February 23, 2014 § 48 Comments
Los Angeles resident Sturgeon Palchewski expressed surprise yesterday at his daughter’s apparent lack of interest in cycling. Palchewski, a veteran cyclist of 27 years, was perplexed by his daughter Maribel’s reaction to his suggestion that they go out and “Do a few intervals before dinner.”
Maribel, age nine, was heard to say that she “Hates cycling worse than beets,” after which she began crying and ran to her room, slamming the door with what was reportedly a “horrific slam.”
Palchewski, who purchased a Pinarello kids’ road bike with Campy 11-speed electronic shifting for Maribel’s birthday earlier this month, couldn’t understand the child’s outburst. “She said she wanted a bike for her birthday so I got her a bike. We spent a week working on getting in and out of clipless pedals, oh sure there were the usual scrapes and scratches and bruises and she broke out a tooth, but she’s a fast learner and we were doing solid 20 – 30 milers in no time.”
Although he himself has never raced, Palchewski felt that it made sense to start his daughter doing junior racing as quickly as possible. “First of all, there are only three or four girls in the junior 9 – 11 field, so her chances of standing on the podium were huge. Huge. Second, and most importantly, in order to win you have to be able to suffer, and I mean suffer like an effing dog. That’s something you learn early, like those Belgian hardmen in the 60′s and 70′s who just came straight off the farm, you know, tough guys for whom a 300 km race in the rain and muck over cobbles was a hella lot easier than building brick fences and shoveling horseshit all day.”
Palchewski’s wife Tambrina was less convinced. “I think she just wanted, you know, a bike bike. Something she could pedal around with her friends. She was kind of surprised on her birthday, actually. You know what she said to Sturgeon when she saw the Pinarello thing? She said, ‘Daddy, I said I wanted a bicycle!’”
Along with the new bicycle, Palchewski also helped his daughter open a Strava account, and made sure the bicycle was equipped with an SRM power meter and Garmin computer. “Cycling now is data driven,” says Palchewski. “The days when you could just pedal on the cobbles all day and ride your way on to the Belgian national team, those days are gone.”
When asked his strategy for rekindling his daughter’s enthusiasm for riding a bicycle, Palchewski did not hesitate. “I think it’s the intervals before dinner that are getting to her. Maybe we’ll just focus on long miles with a steady diet of hard climbs, throw in a few jumps, duke it out for the city limit signs. Get her into some hard charging pacelines with the guys, you know? Kids develop grit when they’re on the rivet, get kicked out the back, and have to solo for a couple of hours. Maybe some windy days too, eh?”
At press time Maribel had slashed the tires of her new bicycle with a pair of scissors and was engrossed in her Barbie Malibu Dreamhouse set.
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February 22, 2014 § 12 Comments
This morning as I whizzed down towards Malaga Cove I saw a rider in a blue and electric green kit. She was ahead of me, but my momentum from the long descent meant I was going to catch her without hardly pedaling. From a distance she didn’t look familiar, but as I closed in on her she kind of did, but then again she kind of didn’t. I was looking at her legs, which were lean but super cut. Didn’t recognize the legs.
Then as I got closer I realized it was Tink. “Hey, Tink!” I said as I pulled up alongside her. “Damn, your legs are cut! I didn’t recognize you!”
She laughed. “How’ve you been?”
“Fine, but how have YOU been?” Tink was coming off a long layoff after breaking her femur late last year. She had turned pro with Team Tibco in the middle of the 2013 season, and at the time she went down on the bike path and broke her leg she was on pace to hit the season with both barrels blazing.
“Great, actually,” she said. “I’m a bit sore, had a hard day yesterday, but I’m ready for the Donut Ride!”
This was horrible news for me, as I’d been hoping to have a good Donut Ride, and knowing that Tink would be there going full bore meant I’d be fighting for table scraps. She is a world class climber, and the primary feature of the DR is climbing.
Buckle your seat belts
The ride unfolded as I feared it would, only worse. Sam Warford and Mackenzie Champlin rolled off the front as we left Malaga Cove, and stuck it all the way to the top of the Domes. By the time we hit Portuguese Bend, Mark Alvarado and Tink attacked and opened a gap leading up to Trump National. Stathis Sakellariadis, who had been biding his time, kicked it hard and ruined what was left of the peloton. Glued to his wheel he towed me, Greg Leibert, and a handful of others up to Tink and Mark, then pushed on by.
After pulling up the first section of the Switchbacks he flicked his elbow for me to come through, but it’s a cold day in hell when this 50-year-old beer belly will take a pull on a climb that involves a gang of snotnose punks who all weigh less than 140-pounds. However, Greg Leibert, who is 52 years old, acted on the First Principle of Climbing: When the others hesitate out of weakness and fear, that is when you attack.
So he did.
Stathis slipped to the back of the small group, disgusted at having me shadow him and knowing that in order to escape my sneaky wheelsuckery he would have to take me by surprise. Several sad sacks flailed up the next couple of turns, flicking me to pull through and finding out that they’d sooner dislocate an elbow than get me to do a lick of work.
As Greg dangled, Stathis punched it from the very back, flying away from the six riders who were left. Sitting second wheel I jumped, but had about as much chance of catching him as I did of catching a motorcycle. He bridged to Greg and the two of them flew away, not to be seen again until the Domes.
Back in the best-of-the-rest-bunch, I sucked some more wheel until we turned up Crest to the Domes. Then I punched it and only Tink and Wanker McGee followed. After a few more surges, slowdowns, surges and slowdowns, Wanker popped, hit the eject button, and parachuted to safety. Now it was just me and Tink as we raced the final half-mile to the Domes. She hit me several times, I sucked wheel and countered, then she’d hit me again, then I’d suck some more wheel, wheeze and cough, make dying-old-man sounds, and she’d hit me again until she finally ran out of hit about 200 yards from the end.
I did the Big Blue Bus spruntaround, slowly grinding by her while she laughed. Atop the Domes I saw stars. “Good job!” she said, not even out of breath.
What’s a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?
The place, of course, is bike racing. What’s a nice girl like Tink, or Jess Cerra, or any other number of pro-and-pro-caliber women doing racing their bikes?
The reason I ask is because the system is so grossly sexist. The Tour de France, after more than a hundred years, offers pro women a single day of racing. The Tour of California, America’s premier bike race, finally offers women a TWO WHOLE DAYS of racing. Of course after a mere nine years it makes sense that the race acknowledged the existence of a pro women’s peloton, so you “girls” should be grateful. At least it didn’t take a hundred years, like the French.
The sexism in pro racing begins with races, or rather the absence of races, and it extends to every nook and cranny of the sport, right down the nuances of pro women’s teams riding Di2 Ultegra instead of Dura-Ace. It includes prize list disparity (as of 2014 USA Cycling will offer prize list parity for NRC races), media coverage, salary parity, the development of amateur women, and a gross inequality of financial resources at the national and international governing body level.
What’s so bizarre about this inequality isn’t the blatant sexism; we’ve come to expect that in every sport. What makes no sense is the fact that women’s cycling has every bit the financial potential of men’s cycling. Women cycle in huge numbers and are a completely untapped market for manufacturers and service providers trying to peddle their wares to pedalers. The economic power of women, if harnessed in terms of club/racing license membership, would bring a much-needed infusion of new dollars and new racers into the rather niche sport of bicycle racing.
The list of reasons — above and beyond “it’s the right thing to do” — to promote parity between professional men and women bike racers is a long one. And fortunately, there’s something about it that you can do.
Every revolution should begin with a great breakfast
The Women’s Cycling Association hosts a tour called “Join the Ride” on March 2, 2014, in Calabasas, CA, beginning at the legendary Pedaler’s Fork restaurant. Rider entry fees will support the WCA, the first organization in the U.S. dedicated solely to promoting women’s professional bike racing. This is part of a series of ongoing outreach efforts to include riders, promoters, and sponsors in the movement to develop a robust, independent women’s pro racing scene that will be around for years to come. Hope you can make it.
February 21, 2014 § 13 Comments
Under the blast furnace heater vents powered by the Chevy’s 400-cubic-inch motor, blood began to force its way back into the arteries and capillaries of Turner’s frozen extremities. The pain was excruciating in his fingers and toes, but blinding when the circulation returned to his dick, which was shriveled and frozen and purplish blue. If you’ve never had your crotch freeze and thaw, you’ve never had the feeling of a ten thousand glass catheters being shoved, slowly, into your dick from the inside out.
Clem watched him the whole time, clinically, while he moaned and sobbed and squeezed and rocked on the green plastic seat. After a few minutes he opened his eyes and the throbbing receded. “You done yet?” she asked. He nodded. “Put your clothes on, then.”
She had dried him and the car seat off, and he pulled on his jeans and t-shirt. The rain had stopped and Turner looked out the windshield. A small clump of riders was approaching.
“Oh, look,” he said. “The pro-am race. They must be finishing.”
Their car was parked on the shoulder about twenty yards past the finishing line, facing the oncoming riders. Turner stared out the windshield. La Primavera took place two weeks before the Tour of Texas, an annual 7-day stage race that attracted numerous European amateur and national teams. They typically arrived in time for La Primavera, cleaned up at all the local March races, trained in the warm, sunny southern weather, and used the Tour of Texas as their first sharpening race of the season. The local racers as well as the U.S. national team and top trade teams always came to test their mettle against the Euros. The racing was fast and hard, and no quarter was ever given.
This year there was a contingent from the Netherlands national team, as well as squads from Norway, Denmark, and Germany. The pro-am race had been 103 miles, and the leaders were finishing fast. Three riders from the Dutch team had strung out the field, positioning their fourth rider for the sprint finish. At the same time the U.S. squad had its sprint train accelerating to the front, with a smaller group of Germans also trying to organize a lead out.
The Germans caught the Americans and the Dutch with an unbelievable acceleration, and although Turner couldn’t see clearly, in the churning mass of bikes and legs he easily spotted White Shoes and his flashing patent leather footwear in the last slot of the German lead out train. Stijn had shouldered his way into their lead out and they were now towing him to the line. With a hundred meters to go the Dutch and American sprinters lunged for the finish, with White Shoes having come around the Germans, passing everyone up the wind-sheltered, right-hand gutter.
No one saw him coming. He threw his arms in the air, an easy bike length ahead of the Dutch rider. The Germans were already shouting at each other for having let White Shoes into their train, and then not having realized it until he kicked for the finish.
Turner couldn’t believe it. “That’s my training partner!” he said to Clem. “I train with that guy! Wasn’t that incredible! Good dog, did you see the way he passed those guts at the finish?”
“Good what?” she asked.
“Dog,” he said. “Good dog.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“My parents were atheists. We were never allowed to say ‘god’ or ‘Jesus Christ’ or any of that stuff. So it was always ‘good dog,’ ‘dog dammit,’ etc.”
“That’s so weird,” she said.
“Did you see that finish? Wasn’t that incredible?”
“Turner,” she said.
“This has been the most boring day of my life. It’s been wet and cold and miserable. There is nothing fun to see here, just people riding their bicycles, which isn’t fun at all. Not even a little bit. Now, it was kind of funny watching you hop around in the car a few minutes ago, but if this is bike racing I’ve been to my last race. It’s terribly awfully incredibly dull, and that’s the exciting part. The dull part, you know, standing around for a couple of hours waiting for people to come by for two seconds, two fucking seconds, all I can tell you is I hate it and I’m never going to come to one of these things again as long as I live so help me … dog.”
Turner didn’t want to argue. “Yeah, I can see how it’s pretty boring for spectators.”
“Good. Now that I’ve wasted my day doing something that you like, you’re going to waste the rest of your day, and most of the night, doing something that I like.”
“Okay, that’s fair. Where are we going?”
“I got a call from a supplier friend last night who said that his supplier friend had gotten stopped by the Coast Guard.”
“How do you think I’ve been paying the rent, Turner? Hooking?”
“Well, I didn’t know.”
“Well, now you do. So the guy gets stopped by the Coast Guard and they threw everything overboard. About a hundred bales.”
“Yes, bales, as in ‘bales of marijuana.’”
“I totally don’t get it.”
“That’s why I’m explaining it to you. So my supplier friend called to let me know that that shit was going to wash up on the beach in the next twenty-four hours.”
“And we’re driving to Galveston to scour two hundred miles of coastline for some beach weed that might be there, somewhere, and we’re going to pick it up and take it back to Austin and sell it?”
“No, smart ass. It was dumped overboard a couple of hundred yards off shore from a place called Bolivar Flats, not far from a ferry landing. It’s probably going to wash up within a few miles of the ferry landing. There will be hundreds of pounds of it. It will have a street value of several hundred thousand dollars. Even if we only get a bale or two — and I’ll split the sales with you 50-50 — it will be a fantastic amount of money.”
“Philosophy major bicycle racer turned beach weed dope dealer. Seems legit.”
She slammed on the brakes and pulled over. “Get out. Take your bicycle and get out. You think it’s a stupid idea? Get out. I think it’s a chance to make a ton of money. And make sure you’re cleared out of my apartment by the time I get back.”
“Don’t be so dramatic, Clem. You have to admit, it’s kind of risky. If we even find the dope, which is iffy at best, we’re going to be traveling around with enough drugs to get some serious prison time if we get caught. I’m not sure I’m ready for prison. Yet.”
“There’s the door, Turner.”
He thought for a second. “Okay,” he said. “I’m ready for prison now.”
Her face softened and she licked her lips. “I knew you would be!” She reached over and gave him a kiss. Then she gunned the big V-8 and off they went.
February 20, 2014 § 12 Comments
A moment after Turner had gotten into the grim, murderous rhythm of the front group, the road went up slightly. They were ending the first 17-mile lap, which terminated on a slight uphill, perhaps a quarter-mile long, with a very short, not too steep, hundred-yard rise at the finish line.
The rain continued to dump, and as they churned along, about halfway up the modest incline, Turner saw the most amazing thing happen. The group rode away. He was pushing every bit as hard as he had been, even harder, until finally he was smashing the pedals with every ounce of strength he could muster, but no matter. The heaving, shifting, swirling mass of riders went faster and the gap between him and them, first only a couple of bike lengths, soon became car lengths, then truck lengths, then they crested the start-finish and were gone.
Fortunately, the freezing rain was still there, and when he passed the start-finish he felt all hope and energy vanish, replaced instantaneously by a cold so profound that it seemed to go down into his deepest entrails. A handful of bedraggled spectators shouted listless lies like “They’re not too far off!” and “You can catch them!” and other hopeless platitudes that no one believed, and these falsehoods rang in his ears along with the hiss and slosh of the tires in the muck and the pounding rain on his hairnet and his head and his face and his bare arms.
After a mile or so he heard a big swooshing sound. He looked back and saw a clump of about ten riders overtaking him at breakneck speed. It was the junior field. They pounded by, covering him with spray, which was more insulting than anything else since was already saturated and it was still pouring. A minute or so later a lone junior came by. He was slender and hunched over a light blue Pinarello, and covered though it was in crud Turner envied the gorgeous Italian frame and the Campy Super Record components, a fancier, nicer, slicker rig for a mere kid than he, a grown man, could even think of affording.
Without hesitating, Turner jumped on the junior’s wheel, happy to get some respite from what was going from a miserable, freezing slog to a lonely, miserable, freezing slog.
The junior didn’t say anything, but a moment later a pickup pulled up next to them. It was the kid’s father, and he was livid. “Get the off of his wheel!” he shouted. “You’re in a different race!”
“What do you care?” Turner snarled back. “We’re both dropped and out of contention. Lighten up.”
The father became apoplectic. “Get off of his wheel you bastard or I’ll report you to the chief ref, you’re a goddam cheater, don’t you have any self respect, wheelsucking on a 16-year-old?”
“Oh, shut up,” Turner said, and went back to the business of sitting on the kids’ wheel.
In a flash the guy in the pickup swerved over, deliberately trying to knock Turner down. Freaked out, he leaned and hit his rear brake, sending his bike off onto the shoulder and then into the ditch. “You crazy motherfucker!” Turner screamed, dismounting and dragging his bike back onto the road. Flipping off the driver in disbelief, he hopped back in the saddle as the little drama reached its denouement: The junior grabbed onto the side of the pickup and his dad towed him out of sight, presumably close enough to the front group so that he could get back in with the lead bunch.
He would have shaken he was so angry if he hadn’t already been shaking from the cold. The next car to pull up next to him was Clem’s green Impala. It took him a moment to recognize her and the car, and at first he glared and tensed, ready for some other crazyfuck to try and kill him. “Turner!” she said. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I mean no,” he said.
“Want to get in the car?”
He shook his head.
She looked at him for a moment, covered in shit, hopelessly off the back, and nowhere near the end of the race. She could see the welts and the decades old scars there on his face and in his eyes, and it fascinated her, the way the scab was partially torn away and bleeding, and with her eyes she peeled it back, feeling him flinch as she did so, watching the open wound and wondering who had made it, and why, and marveling how much it looked like hers, and clinically noting how stoically he bore it, accepting it as the cost of doing the business of life. “Turner!” she said again, picking at the scab.
“What?” He was angry, but through his rage he saw her leaning over towards the open passenger window, her nipples pressing against her t-shirt like .38-caliber slugs.
“Pull over for a second,” she said.
“I don’t want to fucking pull over!”
“I didn’t ask you if you wanted to pull over. Pull over, goddammit.”
He did. She jumped out of the car and handed him the wool Santini jacket. He put it on but his hands were too frozen to fasten it, so she zipped it for him. She’d never seen a bike race before, but as he pushed off with one foot she instinctively put both hands on his butt and, running behind him, gave him a mighty push. In those few short seconds she had gotten soaked. He reached down and tightened his toe straps and disappeared into the deluge.
She flipped the car and drove back to the high school.
In what was an infinity for him but less than an hour for her, Turner crossed the finish line, stopping to let Clem unzip his jacket so the chief ref could see his number. The chief ref shook his head and scribbled something on his clipboard.
As he stumbled to the car he saw one of the officials giving medals to the juniors, who had finished long ago. The kid on the Pinarello had gotten third. “Thanks, Dad,” Turner muttered.
Inside the car Clem turned the heater on high. “Your lips are purple,” she said.
He convulsed for a few minutes, stripping off the wet clothing until he was naked as she toweled him off. Then it began to hit him. He screamed.
February 19, 2014 § 20 Comments
Clem and Turner sat in the 1972 green Chevy Impala that she had “borrowed” from a “friend.”
“I’m not even gonna ask where you stole this car from,” he said.
“Good!” she cheerily replied. “And I won’t ask if you’d rather get the fuck out and pedal your bike to this goddamned race.” The rain was lashing the windshield without mercy and the outside temp was just a notch above freezing.
Clem was excited, sexually. He knew this because her nipples were hard even though it was warm in the car and because her eyes gleamed and she was laughing at everything and she kept licking her lips, which were wet. She was about to see her conquering hero go out and conquer, collect some gory scalps trimmed off the bleeding skulls of his victims, hoist some heads on a pike, and string a leather thong with the ears of the dead. “I think that’s it,” Turner said, pointing to the squat concrete structure of Buda-Hays High School.
“Shitcakes,” said Clem. “Where are we gonna park?”
Turner had assured her that there would be a handful of fifteen to twenty idiots, at the very most, in his first ever Cat 4 road race, the season-opener “La Primavera.” Why had he told her that? Because it sounded better than “I have no idea,” and it sounded like a good number, three or four times the number of idiots whom he’d vanquished at the Bloor Road time trial two weeks earlier. In fact the high school parking lot was full and cars lined the roadway for several hundred yards on either side of the school. Bikes were everywhere and the roadside ditch was almost overflowing from the torrential downpour.
Turner signed in, paid his fee, and went back to the car. Clem started pinning on his number, stabbing him through the lycra with each safety pin. “Ouch! Can you be a little more careful?”
She laughed. “No,” and stabbed him again.
Five minutes before his race started, Turner scurried out to the starting line. The rain was pouring down in giant bursts of freezing vomitus. Everyone was soaked to the skin and frozen, and the race hadn’t even begun. An official pointed to Turner. “Hey, you in the blue jacket!”
“Me?” Turner said.
“Yeah, you! You can’t ride with that jacket on! It covers up your number!”
“No! Take it off or get out of the race!”
Turner took off his wool Santini jacket and handed it to Clem, who was standing near the starting line. He felt his body temperature plunge further. Now the only thing between him and the elements was a short-sleeved lycra jersey. He began shuddering uncontrollably.
The chief referee shouted at them from under an umbrella. “This is the Cat 4 race, gentlemen. 34 miles, two loops of 17 miles each. Centerline rule strictly enforced. Your field is full, 75 riders. The juniors will be leaving five minutes after you. If you get passed, don’t jump in.”
Turner snickered to himself. “Get passed by the juniors … right.”
The ref continued. “Ride safe, guys!” Then he blew his whistle and the injuries and accidents began.
Racers jammed their feet into the toe clips and reached down to tighten the straps, but since the Cat 4 racers were the lowest and least skilled, many wobbled and bumped into their neighbors, causing several mini-pileups. “You fucking fucker!” and “Fucking watch it motherfucker!” and other variants of “What the fuck are you doing you fucking fucker?” were bandied about liberally. Turner weaved through the mayhem as the galloping peloton got up to speed.
They swooped around the right hander that took them towards Driftwood, each frozen and soaked idiot only a few lousy inches away from the frozen and soaked idiot in front of him, going so hard and filled with so much adrenaline that their collective hearts were about to jump out of their chests. Just as Turner started to catch his breath and settle into the ragingly crazy speed, his face filled with spray and muck from the wheels in front of him, the inside of his mouth and his tongue coated with filth and mud, his spectacles covered with a gooey paste of road grime and water, his terror at crashing so intense that he thought he could taste the kidneys he was partially coughing up, just then an idiot from the San Antonio Bicycle Racing Club a few wheels ahead of him touched the rear wheel of another idiot from another team, and the SABRC idiot went sideways and down, heavily, on his side. The downed rider’s skull, cleverly protected by a few thin strips of soft leather, smacked with the thud of a giant cracking egg against the asphalt as riders behind swerved, ran into him, jumped over him, and spun out, crashing out even more riders.
The noise alone was epic enough to have caused migraines and nightmares for a lifetime, but accompanied as it was by the screams and moans and the grinding of steel and the smashing sounds of bodies and tarmac and exploding tires and the skidding and cursing all blended together to make a perfect little horror story just for Turner.
He was going full bore and he knew his wet brakes weren’t going to work and he wished he’d learned to bunny hop when he was in grade school but since he hadn’t he leaned back and sort of threw the bike forward just as the SABRC guy’s arm flopped out in front of him. Turner closed his eyes and gritted his teeth as his bike ran over the rider’s elbow, which made a grinding bone-snapping sound, but Turner miraculously stayed upright which was more than the guy behind him could say because his front tire hit the SABRC guy’s skull squarely in the back of the cranium, flipping him over the bars and onto his face, where his front six teeth danced across the asphalt in a multidirectional tango followed by a spurting fountain of blood and an opera of pain and other indicia of misery that Turner never knew about because he was pedaling for all he was worth to catch back up to the peloton.
Half the field was gone and they were less than five miles into the race and Turner had survived. Now the speed really ramped up and he hunkered down over his handlebars with a kind of grim satisfaction. It hurt like hell, but he’d made it. He would outlast all of these sorry fuckers and then, with a couple of miles to go he’d rage away from the remaining survivors so fast and so quick that they’d never even know what hit them. This wasn’t war, but there was danger and blood and violence and fear and anger and pain and injury and the risk of death and those who had made it this far were still going strong and those who hadn’t were being trundled back to Austin in a fucking ambulance.
It wasn’t war, but it was damn sure similar to love.
February 17, 2014 § 10 Comments
“So this is how it is,” Turner said to himself, burning and hurting worse than any beating he’d ever gotten from Pops or Cason or that sorry fucker Raffy Santiago when he got waylaid coming home from the stamp and coin shop, with Raffy stealing his money, throwing his stamps into the wind, and pounding the shit out of him until he cried, moaned, bled from his nose and mouth, and then finally lay sobbing in a puddle of his own piss and gore.
He had been chatting with Carrottop at the shop a week earlier. “Why don’t you come do the ACA Century Ride?”
“What is it?”
“It’s an easy hundred-mile bike ride. Pam and I will just be tooling along, you can ride with us. You’ll love it.”
“Really?” Turner mulled over the internal logical inconsistency of “easy” and “hundred miles” and “bike ride.”
“You’ll be done in six or seven hours. There’s a couple of rest stops for food and water. It’s not a race, and you’ll be able to say you did your first century.”
“How many people will be there?”
“Several hundred. There’ll be a few guys racing it, but they’ll start a couple of hours after us. We’ll see ‘em for a few seconds when they come whipping by. Everyone else is just riding it for fun.”
“How come you’re not racing it?” Carrottop was one of the best climbers in Austin, and therefore the state.
“Pam wants to spend an easy day spinning together,” he said. “It’s our QT for the month.”
Nothing had worked out as planned, which is the completely predictable outcome of all bike rides and hence their appeal. Turner had gotten there at seven and waited an hour for Carrottop and Pam, who had dicked around and finally started at 8:30. A few miles in Pam had flatted, then Carrottop had flatted.
By 9:30 they were still only a few miles into the ride when Carrottop looked back. “They’re coming!”
“Who’s coming?” Turner asked.
“The racers!” Turner looked back and saw a small bunch quickly closing in on them. His pulse quickened. “Dude,” Carottop said. “Jump on the train. Pam and I probably aren’t even gonna finish the ride.”
“Yeah, just pedal like the shits and get in at the back. Then hang on for dear life. You can do it!”
Turner didn’t know what possessed him, but as the whirl of riders came by he accelerated. A small gap opened as they pulled away, but he pedaled hard and caught on. After a few minutes he could see there were two groups within the group of about fifty riders. The first fifteen or so were taking brief, hard pulls at the front, then rotating to the back, resting, and moving up in the line again until it was their turn to take another pull.
The others were hanging on for dear life. Over the next three hours the group got smaller and smaller until there were only eleven riders left. By now Turner had seen each of the surviving riders pull through so many times that he had given them all names. To his surprise one of the riders was Baker, the guy he’d met at the bike shop and who had defended him from the frat rats.
Each time Turner pulled through, the rider behind yelled at him. However he did it, he did it wrong. “You’re pulling through too fast!” they’d yell.
“Too slow!” they’d yell.
“Don’t swing over so fucking quick, for fuck’s sake!”
“Quit overlapping wheels, goddammit!”
“Hold your fucking line!”
“Quit surging you fucking idiot!”
“Don’t brake, Jesus!”
Other times the curses were simply generic expressions of contempt like “Shit,” or “Fuck” or “Goddammit.”
All Turner knew is that however wrong he was doing it, others were doing it even more wrong, because the group continued to shrink.
By the time they hit Old San Antonio Highway coming back through Buda, there were five riders. No one was cursing him now; breath was apparently way too precious to waste on some skinny dork with hairy legs and a Nishiki International. The pace never slackened. Turner had been out of water for over an hour and his t-shirt was soaked. They flew up a slight hill and it was too much for two of the remaining riders, who cracked and fell off the back.
Now it was just Baker and some dude wearing white patent leather cycling shoes and riding a blue Chesini. Turner had memorized that name, “Chesini.”
“What the fuck is a ‘Chesini’?” he wondered, hating White Shoes for ripping through each time with the ferocity of a guy who hasn’t been laid in a decade.
Turner felt nothing but a kind of numb, stabbing pain in his legs. He started to drift off the back. Baker looked back. “Don’t fucking quit now. Just sit in.”
Baker and White Shoes kept the gas on until they swept around a turn and hit South First Street. Now the speed got even higher. For the next few miles they flew down towards the river, blowing red lights, going faster, faster, faster. They were going for something, but Turner didn’t know what. By a mutually understood, prearranged signal, Baker and White Shoes jumped out of the saddle and began sprinting. Turner sprinted too.
White Shoes went by so quickly that Baker and Turner looked like they’d been lassoed and tied to a stump. White Shoes sat up and the trio coasted over the South First Street bridge.
Turner looked at White Shoes. He had a square, unshaven jaw. His legs were thick and powerful, like tree trunks. His eyes were dark, angry blue.
“Good job,” he said to Turner in a surprising friendly voice. Turner had expected the voice out of that ferocious face to sound like the roar of Godzilla.
“Thanks,” Turner said, but what he thought was “That guy is a Bike Racer and he is talking to me.”
“What’s your name?”
“Turner. What’s yours?”
“Stijn. John Stijn. See you around.” White Shoes peeled off and was gone.
“Nice riding,” said Baker.
“I told you that bike was good enough.”
“You finished the hardest ride in the whole fucking state of Texas with Johnw Stijn. What did you expect?”
“Who is he?”
Baker laughed. “You just rode with him, didn’t you? What more do you need to know about a guy who rides fifty people off his wheel?”
February 15, 2014 § 2 Comments
The 35+ race at Boulevard was relatively uneventful unless you were one of the riders who got shelled on the very first lap. Or the second lap. Or the third.
It was the first tough road race with all the major players except for Chris DeMarchi, who’s still recovering from a broken femur that he sustained in an MTB accident. Without Chris the race would be slightly different, as his trademark “bring the pain and thin the herd” brand of killing accelerations would be absent.
The riders didn’t know where they stood fitness wise, so there was a lot of watching and waiting, but only up to a point. It was Boulevard after all, a race of attrition that eventually was going to wear you down whether you waited or not. The general pattern in the 35+ race is this: If the race stays together, only shedding the lame and infirm, the big explosion happens halfway through the last lap. The start of the race was freezing and two minutes into the race it began to snow. There were also a couple of new faces, which is always a troubling question mark. It’s the new faces that can completely screw up a well-planned race.
The 2014 edition played according to formula, with Mike Sayers and Marco Arocha putting in huge attacks that did damage but failed to shatter the group. Marco launched halfway into the race, but that’s a long, lonely distance to hold off a super field like this one over such a demanding course. He was brought back on the downhill, where a solo rider has difficulty keeping ahead of a peloton that can easily hit 50 mph.
While Marco was away Monster Media strongman Karl Bordine set tempo up the big climb and made sure Arocha’s advantage didn’t extend too far. By keeping the gap in check on the second lap, Bordine’s solid tempo prevented the dangerous move by Arocha from suddenly turning into a 3 or 4 minute breakaway. That would have forced the Monster Media team to organize a chase, waste valuable energy, and take away their ability to keep team boss Tinstman safe and out of the wind. It was Bordine’s tempo that allowed the group to bring Arocha back and then set up Gary Douville for the big move on the last lap.
When the remnants of the field turned onto La Posta, Gary Douville and Phil Tinstman went to the front, attacking just over the railroad tracks and whittling it down to five riders, later joined by two others. Tony Restuccia, Tinstman, Douville, Derek Brauch, Sayers, Paul Vaccari, and Randall Coxworth made up the final selection. The two who bridged, Vaccari and Coxworth, made it across at just the time the break briefly slowed.
From that point the break drilled up La Posta and put a big gap on the field, a gap that no one would be able to close once the breakaway hit the frontage road and began the final three-mile climb to the finish line. Sayers was the biggest threat to the Monster Media machine, which had four of the seven riders in the break. Sayers coaches the USA U-23 team and in addition to being a great coach is also a beast of a rider. Sayers attacked the break a couple of times but was countered by Tinstman and Douville.
This is the point in Boulevard where things come unraveled. The break was on the rivet and Tinstman was still feeling good. With teammates Restuccia, Douville, and Coxworth covering the SPY-Giant-RIDE duo of Brauch and Vaccari, Sayers put in a huge attack and, taking Tinstman with him, opened up a 20-second gap on the chasers. With Sayers urging Tinstman to pull through, the Monster Media rider declined the invitation. The math was simple: Better to get pulled back to the group, where there was a 4-to-7 advantage and where Tinstman was confident of winning the field sprint, than to trade pulls with Sayers and lower his chance of winning to 50 percent.
Once the Sayers-Tinstman duo was back with the chasers, Coxworth unleashed a flurry of attacks, swinging off with 250 meters to the line. Sayers was now out in the wind and had no choice but to go, and he gave it everything he had, but 250 meters out at Boulevard is like a kilometer anywhere else because the race finishes on a hard pitch after a long climb. With Sayers firing his final volley too early, Vaccari then jumped with Tinstman on his wheel. At the last minute Tinstman hit the wind and passed the SPY rider with room to spare. Vaccari got second and Brauch got third, making a good podium haul for the SPY-Giant-RIDE p/b MRI team, especially considering the quality and quantity of Monster Media riders at the finish.
This was a classic example of a road race going according to plan. It was simple in theory: Keep Tinstman out of the wind as much as possible and save it for the end. Although he was feeling good, the fact that his teammates were doing such a great job increased his pressure to close the deal as they sacrificed everything to put him in position for the win. Having raced together for a couple of seasons the Monster Media team has reached a point where the riders can communicate in key moments without talking because they know what the other guy’s thinking and what they’re going to do. This is the kind of clockwork teamwork that only comes from lots of races.
Tinstman’s secret? There are none, other than the things that all successful athletes have in common, such as maximal preparation. Spare wheels in the car, food, bottles, clothing, then double check everything. Reassured that the prep was done, the victory was going to depend on using the least amount of energy and conserving until the end. By being alert and continually reading the race, Tinstman made sure that every second in the race he had a reason for what he was doing doing. Whether watching a guy, resting, or chasing, it was the continual mental alertness and rational planning that brought the victory to bear.
Saturday helped Sunday
Tinstman followed up his hardman win at Boulevard with an equally impressive win the following day at the SPY Red Trolley Crit in San Diego. Much of Sunday’s victory was the result of how well the team kept him fresh on Saturday. He wasn’t wrecked on Sunday because he hadn’t had to do the lion’s share of the work the day before.
Unlike the other dominant SoCal 35+ crit team, Surf City Cyclery, the Monster Media team never wants the race to end in a field sprint. 2013 was an extended clinic of breakaway crit victories by DeMarchi and Tinstman, and although SCC was absent from this year’s edition of Red Trolley, the plan was still to avoid a field sprint.
On the other hand, with accomplished finishers like Coxworth, Tinstman, and Danny Kam, if it came down to a sprint, there were options there as well. Coxworth had just finished second in the 45+ race after getting nipped at the line due to a premature victory salute, and felt like the snap was gone from his legs. He therefore volunteered to be the guy who would position Tinstman if it came down to a field sprint. In the last two laps he placed his team leader into position with laser precision.
With a tailwind on the climb and a headwind on the downhill it was going to be a hard course on which to establish a winning break because it was easy for the swollen pack to sit and then charge full bore up he hill. The Monster Media team attacked repeatedly with the SPY riders, trying to make things happen, but the field wouldn’t split. In the final laps SPY went to the front, with Tinstman on Coxworth’s wheel. A couple of intense efforts towards the very end even looked like they might create a winning move.
Everything came back together for the finale, however, so with Coxworth on the SPY train and Tinstman slotted in behind his pilot fish, the two Monster Media riders came around SPY’s Eric Anderson and locked in first and second place.
On February 15, Tinstman and the Monster Media tribe will have a go at the second hardman event on the SoCal calendar, the UCLA Punchbowl road race. If Boulevard and Red Trolley are any indication, they will be tough to beat. Very, very tough.