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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Pin to win

February 17, 2013 § 28 Comments

Some people leave their hearts in San Francisco. I leave mine a couple of times a year in Pearblossom, one of the great scenic wastelands of America.

I rode up to the race with John Hall. He had had a superlative race at Boulevard a couple of weeks back. I had, too, in my very dumbed-down definition of the word “superlative.”

Neither of us said it, but we both approached the UCLA 2013 Road Race with high expectations. One of us would be sorely disappointed. Both of us would be sore.

As I explained to John, a guy I’ve never beaten on a training ride, much less in a bike race, number pinning was the single most important detail of the race.

“It is?” he asked.

“Sure. You let your number flap and whizz like an oversized bra on a cheap hooker and no one respects you.”

“They don’t?”

“Nope. You want respect, you gotta pin your number on right.”

“Really?”

“Oh, sure. All the pros pin their numbers on with at least ten or twelve pins. That’s one reason they ride so fast. It creates a more perfect airfoil for the wind.”

John looked straight ahead. I don’t think he was laughing. Not at me, anyway. I’m pretty sure.

It took eleven pins, and a carefully folded right-hand corner to get the paper to bend with my armpit, and a few stabs that went to deep into my thigh and drew blood, and a couple of errant pricks that wound up pinning my jeans to my jersey, and a readjustment or two so that the bottom edge of the number wouldn’t interfere with removal of food from the pockets, but after about an hour the number was pinned perfectly. It looked like this. Feast your eyes.

All the other losers had just slapped on their numbers and spent the time warming up. John rolled by just as I was finishing what, by all accounts, was a superb job of number pinning.

“Aren’t you going to warm up?”

“Nah. These other losers don’t even have their numbers pinned on right. I got this one in the bag.”

John continued warming up.

Greg Leibert, vainquer at Boulevard, multiple winner at Punchbowl, superstar and awesome dude rolled up. “Dude,” he said, “race starts in five. Why aren’t you warming up?”

I raised a haughty eyebrow. “You should be asking ‘Why is my number not pinned on as well as Wankmesiter’s?”

“Huh?”

“Your number, dude. It’s not pinned on very well. It’s kind of crooked.”

He shook his head and left. Just then Tink came up. She’d just won her pro 1/2 race, had gotten second at Boulevard, and had outsprinted one of SoCal’s top women pros to win today after a 25-mile two-woman breakaway that beat the field by three minutes. “WM,” she said, “I’m really worried about your hydration and nutrition. What’s in the water bottle?”

“Water.”

“You need an electrolyte. You’ll dehydrate and die on this course.”

I shook my head. “Oh, Tink, Tink, Tink. You’re such an inexperience young thing. Behold!” I help up my perfectly pinned number.

“What?”

“What? The number. Look how nicely I’ve pinned it on. It’s the best-pinned number by far. It will frighten everyone when they see how detail oriented and meticulous I am. They will extrapolate from the number to my careful race preparation and training methods. They will be paralyzed with fear.”

“Maybe. Until they see you’ve only got one water bottle and it’s filled with water and you don’t have any food or gels. Then they’ll think you’re sloppy and ill-prepared and have no idea what you’re doing, which will negate the effect of your number. Which, I admit, is pretty tasteful and pro.”

I laughed. “You’ll see.”

Nothing trumps confidence

Today was my day and everyone knew it. I even took a picture in the car to memorialize the look of pre-victory. Feast your eyes.

The selection for this race started when you were born

People who do or don’t do the UCLA road race always talk about how it’s a “selective” course and how the “selection” comes early. In most amateur wanker  (redundant, I know) races where this kind of verbiage gets bandied about, it means that the chaff is separated from the wheat in the first few miles or so.

Punchbowl’s selection, however, begins at birth. If you are genetically predisposed to never exceed four feet in height and 57 pounds in weight, to have lungs that could double as flotation devices for an anchor, to have legs that terminate right below your neck, and to have the pain threshold of an anvil, you have made the selection of “possible Punchbowl winner.” All others are selected to be in the category of “loser” or “quitter” or “quitter and loser.”

The Punchbowl course features 15,000 feet of vertical climbing per meter, along with gale force winds. It begins at an elevation of about 5,000 feet, so unless your name is Oreamnos Americanus, the empty, rasping, dry, heaving sensation in your lungs (which quickly spreads to your other internal organs) begins the second you step out into the scorching heat.

The great thing about the Punchbowl course in February, though, is that it doesn’t always welcome you with scorching heat. With snow still on the mountains that separate this meth-infested shithole from the meth-infested shithole of Los Angeles, it sometimes welcomes you with snow, hail, ice, sleet, and freezing rain.

Canvassing people before and after they’ve raced the Punchbowl course covers the gamut in human excusifying. Here are some of the gems I overheard yesterday:

One-lap quitter: “I had terrible back spasms and my HR was at 150 going into the first climb. It was physically dangerous for me to continue.”

Translation: “I suck and am slow and wasn’t even remotely prepared for the brutality of the course and the onslaught of speed that begin in mile one of the first climb on the first lap, so, because I couldn’t endure the pain and wasn’t proud enough to guy it out, I gave up and quit.”

First-lap droppee and Cat 4 finisher: “I did the Cat 4 race because it’s harder than the 45+ race.”

Translation: “I’ve never heard of, let alone ridden with world champion Thurlow Rogers, state TT champ Greg Leibert, national road silver medalist Jeff Konsmo, et al.”

First-lap droppee and 45+ finisher: “This was the worst day I’ve ever had on a bike.”

Translation: “I’ve never done Punchbowl before.”

19th-placed Cat 4 finisher: “I had a great race!”

Translation: “I finished!”

First-lap shellee and quitter: “I actually made it up the first climb, but got dropped on the descent.”

Translation: “I was slow and out of gas and terrified of the 50mph+ speed so I pooped in my shorts and quit before the goo drizzled out my pants leg.”

Cat 3 Pack Meat: “Our team got third!”

Translation: “I personally got stomped!”

First-lap droppee and second-lap quitter (that would be me): “I have a vastly overrated opinion of my ability and when the going gets tough I squnch and splatter like a soft jelly-filled donut under the wheels of an onrushing freight train.”

Translation: “You are the 99.999999999%.” [Of bike racers.]

The path to victory is strewn with the bones of the poorly-pinned

One of the great things about having the best-pinned on number in the race and having eked out 15th place in an earlier race is that you become an instant expert on everything, especially race tactics. “Man,” I said to MMX before the race began, “Konsmo plays it too safe. If he attacked more, on a course like this no one could hold his wheel. He could shatter the entire field, sit up and wait for a handful of reinforcements, then decimate whatever was left in the sprint.”

One mile into the race Konsmo attacked on the course so that no one could hold his wheel. He shattered the entire field, sat up and waited for a handful of reinforcements, and then rode away. I was panting so hard that I couldn’t hear anything except the opening and shutting of my heart valves. My world had been reduced to the six inches of pavement in front of my wheel. I made the first turn, struggled along at the rear of the lead group for a minute or two, and then imploded.

However, I wasn’t worried. Konsmo’s number was askew and had been haphazardly attached with yucky spray stuff that would leave ugly marks on his jersey. He was coming back.

At that moment a pro rider who had missed his start came whizzing by with a grin. “Yo, Wankster!” he said. “Hop on!”

Sergio slowed down to a crawl, I attached, and he dragged me over the climb, where we picked up Tri-Dork, MMX, and a host of other droppees. Tri-Dork was having the ride of his life. Our reinforced group, driven by my awesomely pinned number, chased down the leaders.

I turned to MMX. “Poor bastards,” I said. “They don’t have a chance.” I slapped my number in confidence. MMX shook his head and moved up, clearly regretting the decision to let me wear the SPY-Giant-RIDE team outfit. We trolled along the crosswind and hit the right turn up the climb.

Leibert, who must have gotten a number adjustment along the way. Hit the first roller with a vengeance. “Thanks for the tow,” I muttered to Sergio.

“No problem,” he laughed. “You’re back in the mix now! Do it!”

So I did it. “It,” of course meaning that I sputtered. I coughed. I choked. I flailed. I got dropped.

Right there, my race hopes died, and things went from bad to worse. Tri-Dork passed me, and roared on to an incredible 12th place finish. At the end of the race there was a small de-naming ceremony where he was placed on the podium and the Poobah from Pearblossom waved his magic meth stick over Tri-Dork’s head and spake thus: “Oh, mighty Tri-Dork, eater of In ‘N Out, spreader of butter on his beer and ale, goofy bastard who is fain to hold a straight line at Boulevard and who descendeth Punchbowl with the ferocity of a Russian meteorite, he who lacketh the gene of Quit, who rolleth like thunder despite his inherent Tri-dorkiness, today we de-name you “Tri-Dork” and hereby christen you forever and henceforth “Anvil” for the crushing weight you drop on on your adversaries, and for the fatness of your own posterior which aids your descending and does not in the least impede your uphill skills against featherweight manorexics half your size.”

A quite graveside service

At the end of the second lap my dead hopes and dreams, bleeding and inert, were rudely shoveled off the racecourse and into the ignominy of the car, where I undressed, put on jeans, and sobbed quietly over my perfectly pinned on number. Little teardrops formed sad hearts and drippy unicorns as I cried and gently rent by breast.

Then I went back to the start/finish to cheer the racers and let the women feel my satiny skin while extolling the virtues of a kimchi-based diet. The women were impressed with my skin, but not so much with the kimchi. “I bet you fart all the time because of that stuff,” they said.

Now that you mention it…

The final shakedown

As I stood there cheering it occurred to me how much more awesome it was to stand on the roadside with a cold energy drink, snacking on Cheeto’s, and having cute girls feel my satiny skin was than pounding out a tattoo of death with angry, forceful, road warrior assassins hell-bent on inflicting misery and pain on wankers like me. I made a mental note of this.

On the final lap, Konsmo caught the three breakaways with 400m to go and left them like they were planted in cement. He roared to what can only be described as the most impressive victory for someone with a poorly sprayed-on number in the history of the sport.

Showing the grit, determination, and toughness that made them borderline mental cases for persevering in such a hopeless display of defeat and pain and misery and disappointment, the rest of the field dribbled in.

John had a great result, and we returned to Los Angeles enjoying an extended rehash of each and every move and countermove. I explained in great detail how Jay LaRiviere, with whom I’d had an Internet dust-up the year before, had caught me, dropped me, and ground me into dust. Revenge, as they say, is best served up cold, although in this case the extra flavoring of pain, altitude, endless climbing, and physical and mental collapse probably made it even better.

“Still,” I said, “he’d have done even better if his number had been pinned on straight.”

END

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When the old Craig looked back

November 24, 2012 § 19 Comments

In 2009, every Donut Ride ended like this: I would be pinned, or near pinned, two-thirds of the way up the Switchbacks. The wankoton would have been blown to smithereens. The only wheels left would be John Hall, Kevin Phillips, Greg Leibert, Craig Leeuwenburgh, and a handful of others.

The old Craig would look back at me, always back at me, and stand on the pedals, and that would be it. One or two others would be able to match his pace. The rest of us would detonate in the attempt.

I wish you knew how hard I tried to go with the old Craig. I tried everything. I tried counting matches and holding a few bullets in reserve until the Switchbacks. That didn’t work. I tried gluing myself to his wheel and following his every move. That didn’t work. I tried attacking in Malaga Cove. That never came close to working. I tried stringing it out in Portuguese Bend. That never worked, either.

Whatever poison I tried, the old Craig had the antidote. He’d look back, stand on the pedals, and bust loose.

Through the sweat and pain and curses and gasps, it was quite beautiful, really. Smooth, effortless, his face set grimly to the tune of “It’s time, children,” the old Craig would look back and then glide away, twisting that enormous uphill gear like it was a piece of soft taffy. It always made me think of that gnarly, raspy, guttural refrain of John Lee Hooker’s: “Boom, boom, boom, boom.”

And then the old Craig died

I can’t put a date on it, but one day the old Craig was no longer there. He was always there, or mostly there, but he wasn’t really there anymore. The big push would come, and I’d whip by him quicker than a twig in front of a 5-hp leaf blower.

People’s lives change, of course. They get busy, or they shift priorities, or they endure tragedy, or they run out of mental fuel, or they just move on. Craig was still around, and always looked fit and fast, but the old Craig was gone.

It would almost make me sad to blast by him on the climbs, if dropping someone can make you sad, which, of course, it can’t, especially someone who has driven so many nails into your coffin, long nails with rusty ends that jab you in the eyes as he pounds them in. There he would go, kicked without mercy out the back, swirling and spinning and sucking down the drainpipe along with all the others. It was weird to see, and unsettling, and somehow it was wrong.

It was wrong because Craig was already in an elite group of athletes for whom the bike was a tiny part of a rather big picture. Craig flies huge airplanes filled with living, breathing people, and his decisions, his actions, his approach each day in his life carries with it the consequences of immediate life or death for tens of thousands of people every year.

The magnitude of that responsibility is one thing, but his behavior on the bike, even after the old Craig had given up the ghost, never varied. When someone flatted, he was the one who pulled over to make sure the tire got properly fixed. Sometimes he could tow the rider back to the group–often as not someone he’d never met before and would never meet again–other times his group ride ended right there on some windy stretch of PCH, left alone to bull into the wind for a few hours.

In addition to always being there for others, with the exception of that harsh, cruel moment when the old Craig would look back and lower the sharpened blade, his kindness was without limit. Gentle, soft-spoken, funny, empathetic, and solid as bedrock…those things never changed despite the early passing of the old Craig.

Crushing that guy and spitting him out the back, rolling over his carcass with a hard kick of the pedals, always felt wrong, even though to do otherwise on the Switchbacks would have broken the code, the law, the iron mandate of the Church of the Spinning Wheel: “Crush today if you can, for tomorrow it will be you.”

How soon we forget

Throughout 2010, 2011, and 2012, the old Craig became a distant memory. He had a new place in the wankoton, and we forgot he’d ever had any other: The new Craig was pack meat.

Today there had been a furious run-up to the Switchbacks. Vince DiMeglio had burned holes in the carpet from the bottom of Trump National, leaving what was left of the hundred-plus holiday pack to consider alternate training methods.

Mark Alvarado jumped hard just after Trump, taking a handful with him. Chain locked onto his big ring, he shot up the first ramp of the Switchbacks, then accelerated all the way to the first turn. I don’t know how many were left; stuck on his wheel I could only count three or four shadows behind me.

We soft pedaled to the second turn and Mark went again after the bend. I took a pull and swung over after the third turn. Jake Sorosky plowed forward. A few kernels in the pan popped, Mark among them, as I gathered what little I had left to hold Jake’s crazy, wobbling, swerving, back-and-forth, uneven wheel.

After the fourth turn, a solid two-thirds of the way up, I stood up and shed Jake, spinning hard, pinned. Then I heard a whining wheel, the sound of accelerating rubber.

It was Craig. He passed me slowly, giving me a half-second to get on. Then he looked back.

It was brief.

It was grim.

It was the old Craig, with vengeance. He kicked so hard I couldn’t have followed without a motorized assist. Then he vanished, vapor, spinning that soft taffy without stress or strain.

I blew and swirled down the drainpipe. There was no other detritus to swirl with.

If you can pin bike blow, I pinned the smear and held it all the way to the top. Steven Ruiz made a come-around attempt, but I fended him off, somehow.

At the summit I only had one breath left. “Good to see you back, Craig.”

He smiled, gently. “Nice job, buddy. It’s been a while.”

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.

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.

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