2014 Rockwell Relay Race Report, Part 6: Team Tactics

06.25.2014 | 11:23 am

A Note from Fatty: This is part 6 in an ongoing series recounting my 2014 Rockwell Relay experience. If you’re new here, you might want to jump to the beginning. Or if you just need to catch up, this installment picks up where part 4 leaves off. The video of the event is part 5, but isn’t really part of the narrative.

We were worried about Heather. We had worried about her for weeks. Maybe months. And we had a good reason to be worried. 

Heather was starting up what had been, last year, an utterly horrible leg of the race. Last year it had begun with an exploding tire, a mis-shifting derailleur, impossibly brutal heat, and a headwind that no person should have to battle alone…but which Heather had had to battle. Alone. 

And we had watched her suffer. 

That leg of the race has left deep psychological scars on every single member of Team Fatty. Deep scars on Heather; maybe deeper on those of us who had to watch.

And so we had prepared.

Kenny, Lisa and I had a plan where, if and when the headwind became intolerable, one of us would suit up and ride with Heather, taking turns pulling. This was an explicitly legal tactic in the race; we had looked it up and highlighted it in the race bible.

Heather, meanwhile, had been training specifically for this leg of the race. She had been seeking out opportunities to ride in the heat. To ride in the wind.

Imagine that: seeking those things out. So that she could kick butt on behalf of our team.

Heather is awesome.

And it was time to see how our preparations — our strategies — were going to play out.


I rolled in and Heather rolled out, then — after Kenny loaded my bike and I drank about a half gallon of cold water — we climbed into the Sprinter van and gave pursuit.

“What’s the temperature?” The Hammer asked Kenny.

“Not quite ninety yet.” Which still sounds pretty hot…until you consider this is about ten degrees cooler than it had been last year.

We caught up with Heather, worried that she would look like this:

Heather, head bowed, staring at her stem and battling the wind and heat.

Instead, she looked like this:


We didn’t even have to ask how she felt or how she was riding. The fact is, Heather looked and was riding great. It was that obvious. The big smile plus the guy she just dropped during the climb told that story pretty well.

Our mood shifted from anxious to excited and hopeful: just like that.

Heather was strong and feeling good! The heat was bearable! And the wind was at her back! And now I’m using a lot of exclamation points! I can’t help myself! 

Deep breath, Fatty. 

The point is, Heather was crushing this usually-demoralizing leg, in spite of the fact that there was nobody she could ride with.

The Secret of Our Success

In person, in email, in text messages and in comments, a lot of people have noted to me how much fun Team Fatty seems to be having in my video of this race. How it looks like it’s just a big adventure.

Well, let me let you in on a little secret: That’s actually how the race is for us. Sure, we like this race because of the route and the interesting format and the competition, but — more than anything else — we like this race because it’s a fun weekend with friends.

So let me make a recommendation to future Rockwell Relay attendees: if what you care about is winning or placing or whatever, find the fastest people you can for your team. But if what you care about is having an amazing weekend that you’ll never forget, make sure you build a team of friends. 

Because that is what makes Team Fatty great.

Which leads in a tangential way to the way our team supports itself. We don’t use a “crew;” we crew for each other. Taking care of each other is part of the experience. It makes the race less about you and more about the team. And that’s a fantastic thing.

And extending from that philosophy is how much support our team gives each other. Which is to say, our team is never more than a couple miles away from our racer. We pull in front, pile out of the van (more enthusiastically during the day, less enthusiastically at night), and cheer our racer on.

Here’s Kenny (The Hammer’s right behind him, but you can’t see her in this shot), ringing the cowbell and hollering for Heather. Out in the middle of nowhere.


And here’s Heather about one second later:


Big smile on her face. Riding with intensity. Having a great ride, in spite of the fact that it’s a barely-there uphill that goes on forever, as if it’s designed to make you think it’s flat while still slowing you down. 

I tell you, having your team there — and making some noise for you — makes a huge difference in how hard you ride and how much you’re willing to give. Huge.

Plus, when you’re supporting each other, you get chances to master one of the most subtle and complicated cycling moves there is: the bottle handoff. Here’s the windup, where The Hammer starts running backward, matching speed. 


And the connection is made…


Annnnnd…success! The Hammer swings the bottle wide and out of the way:


A perfect handoff. Full marks, and ten bonus points for style to each participant.

Yes, Please Tell Me How Much I Suck

Heather passed racer after racer, and was passed by not a single racer herself. What a difference a few degrees and a tailwind makes!

So when she had ten miles to go, we left her and headed out to the next exchange point, where Kenny could get himself ready. Time seemed to go so fast during this race that it felt surprising that Kenny’d be riding through the sunset and into the dark. But that’s how it would be, and he got geared up in his reflective belt and headlamp — a blinky light in back.

IMG 9061

All he needed to do now was wait for Heather.

I, meanwhile, was in the busiest transition of the day. The Hammer was up next, and she’d be riding in the full dark, with a significant descent. And then after her, I’d be riding in the dark with a big descent. And once it got dark, it would be a lot more difficult to get lights mounted on her bike, my bike, her helmet, and my helmet.

Also, the next two exchanges happen quickly; I wouldn’t have a lot of time to get the riders (The Hammer next, myself the time after that) as well as the bikes ready.

So this was my opportunity on getting bikes prepped for night riding, and I was pretty focused. And probably a little terse. And quite likely a little surly.

Which, somehow, made several people want to come and talk to me. And, apparently, they thought that this was a good opportunity to tell me how much faster they were than I was during our first leg. Or, in one case, how he could have been faster than me…but wasn’t really giving it his all. 

Later, as I was telling The Hammer how much it bothered me that people would seek me out specifically to tell me they beat my time (or would have if they had been trying), she explained that it was really a compliment — that these people were using me as a yardstick of their own speed.

“Yeah, I get that — I do the same thing,” I said. I’ve used Kenny as my personal yardstick of speed for…well…pretty much ever. “But they don’t need to come seek me out to tell me they’re better than me.”

“You’re too sensitive,” The Hammer replied. 

It’s true. I am. I’m not proud of it, but I’m extremely sensitive. Kind of a baby, really.

And I’m also the kind of person who looks for revenge. 

That opportunity would come. Soon.

Real soon.

PS: To read the next installment in this series, click here.


  1. Comment by Andy@wdw | 06.25.2014 | 11:37 am

    I love it! Go Heather!! Way to crush the competition!

    Action, drama, and now REVENGE! Can’t wait for the next installment!

  2. Comment by Corey | 06.25.2014 | 11:40 am

    Bwahahahahahah! Brings up visions of Dirk Dasterdly and Muttley.

  3. Comment by Corrine | 06.25.2014 | 11:59 am

    Way to go Heather. I’m glad you had a great ride this year! And I totally agree, Fatty, that it’s about the team. In 3 weeks I’m part of a group of 4 women who will do a 400 mile road race. And even though we have a race strategy and goals (which I’m not saying out loud because we really have no idea how we will stack up against other teams this year or from the past years and it depends on weather and wind, etc) we really are looking forward to having a fun weekend together. We all love to ride our bikes hard and we are willing to suffer and still have fun and it will be a weekend of no kids, no husbands, no work – what’s not to love! So I agree, pick your teammates not to win, but to have fun.

  4. Comment by Rice | 06.25.2014 | 12:00 pm

    Dear Fatty, I came up to you and asked for a picture, not a speed yard stick, before the race even started in Moab. I wanted to make all my Fatty-reading friends jealous because I got to meet you! But, then I made a bone head move and said you were a “semi-celebrity.” I didn’t mean that! I think you are a mega-celebrity. I was star struck! Please forgive me! And, thanks for the picture. Reading your Rockwell Relay reports is pretty much a how -to guide for being awesome.

    I’m always flattered when someone asks me for a photo.

    And for what it’s worth, I hope it’s clear that I understand I was being a testy, grumpy jerk when I got irritated with people talking with me. I was high strung and under pressure to get stuff done. And, as I mentioned, I can be excessively sensitive about stuff. – FC

  5. Comment by Joy | 06.25.2014 | 12:01 pm

    You rock, Heather! Way to support your team! What a hard life we FC readers have, with so many heroes to admire. :)

  6. Comment by davidh-marin,ca | 06.25.2014 | 12:02 pm

    Part VII Where Fatty goes all Italian!

  7. Comment by Greg | 06.25.2014 | 12:24 pm

    Why is there a shoe jammed in the grill of the Sprinter? Secret drying technique?

    It’s a pair of shoes. Kenny and Heather have a story, but I can’t remember what it is. – FC

  8. Comment by davidh-marin,ca | 06.25.2014 | 12:32 pm

    @Greg Just another result of the ‘revenge’ strategy in action. If you could see the right front bumper…..

  9. Comment by Drew | 06.25.2014 | 12:38 pm

    People that come up to you and tell you how they beat you (or would have) are basically cut from the same cloth as people that drill the pace on recovery/beginner rides.

  10. Comment by MattC | 06.25.2014 | 1:01 pm

    @Greg…as to the shoe in the bumper, well…Fatty DID mention that he’s the “kind of person who looks for revenge”…(I think that’s all that’s left of someone who dissed him).

    Hey..anybody seen Raoul? He never made it to the next exchange point…he just up and disappeared during the night. We did find one of his shoes on the side of the road tho…very strange…we’re thinking it was the Chupacabra.

    (and Fatty, if there’s ONE THING I will most likely never walk up to you and say, it’s that I’m faster than you. Thought I’d just go ahead and take that load off your back right now).

  11. Comment by Dave T | 06.25.2014 | 1:15 pm

    Great job heather although the conditions were better this year, this is still a difficult leg. The camaraderie from the team and between teams is one of the special things about this race that I absolutely love. It’s a great feeling when you’re peddling your heart out in the middle of the night and your team and even total strangers are jumping and shouting words of encouragement from the side of the road.

  12. Comment by Bart the Clydesdale | 06.25.2014 | 1:22 pm

    Fatty, love the race report. I sympathize with your plight of people coming up and bragging. Last year I was on a ride when a guy I didn’t know came up and told me that he thought all cannondale lefty’s were ugly (obviously that is what I ride.) He went on to ask if I was going to be in an upcoming race, when I said I was he went on and on with how I should prepare, and how I should race. He then said I was welcome to ride with him, but that I probably would be able to keep up. I was not inclined to ride with him so I said thanks, but no thanks. Fast forward to post race day and I did check his time. I was over 15 minutes faster – revenge as dish enjoyed at any temperature.

    I simply don’t understand why anyone would be so rude / snotty about another person’s bike, but it happens. When The Hammer was at a shop getting her incredible new road bike fitted, someone — a regular at the shop, I’m guessing — came in and said, “Well, that would be a nice bike if you had a Felt frame and different wheels!” I told him he should go to fatcyclist.com and do a search on “nice bike;” it had some information he might find valuable. – FC

  13. Comment by Kenny | 06.25.2014 | 1:49 pm

    I’m always super proud of our girls at this race. Loved the bottle exchange.

  14. Comment by Mark in Bremerton | 06.25.2014 | 2:07 pm

    You can’t beat riding with friends! And motivated ones at that. Impressive!

    Just a thought; it looks like the bottle hand-offs are from rider to supporter. It is my experience that when the rider wants to get RID of a bottle, he/she just drops it and the supporter picks it up at his/her leisure. Handing the bottle TO the rider is the critical one, but maybe you do that from the Sprinter window at the same speed like the pros. No sticky bidons allowed.

  15. Comment by MattC | 06.25.2014 | 3:03 pm

    Wow Fatty…you are indeed big time. Really thinking I should go enjoy the ’shopping blog’ by the super-exciting comment that just has me chomping at the bit to go there! Thankfully I don’t get much spam, as I only have like 3 readers at my site…and being as ONE of them is likely a split personality then technically there’s only 2(not saying it’s YOU davidh! However I’m also not saying it’s not…GRIN!)

    However, my bike stable is sadlly proportionaly sized with the number of readers…(as is yours. Anybody who has an Orca Orbeaw/ Dura Ace Di2 & Dura Ace C50 wheels as their ‘loaner’ bike, well…what can I say…that’s a dream bike for some of us). But hey…you’re livin’ the dream, Ride (right, write) ON Fatty!

  16. Comment by UpTheGrade, SR, CA | 06.25.2014 | 3:05 pm

    When I saw what was left of your competitor sticking out of the Sprinter grill, I said to myself “someone must have mentioned how they were beating Fatty” ;-)

    Loving your story and the camaraderie, having fun is what its all about (unless of course someone is foolish enough to let you know they are ahead of you, then Fatty goes all Rhino on them). 263345_10152842846790055_530144_n.jpg

  17. Comment by Chris | 06.25.2014 | 3:35 pm

    I gotta say, one of the things I don’t like about the 24-hour and 500-mile events I’ve done is the long miles of solitude.

    We only have one point-to-point event, which I’ve never done, with the rest being on courses ranging from 20-26 miles per lap. No support allowed, pure rando style.

    It’s that reason I’m disinterested in long events. The idea of getting on a bike after 4 laps of the same course at 4 in the morning to do one more completely alone with only the fatigue in the head and pain in the legs to accompany me is both demotivating and demoralizing.

    I get tired and discouraged just thinking about it.

    Your write-up is actually sparking some interest, between the beautiful terrain and the on-course team support. I might have to consider doing such an event.

    I would LOVE to have you come do this race, Chris! Let’s talk more about it. – FC

  18. Comment by rich | 06.25.2014 | 3:36 pm

    love the ongoing story…and way to go Heather for totally crushing it (and with a smile no less)
    Fatty, I’m pretty sure I’m faster than you….kind of the same way a bowling ball is faster rolling down a hill than a ping pong ball…assuming the race is a short downhill with only gravity to help and no actuall pedaling allowed..
    Can’t wait for the next installment

  19. Comment by Christina | 06.25.2014 | 4:22 pm

    You guys seem like the end of every ragtag sports team movie, but without the ragtag part in the beginning. It’s awesome to see how supportive and bonded you all are with each other.

  20. Comment by KevinM_Indiana(soon to be Virginia) | 06.25.2014 | 4:46 pm

    Great write up … But was Kenny actually wearing a shirt with … Gasp … Sleeves???

    Glad the conditions were better for Heather … Always love a tailwind …

  21. Comment by Anonymous | 06.25.2014 | 4:54 pm

    MattC. I’m hoping you’ll be willing to join me next year for this race let me know what you want to ride and I’ll look I’m the basement and see what I have.

  22. Comment by Doug (Way Upstate NY) | 06.25.2014 | 5:39 pm

    Elden, If everybody else got to do different legs this year, and last year Heather was scarred by this leg, why didn’t she get a different one to ride too?

    Because she wanted to do this one. Devil you know…. – FC

  23. Comment by rb | 06.26.2014 | 12:57 am


    Please stop creating such great write-ups about how much fun you have doing these races. I’ve already been sucked into riding Leadville, and like a Lays potato chip, can’t just have one. I really don’t know if I can handle being pulled into Rockwell. Might just be too much awesome for one person to handle.

    Can’t wait for the next installment!

  24. Comment by AKChick | 06.26.2014 | 1:20 am

    Loving this multi-part series with photos AND video. I feel incredibly spoiled!! Thank you for writing them and taking video and to the Hammer for taking photos!

    Is it my imagination or does The Hammer get more beautiful with age? You are one lucky man. :)

    @Corrine – are you doing the Fireweed? I have not entered any cycling rides or races this year (except Frosty Bottom in January). I really would like to do the 200 miler solo someday.

    Can’t wait to read more Rockwell Relay reports!!!

  25. Comment by Eric L | 06.26.2014 | 11:02 am

    Picking up on Mark in Bremerton’s line of inquiry…

    I was wondering about the same thing. How the riders ditch a bottle seems to be the easy part – expertly toss it into the back of the Sprinter as you pass. How they get a full bottle is the bigger part of the picture no?

    Excellent writing, as always.


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