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


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.


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. 


  1. Comment by Evan | 07.21.2016 | 3:26 pm

    Elden and his menstrual cycles…while he cycles! :)

  2. Comment by Mark in Bremerton | 07.21.2016 | 3:43 pm

    What?! No digestive tract issues? Your race is going just fine.

  3. Comment by Brad | 07.21.2016 | 4:43 pm

    My son is extremely competitive, and he is almost 5 yrs old. We often talk about how to be gracious when you win and a good sport when you lose. We’ll talk about “making up excuses” next time – totally acceptable, prior to the race, with friends. Unacceptable after you lost, with real competitors.

  4. Comment by Anonymous | 07.21.2016 | 4:54 pm

    Hey! Slow this train down. I haven’t finished Tuesday’s post yet.

    Remember: ‘Haste makes Waste…”

    Twelve parts covering six race legs so far. This is as shaggy as a dog can get. – FC

  5. Comment by NZ Ev | 07.21.2016 | 6:08 pm

    Before I had my surgery to repair my Spigelian hernia, when I would feel the pain coming on. I would lie on my back and rub the area where the bulge from the hernia was top push back to where it belonged. I found this helped temporarily relieve the pain. Hernia pain is no fun at all.

    Yep, I (sadly) know exactly what you’re talking about regarding that “push back to where it belongs” for relief. I just have to be careful to not do it in public. – FC

  6. Comment by Paul | 07.21.2016 | 9:41 pm

    So rolling the van into the ditch, forgetting to put your bike shoes on and having to tilt your helmet to the back of your head were all strategic moves. It’s a wonder several planning committees haven’t snapped you up.

    Yeah, let’s just say that 75% of my team was making up for the other 25%’s absurd incompetence. – FC

  7. Comment by Ian | 07.22.2016 | 2:02 am

    oooh. Agile! Did you scrum?

    Totally. We had a board with taped swimlanes and post-its with tasks mounted right there inside the van. It got a little jostled when I tipped the van over, though. – FC

  8. Comment by Alister | 07.22.2016 | 6:13 am

    Belatedly… Happy Birthday!

  9. Comment by Jon | 07.22.2016 | 6:19 am

    “…one of us…”
    “…one of us…”
    “…one of us…”
    “…one of us…”
    “…one of us…”

    Reminds me of a song from twenty years ago

  10. Comment by Ferde | 07.22.2016 | 11:43 am

    Like you pointed out there are always excuses. But pointing those out to your competition as the reason they are beating you is lame!

  11. Comment by Cory | 07.22.2016 | 1:30 pm

    When are you going to tell Cory about his van?

    I don’t know, I’m hoping to just keep ducking him ’til his senility takes over completely and he forgets he even loaned it to me. – FC

  12. Comment by UpTheGrade, SR, CA | 07.22.2016 | 5:44 pm

    I’m currently recovering from a broken ribs and clavicle crash, and your race reports are both entertaining and distracting and so just what I need. Thanks for finding the time to post Fatty.

    Oh man. So sorry to hear that. I hope you feel better soon and are able to ride even sooner than that! – FC

  13. Comment by leroy | 07.22.2016 | 8:56 pm

    Well I know someone who sang Happy Birthday in your honor that day.

    He and his buddies did a 1 hour 35 minute extended version.

    I got no sleep.

  14. Comment by Tooch | 07.25.2016 | 7:07 am

    Comment removed because it’s abusive. – FC

  15. Comment by Vince | 07.25.2016 | 1:15 pm

    Yep, I was diagnosed with mono on race day. Super fun. Didn’t really effect my power. After the goat rodeo we had on leg 1, our only strategy moving forward was hoping the Fatty Family derailed. Which didn’t happen. Great race guys.

    Part of the Z5R story (From a Texas perspective): http://www.batcitycycling.com/race-report-rockwell-relay/

    Great story — and sorry you got mono! Everyone: Vince’s story is highly recommended, though it does get to the finish line a LOT faster than mine, so will contain spoilers. – FC

  16. Comment by AKChick | 07.25.2016 | 2:51 pm

    Happy Belated Birthday! :)

    Also, I came uncomfortably close to choking on a bite of my sandwich as I read this report over lunch.

    I’m SO with you on gender. I can’t understand why the Tour de France won’t at least give the ladies a trial run. I’d sign up for paid extras and follow just as close if not more closely than the men. Have you seen the women’s race highlights (since they didn’t televise it – jerks) from the final day of le Tour? OMG! It was awesome.

    I’m REALLY enjoying this race report and kind of don’t want it to end. But you have to get caught up cause I can’t wait to read about Leadville (yes, I know it hasn’t happened yet).

    I have to add Lindsey to my list of cycling inspirations/idols with The Hammer and The Swimmer. Goodness, you are related to some exceptional ladies! Maybe we need a Fatty Family Tour de France? :) Or maybe a Fatty Ladies Tour de France?!

  17. Comment by AKChick | 07.25.2016 | 2:53 pm

    Oh – @Beth, if you are reading this, let me know if you didn’t get your size question answered. I order the same sizes in DNA that I did in TwinSix, but where the T6 gear is baggy, this stuff fits. It’s weird only because I’m not used to things fitting. None of it looks bad though. It’s definitely some of the most comfortable gear I own. Can’t wait to get the new kit!!!!

  18. Comment by Z5R | 07.25.2016 | 9:34 pm


    ha! – FC


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