La Vida Wanker

La Vida Wanker

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Watering Hole

He sits all teary-eyed throwing darts. It’s not just failure that occupies his mind, but malice.

Each dart he throws represents a Hincapie curse—a broken shift cable, a front flat, a cracked Madone...

We’re doing 80 in a 45 with two bikes on the (saggy) roof rack and one on the trunk.

And on that board, there’s a picture of me.

The sirens blare. He’s on our tail. I move over to the right lane. He follows.

Maybe it’s mercy or just a “Big Dumb George” mistake, but sometimes he misses.

And then he suddenly switches lanes to ticket another. Miracles do happen.

When you race with teammates, you don’t rely on miracles. You control your destiny. Things aren’t easy, but they’re easier. Because with numbers comes power.

I’m not talking about a flock of sheep fighting off a wolf, but a pride of lions hunting a crippled water buffalo. Think Sinead and company in any MWCCC race. Or Liebovitz and the Marian crew in the 2011 Collegiate Nationals Criterium Championship.

For too long, I’ve been on the wrong end of that spectrum. I've been the lame water buffalo—buoyant, bloated and slow. And all year, I’ve had company—huddling with my fellow bovines.

We’ve hidden together from rain and gravel, skirted real training and complained about our lack of filling feed. I've learned to see the world from dull, domesticated and entitled eyes.

But Saturday, something changed.

It’s a miracle what a satiric blog post can do—for reader and writer. Because this weekend, that cow became a killer. I was aggressive and started the breakaway. I fought for five laps off the front to finish behind two Texas Roadhouse riders despite what my SRM told me was impossible.

Because you just have to ignore the numbers when there are five TRHS riders, eight Alderfer Bergen guys and one Bissell master in a field of 24 starters. And it takes more than persistence to get a good result. You need to know the field, the wind, the course and you need the big GH to miss the board.

Saturday, GH flinched. And in that moment, I countered an attack, caught a wheel and was joined by a TRHS monster.

For five laps, I worked my ass off to stay with the break. I took my pulls, but I also prayed. Lots can go wrong in five laps, especially on a broken bike.

In the end, I finished third. And it was a vindication. Racing has never justified my existence, but a good result rarely has hurt anyone. (Unless there is USADA testing for the winner.)

I know; 3rd place isn’t a big deal. The super-duper fast guys weren't at the Fat and Skinny Tire Festival, but at Tour de Grove. Regardless, I raced hard and smart, and I finished on the podium in a tough race with a strong field.

And the rest of the car did well too. Axie rode like a beast to finish fourth in the rr and fifth in the crit while Robin killed it in both races—winning the sprint in the rr and taking the solo win in the crit. Sometimes, success begets success. In a car with pros, you can't help but do your best.

I would like to think this weekend speaks to the future—of races won and riders crying in my wake. But they say you cannot connect the dots looking forward. And for a moment, I'll agree.

The 2012 collegiate season is a year away and much can happen in that time. Come February, I may not be racing for the Northwestern University Cycling Team or doing any collegiate cycling at all. It’s far too early to say with any degree of certainty.

Regardless of what February brings, one thing is clear: There will be no more huddling with the water buffalo.

Coming soon: "Profiles In Courage": The past informs the present in a series of satirical vignettes.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

I Wish I Were A Real Cyclist

It’s true. As a lowly Cat 2 rider, I wish I knew what it means to be a real racer—to be one of the boys, to go hard in the paint, to be The Boss. (If you need a clue, just check out all the emails you were bcc’d on. Oops, whatever happened to privacy?)

I want to know that feeling of setting up a lead-out train on a group ride of fellow Cat 4/5 wankers. I want to win that sprint and brag about it all night. Group rides aren’t about training, they’re all about the final kick.

I want to be varsity. I want the exotties to fawn over me as I do my hill repeats at the boat launch. I want them to know I race and ride in all conditions—so long as it’s above 70, sunny and without wind.

I’m a real man, a hard man. I suck it up and eat at McDonalds on the road, and I never complain. Heck, I can stomach Panera if I have to. I can even deal with Qudoba, occasionally.

I’m the real deal, and my Zipps prove it. Nothing shows a man’s worth like the cost of his bike. Because when I get dropped by a girl, it just makes me feel that much better. Ah, overpriced carbon and the sound of deep dish wheels on a North Shore training ride.

I’m going to win DII nationals, and I want you to know it. However many laps I need to sit out of the road race, and however many officials I need to yell at to make it happen, it’s going down. (So long as I can find a team to race on.)

I’m a strong man, and talking behind your back proves it. There’s nothing like complaining to a bunch of juniors and calling you a bitch behind your back. It makes me feel like a real, strong man. Like I can stand up right to your face and tell you exactly what I think.

I’m a good racer, and I know how to listen to my powermeter. When I go above threshold, I know it’s time to pull myself out of the break. Winning the sprint for 20th place is what counts.

I’m a team leader, and I know what it takes. I’ve been to every race weekend and have always put myself last. (Except for that time on spring break when I led a ride that was too hard for some people. I guess the repeated warnings about its length and difficulty weren’t enough.)

And finally, I’m a good guy. I’ve got my friend’s backs. I let them train in my house on my velodynes, I shoot them training plans, let them cry on my shoulder and carry their secrets. Whenever someone crosses the line, I’m there to cheer for them. Always.

If you’re still reading this (and I pray to God you’re not), I’ve got a confession to make: I’ve never set up a lead-out train on a group ride, I’m neither varsity nor a real man, I’m never going to win nationals, I race like shit and I’m no longer (after this post, at least) a team leader or a good guy.

But frankly, I couldn’t be prouder of myself. Because it’s not about how fast you ride, or how expensive your pedals are. Hell, it’s not even about how much you brag, what your FTP is or how much you pay your high-dollar coach.

Cycling is about love of friends, family and sport. And it’s about competing at your best with humility and respect. It's about fun.

Sadly, these values are out of vogue. Something has happened, and the wankers now control the kitchen. And I’m left here with my Baker Boys cupcake asking, where have all the Pro Wankers gone?