I just realized the other day, in my Motrin haze, that we're coming up on another roadracing season mighty fast.
You are probably stocking up on the essentials, just like me - a box of inner tubes, a couple sets of training and race tires, some new team kit, a new tube of Brave Soldier and some bandages, some Accellerade, vintage 2002, marked down to firesale prices in the LBS' liquidation of stuff they don't think they can give away at the bike swap...
But have you stocked up on excuses yet?
This is really important, because as anybody in MABRA who doesn't race for Battley Harley could tell you, you are going to lose a lot of races this year. Like most years, there will be a small handful of repeat winners in every class, and a couple outliers stepping to the top of the podium a couple times. The other 150 or 200 of us that race in that class will be stuck with an unending string of losses. That's racing, and it sucks like that because most of us pack fodder, we suck.
It's okay. Admit it, live with it, try to get better. But sucking is a fact of racing. Even the greatest racers ever won a half dozen races per season. That means they sucked in 80 other races every year, sometimes for 20 years running. That's a lot of suckitude. But at least they had the solace of winning the Giro, the Ronde van Vlaanderen, or La Primavera. Get blown out of the pack at Worlds, or crash out of the Vuelta, they can always say, "Yeah, but I did the Paris-Roubaix and Ghent-Wevelgem double. What did you do in March?" We rank amateurs, particularly the rankest among us, don't have that solace. We don't suck a little. We suck pretty much constantly. Yet still we race. This requires a coping mechanism or two.
Admitting the reasons for why you suck can be really hard, and you probably don't want to try it. Hell, I don't like even thinking about it. Perhaps you suck because you're fat, that you're slow, that your weaknesses are climbing, rolling on the flats, sprinting, time trialing and handling, your racing tactics and strategy, or that you didn't train hard enough. Maybe you aren't a terminal loser, maybe you're actually about to be really good and just in some transitory period of bad riding. Maybe you just haven't gotten it together yet, because in the words of the immortal Warren Zevon, your sh1t's f*&%ed up. That's hard to admit too. The flesh is weak, and our weak character is loathe to admit that the flesh - the nicely suntanned bit of leg muscle attached to the character - is weak too. We just can't bring ourselves to say these things.
We can't admit this because it's a reason for failing, and like other reasons, it implies responsibility; reasons lay the responsibility for failure right back at our feet. That hurts. So we trip over the reasons.
Instead, we give excuses. Excuses are the lies we tell to each other, but most of all to ourselves, to keep from hurting ourselves too badly when we've blown it. "I suck" is hard to say, and what's more, if it's true, it's a bleak thing to say when you just trained for a year for your A race only to vomit and pull off four miles into it.
Excuses are a big huge wash bucket full of that lubricant of the social contract, hypocrisy. An excuse is a deal - "if you humor me and pretend to believe my modest lie about why I sucked out there today, I'll humor you and pretend to believe your modest lie about why you sucked out there, today or at a date TBD. That way, we'll all go home relatively happy."
Hypocrisy in reasonable doses is a good thing because, contrary to what every 19 year-old kid talking about politics believes, the truth is very often painful, unnecessary, and the last thing anybody wants or needs to hear on a daily basis.
No, we didn't co-sign the social contract in order to get slapped down twice a week and to feel miserable. For racers, the social contract is about doing something we love, or at least love to hate, and hanging out with friends a lot, so that we can know the truth about ourselves deep down within and so that once in a while we can have an id-gratifying top 10 or 20 finish. But we're not there to hear, or tell the truth, to have it thrown in our face all the time. The race results are truth enough for any one day, and in fact, they are often too much truth, much more than we really want to hear unless we finished in the points and in the money. A little hypocrisy is a wonderful thing, friends. It keeps the wheels turning.
So for those days when you feel like all those big and little truths about you are about to gang up on you and kick your ass really badly, I offer you some highly effective excuses, tailored to the center mass of my readers, MABRA racers.
But first, you need to know some rules about using excuses.
First, you need to pre-load a lot of your excuses, just the way you'd carbo load prior to a 200 mile ride. You can drop a minor excuse in an offhand manner, but you will need more time if you're getting ready to tell a whopper - "Man, I was going alright but my cancer / appendicitis / fetus-in-fetu really flared up out there today." If you're going to say something like your cancer is kicking your ass, and it's not true, then you'd better pre-load by shaving your head for a couple months beforehand, losing a sh1tload of weight, and causing awkward conversations every time you see your friends. Remember, a big 'un like that is the A Priority Excuse of your race season, and you don't just whip that out and make it work without a lot of preparation. You really only use something like this for blowing a career goal, like RAAM or if you ride Lance Armstrong off the road with an impromptu bump drill on an MS 150. For what it's worth, it helps if you say you have cancer of some part of your body - there's no generalized cancer except when your appointment with the Eternal Footman is nigh. Non-Hodgkins lymphoma is a good one if you have to make something up; it's pretty survivable. Of course if people catch you lying about this you'll be thought of as tasteless and ghoulish and hateful and no decent person will ever talk to you again; but if you've ever made an excuse, then you're a liar to begin with, so right now we're just quibbling over matters of taste, technique and degree.*
Second, you may need a recovery period after giving a particularly strong excuse, just like you may need to recover after a strong (for you) race performance. For example, if you say you blew it at 12 Hours of Lodi thanks to appendicitis, you'd probably better skip the club rides for a week or two, and not show back up unless you have a scar on your stomach. As any goth kid can tell you, cutting yourself is fun and easy, so make sure you follow through. For this reason I don't recommend using hard-to-fake conditions like a broken back, compound fracture of the tibia, or fetus-in-fetu as your excuse, unless you really, really need a big excuse. There are people who can make all that stuff come true for a price, if you really need it, but I'd recommend stopping in a quiet moment and faking a mechanical if you're that bad off.
Third, you need to be gifted to pre-excuse effortlessly, otherwise you'll have to work hard at it. Not all of you are clever enough to blow out some foot tendons, gain 15 pounds, and spend the most productive month of the off-season on your ass, eating popcorn and watching your sofa cushions compress like I have. If you aren't similarly gifted, if you don't suffer from some chronic and occasionally semi-debilitating conditions, you can do something with a similarly pervasive or mildly horrifying vibe like getting run over by a truck. Teammate of the Rouleur "A." decided to pre-excuse load with that this year. If she has a bad time in any Ironman events this year, she could whip out "Jeez, I kept thinking about that stupid truck running over me, for like 112 miles" and nobody would think anything of it. She probably didn't even realize she was pre-loading an excuse when she was getting run over, but in her case, when you literally drip athletic talent, it carries over into every area of your riding, including your excuse-loading. Other teammates have multiple kids or have scheduled a baby to be born early in the season, some have "jobs" so you don't get to see them for weeks on training rides and when they do show up to race they stink... they work ad very cleverly to build these excuses.
The fourth rule is you need to plan ahead. As long as you Plan For Inadequacy, you will be able to pull it off. Like Joe Friel will tell you about other kinds of training, it can take years to build up an effective array of excuses to complement your racing inadequacy. That's where I come in, with the equivalent of Coggin & Allen's Training With Power for racing excuses - I can help you get there faster.
Toward that end, and because I love you all, I've taken a look at the MABRA road race calendar, and picked out some selected dates, some key races that you probably look at as priority races in you training goals, great whinges to match all of MABRA's classic throwdowns. Yes, with the help of my crack research staff, I've developed some excuses that will carry you through even the most humiliating of post-race conversations, and help you keep a straight face following your inevitable race failures. Just remember to believe the other guy's excuses in return, or these won't work, okay?
Let's start with Tradezone. This venerable training series is run in predictable conditions on five Sundays in February and early March. Each year, at least two of the races are canceled due to ice in the industrial park or sub-zero temps, so you don't need help there. It is also super windy and usually deadly cold during the two or three races that are actually held. If you show up on one of the weekends when the race is actually held, when you get dropped on the second lap you should argue that you haven't been riding enough in the cold to develop the brown fat cells you need to metabolize oxygen in cold weather. Sure, you have plenty of fat; that too-tight jersey doing a bag-of-grapes imitation wouldn't lie, you just don't have the right kind of fat. You can also argue that the wind on the edges of the pack was too much for you - you just aren't used to it and if only you'd been on the leeward side of the pack instead of the windward side, you'd have had a much better race. Wow, what a bummer that those Freds trapped you on the wrong side of the pack, causing you to get dropped. The "I blame it on Fred" excuse is a classic, one-size-fits-all excuse. Don't overuse it though, otherwise you may find yourself on the receiving end of Excuse Kryptonite™ wielded by your impatient friends, tired of hearing your excuses. The Kryptonite consists of the simple rejoinder, "Well, it's racing, you're expected to deal with it."
The ultimate pre-excuse for Tradezone, of course, is to skip the race entirely and tell your buddies on Monday you thought it was canceled due to weather. Everybody will buy it. If they don't, tell them you were having your own personal mini-camp in the mountains north of Charlottesville and it snowed like hell there, so of course you thought that it must be snowing in Bowie, elevation 12 feet above sea level, 8 miles from the Chesapeake. They'll buy that for sure - it may sound a little crazy but it's well within the Lattus of Plausibility that signatories to the Social Contract agree to give, to allow hypocrisy sufficient operating space.
The Jefferson Cup is on March 29. I haven't raced Jeff Cup, but I understand the two salient features of the course - there are some pack-shattering hills on it, and the course is short enough that dropped riders from earlier races often mingle with the front runners in later races, with hilariously zany results. I suggest using a variation of the classic overtraining excuse on this course. "I've been riding a lot in Thurmont lately, and I'm not accustomed to hills this short, shallow and fast; if they'd been steeper and a lot longer I'd have done much better." If you feel the need for something more plausible, you can talk about how you were on the wheel of a rider who picked a most inopportune time to fall out of the back of the pack, only to find out later it was a shattered rider from the 40+ race. You had no idea that the number series for the 40+ started with 901, and your Cat IV race started with 401. Damn your bad luck, right?
The Tysons Corner Crit is in early April this year. There is only one excuse available on that course - "I got curbed pretty badly and had to brake hard at the bottom of the hill when this guy cut me off. Bastard!" The best excuses are excuses that sound plausible. Handling errors by riders on the inside of the the left hand turn at the bottom of the hill at Tysons are common, and the inside rider who goes wide inevitably ends a good race for the rider on the outside line. It's not unusual for a rider sitting in 5th going into the sprint to get curbed, crashed or darn near to it on that turn, and to finish behind the bunch. That turn has killed more good races than any other prominent feature in MABRA, with the possible exception of unintelligent defensive riding by the Cat IV pack.
The Carl Dolan Memorial is on April 19th. It's a great race, named for a rider who seems to have failed to hydrate properly during a time trial, resulting in death. In keeping with the race theme, you didn't hydrate properly before the race. Your legs just didn't have any pop to them and you felt awful. You realized several laps in - when you'd drunk both your bottles - what the problem was. Better safe than sorry, you thought, so you pulled off. Nobody will question this excuse, not at this race when everybody is mindful of the race's namesake. It's also a useful excuse for the 17 turn RFK Criterium, run on the dead flat, skillet-hot tarmac of the RFK stadium parking lot in mid-summer. I wouldn't use this excuse too often though - maybe only 20% of riders in MABRA are slow enough learners to show up to every single race dehydrated and short of water, and after a while people will think that you're dumber than you are letting on. Just because it may be true is no reason to let people think it; after all, excuses are about avoiding the truth, not making it plainly evident.
Artemis' excellent Bunny Hop is going to be on May 3rd this year. As I recall, there can be only one excuse at Bunny Hop - "the pavement was lousy and I was deathly afraid I was going to wreck my Zipps / Carbones / R-Sys (Now, With New ExplodoMatic™Spokes!) wheels. " Please note, this excuse only works with expensive, low spoke count and / or carbon wheelsets. If you are rocking 36 spoke Velocity Deep Vees with straight gauge spokes and bulletproof Ultegra hubs (the Wheel of Choice™ of the Rouleur) this excuse will not be plausible. If you haven't upgraded your wheelset yet, your impending poor performance at Bunny Hop is a good reason to do so now. If they've fixed the pavement - they may have done this last year - then I advise you to skip this race unless you're confident you'll win it. Otherwise, I have no excuses that could possibly help you out here. Well, unless you're rocking the R-Sys wheels in which case "I thought they were going to explode" is always plausible.
Bike Jam falls - probably literally - on May 17 this year. The Kelly Cup course is another course that gives you a ready made excuse: "the course was *soooo* dangerous. The guys in my race were squirelly and I was knocking guys over just by holding my line. I didn't want to hurt anybody so I pulled off in the interest of safety." Again, the best excuses are ones that everybody will buy. Given the charnel house of human (and carbon) material sacrificed to the bike gods just about every year at BikeJam, nobody will blame you. Hell, they'll wish they had thought of it first.
Murad is on May 23rd. Your audience needs to know the recent past history of the race, but you should say, "some jerk was threatening to kick my ass in the middle of the race. That's a 1 year suspension no matter who starts it, so I got the hell out of there." It sounds a little far fetched, but in keeping with recent past history. The officials and the promoters will buy your story, and probably think better of you for it. They may figure out that you're lying, but they'll at least respect you for knowing that USA Cycling prohibits fighting in its races. It's no mean feat to know this fact; apparently, even some professional racers are unaware of it.
The CSC Invitational - probably to be called some other name this year - is easy to pre-excuse out of. It's an NRC event with amateur support classes. If you are registered in a class any normal humans can get into - 40+, or amateur 1-2-3 - you will have an atrocious start time. The only good excuse for this is, "I'm not going to take that kind of crap from these promoters, man! What do they think I am? A Cat 5?" Hopefully the promoter doesn't choose to run a Cat 5 race this year, because if they do, then yes, you Cat 5s will be expected to show up at 5:40 AM for the rollout. But even if you do show up and start, you can discretely slip away, and go get hammered all morning until your friends catch up to you. It's what I'll be doing that morning and if you don't say anything about my bed head and my blood alcohol content, I won't say anything about your horrific race performance. Of course if you finagle an invitation to the main event, that has an easy excuse too. "When I saw the two guys in Garmin-Chipotle kit pull away from the field, I knew it was over and decided it was better to save my energy for Philly Week." It doesn't matter if you are going to Philly Week; nobody is going to check up on you, and the race coverage is usually sketchy at best so they'd have trouble checking up even if they wanted to. This excuse also has the ring of credibility, as it is what numerous Pro Tour riders have used after getting their asses seriously kicked in their first blazing fast American crit. Alternately, like Friend of the Rouleur, B., you can pull the ripcord and stage an epic crash in front of your friends to accomplish your your graceful exit from the race. It's all good.
The Spring Church Creek TT #1 is on June 13. Since the course is on the Chesapeake, there's always a wind, frequently a headwind on all three legs of the triangular course. I don't know how ABRT manages to get you coming, going and in between, but I suspect that the higher level math theory underlying the headwind out there probably originated in the federal tax code. I don't know anybody in MABRA who has raced for more than a year, who hasn't had some type of horrorshow experience at Church Creek. I don't know if it even is making an excuse to talk about why you did badly there - it may be more in the nature of an explanation than an excuse, but use it anyhow. If you simply say, "the wind kicked my butt," nobody will question you. Or at least it will as long as nobody points out that Josh Frick didn't have any trouble knocking out a 53:00, and rode across the line doing a wheelie.
The Poolesville Roadrace, of course, has the best ready-made excuses in all of MABRA. With a mile long gravel road in the middle of it, you can flat (or fake a flat); choke on the dust; crash into the bushes; or get caught in the 6" gravel on the shoulder of the uphill kicker going back onto the paved surface. Seriously - that 6" deep uphill gravel pit will stop you dead. This is not surprising because 6" deep uphill gravel pits is what they use to stop runaway semi-trucks and spinning F-1 cars, so stopping a gassed roadracer is nothing for gravel. Any of these excuses should be sufficient for you to drop off the back, and lose a little-less-than-gracefully. The fact that it will be held on June 27th this year, during the peak of heat and humidity season, means you can also whip out your dehydration excuse, if your audience doesn't buy that getting stopped dead, crashing and flatting on the gravel - frankly the Flahute of excuses - isn't good enough.
The Giro di Coppi will be on July 18th this year. For that one... there's only one excuse. "That course kicked my ass!" Sure, you can flirt with other excuses. I've known racers to go through 6 water bottles in three laps in that race - the heat, slow grinding hills and brutal humidity all take their toll and you might have suffered from unseasonal (e.g. typical) weather, a clueless soigneur in the feed zone, or not enough hill training. Furthermore, because it's a hard race and the mid-Atlantic RR championship, it draws a tough out-of-town contingent and the locals all bring their A game. But the best excuses are plausible, and maybe even true, so attributing your wilting to the toughness of the course is the way to go. Plus it doesn't hurt to be making the same excuse that 80% of the people in your race are making, including some of the people on the podium.
You should feel free to use these excuses freely, as needed. The actual truth - "I'm not talented or fit enough or smart enough (or all three) to ride well here" is painful, and most of us can't be bothered to say that, nor do we want to watch our friends go through the painful process of admitting that. It's like admitting that there's no hope, and if there's one thing I know about how hope is so important to us, it's... well, what I know is that you should probably never admit there's no hope. Anyhow, don't worry, I won't tell anybody you got these excuses here, and I don't think anybody else will say anything about it either.
You see, we need excuses exactly like a fish needs a bicycle. The purpose of excuses is to use them like Band Aids. Put 'em on the spot that hurts, and don't worry about it if they seem a little tacky. They work because nobody wants to see you lying there bleeding, and maybe sometimes the excuses, like the right-sized Band Aid, do a little bit to help stop the bleeding itself.
But also just like with Band Aids, use excuses only as needed. People are cool with them, so long as you don't go crazy and stick 'em all over the place where they're not needed.
* Yes, I realize I just made a long joke about cancer up there, really a meta joke about cancer. Just between you and I, I hate f*&$ing cancer and think we should make fun of it and belittle it and make it seem smaller than it really is. And if cancer can't take being the brunt of a joke, then screw him, the humorless, murderous little sod.