"DeathPace 2000" Day three, junior cycling camp in Colorado Springs: I had been dropped again. Flying out, I had imagined very different circumstances - instead of being heralded as one of the top junior cyclists in the country I arrived instead to a camp and culture that viewed midwesterners and sprinters as pariahs, worthy of contempt. I proved them right by falling off the back of the peleton yet again on an uphill ride east out of Colorado Springs. Buffeted by the cold cross winds, I came to a stop with a flat tire high up on the plateau, exposed to the elements. The pacing vehicle, a station wagon with a half dozen bikes astride the roof, was manned by famed sprinter and crazy man Les Barczewski. He skidded the wagon to a stop and helped me switch wheels. Then he grinned broadly, leaned in with his pink face and, jabbing me, said, “hang on to the door – I’ll pace you up”. I grabbed the door jamb with my left hand, grabbed my handlebar stem with my right, and he began to accelerate, cackling through the open window, “Hold ON!”
Knuckles white on the bars I began to ratchet back and forth – the 25 mile an hour cross winds bouncing me against the car causing my wheels to angle underneath due to the sheer forces against the gyroscope they had become. Les’s gravely face leered at me through the window, “hold on! Taking us up to 85!” and he laughed again as my bike became a bumper car for the wind, terrain, and tiny adjustments from the one free hand guiding my handlebars. He announced speeds through the open window, "75! 80! 85!) I was terrified and knew I would be pulled under the car and die if I let go, so I held on and contained the onslaught of winds, road, and tires to regain the shelter of the peleton.
This was all part of the qualifications for the 1986 Junior World Team - though I certainly didn’t know it at the time - the first of many lessons of how other factors can matter as much as actual performance. Annual training camps were held as a pre-selection to hone the “best and brightest” at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. A few dozen riders joined for a late winter camp, then about 20 or so were invited back for a spring camp. Finally, a select few were elected by the national team coaches to stay as “permanent residents” for the summer training to be conditioned and trained and coached not only by Craig Campbell (the junior coach) but with Eddy Boreysewizc (Eddy B.) himself.
Many of the riders had attended prior camps, but I missed my opportunity the season prior due to competing at the speedskating world championships. Instead I joined the ranks of the 7-11 junior development squad and, wearing the green, white, and almost-red jerseys of that team, spent the summer training in Indianapolis under coach Roger Young (son of Clair and Dorothy, brother of Sheila) along with 1984 Olympic gold medalist Mark Gorski, Scott Berriman and Frank Filardi.
When I finally made it to that first camp in Colorado Springs in late winter of 1986, I found myself a fish out of water. The coaches had their favorites and the riders were surprisingly clique-ish. Already pretty shy, but fiercely competitive, I turned inward and said little in the early days and grew more isolated with each passing day.
Over time I began to learn the names and faces that would surround me in the desert of north Africa months later: Stefan was a slight, shy individual – the caricature of the athlete-as-intellectual. At first Stefan seemed to be just another wallflower in Scott McKinley’s circle of admirers. Over time though it became clear that Stefan and Scott were friends and that despite Scott’s sway over the rest of the team, he would sometimes defer to Stefan’s quiet but firmly stated opinion. I don’t have a memory of meeting Stefan – he crept slowly into my awareness over time, mostly for his prowess in climbing, and his odd lack of ego. With Ed Johnson we shared aspirations for academics – Ed was going to Duke, I was going to Stanford, Stefan to Berkley.
Scott McKinley, however, I remember meeting very clearly. Scott was a caricature of the athlete as extrovert, the Tom Cruise of cycling. Outgoing, gregarious, good looking (he actually did, and does look very much like Tom Cruise) Scott carried the air of someone who attended to such matters like a training camp out of his own good graces - a favor to the coaches and riders. Scott made his mark just a few days into the camp.
Each morning Craig Campbell and Andrej would call us out at about 7am for calisthenics by the back fence outside the dorms, but on this particular morning after a few jumping jacks and toe touches, Campbell suddenly said, “where the hell is McKinley? Anyone seen McKinley?” There were smirks and nervous titters from the group, but no one said anything. Campbell sent one of the assistant coaches, along with a roommate back up to the third floor barracks. Moments later Scott appeared, groggy, but all smiles, sauntering casually down the steel grated steps despite prods from the coach to hurry it up. In his sternest voice Campbell got in Scott’s face and started to berate him, but stopped suddenly, pausing, then sniffing, “Are you drunk? Have you been drinking?” Shameless, confident, and without a touch of malice, Scott calmly looked up, smiled, and said brightly, “I sure am.”
Everyone laughed and Campbell didn’t know what to do. This was one if his superstars from the prior year. After a moments pause he said, “I’ll deal with you later – send him back to his room.” It was hard not to admire that calm and courage.
Then there was Jamie Carney. Jamie is a whole other story. Jamie and I had history. More on him later.
I quickly grew to hate the camp. There was no “racing," no criteriums or sprint finishes – none of the things I was good at. Instead there were long rides in cross winds in pacelines that provided no protection, odd tests of endurance like max situps, max pushups, max back-ups, max leg-ups, time trials and for some, the dreaded V02. They did do some specialized tests for sprinting capability, but due to my very slight build (6’, 140 lbs) and my resume of road racing wins, the coaches assumed I was a “roadie” – an endurance racer.
Slotted with the likes of a Greg McNeil, Mike McCarthy or a Stefan Spielman, I quickly found myself at the bottom of the pecking order, the bottom of the lists, and off the back of the pack during the road rides. I grew bitter and aloof, trading self doubt for a facade of arrogance. At the end of the camp, when the selection for the spring camp was made, I somehow managed to assume I’d be chosen - that my race resume would carry me through vs. the arbitrary tests of the camp. I was wrong. My name was not on the list and I grew furious.
Holding my empty piece of paper as we left the meeting I vented loudly, arrogantly to Ed Johnson - one of my few friends - about my race resume, the arbitrary nature of the “tests” and the bias of the coaches against “new” riders. He turned and quickly gained my attention, ire, and then respect.
“What are you getting all high and mighty about Coyle? "If you are as good as you say you are, then who cares whether you made some arbitrary cut to a camp you don’t want to go to and a team you don’t want to join? "If you are that good, just come back in July and win the trials. "If you aren’t as good as you say, then this is all false bravado and you should beg for them to let you in because deep down you know you probably can’t cut it and need their help. “Which is it Coyle? Either way cut the arrogance and stop bitching.” I stopped short. No one had ever talked to me that way. He then smiled and said, “I didn’t make it either, but I don’t care because I hate these people and I’m going to Duke in the fall, and THAT is my future.”
Back to the Diary: Casablanca, Morroco, 1986:
Wednesday (actually its Thursday – I forgot about the night flight over). I woke up when my alarm went off – at 2:00pm. I went downstairs to eat and was told I missed lunch. I didn’t wake up with the rest of the guys because I have a room by myself – no one wanted to room with me – who knows why?
I get along the best with Stefan and Scott – they (Scott and Stefan) went to the bazaar today with some guys they met at the bank. I guess these two guys took them to their house, fed them, and showed them how to take the bus to the bazaar and haggled for them. Scott bought a really nice jacket for $20.00 and they both bought leather sandals - $6. They said it is really cool and that there are hundreds of shops and thousands of people – I want to go so bad! Meanwhile I was asleep!
Oh, today I found out that Mohammed was arrested. Stefan said it was the most pitiful sight he has ever seen. He said that the president of the cycling federation here is also the chief of police and that he recognized and arrested him. Craig said he was known as a common thief. He thinks that Mohammed was a con artist and that he was going to rip us off – including our bikes. Anje thinks not. He said that Mohammed stole something 2 years ago and that now he would be beaten and whipped and God knows what else. He thinks he was just trying to help.
I don’t know – he certainly seemed nice enough but maybe he was after Craig’s briefcase with $15,000 in it. All I know is that when he was being dragged away he was groveling and crying and pleading in the most pitiful way – making no attempt to protect himself from the rough scrapings as he was dragged across the pavement – acting as though where he was going was worse than death. Jamie has his address (or fake address?) I’m going to write him next year and see what happens…
Anyway, after lunch, I unpacked my track bike and then went for an hour ride by myself. I rode North along the coast until I was even with the center of the city. I then turned right and headed straight downtown – I was looking for the bazaar – but I never found it. I rode about 6 miles and the city never stopped, so I turned around. The people weren’t as friendly to a lone rider – not as many waved – but no one was hostile.
I returned, then I went down to the beach. There must have been 100,000 people on the beach running around in the tidal pools and on the wet sand – all playing soccer – how they know whose ball it is I don’t know. I wish I had a camera. The beach is about ¾ of a mile long and is full from 10am to 4pm. Otherwise it is not as full. None of them go in the water unless they go in huge groups of at least 100 – in which they form a triangle of link hands and move a short ways out. I have never seen them go over their waist in the water. If anyone goes too far the lifeguards blow whistles – at least that is what I have determined is the reason for all the whistle sounds constantly coming through my balcony door. I have a great view of the beach from my window – here is how it is situated. (I’ll draw a picture shortly)
After going to the beach I went to eat with the other track riders because we were going to miss the Hotel-served dinner. Once again finding a place to serve us was hard – we finally ate at the Hotel Bellevue (on the map). We had rice and lamb again – but it wasn’t as good as our Hotel. After this we went and rode the track. It was awful. It has joints every 15 feet or so – whch are smooth enough – but aren’t actually in angled alignment with each other – which creates a very bumpy and uncertain ride at any kind of speed except slow. Which brings up another point – you can’t ride slow.
I’m afraid to ride the banking at under 20mph. I tried riding around 10mph really low on the banking and fell and re-opened the newly healed wound on my hip. If you go faster than 20 that is bad too, because the woop-de-doos in the corners flip up your back wheel. Riding out of the saddle is very dangerous. The pole line is fairly smooth, but it curves to nearly flat at the pole line so in a sprint you end up riding at the red line most of the time. Another problem is that the track is steeper at the beginning and end of the turn than the middle by quite a lot, so when coming into and out of the turn up high and at high speed, you can “lift off” quite a scary jump.
Jamie and I did 4 jumps. We were pretty much even at the beginning of the jumps but I could come around him at the end when he led, while he could not. Before we started he told me he was riding a 45 front chain ring (small gear). After the jumps, he looked at his bike and said, “Oh, I was wrong I’m riding a 46.” Craig then made us do a wind up sprint because otherwise we would be going too slow and fall. I led it out, not climbing the banking until the last lap. I led fast early. I finished and still Jamie still hadn’t come around. I looked back and he was 10 feet behind. Getting off the track, he had two things to inform Craig and I with: #1 - he was indeed using his 45 (I guess it’s worse getting beat in a full out sprint than a jump, so a better excuse is needed for the sprint) and #2 “You can’t pass on this track, "its too bumpy," "I almost fell," "I shot tot the top of the track" etc. etc.
Jamie and I are getting along fine though – I just have to put up with a lot of his B.S.
Thursday continued: Our times at the track were really slow – my fastest 200 was only 11.92 and I felt incredibly sluggish. I hope I feel better for the time trial – if I don’t make the top 24 cut, Craig said he’ll send me home (Jamie too?). Jamie and I are going to go shopping tomorrow even though Craig doesn’t want us to. Oh, by the way, Jamie and Ted set up this little betting pool – giving out a piece of paper with everyone’s name on it. What you do is put the place you think each person is going to get in their respective world championship event. Everyone did it – even Craig, though he crumpled his up cuz he said it would be bad for team morale if they saw how he put them and they thought they could do better. I guess he’s right – but I saw it before he crumpled it – it said: Coyle – 4th, Carney – 5th. I wish Jamie could have seen it. I myself put Coyle – 5th, Carney 6th. Jamie did see that one – Goodnight!
(Next Up - a trip to the bazaar and then I am lost in the slums and attacked)