Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Begrudgingly Boycotting Boise's Bike Bash

So as the petals of the New Year unfurl into a sickly blossom of looming national economic recession, the pedals of Boise's cycling community have also begun to open into an equally ghastly monstrosity. I recently received a notice about upcoming bicycle related events in the Boise area. Some of these I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing before; others I have yet to enjoy. I plan on giving you a “Sam’s eye view” of the looming debacles upcoming calendar, but before I descend into a quagmire of over-opinionated criticism, let me take a moment to honestly brag about the Boise cycling community.

Boise is a fantastic place to be a bicyclist. From our house in the North End it’s a ten minute ride to downtown, a ten minute ride to Garden City (a more industrial part of town) where I work, a four minute ride to Camels Back Park (one of the primary mountain biking trailheads), and a one minute ride to Hill Road (one of the primary arteries for road riding). I haven’t started my car in weeks, nor have my housemates. Despite my griping, the climate is such that commuting by bicycle is possible year round, and training is possible through 90% of the winter. The possibilities for racing in Boise are impressive as well; Boise boasts a full calendar of road, cyclocross and mountain bike races. As a transplanted New Mexican, I can safely say that Boise’s bike scene puts New Mexico’s to absolute shame, despite Albuquerque being a much larger city (with arguably a better year-round cycling climate and more impressive nearby mountains). There are a LOT of quality racers (and a lot of quality teams) out here, especially for a city its size, including one of the best youth development teams in the country, a former world time trial champion, and a rock-solid elite team capable of battling it out at national level events with the best pros and amateurs in the country.

Now with all that praise aside, let’s get to it:

The 2008 cycling calendar officially began on New Year's Day, kicking off a weekly series of large group rides that begin at the famous George's Cycles flagship store on Front Street. These
"noon-time shootouts" generally follow the same route: a three hour loop that begins flat and slow, and ends hilly and fast. These rides are pretty fun, and are a good opportunity to socialize with local riders. By the time Sunday rolls around, my legs are usually so blasted to pieces, I'm pretty softened up. The ride starts off pretty tame and friendly for the first hour and a half, after which it flat-out explodes into a non-stop slugfest all the way back to town (largely thanks to the relentless short steep kickers along the way home). I don't really have any criticism for these rides, except that the weather has been taking pot-shots at us by delivering inches of fresh snow most Sunday mornings.

The official kickoff the the "racing" season [and I apologize for using quotes here; I just hope doing so will help avoid permanently sullying the word racing] is the Limited Gear Ratio Road Race. My mind has difficulty wrapping itself around this unique [to my knowledge] abomination, but I'll try. A limited gear ratio race is the cycling equivalent of playing tee-ball: it's a wonderful way for toddlers to gain experience without hurting themselves, but it is as insulting as it is pointless for experienced athletes. Racers are asked not to shift beyond a certain gear ratio. I am not making this up: the category 1 men compete for a total of 30 miles, on mostly flat roads with a maximum gear ratio of 70 inches*. My grandmother can push 70 inches for 30 miles without breaking a sweat. What she can't do is spin her legs at 300 goddam RPMs, which is what it would take to get a descent workout at that ratio. While I'm normally all in favor of playing fair, and playing by the rules, there's one type of rule I simply won't obey: rules that are against my religion. My belief system does not include races of this nature. 70 inch limited gear races simply don't exist to me any more than evolution exists to the Kansas school board. Therefore, I am going to say here and now: I will be shifting at the Limited Gear Ratio Road Race. If I ride off the front all by myself and look like a humongous dickhead at the end of the day for not playing fair, so be it. It's not like I'm too popular around here anyway, after my cyclocross shenanigans. I simply refuse to believe, however, that the rest of Boise's top level cyclists are excited to spend an hour futilely trying to spin their legs faster than a coked-out hamster on a running-wheel. Something tells me if I shift, others will too.

The crown jewel of the early season out here in Boise is the George's Spring Series. The 2008 version of the race is identical to last year's event, so perhaps the best way to describe the George's Spring Series is simply to share my race report from last year:
March 18th, 2007. The Slammer Road Race. 65 miles on a flat windy course, roughly 25 guys, and one girl (Kristen Armstrong). This was stage 2 of a 5-stage race that spans a whopping 7 weeks. It's based on elapsed time--yes, elapsed time--and since I missed the opening time trial, I was out of the GC. There are no prizes for stage wins, top GC contenders only.
"Why not make this race series a points omnium?" I ask, "that way, racers who can't commit to being in Boise for all 8 weeks can still strive for a GC spot."
"What's a points omnium?" they reply.
What's more, is that the local racers really, really CARE about this series. They take it very seriously, and some of them (I'm not joking here) go so far as to base their entire season around it. I asked some local guys what their seasons looked like, and one fellow responded "Well, I'm shootin' to do really well in the Spring Series, and then I was thinkin' about taking it easy until cyclocross starts." Obscene, I know. Oh yeah, and the best part is, the day-of-race entry fee is a mere $40. Did I mention that there are no prizes?

Anyway, we start racing. It's windy. Guys are going across the yellow line all over the place. 15 minutes in, the guy to my right gets blown into my line. I swing a little left too, and push the guy to my left over the yellow by a tad [note: no contact took place, I just drifted into his line a bit. No big deal, right? wrong]. I quickly move back to my right, giving the guy across the yellow space to move back onto our lane. Which he does. Then he punches me.
Nice Boise. Real classy. [remember this guy--he comes back]

After half an hour, one guy from Bob' (Boise's only elite team, with some several strong guys) rolls off the front, and is quickly joined by Kristen Armstrong. There is minimal reaction from the field, and the duo quickly gains time. 1/3 of the way through the race, I hop on some guy's wheel [we'll call him Earl] as he blasts off the front on the course's only roller. Earl closes half the gap to the break before he even looks around for help. We were dragging another Bob's guy with us who had no intention of helping, but we were gaining on the leaders anyway; I rolled through but well under my threshold. We catch the lead group, making it 2 Bob's guys, the women's world TT champ, a very strong (but perhaps overeager) Earl, and myself. To my confusion, the Bob's guy who we dragged up to the break kept sitting on. He didn't pull through once. "I've got orders" he kept saying. I tried to convince him that it was in his best interest, that it was in his team's best interest, but all I got was a stone faced "Sorry dude, orders is orders." I'm no dummy--I'm not going to drag some guy to the line just for him to punk me in the sprint, so I sat on too, thinking this would either cause the break to fall apart (ok by me--my legs were still completely fresh), or get this guy to work. Instead, the three other breakaway members kept pulling their brains out. Our gap increased, with 2/5ths of the break sitting on! Eventually, the Bob's guy who was pulling popped himself and dropped back to the field. The other Bob's guy, the one with "orders", kept sitting on, as did I. But Kristen and Earl just kept trading pulls, and with only 25 miles left in the race, I started thinking that our bizarre breakaway might actually succeed. I attacked hard, and got a large gap the 3rd time up the little roller, drawing the sting out of the Bob's guy--he was the only one with enough juice to respond. Eventually the three of them organized, and due to the strong winds, brought me back. With about 15 miles remaining, we got word from the motorcycle ref, that two guys were bridging up. I stayed calm, and buckeled my seatbelt, preparing for the pace to quicken once the fresh legs arrived. To my horror--well not horror so much as shock and awe--we were quickly joined by 2 more bob's guys (the GC leader of the stage race being one of them). Aparently, these guys just rode the entire field off their wheels, completely clean. Once they arrived, the pace picked up, and Earl popped, making the group 3 Bob's guys (2 of them very strong, and very fresh), Kristen (who at this point was completely shot), and myself. Getting triple-teamed might be fun in the bedroom, but it sucks on the bike. With about 10 miles left, they started taking cracks at me. I responded to about 20 attacks but eventually, the two late-comers gapped me off, and I soloed in for 3rd.

Fast forward two weeks:

April 1, 2007. Bird of Prey Road Race. 72 miles on another flat windy course, in fact it practically WAS the same course; it shared several of the roads, and the terain/conditions were identical. Bob's shows up with 9 guys: the same crew from the previous race, with several very strong additions. From the gun, all of them line it up, and echelon it out. They didn't drill it. They didn't even gutter it. They just rode. The field got a free ride, completely neutralized by Bob', for nearly 60 miles. The few attacks launched by the timid field were quickly reeled in by a 9-man team time trial. At one point I rode up alongside a Bob's guy, saying "dang, this might turn out to be the longest lead-out in history, eh?"
"Shut the fuck up, cocksucker" he replied.
Ah. The classy guy again.
I was bemused. Apparently his memory works better than his reasoning.
"You're the guy who punched me last week, aren't you?" I asked with a grin.
"Yeah, and I'll do it again. I'll push you into the fuckin' ditch if you try any of that shit again--I don't care if I go down with you."
I did my best to explain that when I swerved into his line [two full weeks ago] that I wasn't trying to offend him, and that it wasn't personal. I also tried to make it clear that even though he punched me and cursed at me in our last race, I held no grudge against him. I'm not sure if he understood my words, but by using grunts and gestures I think we were able to communicate. We shook hands. A truce, I think...

With about 15 miles to go, the Bob's GC contenders (who had been sitting in this whole time), exploded off the front. Once again, they rode everyone off their wheels, the field helpless to respond, even though the they hadn't spent a single second in the wind. Once again, I found myself alone in a thicket of Bob's riders. Once again, I was attacked, and once again, I had to settle for third place.

*For those who aren't familiar with the term, inches refers to the distance the wheels travel along the ground during one complete revolution of the cranks. Thus, an easy gear ratio will yield a smaller number of inches, and vice versa.

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