The killing Fields

August 5, 2019 § 12 Comments

I have lately been forced to pay attention to annual training plans. Ever since the invention of Internet coaching and power meters and the Stravver, bike racers have focused more and more on virtual things and less and less on actually riding their bikes.

This is why bike racers and those who aspire to ride fast are generally so not fast. They don’t know how to train.

What they know how to do is look at a computer screen and manipulate cool photos on the ‘Gram.

Back in the day I learned to train from Fields. His philosophy was simple. You had to ride your fuggin’ bike. And the corollary was that if you weren’t riding a lot, you weren’t training. Then, as now, this philosophy, which was rooted in Europe, didn’t adapt well to America, where people are generally soft, flaccid, lazy, and consumed with the self-righteous conviction that their opinions are facts.

But then I had self-doubt.

Was I simply mis-remembering? Had I fallen into the dotage of having been greater than I never was? Was I simply a cupcake of the 80’s, and because none of it was vaulted on Facebag, there was no one to point the finger and call me out?

I sure remember cycling as being real fucking hard. And I remember that riding with Fields was the apotheosis of hard. But then again, I remember a lot of things that never happened, right? So I texted Fields and asked him if he had any of his old training logs.

“Sure,” he said.

“Could you send me a couple of pages?”

“Yeah. Why?”

“Because SoCal is drowning in fake training. People actually think they can get faster by dicking off.”

“Oh,” he said. Fields quit riding twenty-plus years ago. “Sounds like nothing has changed.”

A few minutes later he started sending me stuff. It’s really instructive. First, it shows you how fucking hard you had to ride if you wanted to be any good. And Fields wasn’t simply good. He was great. He cared not one half-broken dick about your training plan or philosophy if it didn’t involve pain and difficulty. These little snippets are from 1984. I’d bought my first bike in October 1982, rode for a year or so, then fell in with the racing crowd in fall 1983, when I met Fields. More about that in another blog.

On December 31, 1983 I did my first training ride with him. I was 20, he was 25, which seemed ancient. Here is what Fields’s training logs looked like.

Jan. 24/25/27 he motor paced for 1:50, :45, and 1:30. This is the kind of workout that destroys you. So he rested a day and then whacked out this gem:

Yep, 100 miles of motor pacing in 3:15. That’s an average of almost 31 mph. And he did it behind a 50cc motor scooter that had negligible draft. Every time I hear some nincompoop talk about his TSS or his trinket on the Stravver or about how he got on the leaderboard on that 30 second segment, or killed it on the NPR, or better yet, about how I’m fucking things up by RIDING TOO HARD, I think about Fields.

The moment you questioned hard riding, Fields would have ridiculed you, dropped you, and forgotten about your existence. As he always said, “If you are a bicycle racer and you get ridiculed, you deserve it for being a bike racer. And if you get ridiculed, you will either quit or get better. Hopefully the former.”

Fields would have hated the Stravver and all the fake training bullshit. He knew that if you wanted to ride fast you had to hurt. And if you didn’t know how to hurt and hurt often, you were NEVER GOING TO BE ANY GOOD AT ALL.

By the first week of January, when it was still cold as fuck, Fields was doing monster rides that invariably included some kind of horrific speed work for an hour or more. This wasn’t a brisk pace of orderly gentlemen riding 2 x 2 and shoutypantsing instructions about how to ride your bike, it was a full-gas paceline at threshold and if you couldn’t pull through you got left behind. After the speed work you went back to a stiff 2 x 2 formation where the front riders pulled at threshold for about five minutes, and when you got off the front you were a whimpering, beaten sack of jell-O. But you had better have fucking recovered when your turn came again …

Here’s what a January leg-stretcher looked like, this one on Jan. 7, 1984:

And of course when you rode with Fields you didn’t pop off, mouth off, or advise anyone on what to do or how to ride. You kept your fucking mouth shut. First, because you didn’t want to sound like a moron, and second because you were breathing too hard to talk. And you didn’t holler “rock,” “crack,” “tree,” “sky,” “apartment building,” either. If you were too fucking inattentive to steer around shit then you fell off of your bicycle and onto your ass.

After a couple of those, and no, no one wore a helmet, you started to pay the fuck attention. And if you kept jumping off your bike onto your ass, no one would ride with you any more. Nobody felt responsible for you or cared about you at all. If you were silly and stupid enough to want to race a bike, you deserved whatever you got.

And one more thing about talking: if you talked, it was generally to ask a well-considered question and then listen carefully to the answer. The idea that a Cat 4 would instruct anyone about anything related to cycling was preposterous. If you were lucky, your question was answered or ignored. If you were unlucky, it was picked apart, laughed at, and remembered forever, only to be trotted out to remind everyone that you were an idiot. Not there was ever any doubt.

By April, after riding so much and so hard that races seemed like a vacation, Fields was eating people’s lunch. Here’s an entry from April 8, 1984, at the Aggieland crit, where Fields stuck a 50-lap break, lapped the field, and won the field sprint.

Did I mention that Fields didn’t dick around in the pack, preen, intimidate people with aggressive riding (unless you fucked with him), or wait for other people to make moves? Fields was the move, and when he went, you were either on his wheel and maybe in the running for second place, or you were back with the pack fill.

And Fields didn’t sit in breakaways, he drove them. Think you were going to sit on and get towed to the finish? He would take your ass off the back so quick you’d think you’d fallen down an elevator shaft. Nor did Fields train his ass off so that he could do well in a race. He trained hard so that he was a factor in almost every race he entered, and so that he was contesting a podium spot or the win–these weren’t 1-hour Jeff Prinz jerk-a-thon business park crits, either.

Aggieland was “windy,” and Fields was nothing if not a master of understatement. “Windy” meant “would blow over an aircraft carrier.” Nor was he a “crit specialist” or a “sprinter.” Fields was a bike racer who could win, and he took his medicine as the course doled it out.

A few days after Aggieland, Fields put in another hard training day. At a time when today’s racers would be scrolling through their IG feed or posting up cool shots of them hanging at the beach, Fields was posting this shit. In private, in a training log:

Nowadays it’s a come one, come all mentality because no one wants to ride hard, and so everyone can join. It’s democracy of the weak. Back then, when Fields invited you on a ride, you were honored. Terrified and honored. And you turned your guts inside out for him because you didn’t want to disappoint him. And you know what? He never gave anyone no fucking kudo. The invite was the kudo, and the seal of approval was that you didn’t get dropped, something you earned yourself. He never gave you shit.

The minute you showed weakness, he cracked you. The minute you complained, he ridiculed you. The minute you said something stupid, he upped the pace. And if you didn’t like it, or him, guess what?

He didn’t give a fuck. And because his training was so hard, there were only one or two people who could do it with him consistently because generally his regimen melted you like a stick of butter in a steel smelter. Fields was fine training alone. No music or earbuds, just training, and if it rained he wore a rain jacket and if it was cold he put on tights. If it was 105 he left early and drank a lot of water.

Of course in SoCal, where the training geniuses advise you to quit training hard in JULY, the thinking is different. Fields had a slightly dissimilar regimen for the “noodling” month of October. Like this:

Five hours motor pacing … in October. An hour fifty of speed work … in November. 31 hours of hard training along with tough as nails racing. That’s almost four months after the weakass candystripers of 2019 have hung up their cleats for the season.

And speaking of racing, there wasn’t any tent, there wasn’t any van, there weren’t any chairs or flavored water or GU shots or compression tights. If you were going to do the 25-mile Gruene TT, you rode there, did the TT, and rode home. 100 miles, and the “massage” was what happened when you got off your bike and stopped pedaling.

Now I know what you’re thinking. “That’s crayyyy-zeee. That would never work NOW! Fields was a freak, a one-off, no waaaaay!”

Which shows how wrong you are. Fields was a totally ordinary bike racer who adopted training methods that work, i.e. training methods that involve work, and a shit-ton of it. He invented nothing. He applied everything. And on the national road racing scene, he was far, far from being the best at a time when names like Rogers, Grewal, Tilford, Phinney, Knickman, and a bunch of others dominated the sport.

But Fields was still exceptional by any standard simply because he extracted the very best out of modest talents, proving his own adage: “Doesn’t matter what numbers you have. Because no one but you can measure desire.” If anyone has ever won more bike races in Texas when events always generated 120+ entries in the Cat 1/2 races, I don’t know who it could possibly be.

And Fields’s work ethic served him well when he raced in Belgium and did the pro classic that used to be called Het Volk. What follows is probably the most incredible diary entry you will ever see.

Take a look at the names of his training partners. “Raas,” “Peeters,” as in Jan Raas and Ludo Peeters, not to mention Maarten Ducrot, Cees Priem, and Pieter Hoondert, guys who could ride 22 mph all day long in 40 degrees (knock off another ten degrees for wind chill) on “muddy & salty” roads. In the rain. On the fucking cobbles. These were among the toughest, most hardened, most accomplished men to ever race a bike, and their training was as bitter as the European classics and stage races that they WON. And Fields trained with these guys, having done his prep work in the non-hotbed of … Austin, Texas.

Nor was 22 mph then what it is now. Today the light bikes, efficient drivetrains, improved wheels and tires, and especially the superior road surfaces make average speeds so much higher. Back then, 22 mph for 70 miles was incomprehensibly hard, and the only reason Fields could do it is because he trained the European way: hard, hard, consistently hard.

Of course Fields rested. He rested a lot. And he had easy days, although to be fair, his easy days were probably harder than most modern puffcake riders’ entire lives. He slept a bunch, ate well, and avoided overtraining, with this caveat: He was fit and fast and tough enough to do the hard training from which he could recover.

And he didn’t get that way noodling, or knocking shit off in July, or by fiddling with his IG account. He got that way by riding his fuggin’ bike.

Fields was made of stern stuff and he didn’t share it easily. But if you wanted to get better and weren’t afraid of morning-noon-evening servings of humble pie, if you knew that the hard road was ultimately the easiest one, if you were willing to show respect in order to earn it, if you could button your lip and do your share of the work, Fields would take you in.

And invariably, Fields attracted the very best racers as training partners. I won’t go into Marco Vermeij’s story here, he of two Tours de France, but suffice it to say that everyone who was serious about riding fast sooner or later ran into Fields.

If you stuck it out, one day the magic would happen, like the day that we did the 145-miler with Scott Dickson, the first and only American to ever win Paris-Brest-Paris … and who won it three times. But that’s a story for another day.

For today, all you have to know is this: Ride. Yer. Fuggin’. Bike.

And don’t be afraid to hurt like a dog.


The taste of bitter, Devil’s Punchbowl 2012, Part 1

April 28, 2012 § 2 Comments

Humans receive tastes through sensory organs called taste buds, concentrated on the top of the tongue. There are about 100,000 of

them. According to Wikipedia, the sensation of taste can be categorized into five basic tastes: sweet, bitter, sour, salty, and umami. “Umami” is originally the Japanese word for “meaty” or “savory,” or more commonly, “vagina.”

Cycling in general, and bike racing in particular, are filled from top to bottom with bitter. Occasionally, after a hard race in some godforsaken shithole that is strewn with blowing trash and meth whores, a rider will describe the event as “bittersweet.” This is because he got second when he could have won, or almost didn’t get dropped on the climb when he got dropped on the climb, etc. However, mostly all the time it’s just plain old bitter.

“How’d you do?” “Bitter.”

“How was the Bakersfield course?” “Bitter.”

“What does your wife think about all the time and money you spend training that supposedly makes you fit but in reality makes you too tired to have sex on the rare occasions when she wants it?” “Bitter.”

Sometimes, but not often, cycling actually tastes like “umami,” or “vagina”

My buddy Filds once went to race in Belgium for a while. His Iowan parents didn’t quite understand. When the locals back in Tipton asked “So what’s Filds up to?” his mom would say, “Oh, he’s riding his bicycle around Europe.”

Yeah, he was just riding his bike around good ol’ Europe on little ol’ group rides like Het Volk.

What’s more to the point, though, is that before doing the Spring classics, he spent the winter training with locals who rode out of Ghent, characters such as Johann van der Velde and Jan Raas. Whatever you do, pretend you know who they are.

The winter Filds spent in Ghent he was accompanied by his girlfriend, who stayed back in the flat during the long hours that Filds rode in the cold, wet, Belgium winter. The Belgians and Dutch thought it was funny that a guy would bring his girlfriend to Europe while he trained to race. It was a sign of weakness, as if Filds couldn’t endure the hardness without having a woman back home so that he could “lick de pussy” as they said in their broken, laughing, heckling English.

When the whip comes down

One day in early January Filds met up with his training partners, including Raas. It was just above freezing. A hard rain was pelting down. The cobbled roads were treacherously slick. The wind was blowing at gale force. No one said a thing as they rode out of Ghent. As they completed a loop back into Ghent, a loop containing 80 of the hardest, coldest, wettest, most miserable miles that Filds had ever endured, all he could think of was his heated flat, something hot to drink, hot food, warm clothes, and the hours it was going to take to thaw out his broken and frozen body.

Filds was counting the pedal strokes until he could turn down his street. He moved over to the left as he saw his turn up ahead. “Wat you doing?” asked Raas.

Filds looked over. “I live over there. My apartment is over there.”

“I know dat,” said Raas. “So wat? We going make anudder loop.”

“Another loop? Are you kidding?” No sooner had he said it than he saw that no one was kidding. The hard part hadn’t even begun.

“Ja, you wanna ride bike in Belgie or you wanna go back to de house to lick de pussy?”

The other guys started to laugh. “I can’t, Jan. I’m completely done. Completely. I can’t go any farther.”

Raas turned to the bunch. “He’s going back to de house to lick de pussy!” They all howled. “American boy going back to de house to lick de pussy!”

Filds slunk home in shame. He was broken, frozen, exhausted, defeated, and crushed by the knowledge that the outer limit of his physical and mental endurance was barely half that of the men against whom he would have to race in a few weeks’ time. Whether or not he went home and licked de pussy is unknown. But it is certain that the aftertaste of the ride was bitter mixed with umami.

[Tune in tomorrow for “Wanky Eats Sand and Thinks It’s Bitter, but Not As Bitter As Drinking from the Pukebowl”]

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