Burning down the house

I was reading about the overthrow of the government in Burkina Faso, the collapse of the economy in Ukraine, the stagflation threatening the EU, the corruption and totalitarianism of the new Russian oligarchy, the spread of Ebola, the implosion of international cooperation on reducing carbon emissions, the hegemony of ISIS, the widening gap between rich and poor in America, the radioactive contamination of the seas by the still-burning Fukushima reactors, when a truly important news item caught my eye: SCNCA has eliminated the 35+ masters racing category for 2015.

After careful analysis, it appears that 29 or even 36 racers will be affected by this calamity, and so I dropped everything to find out what was going on.

The gist of the decision-making process was this: The 35+ category has fewer and fewer participants, so it will be zapped. The new masters categories in SoCal will be 40+, 50+, and 60+. Everyone under 40 will have to race his category, which for a number of racers is extremely uncomfortable, as their license reads “Cat 1.” What was previously a winning hand in the mick deasuring world of amateur cycling has now become a terrible liability for riders whose license says “awesome sauce” but whose race selection says “older fellow with leaky prostate.”

Who’s to blame?

The first people to blame are the promoters, because they are the ones least responsible. Just like poor people are blamed for their criminality because they’re the ones most often arrested, race promoters are to blame for declining race participation because fewer people sign up for their races.

When I think back to the halcyon days of 1982, I wonder why and how race promoters got the burning tire of “building the sport” hung around their neck? I never entered a race or even thought about entering a race because of a promoter. In fact, Tom Boyden (dog rest his soul) was, if anything, the best reason known to man not to enter a bike race. He was thieving, unscrupulous, cynical, and interested only in lining his own pockets.

Yet his races were full and riders who got into the game during that decade still constitute the largest number of masters racers — the 45 and 50+ categories. People didn’t race because the promoter was nice or because he gave good prizes or because his races were safe or well organized or timely. They raced because they belonged to a club that encouraged them to race. There was an expectation that if you hung out with the fast guys you would pin on a number even if you were one of the sluggards.

In our tiny little South Bay microcosm, we have numerous bicycling clubs, but only one that explicitly encourages its members to race. The others focus on wearing neat-o kits, enjoying the chummy camaraderie of pre-and-post ride coffee, and slumming around the peninsula on fancy rigs, but there’s nothing in their club makeup that says to members, “Race yer fuggin’ bike.” Instead, the vast majority of bicycle clubs say the opposite: “Let’s pal around on Strava,” or “Let’s do a Grand Fondue,” or “Let’s do a century ride down to San Diego and have a beer.”

These are all noble endeavors, and the fact that bike racing is considered an insane, prohibitively expensive cul-de-sac activity best left to idiots and the delusional is a good thing and proof that humanity actually evolves. But for those of us left in the evolutionary dead end of USA Cycling, it bears consideration that entering races comes first and foremost from the peer pressure of the club. Like trying heroin or sanal ex, lining up for your first bike race requires exhortation, encouragement, and the promise of good things to come, however outrageous and bold-faced the lie.

After promoters, the next wrongly blamed entities are SCNCA and USA Cycling. These entities, it is said, have failed to promote the grass roots, have failed to encourage race participation, and have failed to make bike racing more popular than it currently is, which is to say more popular than elective dental work.

This ignores history. When have these organizations ever done anything to grow the sport? In 2015 a USA Cycling race license will cost $70, for which the racer receives what? Useless accident insurance that, in the event of death, pays a few thousand dollars if you can fight through the red tape to get it? Safer races? Tell that to the families of the two riders who died in 2013. More promotion of cycling? Ha. Ha. Ha.

USA Cycling exists to collect membership fees to pay the salaries and officials’ fees of people at USA Cycling. That’s all it is, and that’s all it has ever been. The two great cycling booms in my lifetime were in the 80’s and the Lance era, neither of which had anything to do with the USCF, USA Cycling, or race promoters. Both eras had everything to do with clubs who encouraged — nay, demanded — that their members raced.

As USA Cycling fiddles while its house burns by raping the meager profits of promoters like Chris Lotts and Dorothy Wong, 35+ riders are caught in a vicious crossfire. SCNCA doesn’t care, promoters can’t (and shouldn’t) work to lose money, and there are so few 35+ racers anyway that, really, who shives a git? So as a 38 y/o racer with a wife and kid and job you have to bang bars with snotnose, testosterone-filled Pro/1/2 punks who are willing to die to win and you think that the value matrix (candy bar prime vs. long-term hospitalization) isn’t skewed in your favor? Shough tit. As long as SCNCA can sacrifice the few (in secret proceedings) for the benefit of itself + the many, it’s not simply business, it’s business as usual.

If the west side and south bay bike clubs told their 35+ members to get off the preen wagon and race their fuggin’ bikes 5 times a year, if all the other wannabe, gonnabe, oughtabe pretenders in SoCal and the clubs they belong to spent 1/10th of the time racing that they spend putting together “sponsor packages,” this problem wouldn’t exist.

But it’s always easier and lots more fun to call yourself a race club than to drag your teammates’ sorry asses to an actual bike race, especially when you can play tit-for-tat on Strava. </endrant>

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40 thoughts on “Burning down the house”

  1. I haven’t finished reading yet. Meanwhile: My oral surgeon had me arrive high on Halcyon for a procedure back in the 90’s. I guess halcyon turned out to be not all that was hoped for it. Too easy to OD, as I remember.
    Meanwhile, Part Deux: I won a pair of strange-material “cycling shorts” big enough to use at a tent at a Boyden race (remember the sailboat?), and a pair of purple Oakley glasses, and a purple-mottle lycra helmet cover, where my pleased smile at being presented with these gems confounded Mr. Boyden– actually shook his world a little, I think. Didn’t he see “Violet Crown” on my jersey?
    Thank you, I will continue reading anon.

  2. No 35+ category makes me so sad. I just feel sad. It’s a great injustice, and now I’m saddened that this 35+ racing category, the category that’s constantly touted by racers, fans, and promoters alike as “the fastest of the day, usually faster than the pro race,” will actually have to race with said pro race or not race at all. 🙁

  3. As long as it means there will be a class for overweight 49 year olds from the UK, I don’t see what the problem is. Heck I would even talk about my return to racing. Ultimately though to many people would be eligible so I’ll stick to Grand fondues etc. Seriously though coming from the UK there were multiple club time trials you could ride (some even in the rain so you could talk about how hard you are) each week, which apart from being a great workout were also a gateway to other racing activities.

  4. USA Cycling exists to collect membership fees to pay the salaries and officials’ fees of people at USA Cycling.

    Point of fact here Wanky, the money passes to USACDF.

    Thom did a beautiful job turning USAC inside-out with the creation of USACDF.

    The best part is the few self-imposed restrictions in the USAC by-laws are gone, there are no USOC compliance requirements and USACDF operates as Thom likes with money being collected and used for undocumented purposes. It’s not like they pay athletes to attend events either.

  5. You know, it doesn’t really matter whether they call it 35+ or P/1/2, you still have to race against Charon, right?

  6. About racing. I think I’m deranged enough to be considered an avid cyclist. I yearn for the punishment encouraged in the Palos Verdes climbs list. I spend like a drunken sailor on the hardware. I do intervals up the Forrestal route. Though I ride PV regularly, my fave venue is the Santa Monica’s, my fave route being 83miles/7000ft.

    Yet with all this said, I am slow and I do all this at the pace I can manage. Training gets me only so much speed. I get used to getting passed by just about everybody on the road.

    Some of us avid ones are just not race-worthy. I am a solo rider, but no club could get me to get into something that I would just plain suck at.

    1. The benefits of even a little racing to you is your favorite long rides get easier after being clubbed like a baby seal for a very short period of time. Do a TT or a hill climb. Of course, USACDF would never dare sell the sport like that.

      USAC/USACDF has discouraged race participation for decades so, of course racing makes no sense to you.

      The vast majority who ignore USACDF’s pleas to abandon the sport either know they suck and enjoy it for what it’s worth anyway, or strive not to suck and slightly improve while being clubbed like baby seals.

      Some are okay with the clubbing because they **BELIEVE** they have infinite capacity to improve. Others are okay with the clubbing knowing they are where they are and that’s what they got in the gene game.

    2. There’s no harm in not racing. But clubs that call themselves racing clubs need to continually pressure their 35+ riders to show up and race. People get into racing because of encouragement by their peers.

  7. Your new HTML5 recommended element should be proceeded by an but a start tag named is not to your high standards so perhaps This is a long rant. would be more to your liking. 🙂

  8. Oops, my entity substitution sucks. I Meant … proceeded by an <endrant> … perhaps <rant> This is a long rant. </rant>

  9. Remember folks, its only a “pro” race if Pros show up. How many of the socal crits have actual pros attend?

    1. Isn’t it enough for everyone to show up with “pro” gear? I mean, most of them look pro. They sure talk lots later too. Oh, and the frustration! Rowr! It’s like somebody is watching besides some other people waiting for their race. That’s pro!!!

      It’s not like USAC wants domestic pros anyway. Did you read the latest Shane Stokes article at cyclingtips.au?

  10. Richardson Bikemart thugs ruined the 35+ category here in Texas back about ten years ago. Repeatedly swept the podium and took all of the prize list until no one showed up anymore. Has been 40+ since then. Joe Bently and Bill Glaze were cut out of the same Boyden race promoter mold.

  11. Racing takes some serious commitment of time, energy, finance and focus, even for the lower Cats. The older you get the harder it is to push yourself into oxygen depth and keep on pedaling, to put in the hard intervals with discipline. Still nothing beats the feeling when your doing 30+mph in the front 15 and it feels like your coasting. Nothing is worse than getting dropped with two laps to go. It’s great stuff, a lot of fun, and a lot of losing.
    Personally, the motivation to race always comes from within, I was never really a pushover for peer pressure. I can’t even bring myself to where those ugly, poor performance, club kits.

    1. You’re right about it ultimately coming down to desire, but a lot of people need encouragement. That’s what fills race categories.

  12. In the old USCF, and the SCCA, there was 4’s, 3’s, 1/2’s, and vets. That’s it …4 races for men of age…and the vet field was everybody over 40. I thought that was about right….
    …until I showed up in Spain for some road race (I think you got a story about that one) and it was men, women, and juniors…..that’s it …3 races total….and ‘only’ about 500 people showed up to race, and nobody gave a dog rat’s azz if they got dropped, because just about everybody did, and it was fun, too. Some Basque dude dropped our group (in the men’s race) on a hill, at km 120, and he was rolling on BOLT-ON hubs with steel cottered cranks….I remember his bike well because I was staring zombie-like at the Universal 68 sidepull brakes as he rode me off his wheel. Over beans and rice later, he told me and my friends that he enters the races because his club makes him do it.
    I want a life like that….well, that and some Betsy.
    Why can’t we do this in the USA, too?

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