The cyclist next door
June 13, 2019 § 7 Comments
Evens Stievenart and a South Bay crit specialist who hasn’t ridden his bike for three years, Cat 3 David Perez, are going to attempt the two-man Race Across America this coming Saturday.
I read that a few times and somehow it didn’t add up. Prez is doing RAAM? Last I heard, he was beta-testing for Krispy Kreme’s newest line of ultra-chub, frosting-smeared tummy busters. I’ve never seen Prez pedal for more than an hour without a coffee break, a cigar, and a ribeye … WTF is he doing trying to ride his bike across America with a beast like Evens?
So I did some research, a lot of it, called my sources, checked Wikipedia, talked to Charon, read the race roster and press releases, and carefully combed through Evens’s FB feed and found out that I HAD MADE A MISTAKE. Glad I caught it before I put it in my blog.
Anyway, turns out that Evens is NOT doing RAAM with retired Cat 3 Dave Perez from Jersey, but rather with world class endurance athlete Jean-Luc Perez from France. However, Dave and Jean-Luc have a lot in common, for instance they have the same last name. They are both men. Both reside on Planet Earth. Etc.
But back to Evens and Prez II. They plan to break the two-person RAAM record of six days, ten hours, and 14 billion stabbing sensations of pain throughout the body + Shermer’s Neck. Each of them has followed a meticulous plan of air up tires, ride, eat, sleep, repeat, for many years. Both are talented and thrive on the impossible. You can watch some of their incredible exploits here or here.
However, I don’t want to cover any of that. I want to talk about Evens, who I know personally and have ridden close to for a few seconds on one or two occasions, like the time he had a flat and was sitting on a curb, or the time we ate dinner together. Based on this intimate, insider relationship, I can tell you this: Evens is different. Of course he has all the qualities of a world class cyclist. He is fast, he has endurance, he has won a bunch of big races and etc.
But he stands out for the one quality he lacks: The quality of being a snobby jerk. No one is friendlier or quicker with a smile than Evens. Whether you are a local hacker or a locally deluded Cat 3 or a brokedown old fellow with a leaky prostate, Evens treats you with the exact same degree of kindness, openness, and warmth that he treats everyone. This is one reason why those of us who live in the South Bay kind of take him for granted, because although familiarity doesn’t exactly breed contempt, it does kind of make you forget that he is probably the greatest cyclist you will ever ride with.
Whereas other people are like, “Oh my motherfuckinggodjesuschrist you know Evens Stievenart?” we are more like, “Hey, Evens!” as he pedals by ten miles an hour faster with a wave and a smile.
His decency doesn’t stop with his demeanor. It continues with his participation in local rides. Somehow Evens finds a way to incorporate completely worthless hackfests like NPR, Telo, and the Donut Ride into his training, often by stitching it into the middle of a 190-mile training day. Other times, like the unforgettable week before his assault on the 24 Hours of LeMans, he will invite the entire wankoton to join him on a training ride. That time, he rode for 12 hours straight, averaging 189 gigawatts as local riders took turns sitting on his wheel or taking a pull in the wind for 18 or 19 seconds before they exploded like marshmallows stuffed with dynamite.
Evens knows he’s special. Everyone does. But he has the world-class knack of making you feel that you’re special, like you somehow have a microscopic bit role in his movie, like the thing that you’re doing and the thing that he’s doing although completely different and unrelated, are actually similar. I’ve never seen a rider so good about whom people say so many unanimously good things.
Which isn’t to say that there haven’t been episodes, like the time someone got butthurt because Evens did something or other and it turned into a Facegag drama. There, too, Evens showed his class and his decency. Rather than whipping out the flamethrower, or challenging the wanker to a ride, he apologized for any misunderstanding and humbly went on his way, leaving miles and miles of shredded legs and crushed egos in his wake.
Because at the end of the day, not to mention the beginning and middle, Evens’s kindness and decency stop exactly at the point you want him to get off of his program and onto yours, i.e. slow down just a little bit. Evens doesn’t mind if you ride with him, with this caveat: You’re riding with him, he’s not riding with you. If you’re hankering for a 1-hour stop at Prospect Coffee in Ventura at the turnaround on a 165-mile ride, sorry. He breaks for ten minutes and then leaves. Hope you know the way home.
Racing with Evens reveals an equally ferocious side. He attacks to win, and once he’s off the front, the number of prisoners he takes is zero. There’s no such thing as losing with honor, or racing for second place. The commitment he brings to his training, he brings to racing. Yet for all that, even when at his most earnest, he never resorts to bullshit tactics, wheel chopping, cursing other racers, or wheelsuckery. He’ll win at most costs, but not at all.
I could say more nice things about him, but why? If you ride in the South Bay you’ll meet him, and the experience will far surpass anything written here. If you don’t ride in the South Bay and you’re hearing about him from this blog, you won’t possibly believe that a cyclist could be such a decent human being. As my high school music theory teacher Mr. Strickland used to say, “Consider the source.”
When Evens and Prez II roll out mid-day Saturday from Oceanside, they will have a full team of 16 people to assist them in their quest to be the fastest duo to ever cross the USA on bicycles. Evens’s amazing wife Karina, his biggest admirer Cooper, and his legion of South Bay cycling fans will all be hoping for a successful race, a safe ride, and maybe even a slightly tired Evens with whom we’ll be able to keep up with on his return.
A fella can dream, can’t he?
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It’s a sport, it’s a freak show, it’s RAAM!
September 26, 2013 § 10 Comments
A good friend gave me a book called “Hell on Two Wheels.” It’s about the Race Across America.
“It’s very poorly written,” he said. “But it’s a good book.”
I pondered that. Being a good book and being poorly written don’t usually go together, but in this case he was right. I won’t talk about the book’s bad points. It’s enough to say it is very poorly written, and maybe throw in another handful of “very’s.”
The good things about it, though, were pretty good. Good enough to buy? That’s up to you.
The hardest sporting event in the world
Every mindless endurance activity claims this, and each one has a long list of the deprivations you have to endure to win. Pro football. Walk across Australia. Iditarod. Tour de France. Triple Ironmans. And of course, RAAM — ride your bike from San Diego to Maryland as fast as you can.
None of these events is the hardest sporting event, or even close to it. Why? Because the difficulty of a sporting event is defined by the number of people who do it. If you’re the only person doing the sport, or if the participation pool is only a few hundred people worldwide, it’s just not that hard. It may be miserable. It may be mind numbingly hard. It may wreck your body forever. But the hardness of the event is defined simply: If a billion people are competing for the top spot, it’s harder than if your competition is fifty other athletes, no matter how tiring or demanding the event. In short, competition defines hard.
So, winning a World Cup in soccer is the hardest sport there is. Sorry, RAAM.
But isn’t RAAM still pretty damned hard?
From the standpoint of what your body goes through, I’m not sure there’s anything harder. But you could say the same about creating a new sporting event in which people competed to survive horrible car accidents. What’s interesting about “Hell on Two Wheels” is that it describes two facets of RAAM that have a lot in common with amateur cycling, that is, the physical discomfort and the bizarre emotional makeup of its participants.
In normal bicycle racing, which is hardly normal, winning occurs when a rider combines the ability to overcome extreme physical pain with strategy. It’s what annoys runners who become cyclists. The strongest guy rarely wins unless he’s also one of the smartest. In RAAM, the winner executes a complex strategy of minimal rest, maximal sustainable physical effort, and mentally overcoming days and days of physical pain.
In essence, winning RAAM takes the intolerable pain of bicycle time trialling and stretches it out for seven or eight days. “Hell on Two Wheels” walks you through the totally bizarre things that riders inflict on themselves, things like “Shermer’s Neck,” where your neck muscles fail and your head flops down on your chest, or saddle sores that turn your crotch into a raw, infected, bloody, agonizingly painful pulp that is almost unendurable with each pedal stroke. And you pedal like twelve zillion times.
In other words, good times.
The craziness inside
As with amateur bicycle racing, RAAM is a completely selfish activity. As the book introduces the athletes, most have cloaked their participation in some noble-sounding goal such as raising awareness for child trafficking, or doing something in solidarity with sick people.
But as you learn about what it takes to prepare for and compete in RAAM, you figure it out. These people just like to ride their bikes, all the time. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I’m not sure, after reading this book, how it’s a good one, either.
Of course, I can relate to the craziness. When I’m not riding I’m thinking about it, getting ready to do it, or blogging about it. Maybe the real take home from RAAM is that it shows how, when taken to its logical conclusion, bicycle riders are nutjobs.
If you’re like me, you’ll finish this book and be grateful that you’ve never signed up for RAAM. However deep into the Kool-Aid vat I’ve fallen, I’ve not fallen that deeply. Although, now that I think about it, it might be pretty cool. Yeah. Yeah.