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Aug. 31, 2006

While I was a course marshal during Saturday's race, I let three neighborhood kids play with my camera. They were captivated. It was nerve-wracking to watch as they juggled the telephoto and fought over who got to use it next, but it was an effective way to keep them within reach. It proved less nerve-wracking than watching them run into the street and into the path of the charging peloton.

Photo taken by Maia: Aug. 26, 2006


Aug. 28, 2006

Road racing imitates life, the way it would be without the corruptive influence of civilization. When you see an enemy lying on the ground, what's your first reaction? To help him to his feet.

In road racing, you kick him to death.

Tim Krabbe, "The Rider"

A strange thing happened Saturday. I won a race.

It was fun. I should try to do it again sometime.

It was the masters race at Sherman Park, the criterium my team hosts on the South Side. Because there was a competing race and because most masters riders don't like the idea of bringing their nice bikes from the North Shore into a shady part of the city, the field was small, only 20, and 10 of us were xXx.

I'd just finished the 3/4 race, in which I'd wiped myself out to support teammates in the break and the field sprint. I was just hoping to finish the masters race.

Randy got off in an early break of six. After a few laps, I was feeling recovered and decided to join two teammates in attempting to bridge. We got off hard and clean, dragging no one with us, and by working together it was elementary to get up to Randy's group. By now there was a rider off the front, but xXx now made up four of the eight-man chase group.

Our chase was disorganized as we figured out who wanted to pull. Gaps formed, and the pace rose and fell. It turned out that nobody wanted to pull but us, so we formed a rotating paceline at the front until we got within sight of the leader.

Then Randy attacked. Two others marked him, so I counterattacked immediately. It was the perfect set-up: After surging to catch Randy, nobody was inclined to catch me -- or they didn't take a guy in tube socks seriously; fools! -- and my teammates went into blocking mode.

I caught the leader with about five laps to go. As soon as I did, I was thinking of how satisfying second place would be. "Pull me around," I was about to say, "and I won't sprint it out." Such is my killer instinct. But he beat me to it. "Pull me around," he said, "and I won't sprint it out." Deal!

I pulled for 3/4 of a lap and let him take a turn. Shortly after I took over again, I turned around and he was nowhere to be seen. I had no idea he was so close to the brink.

I rode hard and kept riding hard, trying to not look over my shoulder but failing. It wasn't until the last lap that I felt certain I was going to do it. Coming out of Turn 4, I slowed as much as I could without being obnoxious, trying to savor the moment.

Naturally I did a throw at the line.

This would be Race 54 in my racing log, and it would be my first win.

I like to say that in cycling, victory doesn't go to the fastest. It goes to whoever crosses the finish line first. This race supports that truism. I don't pretend to have been the strongest in this race, or even the strongest on my team. I just caught the lucky break and managed not to blow it, and I know I wouldn't have done nearly as well if xXx hadn't stacked the field.

I raced again Sunday. I raced stupidly and burned too many matches along the way but managed to get fourth.

Assuming all my races qualify, I've now earned 20 points, exactly what I need to upgrade to Category 3. I remain torn.

I've finally become a good Cat 4 rider. It's equivalent to being a B student in the first grade. Who on earth would go to second grade and remain a B or C student if you could repeat first and be an A+++ student?

Photo taken by Cecile Redoble: Aug. 26, 2006


Aug. 25, 2006

Beauty is not the goal of competitive sports, but high-level sports are a prime venue for the expression of human beauty ... [I]t might be called kinetic beauty. Its power and appeal are universal. It has nothing to do with sex or cultural norms. What it seems to have to do with, really, is human beings’ reconciliation with the fact of having a body ...

Genius is not replicable. Inspiration, though, is contagious, and multiform -- and even just to see, close up, power and aggression made vulnerable to beauty is to feel inspired and (in a fleeting, mortal way) reconciled.

David Wallace, "Roger Federer as Religious Experience"

Photo taken: Aug. 20, 2006


Aug. 22, 2006

So, right. Bicycle racing.

Heading into last week's Elk Grove criterium, a race with an unprecedented $2,500 on the line, I hadn't raced in more than a month. More pressing, I hadn't known success in more than two months.

Success begets confidence. Confidence begets success. Treacly, but true, and in racing confidence may be more of a decisive factor than fitness or tactics.

When you have a good position and a rider steals it from you, there are two reactions. The non-confident rider says, "I guess this guy is faster than me. Maybe next time." And then he floats back to 40th place and stays there. The confident rider, on the other hand, says: "The hell you do. That's my spot, I worked to get it, and I deserve it." And he fights to get it back, more out of rage and entitlement than anything.

I know this because I've been both riders. Sometimes in the same race.

About that rage and entitlement. I'm learning the role these feelings play. I don't have a lot of either, but I'm learning how to fake it during a race. My guess is that great athletes have plenty of both all the time, which is what makes them great but also unpleasant to be around.

Back to success. The goal going into Elk Grove and the other end-of-season crits was to sit in, be patient and salvage some success and confidence to carry me through the off-season, like one last kiss to carry you through a loved one's absence.

Elk Grove criterium: 2.5-mile course with two treacherous 180-degree turns. I tried to sit in, I honestly did, but on a prime lap I found myself off the front and decided to go for it. The prime went three deep. Surely I could hold off all but two of the field, right? Sure enough, I did, winning my first prime ever, a bike fit worth $150.

I had decent position in the last lap, but let myself get swarmed and boxed in. I barely negotiated a crash in the last 400 meters, then could pass only enough people for 21st, one spot out of the money.

This Saturday was the historic Downers Grove criterium. Since it's the same course that the national championship is contested on the following day, it draws the summer's largest and strongest fields and even a few spectators. I watched several of the races last year, and I'd been studying race reports all week. I hadn't visualized a race this precisely since the great road races of May and June.

Category 4: Again I accidentally found myself off the front, despite the plan to sit in the entire time. I had a good breakaway companion, however, and even though we stayed off for only two laps, that was enough for us to exchange two $25 primes.

Alas, same thing on the last lap: Good position, but I allowed myself to get swarmed and boxed in. A massive crash had reduced the field to only 25 riders, and I could do no better than 19.

Masters 4/5: This time I was full of rage, entitlement and Accelerade. We'd gotten to the staging area late, Bob and I did, but we I weaseled a position at the front. (We had a choice: Create a new first row and get yelled at, or go to the last row and start the race in 110th place. We chose the former, knowing how important it was to have good position at the whistle.)

I hit the first corner in the front 10 and spent the entire race there. Any time someone came up the side I pounced and grabbed their wheel. Even after I contested two primes -- losing both of them carelessly -- I fought to retain my positon. Position was crucial. Eight turns meant eight chances to crash. By being at the front, I could pedal through the turns single-file and choose my own lines, rather than riding in the pack and praying someone wouldn't go wide and take me out. Just in case, I let my inside knees hang wide to discourage anyone from bombing past.

This time I succeeded in sitting in and never "found myself" off the front. Ellen was in Mexico, but I could hear her coaching: "Sit in, you silly fool!" The pros should be so lucky to have such dulcet advice piped through their race radios.

There were so many primes that they never announced three or two laps to go. Suddenly we were on the bell lap and I was in the front 10. When I sensed people moving up the side, I moved over to block them, preferring to eat the wind rather than risk losing spots.

With the exception of two Lot riders, it was a jumble of teams at the front. Lot has a reputation for, among other things, having good sprints, so I grabbed their draft. In the confusion of the last turn, however, I lost it, and they executed a perfect leadout for themselves. One of them won, but I held on for fourth.

This was not the best finish of the year, but given the strength of the field and difficulty of the race, it was among the most satisfying. Most satisfying of all may have been the urge to vomit. I felt like I'd just done a time trial, so hard and non-stop had I been working for 35 minutes. After most races I feel I could have gone a little harder. Here I knew I'd given everything I had. Exactly 100 percent of my being had gone into my pedals, and if fourth is as much as my being yields, so be it.

Photo taken by Michael Barran-Stanley: Aug. 19, 2006


Aug. 21, 2006

Downers Grove USPRO national championship. Race report TK.

Photo taken: Aug. 20, 2006


Aug. 18, 2006

Three recent moments:



"I think I'll become a pro cyclist. Then I can retire at 33. Like Jesus."

"Careful. He had a better 401(k) plan. Jesus saved."



We pull up into an L.A. strip mall for some Iranian ice cream at Mashti Malone's. In the parking lot there's a large dog sitting on top of a car, and he's created a commotion.

Except it's not a dog: It's a bearcat, a furry beast with a tail as long as its body. It prowls and snarls atop the car, occassionally taking swipes at curious onlookers. The owner holds it by its tail and reassures: "He's only playing."

I'm standing next to a prototypical L.A. character: The aging surfer, shirtless with kinky blond hair down to his shoulder.

"That's a bearcat?" Ellen asks.


"What's it doing here?"

"What are any of us doing here, man?"



I'm in line at the bike valet after watching "American Graffiti" in Grant Park. Two hipster cyclists are passing out fliers to the weekend's bicycle film festival. The guy behind me accepts one from the lady hipster.

"So what do you think about Floyd?" he asks.


"Floyd Landis."

"Sorry. I don't know that much about the filmmakers."


Aug. 9, 2006

In Crested Butte, Colo.

Photo taken: Aug. 2, 2006


Aug. 8, 2006

Last week I helped Ellen move the last of her belongings from L.A. to Chicago. I didn't think it could be done, but after a yard sale and trip to the thrift store, we packed nearly everything into a rented minivan.

The most troublesome items included a mountain bike, a curvy coffee table and a snowboard, not to mention five years' worth of photographs, kitchen accoutrements and sociology texts. Seeing it all stacked in the carport, I was certain that tough choices would have to be made -- choosing between taking the boyfriend or the bicycle among them -- and prepared to provide consoling hugs as Fiestaware and statistics assignments were dropped into the Dumpster, but Ellen somehow got it done. I never should have doubted. We even had enough room to accommodate a spree at the outlet stores in southeastern California. Later, a new pair of flip-flops, my first, fit nicely in the glove compartment. (Strangely, the van did not come with a flip-flop compartment, despite having been rented in Santa Monica.)

Helping a significant other with a cross-country move is an important rite of passage, one I recommend everyone do exactly once. I'm happy to report that after approximately 224 straight hours in one another's company, we are still talking. Which is not to say the week passed without its icy moments. A week is a long time. I don't know how you married people do it.

Photo taken: Aug. 2, 2006