I woke up at 7am last Sunday morning for a crit — a crit that doesn’t even matter, no less — which is quite the opposite of “Pro.” Why?
Womens bike racing at the first 2011 Early Bird Criterium, of course!
My first stop was Philz Coffee in San Francisco, a coffee dispensary known for its impressive selection of fine, performance-enhancing beverages.
A few years back, I was heading out for a long ride with some friends and we stopped at Philz before we embarked. This was back in the days when I went for long rides in the first place and wore a heart rate monitor to boot. “Training,” I think they called it. Anyway, over the course of my large coffee, my seated heart rate rose 60 bpm; now that’s good pre-race coffee.
But I digress.
The drive from San Francisco to the bay-side crit course in Fremont is quick, which is good because I was late that frigid morning. In spite of my lateness, I chose to wear my finest apparel to the race (read: I picked up off the floor what I had worn to a dinner party the night before), an outfit which earned the comment, “You look like you’ve been up all night doing coke!” from a well-known, female bike racer whose last name rhymes with Feddergreen.
Classy, no? In fact, Ms. Feddergreen, I was merely hanging out with Gilberto Simoni and his grandmother. Don’t judge me.
Anyway, I suppose it’s time to talk about the racing.
I always get stoked the day of the first Early Bird Crit, as I miss bike racing dearly during the off-season, but on Sunday I was hella stoked. In spite of the mild Bay Area Ice Age, the race was beautifully attended and fields were massive. Take, for example, the W4 start line, flush with ~50 new racers raring to go. Ex-Sierra Nevada Pro Jamiel Danesh came out of retirement to race in tennis shoes with girls.
The Juniors field was equally impressive, though my unimpressive photography fails to do it justice. There was one girl, probably ten years old and astride a 20″-wheeled bike, who attempted to stay in the draft of the 16-18 year old boys pack for the first lap or so…THAT was awesome. I wish I could remember the name people were calling out to her so I could properly give her credit.
For the first time in my career, I actually wandered around and paid attention to the “skills clinics” put on before each race; I was impressed by the fluid transfer of the fundamentals of bike racing from the orange-vested mentors to the absolute hordes of uninitiated “n00bs.” Laurel Green, the head mentor, did a great job of talking over the first-race-of-the-season din and hammered home a solid curriculum. Bike racing is not an intuitive sport, nor is it a safe sport, and I think these clinics perform a great service to the community. If only we could force some P/1/2 riders to attend them retroactively…
For the bulk of the day, I walked around in my coke-wear and harassed friends, enemies, and random attendees. Ask anyone…it’s what I do at bike races. Finally, six hours after I arrived at the venue, it was time for me to wrap myself in fine, green, sponsor-laden fabrics, tuck my mullet into my helmet, go for a pre-race ride, and then race my balls off.
Our P/1/2/3 race — covered briefly with some overly-aggRANDizing video footage by the enigmatic Hellyer over at NorCalCyclingNews — was an enormous cluster-F consisting of ~ 100 men, women, and children. Thankfully, I only saw about five of them all day: Tyler Dibble (Mike’s Bikes), Nate English (Yahoo?), Logan Loader (Who the Hell Knows?), Roman Kilun (Kenda Pro Cycling) and Mary Maroon (uh…Webcor).
Here’s my take on the day.
After about two laps of elbowing J.D. Bergmann (Clif Bar) out of my way, I bridged to a group up the road. This group shuffled a few riders here and there and eventually settled on Logan, Nate English, and me. It was all I could do to hang on to their repeated attacks and accelerations as we maintained a 15 second gap on the field for the bulk of the race. Logan obviously thought we were in Belgium, where bike racing is supposed to be aggressive and punchy, and Nate clearly thought he was going to find a hill somewhere up around the bend. It was a rude, painful 30-minute introduction to the season, to say the least.
Once this break came back, I was forced to ride in the vicinity of Mr. Tyler Dibble, the captain of the newly-minted Mike’s Bikes Cycling Team. Rather than focus on breathing, I chose to mock Dibble’s chainring-emblazoned asscheek, the hallmark of his team’s kit, and to politely mention that my teammate Mary Maroon was riding better than him.
Mary spent more time attacking off the front than most of the dudes, particularly Dibble, portending a world of pain for the W/1/2/3s for the rest of the season. I may not let her race women’s races; she might be too valuable to me in the P/1/2s.
As the race came to a conclusion, I found myself in a completely unmanageable “breakaway” of 12ish riders, including perpetual local professional Roman Kilun. Sadly, we were caught with about 200m to the line and an unbelievably energetic Logan Loader manhandled the win from the melee.
Let’s talk about Mr. Kilun for a moment, as he provides a nice foil to my character in the district. Roman is a unique guy who merits his own blog post (that’s right Roman…you’re not immune to this blog), but presently I’ll paint him in a positive light as one of few remaining “old-school” pros.
In an era when most professionals train all winter on perfect replicas of their mid-July climbing machines and carefully Nair their appendages to perfection, Roman still custom-paints his shit-storm of a winter bike in the ugliest color of green possible (coming from me, that’s saying something), mounts fenders on the behemoth, grows a Parnes-worthy beard and an enviable shock of hair, and kicks the living daylights out of all of us.
(Photo Credit: Erika Kali)
All you Juniors out there: strive to be more like Roman and less like…uh…well, me, for one. You’ll be way hardcore.
Speaking of Juniors, I’ll end this post with a brief anecdote about the Specialized Junior/Master team.
Post-race, I was running my mouth at my ex-favorite-Junior bike racer, David Benkoski. This 17-year old kid has been a fun guy to talk to for a few years now, likes (liked?) to talk some serious smack back at me, and races like a real man. However, he was reticent to look at me on Sunday, much less trade barbs with me. As I rolled away dejected, I turned back and noticed that one of those ancient Specialized Masters racers that inexplicably races for a Junior team — who had been sitting silently nearby the whole time — was making a hand-puppeting motion with his hand while looking scornfully between David and I and shaking his head. David nodded stoically.
“What’s that all about?” I called over my shoulder.
“You should come ride with our team sometime,” said the Masters racer. “We don’t do any talking…we do a lot of riding instead.”
Essentially, the interaction led me to believe that my very being was offensive to serious bike racers — those who have been good and those who aspire to be such.
That is mildly depressing, in spite of my respect for the Specialized development program.
I’m pretty sure no one ever benefited from a no-talking policy on team rides, and I hope that’s not the direction that team’s headed. Am I a ridiculous, over-the-top example of poor athleticism and bad life-decisions? Sure. However, I hope I also provide hope that one need not sacrifice happiness, youth, a career, and absurd behavior to be a good bike racer.
I’ll repeat what I said previously: Juniors…be like Roman. He’s got a law degree and about twelve years of Professional Cyclist experience on his resume. Don’t be like me…but also, don’t forget that bike racing is supposed to be fun. That goes for all of you out there.
And with that, I’m out. Goodnight, loyal readers…it’s blogging season, so check back with regularity.