Tuesday, July 31, 2012
by Kat Hunter
The Price of Gold is history told by the victor. Marty “The Blade” Nothstein, gold medalist in the 2000 Olympic Games, is revealed as a loveable bully, an athlete intensely proud of his body and what it can do, a man who’s so obsessed with Olympic gold that he’s willing to do anything to get it. He’s ambitious, cocky, self-absorbed, aggressive, ruthless, overwhelmingly full of himself at times...and not quite apologetic about any of it. In sum, he’s a 210-pound recipe for success on the velodrome.
Comparing himself to his great-grandfather, who was a bike racer and bare-knuckle boxer, Nothstein writes, “Like him, I’m compelled not just to compete and win, but to assert my superiority. I don’t crave the adulation of others. I don’t care if I’m loved or despised. But I need to be the best, and I need everyone to know it.”
Track racing is an inseparable mix of intimidation and muscle, cleverness, and insane speed. Unlike the bony, lean-muscled endurance athletes of road cycling, track cyclists are thick-necked, beefy weight lifters. They boast cross-hatched scars and earn nicknames like “the Outlaw” and “Bones.” In the 200-meter match sprint, two opponents stalk each other for three laps like wary bears; in most cases, the win is decided by a short and ferocious sprint to the line on the final lap at speeds over 40mph. This is Nothstein’s signature event, though he also wins championships in the keirin, kilo, and team sprint competitions and later races on a professional road team.
The Price of Gold explains the intricacies of track racing in a way that’s comprehensible even to the uninitiated. Turning the pages, the reader experiences Nothstein’s progression from punk kid to world-class athlete, his cycling future shaped in part by luck and random generosity. He grows up in Trexlertown, Pennsylvania, home to a renowned velodrome incongruously plunked in the heart of farm country in 1974. When Nothstein is 14, his punishment for throwing rocks at a neighbor’s garage is to join the neighbor’s junior track racing program. There his talent is recognized, and a contingent of tough-skinned, washed-up track cyclists takes him under their wing, giving him not only the experience and training to race well, but also instilling a sense of purpose and entitlement. When he wins silver at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, it’s not good enough for Marty Nothstein.
In the early 1900s, track racing was wildly popular in the US; track cyclist Frank Louis Kramer earned more than baseball stars like Ty Cobb. Today, the Olympics are the be-all and end-all of track cycling, its Tour de France. “The Games are the only time the best in the world come together, and everyone in the world watches,” Nothstein writes. Track racing is not unique in this regard, of course. For many sports, Olympic gold is the pinnacle of achievement. Athletes have an opportunity to compete at this level only once every four years – maybe two or three chances in a lifetime – and must perform at their best, whether they’re having a bad day, caught the stomach flu, or, like Nothstein, got knocked down on a training ride by Christian Vande Velde three days before competition. The pressure is enough to break a normal person in half.
Exploring the single-minded determination and oftentimes unhealthy obsession required to be an Olympic athlete, The Price of Gold details a work ethic beyond what any sane person would deem reasonable. After his silver medal in Atlanta, Nothstein etches No. 1 into his mind. He must end his workout at 51 miles, not 50, must pump 11 gallons of gas, not 9. The narrative is almost entirely focused on Nothstein’s training and competition, only briefly alluding to his personal life, but his preparation for Sydney leaves little room for anything else. Nothstein cites the emotional and physical distance from his family as one of his biggest sacrifices.
Those who might expect the airing of dirty sheets, given the ongoing drug scandals in the sport, will be disappointed: the book makes no mention of cycling’s doping controversies, past or present. But some less-than-savory stories do emerge, including the disintegration of the Dallas-based EDS track team and the discovery that the team manager had embezzled $1 million in funds. Most of the drama that Nothstein describes, however, takes place as competition on the track.
The content is as well written as it is interesting. Vivid descriptions bring the reader into the heat of battle with the greatest sprinters of the time, an inside look at the diving and hooking and headbutting, slowing down the blur just enough to witness and understand the import of each move. Watching online videos of the races later – you’ll find yourself compelled to do this – you recognize who’s who immediately. Jens Fiedler, his artful goatee, small round helmet, and menacing dark glasses. Florian Rousseau, the “pre-race histrionics” when he snorts and bares his teeth like a rabid goat. Curt Harnett, who Nothstein calls a golden retriever to Darryn Hill’s pit bull, is easily marked by his flowing blonde hair – “He’s even appeared in shampoo commercials. He’s subdued. Docile. Canadian.”
This is the beauty of writing, of remembered history, of shared experience – you were there, with Marty, briefly you were Marty, when he endured the injuries and high-speed crashes and grueling workouts, when he rode his heart out in the semifinal and final rounds in Sydney against the best in the world, when he picked up his 5-year-old son and took a victory lap around the track after achieving, at last, the dream of gold.
Attend The Price of Gold Launch Party at Bicycle Sport Shop on Wednesday, Aug. 1, 6-8 p.m. Reading and signing by Ian Dille, plus complimentary beer and appetizers. RSVP here.
Wednesday, July 25, 2012
The Marble Falls Triathlon has always been a favorite event for Texans, well known for its laid-back atmosphere and beautiful, challenging bike course. The race offers a unique distance that is just a bit short of the standard Olympic distance, with a 1K swim, 23-mile bike, and 4.4-mile run. This year for the first time a sprint distance option was also offered, with a 500m swim, 12-mile bike, and 2-mile run.
The race starts in Lakeside Park, and the swim is held in Lake Marble Falls. The bike course winds up and out of the park and then goes straight uphill and out of town for about 5 miles. Sprint athletes turn around at the top and fly straight back down, while the full course athletes head up Hwy 71 for a few miles of rolling hills before returning. The run course then winds through Marble Falls City Park and the surrounding neighborhood, with a short, steep uphill climb to the finish line, just to punish you one last time. ATC had a large contingent of groupies and their friends at the race this year, with successful performances by all.
George Schmitz started off his race with a 17-minute swim, aided by a fancy swim skin (see him tearing it off in the title picture). He was 2nd fastest in his age group, but he quickly took the lead by throwing down the fastest bike split in his category on his Cervelo P4 at 22.5 mph. Backed up by quick transitions and an ITU-style flying bike dismount, he was able to hold off the chasers on the run and finish 1st in the 20-24 age group and 9th fastest man of the day.
ATC regular John Trowbridge put on a clinic in the 45-49 age group. Fastest age group swim split, fastest T1 time, fastest bike split, fastest T2 time, fastest run, and of course the age-group win. His overall time was the 4th fastest in the entire event as well, without a Cervelo or an aero helmet. A truly studly performance, with no weaknesses!
Marla has been splitting her time as a triathlete and bike racer this year. She has been sighted in recent weeks gunning for the podium at the Driveway Series crits, but that hasn't stopped her from running and swimming too. Marla started off with a decent swim, beginning the bike in 5th place in the 35-39 age group. She then put her bike racing skills to use by powering herself back into the lead on her trusty Cervelo P3 with a 20.8 mph average speed, quickest in her category. Sadly, Mary Green, who had led out of the water, was able to get back into the lead on the run, but Marla hung on tough for 2nd place. On the podium again!
Kent Snead, occasional bike racer and occasional triathlete, was the only one among us brave enough to try the shorter, more intense sprint distance. Kent had no expectations, but we expected great things. He had also been seen on Driveway Series crit podiums in recent weeks, so if nothing else, he would surely bike fast. Kent started out with a decent swim, and then crushed the bike course on his Cervelo P2 with the 2nd fastest time of the entire sprint event at 23.9 mph. This, despite losing his chain in the closing meters and having to coast in full Dave-Zabriske-aero-tuck all the way down to transition. Kent followed that up with a solid run to take the Masters overall win!
Gray Skinner came to Marble Falls as part of his preparation for the 2012 Savageman Triathlon. An accomplished cyclist, this would be his first triathlon in years. The swim, his weakest event, went relatively well, completed in about 18 minutes. He then stormed through the 23-mile bike course at an average speed of 25.6 mph, finishing the bike course minutes faster than anyone else at the event. His bike weapon of choice was his old-school aluminum Cervleo P3. He followed this up with some 6-minute miles on the run to take the age group win and 3rd fastest time overall.
Dustin is half of one of the most fearsome husband-and-wife tri duos in Texas, the other half being last year's overall female winner Maggi Finley. This year, however, his wife was away, leaving him to race alone. But this didn't stop him from dominating the swim, posting the fastest split in the always competitive 40-44 age group. He followed this up with a 21.6 mph bike split on his Cannondale Slice, 4th fastest in his category. Dustin was troubled by a strange rattling sound during the bike, which turned out to be a loose cassette! Fortunately it stayed on and allowed him to shift for the duration of the race. Dustin then charged through the run course with some 7-minute miles to post the 3rd quickest run split and get himself onto the age group podium in 3rd place.
The Austin Dreamcrushers - Relay Ringers
James Davison, ex division 1 swimmer and coach would start us off in the water, followed by myself (Jack Mott), ex division 1 video gamer, on the bike, and ex division 1 runner and coach Leah Soro Skinner on the run. Our goals were loftier than merely winning the relay category. More importantly, we wanted to help Leah score a victory over her husband Gray. We got off to a good start, with James making it through the swim in 16 minutes. He ran up to transition and handed me the chip, and I grabbed my Cervelo P3 and was off. I kept the power high up the 5-mile climb to the highway, knowing that if I blew up a bit early, it would be no problem, I didn't have to run and the last 5 miles would be downhill! I felt like I was using cheat codes on the bike course. With no swim before, or run after, I was flying past people like I was actually good at this. I even had time to give Marla a little slap on the rear as I went by on the climb. (Fortunately, she laughed!) On the way back to transition I flew through the turns fast enough to worry the volunteers, but made it safe to T2 with a 57-minute bike split, 5th fastest of the day. Leah grabbed the chip and took off onto the run course with some sub 7-minute miles to bring home the relay win! We failed in our most important mission, however - Gray Skinner had 30 seconds on us.
The Overall Winners
The overall winners of the 2012 Marble Falls Triathlon were Austin's own Jamie Cleveland and Andrea Fisher, the other most fearsome husband-and-wife triathlon duo in the state. Congratulations to them both!
Full Results Posted Here
Wednesday, July 18, 2012
Tuesday, July 3, 2012
Texas State Time Trial Championship. Hosted the last two years in Lytle, Texas near San Antonio, it features a 40 kilometer out and back course with rolling hills and smooth pavement. Each year the fastest athletes in the state test their time trial skills and aero equipment in hopes of winning a coveted state championship jersey, and cash prizes of course.
Kickstand Racing, who has been running the event of late, has paralympic categories, multisport categories, and an Eddy Merckx (non aero) category along with the usual roadie categories. The multisport category makes the event perfect for triathletes to test their bike skills and win some money in the process. It is also a great way to check out the positions and equipment of the roadie studs, which can often be instructive for new triathletes.
Riders are sent off at 30 seconds intervals, grouped by category. Drafting is not allowed. The course is rather simple with no technical turns other than the turnaround at half way. It is open to traffic but there is a sizable shoulder the entire length of the course. Saturday features all of the individual categories, while Sunday hosts team time trial competitions, where teams of 3 or 4 must carefully work together to go even faster.
787 Racing's Brant Speed and Super Squadra's David Wenger who were 3rd and 5th respectively at Nationals just a few weeks before. As the Cat 1 men were finishing it became clear that the course was almost a kilometer too long. In the end Brant Speed came away with the win, with an average speed of nearly 30 miles per hour and a full minute ahead of 2nd place Logan Hutchings. David Wenger would end up fourth.
In the Women's category 1, Snapple-ATC TT specialist Kat Hunter was the favorite with Jenny Park of Team Brain and Spine and Jenn Mix of Team 787 gunning to upset her. Kat managed to hold them off and take the win with a time of 59:25 after holding an average of 240 watts for the 40+ kilometer course. She was aboard her Cervelo P2, with HED Jet clincher wheels and a brand new super fast Continental Supersonic 20mm front tire thanks to Kaleb West at ATC. Other trick equipment included the new Omega aero brake up front, a very cool new piece. Men be warned: the women in this event were cycling at 25+ mph for an hour
the pictures of the competitors a clear pattern emerges. The people going fast are talented, and hard working, and they extend that hard work into their position on the bike. They have spent time figuring out how to get low and powerful, and even focus on how they hold their head through the course. In the time trial, the wind and your pain are the only enemies, and they must both be conquered. Triathletes can learn a lot by watching the top road cyclists in a TT.
On Sunday one of the more fascinating cycling disciplines takes place with the team time trials. These contests are fascinating due to their complexity and the high speeds that are achieved. Teammates fly along the road at over 30mph, wheels just inches from one another, hands in the aero bars away from the brake levers. Perfecting the timing of when each teammate should pull requires thought and practice. The top teams are ones with great athletes who have also put in the time to practice. In the men's top category, team Think Finance took the victory. They were the only top team present at the Mineral Wells team time trial a couple weeks before, and their dedication was rewarded with a state championship.
Jockstrap Catapult of Houston narrowly bested team Ghisallo by 14 seconds with a 54 minute effort. Team Ghisallo did avenge this shame with overall wins in both the Category 4 and Eddy Merckx individual categories by Matt "Baby Jan" DeMartino and Adam Butler respectively.
In the most important race of all, the Category 4 Slowtwitch bragging rights contest, your author, Jack Mott, bested Charlie Buser by over 2 minutes in route to breaking the hour barrier for the first time, but still slower than his own wife.
Full TT Results Here (Scroll to the bottom)