Wish You Could Race the Leadville 100? Life Time Fitness Foundation has two charity slots available for the Leadville 100. They cost $1000 each, with 100% of that amount goes to Life Time Foundation’s Clean School Lunch program. It’s a good cause and a great way to get into this race. If you’re interested, send an email to Barb Koch. And then let me know, cuz I’ll be grilling brats in Leadville a day or two before the race; I’ll reserve one for you.
A Note from Fatty: This is part 4 in my 2014 Rockwell Relay race report. Click here to go to the previous installment, or click here to go all the way to the beginning.
I am — to my dismay — pretty well-known for yelling at the top of my lungs when I get hurt. I don’t apologize for this trait; yelling seems to help me get past the initial shock of the pain. Plus, I assert that no matter how many times you dislocate your shoulder, the audible pop and the bright burst of agony always feels fresh and new.
But let’s not make this about me, because it’s about Kenny. Specifically, it’s about the fact that while Heather and I were at the side of the van, looking up the road, Kenny was sitting on the bumper of the van, putting on shoes.
And then he was yelling. Loud. “Well, that sounds like me,” I thought, stupidly.
Heather got to Kenny first, naturally, though I wasn’t too far behind.
Kenny was laying on the road, in a fetal position. No longer yelling, he was now groaning and holding his head.
“What happened?” either Heather or I (I can’t remember which, so probably both) asked.
“That suitcase,” Kenny moaned. And then everything became clear.
Like a (Hard, Blue) Bolt from Above
Contents sometimes shift while in transit. It’s a fact; you can look it up. And if you have a hard-shelled blue suitcase up on the high loft of a Sprinter van and you drive around, that slick hard shell might slide around on the loft’s sheets. Toward the back of the van, possibly.
And then, if you open the door and sit on the bumper, the suitcase might shift a little more.
And then it might fall about three feet and land on your head and shoulder and come darned close to knocking you out.
I’m of course saying all this as if it’s a hypothetical possibility. Kenny, on the other hand, had a good sized cut on one of his shoulders and a lump on his head to show that this scenario had gone way beyond the hypothetical.
Heather took care of Kenny. I apologized endlessly, as the person who had put the suitcase up there in the first place. Kenny said it was no big deal, but that he could no longer remember where he was or who any of us were. (I told him he is Billy Gibbons and that the only way he was going to make it to the concert on time was if he rode this here bicycle really really fast.)
This looked a lot more dramatic before Kenny washed the blood off. Trust me.
The Hammer, completely unaware of the medical drama happening in Team Fatty, ticked away the miles.
The wind kept blowing. Sometimes a crosswind, sometimes a headwind, usually some of each. Never a tailwind, though. Never ever ever a tailwind for The Hammer.
And this was a fierce, gusty wind, too. The Hammer would later tell me that at one point it actually made her rear wheel skid sideways several inches. A rider with lesser handling skills would’ve gone down; I’m super happy The Hammer isn’t just strong, she’s skilled on the bike.
With The Hammer more than halfway done with her leg of the race, my job changed from being the guy who handed out bottles to being the guy who got in the back of the van and changed into his bike gear, then got fueled up.
In my case, this took the form of two slices of ham and pineapple pizza from Paradox Pizza in Moab. And a cold Coke.
It was so good. I love pizza. I love Coke.
A Nail’s Tale
When The Hammer had about seven miles — about four of which were climbing — left in her leg, we shot ahead of her to the next exchange point, where it would be my turn next.
Yes, this is the final revelation in our team shakeup strategy: for the first time ever, I would be racing the third leg: the leg usually reserved for The Hammer. The thinking behind this was as follows:
- The Hammer was interested in trying a different leg
- So was I
- The third leg had a lot of miles, and I’ve got both good power and endurance this year
Team Fatty has, over the years, become pretty adept at timing the exchanges so that the racer coming next has plenty of time to get ready without rushing, with a nice little cushion of time to take care of bathroom business, not to mention a little extra slice of time in case something goes wrong.
Everything went right for me, so I was ready with plenty of time to spare. So, just to make the handoff easy and effective — and because I had nothing better to do — I rode my bike a couple hundred yards down the road, so I could talk with The Hammer for a moment while she handed me the baton. Ask her how her leg went.
I squinted, looking toward the point where she’d be appearing. Waiting. Expecting. Getting more anxious by the moment.
Oh, there’s a rider, I thought. Then, No, that’s just one rider — not a group — so it won’t be her.
Except it was her.
As The Hammer approached, I clipped in and got up to speed, matching with her as she handed me the baton.
“Where are the other guys?” I asked, even though I knew the answer.
“I crushed them on the climb,” The Hammer replied.
A few minutes later, once The Hammer had stopped and the others had rolled in, one of them would confront her, upset. “I thought we were all going to finish the stage together,” he said.
To which I would have replied — had I been there — with the following:
- First and foremost, a sympathetic noise and facial expression
- A reminder that it’s a race
- An explanation that if you’re riding with The Hammer, sooner or later you’re going to be a nail.
The Hammer’s time on this leg? A blisteringly fast 2:48. The Hammer was on fire.
And now it was my turn. Fifty-six miles starting with a climb but averaging slightly downhill.
But the grade is deceptive. On this leg, the wind makes all the difference. And I was definitely riding into a headwind. Except when I was riding into a crosswind. Except when I was riding into a mix of headwind and crosswind.
So I wore my cool new wind-cheating Specialized Evade helmet.
My plan was as simple as it was ingenious: Go hard enough that I caught a racer, pull them long enough that they felt like they wanted to work with me, and then build the train from there. Pretty much what The Hammer had done, and a sound strategy everyone was using.
And I tried to put that plan into effect. I did. I really, really did.
But my plans just never seem to quite work out like I’d like them to.
Within five minutes of heading out, I saw a rider up ahead of me. Giving it everything I had, I caught him within a couple of minutes.
He said, “Good, I was hoping someone would catch me and we could work together.”
“Perfect,” I yelled back. “I’ll take the first pull.”
I pulled for a minute, then flicked my elbow. Like the pros do.
I flicked again. More nothing.
So I looked back behind me to verbally ask him to pull…and he was about a hundred yards behind me.
Luckily, I could see another guy up ahead of me.
Caught him, pulled him, dropped him.
This happened four more times, and I finally realized: anyone I could reel in that quickly wasn’t going to hold my wheel.
I looked back to see if anyone was catching me. Maybe I could hitch a ride.
It looked like I was in for a long ride.
Two STUPID MINUTES
I knew there were two Coed teams ahead of me, and was desperately hoping I could cut into their lead. Working together with another team seemed like my best option — if I could find someone to ride with who could hold my speed.
And yet, after I had passed the first five or so people, I was alone in the race. I couldn’t see anyone ahead, and had no idea whether there was any chance I might be able to catch them and work with them, therefore improving both our times.
So I asked my team to drive ahead ’til they saw another racer, then pull over and time how far behind him (it could only be a “him,” both the Coed teams ahead of us had their women ride in the same leg as The Hammer) I was.
Not too much later, I saw our van. I was encouraged that they hadn’t had to go too far to see a racer.
“Three minutes!” They yelled.
Awesome. That was something to work for.
As they pulled alongside me, they asked what I needed. “Just more water, and time me against that racer again; let me know if I’m making the time up!” I yelled.
The next time they timed me, I was down to 2.5 minutes. Excellent. So I had them leapfrog and time me again.
Two minutes. I was doing it! I was catching him. “Time me again!”
“Oh COME ON.”
I lost track of how many times I had my team time my distance to him, but from there on out, I remained a steady two minutes back.
As it turns out, Jim Ferrell of Serve Squad 1 (at the time I didn’t know his name or team, but now I have the benefit of race times and details) was also timing me. I guess I served as motivation for him to ramp up his speed…though in my opinion we probably would have both been able to finish the leg about 7-10 minutes faster by working together, if he’d only have sat up for two minutes and had a breather while I caught up.
But it was not to be. I was going to get to Time Trial this leg of the race. “Figures,” I thought. Out of all the Rockwell Relay legs I have raced over the years, I have worked with other riders exactly once.
I’m thinking of switching deodorants.
Water Bottle of Doom
The day was getting hotter; I was going through water fast — probably going through a bottle every fifteen minutes or so. Often enough that bottle handoffs — returning (nearly) empties and taking full bottles — became a practiced, efficient routine.
The thing is, you can really get going fast on a long, gradual descent, like this one where Heather’s photographing my handoff to Kenny:
Like into the mid-thirties, miles-per-hour-wise. But you know, I’m a seasoned veteran, and I’m going to get this right, as you can see here:
Or…I guess it’s possible I’m going to neglect the fact that I’m going way too fast to do a bottle handoff, and as soon as I let go of the bottle, my gentle toss is going to turn that easy-squeezing Specialized Hydroflo Bottle into a fast-flying Specialized Missile of Death:
…Which is flying directly toward the photographer (Heather).
Kenny spins, knowing where the bottle is headed:
Heather can probably be forgiven for the fact that at this point her photography becomes more poorly-framed:
Luckily, the bottle missed her. Barely.
I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned this before, but I’m an addle-brained chucklehead. JFYI.
In Regards to On-Bike Food and Drink
In part 2 of this story, I gave a pretty long — and nicely accurate — list of the food we had brought for this racing adventure.
I will now point out that I never had any intention of consuming any of that when I was actually riding. Sure, when I’m off the bike and emergency-refueling I like to have a bunch of options (you never know what will sound good), but when I’m racing, I am downright monastic.
Which is to say, for a two-plus all out effort in a day with temperatures ramping up toward (but not yet hitting) 90, my needs were simple:
- An ice-packed bottle of water, frequently. If my count was right (I tried to keep track but numbers are slippery when you’re at your aerobic limit), I drank 6 full bottles during this two-plus hour leg. And still felt dehydrated after.
- A Gu Roctane Gel, every twenty minutes, as close to on-the-nose as possible. I’ve been experimenting with gel for about as long as gel has existed, and I’m pretty sure that Gu Roctane is about as perfect a gel as exists on the market right now [Full Disclosure: Like many energy food companies, Gu comps me product on an ongoing basis].
I’ve pretty much switched to an all-Roctane fuel regimen for my endurance racing, and 300 calories per hour (100 calories ever 20 minutes) seems to be the perfect amount for me. Which means, yes, that in this two-plus hour race, I ate around six gels.
Although I don’t think “ate” is the correct word. Nor is “drank.” “Consumed?” “Ingested?” Ooh, Radical Ed (on Twitter) suggested the word “ingurgitate.” It seems appropriate; from now I shall refer to gels as being ingurgitated, and so should you.
I seem to be able to keep this 20 minute Roctane ingurgitation (oh I love this word) pattern up for hours during a hard effort, without bonking. The Hammer reports essentially the same effect, except she’s more on a half hour schedule.
Oh, and my favorite Roctane flavor is Island Nectars, with Cherry Lime taking a close second, and Vanilla Orange and Pineapple tied for third. The Hammer’s favorite is Cherry Lime, and she hates my favorite flavor. So you know, maybe buy and try a bunch of flavors before you spring for a case.
All of this is secondary, however, to the elegance with which I have learned to use gels, however. I have developed this beautiful system, which starts with several gels in my right jersey pocket:
- Pull gel out of pocket with right hand.
- Tear tab most — but not all — the way off with my teeth. My ability to do this consistently and quickly has become a point of intense and immense pride.
- Ingurgitate, squeezing packet at first, then rolling it up to get remainder out.
- Leave gel packet clenched in teeth while putting right hand back on bar.
- Grab packet with left hand, then stuff packet into left jersey pocket.
- Grab water bottle with left hand, take big swig of water, replace bottle.
This is about a fifteen-second process, and is perhaps the only thing in the world I am graceful at.
OK, now back to my race narrative. (And how, by the way, did this section become so long? In my mind, it was one short paragraph. Too bad this blog doesn’t have an editor, huh?)
That Doesn’t Count
As I got near the end of the leg, I started seeing cyclists ahead of me: rabbits to chase down! Each time, I thought it was my two-minute guy, but each time I closed the gap, I realized I was closing in too fast. I’d see the racer, I’d close in, and then I’d be past them.
Each time, I’d give myself a little mental high-five. I’d moved us up one higher in the standings!
But as it happened more and more often, I realized that these passes didn’t make sense — how could these racers have been so far ahead of me, but have me pass them so fast?
And then I figured it out: these were the people who were riding the Rockwell Relay in the non-competitive category. They had started at 6:00am — three hours before most of the competitive teams had — with the mission of finishing the route, having a great team experience, and seeing some beautiful scenery. And they could not have cared less about who or how many passed them.
A little later, I noticed their race numbers were a different color: black backgrounds. We started calling them “Black Flag” racers, and passing them didn’t count.
And also, I started envying their wisdom. It would in fact be awesome to do the Rockwell Relay without the pressure.
Oh Don’t Mind Me; I’ll Just Lie Here And Die of Thirst and Loneliness
I finished my leg in 2:36:12 (Strava has me with shorter time and doesn’t show that I did the whole leg because I got all excited by riding alongside The Hammer and forgot to turn my Garmin on for a minute). That’s not bad at all for a guy who had to do the whole thing solo. Heather took off, beginning the hot, long climb that kicks off the fourth leg of the Rockwell Relay.
I was proud of my time. I was also very, very tired.
So I swung my leg over my bike (barely) and handed it to The Hammer. No, just kidding, she wasn’t there. She was busy talking with her fan club.
Yes, really. A whole gaggle of men were surrounding her, talking with her about what an awesome cyclist she is.
So, partly because I needed to sit down — and a lot because I was feeling a little bit pouty and neglected — I just sat down on the pavement and waited to be noticed.
Eventually, she did, giving me the attention I felt I deserved… and the best, coldest Coke that anyone has ever given anyone.
I climbed in the van — which was air conditioned better than any van has ever been air conditioned:
My hour of no responsibility but to myself and my rehydration and refueling had begun.
I sometimes think that hour — that exhausted, relaxed, nothing-to-do hour — is the best part of the Rockwell Relay.
We started chasing toward Heather, as the day got even hotter.
Which is where we’ll pick up on Tuesday (‘cuz Monday’s post is going to be my team video / slide show from the event).
PS: My gift to you for the weekend is an installment that doesn’t really end in a cliffhanger.
A Note to People Who Wish They had Gotten into the Leadville 100: I just heard from my friend Cole Chlouber that Life Time Fitness Foundation has five charity slots available for the Leadville 100. They cost $1000 each, and 100% of that amount goes to Life Time Foundation’s Clean School Lunch program. It’s a good cause and a good (possibly only at this point) way to get into this race. If you’re interested, send an email to Barb Koch.
A Note About Today’s Post from Fatty: This is Part 3 of my 2014 Rockwell Relay writeup. The previous installment — part 2 — is here. Or if you need to start at the beginning, you can click here to jump to part 1.
Here’s a true fact: handoffs in 30-hour relays aren’t especially important. We have never won, nor lost, the Rockwell relay by an amount of time an elegant — or a bungled — baton handoff would would have affected.
That said, I don’t think Team Fatty will ever get our first exchange handled correctly. It’s simply not meant to be. Maybe it’s nerves; maybe it’s something else.
And in short, by the time Kenny stopped, The Hammer had started rolling, and she didn’t have the baton (a slap bracelet).
What to do?
And that’s when Mark Nelson — no relation, and in fact on the team that was widely expected to give us a horrible beating in the race — ran to Kenny, took the baton, and then sprinted to The Hammer and slapped the bracelet on her.
It was an awesomely nice, generous gesture, and it makes me feel even worse about the fact that I had just — moments ago — removed the valve cores from his tires.
No, not really.
The Hammer took off, leaving me with a couple of minutes to watch Kenny collapse to the ground, deflating like he was a balloon with a quarter-sized hole in it.
Here he is with about 80% air remaining.
Here he’s down to 40%:
Kenny was cramping badly, and his feet were killing him. “I guess I just haven’t gotten used to my road bike shoes this year; I haven’t really used them,” Kenny said.
A few minutes later, though, he was back to around 75% and — along with Heather — got a photo with Steve from Team 3B Yoga, which had just sent a powerful message to our team, by dropping Kenny and putting five minutes on us, all within the last few miles.
And that message was this: We are going to destroy you. (Jeff, in the background, was on the same team, and was the evil mastermind behind the squad.)
Meanwhile, I paced about, fretting. My wife was out there in the most ridiculously strong cross-headwind I had ever seen; this was no time for photos! Nor for cooling down and getting changed! Nor for anything at all!
“We need to go!” I told Kenny and Heather, as I pictured The Hammer scraped and bloody, her wheels blown out from under her by the fierce wind.
They didn’t argue. Kenny and Heather had both said the same thing at other times during other stages during other editions of this race. It’s how you expect things to be when it’s a couple of couples who are doing the racing. There’s always one person who’s a little bit more anxious about the racing teammate than anyone else.
Which is, as far as I’m concerned, one of the reasons Team Fatty has gotten along, crammed in a van — sleep-deprived, exhausted, achy, and sick of pizza — for four years in a row: we get each other.
A Cry of Pain
We piled into the van and took off in pursuit of The Hammer, who — as we uneventfully caught her several miles down the road — smiled and gave us a thumbs-up. Nope, she didn’t need any food or water. She’d only been out for twenty minutes for pity’s sake.
And how was the wind? Rough, but she was dealing with it. Furthermore, she could see another rider up ahead; she was going to try to bridge to him and see if they could work together. A good plan, especially in this crazy wind. (Note from Fatty: the strikeout stuff above and below is what I thought had happened; The Hammer has since let me know otherwise.) Then, fortunately, a rider caught her and they began working together. Then another racer caught and joined their group. And then another another.
And then she put that plan into effect. And then they picked up another. And another. And together, this four-person train — taking turns like they had been practicing it together for years — cut through the wind like they never could have if they had been riding solo.
The Hammer takes a pull; Heather works the cowbell.
As we pulled over and cheered one of these times, waiting for this group of four to fly by, Kenny opened the rear door of the Sprinter van and sat on the bumper, taking the opportunity to put on more comfortable clothes and shoes. Heather and I, meanwhile, were standing by the side of the van, watching up the road, looking for The Hammer.
And that’s when we heard a loud crash, followed by the sound of Kenny screaming.
Which seems like the perfect place for us to pick up in the next installment of this story.
A Note from Fatty: This is Part 2 of my extended dance remix writeup of The Rockwell Relay. Part 1 is here.
Let’s talk about food. Yes, I know — part 1of this report was all about bratwurst. But this time, I’m talking about the food that we planned to eat during the Rockwell Relay itself. How much we brought. What variety. The wisdom of our decisions. That kind of thing.
This, I think, should be very valuable and instructive information for anyone who has ever thought about racing a 12-stage relay road race using a Sprinter van as a base of operations.
How to Shop
For weeks before the race, I had been assembling a list of foods that we should bring for the relay, mostly based on what sounded good to me at the moment. For example, it would be mid-morning and I’d start feeling a little hungry, and I would think to myself:
“Hm. A bagel with strawberry cream cheese sounds good right about now….HEY WE SHOULD BRING BAGELS AND STRAWBERRY CREAM CHEESE TO THE RELAY.”
And then I’d add it to the list.
By the time we got to Wednesday — the day before we were slated to head to Moab — I had a good, long list. Basically, a list of everything that I like to eat.
Then we went to a grocery store, and I forgot all about my list. Instead, we just wandered up and down the aisles, pretty much pulling anything that looked good into the grocery cart.
Then we went to Costco and did the same thing, except we specifically went through their five-mile long “Gargantuan Bags of Gorp-Style Snacks” aisle.
So, by the time we left, I had all of the following, although this list is strictly what I can remember off the top of my head:
Stuff to Eat While Racing
- Gu Roctane: 100 packets, divided among all flavors, but lots of Island Nectar for me, and lots of Cherry Lime for The Hammer
- CarboRocket 333: Lemon and Grape flavors
- Water: To be provided by Kenny and Heather
That’s a remarkably short list, isn’t it?
Stuff to Eat / Drink While Recovering / Getting Ready to Race / Whatever
In addition to the stuff we had for when we were riding our bikes, here’s the list of stuff we had for when we were just sitting around.
This filled up three giant storage bins. And two large ice chests. Which, when compounded with all the clothes, bikes, helmets, lights, and other supplies we may or may not need for the race…added up to a lot.
When Kenny and Heather saw how much we had packed, and the fact that we wanted to fit it all into their Sprinter van, they were a little bit…concerned.
We assured them that we would need and use it all. Ha.
“And what did you bring, food-wise?” I asked.
“Some Doritos, and some Red Vines,” Kenny replied, all nonchalance
“I’m worried we’ll go hungry,” I replied.
Spoiler alert: we did not go hungry.
More About Food
Somehow, we got all of our stuff into the van, and the doors still closed and everything. We put our race number sticker— Team Fatty-WBR, Team number 107 — on a place of honor on the back of the van.
But to be honest, with all the other stickers on there, I doubt anyone ever saw our race number there. The “Where’s Waldo” effect in action.
We got to the hotel, and even got a decent night’s sleep (Thanks, Ambien!). We weren’t scheduled to start until 9:00am the next morning, so we got to sleep in, get up lazily, and have breakfast at Denny’s.
I had the bacon and avocado omelette, naturally. And half of The Hammer’s breakfast burrito, and most of her pancakes. Hey, I’m a nervous eater; don’t judge me.
We were, at long last, ready to race.
One of the reasons I like Kenny is that he is genuinely as laid-back as I wish I were. Kenny wasn’t what you’d call concerned about this race, nor about his equipment. To wit, he was borrowing my old Orbea Orca — which hasn’t been ridden since he borrowed it for this race last year. Which I guess was a good thing, since it meant he didn’t have to adjust the saddle or anything. We just put some lube on the chain and pumped up the tires.
I did, by the way, take care to charge the Di2 battery on the bike before bringing it to Moab. Yes, my spare road bike is an Orbea Orca with Di2 Dura-Ace. (As it turns out, while I don’t make any money to speak of from this blog, I do have a remarkably nice selection of bikes for my friends and me to use.)
Kenny put his pedals on my bike, turned Strava on on his iPhone, and…that concluded his preparation for the race.
When you’re Kenny Jones, that’s enough.
The horn blasted and Kenny went out with the front group.
Yep, that’s right. Kenny was the first racer for Team Fatty this year. Did that little strategic switcharoo catch you off guard? Maybe knock you onto your heels?
No? Oh well, it didn’t exactly make anyone’s head spin at the race, either.
Anyway, Kenny’s the one at the far right of the screen, riding in FatCyclist.com kit, which he specially de-sleeved.
If you had Kenny’s guns, you’d do the same. You know you would.
Kenny doesn’t do a ton of road riding these days. He lives in Southern Utah, with his house right on one of the best mountain bike trails you could ever imagine — and not far from lots of other incredible mountain bike trails.
And in short, the whole road bike thing doesn’t exactly grab him.
You would not expect, therefore, that he would take off like a bat out of hell, hanging with one of the fastest groups around. Taking big ol’ fat pulls when it was his turn.
And hunkering down into an increasingly nasty headwind. A headwind so evil, in fact, that it slowed the whole group down, forcing riders to stay together. Keeping breakaways from succeeding.
This slowed Kenny down a little, but not a lot. Why? Because Kenny uses The Force when he rides, as is evidenced in this photo by the way he is using a gesture and his mind to make a bottle fly to his hand.
It’s like he’s Old Ben Kenny-Obi. Same beard and everything.
Wind notwithstanding, Team Fatty-WBR was having a blast. We were excited to have the race begun. To be at the beginning of an annual adventure. To be on the side of the road, supporting each other, ringing cowbells, yelling encouragement at racers as we drove by, and then doing it all over again. For twenty-eight or twenty-nine or thirty hours, or however long it took.
Just In Case We Haven’t Talked Enough About Food Yet
Others of our friends, meanwhile, weren’t having much fun. Cory and Lynette — at our urging — had signed up to do this race, and were doing it with another couple they knew.
We saw their van on the side of the road and pulled over to say hi and ask how the race was going so far for them. “Not so great,” Lynette answered. “Dean’s already thrown up a couple of times.”
“He’s thrown up? Ten miles into the race? Why would he be doing that?”
“We think it’s because he ate four of your bratwurst last night.”
Let that be a lesson to you, kids. Moderation in all things. Even bratwurst.
Dramatic Strategy Revelation
As we got to within ten miles of the first exchange point, we made sure Kenny had plenty of water and Gu Roctane, then shot ahead, so we could have The Hammer suited up, fueled up, and her bike ready to go at the next exchange point.
Yep, that’s right. The Hammer was racing the second leg for Team Fatty, while her race leg has always heretofore been the third leg! Exclamation point!
Did your head just spin around 720 degrees in disbelief at that astonishing revelation?
No? Pffff. You people are hard to impress.
Well, here’s a picture of her anyway, facing up the road Kenny will soon be coming down.
She looks calm in this photo, but if someone had taken a picture of me (nobody wanted to), you’d notice that I didn’t look calm. I wasn’t feeling calm — because the wind was gusting so hard I just couldn’t imagine riding in it…and I didn’t like the idea of The Hammer riding if I also didn’t like the idea of me riding.
But the wind died down and Kenny — in 3:22, an extraordinarily fast time considering the brutal wind — rolled in.
The Hammer rolled out, and the wind picked up again.
At which point I began deeply, fervently wishing I had some less deeply-sectioned rims on her bike.
But I didn’t. The Hammer was going to have to ride as best as she could with the bike that she had.
Which is where we’ll pick up in the next post.
As a beloved and authoritative source on all things cycling-related, I feel it’s critical for me to let my audience know whenever I have learned something new and critical. Information they (you) can use in your day-to-day life, or possibly to win a bet with.
With that in mind, I am happy to be able to tell you that I now know how many cans of beer, how many onions, and how much time it takes to boil 600 bratwurst in preparation for grilling them for people the day before a 527-mile nonstop stage race.
The race in question was, of course, the 2014 Rockwell Relay: Moab to St. George. And the bratwurst in question was donated by the wonderful folks at Colosimo’s. And we were preparing this bratwurst to give away to racers and crew during packet pickup the day before the race. Free, of course, though we were more than happy to accept donations toward The Hammer’s ongoing fundraising efforts as an athlete ambassador for World Bicycle Relief.
The answer to the math problem at the beginning of this post, by the way, is 120 cans of beer, ten onions, and about ten hours.
More importantly, the result of all this work manifests itself in a fridge that smells — and will probably always smell – of beer-boiled bratwurst.
And two very full, very large ice chests with an identical smell. And a house that — four days later — also has that smell. I’m not saying that’s a bad smell, but it may not be something we want permanently.
Also, to be clear, I did none of the work to get this bratwurst boiled. That was all The Hammer. 100%.
Hey, it was her fundraiser.
For the past couple of years, The Hammer and I have hitched a ride with the Rockwell Relay folks out to Moab. That way, we don’t have to try to figure out how to get our vehicle from Moab to St. George, since our team — Team Fatty-WBR — likes to ride together in the same vehicle: Kenny and Heather’s absolutely completely totally fully decked-out bikemobile Sprinter van.
This has always worked out great, though the Rockwell guys always do a triple take when they see how much stuff The Hammer and I pack.
Hey, we’re not just bringing our bikes and all the equipment necessary to race, eat, and support nonstop for thirty hours, we’re bringing 600 brats and all the equipment necessary to grill it.
That’s takes up some space.
We pile it all into trailers and truck beds — miraculously, it all fits — and start the four-hour drive to Moab. Which, naturally, I use as a prime opportunity to grill Cort — one of the Rockwell honchos — about other Coed teams. I had heard that other people had put some killer Coed teams together this year. Did Team Fatty even have a chance at winning?
“Mm. Maybe you still have a chance of getting on the podium, anyway,” Cort says.
“But you don’t even have a podium,” I reply. “The winning team stands up on the lawn in the park.”
“No, this year we have an actual podium,” Cort replies.
Wow. This race has gotten fancy, I think to myself.
Our Little Baby Is All Grown Up
Then we arrive at the park — several hours before packet pickup is to begin — and set up our grill, our banner, and our brats. We are, I can say with confidence, ready to begin the grilling and fundraising. The Hammer modeled our adorable setup:
Luckily for us, Team “What Were We Thinking, Part Deux” — a team consisting of four Friends of Fatty — joined us, pulled up chairs, and commenced to hang out, obsess over race strategy and details, and otherwise pass the time.
And I passed around my iPad with the card reader, asking them to all make a donation to WBR — just to make sure I know how to use it, mind you. They all do. Big donations, in fact.
I swear, there are no more generous people in the world than my readers. Thank you.
Kenny and Heather arrived, close to five, and Kenny volunteered to help with the grilling of bratwurst.
I accept, but think to myself that I don’t really need the help. I’ve done this before and have had no trouble at all keeping up with people. In fact, it’s a rare moment that I haven’t had time to swap stories with and hobnob with folks as I throw a brat on the grill especially for them.
But this year, things are different. Right at 5:00 — before I have any brats on the grill, if truth be known — people start arriving for packet pickup.
Before long, there are hundreds of people in the park. And they can’t help but notice the bratwurst, and that glorious word, “free.”
They line up, some asking what WBR is, but The Hammer and I have to give them a drastically reduced version of our pitch. Most people throw a few bucks in, and before long, our bowl is literally overflowing with money.
So I’m working at top speed: grilling, serving, answering questions about WBR, answering questions about race strategy, divulging our team’s secret new race strategy whenever anyone asked (we had changed up the race order), and — honestly — having the time of my life.
Every once in a while, I’d take a moment to look around at all the people and think: This doesn’t look or feel like an underground event anymore. There are a lot of people around, and they’re milling around and having fun and relaxing and talking about this race and eating free bratwurst. And I’m a part of this. I got behind this race early because I loved doing it, and have talked about it and raced it and served bratwurst at it for four years now. And look at it. It’s — well, not big yet, but it no longer looks like it’s just some kind of family reunion.
I know I’m not a big part of this race succeeding. But right then, The Hammer and I were serving brats to hundreds of people and contributing to the excitement, to the picnic-y, festival-ish feel of the day before the Rockwell Relay: Moab to St. George: an epic, intense, incredibly difficult road race that is growing by leaps and bounds.
And it was pretty darned awesome to be a part of that.
Winding Down, and Winding Up
8:00pm came and went, and we were still serving brats. But by 8:45, things were winding down. Kenny looked about how I felt:
Heather called Paradox Pizza and ordered four to be delivered…to the Colosimo’s tent set up in the city park. That would be our main source of food for the race.
As we took down the tent, grill, and remaining food, our team discussed whether we should make the strategic change many other teams had made and told us about: go with the 6:00am start, instead of the 9:00am start we had originally chosen, in order to avoid at least a little bit of the dangerously high winds that were suddenly showing up on the forecast:
“Nah,” we decided. We’d chosen our time (or maybe we’d had it chosen for us. Whatever.) We’d tow the line. Keep a steady course. We would, in short, start at 9:00am, as originally planned.
The next morning, we would seriously regret that decision.
Which seems like a good place to start up with the next part of this story.
A Note from Fatty: This is part 2 of my review of The Loyal Lieutenant: Leading Out Lance and Pushing Through the Pain on the Rocky Road to Paris, by George Hincapie (co-authored by Craig Hummer). Click here for part 1.
I don’t have an axe to grind. I don’t have anything against George Hincapie. I was interested enough in his story that I bought The Loyal Lieutenant, after all. But both in terms of substance and style, this book rubs me the wrong way.
Enough so, that I decided to dig in: To explain why what should have been a really intriguing and insightful book…isn’t.
Fire the Editor
Back in high school, I lived for debate. When preparing a case for or against the resolution, I always made certain I had a piece of “evidence” — a quote from an expert — that substantiated every single point I was trying to make.
Of course, sometimes my quotes from the experts didn’t exactly make the point I was going for. I trusted, though, that nobody would be paying that close of attention — that as long as I had something there, my audience would cut me some slack.
Which may explain why I lost so often.
But that’s kind of the problem — especially in the first several chapters — of Loyal Lieutenant. For example, we’re reading about how Hincapie’s mother “wouldn’t put up with” his purchase of a motorcycle, at which point we get the following quote from his mother:
Oh, I didn’t like that bike. I worried about them enough on the ones with pedals. I wasn’t about to tolerate any with motors! But that paled in comparison to how mad I was the first time I found out he had been drinking. He was twelve years old, and he biked home after finishing a whole bottle of whiskey with a friend. I thought the parents had been there, so I got mad at the mother too. It turns out, boys being boys, they had raided the liquor cabinet while his parents had been away.
So, yes, the first couple lines are about Hincapie’s motorcycle. But then — wham — the topic turns to his substance abuse and theft. Now, I’m not saying that these aren’t topics worth exploring in the book. Just not here. The editor should have caught that, and stopped it.
This isn’t the only place this weird topical shift happens, either. When Hincapie is saying that his brother, Rich, is “…my confidant, my alter ego…” (Which means, of course, that Rich is George Hincapie’s secret identity, sort of a Clark Kent to George’s Superman — which is one of hundreds of instances in this book where, apparently, the author just grabbed vocabulary out of a hat and the editor didn’t bother making a correction), Rich’s description of how close they are is this:
It’s funny, I can’t really remember a time we didn’t get along, or I wasn’t genuinely happy for him and his successes. Well, except once. We were out doing stupid stuff, what typical teenage boys do, and George was with his group of friends, and they decided it would be funny to chase me through the woods and tie me to a tree. I put up a good fight, kicking and screaming, but eventually they succeeded, and they left me there for a couple hours. He came back and before he untied me, he put his BB gun up to my thigh and shot me—at point-blank range. Looking back on it, I can’t remember another instance I ever got mad at him.
I promise you that I am not making this up: the example this book goes with of how George and Rich are soulmate brothers is, in fact, an anti-example of that fact. An anecdote that sounds more like the backstory for Dexter than just about anything else.
The next anecdote given — to further demonstrate the close relationship Rich and George have — is one where George gloats to a friend about having knocked his brother out with boxing gloves.
But the problem with the quotes, used liberally throughout the book, isn’t just in that they more often than not seem like the wrong quote for demonstrating the intended point, or that the quote keeps on going way after the intended point is miles behind us.
The larger problem is having the quotes in there at all.
You see, this book is written as a first-person narrative: George Hincapie telling the story of his life, in his own words (I’ll get to the problem with this in just a minute). But then (most often in the first half of the book, but sprinkled throughout), the narrative pauses while — indented, with the name of the person in all-caps — a different person speaks.
It just doesn’t work.
Imagine yourself: you’re writing your autobiography. You want other people’s perspectives, so you go and interview them, recording what they say. Fine so far, right? When you say to your mom, “Tell me about how you felt about when I stole the neighbors’ whiskey and came home drunk, at age twelve,” how is she going to reply?
Is she going to say, “He was twelve years old, and he biked home after finishing a whole bottle of whiskey with a friend.”
No, of course not. She’g going to say, “You were twelve years old, and you biked home after finishing a bottle of whiskey with a friend.” You’re going to use second person, not third.
But every single one of these quotes is in third person. Spoken, obviously, to someone who is doing the research. Someone who is not George. Someone who is, clearly, Craig Hummer.
So the illusion — if there ever was one to start with — of this being a book written by Hincapie is utterly demolished every time there’s a quote.
But let’s go a step further: what are the quotes doing there anyway? They rarely add anything to the story. (The reliable exception to this is actually when Armstrong says something. Whatever else you have to say about him, Lance has a gift for cogent, entertaining storytelling.) It’s your story; you chose first person. If someone else has something to say, work it into your narrative. (It can be done; check out The Secret Race by Tyler Hamilton / Daniel Coyle for a recent, topical example.)
Don’t just go pasting quotes in like evidence cards in a high school junior’s debate case.
You Sound a Lot Like a Sports Commentator, George
Craig Hummer, the sports commentator, is the co-author for this book. And it seems like Craig did a good job in doing background interviews and talking with Hincapie about what Hincapie wanted to say.
And then, apparently, Hummer went and did something he shouldn’t have done: he wrote the book.
The problem is, it reads like a sports commentator wrote it. Lots of tortured prose (“dichotomous dedication to yearly double duty”). Lots of near-miss vocabulary (“What were the possible downfalls” instead of “What were the possible pitfalls”). Lots of mixed, confusing metaphors, like, “…boiled down to its essence, cycling could be simplified to an equation…” or “…as the sun broke through the horizon….” or “…A slice of sanity the size of a pinprick….”
Stuff that works, in short, just fine when you’re speaking off the cuff during a live sports event. But maybe not so well when you’re writing a book.
More importantly, as you’re reading, the voice doesn’t feel like Hincapie sounds. Try picturing George Hincapie saying this out loud:
Crammed together like we are, a hungry thief would have a field day, a cornucopia of nutritional items at his fingertips—gels, energy bars, and drinks.
Were you able to read that in your inner-Hincapie voice? Convincingly? Now try picturing Craig Hummer saying that same sentence out loud.
Easier, isn’t it?
My point isn’t that George Hincapie shouldn’t have hired someone to write his book. It’s that he should have hired an experienced writer — not a gregarious sports commentator with no biography credits (and scant writing credits at all) to his name — to write what he had to know was going to be a topical minefield.
Otherwise, that sinking ship was going to look like a train wreck.
The title of this book is The Loyal Lieutenant, but take a look at the book cover: the subject matter is really the author. That’s fine. That’s one of the top reasons any of us would buy this particular book.
One of the next reasons we’d buy it is to learn about what it’s like to do what the cover promises: “Leading Out Lance.”
Spoiler alert: There is hardly any storytelling of what it’s like to be — as perhaps the best-known, most successful domestique in at least a generation — leading Lance (or anyone!) out. If you expect page after page of a recounting of him pulling top GC contenders through an impossibly crowded, danger-ridden peloton, telling us second-by-second what he saw, what he sensed, how he dodged…you’re out of luck.
And when he does narrate an event, it’s often infuriating. For example, Hincapie/Hummer goes into a minutely detailed description of Armstrong’s famous “Musette Crash:” what happened before, how Armstrong went down, how racers reacted, and what happened next.
But Hincapie was nowhere near that event. He was struggling up an entirely different zip code.
So why didn’t Hincapie tell us what was going on back there? What they heard? When they heard it? What they were doing? I’d have been a lot more interested in reading that than a no-new-insight recounting of a video I can find on YouTube.
This isn’t to say that the book is completely devoid of personal, entertaining reading. His telling of how he met and fell in love with his wife, for example: that’s good stuff. Genuine and cute.
Or his description of an autographed photograph of Lance he has (I’d be weirded out if a close friend autographed a picture of himself for me, but never mind), standing on a podium, pointing down, evidently, to an exhausted Hincapie as he crossed the line.
But the moments come too rarely, in a story that feels self-censored, morally questionable, and badly written.
But the real pity is what this book could have been. Hincapie could have taken full, unconditional responsibility for his actions, shown real contrition, and then gone on to give us 350 pages of what it’s like to be inside his head during what was — doping or no — some of the most incredibly exciting days of racing the world has ever seen.
I wish I could buy that book.
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