2016 Rockwell Relay Race Report, Part 12: Lessons to Learn

07.21.2016 | 3:23 pm

I haven’t talked about the Tour de France much this year. OK, I haven’t talked about it at all (and don’t worry, I’m not about to spoil anything for those of you who — like me — watch it later in the evening, not live).

But I am watching. And as I watch, I’m struck by how effective it is for teams like Sky to work together in a group, going much faster together than they would alone. 

And as I watch, I find myself thinking, “That’s the way to race. Working together in a paceline is the way to win.” 

The problem with this perspective, however, is that it’s wrong.

The Hammer’s Predictions

“Now, hold on for just a second,” I hear you thinking. “You’ve said yourself how much faster it is to draft than to ride solo. Why are you now saying it’s not?”

“Well,” I respond, clearly enjoying this strawman argument I’ve just set you up as making, “I’m not saying that drafting doesn’t work. Obviously it does work, and many episodes of this race report have shown that it works really well.”

“What doesn’t work,” I smugly continue, “is throwing four groups of three people together and expecting them to be able to work together in any meaningful manner.”

That,” I conclude, “is why Team Z5R lost to us this year.”

What I don’t say is that we were pretty confident that Z5R wouldn’t beat us before the race even started

Why?

Because The Hammer had done her homework, that’s why — just like Teams Z5R and BatB had each done their homework on us.

The Hammer predicted three strategic Achilles’ heels for the Z5R trio of teams.

  1. They were logistically ungainly. They had essentially committed three teams to riding together, which would be faster when everyone was doing well. However, unlike in a pro race where some racers in the team always get shed as they have mechanicals or get tired from doing domestique work, the three Z5R teams would have to stay together no matter what, due to the fact that they had a limited number of support vehicles. Essentially, they were constrained to going the speed (including going nowhere) of their slowest rider of the bunch at any given moment, for 500+ miles.
  2. Their superstar women would cancel each other out. Marci is crazy-fast in the climbs. Mary is crazy-fast on the flats. Obviously, Marci should have been racing as Racer 1 (the legs with the most climbing), and Mary should have been Racer 3 (the Time Trialist’s leg). But they were both racing leg 1, which meant that Marci would have to hold up for Mary in the climbs, and Mary would have to hold up for Marci on the flat sections. Alone, Marci could have crushed me this year. The Hammer assured me, however, that I would be able to beat the Marci/Mary (and Billy as it turned out) combo every single leg. She was right.
  3. Pacelines need practice. The Hammer and I ride together about six times per week. We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. When we ride together, we don’t even need to talk about how our turns pulling should work. But the Z5R teams were a combination of Utah and Texas riders, many with no experience working together at all. 
  4. Altitude matters. Since many of the Z5R racers were visiting from Texas, they wouldn’t be ready for some of the high-altitude hijinx that awaited them. There was no way they were going to just be able to fly up Boulder Mountain with no Oxygen-deprivation penalty, for example.
The Fatty Family Strategy

Why am I choosing this moment — eleven installments into the story — to lay out the Opposition Research we did on Z5R? Well, you’ll see in a minute. 

But as long as I’m on the topic of race tactics, here’s what ours was, in all its glory:

Look for opportunities to establish temporary race alliances.

Yep, that’s all there was to it. But the simplicity belies some understanding that comes from having done this race a few times. Specifically, since we were one of very few coed teams, we weren’t really racing against most of the fast teams surrounding us we were no threat to the competitive mens’ teams in the field.

So it cost them nothing to have us work with them.

And just as importantly, since our alliances were informal, there was nothing to hold them to us (or vice versa): when a paceline was no longer mutually beneficial, we could (and did) split off. No hard feelings (except once, and I promise you there is more to that story, which we will get to).

If Z5R had re-ordered their teams and adopted an agile strategy like ours, I truly believe at least one of those teams would have won the coed division of this race. 

So yes, let the record show that I am boasting: The Fatty Family beat Z5R this year on strategy as much as (or more than) we did with legs and lungs.

And now, with the promise that this ties into the part of the actual race story I have to tell today, let’s get on with Lindsey’s Boulder Mountain leg of the race.

Can’t Hardly Wait

Night had fallen during my leg of the race, so Lindsey took off into the dark. “I want you to wait here ‘til the other teams (meaning Z5R and BatB) come in,” she said. “I want splits on how much time I have.”

Dutifully, we waited, and — astonishingly — the Z5R racers and the BatB racer arrived within two minutes of each other. They were now each other’s competition.

We, on the other hand, were pulling away, with a 25 – 27 minute lead, five legs into the race.

QOM 

Lindsey was well into her riding groove by the time we caught up to her and told her about the lead she was starting with.

At the moment, she was riding alone. And she would continue to ride alone for the duration of this twenty-five-mile, 2800-feet-of-climbing section of her leg of the race.

Why was she riding alone? Simple: nobody could hang with her. Lindsey QOM’d this section of the leg of the race, beating out Marci’s QOM time from last year. And — as I’ve mentioned — Marci is no slouch of a climber. And also, last year Marci had Billy working for her to get her that time.

Lindsey did it solo. (By way of comparison, I consider myself a fair climber, and Lindsey beat my best time to the summit by about three minutes.)

By the time she got to the top, Jack Nosco — Tom’s teammate from the Mike Nosco Memorial Team — had managed to catch up to her, and the two of them bombed down together, and Lindsey QOM’d the down side of this leg, too.

So just to be clear here: the women on The Fatty Family had ridden three legs of this race so far…and had QOM’d all three of those legs.

This had a few practical effects.

  1. Lindsey increased our lead over the Z5R teams to thirty-three minutes.
  2. Lindsey increased our lead over BatB to fifty-six minutes.
  3. Lindsey got down the mountain so fast that — even though we left her to her own devices right from the top of the mountain and got to the transition as fast as we could — Ben still wasn’t ready to go when Lindsey pulled in, resulting in her shouting his name into the darkness for two or three minutes.

So, so far: the Fatty Family had two slow exchanges, both of which were due to the men not being ready to go when their wives  arrived.

Which kind of pokes holes into a number of gender stereotypes, if you ask me.

How Not to Congratulate Your Competition

You know that feeling you get when you just know you knocked something out of the park? When you put everything into an effort and it just really paid off?

It’s intoxicating, isn’t it? It leaves you feeling amazing.

That’s how Lindsey felt and looked as we packed her bike up and got ready to go.

During which time, one of the racers from team Z5R came up to us and began explaining to us why they were losing to us. One of their racers had a couple flat tires. A racer had just been diagnosed with mono. A racer had food poisoning. A racer had an asthma attack. A racer had a back problem. 

That’s a lot of reasons, none of which were “you guys are really racing well.”

Were the Z5R teams were just collectively having a horrible, terrible, no-good, very bad day? Or is that just the law of probabilities at work? Which is to say, the more people you have in a group of riders, the greater the likelihood that you’re going to have physical and mechanical problems.

Consider this : I could have replied with things The Fatty Family was currently coping with. One of us had a hernia. One of us had hemorrhoids. One of us was dealing with a super-fun part of a menstrual cycle. One of us hadn’t trained as much as we’d like this year, thanks to job hunting and financial stress. One of us was pretty stressed out about the idea of telling his friend that he had nearly killed that friend’s van.

Worst of all, one of us had turned fifty three minutes ago, and nobody had sung “Happy Birthday” to him yet.

My point is, everyone has stuff going on in their lives. And in a big race, you’re likely to have that stuff compound with other stuff. But don’t tell your competition that’s why they’re beating you. That trivializes their effort, as if they don’t also have stuff going on in their lives but are managing to clean your clock anyway.

They’re beating you, in short, because they made some good race strategy decisions, and they’re faster.

And most importantly: I think we can definitively say that we win the “awkward to talk about in polite company” contest.

The Practical Result

Here’s an interesting fact I’ve observed as being the husband to one very competitive woman cyclist, the father of another, and the uncle of a third:

They tend to be fierce.

Which is to say, as we drove, The Hammer and Lindsey had a fairly engaged conversation over the relative merits of of Z5R’s troubles versus ours, and their race placement relative to ours. It was so engaged, in fact, that I momentarily forgot that my hernia was killing me and sometime soon I was going to need to tell Cory about what I had almost done to his van.

By the time we caught up to Ben, I was pretty sure Z5R would never see us on the course again. Not if racer intensity had anything to do with it.

And that’s where we’ll pick up in the next episode. 

 

The New FatCyclist Gear: Order Now

07.19.2016 | 11:48 am

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A Note from Fatty: My Rockwell Relay report will resume on Thursday. 

I’m incredibly excited to show off, start selling, and — this is especially awesome — start shipping immediately — the new Fat Cyclist gear. I’m doing things a lot differently than I ever have this time. Here’s how and why:

  • Smaller quantities: I really don’t want to beg my readers to buy stuff from me. I’d much rather make too few of things than have to do a big ol’ fire sale later. 
  • Different look for men and women’s gear: You’ll notice the men’s and women’s designs are completely and utterly different this time. This has allowed me to not have design compromises for either, and has resulted in the two best-looking designs I’ve ever had.
  • Available now: This stuff is in (mostly) in-stock. If you order today, we’ll ship tomorrow. However, the women’s gear has turned out to be a lot more popular than I expected, and I’ve re-ordered more. So depending on the size you order and when you order, you may need to wait to get your gear ’til August, in which case your order will say so.

A Few Notes About Questions, Shipping Costs and Availability

  • If You Have Questions About Sizing or Shipping or Whatever: Please email ryan@dnacycling.cc
  • Shipping is a flat fee of $5.95 within the US; $25.00 outside the US. 
  • For Men’s Gear: we will ship immediately. 
  • For Women’s Gear, we will ship immediately for in-stock items, but will ship in August for items noted as (August). If any items in an order are noted for August delivery, all your items will ship in August.

Fat Cyclist Black Gray Jersey

Men’s Century Jersey

This is, without question, the second-best-looking Fat Cyclist jersey ever made (many women have let me know that the women’s jersey is better-looking), and it’s also the absolutely best-made, best-fitting one. It’s a light, comfortable material, which breathes nicely but is not a pure race-cut mesh, which means you can wear it from Spring clear into Autumn.

This is DNA’s “Century” cut, which means it’s a little looser-fitting than the race cut. For those of you who are comparing to recent Twin Six sizing, this means DNA Century cut fits a little looser than the equivalent Twin Six pattern. More to the point, I fit fine in a Medium DNA Century jersey, but need to wear Large in Twin Six.

This is going to be your very favorite jersey, and it’s the one I’ll be wearing at the Leadville 100, as well as on most every training ride.

Fat Cyclist Black Gray Jersey back

Details:

  • Fabric: Hydro Fit
  • Respire Moisture Management
  • Ergo Stretch Performance
  • Front Comfort Banding
  • Full Hidden Zip
  • 3 Full Back Pockets
  • Audio Port
  • Relaxed Fit
  • Made in Italy

Want to Complete the Kit?

Fat Cyclist Black Gray Race Bibs

Men’s Race Bib Shorts

Until I tried out DNA bib shorts, I was a Rapha bibs guy. Sure they’re expensive, but the fit and high-quality chamois were worth the spend. Here’s the thing, though: I haven’t bought any Rapha bibs lately, because I no longer need to.

These Race Bib Shorts are that good.

They’re incredibly comfortable, they’re absurdly light, and the chamois is simply outrageous. Honestly, at less than half the price of an equivalent pair of Rapha bibs, these are every bit as good. And of course, they go with the new Fat Cyclist jersey a whole lot better.

A Note About Sizing: These fit approximately the same as your old Twin Six shorts (but are about twice as good, to be totally honest, and the chamois isn’t even comparable).

Details:

  • Fabric: Performance Lycra With Miti Shield Endurance
  • 4 Cm Compression Banding
  • Smart Panel Design
  • Ergo Body Positioning
  • Suspension Braces
  • DNA HD Ergo, 3 + Hr Chamois
  • Made in italy

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Men’s Asolo Bib Shorts

OK, I want to be completely honest: these are plain black bib shorts. No big Fat Cyclist logo, no bright colors. Just — quite simply — the best deal in top-of-the-line bib shorts you’re ever going to get.

For one thing, these bibs go with every jersey you own, not just with the new Fat Cyclist jersey (although these bibs definitely go with the Fat Cyclist jersey).

More importantly, these bibs are just off-the-charts good. Incredible chamois, beautiful, comfortable material and fit. And of course, made in Italy.

Even if you get a pair of the Fat Cyclist bibs, you should probably get yourself a pair of the Asolo bibs for the days you don’t wear the Fat Cyclist jersey.

Details:

  • Fabric: Compression Power Base Lycra
  • Anatomic Cut and Pattern
  • 5 cm Compression Banding
  • Integrated Suspension Braces
  • Cytech Multi D Comp Carbonia 5 + HR Chamois

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Striped Performance Socks

These are bold socks, and not everyone is going to have the confidence to wear them. If you just can’t make yourself do it, that’s OK. You could wear the Blue Summer Sock or the Yellow Summer sock (or one of each, which is my preference) and still look great.

But if you’re remotely daring, I will tell you this: the striped socks look awesome with the Fat Cyclist Men’s shorts and jersey.

Details

  • Double Welt Top for Comfort and Fit
  • Arch Support Reduces Foot Fatigue and Increases Circulation
  • Smooth Toe-Seam Adds Comfort
  • Mesh Instep Aids in Breathability
  • 88% Poly / 8% Nylon / 2% Elastic / 2% Lycra 

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Blue Summer Sock and Yellow Summer Sock

These Socks go amazingly well with the Men’s Fat Cyclist kit, but they go even better if you wear one blue one and one yellow one at the same time. Sure, that means you’ll have to buy two pairs of socks, but you know you’re going to lose one sock before too long anyway. By buying a pair of Blue socks and a pair of Yellow socks, you’ll get to watch with interest to find out whether in the end you lose both of one color first, or one of each. Exciting!

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Details

  • Double Welt Top for Comfort and Fit
  • Arch Support Reduces Foot Fatigue and Increases Circulation
  • Smooth Toe-Seam Adds Comfort
  • Mesh Instep Aids in Breathability
  • 88% Poly / 8% Nylon / 2% Elastic / 2% Lycra

Fat Cyclist Blue Wns Jersey

Women’s Century Jersey

Every cycling woman (my wife, my daughters, my sister, my niece, friends) I know tells me this is the best-looking Fat Cyclist jersey ever made, and it’s also the absolutely best-made, best-fitting one. It’s a light, comfortable material, which breathes nicely but is not a pure race-cut mesh, which means you can wear it from Spring clear into Autumn.

This is DNA’s “Century” cut, which means it’s a little looser-fitting than the race cut. For those of you who are comparing to recent Twin Six sizing, this means DNA Century cut fits a little looser than the equivalent Twin Six pattern. More to the point, I fit fine in a Medium DNA Century jersey, but need to wear Large in Twin Six.

Fat Cyclist Blue Wns Jersey back

This is going to be your very favorite jersey, and it’s the one The Hammer and, the Monster are wearing at the Leadville 100, as well as on most every training ride.

Details:

  • Fabric: Hydro Fit
  • Respire Moisture Management
  • Ergo Stretch Performance
  • Front Comfort Banding
  • Full Hidden Zip
  • 3 Full Back Pockets
  • Audio Port
  • Relaxed Fit

Want to Complete the Kit?

Fat Cyclist Blue Wns Race Shorts front

Women’s Race Shorts

These shorts look great — I mean, just look at them — but they’re more than just great-looking. The Hammer tells me that these shorts don’t bind at the waist, the chamois is super-comfortable, and of course it’s a lot easier to take care of peeing than it is with a pair of bibs.

Also, The Hammer would like me to let you know that she wear a Small (while she normally would wear a Medium), because she has no butt. This is worth pointing out, I guess, because The Monster wears a Medium…because evidently she still has a butt. You have no idea how uncomfortable I am talking about my wife and daughter’s butts.

Details

  • Fabric: Performance Lycra with Miti Shield Endurance
  • 4 Cm Compression Banding
  • Yoga Waist Banding
  • Smart Panel Design
  • Ergo Body Positioning
  • DNA Ladies HD Ergo, 3 + HR Chamois

Want to Complete the Kit?

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Polka Dot Sock

The Women’s Fat Cyclist kit is bold, blue and beautiful…and these socks bring that look to a whole new level. I know, you didn’t even know there is another level. There is another level, though, and you’ll almost certainly reach it by getting these socks.

Details

  • Double Welt Top for Comfort and Fit
  • Arch Support Reduces Foot Fatigue and Increases Circulation
  • Smooth Toe-Seam Adds Comfort
  • Mesh Instep Aids in Breathability
  • 88% Poly / 8% Nylon / 2% Elastic / 2% Lycra

And now, just some photos of my family, friends, and me wearing the new gear:

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The Hammer and me on Mt. Nebo, wearing the (not for sale) race-cut version of the men’s jersey and Asolo shorts

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Annnd…the view from the rear.

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Ben, on the attack.

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Lindsey and The Hammer, post-Crusher.

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The Hammer runs alongside The Monster at the Crusher finish line. Note: Froome totally copied The Hammer, who started the whole “running to the finish line in biking shoes” trend.

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Almost there!


2016 Rockwell Relay Race Report, Part 11: Everything Comes Together

07.18.2016 | 9:38 am

A Note from Fatty: The new very-limited edition FatCyclist gear goes on sale tomorrow. I’m just nailing down the catalog language and making sure ordering works. 

It was the beginning of my second leg of the Rockwell Relay (our fifth of twelve legs, in case you’ve lost track). And there three things I needed to know that I simply didn’t know.

How far ahead of the Beauties and the Beasts (BatB) team were we? Would it be enough for me to remain ahead of them, or would Nate catch me?

How far ahead of the Z5R teams were we? So far, they had been a no-show on the course — after the first three minutes of the race, we had literally never seen one of their riders on a bike —but it would be foolish to count them out. After all, while The Hammer had put in an extraordinary effort in her leg of the race, she had done so alone, while there were three Z5R riders — all men — working on this mostly-flat leg together. It was entirely possible that they had closed a lot of the gap we had built in this race so far. 

How angry was The Hammer? I knew she was mad about being left on her own for a big chunk of her leg, and I suspected she was made about the botched exchange we had just been through.

How was I going to tell Cory about the incredible near-miss with his van? Every time I thought about this, I felt a little ill.

In reality, all of these problems existed purely in my own head.

Unbeknownst to me, The Hammer had turned our three-minute lead on BatB team into a twenty-two minute lead. And the three men working together on the Z5R teams for forty-five miles had managed to bring back a mere five minutes against The Hammer, who had TT’d the whole thing. Our lead on them as I left Hanksville was a solid eighteen minutes.

Thanks to my incredible teammates, we were winning, and by a very respectable — although by no means unassailable — lead.

As to how angry The Hammer was, well, that question was resolved within twenty minutes of my having started this leg of the race, as the van rolled by. The Hammer, smiling big, leaned out the  ringing her cowbell for me and yelling, “Go Elden! I love you!” 

And with that, I felt about 80% better. The other 20% — telling Cory about the van mishap — would have to wait ’til I had reception again, most likely after the race.

And meanwhile, other things were going my way, too.

Meeting Tom, Resolving Problems

At the end of the most recent installment of this story, I had started the leg just a moment in front of a rider from the Mike Nosco Memorial team: the 50+ group we had been tied to since, essentially, the third leg of the race.

For once, I thought, I think I’ll try to race using my head instead of just my legs and lungs

So I sat up for the fifteen seconds it took for him to catch me, then introduced myself. “Hi, I’m Elden; how about we work together on this leg?”

He said his name was Tom and was happy to work with me. 

“One minute pulls?” I asked.

He nodded. Tom was an easy guy to work with, super lean and fit, with a very smooth, efficient, practiced riding style.

I let two rotations go, riding hard and in silence on the slight incline. Mulling.

I pulled up alongside him.

“So, your teammate confronted me and my teammate after leg three,” I said. “He seemed really mad, like we had betrayed an alliance or something.”

“Don’t worry about it. He’s just intense when he’s racing,” Tom said.

“I get that, I’m kind of the same way,” I replied. “But I want you to know that we had to do that attack in order to ensure the other team in that group didn’t have our wheel for the next leg. We figured our team could put time on their team, but not if they could sit in and draft.”

“Well, your rider certainly did that,” Tom said. “I watched our racer try to catch her for forty-five miles and he just couldn’t do it. She is strong.”

“Yeah, my wife is pretty amazing,” I said.

“She’s your wife?” Tom asked. I’m not sure if there was incredulity in his voice or not. I kind of think there was. I get that pretty often. 

“Yeah, we’re a family team: my wife, my niece, her husband, me. Anyway, let him know we didn’t mean anything against your team by that attack, we just didn’t know how strong the other coed team is and couldn’t take chances. Even so, their number-one racer is rocket-fast and is likely to catch and pass us before the end of this leg.”

“We should probably talk less and ride more, then,” Tom said.

Tom had a point. We dug in.

Meeting Jim

I’ve been obsessed enough with the interaction of my team and other coed teams in this story that it might seem like we were the only teams on the road. But in fact, during the past couple hours we had begun passing other teams regularly: the noncompetitive division teams — the teams that were doing this race strictly for fun and were hence not bound by race rules or concerns about timing. These teams had started a couple hours earlier than competitive teams, and now, as the sun sunk low, we were just beginning to roll past them, giving them encouragement as we went by.

Usually, Tom and I would just nod and zoom past. 

But one guy latched on. 

“That’s fine,” I thought. “He’ll hang on for a rotation and then drop out.”

But he didn’t drop out. He took his turn pulling — and pulling strong — for rotation after rotation, cutting the amount of time Tom and I had to spend in the wind down by a third.

“What’s your name?” I called out. 

“Jim,” he shouted back.

“Welcome to our train!” I said, and meant it.

Hey, this “alliances of opportunity” strategy thing was working out just fine.

The Train Grows

Tom and I were riding pretty hot, and Jim was beginning to struggle to hold on. “Just take shorter pulls,” I said. “Ten seconds, then drop back. Stay with us; we’re faster with you than without you.”

Jim stepped it up, digging deep to help our group stay fast. I was impressed.

We pushed along, a fast rotating paceline now…and passed five guys, stopped. Four of them standing around while one of them changed a flat.

The Hyperthread teams. We were right with the Hyperthread teams

“You guys OK? Need anything?” 

“We’re good,” Spencer — the head honcho of Hyperthreads — called back.

Tom, Jim, and I rolled on.

And then, maybe three minutes later, the Hyperthread racers — all five of them — caught us, just swept us up into their fast-rolling train.

Suddenly, we weren’t just a choo-choo train. We were an express.

The Train Derails

The light faded and I turned on my helmet light…only to discover that this helmet — not the helmet I usually use with a light mounted — doesn’t work really well with the light mount strap setup I have. It slid forward, pointing straight down, brilliantly lighting up the tip of my nose.

I adjusted the light. It slid back down.

I adjusted it again. It slid again.

Finally, I lost patience and tilted my helmet back very far on my head. This worked, but at the expense of making my helmet a completely ineffective safety device.

Oh well, I thought. A helmet tilted like this may not do me any good in a crash, but having no light is much more dangerous.

Meanwhile, the Hyperthreads guys were slowing down. Spencer was suffering with a bad Achilles tendon, I think. “Guys, I gotta keep moving,” I said. “Are you OK with me going on ahead without you?” I was aware, even as I asked this, how strange it felt to be asking a question like this of a team that had no claim on me. But I was trying to be Mister Public Relations, so thought it couldn’t hurt.

“Sure,” one of the racers said. “We’ll see you later.”

The ride had turned uphill; I pushed on alone (Jim had dropped off a little while after the Hyperthreads guys joined our group; I’m not sure why Tom didn’t keep going with me).

One Last Pull

I was down to the last few miles of the ride, and so far Nate from BatB hadn’t caught me (I’d find out later he had flatted during this leg of the race), and the Z5R trio of teams hadn’t either. It was beginning to look like the situation I expected and dreaded — that during my leg we’d move into second or even fourth place — wasn’t going to happen.

And then somehow, out of nowhere, another rider appeared on the road, just ahead of me. 

I jumped, managed to catch him and grab his wheel. Held on. Barely. I had a new riding partner, though I didn’t grasp where he could have come from.

“Where did your team come from?” I asked. 

“Oh, I’m in a non-competitive team,” he said. “We’re just sort of doing some of the legs, jumping forward, riding what’s interesting. I haven’t ridden that much today, to be honest.”

“Well if it’s okay with you,” I replied, “I’d like to just hang on to your wheel to the end of this leg of the race. I’m smoked and am in a team trying to stay ahead of a few teams that should be beating us, but aren’t.”

“Just hang on,” he said.

And I did. I hung on while this kid told me about how he’s going to college and how running is really his main thing, and what it’s like to race the Boston Marathon. I was happy to let him talk, because it meant he was using some of his air to talk, which meant he wasn’t dropping me, which otherwise he most certainly would have.

I pulled in, and Lindsey pulled out. No botched exchanges this time.

I gave The Hammer a hug and said, “That was a fun leg.”

“How come you went so slow?” she replied.

My head spun around. “Slow?” I asked.

“Yeah, you looked like you were just having a good old time with all the people you were riding with.”

Then I understood. For the first time ever in the Rockwell Relay, The Hammer had seen me actually working with other riders. In fact, I had done the entire leg with one rider or another.

“Oh,” I said, “You’re just not used to seeing me ride smart.”

And riding smart had worked. Although I wouldn’t know it until later, I not only limited the damage I expected the Z5R and BatB teams to do to us; I had increased our lead. Not by a lot — we were now ahead of the Z5R teams by twenty-eight minutes (a ten-minute increase) and the BatB team by twenty-five (a three minute increase). But still: where I had expected to put our team in danger, I had instead built on our lead.

And Lindsey was on a mission to grow that lead as much as she could.

Which is where we’ll pick up in the next installment.

2016 Rockwell Relay Race Report, Part 10: Three Strange Minutes

07.14.2016 | 2:36 pm

A Podcasty Note From Fatty: I’m pretty sure I just posted the best episode of the FattyCast I’ve ever done: a conversation with Yuri Hauswald, the 2015 winner of the Dirty Kanza.

Even though the 2016 Kanza is now about a month behind us, I still wanted to have him tell his story for this year, because Yuri’s one of my favorite people…and he’s an amazing storyteller. It’s an awesome tale about triple-flatting, taco bell, and turning a bad race…into a great day. 

Even if you don’t usually listen to podcasts, you should listen to this episode. You can find it on iTunes, Stitcher, download it, or use the http://fattycast.com/rss feed to subscribe on whatever your favorite podcast app is. Or, of course, you can listen to it right here:

Let me know what you think (and please, rate and review it on iTunes, so I can be less obscure)

2016 Rockwell Relay Race Report, Part 10: Three Strange Minutes

OK, I should start off by saying a couple of things. First, I don’t really know whether this whole series of events actually all happens in three minutes, although I am confident in its strangeness. 

Second, it’s probably a good idea to listen to “Yakety Sax” (aka the theme to the “Benny Hill Show”) during the entirety of what happens here.

Or, I dunno, maybe this only seems goofy because it’s very out of character for how Fatty Teams (usually) operate during the Rockwell Relay. I take a lot of pride in having teams that pay a lot of attention to the basics (having your equipment in good condition, staying fueled, being ready to roll at the exchanges). By taking care of these seemingly simple things, we’ve put a lot of time into teams that have strong riders but sloppy logistics.

As you’ll see here, though (not to mention the whole “van leaving without us” episode), that’s not always the case.

Before The Hammer Arrived

As I described in the previous installment of this story, Ben, Lindsey, and I arrived at the exchange — at a gas station built into a cliff wall — with several clear objectives.

Ben’s job was to fill the tank with diesel and then go buy a strawberry milkshake for The Hammer, as she had requested before her leg of the race began. Considering we had left The Hammer to her own devices in hundred-plus-degree heat for forty-five minutes, we were now giving this request extra significance.

Lindsey’s job was to buy a lot of ice to refill our ice chests, along with as much cold Coke as she could find. We were going through Coke at an alarming rate…much faster than we had anticipated.

My job was to get myself ready to race.

To Ben and Lindsey’s credit, they both did an admirable job of fulfilling their duties. However, by fulfilling their duties, they became completely absent. I was left to my own devices, and my own very warped sense of time. 

(It should also be noted that the ice cream shop was moving at a fully cryogenic pace. Ben was out of sight and out of commission for a full half hour as he waited for a milkshake.)

I found myself just talking with a racer from another team, telling him about our harrowing experience. Cleverly, I entirely failed to check the time as I did this, instead going entirely on how long it “felt” like it ought to be until The Hammer would be arriving.

No big deal, I had plenty of time, I was suited up and my bike was ready to go.

I walked back to the van, put on my helmet, and then took it off again, figuring I still had fifteen minutes.

And that’s when the world went insane.

The Hammer Arrives

I pride myself on being ready to go, and I fully intended to be ready to go when The Hammer arrived. 

Which is why I went into a full-bore panic when I heard her call my name in her distinctive “This is not a drill, this is urgent, and I need a response now” voice: “El-DEN!

What? She’s here? She’s crossed the line? No.

But there she was, yelling my name. She hadn’t seen me yet, though, so we began a game of spousal Marco-Polo. “Lisa!” I replied, as I scrambled to put my helmet on.

“Elden!” she shot back, looking around. 

Lisa!” I replied, stuffing the helmet light battery into my rear-center jersey pocket, without threading the power cable under my left armpit.

Now she saw me. “Elden! You’re wasting time!

It was true. The huge lead — it had looked like twenty minutes or so between us and the Beauties and the Beasts team when we had left Lisa behind us, and that gap had probably grown in the interim — Lisa had built was eroding, the BatB team closing the gap with every second I was not in motion.

That’s OK, I was ready.

I picked up my bike and ran across the parking lot to where The Hammer was. Within a few steps, however, I realized that I was still wearing my tennis shoes, which I had been wearing because I didn’t want my Speedplay cleats to get jammed with gravel as I got my bike ready.

I turned around and ran back toward the van.

“Where’s Ben? Where’s Lindsey? Why aren’t you ready?!” The Hammer yelled. 

Too many questions. I answered none of them. It was more important to find my bike shoes. 

Unfortunately, those bike shoes weren’t easy to find. The van was still a bit of a jumble, having been nearly tipped over on its side about an hour ago. 

The Hammer looked into the van at the mess, uncomprehendingly.

I found the shoes, sat down, and started putting them on.

Wait, That’s Not All

Shoes on — a little haphazardly, me unable to perform my normal ritual of smoothing out all possible sock wrinkles as I put on bike shoes — I picked up my bike and ran back toward the road again.

“Stop!” The Hammer yelled. 

I stopped.

“You don’t have any bottles and it’s a hundred degrees outside!”

She was right, on both counts. I grabbed one of her bottles from her bike and stuffed it into my cage. That was about half a bottle. Enough ’til they caught up with me. Hopefully.

I began running toward the road again.

Still Not All

I had almost made it to the road when The Hammer yelled at me again. “Stop!” 

“Now what,” I said, as if it were someone besides me who had made such a mess of this transition.

“The timing chip!” Of course. The timing chip. It was still on The Hammer’s ankle. I stopped, standing there as The Hammer ran to me and swapped it over to my leg.

“Where is everyone?” she asked.

I began explaining, but The Hammer replied, “Just go. I’ll find them.”

I began — for the third (fourth? tenth?) time — running toward the road.

More Not All

As I got to the road, a man ran toward me. And he was yelling. “Stop!” he yelled. “Come back!” 

I was skeptical, and felt like I had spent plenty of time here, in this hellish racer exchange that would — for whatever reason — just not let me go.

Still, he seemed like he had urgent business. Not-fake business.

“You need to go over the timing mat!” he yelled.

Huh? “Why?” I yelled back.

“Your racer didn’t go over the timing mat as she came in!” he yelled.

“Yes I did!” The Hammer yelled.

“She didn’t!” The man yelled.

Backwards

I needed to make a decision. Run toward the mat, or straight onto the road and go.

Astonishingly, I made a logical choice: it would be a lot easier for race officials to delete a redundant chip entry (if The Hammer was right) than to guesstimate what time we crossed the mat if there were no entry (if the man was right).

I ran back to and over the mat. “That good?” I asked the man.

“That’ll do it,” he replied.

One Last Exchange

Finally — finally! — I got on my bike and started riding.

“El-DEN!” The Hammer. Of course.

“Yeah?” I replied. Exasperated.

“I brought you someone to ride with,” she said.

And sure enough, the rider with the Mike Nosco Memorial team — the 50+ “Salty Dogs” rider, who Ben and I had been assured would be dropping The Hammer like a rock — was rolling across the timing mat. 

Someone to work with. Awesome. Except of course The Hammer didn’t know that we now had history with this team. That this team had chosen us as their sworn enemy

Oh well, I thought. Maybe he and I can patch things up. And one thing was certain: working with another rider was guaranteed to improve our chances against the BatB team (as well as the Z5R teams, whereever they had gotten to).

I sat up, no idea that I was about to embark upon a leg of racing that would be just as awesome as the last leg had been awful.

And that’s where we’ll pick up on Monday.

2016 Rockwell Relay Race Report, Part 9: Running a Little Late

07.13.2016 | 8:54 am

Suppose, for a moment, that you are falling off a cliff. A nice, long cliff. One that base jumpers and hang gliders and photographers flock to.

But you, unfortunately, are neither base jumper nor hang glider nor photographer. You’re just a person who’s affected by gravity in an unfortunately average way.

But wait!

You land on a precarious ledge, just eight feet from the top of the cliff. You’re not dead. 

But wait!

The ledge — besides being precarious — is also crumbling, and doesn’t seem like it’s going to hold out for long.

But wait!

Someone peers over the ledge and offers to help…but it turns out they can’t quite reach you. The ledge crumbles a little.

But wait!

That person says another person is coming by, and it looks like that person’s a well-equipped rock climber. The ledge crumbles, this time quite a lot.

But wait!

You hear the rock climber just keep on walking by, whistling a merry tune as the ledge begins to feel like it’s done its part in this metaphor and just about (but not quite) gives way completely.

But wait!

It turns out that the rock climber is turning around and coming to rescue you after all.

Saved

The most recent episode of this story ends with the truck — which was not a tow truck, but a heavy-duty sign-construction truck — maybe slowing down. And I left it there on purpose, mirroring my own sense of suspense that lasted what felt like forever.

Then the truck stopped — about a hundred yards up the road — and my hopes went up. Then it backed up and my hopes went up even higher.

And then it began the longest, most excruciatingly fraught series of back-and-forth turns imaginable. This narrow road wasn’t exactly designed with the expectation that big trucks should be able to make easy U-turns.

“How’d you get into this mess?” The driver asked through his window as he pulled up.

A fine question. A fine question indeed.

Without a lot of fanfare, he then pulled forward and back so he was good and close to the back of the van, facing the other direction:

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He handed me a stack of orange cones and told me to set them up alongside the road, thus giving the otherwise-useless me something to do.

Then he unpacked a set of straps and hooks — everything you’d need to pull a vehicle out of a ditch — and expertly hooked up the van to his truck. 

I watched in awe and wonder at his competence, and with an almost ridiculous amount of gratitude and relief.

“Keep your foot on the brake, but put the car in reverse,” he told Lindsey. “And don’t let up on the brake at all until I have the rope taut and tell you to release.

Then he pulled forward and got the rope taut, Lindsey put the van in reverse, and — pop, like it was no big deal — he pulled the van back onto the road.

What Was Ruined

With the same lack of fuss he had done everything else, the driver unhooked the van while I thanked him relentlessly. And — let’s be honest here — probably excessively. “Well,” he replied, “I’m glad I took the out-of-the-way route today.”

As our rescuers pulled away, Lindsey walked up. “You’re not going to believe this, but the van looks totally fine,” she said. “Maybe a couple of tiny scratches at the very bottom right side from the bush the van scraed against.”

“But,” she said, “these didn’t do as well.”

And she showed me Ben and my helmets. Here’s Ben’s:

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And here’s mine: 

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Both had — understandably — fallen out of the open van door as it was tipped far to the right. And then been crushed by the van wheels as the van was pulled back onto the road.

So now we had some new problems. 

First, both of our helmets were crushed, and Ben and I don’t wear the size Small helmets our wives wear.

Second, what is not shown with my crushed helmet is the fact that I had already fastened my beloved NiteRider Pro 1800 Race to my helmet (my next race leg would end in the dark)…and it was crushed too.

Somehow, none of us could bring ourselves to get too worked up about any of this.

Having just confronted — and somehow escaping — the overwhelming probability of destroying a friend’s beautiful, beloved Sprinter and injuring Lindsey in the process, $800 worth of helmet and light damage just didn’t seem like that big of a deal.

“Let’s go find out how mad Lisa is,” I said.

Repercussions

It was a weird, jarring shift, to suddenly have everything be back to normal. The van wasn’t destroyed, wasn’t even really harmed. Nobody was injured. Our racer was still — presumably — racing. Albeit almost certainly thirsty and wondering where we had disappeared to.

I tried to wrap my mind around this new-old normal: we were in a race, and we were doing well. There was no crisis. 

And in less than an hour, it would be my turn to ride again.

I grabbed a slice of pizza — I needed to start fueling now, since I hadn’t really eaten much since my last turn to race. 

“She is going to be so mad,” I told Lindsey and Ben.

“Probably,” Lindsey replied. “But she won’t be once she understands what just happened.”

And we were both right. Lisa was mad when we caught up with her, saying she no longer needed anything from us, that other teams had taken care of her while we were MIA.

For two or three passes, she didn’t acknowledge us at all as we asked what she needed. My heart sank; I had ruined everything about this race: nearly destroying the van, nearly injuring my niece, destroying Ben’s helmet, making my wife feel abandoned and angry.

It wasn’t a great moment for me.

The Race Must Go On

Here’s the thing: racing in general — and the Rockwell Relay in particular — isn’t just for when you’re having fun and doing well. Racing is a test you choose for yourself. By saying you’re going to race, you’re saying you will take whatever comes your way, and you will deal with it.

So I dealt.

First, the helmet issue. That wasn’t as bad as it seemed. See, I had brought two helmets. No, this wasn’t a prescient move; I always bring two helmets to the Rockwell Relay, so I can have my light setup already mounted on one of the helmets.

Now, Ben and I would just have to take turns using this spare. Ew, for sure. But it would work.

Second, the light issue. This was a bigger problem, but still not too serious. It moved us from having four light setups (two helmet lights, two bar lights) to just having three (two bar lights, one helmet light). And we could do some recharging in the car for whatever setup wasn’t currently in use. While it wouldn’t be the deluxe setup I had hoped to use, we could make it work.

Third, there was my physical and mental state. My wife was mad at me, I was slower than last year, I had a painful hernia (I don’t think I’ve blogged about that yet, but I probably will at some point) and my opponent in Beauties and the Beasts had demonstrated he was much faster than I am. I was basically the weak link in the Fatty Family chain. If we were going to lose, it was going to be because of me.

Too bad. I’d just do the best I could, and hope the rest of the team could make up the difference. Racing is racing, and excuses don’t matter.

The Hammer yelled at us to go on, get ready for my leg of the race. It seemed ridiculously early to go, but I figured she just didn’t want us around.

The Race Must Go On…Maybe

Ben took over driving while I changed in the back of the van and set up a light on my helmet. We got to the gas station that doubled as a checkpoint, and Ben filled up the tank while Lindsey went to buy ice and I took care of getting myself ready.

Bike clothes: check. Bike ready to roll: check. High-viz vest: check. Lights: check.

Ben went to the ice cream shop next door to buy The Hammer a strawberry milkshake — a request she had made before starting this leg of the race, and now one that seemed doubly important.

One of the guys from Team Z5R came over and asked me about what had happened to the van. I had plenty of time before The Hammer was due to pull in — half an hour, I guessed — so I gave him the long version of the story.

I walked over to my bike, looked up the road, put my helmet on. I thought about how The Hammer wasn’t due for another fifteen minutes or so. I took off my helmet and sat it down on the van’s bike rack, watching up the road from the dirt parking lot.

Then The Hammer appeared, yelling, “Elden! Where’s Elden?! Elden!” 

Astonished — how did she get here so quickly? (answer: she did this leg faster than any woman has before) — I plopped my helmet on my head, stuffed the helmet light battery into my jersey, picked up my bike, and began running out to the road. 

It was a little embarrassing, but not too bad. I would lose us few seconds, tops, by not being there as she crossed the line. Surely that wouldn’t be the difference between a win or loss, right?

Then — as I easily ran across the dirt parking lot, holding my bike aloft — I realized something: I should not be able to run easily across the dirt parking lot

“Oh no,” I said, as I realized: I was wearing my tennis shoes, not my riding shoes. 

And that was just the start of a whole new cascade of problems.

Which I’ll describe in the next installment of this story.

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