When you say “Tulsa Tough,” most people think of a very hard bike race, but I just think of what Tulsa spells when I read it backwards.
Fact is, Tulsa is one of the most miserable places in Oklahoma, which is like saying it’s the dirtiest port-o-let on the construction site. Tulsa is hot. Tulsa is windy. Tulsa is filled with college kids who have nothing to do except choose between studying to pass classes to get jobs that won’t make the slightest dent in their six-figure student loans, or drink nonstop for seven years or however long it takes to pass Bonehead English.
Fortunately, the things that make Tulsa a miserable hell-hole filled with drunken, redneck, bigoted bumpkins are the very things that make it the perfect venue for one of America’s best bike races. The nasty climate, the art deco architecture planted pointlessly in a shabby oil town, and most of all Crybaby Hill all combine to make bike racers ride as fast as they can to get the damned thing over with and back to infinitely better places, like Dallas.
The 2015 edition of the race is the story of Daniel Holloway, a guy who I practically taught how to ride a bike. The weekend before Tulsa Tough he’d had some very discouraging rides in bumfuck Illinois or Indiana or Iowansas. Along with sagging morale that was drooping lower than a sailor after two weeks of shore leave in Bangkok, his knee tendon had flared up again, a lingering injury from last year when Manslaughter, Surfer Dan, Pablo, A-Trav and I took him off a cliff on his road bike and watched him fall teen feet off a ledge and onto his knee.
If you can’t beat a four-time national champ, at the very least you can injure him and hopefully ruin his career.
The tendon kept him off the bike for a couple of days, made it impossible to walk, and caused massive sleep disruption and anxiety that he would not only miss Tulsa Tough but also not get to take a couple of Strava KOM’s.
Lacking transportation, and too cheap to go to a doctor, he turned to Dr. Google, and after watching the Home Surgery Channel (Note to readers: DIY Craniotomy is cool!) and ruling out mesothelioma and gout, he concluded that he probably maybe perhaps had an LCL strain. He realized that if the sixteen feet of RockTape didn’t cure the strain and fix his bad breath, he’d have to back out of Tulsa Tough and spend even more unhappy time in Iowansas. The next morning he experienced radical improvement, as he could walk five or six steps with only mild screaming.
Holloway boarded the plane for hell, and on the first day of racing he realized what a mistake he’d made. His legs felt stiffer than glaciers and the knee joint articulated like an old man with no teeth or tongue trying to speak Chinese. Before heading over to meet his team, he rehearsed his speech: “Guys, when the going gets tough, quitting is often advisable.” But somehow that didn’t sound right.
So he did the next best thing, he lied like a Christian: With a fully adjusted mindset he infused ten minutes of no b.s., no negativity, just the positive wavelength associated with winning, delivering for his team, and crushing the life out of the competition. Being the captain on the team, he had to show up and set the example, and failing that, he’d have to drink another stiff cup of coffee sludge and hope that he could make up with caffeine what he lacked in conviction.
The stragegy was simple: “Guys, let’s go smash the shit out of these wankers,” was Plan A. There was no Plan B.
They headed out onto the course and immediately sensed the energy of a crowd that had been drinking hard since February of 2011. The crowd outside Holloway’s host house showed its enthusiasm for the race by displaying large piles of vomit and what appeared to be insensate bodies lying in the gutter. He had enough time to take one lap around the course before the body bags were all zipped up and the course cleared for take-off.
The race began and Holloway started at the very back, picking lines, evaluating the field, and getting his knee to bend ever so slightly. In the first two laps three different riders got caught up in the energy of the moment by splatting on the ground like the pro crash dummies they were.
Fifteen minutes in, Holloway made a meaningless move, and for the rest of the race he sat in and watched his team control the race, covering what needed to be covered, resting when needed and working together to stay safe while the other vicious animals tried to run them into the curb, chop them in the turns, take them into the barricades, and say nasty things about their mothers. Going into the final five laps he found teammate Aldo’s wheel, a rider who commands enough room to park the space shuttle, but when the time is right can compress space and time so that there is only, like in any cheap motel, room for two.
Teammate Jim kept the pace high and the field single file, as nothing gets more sketchy than anxious sprinters and slow speeds, with the possible exception of anxious sprinters, slow speeds, and a big cash purse. Aldo hit out on the last lap to begin a leadout that went from corner one all the way to the last corner and which was accelerating the whole time. Teeth, cheek flaps, fingernails, and bleeding digits came off as riders tried to match Aldo’s speed, and failed.
Going into the last corner Aldo left the inside open for Holloway to carry maximum speed. With a quick check under his by-now-smelly-armpit at thirty meters to go, Holloway was able to post up, show off the sponsors, and not crash across the finish line like that time Danny Kam lifted his arms and fredded out in Ontario.
It was an amazing finish to an amazing day, and once off the bike Holloway could almost walk.
Tune in tomorrow for Tulsa Tough, Part 2.
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