Best Tour rider ever?

February 11, 2023 Comments Off on Best Tour rider ever?

I said best, not greatest.

With seven straight TdF wins, Lance Armstrong surely holds the title as the greatest Tour rider if the point behind racing is winning. Since all seven wins were stripped after his doping confession, that possibly leaves the title up for grabs between Merckx, Indurain, Hinault, and Anquetil, each with five Tour victories.

But were they the best riders? Merckx, with his 34 wins across every possible type of stage from sprints, to mountain stages to time trials, was obviously the best Tour rider of his generation, to say nothing of the three points classifications and two mountains classifications he won to go along with his five GC wins. Oh, and most professional wins of all time, etc.

At the same time, Merckx himself has argued that you can’t properly compare modern racing with his generation. The fields were much smaller, less international and dominated by four countries, and most importantly were controlled by a rigid hierarchy. Merckx has also often said that were he racing today he would never have amassed the same record.

Cavendish, at first blush, hardly bears being mentioned in the same breath. He has abandoned the Tour to prepare for the Olympics and been kicked out for failing to make the cutoff time, unthinkable for Merckx. He earned many of his wins behind one of the best leadouts of all time, Mark Renshaw, whereas Merckx earned his sprint victories in an era before sprint trains existed, most often taking the win out of a mass scrum to the line. The sheer variety of Merckx’s wins was astonishing. As an example, in the 1974 Tour he won eight times including three time trials, three sprints including the final one in Paris, and two mountain stages.

But there are some holes in Merckx’s claim to being the best. Foremost, his career was riddled with doping accusations and three separate positive tests, one of which got him thrown out of the Giro. As late as 2005 Merckx has said that doping is inevitable at the highest level of sport. Armstrong would certainly agree, not to mention five-time winner Indurain, generally believed to have been the first major Tour success story using EPO. And of course another five-timer, Jacques Anquetil, famously said that to deny the necessity of doping in cycling makes you either a liar or an imbecile.

In contrast, Cavendish has ridden his entire professional career squeaky clean. Even though he began in the EPO heyday, had to compete with the biggest drug cheats in the sport, and saw the demise of countless riders and teams at the hands of doping confessions, exposes, and failed drug tests, Cavendish was never implicated in illegal drug use, ever. Merckx and Anquetil can say whatever they want, but riding and winning clean counts for a lot more than winning dirty.

Nor did Cavendish ever ride like a doper. Unlike the supermen who could do everything, Cavendish could barely do one thing: sprint. As a professional bike racer he lacked the power and the endurance to be successful; as an aspiring racer he narrowly avoided being excluded from the cycling academy that brought him to the pro ranks because he was too slow, too fat, and too weak on the ergometer.

Instead of the cookie-cutter figure and awesome power numbers that were used to define supposedly successful pre-professionals, Cavendish had one thing and one thing only: desire. Like Sean Kelly, Cavendish was willing to endure anything to avoid losing. This meant an entire career of struggling over climbs in the autobus, narrowly or unsuccessfully missing the time cutoff, and generally getting to the finish line on a wing and a prayer.

But if he did make it to the last 200m, you had a fight on your hands. It’s not for nothing that the Franco-Continental-centric Christian Prudhomme called Cavendish the greatest sprinter in the history of the Tour.

Mountain-top solo finishes like the drug-addled performance of George Hincapie at Pla d’Adet in 2005, when the giant one-day classics man easily distanced mountain specialist Oscar Pereiro in one of the Tour’s toughest mountain stages, were never going to happen to Cavendish because he didn’t dope. Searing time trials, with the exception of one 5-km TT win his entire career, were never going to make up his palmares. He lacked the motor and the drugs and the physiology.

However, as my mentor and idol Jeff Fields used to say, “You can’t measure desire,” although in Cavendish’s case you actually can, and it’s called “number of wins.”

With 161 professional victories, Cavendish is the third winningest rider of all time, behind Rik van Looy with 162. Merckx is uncatchable, at 275, and no active rider is anywhere near Cav’s total. Peter Sagan, who retires at year’s end, has 121 wins. No one else is even remotely close, not that Sagan is. My point is that when you look at Cavendish’s Tour stage wins, you see a rider who has literally done the absolute most with the absolute least. No drugs. Wrong body type. And worst of all, no team stability. He’s ridden with eight teams in nineteen seasons, and often he’s had to score his victories as a virtual privateer with no team structure to help.

Compare that to Merckx, who rode with three teams for all but two of his thirteen pro seasons, and with the exception of his three seasons with Peugeot, was the undisputed leader, team boss, and patron not simply of his team but of the entire pro peloton. As recently as 2021, when Cavendish was a last-minute add-on to Deceunick, he was paid minimum wage (40,000 euros), had to bring his own sponsor, and only got to ride the Tour at all because Sam Bennett ran afoul of general madman and team psycho Patrick Lefevere. As a footnote, Cavendish won four stages and almost took a fifth. Lefevere’s thank-you? Keeping him off the 2022 squad and releasing him from the team.

Beyond his limitless will to win, Cavendish was a true innovator. He was one of the first sprinters to understand that aerodynamic factors could add feet or even inches to a finish in a sport where the win is often measured in millimeters. Meticulous about the aero setup of his bike, helmet, and clothing, Cavendish developed an extraordinarily aero sprinting style that is now widely copied by Sagan, Ewan, Groenewegen, and virtually every other small sprinter. But my favorite kudo thrown his way was by Groenewegen, his much younger and promising rival: “He’s the smartest guy in the peloton.”

Cavendish has an extraordinary mind and he uses his photographic recall of course topography as another unusual weapon in sprinting. One interviewer challenged his supposed recall, and Cavendish spent five minutes detailing the entire ten kilometers leading up to his only classics win, Milan-San-Remo in 2009.

When it comes to greatness, it’s pretty easy to decide: look at the win column and move on. But the best? In my opinion it’s the rider who works the hardest, plays by the rules, overcomes adversity, and uses intellect and desire to get level with the playing field.

Cav has won so many stages in the Tour that he never should have even been there to contest. That alone makes him the best. But he’s also on the cusp of taking the most stage wins of all time away from Eddy.

That won’t make him the greatest, but if it doesn’t make him the best, who is?


Travelin’ man trope

February 3, 2023 Comments Off on Travelin’ man trope

One time I was listening to “Heard It in a Love Song” by the Marshall Tucker Band. I told my girlfriend that it was an old-time favorite, and sent her the link.

“Wow,” she said. “That’s a terrible song. What awful lyrics.”

Shocked and dismayed, I went back over the words and concluded that she was right. The song basically says “Hey, I’m leaving you for no reason, don’t have the guts to say it to your face so I’m leaving before you wake up. Oh, and by the way, I’m the kind of guy who does whatever he wants and is never satisfied with anything. So, bye.” Not much of an anthem to anything other than being a jerk.

It was shocking because the lyrics are so singable and the tune is so good. Then for some reason I thought of the song “Brandy,” the cheesy 1970’s mega-hit about a bar waitress in a harbor town who is in love with a sailor who’s never coming back. So I listened to the lyrics; I’d always liked the tune. Like “Heard It in a Love Song,” when you actually listen to the words, they’re awful. Here’s the summary: “You are cute and good for a one-night stand but I don’t love you and don’t want to marry you but here’s a cheap souvenir to remember me by in case I don’t ever see you again and I’m telling you at the outset that all I want to do is sail around and hook up.” Brandy appreciates his “honesty” and loves him forever, keeping a silver locket with his name around her neck that she wears through the dark streets, forever faithful to this ass-hat who is never coming back and who didn’t give two shits about her anyway.

The subtext to “Brandy” is of course the refrain, “What a good wife you would be!” because every woman’s dream is be a good wife to some dude who lives on a barge. Not to be missed as well is the line “Brandy, fetch another round!” reminding us that although she’s good enough to be a wife, she’s still a dog who fetches for her man, hey waitaminnit, SAME THING!

Next I began cataloguing songs of this type, which I’ll call the “Dumping you to play, bye!” genre. Amazingly, they are everywhere, littering pop music like roadside trash. Before I get to my main point, which is a dissection of the “Travelin’ Man” trope, I thought I’d list a few of the songs that come to mind.

See ya!

Ramblin’ Man, by the Allman Brothers. Perhaps no other song is needed, as this one is the apotheosis of the genre. We learn that the singer was destined to be a rambling man because a) father was a gambler, shot to death and b) he was born on a Greyhound bus. Genealogy firmly established, we are told in the refrain that when it’s time for leaving, “I hope you’ll understand, that I was born a ramblin’ man.” The only other action he engages in besides “tryin’ to make a livin'” is gallivanting off to New Orleans, where the Delta women think he is the shits (according, of course, to him). And when it’s time for leaving, which is going to be about the time he spends the last of his grifter’s paycheck, it will be time for leaving the New Orleans bordellos as well, but it won’t be because they understand his need to ramble, it’ll be because he’s broke and Suzie Q. don’t put out for free. Buried and unspoken in the song is the question, “Why does having a gambler for a father and a single mom make you a rambling man?” It seemed to make Clinton and Obama, you know, president of the fucking country. More importantly, it doesn’t take more than a second or two to reflect on exactly who was doing the birthing on that Greyhound bus. It was of course mom, who was abandoned by dad and left to care for a kid alone. Rather than a monument to her efforts, to say nothing of what must have been a dangerous, bloody, and embarrassing bus ride, the singer uses the circumstances of his birth to let all women know that he will use them and leave them. Why not? Them Delta women think the world of him.

Ramble On, by Led Zeppelin. If the Allman Brothers are down and dirty and direct about what they’re up to, like the sailor in “Brandy,” Robert Plant eulogizes the travelin’ man with a mishmash of misdirection, silly references to J.R.R. Tolkien, and by blaming the woman he’s leaving because she threatens the “freedom [he] hold[s] dear.” The message is the same, though. The singer is a travelin’ man who is going to travel the world to find his girl, which raises the question of why he’s leaving since he apparently already has one. But we learn that he’s actually looking for the “queen of all my dreams,” a mythical, non-existent woman who, upon not finding her, gives him the excuse to keep rambling, a/k/a traveling to another concert venue. The misogyny in this song is more thorough because it makes clear that any old woman won’t do, she has to be an unattainable ideal, kind of like a Cosmo model. All of this drivel, including his statement that every time he thinks about his baby he “has to part,” and his revelation that his OTHER baby, the one he really loved, got stolen by Sauron and Gollum (???), and is therefore the reason he has to keep searching, adds up to the travelin’ man’s reason for being: I travel, shorthand for hook up with other chicks, ‘cuz that’s what I like to do. If you’ve never read “The Missing Piece” by Shel Silverstein, now might be a good time.

Freebird, by Lynyrd Skynyrd. You gotta like Ronnie Van Zant’s elevation of the travelin’ man to something akin to Jesus. In this song, the singer is “free as a bird,” and “this bird you cannot change.” Then we learn that he must be traveling on now. Why? No idea. Is he coming back? He doesn’t say, but “free as a bird” doesn’t sound promising.What we do know is that if he stayed, “things just couldn’t be the same.” Sounds like he might have to get a job, start paying rent, help around the house, pay child rearing expenses, stop boozing at Harry’s Bar, get up before noon … all things that for sure wouldn’t be the same, especially when you recall that this is the same guy who crooned about his anonymous teen groupie in “What Was Your Name?” One element that “Freebird” injects, also found in “Heard it in a Love Song,” is the fake guilt, a key part of the travelin’ man trope. This is the part where the guy says he’s sorry but justifies it because he can’t help being an irresponsible dick. In “Freebird” it’s the line “Please don’t take it so badly, ’cause Lord knows I’m to blame.” Then he adds that dumping his gal is kind of inevitable because there are “too many places I got to see.” We know, we know. They are the same whorehouses frequented by the Allmans. The woman getting abandoned can find some other sucker to be a partner, or she can just make do as best she can with three small kids and two full-time jobs. I’m sure the kids will grow up to be freebirds, too, the boys anyway. The girls will eventually find work in New Orleans and maybe meet daddy that way.

Tuesday’s Gone, by Lynyrd Skynyrd. I hate to load up on Skynryd, but for a bunch of Jacksonville homebodies they really laid the travelin’ man on thick. Like 99.999% of all rock lyrics, these make little cohesive sense. He’s leavin’ his woman. He’s on a train. He doesn’t know where he’s going. He wants to be left alone.” BUT then we find out that his baby has actually left him. She’s got to be free. He has to carry on. Please come back to me baby. So which is it? And how can she come back to him when he’s on a train? And why should she, since he just wants to be left alone? The mumbo-jumbo is easily parsed, though: he has left her and now she’s “free” to carry on with rent and child support on her own. The train will roll on (trains do that) and he will ride his blues away. So dumb. Such a travelin’ man.

I’m a Ramblin’ Man, by Waylon Jennings. Leave it to the outlaw to come up with lyrics that perfectly state the case: I screw women and dump them. And I’m warning you that I’m a bad person. But I will be bad to you anyway. I travel all over the country “messing with” women’s minds in order to have sex with them. Then I leave them. Of course, I also have my bad points …

Movin’ On, by B.B. King. The plot line for this song is, guess what? He’s moving on. Why? Because it’s time. Why is it time? Because he’s lived it up and “done it in this town.” But don’t worry! You are you and he is he, so it’s all good. Gestalt therapy, anyone? Plus he’d like to thank you for the “ride” ’cause “there’s nothing we ain’t tried” except perhaps commitment and stability. Also, thanks for the memories and you can call him “Mr. Breeze.” Oh, and he’s going to Vegas or Hollywood to … fall in love again. How sweet.

Travelin’ Man, by Ricky Nelson. This 1961 classic really sums it up. He’s got a girl at every port in the world. He has girlfriends in Mexico, Alaska, Berlin, Hong Kong, Hawai’i, and they are all waiting for his return. Maybe he’s also the guy who hooked up with Brandy? Anyway, why does he have so many girls? Easy! He’s a travelin’ man. And travelin’ man means wham, bam, thank-you ma’am. Bonus trivia: who knew that there was a port in Berlin?

Travelin’ Man, by Bob Seger. Updating Ricky Nelson, Seger has a much better reason for his travelin’: he’s lazy! Finally a travelin’ man tells it like it is. Anyway, he “runs” away from friends and family when things get “too crazy,” that is, rent is due. Women, you see have come and gone, and you know what? They’re always trying to “cage” him! Like a pet. Even though he managed to escape their evil clutches, he appreciates the “traces” they’ve left on his “soul.” Even the traces of a court judgment ordering payment of child support and alimony? Whatevs. He’s a travelin’ man and sooner or later he’s goin’. So amazing and enviable and noble. And of course free!

Travelin’ Man, by Lynyrd Skynyrd. This song is full of surprises! He’s a travelin’ man! No woman puts her hold on him! You’ll see him once or maybe twice! But at least he’s … (drumroll!!)…free! Wow! Didn’t see that coming! Oh, fyi, he’s had so many women but shockingly none of them have lasted. Wonder why? Oh, I know! It’s because he left! Good ol’ travelin’ man! At least he’s predictable!

Key to the Highway, by Eric Clapton. So, he’s leaving to go down south where he is “better known.” Why? Because his girl drove him from his home. And when the moon comes up, little girl he’ll be on his way. Is she eighteen? Doubtful. Oh, and give him one more kiss because he won’t be back no mo’. Doesn’t it make you feel good to kiss the ass-hat who’s ditching you for some other women down south? ‘Course it does!

Leaving on a Jet Plane, by John Denver. Johnny Boy gets it all in this one. He’s leaving on a jet plane. You know, with wings. He’s already terribly sad and lonesome, but please wait for him because of course he doesn’t know when he’s coming back. Is that important? Just wait. It will be worth it, sort of, because he also admits to so many times of letting you down and playing around but you know what? “They don’t mean a thing.” No. Of course they don’t! That’s why he’s leaving. You mean so much he has to leave you. Get it? No? Oh, well, he’s sad anyway. By the way, when he comes back, whenever that is, he’ll be bringing a wedding ring! Wow! What a good wife you would be (like Brandy)! Hey, close your eyes and dream of me and those future undetermined days when I won’t have to leave you. It will be so awesome! Hugs and tears and ciao!

So where are all the travelin’ women?

I suppose there is “Me and Bobby McGee” by Janis Joplin, but, um, she’s actually not leaving her boyfriend, she’s traveling with him. Why is that? Could it be because single women traveling alone are inordinately at risk for violence? Or is it simply that mass culture reflects what the singers actually say: men are free to fuck and move on, women are not. And as soon as things get “too crazy” as Bob Seger puts it, they bail.

The only travelin’ gal song by a woman I’m aware of, though there are doubtless more, is “Little Red Wagon” by Miranda Lambert. The message is for the boy to fuck off and quit trying to tie her down. She’s out sowing seeds and chasing men and that’s just the way it is. Why does any of this matter? And what does it have to do with cycling?

Well, funny you should ask. One aspect of bicycling is freedom to travel, and from the very beginning women were told that bicycles were off limits. Early women cyclists were pioneers on multiple fronts, none moreso than Susan B. Anthony:

Bicycles came to symbolize independence amongst women representing the quintessential ‘new woman’ of the late 19th century. In 1895, suffragette leader Elizabeth Candy Stanton said “the bicycle will inspire women with more courage, self respect, self reliance” predicting the power of the bicycle. Echoing Stanton’s claim was Susan B Anthony who played a key role in the suffragette movement. She said ‘’Let me tell you what I think about cycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world.’’

Nonetheless, misogyny kept women bike racers out of the Olympics for almost one hundred years; the first woman to win an Olympic gold medal in cycling was Connie Carpenter, in 1984. That misogyny continues full force today, with leaders in the professional male community continuing to denigrate women in cycling. As recently as 2021, Patrick Lefevere was still spewing invective against professional women cyclists, comparing pro women teams to welfare offices, and comparing Sam Bennett’s return to Bora-Hansgrohe with “Women who return to men who abuse them.” Needless to say, these offensive comments provoked outrage everywhere except inside cycling.

The message that women have always received regarding independent mobility, which is the essence of bicycling, is “Do it at your own risk.” The threats of violence inherent in being a single woman traveling alone, to say nothing of a ramblin’ woman in the vein of a Zeppelin or Allman Bros. song, are more than threats. Birthing a child on the bus is the least of your problems as a solo woman traveler. Of the most dangerous places on earth for a woman to travel solo, the good ‘ol USA ranks 19th, right above Ukraine and below Tunisia. A similar ranking by Thomson Reuters in 2018 ranked the USA as No. 10.

And where do American women cyclists have to travel solo when they are in the US? Surprise–in the US! And what is the definition of solo travel? It means going somewhere by yourself.

Fast-forward, or rather fast-backward, to gravel racing, or as I prefer to call it, “bicycling.” Suddenly the murder of Mo Wilson starts to make more sense. Rather than being an incredible anomaly among a peaceful, loving community, gravel events can be seen through the lens of society and the solo woman traveler as a whole. Mo Wilson was allegedly killed by another woman, but it happened in an extremely misogynistic culture that features sexism and sexual objectivization as its most obvious characteristic. Doubt it? Look at Michael Marckx’s key cycling couture product, “Le Bon Wagon” which is slang for “Nice Ass.” Marckx, by the way, runs the Belgian Waffle Ride and has done so since 2013. Female participation in his events, judging from the numbers, is an utter afterthought, and he’s not alone.

The fact that Mo Wilson’s murder resulted in no introspection, no review by anyone regarding the general atmosphere of these events, and no examination of what role the gravel “mystique” played in Colin Strickland’s alleged behavior that in my opinion was the linchpin in Wilson’s murder, shows how resistant gravel is to change, and confirms that its guys-only mentality isn’t going to change anytime soon.

Unfortunately, the silence of the lambs was deafening. None of the women gravel stars publicly pointed the finger at the gravel environment, just as professional women cyclists were generally muted in their response to Lefevere’s outspoken misogyny. Yes, there were a few sad-faced memorials, but none of the women tried to hold Unbound et al. accountable for the unmistakable fraternity-boy aspect of gravel events. This is in direct contrast to what some women were saying in private: that Strickland was a player, a douchebag, and that many people were aware of the terrible emotional triangle he was playing with Wilson and Armstrong.

Women can’t speak up as professionals because they are bit players getting scraps from an already marginalized, niche “sport.” It says everything about the structural misogyny of gravel that an alleged player like Strickland conveniently played the role of mentor to up-and-coming women, helping them get sponsorships, showing them the ropes, and at least with Wilson, showing her some night moves as well. So however obvious it is to the women involved, the rules are the same as they have long been in corporate America: once you hit the glass ceiling, be thankful you got that high and STFU.

Nothing happens in a vacuum, and history matters. A cultural license for men to take to the open road by car, train, or bicycle while women have to keep the home fires burning or be on highest alert for rape and murder, plays itself out throughout society, and gravel is nothing more than a microscopic slice of the songs, stories, events, legends, myths, and people that make up that society. Never forget that the song is Ramblin’ Man.

But you can’t change things until you can imagine a different outcome. Try rewording all these travelin’ man songs as if they’re sung by a woman. Doesn’t quite sound the same, does it? Especially John Denver’s “Leaving on a Jet Plane”: I’ve cheated on you tons of times with other guys and am leaving, don’t know when I’ll return but when I do I’ll have a wedding ring for you, future hubby! You can count on me!

I can even help you out with my new version of “Brandy,” rebranded as “Randy.” Hope you like it.

There’s a port on a western bay
And it serves a hundred ships a day
Women sailors pass the time away
And talk about their homes

And there’s a boy in this harbor town
And he works layin’ whiskey down
They say “Randy, fetch another round”
He serves them whiskey and wine

The women say, “Randy, you’re a fine boy
(You’re a fine boy)
What a good husband  you would be
(Such a fine boy)
Yeah, your eyes could steal a lady from the sea”

Randy wears a braided chain
Made of finest silver from the north of Spain
A locket that bears the name
Of a girl that Randy loved

She came on a summer’s day
Bringing gifts from far away
But she made it clear she couldn’t stay
No harbor was her home

The woman said, “Randy, you’re a fine boy
(You’re a fine boy)
What a good husband you would be
(Such a fine boy)
But my life, my love and my baby is the sea”

Yeah, Randy used to watch her eyes
When she told her sailor’s story
He could feel the ocean fall and rise
He saw its raging glory
But she had always told the truth
She was a truthful sailing hand,
And Randy does his best to understand

At night when the bars close down
Randy walks through a silent town
And loves a gal who’s not around
He still can hear her say

He hears her say, “Randy, you’re a fine boy
(You’re a fine boy)
What a good husband you would be
(Such a fine boy)
But my life, my love and my baby is the sea
It is, yes, it is.

Wanky Songbot, 2023.


Fetch another round!

Why women hate gravel

January 28, 2023 Comments Off on Why women hate gravel

Judging from the sign-ups at big gravel events, women are staying away in droves, just like they’ve always done.

I remember the first BWR in 2013, when it was an invitation-only event built around marketing SPY eyewear. Invites were limited to one hundred, and they consisted exclusively of “bros” who knew the event’s creator. I recall one woman doing the event, Jessica Cerra, although there may have been one or two others.

That figure of 1-3% has anemically grown at BWR over a decade. In 2022, a piddling 82 women out of 823 starters lined up for the BWR in San Diego. If that sounds dismal consider these stats for the “wafflers” at these other venues: a mere 33 women at BWR North Carolina, 25 in Utah, 17 women at BWR Kansas, and an astoundingly paltry12 in Michigan.

At Unbound 2022’s 200-mile event, it was equally dismal: a mere 175 women competed out of a field of more than 1,200. The Rock Cobbler boasted 33 women out of 500 riders which comes out to six percent. Big Sugar did far better, with 109 women out of 660 riders, and  Rebecca’s Private Idaho was by far the best, with a third of the riders made up of women, 108 of 361.

Each event has its own story to explain low female ridership. The BWR began with scantily clad women cheering the riders, along with overt and covert misogyny that earned outraged protests from women, ultimately leading the event to have scantily clad men along with the scantily clad women, as if you can erase sexism by expanding crass objectification to other genders. And of course the founder of the BWR now promotes a private label of bicycle costumes called “Le Bon Wagon.” Sounds French, but it’s nothing but the crudest slang for “Nice ass.”

In an activity that builds muscle mass on the glutes and thighs, something that plenty of women are already self-conscious about, pimping tight pants that nudge-nudge-wink-wink focus on a woman’s appearance from the rear says everything about where the true values of the BWR lie. As the Le Bon Wagon marketing verbiage tells you, “Get on it!” Uh, okay. Is junior high over yet?

But what about the other events? It’s possible that Rebecca’s Private Idaho has high female participation, though still dwarfed by males, because it’s promoted by a woman. Mammoth Tuff, also promoted by a woman, had about 1/3 women participants. So there’s likely something about the messaging at these events that’s different from the “Nice Ass” ethos at BWR.

But what about Unbound and Big Sugar and the Rock Cobbler? What’s their excuse?

The easy answer is that women don’t like getting covered with dirt and muck. Leaving aside the gross nature of the generalization, if that’s true then why do so many more women sign up for it at Rebecca’s Private Idaho than at BWR? Clearly, the idea that gravel is too yucky for women is wrong, not to mention sexist.

Messaging matters. And though it’s hard to say exactly why women avoid gravel in particular and bike racing in general, looking at the messaging for a given event can help understand what the promoters are looking for, what they value, and what they hope to accomplish.

What are you trying to say??

But before taking that dive, let’s note something: Moriah Wilson, the top female gravel star in 2022, was murdered last year, allegedly by the girlfriend of disgraced gravel star Colin Strickland. Theories abound, but the messaging is clear: gravel, like so many other communities organized by men, serves the ancillary function of a hunting ground for sexual predators.

The fact that neither the BWR nor the Rock Cobbler, both events that Wilson won and brought great prestige to in 2022, has done anything at all to honor her in 2023, to investigate the overall image of gravel, and to reorganize their events so that increasing female ridership represents an obligation instead of an afterthought, says everything. Likewise Unbound, which had the typical sadface memorial ride so often held for dead athletes, offered up the same miserable numbers of women riders in 2022 and has approached 2023 with the same business as usual messaging. Moriah? Moriah who?

Sweeping this terrible murder under the carpet and pretending that a few teary memorial rides have addressed the problem is horrible. But don’t look for any of the big events to permanently memorialize Wilson because her death reflects back on them and they know it.

Does the murder of Wilson and the gravel “community’s” refusal to examine itself, combined with years of bros-only messaging, affect women’s interest in gravel? It’s my opinion that it does.

So let’s start with what is perhaps the biggest face of gravel, which is the puff-and-poof spewed out by VeloNews, recently purchased by Outside, and now fully focused on the gravel craze and the ad revenue it generates.  On January 27, 2023, Betsy Welch, the fangirl supreme for all things gravel, wrote a story called “Didn’t Make the Cut for Unbound Gravel? Here are five other June 3 gravel races to fill the void.”

The photo? An Unbound starting line filled with grimacing, hairy, aggro-looking men putting on the fakest race face they own.

The article, to its credit, begins with an intro to the all-women’s gravel race “Dusty Bandita,” a 200-slot event that exists to give women a chance to ride bikes away from the macho, Le Bon Wagon-ing ethos that typifies gravel. The remaining events make clear though that for the most part they’re not even races, much less events that have the kind of competitive opportunity and prestige of Unbound. The message here is that if you’re not good enough to get an Unbound invitation, you can settle for a nice bicycle ride somewhere. At best it’s confusing. At worst, it’s demeaning.

For the most part, Welch’s articles focus on the badassery of gravel, and though she’s sympathetic and goes out of her way to mention the non-macho aspects, like most every other hack at VeloNews, for Welch what’s significant is who goes fastest, especially the men. That’s okay perhaps if you’re a magazine devoted to men racing bikes, which Velonews always has been, but for gravel event promoters, all of whom exist thanks to the no-hoper hackers who sign up for a good time, there’s no excuse.

So what’s their messaging?

First and foremost, gravel pimps the message of badassery and toughness. The top message has always been difficulty, risk, and adversity. Of course whenever you want to understand what a brand really means, look at the diametrical opposite of the messaging.

Gravel riding isn’t badass. It isn’t tough. It isn’t amazing. And it sure isn’t conquering the unconquerable. Gravel riding is chubby older men on wildly expensive bikes riding various lengths at various intensities and concluding with too much beer, weed, and unhealthy food. To put in perspective how mundane and passe gravel riding actually is, think about this: when bikes were invented, all riding was “gravel riding” because roads weren’t paved. People rode penny farthings hundreds of miles on uninflated hard rubber tires with no gears or brakes, through shin-deep mud, and called it what it was: “bicycling.”

Whatever gravel thing you’re doing today is not new, radical, amazing, pioneering, or even remotely badass. You are riding a bicycle. Sorry.

If you want to win one of the big gravel races, well, it’s a different story at least to the extent that you’ll need to replace beer with plenty of performance enhancing substances, but equating the antics of a Peter Stetina with the antics of 99% of the other riders in the field is silly beyond belief. People don’t sign up for gravel to be put through the wringer. They sign up to have a good time. “Race in the front, party in the back” is a saying at gravel because it’s the fucking truth, and virtually everyone is, guess where? In the back.

Gravel is powder-puff bicycle riding in the extreme for most people who do it. The courses are stocked with refreshments, offer every variation of difficulty and length, typically allow you to do the fucking thing on an e-motorcycle, have sag if you get too tired, often have neutral mechanical services roaming the course, and when it’s raining mud and ice … oh wait, it never is because that only happens in the actual category of bike racing called “cyclocross.”

But despite its weed + beer + goodtimez reality, the messaging for many events tells a far different, and generally false story as applied to the average rider. Check out the following descriptions, all gussied up with cherry-picked photos to show how anyone who even dares to sign up for a big gravel event is like Neil Armstrong walking on the moon.

In their own words

BWR 2023: Replete with its silly delusions that a bunch of fat old men have everything in common with the pros who race Paris-Roubaix, we’re told the event was “Created as an extremely challenging race in the spirit of the great European one-day Spring Classics, BWR is an unusually difficult race. This is the original. It’s diabolical; the Hell of the West (Coast).” For anyone who did the original BWR, you know this is simply untrue. It was created in the spirit of ripping off Dave Jaeger’s French Toast Ride, a California invitation-only event for older, not very good, mostly non-racing friends of Dave. How do I know this? Because that’s what founder Michael Marcxk said at the first award ceremony, when he crowned the winner as none other than … Dave Jaeger. If the BWR was inspired by anything, it was a nasty meanness towards “Purple Freddies,” Marckx’s name for riders who “sat in” and didn’t follow some imaginary code of ride-at-the-front honor. To especially demean those who were not worthy, “purple cards” were handed out for egregious wheelsucks, custom-made cards with a picture of Eddy Merckx saying “Eddy don’t want no Freddies.” Contrast that with today’s noble language comparing the BWR to a true cycling monument. Nor is the BWR unusually difficult. If you want to win, it’s fucking hard, just like every road race, but it’s a pancake ride compared to the European classics it fantasizes it’s on a par with if for no other reason than the fact that the true monuments are raced by people called “professionals.”

Unbound 2023: Less delusional about its difficulty than BWR, Unbound’s messaging is one of incredible uniqueness, amazingness, astonishing badassery, and seeing if you have the right stuff. “From the moment you feel the crunch of the Flint Hills gravel under your tires, you’ll know you’re in a special place. The Garmin UNBOUND Gravel 200 is the marquee event that has earned Emporia, Kansas the name Gravel City, USA. This event will bring to life that indomitable spirit that lives within each and every one of you. Along your 200 mile journey, you’ll travel to the furthest depths of your psyche and unravel the reasons behind why it is you’re here in the first place. So many challenges will be thrown at you during your day in the saddle, and the UNBOUND Gravel 200 gives you all the opportunities to find just what you are made of. As you work through the beautiful journey through the Kansas Prairie, we know for certain that you’ll be a different person when you cross that finish line. And we will be there to welcome you home. Join us. Become, UNBOUND.” Wow. Who knew that 200 miles riding a bicycle made you a different person? I guess for those of us who’ve ridden, you know, hundreds of thousands, we’ve become hundreds of different people. Or maybe you have to do it in Kansas?

Rock Cobbler 2023: This event is the least pretentious of the top events. It emphasizes that it’s not a race because, like the other events, at its core it isn’t. They are bicycle rides. And unlike the other events, the promoter did make a last-minute effort to recruit women. But this is still a guy event made by guys for guys to be eulogized and emulated by guys. The marketing hype comes from none other than Peter Stetina and graces the home page in ragingly huge caps: “The Rock Cobbler is the kookiest bike race I’ve ever done. It’s unclassifiable. One minute you’re on nice surface and the next you’re slip sliding down a scree field, or just plain old riding through a field dodging cattle. There are 30 per cent run ups, WhiteClaw hand ups, ball pits, and it’s brutally difficult.”

Big Sugar 2023: Run by the same folks who run Unbound, Big Sugar is much lighter on the badassery but still lets you “Expect this to be one of the most challenging gravel courses featuring picturesque, rarely maintained, canopy-covered gravel roads with loose, rocky gravel, a few pavement sections and a few water crossings and bridges. If you like to ride in the dirt, venture off into stunning landscapes and share an experience with fellow cyclists, Big Sugar Gravel is a race reserved for you.” Of the big events, it’s lightest on the melodrama and maybe that’s why it has such significantly higher female participation.

What’s a girl to do?

What do these descriptions have to do with the dearth of women riders? Well, when you combine them with the photos of super fit-looking ex-pros like Stetina hammering through the gnar and bespattered with gumbo mud, it’s likely to be a huge turnoff to a lot of women, especially ones who are curious but not sold on the idea of mud soup as a fashion accessory. If they knew that it’s mostly a bunch of marketing drivel, that anyone reasonably fit with a functioning bike can do it, that you don’t have to fall off your bike, ride through a raging river, or dunk your face in muck, and that there are course events so short you can walk them, maybe the picture would look different.

This is to say nothing of having events dispense with the macho, tiny-penis insecurity messaging and talk instead about inclusiveness, preparation, and welcoming new women—by other women, not the players like Colin Strickland. It might also help if misogynistic in-jokes like “Le Bon Wagon” weren’t letting women know that in secret all that’s really going on is ass-watching.

Look no further for such a prototype than the mission that Bri Lui gives for her women-only event, the Dusty Bandita: “The Dusty Bandita is an event dedicated to increasing the presence of all identifying women at cycling events by providing a safe and encouraging environment where one can build confidence, push limits, explore beautiful places, and experience an invigorating camaraderie on and off the bike.”

Also note that Lui came up with the idea after attending a number of rides comprised mostly of men, and recognizing that women need a safe and encouraging environment. Reverse-engineer that sentiment and you’ll easily conclude, especially after having some sag-bellied dude in his late 50’s ogle your Le Bon Wagon, that most gravel events leave women feeling neither safe nor encouraged, cf. Moriah Wilson.

As you cruise the proliferation of gravel events, ask yourself how many of them communicate that their event is a safe and encouraging one for women? Certainly not the BWR, Unbound, Rock Cobbler, or Big Sugar. The only ones that do are, of course, run by women, Mammoth Tuff,  Rebecca’s Private Idaho, Dusty Bandita. Maybe there are more.

Here’s what Rebecca’s Private Idaho has on offer for 2023. With much less badassery on display, the event is up front about the fact that this is supposed to be fun. “We hope you’ll join us on the wild and gritty adventure that is RPI. Remember, it’s not just about world-class terrain and the most fun you can have while challenging yourself on two wheels; it’s also about a big, communal party and raising funds to support bike-related causes from Idaho to Africa and beyond.”

Women can be encouraged to ride their bikes off-road, but you have to want them there as more than an afterthought, or as the objectified fantasy of your puerile clothing line. They have plenty of other things to do and places to be where they’re not forced to endure more mansplaining, more sexist messaging, and more life as second-class citizens.

In any event, gravel riding will continue for a while, even as the faux professional gravel racing scene evaporates due to lack of money, lack of interest, extraordinary dullness, and a complete absence of junior racer development. Indeed, as the big-time events gradually deflate to the local events they once were, gravel will come to be promoted for what it actually is: riding a bicycle for fun and health with your friends in pretty places, concluded with dinner.

And no one will care about your gender or what you wear.


Wiggins loses knighthood, demoted to “Dude”

November 16, 2022 Comments Off on Wiggins loses knighthood, demoted to “Dude”

Bradley Wiggins, winner of the 2012 Tour de France and the most decorated Olympian in British history, was stripped of his knighthood this past Tuesday and demoted from “Sir” to “Dude.”

Dude Wiggins, whose financial woes have resulted in claims by creditors in excess of $1M, lost his title after the new policy of “Peerage Review” was instituted in October by neo-monarch King Charles. According to the Royal Office, “His Majesty no longer wishes to reward bone-idle wankers, and has begun a process whereby titles and assorted flimflam will be purged from the rolls when a recipient behaves egregiously for an Englishman, which sets the bar quite high.”

Dude Wiggins, as he is now officially known, was circumspect. “My cycling career, you know, I could give a shit. The gold medals were pawned for beer way back when. No one believes I won the Tour clean, not even me. My real calling is social work. That’s where I can make a difference. And how are you gonna help some kid in the projects if he’s always having to call you ‘Sir’? ‘Dude’ is way more practical. It’s what people call me anyway.”

Sir Mick Jagger and Sir Elton John could not be reached for comment, but their spokespersons reported they were “laying low for a while.”


Tour viewership declines for tenth straight year

July 22, 2022 Comments Off on Tour viewership declines for tenth straight year

Interest in the Tour de France continues to decline as fewer television viewers tune into the world’s largest sporting spectacle. With 150 million viewers across Europe in 2021, the 2022 edition of the Tour will have less than 110 million people tuning in, according to Nielsen Global, a firm that tracks worldwide TV audiences.

“In 2012, when the Tour was won by Bradley Wiggins of the UK, viewership was at an all-time high, with more than 500 million viewers. Next year’s projections are for even fewer viewers than 2022,” said Lacey Throckmorton of Nielsen.

The UCI, as well as Amaury Sports Organization, parent company of the Tour, have been concerned about the spiraling value of cycling’s marquee event. A joint study funded by the UCI and Amaury revealed some surprising answers to the question, “Why are fewer people following the Tour?”

The first and by far most important reason is the continued string of non-doping offenses, and its corollary, the visible decrease in over-the-top-doping that took place from 1904 until 2012. Cyrano de Bergerac, head of the study, says this: “People are sick of all the non-doping offenses. It has made an impossibly boring sport even more boring, if that is possible, which I suppose it is.”

Statistics show that since the retirement of the last Big Juicer to win the Tour, Sir Bradley Wiggins, interest has waned. “Wiggins brought a lot of fans, people who loved seeing a 6’3″, 185-lb. track specialist get so sotted with PEDs that he lost 25 lbs., gained the physique of a Michael Rasmussen, and went from winning 5-km track events to 4,000-km endurance races. That was spectacle,” says de Bergerac.

“Once Wiggins retired, Chris Froome was unable to sustain the massive and obvious drug use, opting instead for small amounts of mostly-undetectable drugs, although he, too, went through the radical body transformation that Tour aficionados love,” adds de Bergerac. “But with each passing year the riders simply got more credible as non-offenses kept piling up. And who wants that?”

Wim van Wim, head of marketing at the UCI, agrees. “Look at 2022. We have one guy weighing in the 130’s and another in the 140’s duking it out for the yellow jersey. They are skinny and short, easily mistaken for a prepubescent girl if it weren’t for those tight pants. You’d expect people like that to climb well, sprint poorly, and have to race strategically to win, and they do. Fans can’t stand it.”

Van Wim pointed to what he called the “heyday of hay days,” when George Hincapie, at 175 lbs., dropped an entire breakaway of newt-sized climbers and beat uber-newt Oscar Pereiro to the HC mountain finish at Pla d’Adet in 2005. “This kind of absurd thing that boggles the mind, spoofs reality, and confesses to the pharmacopia coursing through the veins of the peloton, this is what cycling fans want to see,” said van Wim. “Not some clean, snot-nosed kids who believe in sportsmanship, whatever that is.”

Unfortunately, drug testing seems to be effectively deterring the most blatant violators, leaving the peloton with not much more than smallish, light endurance athletes who are evenly matched. The UCI has convened a new committee, the Working Group on the Restoration of Full-Gas Doping, to look at ways to remedy this threat to the existence of cycling’s most cherished event.

According to van Wim, though, all is not lost. “If you still want to watch freaks do freakish things with every doping product known to man stuffed up their butts, I’d recommend you start watching gravel races. There is some great shit happening there,” he said.


Colin Strickland, murderer?

July 5, 2022 Comments Off on Colin Strickland, murderer?

Whoever thought that gravel racing’s international limelight debut would be in the form of a killing?

The story pitched by the media is simple: jealous lover kills rival.

Justice will presumably be done. The suspected killer, Kaitlin Armstrong, could spend her life behind bars, or perhaps even get the death penalty. Mo Wilson, a rising star in gravel racing, will be eulogized and mourned for a life cut short at the incomprehensibly young age of 25.

Most meaningfully, Colin Strickland, the boyfriend-deceiver, will likely resume his over the hill cycling “career” as a “gravel professional” after the appropriate period of therapy and mourning. In due time he should be able to get back up to the big paydays of a gravel pro, which I’d guess are at least $50 and a BWR water bottle, maybe even a pair of matching socks.

But he will resume this stellar career minus his current stable of sponsors, although, true to form, Red Bull has yet to terminate his contract. This is the same company run by right-wing Austrian billionaire Dietrich Mateschiz who has long supported reactionary politicians, racist athletes, and who has targeted the young and the poor as prime consumers of an “energy drink” outlawed in several European nations.

But I digress …

Why has anyone severed ties with Colin Strickland? He didn’t shoot anyone. He isn’t a suspect. He’s not part of a conspiracy or even an accomplice. In the words of an unnamed source quoted by the Sun, “He’s a douche and a player,” and nothing more.

If being a douche and a player were grounds for losing sponsorship, the sponsored ranks of professional athletics and celebrity-dom would be slim indeed. I mean, “Stray Cat Blues” by The Rolling Stones is a song that literally glorifies the rape of homeless teen girls. And if that’s so socially unacceptable, why are good tickets for their 2022 tour upwards of $600?

In my opinion, Colin Strickland lost his sponsorships because although he committed no crime, he clearly appears to be the person who set in motion the chain of events that led to the murder of one of the two girls he appeared to be stringing along, Mo Wilson. The fact pattern seems sociopathic and all too common: narcissist has relationship with woman which allows him to live the fantasy pro lifestyle that his meager sponsorships in a niche sport would never enable. Narcissist starts fucking woman ten years younger than his girlfriend. Girlfriend finds out and narcissist engages the tried and true “triangulation” of a narcissist, seemingly lying to both women, and appearing to use the new woman to destabilize the mental health of the other.

Narcissist keeps up relationship with younger woman while claiming to girlfriend he’s done with fling; that’s certainly how it appears. Girlfriend knows she’s being gaslighted but can’t prove it because THAT’S WHAT GASLIGHTING IS. Rather than take her rage out on the narcissist boyfriend, girlfriend focuses her anger on the younger woman, who also appears to be hoodwinked by the narcissist into thinking that she’s perhaps still in the running to be the real girlfriend … unless she isn’t … and could he please clarify? It’s all so confusing, which is the destabilized mental state of insecurity and doubt where narcissists do their very finest work.

Narcissist keeps triangulating, sneaks out to date younger woman, lies to girlfriend claiming “dead cell phone” and going to “drop off some flowers for Alison” as cover for swim date and destination burger with younger woman. Girlfriend finds out about it and is now the only suspect in the murder of the younger woman.

The person who’s most likely going to prison or to the gurney? The girlfriend.

The literature on narcissist men is so overwhelming that you couldn’t read it all if you tried, and I’m not just talking about the scientific research. The runaway success of general consumption books like “Psychopath Free,” “Becoming the Narcissist’s Nightmare,” and “Should I Stay or Should I Go? (Surviving a Relationship with a Narcissist)” testifies to the number of women, and some men, whose lives have been destroyed by this especial pathology. And the pathology is always the same: love bomb, withdraw affection, triangulate, then discard. The only aberration from the pattern is that Armstrong killed Wilson before Strickland could dump her.

The signs are all there in the Austin Police Department affidavit used as the basis for Armstrong’s arrest warrant and in news reports, so it’s easy to put together a map of the pathological abuse with which he targeted Armstrong.

  1. Lying about the relationship. Strickland said it was “platonic and professional” and he considered Wilson a “close friend” despite a previous romantic relationship with her. But an anonymous tipster to APD confirmed that the two had an “on again, off again” relationship, and Wilson’s texts to Strickland showed that she herself was unclear whether they were in a romantic relationship or “just friends.” Pro tip: a woman doesn’t usually wonder about whether she’s in a romantic relationship unless there is sex.
  2. Secretive behavior. Strickland lied to Armstrong about the swim + burger date, and took a circuitous route to Wilson’s lodgings in Austin, using an alley to get there and using an alley to go all the way to the main road of MLK East even though uncongested neighborhood surface streets were available. Strickland was probably doing everything he could to avoid private surveillance cameras or to avoid being seen by Armstrong in case she was in the neighborhood, which, surprise, she was.
  3. Secretly carrying on with Wilson while lying about it to Armstrong. Strickland admitted he had changed Wilson’s name on his phone to deceive Armstrong, who clearly suspected that Strickland wasn’t done with Wilson.
  4. Gaslighting Armstrong. Strickland admitted to a romantic relationship with Wilson in October 2021, but denied anything after that. Yet an anonymous tipster confirmed that as recently as January 2022, Armstrong suspected new infidelities. Wilson herself was questioning Strickland about their status long after the supposed one-week affair.
  5. Continuing to triangulate even after Wilson’s murder. Strickland continued to deny that the relationship with Wilson was ongoing when talking to police, even though anonymous sources, Armstrong’s behavior, Wilson’s text, and Strickland’s secret date showed that the relationship was more than platonic. The triangulation had already gotten so severe that Armstrong now owned a gun and was talking about killing Wilson.
  6. Distorting his own statements to police. Strickland, panicked by the arrest affidavit that correctly portrayed him as the manipulative cheater, issued a statement in which he claimed that he and Wilson had only seen each other in “public” settings since the October 2021 romance, even though he admitted in the affidavit that he lied to Armstrong to conduct a private swim and burger date with Wilson. The setting may have been public but the date was an arranged infidelity.
  7. Appealing to his fan base for his narcissistic discard of Armstrong. Even after Wilson’s death, Strickland was appealing to the public for exoneration. He said in a statement that “it was not my intention to pursue along an auxiliary romantic relationship that would mislead anyone.” This was contradicted by the text message to him from Wilson, by his lying about the swim date, and by third party tipsters. It was also contradicted by his statement to police that he was secretly texting Wilson using a fake name on his phone so she couldn’t be identified by Armstrong.
  8. More gaslighting that drives Armstrong insane. Armstrong was so tortured by the triangulation that she blocked Wilson’s number on Strickland’s phone, began cyber stalking her, got a gun, and made phone calls threatening Wilson to stay away from Strickland.
  9. Withdrawing affection/demeaning Armstrong. Strickland dismissed Armstrong as a mere “participant” in gravel, whereas he was a legitimate “racer.” Strickland admitted that when he rode with Armstrong and he dropped her, he got “grumpy” when he had to wait as she wasn’t at the level of a professional racer.
  10. Blaming the victim. Strickland, with the help of willing news media, characterized himself as blameless, allowing the news trajectory to focus on the trope that Armstrong was a crazy, jealous woman.
  11. Makes himself out to be the victim. After admitting his douchebaggery to police, Strickland issued a pious press statement saying “Moriah and I were both leaders in this lonely, niche sport of cycling, and I admired her greatly and considered her a close friend. I am deeply grieving her loss.” The real person who’s been hurt? Poor old Colin. Let’s give him some space to grieve, okay?

What’s so horrible is the way that Strickland’s behavior has been glossed over by the media. Everyone points out that he’s not a suspect in the case, but no one is taking him to task for pouring oil on this conflagration that he himself is responsible for. And that’s partly because the pathology of narcissism is not well understood by the public outside of the word’s use as an epithet.

In fact, sociopathy, a/k/a antisocial personality disorder, narcissism, and psychopathy belong to a cluster of personality disorders that are well studied and well understood by medical science, known as the B Cluster of personality disorders. Although a person can have a variety of symptoms that make it difficult to label the disorder, i.e. narcissists share many traits with sociopaths, the salient fact is that certain combinations of certain traits lead to very predictable abusive relationship patterns. With the sociopath-narcissist-psychopath, the fundamental trait is a lack of empathy. The narcissist simply cannot put himself in the other person’s shoes, therefore he cannot understand why his behavior is wrong. Such people, not coincidentally, have an almost zero rate of “cure” and there is no known therapy or medication that can heal them.

It is this absence of empathy that is the cornerstone around which the narcissist’s main strategy is built. This is always the strategy of lying. The narcissist, in his pursuit of adulation as he hops from woman to woman, must constantly lie to everyone involved. Strickland certainly displays some faux empathy, another characteristic of narcissists, when he talks about how tortured he is to be so close to this tragic crime. But he never takes blame or responsibility for any of it, and never acknowledges that he has lost his sponsors because everyone can see how horribly he has behaved. His suffering is simply his proximity to the crime, not guilt at what he’s done. This is key because without empathy, you cannot experience guilt. He appears to be suffering when he looks at how this will affect his career, not at how the woman he presumably loved is a potential candidate for death row. As sponsors flee and people in the gravel world turn up their noses in disgust, everyone can see how badly he’s behaved. Everyone except him, because NO EMPATHY.

Strickland’s lies are so badly wrought and patent that it seems pointless to identify them. However, narcissists aren’t necessarily good liars, but they are always effective ones. By changing names, arranging clandestine dates, lying about whereabouts, manufacturing dead battery excuses, and always having a plausible explanation for the lie, the narcissist gaslights his victim. Armstrong was clearly so distraught by the dishonesty–is he cheating or isn’t he?–that she was willing to kill the other woman to resolve the uncertainty: you can’t have an affair with a corpse.

We don’t have the facts to confirm that Strickland love bombed Armstrong, the first step in a narcissist’s relationship, but she clearly felt a lot more for him than he did for her, and it’s not hard to imagine that she was lovestruck by his awesomeness on the bike, his reputation as a winner, and his 40,000+ #socmed fans. To underscore the disparity, Strickland says almost nothing post-murder about her. Nothing positive, nothing loving, nothing supportive. In fact, he runs as far as he can from the crime scene, doing everything in his power to wash his hands of Armstrong. He even “goes into hiding” out of fear. This too supports the narcissist’s relationship pattern. First he secures the victim’s love, then he withdraws affection. If they were together for three years and he can’t even bring himself to say she was a beautiful, wonderful person with whom he shared so much and he can’t understand how this happened … then there was something really, really wrong.

Contempt, the next phase of withdrawing affection, is evident in the affidavit when he disparages Armstrong’s cycling ability. Any woman who’s ridden with a stronger boyfriend or husband knows that it’s easy to have your self esteem attacked simply by getting dropped and having the stronger rider wait impatiently, which is precisely what Strickland admits doing. Moreover, his excuse, that she wasn’t a professional, is crazymaking. When had she pretended to be? When had that become a prerequisite for the relationship? He wasn’t a real estate agent with a job, either, and she didn’t lord that over him. When love bombing in the early phase of the relationship gives rise to contempt, disregard, and cheating, you can be pretty sure you’re dealing with a narcissist.

As far as Strickland is concerned, he clearly thinks he’s amazing, humble bragging about being called one of the greatest cyclists in the world (but somehow never having been good enough to ride the Pro Tour), and creating a #socmed image filled with self-love and self-adulation. His Red Bull videos are nauseating, so filled with pride at his ability to suffer, his “all body cramps,” his search to find his “breaking point,” and the fact that he’s such a “marked man” in the peloton.

In conjunction with the withdrawal phase of the narcissist’s relationship comes what’s known as triangulation. The love triangle is of course anything but. It’s a triangle of rage, hatred, and abuse, and it’s created by the narcissist in order to tear down the victim and prepare her for the final act in the tragedy, technically known as the “discard.” Triangulation always brings in a third person with whom the narcissist has had a romantic interest, with whom he may have an interest in later, or who is simply someone who can “objectively” testify to the victim’s unreasonableness/craziness and thereby further undermine her identity in preparation for the discard.

Mo Wilson was the perfect third side of the triangle. She was young. She was pretty. She was far more accomplished athletically. She was the darling of the sport. She was innocent. She had an engineering degree from Dartmouth. And she could be injected into the relationship sexually, via text messaging, via meetings at races, and via private dates so that Armstrong’s already crumbling self-esteem would be ground into dust. For her part, Wilson was likely receiving subterfuge from Strickland along the lines of “My girlfriend is crazy jealous,” and similar distortions of why Armstrong was so frantic. Armstrong seemingly confirmed this by calls to Wilson telling her to lay off. To Wilson, Armstrong might have seemed unhinged, but to Armstrong, caught between the triangulation, the withdrawal of affection, and the constant lying, things must have been falling apart through no fault of her own. This is how the narcissist works: inflict the damage and let the victim conclude that she’s to blame (not a good a enough bike rider) for the narcissist’s sudden interest in the younger, more athletic woman.

This process is called grooming, where the narcissist cultivates a relationship to land on as he prepares to discard the victim. Wilson, of course, is not privy to the gaslighting and triangulation, although she’s already experiencing some of its effects as Strickland keeps her guessing, sets up secret dates, is vague about their status, and likely disparages Armstrong to her. Strickland’s grooming of Wilson is obvious to anyone who knows what’s going on; he describes his relationship as simply “helping” her to get sponsorships and learn the ropes as a neo-pro. What a guy! Generous older man, wildly successful in his niche, kindly looking out for the eager, talented, bright-eyed up-and-comer.

The problem with his supposed kindly, disinterested generosity? The definition of betrayal is putting another person ahead of the person who’s supposed to be first. Whether it’s secret texting, secret dates, inside jokes, or sex, Strickland repeatedly betrays Armstrong without remorse, admission of wrongdoing, or intent to change.

That’s because the discard is coming. The only person who didn’t see it all along was Armstrong. The traditional narcissist’s discard is a horrible, identity-obliterating piece of cruelty. After all the love bombing, all the talk of soul mates, the joint business ventures, the promises of foreverafter and forevermore, the narcissist callously dumps the victim and gloriously sets forth on a beautiful and perfect life with the new victim in a whirlwind of publicity. #Socmed status is changed, loving date photos are posted, and the old victim sees her narcissist waltz off with a seemingly perfect, happy mate who gets all of the love and attention that she was supposed to end up with.

The discard is the most crushing moment in the trajectory of the narcissist’s relationship. The discarded victim is left with nothing emotionally, and often left financially destitute as well.

But in Strickland’s case, things got out of hand no thanks to the fake Second Amendment right of anyone to buy any weapon anywhere at anytime for any reason. Armstrong armored up and she didn’t wait for the discard. Instead, she discarded the innocent Wilson with a few well-placed rounds from a 9mm. Strickland may have lost a few sponsorships, but he literally dodged a bullet. Armstrong wasn’t the beaten down, destroyed woman that he’d hoped she’d become before he shifted gears full time to Wilson. She was abused, she was shaken, and her self-esteem had taken almost unbearable body blows, but she wasn’t going to let herself be discarded by Strickland. Had she known more about narcissism she might have been able to change the focus of her anger from Wilson, the next victim of Strickland’s, to Strickland himself.

By focusing on the jealous lover trope, the love triangle gone awry trope, the media neatly deflects a discussion of cause and focuses solely on effect. The dramatic escape of the suspect who absconds to Central America, her cosmetic surgery, the international dragnet that resulted in her arrest, and now, of course, the upcoming trial in which we’ll get to peer more deeply into the sadness and despair of a woman driven to murder another over some two-bit, over-the-hill, never-was-a-contender bike bum who wins races no one’s ever heard about.

What we won’t hear about is the cause, or at least, we haven’t heard about it yet. Strickland has done a great job of standing as far from the bomb blast as possible and most of the attention has been focused on the women, you know, the cat fight. If you could sum up Strickland’s media strategy it would be “Fuckin’ chicks,” with a sad shake of the head.

However, he’s not unscathed. It’s my opinion that his sponsors in particular and the broader public in general recognize him as a Class A scumbag, even though the news story has focused on the trope of the jilted lover. If he weren’t such a cretin, why would Specialized et al. have yanked his sponsorship? His behavior and his lies are so deplorable, made more despicable by his quotes about the “torture” he’s experiencing at his “proximity to the crime”–a tragedy that, in my opinion, he fucking caused. The general public may not know what a textbook narcissist is or how one operates, but they know a creep when they see one.

And since I’m a lawyer, I have a different take on this mess. In fact, here’s another Cycling in the South Bay opinion you can take to the bank: when Kaitlin Armstrong (what is it about that name?) seeks to prove she committed the much milder, second degree crime of passion rather than a first degree felony such as premeditated murder, her lawyers will marshal an incredible array of evidence showing what a manipulative, deceitful, sociopathic piece of shit that Colin Strickland is. His triangulation, his lies, his undermining of Armstrong’s identity even as he side-hustles Wilson … all these things are going to come out and they’re going to leave the jury wondering what too many women already know: how could anyone not lose her mind when subjected to this kind of sick, misogynistic gaslighting and sociopathy?

Colin Strickland is hopefully sweating bullets as he awaits the subpoena that will put him on the witness stand and reveal him as the sick, rotten misogynist that he sure appears to be. It won’t bring Mo Wilson back to life, but hopefully it will keep Kaitlin Armstrong off death row.

Thankfully, the neo-fascists at Red Bull may still be willing to sponsor him, since “misogynistic narcissist” is probably italicized in Red Bull’s corporate charter, and also thankfully, Strickland will receive the dollars commensurate to a great gravel racer, an amount which, in Austin’s housing market, should enable him to live in one of the city’s very finest shelters for the homeless.

And who knows? His personality disorder may even qualify him for a job at the bike shop partly owned by Austin’s other legendary cycling psychopath. What was that guy’s last name again?


Last man lag

July 17, 2019 § 6 Comments

I learned this from Fields and the Dickson brothers. In bike racing it’s often called “taking someone off the back.” It has a lot of variants and is a key bike racing skill.

Here’s the way it works: There is someone in the break who you don’t want to be there. Sometimes the rider is a threat. Other times he is a lame wheelsuck who can only make it to the line by doing zero work in the break. Still other times he is just a weak blabbermouth.

In the traditional last man lag, you drift to the back, where LW is sipping tea, and you open up a gap. LW notices the gap, then sprunts around. It’s the only effort he has done all day, or intends to do. He latches back on and resumes his wheelsucking. Of course when he sprunts by, you grab his wheel so he tows you up to the group.

You then reshuffle yourself in the break so that LW is again on your wheel. You open up a gap, again. LW sprunts by to close the gap, and tows you back up. Now LW knows what’s up and he’s winded, huffing and puffing. Sometimes, LW is so dumb that he doesn’t even know what’s going on.

You reshuffle again, get in front of LW, and open up a gap a third time. This time, though LW is mad. “Fuck you!” he either says, thinks, or both. Now he has decided not to close the gap. The gap opens, and opens, and opens. Pretty soon LW realizes that if he doesn’t do something, the race is over. But it’s too far for him to close the gap because he’s a lame wheelsuck. You then kick it hard, drop LW, motor back up to the break, and he’s gone.

The key to making last man lag work is that you have to be strong enough to close the gap. Alternatively, you have to be content with simply drifting all the way back to the peloton or the chase group. The key is to neutralize LW, to get him out of the break because he doesn’t belong there. Last man lag is always accompanied by lots of histrionics, shoutypantsing, and mean words, which you are duty bound to ignore. What makes last man lag so painful is that it exposes LW’s complete weakness, and therefore you don’t want to try it with someone who is better than you. They will simply let you drift way off the back, then come around you so hard that you’re the one who gets dropped, and they will happily reattach.

A second version of last man lag, and by far the more emotionally painful one for LW, is the disruptive non-rotation.

In this version, you refuse to rotate through. LW and others will shout at you and get very angry. Don’t worry, though, it’s bike racing, and the iron rule of breakaways is this: If you can’t drop a rider out of the break, you can’t drop a rider out of the break.

Once the frustration reaches a pitch, someone will start attacking in order to get rid of you. This part can be briefly painful, because you’ve targeted LW and want to make sure that he’s not part of the final mix, and you may have to actually exert yourself as you follow LW, who is going to try and not get dropped. LW is typically a clueless dunderhead and has no idea that any of this is transpiring. A better scenario is that he is a 99% clueless dunderhead, knows what’s happening, and knows he can’t do anything about it.

LW or the other breakmates will cover the move and you will resume your non-rotating, engendering more shoutypantsing. Sometimes it even takes the form of wheedling. For example, LW, who hates your fucking guts, will sweetly say, “Come on, buddy, just rotate through.” It’s important that even though you want to get off your bike and laugh hysterically, you maintain your poker face and refuse to work.

The anger pitch resumes, along with the attacks. The attacks are of course the one thing that LW can’t respond to, so gaps open up. In the melee you have to get on LW’s wheel, which is like taking candy from a baby. Once you’re there, you’re golden, as he will pedal mightily, jersey zipper popping as his tummy jiggles hither and yon, yearning to be free.

Then LW will do the elbow flick of the century and swing over. You will swing over with him. Under no circumstances will you pull. He will say some unkind things about your mother. About your childhood. About your lack of manliness. But no matter, because you and he are now off the back with one or two other riders and the race is up the road.

The key to making this version of last man lag work is silence and 100% fixation on LW’s rear wheel, because in addition to swerving, taking you to the curb, and trying to knock you down, he will also make one super-human effort to get back up to the break. Of course because he is LW and the jump will immediately deflate and peter out, this move will fail–you just want to make sure that you don’t get gapped out and actually have to pedal.

After a while you will either go back to the field, or better yet, get lapped. LW will be so angry that he goes slower and slower until, if you’ve played your cards perfectly, you’ll both be pedaling at about 5 mph. LW will really lay into you then. But the insults will be confused and jumbled and sound like the playground taunts of that kid in third grade who was really bad at spelling. DO NOT LAUGH. Just keep pedaling until the race ends or you get pulled.

The payback to being DFL with LW is of course the hilarity and mirth that result when you regale your teammates with the details after the race. It will be something to giggle and laugh about for weeks, if not months, and if it happens in a training race where you don’t have to pay an entry fee, and if LW is especially lame, you can do it again, and again, and again, taking turns with other riders in successive weeks.

So there.

Don’t say you never learned anything here about bike racing.


Girls v. Boys

July 8, 2019 § 6 Comments

I showed up for what I thought was going to be a mellow Cali Riderz group cruise on Saturday. I was still tired from the Holiday Ride beatdown and hollerfest.

When I got to the parking lot, George said, “You ready to race?”

“Race who?”

“The women!”

“What women?”

“This is the annual Alameda Corridor race.”

“What’s that?”

“We give the women a five-minute head start and then chase them all the way to O Street and PCH along Alameda. It’s about 13 miles. Whoever gets there first gets bragging rights for the year, and the smack has been nonstop since they beat us last year.”

“What about all the lights?”

“You gotta stop for ’em.”

“Five minutes is huge over 13 miles. Do the guys ever win?”

“They haven’t in several years.”

About this time Michelle rolled up. She was crying.

“What’s wrong?” George asked, alarmed.

“I’m so sad,” she said.

“What happened?”

“Nothing yet.”

“Then why are you crying?”

“I’m just thinking about how sad you boys are gonna be when we kick your butts again this year.”

I didn’t know what to say. I’d obviously wound up in the middle of a war. “This thing been going on a long time?” I asked.

“Decades,” George said. “Decades.”

We rode a long way to the start, picking up riders along the way. When we got to the restaurant parking lot where the festivities were going to begin, there was a crowd of riders. Part of the crowd included Travis and Joselyn, on a tandem.

“What are they doing on a tandem?” I asked George.

“Travis is going to pace the women.”

“We’ll never catch him.”

“It’s better than their Plan A,” he said.

“What was Plan A?”

“To get paced on a motorcycle.”

“How does this usually work?” I asked George, getting nervous.

“Last year we didn’t go hard enough at the start because of all the lights. After the 91, there aren’t any lights and you have a clear shot, but there’s only five miles or so left, so if you aren’t picking up stragglers by the 91, you’re never gonna catch the leaders.”

“So we sprint after every light?”

“We have to.”

“What about the other riders in our group?”

“What about ’em?”

“Got it.” I realized the fact. This was gonna hurt.

The women left, timing their departure perfectly with a green light. Five minutes later we started and rolled immediately into a red. From there we sprinted after each light for what seemed like forever, more than ten or fifteen full-gas efforts from a complete stop. After a while it was just me, George, and Michael.

By the time we got to the 91 we could see a few rear blinky taillights. We went even harder. With less than a mile to go we saw Travis and Joselyn and Shermadean. The rule was that you have to finish with at least two women if you’re on the women’s team, and with two men if you’re on the men’s team.

With a quarter mile to go they broke up. We barely passed them at the end.

After we caught our breath the women advised us that it didn’t count. “The real race is in November,” they said. “When we have all our strong riders.”

“What was this?” I asked.

“Just a little warm-up. To let you feel good about yourselves.”

I don’t know how good I felt. My legs just ached. It was, however, one of the most fun rides I’ve done in ages, seasoned with plenty of spicy smack. I tried to keep my mouth shut, which is hard. November is way too close.


Get up and boogie

July 2, 2019 § 1 Comment

Nobody “deserves” to be in the Olympics. With few exceptions, you begin playing a game years before, the Olympic Game. It’s the contest that inexorably leads to your inclusion or exclusion from the biggest sporting stage on earth.

The battle isn’t just with splits or with successive triple axels or points or wins or or or or or. No, the battle is at every level, from breakfast to training, from personal issues to whether or not your country is at war, from getting on with your coach to getting sent to the competitions that matter, from tearing the legs off your competitors to tearing ligaments in an unfortunate fall.

The Olympic Game doesn’t end until you’ve either made the squad or you haven’t.

And even though the Olympics are so near that Tokyo has completed the stadiums, spit-polished Ueno Station, painted the city with English signs and ripped out the squat toilets, for the athletes the Olympics are still a thousand years away simply because anything can happen between now and then, and by “anything” I mean “anything bad.”

Yet the Olympics are dazzlingly close, too, because at least in the world of track cycling the pool of candidates has winnowed considerably, and there are only a handful of races left that will put contenders on a competition trajectory to participate in the most important events leading up to the Games.

Your chances of getting picked if you’re not winning? Slimmmmmm.

Your chances of getting picked if you’re not at the biggest races in the next eleven months? Zero.

One of the biggest forks in the road if you’re a U.S. bike racer trying to qualify for the Olympics is happening this week, it’s happening in Carson, and for many of the riders, everything is on the line. A crushing performance here will likely send you to the Pan-Am Games, and a strong showing there will propel you into the upcoming events in the World Cup.

A catastrophic showing in Carson and your Olympic campaign will likely come to a halt, the kind of halt that happens when someone takes out your front wheel with a bulldozer. So if you’re wondering what to do this week, I recommend you take a few hours of your time starting Thursday and mosey down to the Carson velodrome to watch some hard core pre-Olympic knife fighting in the mud.

And no, I’m not going to backtrack on my opener, that no one “deserves” an Olympic slot. But I will say that at track nationals this year you’ll get to see the best, most astonishing, most accomplished, most interdiscplinary bike racer we’ve had in this country for years. Of course I’m talking about Daniel Holloway.

How good is Holloway? He has won the national elite crit title five times. He’s a two-time national elite road champion. How about this: he’s held a national title of some type every single year … since 2014. And on top of that, for a couple of years he was wearing national titles simultaneously in three events. Name a national caliber crit and he’s not only won it, but chances are he’s won it multiple times. Athens? Yup. Snake Alley? Yup. Speed Week? Yup. Tulsa Tough? Yup, yup, yup.

The only reason that he doesn’t still dominate the national road and crit scene is because he’s trying to make the Olympic track squad, period. He has raced six-days in Europe for years, and brings the same intellect, bike skills, and tactical genius to the boards that he brings to road racing. Explosive, canny, tenacious, he’s the kind of rider who quickly exhausts your thesaurus when you’re trying to explain that HE IS A BADASS KILLER OF A BIKE RACER.

But in addition to all that, he has another skill, one that truly puts him at the pinnacle of the sport: The ability to polish off a giant stack of homemade sourdough pancakes topped with butter and maple syrup and not even whine about the calories. In fact, when I offered him this healthy post-ride snack before we went for a pedal the other day, all he texted back was, “Sounds like gluten. I’m in.”

So my advice is that you boogie on down to the Carson velodrome sometime this week to watch some crazy great bike racing. You’ll see some people here in your hometown that, twelve months hence, you are for sure gonna see on TV.


Van Gansen tattles in Wanky tell-all

June 25, 2019 § 5 Comments

Perhaps the biggest news in all of professional sports broke a couple of weeks ago when it was revealed that several riders accused team manager Patrick Van Gansen of inappropriate behavior. CitSB sat down with “Boxers” Van Gansen to get his side of the story.

CitSB: So it’s all out there. Sexual harassment. Fat shaming. Asking women riders to clean and cook. What do you say?

“Boxers” Van Gansen: This is all so what, no? But when they say I walk around the house in my underwear, I draw the line. I will make the strong defense.

CitSB: You’re denying that you walk around in a house full of young women in your tighty whities?

BVG: First of all, I do not wear the jockeys but the boxers. Second of all we had two rules in the house. 1) I never walk around in my underwear. 2) Unless the girls ask me to.

CitSB: And did they?

BVG: All the time.

CitSB: You’ve also been accused of fat shaming.

BVG: What is this?

CitSB: Humiliating a person because of their weight.

BVG: You are kidding, no?

CitSB: No.

BVG: I never do such a thing, only to the fat ones. And they are usually the ones asking me to walk around in underwear, by the way.

CitSB: Your accusers have also said that they weren’t paid.

BVG: This is true.

CitSB: Why is that?

BVG: As you know, they refused to cook and do the house clean.

CitSB: How has this controversy affected you?

BVG: As I have said in the interview with the CyclingNews, and I will quote, “Every day I receive messages from all over the world, telling me what a fat bag, dirty butt, bastard and so much more I am not.”

CitSB: Wow. A dirty butt bastard. People actually called you that?

BVG: Yes, it is true, they say such things but I am not dirty butt or bastard or fat bag.

CitSB: You say that your accusers were problem riders?

BVG: Yes, of course. They don’t like to ride in a little Belgian sprinkle. ‘It is too wet,’ they say. But I say ‘Get your fat ass out on cobbles and pedal, bitches.’ And for this they become angry and call me dirty butt bastard?

CitSB: Well, it is kind of strong language.

BVG: This you call strong language? Pfffft. It is little love whisper, my friend.

CitSB: How has your title sponsor, Health Mate, reacted?

BVG: They understand me completely, perfectly. They stand by me like big horse.

CitSB: Any concern that they may pull their sponsorship?

BVG: No, this good publicity for them. Excellent press coverage. Now whole world knows Health Mate is company that encourage women not to be fat.

CitSB: What about the formal complaints lodged with the UCI?

BVG: It is nothing. Trust me.


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