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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Clash of the titans

January 27, 2014 § 12 Comments

This weekend’s Big Bike Beatdown in Santa Barbara featured another two-day, two-wheeled brawl while grown men with nothing better to do risked life and limb on shitty roads as they dodged cracks, slammed into potholes, narrowly avoided oncoming traffic, wantonly broke sporadically enforced yellow-line rules, and shook their heads in fury while the braindead moto ref stopped the entire peloton three times for a “pee break.” After the dust settled, a few things were clear:

  1. 90% of the full-on, raging masters peloton would be completely burned out by the middle of March.
  2. 95% of the full-on, raging masters peloton had done enough races so far this year (four) to have a perfect excuse not to show up at Boulevard next weekend.
  3. You can’t make chicken salad out of …

While Facebook broke most of the Internet with repeated posts of race results (“Look! Freddy got 45th in the Cat 3’s! Good job!”), the first real race of the year revealed itself, and it’s a race that we’re going to keep seeing for the next eight months. Yes, the Fastest Legs in the West squarely beat the Best Bike Handler in the West. But it was close, and it promises to get better.

Tale of the tape

In this corner we have Charon (pronounced “faster than you”) Smith, the best crit racer in his 35+ age group. Charon wins more races in a season than most racers even enter. He combines dedicated training, natural speed, courage when things get gnarly, and a profound sense of fair play to produce winning results year in and year out on the SoCal crit scene. Despite the fact that he’s an easygoing guy, he’s a keen competitor, a leader, and great source of inspiration for a lot of people.

It wasn’t too long ago that Charon was essentially racing for himself, having to scrape out every single win singlehandedly. By racing consistently, fairly, and by always congratulating his opponents — win, lose, or draw — he has gathered a strong following of friends who gradually morphed into the best 35+ team in Southern California. No longer forced to race by himself or with one or two teammates, Charon is now backed with serious horsepower in the form of Kayle Leo Grande, John Wike, Ben Travis, Rob Kamppila, and the other first class racers who make up Surf City’s race team. More importantly, Charon’s optimistic attitude and positive message have helped create a team that firmly believes it’s on a mission to win, and win, and win.

With only a handful of races into the season in the bag, Charon’s team has far and away the most victories. Proving that it’s a team, Surf City is stacking podiums, stacking breakaways, and sharing the victories and placings among the teammates. But make no mistake about it: The team’s anchor is Charon, and when the heavy artillery starts firing in a field sprint, he’s the guy lobbing the 16-inch shells.

And in the other corner …

We have Aaron Wimberley, about as different from Charon as a cobra is from a tiger. First of all, the boy has a full head of hair, so you could say he’s won the battle right off the bat. But since it’s not a hair styling contest, we have to judge these two guys on their bikes. Where Charon is the quickest guy on two wheels, Aaron is the best bike handler. Only a few guys have Aaron’s skills — John Wike, the bike wizard who also rides for Charon, and Phil Tinstman come to mind. Aaron has rocketed up the ranks from lowly Cat 5 to getting a bronze medal at nationals on a fiendishly technical course.

He’s unbelievably quick and has off-the-chart race smarts. Scientific, methodical, and unwilling to count further down than first place, Aaron has been in the wilderness for the last couple of years riding with little support and lots of second-place finishes in a crit scene dominated by team efforts. This year, however, he’s moved over to SPY-Giant-RIDE, the best team in the galaxy. (Disclaimer: It really is.) Aaron rides like a gunslinger. Independent, self-reliant, takes no shit from anyone, and is more than happy to explain your shortcomings to you in colorful language. I will never forget the time he described my jumps as something akin to “watching a big blue bus go up a steep hill dragging a space shuttle.”

The question this year is whether Aaron’s new alliance with the best team in the galaxy will create the teamwork and support he needs to beat the Fastest Legs in the West (for an old dude). Judging from the finish at the Mothballs Crit this past Sunday, it could happen.

Roaring into the final 200 meters Charon had the help of Kayle Leo Grande, himself one of the fastest finishers in the 35’s, as a lead-out. Even against these two motors, Aaron managed a very respectable second, with Charon winning comfortably but not easily, but it’s my guess that Aaron’s not showing up in hopes of getting second. More organization and support from SPY-Giant-RIDE teammates could well prove to be the final push that Aaron needs to win against Charon in a drag race.

What to look for

SoCal has few crits that are technical enough to give Aaron a chance to use his bike handling edge. Most of the races are four-corners, wide, and they finish with a fast man throwdown. However, there are some exceptions. Look for Mike Hecker’s 805 Crit series to provide challenging courses, potentially huge crosswinds, and an arena where Charon’s flat-out speed may be offset by Aaron’s wizardry in the turns. The San Marcos Crit will also be a place to see bike handling and a slight bump take the sting out of a drag race finish.

And of course any given race has an amazing crop of first-class speedsters fully capable of winning. Danny Kam, Phil Tinstman, Mike Easter, Chris DeMarchi, Rudy Napolitano, John Abate, Michael Johnson, Randall Coxworth, Jamie Paolinetti, John Wike, Ivan Dominguez, Eric Anderson, Brian Cook, Josh Alverson, Patrick Caro, and Karl Bordine are all 35+ riders who stood on the top step in a crit in 2013. There’s no reason to think they won’t be going for the top step again this year.

Whatever happens … it’s gonna be fun to watch!

I’m probably not gonna make it

January 17, 2014 § 12 Comments

My excuse isn’t great, but it’s pretty damned good: 118 miles on Dave Jaeger’s French Toast Ride, where I’ll have to smack down young posers like Jay-Jay LaPlante, Aaron Unpronounceablelastname, Greg “I have another mortal virus” Seyranian, Dan “when does the ride start” Cobley, and one or two other flailers like King Harold and DJ himself. Yeah, I’ll bust their chops up the Lake Casitas climb, on the 101, and then with G$ I’ll time trial from Ventura to the top of Balcom while Stern-O, Bowles, Spivey, and the Long Beach freddies take turns licking each other’s open wounds.

Shorthand: I’ll be too tired for the season opening crit in Dominguez Hills, but I’ll try to make it anyway.

What’s your excuse?

The man with the plan and the white Mercedes van

When Chris Lotts kicks off the season opening SoCal crit on Sunday, January 19, lots of people will be complaining. Why? Because it’s a lot easier to complain than to race your bike. Studies show that complaining exerts a biological cost of less than .00001 homeostatic watts, whereas putting on a single bike race shortens your lifespan by roughly twelve years. Chris is now -459.7 years old, and getting younger by the week.

There are a shit-ton of reasons that you need to be at the CBR race on Sunday, and to show you why, I’ve compiled a list of whines that I’ve heard over the years. If you’ve thought or uttered more than three, I’ll call the whaambulance and have you taken (at your cost) to UCLA Harbor so that they can rub salves and ointments on that special place to relieve your butthurt.

1. “That’s a stupid fuggin’ four-corner industrial crit. That’s not bike racin’.”

Riiiiiiight. What you really want is a 100 km kermesse over wet cobblestones in 42-degree weather and spitting rain, because you’re hard like that. So what if you’ve never finished Boulevard or Punchbowl? In your Velominati fantasy life, you are a Hard Man who can’t be bothered with “easy” races like this. Fortunately, your doctor continues to renew your prescription as soon as it runs out.

2. “CBR races are too easy.”

Easy? Then why do the same handful of guys win every race, races that have 100+ entrants? Hint: Because the other 99 wankers feel strong and fast and fit until a) the winning break rolls up the road, or b) Charon opens up his sprint.

3. “Those races are way too expensive.”

Let’s see … $2,500 for your carbon tubulars … $750 for your three team kits and skin suit … $140 every other month for your training Gatorskins … $72/year for your stupid Strava Premium subscription … $3,900 for your Campy SRM power meter … tell me again about how that $35 entry fee for close to an hour of full-on racing is gonna bust your budget?

4. “Lotts annoys the shit out of me.”

Poor baby! Break out the butt salve! So you can take bumping bars, hitting the asphalt at 30 mph, and racing until your eyes pop out of your head, but you can’t take a little diversity of opinion? You crumple up and die when Chris talks about his “Christian Tingles” web site? Awww, I feel really sorry for you, and I envy the little glass bubble you live in and the inheritance that protects you from getting out and LIVING IN THE REAL FUCKING WORLD.

5. “Those races are a clusterfuck. A handful of big teams control everything.”

Guess what, limpster? The guys on those “teams who control everything” got there by racing their dogdamned bikes, not by sitting at home reading Jonathan Vaughters’s Twitter feed. What’s stopping you from making the break, sitting in, and letting the “big teams” do all the work as you cannily outsprint them to the finish line (besides the fact that you always race at the back and don’t train hard and are 30 pounds overweight)?

6. “I’m more of a stage racer than a crit rider.”

Yeah, and I’m more of a Martian than I am a New Jerseyite. Look, stupid, if you want 21-day stage races, you’re living in the wrong city, county, state, nation, and body.

7. “It’s too early in the season.”

Oh, I get it, the Interwebs coach you pay $399 per month to tell you that you’re “making great progress” has advised you to wait until, say, April? Did it ever occur to you that he wants you to wait until April in order to delay the crushing reality that’s going to batter your ego when you still finish 51st after an after-tax-dollar investment of $15k? Hint: P.T. Barnum said it.

8. “Crits are too sketchy.”

I see. Because you’re the one steady wheel out of the 100+ numbskulls, and, like the mother who watched her son in the marching band and commented “Look! Everyone else in the band is out of step!” you think that no one knows how to properly handle a bike except, of course, you?

9. “Crits are too short to give me a good workout.”

Yes, I understand completely. No one in history has ever ridden to a race, raced, then ridden home. You’re obligated to drive to the race. It’s in the bylaws.

10. “We need more road races in SoCal, like they have in NorCal.”

So you’re going to promote a road race? I didn’t think so. Or you’re going to race in NorCal? Nope — too far and hard and expensive, right? So why not shut the fuck up and support the one guy who shows up week in and week out, who has the genius of being able to put on a bike race and make money at it (okay, so the genius is Vera), and who can take your abuse and never take it (too) personally? Answer: Because you’re not very good, your ego is tender, and it’s easier to talk about bike racing than to race your bike.

See you on Sunday. Or not.

Wankmeister cycling clinic #20: How to follow the Vuelta!

December 26, 2013 § 6 Comments

Dear Wankmeister:

I’m recently becoming on the cycling fan. With usual German thoroughness I have learned with excellence how to understand the Tour of France and the Giro of Italy. Before I learn to follow the Vuelta, however, could you explain to me what it is?

Curiously,
Neu Gierig

Dear Neu:

It is the largest bicycle race in the world that no one cares about.

Mit Wahrheit,
Wankmeister

Dear Wankmeister:

Sorry to bother you again, but if it’s such a big race, why doesn’t anyone care about it?

Still curious,
Neu Gierig

Dear Neu:

The main reason no one cares is that it’s a bike race, but there are other reasons too, like everyone using more illegal drugs at the Vuelta than the usual quota of illegal drugs at the other grand tours, and all the good riders quitting after a week or so in order to prep for worlds, and the same seven spectators who line the roads, and the fact that it’s in Spain, which most Americans confuse with Mexico and assume there’s a drug cartel on every corner waiting to kidnap them and sell their parts to be made into Al Contador’s beef.

Mehr Wahrheit,
Wankmeister

Dear Wankmeister:

Wow, you sure are an asshole! The Vuelta is the most exciting of all the grand tours! Spain is a friggin’ beautiful country. Great wine and food and perfect weather and bitches. Eff you, Cap’n d-bag! Also, Horner rocks time a million!

Fanboyishly,
Fanny Boy

Dear Fanny:

“The most exciting of all the grand tours” still translates into “as exciting as watching someone diagram sentences.”

Gramatically,
Wankmeister

Dear Wankmeister:

How would you compare the hardest climbs of the Vuelta, like the Angliru, with something like the Stelvio or the Alpe?

Comparatively,
Freddy Fredstone

Dear Freddy:

The main difference is that unlike the Alpe or the Stelvio, no one cares about the Angliru, and not just because it’s hard to pronounce. They don’t care because it’s part of the Vuelta. You could line the Angliru with porn stars and beer kegs and people still wouldn’t care. Wait a minute … I think we’re on to something.

Investingly,
Wankmeister

How to hose off “masters” racing

November 25, 2013 § 68 Comments

  1. Quit calling it “masters.” A master is someone who has reached the pinnacle of his craft after years of study and accomplishment. If you were a “master” of cycling you’d race the Pro Tour. If you were a “master” of cycling you would need more than a license and a $35 entry fee to be recognized as such. Suggestion? Start calling it “Old Folks Racing.” Part of the problem with masters racing is the delusion that’s reinforced by calling yourself a “master.” You aren’t, so quit lying about it.
  2. Scrap the prize money. You don’t deserve one red fucking cent for winning an Old Folks bicycle race. Prize money fuels the delusion that you’re a pro. You aren’t. You are an old person racing a bicycle masquerading as a young person. Yes, you. If don’t want to be classed with the old people, race with the young ones, you know, the punks who line up in the P-1-2 race and can kick your sorry ass from here to Sunday and back. Let’s see how many of those 120-mile hilly road races you win, Ace.
  3. Test. Drug testing works. It may not catch all the cheats, but it catches some of them and scares away a bunch of others. Instead of wasting our money on officials, waste it on drug testing. Officials who don’t want to volunteer for free like every other person who helps out in a bike race should go ride their bikes. And spare me about how professional all of the paid refs are, thanks. If we have to race without officials, I bet the promoters and riders can live with it just fine.
  4. Increase the length of bans. Two years is a joke for Old Folks racers, or didn’t you get the memo that 90 is the new 20? Make it ten for a first offense. You drank some contaminated herbal tea? Sucks to be you. PS: Next time you drink a special herbal tea that you bought from a company that advertises in a weightlifting steroids online forum where everyone uses a nickname, maybe you better think twice.
  5. Permanently ban dopers from certain events. Once you test positive, you’re forever banned from national and district championships. Whaaa? Yeah. But at least you won’t have to explain to people what an “Old Folks Racer National Champion” is.
  6. Permanently note doper status on licenses. Indicate on every license, in bold black letters beneath the rider’s category, that he has been “Sanctioned for doping.” Welcome to the race.
  7. Allow promoter discretion to deny entry. Give promoters the right to unilaterally bar a sanctioned rider from the race even after the ban has expired. Sanctimonious, self-serving liars who refuse to come clean about their sordid cheating will have to drop the facade and live with permanently brown noses for as long as they want to race.
  8. Require nicknames. Assign mandatory demeaning nicknames to busted dopers, which names must be used whenever their names are announced or printed in the official results. “Douchebag Danilo,” “Lame-ass Lance,” etc.
  9. Assign a unique “scumbag” series. Dedicate a certain number series that may only be used by busted dopers, such as the 900’s. “There goes a Niner!” people will say. No matter what you do, your past as a drug cheat will not be forgotten.
  10. Limit the damage. Put a limit to the number of ex-dopers you can have on a single team, and make the number “1.”

Do all this, or even most of it, and we’ll go back to what we once had when we were called “veterans.” We’ll have old folks who enjoy life during the week, race on the weekend, and take geriatric competition for what it is, which isn’t very much.

Don’t miss the biggest track event of the year

November 21, 2013 § 1 Comment

The Los Angeles Grand Prix is this weekend. Make time for a morning or an evening, or both, of world-class track racing at the best velodrome in North America.

The historic return of the world’s fastest track racers to Los Angeles is finally here. This weekend, Nov. 22-24, the LA Grand Prix will bring together racers from eleven countries over three days to sprint the fastest, take the most laps, burn up the boards in an incredible display of athleticism, daring, and no-gears, no-brakes bike racing.

There more at stake than bragging rights, because UCI points will also be awarded at this Class 1 event, which is also the National Track Calendar finale and the 2013 US Paracycling Championships. If you’ve always wondered what track racing is about, this is the best opportunity you’ll have to see it up close and personal.

Some of the storylines that will play out over the weekend:

  • Home Advantage: Sarah Hammer, six-time world champion, two-time Olympian and Olympic silver medalist will be racing in front of friends and family on her home track. Sarah born in Redondo Beach and raised in Temecula, and is one of the best U.S. bike racers ever.
  • Northern Border Clash: The reigning Olympic silver (USA) and bronze (Canada) women’s team pursuit will go head to head on Friday. Team Canada has bested the US with a silver medal in the last world championships and world cup, races. Will the Canadians maintain their ascendancy, or will it be time for the Americans to even the score?
  • 30 Years Later: The track cycling world returns to the site of the LA84 Olympic velodrome in the completely rebuilt indoor track here in Carson, a world class facility and the fastest track in North America.
  • Stars all day long: The Grand Prix is fully integrated with the US Paracycling Championships. Come watch world champions Greta Niemanas, Jenn Schuble, and Allison Jones, a six-time Paralympian in cycling and skiing and 2014 Winter Olympics hopeful as they battle it out for the ultimate prize.
  • Full Gas Sprinting: A deep sprint field featuring Olympian Njisane Phillip, and seven other countries have brought their fastest track sprinters to bang bars and shoulders in a raw display of power and speed.
  • The Whole Omnium: The women’s omnium is stacked! Olympic silver medalist Sarah Hammer will be here to race along with other top Americans, including World Cup silver medalist Gillian Carleton, and world championships silver medalist Sofia Arreola will be the tip of the cycling iceberg — an iceberg that’s going to sink some ships!

For discounted group tickets, call 213-763-7934, and save $100 for every 10 tickets purchased.
Schedule: Friday 11AM Morning Session — 6:30PM Evening Session
Saturday 9AM Morning Session — 6:30PM Evening Session
Sunday 9AM Morning Session — 3:00PM Evening Session

Los Angeles Grand Prix by the Numbers

  • 11 Countries Represented: USA, France, Mexico, Canada, Trinidad & Tobago, Slovakia, Columbia, Chile, South Africa, Venezuela, and Suriname
  • 12 Olympians
  • 4 Olympic Medal winners
  • The best paracylcing track racers in the world, including world champions, world record holders, and paralympians

 Get more details here by going directly to the VeloSports Center web site.

Belgium. Bike racing. 19-fucking-87.

November 20, 2013 § 10 Comments

 How the hell did they pick me to drive? Oh, yeah — I was from California, so I must be an expert driver, so they convinced me to rent the car at the airport. The airport gave these Irish drunks fits, because it wasn’t in Brussels but in some ‘suburb’ called Zaventem.  Compared to any city in California, Brussels was was a fairly small city, almost a sprout. It only had  million people. But the Paddies stared out the window like a Jayhawk farmer on his first trip to New York City. I turned on the wipers because, yeah, it was raining. DidI even need to add that? I fuggin said I was in Belgium.

It was March 12 and still winter, the northern Euro winter that ends sometime in August for a week or two. “What the fuck am I doing her?” I wondered.

One thing these Irish lads were good for was the money. They paid their share of the car rental and gas, and then some. Insurance?  These were bike racers.

I pushed the envelope and rented an Audi 400. It was six years old, and easily big enough for four men who were used to cramming themselves into the crevices of econoboxes. The Audi cost  $16 a day instead of $11 for the VW Golf, but we were living large.

Seamus had a decrepit PreAlpina rack, and we shipped it as baggage, tied together with four bungees.  Ot came rolling down the luggage belt at Zaventem, and from the stares and glares, we might as well have been bringing in an elephant. The bikes came next, in  cordura nylon cases, and shit howdy, they looked Euro-fesh.

The Paddies checked out the bikes, put on the pedals, seats and bars while I went off to the car rental counter, speaking English to a girl who countered in Flemish. Flemish was hard to understand, unless you were fluent gargling marbles. Fortunately, with a couple of pound notes as a bribe, I was whisked off to the Audi. I drove it around to the curb and Seamus whipped out a spanner and put the rack on. I could actually see the paint chip from the roof rails as he defaced it. I was about to say something, but I got ahold of myself … another day maybe … not.

The bikes were not damaged. They went up top, along with a spare pair of wheels and the tool box. It was fucking cold outside, at least 20 degrees colder than when we left Dublin, and it was starting to rain harder. Belgium in March is about as pleasant as Belgium in September, October, November, December, January, February, April, and June, which is to say it’s a wet, frozen shithole. Oh, and it’s great for bike racing, but only if you actually know how to race your bike.

Our destination was a little town called Tienen, but all the towns in Belgium are little, and cold, and wet, and cobbled, and this was where the race started the following day at noon. Tommy said that if I was going to get a ‘big’ car, I should have hired a Mercedes, and that the Audi was a ‘girl’s car.’ I told him to bugger off.  After six months, I already knew how to speak English, if that’s what they speak in Ireland.

I had no qualms about driving a girl’s car, of course. When I was just out of college, I had a 1979 Peugeot 504 finished in a color the French charitably called “Hibiscus Pearl,” even though it was actually a dirty shade of white. This was a pure girl’s car, verified every time some guy in a pickup would pull up next to me and stare inside, hoping to see some hot North County chick coming home from the gym. Instead, he got me, which taught him a crucial lesson: if you want to ogle women in cars, stick to the Fiats.

But most bike racers didn’t mind driving a girl’s car, or getting ferried in a girl’s car. Some riders, mainly like Boyer, wanted their cars to be manly and tough, so they bought a pickup or had their rich girlfriend drive them around in a Mercedes. I liked the guys who went to races in a pickup, jacked up so high off the ground that no one under six feet could get inside the cab, because nothing said “manly” like cruising to the bike race in tight wool shorts and a 4-wheel drive mudder.

We got to the hotel, which was really a cave with a roof. For Seamus and Tommy the mere thought of a night away from home was like heaven to them. They had no idea how to travel. The room was on the third floor, we walked up the stairs, and the beds were maybe six feet long, so I opted for the floor and left the other three to fight over which two got the “beds.” I was asleep by ten, and they were still bickering.

At 9:00 AM I could only think “Holy mother of god, I am hungover and haven’t had anything to drink in a month.” I went downstairs and out the door, relishing the quiet and the fresh air, then walked over to a little café and asked for breakfast. One thing you needed to know is that they didn’t eat waffles in Belgium for breakfast. They ate cheese, that stinky white soft cheese that masquerades as Brie, but is really from an unknown animal of unknown origin.

I also got some coarse wheat bread, honey, and jam. I ate everything I could and washed it down with coffee, a universal beverage that all countries have in some fashion or another. After I tipped the waiter, he looked at me as if I was an idiot who didn’t know how to count. “That’s the tip, asshole,” I wanted to say, but I didn’t.

I went home to the wretched room and arrived to find the others feasting on breakfast with bread and crackers and sausage and all sorts of vile shit spread all over the room and spilled upon the floor. Obviously, they had brought food with them, because, of course, they were poverty stricken bike racers. It smelled so bad in there, like four bike racers and four bikes had spent a night in a room designed for one clean person.

Dressed, we rolled out at 11:30, signed in, and warmed up. I was back at the start after finishing one of three 45 km laps, already shelled two minutes into the race. I stopped and was greeted with what John Muir would have called “The Enormity of Silence.” They just couldn’t fathom why I was there and not back in my luxurious hotel if I had been so badly dropped. I reached over onto the table where the organizers had a microphone, and grabbed a pastry and a cup of coffee. I rode off. I figured that if I had to be miserable for three more hours, at least I was going to enjoy a cup of coffee and a sugar bomb. They said nothing and looked at me like I was from Mars.

We had more road races Saturday and Sunday, and you can fill in the blanks. The rest of the trip was miserable, cold, wet, and I got punched out the back about a third of the way into every race. They went fast there, and it was really hard to sit in when it was 40 degrees and sleeting.

No one else was anything more than pack filler. But we were rollin’ it, baby, and nobody quit, at least until we finally gave up.

– By Dean Patterson, more or less –

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