June 1, 2012 § 2 Comments
How many times in your life do you get to compete for a championship? I’m not talking an NFL championship, or an NBA championship, or even an NHPA or an NTL championship. Those last two are National Horseshoe Pitching Association and the National Tiddlywinks League, and no, I don’t make this shit up. I make up other shit.
The fact is, you don’t often get to scrap for a championship, especially when you’re old, gizzardy, brokedown, brokebacked, when you piss too often, crap too seldom, are creaky in the morning and wore out by mid-afternoon. Nope, championships are generally for the young and the restless.
Once a year, though, if you are a bicyclist, you can compete for a state bicycling championship, where you pedal your bicycle as quickly as you can to win a prize. Then, if you win the prize, you can buy an even more special prize, to wit, a poorly made, ill fitting jersey in someone else’s size with a bad design that, ugly though it is and fitting as a potato sack though it may be, bears the words “State Champion” and the year of your championship.
This is a prize worth fighting for.
The course of snakes, stinging insects, drunk truckers, and champions
Today is Friday, June 1, 2012. It’s two days before the 45+ Elderly Fellows’ State Championship Road Race in Bakersfield, California. The race covers three 25-mile loops around a hilly course in the desert that has one moderately long climb and numerous short, punchy climbs designed to sap your legs, drain your fluids, and crush your will to survive. As I write this, a friend has Facebooked the current temp there, a moderately warm 105 degrees.
Although you would think that a desert course like this is destined to be hideously ugly, it isn’t. The hills are beautiful, and the desert has the rugged beauty of places where rain is scarce. The visual appeal of the course, however, can only be appreciated in a fast-moving car with the window rolled up and the air conditioner cranked up to “ten.”
Once you are pitched out from the cool security of the car like a fledgling forced to make its first flight, distanced from easy reach into the cooler and its mother lode of cold water, cold soda pop, and cold beer, the desert racecourse that has been designed by the Bakersfieldians is not beautiful at all. Its lack of beauty is only partially caused by the fact that the searing heat is so intense that your corneas begin to roast off the surface of the eyeball.
The true source of the course’s hideousness is the pounding sense of terror and desperation as you flail and pedal and struggle your way out, praying that you will make it back in. This isn’t a sprinter’s special, where well oiled, handsome, kitted up Adonises leisurely pedal for 54 minutes and pedal hard for one.
This is a course where the cowering starters start slowly, knowing that most will quit halfway through, and where the group will only pedal faster when some idiot attacks, or accelerates, or behaves like he’s in a bike race. The pain and torture of the heat, compounded by stinging flies, bee swarms, and poisonous snakes along the roadway to bite those unlucky enough to collapse from heat prostration make Bakersfield truly a place for others to call home.
The field will be half-filled with Big Orange, a smattering of SPY-Blue, and onesy-twosy riders from other teams. Although the bragging rights to the winner are galactic in scope, realistically hardly anyone has a chance of winning. Better to stay home and race another crit than suffer the expense, exhaustion, and humiliation of a beatdown so far from home.
What follows is a list of contenders, beginning with the odds-on favorite.
1. Wankmeister. Let’s face it, I’m the favorite here. First off, I grew up in Texas, so 105-degree heat is nothing. Average summer temperatures where I grew up were 140. At night. It’s true that I suffered a few issues at Punchbowl and got dropped rather quickly, finishing next to last. It’s also true that I got dropped on this same course a couple of months ago, finishing next to last. It’s also true that I’ve never even come close to winning a race in more than twenty years. However, I had Chinese food last night, and after the ER doc pumped my stomach I remembered that my fortune cookie had said this: “Time is a mirror of your desire.” So, that’s pretty clear. My jersey size is small. Thanks.
Pluses: Blogability. No one out-blogs the Wankmeister in a hilly road race. Plus I’ve got a cool helmet cam.
Minuses: Kind of lacking in the speed, strength, and endurance department. But I’ve got a day to come around.
2. DQ Louie: Unless he gets dq’d, which frankly is most of the time, there’s no one who can beat him in a hilly road race. Blazing speed. Relentless attacking. Strategic wheelsucking when necessary, full-on TT mode when he’s off the front. Always has a vicious kick at the end.
Pluses: Tininess. He’s got a drag coefficient of .00000002, which is about the same as a newt or a flea. His power-to-weight ratio is 3 gigawatts per kilo. So you’re basically fucked.
Minuses: Cheatyness. The officials love to dq DQ Louie. Why? He’s from Nevada, that’s why. The races are in California. He’s the dude on the freeway doing 80 who gets pulled over when everyone else is doing 100. Sorry, dude. But not really.
3. Roadchamp: He won last year, and he won two years before that, and he had a creditable showing at Vlees Huis even though they’d removed all twelve lower teeth for implant surgery the week before the race.
Pluses: He’s so skinny that he has to safety pin his socks to his calves. He’s focused. He’s all about winning. He hasn’t had sex in months, ergo mucho ferocityness.
Minuses: Everyone will be gunning for him; carries around old trophies from previous road victories as a talisman; has been known to crumple in the extreme heat. The pressure of not having won yet this year may be too much.
4. Invincible: He’s won this race before, he’s got national crit titles to his name, he sprunts, he climbs, he time trails, and he has more wins in the 45+ this year than everyone else combined.
Pluses: Dude always fucking wins. What more of a plus could you want? Best all around tactician in the game. Knows who to work with, how to control a break, how to kick out the shirkers, how and when to pull out all the stops.
Minuses: Sneakiness. He makes DQ Louie look positively forthright. Plus, he’ll be isolated in the race. THOG is recovering from a major injury. Glasship got his fill of Bako heat at Vlees Huis and is on sabbatical to the beer capital of Deschutes County. So, he’s by himself…yeah, I know. So what?
5. G$: This is one title that’s always eluded him, either due to bad luck, or poor luck, or inferior luck, or luck that wasn’t quite right, or fuckaluck. That’s too bad, because he’s one of the top guys in any category, and built to succeed on a course like this. He has specially prepared snake stomping boots that were made just for this race. With a huge B.O. contingent, he will likely let attrition do its nasty work, and only get to stomping dicks in earnest at the end, when they’ve all gone limp and stretched out from the heat.
Pluses: Time trails. Climbs. Attacks. Makes cool interview videos. Deep and wide team support to control the race or protect a break or send guys up the road. You know he’s got to be frothingly hungry for this jersey. He’s been tapering on the local rides, and has even cut back to five burgers ‘n fries a week. Serious shit.
Minuses: He’ll be dogged by Invincible and DQ Louie. If they get up the road with him, he’s got slim chance in a sprunt. Also, his team is so strong that Roadchamp, Kalashnikov, Capture the Flagg, Thing Two, Herndy Doo, or Hottie could wind up on the podium.
6. FTR DS Jaeger: The smartest rider in the bunch, always goes with the right move. Conserves when he has to, churns out the watts when it matters, never gets dropped on the hard climbs. Missed the vee at states by the narrowest of margins a couple of years ago, this could be his year.
Pluses: Savvy. Tenacious. Experienced. The best in the peloton at making up with savvy and smarts what he lacks in the legs, which frankly isn’t much.
Minuses: Can’t sprunt. Small team, and partially weighted by the anchor teammate from hell, a/k/a Wankmeister.
7. Kalashnikov: Super strong, fast, and clearly on form, Kalashnikov has the benefit of his Big Orange teammates to further strengthen his hand. He will likely play the role of agitator, forcing the other teams to waste valuable energy chasing, a strategy that has worked like a charm in the past.
Pluses: As stated above.
Minuses: If he has to go early, the bitterness of the course could spell doom.
8. Your name here. I’m sorry I left you off. You deserved to make the list, as you’ve got the right stuff, the training miles are there, and it’s finally your year. On the other hand, it’s almost 8:00 PM on a Friday night and I’m blogging about a stupid bike race for old men out in the fucking desert, for dog’s sake. This is enough, even for me.
May 31, 2012 § 29 Comments
The state road race championship is on Sunday, so now’s the time to begin properly building your foundation for excuses as to why you got dropped and quit. Don’t wait ’til race day to trot out your lame reason for imploding before the race got hard. Begin today with a series of well-placed and well-timed comments to let everyone know that except for * and *, or * and *, you would be standing on the top step.
1. Illness. “I’ve had something in my chest the last couple of weeks that I can’t shake. Gonna give it my best shot, but my power’s down 30-40w. That’s the margin of victory.”
2. Weather. “Fuckin’ Bakersfield. It’s too hot there to race. We prepare the whole year in reasonable temperatures, and then they do the biggest race of the year in a fuckin’ sauna. That’s bullshit. I’m just not good in the heat.” [Be ready to steer quickly away from questions about why you didn’t do the states race in NorCal.]
3. Gear. “I’m just not adapted to this new Specialized Wankster. The seat tube angle is a little off, fucks up my body geometry when I climb.” [Don’t mention that you still have your old frame which was such a “perfect” fit that you got dropped on lap one of Punchbowl, etc.]
4. Nutrition. “I ran out of the Uber-Goo Triple Espresso with Spirochetes. They’re on back order. There’s no way I can do well in a hot race without that stuff. The spirochetes are the bomb.”
5. Hydration. “I can’t get anyone to give me hand-ups. The deck’s stacked against you in that race without hand-ups.”
6. Low quality help. “I’ve got someone for hand-ups, but he/she sucks at it. If I miss my hand-up I’m done.”
7. Training cycles. “Fuck! I peaked last Thursday! 450w FTP! Now I can barely get out of fuckin’ bed.”
8. Team tactics: “It’s going to be total bullshit. Big Orange has thirty guys entered. It will just be negative racing.”
9. Individual tactics: “My whole team worked against me, gave it away to the opportunists who didn’t even have any teammates in the race.”
10. Time. “Ah, fuck, there was no way I could log the training miles for that race. I’ve got a real job and a family, dude.”
11. Doping. “Those other 87 dudes in the 55+? ‘Course they beat me. They all dope.”
12. Misjudgment. “I was so on form, best of my life. Then like an idiot I went out and hammered on the Pier Ride. Totally blew my form.”
13. Kids. “Hey, I spent last week helping Billy on his algebra. Priorities.”
14. Wife. “Cowbella won’t let me train. Total bullshit. If I could just bump it up from 350 to 450 a week I’d have won in a solo breakaway.”
15. Priorities. “It’s a stupid fucking bike race, okay? Who gives a shit?”
April 21, 2012 § Leave a comment
This is a re-print from the UCLA 45+ Road Race in 2010. I had an archive of stories on FB and WordPress before deleting them all in a mad frenzy. My buddies on Big Orange posted this to their page in 2010, where it remains.
Feed the beast
The most important part of a bike race is pre-race nutrition. Before we arrived at the race course, Mrs. Wankmeister wanted to stop and sample the barbecue at Charlie Brown’s in Littlerock. It was only 10:30, but we went in. The thought of barbecue was appealing, though eating it in combination with a tough, hilly, windy road race was not. But the flesh is weak, and the smell of barbecue was strong. We both ordered brisket sandwiches with beans and cole slaw.
My sandwich was heaped with slabs of greasy meat and giant slivers of pure fat. The whole thing dripped sugary, oily barbecue sauce, and the chunks of meat and fat were so tender they slid down my throat without even needing a chew. After each bite I tried to stop, telling myself that the race would be unforgiving, but I couldn’t. There was so much grease around my mouth after finishing that it took two napkins to mop up; both looked like they’d been dipped in a deep fryer after I was done.
The gnome’s revenge
The snarling, amped up gang of elderly racers toed the line at the infamous Punchbowl race course, primed for a slugfest that would pit the entire Big Orange road crew against DQ Louie. The laps had been shortened so that we would be climbing the big hill four times rather than three.
I was already traumatized by my experience at Punchbowl two years ago, when I was shelled like a bad pecan on the first lap of the first climb, and spent the entire race crawling and cramping with Polly for what seemed like a month. Whereas others in the relatively small field of about 30 dreamed of victory, my goal was simple and carved in stark relief: don’t get blasted out the back on the first lap.
We started at a reasonable pace, nothing like the Punchbowl of 2008, where the pack had split in two before the left turn, and into shards and fragments by the first hill, and into a final winning group by the end of the stairstep. Nonetheless, it was plenty hard, and I concentrated on staying low and staying out of the wind.
We hit the downhill section and immediately got blown from side to side by a howling crosswind that blew my tightly cinched helmet onto the back of my head. We reached the bottom and turned right, when DQ Louie drove to the center and strung everyone out into a single line, unable to echelon because of the center line rule. I didn’t see a single rider cross the yellow line, with the exception of DQ.
After about a mile he rolled off the front with G$, and before they’d gone fifty yards the ref’s follow car came roaring up with a tiny, bearded gnome screeching and screaming in such a hysterical panic that I could only think, “My God, the Japanese must have bombed Pearl Harbor again.”
Then the unthinkable happened. Mr. Gnomes commanded the entire peloton to stop and dismount. He got out of the car, pulled on a shiny pair of knee-high jackboots, adjusted his armband and Obersturmfuehrer cap, took out his riding crop, and went on a rant that left us all slackjawed.
“Ve haf ways of making you talk!” he screeched.
“Talk about what?” we asked.
“Ze yellow line! You haf all crossed ze yellow line!” He whacked one of the poor Cal Pools guys with his riding crop and made him clean the lint off his boot. “If you cross ze yellow line again, all riders vill be kaputt! Disqualifiziert!”
“Yo, numbnuts!” said one of the Big Orange heroes. “Are you going to admonish the breakaway? There are two guys up the road who have been pedaling full bore while we’ve been sitting here listening to your screed.”
Mr. Gnomes looked nonplussed, then hopped in the car and sped off. “You are all being vatched!” he hissed. Needless to say, we never saw G$ or DQ Louie again, and Mr. Gnomes’s antics had neutralized our best weapon, which was having the break in striking range for Thing 2, who could have bridged and combined with G$ to put DQ in difficulty. In theory, anyway.
In fact, though, we got going again with Steve, Bill, Todd, and other Big Orange riders patrolling the front to make sure that no chase effort developed. This controlled pace was the only way I made it over the hill on the second lap. Towards the top, however, the first big surge of Charlie Brown’s barbecue fought its way up to the lower reaches of my throat. Brisket doesn’t taste better the second time around.
Midway through the stairstep, Thing 2 hit the gas with a guy in the ugliest kit of the day, a green concoction that must have been modeled after a late night sidewalk splat found outside of a bar in Hermosa Beach. They pedaled off.
You can’t have your brisket and eat it, too
Thing 2 and Fugly Jersey couldn’t hold off the chasing pack on the descent, as they were hitting speeds of well over 50mph, and by the turn they had been brought back. As we turned onto the gentle up-tilt towards the finish line, a thick worm of fat chugged up into the back of my mouth, all rubbery and greasy and eager to be free. I swallowed hard just as we began climbing the big hill for the third time.
Either the race was really slow, or there really is a god, or barbecue is the secret food of champions, because I somehow made it up a third time. DQ Louie and G$ were so far ahead that no matter what happened, they would have had time to complete a coif, cuticle treatment, and pedicure by the time the pack crossed the line. We turned right after the downhill and I rolled away from the pack with a Cal Pools guy. Thing 2 bridged up to us and pretty soon the baked beans kicked in.
Cal Pools began to whimper and apologize for not pulling through, which only invited the eleven. The break established, I was totally psyched. The worst I could do was fifth. My secret barbecue weapon, which had been tweaked with a mug of thick coffee sludge fifteen minutes before the gun, had turned out to be the perfect race nutrition.
We turned again onto the road leading to the start finish, and as I swung off, the cole slaw blindsided me with a vicious attack. My right leg shot straight out and went into rigor mortis. Thing 2 and Cal Pools looked at me, and were gone. The pack came by, I struggled on the back, and we began our last time up the big hill.
A few hundred yards before the turn to the stairstep, the cole slaw attacked again, crushing the beans and overpowering the last chunks of grease. Purple Parks and I came unhitched. As we watched the pack roll away on the stairstep, he grinned and let loose with a one-liner that almost made me fall of my bike. “You think they’ll wait for us?” he cracked.
It’s not over till the fat lady cramps
We turned onto the stairstep, I put my head down and somehow bridged back up to the group. What seemed like a good idea at the time seemed like a bad idea a few moments later, as Veins began drilling it into the brutal wind all along the stairstep. It was nastier than a dirty movie with a hairy woman. At the top, Veins sat up, my beans and brisket counterattacked the cole slaw, and I readied for the finale.
At about that time one of the guys in our group who must have been at least a hundred, and who had spent big chunks of the race on the point, attacked on the downhill. In addition to being older than dirt, he was big. He passed us like we were standing still, seated on the top tube and ready to risk death and destruction. No one had the legs to follow.
We turned right at the bottom of the descent and echeloned as Veins strung it out in an attempt to bring back Methuselah. He swung over for me to pull through, and the cole slaw, which had made a secret deal with the one remaining chunk of pure fat, came roaring up the side of the brisket in the form of two simultaneous, full leg cramps. I dropped off and got off my bike, a feat in itself because neither leg would bend.
Crying and moaning and promising not to eat any more brisket sandwiches finally did the trick. I remounted just in time for Purple Parks to come blazing by. I labored in for thirteenth. You might think this sucks, and you’re probably right, but I’m pretty pleased just the same.
Thing 2 crushed the two riders who had bridged up to him for third. G$ was outkicked by DQ Louie, earning another great placing for a year that has so far been packed with palmares for Big Orange, and proving the wisdom of Mr. Gnomes’s canny bit of officiating wisdom: if you can’t beat `em, cheat `em. Had Thing 2 been at G$’s side, one of them would surely have put DQ in second, or, as they like to say in Texas, “If grandma had balls she’d be grandpa.”
Punchbowl’s only three weeks away. I’m already preparing my excuse for why I won’t be racing it.
March 6, 2012 § 2 Comments
A second recon ride was held on Saturday. I wanted to attend, but had to go grocery shopping.
Twenty riders participated.
It’s true, the twenty consisted mainly of San Diego riders and Swami’s guys. That’s like saying the orgy consisted mainly of impotent men, but the fact remains: how many rides have you ever done that were so hard that only 5% of the riders finished?
I shouldn’t name names of invited riders who should not bother showing up, but I’m going to. If your name isn’t here, it should be.
Hockeystick…you have a shattered collarbone. You couldn’t finish the ride with three unbroken collarbones. What are you thinking?
Junkyard…you know you can’t. Give up now. You & me. By the beach. Checking out the first thongs of spring. That, or vomiting at the 90-mile mark and crawling home on our hands and knees only to be laughed at and spat upon by the three riders who completed the entire route?
Toronto…your daughter is an amazing athlete. You once were. Taking the elevator to the 21st Floor twice daily doesn’t count as training. Join me and Junkyard for the March thong browse-a-thon. Don’t sully the family name.
DJ…you barely finished Palm Springs. You’re so desperate for fitness that you pedaled up Tuna Canyon. You’re going to get crushed at Solvang. Bow out now, while the embarrassment is simply public and not yet personal.
Wehrlissimo…your family still needs you. There won’t even be enough pieces left to make a presentable corpse. Leave more than an ash-filled urn. Do not enter.
Big Bowles…you are really old and slow. You don’t even race. This isn’t a ride where the grizzledest ol’ duffer who plods the longest gets the strippers and meth at the end. Please quit. I’m already thanking you for it.
DK…you’re a passionate advocate, but do you also want to be a passionate invalid? This ride will crush you up and shit you out. No one will be your friend. Think New Pier Ride for ten hours. You’re slow, unfit, and weak even in the best of times. Please give up on this madness.
Jimbo…you have to do this, but you shouldn’t. Sick days are legal in California. Take one in advance. You’re double-covered; it’s Sunday anyway.
Alain…I love you like a brother, but I hated my brother. You know how you collapsed two weeks ago on our recon ride and were taken home in a hearse because they thought you’d died? Race day will be worse. Fill out your death certificate now. Then live it up with us purplers on the beach.
Steve McWankerston…you’ve got nothing to prove, as you’ve already proved it. This ride is too hard for someone of your vintage and girth. Do not show up. Forget about honoring the Swami’s name. That’s like honoring a multi-generational family of hookers.
G3…I know you’ve begged and weaseled, but be thankful that you’ve been excluded. It’s not that no one likes you, or that you’re too weak, although that’s part of it, rather it’s just that awful blog you started. It’s really terrible. If you take it down and claim it was written by someone else, you might get in for 2014.
Entire Big Orange contingent who wasn’t invited…please don’t take it personally, but no one wanted you around.
G$…ordinarily you’d get a big thumbs up, but with all the cracked ribs, broken collarbones, and general propensity for falling off your bike at random times, there are just too many falling off spots for you to reasonably contemplate finishing this race. Be a quitter.
Victor…you still haven’t finished the entire course. 7 hours of threshold…or thongs? You decide.
Baby Bruce…at first I thought this was a typo. Really? Really? This isn’t 45 minutes of ‘cross with your friends. It’s a death sentence levied by people who want to kill you. Give up.
Natty Hnatiuk…you have an easy out, buddy: the paramedics won’t be able to pronounce your name. Look, I love a good joke, but this is ridiculous. Stay home. Smoke a cigar. You can read about it all in the blotter.
Poppy Popovich…have you confused the pleasantries of a stroll through the vineyard with a leg-crushing beatdown that would humble a man of triple your fortitude? I think you have. De-confuse yourself with some pilates and meditation. Then give up.
Marckx Brother…I don’t know you. That pretty much sums it up. This isn’t a 90-minute 1940’s comedy with Harpo, Groucho, Wanko, and a happy ending. It’s a technicolor, fully digitized dismemberment that will drag on, for you at least, until long after sundown. Go for the happy ending at Ingeborg’s Swedish Massage House. Not here.
Becker Bob…first I heard this was a brutally hard ride. Then I heard you’d been invited. They can’t both be true. Now that I’ve done the course, I know which one is true: it’s a brutally hard ride.
Surfer Dan…what, did someone tell you this was like a big surf day, when all the local rippers and talkers stand on the beach and critique the waves while two guys out of several hundred actually have the balls to paddle out? It’s not going to be like that. Everyone will have to paddle out. Few will make it back in. Stay in Hermosa and support your home break. The North County locals will not be forgiving.
Bull…it’s time we had a talk. But not now. You are tough. You used to play football. This is not football. You are not tough enough for it. Imagine you’re Brett Favre and the hills of North County are the Saints’ defensive line after learning there’s a bounty on taking you down. Bow out gracefully before you get crippled.
Major Bob…yes, it’s going to be a war. Yes, you’re a battle-tested soldier. No, you won’t survive the shrapnel and IED’s. Why? Because you still haven’t learned how to use tiny gears. That 55 x 9 will slowly grind you down into a puddle. Slowly, as in the first 35 miles.
Johnny Boy…this isn’t a 45-minute crit shortened down to 30 minutes by Chris in order to save time and cram in a couple extra races. It’s not a 60-lap points race with Neumann crashing out the rest of the field on the last lap. It’s seven hours. 9,200 feet of climbing. Your cup of tea? Naaaaah.
Elron…WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE? Your last long ride was in January, and you barely survived that. You don’t even cycle anymore. You have a beautiful, intelligent girlfriend who we all admire from afar. Go admire her from anear. Don’t come on this ride.
Triple…at least you have the excuse of awful judgment and following whatever dumbass plan DJ and JK come up with, a/k/a going up Tuna Canyon or leaping off your bike at 45 mph on the Everest Challenge. This, however, is too big for your tiny plate. Remember Palm Springs? This is just like that, only 10,000 times harder. Thongs. On the beach. Be there. I’ll even put the pink umbrella in your pina colada.
MMX…you’ve done the full route twice now, and have officially peaked. Each day from Saturday you will be either losing fitness or overtraining. No one will take pity on you as you wither and flail somewhere between Summit and Deathhaven. My proposal? Miss your flight home from NYC. What are they going to do, fire you?
Jurist Imprudence…I got the funny email. It was clever. Witty. Made me laugh. You and me, we’re “word” guys. Lots of talk, no action. So–let’s write about it and let others do the dying. Okay? It will be funnier that way.
Ian McWanksalot…saw you did the second recon. You’re double the man I am. Which makes you 1/4 a man. Note to you, sir: you’ll need to be at least 1.5 man to complete that ride. Of all people, you should now know that. Plus, people will abuse you for riding a steel bike. Third time is not the charm. Gracelessly abandon…deal?
Stephenovich… you did your longest ride ever attempting to do most of the BWR course, but collapsed on Questhaven, which is before the San Elijo climb, which is before the Double Peak of death. Pack it in now, and start training for 2020.
Andisimo…you fear the purple reaper more than anyone, which keeps you on or near the front a lot. It’s endearing. But stupid. Case in point? When you were five yards into Bandy Canyon, you dropped like an anvil. Stay home, Andy. The Purple Police won’t find you if you pull the covers tightly enough over your head.
Aunty Ant…you were shelled on the very first bump of a dirt road with Albert and Mirko. This seems like the perfect wake up call, doesn’t it? Or rather, the bedtime ditty before the raging peloton turns out your lights. Who wants to go to war and ride at the back in the medic truck, hiding from the call of duty? Well, you do, but…don’t.
Mirko…with two purple cards thrown your way before the first climb, you’ve already flown your true color. Singular. Step away from the microphone before the ugly hooded man with the scimitar disguised as a hook removes you. Permanently.
Big Bad Lee…you are fast but you get tired. It’s a gravity thing. Your bigness is good for a lot of things, but not Couser Canyon, Bandy Canyon, Deathhaven, San Elijo, or Double Peak. However, in true Swami’s fashion, since the group ride will get too fast, you can always create a B ride. This way you can get your fifty miles out of the way, come back to help drink the BWR Ale and review the KOM’s you set on Strava.
BenNiceKnowingYa…you’ve repeatedly stated you are ‘in,’ but what you are ‘in’ for is a beatdown. You joined the group at the 20-mile mark, hid as best you could until a pull was demanded, but then you got shelled on Couser and were never seen again. Sure, you’ll get a commemorative diaper and BWR purple pacifier, but is that what you really want? ‘Course not. Quit now while you’re behind.
Andrew…This event far exceeds the capacity of your family tree. If you are barking on a Monday, imagine what will happen to you on Sunday when the hammer comes down and the waffles come back up. Yuck. Just say “No.”
Casey…You and Andrew can help the girls at the finish line prepare the IV drips, cots, and bed pans. After the men depart, join me and the other 1/8 men down on the beach for some thongwatching.
Shorter…you were the first to quit, which makes you the smartest man of all. So follow up that stroke of genius with an old-fashioned “Gotta take the kids to their soccer game!” Works every time.
Matt… maybe you ought to try a tandem with Wanksalot? I know a guy who has one with a motor. You could follow the peloton and pick up their empty GU wrappers.
Jury Is Out…the jury is still out on you. You may be able to survive the ride, but there is a cut off time of midnight, March 25, 2014. This only gives you, him and he a few years to complete the thing. Which is probably not enough. Why not just throw in the towel? Yes, you CAN.
Douggie…it’s okay to fool yourself, but you’re not fooling anyone else. This is a very tall ride, and this blog post is like the little wooden man you have to measure yourself against at Disneyland in order to ride Splash Mountain. You’re almost tall enough…but not quite.
February 19, 2012 § 6 Comments
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting a different result. The definition of bike racing is getting beat down over and over again, and doing it over and over again.
The UCLA Road Race holds its annual road race on the Devil’s Punchbowl course, far from all those Asians in the library whose parents come and do their laundry. In fact, Punchbowl was recently rated the Least Asian-friendly Road Race Course in America, beating out Gruene, Texas, and Bakersfield, California, by a wide margin. You can listen to the UCLA Road Race Asian Theme Song here.
This was my fifth run at a race held on the infamous Devil’s Pukebowl course, a windblown, trash-strewn, barren wasteland of cactus, rusting trailer homes, sand, grit, meth incubators, and bad memories. I knew it was going to be bad this year, too, because the most famous UCLA bike racing Asian, Kwaan Lu, had graduated and wouldn’t be there to laugh as the howling wind picked up and blew away the sign-in tent. UCLA Road Race without Asians? Whaaaaa?
I also knew it was going to be bad because none of my teammates would ride to the race with me. Bike racers, in addition to their generally unscientific approach to racing (“I heard this beta carotene will stop cramps,”) are terribly superstitious. Once word gets out that you’re a bad luck racer, even your teammates will stop offering you rides. In my case it had gotten so bad that the entire Ironfly contingent refused to attend the race. “Dude, you’re fucking snakebit. The blogging shit is funny and all, but you’re fucking rat poison in the birthday cake. We’re gonna ride the track and go drink some beers.”
Tri-Dork to the rescue
Fortunately Tri-Dork knew nothing of this, and since, like most triathletes, he doesn’t do great with long words and has therefore never read this blog, he agreed to give me a ride. It was his first road race and in exchange for taking me to the race I promised to advise him on tactics.
As we got underway I began with Rule 1: Proper nutrition. “You had lunch, dude?”
“Isn’t it kind of early? It’s only ten and we don’t start until 1:30.”
“Dude, it’s probably too late. A triple cheeseburger and fries take almost four hours to properly digest.”
He laughed nervously. “You’re joking right?”
“Yeah. Two hours is plenty.”
“We never ate cheeseburgers before triathlons.”
“And how many did you win?”
“Only a couple, actually.”
“There you have it. Hey perfect timing. There’s an In-N-Out.” He still thought I might be joking. “Stop the fucking car!” I ordered. Tri-Dork swung into the parking lot. Now he was scared.
As we sat down to our triple meat with onions and large Coke, I explained. “Look, dude, you have zero chance in this race. You weigh 191 pounds, not counting the five you’re about to add. This fucking race has 6,000 feet of climbing over a 50-mile course and the next heaviest guy in the race is me at 165.
“Glass Hip is here. 150. G$. 155. Baby ‘DQ’ Louie. 125. You are going to get dropped immediately, even faster than me. You’re probably not even going to finish once you’re out their flogging by yourself up the face of a cliff in a howling sandstorm. So, knowing that it’s hopeless and that you suck, your only recourse is to drown your sorrow in greasy food. Chow down.”
Rule 2: Proper race psychology
As Tri-Dork guided the fully loaded Prius and the even more fully loaded us onto the highway, he asked me about race wheels. “These new Ksyriums are really light. I’m hoping they’ll make a difference on the climb.”
“Dude, that triple cheeseburger you just ate weighed more than your frame. If you want to do well in this race, which is impossible, you need to have the proper mental preparation.”
Tri-Dork smiled. “I’m pretty good in that area. The year I got fifth at Kona I did an entire course on race psychology.”
“Look, Kona is for pussies. It’s a fucking coffee blend, for Dog’s sake. Triathlon has all the strategy of beating off: start out easy, build up gradually, and make sure you save the final spurt for the end. Any fifteen year-old can figure that shit out.
“But you’re bike racing now, Dorky. The mental aspect is completely different.” I could tell the analogy had hit home.
“Okay. So what should I do?”
The bike-rama sutra
“If triathlon strategy is wanking, then bike racing strategy is sex. Which means a couple of simple things. First, you gotta have the right equipment. Second, what you do depends on what the other person does. Third, you have options: suck wheel, pound from the front, come from behind…it’s complicated. Takes practice. Sometimes you think you can shoot through the hole, but you have pull back and go for a different opening.
“You also need to get in the right frame of mind by distrusting everyone in the race. Just like casual sex. Assume your partner has every disease in the book.”
“Even my teammates?”
“Especially them. Your only possible role on a team is to work for the riders who are better than you. Which is all of them.”
“Okay. So then what?”
“Once you recognize that the world is your enemy you must never take a pull. Ever. Sit on wheels. Hide from the front. Save everything for the two big moments of the race.”
“What are those?”
“The first is when you get dropped. Save all your energy for making a lunge to close the gap.”
“So I can get back on?”
“No. You’ll never get back on. When they accelerate at the top of the climb physics will overcome fantasy and you will become a giant millstone heaved off into a very deep lake.”
“So why do I need to save my effort for that if I’m just going to get dropped?”
“So you can tell me after the race how close you were to hanging on. ‘I was THIS close!! Just a bike length!!’ By the way, ‘just a bike length’ when getting dropped on a climb is approximately equal to the distance that light travels in one year. Just so you know.”
“This is pretty complicated. What’s the second big moment?”
“The finish, where you put yourself through agonies unimaginable to the average 45 year-old gentleman as you risk life, limb, and fifteen thousand dollars in race equipment to beat out some other wanker for 47th place.”
Ol’ Gizzards and Comeback
We pawed the dirt at the starting line as I surveyed the competition. Glass Hip, looking relaxed, fit, and intimidating with his new death row crew-cut. The more he smiled and smalltalked with Baby ‘DQ’ Louie the more I realized how bitter this beatdown was going to be. G$ casually straddled his top tube, looking like a giant heart and lung with two long legs attached as an afterthought. Klasna sat calmly, fresh blood from the roadkill he’d just eaten still dripping from his fangs. Fatty Flagg, who at 170 pounds was the true beast of the race, looked coolly at the race official.
Then I pinched myself. These guys weren’t my competition. My competition was Bumblebee, the newt in a black and yellow-striped Halloween costume. My competition was Ol’ Gizzards, the stringy, misshapen wanker who kept falling off his bike at the start line. My competition was Comeback, the 52 year-old who’d had a run of Cat 3 wins back in ’79 and wanted to resurrect the glories of his racing career. These were the losers I’d get to know intimately over the course of the day.
Our field had 53 riders, including Skankdaddy, a twiglike specimen doomed to flail, who bulled his way up the middle of the group, elbowing Herndy-Doo in the process. I shook my head. Why would anyone try to pass Herndy-Doo in the first minute of the race? Herndy always makes the split and he benches 350.
We climbed up the first couple of miles to the right turn that leads to the infamous “Punchbowl Staircase.” This is a series of three climbs, each followed by a brief plateau. Like a staircase, you can see each section stretch endlessly off in front of you, and also like a staircase, it hurts like a motherfucker when you get thrown off it.
By the turn I was redlining, Comeback had gone back, Ol’ Gizzards was frying in the pan, and Skankdaddy was now trying to tweezle his way across the gap between him and us. Tri-Dork looked great, which was troubling.
There were less than thirty of us left at the top of the Staircase, and we pointed our bikes down the screaming crosswind descent. After the race everyone lied about how fast we went, with the biggest whopper coming from DQ Louie, who claimed he’d hit 60. Even so, it was a solid 45-50 for the entire 5-mile descent.
I almost didn’t get dropped
After the descent there’s a rolling 3-mile stretch before making a sharp right and doing the climb again. As the climb began I felt great. Thirty seconds in I felt not so great. Forty seconds in, the entire group detonated as G$, DQ Louie, Fatty Flagg, and Glass Hip crushed it. I would have stayed with them if I hadn’t gotten dropped, no question about it.
As I settled back with Gilligan, the Skipper, and the other castaways, I watched the leaders pull away. Tucked safely in their midst was Tri-Dork. All 191 pounds of him.
[Insert incredibly stupid, boring, “I”-centered recount of every dumb move, every retarded struggle, every adjective designed to impress readers with how tough it was, every reference to grit and power and climbing and hammering for every bump, climb, descent, pull, flail, and flog of the remaining 38 miles.]
At the end of the third lap we overhauled Tri-Dork, as he, Veins, and I dropped our contingent of wankers on the last time up the big climb. We hit the downhill and Tri-Dork demonstrated his mastery of the Egg. This is where you sit on the top tube, put your hands on tops of the bars, curve your spine, and tuck your head. When you’re almost 200 pounds it means that you easily go 55 mph.
It also means that your nuts are smashed flat on the top tube, a minor point, and that you lose 95% control of your bike, a major point. This is no problem when you’re a triathlete, and blunt trauma force to the head leaves the internal cement undamaged, but when you’re a nerdy bike blogger it’s kind of a different deal, and rather worrisome. All this was going through my mind as a big farm truck with a trailer full of unused IQ points flipped on its blinker and made as if to cut across our path, with Tri-Dork in full tuck, and Veins and I cowering in his draft.
Thanks to dumb luck we avoided the side of the trailer, and thanks to the Egg we caught what was left of the main field, which consisted of the saddest, fucked-overest, tiredest, beatdownest, sad-sackest bunch of wrinkled old shits you’ve ever seen. And they were the fresh ones, everyone else having quit, except for Tree, who had dropped his chain at .5 mile into the race and rode the rest of the race alone.
The race for first
We found out after the race that Glass Hip, Klasna, Baby Louie, Fatty Flagg, and G$ had shellacked the field at the turn onto the Stairstep on the second lap. You’d think that with three Big O riders represented in the group it would be an easy win, but the Orangemen were able, just in time, to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
Unfortunately for them, Glass Hip was on form. That means something different than it does for most people. When he rode for the U.S. Olympic team, Glass Hip was tested along with the other elite racers. In every parameter he failed miserably. His VO2 max was 19.5 ml/kg/min. His functional threshold power was 185 watts. His torso measured twice the length of his longest leg, which was six inches longer than the other one, such that neither foot could reach the ground without a short stepladder.
However, in one critical parameter, he outscored everyone ever tested at the U.S. Olympic Center, except for Hacksaw Jim Duggan, in the category of “Hammer Thumb.” This is a test where they tie your hand onto a board and the tester smacks the shit out of your biggest digit with a ball-peen hammer. Electrodes are wired to your brain to record your ability to withstand pain, but are rarely used because after the first whack the testee usually shrieks in agony, and after the second one passes out.
They not only hammered Glass Hip’s thumb, but they hammered all his fingers and toes as well, culminating with a four-minute session on the end of his pecker. The tester finally passed out from sympathetic pain sensations, kind of like guys who go into labor when their wives get pregnant. When they read the computer print-out after scanning his brain, it said, “No brain detected. No brain, no pain.”
In short, no matter what they threw at him, and they threw it all, Glass Hip took it on the chin, shook it off, and braced himself for the next blow. Pretty soon, like the testers at the Olympic Training Center, his adversaries found themselves in a weakened and addled and terrified state. As the five heroes approached the line, Glass Hip bent over, gently took the candy from the babies, and rocketed across the line effortlessly.
Baby “DQ” Louie opened up his sprint for second close to the gutter, then came all the way across to the center line, shutting the door on Klasna and earning himself yet another yellow card, relegation to fifth, and a note that he had to take home and get his mother to sign acknowledging his bad behavior.
The race for fifteenth
Tri-Dork and I, locked in mortal combat, engaged in a battle for the ages. He, doing his first road race on a course suited for tiny bony people, was matched against me, a tiny bony person who had done about a thousand hilly road races. It was only by using every ounce of cunning, skill, strength, ability, tactics, and him throwing a chain at the bottom of the climb that I was able to claim the coveted spot of Number 15.
On the way home we re-hashed the race. “At first I thought you were bullshitting me about the hamburger and fries. But that shit really works. Thanks, Wankmeister.”
I, for once, didn’t know what to say.
February 5, 2012 § 9 Comments
Everything was going fine. There we were, whizzing along at 46 mph in a tightly grouped bunch of grizzled codgers, when we rounded a modestly tight bend. Zing! Perky floated across the center line (bad), locked up the brakes (worse), and went flying headfirst into a tree (worstest).
A collective “Thank God it’s not me” shuddered through the peloton, as some of his Big Orange teammates looked caringly, with great briefness, in the direction of his crumpled body.
Suddenly, things no longer seemed fine, and a concatenation of worries flashed across my mind. “What am I doing here? Why are elderly men with prostate issues crashing their bikes into trees at just under 50 miles per hour? How am I going to get that embrocation off my balls?”
Then I realized: weird shit always happens at the Boulevard Social Hour.
Take a chance on me
The race stages a mile or so down the hill from the Golden Acorn Casino, which is a good name to symbolize the opportunities that await at the road race. The acorn is a tiny little booger, and even if it were solid gold would barely be worth a couple hundred bucks–about the prize money you could expect to win for one of the road race events if you took all top ten placings. And of course, for most of the 70 some-odd idiots who signed up for the 45+ race, the chance of winning was slimmer than getting a $25 payout at the Golden Acorn.
Unlike last year, where I planned a convincing win but instead got dropped halfway up the four-mile climb on the first lap, my goals for 2012 were more modest: finish the first lap with the leaders. Everything else would be gravy. And after watching Perky climb that tree on his bike, I added “finish without hitting a tree” to the list.
In the staging area, wedged between the double-wides and the single toilet for all 300 racers that had a 30-minute wait and a 2-year smell coming out of it, I took stock of the competition. There was the short fat guy in the painted on skinsuit. “What the fuck is that wanker doing here? Didn’t he get the memo about the 6-mile climb followed by the 4-mile climb followed by the paramedic tent? Idiot.”
There was the big, tall, fat guy lathered in tattoos and wearing a half-polka dotted maroon kit from Team Dude Chick. “Did he take a wrong turn looking for the transvestite bar? This is a fucking road race. A hard one. For hard men. Jesus.”
Over there was a gnome with crooked legs and triple-bent spine. “Fuck. The nursing home is back in El Cajon. Maybe they let him out of the Alzheimer’s ward for the day to play the slots and he wandered down here by mistake.”
These few minutes of rolling around in the bright sunshine reminded me that, sunshine or not we were still at 4,000 feet and it wouldn’t take much for the 60-degree weather to drop. Something like, say, a howling wind. Which there was.
The roar of a hundred men
Moments before the gun sounded, a Breakaway from Cancer rider shouted to us. “Hey! Listen up! Today is Glass Hip’s birthday! Let’s sing him a chorus of ‘Happy Birthday!'”
At first everyone thought it was a joke, and then the wisecracks started. “What about a chorus of ‘Hungry Like the Wolf” or “Nasty by Janet Jackson?”
After the jeers subsided, the 70 raspy voices broke into a half-hearted rendition of the birthday classic. Glass Hip, touched all the way down to his artificial joint, allowed as how he’d “never been more prettily serenaded by an uglier group of post-menopausal men.”
And off we went, about 30 of us to a bike race, another 39 of us to a one-or-two lap beatdown, and me to my doom.
A note to the makers of BonkBreaker
When we hit the bottom of the long climb on the first lap my legs felt great. A nasty acceleration at the front strung us out and summarily dropped everyone who hadn’t already quit or run into a tree. I smiled to myself. “Is this the best these alleged national and former world champions have? Puh-leeze.”
Halfway up the climb, almost exactly where I’d come off the year before, a rather unpleasant sensation began building up in my legs. In seconds it had spread to my lungs, throat, head, and finally my eyes. In a few more seconds I watched the lead group ride away.
It came to my attention that, without the shelter of the group, there was a vicious, horribly cold headwind. I crumpled as the long line of shellees pushed on by. After the world’s longest mile we reattached to the lead, and I remembered that part of my pre-game nutrition plan had been to eat one peanut butter BonkBreaker per lap.
The pace had slowed and I reached into my jersey and fished one out. I’m not sure why, but they are housed in ceramic-titanium wrapping, which is easy to open with a blowtorch, but impossible to tear into with your teeth.
Starving, terrified that a bonk was near, and too tightly wedged into the pack to take both hands off the bars (I could see the headline now: Cat 4 Wanker Loses Control of Bike Trying to Open Candy Wrapper, Kills Great American Cycling God Thurlow Rogers) I began to wrestle with the packaging.
The harder I bit and pulled, the more it didn’t open, until in desperation I was jerking so hard that I could feel my back molars start to give in their sockets. This headline wasn’t much better: 45+ Wanker Pulls All Rear Teeth Out of Gums in Epic Battle for Lump of Peanut Butter.
All this pulling with my teeth meant that no air had been getting to my lungs. Now it was either open the package or pass out. Miraculously the wrapper tore and in a flash I had half the thick, dry, lumpy treat in my mouth. A simultaneously massive inhalation almost rammed it down my windpipe, but at the last second I wrestled it over to the side of my mouth with my tongue.
The oxygen debt from the wrapper battle was huge, and I began gasping as I tried to gulp down enough air. Unable to chew, the spit soaked the brown lump and dissolved part of it. Before I could swallow the liquified part of the goop we hit the sharp climb through the aptly named “feed zone.”
Now on the tail of the lead and coming unhitched, it was impossible to do anything but gasp for air. Having gone to this much effort to get the BonkBreaker into my mouth, I wasn’t about to spit it out. Instead, the violent exhalations forced the dark brown spitgoop out of my mouth, along my cheeks and down my chin.
Thrust up against the line of shouting spectators, each person saw me from mere inches as I labored by. “Oh my God,” I heard one horrified woman say. “He’s vomiting up his own shit!”
The people in front of her on the hill looked as I came by, my face contorted in pain. A little boy looked, fascinated and happy, as the brown chunks began to spill out. “And he’s trying to swallow it back down, too!” This was perhaps the grimmest headline of all: 45+ Wanker Pukes up Own Feces, Re-Eats it to Survive Mindlessly Hard Road Race.”
That’s Mr. Gnome to you, Wanky
At the top of the feed zone the pack had left me. Again. And unlike last year, when I’d had a few dropaway companions to slog along with, this time I was alone with 42 miles to go and an impossibly freezing headwind to contend with. Suddenly, who should whiz by but the wizened gnome from the staging area. He was on a mission, and unbeknownst to him, part of his mission was about to include me.
I hopped onto his wheel and he lit into the downhill. The leaders were in sight and he was determined to catch. We raced into the stretch where the road began to rise again and there on the side of the road was a poor hapless sod from Big Orange, JF, changing a rear wheel on the side of the road. “Poor bastard,”I thought. “Gonna be flailing by himself the rest of the race. He’s never catching us.”
Mr. Gnomes railed us to within a couple of hundred yards of the pack and then swung over for me to close the last bit of pavement. I pulled heroically for a few seconds before my legs returned to their former rubbery state. He came through and charged as hard as he could, then popped, and the leaders vanished ’round the bend.
It was going to be a very long day, and I started thinking about starting up a conversation with Mr. Gnomes. Just as I’d hit upon an icebreaker, I heard the sound of whizzing carbon rims. In a flash we were passed by JF. I leaped for his wheel, realizing that he, too was on a mission, and it too, if properly utilized, could include me. Mr. Gnomes, after nobly helping me this far and sacrificing himself for a complete stranger, was left pitilessly behind.
We made it!
JF was going fast when he came by, but upon hitting the downhill he opened up the jets. Occasionally looking back to see if I would help with the effort, he soon realized that he was carrying the deadest of deadwood. Somehow Mr. Gnomes time trialed back on, and the two of them smashed and bashed and beat the pedals to a fare-thee-well, while I thanked them from the bottom of my heart.
After a couple of miles we started seeing the taillights from the motor just around the next curve, and another mile later the entire 45+ field was right there. A more beautiful sight I have never seen, and to make matters sweeter I had been dragged back up without having to do a lick of work. Mr. Gnomes was starting to pedal squares, but I figured I’d wait until they were proper triangles before relieving him.
We caught just at the railroad tracks, and the final effort up that sharp bump was too much for Mr. Gnomes, who shattered and fell back, never to see the leaders again. I felt deeply for him as I straggled onto the rear. Poor Mr. Gnomes. He was such a good fellow. And a hard worker. To be dumped mercilessly by a freeloading freddie just at the moment of success…it was almost too much for me to think about. So I didn’t.
A few seconds passed and the road began the first rise. The Tragedy of Gnomes evaporated from my mind and the Execution of Wanky, Act II, came to the fore. JF had caught his breath and then shot to the front. “That,” I said, “is exactly what I must do. Shoot to the front. Because it’s dangerous back here.”
I shot to the front, and relaxed in safety amongst the rainbow jersey and red-white-blue collars and sleeves. The road rose slightly. With a power and speed that amazed even me, I shot backwards again. And kept shooting, all the way out the back. For good. The pack rolled away.
Pleased to make your acquaintance
In the next few miles I became acquainted with a kindly gentleman who by day is a sociologist and statistician. We exchanged pleasantries before he dropped me and rode away. Two other riders came by. I tried to engage them in conversation, but they had better places to be than a windswept, barren desert climb with the sun quickly going down and hypothermia in the offing. On the long climb I was even passed by Ol’ Grizzles, the aged, mustachioed chap with densely furred legs. He encouraged me with a “Come on, buddy!” but he would have gotten a better reaction from one of the large boulders on the side of the road.
Back in the feed zone people eyed me strangely. I crested the hill and by came Mr. Gnomes. “Fuck this shit,” he said. “I’m done.”
With one whole lap to go, I was next passed by the leaders in the pro-1-2 field. Going up the next grade, the referee slowed down his motor. “The 1-2 field is coming.”
“Am I the last 45+?”
“What number is that? 500’s? Nah, they’re all over the course behind you.”
This was the shot in the arm that would get me around the course. With a hard enough effort I might place 26th! I sprinted up the climb and dropped into the long downhill. Along came the 1-2 field and the follow motor. Behind the follow motor was the short fat guy with the painted on skinsuit. I hopped on. We drafted the motor as long as we could, which wasn’t nearly long enough.
We crossed the railroad tracks and the fat guy dropped me. Next to come along was the tattooed rider from Team Dude Chick. He was in dude mode. Although he looked too big to get up the grade without a helium balloon, he was amazingly fast. Or I was amazingly slow. Or both. He, too, left me by myself before we could get a good lively conversation going. Quite unfriendly of him, it seemed.
About a thousand years later I finished. Incredibly, there were eight people slower and dumber than I. By now I was frozen to the bone, but not too frozen to stop and ask Glass Hip, who was changing a flat on his car, about the race that I had been in but not really been in.
Thurlow had won. G$ second. Glass Hip destroyed the remnants for third. JF got 8th. Glass Hip looked fresh and happy and relaxed, not like someone who’d just been to hell and decided to live there. “You okay, buddy? What’s that brown stuff all over your face? You need a doctor?”
“I’ll be fine. Thanks.” The temperature had fallen into the 30’s with the wind chill. It was almost dark. I stripped down in front of a double-wide then hopped into the car, cranking the heater full blast. I’d taken my two chances in the race, Mr. Slim and Mr. None, and wound up with the latter. I took that as an omen and rolled on past the Golden Acorn, sorely tempted as I was to try my luck there. It was a long drive home.
January 16, 2012 § 3 Comments
The pain, almost unendurable. The stabbing throbs, radiating out from my core and spreading throughout my entire body. Everything stretched to its absolute limit, feeling as if the tissue would tear apart and spill my innards.
This is what the FTR 2012 felt like, and that was just my stomach after pounding down the twelve pieces of French toast and matching sausage logs. It was destined to become a day in infamy, but hours before the first slab of syrup-coated, egg-battered toast slithered down my throat, I had to make some important decisions, and none more important than this: What should I wear?
The choice of clothing was crucial. FTR 2012 was contested by five major teams, and two odd, all-black fashion mistakes from Santa Fe and from Manhattan Beach. The teams were SPY Optic, Big Orange, Ironfly, Helen’s, and the we-can’t-afford-a-final-coat-so-we’re-stopping-with-the-primer-gray outfits of Team LBF (Long Beach Freddies).
I stared hard at my cycling fall fashion collection. If I chose SPY, I would be honoring my comrade-in-arms from FTR 2011’s heroic pee-stop breakaway, MMX. However, a SPY kit would mark me as a teammate of FTR DS Jaeger, King Harold, Dogg, T-Rex, and that outcast homewrecker, Toronto–all foes I had sworn to destroy. Moreover, I had flown the SPY colors the previous week at the Nichols Canyon beatdown, despite being surrounded by my Ironfly teammates.
On the other hand, if I wore my Ironfly kit, word would eventually get back to the Fireman, who would berate me for my non-Fly attire. But if I failed to wear the SPY kit I wouldn’t have a Red Kite’s prayer of ever being able to face MMX again. It would be as traitorous as if I were to write a positive review of Assos Zeghole cycling glasses.
Caught in the dilemma, I resolved it the usual way: grabbed what was closest, and said, “Fuggit.”
Apparently, I wasn’t the only person who had the SPY Optic/Ironfly clothing dilemma. Unbeknownst to me, Toronto had been tormented by the choice and had called StageOne at 3:00 a.m. in a frenzy before the ride. “Dude, what should I wear?”
“Huh? Who is this?”
“It’s me, Toronto. I can’t decide which kit to wear!”
“What the fuck are you talking about? Wear whatever’s been washed. That’ll sure narrow it down. It’s fucking three a.m.”
“I want to wear my SPY kit, but what if Fukdude gets pissed?”
“Fukdude is asleep. He’s not doing the ride. He wouldn’t care even if he was.”
“I’m going with SPY then.” Toronto plunged immediately to sleep, while StageOne had to toss and turn, as he’d been mercilessly ripped from REM and couldn’t get back.
I had agreed to meet StageOne at the corporate world HQ in Redondo, where we would be picked up by T-Rex and Toronto. My initial plan had been to simply ride there, but a little angel on my right shoulder said, “Are you fucking out of your mind? After FTR you’ll be too tired to lift your weenie, much less pull yourself back up to the top of PV.” So I chose the less green alternative, loaded up the Scratch, and drove to the HQ.
T-Rex picked us up and we made a beeline for the Starbucks, where we re-rendezvoused with Stern-O and Major Bob. Stern-O and StageOne had gone through a bitter divorce in 2011, and although there hadn’t been any children, and although Stern-O had kept all the assets, and although no spousal support had been ordered, there was still the lingering bitterness from the end of a long and loving relationship. Stern-O ignored StageOne, but, ever the gentleman, StageOne said, “How you doing?”
“I’ve got shingles, that’s how!” snapped Stern-O. “Which comes from stress!”
We parted them with a crowbar and got back into the truck. As Major Bob raced ahead, we noticed his bike on the rack, while Stern-O’s $44,929.19 Look full-carbon, monococque Triumph with internal disc brakes and hybrid transmission (hasn’t been released in the US yet; Serial No. 000001) was carefully stowed in a bike bag and placed inside the car.
Ride with your legs, win with your head
As we rolled out to the cheering of six wildly enthusiastic supporters, I knew that this FTR would be different. No more pointless hammering at the front. No bait-taking on the descent and run-in to Fillmore. No stroke-for-stroke shows of strength on the climb into Ojai. I would chill at the back and save the only two bullets I had: one for Casitas Lake, and one for Balcom.
The amazement rippled through the peloton as I took up my seat at the back of the bus. Where was Wanky? We’d already done 1.2 miles and he hadn’t attacked, or gone to the front for a senseless pull, or scampered up some slight rise. Looks of amazement shot my way as various riders dropped back to compliment me on my restraint.
On the first climb Roadchamp strung it out and sprinted away for the KOM. I happily chilled in the GdW (Grupetto de Wank) and advised Hockeystick of the sharp downhill turn coming up. We reattached and the group split again on the next rise. Mystery Rider rolled off the point and began the long climb before the descent into Fillmore. FTR DS marshaled his SPY unit and chased, but to no avail: MR nailed the KOM and was far down the descent before our chase group crested the top. I’d been doing 350 watts just sitting on a wheel for much of the climb, and was thrilled that FTR DS was willing to fire the bullets in his clip.
On the descent I got stuck behind Roadchamp and Dogg, both of whom are massively chicken descenders. UbeRfRed sped away and at the bottom it was just me sitting on Roadchamp’s wheel. He turned on the muscle once we hit the flats, and over the course of the next mile brought us to within 200m of the lead chase. MR was in sight. He flicked his elbow for me to close the final gap, but I did the unthinkable: laughed and refused.
Unfortunately, my teammate Polly had latched on, and rather than forcing Roadchamp to do a little extra work, he launched and dragged us up to the breakaway, which contained King Harold and Hair, and now Roadchamp. We overhauled MR, and one of the day’s many revelations began to make itself known: G3 attacked, taking UbeRfRed with him. They flailed valiantly in the vicious headwind for a few minutes as the gas slowly escaped from their egos with each pedal stroke.
Here, however, was a new G3: gone was the wheelsucking, cautious, gas-saving, calculating viper of sneakdom, replaced by the G3 I feared more than any other–the attacking, risk-taking hammer who was now blending panache into his well polished arsenal of strategic conservation. Although this attempt failed, it marked the beginning of a very ugly and ultimately successful pattern.
With three hundred meters to go before the Fillmore sprint, Hair hit the jets. It was a nice little clinic on the difference between road racers and road sprinters. He cleared the sign by so much that it took the light several seconds to travel the distance from his rear wheel to our retinas. Score: Roadchamp 1, Hair 1, Wankers 0.
Don’t poke the gorilla
Our gap on the GdW was immense, and I pulled over in a driveway off the main road to relieve myself. As I fumbled with my parts a group of chickens dashed out from the bushes, surprised at the early morning shower. Unfortunately, they were accompanied by a rooster, who was prepared to defend his hens. He had giant spurs and was advancing menacingly towards me. You may not think chickens are scary, but when you’ve got one leg still over your top tube, the other leg awkwardly balanced in loose gravel, your hand on your dick and the other hand trying to keep your bike from sliding out from under you, and a big ass rooster with a huge beak and spurs sharp enough to cut sheet metal, well, it’s unnerving at best.
At the same time, I heard commotion in the little rental cottages behind me, and realized with a glance that whoever was looking out the kitchen window was likely wondering why the skinny guy was peeing on their chickens. My Spanish isn’t great, but I heard something that sounded like, “I think I can shoot it off from here,” and then the familiar noise of shells spilling out on the kitchen counter.
It was going to be hard to explain to the guys how I’d been neutered from 200 yards and then scratched up by an angry rooster, and even though it would easily top the Balcom flail from 2011 for its bloggability, I holstered up and scampered back to the roadway.
We regrouped; StageOne had flatted, and as we got going McRibs lost his iPod Shuffle at 35mph. It was unthinkable that he could complete the ride without listening to the endless loop of Chrissy Hines and “Back on the Chain Gang,” so we stopped while he collected his hardware. A few minutes later, Turtle got what would the second and last flat of the day.
As we churned towards Santa Paula with a whipping tailwind, Roadchamp decided to take the sprint, a move that poked Hair right in the eye. As Roadchamp raised his arms just before crossing the line, Hair pipped him at the finish. Erik Zabel knows about this, I think. So as we turned onto the road towards Ojai, it was Road champ 1, Hair 2, Wankers 0.
Up the bump, then hit “thrust”
We began the climb that lies between Santa Paula and Ojai. The leaders quickly pulled away as I sat patiently in the GdW. The road rolls by several small goat and llama ranches, and the cute little lambs there all shouted at us as we rolled by, chorusing “Meee-meee-meee” as they vied for our attention.
MR took the KOM with ease, and two miles before the Ojai sprint, G3 again showed his “new man” colors and took a flyer. This time, instead of being chased down by his own teammates, he rolled freely up the road, not to be seen again until the first official rest stop. Although the SPY chase was fast and furious, it failed to bring back the valiant charge of the man in orange. Ironfly blue was nowhere in the hunt, flailing, flogging, and wanking at maximum capacity. We gassed up, and soldiered on. It was now Roadchamp 1, Hair 2, G3 1, MR 1.
Firing the first bullet
As we began the climb up from Lake Casitas, I chambered the first round and pointed it squarely at the heads of Roadchamp, MR, FTR DS, and G3. The road tilted up, they pushed the pace, and then out of the group leaped King Harold at the very moment a motorcycle was passing on the left. He grabbed onto the seat of the motor and was gone, and all the screams and curses couldn’t bring him back.
After a few more moments it was a select group of six, also including Yoda of the Long Beach crew. I pointed the gun and pulled the trigger. Expecting a huge recoil from the massive slug I’d fired, I was surprised at the tiny dribbling BB that plooked out the end of the barrel. However, I glanced down at my watt meter, which read “480.” That was an unusually high number, and it corresponded with a searing, frying burn accompanied by a lacerating pop, huge black spots in front of my eyes, a wavering front wheel, and the receding figures of the leading five.
Until you’ve been sitting on Roadchamp’s wheel and had him accelerate away from you on a long climb at over 500 watts, you don’t know helplessness or despair. But that’s what he did. Now it was back to my usual Plan B, which was “Don’t get caught by the wankers in the rear!” I got a few fistfuls of air and spun for a few seconds, and then shifted into my big chain ring.
Here came King Harold, finally dislodged from his motorbike. Next came Yoda, with a strange, twisted look of un-wisdom plastered across his face. Just ahead of me was G3, but his rapidly pumping legs telegraphed “Give up, Wanky. I’m much faster than you. Quit now while you’re behind.” Just ahead I could see the fireworks as Roadchamp crushed the life out of FTR DS, who was now unhitched and flailing in between the leaders and G3.
I slogged over the first peak and pedaled hard. At less than halfway the effort had already initiated miniature, pre-cramp twinges in my legs. This far from Balcom and cramps already setting in? It was ugly and about to get uglier. G3 stayed in my sights all the way to the second Casitas peak, and I could even see the threesome of Roadchamp, MR, and FTR DS, and just before the top I had closed to within 200 meters of G3, but the second he hit the downhill it was game over. He literally vanished, so hard and fast did he hit the downhill.
In the real race ahead, Roadhchamp and FTR DS dropped Mystery Rider on the second peak, leaving him to flail and chase all the way to the next huge sprint at the Santa Barbara County Line. Just as the leaders were sure they had buried their best friend, beloved teammate, and person they’d do anything for, he appeared out of nowhere, chasing down the leaders and blazing for the sign. FTR DS was having none of it, and opened up with the sprint for which he’s not really famous, in fact, for which he’s not really ever been known to have, a sprint so tiny and small and hard to observe that you generally need a large magnifying glass to see it.
Not so today! FTR DS, raging at the Casitas climb debacle, blew by Roadchamp even as MR turned on the Come-Around-From-Dog jets to no avail. Shortly after flailing by the sign on my own I was overtaken by the charging paceline of T-Rex, Polly, and Yoda, confirming several other key points of this year’s FTR: 1) Polly had climbing legs 2) Yoda had only cracked the lid of his can of whupass 3) T-Rex was in for the long haul.
New adjusted score: Roadchamp 2, Hair 2, G3 1, MR 1, FTR DS 1. Everyone else: flail and flog.
It’s a long way (to Tipperary), It’s a long way (to home)
As we regrouped several other truths became self evident, among them Hockeystick’s serious road skills. After all the jokes and hilarity and rude comments about his eminent unsuitability for this particular hammerfest, he looked fresh as a daisy and was riding like a champ. And despite all the love and support heaped upon the head of StageOne, he looked like he’d been forced to swallow a grenade and then chase it with a bunker buster. “Dude,” King Harold said. “You okay?”
“Urrble gmelszx prrp,” was all StageOne could answer. Which was too bad. Because the second we hit the 101, King Harold twisted the throttle clean off the handlebar. The acceleration was nasty beyond belief, so sudden did it rain down upon our heads. Sitting second wheel as the pavement flashed by, so many thoughts went through my head.
1. Wow, my legs feel great. I should save it for Balcom.
2. Man, now is the time to show how much I’ve learned. Just chill and save it for Balcom.
3. We’re barely halfway. Let King Harold administer the beatdown. Save it for Balcom.
4. You’ve only got one bullet left. Save it for Balcom.
5. Tuck in. Save it for Balcom.
Harry swung over, and Turtle matched the pull with a monster effort. A quick glance back saw the group strung out in a thin, long, narrow line of grimacing pain. The siren called. Turtle swung over. The siren called louder. I flung myself willingly into her waiting arms.
I can’t tell you much about the next six or seven miles except that our group got a lot smaller. Everyone stopped pulling except for MR. Hockeystick stuck his nose up into the wind for two solid pulls, Turtle took another hit or two, but everyone else just cowered or cracked. Roadchamp rocketed off the back to “help StageOne,” and presumably to also help his own legs avoid the brutal battering on the point.
At one point Hair rotated through and advised me to “stop surging,” which we all know is bikespeak for “please slow down because I’m cracking like a whimpering cur,” and which we also know does nothing but encourage the surger. Which it did. By the time we’d whittled down to a small group I swung off as we approached a heretofore unknown “sprint” at Faria Beach. King Harold zinged by, raised his hands, and everyone heaved a sigh of relief–rather than pound out the remaining six miles until everyone was hamburger meat, we sat up and were rejoined by the flotsam and jetsam created by King H.
Iron Mike had closed one particularly nasty gap, and everyone had a survival story to tell, particularly StageOne, who had devoted an entire Biblical psalm to Roadchamp for dropping back to help. The new score was Roadchamp 2, Hair 2, G3 1, MR 1, FTR DS 1, and King Harold 1.
The joy of sugar-covered donuts, Dr. Pepper, and a handful of nuts
At the Circle K in Ventura we ate, sneaked into the off-limits bathroom, and sat on the curb while our legs stiffened like quick-curing concrete. Several riders looked remarkably fresh. There was Toronto, who’d been following wheels and riding smart. There was UbeRfrEd, who’d done not a lick of work since his attack into Fillmore and looked like he could retrace the route, twice. There was Stern-O, older than dirt and looking fresh as a daisy. There was Douggie, hardly covered with more than an inch of crusty salt. Hockeystick? Looking great. Becker Bob? Looking like a cadaver. Dogg? What long bike ride? Major Bob? Peaked, but surviving. Elron? Flogging but happy. McRibs? Refused to get off his bike at the Circle K and rode around in circles to stave off the Balcom cramps. Iron Mike? Refused to even stop, and soldiered on with StageOne, fearing that once off his bike he’d never remount. Yoda? Scary good. Big Bowles? Fine ‘n dandy.
As I stood in line with my Dr. Pepper, a roll of powdered sugar donuts called sweetly to me, proving an axiom of long hammerfests: the harder you ride, the worse your nutrition becomes. I couldn’t resist, and bought the pretty little package. Out on the curb, the donuts were so sweet that they made the DP taste less than sugary. Before I’d had so much as an opportunity to nap, FTR DS was herding us back onto our bikes.
“Want some of these?” MR asked. He held out a giant bag of nuts.
“Fuck yeah. Sugar donuts, espresso GU, Dr. Pepper, a bonk breaker, and salty nuts. What could possibly go wrong?”
Two minutes later, as we began struggling up the sharp climb out of Ventura, everything went wrong. Legs refused to work. Brain began sending distress signals to heart and lungs. Bowels tried to void.
The only remaining bullet I’d had was fired pointlessly on the 101. Everyone now looked terrible, the brave facades from a few minutes before erased like a blow to the face with a hammer. We still had 38 horrific miles until we could collapse in the Jaegers’ front yard. So there was only one rational choice, and I made it.
A few quick jolts on the pedals and I was gone. A look back, and they were gone. A second look back, and I had company. Mystery Rider. The one guy above all others you want in a breakaway. Stronger than fifteen draft horses. The heart of a thousand warriors. Legs of steel. Perpetually burning inside with the fire to crush and destroy. Lover of attacks, initiator of breaks, climber of legend, relentless machine…so off we went.
The gap grew and grew until even the impossible began to look like it could happen–if we made Santa Paula we’d be able to take advantage of traffic and spring out onto the road leading to Balcom with a huge, perhaps insurmountable advantage. Cramps and collapse be damned, we were all in. Until, of course, we weren’t.
As we hit the big sweeping left I looked down at my watt meter. We’d gone from a steady 290-300 watts to 230. “I’m unraveling, dude,” MR muttered.
“That’s okay,” I said. “I’ve already unraveled.”
And there to reel in the yarn was the steady, tempo-pounding beasts from SPY, hauling us gradually back into the fold. “Nice try,” said UbeRfrEd, “but really pointless.”
The tamer of beasts
When we turned off onto Death Alley, a few guys stopped to pee and Stern-O, StageOne, and Major Bob dashed off ahead in a replay of last year’s infamous pee attack. The rest of us pedaled slowly, feeling every muscle tense as we awaited Balcom. I’d spoken with Iron Mike before the ride and he’d asked, “Is it as hard as Santa Cruz?” referring to the wall we’d had to climb in 2010’s leg of death on the Man Tour. “It’s about the same,” I’d said.
He would later gently chide me. “Balcom Canyon Road and the climb to Santa Cruz,” he would say, “are not the same.”
And indeed they are not. We made the fatal right hand turn and passed by the Guardrail d’Cramp. FTR DS hollered out from the front, “Wankmeister! There’s your guardrail!” A few riders chuckled, but not too many and not too loudly, because about that time the giant thorn of Balcom came into view, gashing the skyline with an ugliness and ferocity that made the prospect of cramping on a guardrail seem very, very real.
We hit the bottom and Hockeystick rode away from me. Stern-O, defying every truth known to carbon dating, flew up the hill. I focused on the pavement three inches before my front wheel and refused to look one inch further. I knew what was coming.
Roadchamp raced to the top, beating out the sensational and impressive G3, followed by FTR DS. And then, propelled by smart riding, extensive wheelsucking, great base miles, and the advantages of being one tough sonofabitch, Douggie crossed the line fourth, followed by Yoda. UbeRfrEd flew his colors and raced in shortly after MR, with Dogg and Polly in hot pursuit.
Inch by inch I overtook Hockystick, who nonetheless put in the ride of all rides, and I even got to enjoy the misery of Stern-O as he suffered the worst possible mechanical at the worst possible time: his $7,599 brand new Campy Electro gruppo (Serial No. 00001) didn’t function with quite the same precision as our cheapass mechanical Dura-Ace, and his chain slipped catastrophically off his 25-tooth cog onto his 23.
Going from a 25 to a 23 on the steepest part of Balcom is kind of like having your triple-wrap condom tear while you’re in a Calcutta brothel. Aside from the physical implications, mentally it just takes all the wind out of your sails (I’m told). Moreover, I’d done Balcom with a 23 the previous two years, and how Stern-O didn’t tilt over and fall I’ll never know. Wait a minute, I do know…he’s tough as a boot, that’s how. I passed him, and then Turtle, and then Toronto, and finally Hair, and it was over.
Except it wasn’t.
At the base of the climb StageOne had simply done what any intelligent person would have done when faced with that monstrosity of a climb. He had gotten off his bike and walked, and in the beginning he was walking faster than Iron Mike and Major Bob were climbing. But that didn’t last.
Just as things looked bleakest, a small white pickup filled with laborers, tools, ladders, chickens, a banty rooster, and one small goat came by. “You okay, man?” the driver asked.
“No, not really.”
“We give you a pull up this hill? This is one steep hill, man.”
“Yes,” StageOne agreed. “It is.”
“How long you been riding your bike, man?”
“I’m not really sure.”
“Where you going?”
“Uh, I think to…no, it’s…uh…up there?”
“All right, man, just hang on. We’ll give you a tow.”
So from atop Balcom we watched the little white engine that could, loaded down with the goat, chickens, the banty rooster, the leaf blowers, the mower, the ladder, the rakes, the gas can, and the one flat-ass, tired-ass, whupped-ass, beat down, run down, smacked down, knocked down but not out, one and only StageOne. He made it to the top and we all cheered. He staggered over to the guardrail. Several hours later, in the ride home, he looked over at me. “Where the hell am I? What just happened? And who the fuck are you?” We tucked him into bed with Zeke as he gave praise to dog, but that’s another story.
The score (not that anyone’s keeping it): Roadchamp 3, Hair 2, G3 1, MR 1, FTR DS 1, King Harold 1,
Meanwhile back at the ranch
We returned triumphantly to Camarillo, with Roadchamp mashing up golf course hill first, followed by Douggie and MR, and Big Bowles doing his best to dust me and flailing. Final score: Roadchamp 4, Hair 2, G3 1, MR 1, FTR DS 1, and King Harold 1.
The Jaegers had mountains of sandwiches, chips, salsa, and cold beer, but before we started eating there was a fight to the death between Douggie and Stern-O to see who would get to shower first. Stern-O won out, having successfully clogged the Jaeger family plumbing the year before, as his theory is that no asshole can be properly dubbed “clean” until you’ve scrubbed it with a full roll of toilet paper and clogged your host’s pipes for a month.
A person with those standards isn’t about to step into a shower that’s been defiled by the sweat of Douggie, and Douggie wasn’t about to take a shower after Hockeystick. I couldn’t have cared less, and was happy to sit in my stinking muck and dried sweat for the next few hours, if only to remind me of how lucky I was to be off the bike.
When I entered the bedroom where my street clothes were, UbeRfrEd was just getting out of the shower. Now I’m not the kind of guy who just sits around and stares at naked men, but the thing UbeRfrEd had hanging down to his ankles looked like a prop from G3’s video collection. At first I thought I was hallucinating due to the beatdown and exhaustion of the ride, but a second look convinced me that I was in the presence of Dog. And the more I thought about it, the more awed I became: he had hauled that 47-pound fire hose all the way up Balcom? Impressed as I had been with Roadchamp’s exploits on Casitas and the climb of death, they paled in comparison to this. It was like marching over Everest with a pet giant anaconda tied to your waist.
I staggered back out into the front yard, partially blinded by what I’d seen, and stumbled upon Roadchamp’s bib shorts, which he’d left out to dry. Unfortunately, in his anxiety on the 101 about holding onto my fiery tempo, he’d suffered from a bit of nerves, and the result, photographed here by Toronto, was, er, toxic.
T-Rex, Toronto, StageOne and I bundled ourselves into T-Rex’s truck after enjoying the lunch and the incomparable Miss Jaegers’ cupcakes. For the awards presentation, SPY Optic had donated an awesome pair of performance wear to the person who suffered the most, displayed the greatest courage, did most of the work, and exhibited the truest qualities of determination, fitness, strategic thinking, teamwork, strength, endurance, and overall attitude. Of course they could therefore be awarded to no one but FTR DS’s wife, Lynn, for putting up with all this nonsense for so many years…so they were.
As we sat in the truck, comfortably cruising home with T-Rex at the helm, a message came in from MMX over the Internets: something was in the offing…SPY Optic was on the verge of doing something so extraordinary as to make all that had come before it pale in comparison. What in the name of Dog? We looked at each other in fear and disbelief at the mysterious closing: “On Tuesday, all will be revealed.”
The day of reckoning was almost at hand.