Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Master

I like Phil Mikelson and was happy to see him win the Masters this year.  I also acknowledge that Golf is difficult.  As Phil approached the 18th hole on the last round of the 2010 Masters Tournament, he looked as if he was actually glistening with sweat from his exertion - or from the sun.  To shoot back to back eagles is difficult to imagine. The last time I golfed, I hit a Buick.   

At the same time Phil worked his way into Master's history, Fabian Cancellera also made history by winning Paris Roubaix.  For the one reader who is not a cyclist, Paris Roubaix is regarded as the most difficult single day bike race in the professional race calendar.  It is difficult because many parts of the race are over cobble stone roads in France and Belgium.  Cancellera won by viciously attacking a selection of some of the best racers in the world and literally rode away from them. He created a gap of twenty seconds that became more than two minutes.  This was accomplished a week after a similar performance a week after the Tour of Flanders.  

Cancellera is in a class of his own.  I personally think he might be the Eddie Merckx of our era. Yet, most Americans have never heard of him. 

The following day, I stopped by a coffee shop.  Newspapers broadcast the good news:  PHIL MICKELSON WINS THE MASTERS.  All of the newspapers had the same or similar headline.  I picked up a copy.  I knew I would be disappointed but I wanted to read about Cancellera.  I turned to the Sports section.  I was surprised to see a regurgitation about the Masters tournament on the front page of the Sports Section.  And the second and third pages.  Shouldn't a story about Golf be in the Lifestyle section?  Shrugging my shoulder, I turned to page 2 to read about Cancellera.  Nothing.  Surely, on page 3.  Page 4?  The back page?  

Back at the office, I googled for news stories about Paris Roubaix.  Here is what I found from the New York Times: 

Fabian Cancellara of Switzerland won the Paris-Roubaix race in France, capturing the event for a second time and claiming his second victory in a one-day classic in eight days. He won by two minutes a week after his victory in the Tour of Flanders. 

Better than nothing. 

For the cycling fans, if you are not already depressed, this next tidbit will do it for sure.  The person who secured second place in the Masters tournament, was awarded a cash prize that amounted to $200,000 more than the first place winner of last year's Tour de France.  Fabian Cancellera raced his bike for about six and half hours at an average speed of twenty five miles per hour into headwinds and over roads that are centuries old.  He likely burned more calories in the race than Phil Mickelson ingested the entire four days of the Masters tournament.  Cancellera probably won less cash prize money than Mickelson's caddy.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

We Could Take up Golfing

In eight days, from Tuesday March 23rd to Tuesday, March 30th, Old Town team members had raced in four separate races and suffered 3 crashes.  One, depicted below, was particularly stressful. (I am the racer in the white and blue upon whom the Old Town member with his wheels in the air is landing).

There is nothing funny about crashes.  It takes a lot out of the sport.  Good athletes are injured. Most are stiff and sore from a crash for a few weeks but are racing again in a week or so.  Others are more seriously injured.  A small minority of racers who crash are injured badly enough that they are not able  or are unwilling to return to the sport.

I have suffered four crashes during races.  One was silly and I barely remember it.  The second crash took me to a hospital in an ambulance and the third knocked me unconscious for a few minutes.

The fourth crash, the one shown, happened at Independence Valley Road Race and was the most dramatic.  I am lucky that I only suffered bruising and minor scrapes.  The dude next to me screamed "Oh My God! Oh My God! My neck!"  He went on like that for awhile and then jumped up and walked away.

Another victim of the crash is reported as having a broken collar bone and a shredded ear.

Crashes are caused by a lot of things.  Most typically, they are caused by human error.  Fatigue simply makes one lose concentration.  Muscles become wobbly.  Speed requires quick reactions and oxygen deprivation slows reaction times. Wheels cross.  Then comes the sound.  It starts as a swirling sound.  In just an instant, the wheels start to go in the wrong direction.  No longer rotating, rubber begins to turn sideways and rub against the pavement. This has its own sound.  Not a terribly unpleasing sound.  A gentle swirl. It is only unsettling because it is always the precursor to much more terrible sounds, the sound of an eminent crash, the sounds every racer has heard.  At that sound, adrenaline is released.  After the crash, you can taste it in your mouth, the bitter taste of adrenaline. 

The next sound is guttural.  In desperation, the racer tries to correct.  I have seen these efforts work occasionally but mostly the efforts to avoid the crash are futile.  Bodies twist and torque, men groan and begin to curse, then the sound of crashing metal, bones, plastic and pavement.  In bad crashes, it comes in waves as subsequent racers pile into the carnage.

Then comes a almost comforting moment of silence.  The physical violence has ended and the emotional violence has yet to begin.  It begins with swearing.  Angry words that can not be repeated here. For some reasons, there is a gut reaction to blame.  Always, it is the sketchy rider who is to blame - he swerved when he should not have. He stopped after the finish line when he should have kept sprinting.  He kept going when he should have stopped.  Even the pros try to blame the Joe Sketchy.  He is always from a different team.

Apparently, it never occurs to the battle wounded that even the best racers in the world, the "pros", crash all the time. The best riders in the world who are paid to ride and train constantly crash in every race.  They break collar bones, necks, backs and arms.  Sometimes they get up and sometimes they do not. I recall Lance Armstrong almost causing a crash in the Tour of California in 2009. He just jerked unexpectedly and almost took out a team mate.  No one would dare say he was a sketchy rider.

Yes, there is a certain callousness that comes in bike racing.  We definitely race because there is a risk of danger.  Let's face it, if we didn't like the risk, we would golf.  Yet, do we sometimes go too far?  I myself have felt annoyed that a sprint finish was disrupted because there was an ambulance in the section of the sprint finish that is supposed to be closed to traffic in both lanes.  In the crash above we suffered at IVRR, I listened politely to a racer from the women's field complaining that the ambulance that attended to the injured clogged their sprint lane.  I recall hearing racers curse when the pack had to go neutral to let an ambulance go by to attend a fallen racer injured in a crash in a different field.

Clearly, we have issues.  Are we unique in that regard?  How many hunters would continue hunting if there was a 1% chance the deer shot back?  Granted, they are pretty bad shots but who knows, they might get lucky.   And what about fishing?  Suppose that one out of every 5,000 salmon that spawned was actually a great white shark?  Probably won't kill you, but it might warrant an ER visit.   Candidly, I think there might be far less "outdoorsmen" out there. 

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Know Your Rules

I was re-reading the USA Rules of Road Racing. Chapter 3B deals with Rider Conduct.  Here is a Gem: 

"3B10. Foul Riding. A rider near the edge of a road who leaves a gap sufficient for an opponent to pass may not suddenly close the gap upon being overtaken [relegation or disqualification]." 

Bizarre little rule.  I guess if you are not near the edge of the road, then the rules does not apply.  How do you get redress if there is a 3B10 violation?  If it were me, I would point out the rider that Rule 3B10 provides that I must be let in.  However, I will say that my recent attempts to discuss interesting points during bike races with my competitors have had mixed results. 

You can read the rules of racing in the USA here. 

Thursday, April 1, 2010


An American, one Willie Hamilton, set the hour record in cycling in 1898.  Until that time, the hour record had been established in Europe, most notably in Paris.  Yet, one of Hamilton's attempts was disqualified because he was paced by a speck of light that was shone in front of him on the track.  The UCI determined that this constituted cheating.  He had not altered his body artificially or developed a new piece of controversial equipment.  Willie had just given himself psychological help.  The proverbial rabbit.

On Sunday, March 14th, at Mason Lake, the Old Town Racing Team was Willie Hamilton.  Tom Potter, a rival from Olympia Orthopedic, was the speck of light.  Potter, as we painfully discovered, is a time trial specialist.  At the first kilometer, he jumped out of the pack and began what would become a 30 mile time trial.  Folly certainly.  Solo breaks are a joke.  I certainly paid him no mind.  He'll be back.  His team foolishly sat at the front. They are wasting their time, I thought.  Maybe I can get Internet reception back here.

My party abruptly ended when I rolled up to Tom Hackleman, a seasoned Masters' racer who has a mental Rolodex of racers.   "That's Tom Potter up there. If anyone can stay away for the race, it's Potter."  

Really?  The entire race?   I rode to the front to check it out.  Sure enough, Potter had his entire team up there ready to pounce on anything that twitched.   Normally, I would not have cared.  At least, not that much.  If Potter can stay away, then good for him. I will sit and wait for the end.  Today, however, we had a team mate, Steve Matson who could win.  Steve had won the race last week.  We were not going to derail our chances at the first kilometer. I slipped past the guards and into dark. I heard the sirens behind me and gun fire.  A quick glance back and the spotlights were already streaking out toward me.   The night erupted with the boom, boom of FLAK.  Wait,.  No, that is my heart.

Instantly, what was a once a leisurely pack of middle aged men, immediately became a long strand of men and machines, streaming in the wind.  The darn wind!  We rolled through the front side, over the rollers that started to feel more like mountains. I never noticed that Mason Lake was so hilly until I was at the front chasing a speck of light. 

I am red/green color blind.  It is hard for me to see specks of red against fields of green.  Not that day!  Against the background of green trees that line the Mason Lake course, I could see Potter's red jersey.  The speck of light! The cape to a bull.  I am going to kill that damn rabbit!  On and on.  

Just when my heart felt as if it would burst out of my chest, team mate, Choi Halladay, took over.  Choi is an amazing athlete.  Technically, a Cat 5 racer, he raced in his youth and now has calves the size of small cantaloupes.  I was never so happy to see cantaloupe!

We streaked through the first lap and just as the lights started to dim, Tom Hackleman came up to offer relief.  Hackleman had raced the day before at Sequim, but one certainly could not tell.  He powered through the first corner and assaulted the wind.  

Though, truthfully, through a massive effort, we had made no progress against Potter.  But,  neither had Potter gained.  Tens of thousands of calories were expended by 50 men chasing one.  After more than fifteen miles, it was a stand off.  

The disadvantage of a small team is there are only so many guys to share the work.  Eventually, your team runs a little low.  Potter's team mates did a superb job of covering breaks.  Take note of the banner photo of  That is a photo taken by the wife of a Starbucks racer. In fact, she also took the photo of Potter in this blog post.  In the photo, you can see our effort at the front.  Tom and I are at the front and shredding the pack.  But, I completely eclipse a Potter team mate and two others are right on my wheel.  As soon as I or anyone else for that matter slacken the pace, they sit back and relax, disrupting our effort. 

However, there is a certain truism in bike racing.  In one of the few books about bike racing, The Rider, author Time Krabbe put it this way. "I have an aversion to the expression ' allowed to escape.', because it usually comes from people who have no notion of the tremendous power needed for the 'being allowed to,' but its a fact: no rider could ever escape and stay away from an unwilling peloton in the final kilometers of a flat race."

Those words were written in 1978 but might have well have described Mason Lake #2 in 2010.  Into the second (of three) laps, just as Old Town began to deflate, Steve Matson shot solo out of the pack.  Pow!  It was beautiful.  He wanted it. It was inspiring. I thought of Phil Ligget. With his British accent saying "He has shown what a great champion he is!  He wants it today and when you want it, you have to show the peloton just who the boss is."  OK.  That is a little overstated but Steve is a great competitor and showed that he was willing to put it all out and not just rely on others.  The pack surged to catch up to Steve and the gap to Potter closed a bit.  Hope. The slightest glimmer.

On the third and final lap, Matt Swanson, Larry Baker, Choi, then me, then Choi took suicidal leaps to the front, making incremental progress.  Matt Swanson is a big and powerful racer.  He stormed to the front.  Previously complacent racers who were more spectators than competitors, literally cheered. One jumped on his wheel. Finally, we had help.  Men shot off the front.  The wind howled.  Potter became bigger. I could see more than just the red of his jersey. I could almost read the lettering of his sponsors.  Dropped racers from the Cat 5 race in front of us, clogged our lane. The wind had picked up just a bit.  When you are in lactate pain, chip seal might as well be a prostate exam.  

Suddenly, Potter was back!  Back with us. Friends again.  "No rider could ever escape and stay away from an unwilling peloton in the final kilometers of a flat race."  So true. 

IBut Potter made us suffer.  It is funny the things you think of during a race.  I love Harry Potter movies. In the story, an particularly evil wizard, Lucius Malfoy, plays antagonist to Harry Potter. Malfoy, an arrogant and narrow person, scorns Harry Potter whenever he can and shows his loathing of Harry Potter even in the way he says his name, sneering, particularly spitting the name "Potter!"  

The image of Lucius Malfoy and word "Potter" flashed into my mind.  I giggled at that. "Potter!"

In the end, our team mate took second in a hectic sprint finish.  Fatigued from the effort to chase down  "Potter!", Steve leapt to the finish line only to have a better rested Potter team mate come around in the final meters.  The rabbit, in a sense, had won. I have to admire the tactics.