I’m only three or four years younger than Thurlow, which is like comparing myself to the greatest basketball player of all time by saying, “I’m only three or four inches shorter than Michael Jordan.”
I first saw Thurlow at the Tour of Texas in 1984 at the Camp Mabry crit in Austin. He was racing for Raleigh. Nelson Vails was his teammate. Dude was old even then.
There’s no name in the peloton that is as heavy as “Thurlow.” It weighs about four thousand pounds. You can slacken a room full of bike racer boners just by whispering “Thurlow.” It’s the only word in the English language that makes grown men hunch over and start to droop. Generations of cyclists have been flogged, tortured, punished, and then dropped by “Thurlow.”
The only residue remaining in this, his fifth decade of bike racing, is the residue of pain and defeat. Yours.
“Thurlow’s not his old self”
Commentators have remarked that in 2013 there’s something missing from the arsenal of America’s winningest bike racer. He only got second in the BWR behind Neil Shirley, a pro who is young enough to be his great-grandson’s grandson.
He’s only won a couple of races so far this year, and has only gotten top three placings in about a dozen. “You should have seen him at SLR,” said one of my buddies. “He just folded. Never seen Thurlow fold like that.”
I mused. Thurlow has more national championship jerseys than my buddy has race participations for the last two years. Oh, and a rainbow jersey. And that Olympic team stuff. Then there was that season that he raced with Bernard Hinault and Greg Lemond on La Vie Claire.
“Oo eez Bernard Hinault?” asked our homestay French student who comes from, of all places, Bretagne.
“Eez joos ze greatest fucking French bicycle racer ever,” I snarled.
“I don like ze sports,” said Homestay before going out onto the veranda to smoke a cigarette and wash it down with some Colt .45.
Imitation is the most pathetic form of idolatry
I’m always trying to race like Thurlow. You know, the way he always understands what’s always going on all the time. The way he rides close to the front and never misses the split. The way he rests, then attacks, then rests if they bring him back, then attacks again. The way he seems to summon the most strength at the one point in the race when everyone else is at their weakest. The way he stuffs the painburger down your throat with a red-hot poker, then beats the end of the poker with a 30-pound hammer.
Of course, I’ve never Ridden Like Thurlow, starting with the omniscience thing. Where Thurlow knows what’s going on all the time, my awareness seems to focus on stuff like that family sitting on the picnic blanket on Turn 4. “Wonder what’s in their sandwiches?” I wonder.
Boom. Break is gone and Thurlow has a 45-second gap.
Or the ride towards the front thing. Try as I might, as far forward as I get, pretty soon I’m back in 87th position, right behind Lardball with the Grand Canyon asscrack and the Serengeti grassland of hair sprouting from the waistband of his non-bib shorts.
Then there’s that attacking thing. Thurlow attacks the way an angry farmer with a pitchfork stabs the head of the king as it rolls off the guillotine’s blade. My attacks, to quote Aaron Wimberly, “Are like a huge commuter bus on four flat tires going up a mud mountain with a full load of passengers.”
And of course Thurlow rests, then goes again. I rest, and then there’s a football field between me and the peloton, a DNF, and a personal request from the family in Turn 4 to give me some of their sandwich.
But still, that doesn’t stop me from trying and experimenting. Whether it’s a fancy power meter, or nose breathing, or the water + kimchi diet, I’m always up for something new, because the difference between me and Thurlow can’t be that he’s just better…there has to be a trick, and one day I’ll find it.
Me & Prez
A couple of weeks ago Prez and I were riding back from the NPR. Prez notices everything when it comes to biking. Nothing escapes his attention, so I usually ignore him when he’s talking, but this particular day he mentioned Thurlow.
“There are guys out there whose pedaling is so efficient, it’s incredible,” Prez said.
“Uh-huh,” I answered, watching the cute nubbin in the Smart car prepare to back over the dude pushing the stroller.
“Like Thurlow, you know? That guy’s pedaling is so incredibly efficient.”
Now I was all ears. “Yeah?”
“Yeah. One reason is that he seems to pull up as much as he pushes down. He’s got that little muscle on the hams just on the inside of his thigh that you never see in cyclists. Him and Charon, they’re about the only two around here with it; it’s because they’re so efficient.”
All I had to hear was “Thurlow” followed by “Charon” and now I was hanging on every word. But I pretended to be bored and only half-interested. “Yeah?” I said.
“Yeah,” Prez said. Then he launched into a complex and insightful description of pedaling efficiency and why most of us, him included, were so inefficient. “It’s the pulling up,” he concluded.
Secrets stolen stealthily
Chuckling to myself at this new-found secret, which I had wrested from the knowledge banks of Prez without him even knowing it, I immediately began pushing and pulling up simultaneously. Then I discovered that this was impossible, because after about four strokes your legs give out. It appeared that rest was part of the pedaling equation.
Nonetheless, by the time I’d reached the office, I had figured it out. You didn’t actually pull up with your feet, you pulled up with your thigh. It was not so much a push and pull effort as much as it was extremely short intervals between the flexing of the thigh. I went noticeably faster. I was noticeably more exhausted.
“Could this be the long lost key to victory?” I wondered. “Have I finally cracked the Code of Thurlow?” I raced through the day’s work, bounding out of the office at 4:00 in order to Thighflex ® all the way back home. Preliminary plans showed that I would now be able to crush all the competition, earn every Strava KOM I desired, and sell the newly trademarked Thighflex program to coaches worldwide. I might even realize every cyclist’s dream of finally getting a pro contract and riding the Tour without too many drugs, or the Giro with way too many.
Thighflexing up the Mt. Home Commute
As I warmed up my thighs with the proprietary Tiny Muscle® Thighflex® limbering method, I felt the incredible strength and speed from this new system. Poor Prez. What a sucker. He’d revealed the most important secret of riding and I was now on the cusp of millions, huge victories, and taking a Strava KOM away from Lane Reid when he least expected it.
“Heh, heh,” I chuckled gleefully as I roared up Mt. Home and its vicious 2% grade. “Wait ’til I unleash this at the CBR Dogpoop Memorial Day Crit.”
In preparation, I showed up to contest the Lower East Side Long Beach Shopping Ride, an incredibly intense, competitive, powerful informal race disguised as a shopping excursion of 65+ elderly ladies with baskets on their mamachari bicycles. As we approached the first stop light, which was turning yellow, I Thighflexed®. The grandmothers couldn’t follow my jump, and in seconds I had opened a gap. The youngest grandmother, whose basket was filled with a 10kg bag of rice, leaned on the pedals and clawed me back.
I glanced over my shoulder and attacked again, this time putting maximum power to my Tiny Muscle® while Simulflexing® the Thighflex®. Undeterred, the granny held my wheel, forcing me to decelerate slightly, cause her wheel to overlap, and allowing me to take her to the curb.
She grabbed a handful of brakes as her front wheel caught the curb. The rice bag burst on impact as I redoubled my Thighflex®, now a solid 100-150m ahead of the hard-charging grandmothers, who weren’t about to let me get to the Costco pallet of discount diapers before them. They were no match. With a couple of more threshold efforts I pulled free and was gone.
With this independent verification of the Thighflex® system’s incredible power transer, I actually pity the fools who have signed up for Monday’s CBR Memorial Day Crit at Dominguez Hills. I’ve told Chris Lotts that he can go ahead and mail me the winner’s check, minus the entry fee to save me the inconvenience of actually having to show up and race. If he forces me to toe the line, well, all I can say to the riders out there who haven’t yet subscribed to the Tiny Muscle® and Thighflex® performance systems is this: You’ve been warned.