My grandfather used to get up early every morning, shave, get dressed nicely, put on his porkpie hat with the little feather in the band, and drive his ’62 Chevy Impala down to Pearson’s Rexall Drugstore in Daingerfield, Texas. By 7:00 AM there would be a small group, five or six retirees sitting at their stammtisch, drinking coffee, and gossiping.
That’s all they did. Gossip. When the news was especially big, like the time the embalmer at Nail-Haggard Mortuary (a real place) ran off with a teenager to live in a shack in the woods, the old gossipy men in the drugstore would shamble out at a fast trot in order to be first home with the news.
Although the town looked at those old codgers affectionately, they were anything but. All they did was sit around and talk shit about people. They weren’t leaders in their community, in their church, or in any of the town’s charitable institutions. They didn’t get involved in youth activities, never ran for office, and never donated so much as a dime unless their wives forced them to. They were mostly stingy, selfish old men, arch conservatives, deeply racist hypocrites who railed against taxes and big gummint even as they benefited from it more than anyone else. They were often drunks whose only hobbies in life were cards and horse racing.
Eventually their little cabal faded away because they all died. They never brought younger people into the circle, and one by one they were laid out at Nail-Haggard, buried, and forgotten. The Rexall eventually shuttered, too.
Team Lizard Collectors revolt
The handwriting has been on the USAC wall so long that people no longer pay attention to it, like graffiti you pass daily until it blends into the landscape. Here’s what the handwriting has said for the last twenty years: “Masters racing is killing sanctioned amateur bike racing in the U.S.”
Of course there are other forces at work. Strava, a crappy product, instant gratification, selfie-cycling, and fun > achievement have all helped snap the mainmast and drive USAC onto the shoals.
But few things have been as destructive as masters racers. Simply put, they are spoiled, entitled, whiny, narcissistic, stingy, arch-conservative old gossips, just like the geezers who used to huddle at the Rexall in Daingerfield. What’s so incredible is that even among cyclists they stand out for their delusions.
Team Lizard Collectors has long been a collecting pot of dorks. You can’t belong to TLC without being a dork. If this sounds harsh, it isn’t. TLC is one of the only racing clubs that acknowledges the truth: Dressing up in a plastic clown suit and prancing around town on a child’s toy for which you have paid thousands of dollars is dorky. This includes Peter Sagan, sorry.
And TLC has succeeded because of its “Open Dork” policy, which welcomes every rider regardless of age, ability, or delusion. Virtually no experienced racers sign up with TLC. Instead, the team’s racers, with maybe one exception, are beginners who were initially dorks writ large, and who, through practice and falling on their face at the Mothballs Crit in Santa Barbara, eventually became somewhat competent bike racers. Of course this competence didn’t come in a vacuum. Team Lizard Collectors won the Team Championship Trophy for the CBR Crit Series last year, and has been active enough that the squad has had more race entries the last five years than any other team in SoCal, by a huge margin.
You would think that dorks would never forget their dork roots, and would always remember that no matter how many times they got third at the 50+ crit in Ontario, it was only a couple of years ago that they, too, were floundering off the back, or floundering over the handlebars face-first at Mothballs.
But if you think that, you understand nothing about human nature and road racing.
Enter the #winners, I mean #whiners
After a couple of seasons of getting third or tenth, it naturally came to pass that at least one of these ex-dorks suddenly adjudged that the other 200+ members in TLC were the true dorks. Why weren’t the other 200+ members racing? Or more accurately, why weren’t the other 200+ dorks helping Mothballs get that elusive win?
Instead of looking in the mirror and seeing what the rest of us see, i.e. a droopy, worn-out old shoe, the #winners looked into the mirror and saw unrecognized potential. Raw talent that just needed a little bit extra in organization and teamwork to bring home The Biggest Prize of All, i.e. first place at Ontario … or anywhere, for that matter.
And so, in a process as old as time, it is possible that the cream of the wrinkled, saggy, dessiccated 50+ crop will break away from TLC and form a new, wonderful, amazing, success-studded team of … leaky prostate masters chumpions. Sadly, it never occurred to Team Masters of None that they are doomed to fail.
Because they are.
The metrics of masters racing
In Southern California, America’s mecca for masters bicycle racing, there is exactly one “elite” masters team that has been around for more than four years. It’s called Monster Media, it’s in San Diego, and it has four of the best, winningest racers in SoCal across all disciplines. If you don’t know Phil Tinstman, Karl Bordine, Dave Koesel, and Chris DiMarchi, you haven’t ever raced here much as a master.
Every other masters squad is either new, i.e. less than two years old, or it has accepted the reality that you cannot succeed over the long term as a racing team without also including crappy racers, or even non-racers. Why is that? Because elite masters racers, the majority of whom are anything but, are notoriously cheap and unwilling to join a team unless it can offer a substantial “deal.”
Don’t worry, it is. Because a “deal” means free equipment, steeply discounted pro clothing, steeply discounted bikes, tents, nutritional support, race fee reimbursement, lots of #socmed glory, and a customized team van if you can swing it. Did I mention that elite masters were cheapskates? They expect all of this to be provided to them, and incredibly, on every single masters team that has been around for long, IT IS.
But the providing never comes from the prima donna members, rather it comes from the working stiffs who own companies, who own law firms and accounting practices, who have succeeded in the real world even though they never have and never will succeed as a #socal #profamateur. It’s these “failures” along with the rank-and-file membership who pay the bills and do the heavy organizational lifting for the elite masters wankers, and leaving aside for a moment the craziness of all that money going to narcissistic old men rather than into junior racing development, masters race teams must have this type of financial support in order to survive.
If there weren’t free shit, why would a leaky prostate, delusional #profamateur join? Why would any of these selfish old men want to belong to an organization just to promote cycling, help newcomers, build community, organize grass roots events, and do a few races with friends at their own expense? Crazy talk, yo.
Enter the lizards
Team Lizard Collectors is, I’m sorry to say, the best racing deal ever. You get deeply discounted bikes. You get ALL YOUR RACE ENTRIES 100% REIMBURSED. If you’re Cat 1 or Cat 2 you get two free full kits valued at $245/apiece (one if you’re a lowly Cat 3). To help you with that arithmetic, you pay $45 and get up to $490 back. Complex, I know. Throw in my $483.00 race reimbursement from last year and it almost starts to look like I’m getting paid to race my bike.
You also get free/deeply discounted nutritional products from Beachbody Performance, an acknowledged world leader in the field. You get full race support at every race, in every category. This means a tent stocked with free food, drinks, coffee, and a professional masseuse. Yes, you read that right. And as a racer you don’t have to lift a finger. The race day elves magically put it all up before daybreak, and take it all down, hours after you’re home in bed touching yourself in special places as you relive that 35th place finish at CBR.
Yet … nothing is free in life, and nothing is free over at TLC, either.
To get all of this you have to pay the outrageous sum of $45 a year. But it’s even worse because you have to endure the humiliation of being surrounded by non-racers. By social butterflies. By weaklings who, although they think you’re awesome, fill your water bottle, like your #socmed fakeface, organize fun parties, plan social rides, and idolize you, they obstinately refuse to be awesome racers in your mold. And this is what’s intolerable, apparently.
The thought that you, a hero among droopy prostates, would have to wear the same uniform with the same logo and design as the social butterflies, who, although they bring new members to the club, although they slavishly work the events, and although some of them actually even race, are simply too dorky for you now. At the end of the day, there are only two kinds of people: Those who can get you the vee, and those who can’t. You ain’t got time for that second kind.
Here is the mentality that has led to the revolt: “I appreciate you helping me through med school and raising the four kids and working those two jobs, but now that I’m a big deal and making seven figures, you’re not good enough for me anymore. Good-bye. And here are some green socks.”
Don’t go away mad, just go away
Of course every big club has mass defections every one or two years. It’s the nature of the beast. A small group of disgruntled riders gets mad because their awesomeness isn’t appreciated, so they form a splinter club where like-minded “real racers” can focus on the business of winning, unencumbered by the losers who only like fun rides, tent set-up, and paying for stuff.
These splinter elite race teams never succeed. The first reason they fail is because once they form, they realize that they really only have one good rider–and by “good” I’m using their metric of winning races. And they quickly find themselves working for that one guy, which is what’s known as #buzzkill. Reducing team size also reduces excuse size. With a truly small, elite team, you’re only left with one excuse for losing: You suck.
The second reason these teams fail is that talk about doing a bunch of races is different from actually doing a bunch of races. When you are over 50 years of age, you are mostly dead. The only way you can race to win 20 or more races a season is by having no other significant responsibilities of any kind. This describes no one except maybe the good guy who you’re now having to work for all the time. So what happens is that the first three or four races you have full team participation, which means half of the ten-man squad shows up, and the rest of the year it dwindles and dwindles until it’s just you two.
This leads to Massive Race De-bonerization, where instead of looking forward to race day, you dread it. There’s no tent. There’s no swag. There are no idolizing non-racers to fill your bottle, or coo over you for not having won again. Instead, you’re getting beaten by the same people who have always beaten you and who will always beat you, and you don’t even have an awestruck groupie to explain how if you’d just gotten better position in the last turn you would have come around Tommy Robles. Right …….
The final reason your team fails is that you get slapped in the dick with the economic reality of having to do a full race program without the financial support of a 200+ membership club and the myriad financial resources they bring to the party. It’s when wifey says, “You just spent $1,200 in race entry fees last year!” that shit gets real.
And of course the final final reason is that you are an old, worn-out shoe. You aren’t Phil Tinstman now, just like you weren’t Thurlow Rogers then, and just like you won’t be Greg Leibert tomorrow. Your best years are so far behind that you’d need a telescope to see them, unless of course you aspire to be one of those 70+ “racers” at the velodrome who devotes their entire life to a fake world champion jersey they can wear at home, in the yard, and in the shower.
The final final final reason you’re gonna fail? Because every human community requires youth and mentoring to thrive. People, it turns out, get old. And the older they get, the more they die. Prior to dying they take crazy left turns like illness, insanity, senility, incontinence, and zero-T, which all result in No More Bike Racing.
Just like my grandfather’s little group of nasty old gossips, the narcissistic little world of masters bike racing has just drawn the walls in that much closer by excluding the young, the enthusiastic, the inexperienced, and those with the resources of time, money, and good will. Rather than being mentors, teachers, and advocates who realize that their best competitive years are decades behind them, yet another clique of Baby Boomer Trumpers will steal away to stroke their shaved legs in secret, praying for the lead-out that, unfortunately, ain’t never gonna come.
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