Liars, Cheaters, and Thieves. People You Know?

Those of you wanting updates on Mondays, I’m sorry – it usually takes me a day to unwind, focus on work and clients, and then compile my thoughts so I can put them to key. You’ll just have to be patient, and expect updates on Tuesadays.

This sport. This sport is so unforgiving. So vexing. So exciting for those who participate in it, but so, so elusive. It’s been 48 hours now, and I’m still having severe mixed feelings about the Fayetteville Stage Race. On the one hand, I rode probably my best TT on my current configuration for the P3 yet, and I’m feeling pretty good about my prospects on that bike and kit for the upcoming months. On the other hand… Well, let’s get in to that later.

I’ll preface this with the caveat that I do have faith in TXBRA, in the promoters, in the officials, and in most of my fellow competitors, but something has to change, or else I’ll end up back in the rallies forever, and not a single promoter will receive a further dime of my money.

I drove down to the Fayetteville Stage Race on Friday with a junior, Nick, who was on Spring Break. We took back roads down to LaGrange, then over to Fayetteville, which has a population of about 300. The race is held at the height of BlueBonnet season, and the fields are peppered with blue, red, and yellow flowers, along with the traditional green. So it’s a pretty scenic image. The roads are fairly smooth, but narrow, and there are enough rolling hills and twists and turns that you can’t see too far ahead. There must have been 400 racers there, as most of the fields were filled up to capacity, and the junior and women fields were larger than anyone had seen in a long, long time.

I knew my competition pretty well, but also knew that I was going to be riding with at least two teammates from Mirage – Jason and Darwin. I’d never ridden with Darwin before, but Jason and I had ridden together and had come to good terms on each others’ talents and contributions. The Cat 3’s was a large field, however. 83 pre registered cyclists, and at least 76 showed up at the starting line on Saturday.

The race start was almost eerie. Overnight, a lack of a breeze set  up conditions for a thick fog, which did not honestly lift until about 3/4 of the race was over. The Cat 3’s were some of the first off, and we rolled out in conditions that were damp, with a layer of what I can only compare to light grease out on the roads. You could feel your tires slipping, especially in the corners. Visibility was about 200′ at the most, and almost immediately everyone removed their glasses and rode on eyeballs only, since the moisture was collecting on the inside and outside of the lenses.

Within minutes, I found myself at or near the front, along with the usual suspects, as we attempted to drive the pace and at least make a race of it. But nothing seemed to work. The course was slick, the visibility poor, and as others have heard me mention in years past (and this was one reason  why I made active choices NOT to race this event for five years), everyone was ‘playing defense’, since there were two more races in to compete. I tried in vain to get a break to work, but it seemed destined for another sprint finish. The only redeeming value was that this race finish was going to be held at the top of a 500m hill, at roughly 2% grade.

The dew and fog played havoc on my powermeter, and later discussions with other quarq owners revealed that they had the same problems. I rack it up to a rare series of environmental events, but I’m still going to return it for a seal fix. Luckily, I still have that extra one that I wanted to sell, but will now use. Still, I have no data to show for it, except for the TT, where I used the Ergomo.

But back to Race 1.

I raced. There were mostly the same suspects up front. We couldn’t really get a break going, either because of the terrain, or the fog, or the slickness of the roads, or whatever. But I vocalized my concerns about the back side of the race course with some of the leaders, and we all agreed that the moisture was enough to cause havoc if a wrong move were performed. There were some crashes on the last lap, but thankfully, everyone got back on and finished. But here’s the bugger, and thus the title of this theme.

The finish was the worst finish I’ve seen yet in my years of racing. There were no crashes, but at the 1K mark, I was in 3rd position, behind a Moritz rider, and David Ortega, an improving Cat 3. We were hauling, and the finish was actually more to my liking – a 500m gentle climb at <2%, but just enough to take an edge off. Or so I suspected. At 500m, we were accelerating, and things were looking really, really good. But at 400m, I began to see motion TO MY LEFT. At 300m, I was being passed by other riders ON MY LEFT. At 250m, I continued to be passed by riders ON MY LEFT!!! By 200m, I had gone from 3rd place, to about 18th. I sprinted as far and as hard as I could, and made up some positions, finishing 16th I think, but the damage had been done. Over a dozen riders had violated the Yellow Line Rule, and had PASSED ME ON MY LEFT to STEAL my finish. I still may not have won, but I was in the PRIME spot for the sprint, and I WAS ROBBED. I was even robbed by two of my own freaking teammates, both of whom later admitted to me that they had ‘followed everyone else’, and gone left at 400m, just as the slope of the hill was changing. The CHEATERS took my position, and the position of several other riders in the pack, and earned very high GC placings as a result.

Needless to say, I was livid. I filed an immediate protest, at the finish line, and again to every other official who would listen, and then went back to the staging area, to write a formal complaint. But I knew that, because of the way that the Officials’ system works, if there wasn’t someone actually watching the 200m mark, and recording numbers, or if there wasn’t a camera at that location, then nothing would be done about it. I called one guy out (turned out that he was the guy who actually won the GC the next day), and we almost got in to fisticuffs.

I will say this from the deepest part of my soul. I HATE CHEATERS. I never cheated in High School, I never cheated in College, and the ONE TIME I tried to cheat by popping ephedrine before a mountain bike race in the 90’s, I cramped up so bad that I finished 3rd from last, and learned my lesson. YOU DON’T CHEAT. But you know, it seems like cheaters get rewarded. They get to remain anonymous, or they get to argue their innocence, and bluster their way out of a penalty, and get indignant when they are accused. But for those of you who read this, and I hope you do, if you cheated, I hope your conscience eats at you and rips your soul to shreds.

My two teammates, who did VERY little the entire race, and sat on the back, eating cheeseburgers and drinking milkshakes, took 3rd and 4th, or something like that, got upgrade points, and a high placing in the GC… and later admitted that they, too, MAY have been guilty of crossing the yellow line at the 400 or 300m mark.  THE YELLOW LINE IS THE EDGE OF THE FUCKING PLANET, GOT IT? YOU VIOLATE THAT LINE, YOU ARE RELEGATED OR DQ’D. YOU TWELVE OR MORE PEOPLE MAY HAVE WON AND FINISHED AHEAD OF ME, BUT YOU ARE LOSERS in my eyes. You’re cheaters, liars, and thieves. Not  one single individual stepped up and admitted that they’d violated the yellow line. As a result, they were rewarded. NUT UP and admit that you F’ed up, and take your relegation. To not do so is complete cowardice.

I’m also furious with the way the officials handled it. They took a very blase attitude, sort of a hands-off, “nothing-we-can-do-about-it-now” approach, all but one official. Andy Hollinger is the engine that created a viable racing scene in Texas. He IS TXBRA in many ways. He’s not without his faults, but no one cares more about good, strong, healthy, fair competitions than him. He consoled and counseled me for well over an hour, well in to the afternoon, and later said he would do what he could to actually become the Cat 3 official, and observe or correct the violations of the Yellow Line Rule. He even demanded that the officials put an observer at the 200m mark, looking DOWN the course, so that violators of the yellow line rule could be caught. If there is anyone in TXBRA’s infrastructure who has more character and honesty, I don’t know him or her, except maybe Bonnie. Hollinger deserves his spot on the board of USAC, and deserves it back on TXBRA. I intend to lead that charge.

This was the only thing that kept me from packing up and leaving early. Nick also felt cheated out of a higher placing, since his race was dominated by several TBI juniors, who let one rider go off the front, and then corked the race in the narrow roads, and wouldn’t let anyone pass. I felt for him, but what happened to him was legal in the sense of the rules, so it wasn’t anything we could complain about to the officials. We eventually returned to the hotel, ate a small lunch, napped, and then drove back to the course for the evening TT.

I got a good warmup, had a few problems with my chain that were eventually resolved, and then went to the starting line. I knew from previous years at this event that I’d ridden a crappy time, but I knew what my average power output was, and what my Normalized Power needed to be for a strong effort. I calculated my 17 and 16 minute Pnorm MMP’s, adjusted for TT position, decided where I needed to be on every hill, and launched in to the Time Trial, trying to channel all that anger and hatred into my pedals.

It worked.

I passed my 30 second man, my 60 second man, and my 90 second man, and rolled across the finish line in a 15:37, averaging 291w, and achieving a PNorm of 333. I was ECSTATIC. I knew I had lost a few seconds on each of the turns (my elbows are within a fraction of an inch of my knees, and I have to be REALLY careful that I don’t pull a Zabriskie and knock my steering out of kilter), but I largely was able to push like a demon on the rolling course, pursuing watts wherever I could find them. It got me 15th, just 50 seconds out of first place in the GC. There was no disappointment – I knew I had done almost the best job possible. It felt good, not just because of the result, but because I was in control of my fate. There were no yellow line rules to violate. I just pedaled and rode. No saddle issues, no forearm issues. I hope I can get a photo of my position, because I felt pretty aero. Unfortunately, looking through the images that have been posted at this time, I can’t seem to find myself in them. Otherwise, I’d post them for you. The results didn’t do too much for me in the GC, however, moving me from 18th to like 14th or 15th. I would have to try my luck with a breakaway, and maybe go for the hotspot and earn some bonus seconds there.

Nick had a good time as well, and we went back to the hotel with sandwiches from Subway, and ended up watching back-to-back TBS films, “Dodgeball”, and “The Girl Next Door”. Earlier, I’d tried to interest Nick in both “Blazing Saddles”, and “Spinal Tap”, neither of which he got. Blame it on the generation gap. I’m getting old!

Sunday morning was another early start for me, so I got us up, only to find that the Continental breakfast that we’d been promised was nowhere to be seen, so we drove around until we found a Whataburger and I got some greasy breakfast burrito and some OJ and coffee. Remind me not to do that again. I had Nick drop me off and then head back to the hotel, so he could get some more rest, and I warmed up right next to the starting line. Both Jason and Darwin came up, and we spoke, but once again, the day was pretty foggy, and I was concerned about the road. I also swore that I’d bank my efforts, and not do ANYTHING the first lap, at least, maybe even the second lap.

Well, it worked out pretty well, but when I went to the front on the second lap, I ended up getting in to the same old routine of doing a ton of the work. My pulls were long and strong, and at the end of Lap 3, I ended up rolling off the front for a solo move that lasted maybe 2 miles. I was joined by about 3 other cyclists eventually, and for maybe 3 or 4 more miles, we made about 30-45 seconds on the pack. But we were caught after the Hot Spot hill, and resumed large pack racing. I went back to the front, took some strong, hard pulls, tried to string out the race, tried to get a break going, but only succeeded in launching a solo rider off the front, a Moritz rider, who eventually won the race. His team worked perfectly – blocking, covering moves, and when it looked like we might finally catch him in the last 4k or so, one rider, a teammate of his, attacked on the grass of the shoulder, went to the front, and actually bridged to him. Again, I was not in a position where I could actually do something about it, and honestly, I was feeling a little jilted, since I had done a ton of work, only to have someone else benefit from it, and I wanted some other team to step up.

The two riders went on to finish 1-2. They deserved it. They earned it. As a coach, it was a beautiful thing to witness. It made me proud. It made me envious.

At the 1k mark, we all knew what was going to happen. It would be a sprint finish. A dash for the line, and a desperate effort to earn placings in the race, as well as the GC. This time, there would be no 200m violation. But once again, fate completely intervened and ruined an otherwise better day.

At about the 250m mark, I was still in a good position, maybe 5th or 6th wheel, as we climbed up to the finish, and one of the two women riders was on my left. It was the craziest thing. One of her own teammates barreled in to her on the 5 o’clock position, rubbing her wheel, before losing control of his bike and careening in to me. His shoulder smacked my hip, and as I could see it coming out of the corner of my eye, but I couldn’t really accelerate just yet, I sort of hip-checked him so I could stay upright. Almost instantly there was the sound of grating metal, breaking carbon, colorful metaphors, and bone hitting ground. The girl stayed upright, I stayed upright, and we were doing our best to accelerate OUT of there, when another cyclist, on my right at 1 o’clock, looked left to view the carnage or something, and drifted left, right in to me. We both stayed upright, but our ensuing handlebar lock left us both robbed of momentum, and once again, a large number of cyclists who had been in the back, and had dodged the yard sale that was the crashed, accelerated by me, and got higher finishes. The two teammates, who HAD shown their faces more in this race, albeit up front early, not later, when I was the highest GC placing in the club, sped past me and earned Top 10’s again. I was able to finish ahead of some riders who had gone too early, but I once again finished 12th, and got 16th on the GC.

The body count was far too high to count. Busted wheels. Broken bikes. Shattered helmets. One kid got a chainring in his tricep, and there was meat coming out of the gaps between the flesh. Eyebrows bruised, everything. I counted myself lucky to have dodged the crash, and the girl asked me profusely to please tell her that she hadn’t been responsible for the crash. I said “No way”, and explained to her what happened – that it was someone behind her who had rolled in to her from the right, so no, it was NOT her fault. She was in the lead, and she held the high ground. Everyone was too pained and disorganized to actually get in to a fight, but later discussions revealed that there were several people who felt they’d been given the wrong time, that they’d been given the wrong placing, etc. I was happy that it had finished better for me, but still disgusted that people who had contributed nothing to the race, had gone on to take higher positions.

You’ll say, “Well, that’s racing.” NO, it’s not. Racing is pushing the pace, trying to drop less fit cyclists. Racing is launching attacks as a team, to try and force a break. Racing is pacelining (there was VERY little of that going on). Racing is sending riders up the road and then blocking. Racing is creating a leadout for your marked man at the sprint finish that is SO FAST that no one can come around. RACING is NOT CHEATING. If you cheat in a bike race, you are STEALING. If you deny it, then you are an EXPLICIT LIAR. If you don’t deny it, but accept the results with a smirk and a shrug, YOU ARE AN IMPLICIT LIAR.

Liars suck. Cheaters suck. Thieves suck. They all showed up at this race.

Okay – I’m spent. I can’t think of much else. I should have dedicated some time to a female client who was racing, but I need to create a whole other post for that. She rode well, but she has a block that we need to overcome. The coach in me will help her. The athlete will once again slide back into the shadows, and wait.

Thanks for reading.


2 Responses to “Liars, Cheaters, and Thieves. People You Know?”

  1. 1 scott
    2009/03/24 at 9:14 pm

    very nicely put……

  2. 2009/03/24 at 9:21 pm

    You know, I enter these events eternally hopeful. I return from them with mixed feelings, but I usually end up a day or two later feeling symptoms of a broken heart. It won’t prevent me from returning to competition, but I remain a little more jaded every time this happens. You have to grow, right? Otherwise, when something becomes stunted, it’s usually a sign that something is wrong. I’m not a fan of bashing my head against a steel column, but sometimes, that’s what it feels like.

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