In thirty-three years of riding and racing, I’ve gotten two good pieces of advice, which makes for an average of one about every seventeen years.
The first one was from the Fireman. I was pounding my brains out on the front of some stupid group ride. A few people got unhitched, but most didn’t. Towards the end I faded and could barely struggle home, much less contest the sprunts. The fresher rides beat me like a rug on cleaning day.
“Dude,” said Fireman, “just remember. You race like you train.”
“Huh?” I said.
“Yeah. You train like an idiot, and you’re gonna race like an idiot.”
I thought about that, and he was right. Fireman trains smart, and every year he wins a couple of very hard races. The races that he targets, he almost always places in. He’s not the best climber, the best sprinter, the best breakaway rider, or the best time trialist. But he trains smart, and he races even smarter.
It was good advice, but useless, because I love to pound on training rides. “Everyone gets shelled,” is my motto, so when it’s my turn I accept my beating, almost joyfully. Almost.
The second good piece of advice I got was from three-time national crit champion and all-around hammer and good guy, Daniel Holloway. I had watched Daniel work over the Gritters brothers earlier this year on the third day of the 805 Crit series put on by Mike Hecker. It was two against one in a three-up breakaway. Daniel had to go fast enough to stave off a lightning fast pro field, but not so fast that he burned himself out when it came time for the sprunt. With one lap to go he attacked the Gritterses and soloed.
“How’d you do that?” I asked one day when we were coming back from the NPR.
“Easy,” he said. “I followed the breakaway rule.”
“The breakaway rule? As in, ‘Don’t ever be in one?'”
He laughed. “No, that’s the wankaway rule. The breakaway rule is ‘Don’t ever be the strongest guy in the break.'”
“Yeah. If you feel great, don’t ever show that you’re the strongest. If you’ve got the legs to win and you’re up the road with three or four other guys, always be the second strongest guy in the break. Never the strongest.”
“What does that mean, you know, like, in reality?”
“Don’t take the hardest pull, take the second hardest pull. Don’t take the longest pull, take the second longest pull. When the ‘strongest’ guy takes a monster pull, show that it hurt you and rotate to the back, even quickly.”
“You saw the 805 Crit, didn’t you?”
“That’s the ‘then what.’ When it’s time, you go. And the ‘strongest’ guy who’s been out there crushing it for the last hour suddenly isn’t the strongest guy anymore. You are.”
I memorized every line of this conversation and swore I would put it into practice. On a few of the Donut Rides I’ve managed not to completely spend myself in the first ten minutes and have actually done respectably on the climbs. One time I even beat Dave Jaeger. So you can imagine how thrilled I was when Daniel showed up for our new Thursday AM beatdown ride on the Flog Course around the Palos Verdes golf club.
On the first lap the Wily Greek strung it out, dropped all but ten people, and stuffed the rest of us deep into the hurt locker. After hanging out for a few moments in that close, uncomfortable space without enough air, I got dropped. Then I felt a hand on my ass and a strong push. It was Daniel, grinning, and the fucker wasn’t even breathing hard. “Suffer, old man,” he laughed, easily throwing me back up to the leaders.
On the second lap he attacked and only Wily and Derek could answer. The rest of us melted into a loose coalition of hapless chasers. Forgetting everything he’d told me, I rode like a madman, the strongest guy in the four-man chase. By the sixth and last lap I was a puddle of guts. When I hit the 20% final climb up La Cuesta, my chase group companions roared past. Daniel was coming down the hill. He saw me, turned around, and rode up next to me, about to offer me some key advice.
“Don’t say it,” I said.
“Don’t say what?” he asked.
“Advice. Don’t give me any more advice.”
“How come?” he said, grinning.
“Because it’s not seventeen years yet.”
He looked at me funny and easily pedaled away.
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