‘Crossing things up: A conversation with Amanda Nauman

March 19, 2021 Comments Off on ‘Crossing things up: A conversation with Amanda Nauman

From career cyclocross racer to career gravel rider, Amanda Nauman has seen just about everything that the dirt, mud, and inclement weather can throw at her. Apparently, the more the merrier; she won Unbound Gravel in 2015 and 2016 when it was known as Dirty Kanza, has stood on the top step at the Belgian Waffle Ride, and won the Rock Cobbler despite the promoter’s assertion that “It’s not a race.”

Do you pin on a number? Is there a start time and a finish line? Then if Amanda Nauman’s involved … it’s a race.

She has watched the changes in domestic racing and been a force as participant, competitor, organizer, and mentor. She shared her time with me a couple of weeks ago to answer a “few” questions. Enjoy!

Seth Davidson: How is gravel different from road racing? The thought here is that road racing was originally on unpaved roads, cobbles, and goat paths, which seems very similar to gravel.

Amanda Nauman: In its truest sense I don’t think it is different from road or MTB. Put at least two people together with a finish line, and it’s a race no matter the bike or terrain. A lot of people see road racing as structured and rigid with categories and rules. On the flip side, gravel’s an unsanctioned, free-for-all, mass-start style of racing. So when you ask me how they’re different, I don’t think of the dirt or pebble sizes, I think of the rules or lack thereof. The racing is the same.

Seth Davidson: Cycling seems to have a plethora of disciplines compared to other sports. Why? Is that a good thing?

Amanda Nauman: I come from a swimming background, there are four strokes and everybody’s good at their own strokes and distances within those strokes. So for me, having that individuality within a sport is just how it is and totally normal. There are many ways people can express themselves on a bike; much like in swimming everyone had their own stroke or distance. I think it’s great that there are different ways people can get on two wheels, fast or slow or sketchy or whatever. It’s a good thing, cycling’s a large umbrella.

Seth Davidson: What do men need to know about gender discrimination in sports?

Amanda Nauman: That it exists. That’s what I want men to know, and not pretend it doesn’t exist and that everything’s equal. And I want them being open to have conversations about how to make women feel more included and equal. That awareness is the only thing I’d want to stress.

Seth Davidson: Have you experienced discrimination as an athlete?

Amanda Nauman: Not that I can think of explicitly. I have certainly been in work environments where I was treated differently because I was an athlete pursuing a racing goal. And I’ve definitely felt like I haven’t been treated equally or fairly as a woman when it comes to race results and sponsorship opportunities. It’s a subjective space that’s hard to quantify of point to a specific example, but I’ve felt it.

Seth Davidson: Have you experienced discrimination in your non-cycling life

Amanda Nauman: No, luckily.

Seth Davidson: Your mom is Indonesian and ethnically Chinese. Did she face discrimination here?

Amanda Nauman: No, and I spoke with her about it before this interview. She has absolutely experienced racist comments but not discrimination. She hasn’t outwardly felt like someone was making a comment or preventing her from doing something because she was a woman or minority. She left an oppressive country at age fourteen because her parents knew there were better opportunities for her in the United States. [In Indonesia] women were given this box you had to fit in, no career, just stay at home and have kids and it was a waste of time to pursue higher education. She had the complete opposite mindset and drive in that regard and saw the US as a place to pursue these things she couldn’t pursue in Indonesia. We never really talk too much about the fact that her ancestors were Chinese, but when she was younger, Indonesia went through a nationalistic phase and her family was forced to change their names and become more “Indonesian.” It’s wild to imagine a place where that was acceptable, the government telling you that your name was too Chinese you need to change it. She has experienced discrimination like this in Indonesia, which is why she came here. The US gave her opportunity and freedom she wouldn’t have otherwise had. She went to an engineering school and wanted to fly helicopters, and that wasn’t going to happen in Indonesia, but she came here and did it. She set a great example for me growing up, even though we never explicitly talked about it, that women can do whatever they want; and if this is something you want to do, don’t ever let the fact you’re a woman or Asian be a reason why you shouldn’t.

Seth Davidson: What do you think about having separate women’s fields in gravel events?

Amanda Nauman: I have mixed feelings depending on the course, the event, the style of race that it is. It’s dependent on those variables. For example, in 2016 when I won BWR they tried a women’s category where we started in between a couple different waves of men. It turned into a strategic game of planning to jump in with the men coming up behind us and each woman trying to get away from the other women. So depending on how it’s implemented, it adds a layer that can be more strategic.

Seth Davidson: Does it distort race results when women mix in with groups of men?

Amanda Nauman: No way. I think that’s part of the game and part of the strategy depending on the event, especially BWR where it’s more road racing style and there’s way more opportunity to stay in a group on the road and spread out on the dirt. It doesn’t distort it at all. I think where it becomes muddied is if a group enters with the plan of having a man or multiple men pulling a woman or group of women as far as possible with the goal to win. In the natural selection of a mixed category start, how people are able to move around, move up, or get away, that’s part of the racing. But if a group of guys show up to just protect a woman from the wind, yeah, people have a problem with it, otherwise it’s just natural selection and that’s part of the race.
Here’s an example: Last year at Mid South it was muddy and the front guys threw down when we hit the mud, probably eight minutes into the race. We were going as hard as we could and amidst the chaos I could see Hannah Finchamp get to a group just ahead of me. The realistic part of my brain knew that if I didn’t get there in those first few critical moments, there was a very high probability she was going to win if she escaped, and she did. Having the men in the mix adds to the group dynamics and allows the racing to shake out much differently. Had she been solo with just the women’s field chasing her, maybe we could’ve brought her back and made it a much closer race. But that’s not how the cookie crumbles in the mass start format of gravel.

Seth Davidson: How do you like racing with men?

Amanda Nauman: It’s awesome and super fun. I appreciate riding and racing with like-minded cyclists regardless of gender.

Seth Davidson: How do you like starting with/racing against recreational riders?

Amanda Nauman: It’s great. I never had an issue with that. I think it’s awesome. I raced triathlons in college, and starting just minutes behind the professional fields was inherently part of that sport. I loved being an amateur racer and having the opportunity to compare myself to professionals on the same course. Here’s an example from when I went to the 2012 Saint Croix 70.3. At the time, Lance Armstrong was racing triathlons again and I was a big fan. The swim start at that event takes place on an island offshore. I had swum over to the island as a warm-up and I remember him getting out of the water right next to me. I couldn’t believe it. Another time, I was at Age Group ITU World Championships in New Zealand and walking around the venue near Sarah True (Sarah Groff at the time). I was starstruck and stoked to be doing the same event. Those are special moments for me, and I always think about that because of the position I’m in now. I’ve found success racing gravel and cyclocross and I’m aware there are women and juniors who look up to me. I recognize the importance of being at events and taking time to connect with the community. If I can be welcoming and motivational, I understand the impact that can make on recreational riders or aspiring racers. I want to be a good example and put on a good show for bike racing fans at the same time.

Seth Davidson: What do you think about professional gravel racers?

Amanda Nauman: I’ve seen the evolution of that identity first-hand. In the beginning I would have laughed at the concept because gravel races were hardly even a classification. As the popularity of the discipline rose, so did the popularity of the figures at the front of the racing. It was a natural evolution of brands wanting to be associated with the rise in popularity. In gravel, the “professionals” are more brand ambassadors than anything else. I remember listening to an interview with Ian Boswell a year ago after announcing he was going into gravel and he was asked whether he considered himself a professional athlete anymore. He said no because he was no longer in the drug testing pool and he now had a desk job. If Ian lines up at some of the big gravel events this year, he’ll be lining up with people who absolutely consider themselves professional gravel racers. So perhaps that label is whatever you want it to be. And to each their own on how they choose to identify.

Seth Davidson: Do you want to see more or fewer World Tour pros in gravel events?

Amanda Nauman: I think the more, the merrier. As this discipline evolves there’s no hiding that the UCI sees it as an opportunity to create something for themselves. Even though this is an unpopular opinion, I think it would be worthwhile to have a separate show for the UCI license-holding riders. I’ve heard people say it would be cool to have an Unbound Gravel type of event that was for pros only and be able to do the t.v. media coverage, and have all the narratives just around the pros. Just imagine a Strade Bianche style race in the Flint Hills with the fastest riders in the world dueling it out. I know that’s intriguing and appealing to me as a fan, and I think there’s something to that format. There’s an opportunity to have an elite level of gravel events and it feels like just a matter of time before that happens. As much as I hate to admit it’s a possibility, the more that World Tour pros show up to unsanctioned gravel events, the more the UCI is going to want a piece of that cake. There’s no doubt that elevating the speed, intensity, and professionalism will make more people interested. But how this involves, well, I’m curious to see myself.

Seth Davidson: What unique obstacles do women have to overcome as competitive cyclists?

Amanda Nauman: Being given the same respect as men. It goes back to one of your first questions, it’s in the same vein, women have to overcome the fact that they aren’t treated completely equal yet. It’s weird to think back in 2011 and 2012 how much I just accepted the fact that we were treated differently and less than the men. At the time cyclocross was in a transition period in Europe. Prize money was starting to become more equal and the schedules were getting rearranged, so the elite women didn’t have to race so early in the morning. It was ridiculous that we accepted anything less than that as the norm for so long. There have been a lot of little wins in the past decade like getting the Junior Women 17-18 category the recognition it deserves and I’m hopeful that one day it will feel completely equal and we can tell stories of how ridiculous it was before change was demanded.

Seth Davidson: What do you think about gender discrimination in equipment design such as saddles?

Amanda Nauman: My longest running sponsor is SDG Components and they’ve been at the forefront of offering a female-specific saddle. When it comes to saddles and saddle companies, I believe that soft tissue relief has been addressed for men and women. Women have been given options that are as good or better than men in that regard.

Seth Davidson: Are you more or less data-driven than your competitors?

Amanda Nauman More. I have a math brain and went to an engineering school. I love Excel and I do a lot of calculations. Way more than my competitors.

Seth Davidson: Do you typically train with a power meter?

Amanda Nauman: Yes. I have a power meter on my gravel bike, my road bike, and typically on one of my ‘cross bikes. For my spare ‘cross bikes and my mountain bikes, I use heart rate data.

Seth Davidson: Is MTB or ‘cross a better training ground for gravel racing?

Amanda Nauman: ‘Cross, but both are great. The handling skills required on your gravel bike you can learn from being efficient in a ‘cross race setting. For sure my ‘cross background gave me a leg up in gravel racing. My first Dirty Kanza win was 2015, the “mud year.” Without my ‘cross experience, there were issues I’d never have been able to manage. For instance, knowing the feeling of when your derailleur is about to snap because it’s clogged with mud is inherent knowledge for a ‘cross racer. There were so many sheared derailleurs that year because most people don’t know what it’s like to ride through peanut butter mud.

Seth Davidson: What do you think about Major Taylor?

Amanda Nauman: The first word I thought of was trailblazer. I’ve been to the Major Taylor Velodrome and it’s a great tribute to someone who became a role model for any athlete who has faced discrimination. His autobiography is titled, The Fastest Bicycle Rider in the World: The Story of a Colored Boy’s Indomitable Courage and Success Against Great Odds. He wanted to be remembered as someone who faced challenges when many things were stacked against him, and did the best he could despite the circumstances. When I think of Major Taylor, I think of Cullen Jones. In 2008 he was the first African-American to hold a world record in swimming (4x100m free relay). He had that presence of someone doing something that’s not the norm and showing people that it’s possible, just like Major Taylor did. It’s great because Cullen took that opportunity and platform and now spends a lot time working with different organizations to try and dispel that stereotype that black people don’t swim. It’s interesting to look at what is happening in that realm and how it translates to cycling. He’s said that a lot of people tell him and think, “I can’t swim because I can’t float.” He says that’s not an excuse not to learn how to swim. “I can’t float either, and I have Olympic medals.” In that culture it’s been ingrained and he’s working hard to show people the stereotypes don’t matter, you can still rise above it.

Seth Davidson: Do organizers do a good job of marketing to the black community?

Amanda Nauman: I think organizers don’t do a good job of marketing, period. I’ve always had this beef with organizers specifically. Most bike racing organizers don’t have this marketing skill set and a lot of that probably comes from wearing too many different hats and not being able to focus on it. As a whole they can improve on marketing, period, but this question can apply more to USAC where it’s about development, nurturing, creating a community. I don’t feel like it’s the job of the race organizer. If cycling is a thing we want to grow within the black community and create more opportunities there, I feel like it’s more of a responsibility to the larger governing body than it is the individual race organizer.

Seth Davidson: How can we get more black kids racing bikes?

Amanda Nauman: It comes down to opportunity. Going back to Cullen Jones, he’s working at the root of why there aren’t enough black kids swimming. Perhaps the reason why a lot of people believe that black people can’t swim or don’t float is because we’re not addressing fear, stereotypes, legacies passed down over generations. In swimming, a lot of this stemmed from public pools being a racialized place many years ago.  Cullen realized he’d have to start at the bottom with education and changing the perception. With cycling, I don’t think it’s a question of “how” first. I think It’s a question of “why aren’t there more black kids racing bikes?” We need to answer that before we answer how to fix it. Lack of education, opportunities, safe areas to ride, that’s where we need to start. Then there will be more kids on bikes and then some of those kids will want to race. Going back to the marketing aspect, getting the cool factor instilled is a huge part, but also asking, “why don’t they think it’s cool right now?” A Nike ad with a black cyclist on a bike isn’t enough. At least I don’t believe that’s enough. If we find out why a majority of black kids don’t think cycling is cool, then we can start to fix that problem. We should be asking, “Why don’t you think it’s cool and what’s it going to take to motivate you to do it?”

Seth Davidson: What are the biggest challenges of promoting a new race?

Amanda Nauman: For us launching an event in the middle of a pandemic has been the biggest challenge. Realistically in a normal year in CA, it’s the permitting that’s the biggest challenge. Now that I’ve tried to make a race happen here, I understand why it’s so hard for promoters to do what they do. Promoting a new race specifically has been a challenge because there’s no precedence. We’re asking people to believe that David and I have gained enough experience at gravel events across the country and we know how to deliver a great event.

Seth Davidson: How do you want your Mammoth race to look in five years?

Amanda Nauman: The goal is to bring some semblance of the Kamikaze Bike Games back. It’s a famous festival they used to hold at the mountain, but it’s been canceled for a couple years now. We put Mammoth Tuff on the weekend that Kamikaze was normally held, the closing weekend of the bike park, in the hopes that we can reignite that flame. We want Mammoth to be a gravel destination, and on top of that the goal is to make it more than a gravel event, a reason for people to come back, celebrate and ride bikes in Mammoth.

Seth Davidson: ‘Cross used to be all the rage. Before that it was road racing. Now it’s gravel. Is this just a fad?

Amanda Nauman: I still think ‘cross is all the rage. ‘Cross still has a huge following in different parts of the country. Being in Tacoma, Washington for Cyclocross Nationals at the end of 2019 was a treat to see how much people absolutely love ‘cross in the Pacific Northwest. There are different pockets that have healthy local scenes and for those areas, ‘cross is still raging.
I don’t think gravel is a fad. I believe the discipline is in a transition phase of trying to figure itself out. It might look like a fad from the outside because of how many people are supporting the mass participation style of events. But it’s the lack of a license, the community feel, the ability to ride in the same event as your peers that will let this discipline live on. Time will tell how the discipline evolves, but the very root of gravel is community and coming together to do a challenging bike ride, and the passion for that won’t fizzle.

Seth Davidson: Is the racing community more collaborative or competitive? How?

Amanda Nauman: The UCI sanctioned disciplines I’ve raced in are way more competitive. On the flip side, I’ve found the unsanctioned discipline of gravel to be extremely collaborative. I’ve been on Google Hangout meetings with other gravel racers and promoters, but I feel like that would never happen with ‘cross racers because it’s so much more cut-throat. Standings, rules, qualifications, points, everyone’s trying to get an edge up and that’s the nature of those sanctioned disciplines. Everyone’s in competition so why would there be collaboration? In gravel we’re all kind of in the same boat of doing races for fun and promotional reasons, not for a better UCI ranking or call-up number at a championship event. Therefore everyone is more willing to talk about schedules and projects to work on together.
I believe the pandemic shed a light on this during summer last year. A majority of the gravel community was quick to collectively say mass gatherings aren’t safe and racing can wait through the end of the year. On the flip side, many ‘cross racers were willing to race if given the opportunity over the fall and winter. Up until all of the UCI races were canceled for the season, the major opinion there was, “I’ll do whatever I can to race safely.” I was blown away because that mindset has been ingrained in the cut-throat, competitive atmosphere. If ‘cross racers don’t race, they lose points, standings, and positioning. If gravel racers don’t race, they simply lose the opportunity to race and market themselves. It feels like gravel racers have figured out how to make up that lost opportunity to sponsors whereas it’s tougher for the ‘cross racers. So that’s a long-winded example of my outlook on collaboration versus competition in the disciplines I’m familiar with.

Seth Davidson: Who inspires you?

Amanda Nauman: My mom. It goes back to the fact that she had an idea of what she wanted to do, found the things she was passionate about, and never let anyone tell her she couldn’t do those things. Growing up in a house with that mentality and being told I could do whatever I wanted to was very motivating. I was inspired by how deeply she cared about and pursued her passions no matter what.

Seth Davidson: What drives you?

Amanda Nauman: I’ve thought about that a lot this past year without having the external motivation of racing, and I think everyone was forced to ask that question. I’m driven to be the best at whatever I set my mind to. I’m definitely very competitive but I’m also very self-driven. Finding something I really care about and pursuing it 100% has always motivated me. I like knowing I gave everything I could towards a goal. For instance, I love the feeling of standing on a start line with all the confidence because I know I prepared well and all the work was done to get to that point. That’s just as satisfying a feeling as getting a good result, in my opinion.

Seth Davidson: What question do you wish you were asked in interviews?

Amanda Nauman: A lot of interviews miss the question of “What do you want to leave behind?” because that shows motivation behind a person. And I don’t get asked “Why do you do all this stuff?” very often.

Seth Davidson: What do you want to leave behind?

Amanda Nauman: Being a good inspiration for kids. Bike racing is a very selfish pursuit. Everything revolves around you and your goals. A few years ago, I was asked to be part of the Women’s CX Project by Corey Green, Brett Hungerford, and Scott Dedenbach. It was a pivotal point in my life because I was able to mentor and help junior racers. It was important because I realized I could give back the knowledge that I had acquired over the years. As soon as I saw that all the hard work David Sheek and I had done for me to find success in racing could be used to help junior racers find success, I found more of a purpose. It was such a great feeling to mentor the next generation of racers. From that experience, David and I started helping USAC with their CX Talent ID camp, and it became something I was more passionate about than strategizing to get a World Cup spot. Bike racing is inherently selfish and that external validation is the motivation for a lot of people, but I hope that most of them get to a point where they can share their expertise and knowledge with the next generation or development teams because then we’ll all be better for it.

Seth Davidson: Thanks, Amanda!

Amanda Nauman: You’re welcome.

END


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So you wanna be a pro? A conversation with Roy Knickman

February 10, 2021 § 6 Comments

Photo copyright Danny Munson

Roy Knickman, Olympic medalist, famed teammate of Steve Tilford, Nelson Vails, and Thurlow Rogers from TI-Raleigh in the 80s, one of the first wave of Americans to ever ride the Tour, is now the director of America’s top junior development team, Lux Cycling. He’s been doing it for seven years, and the covid crisis has upended the pro cycling scene, and much less publicized, the junior scene as well. For juniors the situation is, if anything, even more critical.

I spoke with Roy about what it takes to become a pro, about Lux Cycling, diversity training, racing, and the future of the sport. It was clear from our conversation that he’s dedicated to improving all American racers, and it’s a passion of the most profound sort. Far from creating a herd of robots, his mission is to develop good people through bike racing, whether their career leads them to the Tour or stops with Lux.

What’s apparent is that the challenges are big. And that if anyone is equal to the job, it’s Roy Knickman.

Photo copyright Danny Munson

Seth Davidson: Who founded LUX and why?

Roy Knickman: A local Cat 4 bike racer founded it for adults and quickly realized that it would be more satisfying to put efforts into raising funds and getting sponsorship for the development of youth. Dave Feldman with Sideshow Collectibles got the firm’s primary owner to donate into LUX to help get kids to races locally here in the Conejo Valley and in SoCal.

Photo copyright Danny Munson

Seth Davidson: How do you become a professional bike racer?

Roy Knickman: It is a long process and it starts with the kind of local club that LUX used to be, not with what we are now, riding your bike and riding with a local club, one that includes all ages or that is a development club. SoCal VeloSport is that kind of club, one that gets you to local races and teaches the basics. In this day and age there are multiple steps. You go from regional races to racing nationally. As a junior you would need to align with a larger club, one of the more elite junior clubs such as ours, Hot Tubes, or Swift run by Laura Charameda, an ex-world champion. Someone who understands bike racing at the highest level, which is different from a development club’s manager/coach. You need someone who can provide some of the finer details of what it really takes such as state of mind, believing. For example, if you have someone who has medaled at Worlds or the Olympics who can say, “You have an injury right now, that’s not a problem, we believe in you, you will hit form later, this happened to me and I had my best results because my form came later.” I do think there is a large psychological element that the directors with experience who can share true life experiences offer something different. But it also requires a lot more training and building your life around athletics, being able to travel, that extreme discipline. It’s a great life lesson but it teeters on being unhealthy because of the extreme nature of searching for excellence, which is the same if you want to be the best lawyer, it’s more time in the books. It works the same in many fields and is why this is a great life lesson. You can be successful and these are the things you need to do.

Photo copyright Danny Munson

Seth Davidson: What do you look for in selecting a junior rider?

Roy Knickman: When we select a rider we look to see if they have a good coach, schedule, equipment, and people who believe in them. And we have to do research talking to parents, other racers and coaches, will it come together to benefit them? Nine times out of ten we’re right. A rider may not be the best when we take them but a year later their results show we were right.

Photo copyright Danny Munson

Seth Davidson : Who selects the male/female riders on the team?

Roy Knickman: In the past it has been me and George Chester, who when I came in was the daily operations guy. But he stepped back when I came on board and he is now phasing out because of his age, but if he believes in a kid or rider I take his advice. He holds a huge amount of clout. The other thing is that selection on the men’s side is not made in a vacuum. I respect other people in the sport regardless of their accomplishments, and when a coach or regional director or ex-star messages me and says, “Hey there’s this great kid, take a look” I do, because I’m not everywhere, I don’t know who kicks ass in the DC area, right? That’s where Quinn Simmons came from. Ned Overend, who I hadn’t talked to in years, said, “You gotta get this kid,” so I did. Quinn is a gifted athlete who benefited from having our resources and guidance. On the women’s side, Ryan Kelly, who is my partner, we look together at riders. She’s an expert in women’s cycling, I’m not, she was a junior national team rider, understands the inequities, understands women better than I do. Restructuring of the women’s program has to do with her feedback and her understanding of the sport and what’s needed to be done for women. And I think it’s important. Women’s teams run by men miss the mark. Frequently. It’s who’s deserving when you are creating a team. The problem is that there are many kids who are deserving and talented, but we have limits. We had forty-eight bikes at Valley of the Sun Stage Race with nineteen athletes in four categories .. it’s a lot. There needs to be more support for this and more organizations that are willing and have the funding to do what we do.

Photo copyright Danny Munson

Seth Davidson: Mileage vs. power meter?

Roy Knickman: For all riders at this level they need to have a coach who is current with science but who also is a good communicator, who listens to the athlete. There are a few riders who for whatever reason in the winter aren’t riding with a power meter but rather on feel and time, especially when coming back from injury. But in this day and age there has to be science, there has to be specific monitoring of the training and guidance because the level is so high. The kids who want to succeed at this—life and confidence and self-belief—it makes going away to college look easy. Those who go to school, and those who want to be Pro Tour athletes, they all have the same challenge: To be competitive at the junior international level, which all of them say that they want to do—it takes science-driven training. The caveat is that we’ve realized what’s most successful is that if you do enough racing, not chasing crits and 1-day races—but a schedule of good stage races with overload, rest for a week, step into another one, you can go the whole year and not be staring at your power meter numbers all the time. It’s clear there can be burnout constantly chasing numbers all year. It has made not being able to race this year very difficult because all the riders have to go off are power meter numbers all year, a sure way to burn mental matches. Having a smart coach as covid was rolling in, changing the environment, keeping it fun, not just focusing on numbers, but letting the kids focus on mileage, so a lot of it is having a smart coach who understands the psychology and is willing to say, “Okay, we won’t chase numbers and will protect from a psychological standpoint and for longevity while still training a whole bunch.” I stopped coaching when I didn’t have the time to keep up with the science. I prefer to focus where I have knowledge and skill in putting all the pieces together. Get to the best races, get them good coaches, and it was only five years ago that I could come up with a good formula that got good results for athletes, having success on the performance side as well as the personal level, succeeding after cycling. And seeing international success and racing for U23 teams in Europe or the U.S.

Photo copyright Danny Munson

Seth Davidson: How much science do you teach your riders?

Roy Knickman: My part is to remind them to listen to their bodies, that communication with their coaches is critical because if they bury themselves every week it could be months to come out of that; to detrain and get fit again. The other part, the science, is put on the coaches but we have three or four coaches we trust so it isn’t a question. We’ll recommend someone who does amazing work. That person may push their athlete to breaking and then pull back, but you can relate that to “I was on the best team in the world and almost quit because I was pushed too hard.” The third part is my relationship with Allen Lim, and we had him come to camp and teach the kids science and as well he cooked for them every night. He paid for his hotel and for someone to help with the cooking. He did it because he wanted to. He sat down with the kids and talked physiology, talking about food, doping, its history, what it means, about nutrition and fueling, it was a huge benefit for the athletes. Some of them took in 1% and some 20%, it was there as great information. It’s multi-level education depending on the athlete’s need.

Photo copyright Danny Munson

Seth Davidson: If you have to choose between motivation and talent, which do you weight more heavily?

Roy Knickman: It’s not just motivation and talent, it’s character, and character comes first because as a team unit someone who is disruptive and somewhat toxic, it’s not healthy for the team. That said we can have someone on the team with issues, and when we bring them on we’re committing to developing them as a person. If they become challenging it means we have our hands full, not that they’re off the team. They have to understand commitment and belief on our end, we took them because we believed in them and we’re not giving up. That’s true even if they’re struggling socially. We stand with them. We’re committed to developing these kids, and kicking them off the team would be the easy way out. I won’t bring someone in who is super challenging, but once on board we commit. Character is very important and why we’ll have a rider, and he’s good and has good family and we’re going to reward him for being a good kid. We can’t do that for every good kid but sometimes we do. It’s not all w/kg-based but that can certainly help get you in the door.

Photo copyright Danny Munson

Seth Davidson: Do you look for race IQ or is that something you teach?

Roy Knickman: We will recognize and value it but it’s not a requirement because we are about teaching. We’ve had trouble with some parents who want to know our racing philosophy; our philosophy has been teaching kids how to think about racing, not teaching them how to race. You need to think on the road and talk to your teammates and adapt. I’m only going to get upset if you don’t think and if you stick with a plan you can see isn’t going to work. If things aren’t going right, you communicate, change it up, and if it fails, I’m stoked, because we had two chances to win, not one. We had three guys in a race, put two in the break at nationals, and didn’t win; the kids thought I’d be upset but I wasn’t; what they accomplished was amazing. First, they lost to the reigning champion. Second, I reminded them that the execution is more important than the outcome and I reward them for good, intelligent thinking. Then the results come. A perfect example: Those two guys in the break, one is riding pro now, Logan McLain. Their intelligence has been recognized. Logan will race in Innsbruck with an Austrian U23 team and he has an agent—it speaks to the story that he was recommended to my team, had huge capacity, and was a good kid. I took him, we invested in him for three years and now he’s a pro.

Photo copyright Danny Munson

Seth Davidson: What percentage of LUX riders get a pro contract?

Roy Knickman: We’re still in development. Five years ago we had Brandon McNulty, but were still a regional program. We judge success by how many riders can represent the US national team in international competition. In 2019 all but two of the boys team and a majority of girls all made national team trips abroad. Four to five riders at Worlds were from LUX, riding based on merit, auto-qualifying. Quinn Simmons, Kevin Vermaerke have gone pro. Several riders are with smaller French teams. It’s part of developing relationships as we’re doing with Austria. And it’s why this year is so crucial. We know if the juniors who are aging out don’t get a ride their careers could be over. I ended up flying to Austria and selling our organization to our new partners in Innsbruck so they would understand what a LUX athlete would mean if they got one of our riders. We can now use their service course because our philosophies match. It’s crucial so that there isn’t a big hole in the development pipeline. Only the superstars could make the jump in the past, but with this philosophy and partnership we can fill the gaps so we can take the riders who aren’t the McNultys or the Costas and give them what they need to be great bike racers. That’s what the other countries are doing. We realize that a typical national team kid from Denmark has a lot of race days and can hop in the van and do ten stage races a year. Here, if there’s one in your region you go, maybe you get three in a year. How can you compete with a kid who has ten? And those races are always against 140 dudes on narrow roads in crappy weather. That’s why it’s so important to keep it going, because this way more riders have been able to get into Europe developmentally with U23 teams. The goal is to get as many riders the amount of racing they need and also be in the European environment so we can load up the number of kids in the development pipeline.

Photo copyright Danny Munson

Seth Davidson: Why do you have your riders race so much?

Roy Knickman: Because that’s where success is in Europe. They need this much racing. We’ve seen that these are the athletes who are responding and improving with 9-10 stage races a year. Which is beneficial because they don’t need to train as much and they are excited to race and not stare at their power meter readout in the basement at home.

Photo copyright Danny Munson

Seth Davidson: When did this change in thinking come about?

Roy Knickman: It started with feedback from the national team coach that my guys weren’t racing enough, five years ago. So I started chasing one-day races and the kids got tired from all the traveling around. Learning from that and experimenting I said, okay, let’s do more stage races, and asked the kids to take off weekends locally. It’s that simple. Listening to the feedback.

Seth Davidson: Have power meters helped or hurt bike racing?

Roy Knickman: It has definitely helped. It’s a double-edged sword. Training has changed in ability to quantify because heart rate is so sloppy. Being more accurate allows you to do more work and being able to see when you were overworking. More quality work is more adaptation. The negative has been the racing aspect, where they race by their power meter. There’s less  human element, where they won’t try now because of the power meter. There are moments where I think it’s made racing less dramatic.

Photo copyright Danny Munson

Seth Davidson: What do you think about race radios?

Roy Knickman: I think they can be helpful but they can make racing a little less exciting. Juniors can’t have them. That’s a great rule because it teaches them to think. They can’t just be told what to do. They have to fail and learn and I’m happy about that. Even when they can use them, such as doing a 1-2 race, I don’t use radios. I’d rather not have radios in order to force them to communicate amongst themselves and learn and make decisions with the information they have.

Photo copyright Danny Munson

Seth Davidson: What do you think about virtual cycling?

Roy Knickman: I think for some people it’s really good, people who just need to have the racing. I’ve not promoted it with my athletes, if they want to do it, fine for motivation and intensity but right now the psychological aspect is most important. Don’t force them to do something they hate. Now the most important thing is to weather this lack of racing. Most athletes are driven to train purely to prepare for the next race and next experience. A year of no racing is incredibly trying. It’s a good tool for some, with the right psychology they can do great things. Others just want to ride their bikes and I’m good with that, too.

Photo copyright Danny Munson

Seth Davidson: What is your diversity strategy?

Roy Knickman: We don’t have a new strategy. We’ve always picked athletes based on character and talent. We brought on the Nsek brothers, we’ve included Asian, Hispanic riders. It hasn’t been a factor. What’s been there for us, we’ve taken. We’ve talked about the issue, I don’t want to be reactive. Now we’re working with the top athletes; we’re not grass roots, we’re not putting on clinics to get kids into the sport. There is such a small pool of athletes of color, we’ve talked about this with Ama Nsek about what we can do trying to raise funds for a specific LUX diversity team. But I haven’t been able to raise the money or get materials; with the industry back-ordered it isn’t easy right now. Legion Los Angeles is doing it.

Seth Davidson: Do you think bike racing is a white sport?

Roy Knickman: It’s pretty clear, it’s a sport for a certain income class because it’s so damned expensive. Yeah, it’s somewhat a white sport. It’s unfortunate because there are as many talented athletes of color as there are white ones. The financial restraints are the same in other sports. Downhill skiing is an example. So many athletes of color would make it to LUX or Hot Tubes if they had the equipment and coaching. LUX isn’t grassroots and we’ve done everything we can for kids who are out there. We care and we do what we can and we are looking at ways to get LA Bike Academy kids come up and ride with our kids and let them know this is the next level. We think there’s value in kids seeing that there’s no reason you can’t be here, and give them a taste of top level riding. The problem is always the same. Schedule and money.

Seth Davidson: What was your reaction to Quinn Simmons’s suspension by Trek-Segafrodo?

Roy Knickman: I think how it was handled from a business standpoint didn’t seem very well-thought through. It’s something that needed to be addressed, and education of athletes and social media and how you may think something is innocuous or silly can be tremendously hurtful or damaging.

Seth Davidson: Has LUX ever reached out to the black community?

Roy Knickman: We are committed to have anyone come up and share our experience and show kids what it takes. If anyone wants to know how we do things and what the true development pipeline is, I will spend as much time as it takes to explain and show how to do it and why.

Seth Davidson: What would you tell a young black girl who wants to be a bike racer?

Roy Knickman: I’d say, “Why not you? You have to believe.” Then find the club that will support you at the local level and that will allow you to get to the next level. What Justin Williams is doing is phenomenal; he’s earmarking money for development opportunities at the junior level.

Seth Davidson: Do you give your athletes media training?

Roy Knickman: They do normally through other sponsors. Last week Shimano had social media training. A lot of the things we’d talk about at camp we weren’t able to do this year. We’ll use sponsor relationships to educate, by Zoom.

Seth Davidson: How has covid changed the domestic racing landscape?

Roy Knickman: Racing ended and everything from February to early June this year has been canceled or has moved to the fall. There is zero bike racing prior to nationals. No Redlands, no Gila, no Cascades, no Joe Martin, no Valley of the Sun. There is a continued void from the motivational standpoint and I’m constantly monitoring race promoters as I’m trying to figure out what’s happening, which is hard when you’re raising funds. If there’s no racing, why are we spending money? For the junior men there is no result they can get in the US that will help them get selected on a European team. They need to race in Europe and race there a lot to develop and to be there with the other kids going onto U23 teams. It’s a huge commitment of the team. It has pushed us to be very aggressive. Covid complications may complicate national team racing until right before Worlds. Our athletes won’t be prepared if they are sitting home training and they won’t be visible and the development pipeline won’t continue because there was no international racing for any US rider in 2020. Those riders have to be in Europe and be stage racing in Europe. I can’t say “Sorry kids,” so I’m making another push to create a schedule for our athletes and even some non-LUX racers to get them the racing they need. I have commitments to nine stage races in Europe and Asia. USAC had to fire most of its staff to stay solvent. They have to focus on the Olympics.

Seth Davidson: If it becomes lucrative for riders to race domestic gravel races like BWR, will that change your race schedule?

Roy Knickman: We had already discussed that and yes, we would definitely integrate that into our racing, my hope is that we take where we are now with Europe, keep that in place, and to integrate gravel would be great. It is so much fun, keeps it fresh, these extreme challenges for the athletes are huge. And for an athlete to want to be a pro gravel racer, that’s awesome. There are so many talented athletes not in the pipeline or who can’t adjust to the pro Euro lifestyle, then with gravel you have two winning situations. It’s clear there is so much untapped talent. We’re a huge country with so many athletic kids there’s no reason why we should have any difference with Holland or Belgium, and gravel opens the door for another kid to be excited about riding and racing bikes. The Sea to Summit here in Ventura up to Mt. Pinos, 100 miles, 8,000 feet, I did that at age fourteen with a bike bag with a pineapple in it. I did it in four hours longer than the winner, and next year I got second, the guy that won became my coach, and next year I beat him. I loved that I could be where people are racing. I re-experienced this excitement last year on the Delta Epic, a 240-mile unsupported gravel ride—and I was only injured for a month afterwards! These are races and they’re participation rides and they can be both. It’s a business and UCI will gravitate towards it. USAC is trying to monetize it, too.

Seth Davidson: Why are you basing in Austria?

Roy Knickman: My first trip to Europe was a race from Salzburg to Vienna. My great-great-grandfather Josef Lehner wrote a few waltzes with Richard Strauss. At that first race, they brought me to a statue of my forebear the composer. I got 3rd the next year. So I have a special connection with Austria, for sure.

Seth Davidson: Thanks, Roy.

Roy: You’re welcome!

END

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Free(way) Ride. Take it easy.

November 11, 2019 § 1 Comment

There is no injunction more deeply carved for a bicyclist than this one: thou shalt not ride on the freeway.

But there I was, 115-ish miles in, 80-ish to go, launching down the on-ramp for Interstate 5 at Oceanside, destination Los Angeles. The Marine Corps doesn’t easily let you ride through Camp Pendleton anymore, so if you don’t have a special pass to ride through the base, CalTrans allows you to make the seven miles from Oceanside to Las Pulgas on the freeway.

It is fun, getting passed by 18-wheelers doing 75. However, I had a huge tailwind, most of the freeway was gently downhill, the shoulder was mostly clean, and there was tons of space between me and the traffic.

When I pulled off the freeway to continue along the bike path, heart still pounding, it was as if I’d been dropped off into a cocoon of silence. The path was empty, the day was well on its way to ending, and I still had a big chunk of riding to get home, notching what would be just under a 200-mile day.

The biggest part of the day, though, was the Peter Sagan Gran Roadie-Oh, a 90-mile fondo starring none other than … Peter Sagan.

As Dandy said while we were waiting to roll out, “Gonna be a lot of jock sniffing today.”

To which I said, “Thank dog I’ve got a big nose.”

I could tell you about this epic grand fondue which creator MMX has gone to great pains to NOT call a grand fondue. I could tell you about the start, which was exactly like a ProTour road race in its intensity + Cat 4s.

I could tell you about the bicycle falling off incident in Cousar Canyon, where the leaders all looked like they’d been victims at the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre but only had road rash and a broken collarbone.

I could tell you about the VIP Event I wasn’t at or about the amazing night hosted by Bill Walton which I also wasn’t at or bowling with Sags, which I also wasn’t at.

I could tell you about the food, which was amazing, the venue, which was amazing-er, the studly moto antics of Ryan Dahl and Phil Tinstman, or the celeb photo shoot by Brian Hodes.

I could tell you about the perfect weather, the exciting vibe, the immaculate course, or even about Fortress Sags, where PS was holed up in a giant mobile luxury apartment bus in between autograph signings and selfies with fans.

Or I could tell you about getting shelled early, chasing all day, and finally catching the Sags group at a rest stop where they’d been filing their nails and translating War and Peace into Slovak.

I could tell you about riding with Sags and chatting with him for a good 20 minutes, about how his English is better than my Slovak, about his secret tips for how to become a champion masters racer, about his hometown of Zilina (where I almost went once), and about how he pulled over to the side of the road and took a whizz, not to mention getting dropped on the last climb up San Elijo.

And of course I could tell you about riding PCH home on Sunday night and the charms of bumper-to-bumper traffic from Dana Point to Huntington Beach.

But I won’t.

What I’m going to tell you about is excellence, the excellence that was on display at this event, and how it all came from mind to execution by Michael Marckx. It seems like only yesterday, when in fact it was 2012, that Michael left LA for San Diego. He got there unknown and not especially respected–such was (is?) the clannishness of the San Diego roadie scene.

A mere eight years later, he has indelibly branded “MMX” on road cycling in San Diego, in California, and I’d venture to say, in the U.S. What it took to partner up with Sagan on a few months’ notice, pull together the permits, and devise events to make it a three-day show are all impressive. Yet none of those things is as impressive as the vision, because vision is the yin to execution’s yang.

As with every other driven, high-performing mind, working in tandem with Michael isn’t easy, and I’m being nice. This makes it all the more extraordinary, because the team of people who made the event happen couldn’t have been more diverse in temperament, from happy volunteers, to grim number-crunchers, to exhausted t-shirt sales people, to Shelby Reynolds, who personally registered 59,285 people and did every single one with a smile while answering questions like, “Will there be a place to pee?” and “Can I have an xtra small t-shirt with an XXL collar?”

I could go on but should probably focus my admiration instead on the real proof of Michael’s genius: Sags was damned happy with the event. Like any other superstar, he’s been promised the moon often enough to rightly expect stinky cheese when the deliverables roll in. Can anyone say Tinkoff?

But this event really set a standard. Like every course MMX will ever design, this one, a pure-roadie only course, even had one tiny section of sand. You can put the boy in the bathtub, but you can’t get the grit out of his jockstrap. And the course was something that only Michael could’ve designed, calling upon what is unquestionably the most detailed, intricate knowledge of North County roads that any cyclist has ever had. Michael knows the roads turn by turn, how they affect the flow of a ride, where they provide vistas, where they plunge into tree-lined country lanes, where they are conducive to sprints, how much climb is too much, and how to leave you beat to shit at the end even if you just tried to “chill.”

You could tell how happy people were at every stage of the event. Unlike many grand fondues, populated by dour and vaguely dissatisfied old fellows grumbling over the entry fee and contents of the swag bag, the post-ride luncheon was like one big happy party. People got their money’s worth, and more importantly, they got their ride’s worth.

Whether they got their Sags groupie photo by hanging out at the bus, snapping it at one of the parties, or whether they did it the ultimate way, sucking the wheel of the greatest rider of his generation, you couldn’t help feeling like YOU’D gotten a tiny slice of getting to hang with a bona-fide superstar.

And it happened because Michael made it happen.

I asked Sags if he was coming back next year, and he said he would like to, which I suppose is Sags-speak for “it depends.” After this event he was flying to Cartagena for his second big fondo, in Colombia. “After I retire from racing I will have more time for these,” he said. Of course I am already circling the month of November for next year. Knowing Michael, the 2020 event will exceed 2019 by orders of magnitude.

And as for Sags having more time in the future? Maybe. When you’re personable, popular, and able to piss on the side of the road into the lens of 30 cameras, you might find out that in retirement you’re even more popular than you were in your prime, Peter.

Just sayin’.

END


Death by a thousand pedal strokes

October 28, 2019 § 3 Comments

Number of times since 1982 that I’ve been rescued in a car due to a flat/mechanical: 2.

Time one: 2019 BWR.

Time two: 2019 Phil’s Cookie Fondue.

The “flat moment” looked like a lot of “flat moments.” There were four of us and we were about halfway done with the Double Fudge, which should be named the Doubly Fucked. Ride organizer Phil Gaimon begs people not to do this ride and to choose something reasonable instead, and people listen. There were only about fifty riders who signed up, in addition to the 300,000 thorns that had pirated the ride and spread themselves all over the roads.

My $185 entry fee leaked out all the air at the bottom of Pepperdine Hill and I said to my three companions, “Go ahead. I’ll change it and catch up.”

This was the moment of truth. Experienced riders, or frightened riders (often one and the same), never abandon their ride mates unless the mate is truly abandon-worthy, and I obviously was. Yasuko, the Russian, and TB bolted off down the road.

I’d brought one spare tube and it had a defective valve, of course, and after going through both canisters I stood less than a mile from the Starbucks in Cross Creek contemplating my options. Option 1 was to shout at the approaching riders and beg for a tube.

“You okay?” the lead rider said as they came slowly by.

“No, I need a tube and air.”

They all looked straight ahead and kept pedaling.

Option 2 was ride to the coffee shop, catch a Lyft back to Giant Santa Monica, get patched up and ride home, which I did.

But I worried. Not about myself, but about Yasuko, who I’d been training with for this 115-mile, 12k monster. I knew that her friends would leave her immediately and it would be dark, and she’d be alone on steep mountain roads in the Santa Monicas on a Sunday evening. A flat? A mechanical? She’d be in trouble of the kind marked “serious.” I kicked myself for having told her to go on. Not only would I have had a good tube to borrow, but she would have had a wheel to sit on. My legs had felt great the entire day.

The fondue was so sparsely attended that she was certainly the last rider, certainly, and the aid stops for the Double Fudge, in contrast to the happy ones at the beginning of the ride, were depopulated. They’d likely be closed by the time she got there. Still, it was PCH in SoCal on a cool, clear Sunday. What could go wrong? Aside from, you know, everything.

Unlike past editions of Phil’s Fondue, which were marked by howling Santa Ana winds, blistering temperatures, bone-dry air, and people getting blown off the road, this one had begun auspiciously.

We’d missed the start due to a bladder malfunction, I’d gotten yelled at by some dude for not wearing a helmet, and with the exception of one quick water stop, we’d made solid time. The aid station staffed by Big Orange’s Alan, Brooks, Joann, and Franzi was the best aid station on the route. I don’t know if fondues are going out of fashion, because judging from the numbers pinned to rider jerseys, there only appeared to be about 700. A good chunk of those you can presume were either comped or riding with a discounted entry fee. For a 2-day event with huge logistics spread all the way from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles, I don’t see how it all adds up.

Nor was there much excitement. People seemed like they were going through the motions, which I chalk up to the fact that at this stage in the game most fondo riders have done a ton of fondos. It’s like a USAC masters bike race minus the beauty of the industrial park. This makes sense because the fondo demographic is very much like masters racing: old people who aren’t really excited about anything. Like me.

There was minimal participation from local clubs; I saw a smattering of VCLG and Big Orange riders, no one from the fondo’s backyard powerhouse Serious Cycling, and at $185 a pop to ride local roads, even with the cookies and the desire to support local events, that’s a big price tag. Levi’s Fondue, the original “must ride” event, used to cap out at 7,000. Now they beg and hustle for entrants just like everyone else. Few have mastered the magic incantation of the BWR, which still sells out every year and has the feel of something new and exciting no matter how many times you do it.

But none of that mattered as I ate a couple of stale biscuits at home and wondered about Yasuko. She had sent me a photo somewhere up on Deer Creek around 4:08, which was nearing the 9-hour mark, the sun starting to go down, a long, long way from the finish, and perhaps the nastiest part of the route left to do: the howling, 20-mph headwind for the last eight miles.

I called an hour later and she answered, having just turned into the headwind on the home stretch down Las Posas. She sounded drained, miserable, and at wit’s end, in short, like she was just about to finish the Doubly Fucked. And she did. They’d closed up the finish line but she circled round the back, the final rider.

People were impressed.

Phil’s Fondue Double Fudge. In tennis shoes.

END


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Death by a thousand pedal strokes

October 28, 2019 § 3 Comments

Number of times since 1982 that I’ve been rescued in a car due to a flat/mechanical: 2.

Time one: 2019 BWR.

Time two: 2019 Phil’s Cookie Fondue.

The “flat moment” looked like a lot of “flat moments.” There were four of us and we were about halfway done with the Double Fudge, which should be named the Doubly Fucked. Ride organizer Phil Gaimon begs people not to do this ride and to choose something reasonable instead, and people listen. There were only about fifty riders who signed up, in addition to the 300,000 thorns that had pirated the ride and spread themselves all over the roads.

My $185 entry fee leaked out all the air at the bottom of Pepperdine Hill and I said to my three companions, “Go ahead. I’ll change it and catch up.”

This was the moment of truth. Experienced riders, or frightened riders (often one and the same), never abandon their ride mates unless the mate is truly abandon-worthy, and I obviously was. Yasuko, the Russian, and TB bolted off down the road.

I’d brought one spare tube and it had a defective valve, of course, and after going through both canisters I stood less than a mile from the Starbucks in Cross Creek contemplating my options. Option 1 was to shout at the approaching riders and beg for a tube.

“You okay?” the lead rider said as they came slowly by.

“No, I need a tube and air.”

They all looked straight ahead and kept pedaling.

Option 2 was ride to the coffee shop, catch a Lyft back to Giant Santa Monica, get patched up and ride home, which I did.

But I worried. Not about myself, but about Yasuko, who I’d been training with for this 115-mile, 12k monster. I knew that her friends would leave her immediately and it would be dark, and she’d be alone on steep mountain roads in the Santa Monicas on a Sunday evening. A flat? A mechanical? She’d be in trouble of the kind marked “serious.” I kicked myself for having told her to go on. Not only would I have had a good tube to borrow, but she would have had a wheel to sit on. My legs had felt great the entire day.

The fondue was so sparsely attended that she was certainly the last rider, certainly, and the aid stops for the Double Fudge, in contrast to the happy ones at the beginning of the ride, were depopulated. They’d likely be closed by the time she got there. Still, it was PCH in SoCal on a cool, clear Sunday. What could go wrong? Aside from, you know, everything.

Unlike past editions of Phil’s Fondue, which were marked by howling Santa Ana winds, blistering temperatures, bone-dry air, and people getting blown off the road, this one had begun auspiciously.

We’d missed the start due to a bladder malfunction, I’d gotten yelled at by some dude for not wearing a helmet, and with the exception of one quick water stop, we’d made solid time. The aid station staffed by Big Orange’s Alan, Brooks, Joann, and Franzi was the best aid station on the route. I don’t know if fondues are going out of fashion, because judging from the numbers pinned to rider jerseys, there only appeared to be about 700. A good chunk of those you can presume were either comped or riding with a discounted entry fee. For a 2-day event with huge logistics spread all the way from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles, I don’t see how it all adds up.

Nor was there much excitement. People seemed like they were going through the motions, which I chalk up to the fact that at this stage in the game most fondo riders have done a ton of fondos. It’s like a USAC masters bike race minus the beauty of the industrial park. This makes sense because the fondo demographic is very much like masters racing: old people who aren’t really excited about anything. Like me.

There was minimal participation from local clubs; I saw a smattering of VCLG and Big Orange riders, no one from the fondo’s backyard powerhouse Serious Cycling, and at $185 a pop to ride local roads, even with the cookies and the desire to support local events, that’s a big price tag. Levi’s Fondue, the original “must ride” event, used to cap out at 7,000. Now they beg and hustle for entrants just like everyone else. Few have mastered the magic incantation of the BWR, which still sells out every year and has the feel of something new and exciting no matter how many times you do it.

But none of that mattered as I ate a couple of stale biscuits at home and wondered about Yasuko. She had sent me a photo somewhere up on Deer Creek around 4:08, which was nearing the 9-hour mark, the sun starting to go down, a long, long way from the finish, and perhaps the nastiest part of the route left to do: the howling, 20-mph headwind for the last eight miles.

I called an hour later and she answered, having just turned into the headwind on the home stretch down Las Posas. She sounded drained, miserable, and at wit’s end, in short, like she was just about to finish the Doubly Fucked. And she did. They’d closed up the finish line but she circled round the back, the final rider.

People were impressed.

Phil’s Fondue Double Fudge. In tennis shoes.

END


It’s too expensive!!!!!!!

June 17, 2019 § 4 Comments

I love it when some wanker on a $6,000 bike and electronic drivetrain who’s wearing a $1k kit/shoe/helmet combo bitches about the entry fee for Phil’s Fondo, a gravel ride, or the BWR.

My next favorite whine is when someone poutily disses an organized ride with “Why would I pay to ride roads I can ride on for free?”

Let me help you out.

First of all, quit pretending it’s the money. If $150 were a dealbreaker for you, you’d never have bought the power meter, the Training Peaks, the Zwift subscription, Strava premium, or the Rapha merino wool armwarmers at $120 a pop. Right? It’s not the money.

Second of all, quit pretending that you’d normally ride these roads if they weren’t part of a gran fondo. No, you wouldn’t do Las Posas/Yerba Buena/Encinal on a single ride as in Phil’s Fondo, and no, you wouldn’t do Lemontwistenberg/Lake Hodges/Black Canyon/Questhaven/Double Peak as in the BWR.

You just wouldn’t.

So now that we’ve gotten these two issues out of the way, let’s look at why you absolutely should be participating in at least a couple of fondo-esque rides every single year.

  1. They get massive numbers of cyclists on the road, and that impacts motorists and rider safety. It’s one thing for cagers to see dribs and drabs of riders throughout the week, it’s another thing entirely to see thousands of them strung out over a course for the entire day. The inescapable message is that cyclists matter, they exist in numbers, and please watch out for them.
  2. Just because you’re such a badass #profamateur that you don’t need sag, a route, rest stops, mechanical help, or encouragement doesn’t mean everyone else is like you. In fact most fondos have a large contingent of riders for whom this is their first “big” ride, or it’s their first organized ride, or it’s their target ride for the entire year. When you support a fondo, you are supporting grass roots riding. Plus, as an expert #profamateur badass doing a fondo, you can actually help people who are less pro than you.
  3. In the case of Los Angeles, a cycling hotbed home to 15 million+ people, there are about five major gran fondos: Phil’s Fondo, Circle of Doom, Malibu GF, the Nosco Ride, and the LA River Ride. Los Angeles is a notoriously expensive place to organize bike events, and of course it’s exactly the place where such events are needed most. When you support these events, you are ensuring that they stay, and that they continue to provide local riders with the opportunity to participate without leaving home.
  4. Fondos are a great way for clubs to build ridership and provide participation in events without the club having to organize the event. It always pains me to see local fondos not supported with local club turnout; these are precisely the kind of event that clubs can turn into intramural competitions, training rides, or opportunities to mentor new riders … to say nothing of having a great time. Major Taylor Cycling and Cali Riderz regularly target the Palm Springs Century as a major club event on their calendar.
  5. USAC replacement. Many racers and ex-racers are no longer so thrilled with the state of USAC racing. Fondos offer you the opportunity to actually race in somewhat less formal circumstances, often with better competition, better routes, and a better vibe. And if you’re a masters doper, there’s hardly ever any testing!!

So take a look around and sign up for a fondo. My local pick is Phil’s Fondo, but my wife and daughter did the LA River Ride this year and loved it. Nosco is unique because it’s donation only (deadbeats can even pay zero!), and Circle of Doom is shorter than some of the others but bitterly hard. Outside LA, in my opinion the BWR wins hands down, but there are great options in Mammoth, Tehachapi, Big Bear, and Solvang, to name just a very few.

These rides are worth supporting, even if it means you have to wait until 2020 to get those ceramic bearings. Really.


END

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It’s too expensive!!!!!!!

June 17, 2019 § 4 Comments

I love it when some wanker on a $6,000 bike and electronic drivetrain who’s wearing a $1k kit/shoe/helmet combo bitches about the entry fee for Phil’s Fondo, a gravel ride, or the BWR.

My next favorite whine is when someone poutily disses an organized ride with “Why would I pay to ride roads I can ride on for free?”

Let me help you out.

First of all, quit pretending it’s the money. If $150 were a dealbreaker for you, you’d never have bought the power meter, the Training Peaks, the Zwift subscription, Strava premium, or the Rapha merino wool armwarmers at $120 a pop. Right? It’s not the money.

Second of all, quit pretending that you’d normally ride these roads if they weren’t part of a gran fondo. No, you wouldn’t do Las Posas/Yerba Buena/Encinal on a single ride as in Phil’s Fondo, and no, you wouldn’t do Lemontwistenberg/Lake Hodges/Black Canyon/Questhaven/Double Peak as in the BWR.

You just wouldn’t.

So now that we’ve gotten these two issues out of the way, let’s look at why you absolutely should be participating in at least a couple of fondo-esque rides every single year.

  1. They get massive numbers of cyclists on the road, and that impacts motorists and rider safety. It’s one thing for cagers to see dribs and drabs of riders throughout the week, it’s another thing entirely to see thousands of them strung out over a course for the entire day. The inescapable message is that cyclists matter, they exist in numbers, and please watch out for them.
  2. Just because you’re such a badass #profamateur that you don’t need sag, a route, rest stops, mechanical help, or encouragement doesn’t mean everyone else is like you. In fact most fondos have a large contingent of riders for whom this is their first “big” ride, or it’s their first organized ride, or it’s their target ride for the entire year. When you support a fondo, you are supporting grass roots riding. Plus, as an expert #profamateur badass doing a fondo, you can actually help people who are less pro than you.
  3. In the case of Los Angeles, a cycling hotbed home to 15 million+ people, there are about five major gran fondos: Phil’s Fondo, Circle of Doom, Malibu GF, the Nosco Ride, and the LA River Ride. Los Angeles is a notoriously expensive place to organize bike events, and of course it’s exactly the place where such events are needed most. When you support these events, you are ensuring that they stay, and that they continue to provide local riders with the opportunity to participate without leaving home.
  4. Fondos are a great way for clubs to build ridership and provide participation in events without the club having to organize the event. It always pains me to see local fondos not supported with local club turnout; these are precisely the kind of event that clubs can turn into intramural competitions, training rides, or opportunities to mentor new riders … to say nothing of having a great time. Major Taylor Cycling and Cali Riderz regularly target the Palm Springs Century as a major club event on their calendar.
  5. USAC replacement. Many racers and ex-racers are no longer so thrilled with the state of USAC racing. Fondos offer you the opportunity to actually race in somewhat less formal circumstances, often with better competition, better routes, and a better vibe. And if you’re a masters doper, there’s hardly ever any testing!!

So take a look around and sign up for a fondo. My local pick is Phil’s Fondo, but my wife and daughter did the LA River Ride this year and loved it. Nosco is unique because it’s donation only (deadbeats can even pay zero!), and Circle of Doom is shorter than some of the others but bitterly hard. Outside LA, in my opinion the BWR wins hands down, but there are great options in Mammoth, Tehachapi, Big Bear, and Solvang, to name just a very few.

These rides are worth supporting, even if it means you have to wait until 2020 to get those ceramic bearings. Really.


END

BWR: To tubeless or not to tubeless?

April 23, 2019 Comments Off on BWR: To tubeless or not to tubeless?

Hi, Wanky Dude!

I am doing my first ever Belgian Waffle Ride in a couple of weeks and am super excited about it. I like waffles and I like riding and Belgians are okay as long as they bathe occasionally, so this seems like the perfect ride for me.

Question–what kind of tires should I run? Thinking about switching to tubeless but I’m not sure it’s expensive, new wheelset and everything and I’m pretty handy changing a flat, so with your extensive BWR experience what do you recommend? Tubeless really seem to be the way to go here.

Tirelessly,
Tony Tipsnitch

Dear Tony:

Lots of first-time BWR-ers ask this question because it diverts from the real question, which is, “How much have you actually been training?” when we know the answer is “Hardly at all but I’ve been spending a lot of time on the chat forums and Amazon.”

Essentially for you it won’t matter what kind of tire you “run” because you are doomed to DNF and are in fact a pretty solid candidate to DNS. Tires don’t have anything to do with the Belgian Waffle Ride. They don’t matter at all.

Incredible as that may sound, let me give you a brief history of bicycle tires. They used to be made of leather before they were “improved” into iron. Yeah, you read that right. The first velocipedes had spoked wooden hoops covered with iron on the outside, and the roads, if they had any paving at all, were cobblestones. And the bikes weighed 70-80 pounds or more. And the cyclists rode them for a lot farther over lots harder ground than sunny San Diego in May.

Progress being progress, Charles Goodyear invented vulcanized rubber, which allowed ingenious people who didn’t like having their bones shattered every time the pedals went ’round to put a thin solid layer of rubber around the steel wheel. Mind you, there was no air inside the rubber. It was just hard fucking rubber and miserable beyond words but quite a bit less miserable than steel. Migraines, yes, stress fractures, fewer.

During those days, when the penny-farthing was the only game in town and people rode hundreds, then thousands of miles on roads so horrible you can scarcely imagine, cyclists didn’t worry about their “tires.” What they worried about were “headers,” where you tumble off the front of the penny-farthing head-first and get a permanent brain injury or a spot of death.

Eventually John Dunlop came up with a bike tire in 1887 that was inflatable by using an inner tube. Everyone agreed then, and has agreed ever since, that a cushiony inner tube beats all hell out of iron tires and brain injuries.

My point is not that you are kind of a whiny, spoiled wuss for nattering about your tires, which you clearly are. My point is that the word “tire” is an abbreviation for the word “attire.” Yes, back in the day the “tire” attired the bare wheel. It was a kind of froofy dress-up thing, like guys with plucked eyebrows. Frivolous but hey you are in L.A. and so I guess it’s okay.

This is kind of the same thing with your question about what tire to attire your BWR wheels with. Since you are a froofy kind of person, I’d go with whatever is froofiest, which is probably tubeless, a thing that pairs well with chicken, Bearnaise sauce, and words like “brainless,” “gutless,” and my favorite for BWR first-timers, “hopeless.”

On the other hand, if you want to do the BWR in the spirit with which it was created, you should consider attiring your wheels with leather or iron. You will not get far but people will GTF out of your way when you come screaming down the Lake Hodges rock garden on leather tires. And when you hit Lemontwistenberg with those iron hoops you will not need to hop the curb because your tire will smash the cement into sand.

So to sum up, tubeless for froof, leather/iron for hard people.

Your call.

______________________

END

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BWR: To tubeless or not to tubeless?

April 23, 2019 Comments Off on BWR: To tubeless or not to tubeless?

Hi, Wanky Dude!

I am doing my first ever Belgian Waffle Ride in a couple of weeks and am super excited about it. I like waffles and I like riding and Belgians are okay as long as they bathe occasionally, so this seems like the perfect ride for me.

Question–what kind of tires should I run? Thinking about switching to tubeless but I’m not sure it’s expensive, new wheelset and everything and I’m pretty handy changing a flat, so with your extensive BWR experience what do you recommend? Tubeless really seem to be the way to go here.

Tirelessly,
Tony Tipsnitch

Dear Tony:

Lots of first-time BWR-ers ask this question because it diverts from the real question, which is, “How much have you actually been training?” when we know the answer is “Hardly at all but I’ve been spending a lot of time on the chat forums and Amazon.”

Essentially for you it won’t matter what kind of tire you “run” because you are doomed to DNF and are in fact a pretty solid candidate to DNS. Tires don’t have anything to do with the Belgian Waffle Ride. They don’t matter at all.

Incredible as that may sound, let me give you a brief history of bicycle tires. They used to be made of leather before they were “improved” into iron. Yeah, you read that right. The first velocipedes had spoked wooden hoops covered with iron on the outside, and the roads, if they had any paving at all, were cobblestones. And the bikes weighed 70-80 pounds or more. And the cyclists rode them for a lot farther over lots harder ground than sunny San Diego in May.

Progress being progress, Charles Goodyear invented vulcanized rubber, which allowed ingenious people who didn’t like having their bones shattered every time the pedals went ’round to put a thin solid layer of rubber around the steel wheel. Mind you, there was no air inside the rubber. It was just hard fucking rubber and miserable beyond words but quite a bit less miserable than steel. Migraines, yes, stress fractures, fewer.

During those days, when the penny-farthing was the only game in town and people rode hundreds, then thousands of miles on roads so horrible you can scarcely imagine, cyclists didn’t worry about their “tires.” What they worried about were “headers,” where you tumble off the front of the penny-farthing head-first and get a permanent brain injury or a spot of death.

Eventually John Dunlop came up with a bike tire in 1887 that was inflatable by using an inner tube. Everyone agreed then, and has agreed ever since, that a cushiony inner tube beats all hell out of iron tires and brain injuries.

My point is not that you are kind of a whiny, spoiled wuss for nattering about your tires, which you clearly are. My point is that the word “tire” is an abbreviation for the word “attire.” Yes, back in the day the “tire” attired the bare wheel. It was a kind of froofy dress-up thing, like guys with plucked eyebrows. Frivolous but hey you are in L.A. and so I guess it’s okay.

This is kind of the same thing with your question about what tire to attire your BWR wheels with. Since you are a froofy kind of person, I’d go with whatever is froofiest, which is probably tubeless, a thing that pairs well with chicken, Bearnaise sauce, and words like “brainless,” “gutless,” and my favorite for BWR first-timers, “hopeless.”

On the other hand, if you want to do the BWR in the spirit with which it was created, you should consider attiring your wheels with leather or iron. You will not get far but people will GTF out of your way when you come screaming down the Lake Hodges rock garden on leather tires. And when you hit Lemontwistenberg with those iron hoops you will not need to hop the curb because your tire will smash the cement into sand.

So to sum up, tubeless for froof, leather/iron for hard people.

Your call.

______________________

END

Slog

April 14, 2019 § 2 Comments

It is hard to keep going.

The road doesn’t always seem like it’s going to end.

And when it does, the finish may be … not good.

Some people keep pushing while others fall by the wayside. It’s not a matter of superiority. Often it is simply a matter of being unable to quit. Always, it is a kind of perverse doggedness, seen by some as an attribute, by others as a foul curse.

The slog started in 2012, in an industrial parking lot in Carlsbad, California. How it finished and all that stuff, who started, who quit, who purple-carded, that has all been catalogued somewhere and mostly forgotten.

But in 2019 the slog continues, still rolling out from an industrial parking lot, but now accompanied by well over a thousand riders and the extraordinary infrastructure and planning that it takes to launch the annual Belgian Waffle Ride. Most people rightly think that the ride is the slog. Those who have completed it know that “slog” understates it by orders of magnitude. Those who have won it stay mostly silent. The beating speaks for itself.

The bigger slog, though, is the focus, dedication, and sense of purpose that have driven the ride’s progenitor, Michael Marckx, to keep pounding on. Because the moment each year’s production ends, the next year’s begins.

The gran fondo world is a competitive one. Iconic rides such as Levi’s Gran Fondo once sold all 7,000 spots in a matter of hours. Today that same ride is not much larger than most others, and smaller than many.

The Belgian Waffle Ride, however, continues to attract, year in and year out, well over a thousand riders–and more than the numbers, the breadth and the depth of the event continue to grow. Tour de France riders, current professional road racers, international caliber ‘cross racers, and local talent of the highest order fill out the fast end of the BWR’s ranks every single year.

Why? Because the BWR’s course, which changes every year, can’t simply be cobbled together by looking at a map and “going out and doing it.” It’s a ride where an overarching plan backed with coordination by local, county, and state agencies is the backbone upon which the event is hung.

People who want to combine the speed of road riding with the rough-and-tumble battery of sand, rocks, and lots of dirt know that this is the only ride in America where you can get all of that plus well over 12,000 feet of climbing in a marked, supported, turnkey adventure. And it really is an adventure in the true sense of the word: You have no idea how it’s going to end.

This is all by design, because the one thing that Michael has hewed closely to in every single edition of the BWR is that it will be like no other day you spend on the bike, even if you do it every single year. The difficulty, the changing course, and the variations in your own preparation will leave you spent–hopefully intact, but you do sign a waiver.

Slogging your way through eight years of vision to consistently produce a better event is its own kind of mania, especially when you consider that the BWR is executed by a tiny handful of people supported by a vast staff of volunteers. Leaving aside the difficulties of obtaining permits, some of which in past years came through on the eve of the event, and forgetting the vagaries of weather which can be catastrophic, putting together something of this scope means dealing with an infinity of details, not to mention personalities.

Why the singular focus? I’ve never asked Michael, but I’ve ridden with him enough to know that the BWR reflects his approach to cycling. Don’t take the easy way. Don’t tap out when it’s grim. Do your part.

The BWR is as far from the easy way as you can get. Tapping out is of course up to you. And when the ride fractures into grupettos early on, some will do their part and some will sit in for as long as they can. Yet the DNA of the ride is one of a slog, some fast, some less so, and some riders wrapping it up long after the sun has set.

After years of watching the BWR issue forth and then issue forth again, I can also say that it reflects Michael’s obsession with quality. It’s not enough to have a good ride where things mostly go right. The ideal is almost like one of Plato’s forms, an idealization of “ride” in which reality partakes of the ideal to obtain its identity.

Each year is a new attempt to reach perfection, to deliver something better, harder, more challenging, yet still more satisfying than the thing that went before. The willingness to slog is more common than we recognize and the annual BWR roster proves it. But the willingness to slog coupled with the drive to slog in perfection … that is a rare, rare thing, and it’s the ethos of this ride.

_______________

END


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