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

Dope

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.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

RX: Sweat some small stuff

I recently heard about an old friend who is not doing real well. Outwardly this woman appeared to be one of the blessed. She had striking good looks, brains, common sense and an innate drive to succeed. Anyone who knew her never worried about her welfare. She was gonna do just fine, come what may. Now I hear she is suffering from debilitating migraines, apparently brought on, or at least exacerbated, by stress.

I'll spare you all the details of what week- and month-long migraines are like, but suffice it to say, it's one of those conditions that would make a person burn all three magic wishes just to feel normal again. Naturally, this reminded me of a story.

I attended graduate school in a program that took itself way too seriously. And by that I mean all the administrators, the professors, the students, the clerical staff, maybe even the janitorial staff all just really saw themselves as larger than life. They had what you might call a mystique.

Which is a fancy expression for bullshit.

To be fair, this mystique brought students and lecturers from all around the world to this particular program, which brought in hefty endowments and inflated out-of-state tuition fees. And all of that is money in the bank, sure enough. But this mystique also created an aura of competitiveness that was nurtured by the administration and the professors, but mostly existed in the heads of impressionable young students. So a lot of them spent a lot of time worrying themselves sick over shit like adverbs, adjectives, word-counts and deadlines.

I had a roommate who was one of these worry warts. This guy desperately wanted to be a big-time journalist and he had come to the forge to be pounded into the kind of steel that could get the job done. Or, at least, that's the way he saw it. And to his credit he hit it hard. Many a night he'd bust through the door and sprint upstairs slamming his bedroom door behind him and then you'd hear him yelling every insult he could think of at himself as he read one of the papers he'd just got back or some piece he just had published in the paper.

It'd be stuff like, "You stupid fuck, can you not write a coherent sentence? This shit is lame, you fucking dumb fuck." All of it behind his closed door and very near the top of his lungs.

I remember glancing over at him as our class took our comprehensive exams. Comps were, like, four hours of constant writing using nothing but one of these big electric typewriters and really thin, cheap paper that you could not erase or use any kind of corrective fluid on. I glanced over at him cause I could hear him muttering as he typed and X'ed through something, which was no big deal cause everyone had to do it. But when I glanced over I knew what he was muttering cause his teeth were clenched to the point that his jaw muscles were about to explode. He was muttering, "You stupid fuck, can you not write a coherent sentence?"

About now you're thinking this guy must have been a real loser, although in reality he was anything but. He was a very good writer and an even better reporter, which made him a very good student. He also was a world traveler and a very good athlete--the guy had even run with the bulls in Pamplona and actually beat them into the stadium, no doubt knocking quite a few of those little Spaniards out of his way in the process, cause this dude was built like a bull himself.

But by his own admission he just got way too stressed out over his career. We'd talk about it occasionally and I'd just ask him, really, man, what do you have to look forward to? He knew it was a problem, but he didn't see a way around it. As he saw it, if he failed in his career his life wouldn't be worth living anyway. And believe it or not it was during one of those conversations, that he had as much to do with why I have kept racing all these years as anyone or anything I can think of.

It was this statement by him that struck a cord with me: "Man, I stress out over my career and don't worry about athletics, while you stress out over your races and don't worry about your career."

And for the most part, it was true. I don't know, maybe there is just a certain amount of stress that we must burn off and when you can spend it on shit that doesn't really matter in the grand scheme of things, then, maybe you won't get so uptight about the bigger stuff, which, in reality, you really can't control for the most part anyway. Now that's a rambling statement that would've netted me a red mark or two back in the world's oldest J-school, but maybe there's enough logic in there to help you better appreciate your next racing fuckup. Later.