You can run (but you sure can’t hide)

July 3, 2013 § 14 Comments

My plan was simple. Our race went off at 10:35. There was a Firestone beer tent in the middle of the esplanade that opened at 11:00. I would pedal at the back for twenty-five minutes, quit, and go over to the beer tent and quaff craft brews while the other idiots pummeled each other into submission.

This race had everything that SoCal bike racers loathe. It had a turn that required some skill to negotiate. It had a howling wind for a long stretch that crushed your will to live. It had a slight incline that prevented you from gaily sucking wheel until the last lap. Worst of all, it had blistering dry heat that seared the inside of your lungs into sandpaper, and the harder you breathed the worse it hurt. As if the demanding course weren’t enough, the 45+ Elderly Gentlemen With Prostate Issues category was stacked: Thurlow, Hill, Strickler, Flores, Clare, Hatchitt, Rahm, Arellano, and a host of other tough guys toed the line, which meant that any kind of decent result would be legitimate indeed.

Fun for the whole family (if your family is wholly brainless)

No man who races bikes and doesn’t have fundamentalist Islam-type control over his wife ever shows up with his lady in tow if they’ve been married for more than six months. This is because the wife figures out after the first two races that a) All office parks are ugly, hot, nasty places to spend a day, and b) Her husband always finishes 45th or lower, or crashes out, or both.

However, the 805 Series promised to be different. It was in Santa Barbara County, a place that Angelenos love to visit on the weekend so that they can pay $10 for a cup of coffee and sit in five hours of traffic on Sunday evening on the drive back home. Santa Barbara also conjures up images of beautiful scenery and countless small wineries where, under the guise of being an oenophile, you can stagger from tasting room to tasting room so thoroughly drunk that you’d be unable to differentiate a Cabernet from a glass of the finest 2013 Pennzoil 10w/40.

Santa Barbara is one of the few places that the tight-fisted, selfish bike racer can coax his wife to visit by promising winery tours and a romantic dinner, then doing the last-minute bait-and-switch by saying, “Fuck, honey, I’m wasted from the race. Let’s go back to the Motel 6, watch some porn and drain a case of Coors Light.”

I had cornered Mrs. Wankmeister into a negotiated truce. “You’ll love it up there, honey,” I promised. “Beautiful scenery, wine tasting tours, and a change of pace.”

“Onna last trip onna Palm Springs inna summer my butt was bakin off. It’s like a Palm Springs, huh?”

“Oh, no! They don’t let meth heads into Santa Barbara County unless they’re affiliated with the university. We’ll be up by Solvang, a cute little Danish town with windmills and such. It’s so picturesque with wine tasting tours and tours where you can taste wine and wineries where you can enjoy wine tasting of wine.”

“Why’s a Denmark gonna know about making onna wine? Denmark’s a place onna codfish and porky salt and whiskey I thought. I never heard on no Danishmark wine.”

“Well, the wine’s not Danish, it’s the little town. It’s very cute with windmills and such.”

“It’s soundin like onna Palm Spring. All they had onna Palm Spring was a big Marilyn whore and a boys and men looking up onna her skirt. And you was lookin so hard onna up her skirt you got the neck strain and we drove all around tryin to find you onna aspirin.”

“It was just a statue, honey.”

“I know it was onna statute honey and you know it was a statute honey. So why you was standin onna her skirt tryin to look onna her clamparts? Alla clamparts you’re looking onna Internets, what you thinkin on seein on her clamparts? You seen one clamparts you seen a million.”

It was touch and go to get her off the clamparts discussion, but I finally prevailed. She wasn’t very happy about it, but at least she’d agreed to go.

Plan the work, then work the plan

Before the race started, we had a team meeting. Our leader, Flamethrower Flores, gathered us around. The cool thing about being part of a big team like SPY-Giant-RIDE is that everyone has a role to play. We can do things together that no one of us can do alone. When everyone is part of a bigger plan, it makes you feel worthwhile and gives you a sense of mission. That’s why I love this team.

“Andy, set the pace from the gun. Make it fierce enough to sap the will of the cannon fodder so they won’t try to follow a break.”

“Got it.”

“Hatchetman, stay towards the front and roll with any breaks. If one leaves without me, I’ll bridge and you’ll be there to help.”

“Okay.”

“T-Rex, if a break gets up the road without any of our guys, go to the front and bring it back, or at least get us close enough to bridge. Obviously, if it boils down to a bunch sprint, we’re leading you out.”

“Cool.”

“Lupus and Jimbo, cover moves and if we get someone up the road, go to the front and clog the chase. If it’s a bunch sprint, you boys are first and second in the leadout train.”

They nodded. “Okay, guys,” Flamethrower said. “Let’s roll.”

“Uh, hey, man,” I said. Everyone turned and looked. “What about me?”

“Oh, yeah, Wanky, uh, do your usual thing. You know, go to the back and don’t get near any of your teammates.”

“Oh,” I said. “What about, like, if there’s a break? Should I block?”

Hatchetman leaned over. “Let me make it real fucking clear: You get anywhere near any of us and I’m putting your ass into the barriers. Last week you damned near crashed out the entire team. If you want to help, get your ass to the back, do your usual full brake flail through the turns, swing wide, cut inside, and scare the crap out of everyone behind you. But don’t get near any of us. And that’s an order.”

“Got it, buddy!” I said, thrilled to have a clear mission and the total support of all my teammates who all agreed on my very important role.

Rubbing shoulders with the big boys

In addition to being part of such a cool team, the other great thing about racing is getting to hang with the legends of the sport. My favorite part is the warm-up around the course, where I get to shoot the breeze with the really good racers. Of course, they know who I am and we always get to share thoughts about racing, one man to another as it were, peers.

As I cruised through Turn One I came up next to Stricky. “Hey dude,” I nodded. “Good course, huh?”

“Get the fuck away from me, you goddamned kook. You almost fucking took out my front wheel on the last lap in Ladera Ranch.”

“Got it, bro. Have a good race!” Next I pulled up alongside Thurlow. “Hey, dude,” I said.

He didn’t say anything, but he wasn’t ignoring me. He’s just quiet like that. “How’re the legs, man?” I asked.

He still didn’t say anything, but I know he heard me. He’s like that, you know, even when he likes you a lot and thinks you’re a cool dude too, he sometimes just doesn’t say anything. It’s his way of saying something without really saying anything. “Have a good race, dude,” I said.

He answered by not replying, which was cool. Some people are just intense that way. As I started to pass him he glanced at me. “Don’t pass me,” he said.

“Huh?”

“You heard me.” Then he glided on through the turn. He wasn’t being hostile or anything, he actually likes me a lot and really respects my riding. There was just that thing at CBR where I accidentally almost took out four dudes in the warm-up lap and maybe he was just jittery or something.

I finished my lap knowing I had the full support of my teammates and the respect of my adversaries. We lined up. The ref read us our last rites and fired the gun, and we were off.

Experience pays

There is a moment in every bike race, if it’s any kind of bike race at all, when, after chewing the enamel off your stem, pounding so hard you want to vomit, surging and jumping with such ferocity that your knee joints ooze blood, draining the last drop of sugar goop out of your fourth bottle, and shooting every last bullet in your magazine, you realize that there are still 55 minutes left to go in the 60-minute race. For me, that moment had arrived in the town of Buellton. I knew that the smart thing to do was quit while I was behind, but if I were wedded to smart things I wouldn’t have been in a bike race to begin with.

I’d spent the first few laps careening wildly through the turns, and I knew I was doing my job because every few seconds some poor sap behind me would let out a scream, followed by the sound of a bike hitting the curb and flipping over into the barricades. It didn’t take long before I had thinned the field considerably and was the very last guy in the group.

The course was brutal, and the slight climb, the searing dry heat, and the industrial blow-drier hot wind had shredded the pack. Andy had set a nasty pace, with Lupus and Jim pounding the whimpering remnants into submission. Finally Flamethrower launched and dangled off the front for six miserable laps. When Amgen brought him back, he countered and a split formed with him, Thurlow, Hatchetman, Gentleman John Slover, and Mark Noble.

This was the moment the entire pack was waiting for: The moment when the real racers could speed off and flog their demons in the teeth of a relentless headwind and the rest of the wankoton could sit up, plan for dinner and tea, and “help the team” by “blocking.” In reality, we were all so beat to shit that it wouldn’t have mattered who was in the break. We went from a long, thin line to a fat amorphous lump as soon as the breakaway rode clear.

My mission accomplished for the day, at 11:00 sharp I sneaked out the back and rolled straight into the beer garden. I can tell you that the Firestone 805 is lighter and tastier than the Firestone DBA, but the difference isn’t really clear until you’ve had five or six apiece in order to properly tease out the flavors. From some foggy and slurred place I watched Flamethrower outsprint Thurlow and Mark Noble. Another awesome team victory that I could notch on the stock of my gun. They couldn’t have done it without me, and the only thing I really wondered was “How much will my cut be?”

Burrito love and the tattoo of death

The next shellacking on offer was the 35+ race. A handful of 45ers had lined up, wrongly thinking that they’d get in a little “extra training.” What they were really about to get was an unforgettable beating.

The temperature had soared to 105, the wind had cranked up another 5mph, and the fierce looks of fresh riders like Full Gas Phil, Vampire, and the Italian Stallion telegraphed their intent to rip it from the gun.

I wandered into the Mexican food joint that sat on the third turn, a super fast left-handed sweeper whose curb was so close to the restaurant window that you could see the spaces between the teeth of the racers as they railed the first lap mouths open, tongues lolling, and flecks of spit already clogging the corners of their mouths.

I thought momentarily about going out into the blistering heat to cheer but the waitress arrived with a four-pound verde burrito with cheese and covered in cheese on top of several layers of cheese. I sank my teeth into the cheese as two riders came through on Lap Two.

It was Full Gas Phil Tinstman on the point with Vampire on his wheel and some poor bastard trying to twist sideways and also hunch down in order to get the slightest bit of a sliver of a draft from Vampire, the only rider who can stand next to Full Gas and make him look morbidly obese.

They hit the convection oven headwind heat blast and Poor Bastard melted and dripped through the oven rack a completely destroyed piece of meat. Full Gas hit it harder and as the pack came through single file the numbers had already thinned.

The Italian Stallion tried repeatedly to get away but each effort was marked by an already wasted peloton that was strong enough to mark moves but too weak to bridge or bring back the break. After thirty minutes of the seventy-minute race had passed, the field was whittled down to thirty riders. Sixty had started.

The remaining flailers looked wild-eyed and crazed from heatstroke as Full Gas and Vampire widened their lead. From time to time I considered cheering them on, but the burrito was still mostly there and the sun’s glare looked so uninviting. By race’s end a mere twenty desperate riders were left. Full Gas dumped Vampire coming out of the last turn like a redneck emptying his ashtray out the window while blowing down the Interstate at 90. The finishers all had a whipped and ruined look that reminded me of someone with food poisoning, a bad hangover, and Montezuma’s Revenge.

I finished my burrito and walked to the beer garden.

South Bay weekend roll call

September 17, 2012 § 6 Comments

Let’s start with the big stuff…

Mighty Mouse: Brought her NPR-honed dick stomping skills to the Nautica Malibu Tri and left a trail of shattered members all up and down PCH. CalTrans garbage truck overheated and broke down on Zuma Hill due to overloading with broken dicks. Wore her Big O tee on the podium’s second step.

Wankomodo: Got a public tongue lashing, laughed it off in the spirit it was intended, gave thanks for his new nickname, and refused to take the Wankmeister seriously. You are now officially part of the gang!

Italian Stallion: Came out for the Donut, rode off into the sunset in a marvelous pink outfit after telling G3 to shut-the-fuck-up about the crazy old lady trying to kill us in Portuguese Bend. Tony almost fell off his bike laughing, just as some wanker touched a wheel and flopped down in the middle of the road. Italian Stallion gives us a great write-up of his national championship road race here.

Crown Jules: Stomped everyone except Stathis the Wily Greek and the Italian Stallion on the Switchbacks, outsprinted John “Dillinger” Hall, who kicked me out the back like a pro roadie’s under-the-armpit snotblow.

Rico Suave: Got badly shredded on the Switchbacks, roared back on Wheatgrass to smash everyone up to the Domes, busted up the field on the Glass Church, towed WM to the line, beat him with a bike throw. I hope Rico never discovers drugs.

Erik the Red: Dropped all but a handful on Better Homes, took the sprunt at Hawthorne by a country mile after bridging with JLR. Formally announced his engagement to SPY Elite Team for 2013…yee-haw!

Tink: Returned to the mix, but was under coach’s orders not to engage in any nonsense for a couple more weeks. The sun shone in happiness at her return!

New Girl: Ignored flu symptoms, West Nile virus, superbug, and early onset pneumonia to lace up and ride to the Rock and then Wheatgrass before coming undone at the seams. Dr. Wanky has ordered bed rest until further notice.

Crit Champ: Showed up on the Donut after bringing home a silver medal from nationals, attacked the field on Paseo del Mar, followed all the moves until gravity took over. Also, wrote a fantastic piece about his season vs. the national championships. Read it here.

Surfer Dan: Displayed fine form that comes with his recent 899-mile weeks in preparation for the Everest Challenge, where he and a few other hardy souls will climb the highest mountains in California on a dog sled. Did three repeats up Crenshaw prior to showing up on Wheatgrass and smacking the snot out of us.

Ms. Abs: Was spied sunning herself on the strand in RB this morning, so we got to chat about life and Pen CX; she also updated me on Steve B.’s 198-mile, 11k of climbing ride that he did immediately prior to the Life Flight and coma resuscitation team.

Suze: Pushed several struggling wankers up through Portuguese Bend, and got a nice push on the tush by the Italian Stallion just past Terranea. Like the eye of Mordor, Wankmeister sees it all!

G3: Out for an easy noodle ride, set the fifth best overall time on the short Donut Loop. Ouch. Glad he wasn’t riding in earnest. Toured with WM along the Esplanade on his boss cruiser, with world’s cutest Ava in tow. When you see a kid that cute riding with G3, it makes you sure of this much: She takes after her mother.

Pilot: Noticed my general bonkishness and loaded me up with a full tankard of iced coffee atop the Hill. I owe you one; actually, I owe you several.

Lake(r): New inter-galactic rep for Lake Cycling showed up to taste the Donut despite being HQ’d in San Diego. Give him a welcome the next time he comes around. If there is a next time, as he sat with Wankmeister out at CotKU and learned that the South Bay is essentially an insane asylum without proper walls.

Iron Mike: Treated another passel of ingrates to $400 worth of nasty, foul-smelling, barely potable wheat grass, which made my front two teeth fall out and turned the others deep green. So at least they all match.

Junkyard: Spent Saturday in the 200-degree heat climbing Latigo, Piuma, Crownview, Anchovy, Deer Creek, Decker, and Questhaven, then couldn’t figure out why his legs were flat on the Wheatgrass Ride. I promised to draw him a diagram to explain it, as he’s a visual person.

Sparkles and VV: Rode the Wheatgrass in halter tops due to predictions of high heat, causing several neck strains in the field and aggressive fighting in the wankoton to ride next to them.

Casey Stengel: While he was noodling up to the Domes and I was chasing Rico Suave with all my might, he hopped out of the saddle and gave me a massive tow to within spitting distance of my quarry. The spit didn’t carry, though, and I never closed the gap.

Dude in Antique Sidis: I don’t know if you remember the Sidi Revolution, the first cycling shoe to use velcro, but Dude was wearing a pair and it looked like he hadn’t taken them off since 1986, including his hike across the Himalayas and the year he spent marching across a field of cow manure. We made him sit downwind at the Jamba Juice, where he killed a small flock of starlings with the smell.

The city mouse and the country mouse

August 18, 2012 § 2 Comments

Once upon a time there was a city mouse named Wanky. He was snooty, and he thought that Big City was the best place in the whole world. He was even conceited enough to think that one of his local coffee shops was the center of the known universe. He owned a fancy bicycle and only wore designer bicycle clothing.

Wanky had a poor country cousin mouse from Bakersfield named Lem, who had a cousin named Cletus. Although Lem and Cletus were cousins, like most Bakersfield mice one never inquired too closely as to the consanguinity because it often turned out that “cousin” was a euphemism for “illegal relationship in the lower 48 except Texas.”

Cultural exchange

One day Wanky called up Lem on the Twitter. “Lem, why don’t you come down and do our Donut Ride. You country mice will learn a thing or two about how to ride your bicycles.”

“Why thanky, Wanky,” said Lem the country mouse. “That’s mighty nice of you. Do you mind if I bring Cousin Cletus?”

“Cletus? Is he the one with the saggy tummy and stumpy tail?”

“That’s him,” said Lem. “But he would like to come and see what all that Big City riding is like. He don’t get out much, except for when him and me get over to Fresno ever now and agin for chain lube and clean underwear.”

“How often is that, Cousin Lem?”

“Oncet or twice a year, for sure.”

“That would be fine,” said Wanky. “Be sure to tell him that our Donut Ride is the most glorious and fame-inducing ride in Big City. All the Big City mice will be there, as well as one or two Big City rats. They will more than likely gnaw out his entrails.”

Glory or fitness? Glory.

“Will us’n get a good piece of training on your Big City donut?” asked Lem.

“No,” said Wanky. “My third cousin twice removed on Uncle Theodosius’s sister’s side, Jack from Illinois (not his real name), says that the Donut Ride is the dumbest and worst preenfest of wankers he’s ever seen. And he’s from Illinois, so he knows a thing or two about wankers.”

“Me and Cletus was hopin for some training.”

“We have lots of training in Big City,” Wanky said snootily. “You can train with Roadchamp at 3:00 AM and break every Strava record known to mice and men.”

“I kinda think we’d like to do that ride,” squeaked Lem.

“Only problem is that no one will ever see you. You’ll be invisible, eating your pre-ride cheese at Peet’s Cheeseshop in the dark. You’ll have done a hundred and ten with 8k of climbing by the time we even get started on the Donut Ride.”

“What do mean by ‘glory’?”

“Glory?” Wanky said with a condescending squeak. “When you roll out on the Donut Ride in Big City, you’ll be surrounded by rodentia royalty. The Italian Stallion might even be there.”

“Who’s that?”

“You might as well ask me ‘Who was Ratty?’ in the Wind in the Willows,” Wanky said. “Or ‘Who was Stuart Little?’ Or ‘Who was Mickey?’ Crikey, Lem, the Italian Stallion is the most famous rat in Big City. When he shows up on the Donut Ride, it’s Katie bar the door.”

All aboard for the Pussy Riot

“Katie bar the door?”

“Yep. Katie Donovan, a/k/a Razor, will slice you into thin little ribbons of mouse meat and feed you to the cats. She did the Leadville 100 walking all the descents and still finished in under four hours. She even carries around an ego bag.”

“A what?” Lem’s voice quivered on the other end of the Twitter.

“And ego bag. It’s a giant bag hooked up underneath her saddle. Bigger than Dallas, even.”

“What’s it for?”

“She fills it up with all the broken male mouse egos that get shattered on the Donut Ride. Starts the ride empty, goes home full to busting.”

“But she’s a girl mouse?”

“Not a girl mouse like you have out in the country, Lem. She’s a Big City mouse. She’s pretty, and smart, and well educated, and knows how to use a napkin, and only blows snot out of her nose when there’s no one on her wheel.”

“Holy Gouda!” squeaked Lem admiringly.

“But when the hammer comes down, she’s the one with her fingers wrapped around the handle. And it’s all the little boy mice’s testicles who get smushed.”

Lem squeaked in terror. “Are you sure she’ll be there?”

“Pretty sure. And even if she’s not, Tink will be.”

“Who’s Tink?” Lem’s squeak was so soft that Wanky could hardly hear it.

“She’s the climbingest mouse in the South Bay after Razor. Lots of big tough boy mice have tried to pin her in a trap, but the only way to get Tink’s attention is to finish with her on the top of a climb. And none of the boy mice have been able to do that yet.”

Beware of fools bearing gifts

On the day of the big ride, Lem and Cletus showed up at the Cheese Bean and Cheese Leaf in Big City. Wanky met them and introduced them to much of the Big City royalty. New Mouse was there. Sparkly Mouse was there. Polly Mouse, Douggie Mouse, Jensie Mouse, Gussy Mouse, Junkyard Mouse, Friedrich Mouse, Pilot Mouse, and a host of other rodents assembled to greet the out of towners. The only big rat missing was G$ Rat and Mighty Mouse herself.

Lem reached into his homespun carryall and pulled out a pair of pink unicorn socks. “Here y’go, Cousin Wanky. These here magic unicorn socks will give you extra special riding powers. Plus they are so loud and ugly and bright that I will be able to find you no matter how far back I am.”

Pink unicorn power for Wanky!

Wanky pulled on the magic unicorn socks and felt a special strength surge up into his incisors. “Thank you, Cousin Lem and Cousin Cletus!” His long and greasy and hairless tail quivered in anticipation.

All rats great and small rolled out, an armada of rodents more than one hundred strong. Even the evil and nasty Big City police cats and Deputy Knox cat were afraid to approach the rolling entourage of cheese eaters.

Country mice squeak strongly

On the dreaded Switchbacks, the selection occurred with the Italian Stallion, Razor, Tink, Dentist, Stathis the Wily Greek, John Mouse Hall, and Petey Mouse. Lem lasted for a while and was then fed to the cats. Cletus had his entrails gnawed out. Wanky wanked in no-mouse-land after getting his head caught in the mousetrap after the third turn.

Lem rode well through Homes and Gardens, finished mousefully on the Domes, sprunted well at Hawthorne, and dusted Wanky on the final climb up Zumaya. Cletus was honored at a roadside burial later that afternoon.

Back at the cheese shop in Big City, Lem and Wanky talked over the day’s events. “You Big City mice sure ride hard.”

“You country mice are no slouches.”

“My tail and haunches are pretty sore.”

“Wait ’til tomorrow.”

“What was that big lake thing on the left the first part of our ride? Was it the Big City sewage pond? Only body of water that big in Bakersfield is the sewage pond.”

“It’s called the Pacific Ocean, but China calls it their sewage pond.”

“Well, someday soon we hope you’ll make it up to the country so’s we can return the favor. Big City mice was shore nice to us. That John Mouse Hall feller told me where the turns was. And that Polly Mouse feller did the same thing for Cletus afore he up and died on us.”

“I’d like nothing better, Lem. When’s a good time?”

“In December it gets down to the low hundreds. Which is good because the sewage pond don’t smell so rich.”

“I’ll put it on my calendar.”

“And bring some Big City mice with you. We’d like to see if they ride as quick on our roads as they do on yours.”

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