Winning

February 3, 2014 § 56 Comments

Every dog has his day. Saturday was mine.

This race that had bedeviled me, humiliated me, broken me, and told me loud and clear so many times that I’d never be a road racer was lying at my feet. After making it up the climb with the leaders the second time around I asked myself a question I’d never asked before: How was I going to win this race?

My legs felt great despite having started the race in a snow flurry. I’d been in zero difficulty as the big guns had carved the field down into a final mass of about twenty-five riders, and while the better, stronger, faster, skinnier guys had attacked, surged, and shredded with abandon the only thing I’d done was sit at the tail end of the field, doing nothing. That too was a first.

I thought about following wheels all the way to the finish. That would be hard, to put it mildly. Konsmo, Thurlow, Flagg, Pomeranz, Slover, and several other guys remained in the field, guys who would break me like a dry twig on the final 3-mile climb to the finish. On the other hand, my legs felt so good that maybe they wouldn’t. Maybe I could follow wheels and sprint for the win. Maybe I could also grow a third leg.

Then my mind went back to the Cyclovets Omnium Road Race in 2010. The remnants of the field were about 200 yards from the top of the first peak of the infamous green road, and I had hit the jets as hard as I could. The pack didn’t respond, and as I leaped out of the field my Big Orange teammates had yelled at me. “Ease up!” they had shouted. Confused, because it seemed like the winning move, I had eased up. Teammate Dave Worthington had gone on for the win, but I’d never really understood why I had been shut down, except for the obvious fact that no one had had confidence that I’d be able to hold it to the line.

As we flew down the winding, 50 mph descent, I made up my mind. If the lead group was was dragging ass at the top of the green road, I’d hit it. There was a long way to go from there, but my legs felt good and I had a better chance to win out of a breakaway than I did in a sprint finish.

We crossed the railroad tracks and started the first climb. People were laboring, gronking, and struggling on this third effort up the back side of Boulevard. Todd Parks dangled a few hundred yards in front, about to be sucked back after a hopeless attack on the downhill. Teammate Andy Schmidt bulled at the front, with John Hatchitt working to pull Parks back into the fold. Out of the nine SPY-Giant-RIDE teammates who had toed the line, only four of us remained. Amgen still had a beefy contingent to contend with.

Once we hit the green road, the peloton begin to sag. People were gassed. Thurlow had made multiple all-out efforts to split the field. Leibert had covered countless moves. Konsmo had driven the pace like a madman up the climbs. Everyone was hurting, and my legs felt New In Box. I attacked.

This was the moment I’d waited almost thirty years for. In 1986, with John Morstead and Mike Adams up the road in the state championships outside of San Antonio, I’d hit the jets on the rollers when the remaining group containing Mark Switzer, Fields, Rob DiAntromond, and a couple of other riders who were clearly on the ropes. I’d rolled away for good.

Today was that day, only better. No one answered the attack except for a dude on an aluminum bike with a down tube shifter for his front chain ring. We crested the hill and were gone. I never bothered to look back, assuming that the leaders were hot on my heels only a few seconds behind. My companion took a couple of ineffectual pulls but I didn’t care; they were enough to give me the brief respite I needed to renew the charge. The peloton would certainly catch me on the final big climb up Highway 80, and now I was going to grill and drill to the bitter end.

Two days before I had prepared for every eventuality. I’d cleaned my bike. Lubed the chain. Most importantly I’d put on two brand new Gatorskin 25 cm tires, bulletproof and built to withstand the cattle guards, road detritus, and sketchy conditions of the lousy roads in eastern San Diego County.

The combination of adrenaline and good legs propelled me along. In a couple of minutes I’d be at the highway climb. “It’s been fun,” I thought. “They’re gonna reel me in any second now.”

As my breakaway companion swung over, I pushed harder on the pedals. The final climb loomed. And then? A deafening blast lifted my rear wheel as my the back tire blew off the rim. “Oh, no!” said Aluminum Bike Dude.

I laughed to myself and came to a halt. For the first time I looked back, expecting to see the charging peloton, but there was no one. A few seconds went by and two riders came through, including Jonathan Flagg, perennial strongman and the guy who would stick it all the way to the finish for the win.

But where was the peloton? “Surely they’re hot on my heels?” I thought. I checked my watch in disbelief that that the attack had put any significant time into the field. A full minute later they rolled by in full chase mode.

“Wow,” I thought. “Could I have stuck it out to the end?”

Later still, Greg Leibert pedaled by and stopped. He’s the best guy in the world, and having won The Monument multiple times, he and Todd Darley preferred to stop for a friend rather than pedal insanely by for 25th place. Better yet, he called Lauren, who picked me up as I pedaled along on my blown out rear wheel.

“What happened?” she asked. I told her. “Oh, no! What a bummer! That’s terrible!”

I smiled at her. “Second best race ever.”

“Really?” she said.

“Yeah. You don’t always have to be first in order to win.”

———————————

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§ 56 Responses to Winning

  • Winemaker says:

    We sat and sat and sat, like Gumby cats, and didn’t know why you were not in the group the last time up the hill. You did look ‘placido’ and in good position through lap two. It was cold, wasn’t it? Great job…that was a hard day.

  • JJ says:

    it is true, as long you keep improving and also enjoy the race, you are winning!

  • Unemployed Wank says:

    Isn’t it great when it all comes together?! This particular story would make a great introduction to your book recounting all those races from all those years in the saddle, Seth. It’s not about how much you won or lost, but your unique and creative perspective that keeps us wanting that ‘next story’. Kudos to never giving up.

  • Checkerbutt says:

    You were looking good out there, Wanky! Manny was about to yell to you that if you beat Leibert, he would buy you beer for two weeks, but he thought of it after you passed through on the second lap.

    Bummer to hear (and see) the flat. There’s always UCLA.

  • leo says:

    dude! i’m very glad it didn’t blow off on the descent. wow. i don’t even like thinking about that. (i had a conty 4000s blow odd my rear. my mistake. on the side of the tire it says, “116 psi max”. i had put 120 in it. i guess they really mean “116 psi max”)

    • fsethd says:

      I’ve heard (now) many people tell me about Continental blowouts. Won’t be buying them again, and yes, thank dog it wasn’t on the descent!

  • Arkansas Traveler says:

    I’m glad that the new WankyTrain™ plan is working for you. I know I’m enjoying it myself! Huzzah!

  • Erik says:

    Dude, raised my heart-rate reading your story. So glad you’re happy with your result! Sounds like a ton of fun!

  • Peter Schindler says:

    Wow Seth, you did everything right, sometimes fate just sucks. Congratulations on a great effort.

  • tunverzagt says:

    So thrilling/awesome and heart breaking at the same time. Seems like that’s the story of your life. :) So cool to hear you were strong, racing smart, and having fun. As I always say bike racing is about training hard, racing hard, and hoping the stars align. Hopefully, the stars align for you next time.

  • jwhcowan says:

    Great read, thanks for taking those of us who were too lazy (pre-occupied) to even show up to the front. It felt good :)

  • deb says:

    I was reading this one while waiting in line for my $4 coffee and it nearly broke my heart! So condolences AND congratulations, and good friends make all the difference. Thanks for sharing the tale!

  • dan martin says:

    Bummer about the flat WM…you rode like the stud that you are.

  • Usta Befit says:

    Glad it was the rear & not the front! Sounds like everybody knew you were on & they would have had a hard time catching you! Talk to me about RoadTubeless!

  • fsethd says:

    Here’s a view from the roadside by a trenchant observer of bike races:

    We got there when you rolled out…waited for the start, and then went about 1/2 mile down the hill to park. Great lonely spot. It was cold, too, way cold until about 3:30, then it got strangely warmer for a half hour…?????

    Really, good work out there, man, I cannot believe how fast the two masters groups and the 1/2/Pros were going up that hill….we were timing the groups, and the 1/2/Pros were not going that much faster…maybe 1 mph….we saw a lot (LOT) of people deep in the pain room, especially those dropped by a hundred or so meters, they were just clawing…my wife had not really SEEN what road racing is like up close, and she was amazed, then got really excited, cheering every rider and every group. She also commandeered my heavy coat, and I ended up running up and down the road with Honey, to keep warm.

    It snowed. Yet, it was dry…kinda weird. We drank a whole bottle of wine and two beers, and when we didn’t see you the last time, I had this bad feeling you had beefed it on the downhill, so while the result you had was disappointing in part… I was relieved that you didn’t go down.

    Observations…a lot of people weren’t using embrocation of any sort, despite wearing just shorts….do they not know better? This was a day for vaseline and heat, ear protection and good gloves…but I only saw a few people using those, too…hmmm. This guy in the 1/2/Pro field attacked the last time up the hill, going up the shoulder to try to bridge to the riders off the front, and he was flying….too late, probably, but it was impressive…just like it is supposed to be done. Big time suffering observed with the old masters…they were crawling. It made me queasy, uncomfortable….odd, huh.

    Did not go to Red Trolley, cut some more firewood, and started in on refinishing an old Post Office sorting table I glommed onto. Garage Furniture…its a manly thang.

  • FTR DS says:

    Wanker. Nice Work Stud! I am happy to hear you had such a great ride, albeit a silly mechanical kept you from your well deserved fame and fortune. You’re riding strong, you’re riding smart, and I can’t wait to line up and work for you at the next RR!

  • Bud says:

    Told you at camp Seth, you are killing it! Great job and congrats on conquering the monument.

  • cyclosomatic says:

    …because it’s fun. Exactly.

  • sarahrides says:

    Great read, Seth. And really great job on Saturday. You were also killing it on Sunday, too. Proud of my favorite writer :)

  • Hwy. 39 says:

    As soon as I read the word “Gatorskin,” I knew where the story was going. Sorry you found out at such a rotten time what the legions of former Conti users already know. Amazing grip but more fragile than a Hummel; worst tires ever.

    • fsethd says:

      This blows me away, no kidding. I’ve never heard anything about them before, and suddenly I’m being overwhelmed with “Oh, yeah, those suck.”

      • Hwy. 39 says:

        BF and RBR forums have numerous threads about fragile Conti sidewalls. I’d love to have the courage to try tubeless, like Usta suggests; if they’re good enough for Leonard Zinn, they should be good enough for me. But when they flat, you still need a tube to get home and when they fail, it will lock up your wheel. Granted, flats and failures seem to happen less frequently with tubeless.

        Any chance of your PP account accepting one-time donations rather than just monthly subscriptions? I’d love to donate, but prefer not to use monthly auto-deductions.

      • fsethd says:

        You can subscribe, then cancel it after they run your card once. It’s a pain in the ass, but hey, I’m low rent. Or you can just buy me a six-pack the next time we meet.

      • JJ says:

        i enjoy my gatorskins for when i live in the mid atlantic but we will see about when i am back in northeast once it stops snowing

    • Tom says:

      “Amazing grip” from Gatorskin ?!

      I’ve seen a Gatorskin-equipped bike slide out from under a rider executing a slow turn in a wet parking lot … the hard, non-supple Gatorskin is pretty durable, but I’ve never before heard of it described as a high traction tire.

      As far as N=1 anecdotes, I know at least one Belgian Waffle Ride racer who switched to Gatorskins purely for the durability factor … the tires did not disappoint.

      But Gatorskins do suck for rolling resistance. Some Crr tests have shown a pr of Gatorskins to consume over 20 watts more power @ 25mph than a “real” race clincher or race tubular.

  • Dan says:

    way to stomp on dicks! Even more impressive on gatorskins as they are slow. I was wondering if maybe you put them on backwards. I have heard of people having blowouts when they go against the rotation arrow. Either way when factoring in the podium you got last year with your ride on sat I believe the wanker police are coming to take your card away unless you start eating donuts and get dropped on the regular. Good job, Playboy!

  • PT says:

    Great write up – thanks. As for the tires – Vittoria’s for me. Still get punctures but no blowouts.

  • Vlad says:

    Who says there are no moral victories? This moral victory was damn physical, too.

    PS is it OK to shift out my 34×28 yet?

  • Quiche says:

    Great job! Writing and riding!

  • Will says:

    Great post. Felt like I was there watching the whole thing.

  • Eric R says:

    Hey Seth, I made it about half way up the first climb sitting behind you until you guys just rode away. Slogged to the bitter and cold end – DFL – but glad I did it.

  • Todd Brown says:

    call me ignorant, but this is your finest work.

    last year, you motivated me to sign up which i did.

    this year you’ve motivated me to make it a priority and believe in 2015.

    muchos thank yous.

  • johnny says:

    would’a could’a should’a you will always be a loser

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