Wednesday, July 8, 2020

English: I Think That That Language Is Screwy


If you’re a super-nerdy word buff like I am, this post should be right down your alley. If not, it’s an opportunity to silently mock me and feel relieved to be a normal person. Either way, read on!

The Poem

English: I Think That That Language Is Screwy

All languages are more or less complex.                            
To learn a second one is to subject                                   2
Yourself to much abuse. It does perplex                           
Me: so much stuff to get correct!

One language highly likely to abuse                      
The learner is our blasted English tongue.                     6
It’s almost like it’s tailored to confuse:
Of tangled threads it’s intricately strung.

Pronunciation rules do exist.
Exceptions, though, seem almost infinite.                   10
(To number them, much less produce a list?     
For such a project, I’m inadequate.)                    

As evidence, allow me to present                         
The heteronym, which proves without a doubt:         14
Our rules simply do not represent
An airtight way to sound our vowels out.

When I write “wind” what way have you to know           
If “moving air” is meant, or “reeling in”?                     18
Does “tear” suggest reaction to a woe,                
Or ripping something up? See? Evil twins!

Our consonants are dodgy, too. You see,
The word “refuse” can mean “debris,” although        22
The “s” can be pronounced just like a “z,”
In which case “turn down” is the sense, you know.

These heteronyms confound inflection, too.
Does “entrance” mean a way to get inside,                26
Or “put into a trance”? It’s up to you
To sort it out. It’s not well codified.
What’s going on? There’s really no excuse         
For ambiguity to so abound.                                        30
Who authorized a system so abstruse
That letters make an arbitrary sound?

    The secret of our tongue, I think is that
    It does reward a grasp that’s intimate.                 34

Footnotes & commentary

Title: That That

No, it’s not a typo. The first “that” is a conjunction and the second is an adjective. Both are arguably necessary. More on this later.

Line 1: all languages

There has been some bickering among linguists and anthropologists about whether all languages are equally complex. As detailed here, there was a movement to assert this, perhaps driven by a desire to “reject any nationalist ideas about superiority of the languages of establishment.” I can’t see how anybody could objectively assess the complexity of this or that language, because we all have a native tongue that will make some languages easier for us to learn and others harder. Also, I don’t actually care.

Line 1: complex

Why is this word blue? And certain others? Hmmmm…

Line 3: abuse

Is “abuse” an overstatement? Perhaps, but I’ve seen and experienced some pretty disparaging behavior around the attempt to speak a foreign language. For example, a teenager I once knew, whose mom was from China, was visibly disgusted with her mom’s English and routinely said, “Learn how to talk—I can’t even understand you.” Myself, I struggled with French. A college instructor once told me, right before my oral final exam, “You should know: your pronunciation is terrible.” This didn’t exactly put me at ease. Then, halfway through the final, he stopped and said, “Before we go on, I just have to say, your accent is awful.” At the end he recapped how poor my performance had been throughout. Nice. It’s also worth noting that when I have  the classic anxiety dream of showing up to a final exam having never attended the class, the class is always French.

Line 4: so much stuff

There are so many possible errors you can commit with written communication. It occurred to me once, when reviewing my score on a college French quiz, that since the instructor is allowed to knock off half a point for any little goof, a poor student could end up with a negative score.

Incidentally, if you rightly recognized this poem as a sonnet (though it’s longer than the standard 14 lines), you may have noticed that this fourth line is missing a foot. That is, it has only four two-syllable feet instead of five. This is deliberate. With all five feet, the line sounded jarringly too long. I encountered  similar problem when I wrote my Ode to South Park. Its fourth line is technically correct (five iambic feet) but it doesn’t sound right. For eight years I’ve been considering fixing that.

Line 6: blasted English tongue

I am so glad I learned this language the easy way (i.e., from imitating my parents as a toddler). Its grammar is so much harder than that of Latin or Russian. I’m tempted to include French in this list of easier languages, but its insistence on arbitrarily assigning gender to an inanimate object, and then requiring articles and adjectives to match this gender, seems unnecessary and possibly malicious.

Line 8: tangled threads

I believe it’s pretty widely accepted that the difficulties inherent in English stem from its long and complicated history, starting with Germanic dialects that evolved over time by contact first with Vikings, then with conquering Normans, Bretons, and Frenchmen. Details here.

Line 10: exceptions … almost infinite

Other languages I’ve studied are so much more consistent than English. Sure, French has irregular verbs, but not all that many of them, and although my mouth cannot make the sounds this language requires, in principle its rules make sense, and the diacritics (accent marks etc.) are helpful. Russian is also very logical (in my experience, and according to a fluent speaker I consulted). As for Latin, my college class learned all the grammar in a single semester and spent the next term translating Cicero et al … that’s how consistent Latin is.

Line 11: number … list

Just trying to count all the heteronyms in our language took me hours. Existing lists on the Internet are either too short (like this one) or too long (like this one which lists 427 pairs). By “too long” I mean too generous. I don’t want to count theoretical heteronyms, like “luger” (the pistol—proper nouns shouldn’t count) or the word “as” when it’s pronounced “ass” to mean “a Roman coin.” Who’s ever heard of this coin?

Incidentally, my first attempt to list all the heteronyms lead me to the Heteronym Homepage, way back in 1996 when the Internet was pretty new to most people. In case you’re a youngster, I have to tell you that back then, websites weren’t the slick multimedia affairs we see today. They all tended to be like the Heteronym Homepage: some nerd at a university posting a little essay about heteronyms and inviting readers to contribute their own. (This was before blogs were a thing.) As you can see, I’m credited with three contributions (one of which I had to argue for and which the webmaster only begrudgingly posted, with a qualification). This was my first-ever Internet presence.

Line 14: heteronym

If the heteronym is my poster child for English being particularly hard, I suppose I should establish that it’s a mostly English phenomenon. Since there are something like six or seven thousand languages worldwide, demonstrating this would be like proving a negative, but among mainstream languages I believe this is true. More on this in the Appendix, if you’re interested.

Line 14: proves without a doubt

Of course the existence of the heteronym isn’t the only evidence we have that the English language is completely whacked. Consider the word “thought.” Why does this crazy assembly of letters, “o-u-g-h-t,” make an “ott” sound here, whereas in the word “drought” it makes an “out” sound? And how come removing the second “t” from “thought” changes the “o-u-g-h” from “ott” to “oh”?

When I lived in San Francisco, I always puzzled over the pronunciation of the street name “Gough.” It could rhyme with “bough,” “cough,” “dough,” “rough,” or “through.” The arrangement of the letters in English is so often useless. We have to learn so many pronunciations à la carte.

And what’s this business with “h” and how it affects other letters, like “s” and “c”? Why should the “c” in “ch,” which is a “k” or “s” sound, combine with “h” to produce a totally different sound than either of them makes alone? Makes no sense. You know how the Russians indicate the “ch” sound? They have a specific character for it: “ч.” For a “sh” sound they have the character “ш.” They even have a character, “ж,” for the “zh” sound we nonsensically suggest with a simple “s,” like in the word “pleasure.” And their “k” sound is indicated by a letter, “к,” that never makes an “s” sound like our two-timing “c.” (The French “c” also does double-duty, but at least when it makes an “s” sound they indicate this with a cedilla (i.e., “ç”).

Line 18: reeling in

Yes, I acknowledge that “cranking up” (like a wind-up toy) might be a better way to convey this second sense of “wind” then “reeling in.” Call it poetic license: I had to set up the next rhyme (two lines later). I think I deserve some leeway, given how freaking hard this poem was to write. My original goal had been to pack a heteronym into every line, but that proved impossible (for me). If you count up the blue words you’ll see how far short I fell.

I’d also thought it’d be cool to use each sense of each heteronym, but you see I only managed that once.  I even wanted to rhyme two pairs so that one sense of each rhymed with the corresponding sense of the other. For example, I wanted to rhyme the noun “abuse” with noun “excuse” and the verb “abuse” with the verb “excuse.” Oh well. I don’t know why I thought I could do all this … probably I listen to too much Eminem. I have to remind myself: he’s a genius and I am not. (Plus, rhyming is easier for a rapper because he or she can warp pronunciations slightly to achieve the desired effect.)

Line 20: evil twins

This is not a reference to my brothers Bryan and Geoff, who are twins (though they were pretty evil as kids). It’s an allusion to the TV trope of a look-alike evil version of the hero. At least three episodes of the original “Star Trek” featured the evil twin concept; there was a “Magnum, P.I.” evil twin episode;  and if memory serves there were three evil twins in “Charlie’s Angels” once. I can’t think of a better way than “evil twin” to distill the heteronym concept.

Line 22: refuse

This word was a trap! Did you get it wrong the first time you read this stanza? Good, good. One characteristic of a proper sonnet is its strict adherence to iambic pentameter: you have to arrange your words carefully to naturally create the proper rhythm for the reader. As I’ve explained before in these pages, it wouldn’t do to  screw up your naturally iambic vs. trochaic words willy-nilly in a line of verse:

Right: Exquisite and expensive are her tastes
Wrong: Hot dogs are bad for foraging pit bulls
Right: The yuppie Zeitgeist sickens Uncle Ralph
Wrong: His blood pressure is getting acute now

In the first example above of incorrect verse, you’d have to put the stress on the third syllable of “foraging,” which just sounds wrong. And in the second wrong example you’d have to put the stress on the second syllable of “pressure” and the first syllable of “acute,” which is also unnatural.

It turns out this consistent, rhythmic inflection can often help the reader (subconsciously) recognize which sense of a heteronym is intended, if the word has more than one syllable. For example, in line 26, there’s not much context to suggest which meaning of “entrance” is the right one, but you probably got it right (EN-trance, a way to get inside) because the meter led you there.

So getting back to line 22, you probably read it “re-FUSE” the first time, until you got to “debris” and had to go back and revise your interpretation (perhaps subconsciously). If so, you probably noted a small snag in the rhythm of the poem. I employed this little trick to jar you a bit, to prep you for my point about inflection later on (line 25).

Line 26: entrance

Ever since I realized “entrance” was a heteronym, I’m unable to look at an “ENTRANCE” sign and think “EN-trance.” I always see “en-TRANCE,” as though there were a hypnotist on the other side of the door.

Line 31: abstruse

I deliberated about “obtuse” vs. “abstruse” here. Generally, I avoid using a fancy word where a simple word will do. But “obtuse” is just too much of a stretch for the meaning I’m looking for. It’s not just me: look how much one dictionary had to say about using “obtuse” to mean, well, abstruse:

Lunching with a colleague once, I described my entrée as insipid, and he said, “How can pasta be stupid?” I explained that insipid mainly means “lacking in flavor” even if the word is often used to mean “dull” or “generally lacking.” He refused to believe me, so I bet him $5. We stopped at a bookstore on the way back to the office to check a dictionary (this being in the pre-smartphone era). Easiest $5 I ever made. I should have tried to take $5 off my teenager today when she read this poem and asked why I didn’t use “obtuse” here.

Line 33: that

Why is this word in blue? Isn’t blue supposed to mean it’s a heteronym? Well, yes. I haven’t seen “that” listed on any of the heteronym web pages I’ve seen (though for that matter, none of them lists “misuse” either, which certainly belongs on the list). We know that for a pair of words to qualify as a heteronym pair, they have to be spelled the same, pronounced differently, and have a different meaning. For the first test, consider that at least three mainstream dictionaries (the three I’ve checked) show two different pronunciations for “that,” as shown here. 

That upside-down “e” character, ə, makes a sound something like “eh,” as in the words “about, item, edible,” etc. as shown here.

Now, you might say these are just alternative ways to pronounce the word, like we sometimes say “the” to rhyme with “thee” and sometimes to rhyme with “duh.” But I don’t think “thăt” vs. “thət” is arbitrary. When we use “that” as an adjective (to specify “the one singled out, implied, or understood” we pronounce it “thăt” (rhymes with “hat”). But when we use “that” as a conjunction (to introduce a subordinate clause that “is joined to an adjective or a noun as a complement”), we say “thət” (rhymes with “pet”).

To test this (actually, to prove it, as I was already convinced), I wrote two sentences on Post-Its and took them around to my wife and kids to read aloud. The first read, “If you think that I’m going to put with that, you’re crazy.” All three read it as, “If you think thət I’m going to put up with thăt, you’re crazy.” No prompting was necessary: that’s how they naturally pronounced those words.

The next Post-It read, “I think that that that that man said is a lie.” All four read it, “I think thət thăt thət thăt man said is a lie.” By sounding the conjunctions with the “ə” sound, they were able to easily utter (and understand) the sentence, odd though it is. But when challenged to pronounce “that” to rhyme with “hat” in all four instances, they got tripped up. So: we have established a different pronunciation that tracks with the different meaning. Voilà! Heteronym!

Line 34: grasp that’s intimate

This really is the glory of English: by being hard to learn, it gives an unfair advantage to native speakers. All languages do this, of course, but to the extent that English is particularly difficult, the advantage is magnified. Moreover, English is a particularly good language to be utterly fluent in if you’re trying to a) be upwardly mobile in the global economy, or b) rest on your laurels. When I mention to people that I was an English major in college, I like to add, “It was a really easy major for me because I grew up speaking English at home.”

Another reason I contrived to end this poem with the word intimate? It rhymes perfectly with “thət” (as used in the previous line).


Is it truly the case that the heteronym is mainly an English thing? Well, I studied French for six years and never came across a pair in that language. According to this article, “French has relatively few heteronyms, and the ones they do have, they often put a gratuitous accent mark on one of the meanings to differentiate them. (For example, meaning ‘where’ and ou meaning ‘or.’ The accent grave makes no pronunciation difference for the letter ‘u’; it's added so that ‘where’ and  ‘or’ are not spelled the same.)” Wikipedia lists 21 French heteronyms, and points out that a heteronym pair is usually the case of a noun being spelled the same as one conjugation of a verb (particularly third person plural), for example “couvent” meaning either “convent” or “they brood” (as in eggs). Since the French don’t really pronounce “ent,” the verb form sounds quite different. But this is certainly more obscure than English heteronyms.

I never encountered heteronyms in Russian and can’t imagine them because every letter in that language so consistently makes a discrete sound. As for Italian, Wikipedia is ambiguous about heteronyms in that tongue. It states, “Italian spelling is largely unambiguous, with a few exceptions” but then lists 35 examples. I plugged half a dozen of these examples into Google Translate to try to hear the difference, and they all sound identical to me (certainly nowhere nearly as different as “tear” (the liquid) and “tear” (the verb). As for German heteronyms, Wikipedia says that language has “few.” Ditto Dutch. No other languages are mentioned, for what it’s worth.

Further reading

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Sunday, June 28, 2020

Biased Blow-By-Blow - 2020 Tour of Sweden Stage 4


Well, it’s been a long time since I got to watch a bike race, what with the Covid-19 pandemic. Virtually the entire pro racing season has been canceled, though the Tour de France has been tentatively scheduled to start in late August. The first road race of note this year was the Slovenian National Championship, which quietly took place last weekend (as Slovenia, months ago, was the first country in Europe to declare they’ve eradicated the coronavirus). Because the Slovenian Championship lacked an international field, there was no TV coverage of the event.

But suddenly Sweden, the only European country not to have any shelter-in-place restrictions whatsoever, decided to revive their five-day Tour of Sweden stage race, formerly known as the Postgirot Open, which hasn’t been held in over 18 years. They found an eager sponsor, the French pharmaceutical company Sanofi, makers of hydroxychloroquine. (If this seems cynical, ponder for a moment the fact of Amgen, makers of EPO, sponsoring the Tour of California.) At long last, I was able to tune in this morning to watch Stage 4, the queen and penultimate stage.

(Why do I call this a “biased” blow-by-blow report? Well, I don’t have to bite my tongue when I think a rider is doped, a dope, or just being dopey. Or sneezy.)

Sanofi Tour of Sweden Stage 4 – Skövde to Huskvarna

As I join the action, Tao Geoghegan Hart (Team Ineos) has accidently rolled off the front of the peloton on the third of six categorized climbs. He doesn’t look very excited. That’s kind of the way this team rolls; sometimes the riders are so lubed they don’t know their own strength. Consider how Froome has so often accidently dropped everybody, and then, when alerted to his position, he’d kind of shrug and either solo to victory or hang back for a bit to keep up appearances. 

Based on Geoghegan Hart’s faint suntan, I’d guess he’s actually made it outside for some training this year, which of course gives him a leg up on some of his competitors (such as the Spaniards and Italians who were forbidden to ride outdoors).

It’s a long climb and the peloton isn’t doing much about this accidental attack, so I’ll take a moment to fill you in on what’s happened in this Tour of Sweden so far. The two favorites going in, at least from my perspective, were Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) and Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates), because not only do they have actual road racing miles in their legs, they finished first and second, respectively, in the Slovenian National Championship a week ago. Not to mention they’ve been ascendant in the sport anyway, with Roglic winning last year’s Vuelta a Espana and Pogacor taking three stages.

Back in the race, Geoghegan Hart has stretched out his lead. Marc Soler (Movistar Team) is giving chase but he’s not gaining significant ground. I’m not getting much info from the announcers, who are lame. Eurosport’s best commentator, the Irish champ Sean Kelly, gave up on the sport this spring with so many cancelled races, and (as described in this great article) has gone back home to Ireland to work full time on his family’s dairy farm.

So who’s not here at the Tour of Sweden? Notably, Team Ineos is missing all their heavy hitters. Geraint Thomas, Egan Bernal, and Richard Carapaz, along with six others initially slated for the race, have all been quarantined after Carapaz visited his home in Ecuador and subsequently showed Covid-19 symptoms. Following a team time trial practice, others developed fevers and the whole team had to sit this race out.

Now Miguel Angelo Lopez (aka “Superman”), of Astana Team, has attacked the peloton! Lopez is having a great Tour of Sweden, having won a stage and picked up the white point’s leader jersey.

Getting back to my discussion of who is at this race, Team Arkéa–Samsic failed to register in time and isn’t fielding a team, so their leader Nairo Quintana isn’t here. Movistar Team decided their star, Alejandro Valverde, is just too old to risk sharing a cramped peloton with so many other athletes from so many parts of Europe. Many French riders, including Thibault Pinot, Julian Alaphilippe, and Romain Bardet simply declined to participate, citing their lack of real training. Perhaps the most bizarre exclusion from the race is Tom Dumoulin, who was all set to lead Team Sunweb but was suddenly sidelined with a persistent and advanced case of dandruff.

Wow, Superman already has over a minute and a half on the GC group! Not sure how far ahead Soler is … I’m surprised he hasn’t been caught already.

Surely by now you know why Chris Froome isn’t in this race, but in case you’ve been hiding under a rock, I’ll tell you: in early May, while being interviewed by an American journalist (for this article), he was suddenly struck by lightning. The story, a puff piece about how Froome and his Sky/Ineos team never doped, ended with Froome explaining their unprecedented and uncanny success: “The sport is now a hundred times cleaner, but we climb faster than [the dopers] did at the time. The best way to explain that is that we have evolved a lot in the areas of technology, nutrition, and training. We are better as athletes.” At this moment the lightning bolt struck the cheating, lying scumbag right through the head. Oddly, the so-called journalist didn’t mention this in his article. Odder still, when mentioning Froome’s positive test for salbutamol, the journalist breezily recounted how Froome “was later cleared of doping” without mentioning what a complete travesty that was, with absolutely no explanation given for the charges being unexpectedly dropped.

And now Lopez has caught Soler, who looks pretty beat.

Sure enough, Lopez motors right on by. I think Soler has given up.

Roglic attacks! He started off this race very well, handily winning the individual time trial and taking the leader’s green jersey in the process. He faded in yesterday’s stage, though, losing enough time to Pogacar to fall to second on GC. He needs at least 30 seconds to move back into the lead, and can’t afford to lose more than 18 seconds to Lopez.

Roglic doesn’t look nearly as strong now as he had in last year’s Vuelta, and I’m reminded of how he cracked in last year’s Giro d’Italia after winning both time trials. Ah, and here it appears he’s getting caught. Wow, he’s really going backwards. The GC group is hauling ass now, seeming to have been awakened by Roglic’s attack! It’s all coming apart!

A teammate gives Roglic his wheel, but it’s no use. Roglic just cannot hang. The teammate looks over his shoulder. He’s saying something … probably encouragement.

Pogacar sits comfortably in the group. This kid is pretty amazing … he almost always looks fresh as a daisy. Huh, it looks like the pace settled back down. I think this race caught a lot of these guys off guard … there’s only so much training you can do by yourself, some of it indoors, and no races to motivate you. There aren’t very many spectators either, and nobody looks that excited. In fact, check this gal out. She doesn’t look happy at all. Or is she sneezing into her elbow like we’ve all been taught?

The GC group is growing as more riders catch back on. Sunweb takes to the front and picks up the pace. Honestly, I don’t even know whom they’re working for … without Dumoulin, I don’t even know if this team has any stage racers.

There’s an attack from the bunch! It’s Pierre LaTour (AG2R La Mondiale), attempting to bridge up to Lopez!

The racers are on the lumpy section heading toward the fourth of six summits today. As the field hits a flat stretch, Team Ineos takes to the front and starts loafing, obviously hampering the chase so Geoghegan Hart can stay off. Toward the back of this group, Geoffrey Bouchard (AG2R La Mondiale) sits up and … what’s he doing? Texting? Ah, I just got a tweet from him. “Pierre’s off the front, my work here is done lol” he’s quipped. They really shouldn’t let riders tweet during races. It’s dangerous.

As they hit the next uphill, the field starts to speed up again. Oddly, it’s Astana on the front, drilling it. What about Lopez? Did he get caught?

Farther up the road, LaTour is still looking great. I don’t think this spectator is six feet away, though. Fricking Sweden. Five times the death rate of the rest of Scandinavia (click here for details), and they’re still pretending everything is okay.

Speak of the devil: Eurosport is showing footage of Huskvarna, a town near the stage finish. Look at all these weekenders, all crowded together with not a mask among them!

See the big sign there? Google translates the second sentence as “But now we need to keep our distance.” Not a very obedient populace, eh?

On the penultimate descent, Astana continues to drill it for Superman, who I assume is in there somewhere.

Ah, there’s Lopez. As this ever-growing GC group starts the monster Berg av Kleideniden, Superman is tucked neatly into his Astana train. Geoghegan Hart still has almost two minutes but it’s a long climb. You can see Pogacar, in his green leader’s jersey, behind a teammate on the right.

Up ahead, Geoghegan Hart’s lead is starting to erode. Now we’re back looking at LaTour who is visibly struggling. The peloton, still lead by Astana, is hauling ass and starting to break up again. And whoa, what’s this?

That’s like the third Sanofi ad since I started watching. Pretty cheeky … clearly the suggestion is that this race can proceed because Plaquenil, their brand of hydroxychloroquine, is so effective against Covid-19. Totally absurd. But hey, I guess if they’re paying for the ad, who am I to protest. It couldn’t be any less effective than, say, McDonald’s.

The GC group has caught LaTour.

It’s a long slog up this Category 1 climb, the dreaded Berg av Kleideniden, rising to over 1,900 meters (6,000 feet), the highest summit of the stage. Now, one by one, the Astana train starts to falter and pretty soon there’s not a single one of them at the front. Either that or they’re being told to stand down because Lopez is hurting so bad. Superman, indeed! At this rate it’s only a matter of time before the attacks start.

Whoa, did I call it or what? Pogacar decides he’s had enough sitting around and totally attacks!

This is really pretty crazy. With Geoghegan Hart’s lead dwindling all the time, all Pogacar really needs to worry about is Roglic, who has been yo-yo’ing off the back all day … and yet Pogacar attacks, due to sheer youthful exuberance I guess. It’s tempting to assume he’s just testing the waters but I’ve never seen him do that. And sure enough, he’s taking time out of the group with every pedal stroke.

And now he’s got Geoghegan Hart! The tall Englishman grabs Pogacar’s wheel and hangs on for dear life. It's just as well because I was getting sick of typing “Geoghegan Hart” which is the keyboard equivalent of a tongue-twister.

Geoghegan Hart cannot hang. Pogacar solos over the summit of the Kleideniden and starts the final descent toward the short, Cat 3 climb to the summit finish. He’s demonstrated before that he can fly on the descents. I just hope he doesn’t hit a bump and rack his nuts!

With 1K to go to the summit, the chase group begins to splinter! Superman falters! Geoghegan Hart has been caught and now struggles to keep up! Roglic is nowhere to be seen!

Pogacar is in the final stretch, having knocked out the final Cat 3 climb like it was nothing!

Pogacar takes the stage, extending his GC lead needlessly! He’s got the Tour of Sweden in the bag!

It’s a fairly modest victory salute for somebody who has just schooled the entire peloton.

The chase group having completely exploded, a few lone riders cross the line. I don’t know who they are but it scarcely matters at this point.

Unbelievable … another ad for Sanofi.

Pogacar stands alone on the podium. The announcer is saying they're not allowing more than one rider at a time on the podium, and no podium girls or other dignitaries, but at least Pogacar doesn’t have to wear a mask.

Pogacar is being interviewed. “I wasn’t that worried about Roglic. At the start line he said he was having a bad race and wasn't used to going so hard day after day. I was mostly worried about Superman but as we went along I couldn’t figure out how he got that nickname. I feel bad for his team, they all looked stronger but were so loyal to him. Hey, wait a second ... I think I hear my mom calling me. She was worried sick about me racing here and drove all the way up here, 2,000 kilometers in her crappy little Renault, to be close by. She is so nervous, she wanted me to race in a mask! Yes, that is my mom calling. I gotta go!”

Damn, I just sat through like my fifth Sanofi ad and now they just keep showing helicopter footage of the Kleideniden, high above the little lakeside town of Huskvarna. I’m waiting to see the leaderboard for the stage and the new GC.

What the hell? Suddenly the footage vanishes and I’m plunged into some other program altogether, some weird sporting event already well underway. What the hell is it?

What are all those people carrying? It’s bizarre. And they’re really not maintaining any social distance to speak of. Oh, I get it—those are maps. I’ve stumbled onto an orienteering event. These are apparently quite popular in Sweden. But I can’t handle the sight of all those people clustered together … I’m out of here. By the way, tomorrow’s final stage of the Tour of Sweden is a flat circuit race favoring the sprinters, so the final GC will clearly go to Pogacar. Nothing more to see, folks … move along, move along.


I guess I should point out, since a few people have apparently not realized it, that this entire report is pure fiction. There has not been a Tour of Sweden since 2002.

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Sunday, June 21, 2020

World’s Second-Best Dad!


Today, obviously, is Father’s Day. My day, really. With my own dad having passed away, this has become one of those rare holidays (my birthday being the other salient example) when I can just relax and bask in … well, in the hope, at least, that I’ll be remembered. My wife always remembers, of course, because she’s an adult. The kids are touch-and-go. Today, they rose to the occasion, but perhaps not all the way up. Metaphorically speaking they propped themselves on an elbow. But I got an unexpected bonus as well. Read on, because albertnet features some special guest stars today!

The card from Secunda

When my wife and I needed a code name for each of our kids, we went with Prima and Secunda for a short while until the kids figured it out. Well, Secunda was the first kid to give me a Father’s Day card, and since she didn’t actually sign it, I have to wonder if she’s willing to be held accountable. Thrilling to the idea that any member of her generation still values privacy, I’ll honor it. Here is the card Secunda gave to me:

My first reaction was, wait, what does age have to do with Father’s Day? But then, it seems almost impossible for my kids to even think of me without automatically cringing at how fricking old (and thus largely irrelevant) I have gotten.

Opening the card, I see that my daughter was apparently thinking ahead to my birthday (in just a few days) so the ageing theme actually makes sense. Fortunately she hadn’t gotten very far on that card—and I can’t blame her, it’s really hard to think of what to write inside—so she pivoted and repurposed it for Father’s Day. Here, you can read the whole thing:

Because her handwriting is so poor, here in legible text is what she wrote:
Hey Dana,
Thanks for making the moola all these years. Every time I buy overpriced crap I think of you, sort of. I like your Mickey Mouse pancakes. I would say they might be the second best Mickey Mouse pancakes I’ve ever had (but you don’t make them anymore). Being 2nd best at anything is pretty meh, good enough though. World’s #2 Dad! I’d buy you a mug but I don’t think they make them like that. Silver medals suit you, they match your hair. Thanks for trying your hardest!
your favorite daughter

Wow. Ouch. You like how she calls me “Dana”? She’s been doing that for a couple months now. She says it in a somewhat pejorative voice, with just a touch of a sneer. I love the smiley face with $ eyes. You can see the kind of values I’ve instilled, or rather failed to instill.

Now, I have to confess, I had forgotten about the Mickey Mouse pancakes. I used to make those when the kids were very little, especially when we were camping. I’d make the batter a bit runny, and do multiple connected cakes to form a Mickey Mouse head. The kids were enchanted. Looking back, I really miss having the ability to enchant my kids. So why did I stop making these pancakes? Because the kids outgrew them? I’d like to claim that, but clearly my kid remembers them still whereas I forgot. Surely there’s at least one dad out there who still enchants his kids, so I guess I can’t protest having to settle for World’s #2 Dad. It’d be a sweeter sentiment without the dig at my hair, of course. I guess she couldn’t resist.

Speaking of silver, there really is a silver lining to my daughter razzing me like that. My brothers and I never had enough rapport with our dad to tease him, even lightly. He was always dead earnest and could not laugh at himself. There were so many opportunities, such as most nights at the dinner table when he would hold forth at length about science, engineering, and so forth … usually whatever he was doing at work. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say we heard several dozen lectures about the interferometer he was building. It would have been so cathartic at some point to say, “You know what, Dad? None of us has understood a word you’ve said for the last twenty dinners. We don’t even have the slightest idea what an interferometer even does or why anybody would pay you to build one. Everything you say goes right over our heads.” But we wouldn’t dare.

The closest I came was when I took my kids to the Exploratorium science museum in San Francisco. They had an interferometer exhibit and I begged my younger daughter to go pose with it. I posted this photo to the album that I shared with my family, adding the caption, “Lindsay went straight for the interferometer and we could scarcely peel her away...”

I was worried this might be too much of a gibe, and that my dad would realize he was the butt of a joke, but he was clueless. He responded with a comment something like, “It’s impressive the interferometer exhibit was clever enough to engage such a young audience so effectively.” To which I replied, “Yeah … unlike you.” (No, of course I didn’t say that.)

I guess it kind of stings, to be honest, that my daughter signed off with “From” instead of “Love.” But then, affection of any sort, even verbal, seems to strike my children as tasteless.

The card from Prima

Moving on, here’s the card from Prima:

Okay, what is up with that smear? I’ll confess, given how well both my kids can draw, I was a bit less than impressed that the first card was clearly store-bought and rather uninspired, but at least it was clean. What, is that chocolate? Or did the cat throw up on it? I guess I’ll give Prima the benefit of the doubt … maybe she did the card (if you could call it that) many days ago and it floated around the house for a while. Even still, you can tell she didn’t put her heart and soul into this. Probably she was prompted: “You better have a card for your dad.” Perhaps she resented being required to produce one. Anyway, here’s what she wrote:

Now, some people just have better handwriting than others. To a large extent it’s generational—my mom, for example, has beautiful penmanship—and I could forgive a kid, even when her college classes have ended, for not taking a lot of time to painstakingly write out her card as prettily as possible. But then, this kid does calligraphy for fun, so I can’t say I’m completely blown away here. To spare you trying to decipher her accidental encryption, here’s what she wrote: 
You’re pretty good all things considered but I think there is room for improvement. Hope you take constructive criticism.
1. Your bald spot is gross
2. You snore way too loud
3. You have weird sunglasses
4. You think listening to Eminem makes you cool (it doesn’t)
5. You drive a Volvo you dweeb
6. You have weird veins
7. You keep getting injured (stop)
8. You have a weird beard
9. You keep getting old
10. Yeah
Your better daughter
Wow. And ouch. That’s not really a greeting card, it’s a roast! And yeah, I like having solid rapport with my kids, but this might just be a little over the top. On a day when I’m supposed to kick back in the hammock, ponder with satisfaction what fatherhood means to me, and bask in the glow of a doting family, I feel blindsided … I mean, is it just me, or is this kid straight up rinsing the piss out of me?

Look, I know I have a bald spot, and it’s one of life’s disappointments since when I was growing up my mom explained that, based on the genes in my two family lines, I would have a full head of hair my whole life, which I clearly don’t. It’s like my hairline and my bald spot are racing toward each other until I only have hair left on the sides, like a clown. Suddenly the reassurances I’ve heard on this matter—for example, that I’m tall enough that not too many people can even see the bald spot—are just attempts to be nice. Attempts, I should add, that are no longer being made.

As far snoring, that’s not exactly fair. My wife tells me, perhaps honestly, that I’ve only been snoring lately, because I’m forced to sleep on my back since my arm is in a sling due to a broken collarbone. But okay, fine, I’ll own it. I snore. Sue me.

It’s number three, “You have weird sunglasses,” that really kind of stings, because I really put a lot of thought into choosing my sunglasses. They’re prescription, and cost a bundle, so I wanted to make sure I chose the frames carefully. In fact, I even dragged my wife with me to the optometrist’s, so she could weigh in. While I modeled them, I asked her to take a photo because I can never see much in those tiny little mirrors the sunglasses display cases have. Well, my wife snapped the photo and started laughing. I started to get a little annoyed—like, if they’re that bad, why am I wasting my time trying them on?—until she showed me the photo. My wife doesn’t have a smartphone, and struggles with the soft-key interface, as you can see:

She had no idea how the cartoon enhancements were made, and I don’t either. Once we figured out how to turn off the silly effect, I got a good look, and we agreed these are the cool shades. I was, I’m a little embarrassed to say, kind of proud of them. But now my daughter has weighed in, speaking of course for her entire generation, the new generation, the only generation that matters, and has pronounced them “weird.” Here, you might as well mock them too:

Moving on to #4, do I think listening to Eminem makes me cool? No, I know 50-somethings can’t be cool. This is truly a musical choice based entirely on my appreciation of Eminem’s music … but to my daughter, it’s just a pose.

And driving a Volvo makes me a dweeb? I thought I deserved credit for recognizing myself as a family man and owning it, vs. buying a big dumb SUV just to show the world how “rugged” and “sporty” and “outdoorsy” I am. And I could have done worse, style-wise, than a Volvo. What if I had a Nissan Cube, or a PT Cruiser, or a Scion XB? (Oh, wait, I do have a Scion XB.) Okay, fine, I give up. I have a dweeb-y car. Two dweeb-y cars.

On to #6, “You have weird veins.” I feel like I’m under a microscope or something. Who knew kids even noticed this kind of stuff? And to be honest, I’ve historically thought my veins were kind of cool, showing off my low body fat etc. In fact, I even mentioned in these pages how, when I donate blood, the technicians praise my for my easy-to-find veins:

But of course I’ve been living in a fool’s paradise. Nobody likes prominent veins. They’re … weird.

I guess I can’t really defend myself against the next criticism, that I keep getting injured. I could argue that statistically I’ve got a pretty good track record, as I’ve ridden my bike over 200,000 miles in my lifetime, and competed in over 250 races, with only three significant injuries. Alas, all three injuries have been in my kid’s lifetime (a separated shoulder, a broken leg, and now this collarbone), so I’ll have to face the music here.

Now, this weird beard, which you can see in the sunglasses photo above, isn’t really by choice. It’s my right collarbone that’s broken, and I’m right-handed, so I think I should get points for at least shaving my neck left-handed. Yeah, I get that my beard is turning grey, particularly this little patch near the corner of my mouth so it looks like stray toothpaste. I know if my colleagues saw this graying beard, I’d probably be laid off from my job since I work in tech. So it’s kind of a race: will my shoulder heal by the time my employer reopens their offices?

On to number nine … I “keep getting old.” Well, what am I supposed to do? I guess over in Marin County, and certainly in southern California, all the 50-something men are getting testosterone shots and taking human growth hormone, and maybe they have time to meditate and be mindful, and they’re getting hair plugs, all positive steps in the war on ageing, while I’m just out injuring myself. Forgive me for living!

I asked about #10, “Yeah…” and my daughter said, “You should be grateful I ran out of things to complain about!”

Bonus card – the trifecta!

Imagine my surprise and delight when my smartphone chirped to alert me to a third Father’s Day card, this one from my brother, known to my kids as Evil Uncle Max:

This card pretty much speaks for itself. Man, what a work of art! If I’m not mistaken, this was created without the use of Photoshop. In case you’re wondering, yes—that is my mom holding me in her arms. That isn’t a baby photo of me, but it’s at least from the first half of my life, when I still had a full head of hair. Here’s what Max wrote inside:

Kind an “A for effort” sentiment, walking that fine line between showing me the love and damning me with faint praise. “Totally reasonable” indeed! I particularly appreciate “So take yourself out to dinner or something,” the subtext being, “No point waiting for anybody else to take you.” Clearly, he knows my family well!

Well, there it is, another year of fatherhood done and dusted. Some say our kids won’t fully appreciate us until they’re parents themselves. Caveats being “if and when,” I guess. But you know what? I’m going to look on the bright side … I seem to have excellent rapport with my kids. At least they know I can laugh at myself.

But wait, there’s more!

To my surprise and delight, my kids produced bonus Father’s Day cards just a bit ago, after I had written most of this post. These second cards were done with much more care than the gag ones above. Prima even wrote me this nice limerick: 
There once was a weirdo from Boulder
Who constantly messed up his shoulder.
He is always in pain   
But he’ll do it again
As he keeps getting older and older.
Okay, not that nice … I guess she couldn’t help herself!

Further albertnet reading on this topic:

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Sunday, June 14, 2020

From the Archives - Portrait of the Young Cyclist: Part 3


This post continues the tale, from my archives, of how I became a bike racer. In Part 1 and Part 2, I described how my early infatuation with the sport led to actually participating, and the disastrous results of that doomed effort. In this post (and its companion vlog) I go into what changed when I actually learned about training.

By the way, it appears that not a single photo was snapped of me cycling in 1982. My brothers didn’t race the Red Zinger Mini Classic that year, and my dad wasn’t about to go watch. I mean why would he, when I obviously sucked? My brothers and/or mom might have watched a stage or two, but none among them owned a camera. Since I try to include a photo with every post, here is one from around that time. I’m wearing my “Super Dad” pajama top. Why did it say “Super Dad”? I don’t know. Perhaps my mom got a deal on it because it was obviously too small for any actual dad, and not too many kids are real keen on the “Super Dad” graphic. Incidentally, this pajama met a bitter end when it somehow melted in the dryer. It had puddled up and then hardened into a stiff sheet, kind of like fruit leather.

Portrait of the Cyclist as a Young Man – Part Three: The Curse Continues (written in February 2003)

Of all the decisions I’ve made in my life, the decision to keep on bike racing, despite mortifying and utter failure in my first year, on top of my ceaseless failure in all other sports I’d tried, is perhaps the hardest to explain. What could I have been thinking? Given the information I had in front of me, there was simply no reason to go on. It wasn’t like by this point I’d learned a valuable lesson about determination, and commitment, and all those other “values” that would have made for a really good ABC After School Special. I was just a stupid kid, and clung to my bike racer outcast identity despite the fact that any boy of my age plucked at random from any setting could easily have beaten me in any cycling event. Maybe this self identity was too much of a habit to drop. Or maybe I figured my body would catch up somehow, with or without training. (There was some reason to believe this; I was a short, small, frail child, after all.)

There were other reasons I stayed in love with the sport. I got a new bike, having completely outgrown the 24-inch-wheeled Fuji Junior. My mom gave me a Miyata catalog on my birthday, and I was shown the model that my family could afford to buy me at some later date. It was the middle-of-the line 310, with the coveted 1-1/8” wide tires, 27” wheels, working gears, and a really smooth ride. Thrilled as I was at the prospect of one day owning that bike, I was even more enthralled by the bikes we couldn’t afford: the Pro and Team Miyatas, and the 912. I still remember the description of the 310: “Offers the looks and the handling ease of the 912, with a price to fit most budgets.” The 912 was their “entry-level racer,” so the fact that the 310 could share a sentence with “912” suggested my new bike’s raceability. It was a great bike, actually. $265. Light blue, not unlike the Team Miyata, though lacking the flagship’s beautiful golden panels on the head, seat, and down tubes. I loved the 310 even before test riding it at the High Wheeler (aka Thigh Feeler), our favorite shop in town (where all four brothers would go on to work in later years).

I suppose it was a few days after the test ride, though it seemed like months later, that I picked up the bike. Mom wasn’t around that day to drive me, so I rode double on the back of Max’s Univega. It was about six miles, and his seat was just plastic on steel, no padding or even fabric, and I thought my butt would be too sore to actually ride home. We rode back at race pace, and as we sped through the college campus we passed some student who must have felt insulted to be one-upped by little kids, because he jumped on our train. He did pretty well until he failed to negotiate the sharp turn down by Fiske Planetarium, hit the concrete median, and wiped out big time. We stopped to see if he was okay, and this was the first time I saw real road rash up close. I was a bit worried the guy would pummel Max and me, and he was pretty pissed, but he let us go and we completed our glorious ride.

Nine days later I rode my new Miyata to the Morgul Bismark stage of the Coors Classic. By this time, my brothers and I were even further along than we’d been the year before in our appreciation of the sport. The hottest talk about this race concerned the dominant Russian team, famous for their Olympic success. At age 12 I could not only pronounce, but probably spell (though not in Cyrillic), “Sergey Sukhorutchenkov”. Sukho was the leader of the Russian team that dominated the Coors that year. Somehow it didn’t matter to us that Greg LeMond actually won the overall stage race. What we remember was that three or four of the Soviets, in their badass plain red Lycra jerseys (well, one guy in the blue KOM jersey), took LeMond out that day and worked him over, had him on the turnbuckles for the whole day.

I didn’t understand that by failing to drop him, they actually lost the bigger race. All I grasped was that a strapping Russian guy, Yuri Barinov I believe, won the stage in style, arms in the air but bent 90 degrees at the elbow, kind of a constrained victory salute, with his vaguely sinister grin, and I remember LeMond looking beaten and downcast as he rolled over the line. Okay, maybe these weren’t Europeans per se (and my knowledge of geography, it must be pointed out, was crummy), but the point was, this just wasn’t an American sport, and Americans even lost (or seemed to lose) on home soil. And this seemed right and good to me, appealing perhaps to my backlash against anything normal and upright, such as patriotism.

The other thing I remember about that July day in 1981 was that my new bike got stolen. I wanted to die. I was so upset I didn’t go to the North Boulder Park criterium, the final Coors Classic stage, the next day. My brothers and their friend Thaine did, though, and managed to recover my bike. The thief, a fourteen-year-old, was arrested. It’s a long but not that interesting story. (At one point I told a fanciful version involving a police raid, replete with K9 dogs, on the guy’s house, but the real events were doubtless much more boring and squalid.)

I think I would have ended up never improving at cycling except that in fall or winter of 1981, my best friend J—, who was a nerd like me but did pretty well in the longer Track & Field events at school, decided to become a bike racer. He got a bike identical to mine and started getting me to go out for training rides. I never would have trained otherwise. Even if I had understood the link between training and getting strong, it would have been for naught because I was incredibly lazy. Even when I was made to swim for years and years, dragged to practice every single day, I never worked hard. I guess it was a defect of some kind. As soon as my mom let me quit swimming, I quit that and virtually all other activity. I think I started watching TV at that time. Cartoons, Star Trek, even game shows. I wasn’t a complete nothing, I guess; I read, too, and for a period read for several hours a day. But athletically I was a non-entity.

Cycling was a particularly poor choice of sport for me given its lack of coaching and structure. J— saved me from a childhood of physical sloth. It may be that the first ride I did with him was the first bona fide training ride of my life. I remember the phone call. He was absurdly enthusiastic: “Hey, you wanna ride out to Eldorado Springs with me?” It sounded terribly far away. I’d never been there. I asked my mom if I could go, hoping that she’d say no. But of course she said yes. What could I do? I was supposed to be the big shot racer, after all. So we rode.

I don’t remember the ride all that well; most likely I tried to assume the role of wily old veteran, coaching J— the whole way, but if he didn’t figure it out on that ride, he must have realized within a few more that I had nothing on him. He was probably out-climbing me right off the bat. His willingness to train was not the main reason behind his superiority: he was also very talented. But he dragged me out day after day, and for the first time in my life I gradually became fit. Before long we were riding the Morgul Bismark circuit, which is hard enough that to this day the thought of riding it fills me with a kind of dread. The first few times we rode, we got kind of a late start because he lived a 15- or 20-minute walk from school. So to expedite things, we adopted a system whereby we’d walk to my house together, get my bike, and ride double over to his house to get his. I think this became such a routine we never even discussed whether we’d ride or not. After school we just went. When a big snow came, we kept to our routine but did cross-country skiing to stay in shape. He had the skis, boots, and poles; my contribution was a ceramic jug we’d fill with Celestial Seasonings tea.

The following spring, my junior high school, Baseline, had a program called BLAST, which stood for Base Line Activities Students Teachers. Every Wednesday for a month, the students and teachers would get a half-day, and would do a specific chosen activity instead of classes. These activities ranged from bowling to Hebrew language lessons to restaurant touring, and of course I chose cycling. By this time I was pretty strong, one of the strongest in the group. The strongest was D—, a really nice guy with a kind of crappy but very Euro bike, a Gitane I believe. He was a couple years older. There was another kid, skinny like me, but not as fair skinned and with black hair, by the name of N—. He was only a year ahead of me. He had a nice red SR Semi-Pro, with Campy shifters (a popular and affordable, if pointless, upgrade). He was a newcomer to the sport, though, I could tell: he wore full-finger gloves despite the 80-degree heat. I don’t think he knew how to draft, which I’d learned recently from my brother Geoff. (Geoff and I went on rides together and he’d make me stay just an inch off his wheel; to remind me how close I needed to be he would hold his hand back behind him, fingers held an inch apart, and if I didn’t do it right he’d drop me.)

The first time I rode with the BLAST group, I stayed on D—’s wheel and we dropped N—. The second time, one week later, N— kept up. The next time, he and D— dropped me. Probably by the last BLAST ride, N— was dropping D—. I don’t know: I was too far off the back to see what they were up to. This, after what happened with J—, began a pattern I would see for years and years: I’d meet somebody, get him excited about cycling, and then he’d pass me up on the way to greater things.

That year I came to the Mini Zinger much better prepared. I must have grown a bunch, because I fit my much larger bike pretty well. Of course the main difference was that I was physically fit, and knew how to draft, and could shift properly, and even had some basic suffering skills. The first event was the Boulder Mall Criterium; it was a qualifying race a week or two before the Mini Zinger proper, to determine which of the two divisions each rider would be put in. There was a good crowd, and a photo finish camera, and I was completely amped up.

From the gun I went straight to the front, just like my brother Max had done the year before, but instead of having a suspicious mechanical problem after a few laps, I was able to keep up the speed, lap after lap. For about five laps in a row I was on fire, feeling like God, leading the race. I was right at the very front, every lap. And I knew what was going on! It was absurdly simple: nobody was ahead of me, and everybody was behind me. If anybody wasn’t close behind me, that person didn’t matter, just like I hadn’t mattered the year before. All I had to do was hold this position, and I would win the whole race!

Of course it dawned on me, eventually, that I couldn’t stay at the front forever, and that every single guy behind me was benefitting from my draft, and that I would need somebody else to take the lead. But I couldn’t get anybody to do it. I’d move to one side, and the rest of the pack moved right along with me. So finally I slowed up just a bit . . . the horror! A huge long line of racers went streaming by. I felt like Wile E Coyote when he looks down and realizes he’s walked off the edge of a cliff and is standing on thin air. The pack had simply used me, taken advantage of a strong but dumb guy, and now it was all I could do to find a place in the pack. I finished somewhere between tenth and fifteenth—a huge improvement over the previous year, but the guys I trained with, N— and J—, finished first and second, respectively. I rode home by myself, bound and determined that I would never attempt anything again, ever.

There was more to embitter me that year, too. I’d assembled a great team for the race, consisting of N—, J—, myself, and a kid named G—, who’d finished second the year before. (Was there a fifth rider? I can’t remember.) I even lined up our sponsor, Fiske Planetarium, where my brothers’ friend’s dad was the director. We were to be called the Fiske Flyers, and would be in contention for the overall team title. It hadn’t been easy figuring out who our fourth guy should be, and it took all the assertiveness I could muster to approach G—, a complete stranger. Everything was perfect, until the race directors, led by Eric Sandvold, decided after the preliminary races that our team was too good, and so he split us up. He kept J—, G,— and me together, but put N— on a different team. I was pretty mad about that, but at least I was still paired with my best friend.

But almost right away, J— and N— had a private conversation following which N—, right in front of me, phoned the race promoter, Eric Sandvold (a teenager himself) and negotiated a change so that he and J— could be on the same team. It bugged me how syrupy sweet and glib he was on the phone, and it bugged me even more how utterly confident he was, like he and Eric went way back (though they didn’t) or like N—  was a made man with no chance of being turned down. It seemed like he did the phone call in my presence just to show off, and perhaps to rub my nose in it.

So I lost both of my best teammates, and endured a major smack in the face: because N— was faster, J— preferred to be on his team, even though J— had been my best friend for years, and though I’d started him in the sport and put the whole team together in the first place. I was left with only G—, who was plenty strong but crashed in about half the stages. The team with N— and J— on it won the overall, and my team wasn’t even in contention. I ended up finishing eleventh overall, and endured a lecture from my brothers about how I lost due to my own stupidity.

Later that year, we all got USCF licenses and N— and J— were recruited to the Flatirons Velo Club and got cool jerseys and bikes at cost, and went on to win many races. I continued to lose, and my only consolation was one race when J— crashed out and cried in front of his mom afterward. She was visibly embarrassed, and told him it wasn’t that big a deal, that there would be other races. He sobbed that it wasn’t the loss of the race that was making him cry, but that he was in pain. I knew this was a load of BS. He was crying because he couldn’t stand to be out of the limelight even for an afternoon. But what about me? I was training plenty, on my own, now, but it seemed I would never see the limelight at all. So even the pleasure of seeing J— getting peroxide in his wounds and bawling in front of his mom was short-lived. For me, bike racing was still largely a depressing thing.

To be continued

Check back in a month or so for the thrilling finale: how I learned the ropes, endured another tragedy, hurled in a race, and was abandoned by my closest friends.

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