P[u]CK[e]RR Up!

January 29, 2013 § 20 Comments

The 2013 Poor College Kids Road Race started fast, downhill and into a crosswind. The bunch was nervous. Maybe eighty idiots rolled out; less than half would finish.

It was impossible to move up, so tightly were we packed together. Everyone felt feisty and strong and ready for the challenge at hand: Fifty-six miles of road racing in Santa Barbara County on rolling terrain with one moderate five or six-minute climb.

In the beginning, before we all hated one another so intensely, there was much pointing out of obstacles, especially the first triple set of road dots that caused lots of skittering and whoa-ing and rear wheel sliding. Then we roared through the first gravelly turn with a couple of riders going sideways but not falling down, and then the pace went full-gas into the tailwind which soon became another crosswind.

The next time someone says bike racing is “fun,” I will vomit on them personally.

We hid behind one another as much as possible until the climb approached. A mile or so out there was the familiar groaning and scraping and crunching and disharmony of Idiot A’s front wheel lurching into the rear derailleur of Idiot B and both grinding into a massive twisted morass of broken carbon frames and smashed wheels and curses and cries and blood and minced flesh and the ultimate terror (“Fuck, how’m I gonna ‘splain this to my wife?”) but the second I heard the first tiny little squeak presaging the crash I stomped on the pedals and shot ahead, never looking back to see who had fallen and caring only about saving myself.

We went up and over the climb, a few lumbering stragglers getting popped at this test-em-out, totally doable pace, and then went through the rollers and roared down into the start finish and began the second of four laps.

Thirty-six minutes.

It slices, it dices

On this second lap the pace ratcheted up so suddenly that we were all forced into the gutter, hiding from the crosswind but too stupid to form three or four echelons. We hated each other too much to form echelons. Better to force our rims up against the edge of catastrophe and batter into the sliver of slipstream than go wide, provide a full-lane echelon, and take turns.

Echelons are for wind-savvy Flandrians. Sun-soaked saps from SoCal just ride in the gutter and suffer like idiots, drooling blood and spit onto their bars and shrieking “Fuck this hurts fuck this hurts fuck when is this gonna end fuck I’m quitting after this lap fuck why doesn’t that asshole give me another inch of pavement fuck I hate bike racing!”

Through the gravelly turn again there “warn’t near as many as there was a while ago,” and some sadist at the front began pounding again so that by the time we hit the crosswind it was almost unendurable. A break of seven or eight pinched off and rolled up the road, the guttered peloton unable to chase because the break was riding in an echelon but the group was a single file pushed up against the yellow line, smashing the BOTS dots with bone-jarring contact bam-bam-bam-bam-fuckwhenisthisgonnaend-bam-bam-bam-bam-fuckgivemejustaninchyoubastard-bam-bam-bam-bam.

MMX, stuck in the front of the chase bus, launched to join SPY-Giant-RIDE teammate Alan Flores, who had already spent the first lap in a leg stretching solo attack and was now part of what would be the day’s winning move. MMX clawed his way across the gap, mashing and battering and forcing himself onto the tail of the break as we left-behinds regrouped, with the more adventurous pushing the pace until the break was all but caught.

Don’t sit up before the catch

Team Helen’s and the handful of other poor sods who’d worn themselves out on the BOTS dots because they were too selfish and mean and stupid to echelon and who now didn’t have anyone in the break, brought the pack to within perhaps fifty yards of the breakaway, then sat up without closing the gap. At that moment we hit the climb.

The break dangled, got even closer, then crested the climb and was gone.

We never saw them again. Greg Leibert from Big Orange, Benny Parks from Jessup Chevrolet, Flores and Marckx were all there, as well as Chris Hahn the loner, back from his exile in the land of mesothelioma fundraising to the only home he ever knew: Racing bikes for $50 and a water bottle prime, sucking wheels, screaming orders, riding randomly, surging, opening gaps, and infuriating his breakaway mates.

After one outburst, Flores finally rode up to him. “Dude,” he said. “Shut your fucking mouth and ride your goddamned bike. It’s a race, not a fucking debating contest.”

The third lap was more terrible for the left-behinds than the second, if such a thing could be, and it was. The left-behinds with no one in the break gnashed their teeth and ground their gears at the front, destroying the weak of spirit, the jiggly of flesh, and the spindly of leg. We tore down the crosswind section, again stupidly in the gutter, raced through the tailwind, then guttered out against the BOTS dots, bam-bam-bam-fuckthissucks-bam-bam-bam-givemeaninchyoucock-bam-bam-bam, too stupid and cruel and mean and stingy to follow King Harold’s lead as he tried in vain to show the idiots the palliative effects of forming an echelon.

Hell ends in one more lap

The fourth lap was the easiest, as the left behinds had nothing left, the sun was going down, a bitter cold was setting in, exhaustion, bonk, hopelessness, and the dull emptiness of a lost battle in which all was sacrificed for no good reason slowly sank in. Andy Jessup flailed up the last climb, dropping the left behinds briefly, only to be reeled in a mile from the finish. In the insane downhill leadout to the line, where grown men with jobs, families, assets, and social standing flew headfirst to the finish at 40 mph, risking everything for 8th place in a 45+ older gentlemen’s prostate contest, some wanker who had a lock on 26th got chopped and landed on his head.

As he lay writhing and screaming in agony, blood everywhere, bike parts scattered like a swap meet after a tornado, flopping and moaning and crying, I pulled over to help drag his carcass out of the way so that the heroes charging in for 30th and 31st, heads down, didn’t t-bone what was left of his battered and bleeding body.

In the final tally Benny Parks took overall prostate honors, followed by someone else, followed by Chris Hahn, who had committed all manner of sins against His Leibertness in terms of wheelsuckery and other assorted violations of the Code Of Honor Among Wankers, followed by His Leibertness, followed by somebody, followed by MMX, who had destroyed the little band of brothers with a fratricidal attack in the closing kilometers, followed by He Of The Iron Nutsack Alan Flores, then a dribble and a drabble, and finally a surging field sprunt win by Aron “Gaudy” Gadhia, nipping Big Steve Gregorios at the line, who, along with Dave Gonyer, won the award for Most Gigantic Mountain of Human Flesh to Make it Over that Fucking Climb Four Times with the Field.

Mongo just pawn in game of life

Mongo Pappe and I had driven up together; he’d done the race on his ‘cross bike and I’d done the race on bile and spittle and chunks of lung. Whereas Hatchitt and Taylor and Gonyer and King Harold and the other teammates had done yeoman’s work controlling the front, Mongo and I had skulked at the back, cursing the gutter and getting as tiny as we could and trying to park behind the biggest butt we could find.

We listened briefly while DS Hatchitt debriefed the team on our combined fledgling tactics. “Wankster,” he said. “Where the fuck were you? I thought you’d been dropped.”

“I was back there, uh, conserving.”

“Conserving for what? You should have been chasing the wankers who were trying to bridge.”

“Oh. Well, I uh, was…”

“The only time you stuck your nose out in the wind was when you dashed up the hill with KK and almost dragged him up to your own teammates in the damned break.”

“Well, I was, uh, trying to sort of be a, like, you know, a decoy.”

“It was stupid. Don’t do it again.”

“And Mongo!” said the DS.

“Yeah?” Mongo answered in his tiniest voice.

“What the fuck you doing riding back there with that slacker Wankmeister?”

“I was trying to, er, help, uh, the team, you know…”

“I do fucking know. You were shirking back there with Wanky sucking wheel on the fat guys while the rest of your mates were up here busting their balls. Next time follow the First Rule of the Peloton, okay?”

“Sure,” said Mongo. “Uh, what’s that?”

“If you’re anywhere near Wanky, YOU’RE FUCKING OFF!”

Before returning to the car. Mongo looked at me. “Was that race as much fun for you as it was for me?”

I looked around to make sure no one could hear. “Hell, yeah!”

We laughed, high-fived, and headed back to the hotel.

Schooling the big dudes

December 10, 2012 § 29 Comments

Dave Gonyer. The name even sounds big. And it is. Two hundred pounds of big. “Gonyer.” Makes me think of a huge dump truck loaded with slabs of rebar.

“Hey, bubba. Back up the Gonyer a couple more feet so we can unload the concrete.”

“I almost got run off the fuckin’ road by a Gonyer. Damn operator didn’t even see me.”

Gonyer. It’s actually an Americanization of the French surname “Gagne.” But lest you think it’s French as in “Those wusses who drink lattes and discuss poetry on the Left Bank,”…nuh-uh.

The Gagne clan are from the Central Massif Departement of France, which means “Region of Massive Testicles.” They worked for generations in the mines, where their hereditary occupation was “prendre le merdre pendeleuse,” or “carrying heavy shit.”

The Gonyers are big people. Heavy people. Stoic draggers of useless things without complaint.

How’d our roles get reversed?

I had driven down to North County San Diego for the Swami’s Poker Ride. It’s a 51-mile, four-person team time trial. You get the time of your slowest rider. The only other rule is that there are no rules.

Over the last year or so I’ve developed a love-hate relationship with North County, but haven’t yet discovered the “love” part of the equation. My trips there follow a pattern.

Good buddy MMX: “Hey WM, why don’t you come down to North County next weekend? We’re having the [insert name of awful-sounding ride] and you could ride with us. It will be fun.”

Me: “Uh, okay. Sure. Thanks for the invitation.”

Once I get there I find out that the “fun” consists of MMX and the other North County zombies tearing my legs off, shelling me forty miles from home, and leaving me adrift in a sea of endless, stabbing rollers.

This time, though I’d been put on the Team from Hell with MMX and David Anderson, I was relieved to see that there was another rider on our team, Gonyer, clearly unfit for duty and in comparison with whom I would appear fit and fast, for a change.

Before the ride started, Jim Miller came up to me. “How you feeling, WM?”

“Great,” I said. “We might actually have a shot at winning this if it weren’t for the weak link.”

“Oh?”

I nodded over at Gonyer.

Jim looked at me quizzically. “Gonyer? He’ll do fine.”

I shook my head. “Not with this crowd. MMX is loaded for bear. David is coming off a state win in ‘cross. I’m as lean as I’ve ever been. Dude’s going to peg out on the climbs, and since our time is based on the slowest rider, Team Nemesis will beat us. Looks like I’ll be dragging weak link’s ass all over San Diego County.”

Jim laughed. “You’ve got it all figured out, don’t you, buddy? Ride safe.”

Warming up, then getting into a rhythm

We were the next-to-last-team to start, just in front of Team Nemesis, which consisted of Slasher, Assassin, The Hand of God, and Dandy. We rolled out and MMX slowly brought up the pace so that we had a chance to get good and warmed up.

Then, after those first 200 yards were completed, he sprinted away. One after another we clawed our way to his wheel as he continually looked back to see if Team Nemesis was gaining.

By the end of Mile One we’d overhauled Team Stefanovich. MMX and David took turns attacking the group. By the end of Mile Two I was done, hardly able to hold a wheel. Gonyer was gassed, too.

By Mile Ten we’d shed Team Stefanovich and passed Team Nemesis, who had taken a shortcut to get ahead of us but had gotten three flats courtesy of Karma, who is a bitch.

After the first checkpoint, at Mile Fifteen, I was unable to pull through. It had become clear that although Gonyer was equally gassed, his ample width meant that getting on his wheel was the Cadillac draft. “What the hell,” I thought. “He can tow me for a while. I’ll be towing him soon enough.”

Sharing the work by not working

Now my three teammates were doing all the work, and as we whizzed down one long descent Gonyer, who wasn’t very good at pointing shit out, rolled over a manhole cover. The civil engineers in North County had all decided that the best place to put big manholes with 2-inch lips was in the middle of the bike lane, so when Gonyer hit this one, his rear bottle popped out of the cage and exploded.

Karma Bitch paid me for my suckery when the contents of the bottle coated me from helmet to foot. This was the bottle in which Gonyer had put his triple-thick mixture of Fanta grape soda pop, with a viscosity of approximately 250 Pa┬Ěs, the same as peanut butter.

My glasses were immediately coated with grape goop, and long sticky goopcicles hung from my nose and helmet and chin. Everyone thought it was hilarious, but I was having a hard time getting the joke, so I figured if I sat in some more I would perhaps understand it better.

TTT tactics for people who hate TTT’s

Although we were nominally called “Team MMX,” in reality we were doing ITT MMX. As we rolled up one long climb, popping Gonyer off the back, I remarked to MMX, “You dropped Gonyer.”

MMX shrugged. “He knows how to chase.”

“But we’re only as fast as our slowest guy.”

“He’d better hurry, then.”

Unlike other teams, whose strategy revolved around sheltering the weak in order to maintain the highest average speed by keeping the group together and benefiting from the draft, MMX’s strategy was to destroy his teammates and make them go faster through fear, humiliation, and pain.

Gonyer caught back on. It was working.

Somewhat disappointed that his own team was still together, despite chasing down and dropping half a dozen of the teams in front of us, MMX gave the next set of death commands. “We will take the dirt.”

The ride had a “dirt” option where you could get an extra card for your poker hand by taking a “short” and “easy” off road section. At the Thirty Mile checkpoint we got our card plus an extra card for the dirt, and pounded on.

MMX and David shot off down the dirt trail, which was studded with boulders, gravel, a creek sporting 2-feet of soft mud on either bank, steep successions of sandy walls, plunging descents through off-camber corners with sheer drops and mined with sharp stones and numerous other “interesting features.” We passed countless dead and wounded Swamis in various states of bike carrying, bike dragging, flat repairing, or just holding each other and sobbing.

Before vanishing, David had admonished Gonyer to “ride lightly in the saddle” as he wasn’t a ‘crosser.

“WTF?” he said. “Two hundred pounds don’t ride anything light.”

I felt sorry for him, briefly, until my own self-preservation needs took over.

The last thing I heard him say, just before plunging into the mud pit, was “What the…..?”

Bring out your dead

Thankfully, MMX had flatted at the end of the dirt road. I staggered over to a fence and peed. Rummaging through my jersey pocket I pulled out a handful of GU gels and crammed them down my throat. We still had fifteen miles to go and I was done. Dead. Bonked. Cratered. Finished. Waxed.

“Where’s Gonyer?” asked David.

“Hell if I know. A long ass way back.”

“No he isn’t,” said Dave. “There he is!”

Gonyer whipped off the dirt just as MMX finished changing the flat. The other four-man SPY-Giant team was there too, and we left together.

“How you doing?” asked MMX. He had a thin smile cut across his face that said many things, but of all the things it said, none of them was “I hope you’re doing okay and if not I will help you.”

“I’m done,” I said.

“No, you’re not. Just one more climb and then you’re done. Questhaven.”

He punched ahead as the other riders accelerated up a short roller.

At the mention of Questhaven, my legs seized. Just one more climb. Questhaven. That’s like saying “Just one more island to hop: Iwo Jima. Oh, and you’ll be landing in the first wave. With a bow and arrow.”

Gonyer came undone ahead of me and I toiled up to his rear wheel. In more than thirty years of cycling I’ve never been so undone so far from the car. This was a level of emptiness, of bonk, of mental and physical collapse that could only be explained by the fact that I had been eating a diet to sustain a squirrel while making the physiological demands of a professional rock climber. I wasn’t going to make it.

“You okay, buddy?” asked Gonyer.

“No.”

“Just sit on, then.”

I nodded, licking the strings of grape shrapnel from my face, thankful for the carbs.

The tow truck

Gonyer proceeded to haul me up hill, down dale, and along straightaways at blistering speeds. Never flicking an elbow for me to come through, easing up each of the several dozen times I came off, waiting for me atop every climb, patiently signaling the turns and coaxing me along, he showed more grit and teamwork and camaraderie in those fifteen miles than I’d shown since 1982.

Somehow I got over Questhaven. “It’s all downhill from here,” he said. “Sit tight.”

Momentarily elated, I soon realized that in North County when they say “downhill” they also mean “uphill.” Dropped, reattached, repeat…

As we got close to the barn, he turned to me. “You just having a bad day?”

“No.”

“Did you do a lot of high intensity miles this week?”

“No.”

“Just getting back on the bike?”

“No.”

“What’s the problem, then?”

“I’m…just…not…very…good.”

Gonyer shook his head. “Well, good effort, anyway. If you have four dudes, someone’s got to be the weak link. No shame in that.”

No shame, indeed.

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