Being a “Smart” Racer

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I have been able to ride the last few days outside.  It has been warmish, even though it seems a little windy.  Let me tell you, wind isn’t your friend when you’re at my fitness level.  I’ve always liked the wind, but when you’re out of shape, it sucks.

I was thinking yesterday about riding smart.  Cycling is a sport that rewards, sometimes, the riders that pay attention and ride intelligently.  It is a weird sport because you can ride the smartest race and still get killed.

I was thinking about a race I did in Tyler Texas, back in the 90’s.  It was called Beauty and Beast. There was a road race and a criterium the next day.  I had just started racing MTB full time and wasn’t currently sponsored.  It was a pretty big weekend and lots of the best road riders in the country came.

I did the race a couple times and don’t exactly remember the whole race.  I do know that before the race I rode out the course, backwards and checked out the finish.  It started and finished in Tyler and there was a fairly steep hill coming up to the final corner.

Coor’s Light was the dominate team.  They were controlling the race and were setting tempo at the front.  I knew most all the guys on their team, ridden on the same teams as many of them.

I don’t know if I was daydreaming or what, but I was pretty far back in the field, maybe 20-30 riders and it was pretty much stretched out in line.  We were going down a slight hill and starting up another one, in town, when I noticed Roy Knickman, a team mate from the Levis days, swing off and sit up.  I was thinking to myself that it was weird for Roy to be just sitting so far out.

I looked up the hill and suddenly realized that it was the final hill before the last corner, which was only 200 meters from the finish.  I immediately panicked and jumped in my biggest gear.  I got a good jump on the guys ahead of me, right when the Coor’s Light guys were accelerating at the front.

By then, the field was splitting.  I was coming up the inside pretty quickly, but moved to the outside towards the top.  I was passing guys super fast, like I was going maybe 5 mph faster than everyone else.

Towards the top, Davis Phinney was leading out Greg Oravetz.   Both of those guys were faster than me, normally, but I had momentum.  By the top of the hill, I was on the far left and came by Davis, then over the top of Greg, right before the final corner.  I had a lot more speed and won the race by a pretty huge margin, considering.

I was thinking yesterday that if I had been my normal observate self, I would have been in “a better position “, at the back of the Coor’s Light train, and started the sprint behind them, maybe finishing 2-5th at best.  But since I was completely out of position, I was grasping at straws and ended up winning the race.  In the end, it was good I started so far back.

Plus, if I wouldn’t have seen Roy pull off and sit up, I would have never known that we were on the final hill, at the finish.  I was lucky, once again, maybe not just lucky.  I was observatory that Roy was doing something out of character unless he was spent and done doing a leadout. I wouldn’t have won without seeing that.

So, I’m not sure this is a post about lack of racing smart and getting a good result or using race smarts to get a good result.  I guess a little of both.  But like I said initially above, the sport is weird and the results don’t always reflect how smart you race.

On a side note, and I’ll try to find the article, Velonews put a big picture in of me winning the race and the article had a part about since I won such a big early season race, would it give me more options for sponsorship.  I answers that absolutely not, but in the article, it I said that for sure it would help.   I thought that was funny.

Since I haven’t found the Velonews article, here is a picture of the start of the Flint Hills, looking west from Topeka.

And Tucker, who was the reason to be out there. He always swims if he can find some water, so he is a bit wet.

19 thoughts on “Being a “Smart” Racer

  1. Jeff Burnett

    Was that the year that CoorsLight was made to black out the “Coors Light” on their uniforms and on Van because Tyler was a dry town and town people complained. Was my first ever RR as Cat 4.

  2. scott

    c’mon – you were lucky (and had the gas to react quickly). race in, race out, odds still favor smart riding.

  3. Bryan Barber

    I call that being a winner. In bike racing more than any other sport being opportunistic is what they all share.
    I think the last two minutes of a bike race is the most unpredictable and exciting event in sports.

  4. Wes Keeton

    I was in that race with you. Thanks to the Silver Bullet Coors Light team trialing damn near the whole race we did 100k in 2 hours. Fastest race I’ve ever done. (This was also the same race that Davis Phinney was damn near killed when he got hung up and pretty much run over by his team car.) We locals got a huge kick over you thumping the pros on their fancy Serrotas. I remember the Coors Light studs fuming over you schooling them, losing Davis, and then learning that the Smith County Sherriff said they couldn’t wear “Coors Light” branded anything on Sunday as it violated some stupid bible ordinance. Sunday’s Crit featured a very torqued off Coors Light team resplendent in blank Pearlizumi kits. They slaughtered the field, quickly packed their crap with Len Pettyjohn telling anybody who would listen that they would never race again in Smith County. Good times.

  5. Rope a Dope

    Good job Tilly. If Coors Light was racing Smart Greg woulda been leading out Davis. BaaDaaBoomBaaDaaBing!

  6. Harry Victor

    This is what our most famous (and disgraced) cyclist would call, “A strategic blunder.”

  7. Davey

    Speaking of sprinting, did you watch the Tour Down Under? Caleb Ewan won all the sprints but I never saw anyone congratulate him after the line, which seems extremely odd. Usually there is a quick handshake or a tap on the back for the winner as the roll to a stop after the line. I’ve been watching a lot of bike races on YouTube while I am forced to ride indoors and I haven’t seen this lack of congratulations with anyone else.

  8. James Fitzgerald

    Steve- I have just started reading your blog recently.
    I raced during that period as well and was a devout subscriber to Velonews.
    More importantly, I actually retained all of those issues from the late 70’s through the early 90’s.
    It seems that you might have an interest in that collection, especially as it just sits in the basement.
    What year was that race? I could at least pull out the issue with the aforementioned picture.
    James Fitzgerald

  9. als

    I’m surprised Mike Crum, a.k.a. “Scrum”, hasn’t commented yet on this post using his signature flippant style, something on lines of…

    “Steve, you say you were thinking about riding smart. At least you’re thinking about wearing a helmet. Riding smart = wearing a helmet. Just like, Trump not having to pay taxes = Trump is smart.”


    “Steve, the past 3 months you’ve done nothing but lay on the couch while listening to NPR and complain about your headaches. Now you’re so out of shape you can’t even ride on a windy day. You need to turn off the NPR, put on a helmet, and tune-in to what your body is telling you. If don’t you’ll be complaining about how you’re always sick next month.”

  10. Rope a Dope

    Remember when Velo News was a good periodical out of Brattleboro Vermont?! Boulderites, whats they’re purpose!?

  11. Miss Cleo's Pimp

    I’ve raced and beat some of the cats in here and lost to many of them way more often. Looking back on it some days you just have it. For un-explainable reasons there are days when you go faster than you have a right to. The stars just align. Other days, not so much.

    I am not a believer in religion or witchcraft, crystals or prayer but there were a few years that I kept a pretty good race and training diary including all of the info Eddie B asked us to keep track of.

    When I went back through the diary and used a biorhythm calculator to check them, all of those great performances coincided with either 2 or 3 highs in my biorhythm cycles. Not only that, but events outside of cycling very often matched up. Like falling in love with this new girl, or the inverse, getting some bad news was often tracked to 2 or 3 lows.

    It’s strange and I’ve moved past it because I don’t like the idea that life could possibly be so cast in advance.

  12. KrakatoaEastofJava

    That link to Greg Oravetz… the image shows my first “licensed” bike race weekend. This image was the Wagon Wheel Road Race in Ridgecrest CA. 1984. Also in that photo are Graham Melstrand, Tom Atkins, Greg McNeil and Geoff Doyle. Greg O was that season’s more dominant junior. The photographer is Sam Emerson, who is also (at the time) carting me to the finish after I crashed rather badly. I can’t remember who won…Oravetz or Atkins probably.

    This is the same course where a few years later, the CHP shut us down over our collective (illegal) choice to do echelons in an intense crosswind. Dude made us ride 20+ miles back to town, single-file.

  13. KrakatoaEastofJava

    One thing I know…you never “outlast” everyone for a victory. You have to (at some point) take it. Looks like Steve saw an opportunity that everyone else had missed. He took it.


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