Is Strava killing bike racing?

May 24, 2014 § 69 Comments

I’ll be the first to admit that the patient was never particularly robust, but in 2014 there has been a noticeable decrease in the number of racers who line up on the weekend. At one of the best and toughest road races all year, Vlees Huis in Bakersfield, there was an incredibly tiny lineup despite this being one of the best organized, safest, and most challenging races on the calendar.

Plus they fuggin’ had beer. Now, when bike racers won’t show up to a bike race where it’s hotter than Beyonce doing the nasty with Heidi Klum and you get to slake your post-race heat prostration with cold, locally brewed beer, the Dogs have gone crazy.

We will leave aside for a moment the obvious: if Fields had ever heard you weren’t going to race your bike because it was “too hot” or “too cold” or “too rainy” or “too dangerous,” he would have kicked you off the team, repo’d your kit, and made you give back all the beer you had drunk. We will also leave aside for a moment that the “weather” in SoCal is the most wussified, gentle, bike-friendly weather in the continental United States.

Many factors may be at play besides the general cowardice, tenderness, and babyfication of modern SoCal bike racers, but there are only so many absentees you can blame on an angry spouse, the cost of entry fees, the fear of quadriplegia, and the general wussdom of all the riders who said they couldn’t do Vlees Huis because it was “too far to drive.” [Check the mileage sometime when you live in Houston and have signed up for the Fort Davis Stage Race for a bit of perspective on “too far to drive.”]

Flapping of the gums

The other day I got into an argument about whether some guy was the best climber in the South Bay. Back in the day this would have been a relatively easy argument to resolve. The guy who had won more hilly road races, or the guy who was always at the front on the long climbs would be crowned the champ, even more beer would be drunk, and we’d find something else to argue about.

But this time my adversary pulled out a shocking counter-argument: his Strava KOM’s. A guy who’s done a handful of hilly road races and has consistently gotten shelled on the tough climbs — or who hasn’t even showed up — maintained that his sexy Strava performance on segments as short as 200 meters meant that he was somehow a really good climber.

What the hell is going on here?

It used to be that the best riders were the ones who won bike races. Rahsaan Bahati, I thought, was the best bike racer around because he’s won the most races. Charon Smith, Phil Tinstman, Thurlow Rogers, Mark Noble, and guys like them, I thought, were the best old guy bike racers around because they’ve won the most races.

It would never have occurred to me that a person might consider himself excellent in some aspect or other of competitive cycling based on his Strava KOM’s.

But you know what? Lots of riders do.

They choose three or four carefully selected races each year, they do a weekly group ride, and they do the vast bulk of their “head-to-head” competition on Strava. Will someone please tell them that if it’s on Strava and you’re by yourself, it’s not head-to-head? No matter how many times you self-dial, you’re still just doing yourself.

The race of truth

Every bike race is a race of truth because the fastest rider always wins. For many, that’s a downer because there’s only one winner. You can’t go home and tell yourself that you’re at the top of the leader board of 50+ troglodytes with a BMI of 200. Worse, when you lose a bike race you don’t get any trophies or crowns on your iPhone.

Strava perfectly satisfies the urge to achieve what I call DIP — distinction, improvement, praise — it’s an urge that resides in all of us, particularly, it seems, those of us who cycle. Bike races don’t provide much DIP for most participants, even with the dozens of age/gender categories per event. Instead, they provide proof of what we all instinctively know about ourselves but wish wasn’t true: MOP — mediocre, overweight, pudknocker.

In any contest between DIP and MOP, DIP will always win out. Ride your bike and get a trinket every time beats ride your bike and get your spirit shattered every time, especially when the shattering may also include collarbones and carbon fiber.

Don’t be a DIP-shit

This Monday Chris Lotts will put on his Memorial Day Crit in Dominguez Hills. The Barry Wolfe Grand Prix, Death Valley Stage Race, and State ITT Championships will also happen this weekend.

If you’re in SoCal, I hope you’ll make an effort to attend at least one of these races. If you’re in L.A., I really hope you’ll at least make it to the Memorial Day Crit. If you can spare 50 minutes to analyze all your weekly rides on WKO and Strava, you can lug your ass out for a one-hour race at Dominguez.

Guys like Chris promote races year in and year out. It’s a gratifying job for them in that they play an integral role in the sport that they love, and it’s a blast getting to deal with overfull port-a-potties at the end of the day. But it’s a huge amount of work and expense, and when “racers” who live in the area choose to spend their time on Strava digitally satisfying themselves rather than competing in organized events, it eventually kills off the event. The margin on bike races is tiny, to put it mildly.

Maybe as a Stravasturbator you think that’s fine, and I suppose if your idea of being an accomplished racer is 0’s and 1’s endlessly strung together to make an image on a computer that makes you look tougher than Eddy Merckx, that’s okay. I suppose if it’s more fun to wear $500 worth of kit riding $7000 worth of bike to compete against your “friends” on Strava than it is to ride against your mortal enemies in a real bike race, hey, to each his own.

But let’s not confuse sitting at your stupid computer and clicking “kudo” with racing your fuggin’ bike.

 

I’m probably not gonna make it

January 17, 2014 § 12 Comments

My excuse isn’t great, but it’s pretty damned good: 118 miles on Dave Jaeger’s French Toast Ride, where I’ll have to smack down young posers like Jay-Jay LaPlante, Aaron Unpronounceablelastname, Greg “I have another mortal virus” Seyranian, Dan “when does the ride start” Cobley, and one or two other flailers like King Harold and DJ himself. Yeah, I’ll bust their chops up the Lake Casitas climb, on the 101, and then with G$ I’ll time trial from Ventura to the top of Balcom while Stern-O, Bowles, Spivey, and the Long Beach freddies take turns licking each other’s open wounds.

Shorthand: I’ll be too tired for the season opening crit in Dominguez Hills, but I’ll try to make it anyway.

What’s your excuse?

The man with the plan and the white Mercedes van

When Chris Lotts kicks off the season opening SoCal crit on Sunday, January 19, lots of people will be complaining. Why? Because it’s a lot easier to complain than to race your bike. Studies show that complaining exerts a biological cost of less than .00001 homeostatic watts, whereas putting on a single bike race shortens your lifespan by roughly twelve years. Chris is now -459.7 years old, and getting younger by the week.

There are a shit-ton of reasons that you need to be at the CBR race on Sunday, and to show you why, I’ve compiled a list of whines that I’ve heard over the years. If you’ve thought or uttered more than three, I’ll call the whaambulance and have you taken (at your cost) to UCLA Harbor so that they can rub salves and ointments on that special place to relieve your butthurt.

1. “That’s a stupid fuggin’ four-corner industrial crit. That’s not bike racin’.”

Riiiiiiight. What you really want is a 100 km kermesse over wet cobblestones in 42-degree weather and spitting rain, because you’re hard like that. So what if you’ve never finished Boulevard or Punchbowl? In your Velominati fantasy life, you are a Hard Man who can’t be bothered with “easy” races like this. Fortunately, your doctor continues to renew your prescription as soon as it runs out.

2. “CBR races are too easy.”

Easy? Then why do the same handful of guys win every race, races that have 100+ entrants? Hint: Because the other 99 wankers feel strong and fast and fit until a) the winning break rolls up the road, or b) Charon opens up his sprint.

3. “Those races are way too expensive.”

Let’s see … $2,500 for your carbon tubulars … $750 for your three team kits and skin suit … $140 every other month for your training Gatorskins … $72/year for your stupid Strava Premium subscription … $3,900 for your Campy SRM power meter … tell me again about how that $35 entry fee for close to an hour of full-on racing is gonna bust your budget?

4. “Lotts annoys the shit out of me.”

Poor baby! Break out the butt salve! So you can take bumping bars, hitting the asphalt at 30 mph, and racing until your eyes pop out of your head, but you can’t take a little diversity of opinion? You crumple up and die when Chris talks about his “Christian Tingles” web site? Awww, I feel really sorry for you, and I envy the little glass bubble you live in and the inheritance that protects you from getting out and LIVING IN THE REAL FUCKING WORLD.

5. “Those races are a clusterfuck. A handful of big teams control everything.”

Guess what, limpster? The guys on those “teams who control everything” got there by racing their dogdamned bikes, not by sitting at home reading Jonathan Vaughters’s Twitter feed. What’s stopping you from making the break, sitting in, and letting the “big teams” do all the work as you cannily outsprint them to the finish line (besides the fact that you always race at the back and don’t train hard and are 30 pounds overweight)?

6. “I’m more of a stage racer than a crit rider.”

Yeah, and I’m more of a Martian than I am a New Jerseyite. Look, stupid, if you want 21-day stage races, you’re living in the wrong city, county, state, nation, and body.

7. “It’s too early in the season.”

Oh, I get it, the Interwebs coach you pay $399 per month to tell you that you’re “making great progress” has advised you to wait until, say, April? Did it ever occur to you that he wants you to wait until April in order to delay the crushing reality that’s going to batter your ego when you still finish 51st after an after-tax-dollar investment of $15k? Hint: P.T. Barnum said it.

8. “Crits are too sketchy.”

I see. Because you’re the one steady wheel out of the 100+ numbskulls, and, like the mother who watched her son in the marching band and commented “Look! Everyone else in the band is out of step!” you think that no one knows how to properly handle a bike except, of course, you?

9. “Crits are too short to give me a good workout.”

Yes, I understand completely. No one in history has ever ridden to a race, raced, then ridden home. You’re obligated to drive to the race. It’s in the bylaws.

10. “We need more road races in SoCal, like they have in NorCal.”

So you’re going to promote a road race? I didn’t think so. Or you’re going to race in NorCal? Nope — too far and hard and expensive, right? So why not shut the fuck up and support the one guy who shows up week in and week out, who has the genius of being able to put on a bike race and make money at it (okay, so the genius is Vera), and who can take your abuse and never take it (too) personally? Answer: Because you’re not very good, your ego is tender, and it’s easier to talk about bike racing than to race your bike.

See you on Sunday. Or not.

Ride like Thurlow

May 25, 2013 § 10 Comments

I’m only three or four years younger than Thurlow, which is like comparing myself to the greatest basketball player of all time by saying, “I’m only three or four inches shorter than Michael Jordan.”

Yeah. So?

I first saw Thurlow at the Tour of Texas in 1984 at the Camp Mabry crit in Austin. He was racing for Raleigh. Nelson Vails was his teammate. Dude was old even then.

There’s no name in the peloton that is as heavy as “Thurlow.” It weighs about four thousand pounds. You can slacken a room full of bike racer boners just by whispering “Thurlow.” It’s the only word in the English language that makes grown men hunch over and start to droop. Generations of cyclists have been flogged, tortured, punished, and then dropped by “Thurlow.”

The only residue remaining in this, his fifth decade of bike racing, is the residue of pain and defeat. Yours.

“Thurlow’s not his old self”

Commentators have remarked that in 2013 there’s something missing from the arsenal of America’s winningest bike racer. He only got second in the BWR behind Neil Shirley, a pro who is young enough to be his great-grandson’s grandson.

He’s only won a couple of races so far this year, and has only gotten top three placings in about a dozen. “You should have seen him at SLR,” said one of my buddies. “He just folded. Never seen Thurlow fold like that.”

I mused. Thurlow has more national championship jerseys than my buddy has race participations for the last two years. Oh, and a rainbow jersey. And that Olympic team stuff. Then there was that season that he raced with Bernard Hinault and Greg Lemond on La Vie Claire.

“Oo eez Bernard Hinault?” asked our homestay French student who comes from, of all places, Bretagne.

“Eez joos ze greatest fucking French bicycle racer ever,” I snarled.

“I don like ze sports,” said Homestay before going out onto the veranda to smoke a cigarette and wash it down with some Colt .45.

Imitation is the most pathetic form of idolatry

I’m always trying to race like Thurlow. You know, the way he always understands what’s always going on all the time. The way he rides close to the front and never misses the split. The way he rests, then attacks, then rests if they bring him back, then attacks again. The way he seems to summon the most strength at the one point in the race when everyone else is at their weakest. The way he stuffs the painburger down your throat with a red-hot poker, then beats the end of the poker with a 30-pound hammer.

Of course, I’ve never Ridden Like Thurlow, starting with the omniscience thing. Where Thurlow knows what’s going on all the time, my awareness seems to focus on stuff like that family sitting on the picnic blanket on Turn 4. “Wonder what’s in their sandwiches?” I wonder.

Boom. Break is gone and Thurlow has a 45-second gap.

Or the ride towards the front thing. Try as I might, as far forward as I get, pretty soon I’m back in 87th position, right behind Lardball with the Grand Canyon asscrack and the Serengeti grassland of hair sprouting from the waistband of his non-bib shorts.

Then there’s that attacking thing. Thurlow attacks the way an angry farmer with a pitchfork stabs the head of the king as it rolls off the guillotine’s blade. My attacks, to quote Aaron Wimberly, “Are like a huge commuter bus on four flat tires going up a mud mountain with a full load of passengers.”

And of course Thurlow rests, then goes again. I rest, and then there’s a football field between me and the peloton, a DNF, and a personal request from the family in Turn 4 to give me some of their sandwich.

But still, that doesn’t stop me from trying and experimenting. Whether it’s a fancy power meter, or nose breathing, or the water + kimchi diet, I’m always up for something new, because the difference between me and Thurlow can’t be that he’s just better…there has to be a trick, and one day I’ll find it.

Me & Prez

A couple of weeks ago Prez and I were riding back from the NPR. Prez notices everything when it comes to biking. Nothing escapes his attention, so I usually ignore him when he’s talking, but this particular day he mentioned Thurlow.

“There are guys out there whose pedaling is so efficient, it’s incredible,” Prez said.

“Uh-huh,” I answered, watching the cute nubbin in the Smart car prepare to back over the dude pushing the stroller.

“Like Thurlow, you know? That guy’s pedaling is so incredibly efficient.”

Now I was all ears. “Yeah?”

“Yeah. One reason is that he seems to pull up as much as he pushes down. He’s got that little muscle on the hams just on the inside of his thigh that you never see in cyclists. Him and Charon, they’re about the only two around here with it; it’s because they’re so efficient.”

All I had to hear was “Thurlow” followed by “Charon” and now I was hanging on every word. But I pretended to be bored and only half-interested. “Yeah?” I said.

“Yeah,” Prez said. Then he launched into a complex and insightful description of pedaling efficiency and why most of us, him included, were so inefficient. “It’s the pulling up,” he concluded.

Secrets stolen stealthily

Chuckling to myself at this new-found secret, which I had wrested from the knowledge banks of Prez without him even knowing it, I immediately began pushing and pulling up simultaneously. Then I discovered that this was impossible, because after about four strokes your legs give out. It appeared that rest was part of the pedaling equation.

Nonetheless, by the time I’d reached the office, I had figured it out. You didn’t actually pull up with your feet, you pulled up with your thigh. It was not so much a push and pull effort as much as it was extremely short intervals between the flexing of the thigh. I went noticeably faster. I was noticeably more exhausted.

“Could this be the long lost key to victory?” I wondered. “Have I finally cracked the Code of Thurlow?” I raced through the day’s work, bounding out of the office at 4:00 in order to Thighflex ® all the way back home. Preliminary plans showed that I would now be able to crush all the competition, earn every Strava KOM I desired, and sell the newly trademarked Thighflex program to coaches worldwide. I might even realize every cyclist’s dream of finally getting a pro contract and riding the Tour without too many drugs, or the Giro with way too many.

Thighflexing up the Mt. Home Commute

As I warmed up my thighs with the proprietary Tiny Muscle® Thighflex® limbering method, I felt the incredible strength and speed from this new system. Poor Prez. What a sucker. He’d revealed the most important secret of riding and I was now on the cusp of millions, huge victories, and taking a Strava KOM away from Lane Reid when he least expected it.

“Heh, heh,” I chuckled gleefully as I roared up Mt. Home and its vicious 2% grade. “Wait ’til I unleash this at the CBR Dogpoop Memorial Day Crit.”

In preparation, I showed up to contest the Lower East Side Long Beach Shopping Ride, an incredibly intense, competitive, powerful informal race disguised as a shopping excursion of 65+ elderly ladies with baskets on their mamachari bicycles. As we approached the first stop light, which was turning yellow, I Thighflexed®. The grandmothers couldn’t follow my jump, and in seconds I had opened a gap. The youngest grandmother, whose basket was filled with a 10kg bag of rice, leaned on the pedals and clawed me back.

I glanced over my shoulder and attacked again, this time putting maximum power to my Tiny Muscle® while Simulflexing® the Thighflex®. Undeterred, the granny held my wheel, forcing me to decelerate slightly, cause her wheel to overlap, and allowing me to take her to the curb.

She grabbed a handful of brakes as her front wheel caught the curb. The rice bag burst on impact as I redoubled my Thighflex®, now a solid 100-150m ahead of the hard-charging grandmothers, who weren’t about to let me get to the Costco pallet of discount diapers before them. They were no match. With a couple of more threshold efforts I pulled free and was gone.

With this independent verification of the Thighflex® system’s incredible power transer, I actually pity the fools who have signed up for Monday’s CBR Memorial Day Crit at Dominguez Hills. I’ve told Chris Lotts that he can go ahead and mail me the winner’s check, minus the entry fee to save me the inconvenience of actually having to show up and race. If he forces me to toe the line, well, all I can say to the riders out there who haven’t yet subscribed to the Tiny Muscle® and Thighflex® performance systems is this: You’ve been warned.

I used to race

September 6, 2012 § 20 Comments

Yesterday night I was dragging ass through the parking garage and this dude said, “Good ride?”

“Yep. I’m pretty whipped, though.”

“Where’d you go?”

“I did the race out at Eldo.”

“Oh, a race? I used to race.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, back when they had the Olympic village, I was a track monster. Raced the old velodrome.”

He didn’t look very monsterish. “Ever try the new one in Carson?”

“No, I just lost interest. I used to be an animal, though.”

I couldn’t help thinking about Paul Ryan and how he, too, had been fast when he was young. Yeah.

The main two reasons people quit racing or never start

Aside from the fact that it’s pretty stupid, the main reason is fear of crashing. All it takes is one good crash to make you realize that the risk-benefit analysis is all whomperjawed over on the side of risk, and not much more than $25 or $30 in race “winnings” on the side of benefit.

Crashing and getting hurt is scary, and it’s a given that if you race, you’re going to crash. So, like, I get that.

The other reason people quit racing is because they are afraid of losing. They’ve built themselves up so much on Strava, or on their solo rides, or on their beatdowns with their fellow wankers, that it’s too intimidating to actually go toe-to-toe with people who don’t give a rat’s ass about your motor-assisted KOM and who will happily pound you into oblivion.

It’s better to stay comfortable as a coulda-been contender than a real-life lump of pack fodder.

There are a whole bunch of other reasons that people don’t race, and they’re all valid, but Fear of Crashing and Fear of Losing are far and away the top two.

My best three races of 2012

On the flip side, there is really only one significant reason that people do race: They’re idiots.

As my road racing season mercifully came to a close yesterday, I’m happy to say that it couldn’t possibly have ended any better. On Sunday I raced the 45+ Elderly Gentlemen’s Tender Prostate Category at Dominguez Hills. The field of 54 riders was greatly reduced from the first crits of the year, which were often at or near the 100-idiot limit. Many of the heaviest hitters were out replenishing the Depends, or getting their dentures refitted, but a healthy contingent including national and state champion Rich Meeker showed up to fight for the day’s honors.

In typical fashion, a few laps into the race the winning break rolled up the road. I was mid-pack, marveling at all the bicycles and how they never seemed to crash even though they were all so close together. I think about this often. All those moving parts! Each bike guided by a separate idiot of highly questionable handling skills! Yet through each turn they swoop and swerve and curve and slow and speed, always within a few inches, and hardly ever bounce along the pavement in a shower of carbon scraps and shredded skin.

It’s generally at these times, when I’m wondering if this kind of mass communication is what happens when flocks of shorebirds fly in tight formation at astounding speeds on moonlit nights, that something significant in the race happens, like a break, which it did. Of course, I had no idea, because what goes on “Up there” has nothing in common with what’s happening “Back here.”

When the lead shorebird squawks

As I was wondering about Western Sandpipers, a dude in a SPY-Blue kit came whizzing up on the left. It was my teammate, Johnny Walsh. “C’mon, Zeth!” he yelled.

“Wonder why he’s yelling at me? And ‘come on’ where? And why?” It was quite cozy back there in mid-shorebirdville, and the nasty pace at which he passed me suggested lots of un-shorebirdy pain.

Then I noted that on his wheel was Alan Flores, our team leader and Dude Who Doesn’t Do Stupid Shit in Races. I’m still unsure why, but I hopped on his wheel. The next time I looked back, we were clear of the field. “Where are we going?” I wondered. Then I looked up. Around the bend was a break. “Wow!” I thought. “I wonder if we’ll bridge?”

Johnny just went harder, and my legs just hurt more. When he sat up, we were on the back of the break. He nodded, legs blown, and drifted back to the field. “Wow!” I thought. “So that’s how you do it! What happens now?”

What’s with all these colorful sleeves?

My temporary joy at being in the break was immediately muted as I took roll. There was a dude with a stars-and-stripes thingy on his sleeve. That meant he was a national champion in something; probably not chess. There was another dude with a stars-and-stripes thingy…another non-chess national champion. There was a dude who looked a hell of a lot like Brett Clare, the dude who passed me in San Marcos like he was a Ferrari and I was a lamppost. Out of us eleven, there was only one complete flailer, and it was me. Everyone else looked pissed off and ready to go even faster.

Despite trying a series of moves that would later be described as “the silliest in the 2012 annals of SoCal crit racing,” I miraculously didn’t get dropped from the break and finished eleventh, my best placing of the year by far. Was it worth the $1,590.33 in entry fees? Yes. The $527.12 in gas? Yes. The risk to life and limb? Yes. The $15,982.12 in equipment/clothing/accessory purchases? Yes. The admission of personal failure every night when I looked in the mirror and said to myself, “Self, you’re almost fifty but are still fascinated by riding a bicycle.” Ummm, well, mostly yes.

Awesome race result #2

The following morning I celebrated Labor Day with two hundred other cyclists, many of whom appeared to be be on what was at least their second or even third full day after having learned how to ride. If this ride didn’t frighten you, you were beyond hope, because it was terrifying.

Usually, in order to steer clear of the fat dude with the dangling buttcrack, or to avoid the yackety chick who thinks that the center of a fast-moving foolfest is the perfect place to turn her head to the side for minutes at a time, or to keep from getting rear-ended by the neo-neo-neo racer pro kid who’s picked today to show off the $10k wheels with lightly glued tubulars, usually, I say, in order to avoid the certain death and injury resulting from riding near these knuckleheads and their next of kin, you have to get up to the top 20 or 30 riders and stay there.

Not on Monday.

No, sir, on Monday, the crazies had all gotten the Wankmeister memo that said, “Go to the Front!” and so, like crazies, they all went to the front. At the same time. Constantly.

The wankoton looked like the beach on a huge surf day, with massive swirls of raging dorkbreak foaming up to the front, followed by another series of churning idiots pushing up behind them, but the bozos in front, unable to drift back, created a fredtide, which ripped backwards through the wankoton, sucking the unwary back with them into the deathly perilous undertow, where victims such as Old George were crashed out and run over by people who didn’t even know the thing they were rolling over was a live person.

Don’t they know they belong in back?

I got to the front, the absolute front, and ran as many lights as I could, hoping that the bait of a speeding leader would draw at least a few of the worst wankers out into the intersection where they would be crushed and mutilated by speeding cross-traffic.

It didn’t work, however, as the number of idiots careening down Mt. Chevron on Vista del Mar was so great that it clogged both lanes and spilled out into opposing traffic as well. Drivers were petrified and simply stopped, and who wouldn’t if your windshield suddenly filled with a bearded, pony-tailed idiot wearing a vomit-spray jersey, gangly hairy legs poking out at right angles from the bike, spit and snot spewing from his face, and a barely-in-control-bike swerving crazily in and out of the lane?

This, of course, is the huge difference between racing and dorking: In a race, we wankers know that we belong in back. Our chance of winning isn’t even mathematical, so the only reason to be in front is to either suffer more (not good), crash out the dudes who can actually ride (worse), or have one of the ride bosses push us into the curb (worst).

On a fredfest, without this natural policing of the weak and feeble, those who don’t belong don’t know that they don’t belong, so they charge pell-mell to the front and create unforgettable mental tableaux such as when Ponytail Boy whipped a 30mph beeline for the curb at the bridge for the Marina bike path with Eddie W. on his wheel, only to decide at the very last second that nah, that ol’ curb is too big to hop, so he veered off to the right, braking hard, and sending Eddie into one of his finest string of oaths, a string so foul that even the wankers fishing off the bridge were taken aback at the new and inventive string of expletives.

They mysteries of the universe

It was at San Vicente that Chaos Theory gave way to Hammer Theory. Somehow, the freaks and freds who laboriously pounded all the way to San Vicente began to thin out as the road, like the pace, tilted up. By the end of the first mile we had lost between fifty and a hundred idiots.

At the turn onto Mandeville, another huge contingent had vanished, and by the end of the climb it was a small group of fifty or so out of the original 200+ horde.

Where did they all go? Did they fall by the wayside, dead? Did they drag themselves, mostly lifeless, to the doors of the angry, cyclist-hating Mandeville residents, and beg for shelter or for a quick gunshot to the head to end their misery? Did they swerve into a bike shop and sell all their gear? Or were they simply vaporized by the pace?

In any event, on the non-race race to the top of Mandeville Canyon, I got fourth going up the climb, which is almost a best ever, and even managed to get it on video. Once this gets published, Jonathan Vaughters will likely be sending me my contract.

The lost city of El Dorado

After this signal accomplishment, on Tuesday I went over to Long Beach for the year’s final running of the El Dorado crit series, which was held in honor of Mark Whitehead, the legendary Olympian, keirin pro, and track coach who died last summer at nationals in Frisco. Anything done in honor of “Meathead” is required to have, whatever else is on offer, the following three items:

  1. Cash prizes (to fight over in the parking lot after the race)
  2. Beer (to quickly stimulate the fighting)
  3. Controversy (to justfy #1 and #2)

A four-man breakaway left early in the race and collected the $100 cash primes on offer, cleverly working a combine to work together and share the loot. It would later turn out that in the chaos of the post-race awards ceremony someone claimed the money who allegedly wasn’t in the break, a perfect controversy that Meathead would have met with both fists and a gang fistfight.

With three laps to go, Rahsaan Bahati took the reins in hand and closed down the 30-second gap in half a lap, bringing the bunch together for the finale.

Throughout the race there was a dude without a number who was constantly pissing me off with his numberlessness. He sure as hell could ride a bike, though, and each time the pack surged he easily kept the pace. The longer the race lasted, and the longer he lasted, the more pissed off I got. “Who does he think he is, crashing our race?”

Each time I thought that, he would put on another display of bike magic, squelching my urge to ride up and say something to him. “Dude can fucking ride a bike, sure enough.”

With half a lap to go, all hell broke loose, with the wheelsuckers charging freshly to the fore, the fried wankers giving it their all to keep from getting dropped, the canny sprinters slotting into position, and the handful of spectators screaming what sounded like “Ugghhgooattlexphlllmzxooooo!” as we shot by at warp speed.

The magical moment when the wheels come off the cart

It’s in these final moments of a bike race that you are living on the razor’s edge of insanity, alone, but separated from the idiots all ’round you by nothing more than chance. It’s shorebirdy, almost, with nothing making sense, yelling, grunting, hands pushing people out of the way, hunched shoulders squeezing wide bars between too-narrow gaps, narrow rubber strips of rubber slinging from side to side, and everyone thinking the same thing: “Don’t fucking crash, but for fuck’s sake hold the wheel, don’t gap out, and go faster!”

The union of opposites, where the fear of catastrophe is perfectly blended with the thirst for meaningless glory, cancels out the risk of death with the benefit of knowing you’ve gone as hard as your spindly legs will carry you.

Then it was over, like sex, and I was shuddering across the line, cruising along as my lungs and legs and brain caught up with my heart, eventually pointing my bike into the parking lot where the banter had already begun: Who did what when to whom and man, that was HARD.

The dude without the number was laughing and backslapping with Steve Hegg and Johnny Walsh and Suze Sonye and Rahsaan, and I felt pretty stupid when I realized it, and felt even happier at having kept my stupid mouth shut: Nelson Vails don’t need no fucking number.

Please support the cranky old vet who sleeps in his car

August 31, 2012 § 2 Comments

Thanks, Chris. Thanks for being dependable. Thanks for always putting on a race that’s timely, that’s safe, that’s fun, and that’s smack dab in the middle of where so many SoCal cyclists live and train.

Thanks for not putting up with any shit, and for calling things like you see them. Thanks for caring enough about local racing to do this over and over and over, even though you sometimes sleep overnight in your car because things get underway so early.

Thanks for helping ensure that the races are properly officiated and, for the most part, drama free. Thanks for running events where the check always clears and where the primes are something a lot nicer than a cheap water bottle with a lousy nipple. Thanks for enduring the politics and for doing your best to make sure your vision prevails.

Thanks for your funny Facebook posts, and for your unflinching willingness to hold views even when it pisses off people who might otherwise scratch your back. That takes guts. Thanks for not bowing down to all the “-isms.” Thanks even more for not holding it against people whose beliefs are different, and for being a big enough man to take it just as much as you dish it out.

Thanks for caring about homeless creatures. The way a person treats animals says as much about their character as the way they treat people.

Thanks for giving us the opportunity to race our bikes. If you weren’t out there putting on these races, our calendar would be a whole lot thinner. If you could come up with a deal so that Charon, Meeker, Rudy, Justin, Jamie, and some of those dudes all had to do an extra couple of laps so that the rest of us would (mathematically) have a chance, that would be cool. Just a thought.

Pay it, don’t say it

This Sunday, September 2, 2012 at the world infamous Dominguez Hills CBR course, Chris puts on the final race of the SoCal Cup. I hope you’ll show up, pay your money, and do a race or two, even if, like me, you’ve got a snowball’s chance.

Most of all, though, I gotta say thanks to Vera, not just for all the work she does…but for putting up with Chris!

South Bay Form Report: The truth about Charon

January 24, 2011 § Leave a comment

First time I ever saw Charon I thought, “Who is that guy? What’s wrong with that crazy guy who doesn’t know how to glue on a freaking tire?”

We were barreling into the turn before the finish line at Eldo, it must have been April 2008, and this Sho-Air guy a few wheels ahead of me rolled a tubular on his fancy carbon rims. He went down quicker and harder than a hooker on a thousand-dollar trick, bounced off the tarmac and stood there in the middle of the field with bikes whizzing by, dodging, swerving, cussing, and doing everything you couldn’t imagine except slam into him, the stink from his melted carbon wheel spitting smoke and dust into the air and that rolled tire hanging off the busted rim like a twisted old dog’s tongue lolling on the pavement.

That was Charon, he of the not-real-well-glued-on-tire, soon to be he-whose-tires-were-always-glued-on-so-hard-that-you’ll-need-vicegrip-pliers-to-get-them-off.

I did a few more Eldos that year, and never saw him roll another tire. Actually, I never saw him much at all, except at the beginning of the race. No matter where I finished, he was always across the line so far ahead of me that to have really effectively congratulated him I would have needed to have sent him a letter or called him on his cell. Thing about Charon was that he was always smiling, always happy to meet people, always in a good mood.

Sure, he was happy. Sure, he was nice. Sure, everyone liked him. Sure, he was handsome. Sure, he was a rocket on a bike. None of that mattered to me, though: I saw through to the real Charon. And I’m going to introduce him to you here.

You pays your nickel and you takes your chance

If you will do me a favor, scroll down a few blog entries and you’ll see one of my posts regarding “Who’s Hot.” It lists, down at the bottom, Dan G., who celebrated his first race yesterday with a win. See? I was right. It also lists, higher up, Charon S., and gives the inside tip: he’s fully prepared and ready to rock. On Sunday at the Dominguez Hills crit put on by Chris Lotts and world-renowned California Bicycle Racing, 90+ knuckleheads showed up to blast around in a circle for an hour in the 30+ race.

I was one of them. Charon was one of the others. I finished in the churning, heaving, hopeless middle of the pack. Charon took fourth, and would have won if Bert G. hadn’t decided to lead out the sprint by digging a pedal and launching four hundred feet into the air and onto the pavement head-first. 90 guys. Fourth place. Think it’s easy? There’s another one on February 20 where you can come out and show us how it’s done.

Charon’s placing wasn’t just impressive because I labeled him an uber-hammer in my galactically-famous Form Report. It wasn’t just impressive because he beat out 86 other idiots in a mad, high speed death scramble for a moldy snack and cheap bottle of wine. It was impressive because to get to the line he had to pick his way through an earlier mass pileup, hold his position with five laps to go, bull his way onto the right wheel in the closing lap, fight off the scavengers and jackals trying to edge him out for position in the sprint, avoid a death crash in the final turn, and do all of that without expending any more energy than absolutely necessary so that when it came time to uncork the champagne bottle, it would uncork with a vengeance. It was a risky, nasty business that required a big, fat, hairy nutsack about the size of a shotput.

Will the real Charon please stand up?

Of course he won’t. That’s because, like I said earlier, he’s got a secret side. It’s soft-spoken or utterly mute, it’s hidden behind a smiling mask, and it never, ever grins. The only prisoners it ever takes are already dead. This is Charon the bike racer: dialed in and focused on winning, and in case you didn’t notice, or didn’t want to notice, or weren’t smart enough to notice, it means he’s intent on beating the snot out of the competition, all of it, including YOU.

What makes Charon the bike racer even scarier is that he doesn’t ride dirty. No nasty moves (aside from the occasional poorly glued on tire), no cheap shots, nothing mean or sleazy or low. He rides fair and he beats you fair and whips your ass with class.

So those of you who know and love Charon the nice guy are asking, “Who the hell are you? How are you pretending to know Charon? He smacks you around in bike races like a boxer beating a legless chicken. Where do you get off with all this crap?”

Where I get off with all my crap

The answer, of course, is that I don’t really know any of those things about Charon–except that he’s the nicest guy in the peloton and he really did screw up that time by not gluing on his tire. I’m just speculating from afar, as I’ve never gotten close enough to him in a finish to see how he rides; he’s just too damned fast. Mostly I’m guessing, because even old man bike racing is fast and hard and tough, and when you place that highly in a 90-man field with half the guys going for the win, you have to be hard and smart and quick and possess a big old hairy, gnarly pair.

So where I’m going is this, South Bay Cycling Prediction Number Two for the season: Charon is going to win a whole bunch of races this year. And just because he’s smiling at you and giving you training advice and inspiring you with his positive attitude doesn’t mean he isn’t going to squash you like a bug when there’s only a couple hundred meters to the bright white line.

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