2013 Boulevard road race post-coital analysis

February 7, 2013 § 40 Comments

Before Lance, before Labor Power, before the ’84 Olympics, and long before anyone had even dared imagine the idea of a professional masters bike racer, there was Fields.

Jeffrey K. Fields.

The long-retired bike racer, beer swilling bankruptcy lawyer from Tipton, Iowa.

The one. The only. The immortal.

I thought about Fields leading up to Boulevard. I thought about him intermittently during the race, and I thought a lot about him this week.

Fields taught me everything I know about bike racing, which is to say he was either a lousy teacher or I was a horrible pupil. You might say he was a lousy teacher and I was a horrible pupil were it not for the countless legends in the sport who learned at his knee, or the countless others who raced against him and respected his prowess on the bike, or the nameless wankers who he ground into dust year after year, race after race after race…

Race what you got

One of Fields’s first rules was this: Race what you got. This meant that you didn’t ever forgo a race because you lacked the “proper” equipment. According to Fields, you had a right equipment and a left equipment that were used to push the pedals. Everything else was optional. It’s one of the reasons that Fields won so much and so convincingly. Although he paid fanatical attention to his equipment, right down to the white patent leather Duegi track shoes with wooden soles, and always tried to race on the best stuff he could wring out of his stingy sponsors, he toed the line no matter what.

“Race what you got,” according to Fields, meant more than equipment. It also meant you raced regardless of your conditioning. However you felt on race day, that was how you were going to start the race. I don’t think he ever blew off a race because he was sick, or was recovering from sickness, or had been “off form,” or any of the other myriad excuses pro masters racers now use to avoid events that may turn out badly for them.

Fields knew that every bike race always turned out badly for almost everyone, and if you were afraid of bad results, this wasn’t the sport for you.

On race day, you raced. If you were fat, or weak, or couldn’t climb, or your sprunt was off, well, it was going to suck to be you. Fields was also enough of a bike racer to know that sometimes you got the best results in races where you started off feeling like shit, and other times you flailed despite beginning with wings on your legs. And Fields never failed to drill in the Results Corollary: You lose 100% of the races you don’t start.

Leave the cherry picking to agricultural workers

“Race what you got,” according to Fields, meant above all, this: Race the hard races as well as the easy ones and for Dog’s sake don’t cherry pick your events. If it’s not “your” race, give some thought to how you can benefit those people you train with, hang out with, and who turn themselves inside out for you when the course suits you. You know, those people called “teammates.”

Fields was short. Fields was wide. Fields was preeminently suited to track events and crits, which he did, and which he was almost impossible to beat at. Fields’s strength and power over short distances was legendary. Combined with uncanny pack smarts, magician-like handling skills, and the ability to always find the right wheel in the final 500 yards, he was virtually impossible to beat in a local crit.

Yet he never considered himself a sprinter. He considered himself a bike racer, which was something considerably broader. To Fields, a bike racer was an impoverished idiot living a hopeless fantasy while scrounging out an existence in a cheap apartment who showed up to race regardless of the event.

If the event required a fast finish, you’d better be able to sprint. If it was hilly, you’d better have a plan to get over the climbs. If it was a timed event, you’d better be good against the clock.

Fields raced in the rain. Fields raced in the scorching heat. Fields raced in the lung-breaking hills. Fields raced on the flats. Fields raced time trials. Fields raced the track. Fields waited for the sprint when it was going to be a bunch finish. Fields initiated the break when the peloton was too tentative. Fields bridged when a good break looked like it would stick. Fields always took his pulls. Fields never, ever avoided a race he was destined to lose. And he thereby won a lot of races.

Every face is game face

Because Fields rode to win, even when he knew he’d likely lose, and because he rode whatever was on the calendar, he created a bike racing culture in Texas that is not only alive and well and thriving today, but that gave rise to the environment that produced Lance Armstrong. I’m not talking about Lance the cheater and Lance the doper, I’m talking about Lance the bike racer.

Lance would never have appeared on the scene without Richardson Bike Mart. Richardson Bike Mart owed its racing roots to the culture of the 1980’s that was created by Fields and his North Texas proteges Chris Hipp, Mark Switzer, and a number of the early strongmen who rode for Richardson’s Matrix team. These and a number of other damned good riders who still win races lined up every week with a single goal: Beat Fields. When they succeeded, it typically took their entire team to pull it off.

Fields also created the bike racing culture in Austin where Roger Worthington first raced. Roger was the creator of Labor Power before being evicted from Texas and moving the whole shebang to California, where Labor became one of the first masters pro teams, and certainly its brashest: Team car, team bikes, team kits, aggressive recruitment of the best old guys, and most importantly, a mandate to win races along with rude race reports. No masters team so totally dominated the California racing scene before or since.

The next time you see a team filled with old guys riding $10k bikes and wearing pro kits and driving around in a wrapped team van…that culture originated with Fields, which is funny because I don’t think he ever even considered racing a masters event, and certainly never showed up at a race in a team van. He quit wasting his life on the bike at the ripe, ancient, hoary, and grizzled age of 35 or so.

Hipp and Worthington always said “Stooopid sport,” a line they got from Fields, but unlike them, he actually believed it and one day just walked away.

The point is that the Fieldsian culture was the culture of the game face. Fields believed that you contended for races based on skill and fitness, but that you won races based on your desire. In our hyper-scientific world of power meters and heart rate monitors and online daily training logs and private coaching, it’s funny to see that the fastest finisher alive and the man who will soon have won more Tour stages than anyone in history is Fieldsian in the extreme: Mark Cavendish could give a rat’s ass about wattage, weight, and power-based metrics. He believes that the victory goes to the guy who wants it most, which is Mark Cavendish, and his book “Boy Racer” showers nothing but contempt on the “science” of cycling.

Fields’s game face approach to bike racing showed itself in the races he showed up for, whether it was Het Volk after the winter he raced and trained in Belgium with legends like Jan Raas and Johan van der Velde, whether it was the 120-mile, hill-filled, sun-baked districts elite men’s championship, or whether it was the local weekend crit.

What it meant for Boulevard 2013

The 2013 edition of Boulevard was pretty much what it’s like every year. Dozens of masters racers who are strong, successful, and totally immersed in the Kool-Aid failed to show up, just like the handful of skinny, elite masters road racers who studiously avoid the weekend crits.

Fields would have been at Boulevard for a simple reason: It’s on the fucking calendar. That, and the fact that if you’re going to call yourself a bike racer, you’d better go out and race your bike.

In this vein, there were a number of riders who showed up to do battle for their teammates as long as they could. In my race Jeff Bryant for Big Orange, Andy Jessup for Jessup Chevrolet, Robb Mesecher for Breakaway from Cancer; in the 35+ race Aaron Wimberley for Helen’s; in the women’s race Suze Sonye, also for Helen’s, showed up to race their bikes along with numerous others who were there because it’s a bike race and they’re bike racers. Their chances of victory or a place on the podium? Snowball in hell type chances.

None of this means that Boulevard showcased the “real” racers and the absentees were “fakers.” Unless you’re getting paid to race your bike and have your name at the bottom of a contract, you’re just playing. I’m just playing. We’re just playing.

But just so you know, the playing would have been more exciting, more challenging, and just a bit more epic if more people had dared to show up. Would Fields have raced Boulevard? Hell, yes, he would have. And it would have taken every bullet in your magazine and your entire team to beat him.

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§ 40 Responses to 2013 Boulevard road race post-coital analysis

  • Chris says:

    This is one of the best yet Wanky. Coach Carl would be proud.
    This link is going out to every player in my club.

  • Albacore says:

    Another bankruptcy lawyer? hmmm. . .

    Racing is racing and the adage from motorsports applies to bikes as well, “Run whatcha brung and hope you brung enough.”

  • dan martin says:

    Perfect way to start my morning. Just friggin exellent read.

  • Tom FitzGibbon says:

    A good summary of the essence of racing. That’s why most of us are wankers not really bike racers.

  • craig b. hummer says:

    this race trilogy is ‘Lord of the Rings’ for Bike Geeks. I love it. Big Ring, Small Ring, and for the hardcore, one ring, to bind them all…

  • CW says:

    Ah, nice to see the good old days of Richardson Bike Mart mentioned. Can’t beat walking in there and having Jim call you “Tiger”! Great writing, I split my time between TX and CA and have returned to riding after a 20 year layoff. Might even make it up for the NPR someday from Irvine. Great blog!

  • Amsterdam Hammer says:

    I learned so much from him, training effing hard for one, and I had you and him both for my master class in English 🙂

    • Admin says:

      I seem to remember the schooling going the other way. Fucking no one beat The Lung. And you spoke Texanese better than we did.

  • I don’t want to go all old school on y’all, but this was the way it used to be in SoCal…you raced, road, crit TT’s and track. I mean….just about everybody had a track bike. When the San Diego Velodrome finally got built, we thought we had gone to heaven. Tuesday PB Firehouse rides, Thursday beatdowns in the north county hills with pukes like Wilson, Hill, Wynne, Saxton. Drive to OC for beatdowns there with Dave and Meat, Fuller, Vine. Friday night — Encino. Saturday was a TT or a road race or a crit. Sunday was always a road race or crit. Trackies road the road; roadies road the track. Norcal races were always there to fill in, too.
    I knew Fields; he was a hard man.

    • Admin says:

      Awesome, awesome comment. It’s not “all old school.” There are still guys and women who go out and race their bikes, but there should be more. Why do people think they’re “sprinters” but don’t ever do hilly road races? Mark Cavendish has to climb every single col in the Tour to win the field sprint on the Champs-Elysees, every pass in the Giro to win in Milan. He’s also a world champion on the track and a hell of a pursuit rider.

      Wanna be a bike racer? Race your bike!

      Thanks for confirming that people who were immersed in the Kool-Aid didn’t flinch at the events that weren’t “tailored” for them, in SoCal as in Texas and, I suspect, as in everywhere else.

    • Admin says:

      And Fields was a hard bastard! Not to mention the best friend you’d ever have.

  • Stefanovich says:

    Inspired words wanky!

    I road the infamous RBM nighter last year, it was sloooow – must have been a down week. I bought the bibs though.

    This blvd sucked for me but amazingly I got more (non-strava) kudos than in the previous two years. In retro. it did more good for me than evil.

    I once refereed to a magazine as a ‘clip’ at our local gun-range and got a bunch of noob stink-eye for it…good to see you’re all proper on that…

  • David Holland says:

    Great Stuff, now I can feel like I can bring my black eye to the UCLA RR and battle the likely possibility that I will get dropped without guilt!

  • BD says:

    We just lost the only close to Chicago Illinois RR because of these issues. It was an early spring race. It was was hard even though flat. It had both pavement and gravel (easily rideable even on 23s). It had weather – in farm fields with wind and early spring weather (snow forced shortened races 2 years ago). But the riders would not come out in sufficient numbers. We seem to be a boring crit racing community.

    • Admin says:

      That flat fucking sucks.

      I think it has to do with an ethos. Developing that ethos takes time and it takes someone to shame the wankers into throwing down in the hard races. People’s egos are so thin and fragile, especially the old turds. As fewer people actually do a full calendar, fewer people appreciate the benefits of racing a full calendar. It’s a kind of death spiral.

  • lagunapatrick says:

    I was raised in Texas, did my first race in 1985. Fields won the Pro race. I saw him win a lot. Thought he won everything until I read this. I talked to him once about RAGBRAI, he told me it was a bitchin’ race with lots of pecker-headed-pretnedo’s to beat. I told him I thought it was a Tour, a ‘fun ride’ and he told me, “Where two or more are gathered, its a RACE!”

    • Admin says:

      Fields dropped more unforgettable sayings on a fucking training ride than most people drop in a lifetime!

      • Jah Slim says:

        “We’re going this way and yall are going that way.” – Jeff Fields, at a crossroads deep into a Eurosport ride. Eventually Clayton, Sidney, Jugdish, Mohammet, Lonny and I made it back to the shop.

  • Rick says:

    Awesome collection of words in exactly the correct order to fill the mind with ideas and emotions. Well done.

  • Dan says:

    once again great read!! Reminds me of racing in colorado as a jr in the 80’s. Everyone rode every race march through october and if yougot dropped one week you just had to ride harder before the next race. I have one question for you. Should I (the unsuspecting reader) trust a lawyer whose bike cost more than his crappy car he claims to have?
    Love ya man!

  • Tom says:

    is this the same Fields of “Lick de Pussy” notoriety?

  • Trudi Schindler says:

    Loved this Seth. As always, well written and very inspiring. Can I share with my team?

  • […] en artikel om Jeffrey K. Fields och konstaterade att jag kanske är några decennier efter min tid helt enkelt. Att det var […]

  • Krakatoa says:

    I’m a couple of years late, but I’m a veteran of the first two editions of this great race. Glad to see someone still promotes an edition. The first year, 1984, it was the socal districts road course. It was held in June. It was VERY hot. I was a junior, and we did 3 laps (69 miles). I was one of the only entrants to have previewed the course. I knew it was tough. It scared the shit out of me.

    I inadvertently created the winning breakaway on the first lap right after turning onto la posta rd. I was so nervous about getting dropped, I accelerated up the first climb. Only 3 guys came with. We rode 65 miles together. We never saw the others again. Two of the other three guys crashed in the feed zone after getting doused with a cooler of ice water, leaving just two to duke it out.

    The next year (85) it was held in May, and was a junior world’s camp qualifier. An insanely talented field showed up. 100 of us. Half the course was in the 50s and half in the 90s. We all did the newspaper in the jersey trick to try and keep warm. A herd of vagrant bulls ran into the road on la posta, Just near 80, crashing many and splitting the field. I was caught in the back, but was able to rejoin by the top of the big climb.

    Great times in Boulevard that I’ll never forget!

    • fsethd says:

      Cool stories. Thank you for sharing!

      • Krakatoa says:

        Thanks. And to resound the sentiments of the others, most of us in SoCal in the eighties raced the entire calendar. Every club was REQUIRED to do at least one event per year. People who only raced in “choice” events stood out as strangers. We were not a band of selfish solitaires. We rode for clubs. Rode WITH our clubs often, raced often (road, tt, track, crits). And we made incredible friendships that spanned wide geographical areas. It was good times.

        Boulevard was an “Epic” road race. If you didn’t do it, you were a pussy.

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