Racers, start your calendars!

August 4, 2017 § 10 Comments

A bad idea born of febrile minds, the annual South Bay Cycling Awards, a/k/a The Wankies, staggers along towards a milestone few thought possible and even fewer wanted: The Fifth Showing Up of the Emaciated, an award ceremony so fraught with ridiculousness, bad taste, and beer that it was refused a venue by 37 different proprietors.

Whether it was half-naked crossfit dancers, a terrible comedian, or simply too many people crammed into a stuffy bar next to a wharf, the Wankies set a mark every year for lowness and embarrassment. Who can ever forget the revelers who stumbled through the streets of Manhattan Beach in 2014 with an inflated six-foot penis?

In any event, the event is here again, and through bribery, cajoling, lies, and promises to help teach Joel how to change a flat, the South Bay Cycling Awards again holds its awesome ceremony at Strand Brewing in Torrance, thanks to the patience, forbearance, kindness, understanding, and slightly addled judgment of Rich Marcello and Joel Elliott.

This year the event is dedicated to Steve Tilford, who will also be posthumously inducted into the South Bay Cycling Hall of Fame. Food and drink will be served free of charge as long as supplies last. There’s no fee for admission, but when the venue fills up people will be turned away. Arrive past 5:00 PM at your peril. You can expect another amazing crop of jealous cyclists all vying for awards in the following useless and misbegotten categories:

Greatest Advocate
Best Bike Shop
Best Young Rider
Best Old Rider
Most Improved
Best Club
Best Event
Wanker of the Year
Belgian Award
Group Ride Champion
Best Sponsor
Best Male Racer
Best Female Racer
GC Award
Greatest Recovery
Strava KOM
Most Happy to Help others
Most Fun
Best Spouse/SO
Ian Davidson South Bay Rider of the Year

Unlike past years, when victims were forced to listen to me prattle non-stop for hours on end, this year I’ll be sharing announcing duties with Rahsaan Bahati, who promises to bring a (small) measure of class, professionalism, humor, and good taste to this otherwise profane event.

As in past years, sponsors will be given direct access to a market containing dozens of people who on a per capita basis spend up to $75 a year on bicycling related equipment, less when you include the haggling. Sponsors for 2017 include:

Velo Club LaGrange: Purveyors of fine bicycling.
South Bay Wheelmen: Purveyors of fine Manhattan Beach Grand Prixs
Meta Design Works: Purveyors of fine graphics
Performance Bicycle: Purveyors of fine parts.
JoJe Bars: Purveyors of fine bike food.
Echelon ColorEchelon Color: Making colors from light.
Wend Wax: Makes your nasty chain sparkly clean, butter smooth.
BonkBreaker: Purveyors of fine bike food who compete with other purveyors of fine bike food.
Base Cartel: Purveyors of socks and bike attire. Not tires.
BeachBody: Purveyors of amazing supplement stuff.
MTW: Purveyors of fitness, training, and Charon’s legs.
Little Giant: Purveyors of socks and bike attire who will make you look bikish.
FFWD: Purveyors of fine carbon wheels that are 100% carbon.
BWR: Purveyors of fine pain, aged in oaken barrels.

Here, then, are the details:

 

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Tilford Tuesday: Ten Commandments

May 16, 2017 § 12 Comments

Buried somewhere in Steve’s thousands of Internet pages of wisdom, I came across this gem. It’s a list of ten rules for bike racing. I call them the Ten Commandments.

What’s so amazing about these rules is that they completely sum up what you are supposed to do during a race. If you could master even half of them you’d never need a coach, a power meter, a heart rate monitor … nothing. And because they’re so succinct they’re easy to remember.

As I read through these rules I realized why I’m such a shitty bike racer. I don’t follow any of them. In fact, the more I thought about it, I pretty much am the Antichrist of bike racing. I break all the commandments every time I race. Wow. No wonder I suck.

So I decided to annotate the rules with examples from my racing past.

FIRST COMMANDMENT: Thou shalt never be in the front pulling for no reason.

This is my bete noir, the Pointless Pull. Go the front, hammer, feel like a champion, revel in the pain being inflicted, suddenly feel a wee tired, drift to the back, there goes the winning move never to be seen again.

SECOND COMMANDMENT: Thou shalt always know which direction that the wind is coming from.

Wind? What’s that? Derek the Destroyer flies big jets and used to surf a lot. He knows where the wind is before he even gets on his bike. My Cousin Vinnie wouldn’t know the wind if it had a business card–that’s how well he hides from it. But me? Unsure about where it’s blowing from or how to avoid it, and therefore always smack out in it.

THIRD COMMANDMENT: Thou shalt always know the course, at least in thy mind, before the start and picture where the strategic points, hills and wind direction will occur.

“Before the start” means “chat with others about the condition of the port-a-potties.” Then be astounded when the race starts on a 30% climb. Astounded, followed by dropped.

FOURTH COMMANDMENT: Thou shalt constantly ask thyself if thou art in the right position. If thou are not, thou shalt get there.

I have BPHR, Bad Positioning Homing Radar. Always stuck behind “that guy.” What am I saying? I am “that guy.”

FIFTH COMMANDMENT: Thou shalt know when to do a single pace line and when to ride double echelon.

Huh?

SIXTH COMMANDMENT: Thou shalt not be shouting at other riders telling them what to do. It just pisses them off and makes them want thee not to do well.

Okay, finally one that I often get right. Because it’s hard to shout and get dropped simultaneously.

SEVENTH COMMANDMENT: Thou shalt never look back for what’s going on behind thee. If thou really needest to know, thou shalt drift back through the field subtly.

A few weeks ago I went to the neck doctor. “Doc, I got a crick in my neck.” “You have Rider’s Crick,” he said. “What’s that?” I said. “It’s a joint problem caused by spending hours looking through your armpit backwards.”

EIGHTH COMMANDMENT: Thou shalt not try to show off in races. Races are judged by who crosses the line first.

All I can say about this is, wow. Talk about taking all the fun out of bike racing.

NINTH COMMANDMENT: Thou shalt observe and rate the guys thou art racing against. Watch how they pedal, climb, corner, etc.

This is easy to do but not so useful for me because almost every race starts with the realization that I’ve never beaten anyone to the left of me, never beaten anyone to the right of me, and never beaten anyone behind or in front of me. And the way they pedal is “faster.”

TENTH COMMANDMENT: Thou shalt know where the finish line is and where thou plannest to sprint from.

Sprint?

Anyway, these commandments are so good and succinct you could almost trim them down and paste them on your top tube. And since it’s January 1st somewhere, now is a great time to make a new year’s resolution.

Which I’m going to do now.

tips

END

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Tilford Tuesday

May 2, 2017 § 27 Comments

“So, for the weekend, Trek/HRRC took five of the six podium spots. That was kind of lucky really.” Steve Tilford, 2007.

I think about Steve every day now, which is weird because I didn’t when he was alive. I don’t understand why people can affect us more after they’re gone than when they were here. Maybe it’s because I didn’t really know him that well, and it was only after he died that I started to understand the mark he’d left on so many people. Maybe it’s just plain old guilt, discovering that there was a really great person out there who rode bikes and was contributing, day in day out, and for whatever reason I was only peripherally aware of it. And maybe that’s a core function of death, it cuts off forever the possibility that you’ll ever again be able to see the person, and so you have focus on what they left behind. In Steve’s case, what he left behind was massive.

Anyway, here’s a brief history of his blog. In 2003 it started out as a PR thing, with posts by his friend Vincent. Then in 2006 he started writing his own stuff. That’s when the grit started. One of the things that immediately struck me was how admired he was by his peers in the sport of cyclocross. In 2007 he was voted the best U.S. ‘cross racer of all time: 508 votes for Tilford, 224 for Jonathan Page who’d almost won UCI Worlds, and 53 votes for third place.

He was known for loving tough conditions. In 2007 he fell onto a frozen lake in a ‘cross race, then fell through the ice, got out, and kept racing. His gloves froze to his hands and he had no gears or brakes. His hands hurt for days afterwards.

Detail: He won.

At age 47 he was 2nd at the elite nationals crit in 2006, behind Kayle Leogrande who later was banned for doping. That race is a great example of what Steve always said, that dopers steal things from people, and that unlike normal thieves, they steal things you can’t ever get back. What kind of crown would that have been, to have won outright the national title at age 47? Pretty cool, that’s what.

So anyway, Tuesday seems like a good day of the week to dedicate to Steve. His blog has a lifetime’s worth of material to think about, like the line I started this post with.

I love that line because it has two great ideas in it. First is that Steve was humble. He was keenly aware of how good he was, of how he affected other people, and of how people admired him. But he was equally aware of where he stood at any given moment in time, and more importantly, where he stood at the finish of any given race. He never let the things he had accomplished get in the way of who he was: A regular guy who loved to race bikes, who raced them really well, and who loved to share his knowledge and enthusiasm.

The other thing I like about the quote is the way he uses “lucky.” In a way he’s right. It’s always lucky, i.e, random, when you win a bike race. The sport is fickle. No two courses are ever raced the same way because of the road, weather, competition, and your own condition. You can’t win without being the beneficiary of random chance.

But he also uses “lucky” in its Jeffersonian sense, i.e., “The harder I work, the luckier I get.”

Steve was all about preparation, going through the motions, and paying attention to the details. One friend told me how, whenever possible, Steve always got to the race early and lined up on the front row. The start isn’t always important in a crit, but it can be and it’s a detail, and one he rarely overlooked.

Good lessons are packed into that line for life, not only for cycling:

  1. Acknowledge random chance when it helps you succeed. It’s not all about you. You’re lucky to be here.
  2. Put in the effort. It increases the chances of a good outcome.

I’ll see how long I can continue these Tilford Tuesdays. There’s certainly no shortage of material.

END

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Risk

April 26, 2017 § 12 Comments

I hope you like reading about Steve Tilford and the things he said, wrote, and did. Since his death I can’t stop thinking about him, which is weird because I only met him twice. The more I read, combing through his War and Peace of-a-blog, the more things stand out and make me think.

Steve wrote a lot about risk, indirectly and indirectly, something especially germane to cyclists in general and road cyclists in particular. Here’s one of his quotes:

We hate to admit it, but we don’t have control of our lives minute by minute. This is the way in bicycle racing. And in the way in life. The best way I know to do exceptional things in the sport, or in life, is to live a bit on the risky side. Get out of your comfort level. Raise your comfort level. In racing, hopefully, this will become your new base, your new comfort level, and this will allow you to progress in the sport. In life, it is a way to gain new experiences and to realize that the barriers that were holding you back were really not there at all.

Steve was superficially the archetypal big risk taker, or so it seems when you read through the things he experienced, tried, failed at, and conquered. But in the most basic way he wasn’t a big risk taker. He was a very careful guy. He did things after careful preparation, he never leaped blindly with no plan or idea or concern about the possible outcomes, and he always reevaluated and used what he learned to hone his approach the next time.

For him, risk wasn’t something to be avoided. It was something to be embraced, analyzed, and wary of, all at the same time.

Steve engaged in a hugely risky sport and survived it by constantly reducing risk. Checking equipment, evaluating the course, evaluating himself, evaluating the competition, taking calculated risks … all these things allowed him to thrive and survive.

What’s interesting is that Steve died not as the result of an incident on his bike, but while driving. In a way, this kind of makes sense. Driving is the riskiest thing any of us will ever do. No matter how good you are, how careful you are, or how experienced you are, Interstate travel over long distances carries with it so many risks that are so difficult to mitigate, especially when you do it for the millions of miles that Steve did. Crisscrossing the US in a van is so boring compared to bike racing, but it was ultimately the hazard that ended Steve’s life. Weather, night time, trucks, and so many other factors all came into play at just the wrong time.

If it had happened to someone else, Steve would never have concluded that we should stop driving, or that we should quit racing, or that we should quit taking risks.

Instead, he would have learned from it and not made the same mistake twice. He didn’t get a do-over. But we do.

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A toast to Tilford

April 24, 2017 § 55 Comments

Just got home from Steve’s memorial service. It was extraordinary in every way, an amazing outpouring of love for Steve. Thank you Trudi, Catherine, Stacie, Micheal, Ned, Roy, and everyone else for such an unforgettable day.

Several people asked me to post the remarks I made — here’s the link.

Up since 3:50 AM, just got home an hour ago. And a hot meal was waiting!

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A Toast to Steve Tilford

April 13, 2017 § 2 Comments

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Photo by Phil Beckman, (c) 2015

An evening to share memories of a life rich with love, happiness, humility, and compassion. His drive to be the best brought out the best in all of us.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Cider Gallery
810 Pennsylvania
Lawrence, Kansas

5:30-9:30 pm
Open House

Small plates, beverages, and of course, pie!

Please RSVP to Stacie by April 17
sgrossfeld@louisvillebones.com

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Exit, stage center

April 6, 2017 § 91 Comments

Steve Tilford didn’t go quietly into that dark night, and he certainly didn’t exit stage left. He went out from the center in a thrashing, twisting howl of shredded metal, his van hurtling through the body of an overturned semi-tractor trailer in a winter storm on I-70. The last act of Steve’s life, one marked by countless falls, broken bones, and injuries, was a massive freeway crash.

Steve Tilford died the result of a violent collision, something that couldn’t have been predicted or avoided, but that he nonetheless found himself smack in the middle of, going full tilt, no time to brake, swerve, or take evasive action. Incredibly for anyone but Steve, smashing through the first tractor-trailer didn’t kill him, no, he survived that just fine. It was the second 18-wheeler that plowed into the crash scene that left him with injuries from which even Steve Tilford, the man of steel, the phoenix who rose from every injury faster and stronger and tougher than before, the time-defying ageless competitor, could not recover.

This was just like when things go sideways in a tightly packed, high speed crit. It was just like in the uproarious, furious, full-throttle story of Steve Tilford’s incredibly short life. He was 57, and still younger than all of us.

The last time I talked to Steve he had texted and said that he was on his way to California, and could we grab a bite near the airport before he headed on down to San Diego?

There was only one possible answer to that invitation, which was “Absolutely.” We met at The Habit burger grill in El Segundo, and I wasn’t really sure why he’d reached out, but didn’t exactly care. He had fallen on a training ride in October of last year and suffered a catastrophic closed head injury. He had been slated to come and speak at our annual South Bay Cycling Awards again, but of course couldn’t after the fall.

Tilford-like, he’d gone down at 30 on a training ride, unhelmeted, taken out by a dog, such that his skull shattered. When the inevitable victim blaming sprang up, Tilford shrugged. “I didn’t wear a helmet and it didn’t work out for me, but I don’t go around blaming riders with helmets who’ve been injured or killed.”

The first words out of his mouth when we met were an apology. “Really sorry I missed the awards last year,” he said, as if hovering between life and death wasn’t a good enough reason to stay home.

And that summed up one part of Steve Tilford: Decent to a fault. Reflective to an almost painful degree. Keenly aware by orders of magnitude how his life, his actions, and his words affected others. Not by random chance did he end up that way. His parents were alcoholics, and at a young age he was abandoned by his mom and sent to live with his grandmother, who was in her 80s.

“Never really cared for drinking,” he told me. “And living with my grandmother, that added years to her life.” He said it with a laugh as he regaled me with the story, because the other part of Steve was his storytelling. Everything may not have happened for a reason, but it happened, and he recalled the smallest of details to give you the blow-by-blow. His memory was extraordinary, photographic, total recall. “I’ll never forget being down in Austin one winter, I was staying with Fields and the Dicksons. They were always doing stuff.

“One morning I got ready to ride and my bike was super heavy. I couldn’t figure it out. It was like ten pounds heavier. Turns out they had yanked the seat post and filled the seat tube with gravel.”

Behind the smile and the kindness was the hardness of Steve’s early Kansas boyhood, and it was fitting that the town of Topeka gave rise to one of cycling’s greats. If American cycling has a soul, it is in the Midwest and the Great Plains, where the wind, the cold, the wet, the heat, and the wind, the wind, the wind made bestial pain the price of bike racing. Steve was a product of hard scrabble and hard wind, and it showed in everything he did.

And what he did, mostly, was whip ass. His, hers, yours, mine, everyone’s. The first and only time we rode together was on the Donut Ride in 2015. He had come out to be a guest speaker for our annual awards ceremony, and that morning we had our weekly slugfest. Word was out that Tilford was in town, and quite a bit of heavy artillery had been rolled into position. Steve made short work of everyone, “everyone” being at least twenty years younger.

But aside from the national titles, the masters world titles, and the thousands–yes, thousands–of races he competed it, Steve stood for something a lot bigger than ripping your legs off and screaming through corners at 35. Steve stood for what is right, and he stood for it by living it.

A prodigious talent, a tremendous competitor, a disciplined athlete, a meticulous strategist, Steve never made the big time in the sport of bike racing. It’s not because he lacked the legs or the will or the smarts or the drive. It’s because he refused to cheat.

It grated on him to watch the big generation of drug cheats, the Armstrongs, Hincapies, Leipheimers, Vaughters, the entire cheating hall of shame that not only scooped up the money but retired to lucrative clothing lines, profitable grand fondues, and the management/ownership of UCI Pro Tour teams. But rather than dwell on what he might have done, he didn’t dwell at all. You can’t dwell when you’re railing the corners at 35.

He called dopers what they were, shrugged, and raced his fuggin’ bike. It was this relentless honesty and his world-renowned blog that, in the second half of his racing career, kept him on the sidelines yet again. His writing was direct, personal, powerful, and unvarnished. He didn’t whore out to rebadged component makers, didn’t extol the fake virtues of new bike frames or disc brakes, didn’t attribute his success to magical elixirs or power meters, and insisted on speaking The Hard Truth: If you want to be a good bike racer, you have to train hard and race hard. There is no second path, there is no Plan B.

And he lived the corollary to that truth: If you race, you’re going to get hurt. This amazing and beautiful piece written by Bill Strickland twenty years ago captures the cycling side of Tilford’s life in brutal prose. By age 38, Steve had sustained the kind of wounds and injuries and PTSD that we normally only associate with war. And at the time Strickland’s piece was written, Steve had almost twenty more years to go, years into which he would pack the equivalent of a hundred other lives in terms of danger, competition, injury, victory, and excitement. A hundred lives? A thousand.

Strickland calls this piece “Why We Ride,” but in truth, if Tilford’s life is the model, it’s why we don’t. Because we can’t.

Steve’s writing captured the imagination of thousands, and it chapped the asses of cycling journalism because it paid them no homage, paid them no advertising, and spoke only the introspective and reflective thoughts forged from a lifetime of real racing. Steve wrote true things, and those who read them knew them to be true.

Roy Knickman, one of America’s legends during the golden age of cycling, raced with Steve and summed it up like this: “There was only one Steve Tilford, a guy who spoke his mind but never with malice, he simply said what he believed to be true. He lived his life like no one else–I love racing my bike and I’m going to race my bike forever–that was Steve. He found a way to make it work and developed so many relationships along the way, and it’s amazing, the goodwill that he spread and the following that he had. People loved him because he was Steve Tilford who could do anything; at 57 he could do a P12 crit and still get in the money, or be the masters world ‘cross champ, or win an MTB series.

“One of my best memories of Steve is the year at the Coors Classic we were getting ready for the banquet and instead of dressing up we spray-painted t-shirts in my driveway. Hampsten’s shirt read KOM, but Steve’s read KOS, King of Spills (or Stories). He would crash, get up, and tell a story about it … and he could sprint pretty good for all that.

“One of the last times I saw him I had just mentioned off-hand on the phone that I was getting married and we were at the rehearsal down at the beach in PV and suddenly up rode this guy looking like Keith Richards on a bike. It was Steve who had come by to say hello, who for all I knew should have been in Kansas, not California. Classic Steve.”

A friend of mine, Michael Smith, also a Kansan, talked about how watching Tilford at a race in Scottsdale in 1997 had inspired him to race bikes. Fifteen years after that race, “My cycling career was complete when I was able to battle it out with Steve, shoulder to shoulder, racing up a finishing hill in a nothing race in nowhere Kansas. Might as well have been the Alpe D’Huez, that’s how much I cared. After the finish, which of course Steve won, I told him the story of how he inspired me with his performance that night in Scottsdale. As we stood there breathless, he recounted that race from fifteen years ago in vivid detail, move by move. I think he knew how much that meant to me.”

Michael is only one of thousands whose lives were affected for the better by Steve’s kindness and his amazing exploits on the bike. Steve’s life was a big picture, but it was lived and shared and scripted in the details, of which none seemed to escape his keen eye and digital memory.

As tributes poured in from all over the world, another thing became clear. The reward to a virtuous life can only be reaped in death. It is not only what people say about you when you are alive, but when you are not.

As Steve and I sat and talked over hamburgers and fries that night in El Segundo, we didn’t really talk at all. Steve did. He talked about his injury, about the splitting headaches that hurt so bad he couldn’t open his eyes for hours on end, about how long it was taking for his brain to function properly again, about his fear that he might never fully recover, and about how he was going to race anyway. He was in California, after all, to train. He’d set the Belgian Waffle Ride in his sights and was there to recon the course.

We parted company and he headed on down to San Diego. I figured I’d see him again on his way back to Kansas.

I never did.

END

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