A Divorce from Florida Road Racing: by K-Dogg

This article may be controversial to some, but make perfect sense to others.

I have competed in Florida road racing for more than 30 years and until a few years ago, loved every minute of it. There are permanent scars on both knees, elbows, hips ankles, hands and other places unmentionable.

Year after year I came back for the thrill, the comradery and the sweaty desire to get even faster and tougher. I learned the game, knew who could sprint, who could climb and who could stay away.

It was like chess and boxing combined.

 

But a few years ago everything changed.

I became disenchanted. Physical scars became mental scars. Master’s races weren’t fun anymore. They became large, unruly, selfish and just plain mean. It seems every other racer is sure they’re destined to win. If they don’t they loudly blame everybody but themselves.

Road packs used to be made up of friendly, skinny little runts like Andy Hampsten. Now they are more like beefcake Olaf Ludwigs. Big brats with a migraine… and suspicious muscle groups.

I can’t swear doping is rampant but news reports, pro scandals, and easy access to “aging clinics” creates a climate of distrust and disgust. Doping poster child Dave Leduc was busted at Master’s Nationals, fueled by EPO, steroids and amphetamines. He was in his mid 60’s and had a reputation for being ill tempered and dangerous during races. Now we know why.

Note from JOM – there were several doping busts in the Florida Master’s ranks a few years ago. These were made possible because of testing by the Florida Clean Ride Fund.

Are Grandpa’s so shallow these days they will cheat to get a tiny taste of glory? Is your tombstone going to say… “Here lays a liar?”

It wasn’t perfect in the 80’s and 90’s but the Florida packs were smaller – you could actually move up more or less at will. Nowadays, unless there is some huge hill to break it up you are often trapped into a field sprint at the end – sketchy and boring at the same time.

Prize lists were better too. Masters and category 4 races often paid $1,000 10 places deep. Category 3’s paid $1,500 and up. Pro 1/2’s often several thousand. Entry was rarely over $25. Top talent could actually meet or exceed race expenses in every category.

I confess I have never been a promoter trying to make decent money. But I know from experience it is hard and frustrating work. The sport needs to be profitable so promoters continue to put on races – but there is room for improvement.

 

A few weekends ago I raced in a 50+/60+ Masters road race.

There were approximately 60 of us. They announced we were the biggest field by far. That is the inescapable demographics of us Baby Boomers. Entry was about $45 each so the promoter took in about $2,700 for our race alone.

Payout was $100, 4 places deep shared by 50+ and 60+ competitors combined. No trophy, no ribbon, no explanation. Cash payout was hours late. They must realize we won’t linger hours for $10 and a 200 mile drive home.

We masters don’t need the money. We race for the love of it and to stay in shape. But in this capitalist society money = respect. It would be nice for the winner to at least get his entry back and to not be the brunt of sarcastic age remarks by announcers. They will be in our shoes sooner than they think.

 

Now I am divorced from toxic road racing and am happily married to gravel grinding.

What I like about gravel grinder races:

  • Laid back. More like early mountain bike races.
  • New technology. Who doesn’t like new technology?
  • Beautiful, epic terrain. Often mountainous, hilly or park service land.
  • Virtually no cars.
  • Nice people.
  • No rude promoters – gravel promoters treat you as a friend.

Unlike roadies, nobody yells at you if you crash. They stop and help or at least ask if you are alright.

Nobody will put you on the ground except yourself. Long switchback descents are scary enough without 50 people clogging all the good lines. Most often you descend nice and alone. I have never smelled burning brake pads in a gravel race.

 

Mountain bikers insist they do all the pulling.

Multiple times I’ve tried to help mountain bikers break the wind but they never seem to want it. I asked a mountain biker friend why… “Dude, mountain bikers NEVER let anybody pass if they can help it. If you get passed you are LOSING the race!” Fine – my roadie ego will not be hurt if you tow me to the next climb or finish line. I do want to help however since that benefits both of us.

Ten minute winnowing zones.

Unlike road races, most gravel fields are drastically thinned in the first five minutes. Climbing, dirt, or dirt climbing starts are the norm so things break up fast.

No field sprints – never seen one. The course is your biggest competition. You are the only person that might put you on the ground. Unlike road races I have never heard a gravel cyclist utter the “I coulda, woulda, shoulda won” excuse.

In gravel races the nice humans around you are just a bonus. They can’t wait to hear your story, not your whining.

K-Dogg
Happy ex-roadie

JOM endorses this article. He too is divorced from Florida Road Racing.

19 comments on “A Divorce from Florida Road Racing: by K-Dogg

  1. Once upon a time, in a galaxy far far away I used to race pretty hard core. Was a pretty good 3, only a race or two in points from moving up to a 2 when I burned out, over cooked and just got off the bike.

    Flash forward nearly 20 years and I’ve rediscovered my passion for riding but after a quick look around at the racing scene I’ve come to the same conclusion. The sense of entitlement and “all about me” attitude has pushed me to do something other than race on the road again.

    I’ve purchased an entry level CX bike and, like you – plan on hitting the gravel.

    Cheers!

  2. I hear you on divorcing from road racing. Even though I am in the heaven of dirt in Southern Arizona, I spent many years racing the roads in So Cal. I thought only So Cal racers acted as you described. I am so glad I found mt biking and graveling as it reminds me of long ago when I could trail run.

  3. Any racing that isn’t fun is a waste of time, any racing that is, won’t be – it depends what you want to get out of it. If you want to destroy everyone around you and aren’t concerned about making any friends, then I’m sure you’ll have fun in most competitive road races these days. Gravel riding is one of those things that cyclocross used to be (still is, but perhaps less so), which is primarily a good time. Just hope that it doesn’t become big business, as that’s usually when the fun police show up.

    1. Right on with “Big Business” ! Any time “MONEY” is involved it becomes the game changer! That’s why I hope and pray that Gravel stays grass roots ! Some of the best races or rides are put on by promoters with the right intentions!

  4. I experienced the similar feelings about cycling as I entered races some 20 years after my heyday. The entry fees seemed too high, the sense of camaraderie was gone, and my desire to commit for part-time competition waned. The resulting experience was one I decided to do without. You are fortunate to have found a knew outlet on the bicycle that has revived your enthusiasm for riding. Personally, the idea of spending 4+ hours on the bike is akin to plucking chest hair. I prefer short and fast. I thoroughly enjoy a field sprint, group ride sprint, or two-up sprint with a buddy. The substitute for crit racing remains elusive. I always enjoyed training hard as much as racing hard, so these days I ride alone and find it quite satisfying.

  5. I could easily substitute my name and age and it would describe my feeling on the matter. I find road racing fun…that being the road racing with my buddies on group rides (when I have the time). I have turned to endurance mtn bike racing – 6 hour, 12 hour, hundred mile rides. The vibe is more festival than race and after the first 30-45 minutes the riders are spaced enough to not have to battle. Unfortunately there are no big mountains to break up the races into small groups. I also have a need for a functioning brain and limbs so I find battling for 15th place in a field sprint not worth it.

  6. I could not agree more about my love hate relationship of road racing. I raced competitively as a Cat 2 for about ten years into the mid 90s and then pretty much gave up bikes until about 3 years ago. This year I jumped back into road racing in the Masters 40+ category, and discovered pack racing is not fun especially when you are racing with a bunch of ex-pros, everyone and every team has their own agenda. Hill climb specific races, which I really enjoy, are the only place in road racing where you can really separate your natural talent from strategy. Gravel and mountain biking racing is more of you against the course and trying to keep yourself from being caught or catching the rider in front of you. You’re not worrying about sharing work load, making the wrong move, making an attack, ruining a teams plan, or riding along with guys who already have their guys up front so they’re done and just going to finish the race. Gravel/MTB guys are more concerned about how the other guys did than themselves. They’re more interested in how fun the course or how physically and mentally challenging it is rather than who won and where did our team place. I can see why there is a new popularity for gravel, ultra distance MTB, and CX racing.

  7. Wow. Thought I was only one who felt that way. I raced 80’s until about 1996 and now pretty much just do local senior games. It was always tough for women but for different reasons, too few to separate classes, but things got worse when they deregulated amateur racing. They started charging more entry fees, and winnings didn’t pay for dinner most times…and left nothing to keep as a memento. In 1996 we moved where there are a lot of trails and plantation roads. I’ll never be good at technical stuff, but cyclocross bike on clay and gravel suits me perfectly.

  8. As soon as you finally realise your not making “pro” it should all be about fun and enjoyment. I still ride road but love the gravel as well.
    Any of you want a good race in Ontario, Canada, try Paris to Ancaster. http://www.parisancaster.com.

  9. good post, love the analogy. I too am trying to work through the pains of a toxic road marriage…

    Surely, a ton of masters are Testo charged. Starting about 10 years ago here in the Midwest, evey RR and Crit is a hormone charged power fest from the gun… With the strongest simply burning off the fodder… No tactics, no grace. These guys can’t even ride a paceline…
    It’s all very sad. It will never be the way it was…

  10. Interesting. I think the gravel will be good training for road racing in the southeast and Nationals. I wish you all still raced on the road. 60+ pretty competitive now with Mountain Bike Nats champ Steve Bent attacking the hills and the usual cast of racers usually holding together 5-7 man breaks….excellent new courses that are hilly and challenging. Racing with the 50+ guys has also been outstanding for fitness and getting primed for state jerseys 🙂 It takes power, smart tactics and cunning to get on the podium against big fields of 50/60 guys, many who are former cat 2 racers with substantial teamwork involved. Most road races are won with breakaways, not field sprints, and the power to win a sprint or stay with a break up and over bumps like Ramsey Road or Ice Cream Hill is challenging. Regarding doping…I don’t care or know about that stuff. I’m clean and I’m winning.

    1. Pete, I’m glad you’re enjoying road racing but we moved along some time ago.

      We love gravel riding and racing which we began doing in 2006, long before it was popular. This genre is devoid of egos and other negative rubbish. The terrain is the biggest obstacle. Breakaways? Your average monster gravel climb in North Carolina to name one area simply breaks the group apart. Dirty Kanza, try 200 miles of gravel in Kansas.

      But you know what? Our fellow gravel cyclists look out for each other. Have a mechanical or flat tyre?, someone always offers to help. After the ride or race, we hang out and have a grand time telling stories and enjoying food and/or beers. Nobody cares about who wins – having a blast is the main focus. And the gravel promoters – they don’t hide inside their little trailers – they welcome riders with open arms to their events. They genuinely love having you there and treat you as a friend. Many offer post-event surveys because they genuinely care about your experience – there is nothing like it.

      One or two of my guys may appear once in a while at a road race, but consider K-Dogg and myself divorced from Florida Road Racing.

      Good luck to you!

  11. Thanks mate. Sounds like a lot of fun and I’m looking for a gravel bike now. Hope to see you out there soon. Surely it will be great training for the road races and I love the hanging out and beer also! I miss K-Dogg on the road and know how strong he is. It’s all good and hope to see you soon.

  12. Hi JOM
    I am around K-Dogg’s vintage and I too have tired of the race to the next lamp-post (…or the Cadel Line in Barwon Heads/Geelong, Victoria’s case) .To be fair though, every local roadie bunch rider here still has the decency to utter the assuring line “are you good?” as they cycle past, and will stop if if need be.
    But…my question to you is, short of simply going out and searching them, how did you find the location of those many gravel roads you speak of around Adelaide in order to set out a course upon which to ride/compete?
    Gravelx is in its infancy here, and I believe I’m one of the very few owners of a dedicated gravel bike in this town (Aluminium Series One Salsa Warbird…brilliant piece of equipment), so there’s a long way to go, but I’m there, and so are a few of my mates…I love the freedom and not HAVING to follow the tarry ribbon!!
    Love the website; something else I just stumbled upon really,but my guiding star for now.

    Cheers

    1. Hi Terry, I spent a lot of time utilizing the tips I have in these articles:

      http://www.gravelcyclist.com/5-route-planning/

      http://www.gravelcyclist.com/6-cartography-gravel-road-map-resources/

      RidewithGPS.com is my favourite – a lot of roads in Oz are mapped out in Street View, even some of the dirt and gravel roads. For those that aren’t I use satellite view to try and figure it out. Sometimes it is a case of trial and error. Often, I will prepare two routes, one as a Plan B. Every route I plan generally involves passing through several towns in the interests of buying supplies. I don’t like to carry a whole pile of stuff when I ride.

      I know Adelaide quite well – it is my home town – and ditto on the country towns and countryside I was riding around, so that helped. I’m hoping to explore more of NSW and VIC during my next trip.

      Appreciate the feedback too, this site is a labour of love for me!

      JOM

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