice and try it as a career, the pool of athletes would grow, and the ripple effect of more races, more spectators, more sponsors, more fans, and more junior racers would grow the sport. It would take several years, but a million dollars on offer in prize money each year in SoCal would turn the region into a global center of cycling.
“A million dollars????” I can hear the screeching laughter now. What a ridiculous idea! What an absurd amount of money? For prizes that go to actual BIKE RACERS? ARE YOU FUCKING CRAZY?
Yes, but that will never happen of course. The people who have a million dollars to invest aren’t about to put it into the checking accounts of cardboard box-dwelling bike racers because it’s not an investment, at least in the sense that they’ll ever get their money back. It’s more of a Bernie Madoff type investment, and they’d rather have a new beautiful second home, a new airplane, a new boat, or a new investment vehicle that will turn the million into multiples of a million. And no group of ten affluent cyclists would dream of kicking in $100k each to revolutionize the sport. It’s not for a shortage of dollars, though, you can be sure of that. We ride with stock brokers, real estate moguls, millionaire lawyers, independently wealthy businessmen, super rich doctors, and a variety of people for whom a hundred thousand bucks would mean absolutely nothing at all to their big picture or even their small one.
As a case in point, the suckers who dumped $19 million into the USA Pro Challenge wound up with the same raw assholes of everyone else who tries to fund the sport through the well oiled USAC graft machine. The money goes everywhere except to the one place that matters most: The hands of the men and women who turn the pedals. As soon as you pump money into an event or a team, it gets hoovered up immediately by everyone except the riders, who are expected to ride for free or close to it, and be damned glad of it.
The sad thing is that the donor/investor always has good intentions; he wants the sport to prosper. But as long as the employees who make the show happen are starved, insecure, broke, living at home, and paying for health insurance through Medi-Cal, it never ever will. There may be a sucker born every minute, but they play the lottery or go to Vegas. Hardly anyone is a big enough gambler to stake a career on bikes.
And why should donors pour money into the sport they profess to love? What has cycling as an organized activity ever done for anybody? Because of USA Cycling’s pervasive and long-term support of doping, cheating, and shunting rider funds to programs run from Colorado Springs, the governing body is toothless, stupid, greedy, lazy, and mean. It hates grass roots wankers with big bellies (the guys who fill the lower ranks and pay the salaries in ‘Springs), and it thumbs its nose at any pretend racer who doesn’t hit “the right numbers.”
And that’s why Strava is so devastating. It provides competition and it provides value; USAC provides limited competition, and does so at ridiculous cost with zero financial reward. Our recent survey showed that, surprise, people are afraid of crashing. No fucking shit? You mean people are afraid of falling off their bike at 30 and getting their balls run over by ten other riders? Who’d be afraid of that? Worst that can happen is that you die, dude. Man up.
By choking development, ignoring obvious problems, and by creating a culture that makes any potential investor loathe them, USAC is now having the rotten, digested fruits of its corrupt labor shoved down its throat in the form of lower numbers, lower license revenue, lower salaries for the staff who grew up living on Lance and who are now finding out that in addition to being petty and greedy, the masters racers now calling the shot are all that’s left and they happen to be the cheapest most cantankerous bastards alive. I know I am.
And now the new godfather of USAC has declared that the organization will never hire another doper, but he’s silent about what really matters: How is he going to put money into the hands of the people who race bikes? How is he going to make any rational person want to take a chance on the sport? No answers there, sorry.
So it’s left to a handful of leathernecked race promoters to develop a profitable system with no support, no investment, no safety net, and no incentive to hang onto the few races we do have. The reward from USAC? Paying more fees, of course. Bet you didn’t know that the bigger your prize list, the more the promoter pays USAC, did you?
The other reward is having their paying customers, the cranky and greedy and perennially dissatisfied old farts, clamor and complain when races are set up that don’t revolve around them. Young racers are filled with loathing at the actions of us, their elders, and they either smarten up and go back to school (always the best choice, by the way), or they wait to age-grade up and become the overlords.
Sane parents on the sidelines shake their heads in disbelief and encourage their children to chase his dreams anywhere but in cycling. All of the junior summits and SCNCA board deliberations and age category machinations won’t mean shit until there’s enough money in the sport for athletes to make a living at it. Until then the economic engine will be retail sales of high-end bikes to mid-40-ish people who can afford them, and as long as that demographic powers the engine, USAC and race promoters will do as they’re told.
This bankrupt policy is why so few new riders are coming up. The day’s not far off when the fight over how to split the tiny little masters pie will be a fight over who’s going to promote the three races left on the calendar.
Half of any given masters race has people who make their living through “the industry.” We know where they stand on age categories. What about the same level of activism, backed with money, when it comes to putting dollars into the hands of the young men and women who actually have something called a future?
January 26, 2015 § 28 Comments
Rahsaan Bahati has been winning bike races since he was a kid. Including a national elite men’s criterium championship in 2008, he has won some of the biggest crits in America, including the Athens Twilight Criterium (2008). Rahsaan turns thirty-three this year, and after feeling the pain from a couple of his leg-searing efforts out on Westchester Parkway, I called him to find out what’s in store for 2015.
CitSB: What are your racing goals for 2015?
RB: I’ve put together a schedule of twenty-one races and would like to win five of them. There are no particular ones I’ve targeted, but of course Manhattan Beach Grand Prix and Dana Point Grand Prix I normally go pretty hard at because those are local races and I’m a hometown rider.
CitSB: What’s on your non-racing radar?
RB: In 2011 I began a business that has really developed. With my partner Anthony Reguero, we’ve put together a project similar to Costco; customers buy a membership and get bicycling products at a significant discount. We offer nutritional products, apparel, and bike products that you’d find in a bike shop. The web site is http://www.bahatiracing.com.
CitSB: What are you doing differently this year for training?
RB: First off, I’m cross training at the gym or at the park with a personal trainer. I’m doing pliometrics, box jumps, resistance training. I’m doing it for two months until March, it’s very similar to circuit training; I can already feel a big difference. I hit it hard, it’s a hour workout and feels like I’ve finished a hard bike race when I’m done.
CitSB: What particular aspect of your racing are you trying to improve?
RB: I’m trying to improve my snap in the sprint. The first 5-second burst is what you start to lose as you get older. It’s that high explosive kick that you need in crits because of those short, explosive sprints.
CitSB: Where are you in your career now?
RB: From an outside perspective it may look like I have a lot of career left, in terms of age and ability I’m still there. But after twenty years of racing at a certain point there aren’t many big crits that I haven’t either won or finished in the top five. And even with the prestige of nationals, perhaps it’s possible to win again, but then what? A big contract from a pro team? The reality is that I’m promoting my own brand and a sponsor is thinking “How do I get this guy’s efforts if he’s got his own business?” I’m in a good spot right now. I get to ride, my business is growing, I need to think about the future — I’ve got a wife and three kids.
CitSB: It’s pretty unusual that a guy of your caliber takes the time and makes the effort to ride with beginners and weekend hackers. What’s the motivation for that?
RB: I don’t take myself too seriously. I’ve been around, and I can ride with anyone, it doesn’t matter to me if they’re just starting out. When I was young and you did something wrong there was a lot of yelling and pushing, people told you you were screwing up but didn’t tell you what you were doing or how to correct it, they just called you an idiot. I may yell too sometimes, but I try to educate and help riders work on their skills. It makes it safer for them, safer for me, safer for everyone.
CitSB: What was it like to be the first African-American cyclist of a national caliber since Nelson Vails?
RB: When I was young I didn’t realize the impact. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I realized it was a big deal, and maybe it’s a good thing I didn’t realize it earlier. When I raced for Saturn my job was to represent my sponsors and race my bike. Realizing that I represented other people who looked like me, and that that could help people who, like me, had also come from tough circumstances, it changed the way I look at things.
CitSB: Is cycling more diverse now than when you started racing?
RB: Racing isn’t, but there are more cyclists. At the highest level down to the local level there are about the same number of riders who look like me, but there’s not one black female racer I can think of. There were a few on the track; we have a long way to go, but kids will eventually get into the sport and get hooked. I want those kids to have that support so they can succeed, the money, the mentoring.
CitSB: What was your first pro race?
RB: I think it was in 1998, the Merced Road Race. It was held in the pouring rain. I was a junior, but they let me ride it.
CitSB: How has the sport changed since you started racing?
RB: There’s less money in the sport, and there’s only one giant team — UHC — dumping money into it. They hire riders who race full time, that’s their only job and that makes it difficult for the guy making $12k from his team and holding down a part time job to make ends meet. When I started there were six or seven teams, Saturn, Mercury, Navigators, all with the same budget. Anyone could win. Now it’s lopsided; UHC is guaranteed to be on the podium, or to sweep it. You have guys like Holloway who can break up their train and win from time to time, but it’s just different.
CitSB: I watched your video from the 2014 Manhattan Beach Grand Prix. That was hairy beyond belief.
RB: Last year I was just going through the motions, racing on five or six hours of training a week. I was doing it just to do it. This year I’m going to put the effort into it. Maybe if I’d been a little more trained I could have been in the top three or even first place. That was a turning point race for me last year, getting fourth at an NRC race, realizing I can still go pretty well. I’ll be a lot more focused this year. I won’t be putting in the 18-20 hours that my competitors will, but 15 hours a week should be enough for a 90-minute criterium.
CitSB: What’s the hardest thing about winning an NRC crit?
RB: UHC is a well-oiled train. If you’re not in the exact right position you will miss out. They have it down to a science, and it will be interesting to see this year if other teams try other tactics from 2014. Smart Stop and Champion Systems have good teams but they tend to sit back and let UHC do their thing. Will they try to disrupt the UHC leadout in 2015? I’m a one-man band and I depend on other teams to disrupt the UHC leadout. My first race this year is in Florida, we’ll see how teams react to the blue train. It will be interesting.
CitSB: What’s the difference between racing at a masters level and at the NRC level?
RB: There’s a huge drop-off in talent and ability. The differences are graphic in the pro peloton. It may be the same ten or fifteen guys fighting for the win, but their teammates make the races so hard. Masters racing is very good and very fast, but the ability to maintain intensity drops off compared to the younger guys, the energy level is just different. Look at a guy like Holloway — he’s in his 20’s, bouncing off the walls, filled with energy. Ultimately it’s about top speed and how long you can hold it that differentiates the NRC from masters racing, and the same is true comparing the European peloton to the US peloton.
CitSB: What are the differences in cycling skills between domestic pros and masters racers?
RB: Domestic pros have no fear, bigger will, and they can control their bikes at faster speeds. They have better skills cornering, maneuvering. A lot of masters racers don’t like Brentwood Grand Prix because it’s a hard course in that it’s more technical than a four-corner crit and you have to sprint out of the turns.
CitSB: Is contact a part of pro racing?
RB: Absolutely. The spaces are a lot more narrow and there’s a lot of contact.
CitSB: Does it scare you when people slam into you?
RB: In 2014 I over-thought crashing, and that focus overcame what I wanted to do in races. Once it’s in your mind it holds you back. You can’t fear crashing and losing skin.
CitSB: Is there a pecking order in the pro peloton?
RB: Hell, yes! There’s a pecking order on the local rides, so just imagine at the advanced level. Looking back I wonder why no one ever explained it to me, but there’s definitely an old boy network. Hilton Clarke and I can go at it pretty fiercely but we respect each other and he’ll give me a push if I need it, and vice versa.
CitSB: How do you move up in the pecking order?
RB: Results. You have to earn it. You can’t talk your way into it or buy your way into it. It’s what you do on the bike.
CitSB: Are there riders who take unnecessary risks while racing?
RB: Yes, there are guys like that, but you know, I’ve taken plenty of risks. Corey Williams posted a video that showed a guy coming up from the inside, and you know some things you don’t do, but this guy was from a BMX background so maybe it’s okay in BMX, and sometimes you have to take risks. There’s a very fine line between a necessary risk and an unnecessary one, and at the time it’s not always easy to say which is which.
CitSB: What aspects of your cycling have improved with age?
RB: Endurance. And I suppose you may think too much, but on the other hand that can also mean being a little bit wiser and more strategic with your efforts. That helps when there’s a lack of training, which explains how I won four races last year.
CitSB: What aspects have diminished with age?
RB: My snap and my sprint. It’s that first five to ten seconds of acceleration. I can still hit 40-42 mph in the sprint but it takes a tad longer to get there.
CitSB: Who are the riders you’ll have to beat in 2015 to achieve your goals?
RB: Hansen, Keough, Myerson, Holloway — the usual suspects. I can give them a run for their money if I don’t make any mistakes. To beat guys like that, things really have to fall into place.
CitSB: Good luck this year, Rahsaan.
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October 13, 2014 § 19 Comments
Starting in September, people begin riding up to me and asking, “Are you doing ‘cross this year?”
“Yes,” I say. Then they kind of snicker and pedal off.
This year I delayed entering my first race until yesterday, reasoning that it would give me a bit of a breather and a chance to rest my legs and stomach after a road season in which I raced twice and drank hundreds of gallons of fermented electrolyte recovery drink. Also, prior to my season opener at the SPYclocross Series, I had hired a couple of coaches so that I could improve on my string of last place finishes from 2013.
My first coach, Rahsaan Bahati, gave me some excellent tactical advice: “Don’t be last.”
My second coach, Dan Cobley, gave me winning advice about the course: “Be sure to ride a race in between the beers.”
But the best advice came from my performance coach, Daniel Holloway. “Dude,” he said, “day before the race be sure to open up your legs.”
“What’s that?” I asked.
“Do enough brief intensity to stress the muscles, but don’t kill yourself.”
“I was thinking about pedaling down the bike path with Boozy on Saturday to stay fresh.”
“Bad idea,” said coach. “Rides with Boozy always end at the bottom of a ravine or on a bar stool, often both. Do the Donut instead.”
“The Donut? I always wreck myself on that stupid ride.”
“Exactly. This time, for the first time ever, sit in the pack and chill.”
“What if there’s a break?”
“Who cares? Let it roll up the road. Give it one hard effort, maybe two, on the Switchbacks then call it a day. You’re just trying to open up your legs so that they’re primed for Sunday.”
“What if Brad House is ahead of me?”
“He’s the bulbous guy with flappy elbows and orange cat-fur earmuffs.”
“Okay. You can pass him. But that shouldn’t take much effort, right?
“Got it. Then what?”
“Then make sure that you get in a one-hour warm-up before your race starts. You’ll fly.”
The following day the race started as all 45+ ‘cross races do. It was a mad gallop of insane old people trying to kill themselves and each other in a cloud of dust, dirt, gravel, and grass clippings. The course had been laid out to take maximum advantage of the giant gopher holes, tree roots, and other obstacles.
Incredibly, I did not get dropped by the main field until the first five hundred yards, proving that Coach Holloway’s leg-opening exercise really did work. More incredibly, there were at least three riders behind me, something that has never happened in any race before; two of them were on bicycles.
The course included a couple of baseball diamonds, and I couldn’t pass up the chance to try and pick up a couple of points with my baseball bike as I rounded third and slid into home plate ahead of the tag, a chubby fellow covered with hair who was falling off his bicycle onto mine. Somehow I beat the tag, jumped up, and continued on.
When people ask me “What’s ‘cross like?” I ask them “Have you ever been in a car accident where the next day every joint and muscle and bone aches and your back is bent double and you can’t get out of bed? That’s how ‘cross feels after the first five minutes, only it gets lots worse.”
Soon I had fallen into a rhythm, as my leg muscles had opened up from the day before and my leg skin had opened up by the slide into home plate. As blood fell out of the wound I came to the first set of barricades just in time for my teammates, who were manning the SPY Optic booth, to provide me with copious quantities of fermented electrolyte replacement drink, without which I would certainly have come to my senses and quit.
Of course the key to riding well in cyclocross is to “not use your brakes.” This is one of those insane pieces of advice that only a fool would follow, akin to the MTB mantra of “speed is your friend.” No matter how hard I tried to not use my brakes, they were often the only thing standing between my face and various tree trunks, or my abdomen and the sharp steel poles on which the course markings were taped. And speed might have been my friend had I had any.
This race followed the typical ‘cross life cycle: Huge rush of adrenaline followed by massive effort followed by incredulity at not getting immediately dropped followed by getting dropped followed by falling off my bike followed by narrowly missing several trees followed by getting passed by Mr. Chubs followed by hearing the depressing sound of “four laps to go” when one lap hurts more than having a wooden stick bored into your ear followed by hopelessness followed by anger followed by despair followed by a small prayer that the previous race will lap you and terminate the race early.
However, just as things were looking pretty bleak and it seemed like all but three riders were going to finish ahead of me, I blazed across the finish line and dove straight under the team tent. As the other “finishers” chatted about the race I sprinted ahead of them in the second, most technical and challenging part of the race: The beer competition. One by one they dropped to the side, with various Bakersfield pretenders falling out of their beanbag chairs and others wandering off onto a horse path to get trampled.
I poured it on into the beer turns, sprinting up the short and dusty beer climbs, dismounting and leaping over the beer barricades, and finally lapping the beer field. Thank goodness I’d taken Coach Holloway’s advice and in addition to opening up my legs, had opened up my gut as well.
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