January 27, 2014 § 12 Comments
This weekend’s Big Bike Beatdown in Santa Barbara featured another two-day, two-wheeled brawl while grown men with nothing better to do risked life and limb on shitty roads as they dodged cracks, slammed into potholes, narrowly avoided oncoming traffic, wantonly broke sporadically enforced yellow-line rules, and shook their heads in fury while the braindead moto ref stopped the entire peloton three times for a “pee break.” After the dust settled, a few things were clear:
- 90% of the full-on, raging masters peloton would be completely burned out by the middle of March.
- 95% of the full-on, raging masters peloton had done enough races so far this year (four) to have a perfect excuse not to show up at Boulevard next weekend.
- You can’t make chicken salad out of …
While Facebook broke most of the Internet with repeated posts of race results (“Look! Freddy got 45th in the Cat 3′s! Good job!”), the first real race of the year revealed itself, and it’s a race that we’re going to keep seeing for the next eight months. Yes, the Fastest Legs in the West squarely beat the Best Bike Handler in the West. But it was close, and it promises to get better.
Tale of the tape
In this corner we have Charon (pronounced “faster than you”) Smith, the best crit racer in his 35+ age group. Charon wins more races in a season than most racers even enter. He combines dedicated training, natural speed, courage when things get gnarly, and a profound sense of fair play to produce winning results year in and year out on the SoCal crit scene. Despite the fact that he’s an easygoing guy, he’s a keen competitor, a leader, and great source of inspiration for a lot of people.
It wasn’t too long ago that Charon was essentially racing for himself, having to scrape out every single win singlehandedly. By racing consistently, fairly, and by always congratulating his opponents — win, lose, or draw — he has gathered a strong following of friends who gradually morphed into the best 35+ team in Southern California. No longer forced to race by himself or with one or two teammates, Charon is now backed with serious horsepower in the form of Kayle Leo Grande, John Wike, Ben Travis, Rob Kamppila, and the other first class racers who make up Surf City’s race team. More importantly, Charon’s optimistic attitude and positive message have helped create a team that firmly believes it’s on a mission to win, and win, and win.
With only a handful of races into the season in the bag, Charon’s team has far and away the most victories. Proving that it’s a team, Surf City is stacking podiums, stacking breakaways, and sharing the victories and placings among the teammates. But make no mistake about it: The team’s anchor is Charon, and when the heavy artillery starts firing in a field sprint, he’s the guy lobbing the 16-inch shells.
And in the other corner …
We have Aaron Wimberley, about as different from Charon as a cobra is from a tiger. First of all, the boy has a full head of hair, so you could say he’s won the battle right off the bat. But since it’s not a hair styling contest, we have to judge these two guys on their bikes. Where Charon is the quickest guy on two wheels, Aaron is the best bike handler. Only a few guys have Aaron’s skills — John Wike, the bike wizard who also rides for Charon, and Phil Tinstman come to mind. Aaron has rocketed up the ranks from lowly Cat 5 to getting a bronze medal at nationals on a fiendishly technical course.
He’s unbelievably quick and has off-the-chart race smarts. Scientific, methodical, and unwilling to count further down than first place, Aaron has been in the wilderness for the last couple of years riding with little support and lots of second-place finishes in a crit scene dominated by team efforts. This year, however, he’s moved over to SPY-Giant-RIDE, the best team in the galaxy. (Disclaimer: It really is.) Aaron rides like a gunslinger. Independent, self-reliant, takes no shit from anyone, and is more than happy to explain your shortcomings to you in colorful language. I will never forget the time he described my jumps as something akin to “watching a big blue bus go up a steep hill dragging a space shuttle.”
The question this year is whether Aaron’s new alliance with the best team in the galaxy will create the teamwork and support he needs to beat the Fastest Legs in the West (for an old dude). Judging from the finish at the Mothballs Crit this past Sunday, it could happen.
Roaring into the final 200 meters Charon had the help of Kayle Leo Grande, himself one of the fastest finishers in the 35′s, as a lead-out. Even against these two motors, Aaron managed a very respectable second, with Charon winning comfortably but not easily, but it’s my guess that Aaron’s not showing up in hopes of getting second. More organization and support from SPY-Giant-RIDE teammates could well prove to be the final push that Aaron needs to win against Charon in a drag race.
What to look for
SoCal has few crits that are technical enough to give Aaron a chance to use his bike handling edge. Most of the races are four-corners, wide, and they finish with a fast man throwdown. However, there are some exceptions. Look for Mike Hecker’s 805 Crit series to provide challenging courses, potentially huge crosswinds, and an arena where Charon’s flat-out speed may be offset by Aaron’s wizardry in the turns. The San Marcos Crit will also be a place to see bike handling and a slight bump take the sting out of a drag race finish.
And of course any given race has an amazing crop of first-class speedsters fully capable of winning. Danny Kam, Phil Tinstman, Mike Easter, Chris DeMarchi, Rudy Napolitano, John Abate, Michael Johnson, Randall Coxworth, Jamie Paolinetti, John Wike, Ivan Dominguez, Eric Anderson, Brian Cook, Josh Alverson, Patrick Caro, and Karl Bordine are all 35+ riders who stood on the top step in a crit in 2013. There’s no reason to think they won’t be going for the top step again this year.
Whatever happens … it’s gonna be fun to watch!
August 13, 2013 § 15 Comments
The previous week we raced the Brentwood GP, set in the heart of glamorous West L.A., smack in the middle of the homes owned by the rich, the famous, the divorced, and those serving life sentences in Nevada. What could be better than a craft beer garden, silicone breasts galore, curbside cafes with froo-froo drinks and menu items that end in -eaux, -aises, and three digits to the left of the decimal?
Ah, Brentwood! Home to Brooke Shields, who swung by to check out the action, home to a fabled bike race intertwined with L.A.’s oldest and most respected cycle club and high-dollar payday for the fastest wheels in the West, all recorded with a Hollywood sound truck and 50-man crew from Time-Warner Cable.
But I digress …
Taking it down to the next level
This Sunday, with only a few races left on the 2013 road calendar, marked the running of the Torrance Crit, a race as different from Brentwood as a $5,000 hooker is from a jar of peanut butter. By the middle of August we were all completely exhausted and even sicker of bike racing than we were in January, which was very.
After seventeen races at which I spent an average of $75.00 per race (for a total of $1,275.00, plus $1,932.83 in equipment, clothing, beer, and lodging), I had already wasted — yes, wasted — $3,207.83 in order to garner an average race finish of 31.6th place. The good news was that after Brentwood I was clearly on an uptick in performance, having crossed the line in an almost impossibly good 19th place. If I could only keep doubling my results like that, I’d be winning in no time!
It would be the challenge of a lifetime to improve on the Brentwood finish here at Torrance, but I was up to it. At season’s end when others were running on fumes, I could feel victory, or at least 18th Place, coursing through my veins.
Killing for crumbs
As I looked around the starting line I realized what a profound mistake it had been not to sign up for the 45+ race in which I had a .000003% chance of winning instead of the 35+, in which my chance was zero. Around me the riders all looked youthful, strong, and fast, with the exception of Bart, who looked older than the rest of us put together but still beat me like a drum.
The only consolation I got was that they, like me, were sick to death of pedaling around ugly office parks with no hope of victory, and, like me, were here out of force of habit, like a heroin addict who inserts the needle with no hope of relief, but prays only for maintenance of low-level misery. Like me, they were desperately hoping and praying that now, at the end of the year, some miracle would occur that might deliver a victory — a moving van running amok on the course that ran over all the other riders, or a giant sinkhole that swallowed everyone but me, or, even more impossibly, a last-minute miscalculation by Charon, Hair, Wike, or the other habitual Alpha males of the SoCal crit scene. But the most hopeful omen of all was the absence of Tinstman and DiMarchi, who had gone off to Vietnam in order to test their intestines against the local cuisine, and their legs against that nation’s top riders.
Where Brentwood was tony and well-heeled, the Torrance crit was the impoverished cousin with the extra toe, a wind-swept, barren hellhole held on the Telo training crit course so infamous in the South Bay. The wind-tossed, pock-marked, rock-strewn frontside of the course was buffeted by the standard 25 mph headwind that blows off of the ocean every afternoon. The field had a meager 31 riders, meaning that the strategy of “hide, then hide some more” wouldn’t work.
The prize, though somewhat smaller than the $13,000 on offer at Brentwood, was still enough to make the racers willing to fight and kill for it. Such is the value of a tank of gas among the hopeless addicts of the Pro Masters Crit community. When our race began there was a collective sigh of relief as we all knew we were just a few minutes closer to the end of an already endless season, and therefore the chance of receiving a serious brain injury this year while riding through potholes at warp speed on skinny tires was ever so slightly reduced.
A recap almost as miserable as the ride
You know how, when you read a race recap, it’s filled with mindlessly boring descriptions of what various riders did throughout the entire fifty minutes, though it could and should best be summed up by William Stone’s immortal race reports, which are all the same? That is, “Someone won. The others did not.”
Well, this race report has two versions.
The Stonish version: Charon Smith won. The others did not.
The Wankmeister version: Grab yourself a beer. Settle into a comfy couch. Get ready for a long, boring, painful read.
Since it was going to be a long, miserable, windy, high-speed beatdown, my teammate Josh Alverson decided to play it conservatively by sitting in, resting, and hoarding his energies until the end of the first one hundred yards, at which point he attacked. Everyone was relieved to see him go, because of all the no-hope moves that anyone could have pulled, this was the no-hopiest.
Five laps later, Josh returned to the fold just in time for John Wike to attack. My game plan since the night before had been to sit in. Rest. Save everything for one hard attack with a couple of laps to go. Follow nothing. Try nothing. Remember that these were all young men and that I was a feeble and infirm elderly fellow with a leaky prostate, terrible vision, and a dislocated pancreas. Seek whatever shelter from the wind I could find. Stay far from the front. Never attack. Say “please” a lot.
So of course I jumped on Wike’s wheel, which is like saying, “I poked the guy in the eye who was wearing the hockey mask and carrying the chainsaw.” Wike’s an unusual fellow in that his ferocity has multiple sources. Most bike racers can only conjure up “the angry” from some early childhood beating, or having lost a thumb while cleaning the chain on a track bike, or getting beaten up and having their stamp collection taken away while walking home from Mrs. Broughton’s 4th Grade class at Braeburn Elementary in Houston.
Wike’s fury, though comes from the usual places plus his junkyard dog loyalty to his team. I overheard the whole team pre-race meeting. Charon and Wike and Special K were sitting under the tent.
Charon: What’s the plan today, boys?
Wike: You will win.
Charon: Okay, but what’s the plan?
Wike: I will chase down everything.
Special K: Dude, you can’t chase everything. We only have three guys. Nobody’s gonna help you.
Wike: Okay. I will chase almost everything. You chase the other one or two moves.
Charon: Sounds like a plan.
Fools rush in where Wike isn’t afraid to tread
Many people say that Wike has no fear, and they cite these two examples:
Example A: Wike set the downhill speed record for the Red Bull Challenge on Tuna Canyon in the Santa Monica Mountains, well in excess of 55 mph on a suicidal, twisting, gravelly, washed-out, off-camber descent of death, and he set it despite crashing, remounting, and hitting it full-gas all the way to the bottom.
Example B: Coming into the final 400 yards of a mass sprint that featured ex-Euro pros like Ivan Dominguez, Wike was glued to the wheel of the Cuban Missile. A young and hormone-crazed Cat 1 tried to bump Wike off the Missile’s wheel, at 35 mph. Wike casually looped his arm under the youngster’s, then hooked their two handlebars together as the speed increased. From six inches away, Wike looked coolly into the eyes of the terrified child. “If you try to take that wheel from me again … ” Wike paused for dramatic effect as the speed increased, the finish line approached, and the roar of crowd became deafening. ” … then we’re both going down.”
The punkster trembled, Wike unlocked arms and bars, and uncorked for the finish, which was so close they had to review it with a team of officials on video replay. The enormous clunk on the concrete when Wike got off his bike was the sound of his 300-lb. testicles, and they left a divot in the cement the size of a wrecking ball.
But he seemed like such a nice axe-murderer, Mommy
The thing about Wike, though, despite his fury and his rail-like cornering skills and his devastating sprint and his fearless approach, is this: As long as you don’t try to douchebag him, he is the fairest, most honest, cleanest rider around, kind of like an ethical Great White Shark with guns and nunchuks.
Now I was on his wheel, and what had started off as a bike race quickly became an advanced lesson in high-speed cornering. Whereas most crit riders set themselves up for a turn, and it’s fairly predictable how they intend to enter the corner, Wike seems to come at each turn straight up-and-down, as tightly inside as possible, with no angle or lean at all. It looks impossible until, at the last second, rather than gracefully swooping through the apex of the turn, he grabs his stupid fucking bike by the scruff of its neck, rubs its nose in the poop, and violently slings it through the corner.
The bike is too afraid to do anything except go, and Wike never misses a pedal stroke. I, on the other hand, am ten feet back and digging like a DitchWitch in a mud trench to get back on his wheel. By the time I’d latch back on, John would be gouging the pedals again, which meant that the “recovery” from “sitting on his wheel” was in theory only.
Josh to the rescue
Soon we had another rider, and our three-man break looked promising, except for the fact that I was barely hanging on and we were a mere ten minutes into the race. Fortunately, my teammate Josh pulled the entire pack up to our break, relieving me of the indignity of getting dropped and making sure there was no way I would get on the podium. A lot of people don’t understand the teamwork in bike racing, which is complicated and hard to explain, and frankly, neither do I.
Now that I had squandered what little reserves I’d begun with (did I mention that I did a “warm-up” 30-mile ride that morning around PV that included 4k of climbing?), I slunk to the rear and swore to hide until the finish. This was the exact same moment that Special K attacked, followed by searing jumps from Wike, Josh, Jolly Green Giant, and most of the CalPools team.
The wounded and bleeding flailers huddled in a small lump, looking at each other and wondering which of the following would happen:
- We’d play “Yugo! Uh-uh, YOU go!” until the pack went off and left us for good. Then we’d be able to go home and give our pals “kudos” on Strava and tote up our weekly mileage.
- Some idiot in our midst would tow us up to the peloton, thereby frying and dropping himself from the race.
- The pack would miraculously slow down.
We got lucky, and it was Door #3. The wind and the accelerations were so fierce that the pack had winded itself, kind of like a dog that mindlessly chases a stick over and over until it collapses in a heap, never really sure why it was chasing the stick in the first place, and resolving never to do it ever again as long as it lives, or at least until someone throws the stick again.
A big lob
Josh attacked again for the 357th time and was up the road with Ollie before the pack brought that stick back, too. As everyone caught their breath, I seized my chance and rolled off the front with six to go. After the race a dude came up to me and said, “Yo, Wanky. New nickname. After that Big Blue Bus on flat tires acceleration, we’re gonna start calling you ‘Dangle.’”
As I dangled, each time I came through Turn 5 a hopelessly besotted clot of drunks screamed my name. At first I thought they were my friends, because it sure looked like Hoof Fixer Dude, New Girl, Frenchy, Tumbleweed, G3, Surfer Dan, Francisco, Toronto, Shannon, and Peyton Place.
Then I realized that they were standing in the driveway of the Strand Brewery, a local beer maker with a 10,000 gallon brewing tank that sells growlers to the public on the weekend. Noting that it was a weekend, and noting that everyone was clenching a growler, I paid closer attention the next time I came through, this time with another rider in tow.
“Get off the front, you fucking idiot!” is what they seemed to be saying. I wondered if they meant me?
With three laps to go, I and CalPools Dude were joined by the Jolly Green Giant, only he was more like the Grumpy Green Giant than the jolly one. I didn’t care, as he pulled like a giant, and now the game plan began to coalesce. None of us could sprint, but I could sprint at least as less badly as the other two. Victory was entirely possible. Best of all, my two teammates, Josh and Eric, would be at the front slowing down the pack, soft pedaling through the turns, and messing up Wike’s inevitable chase of death.
Josh to the rescue, again!
Fortunately, with two laps to go, Josh did such a great job of blocking that he blocked the whole peloton right up to our breakaway, then attacked us. “C’mon!” he said. “Let’s go!”
I wasn’t sure what he meant, since the only place I knew to go to was the finish line, and I’d been trying like hell to get there for the last four laps. Now there was a small gap, and Grumpy looked at me. “Close that gap!” he ordered.
“But that’s my teammate. Why should I?”
“You moron,” Grumpy snarled. “You need to learn how to race your bike.”
“That’s true,” I said. “But I’m still not chasing down my teammate for you.”
Grumpy lumbered up, but by that time the peloton was together again.
Final lap fireworks
With one lap to go, Charon woke up. He went over to the wash basin, brushed his teeth, put in some menthol-flavored mouthwash, and adjusted his helmet. Then he stretched, and with a moderate yawn rolled up towards the front.
“Hey,” he said. “Which one of you babies has the candy?”
“I do!” yowled one baby.
“Me, too!” hollered another.
“Me, me, me! Me got candy!” shouted a chorus of others.
“Okay, then,” said Charon. “Hold your hands up real high so I can take it from you easier.”
With three hundred yards to go he stretched again, checked his mouth in his pocket mirror to make sure there weren’t any pieces of black pepper between his teeth, and put his hands on the drops. Now the others were sprinting at max speed, giving it everything they had.
Charon pulled the morning newspaper out of his jersey pocket to make sure that the 15% Off Sale at Bill’s Bible Store was still going on, carefully refolded it, and put it back in his pocket. With a hundred yards to go he checked his phone. There was a text message from his fan club. “Hey, Charon!” it said. “Now might be a good time to go.”
“All right, then,” he said, and pushed one of his legs down, hard.
The bike shot forward.
Then he pushed down his other leg, harder. The bike shot forward even more.
“Aw man,” he said, seeing Hair and Eric almost at the line. “Am I going to have to push down AGAIN?” He gave the pedal one more mighty push with his leg and passed the two leading riders by thirty feet. Both of them wobbled and almost smacked into the curb as the wall of wind, combined with the sonic boom, knocked them into each other.
Sure, those guys stood on the podium. Eric even clinched third place zero help from his teammates. But me? I finished 18th, one whole placing better than at Brentwood. If I can just squeeze in seventeen more races between now and August 31, well … you do the math.
June 13, 2013 § 27 Comments
You, dude, are a clogstacle.
Look it up, Merriam-Webster’s New Dictionary of American Cycling: “Clogstacle: A bicycle racer who clogs the lane in a finishing sprint, then rapidly decelerates so as to become a deadly obstacle to the real sprinters who are still accelerating to reach maximum speed.”
I can hear it already. “Me? A clogstacle? No way! I’m a sprinter!”
Uh, no, dude, you’re not. Take this handy-dandy (not to be confused with Dandy Andy) quiz and you’ll see what I mean.
YANAS: You Are Not A Sprinter
YAS: You A Sprinter
YUNT: You A Sprunter
YANK: You A Wanker
Step 1: Sprinting Self-Evaluation Quiz
1. You are sitting on Jon Davy’s wheel at 35 mph with the finishing line in sight. You say to yourself:
a. “What am I doing here?” = YANAS
b. “There’s no way I can come around.” = YUNT
c. “Faster, motherfucker!” = YAS
2. You come through the final turn with 500m to go. John Wike is on Ivan Dominguez’s wheel. You want the wheel, so you muscle over onto John. Wike hooks his left elbow under your arm as you lean against him, and says to you in a voice as cold and steely as a sharp knife shoved into a warm belly, “You move one more millimeter and we’re both going down, buddy.” You say –
a. “Sorry, dude.” = YUNT
b. “Eek!” = YANK
c. “See you in hell.” = YAS
3. In a race there is first place and ______.
a. A participation ribbon = YANK
b. A hot contest for 57th = YANAS
c. Nothing else = YAS
4. The crazier the finish, _______.
a. The happier I am to make it home alive = YANAS
b. The more I prefer giving a good lead out = YUNT
c. The better = YAS
5. You’re in a two-up break. The other rider turns to you and says, “How much do you want? My wife and kids are here, this is my biggest race of the season, and I’ve never won before.” You say –
a. “And you won’t today, either, motherfucker.” = YAS
b. “$500, but we’ll have to make it look close.” = YANAS
c. “$5,000, ’cause I haven’t, either.” = YANK
6. You’re in a two-up break. You turn to the other rider and say, “How much do you want? My wife and kids and grandparents and boss are here, this is the biggest race of my life, and I’ve never won before.”
YOU ARE NOT A SPRINTER, PERIOD.
7. You’ve had closed-head and spinal injuries in previous sprint crashes. You’re the sole breadwinner and have five young children. You speed through the final, twisting turn when suddenly Twitchy MacGruder goes sideways and the domino effect starts, with the sprint train on the left starting to brake and rub tires and scream and curse. You can brake and stay upright and still get second place and $500 bucks or you can gun it through a rapidly closing, impossibly tiny window of daylight which, if it slams shut, will send you headfirst into the pavement at 40 mph. The last thing that flashes through your mind is –
a. “Nuh-uh.” = YANAS
b. “My family is too important for this nonsense.” = YANK
c. “I’ve GOT this.” = YAS
8. It’s the bell lap, there’s been a pile-up in front of you, and you’re now 75th wheel with three turns to go. A superhuman effort with balls-out risks will net you a top-ten finish, so you –
a. Give it all you’ve got because it’s a great workout. = YANK
b. Give it all you’ve got because it’s gas money to get home. = YUNT
c. Get off your bike and throw it into a pond. = YAS
9. When someone slams you hard in the middle of a full-on sprint, you –
a. Steady yourself to keep from crashing. = YANAS
b. Slam them back. = YUNT
c. No one ever fucking gets anywhere near you in a sprint and lives to tell about it. = YAS
10. The key to winning sprints is –
a. Core strength and workouts in the gym. = YANAS
b. Having a good lead out train. = YUNT
c. Being crazier than a shithouse rat. = YAS
Step 2: Textbook racing advice for clogstacles
If you took the above quiz and selected any answer other than one that led to “YAS,” you are by definition a clogstacle. And although you will never win a sprint, all is not lost for your cycling career, although, frankly, it pretty much is. Below are some rules for what to do and what not to do now that you know your chance of ever winning a sprint is zero or much less.
Cat 5 Clogstacle Tactics and Strategy
As a Cat 5, every pedalstroke of every turn of every race is fraught with potential carnage. Therefore, it doesn’t matter what you do. Bull your way to the front, or hang onto the tail of the whip, the risk factor is the same. So, on the bell lap, you should go all out no matter where you are in the field. The worst that can happen is permanent debilitating injury or death.
Cat 4-3-2 / Masters Clogstacle Strategy
Now that you’ve left the 5′s, it’s evident that you will never be a sprinter. This means that on the last couple of laps of every crit, your goal is the same: Get home alive, get out of the way, and leave the bike racing to the bike racers. This means you should ease off on the pedaling, drift to the back, and put as much space as possible between yourself and the field. Quitting is fine, too. Below is a list of things you should not do under any circumstances:
1. “Lead out” your teammate. If you’re not good enough to sprint, your pathetic lead-out attempt will get you far enough forward to really gas you, make your head droop, and smash into the curb, endangering everyone else as well as yourself.
2. Go for a podium spot. This is madness. Those spots were reserved long ago by people with last names like Williams, Smith, Bahati, Wike, etc. Go to the back of the bus. Now.
3. Take a flyer. If you were too weak to ride off the front with Tinstman and DeMarchi, why would you suddenly be strong enough to hold off a field charging at 35 with Danny Kam, Tomo Hamasaki, John Slover, and Kenny Rogers driving the train? Answer: You won’t be. What will happen is you’ll get out there, blow, and then become a wobbling, weaving, rapidly decelerating lump that everyone else has to swerve around in the finishing turns.
4. Follow the wheel of anyone named “Charon” with five laps to go. Dude! 85 guys want that wheel, and sixty of them are ex-pros. What are you thinking? Aaron Wimberley will bust you off that wheel with two to go easier than taking a wallet from a corpse.
5. Join a gym. You are wasting money, son. It’s not about the strength in the core, it’s about the craziness in the head. You ever see Johnny Walsh or Aron Gadhia hanging out at a stupid gym? ‘Course not.
6. Ask Bahati for “sprinting tips.” He will tell you everything about sprinting, but you will still suck. When it’s showtime, go to the back and stay there. He’ll respect you for that lots more than crashing out thirty people in a mid-field sprunt where everyone else has sat up and you’re still charging for the line like a bull with his balls in a vise.
Any questions? Good. Now get out of my way. I’m going to win me a sprint on Sunday.