Wednesday, May 31, 2006

A kindergarten lesson

There are lots of great books for which it truly can be said, everyone should read this. But honestly, unless you plan to live in a cave and have no interaction with your fellow man, then one little book you should definitely commit to memory is entitled, "All I Really Need to Know I learned in Kindergarten." It is by Robert Fulghum, and if you take his book to heart it will make you a happier person. You will get along with people much better, because you will be shown that it's really very easy to not be an irresponsible lout. Bike racers could really use the wisdom of this little book. If being more popular could make your entire trip (60's slang for entire experience) more enjoyable, then this little book could even enhance your racing. Either that or it would just point out to you that you have little, or no, class, which might just make you angry and even more obnoxious.

The book is full of reminders of good rules to live by such as, "Clean up after yourself," and "Share." Bike racers could really use message such as these.

Here's a scenerio I've lived through many times: A dude asks if they can ride with you to a race. Then, when you stop at a gas station to fill up, not only do they not offer to pay their fair share, they don't even bother to clean the fucking windshield while they're letting you pump the gas. You're doing the driving, paying the insurance, buying the tires and oil and making the payments, you've got less room for your shit due to hauling all their shit, you had to wait for them or go by and pick them up, and then they're gonna make you tell them how much they owe you--like they can't even read the fucking pump and not make you do the collection agency thing. Not only that, but assholes like this are also the ones who leave all kinds of food wrappers and empty Coke cans laying wherever their princely ass was parked.

Here's another: Your teammate has asked if you've got floor space in your motel room. They'll stay there with their shit all over the place, watching the cable, using the shower and towels, taking up space and adding one more normal load of body heat and exhaust to the room, which is more strain no matter how otherwise considerate they may be. Then when they have made you tell them how much their share of the hotel bill will be, they'll give you some form of, "Yeah, I'll get it to you later."

After just such a recent accomodation to a dude who was in need, he had the gall to ask if we needed him to pay a part of the bill. I'm guessing this dude understood that this was not our home we were welcoming him into and that someone was charging us cash for it on a daily basis. So you have to wonder what his point was--did we need him to pay his part. Give me a fucking break, already. Guess what that dude will hear the next time he asks if we have floor space?

I don't know, do these people often tell the waiter at a restaurant that they'll pay for their meal after their race? Do they get to make their rent payment whenever it's convenient? Do they not understand that someone had to dig down and pay for their shit at the time that they used it?

Not much irritates me more than when someone forces me to ask them for the money they know damn good and well they owe. If I'd wanted to do that, I'd have gone to law school.

So here's another rule for Fulghum's book--this one for bike racers:
If you have the cognitive capacity to realize that you need to wipe your ass until the paper is no longer brown after you take a shit, then you have all the brains required to realize that you owe someone money---they have done you a fucking favor, so don't make them ask you for what you owe them or, surprise!, surprise!, that favor won't likely be there the next time. These are words to live by, brothers and sisters. Later.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Record Snake Bite

Well, this is the earliest I have ever been snake bit. The Snake Alley race still is a day away, but last night I got snake bit. The first few years I raced the Snake I had nothing but good luck. But the past several years I can count one broken stem bolt, one dropped chain, a stretched cable, a bad choice of gearing and one sinus infection that all knocked me out of contention. And all of these conditions almost perfectly coincided with the race--as in, all systems were go until either right before or shortly after the start of the race. And there's not much room for recovery at Snake Alley. Be assured that if you have one square inch of exposed ass, the Snake will bite it.

Things were just looking too good this week. Training just right. Equipment perfect. Travel arrangements accounted for. Plenty of time. Then comes the last ride before packing up the bike and one last incremental adjustment---two hours later the heretofore perfect shifting of the top-of-the-line equipment is, and I'll use the French expression here so as not to offend anyone, but the bike is shifting like a big ol' stinkin' turd, a total piece of hammered shit. Did I mention that you can't have any failures on this course, which is also my favorite race of the year? I kept my cool, however, and only yelled fuck! about ten times. I didn't break anything, though. So I really think I'm handling it well. Problem was I still had to make a grocery run, pack and load all my shit, eat dinner and do all the other little things you must do before taking off on a long weekend.

Then, no shit, I couldn't sleep for thinking about what the hell could be wrong with that damn Dura Ace piece of shit derailleur. The only thing that sustains me in times like these is an anecdote from my past.

I literally grew up at drag strips. Dad loved his racing, and he was good at it. In the parlance, he hit it hard. It was about 1964 and we lived on a farm in Arkansas. Dad would work late all week getting his car tuned, packed up and ready to go. On race Sundays, he'd get up way before dawn to milk our old Jersey cow, then wake me and we'd make the 75-mile drive up to Springfield, MO, in his '56 Chevy race car, which also was our family car. We'd always be the first in line at the drag strip--cause we had a lot to do once we got there. As soon as we got signed in, the work began. We'd jack up the car on both sides, stick jack stands underneath, pull down the drive shaft, pull out the axles, drain the oil from the rear-end (also called the differential, the box full of gears that turns the axles that turns the rear wheels and moves the car), take out the high-geared rear-end, stick in the low-geared posa-track racing rear-end, stick the axles back, bolt the drive shaft back up, hand pump the oil back in, pull off the street tires and slap on the racing slicks, then jack each side up again and pull out the jack stands and let it down. All of it was done on the bare ground using only hand tools.

Dad would jam gears all day in the sun and heat (no AC, no fancy tent for shade), then we'd do all the work in reverse order for the drive back home. Many, many times we'd be the first to arrive and the last to leave. As I remember dad never raced for much more than trophies, and those long drives back home were sweet when we had one of those golden beauties resting on the seat between us. Now that I think about it, I suppose I'll make it just fine on the Snake this year. Later.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

The hay is in the barn

This is the week before the biggest race series of the season--at least as far as I'm concerned. This coming weekend is Memorial Day weekend, which means it's time for the Quad Cities races. It starts with Snake Alley on Saturday, then Sunday is Melon City followed by Quad City in Rock Island on Monday. There are bigger races throughout the year, but to me this one is the crown jewel, the one I aim for during the entire winter and spring. This is my Tour de France. And this is the week that I am either ready to go or not, which means this entire week I can't really do more to get ready to race than rest, have a few beers, eat a lot of good food, rest, go for some easy spins on the bike, rest, hang out with friends and rest.

During this week I try to not get too much done. I fight it. Chores? They can wait. Finishing that big project at work? Nah. House cleaning? I'm homeless. Grocery shopping? This is support your local restaurants week. Catch a movie? I'm in.

In short, this is the one week I can be more like my non-believer friends with one notable exception. Twenty miles is a long ways to ride a bike this week, and chemical enhancement actually helps to keep the pace down--right where you want it this week. So, yes, I'm a slug on the bike this week, but I feel good about it, cause I got some fitness. I'm sluggin', but I feel fit. Sure, it's an illusion, but at least for this week it's like living the best of both worlds.

All that freezing my ass off on the bike all winter; all that clean living and hard work; all that fighting the hawk on those long-ass training rides--so here is the payoff. The feeling of this week followed by doing some stomping at my favorite races of the year.

This kind of high. Depending on your outlook, either it only lasts a couple of weeks or it lasts a lifetime. Dudes, you just gotta learn how to really lay back and drink it in, 'cause the hay's already in the barn on this one. Later.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Just give us our dignity

The Joe Martin Stage Race has always been one of the best bike races in the region. The race, however, has a history of problems with results that they really need to get a handle on. After this year's race, and a VeloNews article that gives precious props to a rider who wasn't even there, I would say the Joe Martin folks need to invest some real PR effort into letting everyone know that getting the results right will be a major focus for them next year--and then really do that.

Luke Musselman made the classic gut-check bike racer move jumping into a suicide break on day one. It was the classic balls-out move that every bike racer dreams of. You fire all your guns in an 80-mile break knowing you're probably committing suicide, but what the hell, maybe you'll get your sponsor's jersey into the bike mags or get a mention in an article alongside the famous names of your famous breakmates--you can live large for a while rather than not at all if you just sat in the pack and tried to finish anonymously.

It was the kind of classic bike racing move we don't see enough of. All too many times, people just want to finish with the pack, or worse, they sit in the pack all day and then sprint wildly for something very near dead fucking last.

So Luke pulled it off. He didn't stay out there for just a jump and a few pedal strokes, he was away in a freaking balls-out, Euro-style throw down with guys who spoke with foreign accents. Then the article in VeloNews credits a guys who wasn't even there. Honestly, that makes me want to puke.

The worst part is that the guy they credit is also the kind of a guy who would take a courageous chance like that, and he's a friend of mine. If he had really done that and I was reading the VeloNews blurb it would have been so cool. But he wasn't even fucking there. That's not even funny. That just fucking sucks.

In years past, I can remember standing around for hours at Joe Martin waiting for results that were hopelessly screwed up. I've long realized that you really needed to keep your own time and make sure they have it right, but that only brings me to another problem, which is a certain loss of dignity.

Every stage of every category of Joe Martin is tough. There are no gimme's. And when you've invested that kind of energy, the last thing you should have to do is hang around for the undignified pushing and shoving at the feeding frenzy around the posting of the results. But if you don't, you risk being listed wrong or being completely missed. And the only thing more undignified than taking part in the results hog trough would be having to chase down an official and whine that you got screwed in the results.

This year I flatted in the RR, but then rode myself back into the money in the TT and crit, only to fall out again when a rider who no one remembers being anywhere near the front got scored higher in the crit. I heard many similar stories of messed up TT results, incorrectly scored RR finishes, minute-by-minute changes in GC, etc.

Joe Martin is a great event. The weather is usually wonderful. The scenery is absolutely beautiful. Every stage is a natural selection venue that rewards the fittest, and toughest, riders. Dickson Street is a great place to party. Joe Martin is one of the coolest races of the season, but they really need to get their shit together with the results. Later.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The final race prep

So, do you have some races that, whenever you think much about them, I swear to God you have to take one of those race-day shits? You know, the kind that is induced mostly by some kind of nervous house cleaning action. There are two races in particular that do that to me--Joe Martin and Snake Alley. I'll be toeing the line at both of them inside of the next two weeks. You may wonder, is this good or bad? I'm going with good.

I think this reaction is something that is basic to all warriors. It must go all the way back to the caves. Probably a preparation mechanism. It stands to reason that the cavemen would be able to hunt better after a couple of righteous BM's. You need blood and energy going to muscles and brain to fight, run and think instead of the bowels to herd turds.

I can see Trog sharpening his spearhead and thinking about the task at hand. Where he's headed ain't nobody gonna be doing him any favors. He'll get whatever he can kill or take from someone else. Absolutely all he can get is what he can win in a fight. He's going after the one thing that can keep him alive and the task could kill him. Definitely a thought that would send you out behind the ugly bush.

When man evolved to the point of learning it was way easier to kill other men and steal their food, then the race-day shit was born. This was more calculating and required more thought. They had to visualize their quarry and mentally stalk them. And of course these kinds of thoughts triggered hormonic activity--and rumblings in the nether regions. The body preparing for battle. Purging. Getting leaner and quicker.

If you're calling bullshit right now, then you've never glanced into the abyss of a race site porta-John (Sorry, Rinesy, I know you hate that term). You won't see many solid logs down there and you won't see only the color brown, either. And when racers are standing in line at the village hole, they don't stand way, way back only to ward off the smell. The sound of race-day bowels is a sound that no-doubt reverberates across the eons of time back to when getting dropped was for keeps.

I remember once standing in line at the porta-Johns and laughing my ass off when a dad took his toddler into one and you could hear him loudly admonishing, almost scolding, the boy. You could hear the kid whining about something and then the dad starts yelling, "Don't look, I told you not to look!" I have to be honest here and admit that ever since then, these things have been like car wrecks to me--I really have to make a conscious effort not to look.

And here, I must point out, is a real indictment of triathlon. Triathletes are very serious athletes. Honestly, as a group I believe they are more serious than bike racers. So when they have all that gear to tote and arrange in the transition area, then get warmed up in not one but three disciplines, and the start time is usually around the fucking crack of fucking dawn and there's a long line at the porta-John and the first event is the lake swim . . . . . . . I think you can see where I'm headed here. All's I can say is, be assured that the next time you do a lake swim tri, the energy bar you see floating past your face is likely of the re-cycled variety. But for every Caddie Shack Baby Ruth bar you think you see, you have to know that most of them didn't make it into solid form. I'm thinking a round of anti-biotics should be the prophylactic prelude to every lake swim triathlon.

But we've come here to praise the race-day BM, not disparage it. It's a good thing. Really, I know a dude who was so serious about his racing that his doctor told him he gave himself hemorrhoids from straining so hard to dump before each race. Obviously he wasn't visualizing enough and letting nature take its course. Yet another example of patience being a virtue.

So, if you're headed down to Fayetteville to do Joe Martin, or up to Burlington to do the Snake, maybe I'll see you in the war-preparation line. But remember, don't look. Later.