Chasing the shark

March 27, 2014 § 9 Comments

The phone rang. “Yeah?” I said.

It was Scooter. “The start times are up. Have you seen yours?”

“Start times? For what?”

“The time trial. You signed up for the San Dimas Stage Race, remember?”

“Oh. Yeah.” This was a massive salt-peter in the peter pill.

“And guess what?”

“I’ve already lost ten minutes on the field?”

“No, dummy. You’re the third rider off!”

“That makes sense. They always send the slowest guys first. That way everyone can fly by them 5 miles an hour faster and have a good laugh.”

“Not at San Dimas. Your 30-second-man is THOG.”

“You’re joking, right?”

“Nope. Go see for yourself. And your minute man is Jaeger.”

“Jaeger? My teammate who beat me in the 50+ Barnacle Butt category last week by fifteen minutes?”

“Yup.”

“So what you’re saying is that I have two guys ahead of me who I’ll never see, and the whole field behind me who will all pass me like I’m chained to a block of concrete going down a gigantic ocean waterspout.”

“Don’t be so negative. You’ve trained hard for this.”

“I have?”

“Sure! You’re peaking for this race, remember when we talked about it in January? San Dimas was the most important race on your whole calendar! Remember? You had a plan to do specific uphill time trial power workouts. Diet. Meticulous care and attention to your rest and recovery. You were gonna slash through this race like a Brazilian farmer chopping fresh acreage out of the jungle. Remember??”

“Vaguely. I mean, yes. I remember.”

“So? You been doing all that, right?”

“All what?”

“The TRAINING, you numbskull! The training!”

“Oh. That. Well, I got a little off course in January, then things didn’t work out so well in February because of a beer issue, and in March I had a couple of cases at the office start to heat up. But other than that, yeah, I suppose I’m still on schedule.”

“Good. Because Leibert is on fire. And Konsmo is just a few riders behind you; he’s flying, and going uphill is what he does. So it’ll take everything you’ve got.”

“What if all I’ve got is, you know, a droopy stomach and not much gas in the tank?”

“Dude! This is your race! Those guys are all beatable. THOG? So what if he’s a former Olympian and one of the greatest riders in the history of the sport? So what if you’ve never beaten any of the other 35 guys in the race ever, at anything? So what if time trialling is what you do worst? Tomorrow is the day you cut loose! Get into the pain cave! Bring the big hammer! Make it hurt so good, baby!”

“I don’t know,” I said doubtfully. “The last time I did a time trial was about five years ago and even though I did the perfect pre-race donut and chocolate eclair race prep, it didn’t turn out so good. And, like, I haven’t really practiced since then.”

“No problem. Here’s what you do.”

“Yeah?” Scooter was so enthusiastic, I started to get hopeful.

“Just go out there and hammer! Everything you’ve got!”

“Really?”

“Hellz. All that crap about going slowly and finding your rhythm … fukk that! Time trial equals balls out. Throw down from the go-down!”

“So I should just pound it from the start?”

“Like it was the last 200 meters on the Champs-Elysees! All out! You’ll catch everyone by surprise and go so fast you’ll be finished before you actually get tired.”

“Wow. I’d never thought of doing it like that before.”

“Of course not. You have to innovate to win, and you can do this. Full gas from the first pedal stroke. You’ll thank me when you’re standing on the podium.”

“With great advice like that, I’m thanking you now. I feel better. I’ve got a game plan. I can do this!”

“Hey, by the way,” said Scooter, who is often in financial difficulty. “Could I borrow a hundred bucks? I’ll pay you back next week.”

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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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