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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Me, my brother, and my bike

June 27, 2012 § 22 Comments

Yesterday’s New Pier Ride was dedicated to my brother, who took his life on June 16, 2012. Slightly more than seventy people rolled out from the Manhattan Beach Pier at 6:40 AM. By the time we turned onto Westchester Parkway, the peloton was easily a hundred strong.

Christine Reilly, Stella Tong, Greg Leibert, Lauren Mulwitz, Joe Yule, Vickie VanOs Castaldi, Izzie VanOs Castaldi, Chris Gregory, Tink, Suze Sonye,  Jay Yoshizumi, Brian Perkins, Gus Bayle, Rahsaan Bahati, Cary Alpert, Sarah Mattes, Greg Seyranian, Dara Richman, and David Perez brainstormed and got the word out so that people were at the Pier well in advance of the start time. Vickie and Greg took the sixty-five handmade armbands, beautifully lettered by Izzie with “R.I.P. Ian, ’62-’12” and tied one to each person’s arm. Then Dave Kramer introduced Greg, who made a short, moving, and beautiful speech about my brother, someone he had never met.

I then clipped in and led us out onto the bike path. Once I pulled off and floated to the back, I was overcome by the sight of the countless yellow armbands fluttering in the breeze. My friends had done this for me, as well as people I’d never even met, like Emily and her boyfriend Chris, who came over from the west side just to be there. Others who couldn’t make it like Dara and Laurie were there in spirit, and still others showed up at TELO in the evening and shared their sympathies and condolence. I’ll never be able to repay any of them.

It’s a very good debt to owe, forever.

Girls and bikes

I got into cycling as a result of my brother, indirectly. His second year of high school he got in a horrific fight with my mom about the car. Our parents had divorced a couple of years before, and it was the kind of hateful, acrimonious, bitter divorce that paralyzes the kids and poisons your life for the next few decades, like battery acid in the ice cream. Ian was tired of fighting over the car and one day he went out and bought a black

Fuji touring bike. It cost $300, an incomprehensible amount of money.

Going from a Jeep Golden Eagle Cherokee to a bicycle? I had one conclusion: “Dork.”

Within a couple of weeks, though, I discovered the source of his inspiration. His girlfriend was a cyclist, and they biked everywhere together. “Whatever,” I thought. “He’s still a dork.”

Then a couple of weeks after that I began to hear moaning and groaning coming out of his bedroom. This was way before Internet porn. This was awesome, and he was a dork no more. “What a stud!” I thought. “That bike deal is pretty cool!”

Buses and bikes

Although I didn’t rush out and get a bike to aid in the quick dispatch of my virginity, the idea remained that bikes were cool. This was partly because Ian had let me test ride his Fuji a few times, and it was so different from the rusted out Murray that I’d used for three years to commute to Jane Long Junior High that it hardly felt like a bicycle.

My freshman year in college at the University of Texas, 1982, my parents refused to let me have a car. I lived in the Village Glen Apartments out on Burton, six or seven miles from campus, and had to take the shuttle bus, which in those days was run by union-busting Laidlaw. They employed only hippy stoners from the 60’s and 70’s to drive the buses, and paid just enough to keep the hippies in weed, ensuring that there would never be any unionizing.

The Village Glen was one of the last bus stops on the Riverside Route before getting on I-35 and going to campus, so in the morning the buses were often full. That meant having to get out to the bus stop extra early, as the first bus or two rarely had room for even one more passenger. One morning in October I was standing in the rain waiting for the bus. The first one passed me and splashed me. The second one passed me. The third one roared by with an “Out of Service” sign on the front.

I screamed at the driver and flipped him off. He braked. I’d never seen a whole bus go sideways. Out bounded the raging hippy, fists balled and murder in his eyes. If I hadn’t been so tiny and petrified he would have killed me. Instead he screamed. “How about I beat you into a fucking pulp you snotnosed little fuck?” he roared.

“Uh, I, I, I’m really sorry. Please don’t kill me!” I begged.

“You ever fucking give me any attitude on a bus I’m driving I’ll break you in half you little prick. They don’t pay me enough in this shit job to put up with bullshit from spoiled little assholes like you!”

“Yes, sir,” I mumbled.

[To crack dealer] “So, should I start using crack?”

I had to wait another twenty minutes in the cold, pelting rain. During those twenty minutes I went from being grateful that I’d get to school with all of my teeth to angry at being a bus sheep. My resentment built throughout morning classes and exploded in an epiphany when my last course finished at noon. “I’m gonna buy a fucking bike, just like my brother did! Fuck Laidlaw! Fuck that hippy stoner fucker! Fuck the rain!”

I practically ran down 24th Street to Freewheeling Bicycles and Crackhouse, where I realized something else after walking the aisle. “Fuck, I’m broke!”

Fortunately, Uncle Phil Tomlin had just the bike for me, a Nishiki International with Suntour derailleurs, Dia Compe brakes, and Sugino cranks. At a paltry $375.00, I’d be able to easily afford it as long as I didn’t eat in November. Food or bike? It was an easy choice, especially with Uncle Phil kindly and professionally assisting me with my first bikecrack purchase.

The rest is history, and a year later I’d already been voted “Most Likely to be Killed by a Car or Truck” by my riding buddies. 1984 was my breakout year, when I dominated the Bloor Road to Blue Bluff Time Trial and won a coveted Laverne and Shirley board game for first place. The thirty years after buying that first bike have flown by, and somehow I’m still riding with the same happiness and joy as the day I pedaled that Nishiki out of the Freewheeling parking lot.

This is gonna hurt me and it’s gonna hurt you

So this thing that has given me more joy and happiness, this thing that has surrounded me with friends who are often closer than family, is a gift from my brother. I thought about that while Greg spoke. He paid me the ultimate compliment in the process, saying that they had come to honor my brother because without him, I wouldn’t be part of their community.

There’s no other way to say this than to say I felt more loved than I have ever felt in my life. Sweaty, muscled men threw their arms around me, and sweaty, muscled, beautiful women did, too, each one saying something that sounded like love, regardless of the words. And as proof that these weren’t just empty phrases, when we hit the bottom of Pershing they went so hard so fast that I was almost blinded by the pain.

“This one,” Jaeger said as he came by with the ferocity of a jungle beast, “is for Ian.”

There’s a place for gentleness and for camaraderie; it’s called the bricks on the Manhattan Beach Starbucks after the ride. The New Pier Ride itself is a place for the unbridled beatdown, the relentless attacking into the wind, the crushing of the weak by the strong.

“Memorial lap in silence?”

“Fuck you, dude.”

“Give ol’ Wankmeister the win?”

“Over my dead body. He wouldn’t want it and I wouldn’t give it.”

Suffice it to say that today I was the weak, and others were the strong, and the law of the jungle prevailed, as it always should. But even though I was the weak and struggled at the end, I didn’t get crushed. I got carried along by the unlikeliest thing of all, a raft of soft yellow ribbons floating in the breeze.

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