Monday, April 14, 2008

How to Deal with a Giant?

Seriously, I'm asking.

In particular, how to deal with that juggernaut, the Amgen/Giant Masters team.

Certainly superior fitness can trump a larger team in many situations, although not always. But that's not relevant here... the real question is, what do you do when the fittest guys in the race are all on the same team?

That's the case with Amgen/Giant. The roster includes more current and former National Champions than any other team in the country. Top-shelf talent there.

This isn't a new phenomenon. When I first started Masters racing in the mid 90's, the top dogs were the mighty US Postal Masters, which was a team started by Thom Weisel, a sizable sponsor of the USPS pro team and Subaru/Montgomery before that. Weisel, as you may or may not know, was a big-shot finance guy with money to burn. Like most successful people, he wanted to be surrounded by the best of the best, so he and his team hired the fastest Masters racers around. Let me tell you, they could dominate a race with only a handful of riders in a field of 100. On the bike, they were efficient assassins; off the bike, they were cool and respected. This year, they morphed into the Team Specialized Masters and seem to be continuing their winning ways. One sage observer of NorCal cycling has gone on record saying that they're the best Masters team in the nation. Hmmmm....

The mid 90's also saw the rise of the notorious Labor Power team of Roger Worthington, aka Max Kash Agro. Roger and brother Dave were the original core of that group but within a few years they had recruited most of the best riders in SoCal. It wasn't unusual to race in a field of 50 masters and have ten or more of them in Labor colors. Roger had a generous bonusing scheme for races that mattered to him, and often those guys would score hundreds of dollars extra beyond their prize split. Some were even paid a stipend that would make young US pros envious. I'm not passing judgement here, just sayin'

Labor was gritty and edgy, and basically the anti $12K-dreamer team. The intimidation factor was high, and there were plenty of heated ego-fueled exchanges on the SoCal crit circuit. If there was some yelling going on, you could bet Labor was involved some how. But they were good. Gnarly speedsters like Vinny the Hack, Evan Teske, and Mark Scott won a lot of rough-and-tumble field sprints. Louie, Genghis, Roger, and Dave crushed many a road race. Following the weekends, SoCal masters would anxiously await Roger's hack-pack reports (many are archived here on Truesport) to see who got labeled an idiot, pretender, nimrod, or worse. Many people disliked the Labor persona, but I found the whole thing pretty entertaining. SoCal bike racing can take itself too seriously sometimes, and Roger and his crew never did.

And then along came the Specialized/Sonance team, formed by Mark Hoffenberg.
They were a bunch of nice guys who raced hard and fair. Most significantly, they proved every bit as strong as Labor. I don't know if they really neutralized each other, but the domination from either team was not so great anymore. Racing was wide open.

But here we are today. Labor and Sonance are gone. Some of the riders migrated to the Cynergy team and they are definitely a force, as is Schroeder Iron, but when Amgen/Giant shows up in mass, they are going to dictate the action.

That's what happened in Ojai last weekend.

They swept the 45+ podium.


I started the race, and then essentially took myself out by unsuccessfully attacking early and being too lazy to dig deep enough to respond quickly to the counter. A break of six went clear, including three Amgen/Giants. I tried to go a few times, but always felt the presence of that Big Blue Meanie Peter Sullivan. Quitting seemed like a good option, but I couldn't do it after seeing Choo-Choo and Pops Larsen put in hard chase efforts. I figured, what the hell, might as well get in a sprint. Result: 8th.

I was advised that, to be a real bike racer, I must make an excuse for my disappointing performance. How about this: I was saving myself for the afternoon race. Yeah, that's it.

For a more thorough report of the 45+ race, read the blog of a guy who flew half way across the country to do a single Masters crit, and finished 5th. Pissing on my compost pile indeed... hmmph!

The Amgen/Giant domination continued in the 35+ race and it was a text-book lesson on how to race as a team. They were in the early breaks, including a threatening one with Gus Corona, which forced a hard chase from the other teams. Eventually, a group of six escaped with Amgen/Giants Rich Meeker and Rich Cimadoro, along with Craig Nunes, Pat Caro, Tom Farley, and Tony Brady. Their gap grew steadily while, back in the field, Thurlow completely neutralized Mark Noble who was probably the fittest guy in the race. Meeker won, Cimadoro was 4th, Thurlow smoked Noble to take the field sprint (7th) and Gus rounded out the top ten. The victory and four of the top ten is definitely domination.

Which brings me back to the question: how do you deal with this? Go on the offensive and try to reduce the numbers, or stay alert and be defensive? It helps to have a team of course, but if you're outnumbered and out-fitness'ed, then what are you gonna do? Mark one or two guys? They have too many options for that.

Don't get me wrong, I think it's great that we Masters get to race against such a strong and talented team. It's a real challenge, and will raise the level of everyone. We just need to figure out how to make it challenging for them!


Anonymous said...

Marco - you forgot to mention the WORLD Championships that are in the palmares of the Giant Amgem squad. Or that they are now the spokesmodels for Cytomax (witness the full page ad in the new VeloNews).
What are mere mortals to do? Avoid the races The Giant Amgem shows up at? Start using Amgem's products to keep up with Amgem's team? Enlist Ty Warner to fund a More Giant Team?
No good answers here. We'll just have to train harder and race smarter...


PS: Any word on our Swiss friend?

Fat Druber said...

Nice dig! I wish you would have been in the break instead of Flores. It would have been more formidable opposition for those guys if we could have combined forces to neutralize the attacks. I was impressed with your endurance in the Procrit. Nice piece of work to do two long races on that course!

Fat Druber

Anonymous said...

I got Meeker, Malcom and Strickler covered down here - just let me know what I need to do.:)

mhernandez said...

multiple world and national champs on that stupid Specialized team.

and don't even start talking about their sprinters.

sorry fellas, but there's a new sheriff in town.

and they're in line for a crushing!

veloandvino said...

send them up here:)

Marco Fanelli said...

Druber #1- Yes, train harder and race smarter is always the right answer. Haven't heard anything about Michael, but HeyRon could probably fill us in.

Druber #2- Love your blog! Yes, I would have rather been in the break too... we could have compared notes on compost. Re the Pro/1 race: it was 2.5 times longer, in 90+ degree heat, and ~2 mph faster average speed. And much more fun!

Carissa- Just keep charming them like I know you can! You are our OC spy.

Mikes 1 & 2- Do sheriffs wear red spandex? ...and would love to ship them up North for some humble pie and spanish wine. But I'm not sure if they'd have that, or Specialized's lunch instead. We need to encourage a show down at the OK Corral...

Generals KK and GJ- Are you just gonna take this smack from those wanky No-Cal'ers???

see, I'm trying to fan the flames already...

Anonymous said...

It's going to be a hot time in Bakersfield this May and I'm not referring to the weather.

Or will the NorCal folks skip Bakersfield and only participate in their "State Championship?"


TnA said...

Marco wrote:
"Do sheriffs wear red spandex?"

They apparently do up in the Bay Area...not that there's anything wrong with that, of course...

Anonymous said...

First off, who is Carissa and what exactly is she doing to my guys?

Marco, kind words on the write up. There are a lot of great riders and good teams. Who's better? The best thing to do is just race.

ChurchHill Downs in July is always a nice place - see you there.

Marco Fanelli said...


Carissa is our spy down in the OC. I notice that neither Stricky nor Malcolm have been at the races lately. Coincidence?? hmmmm....

kind words? maybe, but I just calls 'em as I sees 'em.

Yes, the nationals is a good neutral show-down place. But I like your suggestion for just NorCal vs. SoCal, with a "series" of one weekend down here, one up there, and perhaps one out-of-district (e.g., Mt. Hood) All in good fun of course. Maybe with some scheme for donating all prize money (plus matching $$?) to the charity-of-choice of the winning district.

Anonymous said...

Good luck explaining who Carrissa is!

Anonymous said...

who gives a shit, they are a bunch of old farts who are to agro to get laid and can't face the fact that there going to get fat and slow....
so if you can't beat em, join a team that can,.... and screw those chumps from norcal, they're even more stuck up

Gary Tingley said...

Should be an interesting showdown at the state TTT this year between AMGEN and Cal Pools

Anonymous said...

TTT is way down on the food chain for this squad, so I don't want to burst any bubbles. Plus, these guys are competitive to the point that they would want to make 2 or 3 equal teams and not one strong team.

Don't tell anyone, but I just filed a lawsuit to get them into the TdG as they would beat half of the pro teams there. I'll let you know what the judge says.


Anonymous said...

Didn't this get setteled at Temecula? Ca Pools had what 9-10 guys doing TTT work and how did that end?

Anonymous said...

Ditto San Dimas for Amgen