2016 Rockwell Relay Race Report, Part 2: No Such Luck

06.23.2016 | 8:54 am

I’d like to tell you a little story about a young man I once met. His name was Yann. Well, his name is still  Yann, but really, that’s not the point. The point is, he and I met at a LiveStrong event, where I admired this somewhat-overweight young man’s pluck for finishing a century ride, even though it depleted him so badly he had to be carted off to the hospital.

I am not exaggerating, nor am I making this up. Here he is, on his way to the hospital:

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Since then, Yann has transformed himself. In a huge way. More to the point, he’s transformed himself into a not-huge person. Even more to the point, now he’s downright thin. Here he is, right before the start of the Rockwell Relay this year:

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And here’s another picture of us, after I told him we should get a photo of us with our game faces on:

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I can’t believe he bought into that old trick.

So why am I telling the story of Yann’s transformation here? Because at the end of my first installment of this race report I mentioned that I had a trick up my sleeve.

Yann — and in fact, his entire team, “What Were We Thinking, Part Quattre” — was that trick.

Yann has become a cycling monster. He, more than I ever have, has become the poster boy for how a committed person can become whatever kind of cyclist you want to become.

Yann is now, in short, freakishly strong, and freakishly fast. And he and I have been trading email during the weeks before the race. Which is a fact I’m pretty confident the folks in Teams V05R had missed as they conducted their oppo research.

If it turned out that three people from Teams ZIZRS attacked a solo rider from Team Fatty, they might find out that solo rider wasn’t so solo after all. 

I had given Yann — and each member of his team — one of the super-new, super-secret, super-rare (only twenty exist in the world) FatCyclist jerseys…but I had asked him not to wear it on the first leg. No point in tipping our hand.

Sneakily, we didn’t even stand quite together in the starting area.

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There was no contract, no bond that we’d stay together no matter what. Just a friendly agreement. Just in case, you know.

As it turns out, however, all this skullduggery wouldn’t matter in the slightest.

Or would it?

Let’s Go

I had good reason to want the possibility of some help in that first leg, because I knew that Team ZIZRS would be deploying three very strong riders against me: Marci, Mary, and Billy (OK, actually I didn’t know about Billy being in leg 1; I can’t hold that much information in my head at once), each of which had proven to be an incredibly strong adversary in 2015.

I had my doubts about whether I could hold my own against that power trio, especially Marci, who is a remarkable climber. Still, from what I understood, these three teams were bound together by their vehicle strategy, if no other way, which meant that they weren’t going any faster than the slowest of the three.

Was I faster than their slowest rider this year? I wasn’t sure, to be honest. But I was going to find out soon.

The gun went off, and — for once — I stayed with the group, restraining myself in spite of the huge surge of adrenaline I was experiencing. I would stay in the back of the lead group.

Yann and I got to within a couple bikes of each other, still not necessarily or obviously riding together, but within reach in case the RVRS teams did something heroic, like a three-person breakaway.

OK, I admit it: I really wanted them to try that, so Yann and I could play our hand.

But…that didn’t happen.

Anticlimactic

I started the race marking Marci and Mary, but before too long, they drifted back toward the back of the lead pack. Billy, however, stayed near the front, even when the group started winnowing down.

“Hm,” I thought to myself, “It looks like the men’s team isn’t attached to the coed teams after all.”

Then I found out why Mary and Marci had disappeared. Billy said, “It’s you’re lucky day; Mary and Marci have been having all kinds of mechanicals.”

“That’s not good luck for me,” I said. “We can beat them on the bike. We don’t wish mechanicals on anyone.”

Billy didn’t say, “Sheesh, I was only joking,” but he probably should have. The thing is, though, I wanted a straight-up competition, with no mechanicals or excuses. Because while I was 

Shortly after that, Billy disappeared. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was to wait for Mary and Marci and then work with them. 

Thanks to an unlucky pair of flats, the Z5R teams (yeah, I was bound eventually to use the correct combination of letters and numbers) had lost fifteen minutes to us within the first hour of the race.

That said, that fifteen minute gap was still the closest they’d ever be to us this year. Apart from at exchanges, we’d never see them during the race this year. 

Which is not to say that we wouldn’t have competition. It was just going to come from a different team this year. 

As I was about to find out.  

Which seems like a good place for us to pick up in the next installment of this story (Monday).

PS: OK, I’d be writing more in this post, but my flight’s about to take off, and I won’t have internet during this seven-hour flight. I figure it’s better to post this much now than nothing at all.

 

The 2016 Rockwell Relay Race Report, Part 1: Before the Race

06.21.2016 | 11:52 pm

Today is June 22. It’s 4:47am. I’m in Dublin, Ireland. It’s light outside, and I’m completely awake. You know what that means? I’ll tell you what it means: it’s time to begin my 2016 Rockwell Relay Race Report!

Yay!

I’m tempted to go all Tarantino on you on this story. Start in the middle, and work outward to the beginning and end. And it wouldn’t be just to mess with you, either. The fact is, somewhere in the middle-ish of the race, one of the freakiest, scariest moments of my life happened. This moment became the centerpiece of a race that would have been plenty dramatic even without this central event.

But I’m not going to start there. And more importantly, I’m going to ask commenters with knowledge of the events in the race — and pretty much every person who was at the race knows what I’m talking about here — to avoid talking about it, too. No spoilers, in other words, no matter how badly you want to.

All that said, I can’t resist teasing you with a picture from the day after the race. Specifically, one of my teammate and nephew-in-law Ben and me:

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There are a few things you should note from this picture. First, that Ben and I both look ridiculous, but his form of ridiculousness is much less goofy than mine.

Second, you can see that both of those helmets are in really bad shape.

And third, you can see that Ben and I are just fine. And in fact, all four of The Fatty Family were just fine by the end of this race. Considering the story I’m going to tell over the next few days, that’s probably worth pointing out ahead of time.

OK, let’s get started.

Taking Advantage Of Nice People

The first half of 2016 has been a crazy first half of year for me. Problems with the job, then no job, and now: new job. Cycling (and, let’s face it: blogging) has had to take a backseat to life.

And so I’m very lucky that I have good friends who will step into the gap and help me out.

First of all, The Hammer took complete responsibility for boiling the bratwurst for the pre-race WBR fundraising BBQ in the days before the race. Thanks, Beautiful.

Second of all, the four friends of Fatty making up Team “What Were We Thinking, Part Quattre” — Yann, Dave T, Chris, and Craig — took responsibility for grilling those brats. 

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Thanks so much, guys. And thanks for saving a couple for me once I got there.

And finally, my friend Cory let me use the SBR Sprinter van during the race:

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Since our other options were to use a pickup truck with a camper shell or a seventeen-year-old minivan, this was the upgradiest of all possible upgrades.

A Moment of Irony

I woke up on the morning of the race with one single, important thought: “Oh no.”

No, its wasn’t concern or fear for the beginning of the race. Although I had that, too. It was the realization that I had made a massive planning error: all of my bike lights were completely dead. 

I knew they were dead because I had charged, then completely discharged, them just the day before, to ensure they were working.

However, I had not had time to charge them again before heading to Moab. 

So here we were, with the race starting in a couple hours, with six completely dead NiteRider setups. 

Perfect.

“I’ll have to tell Danny about this,” I thought. “He’ll appreciate the irony.” I plugged everything in to charge for the few hours between when I woke up and when the team left — we figured we’d have the rest of the team swing by the hotel and pick up the batteries after the race started, bought a couple inverters at the local grocery store to continue charging the batteries once we were on the road, and then hoped for the best.

Meet the 2016 Team: The Fatty Family

For the first few years The Hammer and I did the Rockwell Relay, Kenny and Heather raced with us. Last year, our good friends Cory and Lynette raced with us.

For 2016, The Hammer and I had an idea: put together a family team. 

Specifically, I’d race leg 1. My niece Lindsey would race leg 2. Her husband Ben would race leg 3. And the Hammer would race leg 4.

Labeling this as a “family” team may have been just a little bit of a red herring, however. Sure, we are all in the same actual family. But we all also happen to be pretty darned committed cyclists; out of the group of four of us, I’m pretty confident that I’m the least-fit rider.

The morning before the race, The Hammer and I went to Denny’s for our traditional pre-Rockwell Relay breakfast; Lindsey and Ben skipped it. “What is it with you two and Denny’s, anyway?” Lindsey asked.

Tradition. Just tradition. Plus we like to take a traditional Denny’s selfie.

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And then get the traditional team photo:

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Oh, well those are kind of awesome-looking jerseys. They sure look like they could be FatCyclist jerseys, but with a new design and some interesting and different colors. 

Hmm. I don’t recall selling a jersey like that. Interesting. Oh well, no big deal, don’t worry about it. The more important thing is that we then got a terrific — and traditional — team jump shot:

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Four great jumps, four totally different styles. I’m going to give us full marks for that.

Strategic Head Games

I was trying to just enjoy myself — to make this race into a vacation instead of yet another thing to be worried about — but I couldn’t help myself: I wanted to win. 

And I didn’t just want to win for winning’s sake, either. I wanted to win because I knew that the racers from Team Infinite Cycles also wanted to win. That they had been thinking about the victory we had snatched away from them in the last stage of last year’s race.

Their team name had changed: Now it was VR5. Or ZZTopR. RaZR maybe. We could never get the names straight, to tell the truth, and enjoyed not really trying to. But we did know that instead of just two teams working against us, this year they had brought three: two coed teams and a men’s team to work together, giving them the advantage of a working paceline for the entire race.

We had countered this tactic by bringing…one team, just like we always have. (And also by having me forget to charge the lights.)

I approached Danny to tell him about my light story, and then to ask him to straighten out who was on what team.

Danny hemmed and hawed, circumlocuted and just generally talked in circles.

“You’re not exactly being forthcoming, Danny,” I said.

“Troy told me not to tell you guys anything!” he blurted.

“That’s cool, we actually know everything about your team already,” I said. Which wasn’t true, but which also didn’t matter. At this point, our team strategy was locked in, and was very obvious. (I did in fact know a lot about their racer order and saw some big flaws in it, but I’ll get to that later: for now it was beside the point.)

And also, there was one tactic we had up our sleeves that team JVC didn’t know about.

And that tactic was going to make a huge difference once the race began.

Which is where I’ll pick up in the next installment of this story.

 

An Explanation for My Ongoing Absence

06.15.2016 | 7:36 am

Hi there. It’s me, Fatty. You know, the guy who used to write here from time to time.

No, seriously, you really don’t remember who I am? Look, I wrote here — on average — four times per week for eleven years. You’d think that would buy me some earned vacation days. 

OK, fine. You’re right, I should at least tell you what’s going on.

Basically, it turns out that having a new job requires a lot of mental energy. And new projects take mental energy. And being part of a family takes mental energy.

I’ve kind of overdrawn on my mental energy account.

However

Tomorrow I am headed to Moab, to race the Rockwell Relay. This year my team’s a little different. Our team’s name is “The Fatty Family,” and that tells you pretty much everything you need to know: every member of the team is also in my family. 

However, this does not mean we are going to just be toodling along: I’ve got some pretty fast family members. You won’t have to dig too deep into my blog to know who I’m talking about.

We are aware that there’s a bit of a target on our back after last year. We are aware that after last year’s race (and story), that the team that went after us is hungry for a rematch. And that they’re doubling — or possibly tripling — down on the multiple team strategy.

We, on the other hand, will be racing as one single coed team. It keeps things simple. 

Here’s My Point

Why am I telling you this? Because it’s a promise: while I will actually be leaving the  country for a week (for work) the day after the race, I will spend my evenings and early mornings writing  up the story. 

And also, I’ll be using my mornings to get caught up on podcasts. I’ve got so many great conversations to post. So many.

So. Hang tight. The dry spell’s about to end. Promise.

I am a Chatterbox, and I am Everywhere

06.8.2016 | 8:52 am

Most people hate the sound of their own voice. That’s understandable, too. Not because most people have awful voices, but because the voice they hear in their head is so much fuller, more resonant, than the voice they hear piped in through headphones.

So when they hear themselves the way other people hear them, they’re dismayed, because they discover that the fact that they don’t sound like how they think they sound when they sing in the shower also applies to everything they say outside the shower, too.

And so most people, when given the opportunity, stay away from microphones.

There are a few of us, however, who overcome this loathing. Not because we think we have great voices, but because we simply can’t help ourselves

We love to talk. Discomfort with our voices notwithstanding, we just keep talking.

And now, in the same way that blogs — more than a decade ago — enabled those of us who just can’t seem to stop ourselves from writing, the explosion of podcasting has enabled those of us who love to talk.

My “need to tell everyone everything that occurs to me about bicycles” affliction seems to have been enabled in a big way by both these technologies.

Because today — in addition to this blog — I appear in not just one, not just two, but three weekly podcasts.

I am not apologizing, mind you. Because all three are different, all three are interesting, and I love being in each. In truth, I am not so much the star of any of them; I’m just the guy (or one of the guys) who ties things together, drawing stories out of other people and occasionally telling one of my own.

So, before I describe the episodes coming out from all three podcasts today, let me say: I think it’s worth your time to subscribe to all three: the FattyCast, the CyclingTips Podcast, and the Paceline.

Yeah, that’s basically me asking you to give me three hours of your listening time each week. In addition to the time I ask you to spend reading my blog.

But hey, what else are you going to do during your lunch hour? 

So: here’s what I’m talking about this week, why you should listen, and how you can do it. 

The FattyCast

[iTunes | RSS | Stitcher | Download]

I’m fascinated by bike races, and lately have become even more fascinated by race directors. It takes a special kind of person to commit to something that is going to consume incredible amounts of time, make very little money, and earn more complaints than kudos.

So I’ve been making a point of reaching out to the race directors of some of my favorite races. I’ve talked with Burke Swindlehurst (Crusher in the Tushar), my next FattyCast episode will be with Ken Chlouber (Founder of Leadville 100), and this episode I’m talking with Jay Burke, the race director of the Park City Point to Point.

The Park City Point 2 Point is a race here in Utah famous for three things: an outrageous amount of incredible singletrack, an outrageous amount of climbing, and a registration period that lasts less than ten minutes.

In this FattyCast, I talk with Jay about the race, why it’s such a huge hit, and what he’s thinking of doing next…and we do it during the ten minutes the P2P, as it’s called, is open for registration. 

The CyclingTips Podcast

iTunes | RSS | Stitcher | Google Play | Download ]

I admit: I was very nervous to host this episode of the CyclingTips Podcast, because I’m a little bit in awe of Shane Stokes, the news editor for CyclingTips. Shane’s an extraordinary writer and journalist. Fair, thoughtful, and thorough.

Everything I’m not, really.

But I didn’t need to worry. Shane’s great to listen to, easy to talk with, and has great stories to tell. 

In this case, he has the story to tell of losing it all and then getting it back, told by many riders at an extraordinary race: The Ras.

And also, Shane tells the story of why he’s wearing a cast right now (hint: a pro racer crashed into him, breaking his elbow).

The Paceline 

[ iTunes | RSS | Android | Download ]

I love participating in the Red Kite Prayer panel-style Paceline podcast…even though I get the distinct impression in every single episode that I know about 70% less about bikes and racing and pros than Patrick and Michael. Frankly, I’m astonished that they haven’t kicked me off yet. Don’t tell them that, though.

In this episode, we talk about strategies for planning rides at places you don’t know anything about. We talk about cramps. We talk about how Canyon Bikes are coming to the US, and what a strong direct-order model for bikes might mean for the industry. I try to keep up, to the degree I can.

In Short

If you listen to podcasts, listen to these. If you don’t listen to podcasts, listen to these anyway. Because it will make me feel good about myself, and that’s very important to you.

Style Points

06.6.2016 | 11:43 am

I am an enthusiastic cyclist. I tell many people about the virtues of bicycles. I ride with aplomb and energy. After rides, I earnestly effuse about how happy I am. About the good time I’ve had.

I’m a strong cyclist. I can ride for hours, and often do. Indeed, I have occasionally ridden for more than a day, just to prove a point. I no longer remember what that point might have been, but let’s agree that whatever the point, I have made it sufficiently.

I am a committed cyclist. I have been riding for more than twenty years. Not contiguously, but darned near close to it.

Enthusiastic. Strong. Committed. When it comes to cycling, I am all those things. And all those things are good things.

Sadly, however, I have no cycling style. No panache, as it were. At all. My riding is as boorish and ham-fisted as it’s possible to be without calling the authorities and hiring a lawyer to draft a cease-and-desist notice.

I shall elaborate.

Technical MTB Style

Some people are a pleasure to watch as they mountain bike. They glide up and over ledges. they lightly hop over rocks and roots. They carve hairpins cleanly and precisely. They climb with economy and grace.

They sail from jumps in a perfect and mathematically elegant arc, landing so smoothly that you’re not precisely sure of the moment they returned to earth. 

I do none of these things. Or to be more accurate, I do the opposite of these things.

When I try to bunny hop, I pull my shoulders out of their sockets — so great is my effort — but my bike remains on the ground. 

When I get to a ledge, there’s even odds that I will jam either my front wheel or my chainring into the lip of the ledge, bringing my bike’s forward progress to a sudden and traumatic halt. I will then either flip over the front of the bike, crush my snipe into the stem, or fall over backwards onto my tailbone.

Sometimes — and I know this should be impossible, but it’s true — all three.

I approach hairpins so slowly and tentatively that a case could be made that I never reach them at all.

When I try to clean a technical ascent, I seem to be wrestling my bike — as opposed to riding it. Furthermore, it is quite clear that I am losing that wrestling match.

I seize up and stiff-arm my bars during descents. Steep drops ending in flat runouts terrify me, and wheelies are right out.

In short, while I love mountain biking, I am possibly the ugliest-riding cyclist who has ever donned (and then crookedly worn) a helmet.

Climbing Style

Here’s a nice little piece of irony for you: I think of myself, above all else, as a climber. But I climb terribly

Rather than sit and find the correct combination of gear selection and high cadence, I stand up as soon as the road turns uphill. I hang my head down, so all I can see is my front hub, mocking me with the slow repetitive rotation of its logo: DT Swiss, 240s. DT Swiss, 240s. DT Swiss, 240s.

My mouth hangs open; I drool. Sweat and snot — a “snotulum” I call it — combine and sway from the tip of my nose.

Spit, sweat, snot. And, frankly, tears. Honestly, it’s astonishing how many fluids drip out of my face when I’m climbing.

So gross. And that’s just what’s going on at head-level. 

I lack any form. I have no upstroke, I have nothing that resembles a cadence. I look, essentially, as if I’ve somehow mistaken my bicycle for a rowing machine.

The moans of pain aren’t very attractive, either.

Finish Line Style

I am pretty sure I’ve never had the good fortune to win anything, so developing a victory salute style isn’t something I have needed to spend a lot of time on.

But even if I were much, much faster — so much faster that I could dream of winning in a less non-fantastical way — I would never even attempt a victory salute.

I know myself too well, that’s why. 

I know that if I were to win and raise my arms to the air, I would immediately veer hard to the left (not sure why, but if I’m going to veer, it’s always to the left), plowing into timing equipment, race officials, and spectators. 

And if any of those spectators happen to be small children or frail senior citizens, you can bet I’d manage to single them out.

The carnage, the humiliation, the complete clumsiness of it all, would be too much; I’d have to impale myself (if I hadn’t already) with my handlebar in order to escape the shame of it all.

Of course, all of this would happen before I even crossed the actual finish line, and so I’d wind up being a DNF.

In summary: should you ever see cross my path whil we are riding, look away.

For your own good.

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