Dumb College Kids’ 35+ Bloodbath and Beatdown, 2012

January 29, 2012 § 17 Comments

The phone rang. It was Fukdude. “You wanna do the 35+ race on Saturday? 87 miles. 5,000 feet of climbing.”

“Where is it?”

“Santa Barbara. It’s an easy race, but it’ll be a beatdown for you. Probably won’t finish. Four hours in the saddle. Davy Dawg’s going.”

“What about Fireman?”

“Nah. He got dropped on the first climb last year. It’s not even a climb.”

“Santa Barbara? That’s all day. Plus gas money, food, entry fee, coffee, more food, Advil. Almost a hundred bucks to go get my head staved in?”

“Fuck yeah, dude. You in?”

“Sure.”

Fukdude only speaks the truth

I showed up at his place at 7:15. He ushered me in, poured me a cup of coffee and seated me at the breakfast table. Chloe jumped up, landed on my nuts, and shed four coats of fur in my lap. “Get down Chloe, fucking dog. Hey dude, something unfucking believably good is going to happen to you today.”

I perked up. I’ve been training hard and my legs are starting to come around. “Yeah?” I tried not to look too eager.

“Fuck yeah, dude. Homemade baked chocolate donuts. The fucking bomb.” He pulled a fresh donut out of the oven and slathered it with a 2-inch layer of chocolate frosting. “Fucking eat that, dude. Best thing that’s going to happen to you today. Unless you have another one. It’s all fucking downhill from there.”

I ate the donut. Then another. We polished off an even dozen and emptied the can of frosting. “Fucking rad shit, huh? Okay dude, let’s go fucking race.”

Race with your legs, win with your head

“This race is a fucking joke,” Fukdude said after we’d picked up his dad, who was going to recover from last week’s major surgery by standing in the 90-degree heat for four hours to hand us up water bottles. “The break goes in the first five miles. Then the pack just stands on its dick at 13mph the rest of the day. Same thing every fucking year.”

Dawg nodded. “It’s pretty easy. The lane is super narrow and the centerline rule is enforced, so after the break goes the lane clogs and you can’t advance. It’s a clusterfuck. Super lame layout. Last year it finished in a huge downhill that guaranteed mass crashes. What do you expect from something designed by college kids?”

“So here’s the fucking plan, dude. There’s only three Ironfly so we’re like total non-factors. The break will go pretty quick. Cover the first break, and when it comes back the second guy goes with the counter. If that comes back, the third guy goes with that counter. Just don’t tard out and miss the fucking break. Stage up front and stay up front. Ride aggressive and hammer but don’t be a dork and pull the whole field up with you. It’s like this every year, dude.”

“Wasn’t it shorter last year?” I asked.

“Yeah, it was only 58 miles last year. And this year Thurlow, Meeker, Glasship, a couple of other national champions and ex-pros will be racing it. So it could be a beatdown for you. Probably will be, I mean.”

Timing is everything

“How much farther?” asked Dawg, after we’d been in the car for a very long time.

“40 miles it looks like.”

“But our race starts in an hour and we’re only going 50.”

“Fuck dude, I’ve never missed a race start in twenty years. Came close, though. Me and Vince and Fireman and some other dude wound up at the wrong place one time, twenty miles away, and we all had to piss like crazy but we didn’t have time so we just passed around an empty plastic jug and Vince was the last pisser, fucking jug was sloshing with a half gallon of warm piss and this old guy steps off the curb in front of the van just when Vince is in full dam release mode and I hit the fucking brakes and he drops the jug and the fucking van is bam! Filled with piss and it was just fucking nasty. I had to pull over I was laughing so fucking hard. Plus our kits and shoes and helmets all got soaked. But we made the fucking start.”

We got there, signed in, got our numbers, and lined up. Ten minutes to spare.

I looked at the starters and realized that of the ones I recognized, they all had something in common: I’d never beaten any of them in a race.

I also realized the difference between a road race and a crit. In a crit you have the illusion that you have a chance of winning. Everyone finishes together, and you can’t get dropped unless you try to really hard. Even Chris Lotts could finish a crit when he was pushing 300, and once he slimmed down to 250 he was winning.

At a long, hot road race with hills there is no illusion. If you are a fat sprinter you will get dropped. Once you get dropped you will flail by yourself until you quit or you experience systemic organ failure. Your chance of winning is zero. Zero. This is the reason that lots of hacker road racers do crits, sucked in by the false illusion that they might somehow win, but the vast majority of crit fodder–and a good number of crit champs–never pin on a number at a hard, hilly road race: there is no chance of winning, and worse, not even the illusion that it’s possible. And worstest, they tack on DNF next to your name.

Few of the tender egos that populate crit racing can contend with coming home to the wife and kids by confessing, “I was such a pussy I couldn’t even finish.”

Blessed as I am with an overly active fantasy life, I can imagine victory in even the most completely hopeless situations, which this would quickly turn out to be. Moreover, I don’t have to come home and explain anything, because it always goes like this.

“Hi, honey, I’m home.”

“You look awful. Get beaten again and give up?”

“Yep.”

“You never learn. Take a shower and I’ll have your dinner ready in a few minutes. The pacifier is in its usual place.”

Executing the strategy

Three minutes into the 87-mile deathfest, a LaGrange wanker attacked. Fukdude went with him. I was in the front row while the field led a steady tempo chase. As we crested the first non-hill that had shredded Fireman and Vince the year before, I was at 600 watts and seeing triple. This was the easy part.

We bombed the descent and the peloton reeled in the Fukbreak. A couple of counterattacks followed. I went with each one and tasted the howling headwind and stabbing leg pains that accompanied each for the handful of seconds we were free. My legs felt great…but this didn’t really seem much like the race Fukdude had described. I’d already hit 1041 watts following one counterattack. No break had stuck for more than a few minutes, and we were fifteen miles into the race.

Since the race was out and back on Foxen Canyon Road, every couple of minutes we were buffeted by a huge clump of racers going the opposite direction, many of whom were often over the centerline with their heads down, which created lots of excitement with our cyclists who were over the centerline with their heads down.

In addition, the road was packed with regular car traffic going to and from the various wineries in the area, so half of them were drunk, and the remaining vehicles were farm trucks or duallies hauling extra wide trailers filled with pipes that projected over the sides.

The turnaround was a super tight u-turn in the already narrow road that funnels 75 flailing racers into a tiny chute, so unless you were in the top five you had to unclip or risk tipping over or whacking into the bike in front.

After the u-turn there came a mad acceleration back up to speed and a furious flurry of attacks that launched the winning break. What with the jumps and the wind and the fighting for position, by the time we hit the only Fukdude Certified Climb, my legs were shot.

Time for Plan B (as in “beatdown”)

As the real racers stretched their legs on the short but steep climb, the detritus in the rear looked like it was being mowed down by a perfectly positioned marksman with a Gatling gun. Riders flailed off to the edge of the road. Shoulders heaved. Heads slumped. Strange body positions erupted as wankers with redlined heart rates found new contorted ways to thrash and beat and flog the pedals.

I got shelled, let my wattage drop back down to 320, crested the top, and then chased like a madman. A huge group of Harleys had come up from the rear along with several farm trucks, and I flew along at 45, weaving and dodging and drafting my way back up to the lead group, choking on diesel and gasoline exhaust as my bike skittered on the loose gravel and my body shook from the jarring hits on the potholes and cracked pavement. I thanked Dog that this was an easy race.

At the feed zone, which the dumb college kids had put right at the new uphill finish, I slowed to get water and then got dropped by the accelerating pack. I chased on just in time to go up the Fukdude Certified Nonhill, barely making it over with the pack. Having given up any hope of placing or being a factor, and recalibrating my goal to “just fucking finish,” I slid to the back and tried to sit in.

Until that point I’d been fighting to hold position and fighting to advance through the bar-to-bar knot, and in addition to being stuck on the edge of the group, I was always catching wind, my hands aching from the constant braking, and I was at wit’s end from the exhaustion of trying to advance.

Once at the rear it was peaceful. The pace had dropped considerably, and it had fallen to a leisurely crawl except for the horrific moment when we overtook the entire 45+ field (imagine two beginner marching bands, one composed of nothing but tubas, and the other composed of extension ladders and grappling hooks, overtaking each other at full tilt).

I thought of Fukdude’s contempt for this lame pace, and could only disagree with him. This was awesome. Unfortunately, as we slowed down, the overtaken 45+ field ramped it up, and the tuba-ladder band thing happened again, with a couple of our tubas mixing with their ladders and splattering riders all over the pavement.

As the 45+ field shattered and passed, Brad House came lummoxing by, flailing, alone, for what looked like was going to be a very solo effort. Perhaps he was trying to redeem himself for having crossed the centerline in the mass gallop last year and getting DQ’d. Or perhaps he was just being Brad.

Different strokes for different folks

Just before the turnaround midway through the second lap, Glasship floated to the back. “Hey, Wankmeister,” he said with a grin. “How’s it going?”

Before I could answer, he said, “Is this a lameass race or what? If it were any easier I’d have brought my grandmother along.”

At that exact moment I felt like I was at the bottom of the Marianas Trench, with ten thousand tons of deep-sea manganese nodules pressing down on my head, legs, and balls. “Uh, I’m wrecked, dude. I don’t know if I’m going to finish.”

He laughed. “Ever the the comedian!” and easily pedaled back up to the front.

On the second time up the steep hill, the Gatling gunner had been replaced by men with large clubs. Every few riders they would select a victim, bash in his head and leave him where he fell without even the courtesy of a common grave and a sack of quick lime. The carnage was unbelievable.

Team Helen’s, which had shown up in full force with their A Team, fully equipped with new rigs and Di2 shifters, lost riders left and right. As I came unhitched again I dropped into the 320’s and passed CJ. I’ve never passed CJ. He looked like he’d just finished a bad Scientology session with Tom Cruise. He’s not on my team, but he’s a great guy and I’ll never forget the time we broke away at Lunada Bay on the Donut and he towed me to the college, waving me ahead in the last few meters for the win.

“Get on my wheel, buddy,” I urged.

He gurgled something, latched on, and I dragged him over the top. Then it was a repeat of lap one: full-on chase. This time we overtook Davy Dawg, who was flailing like a lost puppy on the descent. He hopped on, took a deep breath, and then singlehandedly dragged us the remaining three miles back up to the main group.

When we hit the feed zone, CJ crumbled like a cookie baked with too much flour and not enough milk, wobbling off the course and out of the race. It looked like a perfect move, and the group had dropped me again in the feed zone, so I too made a beeline for the Give Up and Shamelessly Quit Zone.

Just as I tried to exit, Walshy, who was sitting on the side of the road, yelled at me. “C’mon, Wanky! You can catch them!”

Too embarrassed to quit, I made the u-turn and chased. And chased. And chased.

The charge of the Wanker Brigade

After several thousand hours I overhauled Davy Dawg, who had gotten shelled again, and we picked up the stragglers, the wounded, the beaten, the dropped and the Left Behinds, and formed a rag-tag wanker brigade. Two miles up the road there was the lead group of perhaps thirty riders, followed by six of us and one droppee from the 45+ Elderly Gentlemen’s race.

When we hit the bottom of the hill for the last time everyone was fried. Granted, we were the Wanker Brigade. Granted, we were now fighting for the best of the final six, which is to say the worst of everyone else. Granted, no one cared. Granted, the only thing anyone wanted was to finish.

When you’re the Wankmeister, though, and you’ve paid a bunch of money, and you’ve traveled all day, and you’re dehydrated, and you have a pounding headache, and you’re fifteen years older than the next youngest guy, and you’re used to getting dropped and riding by yourself, and you’re in the incredible position of actually, possibly finishing a 35+ leg-breaking road race…it matters.

So I attacked at the bottom of the hill and gloriously soloed in for my close-to-bottom-of-the-barrel-placing. Hardest race I can remember having finished. Best placing I can reasonably expect in this lifetime.

For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction

The kidneys serve essential regulatory roles in the urinary system and also serve homeostatic functions such as the regulation of electrolytes, regulation of blood pressure filtration of the blood, removal of wastes, and the reabsorption of water, glucose, and amino acids.

Symptoms of renal failure, which results in death, include vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, weight loss, dark colored urine, blood in the urine, difficulty urinating, itching, bone damage, muscle cramps, hypocalcaemia, abnormal heart rhythms, muscle paralysis, swelling of the extremities, shortness of breath, as well as pain in the back and sides.

When I got off my bike I experienced all of these symptoms, plus a grinding headache so intense that I would have done anything to make it go away, including another lap around the course.

Fukdude and Davy Dawg, although tired, were jocular. “You’re looking kind of pale, Wanky. Let’s get you a cheeseburger and some beer.”

Soon enough we were at at the Firestone Brewery, seated with G$ and his lovely parents from North Carolina. I introduced myself with a brief story about my great-great grandfather from Wilmington and the mule he was given by Robert E. Lee at Appomattox, then collapsed with my face in the patty melt.

Mrs. G$ looked at her son. “Does he do this often?”

“Talk about his great-grandfather? Nope, that’s the first time I’ve heard that story. But he does tend to look like this after most bike races.”

Dawg chimed in. “This is actually pretty perky for him.” He snapped a photo and posted it on Facebook. “He usually collapses before we get to the restaurant.”

Back in the van I napped for a couple of hours and nursed a couple of gels given to me by G$. In time, I rallied.

“Dude, that was a fucking hard race,” said Fukdude.

“Yeah, that was a fucking beatdown,” added Dawg.

I thought about the morning’s baked donuts. “You were right, Kev.” A long pause. “We doing Boulevard?”

Some people, they cannot measure danger

January 22, 2012 § Leave a comment

People race bicycles for different reasons. Whatever your reason, I hope it’s not to win, especially if you participate in CBR crits. Winning a CBR race is simply not possible. The reasons are simple:

1. You are not smart enough.
2. You are not brave enough.
3. You are not skillful enough.

Some people might add, “You are not fast enough,” but they would be mistaken. Your grandmother could win the 45+ men’s race if she was smart, brave, and skillful enough.

You are not smart enough

Beating 100 evenly matched people in a flat, four-corner crit requires brains. It’s simple, but frighteningly complex. You must know every rider capable of instigating, bridging up to, or hanging with a breakaway. You must know every rider capable of winning the sprint. You must know when these two types are riding in combination, and you must know when to go with them and when to let them ride away. If you do not know all of these things, you cannot win a CBR crit.

You are not brave enough

Most CBR crits end in a mass sprint. You must be prepared to die in order to win. Although the chance of death is small, the chance of crashing is significantly higher. The probability that you will have to muscle your way to the third or fourth position is 100%, and will require that you bump into other riders, most of whom are larger than you, and who will scream at you in a threatening manner, and try to chop your wheel or knock you down. In order to stare down these perils, you must be brave. Few people are brave. You are certainly not brave. Some are foolish (further frightening the non-brave), but only a handful of riders–less than ten in the 45+ races–have the courage and confidence to risk it all so that they can be in position for the final turn.

If you have ever said to yourself, “It’s just not worth it,” or “I could get seriously hurt doing this,” or “Why am I risking my life and livelihood for a $75 payout?” you are not brave enough. You will therefore, absolutely, never, ever win a CBR crit.

You are not skillful enough

In addition to brains and courage, you must have enough whupass left in the can to come around the four or five other riders who are also potential winners. The only way you can do this is by conserving. However, the only place you can truly conserve is by safely tucking into the middle of the field. This means that you must have the skill to take the turns without getting knocked down by the guy in long socks and hairy legs. Far more importantly, you must also have the skill to weave your way through the dense, clotted peloton with three laps to go. Harder still, you must be able to dislodge other, equally skilled riders, from the wheel that is going to lead you to the line.

Even if you could do the other two things, you will never be able to do this. So you will always lose. Always.

Alternative goal #1: Lighten up

Since I will never win a CBR crit, I have to come up with other reasons to pay $33 for the privilege of risking life and limb in a two-wheeled free for all. The first and most important goal for me is levity. By training and riding and blogging over the winter my head becomes filled with visions of glory and victory. Left to my own devices, by the time January rolls around I can actually visualize myself winning crits, winning road races, winning time trials. This is a huge burden of seriousness.

Missed rides begin to have outsized consequences. Training regimens become the subject of deep thought an reflection. Interval training and 20-minute wattage start to loom large in daily waking life. Boulevard somehow morphs from an annual SoCal beatdown into a Cycling Monument that I actually have a chance of winning. The seriousness is almost too much to bear.

CBR crits and the first few road races of the season inject a wonderful air of levity into the whole affair. Once I’ve been hammered into dogshit and flung mercilessly to the side of the road three or four times there’s nothing but levity left. The seriousness and earnestness of being a “bike racer” has dissipated back into the ether, dispelled like a bad charm for another six to eight months, and replaced by the reality that I’m an old man, slower this year than last, and just as big a flailer now as I ever was.

Alternative goal #2: Don’t crash

The only thing needed to achieve goal #1 is to pay the entry fee and start the race. That’s too easy, though, so I race with a second goal as well: don’t crash. Crashing is very bad and it takes you to an unhappy place. It hurts. It bends and breaks expensive equipment and tears nasty gashes in Joe Yule’s prettily designed, costly Italian cycling uniforms. It brings a plethora of injuries, from road rash to broken bones to paralysis to death. It involves casts and ambulance rides and missed work and anxious relatives and, worst of all, a feeling of profound stupidity, best summed up by the self-reproach of “What was I thinking?”

Not crashing, on the other hand, is sublime. So sublime is it that nothing, not even the candy bars and pistachios from a prime win, can compare with finishing a race and saying to yourself, “I didn’t crash!” This is how soldiers felt when they waded ashore at Omaha Beach, flopped on the sand, and realized they hadn’t had their nuts shot off. Trust me.

Alternative goal #3: Hammer

One of the best things about cycling is hammering. However, it’s not friendly if you do it overly much in a group. It gets you dis-invited to rides. It gets you shouted at. It’s not appreciated. In a CBR crit, however, it’s okay to hammer. In fact, most of the field appreciates it when you hammer, because they can sit on your wheel and conserve. They will even say things like “Good pull,” or “Good job, dude,” even as they are thinking “What a fucking idiot.”

I like it when people say, “Good job, dude!” even though they think I am a complete fucking idiot and even though my “good job” makes it easier for them to beat me. It encourages me to hammer even harder. I can achieve my goal of hammering at every single CBR crit and never make a single enemy. Best of all, I will be completely exhausted and wrung out. I will have paid Chris $33, but I will have gotten about $75.83 worth of hammering out of the deal. It is the best bargain going.

Even more incredibly, if you just hammer and hammer and hammer, once in a blue moon you will hammer yourself into a breakaway. In my case, unfortunately, I just keep hammering until I’m dropped out of my own breakaway, but that’s a different story.

Alternative goal #4: Feed the hungry cyclists and Chris Lotts

If you pay money into an investment fund with 0% chance of return, where you and all the other investors’ money is distributed to a pre-arranged club of insiders, it is called securities fraud and punishable by many years in federal prison and getting repeatedly raped. However, if you pay money into a CBR crit with 0% chance of getting any of it back, where you and all the other racers’ money is distributed to Chris, Thurlow, Meeker, Charon, Rahsaan, Walshy, and a handful of other winners, it’s called “bike racing.”

In case you hadn’t noticed, it is pretty incredible to be able to race with national and world champions, almost as incredible as getting to hear Chris rip off a handful of Jesus jokes in the presence of the devout. Without my money (and yours) these guys wouldn’t be racing here. They’d take their talents somewhere else and instead of bragging to the wife that I was “beat by a world champion” I’d have to admit that I was “beat by Stewy Tiddlebottom, that guy with the pot belly and hairy legs.”

Finally, the nitty gritty: Today’s race report, CBR Anger Management Criterium, 45+ elderly gentlemen’s race

Prior to the race Fukdude had advised, “Dude, just conserve, don’t fuckin’ waste energy or hammer at the front like a ‘tard, follow a good break if one goes, if not, conserve, stay out of the wind, ride like Vince, dude, fuckin suck wheel all fuckin day, and if you’ve got good position and legs at the end, go for it.”

I took this advice to heart, but found myself in a familiar dilemma. Whenever I drift back into the pack I end up riding next to the one guy in the whole peloton I don’t want to be anywhere near. He is always on the verge of crashing. He’s always wearing something really strange like knee-high socks, or a jersey that covers most of his ass, or shorts that don’t cover hardly any of it, or he’s riding a steel Waterford with pannier loops…whatever it is, it’s terrifying, and I can’t get away from him.

Drop further back, and boom, he’s there in front of me. Accelerate towards the front, and boom, there he is again. Pretty soon it starts to freak me out, like, “Is he following me? Or worse, am I following him?” The anxiety and fear of crashing reach fever pitch, and so I just head for the wind and hammer. Oddly enough, I never see him again the rest of the race. Until the end. When he passes me.

I did an exemplary job today of containing myself for the first fifteen minutes of the race–just enough time for the winning break to establish itself and ride away from the field. After that I found myself unable to get away from the Crazy of the Day, and it was freaking me out. He was wearing these things that looked like snug-fitting long pants with dress socks, and an old Bell helmet, and he had long, curly black hair, and he swerved wildly every few seconds.

I couldn’t stand it, so I just hammered. In the wind. Over and over and over until I was completely thrashed.

And it’s Secretariat by a furlong!

Before the final turn I sat up with Harry and watched the crazies go pounding by. Not the crazies who were vying for the win–they weren’t crazy–but the crazies who were going to risk everything for 43rd place. As we turned the final corner in last place, a rider with a clean shot at the finish line, no one in front, no one to his right, and a single rider two feet out passing on his left, swung out and clipped the passing rider’s rear wheel for no reason at all.

“Why the fuck did he do that?” I wondered. “Was he trying to find out what happens when his front wheel whacks someone else’s rear wheel at max speed? Shit, all he had to do was ask. I’d have been happy to tell him.”

Surprise! He fell! Fortunately, he was towards the tail end of the field and there were only a handful of riders behind him, all with plenty of pavement and plenty of daylight to easily avoid the carnage. Except for one guy. This particular rider had read and memorized every page in the “Dummies Guide to Field Sprinting”…except the last page. That’s the page that has nothing on it except this one phrase, in red, 34-point type:

“DON’T EVER, EVER, EVER SPRINT WITH YOUR FUCKING HEAD DOWN!!!!!”

So with his head down, going full gas to nail down 43rd place, Lummox hit the other downed goofball full on. The spray of carbon shards, the whistling noise of flying steel derailleurs, the cracking of rims, the hailstorm of spokes, the flimflam debris of hurling water bottles, the grinding of carbon on pavement, the thudding of heavy, lard-like bodies on the tarmac, the groaning of the wounded, the blood, the twisted bodies, the broken frames, and the mayhem, all mixed in with screams of “Get the medics!” and “Don’t move!” and “Jesus Christ did you see that!” and “What a dumbfuck!” all combined to punctuate the end of the race with the disaster and catastrophe that riders like I had paid good money to avoid.

Harry and I stopped and cleared the wreckage out of the road as the two victims writhed and moaned in agony. To the idiot who had caused the whole thing and who didn’t look much hurt except for the three acres of road rash on his arm, I bent over and asked him, “Are you hurt?”

It was a pitiful sight, indeed. Fortunately, neither of them died.

As I was leaving the site of the race, a couple of guys rolled by, eyebrows raised, and a polite nod. “Good job out there today, dude.”

Yessssssssss!

Wankmeister captures first Donut hill win of 2012!!!

January 21, 2012 § 8 Comments

It was a nasty, rainy, windy, cold Friday night, and FB was alive with the chatter of quitters, fakers, freeloaders, pretenders, and wishful thinkers, all industriously polishing their rusty collection of excuses until each one shone with the brilliance of a diamond.

“I hate to clean my bike!”

“It’s daaaaaangerous!”

“Weather will clear up later…maybe!”

“My periodization calls for an off-day tomorrow.”

“I can’t miss Junior’s indoor kiddie soccer practice!”

“Clarinet recital–Pooky would be devastated if I missed it. They’re only young once, you know!”

“Getting ready for the LAVRA series; track workout tomorrow.”

I smiled grimly at each lame excuse, thin veneer they were to cover the cowering, quaking souls that lay beneath. None of this surprised me. We were in Southern California, the birthplace and stoutest bastion of the fair weather cyclist. Unlike the soldiers of the Great Plains, the warriors of the Northeast, or the sunbeaten marauders of the South, the SoCal cyclist needed only a hint of moisture to send him scurrying back under the blankets.

Rise and rain

I awoke at 6:30, went into the kitchen, brewed a cup of black rat poison, and laced it with cream so heavy that the congealed fat created giant buttery blobs floating on the surface. On cold, rainy days the lard forms a protective layer inside the arterial wall and prevents the blood from getting cold. I drank deeply from the life-giving elixir.

Next I slathered on a thick layer of Crazy Alchemy embro, cutting it with water to speed the absorption into my skin. Within minutes a small wildfire began running from my ass down to my toes. Tipping my hat to the elements I even donned knee warmers. After a quick bowl of oatmeal I was off.

The drop down VdM was wet, windy, treacherous, and cold. Unable to pedal much due to the buffeting winds, by the time I reached the Donut launching pad at 8:00 the turnout was just as I had expected: the hardest of the hard, the toughest of the tough, the dumbest of the dumb, the flailingest of the flail. I stared stonily, turned my bike without so much as saying “good morning,” and rolled out.

Let the pain rain down

I kept the pace stiff all the way to Malaga. Through the stop sign, down the short drop, and then full throttle. The agony I was inflicting was so massive and so sudden that I could imagine the happy smiles of those who had stayed home in bed to quaff Earl Grey tea and munch their strumpets. Would they rather be at home–surrounded by strumpets–or here–surrounded by a freezing rain and a wall of pain?

As usual, no one came to the front. The Big Orange softmen? Not today. The Big Blue teammates? Nix. The strongmen of SPY? Nowhere to be seen. Today’s strategy, to let Wankmeister pull ’til he blew, would fail, and fail miserably.

Through Paseo del Mar and up the Lunada Bay Elementary bump I kept the gas on, imagining the whimpering, crying, pleading, and begging that might have been going on behind. But today there would be no mercy.

Some days you just have it

I stayed on the front through Golden Cove, battling the wind, and without breaking my cadence cruised easily through the sprint. No Perez came shooting by; no one wanted to challenge anything this day. It was written thus in the stars.

By the time I hit Trump my legs were feeling a bit heavy. The cold rainwater had soaked down next to my skin, my feet had become chilled, and a constant drizzle of rain ran down the inside of my rain jacket, down the collar of my jersey, through my undershirt and against my back. No mind. Pain is in the eye of the beholder. However bad I felt, it would have been worse for anyone else. As it had been from Malaga, there wasn’t a single rider who wanted to tangle with Fate.

At the bottom of the Switchbacks I jumped hard. I knew no one would come around, or even think about coming around. I pedaled on, going harder and faster until the only turning wheels and the only hard breathing I could hear were my own. As I rounded the last turn I glanced back. No one in sight. I cruised up to the college and raised my hands to celebrate this unparallelled victory on the Donut Ride.

Oh…did I mention that I was the only one who showed?

Wankmeister cycling clinic #5: Dealing with icky weather

January 20, 2012 § 2 Comments

Dear Wankmeister:

Forecast says “rain” for tomorrow. I hate riding when it’s wet, but I really don’t want to miss the Donut. Any suggestions? I was thinking about spin class in the morning if it’s really icky out.

Frightenedly,
Sammy Snickers

Dear Sammy:

You’re a contemptible piece of shit. Suit up, shut up, and ride your fucking bike.

Gently,
Wankmeister

Dear Wankmeister:

I’ve just bought a Specialized SL4.9 road bike with electronic Shimano shifting. It is the bomb and it has Zipp wheels which are the bomb to. Lots of my buddies always do the Doney and tomorrow is my debutt with the new bomb bike so I want to make the big whammo impression but my problem is the bikes going to get nasty from the rain and bad weather forecast in the forecast. I dont like a dirty bike especially a new bitching bomb. Help me Rhonda.

Hippishly,
Tommy Twotone

Dear Tommy:

You, too, are a contemptible piece of shit. That bike is like a virgin, and the mud/rain/muck/slime/sludge/filth/grit are like your dick. You’re asking me what to do with a virgin while pointing to your dick. Ride your fucking bike. If you’re too much of a dipstick to clean it, take it to the bike shop and pay to get it cleaned.

Instructively,
Wankmeister

Dear Wankmeister:

I’m very excited about tomorrow’s big Donut Ride. It is my favorite ride I have done it three times and you are my hero. I love how I watch you from a long way off as you jackhammer everyone into bits of jelly for the first mile or two before you do that thing where you blow up and fall into the gutter and then everyone passes you. That’s really cool! Anyhow, I want to “Donut” (cool verb, huh!!) tomorrow but it’s going to rain they say and I don’t have good bike handling skills and I’m afraid of the rain because I think I will actually handle even worse. Should I or shouldn’t I?

On the fencedly,
Tweezle Twadsworthy

Dear Tweezle:

Don’t worry about your contemptible bike handling skills. Most of the idiots on the Donut handle their bikes even worse than you, they just go a tad faster. You will improve with practice or get killed, and what better way to learn than taking out half the field with one ill-timed, squirrely wobble? Perez does it all the time, and he wins practically every Cat. 3 crit he enters. Plus, if you time your crashes right, you’ll be out for a season and lose your upgrade points so you can keep hanging out in the 4’s.

Believingly,
Wankmeister

Dear Wankmeister:

I don’t know how to say this, but I’m just not tough. I don’t like cold, or wet, or wind, or dark, or rough, or long, or hot, or steep. For me, cycling is best when I can cruise at 72 degrees on a relatively flat scenic road with no traffic or wind. Coffee stops every couple of miles and a Standing Room burger to celebrate my efforts. I know you’ll understand when I tell you I’m not riding tomorrow because of the rain.

Revealingly,
Freddy Flapknocker

Dear Freddy:

You didn’t have to say it. I already knew.

Observantly,
Wankmeister

FTR 2012: What should I wear?

January 16, 2012 § 3 Comments

The pain, almost unendurable. The stabbing throbs, radiating out from my core and spreading throughout my entire body. Everything stretched to its absolute limit, feeling as if the tissue would tear apart and spill my innards.

Pre-game face game face

This is what the FTR 2012 felt like, and that was just my stomach after pounding down the twelve pieces of French toast and matching sausage logs. It was destined to become a day in infamy, but hours before the first slab of syrup-coated, egg-battered toast slithered down my throat, I had to make some important decisions, and none more important than this: What should I wear?

The choice of clothing was crucial. FTR 2012 was contested by five major teams, and two odd, all-black fashion mistakes from Santa Fe and from Manhattan Beach. The teams were SPY Optic, Big Orange, Ironfly, Helen’s, and the we-can’t-afford-a-final-coat-so-we’re-stopping-with-the-primer-gray outfits of Team LBF (Long Beach Freddies).

I stared hard at my cycling fall fashion collection. If I chose SPY, I would be honoring my comrade-in-arms from FTR 2011’s heroic pee-stop breakaway, MMX. However, a SPY kit would mark me as a teammate of FTR DS Jaeger, King Harold, Dogg, T-Rex, and that outcast homewrecker, Toronto–all foes I had sworn to destroy. Moreover, I had flown the SPY colors the previous week at the Nichols Canyon beatdown, despite being surrounded by my Ironfly teammates.

On the other hand, if I wore my Ironfly kit, word would eventually get back to the Fireman, who would berate me for my non-Fly attire. But if I failed to wear the SPY kit I wouldn’t have a Red Kite’s prayer of ever being able to face MMX again. It would be as traitorous as if I were to write a positive review of Assos Zeghole cycling glasses.

Caught in the dilemma, I resolved it the usual way: grabbed what was closest, and said, “Fuggit.”

Load ‘em up!

Apparently, I wasn’t the only person who had the SPY Optic/Ironfly clothing dilemma. Unbeknownst to me, Toronto had been tormented by the choice and had called StageOne at 3:00 a.m. in a frenzy before the ride. “Dude, what should I wear?”

“Huh? Who is this?”

“It’s me, Toronto. I can’t decide which kit to wear!”

“What the fuck are you talking about? Wear whatever’s been washed. That’ll sure narrow it down. It’s fucking three a.m.”

“I want to wear my SPY kit, but what if Fukdude gets pissed?”

“Fukdude is asleep. He’s not doing the ride. He wouldn’t care even if he was.”

“I’m going with SPY then.” Toronto plunged immediately to sleep, while StageOne had to toss and turn, as he’d been mercilessly ripped from REM and couldn’t get back.

Redondo rendezvous

I had agreed to meet StageOne at the corporate world HQ in Redondo, where we would be picked up by T-Rex and Toronto. My initial plan had been to simply ride there, but a little angel on my right shoulder said, “Are you fucking out of your mind? After FTR you’ll be too tired to lift your weenie, much less pull yourself back up to the top of PV.” So I chose the less green alternative, loaded up the Scratch, and drove to the HQ.

T-Rex picked us up and we made a beeline for the Starbucks, where we re-rendezvoused with Stern-O and Major Bob. Stern-O and StageOne had gone through a bitter divorce in 2011, and although there hadn’t been any children, and although Stern-O had kept all the assets, and although no spousal support had been ordered, there was still the lingering bitterness from the end of a long and loving relationship. Stern-O ignored StageOne, but, ever the gentleman, StageOne said, “How you doing?”

“I’ve got shingles, that’s how!” snapped Stern-O. “Which comes from stress!”

We parted them with a crowbar and got back into the truck. As Major Bob raced ahead, we noticed his bike on the rack, while Stern-O’s $44,929.19 Look full-carbon, monococque Triumph with internal disc brakes and hybrid transmission (hasn’t been released in the US yet; Serial No. 000001) was carefully stowed in a bike bag and placed inside the car.

Ride with your legs, win with your head

As we rolled out to the cheering of six wildly enthusiastic supporters, I knew that this FTR would be different. No more pointless hammering at the front. No bait-taking on the descent and run-in to Fillmore. No stroke-for-stroke shows of strength on the climb into Ojai. I would chill at the back and save the only two bullets I had: one for Casitas Lake, and one for Balcom.

The amazement rippled through the peloton as I took up my seat at the back of the bus. Where was Wanky? We’d already done 1.2 miles and he hadn’t attacked, or gone to the front for a senseless pull, or scampered up some slight rise. Looks of amazement shot my way as various riders dropped back to compliment me on my restraint.

On the first climb Roadchamp strung it out and sprinted away for the KOM. I happily chilled in the GdW (Grupetto de Wank) and advised Hockeystick of the sharp downhill turn coming up. We reattached and the group split again on the next rise. Mystery Rider rolled off the point and began the long climb before the descent into Fillmore. FTR DS marshaled his SPY unit and chased, but to no avail: MR nailed the KOM and was far down the descent before our chase group crested the top. I’d been doing 350 watts just sitting on a wheel for much of the climb, and was thrilled that FTR DS was willing to fire the bullets in his clip.

On the descent I got stuck behind Roadchamp and Dogg, both of whom are massively chicken descenders. UbeRfRed sped away and at the bottom it was just me sitting on Roadchamp’s wheel. He turned on the muscle once we hit the flats, and over the course of the next mile brought us to within 200m of the lead chase. MR was in sight. He flicked his elbow for me to close the final gap, but I did the unthinkable: laughed and refused.

Unfortunately, my teammate Polly had latched on, and rather than forcing Roadchamp to do a little extra work, he launched and dragged us up to the breakaway, which contained King Harold and Hair, and now Roadchamp. We overhauled MR, and one of the day’s many revelations began to make itself known: G3 attacked, taking UbeRfRed with him. They flailed valiantly in the vicious headwind for a few minutes as the gas slowly escaped from their egos with each pedal stroke.

Here, however, was a new G3: gone was the wheelsucking, cautious, gas-saving, calculating viper of sneakdom, replaced by the G3 I feared more than any other–the attacking, risk-taking hammer who was now blending panache into his well polished arsenal of strategic conservation. Although this attempt failed, it marked the beginning of a very ugly and ultimately successful pattern.

With three hundred meters to go before the Fillmore sprint, Hair hit the jets. It was a nice little clinic on the difference between road racers and road sprinters. He cleared the sign by so much that it took the light several seconds to travel the distance from his rear wheel to our retinas. Score: Roadchamp 1, Hair 1, Wankers 0.

Don’t poke the gorilla

Our gap on the GdW was immense, and I pulled over in a driveway off the main road to relieve myself. As I fumbled with my parts a group of chickens dashed out from the bushes, surprised at the early morning shower. Unfortunately, they were accompanied by a rooster, who was prepared to defend his hens. He had giant spurs and was advancing menacingly towards me. You may not think chickens are scary, but when you’ve got one leg still over your top tube, the other leg awkwardly balanced in loose gravel, your hand on your dick and the other hand trying to keep your bike from sliding out from under you, and a big ass rooster with a huge beak and spurs sharp enough to cut sheet metal, well, it’s unnerving at best.

At the same time, I heard commotion in the little rental cottages behind me, and realized with a glance that whoever was looking out the kitchen window was likely wondering why the skinny guy was peeing on their chickens. My Spanish isn’t great, but I heard something that sounded like, “I think I can shoot it off from here,” and then the familiar noise of shells spilling out on the kitchen counter.

It was going to be hard to explain to the guys how I’d been neutered from 200 yards and then scratched up by an angry rooster, and even though it would easily top the Balcom flail from 2011 for its bloggability, I holstered up and scampered back to the roadway.

We regrouped; StageOne had flatted, and as we got going McRibs lost his iPod Shuffle at 35mph. It was unthinkable that he could complete the ride without listening to the endless loop of Chrissy Hines and “Back on the Chain Gang,” so we stopped while he collected his hardware. A few minutes later, Turtle got what would the second and last flat of the day.

As we churned towards Santa Paula with a whipping tailwind, Roadchamp decided to take the sprint, a move that poked Hair right in the eye. As Roadchamp raised his arms just before crossing the line, Hair pipped him at the finish. Erik Zabel knows about this, I think. So as we turned onto the road towards Ojai, it was Road champ 1, Hair 2, Wankers 0.

Up the bump, then hit “thrust”

We began the climb that lies between Santa Paula and Ojai. The leaders quickly pulled away as I sat patiently in the GdW. The road rolls by several small goat and llama ranches, and the cute little lambs there all shouted at us as we rolled by, chorusing “Meee-meee-meee” as they vied for our attention.

MR took the KOM with ease, and two miles before the Ojai sprint, G3 again showed his “new man” colors and took a flyer. This time, instead of being chased down by his own teammates, he rolled freely up the road, not to be seen again until the first official rest stop. Although the SPY chase was fast and furious, it failed to bring back the valiant charge of the man in orange. Ironfly blue was nowhere in the hunt, flailing, flogging, and wanking at maximum capacity. We gassed up, and soldiered on. It was now Roadchamp 1, Hair 2, G3 1, MR 1.

Firing the first bullet

As we began the climb up from Lake Casitas, I chambered the first round and pointed it squarely at the heads of Roadchamp, MR, FTR DS, and G3. The road tilted up, they pushed the pace, and then out of the group leaped King Harold at the very moment a motorcycle was passing on the left. He grabbed onto the seat of the motor and was gone, and all the screams and curses couldn’t bring him back.

After a few more moments it was a select group of six, also including Yoda of the Long Beach crew. I pointed the gun and pulled the trigger. Expecting a huge recoil from the massive slug I’d fired, I was surprised at the tiny dribbling BB that plooked out the end of the barrel. However, I glanced down at my watt meter, which read “480.” That was an unusually high number, and it corresponded with a searing, frying burn accompanied by a lacerating pop, huge black spots in front of my eyes, a wavering front wheel, and the receding figures of the leading five.

Until you’ve been sitting on Roadchamp’s wheel and had him accelerate away from you on a long climb at over 500 watts, you don’t know helplessness or despair. But that’s what he did. Now it was back to my usual Plan B, which was “Don’t get caught by the wankers in the rear!” I got a few fistfuls of air and spun for a few seconds, and then shifted into my big chain ring.

Here came King Harold, finally dislodged from his motorbike. Next came Yoda, with a strange, twisted look of un-wisdom plastered across his face. Just ahead of me was G3, but his rapidly pumping legs telegraphed “Give up, Wanky. I’m much faster than you. Quit now while you’re behind.” Just ahead I could see the fireworks as Roadchamp crushed the life out of FTR DS, who was now unhitched and flailing in between the leaders and G3.

I slogged over the first peak and pedaled hard. At less than halfway the effort had already initiated miniature, pre-cramp twinges in my legs. This far from Balcom and cramps already setting in? It was ugly and about to get uglier. G3 stayed in my sights all the way to the second Casitas peak, and I could even see the threesome of Roadchamp, MR, and FTR DS, and just before the top I had closed to within 200 meters of G3, but the second he hit the downhill it was game over. He literally vanished, so hard and fast did he hit the downhill.

In the real race ahead, Roadhchamp and FTR DS dropped Mystery Rider on the second peak, leaving him to flail and chase all the way to the next huge sprint at the Santa Barbara County Line. Just as the leaders were sure they had buried their best friend, beloved teammate, and person they’d do anything for, he appeared out of nowhere, chasing down the leaders and blazing for the sign. FTR DS was having none of it, and opened up with the sprint for which he’s not really famous, in fact, for which he’s not really ever been known to have, a sprint so tiny and small and hard to observe that you generally need a large magnifying glass to see it.

Not so today! FTR DS, raging at the Casitas climb debacle, blew by Roadchamp even as MR turned on the Come-Around-From-Dog jets to no avail. Shortly after flailing by the sign on my own I was overtaken by the charging paceline of T-Rex, Polly, and Yoda, confirming several other key points of this year’s FTR: 1) Polly had climbing legs 2) Yoda had only cracked the lid of his can of whupass 3) T-Rex was in for the long haul.

New adjusted score: Roadchamp 2, Hair 2, G3 1, MR 1, FTR DS 1. Everyone else: flail and flog.

It’s a long way (to Tipperary), It’s a long way (to home)

As we regrouped several other truths became self evident, among them Hockeystick’s serious road skills. After all the jokes and hilarity and rude comments about his eminent unsuitability for this particular hammerfest, he looked fresh as a daisy and was riding like a champ. And despite all the love and support heaped upon the head of StageOne, he looked like he’d been forced to swallow a grenade and then chase it with a bunker buster. “Dude,” King Harold said. “You okay?”

“Urrble gmelszx prrp,” was all StageOne could answer. Which was too bad. Because the second we hit the 101, King Harold twisted the throttle clean off the handlebar. The acceleration was nasty beyond belief, so sudden did it rain down upon our heads. Sitting second wheel as the pavement flashed by, so many thoughts went through my head.

1. Wow, my legs feel great. I should save it for Balcom.
2. Man, now is the time to show how much I’ve learned. Just chill and save it for Balcom.
3. We’re barely halfway. Let King Harold administer the beatdown. Save it for Balcom.
4. You’ve only got one bullet left. Save it for Balcom.
5. Tuck in. Save it for Balcom.

Harry swung over, and Turtle matched the pull with a monster effort. A quick glance back saw the group strung out in a thin, long, narrow line of grimacing pain. The siren called. Turtle swung over. The siren called louder. I flung myself willingly into her waiting arms.

I can’t tell you much about the next six or seven miles except that our group got a lot smaller. Everyone stopped pulling except for MR. Hockeystick stuck his nose up into the wind for two solid pulls, Turtle took another hit or two, but everyone else just cowered or cracked. Roadchamp rocketed off the back to “help StageOne,” and presumably to also help his own legs avoid the brutal battering on the point.

At one point Hair rotated through and advised me to “stop surging,” which we all know is bikespeak for “please slow down because I’m cracking like a whimpering cur,” and which we also know does nothing but encourage the surger. Which it did. By the time we’d whittled down to a small group I swung off as we approached a heretofore unknown “sprint” at Faria Beach. King Harold zinged by, raised his hands, and everyone heaved a sigh of relief–rather than pound out the remaining six miles until everyone was hamburger meat, we sat up and were rejoined by the flotsam and jetsam created by King H.

Iron Mike had closed one particularly nasty gap, and everyone had a survival story to tell, particularly StageOne, who had devoted an entire Biblical psalm to Roadchamp for dropping back to help. The new score was Roadchamp 2, Hair 2, G3 1, MR 1, FTR DS 1, and King Harold 1.

The joy of sugar-covered donuts, Dr. Pepper, and a handful of nuts

At the Circle K in Ventura we ate, sneaked into the off-limits bathroom, and sat on the curb while our legs stiffened like quick-curing concrete. Several riders looked remarkably fresh. There was Toronto, who’d been following wheels and riding smart. There was UbeRfrEd, who’d done not a lick of work since his attack into Fillmore and looked like he could retrace the route, twice. There was Stern-O, older than dirt and looking fresh as a daisy. There was Douggie, hardly covered with more than an inch of crusty salt. Hockeystick? Looking great. Becker Bob? Looking like a cadaver. Dogg? What long bike ride? Major Bob? Peaked, but surviving. Elron? Flogging but happy. McRibs? Refused to get off his bike at the Circle K and rode around in circles to stave off the Balcom cramps. Iron Mike? Refused to even stop, and soldiered on with StageOne, fearing that once off his bike he’d never remount. Yoda? Scary good. Big Bowles? Fine ‘n dandy.

As I stood in line with my Dr. Pepper, a roll of powdered sugar donuts called sweetly to me, proving an axiom of long hammerfests: the harder you ride, the worse your nutrition becomes. I couldn’t resist, and bought the pretty little package. Out on the curb, the donuts were so sweet that they made the DP taste less than sugary. Before I’d had so much as an opportunity to nap, FTR DS was herding us back onto our bikes.

“Want some of these?” MR asked. He held out a giant bag of nuts.

“Fuck yeah. Sugar donuts, espresso GU, Dr. Pepper, a bonk breaker, and salty nuts. What could possibly go wrong?”

Two minutes later, as we began struggling up the sharp climb out of Ventura, everything went wrong. Legs refused to work. Brain began sending distress signals to heart and lungs. Bowels tried to void.

The only remaining bullet I’d had was fired pointlessly on the 101. Everyone now looked terrible, the brave facades from a few minutes before erased like a blow to the face with a hammer. We still had 38 horrific miles until we could collapse in the Jaegers’ front yard. So there was only one rational choice, and I made it.

Attack.

A few quick jolts on the pedals and I was gone. A look back, and they were gone. A second look back, and I had company. Mystery Rider. The one guy above all others you want in a breakaway. Stronger than fifteen draft horses. The heart of a thousand warriors. Legs of steel. Perpetually burning inside with the fire to crush and destroy. Lover of attacks, initiator of breaks, climber of legend, relentless machine…so off we went.

The gap grew and grew until even the impossible began to look like it could happen–if we made Santa Paula we’d be able to take advantage of traffic and spring out onto the road leading to Balcom with a huge, perhaps insurmountable advantage. Cramps and collapse be damned, we were all in. Until, of course, we weren’t.

As we hit the big sweeping left I looked down at my watt meter. We’d gone from a steady 290-300 watts to 230. “I’m unraveling, dude,” MR muttered.

“That’s okay,” I said. “I’ve already unraveled.”

And there to reel in the yarn was the steady, tempo-pounding beasts from SPY, hauling us gradually back into the fold. “Nice try,” said UbeRfrEd, “but really pointless.”

The tamer of beasts

When we turned off onto Death Alley, a few guys stopped to pee and Stern-O, StageOne, and Major Bob dashed off ahead in a replay of last year’s infamous pee attack. The rest of us pedaled slowly, feeling every muscle tense as we awaited Balcom. I’d spoken with Iron Mike before the ride and he’d asked, “Is it as hard as Santa Cruz?” referring to the wall we’d had to climb in 2010’s leg of death on the Man Tour. “It’s about the same,” I’d said.

He would later gently chide me. “Balcom Canyon Road and the climb to Santa Cruz,” he would say, “are not the same.”

And indeed they are not. We made the fatal right hand turn and passed by the Guardrail d’Cramp. FTR DS hollered out from the front, “Wankmeister! There’s your guardrail!” A few riders chuckled, but not too many and not too loudly, because about that time the giant thorn of Balcom came into view, gashing the skyline with an ugliness and ferocity that made the prospect of cramping on a guardrail seem very, very real.

We hit the bottom and Hockeystick rode away from me. Stern-O, defying every truth known to carbon dating, flew up the hill. I focused on the pavement three inches before my front wheel and refused to look one inch further. I knew what was coming.

Roadchamp raced to the top, beating out the sensational and impressive G3, followed by FTR DS. And then, propelled by smart riding, extensive wheelsucking, great base miles, and the advantages of being one tough sonofabitch, Douggie crossed the line fourth, followed by Yoda. UbeRfrEd flew his colors and raced in shortly after MR, with Dogg and Polly in hot pursuit.

Inch by inch I overtook Hockystick, who nonetheless put in the ride of all rides, and I even got to enjoy the misery of Stern-O as he suffered the worst possible mechanical at the worst possible time: his $7,599 brand new Campy Electro gruppo (Serial No. 00001) didn’t function with quite the same precision as our cheapass mechanical Dura-Ace, and his chain slipped catastrophically off his 25-tooth cog onto his 23.

Going from a 25 to a 23 on the steepest part of Balcom is kind of like having your triple-wrap condom tear while you’re in a Calcutta brothel. Aside from the physical implications, mentally it just takes all the wind out of your sails (I’m told). Moreover, I’d done Balcom with a 23 the previous two years, and how Stern-O didn’t tilt over and fall I’ll never know. Wait a minute, I do know…he’s tough as a boot, that’s how. I passed him, and then Turtle, and then Toronto, and finally Hair, and it was over.

Except it wasn’t.

At the base of the climb StageOne had simply done what any intelligent person would have done when faced with that monstrosity of a climb. He had gotten off his bike and walked, and in the beginning he was walking faster than Iron Mike and Major Bob were climbing. But that didn’t last.

Just as things looked bleakest, a small white pickup filled with laborers, tools, ladders, chickens, a banty rooster, and one small goat came by. “You okay, man?” the driver asked.

“No, not really.”

“We give you a pull up this hill? This is one steep hill, man.”

“Yes,” StageOne agreed. “It is.”

“How long you been riding your bike, man?”

“I’m not really sure.”

“Where you going?”

“Uh, I think to…no, it’s…uh…up there?”

“All right, man, just hang on. We’ll give you a tow.”

So from atop Balcom we watched the little white engine that could, loaded down with the goat, chickens, the banty rooster, the leaf blowers, the mower, the ladder, the rakes, the gas can, and the one flat-ass, tired-ass, whupped-ass, beat down, run down, smacked down, knocked down but not out, one and only StageOne. He made it to the top and we all cheered. He staggered over to the guardrail. Several hours later, in the ride home, he looked over at me. “Where the hell am I? What just happened? And who the fuck are you?” We tucked him into bed with Zeke as he gave praise to dog, but that’s another story.

The score (not that anyone’s keeping it): Roadchamp 3, Hair 2, G3 1, MR 1, FTR DS 1, King Harold 1,

Meanwhile back at the ranch

We returned triumphantly to Camarillo, with Roadchamp mashing up golf course hill first, followed by Douggie and MR, and Big Bowles doing his best to dust me and flailing. Final score: Roadchamp 4, Hair 2, G3 1, MR 1, FTR DS 1, and King Harold 1.

The Jaegers had mountains of sandwiches, chips, salsa, and cold beer, but before we started eating there was a fight to the death between Douggie and Stern-O to see who would get to shower first. Stern-O won out, having successfully clogged the Jaeger family plumbing the year before, as his theory is that no asshole can be properly dubbed “clean” until you’ve scrubbed it with a full roll of toilet paper and clogged your host’s pipes for a month.

A person with those standards isn’t about to step into a shower that’s been defiled by the sweat of Douggie, and Douggie wasn’t about to take a shower after Hockeystick. I couldn’t have cared less, and was happy to sit in my stinking muck and dried sweat for the next few hours, if only to remind me of how lucky I was to be off the bike.

When I entered the bedroom where my street clothes were, UbeRfrEd was just getting out of the shower. Now I’m not the kind of guy who just sits around and stares at naked men, but the thing UbeRfrEd had hanging down to his ankles looked like a prop from G3’s video collection. At first I thought I was hallucinating due to the beatdown and exhaustion of the ride, but a second look convinced me that I was in the presence of Dog. And the more I thought about it, the more awed I became: he had hauled that 47-pound fire hose all the way up Balcom? Impressed as I had been with Roadchamp’s exploits on Casitas and the climb of death, they paled in comparison to this. It was like marching over Everest with a pet giant anaconda tied to your waist.

Oopsy!

I staggered back out into the front yard, partially blinded by what I’d seen, and stumbled upon Roadchamp’s bib shorts, which he’d left out to dry. Unfortunately, in his anxiety on the 101 about holding onto my fiery tempo, he’d suffered from a bit of nerves, and the result, photographed here by Toronto, was, er, toxic.

T-Rex, Toronto, StageOne and I bundled ourselves into T-Rex’s truck after enjoying the lunch and the incomparable Miss Jaegers’ cupcakes. For the awards presentation, SPY Optic had donated an awesome pair of performance wear to the person who suffered the most, displayed the greatest courage, did most of the work, and exhibited the truest qualities of determination, fitness, strategic thinking, teamwork, strength, endurance, and overall attitude. Of course they could therefore be awarded to no one but FTR DS’s wife, Lynn, for putting up with all this nonsense for so many years…so they were.

As we sat in the truck, comfortably cruising home with T-Rex at the helm, a message came in from MMX over the Internets: something was in the offing…SPY Optic was on the verge of doing something so extraordinary as to make all that had come before it pale in comparison. What in the name of Dog? We looked at each other in fear and disbelief at the mysterious closing: “On Tuesday, all will be revealed.”

The day of reckoning was almost at hand.

The dogs of toast

January 11, 2012 § 9 Comments

After yesterday’s post on the FTR, I’ve been inundated with calls, emails, and text messages from the mass media regarding the ride’s participants. Ridographical information, as well as current Vegas betting lines, are below.

Major Bob: Recently returned from a tour of duty in Iraq in the service of our armed forces, he is the only legitimate man on this year’s FTR. In keeping with his manliness, he has never been seen turning more than about 50 rpm, preferring gigantic 53 x 11 combinations to tweezly spinning gears for wimpish wankers. Prediction: With less than 48 miles on his legs since returning from the Punic Wars, he will experience gravitational disequilibrium on the Lake Casitas and Balcom Canyon climbs.

Douggie: If it’s a long, hard, gnarly ride, count Douggie in. He’s gritty, never quits, and frequently bests those who train twice as long and twice as hard, except for his fiancee. Prognostication: With more than 12,000 miles on his legs in 2011, Douggie will have a pretty easy time of it.

Polly: A former marathoner, no matter how tough the ride he knows IT’S STILL ONLY CYCLING. Polly has the pain threshold of a stone and the endurance of a camel, but, unfortunately, the climbing ability of an oxcart. I will never forget the day at Punchbowl that he and I spent off the back together, marveling at our shared stupidity of trying to compete against real bike racers on a hilly course. Forecast: Polly will hurt because he will give it his all.

Hair: Easily the fastest finisher in this group except for those sprints where his curly locks get hung up in the derailleur, Hair is still smarting from the knowledge that Wanky took the Fillmore sprint in 2011, and that T-Rex took Ojai that same year. Crystal Ball: Hair will smoke all the sprints, and tank all the climbs.

StageOne: The only FTR participant who can’t pass a metal detector test without a full body probe, StageOne is the most beloved pedaler in the group. Single-handedly responsible for the couth and pretty look that has taken hold of cycling kits across the land, StageOne is a the only rider about whom no one can say an unkind word. Except Wankmeister. Because he says unkind words about everyone. Madame Bonnie: Flog and flail from start to finish.

King Harold: Fast. Smooth. Relentless. And extraordinary skill on the outdoor grill. In a word, “Peerless.” Astrology Report: Still smarting from his 23 mph hunchback flail on FTR’s 2011 edition, King Harold has been viciously training with the elites (in between high school girls’ lacrosse matches) as he hones his Flatback of Death while simultaneously sharpening his Climbing Blades O’ Glory. When we hit the 101, None Shall Pass.

Wankmeister: Biggest mouth and fastest keyboard in the South Bay. Talks the talk, walks the plank. Soothsaying Seer: 2012 is Wanky’s Year of Nondemption. Having completed the first phase of Canyon Bob’s “Three Up’s” Training Plan (Build Up, Blow Up, Give Up), FTR 2012 will be a classic demonstration of Phase 2, followed by Phase 3 at Boulevard.

ElRon: The only legit FTR participant besides UbErfRedwho actually won big races when he was young, ElRon can’t resist doing one big ride per year. It is Foretold: ElRon will do better than half the field on less than 600 total miles in 2011. And he’ll be smiling every pedal stroke of the way.

Roadchamp: Lots of people want to come out and play, until, that is, they see the knuckle-dragging bully hanging out at the playground. He climbs. He sprints. He attacks. He fucks you up. And he never even breathes hard doing it, dammit. Tarot Card Reading: Casitas Lake climb, KOM. Balcom Canyon Road, KOM. Climb out of Ojai, KOM. Don’t like it? Tough.

G3: Famed for tucking onto a wheel and then leaving everyone in his wake on the Switchbacks in between parties on his deck overlooking the ocean, G3 has been piling on the miles and the fitness. Palm Reading: Highly callused, but aside from that, he will torque down on the nuts when we hit Casitas.

Tay Lorus Rex: The strong, silent type, T-Rex, climbs well, sprints like a beast, never shirks the point, thinks it’s “fun” to ride people off his wheel. Fortune Cookie: T-Rex will put King Harold and Hair to the test, and is likely to administer a sound spanking at one of the hotspots.

Turtle: Never misses an FTR, or a 3-day deathfest from Mammoth to Manhattan Beach, or a 4-day beatdown from San Jose to Long Beach, Turtle’s wheels keep on turning. Haruspicy Reading (that’s divination from the liver of sacrificial animals): He’ll be one of the few who returns to Camarillo without looking like last night’s pizza mixed in with beer and gutter sludge.

Becker Bob: Never trains for FTR, Becker Bob prefers to live in the moment, particularly when the moment is spelled “b-e-e-r.” Won last year’s FTR competition for “Person To Complete It With Even Fewer Training Miles Than ElRon,” for which he earned a month of sore legs, achey back, Shermer’s neck, etc. On the Horizon: His own personal hurt locker, from which he will only emerge after about seven hours.

Big Bowles: He’s the only guy for whom FTR is just another day. Big Bowles logged 54,992,192.9 miles in 2011, a third of which were vertical. Ouija Board: Churn and burn, he’ll look no more tired at the end than at the beginning, and will ride away from Wankmeister (again) on Golf Course Hill in Camarillo.

Dogg: It would be improper to say that Dogg has fewer training miles for FTR than Becker Bob, because it implies that at some time in the year he trains. Dogg doesn’t, and hasn’t, and won’t, unless it involves large tumblers filled with tequila or high grade gasoline. Dogg’s Augury: He will suffer like a dogg for the entire ride, but will not utter so much as a grunt or groan of complaint.

Wehrlissimo: Still recovering from the cruel manhole that jumped up and smacked him in the ribs, Wehrlissimo will not be put off by mere broken bones, concussions, or being left for dead in the middle of a major thoroughfare in South Central L.A. in the dark at 5:00 a.m. No, he will simply add it to his list of things to ignore, and plow on ahead. Gastromancy Reading (predictions through stomach-based ventriloquism, i.e. stomach growls): He will mash his way through to the bitter end, and fight it out for victory amidst whatever grupetto he ends up in. Of all the non-whiners on FTR, he will whine the least.

Iron Mike: With the determination of a hardened con, Iron Mike has a simple rule in life: if he says he will do it, he does it. No ifs, ands, buts, clauses or dangling participles, he harks back to a time when a man’s word was his bond. Those days, of course, are long gone. Extispicy Revelation (divination from the entrails of animals): Iron Mike will end up pushing at least one FTR-er through critical sections of the course.

uBerFrEd: Suffer he will. Persevere he must. Hammer he can. Former national team member and cycling Yoda in the glory days of the 80’s, he’s degenerated into a fabulously successful day-jobbing titan of industry. Oneiromancy Outlook (divination through dreams–dry ones): Flog he will. Flail he shall. Ahead of Turtle, finish he must.

FTR DS: It takes more than a broken leg, a mud puddle, and a “u” between the T and R in FTR DS to keep a good man down. Creator of the FTR, master of all he surveys, and one tough bastard, FTR DS is admired by many, respected by many more, feared by virtually all, and laughed at by his wife and daughters. Divining Rod says: He will give Roadchamp a run for his money on Casitas, but get flogged in the end. He will, however, make up for having been mercilessly shelled by Wankmeister on Casitas in 2011 by administering a most thorough beatdown to Wanky, who will be too cowed to try another sneak pee attack on Balcom, though he may do it anyway just for old time’s sake.

Stern-O: The man behind the legend surrounded by a myth wrapped in a mystery hidden in an enigma and finally revealed with two fully repaired front teeth an an unbroken rear triangle, Stern-O returns to FTR to show once again that he is one tough as nails bastard. His bike will be cleaner than your new dental floss. Tea Leaves show: Stern-O will challenge on all the climbs, utter not a whimper, and show up tough as a boot and ready for a flogging. And God help that guy who used to dress up in the Team Cervelo kit and get yelled at by Stern-O for being a poser if he happens to cross our path.

Toronto: Canada is where bad actors, failed entrepreneurs, and terrible literature go to die. It is also where a few butter-soft SoCal natives go to become hardened men of steel, able to withstand the bitter cold, the sapping sun, the relentless wind, and the pain of the peloton. Such a man is Toronto. Ceromancy Reading (divination through the patterns of dripping wax): Toronto will play it safe in his first FTR and acquit himself with honor and grit.

Hockeystick: Proof that FTR is truly open to anyone who begs long and hard enough, Hockeystick’s preparation has involved several 200m sprint workouts at the Home Depot Center velodrome followed by three cases of craft Bud Lite beer. Feng Shui suggests: Hockeystick will crater somewhere along the 101 and require a tow truck to get him to the next rest stop. The only way he’s getting up Balcom is with an airlift.

Wildcard: No info on this dude. We could all be in for the ass beating of our lives. Or he could be just another wanker who’s had one too many Twinkies. Only time and french toast will tell!

Are we there yet?

January 10, 2012 § 5 Comments

It’s that time of year…in a mere four days the epic French Toast Ride will launch from sunny Camarillo, and the lucky invitees will get to enjoy the best breakfast in Southern California prepared by two of the world’s greatest parents, one of the world’s greatest wives, and two of the world’s greatest daughters. After filling up on french toast, butter, syrup, bacon, sausage, coffee, french toast, coffee, syrup, butter, sausage, bacon, and some butter, syrup, coffee, sausage, bacon, and french toast, twenty-five plump and lard-swollen pedalers will leave Camarillo for the morale-sapping, leg-breaking, spirit-crushing, 117-mile sojourn through sunny SoCal in January.

For those embarking on their first FTR, and for the hapless millions who won’t get to sample the wonders of the FTR breakfast, here are the nuts and bolts of the ride, and a stage-by-stage recounting of why it achieves the status of “epic.”

Stage One: The French Toast

In the days of the Aztecs, prior to sacrificing a victim to the god, the priests would fete the victim, feed him every delicacy, and lead him with great pomp and circumstance to the high ground atop the temple, there to remove his beating heart before the eyes of the throng below. The parents, wife, and daughters of FTR DS prepare a feast that is truly memorable. It is tasty. It is delectable. Most importantly, it is comprised almost wholly of food items that are not recommended for a 6-hour deathfest on the bike. The combination of great food, wonderful people, and being generously welcomed into their home paints a bitter and brutal contrast to the misery and pain to be meted out for the balance of the day. Each bite, each chew of the french toast reminds the participants of their mortality, of their impending doom, and of the beatdown that awaits.

Stage Two: The Happy Rollout

Remember when you used to take family car vacations as a kid? The car was loaded, everyone was excited, you had your coloring books and crayons, and the dog was on your brother’s side of the car. Everyone was happy, thrilled to be together, and looking forward to a great time spent riding brokedown nags on some rock-strewn, desolate moonscape masquerading as a working ranch while drunken “cowboys” made fun of the klutzy city kids and ogled their moms.

This is the part of the FTR when everyone is merry and bright. Like the car trip, it won’t last.

Stage Three: Make Billy Stay on His Side

At approximately 32:10 into the ride you hit the first little bump, a modest 400-foot climb that feels like your big brother’s first incursion into your side of the car. It’s a little probe, a test, a brief bump in the heart rate, and it’s the short stab that Roadchamp always takes to let you know that if you want any KOM of anything on FTR, it will go through him. You try to push Billy’s leg back onto his side of the car, but he doesn’t budge. “Dad!” you yell.

Stage Four: Billy Breaks Your Favorite Crayon

You descend for a couple of minutes and then start to climb again. This time it’s more than just Billy’s leg in your space. This time it’s about a 9-minute climb, going from 845 to 1,329 feet. The pace is steady, and this is the first time on the ride that you get a sustained bit of heavy breathing. You’re 53 minutes into the ride when you hit the top, and Billy has reached over and snapped your favorite green crayon quite in half. You’d really yell for Dad now, but you’re out of breath, and no sooner do you hit the crest than it’s a full-gas descent, replete with switchbacks and pissed off traffic. The next five miles you can’t do anything but hang on, as it’s a death battle all the way to the sprint sign in Fillmore. Billy has now taken the broken pieces, tossed one out the window and shoved the other one up your nose. He whispers in your ear: “If you tell Dad I’ll kill you you tattletale baby.” You choke back the tears as everyone regroups. If you made the mistake of getting dropped and chasing, or of hammering for the sprint win, you take note that it’s only 1:06 and 20.7 miles into the ride.

Stage Five: The Dog Starts to Fart

The next 25 minutes are rolling to downhill. You rationalize losing your favorite crayon by reminding yourself that there are still 63 other colors, including white, which isn’t really a color and which you suspect Crayola just stuck in there to fill up the box. Soon you’re at the bottom of a valley, and you begin a 35-minute climb that takes you from 300 feet up to about 1,600. The dog starts to fart. Since his nose is out Billy’s window, his butt is pointed to you. Everyone complains, except Billy, who laughs. You open your window, which draws the farts right into your face. So you tear up a little. It really stinks. You’ve been dropped on the climb by now and are flogging with Yoda, who is mumbling some shit about light sabers and Beggar’s Canyon. You tell him to shut the fuck up. From the top of the climb there’s an insane 8-mile race into Ojai. You’ll hit 45+ mph and still be nowhere near taking the sprint. You’re now 46 miles in. The car stinks like perpetual dog fart. Billy’s started kicking you. Everyone’s hungry and needs to pee. Just before the first shitstorm of the day breaks out, you pull into the convenience store in Ojai. You feel okay. Tired, a little. More tired than you thought you’d be. “How long is FTR again?” you wonder.

Stage Six: “I’m pulling the car over NOW.”

Shortly after Ojai, just as your legs have gotten good and cooled down and stiff as boards, you hit the bottom of the Casitas Lake climb. It’s a mere 25 minutes to the top, and it only goes from about 500 feet to 1200 or so. Why does it hurt so bad? Because Billy has gone from filliping the back of your head to punching you just below your kidney. Perhaps it’s Roadchamp. Perhaps it’s G$. Perhaps it’s FTR DS. Whoever it is, by the time you’re halfway up the hill it’s just you, the gradient, and a world of hurt. Consider your ass officially kicked. You moan and whine a little. Dad has finally had enough. He pulls over, grabs whichever kid is handiest (it’s always you), strips off his belt and tans your hide while you dance on the roadside. It’s the first nasty, bitter, brutal beating of the day. Billy looks on in glee. The dog gets his nose into your knapsack and eats your peanut butter sandwich. You reach the top thoroughly smashed…but that’s not all! Three miles later there’s a horrific sprint at the sign for Carpinteria. You hit 1200 watts. Not even good enough for third. Everyone regroups. You’re exhausted. You’re hungry. You didn’t just shoot a few bullets, you emptied the clip. And you’re only 66 miles in.

Stage Seven: Are we there yet?

Sixty-six miles and 3:15 into the ride you roll out onto Highway 101. If the sun, wind, and tide are aligned you’ll see the Queen of the Coast cranking out immaculate coke lines on the carpet of blue ocean. For a few seconds you’ll think, “Wow, I’m in paradise.” But only a few. Because the next thirteen miles will involve King Harold beating the pedals into a 30-mph tattoo. It will be your own personal hell as the highway clips away, all the thrill of the trip faded away, Billy asleep and drizzling spit onto your leg, the dog scratching his fleas over onto your exposed skin, and nothing left but monotony and numbing pain. “Are we there yet?” you mutter miserably. “No,” Dad says. With finality. You cry a little bit into your sleeve and try not to lose the wheel in front of you, as nothing on earth is as horrific as a solo flail on the 101 as the rest of the group recedes into the distance. Hockey Stick…you listening?

Stage Eight: How come you put oil in the motor, daddy?

“Because the oil lubricates the moving parts, reducing friction, which reduces heat, which allows the engine to run. That’s why.”

“What happens if you don’t put in any oil, daddy?”

“The engine gets overheated and seizes up.”

“What’s seizing up, daddy?”

“Seizing up is when something coagulates into a lump and stops moving like it’s supposed to.”

“What’s coagulates, daddy?”

“Coagulates is what happens when you reach Ventura after the 101 at about mile 83, and you stop at the Utotem for a piss and to fuel up and all the poison in your muscles gels, and your legs get ice cold, and the blood sinks down into your shoes, and your thighs get heavier than bad poetry, and even the thought of throwing a leg over the top tube is more painful and agonizing than you can bear, but a few minutes later you nonetheless have to remount and slog 350 feet up over the town, and then you fall into the paceline from hell and everyone batters along for the next forty minutes in utter exhaustion and despair until you reach Santa Paula. That’s ‘coagulates.”

Stage Nine: Well, gang, we’re here!

There is no way to sugar coat Balcom Canyon Road. It is steep. The two-mile approach is into a headwind. It breaks your spirit, assuming you still have any, daring you to even get up it. It jerks out of the landscape like a jagged fang, sneering at your paperboys that crisscross the asphalt as you try to stay upright. If you have anything left at all in the tank, which of course you don’t, it will be gone at the top. If you’re already running low at the bottom, which of course you are, you’ll die a thousand deaths. If you ride at the front for much of the ride and attack early while the others are remounting from their pee break you will be punished with the cramp of a thousand deaths and the garbled admonitions of an incoherent Yoda on a late-night drunk. Regardless of how you arrive…you have arrived.

Stage Ten: My, what crushed egos you have!

At mile 113.4 there is a 230-foot climb that goes for .8 mile. This is the last stretch of highway where your bladder is so full it’s already started to dribble but you’re afraid to say anything because the last whipping Dad meted out was predicated with, “If I have to stop this goddamned car again to beat your ass it’s the last beating you’ll ever get!” Your legs are ravaged by the flea bites. Your hair is singed by the dog farts. Billy has turned your legs and arms purple from the six hours of pummeling. You’re too hurt, broken, and numb to even cry. So when Big Bowles lumbers by you just grab his wheel and hold it until he shakes you off like the dew from a lily. You stagger up the final few meters, wondering why you’re in a sport that uses the Metric System, and why meters sound so much more brutal than yards.

Then, pop! You’re over the hill and done, screaming downhill to the welcoming front yard of the parents of the FTR DS, where cold cuts and cold beer await. Is there anywhere in the world better than grandmother’s house? Of course not! Never was, never will be.

Where Am I?

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