Two for two

February 15, 2014 § 2 Comments

The 35+ race at Boulevard was relatively uneventful unless you were one of the riders who got shelled on the very first lap. Or the second lap. Or the third.

It was the first tough road race with all the major players except for Chris DeMarchi, who’s still recovering from a broken femur that he sustained in an MTB accident. Without Chris the race would be slightly different, as his trademark “bring the pain and thin the herd” brand of killing accelerations would be absent.

The riders didn’t know where they stood fitness wise, so there was a lot of watching and waiting, but only up to a point. It was Boulevard after all, a race of attrition that eventually was going to wear you down whether you waited or not. The general pattern in the 35+ race is this:  If the race stays together, only shedding the lame and infirm, the big explosion happens halfway through the last lap. The start of the race was freezing and two minutes into the race it began to snow. There were also a couple of new faces, which is always a troubling question mark. It’s the new faces that can completely screw up a well-planned race.

The 2014 edition played according to formula, with Mike Sayers and Marco Arocha putting in huge attacks that did damage but failed to shatter the group. Marco launched halfway into the race, but that’s a long, lonely distance to hold off a super field like this one over such a demanding course. He was  brought back on the downhill, where a solo rider has difficulty keeping ahead of a peloton that can easily hit 50 mph.

While Marco was away Monster Media strongman Karl Bordine set tempo up the big climb and made sure Arocha’s advantage didn’t extend too far. By keeping the gap in check on the second lap, Bordine’s solid tempo prevented the dangerous move by Arocha from suddenly turning into a  3 or 4 minute breakaway. That would have forced the Monster Media team to organize a chase, waste valuable energy, and take away their ability to keep team boss Tinstman safe and out of the wind. It was Bordine’s tempo that allowed the group to bring Arocha back and then set up Gary Douville for the big move on the last lap.

When the remnants of the field turned onto La Posta, Gary Douville and Phil Tinstman went to the front, attacking just over the railroad tracks and whittling it down to five riders, later joined by two others.  Tony Restuccia, Tinstman, Douville, Derek Brauch, Sayers, Paul Vaccari, and Randall Coxworth made up the final selection. The two who bridged, Vaccari and Coxworth, made it across at just the time the break briefly slowed.

From that point the break drilled up La Posta and put a big gap on the field, a gap that no one would be able to close once the breakaway hit the frontage road and began the final three-mile climb to the finish line. Sayers was the biggest threat to the Monster Media machine, which had four of the seven riders in the break. Sayers coaches the USA U-23 team and in addition to being a great coach is also a beast of a rider. Sayers attacked the break a couple of times but was countered by Tinstman and Douville.

This is the point in Boulevard where things come unraveled. The break was on the rivet and Tinstman was still feeling good. With teammates Restuccia, Douville, and Coxworth covering the SPY-Giant-RIDE duo of Brauch and Vaccari, Sayers put in a huge attack and, taking Tinstman with him, opened up a 20-second gap on the chasers. With Sayers urging Tinstman to pull through, the Monster Media rider declined the invitation. The math was simple: Better to get pulled back to the group, where there was a 4-to-7 advantage and where Tinstman was confident of winning the field sprint, than to trade pulls with Sayers and lower his chance of winning to 50 percent.

Once the Sayers-Tinstman duo was back with the chasers, Coxworth unleashed a flurry of attacks, swinging off with 250 meters to the line. Sayers was now out in the wind and had no choice but to go, and he gave it everything he had, but 250 meters out at Boulevard is like a kilometer anywhere else because the race finishes on a hard pitch after a long climb. With Sayers firing his final volley too early, Vaccari then jumped with Tinstman on his wheel. At the last minute Tinstman hit the wind and passed the SPY rider with room to spare. Vaccari got second and Brauch got third, making a good podium haul for the SPY-Giant-RIDE p/b MRI team, especially considering the quality and quantity of Monster Media riders at the finish.

Teamwork

This was a classic example of a road race going according to plan. It was simple in theory: Keep Tinstman out of the wind as much as possible and save it for the end. Although he was feeling good, the fact that his teammates were doing such a great job increased his pressure to close the deal as they sacrificed everything to put him in position for the win. Having raced together for a couple of seasons the Monster Media team has reached a point where the riders can communicate in key moments without talking because they know what the other guy’s thinking and what they’re going to do. This is the kind of clockwork teamwork that only comes from lots of races.

Tinstman’s secret? There are none, other than the things that all successful athletes have in common, such as maximal preparation. Spare wheels in the car, food, bottles, clothing, then double check everything. Reassured that the prep was done, the victory was going to depend on using the least amount of energy and conserving until the end. By being alert and continually reading the race, Tinstman made sure that every second in the race he had a reason for what he was doing doing. Whether watching a guy, resting, or chasing, it was the continual mental alertness and rational planning that brought the victory to bear.

Saturday helped Sunday

Tinstman followed up his hardman win at Boulevard with an equally impressive win the following day at the SPY Red Trolley Crit in San Diego. Much of Sunday’s victory was the result of how well the team kept him fresh on Saturday. He wasn’t wrecked on Sunday because he hadn’t had to do the lion’s share of the work the day before.

Unlike the other dominant SoCal 35+ crit team, Surf City Cyclery, the Monster Media team never wants the race to end in a field sprint. 2013 was an extended clinic of breakaway crit victories by DeMarchi and Tinstman, and although SCC was absent from this year’s edition of Red Trolley, the plan was still to avoid a field sprint.

On the other hand, with accomplished finishers like Coxworth, Tinstman, and Danny Kam, if it came down to a sprint, there were options there as well. Coxworth had just finished second in the 45+ race after getting nipped at the line due to a premature victory salute, and felt like the snap was gone from his legs. He therefore volunteered to be the guy who would position Tinstman if it came down to a field sprint. In the last two laps he placed his team leader into position with laser precision.

With a tailwind on the climb and a headwind on the downhill it was going to be a hard course on which to establish a winning break because it was easy for the swollen pack to sit and then charge full bore up he hill. The Monster Media team attacked repeatedly with the SPY riders, trying to make things happen, but the field wouldn’t split. In the final laps SPY went to the front, with Tinstman on Coxworth’s wheel. A couple of intense efforts towards the very end even looked like they might create a winning move.

Everything came back together for the finale, however, so with Coxworth on the SPY train and Tinstman slotted in behind his pilot fish, the two Monster Media riders came around SPY’s Eric Anderson and locked in first and second place.

On February 15, Tinstman and the Monster Media tribe will have a go at the second hardman event on the SoCal calendar, the UCLA Punchbowl road race. If Boulevard and Red Trolley are any indication, they will be tough to beat. Very, very tough.

Winning

February 3, 2014 § 56 Comments

Every dog has his day. Saturday was mine.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Really?” she said.

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

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The monument

January 22, 2014 § 19 Comments

The Boulevard road race is perhaps our only monument in Southern California. It’s got two modes, “up” and “down.” Those who win it cross a terrible no-person’s-land to do so. Those who finish it do, too. Those who quit plan for next year or focus on crits.

I could tell you all the terrible things that await when you line up at Boulevard. I could tell you about starting at 5,000 feet. I could tell you about the howling descent that goes on forever. I could tell you about the unforgiving climb that pinches off riders in bunches and singly until only the hardiest remain. I could tell you about the green road, or the lonesome desolation of the Mexican border, or the freezing winds when the sun drops, or the icy rain that falls in bad years, or the inhuman pounding that your body takes simply to finish.

But I won’t, because none of those things make Boulevard a monument. They just make it a bike race.

The seed of fear

A monument frightens you, and it frightens you early. It’s not the nervousness that precedes a race, or butterflies while you’re crumping a hairy beet in the port-o-let, or the anxious chatter you expel on the drive up. A monument scares you long before it ever happens. It gets inside your head, and outside it, too. The external world becomes a series of ominous warnings, of suggestively bad outcomes, of predictions that all end in “failure” and “pain.”

Boulevard stands at the head of the line because of its relentless climbing and because it’s the first major road race of the season. Some would say it’s the only major one, although those who say so haven’t raced Devil’s Punchbowl in the snow of Vlees Huis in the 100-degree heat.

With run-ups like Poor College Kids, and follow-ons like UCLA Punchbowl and San Luis Rey, Boulevard is at the head of the class. If you sign up for it, you’re afraid. If you don’t sign up for it, it’s because you’re afraid.

What’s in a bike race?

There’s no such thing as an easy one if you want to cross the line first. Think four-corner crits are easy? Well, perhaps they are if you just want to finish. But any event that requires you to pin on a number will take you to the limit if you want to win it.

As a monument, Boulevard takes you to the limit and then, if you’ve got your eyes on winning, takes you beyond. Boulevard is one of the few races in SoCal you’ll ever do that conveys a measure of respect simply by being able to say, “I finished.” If, like Greg Leibert, you’ve won it multiple times, it conveys more than respect. It conveys greatness.

My record with the beast

2010, DNF. 2011, 27th place. 2012, 39th place. 2013, 15th place. These are not numbers to be proud of, but they’re numbers I’m inordinately proud of, especially 2010, when I was lucky enough to flat on the first lap after being soaked to the skin in freezing rain that pelted us from the beginning of the race. Last year I got what Jack from Illinois (not his real name) would call “Enough of a result to further the delusion that next year it will be better.”

In short, 2014 is my year. The magical combination of experience, beer, homemade bread, butter, and high-rpm training practically dictates that this is the year I stand on the podium. And if I don’t, so what? At least I rode the monument, and with fortitude and luck, maybe I also finished.

I hope you’ll be there, if only so that you can say you’ve ridden a monument.

2013 Boulevard road race post-coital analysis

February 7, 2013 § 37 Comments

Before Lance, before Labor Power, before the ’84 Olympics, and long before anyone had even dared imagine the idea of a professional masters bike racer, there was Fields.

Jeffrey K. Fields.

The long-retired bike racer, beer swilling bankruptcy lawyer from Tipton, Iowa.

The one. The only. The immortal.

I thought about Fields leading up to Boulevard. I thought about him intermittently during the race, and I thought a lot about him this week.

Fields taught me everything I know about bike racing, which is to say he was either a lousy teacher or I was a horrible pupil. You might say he was a lousy teacher and I was a horrible pupil were it not for the countless legends in the sport who learned at his knee, or the countless others who raced against him and respected his prowess on the bike, or the nameless wankers who he ground into dust year after year, race after race after race…

Race what you got

One of Fields’s first rules was this: Race what you got. This meant that you didn’t ever forgo a race because you lacked the “proper” equipment. According to Fields, you had a right equipment and a left equipment that were used to push the pedals. Everything else was optional. It’s one of the reasons that Fields won so much and so convincingly. Although he paid fanatical attention to his equipment, right down to the white patent leather Duegi track shoes with wooden soles, and always tried to race on the best stuff he could wring out of his stingy sponsors, he toed the line no matter what.

“Race what you got,” according to Fields, meant more than equipment. It also meant you raced regardless of your conditioning. However you felt on race day, that was how you were going to start the race. I don’t think he ever blew off a race because he was sick, or was recovering from sickness, or had been “off form,” or any of the other myriad excuses pro masters racers now use to avoid events that may turn out badly for them.

Fields knew that every bike race always turned out badly for almost everyone, and if you were afraid of bad results, this wasn’t the sport for you.

On race day, you raced. If you were fat, or weak, or couldn’t climb, or your sprunt was off, well, it was going to suck to be you. Fields was also enough of a bike racer to know that sometimes you got the best results in races where you started off feeling like shit, and other times you flailed despite beginning with wings on your legs. And Fields never failed to drill in the Results Corollary: You lose 100% of the races you don’t start.

Leave the cherry picking to agricultural workers

“Race what you got,” according to Fields, meant above all, this: Race the hard races as well as the easy ones and for Dog’s sake don’t cherry pick your events. If it’s not “your” race, give some thought to how you can benefit those people you train with, hang out with, and who turn themselves inside out for you when the course suits you. You know, those people called “teammates.”

Fields was short. Fields was wide. Fields was preeminently suited to track events and crits, which he did, and which he was almost impossible to beat at. Fields’s strength and power over short distances was legendary. Combined with uncanny pack smarts, magician-like handling skills, and the ability to always find the right wheel in the final 500 yards, he was virtually impossible to beat in a local crit.

Yet he never considered himself a sprinter. He considered himself a bike racer, which was something considerably broader. To Fields, a bike racer was an impoverished idiot living a hopeless fantasy while scrounging out an existence in a cheap apartment who showed up to race regardless of the event.

If the event required a fast finish, you’d better be able to sprint. If it was hilly, you’d better have a plan to get over the climbs. If it was a timed event, you’d better be good against the clock.

Fields raced in the rain. Fields raced in the scorching heat. Fields raced in the lung-breaking hills. Fields raced on the flats. Fields raced time trials. Fields raced the track. Fields waited for the sprint when it was going to be a bunch finish. Fields initiated the break when the peloton was too tentative. Fields bridged when a good break looked like it would stick. Fields always took his pulls. Fields never, ever avoided a race he was destined to lose. And he thereby won a lot of races.

Every face is game face

Because Fields rode to win, even when he knew he’d likely lose, and because he rode whatever was on the calendar, he created a bike racing culture in Texas that is not only alive and well and thriving today, but that gave rise to the environment that produced Lance Armstrong. I’m not talking about Lance the cheater and Lance the doper, I’m talking about Lance the bike racer.

Lance would never have appeared on the scene without Richardson Bike Mart. Richardson Bike Mart owed its racing roots to the culture of the 1980’s that was created by Fields and his North Texas proteges Chris Hipp, Mark Switzer, and a number of the early strongmen who rode for Richardson’s Matrix team. These and a number of other damned good riders who still win races lined up every week with a single goal: Beat Fields. When they succeeded, it typically took their entire team to pull it off.

Fields also created the bike racing culture in Austin where Roger Worthington first raced. Roger was the creator of Labor Power before being evicted from Texas and moving the whole shebang to California, where Labor became one of the first masters pro teams, and certainly its brashest: Team car, team bikes, team kits, aggressive recruitment of the best old guys, and most importantly, a mandate to win races along with rude race reports. No masters team so totally dominated the California racing scene before or since.

The next time you see a team filled with old guys riding $10k bikes and wearing pro kits and driving around in a wrapped team van…that culture originated with Fields, which is funny because I don’t think he ever even considered racing a masters event, and certainly never showed up at a race in a team van. He quit wasting his life on the bike at the ripe, ancient, hoary, and grizzled age of 35 or so.

Hipp and Worthington always said “Stooopid sport,” a line they got from Fields, but unlike them, he actually believed it and one day just walked away.

The point is that the Fieldsian culture was the culture of the game face. Fields believed that you contended for races based on skill and fitness, but that you won races based on your desire. In our hyper-scientific world of power meters and heart rate monitors and online daily training logs and private coaching, it’s funny to see that the fastest finisher alive and the man who will soon have won more Tour stages than anyone in history is Fieldsian in the extreme: Mark Cavendish could give a rat’s ass about wattage, weight, and power-based metrics. He believes that the victory goes to the guy who wants it most, which is Mark Cavendish, and his book “Boy Racer” showers nothing but contempt on the “science” of cycling.

Fields’s game face approach to bike racing showed itself in the races he showed up for, whether it was Het Volk after the winter he raced and trained in Belgium with legends like Jan Raas and Johan van der Velde, whether it was the 120-mile, hill-filled, sun-baked districts elite men’s championship, or whether it was the local weekend crit.

What it meant for Boulevard 2013

The 2013 edition of Boulevard was pretty much what it’s like every year. Dozens of masters racers who are strong, successful, and totally immersed in the Kool-Aid failed to show up, just like the handful of skinny, elite masters road racers who studiously avoid the weekend crits.

Fields would have been at Boulevard for a simple reason: It’s on the fucking calendar. That, and the fact that if you’re going to call yourself a bike racer, you’d better go out and race your bike.

In this vein, there were a number of riders who showed up to do battle for their teammates as long as they could. In my race Jeff Bryant for Big Orange, Andy Jessup for Jessup Chevrolet, Robb Mesecher for Breakaway from Cancer; in the 35+ race Aaron Wimberley for Helen’s; in the women’s race Suze Sonye, also for Helen’s, showed up to race their bikes along with numerous others who were there because it’s a bike race and they’re bike racers. Their chances of victory or a place on the podium? Snowball in hell type chances.

None of this means that Boulevard showcased the “real” racers and the absentees were “fakers.” Unless you’re getting paid to race your bike and have your name at the bottom of a contract, you’re just playing. I’m just playing. We’re just playing.

But just so you know, the playing would have been more exciting, more challenging, and just a bit more epic if more people had dared to show up. Would Fields have raced Boulevard? Hell, yes, he would have. And it would have taken every bullet in your magazine and your entire team to beat him.

Boulevard road race and tragedy, Part 2

February 5, 2013 § 15 Comments

At the starting line we very old fellows staged behind the somewhat old fellows in the 35+ race. Stefanovich was there, and looked back at me.

“I made it!” he grinned.

“Sorry about that,” I replied.

“No, dude, I was inspired by your blog. This is gonna be awesome!”

“Inspired?”

Dandy Andy, whose four-foot handlebar mustache drooped down to his knees, nodded vigorously. “Yeah! We read it on the way down. Inspired!”

“Oh,” I said glumly. “Then you missed the point.”

“I did?” asked Stefanovich.

“Yes, it was supposed to be a demotivational piece, something to despire you from coming, not inspire you to show up.”

Stefanovich laughed. “Yeah, well we’re here now! So braaang it!”

The whistle sounded and off they went.

He’s got your whole world (in his hands)

When it came our turn, my only concern was whether I’d get dropped on the 10-mile twisting, tailwind descent. The ref sent us off with a warning. “Okay, guys, watch out for the turns on the descent. We’ve already lost seven or eight riders in high speed collisions, so I’m asking you to take it easy the first lap. After that you can do whatever you want.”

I wondered why our lives were precious on lap one, but worthless on laps two and three, until I realized the ref’s unspoken subtext: “Most of you wankers won’t be around for the second lap, so it will be safe to go full throttle.”

Ulp.

After cresting the first brief, gentle 2-mile climb, we hit the downhill. My 50 x 11 immediately spun out, but I was prepared for the acceleration and sprunted onto the end of the whip, letting the slipstream suck me along.

The down side to being on the end was simple: There were about fifteen wankers ahead of me who were scared shitless, and with good reason, as they were clueless about how to handle their bikes at 50 mph in a tight formation on a twisty road. I had a flashback to the year before, when Tree Perkins had lost control, crossed the center line, and leaped up into a fence, then a shrub, then climbed a tree with his bike.

The feeling of helplessness was complete. My life was wholly dependent on the flubs and flails of some Cat 4 wanker who had just turned 45 and decided to ride with the “safe” dudes rather than the suicidal Cat 4 field, not realizing that it was these very aged Cat 4 wankers who made our normally conservative old fellows’ category so deadly on a course like this.

As if on cue, Tri-Dork dropped back to a couple of wheels in front of me. Tri-Dork was the one wheel I wanted to avoid beyond all others, but like a moth drawn to a flame, could not. Tri-Dork’s bad bike handling skills, which had caused him to flub and crash on a dry road one morning with only one other rider and shatter his shoulder, were accentuated times a thousand by the speed and the turns.

Swooping through each curve, Tri-Dork wobbled, braked, gapped, accelerated, and slashed his way through the formation with terrifying abandon. Charging up through the field at just the moment he should have been slowing down, Tri-Dork got bumped and did the only thing you’d expect a recovering triathlete to do in a bike race: He panicked and shot for the center line.

If a car had been coming in the other direction this story would be an obituary extolling his bravery, instead, he regained control and charged back into the field. “Tri-Dork!” I shouted. “Get the fuck away from everyone! And stay out of the trees!”

The race in earnest

Today’s elderly fellow beatdown and prostate abuse ride would be dominated by Big Orange and Amgen. We turned off the downhill and began the climb up Las Posas, with Mike Hotten of Big Orange setting tempo on the front. His steady pace was the first phase of the Big O “softening up.”

A huge rivalry had shaped up between Big O and Amgen. Steve Klasna, who had ridden for Big O the year before and is one of the best racers in SoCal, now rode for Amgen and was looking for his first victory of the year. Thurlow Rogers a/k/a Turbo a/k/a The Hand of God a/k/a THOG had won Boulevard the year before, and as one of the the greatest American cyclists in history, as usual he had come to win. Backed by national champion and locomotive Malcolm Hill, Amgen was closely matched against Big O.

The race day favorite was Greg Leibert, whose teammate Jeff Konsmo could be expected to play his usual role of policeman/late attacker. New to the 45+ fold was John Hall, easily one of the top climbers in the South Bay and a guy who always kept a strong finishing kick for hilltop finishes. Former Boulevard vainquer Todd Darley would also play a key team role, with Tri-Dork flying the wild card colors in his 45+ debut. One of the biggest men to line up for Boulevard, Tri-Dork had proven the year before at the UCLA Punchbowl course that size was no limiter, as he’d ridden with the leaders for most of that hilly, attacking course.

Jessup Auto Plaza brought the heat with the Man Who Fears No Hill, Andy Jessup, easily the biggest dude in the field and also the gutsiest. Not content to do the flat crits, he was always pushing the pace in the races least suited for his build, uncowed by altitude or by the toothpick physiques of the likely podium contenders. Benny Parks, who had won for Jessup at P[e]CK[e]RR the week before, would be in the mix, and Jessup’s Brien Miller would play a key role in my own personal Boulevard saga.

Supermotor Jon Flagg, riding mateless for Surf City, tough guy Greg Fenton, and national champ Doug Pomerantz for UCC would round out the movers and shakers in the race. My own SPY-Giant-RIDE Cyclery team started with a solid contingent that included Alan Flores, John Hatchitt, Jon Geyer, and Andy Schmidt. As Alan would later remark after posting his best-ever Boulevard finish for 6th place, “We were just passengers today. It was a handful of other guys driving the bus.”

Lap One Climb: Devil take the hindmost

Klasna, Leibert, Konsmo, and THOG sprinted around the kicker that ended Las Posas and began the 4-mile climb up to the finish on Old Highway 80. The pace went from cool to warm to hot to full-fryalator. Midway up the climb the field had been reduced from about 70 to no more than 40 riders. Thankfully I’d started at the front, and as Konsmo and Co. turned up the screws and my legs seized up there were plenty of spaces to fall back without getting dropped completely.

The survivors were now in one nasty line, and as Leibert and THOG looked back to assess the damage, it occurred to them that, with the remainder of the field bleeding from the eye sockets, now would be a good time to ride in earnest. Their two-man attack left the rest of the field gasping and huddling for a rear wheel.

With about a mile to go the pack bunched up and I realized that today would be the first time in four attempts that I’d ever finished Boulevard with the lead group on the first lap. It was more than euphoria. It was victory, and it tasted sweet.

As we piled into the start/finish, however, the leaders ratcheted up the pace and blew out a handful of riders on the steep finish line pitch. My victory evaporated as I realized that my race was about to end at one lap. Fortunately, we crested the finishing hill with Amgen’s Robb Mesecher coming by, and by latching onto his wheel and double-wide draft was able to maintain contact with the group, which was now strung out in a mad chase to bring back G$ and THOG.

Once we hit the descent, the group had thinned considerably, but Tri-Dork was still very much there. G$ and THOG had returned to the fold, and Hotten again rode tempo on the green tennis court vomity stretch of Las Posas. We pushed up onto Old Highway 80, rolled slowly for a hundred yards or so, then exploded as Konsmo, G$, and THOG blew apart the group.

A few seconds before I popped we overtook Aaron Wimberley, a sprinter in the 35+ race and one of the few fast men with guts enough to take on a hilly killer like Boulevard, rather than hiding and waiting for the speedfest at the short, flat, fast crit the following day. “Go, Wanky!” he yelled as we flew by. I “went,” all right…straight off the back.

As I cratered, Brien Miller yelled at me. “Come on, wanker! Dig!”

“I’m digging!” I gasped. “My grave!”

My race had ended midway up the climb on the second lap as I watched the leaders ride off, then came detached from the chase group. I soft pedaled to catch my breath, well aware that the next lap and a half would be done alone, into the wind, slowly, with nothing left in the tank.

As I recounted to myself all the grand successes of the day (finished one lap with the leaders, got halfway up the second lap with the leaders, almost sort of kind of practically didn’t get dropped, etc.), I heard an awful noise behind me. It sounded like a large animal in its death throes, or like a giant engine with a major internal part broken and rattling loose, or like a one-eyed monster from the Black Lagoon coming up from behind to eat you.

I didn’t dare look back, and it’s a good thing I didn’t, because when the shadow of Malcolm Hill came by, it took everything I had to latch on. Powerful arms flexing, mighty legs pounding, bellows-sized lungs blowing like a racehorse, Malcolm had the chase group in his sights and he wasn’t slowing down.

Soon we’d overtaken Brien. “Dig!” I shouted as we went by.

He grinned and hopped on. Malcolm flicked me through with his elbow after a solid half-mile haul, but all I could do was fizzle and fade for a few strokes before Brien came through with a powerful surge. Between Malcolm and Brien, with me sitting on the back taking notes and adjusting my socks, we closed the gap to the chase group to within a hundred yards.

Suddenly my inner wanker blossomed, and the possibility of catching on spurred me to actually take a pull. I leaped forward, temporarily dropping the two mates who had done all of the work, latching onto the back of the chasers. Malcolm and Brien joined, and a quick glance proved that this was indeed the chase group to be in.

Get that Flagg, Darling, and put Pomegranate on it

Jon Flagg, Todd Darley, and Doug Pomerantz comprised the chasers, along with a couple of other horses, and the leaders were briefly in sight, though they vanished after the turn onto the descent. Whittled down to about ten expert riders and one Wankstar, these elderly fellows conducted a downhill clinic on the backside of the course.

I’ve never felt safer at 50 mph on a bike as Malcolm & Co. drilled us through the tight turns at max speed, max lean, and never so much as a waver or a wobble. With a few miles to go before the turn onto Vomit Road, Darley leaped off the front. The final effort to bring him back, just before the turn, revealed the incredible once we’d crossed the tracks: The leaders were right there.

As we steamrolled up to the leaders I spied a poor sod in a Swami’s kit flailing in the gravel off the road to let us by. He wasn’t pedaling squares, he was pedaling triangles. He had that Wankmeister look of dropdom that comes from having ridden alone, fried, cold, into the wind, by yourself, for most of the race. He was haggard and beaten and defeated and covered with the frozen crust of snot and spit and broken dreams.

It was Stefanovich.

“Come on, you fucking wanker!” I yelled as we roared by. “Get out of the fucking dirt and race your dogdamned bike!”

He looked up and smiled through the crusty snot.

A few hard turns and we’d reconnected. Todd paid for his efforts by slipping off the back, and Tri-Dork, who’d made an amazing reattachment, was likewise surgically removed. More incredibly, G$ and THOG were still there.

My one lap victory had now become the ride of my life: I was finishing the third lap at the head of the field, and in my excitement I surged to the front as we crested the first rise on Las Posas. G$ looked over and grinned. “Wanker! Hit it, buddy!”

I swelled up like a big old balloon, pounded hard for three strokes, then blew and got dropped. As my race ended yet again, I passed a Jessup wanker from the 35+ race. “Get your ass up there, you quitter!” he yelled.

Spurred by shame I dug and caught onto Malcolm’s wheel just as we flew over the cattle guard.

A few pedal strokes later I was rested and taking stock. There were fifteen riders left. Just then, G$ glanced over to the side and attacked. It was a thing of beauty. With fourteen riders keyed on this one guy, and with him already having ridden a 15-mile breakaway, he kicked it hard. No one could follow as he dangled just off the point. It was that moment in the race where everyone tried to rationalize the reason they weren’t chasing, while refusing to admit they were too tired and afraid and broken and chickenish and weak.

G$ dangled for a mile, getting slightly farther away as Konsmo and Hall kept the pace brisk enough to discourage any followers.

Except one.

With the animal fury that’s his trademark, THOG ripped away from the peloton. “There,” we all thought, “goes the race. If I chase I’m doomed. I think I’ll just sit in and hope for third.”

By the time we hit the big climb for the final time, cat and mouse had begun. Only problem was, the cat and the mouse were up the road and out of sight. So it was more like roaches and Raid. Flagg attacked repeatedly but no one was letting him go anywhere. After the third surge, Konsmo rolled. The gap opened, and then he vanished.

“Well,” we all thought, “fourth is pretty respectable to brag to the GF about. I’ll fight for fourth.”

As we approached the start/finish, the hard attacks came for real. With a few hundred yards to go I had to choose between getting dropped and getting dropped, so I wisely chose to get dropped. “Fifteenth,” I told myself “is damned respectable in this race. And even if it isn’t, I’ll claim it is.”

G$ outlasted THOG for the win. I crept across the line significantly behind #14.

Big Orange took first,third, and fifth. Amgen walked away with second, ninth, and tenth.

But if you ask me, it was 325-lb. wobblywheels Tri-Dork, finishing 25th in his very first Boulevard outing who went home with the best ride of all.

Tune in tomorrow for Part 3, “Post-race analysis of why you’re a fucking wanker for not showing up”

South Bay form report for 2/8/2011: Angel to the Freds

February 8, 2011 § 2 Comments

Who’s “hot” in the South Bay isn’t going to cut it this time–more like who’s on fire? That, of course, would be the guy with the burning orange head, the blazing orange glasses, the incendiary orange socks, the flaming orange team, the guy you may know as Greg Leibert but who the rest of us on the South Bay wanker brigade politely address as “Sir.”

Greg’s on-fire status as leader of the Big Orange cycling team was confirmed by his solo 20-mile breakaway win in the state’s toughest road competition, the 2011 edition of the Boulevard Road Race. He won it by crushing the competition and by riding on the back of a coordinated and committed team.

After you’ve had your head staved in by Sir Orange you tend to sit around post-race talking with other abused and broken wankers, and the conversation is always the same.

“How’s that bastard do that?”

“Iunno. Iuz feeling great and then bam shit. Man I’m trashed.”

“Un. Gotny food?”

“Un. You?”

“Un. Later.”

Then everybody gets back into their cars and drives home, hoping that Sir Orange sits out the next weekend or that maybe he decides to sell his bike and learn to crochet.

How he does it: Cycling secrets of Greg Leibert revealed

Many point to his ideal size, long legs, background as a competitive NCAA Division I runner at KU, tremendous aerobic capacity, ability to suffer, attacking style of riding, effective use of team tactics, dedication to training, years of experience racing in Southern California, intense will to win, terror of full-time employment, and love of the sport as the key factors in his success.

I’m not buying any of it.

All you have to do to understand his path to greatness is hang around his car before the race. Suddenly, about fifteen minutes before the start, shitfaced looking, cockroach-scuttling, smelly little cyclists wearing various team jerseys begin to congregate around the open hatchback. They’re all holding seven or eight water bottles, and the conversation goes like this:

“Hey, Maggs. How’s it going?”

“Fine, Freddy, honey, how’ve you been?” Maggie the Fred Angel is always sweet no matter how loathsome the roachbag.

“Good, good, hey, can you give me some handups in the race?”

“Sure, sweetie, you got it!”

“Now this blue one is glucosamine with ginkgo extract. I need it halfway through the first lap at about mile 11.2. This other blue one, you can tell it has the amino acids because it’s not as deep blue, here, just hold it up to the light like so. I need this midway through the second lap, but not too far after the second hill. This third one, kind of with the aquamarine tint, this is the stuff I need most of all, third lap, okay? It’s got the beetle urine extract and powder of tiger penis.”

Maggie smiles kindly through the speech. “Could you do me a favor, sweetie?”

“Oh yeah, sure, anything for you, Maggs. You’re the best!”

“Why don’t you put your name on the bottles? See these other 413 just like yours? It’s sometimes hard to tell them apart with you guys coming through in a 200-man pack at 25mph.”

“Oh, yeah, ‘course, anything for you, Maggs.” Roachbag then skulks away to his team car, pleased to have helped out Maggie by putting his name on the bottle. Fortunately, Maggie will have zero problem with his hand-up because unlike Greg, we of the wanker brigade will be coming through at 12 mph in ones and twos–an easy strike for a pro like Maggie.

And of course roachbag helps Maggie out after the race, too. “Hey Maggs, got my bottles?”

“Sure thing, Hon, right here!” She hands him his nasty, smelly bottles that he’s tossed aside at the feed zone and dotted with specks of dried spit, and he gives her the one thing that she’s just dying for above all else: a big, fat, 15-second hug from a snot-encrusted, salt covered, unshaven, shit stinking roachbag biker. You’ll have to look quick–it’s the only time you’ll ever see anything on her face other than a smile.

The Fred Angel who does it all

While the rest of the wanker brigade is trying to figure out which days Sir Orange rests on, what his FTP is (he doesn’t know himself), his training schedule and diet, they are missing out on what truly sets him above mere mortals: it’s Maggie.

Without her, he’d never have won a race simply because he’d never have gotten to the line on time. Last year at Boulevard he was getting dressed in the washateria, and would still have been wrestling with his package when the race went off had Maggie not dragged him out, stuffed him on his bike, and made him get to the line. Without her, he’d never have a full water bottle, never reach the destination city, never get registered, and if, by some miracle he were able to do all those things by himself, he’d be DQ’d for racing without his number pinned on.

And it’s more than the mechanics of navigating, organizing, feeding, and otherwise guiding this Giant of the Peloverse so that he shows up ready to rage and destroy. Most of us with a significant other learned long ago to say quietly, and only at 11:00 p.m. the night before the race when she’s either asleep or almost asleep, “I’m going to the race tomorrow.” Then we hightail it out of the house at 6:00 a.m. and pray we get out before anyone wakes up.

And although wives rightly despise the activity, what they really can’t stand is having a marital social life that revolves around other cyclists. It’s bad enough that they have to hear a replay of each pedal stroke from the four-hour training ride as told by the deadweight they married in a fit of desperation, misplaced hope, or while in a drug coma, but having to “socialize” with people who rehash the rehash goes far beyond what most women can endure. Throw into the mix the gossiping, guttersniping, blogging, and preening in front of the mirror with $700 in new lycra, and it’s enough to wreck any marriage.

Not so with Maggie. No matter how lowly, depraved, misbegotten, deluded, or downright maggoty the cyclist, Maggie the Fred Angel always has a smile and a good word to spare. The toxic environment of the bike world seems not to bother her in the least, creating a perfectly acclimatized bubble in which Sir Orange can reach his maximum potential.

So the next time you wonder why he’s beaten you senseless, just take a look over at Maggie. And if you’re one of the roachbags with a water bottle, here’s a hint: See’s Chocolates takes orders online.

It don’t mean a thing (if it ain’t got that bling): Boulevard Road Race results 2011

February 6, 2011 § 2 Comments

Or: Lame post-race excuses for getting your head staved in

[Boulevard Road Race Results 2011 and Boulevard Road Race recap]

I like to get places early. In fact, there’s not really any such thing in my book as “too early.” This includes getting to bike races. However, like sharing a motel room, when you take up someone’s offer of a carpool, you have to go with the flow. And when the person offering the carpool is Jeff K., you can forget toodling up to the event two hours beforehand in a compact and fuel efficient Prius.

You’ll be arriving in the Bling Machine

The full-size 2010 Cadillac Escalade comes with diamond-encrusted, 18-inch alloy wheels, an adaptive suspension with electronically controlled shock absorbers that hold your balls when you drive, xenon headlamps, an auto-dimming driver-side mirror, a power liftgate for your 350-lb. spouse, rear parking sensors that make a cute “splat” noise when you flatten whatever’s behind you, a  triple-zone automatic climate control that lets you be freezing cold, steel smelting hot, and perfectly cozy all at the same time, leather upholstery that’s nicer than your living room couch, heated 14-way power front seats that are hot enough to blow dry your hair, heated second-row captain’s chairs and a crisp set of officer’s whites, power-adjustable pedals, remote start, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, Bluetooth hands-free cell phone connectivity so that you can drive without having to put your hands on the annoying steering wheel, OnStar to track your spouse’s trysts, a Bose surround-sound audio system with a six-disc CD/DVD changer so that you’ll finally have a use for that $15,000 collection of OBSOLETE compact discs, and a navigation system with real-time traffic updates so that you’ll know–surprise–that the 405 is at a standstill, and a built-in rear view camera for close-ups of the outraged drivers you chop in traffic.

This is all standard, along with the recessed hidden pockets for caching dime bags and related paraphernalia.

Butt Jeff K. doesn’t do “standard”

Why? Because “standard” is another word for “sucker.” Step up to the luxury model and you get hardware upgrades including 22-inch chrome alloy wheels which are bigger and therefore better, a more sophisticated adaptive suspension (Magnetic Ride Control) so that you can sleep even more comfortably when you fall asleep at the wheel, auto-dimming, high-beam headlights that can illuminate the high school football field in a pinch, and a sunroof, or rather a moonroof for when you cruise the ‘hood making sure your girls are working. Inside you’ll find heated and ventilated front seats for ultra fast fart dispersion, directional fans that let you point the flatulence over to whichever passenger has earned your ire, a heated steering wheel that forever renders obsolete the need to warm your hands by sitting on them, a power-release feature for the second-row seats that doubles as an eject button, and a blind-spot warning system for hitting blind people in just the right spot. The premium trim level adds power-retractable running boards for gang-banging on the fly and a rear-seat DVD video entertainment system with a ceiling-mounted screen so that your kids can watch the latest porn while you take them to their pole dancing lessons. Top-of-the-line Platinum versions of this growling beast throw in all the bells and whistles including LED headlights, heated and cooled cupholders, and a DVD entertainment system with dual screens mounted in the front seat headrests.

People who, after deciding on the luxury model, still feel skimped, can pick from options that include different styles of 22-inch alloy wheels–square and triangular–and a 60/40 split-folding second-row bench seat that lets a passenger bend over while maintaining the maximal degree of pelvic arch.

These, of course, are simply the creature comforts to make sure you hit the line well rested and spitting bling. For all the dopes shuttling their bike crap to the race in rusted out turdboxes that cost less than a good set of racing rims, eat your hearts out because there’s one honking badass car bolted underneath this moving luxury hotel room.

The SUV that gives Hummer fuel economy a good name

The obscene 6.2-liter V8 that puts out a sick 403 horsepower and 417 pound-feet of torque with a six-speed automatic transmission and a manual-shift feature will ensure that you’ll never get anywhere without gas stations evenly spaced at 300-yard intervals. The only downside to the power train is that the all-wheel-drive system lacks a low-range transfer case and features a default 40/60 front-to-rear power split that’s mainly intended to provide added peace of mind when road conditions turn ugly. “Ugly” in this case doesn’t mean four-wheeling like some low-rent plumber in a 4×4. It means “ugly” as in having to run over smaller vehicles, pedestrians, cyclists, and anything else cluttering up your pavement. When trying to outrun the cops on a crack run, this baby will take a mere 7.5 seconds to go from zero to 60 mph, a relatively impressive number for a vehicle this size and for a car that, once it reaches 60 mph, can neither be steered without a rudder nor stopped without a concrete blast wall.

New cylinder-deactivation technology that seamlessly shuts down and restarts half the engine’s cylinders to save fuel is now standard, even though Escalade engineers snickered throughout the entire design process, as EPA estimates stand at 14 mpg city/20 highway for the 2WD Escalade. This is a number which, if believed, makes you a potential investor in a Madoff fund which guarantees annual returns of at least 25%. Properly equipped, two-wheel-drive versions can tow a healthy 8,300 pounds or your mother-in-law, but not both.

Did these poor bastards take their Geritol?

We got to the race and it was pretty pathetic. Since I’ve revolutionized my training with the use of a power meter, doing build weeks that focus on intervals and endurance, and including the appropriate amount of rest, it was pretty much foreordained that I was going to destroy the field. I felt sorry for the sods pedaling around the campground in a futile attempt to warm up.

In fact, I considered ditching the 45+ race completely and just doing the pro-1-2 race. What kind of satisfaction would I get out of smacking the crap out of these old farts? There was poor old Roger W., looking older and slower and weaker than a homeless man after a Chicago ice storm. There was pathetic old Haluza, at 6’4″ and 185 way too big for a hard man’s climbing race like Boulevard. Who was he kidding?

And of course I’d ridden up with Jeff K., who, although admittedly on form, was going to get a big slice of manure pie shoved down his throat when I opened up the jets. Tired, sick, and mentally defeated Dave J. had emailed at the last minute to say he was going to race, so we’d gracefully allowed him to tag along. I spent my warm-up time trying to pick just the right speech to deliver from atop the podium.

I was having difficulty deciding to begin with “And thou, vanquished warriors” or “Good try, pathetic losers.”

At the sign-in I calmly unrolled my training log and power meter data and showed it to the guy handing out numbers. “See this, Freddie? You can just give me my medal and my money now and save these other bastards the misery of having to get spit out the back.”

He looked at me funny. “Who are you?”

“Davidson. Cat 4, 45+. You’ll know my name after today, pal.”

He rolled his eyes and gave me my number.

Lap One: victory in the making

I made sure to start on the very front row. Long experience had taught me that starting on the front intimidates everyone else, as there’s nothing more demoralizing than seeing someone courageous and fit enough to elbow his way to the head of the field before the race even starts. I felt their mutterings of fear.

We rolled out and hit the first little wall. This was the place last year that had caused me so much difficulty a mere two minutes into the race. Today it was effortless, as if a pair of bionic bolt-on legs had been attached at the hip. We crested the bump and began the long rolling downhill that takes about 25 minutes before you hit the first real climb of the day. Staying towards the front but cannily out of the wind, I watched three no-hopers leap off the front. “Fodder for us hardmen who’ll sweep them up like broken teeth after $1 shots in a Texas bar with fifty roughnecks and only one hooker,” I thought.

Before long we crossed the railroad tracks and began the first climb. It took 5:25 and required 322w, and I made it over in fine form. After a brief respite we started the second section. The pace on this climb alone shelled twenty or more of the 65-man field, with Hector Saldana driving the pace like a madman.

The second section of the climb took 6:47, killed off another clump of the feeble and the lame, and required 233w. However, halfway through the second section I noticed with some alarm an unpleasant burning sensation in both legs, a feeling that is often followed by getting dropped. Shortly after the feeling stabbed all the way into my lungs, I found myself in a single file, desperately trying to hold on. Still confident of the win, I nonetheless had to acknowledge that this degree of pain so early in the race was troubling, particularly since the rest of the field was chatting and stretching and eating and finally putting away the morning paper.

At 41 minutes into the race we turned onto the big hill, a steep, jagged 5.2 mile climb that rears up out of the earth like a tooth from the lower jaw of Charlie Sheen. At this moment Mike Haluzka attacked, smashing the group, shelling remnants out the back and forcing the remainder into a bitter single file. It took 706w to follow the attack, and 302w to make it to the top of the climb, although halfway up I got puked out the back with ten or fifteen others. Haluzka’s pace was so bitter, however, that at the slight declivity midway through the climb the leaders sat up, frightened at what they’d unleashed. I and my group struggled back onto the lead pack, where I took a few moments to re-evaluate my victory speech. “It is with great honor that I accept these spoils of victory” or “I can’t believe I beat you guys after that thrashing on the first lap”…either one would be appropriate.

Lap Two: it’s not an endurance event until 90 minutes have elapsed

Everyone knows that my forte is endurance. This is really where I shine. So it was only a minor inconvenience that I got dropped and had to time-trail back onto the leading group. Once back with the peloton I could re-evaluate my competition. There was Meeker, looking older than a bristlecone pine and clearly not up to the task at hand. There was Haluzka, plainly cracked and hanging on for dear life after that pointless beating he administered on the big climb. There was Jaeger, surviving, but just barely. There was JK, looking good but only because I had yet to unleash my Attack of Black Death.

Over on the side was Worthington 1, wondering how he was going to hang with the big boys. Over on the other side was Worthington 2, uncomfortable and out of his element. Pomeranz was swerving and wheel chopping, stuck in last year’s glory of his states victory. Hotten obviously didn’t have the legs, and Leibert glanced over at me with what can only be described as the “glance begging for mercy where none will be shown.” No, there was only one rider in the field who was up to the task at hand, and that was me, because it’s not an endurance event until you hit the 90-minute mark. This must have been how Ghengis Khan felt when looked down onto some modest city filled with plump victims and soft defenders who’d never faced the horse and the cruel edge of steel.

At 1:22 there was a 721w surge as we hit the bottom of the climb. I laughed to myself and found a good wheel. The next time I checked my clock it read 1:30. “There it is,” I said to myself with glee. “Get ready to hurt, suckas!”

We were 869 feet from the summit of the climb, my GPS has informed me after the fact. JK had been drilling it full bore for the last 3:27. I looked down to check my wattage, when suddenly it broke. The “it” unfortunately was not the display or the power meter, but me. In a few short seconds the pack had left me behind without even pausing to appreciate the intensity and fury of the Attack of Black Death I was preparing to unleash. “Ungrateful bastards!” I cursed.

55 seconds later I crested the hill, put my head down, and time trailed again back up to the pack. This time there would truly be no mercy as I shot to the front and put down the most fearsome and searing attack of the day. 1:19 later the entire field was gasping in fear and exhaustion and pain, strung out in a wide group 4 abreast, sipping water and looking at their watches. I relented, satisfied that I’d made my point. Worthington 1 rolled by. “Good pull,” he said, trying to hide his fear with a friendly smile.

When we turned for the second time up the big hill, I decided that they’d had enough. “Why punish these idiots any further?” I said to myself. “I’m going to have to see them again next week, so no need to rub their noses in it.”

With that, I let them ride away, this time for good. I re-evaluated my podium speech for a third time. “I dedicate this DFL to my mother, my wife, and my children.” Sounded pretty good to me.

The lead group became a tiny dot. Once they were out of sight, I heard a noise like a sonic boom, later to learn that it was Leibert who had attacked from the rear, catching the competition with their pants down, and flying the coop for good. I was proud of him, as that was exactly what I had planned to do, only harder and faster. He time trialed the entire third lap, winning the race by more than two minutes. Jeff K. and the rest of the Orangemen shut down the chase attempts by Meeker and Worthington 1, though JK could have easily bridged.

At the finish, Meeker threaded a line between a hapless clump of 35+ers who had arrived at the same time, to take 2nd. JK got 3rd, Roger W. got 4th, Haluzka got 5th, Pomeranz 6th, and Dave W. 7th. Jaeger, who had ridden the entire race on twelve minutes of sleep and a bottle of Nyquil, got 15th, and continued his streak of never entering a race with me and finishing less than 30 minutes ahead.

Lap Three: this is how puppies feel when you rub their nose in it

Once I had magnanimously decided to let the others fight it out for the win–who cares about a stupid bike race anyway–the rest of the race was a blur. I ended up in a four-man wanker brigade: Scott from Coates Cyclery, who looked like he was a hundred but rode like a man twice his age; Steve from BL Bicycles, whose redeeming quality of being willing to pull endlessly was offset by his 4’11” frame that provided zero draft; and Dean from Bike Religion, who had found God and was force-feeding him to my soul via my aching, screaming, bleeding thighs. We traded pulls, battering miserably, senselessly, stupidly, and hopelessly until we crossed the tracks and began the final climb. We were broken old men, clawing our way through the desert for the grand prize of not being DFL. And it would be a fight to the death.

My temporary teammates left me in the dust after the tracks and I dragged on, broken and alone, one mile from the Mexican border and ready to take the next left and try my luck with coyotes and drug smugglers rather than finish the race DFL. On the bright side, when you’re shelled and cracked and straggling alone uphill to the finish line, you get to take note of the countryside and scenery. That’s normally my favorite part of getting dropped, but this part of California is barren and ugly and studded with shrubby, spiny, desert vegetation. It’s as if God leveled His cannon and shot the whole landscape with a shit pistol. The sun beats down hot and dry unless the wind happens to be blowing at 30 below. I noted that the road had gone from black to vomit green, and pondered the road crew that had paved California’s only green highway.

“Say, Bill, pour me some more of that asphalt, willya?”

“Aw shit, Terrence we’re damn shore all outta asphalt.”

“Well hell we gotta pave it with something.”

“My old lady’s still sick in the back of the pickup from last night at the Golden Acorn.”

“Let’s just scoop up them puke baggies and dump it into the hot mix. Nobody’ll ever know.”

Midway through this reverie I passed a poor sap from the 35+ race who had started long ahead of us. He was cramped and unable to pedal. There is nothing that gets me more motivated than someone going more slowly than I am, unless it’s someone who’s hurting and wrecked and from another race. “You okay?” I pretended to care.

“All cramped up,” he moaned.

“You’ll make it,” I soothed him. “The finish is just another 15 miles away, uphill with a headwind. But at least it’s not raining like last year.” He moaned some more and made as if to unclip and go lie on a cactus.

“Take one of these,” I said, and handed him a Hammer anti-cramp capsule that had been given to me before the race by a buddy. Just as he reached over, it slipped from my hand, and I’ve never seen a cyclist intentionally lunge harder or faster for the pavement. He scooped it up and washed it down.

“You do massages?” he shouted as I dwindled in the distance.

Going for the glory

Imagine my shock when, a couple of miles from the line, I was overtaken by a group of 10 or 15 wankers from the 45+ field who were apparently even bigger wankers than I. In addition to ensuring that, with a little strategy, I wouldn’t be DFL, I immediately saw that I could make an impressive showing in the final run to the line.

There is an unwritten rule in cycling that at the end of a race in which you are wanking pack fodder, it is unseemly to sprint. Of course there’s an even bigger rule which is that rules exist to be broken.

Team Wanker rolled by me, blathering loudly about their heroics during the first part of the race. They included three of the guys who had been in the no-hope breakaway that stayed out for well over a lap before splatting on the windshield of the hostile field. As we approached the line, one of them turned to me, seeing me start to shift. “No, you don’t,” he warned.

A second wanker wheeled alongside. “We’re not going to sprint for 30th are we? You’re kidding me, right?”

All he got in response was my steely-eyed glint. Poor bastard didn’t even know we were actually sprinting for 27th.

Easy as taking raw meat from the jaws of a pitbull I unleashed the Sprint of Black Death and cruised over the line with bike lengths to spare. The spectators watched, slack-jawed that a racer with such speed and power was not racing with a squad from the Pro Tour. I heard them whisper as I roared by, “That’s his first 27th placing of the year!”

My mission accomplished, I reviewed the day’s successes:

1. The only people who beat me were the ones who were faster, stronger, shrewder, and better at bike racing.
2. My name was on everyone’s lips, pretty much.
3. I got to save my victory address for next week.
4. [Best of all] Jeff K. and Jaeger were still in the parking lot when I finished so I didn’t have to walk the 180 miles back home.

Best of all, I confirmed that with proper training, smart nutrition, and the use of a power meter, I can spend more time and money and do even worse than I used to do with a steel bike and wool jersey.

Just wait til next year.

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