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.”

Please don’t fuck with the dork with the dorky socks

July 15, 2012 § 16 Comments

Dorky Sock Dude didn’t know his socks were dorky. What he did know as he raced along the bike path was that he loved the neon yellow jersey with bright purple sleeves that went flashing by in the opposite direction.

“That,” said Dorky Sock Dude to himself, “is the raddest thing I have ever seen. Where can I get one?”

DSD had been cycling for about a year and he was pretty proud of himself. He had a brand new Cannondale. It was bright silver. He had some super rad shifter stuff, Shimano 105 it was called. He had an ultra rad helmet with a little plastic visor that jutted out from it, very pro. And to make it all hang together he had gone out shopping for the best pair of socks he could find, until he found them.

The green and red slashing thunderbolts with orange flames had a black and purple background with some yellow asteroids raining down from the top of the cuff. They made him happy every time he pulled them on. They were tall, they were comfy, they were rad, and they were very, very pro.

Welcome to the friendly cycling community

DSD found out that this rad and uber-hip neon yellow, purple sleeved jersey was worn by a certain South Bay cycling club. It was the biggest club. It was the oldest club. It was the legit-est club. DSD didn’t know or care about any of that, though. He just wanted the jersey, and he wanted to be teammates with the dudes and chicks who wore that cool jersey.

Why? Because biking was fun, because he’d been doing it for a year now and thought he was getting pretty fit, and because anybody who had a jersey that rad must be a pretty cool anybody.

DSD sent in his membership application and before long he got his jersey. He was one happy dude. He laid it out on the bed next to his shorts and socks and gloves and shoes and helmet, with his bike off to the side, and admired the ensemble. Dorky Sock Dude had done sports in college, and he missed being on a team. He felt lucky to have discovered cycling, and even luckier to have learned that there were teams where people could get together to ride and have a good time, and, luckiest of all, that anybody could join.

The next morning he got up, ate breakfast, and put on his biking duds. He looked at himself in the mirror. He didn’t shave his legs like lots of the other bikers he saw, but that’s because he didn’t really understand why shaved legs had anything to do with riding a bike.

DSD had learned that there was a club ride that morning, meeting at 6:30 AM at the Pier. He left his house extra early so he wouldn’t be late. It was a great feeling, and exciting, too. He’d get to meet all of his new teammates and they would show him some cool biking stuff and workout tips and answer some questions that had been bouncing around in his head about cycling and training and fitness and stuff. Mostly stuff.

Nice to see you. Not.

When DSD rolled up to the Pier, there were five or six of his teammates draped nonchalantly on their top tubes, chatting with each other. Dorky Sock Dude was so happy he didn’t know what to do. They looked like they were talking in earnest, so he figured he’d just circle around and then introduce himself. He was wearing the team jersey, and there was no one else in sight, so any minute now they’d nod to him and he’d get to meet his mates.

Nobody said a word to him or even made eye contact. “Wow,” thought DSD “they must be talking about some serious cycling stuff.”

Then, without a word, they clicked in and rolled out. DSD hopped on behind the group, hoping someone would say something, but not knowing how to introduce himself he just sat awkwardly on the back. They were now rolling at a good clip, and occasionally one of the other riders would glance back to see if he was still there.

An unspoken signal was passed, and the riders dropped into single file. Dorky Sock Dude was at the end, and the pace became brutally hard. He knew it was brutally hard because the other guys were breathing loudly, and their bikes seemed to wobble. “This is cool!” thought DSD to himself. “I guess we’re doing intervals now! This is kind of like what we did on the track team in college!”

DSD moved up in the paceline, and when it was his turn he thought, “I better do my turn so they don’t think I’m slacking!” Within seconds the following riders swarmed around him, saying nothing, panting hard, beating furiously at the pedals.

“Wow!” thought DSD. “This is hard! This is great!” He hopped on the end of the train, which only had three of the original six riders left. With each surge DSD came through, got swarmed, sat on, then came through again. Soon there was no one left but DSD and one other guy, lathered in sweat and gagging on his own tongue.

Dorky Sock Dude took one final pull. “I’m pretty darn whipped, but I’ll do this last one if I can.” When he pulled over there was no one behind him. A very small group of five riders was far back in the distance, working together as hard as they could even while DSD continued to pull away. “Shoot!” he said to himself. “I lost my buddies! NOT COOL!”

Your buddies will be happy you waited

The group caught up to Dorky Sock Dude, but no one said a word. Thinking he’d tired, they began the paceline anew. Within minutes DSD was off by himself. “Crap!” he said to himself, doubly angry because he didn’t like to curse, even silently, “I lost my buddies! NOT COOL!”

By the third act in this often-seen play, the teammates gave up. Dorky Sock Dude had legs of steel, and was easily the match, and then some, of their combined efforts. The head rider came up to him. “That Shimano 105 stuff is total crap,” he said.

DSD didn’t know what to say. The next rider pedaled by. “And those socks are dork city. Get some new socks, dude.”

It washed over him. These weren’t his buddies. They’d been trying to ride away from him, but they couldn’t. So now the best they could do was to make fun of his socks and his bike.

To the extent that any of this ever happened, and I can assure that all of the true parts really did, it all took place in the late 1990’s. And if you’ve ridden at all in the South Bay, you’ve met Dorky Sock Dude, otherwise known as Greg Leibert. He’s the one who greets every newcomer with a smile, who encourages every rider regardless of ability, who stops to help you change your flat, who paces you back up to the group, and who, if you race against, almost always finishes in front of you. He’s the guy that everyone else wants to be like, even while he’s tearing you a new asshole.

He’s also the guy who wears tall white socks with the horizontal blue stripes. And the only thing people ask about his footwear nowadays is “Hey, Greg, where can I get a rad pair of socks like that?”

New SoCal pose training camp for 8/13/2012

July 11, 2012 § 7 Comments

Upcoming event for SoCal racers: The First Annual Pose Training Camp for Bike Racers

When: 8/13/2012

Where: CBR Dominguez Hills Crit Course

Time: 8:00 AM – Noon

Instructors: Charon Smith, Rahsaan Bahati, Rich Meeker, Cory Williams, Dave Perez, Justin Williams, Greg Leibert, Thurlow Rogers

Participant Ability Level: Pretty low

Fee: $8.00

What You’ll Learn: Nothing is more important than the pose you strike when crossing the finish line. Whether it’s a first place finish or a well-earned 48th, friends, family, and the event photographer will be on hand to watch you conquer that 45-minute (or less) epic battle with fate. Tired of scrolling through those event photos only to find pictures of yourself with your head drooped over the bars, tongue lolling out, eyes crossed, and shoulders hunched in defeat? This training camp will help you find the best pose for your scrapbook so that you’ll look striking and stunning and championish after you’ve Photoshopped out the fifty or sixty people in front of you. You’ll leave this seminar able to do all of the following poses:

“The Godzilla”–Charon Smith will arc his massive arms and show you how to growl as if you were actually good enough to leave the competition snarling and snapping for second…without falling down!

“The Vaporglide”–Rahsaan Bahati will help you master the look of crossing the finish line at 50 mph while stifling a yawn (even though you’ll only be doing about 18 and weaving your way around that ten-man Cat 5 pile-up)…”Yo, was that the line? Shoot, I was just gettin’ ready to sprint…guess I didn’t really need to.”

“The Bricklayer”–Rich Meeker will demonstrate how to make your finish line pose look like the gnarliest manual labor since Dog invented the post-hole digger. Rough, serviceable, workmanlike, this is the look for every wanker who’s wanted to outclimb, outsprint, out time-trial, and outsmart the competition just like Rich…but simply can’t.

“The Jet Set”–Cory Williams will lay down the pose that made horizontal, black-striped socks famous. This is the pose when you want everyone to not just marvel at the fifteen bike lengths between you and second place, but at your sockwear as well. You’ll still look stupid in your Texas flag socks, but with your legs at the right angle you might look 1/10,000,000 as cool as Cory. Might.

“Rican Pride”–Dave Perez will illustrate the color-coordinated finish line pose that blends together terribly ugly colors that only look good when they’re going so fast you can’t see them. As an added bonus, he’ll teach you how to tell the barista your name is “Rico Suave” after ordering your double-white chocolate-soy-milk-decaf-raspberry-herbal-tea-frappucino.

“I Don’t Think He’s at this Race”–Justin Williams will provide participants with multiple ways to cross the line in such a way that people won’t even know you were at the race because you’re moving too fast to see. Wait, this might not be the pose for you because, you know, you’re so fucking slow that you got dropped by that fat dude with the triple chin.

“Happy You’re Dead”–Greg Leibert will introduce the smiling finish pose where everyone will think you’re a nice guy even though you just decimated the best racers in the state and gave them a dick stomping they’ll never forget. You’ll learn to say “Good job!” to the catatonic wanker who missed the last turn and launched headfirst into the fry-0-later inside Pepe’s Burrito Wagon.

“Wake Me When It’s Over”–Thurlow Rogers won’t teach you shit, other than to get the fuck out of his way. He doesn’t give a good goddamn how he looks crossing the line…as long as he’s first. Which, by the way, he always is. The take-home from your session with THOG is this: First place always looks good.

Bonus instructional: Learn why bright colors on your shorts (white, red, yellow, green) create highlights along the contours of your dingaling so that everyone can see each bump, ridge, and vein in that shrimpy li’l feller, and why black-colored shorts do a great job of hiding lots more than road grime.

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.

CBR Dominguez Hills Sunday crit and flailfest

June 11, 2012 § 9 Comments

Monday, the day after a hugely successful day at the races, is so depressing. The office still looks the same. The pile of shit that was on your desk, the pile from which you so joyfully fled at 4:59 PM on Friday, is still there, towering, leaning, and reeking of procrastination babies that have been sitting at the bottom of the pile for so long they’ve sprouted chest hair and developed deep voices.

You try as hard as you can to do the thing that you’ve done every other Monday in 2012: shove the hard shit further down the stack and cherry pick the easy shit that can be knocked out in a minute or two. Check your email. Refill your coffee. Peek again at the bottom of the pile to see if the procrastination babies have grown fangs yet. It’s when they’re at the fanged stage that you’re fucked and will have to wrestle with them as they spring free from the pile, scattering everything else to the four winds as you battle what was once an easily solved problem but what has now grown into a fire breathing monster sprung from the gates of hell.

Fortunately, the biggest procrastination baby hasn’t fanged yet and only has tiny little bumps on its gums, which means a few more reams of shit can be heaped atop the pile to weigh him down for another brace or two of Mondays until he’s strong enough to claw his way out and ruin your week for real.

Race notes

Rich Meeker: Dude won the 45+ category in a sprint, which doesn’t need saying because he showed up. The last time I was in a race with Rich I never saw him, so this was cool because I got within 30 or 40 yards and gawked good and proper. THOG-like, he notices everything that happens in the race. He’s always towards the front, but never at it unless attacking or bridging or smoking the field for the win. Bastard. At least my helmet cam makes his butt look fat.

Charon Smith: Dude won the 35+ category in a sprint, which doesn’t need saying because he showed up. Some guy in second place almost nipped him at the line except that he was forty-seven bike lengths back. A bunch of people I don’t know won the other races, so fuck them. Then Charon went and did some ridiculous shit in the P/1/2 race, winning the field sprint or some shit like that. At least he got smoked on the climb by a girl on the Saturday ride, even though he busted a gut trying to catch her.

Eric Anderson: Second race after upgrading to Cat 2, he nails fourth in the 35+ and 12th in the P/1/2. Eric is the only sprinter I know with the Bahati-esque quality of pulling so fucking hard that your entire body trembles and shudders from the pain. How long before Eric makes Charon quit sitting up with 300m to go and actually pedal to the line?

David Perez: The reason DP is always praying so hard is because of all those demons inside. The big hairy one with four tails, twelve eyes, and a rusty pike with skulls on it is called “Upgrade Demon.” It’s the demon that he coughed up at the starting line after linking hands with the atheistic antichrist spawn of satan otherwise known as HoverHawk. Once the demon was out in the open, DP rode a hell of a race, tossing the demon back into the eternal lake of fire and nailing down 13th place in a star-studded field of legitimate crazies. This is a great result for our local South Bay boy, and here’s hoping that more are on the way!

Chris Lotts: Seeing Chris come bombing by me in the crit was like watching a giant bowl of jello being flung from a fast-moving car. You keep watching to see if it’s going to come apart, but the only thing that came apart was Wankmeister. Chris showed again that no matter how much of a strain he puts on the 500-lb. test line that holds his clothing together, he CAN STILL KICK YOUR ASS IN A CRIT.

Wankmeister self-evaluation: Attacking with Gary Walls and John Nist 10 minutes into the race was really stupid. Chasing down David Worthington was awesome, as he flipped me off for the camera. Rad!! Chilling at the front with Greg Leibert while our teammates rode in the breakaway was interesting. What’s with all those lazyfucks who go to all that trouble to get in a break and then won’t work together? Are they related to Jack from Illinois? Or do they think they’re going to beat Rich Meeker in the sprint? Or do they just not know they’re in a break? Props to teammate Alan Flores, even though he was herding frogs, for getting up the road with those doofuses. My attack on the incline with just over one lap to go was meaningless, but better than doing nothing. Maybe. Although I finished next-to-DFL, it was my next-to-best race ever, thanks to my GoAmateur helmet cam, which captured all of the spitting, snot-blowing, bad cornering, time spent out in the wind instead of intelligently drafting, and cries of fear from the hapless schmoes stuck behind me.

Next up on WM’s race schedule: The Castaic Jailhouse Crit, an awesome 3.75-mile circuit race with a hill, providing a rare alternative to the typical four-corner crit that makes racing in SoCal so boring. Ooops…recent update by the promoter: Due to zillions of new rapists, child molesters, killers, and marijuana smokers being incarcerated at the same time that the state budget’s being cut, the Castaic jail grounds have canceled the circuit race. However, a race will still go on, only as a (surprise) four-cornered crit, .75 mile in length. Nice work, felons.

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