Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Who loves ya?

A column by 'druber got a couple of my home boys restarted on their eternal teammate payout debate. To protect their anonymity, I'll refer to them with fictitious monikers--I'll refer to them as Fish and Butthead. Fish's position could be described as Marxist--an even split for all team members in a given race. Butthead's argument runs more along the lines of a feudal or caste system--the bulldog feeds until he is full then the mongrels scrap for the rest, or you're either in or you're out.

Both arguments have validity and, like all rules governing human behavior, both arguments have an arbitrary side that ignores reality. Like a lot of things, this debate reminds me of an incident.

Long, long ago in the grand ballroom of a Hilton hotel in a city far, far away, my doubles partner and I had just stepped to the number one pit table at a national-caliber fussball tournament. First place for this tournament was several hundred (1970's) dollars--a decent payday for a couple of Gypsies. This particular match would decide the winner's bracket, which meant the winner of this game would advance to the finals with a huge advantage over whomever they met there as the winners of the loser's bracket--tournaments were double-elimination, so if you lost once you played through the loser's bracket and could still win the tournament, but you'd have to win all the rest of your matches beating the winners of the winner's bracket twice in the finals. So this match was big. It was doubly big, however, because we had history with our opponents--we had bad blood.

In the fussball world, these guys were a big deal. Between them they had, like, three national championships. They had factory sponsorship with matching polo shirts and nary a hair out of place. They were the consummate tournament professionals.

We were not.

We were back-alley professionals. We made most of our money gambling in bars before, during and after the big-time tournaments. During one of the more memorable of these nefarious gambits, my partner and I ripped those polo shirts right off the fucking backs of these two big-time players. We did it by exploiting the very thing that was their trademark--professionalism.

My partner was what is technically referred to as a real mouthy piece of shit. He had a real talent for quickly finding ways to get under people's skin and then he'd go there to the breaking point. It wasn't just a talent with him, it was pure genius. It came naturally and flowed freely. He had what you'd call a rapier wit. And he got to these guys. He got to them in a big way. It took him just a few seconds to figure out that these guys were not only used to deference, they needed it. We made more than money that night. We made a couple of life-long enemies. They made sure we understood that things would be much different the next time we met in a tournament. You see, in sanctioned tournaments you really had to behave yourself--cursing, taunting or fighting would get you DQ'ed, sanctioned, suspended or banned from the tour.

When we walked to the table to start the match, I knew we could beat these two, but I knew it would be a fight and I wondered why my partner had such a big shit-eating grin on his face. I was just glad to see that my forward was feeling good and feeling confident--turns out, he had already hedged our bet.

No sooner had our opponents won the opening coin toss than the referee had to quiet a loud and jeering crowd--from both ends of the table. The pit matches always had bleachers at either end of the tables, so the faces, and voices, of a lot of people were literally right in the faces of the players. And the hooting, jeering and cat-calling was at an all-time high that first game. Every time our opponents started setting up for a shot, I could hardly hear myself think for all the noise, and I could see our volatile opponents' faces getting redder and redder--especially since the louder the crowd noise got, the more my partner chuckled this little cackle that he always used when he really wanted to annoy the hell out of someone.

We won a hard-fought first game and there was just a bit of body checking as we circled the table to start the second. Ever the showman, my partner did the equivalent of an NBA flop looking in the referee's direction with palms upturned and that exaggerated wounded look as the more tempermental of our two opponents wouldn't give an inch and actually gave him a little shoulder push when they passed.

Two possessions into the second game, the referree stopped play and summoned hotel security, who escorted the more vocal of the two hooligans from the stands and right out of the building. This quieted the crowd, but not the chuckling from my partner. The rest of the match was played in stony silence (except for my partner's constant irritating little giggle), but it was a done deal. We took that game, the next and the match in quick succession, then met the same two in the finals and, again, put them away three games to one. In other words, we owned their fucking polo shirts once again.

Turns out, the two hooligans from the crowd were a couple of brokedick home-boys who had traveled to the tournament without much of a chance of winning anything. So about the only chance they had of buying any gas for the trip home was the $50 apiece my partner paid them to yell what he told them to yell, at exactly the point he wanted them to yell it, and as loud as he wanted them to yell it. Like I said, the man was a genius.

Moral of the story is if you want to play as a team, then you gotta pay as a team. And that's an easy little aphorism to remember, but like a lot of these universal principles, sometimes reality keeps them from being as universal as you'd like. Currently I have a teammate who has the annoying habit of chasing down his own jerseys. He's a strong guy who is just converting from triathlon. In the past, when confronted with this transgression, he has pleaded ignorance. After this past weekend at Winghaven, however, that excuse has worn thin. So now I gotta jump ship from the Marxist camp to something that has a little feudal and a little caste. I think this might be what they call realpolitic. Butthead, look that word up and comment. Later.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Super Freaks

So I'm perusing the latest VeloNews the other night and came across a reference to John Frey's U.S. national record for a 40K TT. It was 47:35 set in Moriarty NM, where most of the national marks have been achieved. I wondered if the record still stands and was thinking that it had to be a venerable mark if it did--Frey and his buddy Kent Bostick were TT terrors back in the 80's.

Several people I asked were sure that someone else must have eclipsed Frey's mark by now, and most thought maybe Dave Zabriskie had it since he so dominated the last national championship and has gone on to demonstrate his TT prowess at the next level across the big pond. But Butthead found the numbers and, sure enough, Frey is still the U.S. TT king, although he set the standing mark late in his career in 1990, which gives him both the overall elite men's record and the record for masters men 30+. And while obviously this is gonna be a tough standard to overcome, in my opinion it pales by comparison to some of the others.

Frey's accomplishment speaks for itself, having stood for almost 16 years. But when he clocked the fastest 40K TT ever turned on American soil, he obviously was in his early 30's. A glance a little deeper down the well and you'll read that in '99 a dude named Scott Hennessy turned in a 40K time of 50:35--for his age group of 50+. In 1997, Scott Tucker rode a 51:56 in the 55+ age group, then two years later, Tucker slowed just slightly to do a 52:42 setting the new standard for men aged 60 and over. Oddly, and almost unbelievably, as at least it seems to me, these marks are way more obtainable than is the one at the bottom of the list. In 2003, the man whose physiology should be studied by scientists the world over, a dude named Jack Pardee pedaled a bicycle 40 kilometers in 57 minutes and six seconds, to set the U.S. national mark for men who are at least 85 years of age.

Talk to me about how fast you are. Why are vitamin companies not beating down the doors of these dudes? And a better question is, how the hell does an 85-year-old dude go that fast for that long? If and when I'm able to make 85, I hope I'll know my name and be able to feed myself. Going three minutes under the hour for 40K? Hell, I know some pretty salty cat two's who would be happy with that.

Another glance at the list give a clue as to the future racing plans of one of the fastest bike racing baby boomers ever--Mr. Kent Bostick. I've raced against Bostick a couple times and let's just say that oddsmakers heavily favored him and that he definetly covered the line, by, like, a lot. Bostick owns every age mark but Frey's (30+), at 35+, 40+, and 45+, that he has attained, and all his times go under 50 minutes, the last being 49:57. So, it'll be interesting if he can continue to go under 50 minutes to take over Hennessy's 50+ mark, which I'm guessing he'll be shooting for very soon. And as for me and my national TT-record aspirations, they stand somewhere between hoping to still be riding a bike and just being alive if ol' Kent is lucky enough to go after the mark set by the true king of all U.S. national time trial riders: Mr. Jack Pardee. Maybe for once I have better odds than Kent Bostick. Later.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Whaleshit

Whooooo, boy, I really sucked this weekend at the state RR's. But that's not the topic of this piece. Although, really, I raced like a total bonehead and I paid for it by having a total spinal tap about thirty yards from the finish line. I was almost like that chick at the Ironman that time who spent the last 50 yards of the race crawling and crapping all over the place--I would have wrote shitting, but it wouldn't alliterate with crawling, okay? But I wasn't that bad, I just could not bend my fucking leg anymore. Talk about a total bitch slap. When your legs seize, you could be just inches away from an Olympic Gold, or (insert name here) could be laying there naked with arms outstretched and there is no way you could make it to that prize. If Fish hadn't appeared out of nowhere, pulling my lame ass back onto the saddle and pushing me and my bike across the finish line, I'd probably still be out there. But that's not what this is about. What this is about is another kind of breakdown--a lapse of self confidence by none other than-------drumroll, please, and I'll just state what you never thought you'd ever hear, so here it goes . . . . . Butthead has given up beer. . . . . . due to shitty racing!!!!

He revealed this revelation to me the evening after stinking up two races in a row. And he unveils this personality quirk when we're in a perfect Butthead situation--looking down our noses at a pack of redneck, greaser parents who are celebrating the fact that they are convinced their double-wide contains the next Carl Edwards cause their kid just won a gaudy, cheap-ass trophy at the soap box derby. So these cretins are on the outside patio of a local yuppie micro brewery--which I'm sure they think is called "micro" cause they allow all denominations to drink there--celebrating the only thing they've won in about forever, and Butthead can't even get drunk enough to look down on them. I swear he kept making excuses for them and ordering more lemonade.

It seems that the cockiest bike racer who ever stuffed toilet paper into his chamois bulge is having a crisis. This is the guy who once offered drunken racing tips to Roberto Gaggioli. This is the guy who swore that Steve Tilford would be his cyclocross bitch one day. This is the guy who calls Joe Hill, "Little guy." This is the guy who wrote the book on psychological warfare in bike racing. This is the guy who would taunt the current MOBAR champion for every one of a sixty-mile training ride and then be incredulous when the guy cracked and wanted to throw down with him. This is the guy who once forced an elderly, peace-loving X-hippie to slug him in the gut because he was being so fucking irritatingly obnoxious (and the showpony is my eye witness on that one).

I think I heard him say he was gonna try it for a week. What I'm hoping is that he'll see the light well before then. If you ride your bike as much as Butthead does, there is no way you could drink enough beer to harm your racing. The thing he has forgotten is that occasional shitty racing is just a part of the game. Hell, without the shitty races, how would you truly be able to appreciate the good ones? Besides, a little shitty racing just helps you keep your perspective in line with reality. You have to learn to embrace an occasional shitty race or three. Lift a pint or two in their honor--it only means you know the difference. There's no reason to let shitty racing turn you into whaleshit--that's the lowest thing on earth. Later.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Tulsa Knows How to Throw a Party

One of the things I have come to realize about bike racing is that getting your ass kicked in a really cool race is way more worthwhile than dominating a shitty little race. What I'm talking about here is pageantry--after all that hard work and winter, when you go why not go carte blanche, baby? The folks who organized and staged Tulsa Tough had it all going on. It was amazing to see. This was their first year and you'd have thought they'd been doing it for 20.

Tulsa Tough's well-chosen venues were ringed with cool restaurants and bars and big crowds of spectators. There's something about an atmosphere like that that just makes you want to launch a suicide attack for nothing more than just hearing your name blasting out of that huge, professional stage and sound system. And it's quite cool to see tents stocked with plenty of energy schwag that is only for entry-fee-paying folks---"sorry, mam, this is reserved only for the racers--No, you can buy some right over there." I'll swear, I heard that exact quote.

Also very cool is when there is no waiting at the long line of sparkling clean porta-johns, or for one of the many wind trainers positioned near the start/finish line. And anyone who has ever traveled with teammates who all need to pack spare wheels can truly appreciate full-service neutral support--and by full service, I'm talking about a pro mechanic and a full rack of spare bikes in case you should need more than just a wheel change.

The Tulsa Tough organizers know the value of entertainment and they had a completely separate sound stage set up each day for live music. After our race on Saturday, Jeff Chattin and I sat down to a fine meal right along the home stretch and had slightly more than a few pints of some very nice micro brew while we watched the entire men's and women's pro events and listened to a local band that was several cuts above what you normally hear at outdoor festivals like this. It was appropriate, however, that the live music would be that good as one of the Meccas of country music was located right along the race course--the famous Cain's Ballroom, the very building where none other than the legendary Bob Wills honed his licks and created Texas swing.

And talk about accomodation, just for this race the city of Tulsa completely paved about eight blocks of streets. That's what you call service. From the prize list to the atmosphere, the Tulsa Tough organizers put a lot of thought and energy into what many race organizers ignore--having a good time. Later.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Tulsa Time

It could be very interesting down in Tulsa this coming weekend. I'm gonna predict that some unknowns will have a very big weekend, maybe the biggest they've ever had. Things can change, but a glance at the start list so far makes it look like a wide-open race for a whole lotta cash.

The promoter of Tulsa Tough is a friend of mine and he told me that they did it the right way from the get-go. They had all the city's big hitters on board from early on and consequently raised a lot of greenbacks--almost 75 large. They hope to have the race on the national calendar by next year. If so, with the plan to have even more money then, this will be one of the larger pro turnouts. But this year, with a couple NRC events pulling the pros elsewhere, the Tulsa race will be a showcase of regional talent, which means that some of the working boys and girls will be taking home a lot of cash.

In the pro,1-2 men, ABD looks to be the powerhouse team with guys like Reid Mumford and field sprinter John Puffer being the odds-on early favorites. But there's plenty of room for some lunch-pail teams to squeeze into the right break or leadout train and take home some serious loot. Both Mesa and Mercy have to like their chances and count on guys like St Louis' best opportunist, tough-guy Kurt Fletcher, to put themselves in position to grab while the grabbin's good.

The women's pro, 1-2 is probably even more open than the men's. Big UCI races around the country and in Canada will draw off all the pro teams and even the stronger regional teams. Without any strong team presence, the women's races will come down to the inevitable field sprints and favor someone who is good at putting herself in the right place at the right time. This is one of the strengths of Molly Vetter-Smith as she proved last weekend at Quad Cities under similar circumstances. Mercy Fitness' Stacey Bertsch is another rider with a nose for a good position and a sprint to do something with it. Supposedly one of the courses has a "sharp" hill on it just before the finish. If it's "sharp" enough, this could work in the favor of Columbia's own ProPam (Hinton).

With the way these fields are shaping up, and no big pro team presence, I'll predict that each day will have a different winner. And on a given day, that winner could be someone who's never been within eyesight of that much prize money. Should be interesting. Later.