February 4, 2014 § 30 Comments
I saw that the Belgian Waffle Ride is now open for registration as of today. But dadgummit, it’s expensive, $125!!! Should I do it?
Billy “Cat 5″ Frugal
That SPY Belgian Waffle Ride is a ripoff! Give me a fuggin’ break! Instead of racing a four-corner industrial park crit (I’m giving out flowers now to winners instead of cash), who would want to do a 130-mile, 11k feet of climbing, hardman/hardwoman race in North County San Diego? That blows! Plus, it’s crazy expensive. All’s you get is a custom t-shirt, an awesome breakfast, money donated to the CAF, a custom-brewed beer from The Lost Abbey, and a full day of racing the hardest, most challenging roads in SoCal. If you did THE LOCAL CRIT THAT’S ALSO SCHEDULED FOR THAT DAY, you’d be able to ride for 40 minutes — nonstop! And it would only cost $25, except for race day registration, which costs more.
It’s true, the BWR is long, hard, and not nearly as memorable as if you bought, say, tickets to the Feb. 3 Lakers v. Bulls game (LA is 16-31) in Loge Corner 104 for $220.00 (parking, beer, and food are extra, of course). And it’s not nearly as exciting as if you did an area crit in order to finish mid-pack. But it does have one thing that no USAC-permitted bike race here has: BEER.
Game – set – match,
I did the BWR last year. The idiots at SPY Optic comped my entry, gave me free glasses, and made sure I got to ride with the first wave. But you know what? They don’t support the right of every American to have multiple guns and shoot people when they’re afraid. So I hate them. Are you going to support a bike ride or guns?
Prying my cold dead hand off the trigger,
I’ll be supporting a bike ride. Sorry your gland is so tiny that you have to compensate by killing people.
I would do the Belgian Waffle Ride but I hear there are gonna be pros. Thats no fun to race against pros because pros smash up everybody how come you dont just have a race for normal people and let the pros race in pro races?
The difficulty of a ride is determined by a combination of the route, the weather, and the riders. In this case, the route is one of the hardest in America, a brutal combination of hills, unpaved roads, and distance. Weather is variable. If it rains, it will make an already fiendish route into a living hell. But none of that really matters if the only people competing are not any good. It’s like college. The difficulty is ultimately determined not by the teachers, but by the competitiveness of the students. Get it? The SoCal race/ride calendar abounds with races that anyone can finish. There are also a handful of races like Boulevard and Punchbowl that are truly hard races. The BWR takes the difficulty of a hard road race and amplifies it many times over. It’s the closest that most of us will ever get to doing a ride that combines the distance, course, and competitiveness of a European classic. So, if what you really want to do is race against people of your own ability, there’s an entire race season, indeed career, built around that. This ain’t one of them.
Will there be Zumba afterwards? I really like Zumba.
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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February 1, 2014 § 6 Comments
When you put a bunch of bike racers shoulder to shoulder, you shouldn’t be surprised if there’s some bumping and shouting, or if someone winds up on the deck. No one hit the floor in this instance, but several went home on unsteady legs. I got up the next morning with only a slight hangover, trying to remember the ride plan. Since the Monument was only a day away, I needed a very short, very flat, very easy recovery ride to spin the beer out of my legs. “Maybe Ozzie texted me,” I thought. I checked, and he had. “Erik’s at 7:15. MB Pier at 8:00.”
I dressed and pedaled down the hill to Erik’s. He opened the door and looked surprised. “Hey, man.”
“Hey. We’re meeting here at 7:15, right?”
“We are? I hadn’t heard, but come on in.” I showed him Ozzie’s text. “First I’ve heard of it.”
“He must have been drunk,” I said, recalling that I hadn’t been exactly sober.
We got to the Pier and Ozzie was waiting for us. “Hey, man,” I said. “How come you weren’t at Erik’s? And how come you didn’t tell him we were meeting there at 7:15?”
Ozzie stared at me stonily. “The reason I didn’t go is because I’m staying about a mile from the Pier, and Erik’s house is seven miles away.”
“And the reason I didn’t tell him is because it was already past midnight when we left the bar, with you screaming and yelling to everyone in the damned bar to ‘Meet at Erik’s!’”
“I did?” My memory had some pretty gaps after about ten p.m.
“Yes, you did. And I told you we were meeting at the Pier at eight but you weren’t having any of it. You were going to Erik’s come hell or high water and trying to bring about forty other people with you, including that blind girl in the wheelchair.”
Ozzie was getting pissed as he recalled what sounded like a very obnoxious point in time. “Yes, you were. And I kept telling you that I wasn’t going to Erik’s and you weren’t listening. ‘Eric’s!’ you kept raving like a madman. So when you staggered out of the bar with that empty Mason jar of cherry moonshine in your fist you screamed ‘Text me so I don’t forget!’ Then I think you passed out and Manslaughter carried you back to his car. So I texted you. And I wasn’t about to text Erik at midnight. Hope you didn’t wake up their baby this morning.”
Recovery is key
This was going to be an easy coffee cruise the day before the big race. We’d pedal to Santa Monica, grab coffee, and go home. Years of experience had taught me that the day before the Monument you needed to avoid any exertion. Murray, New Guy, Sailor, and Worldchamp left with us. New Guy was on his second group ride ever and was pretty excited. Once we got to Santa Monica the ride plan changed, as Erik didn’t want to stop for coffee. I’d missed the turn to the bike bath and suggested we just “go easy up Mandeville.”
Mandeville is a six-mile climb.
We did the climb, slowly, then returned for Santa Monica. As we passed by the Santa Monica Pier, New Guy turned to me. “Where do we turn?” He’d already jumped out ahead of the group a couple of times and overshot turns, so he wanted to make sure he knew where he was going.
As the experienced leader of the group, I patted him on the shoulder. This was my turf, my route, an area I could navigate with my eyes closed. “Follow me, grasshopper.”
A few streets later, with the entire gang on my wheel, I pointed. “Right turn!” I shouted in a commanding voice. Like lemmings, everyone followed as I swooped onto the right-hander hairpin that was the on-ramp for Interstate 10.
“Oh, fuck!” I yelled. “Wrong turn!”
Brakes screeched, oaths flew, a pair of cars narrowly avoided killing us all, and we got back on the surface street, pale. “Sorry, guys,” I mumbled.
New Guy was amazed. At that moment we came to the correct intersection. “Here! Right turn!” I shouted with authority as the lemmings turned with me once again.
“Easy to see how you could have confused those two turns,” New Guy said. “One is a narrow hairpin with a huge concrete embankment on both sides that says ‘Interstate 10′ and the other is a wide boulevard with palm trees and an ocean vista.”
We safely made it to Peet’s. “Coffee’s on me,” I said sheepishly.
Worldchamp turned to me. “I thought you said this was a pre-ride easy day before the hardest race of the year.”
“How many miles does this give you?”
Nobody said anything.
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January 31, 2014 § 20 Comments
When I hear a funny noise on my bike I do the following two things: 1) Ignore it and hope it goes away. 2) If it doesn’t go away, hope that it’s nothing serious.
Some noises, though, are harder to ignore than others. This one happened every time I touched the rear brake on my ‘cross bike. Iw was the loudest, most horrific, piercing shriek you have ever heard in your life. It was so loud that it not only hurt my ears, it would startle passing motorists who had their windows rolled up while listening to Led Zeppelin. It was so loud that joggers a block away would jump when I braked. You probably think I’m exaggerating.
After about four days the noise kept getting worse. It was such a piercing scream that I started to think maybe it was serious. This led to a problem. If I checked out the source of the noise and found out that something was indeed wrong, I’d have to fix it. If I had to fix it I would end up taking out the three tools in my toolbox — hammer, screwdriver, pliers — and making the problem worse. Then I’d have to take it over to my mechanic, Boozy, and have him laugh at me before replacing all the parts I’d destroyed.
All of this was going through my mind as I hurtled down Silver Spur at 45 mph. A car started to pull out in front of me, and I touched the rear brake, which had the intended effect. The eardrum-shattering shriek frightened the driver into slamming on her brakes. I flashed past, pleased that my early warning system was so effective, but also troubled. What if this unearthly, mind-bending noise meant that the brakes were about to fail? The thought of going down Silver Spur like that without any brakes almost worried me.
I pedaled along PV Drive until I came to a stop sign. Resignedly I got off to inspect the rear brake. Perhaps there were no more brake pads and this was the sound of metal calipers on metal rim? Nope. Perhaps there was something wrong with the brake mechanism itself? I stared intently at the complex, mysterious piece of machinery known as “bicycle brake,” hoping that today, after all these years, its workings would finally make sense and I could somehow fix them. But, like a chimpanzee staring at an x-ray, the brake remained inscrutable.
Next I checked the rim and immediately found the culprit. It appeared that during one of my more energetic chain lubing sessions in which I had enthusiastically lubed the chain, the stays, the tire, my feet, and most of the sliding glass window on the balcony, I had gotten a few quarts of lubricant on the rim. The lube had, over time, picked up filth and gunk from the road, resulting in one side of the rim being completely coated with a thick, black, gooey tar that apparently didn’t mesh well with the brake pads.
The solution seemed simple: Wipe off the crud. I took a finger and ran it along the rim, expecting the gunk to come right off. It didn’t. Instead it smeared and left my finger covered with the tar. Next, I tried it with another finger, then another, until both my hands were black with oily crud, but the quantity on the rim appeared about the same. Over on the roadside was a bush with big leaves, so I went over and collected a few. Then I bent over and started vigorously rubbing the rim with a big green leaf.
At that moment a super pro-looking dude in a pro-looking kit on a bike cruised by on his 10k machine. He glanced at me disdainfully, as if he’d never seen a goofball riding a ‘cross bike with a huge red blinky light in the middle of the day while repairing his bike with some leaves. I expected him so say, “You okay?” but he pedaled quickly by.
The leaves had magical crud-removal properties, and in a few moments the rim was clean. I spun it and clenched the brakes — no squeal. This was the first time I had ever addressed a bike problem and solved it. I hopped on the bike and pedaled after Mr. Rudely. Soon enough I caught up to him. He had those 450-mile-a-week legs of a 20-something dreamer who thinks that if he just rides more and races more he will get a pro contract.
“Hi, there!” I chirped.
He turned his head towards me and made the grimmest half-smile, followed by a slight nod to acknowledge that I existed, sort of. “Nice day, huh!” I eagerly chirped some more. He nodded again, slightly, staring straight ahead. I could tell what he was thinking.
“Here I am on my easy day and I’ve been overtaken by the world champion Fred who repairs his bike with leaves and pedals 15 mph at 150 rpm. This sucks balls.”
I zoomed past, turned onto PV Drive West, and headed up the little bump out of Malaga Cove. At the top I slowed down considerably and Mr. Rudely passed me. I hopped on behind him, figuring it would drive him insane, which it did. Since he was obviously on a recovery day, he wasn’t going to hammer away from me, so he took the opposite tack. He slowed down until I passed him. I laughed to myself. “Nobody beats Wanky in the slows.” So I slowed down until he passed me again.
Now he was really pissed. “Hi again!” I chirped.
He sped up and I hopped on his wheel. Then he realized it was his recovery day, so he slowed back down. As I read the sponsors on his jersey, I wondered if he knew that by being such a prick he was causing me to memorize the name of each sponsor so that I would never, ever, ever buy any of their products? I wondered if it occurred to him that by stopping, or even slowing, to say “You okay?” he and his club and his Orange County shop would have done the best advertising possible? And of course I wondered if it occurred to him that by refusing to even speak to me because of my dorkiness he proved to be an even bigger dork than I?
Road cycling has a tradition of snobbery, rudeness, unfriendliness, and contempt for those who are slower and weaker than you. Why? Mountain bikers are glad you’re out on the trails with them. I wish I had a dollar for each time an MTB friend has invited me to try out trail riding. Cyclocross racers are the same. They only want to ride with you and drink beer, and many don’t even want to ride. Track riders are a little more serious, but the ice is easily broken your second or third time out and they will bend over backwards to show you the tricks of the trade.
Not road racers, though. Although there are plenty of friendly, down to earth riders, there is a distinct class of road racing snobs. Whether you’re riding with a mirror, or the expiration date on your white shorts has passed, or you’re working on your bike with an old leaf, they believe you are NOT WORTHY.
That’s when I think about Fields. Fields was the best, the cagiest, the one who trained hardest, and the one who dominated the peloton. But he never looked down on anyone because of the bike they rode or the clothes they wore. And if he passed you on a ride he’d always offer a friendly greeting, not to mention stop if you were stranded with a mechanical on the side of the road. Fields believed that people earned scorn and contempt when they acted like assholes, not when they were out enjoying a bicycle ride.
Mr. Rudely and I did another set of slow – and – pass before he got so angry that he stomped by me on the Switchbacks. I followed at about three bike lengths. When we got to the college the light was red. We stopped. I smiled. “Where are you riding today?”
“What’s that?” he said.
“Where are you riding today?”
He twirled his finger in the air as if circling the PV Peninsula. “Loops.” Then he telepathically communicated something along the lines of please-shut-up-now.
I left him for good this time, touching my rear brake occasionally on the long descent. They were perfectly silent. Maybe I’m not such a bad mechanic after all.
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January 30, 2014 § 26 Comments
I am motivated by money. There are countless things I do in daily my life that I wouldn’t do if it weren’t for money. In fact, if it weren’t for my hungry desire to get money, my entire life would be radically different.
The first time I ever did something for money I was five. My brother had taken several cases of crackerjack-type snacks on consignment for some school fundraising thing or other, and he had to sell them. The problem was that we lived at 1512 Rosenberg Street in Galveston, across from the Ursuline Convent. This meant that one side of the street was inhabited by nuns, and the rest of the neighborhood was inhabited by people even poorer than we were.
My pal Chris’s mom was a prostitute and heroin addict. The Rodriguez family had seven kids and covered their windows with bedsheets to keep out the rain. The one or two families that weren’t destitute were close to it or they were retirees living on a very tight budget. In other words, Ian’s customer base for all those snacks was nil.
After a couple of failed door-to-door attempts, he hit on an idea. “Hey, Dad!” he said.
“I know how we can sell all these snacks!”
“We?” Dad had been against the project from its inception, mainly because he’d sold Fuller brushes door-to-door, and had also briefly tried to sell newly constructed homes to passing motorists. He knew first-hand what the word “hopeless” meant.
“Yeah! Me and Seth!”
“Seth doesn’t have anything to do with this.”
“Sure he does. He said wanted to sell ‘em with me. Dincha?” He looked over at me but I didn’t answer. Under his breath he said, “Say you did, dummy!”
“I did,” I said not even halfheartedly, perhaps it was 1/16 heartedly, or even 1/32.
“So what’s your idea?” Dad asked.
“Take us down to the ferry landing. We’ll sell ‘em to all those people waiting for the ferry.”
Dad nodded. “That’s actually a pretty good idea.”
“See?” Ian said. “Let’s go!”
It was a Saturday, so we climbed into the Galaxie 500 and drove over to the ferry that ran between Galveston Island and Bolivar Peninsula. It was hot and humid and the air was filled with mosquitoes as it always was. Ian started at the front of the line and I started at the back.
The ferry wait was long and boring, and the people in cars were thrilled to buy the crackerjacks. By the time we met halfway we’d both sold our entire inventory. I’d never seen so much cash in my life, close to a hundred dollars.
“This is great!” Ian said. “We gotta go back to school and order some more crackerjacks! We’ll be zillionaires!”
“Just a minute,” Dad said. “You’re not getting paid to do any of this, and it’s taking up my time, and I don’t want to spend another Saturday down at the landing. You’ve sold your quota, and we’re done.”
When it came time to turn over the money to his teacher, Ian, ever the businessman, only forked over half the money. “This total isn’t right,” Mrs. Johnson said.
“Where’s the rest of the money, or the crackerjacks?”
“They got stole.”
“Yeah.” Then he made up a story about how someone had stolen two of the cases while he was selling them on the ferry landing. When he got home he crowed about his windfall.
“You better give me some,” I said.
“I ain’t giving you nothin’ and you can’t make me.”
“Then I’m gonna tell Dad and you’re gonna be in big trouble for stealin’.”
“If you tell Dad I’m gonna beat you up so bad you little crybaby.”
“I’m tellin’ then.”
“Hold on!” Ian fished into his fortune of fifty dollars and gave me five. “If you ever say a word I’ll kill ya, ya little snitch.” I greedily took the fiver, never thinking to demand half, and happily sharing in the spoils of the crime.
Money, money, money
That little five-dollar caper sparked my lifelong appreciation of money and desire to have more of it. Unfortunately, that desire has always been compromised by something I read in a book written by my dad’s communist friend, Max Crawford. It’s a line I can’t forget. “If you want to make money, you have to take it from somebody.”
That line has haunted me my entire life, making me feel guilty about every penny I ever earned.
So when I decided to put a link on my blog where people could subscribe, I felt really weird about it. Why? Because my blog is the one thing I would do whether it ever made a nickel. I write because … well … because. And when I put up the subscription link, and people began subscribing, it felt really weird to actually get money for something that I’d do anyway. When I got a report from PayPal that said my account now had $92 in it, I switched from “weird” to “that’s legit beer money!”
And it was good.
Then out of the blue I got a letter yesterday. Inside it were two things, a note and a check. You might see it and say “You’ll never get rich blogging, pal,” but you’re wrong. With friends like this, I already am.
January 29, 2014 § 23 Comments
I had my nose stuck to the stem, legs spinning, lungs maxed out like it’s supposed to be on Lap 1 of the New Pier Ride.
I swung off and saw HIM. “Whaaaaa?” I thought, but before I could confirm that it was HIM another wanker had hit the front full gas and I pounded to keep my place in the line.
I rotated back, watching Sausage studiously avoid the front, watching Prez cagily twirl his legs while avoiding the front, watching the mass of riders who were there for the NPR workout but who weren’t necessarily there to work and certainly weren’t there to go to the front.
As I cruised in the rotation back up to the hot part of the kitchen I saw HIM again. Unmistakably, it was HIM.
“That you?” I said, knowing that it was.
He grinned back at me, skinny and barely able to fill out the legs of his bib shorts. “Yeah,” he said.
“Welcome home, wanker.”
Then I hit it as hard as I could and tried to shell him.
Baby, please don’t go
One by one the other riders in the herd recognized him. They all did a double take when they saw how much weight he had lost.
Chiseled Girl rolled by. “Oh, my dog! It’s you! It’s really you!” She put an arm around him as we pedaled at 30 mph in the weaving, swirling bunch of crazies. “But where’s the other half of you?” she asked, marveling at his thinness.
He laughed. “It’s called the Afghanistan MRE Diet. Not as glamorous as South Beach, but way more effective.”
A steady stream of friends came by in between attacks and paid him the ultimate biker compliment. “Welcome home. Dude, you’re fuggin’ lean!”
We had all watched him ship out the year before with a terrible sense of dread. It was his second tour, and after following the progress of his first one, which had been in Iraq, most of us were terrified. To make matters worse, he left us about as eagerly as a dog going into the vet’s examining room.
There are so many good reasons to hate war, and you can add this one to the list: Seeing a good friend vanish off to a faraway place and wondering if he or she will encounter any of the randomly bad things that can happen to unwelcome soldiers. That doesn’t just include the obvious hazards such as getting shot, stepping on a mine, getting blown up by a bomb, having your aircraft shot down while you’re in it, getting kidnaped, getting beaten up, getting tortured, or winding up as “Missing in Action,” it includes the noncombat bad endings as well like accidentally shooting yourself, suicide, tropical diseases, getting hit by a bus, falling off the bar stool and cracking open your head, slipping in the shower, food poisoning, depression, PTSD, root canals, getting operated on by a quack, falling into a giant piece of machinery and getting ground up into little bits, getting lost and dying from thirst, plagues of locusts, smallpox, and, yes, ending up in the belly of a whale.
So when I saw him there on his bike, skinny as a rail, all of his pre-tour insulation smelted off his bones, pounding like every other idiot on the ride, a wave of relief washed over me.
He’d made it, and to make matters better in a few months he would be retired. No more deployments, no more whale bellies.
The more things don’t change, the more they stay the same
We chatted for a few more seconds. ”When did you get back?”
“Yeah, around six.”
“It doesn’t look like you’ve lost much in the firepower department, man. You’re going great.”
“Just happy to be home.” He looked at me briefly and that phrase “happy to be home” came from somewhere deep down. It was followed by a smile of happiness and relief that, as I think about it, I may have never seen before on another human being.
“We’re glad to have you home,” I said.
He glanced at the peloton. “Nothing seems to have changed.”
“Right. Same bunch of idiots trying to kill each other before work.”
“Feels awesome,” he said, right before attacking hard and riding off the front for good.
“Damn,” I thought. “Wonder where I can get me some of those Meals-Ready-to-Eat?”
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:
- 90% of the full-on, raging masters peloton would be completely burned out by the middle of March.
- 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.
- 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!