May 29, 2015 § 47 Comments
Is bad behavior killing the sport?
There was a big Facebag dustup a few weeks ago involving a Southern California rider who allegedly got into a pushing and shoving match during a race in Northern California, followed by much cursing, hollering, and screaming in the parking lot after the race. (Think kindergarten, only not that mature).
If you are a normal person, or even a raving lunatic, you will shake your head in disbelief. Do grown men do this? Is this how you race a bicycle? Are these the only skills you’ve developed for conflict resolution after four decades of existence amidst other homo sapiens? Didn’t your mother ever slap the shit out of you, and if she did, why is there still so much of it left?
You may also be wondering whether the rider was immediately canned by his team for, um, failing to properly “represent the brand” as we say in the delusional world of old fellow bike racing, where we imagine that getting a free tub of nut lube is like repping Nike in the NBA finals. You may also be wondering whether the rider who was allegedly misused has consulted with a lawyer, or whether the offending rider’s team forced him to apologize.
Or, like me, you may simply have moved on because there are more important things to contemplate, like whether or not you got it all on the second wipe.
Still, bad acts have a ripple effect, and as the remnants of amateur cycling swish around the edge of the toilet bowl prior to that final gurgling sound, a lively debate has sprung up over the future of cycling. The gist of the argument goes like this:
The real problem with our sport in SoCal lies with bad behavior, and everyone is afraid to confront it. This failure is just one example in a long line of bad behavior, and it’s this bad behavior that suppresses rider turnout at local races and enhances rider turnoff. Stuff like this hurts cycling worse than handlebar doping, and it furthers the SoCal reputation as a douchebag repository where guys break rules with impunity and the USAC refs, team owners/sponsors, and promoters look the other way, thereby encouraging it.
The problem, so the argument goes, is that bullying bike behavior fits right into the behavior of dominant teams that do little to support junior racing or women’s racing, two areas that everyone agrees are crucial to develop if the sport is going to become something more than a playground for whiny, bratty old men with too much time, too many trinkets, and too much stagflation in the penis length department.
This results in no grass roots event sponsorship, and focuses only on the silliest of all categories—masters men’s racing, a niche within a microfissure whose only growth prospects are at the mortuary. Worse, dominant teams stack the races they do show up for, and those races are almost never hard road races. Who wants to race against ten guys, five of whom are arguably the fastest ones in the state, and who can go with every move, counter every attack, pull back every dangerous break, and deliver their guy with a ribbon on top via a bullet train leadout to win every sprunt?
It’s fun if you’re on the team, but if you’re not, “I’m busy that day” is the way that racers vote with their feet.
If the powerhouse won with class and humility its domination would still be a problem, but what about scenarios where it combines victory with threats and physical bullying? Do you want to come home from a race with your front teeth missing because some psychopath didn’t like what you said? No, you don’t.
In sum, when people are trying to decide how to spend their weekend they get to choose between an informal group hammerfest with friends or trench warfare with bullies who shout, scream, hit, bodyslam, and threaten. Oh, and for that privilege you get to drop $150 and spend five hours in a car in weekend LA traffic.
This toxic environment allegedly deters riders who are skilled and experienced, so imagine how it affects riders just starting out, or riders whose dream day is a top ten finish. They will endure this hazing ritual once and then never return because the rider you call a dork and who you head-butt and threaten with your fists is often a man who signs paychecks, litigates in court, runs a corporation, or lives in the real world with real responsibilities — he isn’t a glorified bike bum who thinks that what happens in a bike race matters in the big picture, and he’s not willing to waste his time being humiliated by a functionally illiterate, too-cool-for-school, marginally subsisting middle-aged man with profound emotional problems.
This brings a negativity to the sport that is a roadblock to progress, and it will only get worse because the one thing we know about bullies is that left unchecked they only get meaner.
Along these lines, the argument continues, we need junior rider development, we need more women in races, we need a more varied race schedule, we need categories and a points system that make sense, we need to be safety minded, and we need to nurture a sport in which events leave participants glad they showed up (can anyone say “triathlon”?), not bitter that they wasted a day engaging in the ritual humiliation of threatened violence and a 45th-place finish. We need more grass roots events and we need to tell the bullies that their bullshit won’t be tolerated. Then, and only then, will the sport be something other than a shit-filled sandbox filled with spoiled and violent old men.
Anyway, this is how the argument goes, and I disagree with it.
With regard to the dustup mentioned above, it is a tiny problem and there are plenty of mechanisms to deal with this and similar scenarios. First of all, where were the officials when all this was happening?
I’ve said before that SoCal officials do not take safety seriously, and that their tolerance for bullying and aggro racing has made both acceptable. Apparently the officials have similar attitudes, because this all happened up yonder, not down here. Second, where was the promoter in all this? Promoters put on races by selling sponsorships. Is this how you want your marquee event remembered, as the place where spectators with their little kids got to see grown men throw public tantrums?
Promoters sometimes say they hesitate to take action because they want to avoid controversy, but imagine this happening in a grocery store. Can you see a Safeway manager letting someone push and berate a little old lady who has too many cans for the express lane because they’re afraid of the “controversy”? Of course not. They’d call security and throw the bum out.
Race promoters like Chris Lotts do exactly that. If you pee in the bushes, cheat, give his volunteers a hard time, disobey race director orders, or act like an idiot he will toss you out of the race and enjoy it.
And where was the Big Sponsor? Presumably there was a sponsoring bike brand. Do they think this is how you sell bikes? If they don’t, getting back the bike and jersey is a phone call away, you would think.
Where were the teammates? Allegedly a couple of them had their hands full while restraining the rider in the parking lot, but why did their intervention stop there? Why didn’t they vote him off the team if he behaved this way? Why was there no show of solidarity, emphasizing that the good guys on the team will not be associated with violence, threats, and awful behavior, if that’s what happened?
Where were the other riders in the race, and indeed, where are they ever? Why didn’t all twenty or thirty people who supposedly witnessed the incident make their voices heard to Kayle, to the officials, to the promoter, and to anyone else who would listen? Why didn’t the rest of the peloton behave as if this reflected on them, which, if it happened, it did? Why was everyone lathered up on Facebag but not in the flesh? And who’s the big chicken who took down the thread?
In other words, there were a lot of people who could have immediately punished this behavior if it really happened, and who could have made enough of a stink to warrant a suspension or a fine or a spanking with a soup spoon or a timeout in the corner with a dunce cap.
But regardless of how this incident played out, the rider in question is just one guy and his team is just one team. Cycling always has a bad boy team and that’s part of the fun, apparently. These antics may scare some people out of one race, but it’s not the reason that rider participation is anemic in all categories. I raced a handful of 35+ masters races last year and they were safe and drama free. The “bad boy” was even in a couple of those races, and he was fine in every respect. And even if it’s the 35+ (now 40+) category that is suspect, what about the other categories?
The 45+ category (it’s been changed to 50+ this year to make sure everyone stays angry and confused) is safe, fun, and a blast, yet turnout in those events is hardly thriving. Most importantly, the areas where turnout really matters, i.e. junior racing, women’s racing, Cat 4 and Cat 5 racing, aren’t affected by what goes on in masters racing whatsoever. Those people couldn’t pick Kayle out of a fresh vegetable aisle, and their numbers are not good.
Nor is NorCal some mecca for racing participation. One of their most storied and challenging road races, the Mt. Hamilton Classic, had twelve guys race the 45+ 1/2/3, and the race didn’t even bother with categories for juniors or Cat 5’s. Are the SoCal crit bullies scaring all the NorCal roadies away from that race, too? And the NoCal crit fields are so tiny that events like the Lodi Criterium combine the 35+ and 45+ fields. Last year’s Lodi Cycle Fest had twenty-six riders in the 35+, and a pathetic nineteen in the 45+. Is that SoCal’s fault as well?
The idea that SoCal is a dungeon of cheaters and terrible racers that kills the sport is also wrong. One SoCal racer who went to Mt. Hamilton this year and raced with the elite P/1/2 racers got to witness this: After the initial ascent of Mt. Hamilton the road becomes a hair-raising downhill. One of the Mike’s Bikes riders missed a turn and went off the mountain. Mike’s Bikes, by the way, had seven riders, or 20% of the entire field.
Later on Mines Road this same rider came flying by the SoCal racer’s chase group a good 15 mph faster, tucked in behind his team van. The racer made it back up to the leaders where he finished far ahead from where he otherwise would have, and worse, where he added firepower to his teammate who won the race. When the SoCal rider complained to the officials, they shrugged.
I’d argue that this kind of local favoritism and refusal to enforce the rules turns off just as many people as parking lot name calling, maybe more, because name calling doesn’t affect the outcome of the race and name calling doesn’t require the collusion of race officials, organizers, team bosses, and follow cars. As a fun note, the race flier said that follow cars weren’t allowed and that anyone receiving help from one would be DQ’ed.
I also disagree that one team is the cause of low racer turnout in SoCal. In many ways, the current dominant masters team, Surf City Cyclery, exemplifies the very best things about amateur racing. First and foremost, they actually show up and race their bikes. Second, when you look at their race day setup with a motor home, gigantic tent, trainers, bike racks, and directors’ chairs, it’s impossible not to notice how cool they look and how much fun they’re having. These guys love to race their bikes and it shows. Isn’t that why people are supposed to go to bike races and hang out? Because it’s fun?
Third, they’re led by Charon Smith, a rider who is non-confrontational, who never curses, who praises you when you beat him, who encourages everyone, and who, despite his impressive accomplishments is accessible and friendly and willing to share. He also invests huge amounts of his personal time helping junior racers. In the heat of battle I’ve seen him reach out and push struggling riders to keep them from getting shelled, riders like, um, me.
Fourth, one bad apple doesn’t ruin the bunch. The other riders on SCC are fair, fun, dedicated, and friendly. I don’t believe that one aggro racer negates the positive actions of everyone else, and if you think the contretemps mentioned earlier is the first time this has ever happened in cycling, you probably also believe that the earth is 4,500 years old and Jesus rode on a dinosaur. There have been numerous parking lot screaming matches in the last few years, not to mention the post-racing screaming matches on the cool down lap.
SCC boss Mike Faello has his hands full with one masters team, and he has apparently made the decision that he’d rather have one team that’s run great than three teams that are run mediocre. Who’s to say he’s wrong? Not I. And who’s to say that he should spend his marketing money in one way rather than another? If his business is focused on selling bike stuff to delusional old men, then shouldn’t he be allowed to do that without being criticized for not also spending his money on kids, women, young people, recumbents, unicyclists, gravel grinders, ‘cross racers, BMX, trackies, or adaptive vehicle riders?
It’s his money, it’s his marketing budget, and by all accounts he throws his heart and soul into running his team. Isn’t that the kind of investment and partnership we want at all levels of cycling? Yes, it is.
Moreover, people forget that it wasn’t always like this at SCC. The first time I ever saw Charon he was sitting on his ass in the middle of the panicking peloton at Eldo, where he’d rolled a tire and taken a fall in the middle of the field. Charon worked his way up from Cat Fred to Cat Stud over a period of years that have involved hard work, hard work, hard work, and a lot of hard work.
The team that he now captains wasn’t always flush with money and stacked with great riders; it’s been a building process that has overcome lots of obstacles. Now that they have a hierarchy, a strategy, and the discipline to implement it, people are suddenly complaining about Surf City’s dominance — don’t worry — a few years ago it was Monster, then Amgen, then before that it was someone else, all the way back to the days of Labor Power. When you kick everyone’s ass they don’t like it, ever, period.
So if we can’t pin the tail on one rider or one team, whose fault is it that the sport has stagnated and that it can’t seem to grow?
Well, I’d suggest that the fault is yours. Yes, yours. If everyone who had a license did five races a year, which is hardly a challenging schedule in virtually any state but an especially low hurdle here in SoCal, our races would be bursting at the seams. Instead of complaining about SCC’s dominance, if teams that had big rosters actually showed up and raced like a team, Surf’s patented lead-out train and chase-down-all-breakaways would not own the 35+/40+ category. They’re not only beatable in theory, they get beaten in fact every year at nationals. Ask Matt Caninio if Surf can be beaten.
However, it’s easier to complain about Surf’s race tactics than it is to organize your team, train together, and implement strategy.
I was slackjawed a week ago when I showed up at the Torrance Crit and saw embarrassingly tiny fields in all categories. This is a challenging but safe course. It’s well run. It offers lunch money and trinkets. It’s smack in the middle of the South Bay of Los Angeles, home to the world’s greatest concentration of preeners and fakers, and a 30-minute drive or 50-minute pedal from West LA, where weekend rides easily garner 100+ faux racers with genuine $10k rigs.
Where were all the racers?
They certainly weren’t scared off by SCC. Surf City wasn’t even at the race, a fact you could have easily confirmed by looking at pre-registrations on USA Cycling’s web site. And this brings us to the real problem faced by amateur cycling: Bike racing has mutated from an activity where people want to grow up and be like Thurlow or Fields and has become a posing activity where people simply want to accumulate cool stuff.
Labor Power realized this years ago and wore hideous clothing, rode rusty-edged equipment, and rubbed plutonium into the wounds of its victims with the motto “Gritty, not pretty.” They won races by being cunning, vile, despicable, infighting, foul-mouthed bike racers, preening not allowed unless you knew how to climb a podium.
When you can join a team that gives you a steeply discounted pro bike, when you can wear clothing that is professionally designed and customized for Team Wank, when you can pedal from coffee shop to coffee shop advertising that YOU ARE A RACER without having to actually go to a race and fall off your bicycle, then why would any rational person actually race? Answer: You wouldn’t, and they don’t.
The toy/gadget/rag merchants are perfectly happy with this because they would rather have the streets of Brentwood and Manhattan Beach overflowing with non-racing racers decked out in their logos on Saturday morning than they would have those same people crammed into an office park in South Compton battling over a $25 prime. In other words, the sponsors and teams themselves don’t care if you race as long as you’re pimping them on social media and playing rolling billboard.
How do I know? Because week in and week out it’s the same guys and gals. There are people on my SPY-Giant-RIDE team who, after four and a half years, I have never seen at a race, and my team this year had 80 members at last count and bills itself exclusively as a “racing team.” You couldn’t beat people away with tear gas and rubber truncheons at team camp in January when the freebies were being handed out and the new outfits were being unveiled, but at the Barry Wolfe Grand Prix on Sunday I counted ten teammates across all categories. More embarrassingly, the CBR Crit the following day had one rider from my team in the 40+ Category, and two “helpers” who had already done the 50+ and whose help consisted of hanging on for dear life.
It’s true that Surf is hard to beat, but they will never, ever, ever be beaten like that.
You can say whatever you want about Surf City, but they show up and they pay entry fees and they race their bikes. What promoter would boot out a team that comprises 15% of the field when hundreds of local racers who could be there are too lazy or too chickenshit or too cheap to pay and race, even when it’s in their own backyard?
Why won’t we call bullshit when we hear it, and stop accepting all of the lame excuses about how the course is too long, or too short, or too hard, or too easy, or too far away, or too hilly, or not hilly enough, or you can’t find a ride, or your wife won’t let you, or you’re peaking for something else, or you’re in a build phase, or your Internet coach says, or blah fucking blah fucking blah?
The mentality won’t change until the teams and their peers pressure them to. Where are the pre-race emails, the phone calls, the gentle urgings that often make the difference between sitting at home and going to the race? To put a nice ending on the Torrance Crit story, this same course is utilized as the TELO training race, a Tuesday ride where “racers” show up at 6:00 PM to get in the speed work that will prepare them for race day. The Tuesday before the Torrance Crit, TELO was packed. The Tuesday after, it was packed. There’s even a Facebag page dedicated to bragging about the exploits of who “won” the training ride each week, and riders love to tout how tough they are when they “do the double,” i.e. do the morning NPR and the evening TELO beatdown.
But on race day the Torrance Crit was a ghost town, and please don’t tell me people stayed home to protest Surf City. They stayed home because no one called them up and called them out. They stayed home because they’d already gotten their participation ribbon on Facebag and that, you know, was enough to justify the fancy bike and fancy outfit and four crates of electrolytes.
The problem with race participation numbers lies at the feet of the riders themselves. We know who our teammates are, we know they’re AWOL on race day, and it’s not a complicated problem that needs more secret USAC meetings to anguish over. It’s a simple problem that requires you to get off your ass and go race your fuggin’ bike. It’s a simple problem that requires team bosses to tell their prima donnas that the gravy train comes with an obligation: You want to wear the stuff and ride the rig, you have to race, no exceptions, and if five weekends out of the year is too tough on your schedule, maybe you don’t belong on something called a “racing team.”
And while we’re at it, let’s not take our eyes off the ball by blaming USAC or SCNCA. These organizations have never figured out how to grow the sport and never will because it’s not in their DNA. They exist to skim money off license fees and soak money from race promoters so they can pay officials and promote the national team and pay their own salaries. They do not care if the sport grows because it’s currently big enough to fund their existing pork projects. If amateur cycling has ever had a constant, it’s that USAC and the local organizations cannot and will not increase membership and will not make it easier or cheaper or more profitable for promoters to put on races.
At the same time, I don’t think physical racing and violent confrontations should be tolerated, but bike racing is a sport, it is dangerous, people do get worked up, and at least in the above-mentioned case no one fell off his bicycle or had to make a detour to the dentist to get a fist removed from his gums. But these problems aren’t what ails our sport. What ails it are the thousands of SoCal cyclists with valid racing licenses who don’t show up.
We have met the enemy, and he bears a striking resemblance to the guy in the mirror.
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May 19, 2015 § 33 Comments
I had to choose between doing the Torrance Crit and going to my daughter’s law school graduation. She made law review, completed law school in two years, made the dean’s list, was a dean’s fellow, and received a full scholarship. So it was go and celebrate her accomplishments or hustle down to the Telo office park and see if I could win twenty bucks or not crash.
I didn’t tell family about the bike race. Relatives and friends had come from far away to celebrate my daughter. We went to commencement Sunday morning and it was awesome. Then it finished around noon. I still didn’t say a word about the crit. We ate lunch. Everyone was tired and wanted to go home or back to the hotel and nap.
I got home just before three. The race started at four. “Where are you going?” Mrs. WM asked.
“Just out for a little pedal.”
“Be home in time to leave for the graduation dinner at 6:10.”
“No problem,” I said, realizing that it would take a miracle to get me home in time. I sauntered out, leaped out my bike and sprinted to the office park. The leaky prostate division had drained off hours ago and the only race left was the Fakepro-1-2-3 race. I hadn’t done one of those in a couple of decades. “How hard can it be?” I asked myself. “Plus, it’s 75 minutes, which is more racing!”
I watched the racers warm up. They had smooth skin and no fat and their faces were filled with hope and no one had told them what a terrible waste of life bike racing was and they all looked younger than my kids. That’s because they were.
Still, I had been killing it on the NPR and the Donut Ride, and that’s pretty much the same as doing a Fakepro-1-2-3 race, right? Right?
Wily Greek rolled up next to me at the start. “This is gonna fuggin’ hurt.”
I blinked big watery cow eyes. I’ve never seen Wily in even mild discomfort. “Oh, no,” I thought as Robert Pellegrin blew the whistle.
The young fellows were in a big hurry. They were in such a hurry that instead of waiting until five minutes before the finish to attack like us elderly gentlemen always do, they waited four or five seconds before the first turn to attack into the chicane and into the headwind, which they followed with another faster attack into the headwind and through the right-hander which was followed by two more attacks, each attack faster than the one before.
Since I was already going as fast as I had ever gone in my life after the first attack, when we hit the tailwind stretch I got ready for a bit of relief, but that never came because the attacks in the tailwind made everything else look slow in comparison. Unlike the leaky prostate division, where there are three attacks, a break rolls off, and everyone sits up and finishes reading the paper, in the Fakepro-1-2-3 division everyone keeps attacking until no one can attack anymore except the people who haven’t yet attacked who are actually the true strongmen, and then they take turns attacking while the tired attackers are resting at the back and then when the strongmen roll off the front the rested primary attackers re-attack until they chase down the strongmen who have seen the chase coming and thus slowed a touch so that when they are reeled in they can attack the attackers who were attacking them for having attacked.
Somewhere in there the race went from being Fakepro-1-2-3 to Fakepro-1-2, and the seventy or so starters became forty or fifty gaspers and ten people actually racing to win.
Fortunately every time I whizzed through Beer Corner my trusty mechanic Boozy P., who had re-twisted my derailleur hanger a few minutes before the race with a monkey wrench and a beer can so that I could keep ‘er in the 11 and not have to worry about my chain skipping into those wussy gears, along with Hooffixerman & his hot wife, New Girl, Frenchy & Frenchymom, Canyon Bob, Strava Reid, Fintech Quant, Tyler, Mr. Rubdown, and the usual gang of Strand Brewery drunks hollered and screamed encouragement at me each time I bounced over the pavement and within inches of death up against the curb.
“You suck, Wanky!”
“Go to the front!”
“Get off the front!”
“Close the gap!”
“Get off your brakes!”
“Roll your tongue back in!”
And other helpful bits of coaching were offered each lap.
In addition to being very afraid of all the bicycle riders who whizzed by me brushing my bars and hips, I was being “that guy” who, clearly out of his league and even more out of breath, would dash towards the front, hit the turn at Mach 12, clench the brakes with max panic grab, and listen to all the Fakepro-1-2’s scream, curse, and grind to a halt behind me, then be forced to accelerate from 1 mph back up to 35 after passing me in the corner.
They all appeared very tired out from this, and also somewhat sad.
Unfortunately for them, as soon as they passed me I would “do the Derek” which is racetalk for “pass every rider once.” With this logic you eventually win. However, in order to pass anyone there were only three options. Option 1 was to thread my way through the pack while getting completely protected from the wind, but I was too afraid to do this.
Option 2 was to rocket up the gutter in the leeward draft, but I was too afraid to do this either because the gutter is just a few inches wide and filled with death.
Option 3 was to go up along the safe edge of the peloton into the wind, which takes about 1300 or a million watts to move six places. Eventually I would get up to the first few wheels and then hit another turn, come flaming in hot, burn off a few centimeters of brake pad, turn the face of the guy behind me black from carbon brake dust, lose 49 places, crash out a few hapless sods, and start all over again.
It was very tiring, but soon we were on the bell lap. I could tell this because up until then we had been going so fast that time had come to a standstill (it’s a relativity thing), but now the pack briefly bunched up. I saw my final opportunity to launch a searing attack up the side, catch the field unawares, get a gap, and win.
I punched the pedals with everything I had, just at the moment when the pack punched it with about 20% of what it had, and I found out that on the bell lap my 100% was about half of their 20%. I latched onto the end of the train and at that moment Wily came up and tapped me on the hip. “Yo, Wanky,” he said. “Better give yourself a couple of bike lengths, just to be safe. You aren’t winning today, you know.”
I looked at the 48 riders ahead of me, calculated the 1300 watts I didn’t have times eight, and eased off. We hit the straightaway and a trio of riders, locked in a death struggle for the honor of 29th place, touched wheels and hit the pavement with amazing violence and bounciness. Their bikes broke into pieces, blood and skin and helmet pieces flew everywhere, and the air was rent with moans and screams and one of my SPY teammates who wailed as I rode by, “Why do they let these fuggin’ Cat 3 idiots into these races?”
I crossed the line and realized that I only had twenty minutes to make the 35-minute ride home. Fortunately, EA Sports, Inc., was outside his house as I rode by. I explained my predicament, he tossed me into the back of his pickup, put my bike up front, and drove me home. I walked in the door at 6:09.
“How was your ride?” she asked.
I shrugged. “Uneventful, and therefore okay.”
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August 13, 2013 § 15 Comments
The previous week we raced the Brentwood GP, set in the heart of glamorous West L.A., smack in the middle of the homes owned by the rich, the famous, the divorced, and those serving life sentences in Nevada. What could be better than a craft beer garden, silicone breasts galore, curbside cafes with froo-froo drinks and menu items that end in -eaux, -aises, and three digits to the left of the decimal?
Ah, Brentwood! Home to Brooke Shields, who swung by to check out the action, home to a fabled bike race intertwined with L.A.’s oldest and most respected cycle club and high-dollar payday for the fastest wheels in the West, all recorded with a Hollywood sound truck and 50-man crew from Time-Warner Cable.
But I digress …
Taking it down to the next level
This Sunday, with only a few races left on the 2013 road calendar, marked the running of the Torrance Crit, a race as different from Brentwood as a $5,000 hooker is from a jar of peanut butter. By the middle of August we were all completely exhausted and even sicker of bike racing than we were in January, which was very.
After seventeen races at which I spent an average of $75.00 per race (for a total of $1,275.00, plus $1,932.83 in equipment, clothing, beer, and lodging), I had already wasted — yes, wasted — $3,207.83 in order to garner an average race finish of 31.6th place. The good news was that after Brentwood I was clearly on an uptick in performance, having crossed the line in an almost impossibly good 19th place. If I could only keep doubling my results like that, I’d be winning in no time!
It would be the challenge of a lifetime to improve on the Brentwood finish here at Torrance, but I was up to it. At season’s end when others were running on fumes, I could feel victory, or at least 18th Place, coursing through my veins.
Killing for crumbs
As I looked around the starting line I realized what a profound mistake it had been not to sign up for the 45+ race in which I had a .000003% chance of winning instead of the 35+, in which my chance was zero. Around me the riders all looked youthful, strong, and fast, with the exception of Bart, who looked older than the rest of us put together but still beat me like a drum.
The only consolation I got was that they, like me, were sick to death of pedaling around ugly office parks with no hope of victory, and, like me, were here out of force of habit, like a heroin addict who inserts the needle with no hope of relief, but prays only for maintenance of low-level misery. Like me, they were desperately hoping and praying that now, at the end of the year, some miracle would occur that might deliver a victory — a moving van running amok on the course that ran over all the other riders, or a giant sinkhole that swallowed everyone but me, or, even more impossibly, a last-minute miscalculation by Charon, Hair, Wike, or the other habitual Alpha males of the SoCal crit scene. But the most hopeful omen of all was the absence of Tinstman and DiMarchi, who had gone off to Vietnam in order to test their intestines against the local cuisine, and their legs against that nation’s top riders.
Where Brentwood was tony and well-heeled, the Torrance crit was the impoverished cousin with the extra toe, a wind-swept, barren hellhole held on the Telo training crit course so infamous in the South Bay. The wind-tossed, pock-marked, rock-strewn frontside of the course was buffeted by the standard 25 mph headwind that blows off of the ocean every afternoon. The field had a meager 31 riders, meaning that the strategy of “hide, then hide some more” wouldn’t work.
The prize, though somewhat smaller than the $13,000 on offer at Brentwood, was still enough to make the racers willing to fight and kill for it. Such is the value of a tank of gas among the hopeless addicts of the Pro Masters Crit community. When our race began there was a collective sigh of relief as we all knew we were just a few minutes closer to the end of an already endless season, and therefore the chance of receiving a serious brain injury this year while riding through potholes at warp speed on skinny tires was ever so slightly reduced.
A recap almost as miserable as the ride
You know how, when you read a race recap, it’s filled with mindlessly boring descriptions of what various riders did throughout the entire fifty minutes, though it could and should best be summed up by William Stone’s immortal race reports, which are all the same? That is, “Someone won. The others did not.”
Well, this race report has two versions.
The Stonish version: Charon Smith won. The others did not.
The Wankmeister version: Grab yourself a beer. Settle into a comfy couch. Get ready for a long, boring, painful read.
Since it was going to be a long, miserable, windy, high-speed beatdown, my teammate Josh Alverson decided to play it conservatively by sitting in, resting, and hoarding his energies until the end of the first one hundred yards, at which point he attacked. Everyone was relieved to see him go, because of all the no-hope moves that anyone could have pulled, this was the no-hopiest.
Five laps later, Josh returned to the fold just in time for John Wike to attack. My game plan since the night before had been to sit in. Rest. Save everything for one hard attack with a couple of laps to go. Follow nothing. Try nothing. Remember that these were all young men and that I was a feeble and infirm elderly fellow with a leaky prostate, terrible vision, and a dislocated pancreas. Seek whatever shelter from the wind I could find. Stay far from the front. Never attack. Say “please” a lot.
So of course I jumped on Wike’s wheel, which is like saying, “I poked the guy in the eye who was wearing the hockey mask and carrying the chainsaw.” Wike’s an unusual fellow in that his ferocity has multiple sources. Most bike racers can only conjure up “the angry” from some early childhood beating, or having lost a thumb while cleaning the chain on a track bike, or getting beaten up and having their stamp collection taken away while walking home from Mrs. Broughton’s 4th Grade class at Braeburn Elementary in Houston.
Wike’s fury, though comes from the usual places plus his junkyard dog loyalty to his team. I overheard the whole team pre-race meeting. Charon and Wike and Special K were sitting under the tent.
Charon: What’s the plan today, boys?
Wike: You will win.
Charon: Okay, but what’s the plan?
Wike: I will chase down everything.
Special K: Dude, you can’t chase everything. We only have three guys. Nobody’s gonna help you.
Wike: Okay. I will chase almost everything. You chase the other one or two moves.
Charon: Sounds like a plan.
Fools rush in where Wike isn’t afraid to tread
Many people say that Wike has no fear, and they cite these two examples:
Example A: Wike set the downhill speed record for the Red Bull Challenge on Tuna Canyon in the Santa Monica Mountains, well in excess of 55 mph on a suicidal, twisting, gravelly, washed-out, off-camber descent of death, and he set it despite crashing, remounting, and hitting it full-gas all the way to the bottom.
Example B: Coming into the final 400 yards of a mass sprint that featured ex-Euro pros like Ivan Dominguez, Wike was glued to the wheel of the Cuban Missile. A young and hormone-crazed Cat 1 tried to bump Wike off the Missile’s wheel, at 35 mph. Wike casually looped his arm under the youngster’s, then hooked their two handlebars together as the speed increased. From six inches away, Wike looked coolly into the eyes of the terrified child. “If you try to take that wheel from me again … ” Wike paused for dramatic effect as the speed increased, the finish line approached, and the roar of crowd became deafening. ” … then we’re both going down.”
The punkster trembled, Wike unlocked arms and bars, and uncorked for the finish, which was so close they had to review it with a team of officials on video replay. The enormous clunk on the concrete when Wike got off his bike was the sound of his 300-lb. testicles, and they left a divot in the cement the size of a wrecking ball.
But he seemed like such a nice axe-murderer, Mommy
The thing about Wike, though, despite his fury and his rail-like cornering skills and his devastating sprint and his fearless approach, is this: As long as you don’t try to douchebag him, he is the fairest, most honest, cleanest rider around, kind of like an ethical Great White Shark with guns and nunchuks.
Now I was on his wheel, and what had started off as a bike race quickly became an advanced lesson in high-speed cornering. Whereas most crit riders set themselves up for a turn, and it’s fairly predictable how they intend to enter the corner, Wike seems to come at each turn straight up-and-down, as tightly inside as possible, with no angle or lean at all. It looks impossible until, at the last second, rather than gracefully swooping through the apex of the turn, he grabs his stupid fucking bike by the scruff of its neck, rubs its nose in the poop, and violently slings it through the corner.
The bike is too afraid to do anything except go, and Wike never misses a pedal stroke. I, on the other hand, am ten feet back and digging like a DitchWitch in a mud trench to get back on his wheel. By the time I’d latch back on, John would be gouging the pedals again, which meant that the “recovery” from “sitting on his wheel” was in theory only.
Josh to the rescue
Soon we had another rider, and our three-man break looked promising, except for the fact that I was barely hanging on and we were a mere ten minutes into the race. Fortunately, my teammate Josh pulled the entire pack up to our break, relieving me of the indignity of getting dropped and making sure there was no way I would get on the podium. A lot of people don’t understand the teamwork in bike racing, which is complicated and hard to explain, and frankly, neither do I.
Now that I had squandered what little reserves I’d begun with (did I mention that I did a “warm-up” 30-mile ride that morning around PV that included 4k of climbing?), I slunk to the rear and swore to hide until the finish. This was the exact same moment that Special K attacked, followed by searing jumps from Wike, Josh, Jolly Green Giant, and most of the CalPools team.
The wounded and bleeding flailers huddled in a small lump, looking at each other and wondering which of the following would happen:
- We’d play “Yugo! Uh-uh, YOU go!” until the pack went off and left us for good. Then we’d be able to go home and give our pals “kudos” on Strava and tote up our weekly mileage.
- Some idiot in our midst would tow us up to the peloton, thereby frying and dropping himself from the race.
- The pack would miraculously slow down.
We got lucky, and it was Door #3. The wind and the accelerations were so fierce that the pack had winded itself, kind of like a dog that mindlessly chases a stick over and over until it collapses in a heap, never really sure why it was chasing the stick in the first place, and resolving never to do it ever again as long as it lives, or at least until someone throws the stick again.
A big lob
Josh attacked again for the 357th time and was up the road with Ollie before the pack brought that stick back, too. As everyone caught their breath, I seized my chance and rolled off the front with six to go. After the race a dude came up to me and said, “Yo, Wanky. New nickname. After that Big Blue Bus on flat tires acceleration, we’re gonna start calling you ‘Dangle.'”
As I dangled, each time I came through Turn 5 a hopelessly besotted clot of drunks screamed my name. At first I thought they were my friends, because it sure looked like Hoof Fixer Dude, New Girl, Frenchy, Tumbleweed, G3, Surfer Dan, Francisco, Toronto, Shannon, and Peyton Place.
Then I realized that they were standing in the driveway of the Strand Brewery, a local beer maker with a 10,000 gallon brewing tank that sells growlers to the public on the weekend. Noting that it was a weekend, and noting that everyone was clenching a growler, I paid closer attention the next time I came through, this time with another rider in tow.
“Get off the front, you fucking idiot!” is what they seemed to be saying. I wondered if they meant me?
With three laps to go, I and CalPools Dude were joined by the Jolly Green Giant, only he was more like the Grumpy Green Giant than the jolly one. I didn’t care, as he pulled like a giant, and now the game plan began to coalesce. None of us could sprint, but I could sprint at least as less badly as the other two. Victory was entirely possible. Best of all, my two teammates, Josh and Eric, would be at the front slowing down the pack, soft pedaling through the turns, and messing up Wike’s inevitable chase of death.
Josh to the rescue, again!
Fortunately, with two laps to go, Josh did such a great job of blocking that he blocked the whole peloton right up to our breakaway, then attacked us. “C’mon!” he said. “Let’s go!”
I wasn’t sure what he meant, since the only place I knew to go to was the finish line, and I’d been trying like hell to get there for the last four laps. Now there was a small gap, and Grumpy looked at me. “Close that gap!” he ordered.
“But that’s my teammate. Why should I?”
“You moron,” Grumpy snarled. “You need to learn how to race your bike.”
“That’s true,” I said. “But I’m still not chasing down my teammate for you.”
Grumpy lumbered up, but by that time the peloton was together again.
Final lap fireworks
With one lap to go, Charon woke up. He went over to the wash basin, brushed his teeth, put in some menthol-flavored mouthwash, and adjusted his helmet. Then he stretched, and with a moderate yawn rolled up towards the front.
“Hey,” he said. “Which one of you babies has the candy?”
“I do!” yowled one baby.
“Me, too!” hollered another.
“Me, me, me! Me got candy!” shouted a chorus of others.
“Okay, then,” said Charon. “Hold your hands up real high so I can take it from you easier.”
With three hundred yards to go he stretched again, checked his mouth in his pocket mirror to make sure there weren’t any pieces of black pepper between his teeth, and put his hands on the drops. Now the others were sprinting at max speed, giving it everything they had.
Charon pulled the morning newspaper out of his jersey pocket to make sure that the 15% Off Sale at Bill’s Bible Store was still going on, carefully refolded it, and put it back in his pocket. With a hundred yards to go he checked his phone. There was a text message from his fan club. “Hey, Charon!” it said. “Now might be a good time to go.”
“All right, then,” he said, and pushed one of his legs down, hard.
The bike shot forward.
Then he pushed down his other leg, harder. The bike shot forward even more.
“Aw man,” he said, seeing Hair and Eric almost at the line. “Am I going to have to push down AGAIN?” He gave the pedal one more mighty push with his leg and passed the two leading riders by thirty feet. Both of them wobbled and almost smacked into the curb as the wall of wind, combined with the sonic boom, knocked them into each other.
Sure, those guys stood on the podium. Eric even clinched third place zero help from his teammates. But me? I finished 18th, one whole placing better than at Brentwood. If I can just squeeze in seventeen more races between now and August 31, well … you do the math.
April 3, 2012 § 6 Comments
I’m in my second full season as a Cat 4 here in SoCal, and things have been going really well. Top 10 at Ontario, made the break last weekend at the Torrance crit, and I’m finally confident enough to say I’ve “figured out” bike racing. It’s taken me a long time, though!!! I guess like my pap always said, “Son, you sure aren’t the sharpest tool in the shed.” But anyhoo, now that I’ve got a handle on it and training, my wife is clamoring for me to get a vasectomy. I’ve done some Internet research and so I understand like, what it’s all about, but I can’t really find anything on how vasectomies might affect bike racing, or actually, what I’m more concerned about, is training. I’m a pretty high volume guy and that’s pretty much the reason I’ve made such a big mark on the cycling scene (just a li’l bragging, but if you can do it, it ain’t bragging, right, WankY!!) and it would be a big wrench in the derailleur for something like this to sideline me for the better part of the season. News or views? Thanks!
It’s not often that people ask me about the care and feeding of their testicles, but I’m glad you’ve put aside the public humiliation and ridicule sure to ensue once I post your email and real name in order to get answers to these very important questions. However, the easiest way to approach this is to understand that, whether you’re a bike racer or not (and as a second year Cat 4 you’re definitely “not”), you should never, ever get a vasectomy.
The Reasons You Should Never Ever Get a Vasectomy Or Even Think About It For A Nanosecond Not Even If You’re Promised All The Pussy In Hello Kittyland
1. They cut open your balls.
2. After #1 above, it should be over for any rational adult male. But there’s more.
3. It’s a semi-public EMBARRASSING procedure, with people kind of milling around, nurses and shit, casually paying attention while they saw open your nutsack with a rusty file.
4. The Latin root of the word “vasectomy” means “nutless dude who sings high-pitched songs for the king.”
5. You will never, ever, ever, ever, ever get even one extra throw as a result. Why? Because your balls have nothing to do with her headache.
6. If the world is attacked by alien mutants who kill all the men except you with a special death ray thingy, leaving millions of women needing fertilization in order to repopulate the human race, once you’ve had a vasectomy the human race will die out. And it will be all your fault.
7. Swollen balls. This one dude I know got the snip and his nuts swelled up like Valencia oranges. I suppose it kind of fills out your Speedo, but according to this guy it hurt like hell and was like having a pair of tits in your shorts, i.e. very hard to cross your legs without damaging the produce.
8. Other shit that you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. Okay, maybe your worst enemy. Such as? Such as:
Adrenal gland dysfunction
Atheosclerosis (hardening of the arteries leading to heart disease)
Autoimmune orchitis (degeneration of testicular tissues due to antibody action)
Chronic inflammation including the formation of sperm granulomas
Chronic testicular pain (Post-Vasectomy Pain Syndrome)
Circulatory problems including phlebitis
Congestive and infectious epididymitis
Decreased testicular function including changes in testosterone production
Gangrene of the scrotum and other serious infections
Generalized lymph node enlargement
Life-long autoimmune (allergic) responses
Loss of libido
Migraine and other related headaches
Neuropathy (nerve pain and damage)
Scrotal and epididymal cyst formation including Spermatocele and Hydrocele cysts
Staph infections including infections of the heart valves
Testicular atrophy (shrinking of the testicles)
Urolithiasis (kidney stones).
Vasitis nodosa (chronic inflammation of the vas deferens)
Hope this helps.
April 2, 2012 § 4 Comments
Sometimes even an important cycling blog like this doesn’t have anything interesting to say. So I will be concise and do this like rabbit droppings, you know, a little poop nugget here, a little poop nugget there.
Poop nugget one: Major Bob was a beast on Thursday’s NPR. He towed me all the way to the line in our trademark last-lap suicidal breakaway of death but I blew up, got caught by the pack, and finished behind the fat walrus guy with the backpack. Prez sank back to his usual wheelsuck and win-the-sprint M.O., but don’t laugh, as practice makes perfect and he won Sunday’s San Diego Cat 3 crit to ensure that he will remain aloft in the SoCal Sandbagger of the Year Competition.
Poop nugget two: Jack from Illinois( not his real name) joined Howard Hughes of the South Bay and me and the Chief, former master of all he surveyed, now confined to the miserable reservation of Saturday kiddie soccer games and delayed Sunday pedals so that his significant other gets in her Lululemon workout first, for a glorious coffee cruise. Chief began his comeback in earnest, which included pedaling the entire 250 yards from his house to CotKU, drinking a cup of coffee, and pedaling all the way back.
Poop nugget three: Friday night the world was in an addled state of consti-ticipation as each of the 125 million ticket holders gloriously made plans for spending his/her/its share of the Mega-Millions pot of gold.
“I’ll help ol’ Aunt Sukey by getting her a new house and a car and a 24-hour assisted care home nurse to pay her back for all those times she kept me out of juvenile prison.”
“I’ll start a foundation to provide a home for all the cats!”
“I’ll live quietly and modestly, keeping my wealth secret, while anonymously becoming an incredible donor to worthy causes everywhere!”
“I’ll fund a multi-million dollar ‘cross series to make it the biggest sport in America!!!”
“I’ll create trust funds for all of my cousins and nieces and nephews but set it up so that even though they’re rich they won’t be spoiled.”
“I’ll buy more hookers and blow than there are ‘fuggs’ in a captaintbag blog post.”
Frenziedly huddled around the computer screen, those same people who fall into the category of “voluntary taxpayers who don’t understand statistics or probability” looked grimly at the first few digits in the winning number, quickly scanning through each combination on their 73 separate tickets, numbly and dumbly acknowledging, gradually, that it really was true: Let’s say you know a Canadian. Then the names of every Canadian in Canada are put into a hat. You draw the name of the one person you know. There. Those were your odds of winning the lottery.
As the cold, hard numericity of statisticality and probabilityness sunk through the hardened outer core of almost impenetrable delusion, depression was quickly followed by beer, then tequila, then hatred for both Kentucky and Louisville, with the odd curse heaped on the heads of Tim Tebow and Kyle Busch. “Fucking stupid ass bullshit lottery fuckshit waste of money bullcrap shit. At least I’m still going riding tomorrow.”
Poop nugget four: “Tomorrow’s ride” was a semi-planned pedal arranged by Clodhopper, and joined in by Iron Mike, Jack from Illinois (not his real name), Howard Hughes of the South Bay (first group ride since 2006), New Girl, Pilot, Fussy, Hockeystick, Nancy, Guns, Knoll, Trixie, Junkyard, Tri-Dork, Toronto, Tumbleweed, Arkansas Traveler, Abercrombie & Fritch, and a bunch of other people who quit early because the day was a cold, rainy, miserable, nasty, cloudy, shitsoaked perfectly typical cycling day in Northern California, except we were in paradisiacal Southern California, where everyone is weak, spoiled, “soft around the edges and in the center,” and smart enough to choose hot coffee and a morning throw with the S.O. rather than six hours of slogging through shit on a bike.
By the time we reached Cross Creek all the riders with IQ’s higher than the ambient air temperature had packed it in, and our small cadre of idiots soldiered on towards Latigo. Nancy had kept going when we stopped at the Union 76 in order to get a head start on the inevitable droppage that awaited, and sure enough, even though I plowed so slowly up the infinite hell that is Latigo Canyon Rd., so slow in fact that Arkansas Traveler easily kept the pace and told me all the details of hairdressing in Appalachia during the days that it was still a hanging offense for men to be engaged in such occupations, we nevertheless caught and dropped Nancy as he crawled up the endless grade.
Upon arriving at the summit, we abandoned our “all for one, one for all” motto in favor of “all for one, one for all, except Nancy,” and bolted back home down Kanan Dume, a road favored by Junkyard so that he could get into a descender’s tuck and bomb the downhill in blinding rain and fog at 50 mph. I got home with 95 miles, more or less, and no Strava upload or WKO+ analysis to stand between me, the hot shower, the mountain of flapjacks, and bed.
Poop nugget five: While @mmaiko swooned over Fabs Cancellara and the Ronde van Vlaanderen in the most amazing Twitter twaddle ever, and while thousands more cycle fans followed the whole sorry mess of racing over the cobbled climbs of Flanders, MMX, Stormin Norman, I, and a small cadre of idiots joined up at CotKU for the Sunday Kettle ride. It was uneventful except for the brutal beatdown along PCH, and we returned to Catalina Coffee in Redondo Beach for a hearty breakfast. Fireman was lounging in one of the chairs and we all sat around and made fun of people who have turtle tattoos on their legs, generally agreeing that if you’re going to tattoo your legs it should be with a death’s head or a giant cock or lightning bolts or a spread-eagled nude…anything but a turtle.
Poop nugget six: With 80 solid miles of hard riding on our legs we pedaled over to the Torrance Crit, where I raced the 45+ in the team SPY colors, proving myself a douchebag traitor to the noble Ironfly brigade with whom I’d raced all year. As we rolled out, Johnny and Alan gave me my instructions, which went something like this: “Look, you suck and are a traitorous vermin and are of no benefit to anyone plus we don’t like you. However, if, at the end of the race, there’s a chance to sneak up the road, do that hopeless crazyfuck suicide move you always do that fails and make the pack chase. We’ll chill if you’ve got the legs to hold out for the vee, which no one in their right mind believes you do, and if they pull you back, which is a mathematical certainty, we’ll be fresh for the finish.” With three laps to go I hit the gas, flogged like a harpooned goat for what seemed like forever, got reeled in with half a lap to go, and watched as teammate Jimmy M. skidded across the asphalt on the next-to-last-turn, grating off more butt flesh than an angry dominatrix in a spanking video. Not that I’ve ever watched one of those. Johnny got third, T. Rex got fifth, and Alan got seventh.
Then, the most incredible thing that has ever happened to me in over 30 years of cycling happened: T. Rex came over and stuck a $20 bill in my jersey. “That’s your share, dude. Good work.” I fainted, of course, and when I came to, numerous people patted my hand and explained that, yes, it did happen that even worthless wankers received a part of the take in a well-run team combine. “Holy fuck,” I yelled. “If you subtract that from the $50 entry fee, I only lost thirty U.S. dollah!!!” Then I fainted again.
March 29, 2012 § 18 Comments
I used to be off the grid, you know, no speedometer or HRM and certainly no power meter, just riding in a fog on a steel bike pounding like an idiot until I couldn’t pound anymore and then slacking off until I could hear myself pant and then whaling away again at the pedals until I was gagging and crosseyed and had my face covered in the sheetsmear of snot and spit and then back it off until my eyes could focus again and then just pound and flail away to a fare-the-well. The thing about this methodology is that, often times, after a while there would only be one or two, or sometimes even no idiots left.
Other times, though, I’d just crack, fade, and watch the peloton whoosh away.
So I figured that I needed to take advantage of modern training methods, and along with a super pro doping regimen of corticosteroids, masking agents, blood boosters and coke and amphetamines and shit I would get a speedometer and a Garmin and a power meter and a copy of TrainingPeaks and then I’d read a bunch more shit and analyze my numbers and track my FTP and learn about my power-to-weight ratio and understand how many matches I could burn in a race and then periodize the whole shebang and, along with the drugs and the new carbon bike and the carbon wheels and the computer technology I would be bad ass, just like I imagined I used to be back in the day, when in fact I wasn’t really bad ass at all, and was pretty much just half-bad ass, or really mostly nice and obedient ass.
Problem is, I couldn’t afford the drugs or understand how to use them without killing myself or growing a third eye, and even the new bike and wheels took a one-year no-interest payment plan from Specialized, and by the time I’d added the power meter I was flat fucking broke-er than I’d ever been before and was having to seriously consider starting the year with something less than $900 in new kits designed by Joe Yule and StageOne.
Other problem was that after close to three years of data and power analysis, I still sucked. The numbers didn’t lie, and although they’d occasionally whisper sweet nothings in my ear (“Today’s 20-min power was the best in six months, you powerful cycling stud and overall sexy dog!”), those occasional sweet nothings were invariably drowned out by the raucous jeering of race day results: “YOU–YES, YOU!!–SUCK! Go home now! You’ve never been any good and you never will be!”
Strava to the rescue
Somewhere along the way I discovered Strava, which was kind of an antidote to race day suckage in that I could always go create a special segment that went from, say, from the garage’s electronic gate that no one can get behind without a buzzer, to the entrance by the apartment tennis courts, and then I could own the shit out of that segment. KOM all fucking day, poseurs. Eat my bytes.
That brief bit of consolation turned to gall and wormwood when GregBot sniffed out my KOM’s and one by one took them all away, often teaming up with Wankers Deluxe like Douggie and Fireman. And because GregBot has a Ph.D. in psychology he was even able to reprogram the garage’s electronic gate. The one segment I was sure I’d own until doomsday is now his. You can look it up if you don’t believe me: Lowridge Apartments Garage Gate to Tennis Courts, RPV, California. Eleven seconds. KOM: GregBot.
The final straw, though, was sixteen days ago. I’d forgotten my Garmin for the first time ever. It was the morning of the New Pier Ride, and without my computer I was lost. How many rpm’s was I doing? How close was I to my threshold? How fast was I going? What time was it? How many kilojoules had I expended? What was the current lap time, lap power, three-second power, and total elapsed time? What the fuck was I supposed to do?
As we hit Pershing I fell into the Old Way. The Way before power meters, before carbon wheelsets, before plastic bike frames, before brake lever shifters, before calculations and analysis and review and segments and training regimens and all that other shit.
The Old Way of Hammer
According to the Old Way of Hammer, one simply hammers without regard to anything other than how long one can continue hammering. The only limiter to the Old Way of Hammer is pain. You are not slowed down by wind, power, heart rate, spoke count, lack of aero equipment, hills, dirt, rain, gear ratios, strategy, distance, size or quality of field, red blood cells, glycogen, oxygen, water, time or space. You are only slowed by pain.
As I fell into the Old Way things felt suddenly better. It no longer mattered how many watts I wasn’t producing, because ultimately I would run out of oxygen, my legs would seize up, and I would spin off to the side like a jettisoned rocket booster. It no longer mattered how fast I was going because, until someone came by, I was going faster than everyone else. It no longer mattered how badly it hurt, because once I could no longer tolerate the pain I would stop, and then the pain would go away, and I could hammer again.
Many years ago my granny made me an Afghan blanket that says in the bottom left-hand corner in her neatly embroidered hand, “1974, For Seth With Love.”
Every time I pull that blanket over my knees, curling up to write nasty political diatribes to strangers on FB I feel all cozy and warm, from the soft texture of the wool yarn but also from the comfort of that familiar blanket. That’s how I felt rolling up Pershing in the Old Way, wrapped in a warm, familiar, sweat-soaked, snot-covered, heaving, choking blanket of pain. Welcome back, Kotter.
Moderation is a sign of instability
No matter the side of the fence you’re on, whether you’re Beachbody or ViSalus, Amway or HerbaLife, Ambulance Chaser or Insurance Whore, you’d better be all in. People who try to find the best out of various alternatives end up as appealing as a rum-soaked Christmas fruitcake with fifteen different kinds of dried fruit. Like Jesus? Spread the fucking word and don’t take “Sorry, I’m Jewish,” for an answer. Think Ron Paul is the answer to our problems? Tell the world, adorn your ass with his bumper stickers, and don’t be deterred by the fact that he’s a crazy, right-wing, mysogynistic, racist whackdoodle. As Mark Bixby said, “Go big or go home.”
So when I realized that the Old Way was really the best way for me, I sent TrainingPeaks to the recycle bin, then stripped off all the data measuring devices from my Specialized Scratch and retired them. PowerTap hub and Zipp 404’s to Ebay. Garmin to The Box Where Used Bike Parts Go To Die.
And the more I thought about it, the happier I became, which was almost reason to put them all back on again. The numbers never really told me anything anyway, at least nothing I could use. On the other hand, they constantly reminded me of how hopelessly out of reach true ability on the bike would always be. Cycling, the ultimate sport of fantasy, where everyone can be a winner if he just ignores all the people around him, had become like golf: cold, hard, numerical, unwinnable, and impregnable to the prodding penis of fantasy.
You know how no doctor has ever said, “Well, Joe, you should take up golf in order to get a handle on this high blood pressure”? That’s how biking had gradually begun to feel. It was like golf without Tiger’s tawdry tabloid stories, which frankly were the only thing that ever made golf seem remotely like an activity that might appeal to me.
Best of all, this newfound love of the oldfound way has allowed me to do the one thing that makes the entire cycling endeavor worthwhile: buy new stuff. Without the PowerTap Zipps I needed a new set of wheels, and it just so happened that the bike shop had a brand new pair of Mavic Open Pro 32-hole clinchers built up on–gasp, sweat, palpitate, throb, swoon–Chris King hubs. My very first day going commando on the new wheels in the Old Way, I got that rarest of rewards, an NPR vee thanks to a hard effort and an auspiciously timed red stoplight.
This weekend is the Torrance crit. I’ll be off the grid and, after a thorough Old Way flail, likely off the back. But I be listening to some liquid crystal display tell me how badly I suck. I’ll be listening to that mellifluous, deluded inner voice telling me I just won the Tour.
November 3, 2011 § 2 Comments
Okay, I admit it. I have a big ol’ crush on Greg. Man-crush, woman-crush, Orange Crush, whatever…he’s a titan of the South Bay, and while it’s sort of pointless to pick one particular year for his outstanding performances on the bike since he’s at the top of his game year in, year out, 2011 was nonetheless stellar. The fact that he didn’t smash half his ribs and waste half the season in traction didn’t hurt…
There are lots of guys who win bike races, but as with so many things in life it’s not simply the fact of the win, it’s the way of the win. Three characteristics typify G$’s racing: relentless attacking, sacrificial teamwork, and eagerly crawling into the pain cave.
Attack, attack, attack: At Boulevard this year he beat out two perennial champs, Rich Meeker and Roger Worthington, by simply attacking them into submission. Meeker and RGW scored victories over Big Red in other races, to be sure, but Boulevard was a classic case of the old Bernard Hinault maxim, “If I can breathe, I can attack.” G$’s solo victory after being marked the entire race by the entire field says it all.
There’s no “fuck you” in “team”: In the 2011 State Road Race category for Elderly Gentlemen Who Do Not Yet Have Prostate Problems Sufficient To Prevent Them From Racing, G$ played the loyal dog, snapping at the heels of the enemy, riding into the teeth of the wind, and fouling up the chase so that teammate Jeff Konsmo could line ’em up and knock ’em down in the sprint finale. How many riders out there of G$’s caliber are willing to play the selfless teammate when bragging rights for a state road title are on the line? Exactly.
It’s Only Pain (It Drives Me Crazy): In the 2011 State Individual Time Trial, Greg placed 4th with a time of 48:37, averaging more than 29.2 mph. How fast is that? Well, it’s pretty slow compared to a motorcycle, and it’s not even plodding along compared to a jet or the speed of light. But for a bicycle, when it’s just you, the road, the wind, and the clock? It’s blazing fast. Then when you figure that he’s almost fifty, and that he is factor in road races as well as crits, it gets kind of scary. If that’s not enough to give you stomach upset, take a look at some of his Strava times, especially the record he holds from Via del Monte up to Paseo del Sol…then you start to grasp, if only a little bit, how deeply G$ is able to crawl into the pain cave, roll a boulder in front of the entrance, assume the fetal position, and not come out until the job is done.
Honorable mentions: Greg delivered a thorough thrashing at the San Marcos Circuit race, where he dragged two hapless victims around the course for 35 minutes to win easily in a very tough field. He delivered a very large rolled-up newspaper to the pups’ butts at the Torrance crit as well, which this year was a glorified Telo and about as home turf for the man as it gets.
UP NEXT: I SAID HE’D KICK ASS IN 2011. HIS NAME IS CHARON. I WAS RIGHT.