Beaten by a guy in Jeans

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Yesterday’s post got me thinking about how it is so easy to judge a book by its cover. And about how in cycling, it is so important to not allow yourself to do just that.

It got me thinking of the Iceman Cometh MTB race back in 2003. I had won the race 3 times already, but the competition was better with Ryder Hesjedal coming there. I had pretty good form and thought I had a good shot at winning again. The race is held in Traverse City MI, in November, so it wasn’t that unusual that it snowed a bunch the night before, and morning of the race. Enough that they had to postpone the start a couple hours. By the time we started there was maybe 6 inches of snow on the ground. The race is a point to point race, pretty straight forward, with not that much climbing.

When the Pros finally started, we were riding through fresh snow with no tracks. It was all good until we started getting to the parts with short sand pits. They were buried beneath the snow and completely unmarked. I got ahead by a few hundred meters a couple times by myself and then I would hit deep sand and come to a complete stop and have to dismount and run until I found solid footing. In the meantime, the big group that was still together would come blowing by. Towards the end of the race, I put in a big dig and thought I’d made the winning move. But, no, just a few minutes later I was not moving again in deep, snow buried, sand. Before I remounted my bike, Ryder came blowing past me going fast. By the time I got moving again, Ryder was 300 meters ahead. I got caught by another group and then got twisted up in sand once again. I lost all motivation. I realized that the finish wasn’t far enough away to make up the lost ground.

Anyway, I was riding along somewhere in the top 10, when this guy wearing Levi’s catches me from behind. I’d seen the guy at the start, but didn’t realize he was still in our group. When he went by, I completely lost my shit and about 1/2 my speed. I couldn’t believe a guy in jeans was beating me in a race I’d thought I was going to win.

So, I was riding along slowly into the camp ground, where the race finishes, and just a U-turn ahead of me is Ryder. I was super surprised because I had assumed he had won.

We weren’t in contention, so neither of us were going at any pace. When I rolled across the line I asked Ryder what happened and he told me exactly my story. He was ahead and kept hitting deep sand, that he couldn’t see, and finally got so frustrated he just bagged it. And then he said something about the guy wearing jeans and how that was the last straw.

It is incredible how similar our days were. And our mentality. Winning was the only place that mattered. And it wasn’t happening that day.

I guess the moral of this story is that when everything seems to be going badly for you, you have to assume and hope that it is going just as badly for everyone else. And don’t let someone’s clothing choice dictate your opinion of yourself. I don’t anymore.

When I’m in a race like that now, muddy, treacherous, I check out a guy’s tires first to see if he has something on that is going to allow him to be competitive. If not, I dis-regard him. If so, I make sure I see how he pedals, from behind, to see if he has something that is going to make him competitive. That is usually all I have to do. Of course, there are exceptions to these two things, but this covers about 85% of the people I don’t know personally. And if they pass these two observations, then they are on my radar screen and it doesn’t matter if they are wearing speedos, in the snow. That is all because of the guy in the jeans.

Here's the photo. Dave Walker it is. The internet is amazing. I guess I didn't notice him because I wasn't going in the direction of the course most of the time. Thanks Kentaro Inoue for finding this photo.

The start, I’m on the left. Tristan, a couple guys behind me, won the race. I don’t see the guy with jeans, that is even more depressing.

2003 Iceman-Brent Bookwalter, now BMC honch, on far left with Russ Tiles far right.

A light bulb went on after I rehashed the race over and over again. (Nice photo that Keith Walberg took last night at after dinner coffee.)

23 thoughts on “Beaten by a guy in Jeans

  1. devin

    I had a guy in cutoff jean shorts that I had to battle with in the Banana Belt race in Slida CO,,back in 2005.. He whined and whined about letting him pass as we hit the Rainbow trail… I let him go only to find him later with a flat begging for a tube and pump.. no room in is jean’s pockets.

  2. Sean YD

    We had a guy show up in jeans on a mountain bike in a road race up here in Nebraska in the late 80s. He stayed in the lead group until we were within sight of the finish line, then blasted away from us.

    The next week, he was on the start line on a road bike in a full team kit of a local shop.

    If you can’t beat ’em, make ’em join your team…

  3. SenorBlanco

    I remember at the old 12 Miles of Hell event in Lawton, OK probably around 2003 range a young, unknown Cameron Chambers chasing you up the start climb in cutoff coveralls and a beat up flat black singlespeed.

    The whole way up the climb you kept looking back at this young kid grinding up the climb behind you on your much higher-end Moots. I think you held him off, but he finished 2nd on the day. Still have the video from that day.

  4. Bbrennfo

    I too raced Cameron Chambers when he was an unknown, including the old 12MOH. I remember one race in Arkansas, maybe Hot Springs, when he was wearing those cutoff overalls. A few of us snickered before the race, but there was no snickering afterward. And his black singlespeed was a Vicious Cycles, I think.

  5. channel_zero

    Sort of a similar story:

    In order to make a training crit after work, I drive out in awful traffic and then discover I forgot my shorts.

    My choices were, drive home in equally awful traffic or ride with jeans. Since any day is better on a bike, I rode with jeans on. I attacked the group too. More than once. I was laughed at. Loudly. Didn’t matter. Still doesn’t matter.

    Why it matters what clothes are worn to anyone is emblematic of the intense pursuit of fashion in competitive cycling and why it will remain a niche sport. For once, USAC is not to blame.

  6. Steve Wathke

    When I first started running 5ks I ran in cut off sweats as I got better I realized that I looked like a dork and the good guys were all wearing running shorts. I then decided that since people are always judging people, sizing them up at thd start line that it would be even better to beat them in my cutoff sweats. They will always remember me. Incidinetally I just ran the miracle on kansas ave 5k and after I finished I was watching people come down the straightaway to the finish when here comes a guy in a full Santa Clause Suit. There were 2 people behind him chasing and you should’ve see the looks on their faces. They just looked so pissed that someone wearing a costume was making a mockery of everything that they had trained for. Disclaimer: I’m not that great of a runner just not horrible.

  7. The Closer

    It was the late ’80’s when I had my first “dance with the devil” during a bike ride. We were 3 aspiring young roadies on our way back into Ann Arbor along Huron River Drive. We had a nice tight paceline going. Just tempo, not really pushing when we noticed a group of riders about to turn onto the road in our direction off of a dirt road. It wasn’t long before we noticed the unmistakable sound of nobbie tired on the pavement behind us. Sure enough, one of the guys had latched on to our paceline. As if that wasn’t enough to get under our skin, he was wearing grey corduroy pants and a wool sweater. Keep in mind that mountain bikes in those days were well over 30 lbs. We started to up the tempo to a slightly uncomfortable pace. Much to our dismay, this guy goes to the front and increases the pace. As we approach a slight rise, I motion to the guys to really kick it up the hill. We did an all out sprint for 250 meters and finally detached him off our wheel. In about a 1/2 mile he was back and once again at the front taking a hard turn. We were really starting to hurt to stay with him, but there was no way we were going to be humiliated, so we sat tight until the last short climb before we reached Ann Arbor. Once again I motioned to sprint up the hill and as we gasped to go past him, he calmly says: “not bad for a 65 mile mountain bike ride eh?”. We couldn’t believe it. That was a big slice of humble pie for 3 cocky roadies. Dreams of future Tour De France glory died a bit that day.

  8. Jim

    Sean I was thinking of the same guy when I read it ! I think he flatted and still caught back up ?
    Steve, really enjoy your writing.

  9. tilford97 Post author

    Yeah-These guys are everywhere. I was out riding in Ames Iowa once and coming into town from the West on a small, but hard hill. A guy on a Walmart MTB with a kryptonite lock and tennis racket, wearing tennis shoes, is riding next to me on the sidewalk. When the road starts to climb, I stand and he stays sitting. The guy didn’t slow down. We climbed the hill at over 20mph. There is no doubt that the guy was going hard, but he was riding a 40lb MTB with flat pedals. It was truly amazing.

  10. Rich M.

    Same here, guy lined up for one of our mountain bike series races in cutoff jeans and flat pedals. Then he proceded to stomp us. Never seen him again, but like you said don’t judge too quickly.

  11. John Adamson

    I remember days when we were wearing cut off and we were always pointing out the guys in lycra.

  12. Joe Saling

    Back in the 60’s I rode a college race promoted by Princeton Univ Cycling Team. A guy in lederhosen and sneakers put the wood to all of us. This was the beginning of an illustrius career. John Allis went on to many national and international victories.

  13. H Luce

    From your previous post about compression socks and cramps, there’s a solution – wear a rashguard on top and skinny jeans below – and no more cramps. Plus you’ll look stylish, too.

  14. JH Higgins

    I really enjoyed today’s post. A lesson in life, when you’re gassed, down and out it’s all mental!

  15. Mark Te Ruki

    Thanks for sharing Steve. I think we have all made these assessments based on appearances/gender/discipline…roadies being beaten by triathletes, etc. I remember being at a stage race in Colorado and feeling the shock that Rebecca Twigg had gone faster than me in the Prologue.


    Dave Walker, the guy in jeans, won seven springs nationals expert race wearing cut off jeans when he was 18. He has beeen crushing people on his custom Justice Madsion for more than a year now. Honestly, he would be crushing people on a huffy.

  17. Mary Frances

    Life Lesson ….never underestimate the Guy in Jeans. All these years later he is still there, charging past you in the toughest terrain and conditions – sucking all the fight out of you – not even aware that he isn’t suppose to be here at this level challenging past champions. Heck you were only another bike he had to pass to reach his goal.
    What matters is not the Jeans, the Cords, the Amish clothes, not even the type of bike…it the Heart …..and this Guy in Jeans has the Heart of a Warrior ( a Jedi) ….and he is still there, smokin past you all these years later.
    Roc on Dave

  18. Jim

    Robbie Hunter has a picture that looked like it was taken out of National Geographic of a guy in flip flops on a single speed sitting bolt upright blowing past him on a training ride.
    Then disappearing ahead.

  19. scott Chambers

    steve, I remember that day vividly. I’m the guy directly behind you in the photo above, climing that rise to the road crossing around mile 18. I remember how the race was delayed due to weather. and Dave lined up near me at the line in jeans and a regular coat. I think he had earphones on too. I though WTF? and 20 minutes later when the front group was established he was right up there with us.

    I remember plowing snow off the front a few times and wishing I hadn’t. I think it was 18inches deep in spots.

    Late in the race as it broke apart and I remember passing Russ Tiles and You and a few other guys that were suffering on the last of the hills. About a mile from the line i was wrecked and I remember thinking that I was going to beat Ryder!! and then Dave came flying past me in his blue jeans and all the gas went out of me.

    there’s a finish line photo somewhere of me coming over the line, though, with Ryder in the distance behind me. When I tell the story of that race to people that usually what I focus on. Not getting beat at the line by a guy in blue jeans!!


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