The bike-falling-off contagion

There was a very big women’s bicycle race on Sunday for the Amgen Tour of California. In America, women’s bike racing is unimportant compared to men’s bike racing, which is saying something because men’s bike racing was recently rated as being less important than an old TV dinner.

There are many reasons that women’s bike racing is less important than something that is already less important than an old microwave chicken pot pie. The three reasons are sexism, gender discrimination, and misogyny. Those reasons came to bear explaining why so many women fell off their bikes on Sunday.

Eleven separate bicycle-falling-off incidents were catalogued, an impressive number even for cycling, where people regularly fall off their bicycles and often do so into steel barriers, beneath the wheels of speeding trucks, and off steep cliffs. The causes of this terrible contagion made their way to the only place that people ever calmly discuss anything, i.e. Facebag. Many explanations were put forth, including reasoned analyses that ended in “fuck you” and “you suck” and other indicia of dispassionate discourse.

Wanky solves the bicycle-falling-off problem

Some pointed to the grave problem of Internet coaching as the culprit. “People get coached on the Internet but they don’t get coached on how to ride their fucking bikes in a group and fall off their bicycles properly.”

Others pointed to the rose-tinted glasses that find the solution to every modern problem in a past world where everything was perfect. “Back when we used to ride our bikes with wooden rims and we had to flip the wheel to change gears, everybody knew how to ride. It’s this influx of [fill in name of contemptible influx here] who weren’t raised the old-fashioned way that are causing all the problems.”

Still others pointed to the need for clinics. “People should only get a racing license when they pass my skilz klinik. Everyone who passes my skilz klinik never krashes.”

None of these folks really nailed the problem, although there did seem to be quite a bit of self-dialing as various posters proffered their various qualifications. The problem is quite simple, and is expressed by the Peter Principle:

Anything that works will be used in progressively more challenging applications until it fails such that all people rise to their natural level of incompetence.

This means that if you have been racing for very long, you’re as bad as you’re going to get, which is just bad enough to get shelled, gap out other riders, cross wheels, smash into barricades, and ultimately fall off your bicycle. If these things are not happening to you, you aren’t racing in your proper category yet. If they are, you know you have arrived.

The bad news: it’s not just everyone else

Indeed, the entire Amgen women’s race was designed to rapidly promote as many people as possible to their maximum level of incompetence by putting regional racers in the mix with the country’s top pros, then expanding the normal women’s field size of about 40 riders to a whopping, road-clogging peloton of 108 racers.

As you might expect, the winner was one of the best riders in the land, Carmen Small, followed by another of the best riders in the land, Corinne Rivera. As you might also expect, the forty-three riders who DNF’ed included a hefty contingent of regional riders who were far, far out of their league. In accordance with the Peter Principle, the best riders for the most part did fine, and many of the riders who were promoted en masse to the next level instantly found their level of incompetence by crashing once, twice, even multiple times.

The good news: it’s okay to suck

Since everyone eventually sucks, and since most people suck sooner rather than later when it comes to riding in the middle of an internationally televised world-class bicycle race when their normal fare is a parking lot crit, there’s no dishonor or even much to be surprised about when it comes to the bicycle-falling-off phenomenon. It either has happened to everybody who races or it eventually will, and it’s certainly no one’s fault in the sense that “the peloton is filled with incompetents” because every peloton is always filled with incompetents.

As with most bike races, it’s much easier to point the finger at the bonehead who “crashed you out” (still waiting for the bandaged rider in a neck brace to come up to me and complain that “I crashed myself out because I suck”) than to look at the real problems with women’s bike racing, alluded to above.

Any configuration of a bike race will contain a certain percentage of incompetents, and the larger the field, the higher the percentage. So what? If you find yourself at the bottom of one too many piles, and you don’t like neck braces, it’s time for you to choose smaller, easier races. There’s a certain level of bike handling you will never exceed. That’s okay, and all the skilz kliniks in the world won’t help you … much.

Since most metrics show that women like to ride and that there is a bustling trade in women’s bikes and gear, the real question is why doesn’t Amgen put on a women’s tour that parallels the men’s? That way you would have a smaller field with fewer incompetents. The crashes would still happen (see Peter Principle, above), but presumably they would be fewer because the selection criteria would be more strict.

In fact, if the same thing had played out in the men’s field and ten or eleven regional men’s teams had swelled the ranks of the Amgen men’s tour, there would have been mayhem. Guys in SoCal who are legendarily awesome (especially in their own minds) would turn into barricade fodder if they suddenly had to race with UCI Pro Tour elites. Actually, they wouldn’t last long enough to crash, as the peloton would pull away so quickly that their race would finish before it started.

So if the question is “Why does Amgen promote just one lousy Waring Blender mix-and-mash race for the women?” then the answer is fairly unsettling, but unsurprising. Races organized by men, for men, to include men are never going to provide equal platforms for women.

Now that sucks.



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23 thoughts on “The bike-falling-off contagion”

  1. David Huntsman

    I watched “A League of Their Own” on the weekend and was strruck by the sad likelihood that the only reason women’s cycling is being given more exposure these days is because men’s cycling is toxic to the point it really should be quarantined for a few years.

  2. Like Jack taught me: “I’ve been beat by lots better than you!”.
    You have to climb way up Mt. Suck before that doesn’t apply, you know?

    1. And then once you’re at the top of Mt. Suck, there’s no space to sit down so you end up falling off it anyway.

  3. You said, “Races organized by men, for men, to include men are never going to provide equal platforms for women.”
    True…and also….Amgen makes drugs (read: Epogen, and its progeny), and it has been argued conclusively that their sponsorship of bicycle cycle racing is one huge guilt trip. They HAVE to know that the $5M or so they have put into the Tour of Ca. is probably money poorly spent…well, except for that ‘guilt’ thang. It may also be that they (and every other promoter) don’t want to pour $$$ into more crusty old chicken pot pies..

    1. This race has Thom Wiesel’s fingerprints all over it.

      The actual owner of the race is AEG/Phil Anshutz. Thom delivered Amgen as the title sponsor to defray Phil’s costs of paying the UCI, paying the teams, paying for hotels, and everything else. Thom was a pre-IPO investor in Amgen, so lots of deep connections and wealth associated with Amgen and cycling.

      Hopefully, Cookson will make some progress and introduce some calendar parity for Women’s racing. It is badly overdue. Sadly, I can remember the Tour de France podium shared by a male and female winner.

  4. roger crawford

    ER Nurse: So what happened?
    Me: I crashed my bike.
    ER Nurse: Oh, you fell off your bike?
    Me: No, crashed. You see, we were going through this corner and some douchewad two bike in front thought it’s be more efficient to take a different line than everyone else, chopped the front wheel of the guy in front of me, which in turn took me out.
    (Enter Doctor)
    Doctor: So what happened?
    ER Nurse: He fell off his bike.

  5. Thank you for writing this. We see this every time there’s a women’s race that includes “real” pros — not just the regional elite. And it’s sad that a race like this is televised and that the world is left with the impression that women can’t race their bikes. Men would never be forced to race in a pro-am field, but, because of the smaller number of women racers, it’s all too common. Until we can grow the number of fields offered at local races, and give women the opportunity to race with their peers and develop progressively, I don’t think we can fix the lack of skills/experience when we combine pros with amateurs.

    1. USAC is a failure on so many levels, but none more so than this one. There are thousands of women who ride and who ride fast, but women say time and time again that they require more mentoring prior to entering a bike race. Promoters like Chris Lotts, Mike Hecker, and others work hard to provide opportunities for women who already race, but increasing the pool of beginners is where it’s at. Fortunately, USAC fails to do that for men, too, so at least we have equal opportunity incompetence.

      1. roger crawford

        Chris gave women an opportiunity to race by allowing them to jump into other races for free upon paying their entry fee for the women’s field. If you want experience racing in a large, aggressive field, racing with the men is sometimes the closest you can get. When Chris went all USAC, this was no longer allowed.

        If USAC was truly interested in development and growing the sport, you’d see initiatives to increase the number of juniors and women racing locally. (And not just the “pipeline.”) But USAC is absent at that level, leaving it up to a few people here and there to step in.

    1. Can I join you?

      And when you say “complex” it’s possible you mean “stupid.” That’s what I mean, anyway.

  6. It took me forever to even find a mention of the women’s racing on the Amgen Tour of CA website (perhaps I’m website challenged in addition to my lack of bike skills). I just found the results.

    1. Amazing, right? Front page coverage of each men’s stage on Cycling Snooze, though …

  7. Wank, glad to read your latest flummery to the put upon pedalers of charm. Mentoring you shout, when on any evening in any group ride there are thirty stinking guys in cut off shirts willing to lend advice and expertise. Seat sniffers, admittedly, but still.

    Why to go for the low fruit. Next time post pictures of puppies rollicking in flowers.

    “Wank, you are so in tune with the need to treat puppies with love, and for better trees on the doggie paths.”

    Your personal troll.


  8. So are you saying the locals chicks and dudes aren’t as hot as they think they are? I could have told you that! Reality checks are healthy now and then!

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