Tuesday, September 12, 2006

I'm back---sort of

I just marched through Gateway hell week and did a couple cool little races down in Ark and I have a few things to say about them, but I have been incommunicato--and I'm not sure if that's the right spelling of that word, because, no shit, I'm writing this from my new laptop while I sit in a freakin' coffee shop. I'm smack in the middle of a yuppie scene if ever there was one and, really, I don't dig it too much.

It was okay until a couple of assholes came in with a camera and started filming some kind of interview about Iraq. The worst part is most of the folks in here seem to be digging this shit. And some chick is talking freakin' Chinese behind me at like about a hundred miles an hour--pretty fuckin' loud, too.

See, I left my job a couple weeks ago and now I'm doing everything from this laptop, which is all new to me and will take me a while to get up to speed on.

I'd like to write more, but these interview assholes are talking really loud-and-proud and if I stay here much longer I'm gonna find myself in the middle of one of those scenes from Animal House where Belushi smashed that guitar--and a video camera would be really expensive for an unemployed bike bum to have to replace.

So I'll re-cap the racing soon. Later.

Monday, August 21, 2006

I knew this before Butthead did

Disclaimer: Both Butthead and Porkchop, possibly using variations of anonymity, will accuse me of going on about this race only because they didn't go. But this isn't about them, cause, basically, they weren't there.

Although Butthead and Brad Huff are friends, Butthead has really only seen Brad in his disguise as mild-mannered Clark Kent. Oh, sure, he's raced with him a couple of times this season, but it's like how Kent's colleagues knew he could type about four hundred words a minute and somehow always knew exactly what color Lois Lane's panties were. Butthead, like them, knew the boy was good, but he, like they, really had no idea that the boy was from a different planet.

Butthead's gonna put a comment in here something about being in a break with Huffy and knowing how good he is, but come on. Butthead did not see Brad get called to the line in the season's only pro-only national championship crit. Hearing Eddy VanGuys announce the names, Frazier, Henderson, O'Bee, McCormick, and you just hoped your buddy, mild-mannered Brad Huff, was gonna be okay after sixty-two, eight-turn, one-mile laps with the best professionals in North America.

Butthead did not see the look of composure on Brad's face as he calmly sat at the back of the pack through the entire first half of the race. On every pass down the long hill someone attacked out of the pack and snaked the entire pack back and forth at what had to be around 40 mph. Brad's teammates covered all of these early moves while he sat about three saddles from the back gulping food and pushing fluids. At one point it looked like he had to take a piss on the fly and then did the old water bottle douche--but like a gentleman, he was off the back while attending to bidness--and he accomplished all of this with absolutely no experssion on his face. I'm not even sure he ever opened his mouth to breathe or even raised out of his saddle, while all around him pro riders wore death masks and blew snot like they were grasping at the last chance.

Butthead did not see Brad's steady progression to the front at almost precisely the halfway point. He was an absolute machine. For thirty laps he sits third or fourth saddle from the broom. Next lap, he's ten up. Next lap he's 20 up. Next lap he's mid-pack. Next lap he's top 20. Next lap he fires a warning shot and opens up a fifty-yard gap with a HealthNet guy on his wheel and holds it for two solid laps, like he's just stretching his legs and checking out how much faster he can take some of the corners if and when he really wants to. Two laps later he jumps out of the pack to snag a $100 preme, again, just to polish up on that last corner before the stakes go into the stratosphere.

If Butthead would have seen this he would have thought it looked a lot like how Brad handled things at Webster Grove---but this was a Grove on another planet.

Butthead didn't watch Brad calmly reel in counter attack after counter attack--from the top professional teams in the country. These attacks were not coming from Mesa, Dogfish and Big Shark. These attacks were from HealthNet, Navigators (a lot from Navigators!), Jittery Joe's and Kodak.

Butthead was not standing in the next-to-last corner with me when there was ten laps to go and a different team was launching an attack down the backstretch on every single pass. If he had been, he would have seen how hard Brad's team worked to help him bring these back. But he also would have been concerned when, with about five to go, it was very clear that Huffy was all on his own. Several of his top teammates, like Michael Creed, had cruised to the side and chosen that corner to watch the end-race craziness.

On the last lap, Butthead did not see the pack round the third-to-last corner so spread out across the road that at least ten guys were sitting in the national pro crit jersey with nothing in the way but three hundred meters and two tight corners.

If Butthead had been standing there squinting 100 meters up the street he would have seen one rider jump hard from the middle of the pack in an audacious early first-or-last Ricky Bobby move. Had Butthead been there, it would have taken a couple of seconds, but then he would have heard Brad's teammates yell and he would have seen that it was Brad who had just thrown it down and was now flying through the next-to-last corner with the pro peloton spread behind him like a big human funnel.

How they got through those last two turns is a mystery to guys like me and Butthead. I mean, I saw it and I don't even know. They were fucking flying and nobody was backing off, cause every single one of them had to be thinking there could be a total pileup that only he could find a way through and then he'd be standing on top of that podium. This level of racing requires a different mindset. I remember Joe HIll once told me that he loves it at the end of a race when it gets really crazy in the last lap. Joe said the first thought that comes to mind is, "I could win."

Butthead did not see that they were so tight heading down the last stretch to the last corner that no daylight showed between them as they rounded the turn. Somewhere between the next-to-last corner and the finish line, only one guy managed to get by Brad--Hilton Clarke, an Aussie, which meant that Brad Huff was the new U.S. National Professional Criterium Champ.

Butthead knows this now. Can't you see him sitting by the phone, speed-dialing Huffy's number from about the time he could calculate that the race might end? So he may have heard sooner than most, but he didn't see Brad on the podium--just the biggest crit podium of the season--and he didn't see the way Brad rode that race. He didn't see Brad working those professionals, not so much like he is one of them, but more like he owns them.

Butthead, I know you're out there and you are constitutionally incapable of acknowledging that you missed something. But, dude, that was sure enough a sight to see. Later.

Monday, August 14, 2006


All I can think is there are a lot of folks who have yet to discover some of the better features of a racing license. It's mid-August, yet this season somehow represents the winter of discontent for far too many. Here in the great Midwest, it's hot as Hades in the waning weeks of a long season, and bike racers are dropping like flies. Honestly it would take abstract calculation to count just the ones I know---and all that means is that I need more than my fingers to count 'em. A few of the biggest races are left, but there is no more time left. At this point, if you're not where you want to be, every race is too far to drive, too hot, too wet, too sketchy, too expensive, too much---wah, wah, wah, wah, wah. At this point in the season, if you're not where you want to be, you hate life and you blame bike racing for it. Stop reading this Goddamned column right now. There's still time to sign up for a team triathlon somewhere and find some of what racing that bike is good for.

This month, I'm turning 55, I'm retiring from my job of almost 20 years, I'm moving all my wordly possessions to another state, I'm saying so-long to many 25-year friends, I'm homeless, I'll soon be jobless, I'm contemplating new career moves, and, no fucking shit, the only thing on my mind this morning is that I need to do some big miles on the bike this week to get ready for the Hotter-N-Hell road race that's coming up. That, and I need to get a CB radio installed in the flamin' van so I can jaw with the truckers on the way down to Wichita Falls. And man, that's what I love about racin' bikes. If I wasn't starin' down both barrels of the hotter-n-hell hundred, I'd be totally freaking out about shit that don't get fixed by freakin'.

This occurred to me when I ran into my buddy Ronnie Sapp yesterday at the bike shop--he was walking out when I was walking in. He told me when he got back from the tour of KC the day before, the stresses of raising a teenager had sent him back out on his bike for four hours. So after driving four hundred miles and doing two hard races in two days, the bike was still there for him for as long as he needed it.

And this would be another example of when I'd have to resort to cognitive function to count the number of times the bike has been my personal therapist. It starts with the reality check of an upcoming race and really wanting to make, in fact owing it to, some people go as hard as they possibly can in order to beat my ass---this is called being a playah. So like one of those times when things aren't making you happy and you'd like to put on a good buzz and find somebody to kick your ass, or drive your car 120 mph, or kick your dog, or kick your girlfriend/boyfriend, or kick yourself, instead you throw your leg over that bar and you pound those pedals until the world looks straight again. When it's rainy, or cold, or hot, or the day's been a long one, you might need an upcoming race, or an upcoming season, to remind you that the bike is always there. The bike don't nag you to ride it. And it don't tell you how long or how hard or how far. The bike only listens and does whatever you tell it. Later.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Down By Law

I've got a great idea for reality TV. It will be called "Profiled." You get an old van with out-of-state plates, tint all the windows rock-star dark, put on chrome mag wheels and paint big red and yellow flames down the sides. Then you load the van with a bunch of sweat- & gatorade-soaked bikes, several bags full of sweaty & stinky clothes & helmets & shoes, one woman college professor, one high school student, an insurance claims adjustor, a utility lineman who's also a Viet Nam vet, and put a 55-year old state worker behind the wheel wearing a t-shirt that says "Party Oganically" and has a small marijuana leaf graphic symbol between the words. Oh yeah, you also want to put dual exhaust on the van, make the day really hot so that the AC is running full blast, turn up the tunes to a listenable volumn, and stack enough shit on top of all the bikes in the back so that it's not all that easy to see out the back.

Once you've got everything all set up, then you want to have these folks just leaving a race so that they'll all be talking about it as they head merrily home. Then you've got the bait ready and you hit the road fishing for an encounter with Missouri's finest. It shouldn't take long.

To really set the hook, you take extra long to pull over when the Holstein finally takes the bait and gets behind you with his lights flashing. Every encounter from here on will be great for viewing as the trooper will do all in his power to be so patronizing and irritating that it will take Herculean restraint on the part of all the van occupants in order to stay out of jail.

Trooper: "Did you know you were speeding?"

Me: "No, I really didn't."

Trooper: "Why is that, do you have a speedometer?"

Me: "Yes, I just didn't realize I was speeding."

Trooper: "You don't pay attention to your speed?"

Me: "I try."

Trooper: "Who's the owner of this van?

Me: "Me."

Trooper: "Please step out of the van and stand at the back while I ask your passengers some questions." Then I hear him ask no one in particular, "Who's the owner of this van?"

He tells me to get in his car. Once there, he makes me empty out my pockets, then he reaches over and pats my pockets getting a little too close to the boys in the process. Then he starts running a check on my license and peppering me with questions.

Trooper: "Why'd it take you so long to pull over?"

Me: "I pulled over as soon as I saw you back there."

Trooper: "Was something impairing your senses, cause I was back there a long time with the lights and siren on."

Me: "Well, the van's loud and we were talking and we just got done with a hard race and I guess I just didn't know you were there."

Trooper: "Was something impairing you?"

Me: "Nothing more than old age, I'm kinda hard of hearing."

Trooper: "When's the last time you smoked marijuana?"

Me: "Oh, I don't know, I guess back in the sixties."

Trooper: "Oh, come on, it's been since then hasn't it?"

Me: "Well, racin' bikes in 100 degrees and smokin' don't really go together."

Trooper: "Oh, I don't know I've busted a lot of bike racers."

Me: "They were probably mountain bikers."

Trooper: "What am I gonna find in the back of the van?"

Me: "Stinky bikes and even stinkier bikin' clothes."

Then he tells me we're waiting for his backup cause he can't unload everyone out of the van by himself. I ask him what he means by that and he says, well, there's five of you and only one of me, would you like those odds? I say, I guess not. I ask him why he's gonna unload everyone and he says, too many things don't add up here.

Then he re-asks about why I didn't pull over sooner and he asks me about ten questions having to do with the OK plates and why I have the van and why it's not licensed in MO when I live in MO. I tell him I just got the van in OK and I'm moving there in a couple of weeks. He tells me it's illegal for me not to register it in MO even if I'd be doing it for less than a month. I don't say anything back.

When the 1-Adam-12 backup unit arrives, they both pull on evidence-handling black leather gloves. Then he opens the side doors and starts talking to everyone in the van. At this point, the retired utility lineman and Viet-Nam vet is making it a point to listen intently to what the trooper is saying, and this unnerves the trooper who tells the guy, "I don't like the way you're staring at me." And really this guy who we all know as one of the most solid citzens, a father and grandfather and a credit to his community, actually does have a stare that will incline a circumspect person to feel like they should not fuck with this guy. But my buddy simply tells the trooper that he was only trying to pay attention to what he's telling them.

Then the woman professor further unnerves the trooper by telling him she needs to go to the bathroom (right there in front of God and everyone). He doesn't realize how many miles this woman rides a bike with mostly all guys. He tells her to go ahead, but to just get out of sight and makes her empty her pockets first.

After searching everyone and running their licenses and searching the van the trooper comes back to the car. And I couldn't help myself from offering just one smart-assed comment.

Me: "How'd it go?"

Trooper: "Pretty good" And he hands me my license telling me he's not giving me a ticket. He tells me to slow down---as if that had anything at all to do with why he pulled me over. After all this, he says I was doing 71, which is way slower than I'm usually driving in my unmarked, shiny clean late-model yuppie-mobile that never gets noticed by the man.

And then our intrepid public servant ties it all up in a neat package with his parting salvo:

Trooper: "Mr. McDonald, can I give you some advice?"

Me: "Sure, man."

Trooper: "Don't wear that shirt."

What I wanted to say was, "Dude, now I know to only wear this shirt when I'm this clean." But what I really said was, "Well, I bought it at a garage sale and thought it would be real funny to wear to a bike race, but I guess it wasn't such a great idea."

So Jelly Roll Hill will be glad to hear that I now have a new lucky race shirt. Later.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

My Gateway Cup Runneth Over

So, brother Moses has returned from his journey up the stormy mountain with the stone tablets and the word is---no masters races at Gateway this year. The old folks have been shoved aside. Jettisoned. Some people are really pissed off at race director Tim Ranek. But I'm not one of them.

Sure, I'll miss doing battle with all the St. Louis teams and even helping them chase down Doering and his team Mack hired guns. And I'll offer a couple of valid reasons that including masters classes makes local races more vibrant and in fact are important for the future of the sport. But the people who made this decision are the people who assume the risks and responsibilities of putting on this race and that gives them every right to do things as they see fit. They are privy to information, considerations and constraints that none of the rest of us will ever know about or have to deal with. Plus, as I said, it's their money. It's their race.

But let me say this about Tim Ranek: I have never known of any race director anywhere who has ever risked more, or worked harder, to stage a race than has this man for this race. Most sane people would never, ever have risked as much to stage a race as I personally know he has done on numerous occasions. I won't go into details about how much this guy has done, but suffice it to say that he made the Gateway Cup what it is. This race is his baby. So you can bet the farm that any, and every, move he makes with this race truly represents what he sees as making it a better event. Period.

And here's the thing. Although saying this is gonna piss off some people, masters racers really can be a bunch of cherry pickin', sandbaggin' prima donnas. We love our smaller packs of guys who, for the most part, ride nice straight lines and don't dive into corners, mostly cause they don't desperately need either the money or the upgrade. Here's the classic masters race tactic: Make the first five laps the hardest of the race, thereby blowing at least half the field completely off the back---and if this sounds like a pro 1-2 tactic, guess what?

I mean, really, the fuckin' USCF actually print up a comprehensive list of riders who can't race masters races. I know some guys who gave up a pro license just so's they could keep their names off that list and do a little cherry pickin' whenever the opportunity presented itself. And I can't tell you how many times I've raced against a guy who won the masters race then jumped in the pro 1-2 and hit the fuckin' podium in that one as well.

But in my opinion there are two valid reasons to always include masters classes at races, and especially at the larger events such as the Gateway Cup.

One reason to include masters classes is purely economic. If the masters classes are set up properly, they will attract enough entry fees to provide a net gain in revenue---this year regional races both north and south of St. Louis proved that. Quad Cities and Tulsa Tough both saw50-60-rider masters fields this year. Doing the math on those numbers demonstrates that a one-hour investment in schedule time can net an event somewhere between $1,000 to $2,000 per day. That's cash money.

The other, and actually the best, reason to include masters races has to do with the vibrancy, and the future, of the sport. Having champions and fast guys at the peak of their physicality will always be the feature of any athletic event. But cycling is not like the mainstream sports such as B-ball, football, baseball or even soccer. Cycling is a participation sport such as running, golf, or even tennis. The future and viability of cycling as a sport (and by association all its grand events such as the Gateway Cup) depends on its heterogeneity.

That being said, the future of any cycling event is probably directly proportional to the extent to which the participants of said event mirror the general population.

Now my good buddy Butthead believes that spectators only come out to watch the fastest guys race. He believes that spectators don't care about the old guys, the women, the fours, or even the threes. Like a lot of cyclists, however, Butthead is self-absorbed when it comes to cycling. He thinks only of his race and only of his part in it. That's understandable and it's probably a requirement of racing well, and it also totally makes my point. So the problem with Butthead's theory is that it ignores reality and demonstrates the thought process that can occur when a head gets wedged up an anal orifice.

Like other participation sports, the people who watch them are the people who participate in them. So, let's have a show of hands here---how many of you believe that most of the people who participate in bicycle riding are fast twenty something dudes with tattoos and ear-rings? So, have you ever rode on the KATY trail? Have you ever worked in a bike shop (Butthead, et. al.) ?

When racing a bike looks like it can only be done by strapping young dudes, that would be terrible for the bike business. And that would be terrible for bike racing. Later.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Soulard Sucks

Okay, technically that title is not correct and I was going for shock effect, mostly. The Soulard race is one of the St. Louis classics. It's just one of the ones you plan to do every year even when you know that the organizers and officials have planned for your race to end in a clusterfuck.

It's almost like you could set your clock by it--yeah, it's a couple laps to go in the masters race at Soulard; time for one big pack to merge with another big pack; time for three or four sprints to go off in different directions all at once; time for some guys to turn right and some to go straight and some others to go down; time for the "officials" to ask the racers who placed where; time for the protests; time for an "official" vague interpretation of the rules and reality; time for middle-aged guys to dispense with their dignity and argue for their just deserts even though they may have taken absolutely no pulls in the entire fucking race; time for Jimmy to go sit in the shade and drink a cold one.

Soulard is a crit-lovers crit---except for the lack of prize money, but crit lovers have always ignored that. The thing about Soulard is it's a very cool course in a very cool venue and always with good competition. The prize list has always been shit, but you never raced Soulard for the money. The fields have always been good there because of the setting and because the course is fun. Soulard is about the funkiest neighborhood in St. Louis. So while you're tearing around this course that makes about ten 90-degree turns, the locals, who have been up all night partying, are continuing their revelry with sidewalk BBQ's, or maybe just draining the keg and cheering you on.

Soulard is held in conjunction with Bastille Days, which is a big neighborhood party time. So Budweiser always has a few tents set up on a ball field right near the start/finish line. They sell beer, burgers and brats and have competitions that people who have been up all night drinking can do. It use to be big games of volleyball, which was cool because all these hot, half-drunk chicks would be out there in bikini tops jumping up and down trying to volley. But now volleyball has been replaced with washer-toss. Either the hard-core St. Louis drinking crowd is getting older or they're getting redder-necked, but washer toss is not nearly as fun to watch while you're warming up or waiting for the pack to come back around.

And what happened to the Bud Light girls? Honestly, I can remember when you were thinking that they might have to rope off the entire racing area and check ID's, only allowing adults. They always had one of those dunking tanks where you could throw a softball and if you hit the target, a Bud Light girl wearing the briefest of briefs would drop into the water then slowly climb back up for another--and for the angry women, they had it so that you wouldn't be able to hit the girl with the softball. It was all for charity, of course.

Soulard is a perfect amalgam of Midwestern American culture---there's either a bar or a church on every corner. The churches are the really stately kind with tall bell towers and lots of stained glass---no flashing signs out front with idiotic message like, "Hello, this is the Lord and I'm really pissed off." The bars have personality, too. After the masters race fiasco I finally found Ricky, my teammate, in the one that is just across from the start line. He was about four or five beers into his self-medication after crashing out in our race. He'd already had time to make several friends in there, one of whom was very proud of her augmented breasts. He introduced me to all of them.

Did I mention the fucked-up masters race at Soulard? Happens every year. I'm thinking maybe they could conduct a clinic for new officials so that these people can get an idea of what it's like to have absolutely no chance of picking who is finishing where and just be standing there with a clipboard in hand and be totally overwhelmed cause people are sprinting in all directions and there are crashes and near crashes and people protesting and other people doing another lap then sprinting again.

Here's what they do. They seperate the 40+ and the 50+ into two different groups with different numbers and a different prize list and different start times, and everyone is instructed that racers from one group can not work with racers from another.

Right. Does this remind you of another head-in-the-sand, in-denial scenario? Hint: yellow-line rule.

What happens every time they do this is one pack mixes with another, and always at a very dangerous point. Did I mention the ten turns? For the past couple of years it has been on the last lap when members of both packs are driving hard for a placement.

This year, my team had controlled our race from the start. We were the only attacking team and we had two good guys left in the chase group and one guy away solo. We were looking to do more damage in the final lap, only we were denied the chance. As we headed to the line to get the bell for the final lap, we were absorbed by the finishing pack of the other group. Some in the our pack went ahead and made the turn to head into the final lap for us, but for the rest of us turning to make that final lap would have meant taking down half the 40+ finishing pack who all were finishing straight (they open the barriers to let the final sprint be straight, instead of having to negotiate a hard right turn). So essentially what happened is that some of the riders in the 50+ pack who had been responsible for animating the race got screwed out of a final lap.

The officials assured all that the finishing order was correct, even when half the field didn't get to do the final lap. That's like awarding the world series trophy to whoever is ahead in August. But then, these are the same officials who didn't even know that there was a 50+ guy away solo and that he was lapping our pack along with the rest of the 40+ guys on that last lap.

The officials wanted everyone to come over and tell them where they think they finished. I saw lots of guys over there like a bunch of vultures feeding on some slimy road kill. For the past two years I've asked why they don't race us as one pack. I've never gotten a lucid answer as to why they continue this kind of bullshit, which makes racing more dangerous than it need be. It's fucking stupid. To me, being 55 years old means that you should have more dignity than to have to argue for table scraps. I know some good men were over there doing that, cause they felt forced to. I went to the bar and had a beer with Ricky. Later.

Friday, July 14, 2006


I just read a great article about Floyd Landis in the NYT. Reading this article, I got the same feeling I got reading a lot of what I've read about Lance and, really, a lot of what I've read about almost all of the so-called greats. And that feeling is this: you could endow most people with "both" the same raw physical talent of these athletes "and" a fuckin' boatload of performance-enhancing drugs and enter them in the TDF and they might last three stages. Maybe. It reminds me of a couple of my racing home-boys, who truly believe they are very different people. And in many ways they truly are. But if the topic is how they race, they are the exact same breed.

I believe this is why people are so eager and open to believing that all these TDF guys are dopers. To believe otherwise is to believe that normal people just can't do this stuff--it simply isn't physically possible. Waiter, I'll have another caramel mocha latte, please, and could you hurry that 'cause my beemer is double-parked.

All elite racers are just freaks. Not normal. They take drugs to do that stuff. I don't have to take drugs to to ride my wave runner, so that's why I do that instead of SuperWeek or the TDF. That shit's stupid. Anybody up for 18 holes?

So 99.9% of the population succumbs to the existence that our forefathers earned us the opportunity to live---to live a life where no pain means no pain. And what this amounts to is a society where obesity is at epidemic proportions, where spectating equates to participation and where the attainment of a category two racing license is the equivalent of an AARP card.

Whoa! Did he just bash the venerable cat II license?

Yes. And I meant it.

I'm sorry, but I know a lot of guys for whom the attainment of a cat II license is the beginning of the end of their racing. They have the ability to upgrade, but it's little more than a penile extension. They lack either, or both, the time or the commitment to train and race as a two or a one, yet having that license means they gotta line up against people who make both the time and the commitment.

Guess what's gonna happen?

So what we have here is what you might call a conundrum. And what's the logical extension? Talk---and quitting. You hear a lot of talk about how racing is not important. You hear a lot of talk about priorities. You hear about "expenses" you hear about "wrecking" you hear about "burnout" you hear about how racing is fucked up and anybody who's successful "must" be a doper.

I have two home-boys who outwardly seem as different as night and day. But when it comes to training and racing these two are the same animal. They start with not bullshitting themselves and then they don't have to bullshit anyone else--all they have to do is race. Yeah, Butthead and Dino have different styles, sure enough, but when it comes to racing those boys both are bona fide. Later.