Short news brief in summary and abbreviated form

July 6, 2013 § 8 Comments

I have been banging the drum here in L.A. for some time now regarding the great bicycle riding opportunities in North County San Diego. This is not because I want to encourage people to get to know others, have fun, and enjoy cycling. It is because I get vicarious pleasure out of seeing my friends and riding buddies suffer obliteration. Although riding in North County won’t make you faster, it will permanently devastate your self-esteem. So, as Knoll would say, “There’s that.”

I joined my first SPY Holiday Ride yesterday. The evening before we had a team celebration at RIDE Cyclery. MMX, Slim Jim, and Brent had stocked the deck with giant coolers filled with fresh growlers of beer from Lost Abbey. None of the growlers had fancy beer names like “Working Stiff” or “Take Five” or “North County Rough Road.” No, they just had percentages of alcohol content written on the caps with a Sharpie.

This was beer for people who were serious about drinking beer. The Lost Abbey figured out how to make the beer, and apparently it was your job to figure out what to call it. The next morning I awoke with a screaming, blinding, pounding, stomach-churning hangover from hell, so in the future I will call their beer Sbpsc Hfh. Add vowels as needed.

It would be easy to blame the next day’s dismal ride performance on the hangover were it not for the fact that I have never done a hard ride in North County that didn’t either kick me out the back or reduce me to a whimpering puddle of drained legs and melted ego.

Why you should do this ride

1. There is no “B” ride. It is uncompromising. You will suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, be kicked out the back, and forced to find your way home alone or in the company of other lost damned souls. How many things do you do in life that are uncompromising? That demand everything of you and guarantee nothing but defeat? (Don’t answer this if you’ve been married for more than five years.) That bring out the best in you even when your best is a pathetic, sniveling NOTHING? So, you should do this ride because it replicates, in the tiniest of ways, your natteringly, immeasurably insignificant place in the universe.

2. You are a chickenshit. Yes, you. You, who hide behind wheels, always take the short route home, sandbag in the easiest categories, or “compete” by “racing” exclusively against Strava and your own “personal records.” Thing is, you don’t have to just be a chickenshit. You can go on this ride and be a smashed chickenshit and earn the contempt of the august men and powerful women on the SPY Holiday Ride who will crush you like an eggshell beneath the wheel of an Antonov An-225.

3. There is order in the court. Unlike the Manhattan Beach Holiday Ride, in which 300 freds and 50 solid riders usurp the roadways of coastal L.A. in a mad, undisciplined dash to Mandeville Canyon, the SPY Holiday Ride is ordered. Yesterday about 175 riders went two-by-two for the first five miles, a sick single file for the next four, and all-hell-breaking-loose at the nine-mile mark when the peloton shattered at the base of the San Diegueno climb.

4. Prizes galore. Yesterday an entire case of The Lost Abbey’s BWR Bad-Ass Ale was awarded to the sado-masochist who spent the most time on the front. Unsurprisingly, the winner was Phil Tinstman. KOM winners got cool SPY sunglasses. OTB-wankers got as many servings of ridicule and contempt as they could swallow.

5. Natural selection. This ride rather quickly separated the wheat from the chaff, and you eventually rode with the category of your true ability. Once the pain train hit Lake Hodges, those who had pulled early, blew early. Those who had sucked wheel in hopes that a miracle would get them up the punishing rollers had to re-evaluate their faith. Those who had saved so they could punish finally “Let the Dogs Out.”

6. Variable terrain. The terrain in North County is different from much of SoCal, and punishing. It doesn’t feature many long climbs, but it continually throws rollers in your path no matter which direction you go. These variations wear you down, break your will to live, and leave you looking for a quaint coffee shop with yummy pastries, or failing that, a Starbucks, or failing that, a house with a garden hose. But there are none.

7. Heatstroke. Once you leave the coast it gets A-fucking hot. The poorly hydrated crack, crumple, and cave. The lucky ones die.

8. Benign indifference. Although close two hundred riders started, only a tiny handful finished with the lead group. The rest were ground beneath the wheel, or, as Hesse would say, “Unterm Rad.” This is of course how the universe views you: With benign indifference. Many people go to Sedona or buy crystals or use Feng Shui to align themselves with the universe’s forces when really all they need to do to discover their true quotient of universal meaninglessness is go get their balls stomped on the SPY Holiday Ride.

9. Free salt for wound-rubbing. Post-ride, one wanker said “We normally ride a bit faster going up to the first climb, but we had a pretty gentle roll over there today.” This was the section where I pulled my fucking brains out, drove the pace like a madman, then cracked and split open at the bottom of the first climb only to learn that it had been a tad on the slow side. Sorry bastard motherfuckers.

10. Lots of awesome Strava KOM’s. The SPY Holiday Ride is a great chance for you to bag some prestigious KOM’s, kind of like “The lottery is a great chance for you to get rich.” Only, the chance for you is zero.

11. Regrouping. The SPY Holiday Ride regroups a couple of times, although neither time is for your benefit. It is to allow the baby seals to rejoin so they can be re-clubbed and re-skinned. And you will be.

12. Race simulation. The pace was very much like a tough road race with a series of difficult sections, each of which caused destruction at the back of the pack. Unlike real road races, however, where you can conveniently categorize yourself according to age and gender, this ride forced you to match matches against monsters like Thurlow, Full Gas Tinstman, MMX and the SPY Train, Brett Clare, and a handful of very strong wheelsuckers who never took a pull but attacked and attacked hard.

13. Fireworks. Although illegal due to the dry conditions and high temperatures, the ride offered constant explosive detonations that occurered when riders like Zink, Hatchitt, David A., Stinger, and Tait lit the fuses of Those Who Shall Not Be Named For Now and watched as they snapped, crackled, fizzled, and popped with a whimper.

14. Del Dios KOM. This bad boy has over 6,500 riders on Strava, but yesterday Full Gas Phil whomped the snot out of the record time and set a blistering new pace of 12:38. You should do this so you can be like me, who gave it everything he had and got 98th place. 98th.

15. The 130-lb. Exemption. After the first pitch the road flattened out and this was where, if you were still there (you weren’t), various hardmen went to the front. Then some dude hit the jets, even though he had never taken one pull the whole day. His reasoning? “I don’t have to pull, dude, I’m only only 130 pounds.” So take notice: Anyone 130-lbs. or less need not bring along so much as a shred of self-respect.

16. Watch Brett sprint. On the return there was a sprint into Rancho Santa Fe. Those hoping to pass Brett, Full Gas, Thurlow, MMX, Josh, etc. brought mopeds.

17. Pity the fools. The 3 Witches ascent had the next sprint at the top, featuring three risers that topped out with a nasty sprint. For the first two witches, a couple of wankers from SDBC set tempo with Thurlow, Full Gas, and MMX sitting behind. For the third and final witch, Thurlow pulled and dropped the fools, with Full Gas Phil taking the sprint, MMX next and followed by Thurlow. Everyone else was shelled here. You were, too. Oh, wait, no you weren’t — you were shelled like an hour ago.

18. Visionary delusions. After a few more merciless beatdowns, sprunt points, and complete draining of all bodily adeonsine triphosphate, the handful of remaining riders “remarked what a great ride it had been.” Uh, sure. Whatever. Bunch of fucking liars.

19. Horrific inland heat. The weather got hotter as the ride went inland. The heat sucked the life out of the weak, the lame, and the too-many-Lost-Abbey-brews-the-night-before. I staggered into a convenience store in Del Mar and doused my head in water, then lay on the cool pavement and hoped for a gurney or for someone to run over me. No one did.

20. Making great friends. After Zink flatted I was miserably stuck on his wheel for 30 miles while he “repaid” my assistance with the tire change by dragging me up hill, down dale, periodically dropping me, sitting up and waiting, towing me for a while, dropping me again, and generally making my life a living hell while trying to help me out. Note to self: Don’t ever stop to help Zink change a flat.

Ride facts:

– 60 miles with 3800 feet of climbing

– 4 sprint waypoints, and the KOM at Del Dios

– Held every national holiday. Next one will be on Labor day.

– Ride size: 100-200, depending on weather and time of year

Primal scream therapy

May 17, 2013 § 10 Comments

Nature is beautiful. The tiny chicks hatch, featherless, and are carefully tended by momma bird until they fledge. As they get too big for the nest, the timid fledglings are gently nudged out onto the limb. Anxiously, their loving mother sits by their side, gently chirping and encouraging them as they prepare to take their first flutter into the air.

It is a scary moment in a little bird’s life, but made tolerable by the constant cooing of momma bird as she helps the little chickie take its first tentative flaps before leaping off the branch. Momma bird watches nervously and immediately flies to baby bird’s new perch, praising and cooing and urging him to take another tentative flight.

Love, support, encouragement, and the watchful eye of mommy all lead to success. Baby bird quickly gets his “flight wings” and by day’s end is proudly flitting from tree to tree, but never too far from his warm little nest where momma bird can praise him and yes, even reward him with a moist, plump earthworm or two. Baby bird snuggles against momma’s cozy feathered breast and enjoys his yummy snack, proud of his accomplishments on his big day and looking forward to more in the days to come.

The North County Puke & Gulp isn’t quite as tender

When we rolled out from the Starbucks at La Costa and El Camino Real, an entire flock of baby birds was nervously perched on the corner. But rather than being protected by anxious and encouraging momma bird, they were eyed hungrily by  ravenous, toothy wolves with names like Full-Gas Phil, Battering Ram Abate, Red Light Davis, Bad Magic Johnson, and MMX.

The baby birds chirped nervously as Full-Gas tossed it into the big ring and simultaneously swallowed a fistful of fledglings — feathers, feet, beaks and all. He spit out the beaks.

When the peloton hit PCH, Bad Magic opened the throttle and, with stomps of his hob-nailed, steel-toed boots, he mercilessly ground up another handful of baby chicks into pink slime, ready-prepped for the McNuggets factory. Battering Ram  barreled to the fore, knocking an entire row of terrified fledglings off the branch and into the blood-stained maw of MMX, who chewed off their heads and spit the mangled carcasses onto the bowed shoulders of those who cowered at the back.

I had made the mistake of stirring the North County pot, and on this morning the testosterone stew bubbled and boiled and gurgled and roiled with the intensity of a steel smelter. The first crew of forty-eight was, by ride’s end, reduced to less than a dozen. None was wearing Swami’s blue.

How DO they ride down in San Diego County?

I’ve ridden enough in North County to know that they love welcoming newcomers with a fistful of nails and broken glass rammed down your throat. If you want an extra helping of hard, they always seem eager to serve seconds, then thirds. Moreover, a handful of North County natives have been kind enough to come up to Los Angeles and do our New Pier Ride, so I wanted to return the favor and sample their wares — but not before taunting them as weaklings and slackers. [Note to self: Do not send out boastful emails prior to showing up for a North County ride.]

No matter what anyone says, it’s fun to have visitors on your local ride. The North County Tuesday/Thursday ride I especially wanted to do because one of the people who’s been instrumental in ramping up its popularity and difficulty — my buddy MMX — never fails to pop in on the NPR when he’s in town and ladle out an extra scoop of misery.

If you’re in town on a Tue/Thu, I recommend this ride. It’s exceedingly hard and challenging, but as with any ride it has its drawbacks. Before I extol the virtues, here are the blemishes:

  1. It’s too short. The whole thing is well under an hour.
  2. Although there’s some good pre-ride congregating, as soon as the ride finishes everyone hurries off to work or to complete a longer ride. There doesn’t seem to be a permanently unemployed or underemployed leisure class who can sit around post-ride and burn up the rest of the morning quaffing coffee in the sun.
  3. They don’t have anyone remotely close to Prez. They don’t even have anyone who wears neon yellow shoe covers with bright pink gloves.
  4. It is a relentless beatdown with nowhere to  hide. This is good if you want to leave 90% of the participants inert and blown out the back, but the death knell if you want to have a 100+ wankoton on sunny days, where baby seals and fledglings can leech off the strong while doing little or no work at the back.
  5. No warm-up. You get on your bike and you’re doing 30.

But then there are the pluses…and are they ever pluses.

The course, the characters

I call this ride the North County Puke & Gulp. It started so hard and fast that I tasted breakfast multiple times on the ride, and especially in the first ten minutes. Tinstman, Bad Magic, et al. set out at a wicked pace on La Costa, and after a couple of miles we hit the coast highway. The leaders sprinted up to speed, a solid 35 or faster, and a handful of riders churned the front with brief, intense pulls.

“Full-Gas” Phil Tinstman made the pace so hard that no one could pull for more than a few seconds. The vast majority of the 48 riders got nowhere near the front, but unlike NPR, where there’s safety at the back, the tiniest of gaps sent riders rocketing backwards, alone, shelled, before the ride had barely begun. Battering Ram, Red Light, Mike Williams, Bad Magic, and MMX busted more freeloaders off the back and put them out to pasture.

There is a small hill going up to Palomar Road but people were already so fagged with the speed that it was devoid of the crazy attacks I’d been assured would be on offer. By now pages of Strava KOM’s had been rewritten, if you’re into that kind of thing, and everyone in North County apparently is, as the short 20-mile ride has been broken down into fourteen thousand segments.

The ride reaches its first neutral zone in downtown Carlsbad, a picturesque little seaside town that would be even more picturesque without the snot and spit and bloody stool that people were leaving on the road. The group had thinned considerably; perhaps a third of the fledglings had already been rolled in batter and dipped in the fryalator.

This first section, the “Front Half,” was the easy part, though I was barely able to hang on. Several riders came up and told me to “be ready” for the “hard part.” I don’t know how you get ready for something that you’re too weak to do, especially when the moment of truth is five minutes away or less. Once on the Back Half, the relative flat of the coast gave way to the punishing rollers for which North County is infamous. It is here that the ride completely and forever leaves aside all comparisons with the NPR.

Unlike our L.A. ride, where a bit of tenacious wheelsucking will get almost anyone through the hard bits, once you hit the rollers on the back side you either have the go-legs or you have a lot of time alone with yourself. MMX drove it to the top of El Camino Real and separated the group for what I was sure was for good. I blew apart halfway up, and the leaders made it easily through the light. My chase group hit the light on dead red, and we were all eternally grateful for the chance to stop, catch our breath, and blame the breakaway on the traffic signal rather than our weak legs and puny lungs.

To shout or not to shout? Primal scream therapy or gentle remonstrance?

There are two schools of thought on shouting at people who screw up on the bike. One school holds that shouting is rude, counterproductive, frightening, and that it ruins budding friendships. The other school holds that if you ride like a dumbshit you deserve to be yelled at, since studies show that dumbshits learn best after a good solid hollering.

In our case, the chase group was populated with adherents to the second school, and when two riders blew through the dead-red light that had traffic stacked up at opposing ends of the intersection, there was more yelling and screaming and cussing than a Westboro Baptist funeral protest.

One wanker turned around mid-intersection; the other sped up the road to join the disappearing leaders. It was impressive to see how the entire group reamed this poor dude out; almost as impressive as watching him humbly accept the tongue lashing and then apologize. Wanker #2 got yelled at later in the ride, yelled at on Facebook, and privately reprimanded by MMX. Like an adult, he accepted responsibility, proffered no lame excuses, and apologized.

This, more than anything else, impressed me. Whereas our ride shout-outs result in lifelong enmity, or in riders pouting for months on end, these guys were able to be dressed down by their good friends and cursed at like sailors, apologize, and have their apology accepted. Cool stuff.

Key ride facts

The beatdown delivered by SPY, Full-Gas Tinstman, and Battering Ram Abate left everyone else hanging on for dear life. It was a record day on Strava in case anyone doubted the intensity; MMX got 9 KOMs on a course he has ridden twice a week for the last two years. Everyone who finished the ride chalked up PR’s, top 10’s, and many set course records for various segments.

The finishing group would have been truly microscopic in size had we chasers not reattached with the leaders who got stopped at the world’s longest light.

Unquestionably, Full-Gas was the single biggest factor in keeping such a torrid pace. If one other thing contributed to the intensity, it was likely the desire of the local crew to show that whatever kind of ride we have in L.A., they’ve got that and then some in North County.

They are, however, now running short on baby birds.

Broken record

May 4, 2013 § 33 Comments

I hate to be the one to break your Strava bubble, but “PR” is an oxymoron. There’s no such thing as a “personal record,” any more than there’s a “personal Super Bowl victory” or a “personal presidential election.”

A record is a mark set by someone that at least two people have done. You know Chris Horner’s time up Mt. Palomar? That is a record. Eleven hundred people have done it and his time is the fastest. It’s a record time.

Even though when you climbed it on Tuesday two and a half hours slower than Chris and it was the fastest of your 67 attempts, it’s still not a personal record. It’s two and a half hours slower than the record. You can call it your personal best. You can call it your fastest time up Mt. Palomar. You can call it proof that your $2,000 power meter and $15,000 bike and $950/month personal coaching regimen are making you faster…but it still pegs you in about one thousandth place relative to the RECORD.

Nothing personal about it.

All cycling metrics point to one conclusion: You suck

Strava’s business model is simple: Provide data to wankers that shows they’re getting better. Since none of us is getting better, and in fact all of us are getting older and therefore worse, and since those of us who are improving quickly reach a plateau, there has to be a way to snake-oil us into thinking that we’re improving.

So Strava sells you a premium membership where you can join a smaller subset of records (65+ men with an inseam of less than 25″ who sleep on the left side of the bed), and thereby convert some of your meaningless “personal records” into something more meaningful: A higher spot on the age adjusted, inseam-length adjusted, side-of-the-bed adjusted leaderboard.

Unfortunately, even after adjusting yourself into 75th place, which is a huge jump from 1,000th, physics still mercilessly claws its way to the front. Your “progress” plateaus, and your ability to climb the flailerboard grinds to a halt. So it’s back to personal records, and chasing the illusion of improvement even though all the data point, or rather, scream deafeningly, to a wholly opposite conclusion: You not only suck, you suck more than you did on this segment last year. Introspective riders feel the icy hand of death tightening its grip around their throat if they look at the data too closely past about age forty.

Note to the Stravati: There’s a reason you prefer Strava to bike racing

I don’t vomit often, but when I do it’s usually after someone takes one of my KOM’s. I’ve only got seventeen of them left, and there’s not a single one that couldn’t be handily snapped up by any number of Stravati who live for that kind of thing.

It’s no defense, but I never tried to set a single one of those KOM’s, which is probably the reason they fall so easily. The handful of times I’ve gone out and tried to grab a KOM, I’ve failed, usually miserably. I use Strava for the same reason that I wear pants. It’s a social convention the lack of which would earn too much opprobrium. I also use it as a handy calorie counter. And finally, I use it for you. Just when you’re starting to think your performance is dropping, or you’re really not very good, you can click on my most recent ride and feel relief: There’s someone in your neighborhood who’s slower and an even bigger bicycle kook than you.

This, I believe, is a powerful source of inspiration for flailers and wankers throughout the South Bay. Through Strava, I keep them riding. It’s a social service, and you can thank me via PayPal.

What you can’t do is get away with the pleasant little self-deception that your KOM is as good as a bike race. You can’t even get away with the delusion that it’s as good as an old-fashioned group beatdown on the NPR.

You know why that is? Because it isn’t. Masturbating your way to the top of a leaderboard on Strava, when unaccompanied by ball-busting accomplishments on group rides or in real mass start races in which you have to actually pay an entry fee and pin on a number, are just that: Digital auto-titillation.

Believe it or don’t, I’m fine with that. Riding a bicycle is like consensual sex between adults: I not only approve of it, I’m wholly uninterested in your particular activities. I’m not a libertarian, I’m a “don’t give a fucktarian.” If you’re out pedaling your bicycle, in my book you’re winning.

If your riding is confined to setting Strava records without racing or group riding, though, you are wanking. Can we be clear about that? Good. Because last Thursday a new South bay cycling record was set. Not on Strava, where anonymous, zipless riders virtually compete  using all manner of tricks, traps, aids, pacers, run-ups, and “special assists” to set the record.

No, this Thursday record was set the old-fashioned way. Clubbers clubbed. Baby seals got their heads staved in. Pain was ladled out in buckets. And only the strong, the ornery, the mutton-headed, and the relentless survived.

One thing that’s never happened on the New Pier Ride

…is a successful four-lap breakaway. Dan Seivert and I once, on a cold, rainy, windy winter day in 2012 attacked on Vista del Mar and stayed away for four laps, but it wasn’t a real breakaway. We sneaked off three or four miles before the real ride began, there was zero horsepower in the field, and no one even knew we had attacked. Although we hurt like dogs and congratulated ourselves for the heroic effort, it was more a flailaway than a breakaway. Plus, no one cared. To the contrary, they tortured us with the worst torture known to a group ride breakaway: “You were off the front? If I’d known that I’d have chased.”

Last week, though, word went out that MMX was coming to town to do the NPR. This meant one thing: Merciless beatdown in the offing.

There were at least ten thousand baby seals at the Manhattan Beach Pier when the ride left at 6:40 AM. We hit the bottom of Pershing and it immediately strung out into the gutter and then snapped. The Westside seals were all lounging on the roadside atop the bump, because they’ve learned from repeated beatdowns that it’s better to jump in after the first hard effort than to try and jump in as the group comes by at the bottom of the little hill. Just as they were finishing their first bucket of raw mackerel, we came by like a whirlwind.

As we passed the parkway, Josh Alverson drilled it.

Then Peyton Cooke drilled it.

Then Johnny Walsh drilled it.

MMX, who had started at the back and worked his way up to the point, later noted that from the bottom of Pershing it was pure mayhem. Many of the baby seals were killed with that first single devastating blow to the head. Others, un-hit, were so stunned by the acceleration that they simply pulled over, unclipped, and skinned themselves.

Robert Efthimos reported that Thursday was his 128th time up World Way ramp, and it turned out to be his single highest average wattage ever for a lap on the NPR. He churned out those numbers stuck at the back of the herd after the break left.

After the ramp, Greg Leibert blasted away, stringing it out into a line of about 15 riders, with a small clump forming at about 16th wheel and turning into an amorphous lump into which 80 or 90 baby seals still cowered. After Greg swung over, MMX opened the throttle, dissolved the clump and turned the entire peloton into a single line with countless little blubbering seals who began snapping and popping like plastic rivets on a space shuttle.

We turned onto the parkway in full flight, with Johnny Walsh, Marco Cubillos, Josh, and “26” pounding the pedals. This is the point where after the initial surge, the front riders usually slowed down, or the neverpulls in back made their first and only real effort of the day to chase down the nascent break. Marco, John, Josh, and 26 kept going, and were soon joined by Greg, Jeff Bryant, Jay LaPlante, some dude from La Grange who was incinerated shortly thereafter, and one of the South Bay’s legendary purple card-carrying, neverpulling, wheelsuckers extraordinaire whose name shall not be mentioned.

MMX looked ahead from the pack as the break gained ground, surged, and bridged. Then he closed the door and threw away the key.

No break has ever stayed away on the NPR for all four laps. The course won’t allow it due to stoplights, the high tailwind speeds of the chasing field, and the relatively flat nature of the course.

We made the first turn and had a gap. Atop the bridge Jeff Bryant unleashed a monster pull, but then, over his head by the extreme effort, he and Greg were unable to latch onto the break as it accelerated at the next turnaround. Accounts differ, with some claiming a car pinched them, and others claiming they were too gassed to catch, but in any event the break didn’t feel like waiting, as there were already too many orange kits in the group. This meant the Greg/Jeff duo had to chase.

The pack was in a different time zone, which meant nothing as we’d just completed one lap and there was plenty of time for them to organize and chase in earnest. What we didn’t know is that they were already chasing in earnest, and the stoplight gods were smiling on us.

Having taken the initiative in trying to fend off the entire baby seal population of the South Bay, we were being rewarded with a string of green lights even as the baby seals were being punished with reds. Naturally, post-ride the baby seals that survived chalked everything up to the traffic signals rather than the sheet-snot that covered our faces and the haggard, beaten look of those who rode the break for the entire four laps.

Greg and Jeff, unable to reattach, finally hopped across the road and jumped in as we whizzed by. Greg then attacked us balls-out the remaining lap and a half. Ouch. Every time we brought him back another of our matchboxes was incinerated.

On the final stretch, after berating Sir Neverpull for never coming through, MMX unleashed the leadout from Klubtown. Sir Neverpull, suddenly discovering that with the end in sight he wasn’t quite that tired after all, leaped just in time for his engine to blow and his legs to detach from his torso. Jay LaPlante sprunted around the MMX lead-out with Josh fixed on his wheel. Going too far out and in too small a gear, Jay settled for second after a doing yeoman’s work in the break.

We celebrated this, the first ever four-lap breakaway on the NPR, with coffee and sunshine.

And yes, it was a record.

KOM-munism

March 31, 2013 § 9 Comments

This one had merit. Out of 14,304 times and more than 2,000 riders, he convincingly took the 1.2 mile KOM by three seconds. The segment is regularly ridden hard and the contingent yesterday, as it often does, contained continental pros, former pros, national champions, state champions, and some of the the best active racers in California.

Strava KOM-munism is mostly standing in front of a mirror admiring yourself. The rider picks a segment, hones the conditions, and repeatedly goes for it until the little crown pops up. The segments are mostly minor in terms of the number of riders and the number of times the segment has been ridden on Strava. KOM-munism is self-glory that is only rarely vindicated through actual racing.

Sometimes, though, the right rider on the right ride with the ride mix of fellow flailers pulls it all together. The result? A mass clubbing of baby seals and a new King Clubber.

That happened yesterday on the Donut. MMX came to town from North County San Diego, and the ride included Rudy Napolitano, Danny Heeley, some pro dude from Champion Systems, and a host of other hammerheads. Aaron Wimberley exploded out of Malaga Cove. MMX bridged up to him, followed by a tiny chick named Flavia. She was so small that hunch over as much as I might the only thing that got a decent draft were my knees.

Aaron kept the heat on until Flavia fried off the back, and I with her. As we rounded the bend, MMX hit the front with such power and abandon that Aaron, who had set the KOM-winning pace, was busted out the back. MMX pulled away, quickly becoming a tiny speck of churning, pounding pain levers. By the time he sat up there was nothing left of the 100+ wankoton, and he would find out at ride’s end that he was the new KOM of this segment: http://app.strava.com/segments/753144.

This, of course, is how it should be done. It should be done from the sharp end of the spear, not lollygagging in back and “making up time” by racing through the group to the front when the pace picks up. It should be done amidst a field thick with accomplished riders. It should be done convincingly and with strength, not by hanging onto the wheel of a breakaway and pushing through at the last second to snag the KOM by a wheel. Most of all, it should be done the way this one was done–not to get the KOM, but to break the legs and spirits of those behind, the KOM being a secondary reward that only came as surprise after the ride.

Hats, then, off!

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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Burnt toast

January 13, 2013 § 15 Comments

I’m too tired and hungry and dehyrdated and dessicated to do anything besides report the facts regarding yesterday’s 117-mile beatdown, otherwise known as the 2013 edition of Dave Jaeger’s French Toast Ride.

First, a few stats:

Door to door: 7 hours, 8 minutes
Starting temperature: 40 degrees
Finishing temperature: 55 degrees
Skies: Beautifully clear and sunny. Perfect SoCal winter weather.
Wind: None to speak of
Distance: 117 miles
Total Climbing: +7,500 ft
Steepest gradient: 20%, Balcom Canyon Rd. (at mile 100; thanks, Jaeger)
Pieces of French toast consumed: 4
Slices of bacon eaten: 6
In-ride hydration: 1/2 a water bottle, 2 cups of convenience store coffee
In-ride nutrition: PBS, almonds, medjool dates, totaling 2,072 kcal
Calories burned: 4,200 kcal
Number of wankers who swore a blood oath that they’d start: 25
Number of wankers who actually started: 21
KOM: Jeff Konsmo
Green Jersey: Aaron Wimberley
Overall winners: James and Nancy Jaeger (got the most swag and didn’t have to ride a single mile!)

Individual Results (in order of free association)

Yuletide: Widely predicted to crash, burn, melt, and strew nuts, bolts, plates, and assorted surgical hardware all over Ventura County, Yuletide a/k/a Junkyard a/k/a Van Gogh pulled the ride of the decade out of his ass. Riding within his limits he got shelled on every climb, recovered on the descents, and ended up towing various wankers whose names shall not be mentioned, Jim Bowles, to various resting spots. Redemption is too weak a word for the gut-up, full-on, HTFU ride produced by the man whose logo is emblazoned on ten thousand sweaty butts across Southern California. Unlike last year when he was pulled the last half-mile up Balcom Canyon by a rusted out Chevy Luv filled with thirty lawnmowers and twelve yard workers that just happened to be passing at the right speed (2.4 mph), this year Yuletide brought the blood, sweat, and tears and stomped his way up under his own steam and ahead of various notables whose names shall not ever be mentioned, Jim Bowles. Ultimate proof of Yuletide’s rising tide was his appearance at the Wheatgrass Ride the following day, where he danced on the pedals (albeit a clog dance) and quaffed wheatgrass with the best of ‘em.

Fussy: Coming back from a terrible ten-year injury that debilitated him so much he could scarcely complete a lap on the Donut without assistance from an EMS crew, Fussy overcame the awful disease of Put Extra Whip Cream On Everything Please by enrolling in the Wankmeister Diet Plan. After reducing his daily caloric intake from 15,000 to about 65, he shed the better part of four coats of winter bear grease and showed up at FTR ready to ride wheelies all the way up Balcom. For a first timer, he acquitted himself with honor and with the immortal Baylesian good cheer, better humor, and extra-wide butt for the rest of us to draft off. In fact, Fussy fought, hammered, grabbed wheels when he could, pounded alone into the wind when he had to, and produced a ride guarantees an invite for 2014, to the extent that invites are ever guaranteed, which they aren’t.

Becker Bob: Bob put in his usual 10,000 miles of preparation for FTR spread out over the last 25 years, and for the most part didn’t finish last, except for the times he did. On Country Club Climb the rest of the crew had time to put the finishing touches on a 35,000-piece jigsaw puzzle before he crested the top, but until that point he rode well enough to justify the 14 pieces of French toast he’d scarfed before rolling out. Some people may have ridden faster, but no one had a better ratio of food-to-miles than Becker Bob. And of course he brought the trademark good humor and camaraderie that has made him a fixture on this annual death march. “Next year,” he says “I will train. Really.”

MMX: Pulled the most. Pulled the hardest. Drew the fiercest opposition. Left to dangle with no teammates. Perhaps won the sprunt into Ojai (more on that later). Awesome fourth on Balcom behind 42-lb. Alex, 51-lb. Konsmo, and The Lung a/k/a G$ a/k/a Leibert. Next closest rider was still at the Circle K in Ventura. MMX split the field into 300 smaller parts on the 101. Punished the bad boys and girls with a 30-minute smashmouth pull from Ventura to Santa Paula, where only a handful could do anything other than grab a wheel and vomit up the Barbie food they’d eaten at the Circle K along with their dreams and self esteem and delusions of glory. MMX slashed and burned up the Lake Casitas climb, cresting in fourth behind Zombo, Roadchamp, and G$, and hung in on the climb into Ojai despite the dastardly four-man combo of G3, G$, Roadchamp, and Zombo who all worked together to work him over. Never looked tired, and got the Repartee of the Day Award when someone complained, “We can’t spend too long here at the Circle K because all the lactic acid will build up.” MMX’s retort: “You don’t get lactic acid unless you ride hard.” Showered the host and hostess, their son and daughter and grandchildren with chic SPY-ware gift certificates, and gave WM another pair of cool-beyond-cool shoes so that I can now step outdoors in something that was designed (and made) later than 1987. Ripped off a handful of Strava KOM’s on the ride, and never drifted more than a couple of wheels off the front for the entire 7-hour odyssey. Bad news: He’s just starting to build for BWR. Good news: Most of the FTR wankers won’t have to deal with him again until 2014.

Punkster: After years of quitting, getting dropped, flailing, and generally behaving like a kid who trains in a basement in Indiana, Punkster brought his A Game to the 2013 FTR, or at least someone else’s. He challenged for every sprunt, made the first or second split on every climb, and beat Konsmo on the Balcom Climb except for a technicality: In the event of a tie on Balcom, the vee goes to the older guy, or the guy who has won it more, or the guy who first claims that it was a “tie.” Unlike others who rode well at key strategic points, Punkster shared huge miles with MMX on the front, never shirked, and unleashed a number of solid, battering pulls. On the run-in to Ojai, he claimed a shared sprunt victory with MMX, however, that is disputed by G$ and Wankmeister. More below. If Punkster continues this upward trajectory (and it should, as he now appears to have reached puberty), next year no one will hold his wheel anywhere.

DJ: Like a fine old wine that’s gone sour from sitting too long in the dumpster, Dave Jaeger, founder of the FTR, racer extraordinaire, vanquisher of the inaugural BWR in 2012, icon of the South Bay and Dude Who Thinks He’s Getting Paid To Remodel His Home, produced yet another astounding ride. Why astounding? Because despite doubling his mileage for the last six months in a single day, DJ hammered, placed respectably on every climb, made the split going over Ojai, and mother-henned all the brokedown wankers spread from Camarillo to Ventura and back. Moreover, he produced yet another version of the often-copied, never imitated French Toast Ride, the prime ingredients being 22 oz. of Beatdown mixed with 1 cup of Cajoling, then adding a lightly battered 899 grams of Encouragement to 149 lbs. of Taking Care of Everyone Else. Dave, we love you, and especially love the FTR because it’s the only time you go slow enough for us to get ahead of you, even if it’s only for a mile or two.

Zombo: Remember Columbo? Looked like a doofus? Tricked everybody into thinking that he was a clueless knucklehead who you could easily fool? Then in the end he’d turn out to have had the upper hand the whole time, was playing the bad guy for a fool, and would nail the sorry flailer’s ass to the floor? Okay, and you’re familiar with zombies, right? The ones you kill and smash and obliterate and wreck and throw into the meatgrinder and shoot through the heart and push off a cliff and burn into ashes and make watch Oprah and then they just get up and come right back at you, strong as they ever were? Your worst fucking nightmare on the FTR is a blend between a zombie and Columbo, a/k/a Zombo, f/k/a Surfer Dan. This was Zombo’s first FTR and he ate so much living flesh off his victims that there was nothing but a scattered, tattered pile of stinky shorts at the end (zombies don’t like poopy bike shorts). Hairy legged, grinning goofily, faux clueless about where to attack and where to rest, Zombo made the strongest and scariest FTR debut in recent memory. That’s all well and good–turning on the screws early, keeping the pressure high, being game for the hammerhead tactics of MMX, showing that he was worthy…but where he earned his keep forever was on the 101. This was one of those things that’s life and death, where a rider is more than a rider, where your life is in someone else’s hands and they keep you from getting ground under the wheels of a tractor-trailer moving at 80 mph at huge risk to their own life. We were in single file, with MMX absolutely stuffing our entrails back down our throats with each mash of the pedals, rolling up a slight rise, freeway traffic blowing by at 80+, and all I could do was grimace, choke back the bile and the mostly gone French toast and date juice and earwax and latch onto Konsmo’s rear wheel with a bitter prayer, who in turn was trying to pedal through a wall of sweat and snot while latched onto Zombo’s wheel, who like the rest of us was hunkered down and praying to Dog that this hell would end. With no warning, Zombo’s left hand shot off the bars and made a huge, wild sweeping motion that only meant one thing: Look out for DEATH! His bike moved a centimeter to the right. By taking his hand off the bars and flailing wildly to warn Konsmo he’d risked losing control of his own bike and therefore his life, as the “obstacle” was a manhole-sized gash in the pavement that was about a foot deep and two feet long. I’ve seen some fancy bike moves before, but to have the presence of mind to avoid the uncalled-out hole, quickly warn the guy behind you, and steer without swerving was unbelievable. Zombo’s trust factor was high; Konsmo acted with total instinct, the buddy-in-a-foxhole kind of trust move that you blindly make when you know the wheel in front of you and depend on it. Konsmo saw the wild sweep and knew that whatever it was, it was bad. He didn’t know if I was echeloned, so he couldn’t veer. Instead, he followed Zombo’s slight deviation from the line in a controlled and instantaneous reaction and as I followed Konsmo I saw his wheel graze the edge of that black pit of death by a margin so slim you could have put a pencil lead between the edge of Konsmo’s tire and the gaping crevasse. Of course by the time I reached it I was safe; my eyes had been able to follow the arm-sweep to the pavement and move accordingly. Had Zombo plunged us all into that hole, someone would have flown out onto the 101 and met the fate of G3’s Go-Pro…more about that disaster later. In short, it was the unsung hero move of the day. Konsmo was shaking afterwards, well, after MMX had cracked the group and ridden away, leaving us to lick our wounds and do a Kum-Ba-Ya around Zombo.

Überfred: Long-hailed by himself as one of the greatest national team members of the 1980’s, and one of the dudes still riding who can regale us with that same awesome story of how he beat Greg Lemond in a race once (it was the Hooterville Crit, where Lemond flatted in the final turn and crashed into the barriers), Überfred turned in one of the most impressive and amazing FTR performances in his storied career. After telling DJ that he’d be there, and taking up a valuable starting spot (thousands of South Bay wankers, and a contingent of LB Freddies including Checkerbutt had tried every means possible to obtain one of the coveted slots), Überfred emailed the night before the big event to say he’d gotten a boo-boo on his hoo-ha and wouldn’t be able to make the ride. There has never been an FTR night-before cancellation, and some noted that it was more than mere coincidence that Überfred’s boo-boo happened about one hour after WM sent out the Final FTR Email Warning of Death, in which all were reminded that their hour of judgment was nigh, and there was naught left but to suffer the beatdown and tow up Balcom by the passing gardener’s truck, if they were so lucky. Subsequent investigation revealed that Überfred had been in NYC the previous week, hanging out with cheerleaders and practicing his arabesques and assemblés.

BJones: BJ showed up in a decidedly non-ugly kit and suffered like the LB Freddie dog that he was. Fresh and keen in the first few stabs on the way to Fillmore, and game for the finish at the bridge, BJ found a spot in the back third of the wankoton and pounded all 117 miles of misery back to the ranch house in Camarillo. Then, unlike the mere mortals who changed clothes, wolfed sandwiches, then drove home, where they fell asleep in their jeans, BJ left without eating and drove back to Brea where he watched his daughter play in three consecutive soccer matches. A more awesome FTR performance is scarce to be imagined. On Balcom, he was the final corpse that I passed, and watching him paperboy up the slope in tandem with Bull reminded me of two pilot whales doing a synchronized swimming routine on a trampoline. It wasn’t pretty, but it got them up the damned thing. BJ also stood and kicked hard twice at the top of the climb, so hard in fact that I had to cough up a lung to pass him.

Brokeback: Without question the least fit, least prepared, most woefully undertrained wanker on the entire ride, Brokeback was not only suffering from the combined effects of his Reise nach Italien, a prolonged courtship which has included all manner of lard, foie gras, crème brûlée, chocolate eclair, Napoleon, apple tarte tatin, lemon meringue, chocolate fondue, and Teste-Cubières, but also in constant agony from severe lower back pain which he had been treating with the above-mentioned desserts on an almost hourly basis. In short, Brokeback knew that from Mile One he would be in hell, that no savior or sag would come to his aid, and that the only way he’d get through FTR 2013 was with grit and a suitcase of courage the size of Dallas. Unlike certain unnamed Long Beach no-shows, rather than betraying the Brotherhood of the Toast, Brokeback strapped on his strap-on, threw a leg over, and didn’t finish last on every single climb. I’m not sure whether he deserves credit for starting this odyssey on an empty tank and finishing it on willpower, or whether he deserves contempt for not making some minimal preparation for it, but I do know this: I could never have done what he did. That amount of guts and determination do not exist in my family tree.

Hair: Generally considered a Cat 3 sprunter, Hair set fire to this year’s FTR. He won’t admit it, but he doesn’t have to because we all have eyes: He’s trimmed off all the baby fat and, thanks to Wankmeister’s diet advice, has dropped a solid 10-15 pounds. Gone is the Hair who had rolls of neck fat. Gone is the Hair whose size tiny jersey had an extra front pocket for his hairy tummy. Gone is the Hair who had little grab-aholds under his armpits…and in his place is a lean, hard, badass bike racer. He took the Fillmore sprunt by several football fields even after starting on fourth-and-400 yards back. But then he showed some serious cards, hanging with the leaders on the climb into Ojai, sticking his nose into the wind all day long, and consistently being the only rider besides Zombo who could play ball with MMX doing the hard work on the front. Hair flew up Casitas and then hit the downhill with such speed that all I could do when it was my turn to pull through was not pull through and whimper. He got outfoxed on the Ojai sprunt, but closed the gap to MMX and Punkster singlehandedly. Most incredibly, he was among the top finishers on Balcom, a place where no pure sprunter dares show his mettle. Then, in addition to all that, he did it with his usual smack talk, good humor, and encouraging words to those of us who could do nothing but drool in his nonexistent slipstream. With no teammates, no natural climbing talent, and no performances in previous years on the FTR’s hardest sections that were anything other than flail-worthy, this year garnered him the award of Dude Who Is Flat Fucking Badass. I can’t take credit for doing anything other than unsuccessfully hanging onto his shadow, but he owes me 25% of 2013’s race winnings thanks to my diet advice, even though he pretends to be doing it on Jenny Craig.

Wankomodo: Every once in a while you trash talk a person, say bad things about him, drag his name through the mud, and bash him to a fare-thee-well, only to learn that he’s a first rate, stand-up guy, and then, feeling awful about the terrible things you said, you apologize. Well, that ain’t gonna happen. But I will say this: If one person made the 2013 FTR an over-the-top success, it was Wankomodo, who showed up with his brand new Lambo, $873,000 in Canon bodies and lenses, and did the most incredible job of sag + custom photography that FTR has ever had, or even dreamed of having, since most of us drive rusted out cars with more than 200k in mileage, and our “camera equipment” uses film. He picked great vantage points, got super photos of everyone, had them edited and posted less than 24 hours after the ride, and asked for nothing in return. So many good things were said about you during and after the ride, Wankomodo, and a whole bunch of them by me, that your ears must have burned down at least three sizes. Thanks for making it a special day and for giving us lots of fodder with which to waste our entire weekend, and for giving us stuff we can use to holler, “Hey, honey! Come look at this!” while our bored wives trundle into the room to look at another photo of G3 or MMX or some shattered wanker struggling up a pockmarked road with his tongue dragging in the gutter. You’re the man!

Stern-O: Older than dirt, but never having let any stay on his bike for more than twelve seconds, Stern-O represented the tough guys of New Mexico with a bravado, power, strength, and courage that we have come to expect from a state where there are more children born in wedlock to their immediate relatives than there are meth houses per square mile…if only barely. Stern-O, the guy who never turns down a dare, whose reputation was carved on the hard roads of LA County, legend among myths, an unsolved problem on par with P versus NP, with the Hodge conjecture or the Riemann hypothesis, a complex mess of contradictions, confusions and bewilderment built on a base of dyspepsia and flatulence, Sterno-O The One And Only played his last FTR card. It was a dark and stormy night (in New Mexico). A band of fathers and children all born within the first degree of consanguinity sat around the campfire bright. “Ain’t the FTR tomorrer, Pappy?” asked one. “I reckon it is,” said Stern-O. “But I ain’t a goin’.” A gasp went up. “How come, Pappy? You ain’t never skunked on at ‘ere rat race afore.” “This here year’s differnt,” said Stern-O. “I’m fattern a Greek bride. Slowern a New Mexico University perfesser of addition and subtraction. Legs is spindliern the spokes on my racin wheels. They’s gonna be layin fer me over there in Californey. They’s gonna whup me good. Even ol’ Yulester’s gonna whup me. Bowles. Brokeback. All them fellers is gonna mash mah dick into the dirt and call me ‘Ol Grizzles,’ an’ ‘Softy,’ an’ I ain’t gonna stand for it. I’m a bailin.'” “But Pappy,” said his children, “you cain’t just quit the night afore the rat race. They’s done turned others away so’s you could do that there rat race. ‘Tain’t rat.” But Pappy would not be dissuaded. “I’ve done made fun a more wankers in my day than us New Mexicans have chillun who we’ve done married up to once they got over the age of twelve,” he said. “And I ain’t a gonna let ‘em call me a wanker. No sir, I ain’t a gonna.” And with that, Stern-O fired off an email to DJ and bailed. Just. Like. That.

G3: The week before FTR, G3 had spent each day nestled up close to the toilet, pooping like mad in an attempt to dislodge the gastrointestinal bug he’d picked up from licking too many doorknobs. Faint, thin, covered in a Jeremiah Johnson beard, rickety at the knees, and begging to be excused for frailness even before he finished his sixteenth piece of French toast, G3 led out the FTR by attacking early and taking the first KOM on the climb into Fillmore. Then the sorry fuck landed the first blow in a four-man orchestrated project beating going up the climb into Ojai which was designed to, and which did, dislodge MMX from the wheel of G$ and Roadchamp. No matter that G3 exploded into a mass of poopy bibs…he knew his part and played it well, including his sneak attack on DJ going up Balcom, where he pounded the ride leader to cross the legendary Balcom threshold a few bike lengths ahead. If this was a weakened, broken, poop-covered G3, thank Dog we didn’t see him at full force. With his orange froo-froo talisman dangling from his saddle he rode smart, he rode hard, and he punished all who thought they’d smack him while he was down (that was mostly me). However, the one part of the ride where his wheels were coming off as MMX exacted revenge on the 101, with G3 blown off the back and buffeted by the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, his brand new Go-Pro bar mount snapped and the camera flew off onto the highway. The timing was perfect, because he could now legitimately do what the rest of us were praying we could do: Stop and shudder and gasp until the big black spots vanished and the guy in the white robe surrounded by the shimmering white light receded into the distance a bit. As he went back to collect his camera, composing in his head the angry letter he’d dash off to Go-Pro demanding a refund for a product he hadn’t paid for, as it had been a Christmas gift, he was faced with a major decision: Should he reach down and pick up the camera, or get the fuck out of the way of the 18-wheeler that was listing over into the bike lane and headed straight for the camera. “Lunge for the $300 camera and likely die? Or get out of the way and dash off that nasty letter?” It was a tough decision since he had so much good footage of MMX and others riding him off their wheel, but smarts won out over thrift. He jumped back just in time for the big front wheel to hit the camera, explode it into a million pieces, and plow onward with the driver laughing in the mirror.

G$: Raging. Roaring. Full throttle. Destruction on the climb into Ojai. Beatdown on the climb up Lake Casitas. 1-2 finish at the Santa Barbara County Line. Punishing beatdown on the 101. Third-place finish on Balcom. Brilliant orange socks blazing, G$ checked the oil level, found it full, checked the gas gauge, found it full, and turned in another awesome FTR ride. Of all his impressive moves, none matched his 1-2 finish at the Imaginary Sprunt Finish in Ojai, duking it out with Wankmeister for imaginary victory. MMX and Punkster had already crossed what they thought was the finish line, but the Ojai sign had been taken down, so in our opinion they finished too soon. Hair then jumped, but he, too went too soon. In our opinion. This meant that the true sprunt line was just ahead of where the others sat up. G$ jumped once, jumped twice, and with Wankmeister on his wheel, then battling into the wind, these two titans of the big ring, both known far and wide for the sprunting ability, took an imaginary first and imaginary second at the imaginary line. Or so we imagined.

Roadchamp: It gets really boring trying to say something new about Roadchamp. He took the climbs at will. He had no peer on this FTR, or any other. Punkster will beat him in a year or two, but for now he’s the King of All Mountains. Will his abject terror and fear of bad roads scare him away from the Belgian Waffle Ride again this year? Probably. But rest assured that when the road tilts up in 2013, he’ll be a force and the only assured way of beating him will be with a moped.

Dlrmpl: Would have easily gotten the Newbie Award if it hadn’t been for Zombo. Dude rode strong, smoked it up Balcom, climbed great on Casitas, and only really got shelled on the climb into Ojai. Never showed weakness in the form of sobbing, calling out his mother’s name, or offering Wankomodo money for a ride in the Lambo. Dlrmpl will only get stronger, faster, and more intent on whipping up on the old dudes as time goes by. Plus he’s already DM’d all his wanker buddies, rubbing their nose into the fact that he got to ride and they didn’t.

Turtle: Realized that the 101 was going to be  even more unforgiving than it was last year. Night before bailer and quitter.

Bull: Go and blow. For 117 miles. Bull hit the front, popped, recovered, and hit the front again so many times we all lost count. He and BJ’s synchronized paperboy on Balcom was poetry in motion, especially if you like bad poetry. Tough, resilient, always grinning despite the sheet snot hanging off his face like icicles, he asked for no mercy, not because he didn’t want any, but because he knew he’d get none.

Taylor: Gritted it out. Gutted it out. Showed up for FTR with no illusions, and left it with even fewer. It was a hard, miserable, lonely beatdown in Ventura County for Big T., and he took his beating like a man. No whimpering or whining, just slogging through the miles grimly and without complaint, lugging himself up Balcom and coming to rest in front of the food buffet Chez Jaeger, where he got all the reward he ever expected.

Bowles: Taking the part of Stern-O as Oldest Gentleman To Ride The FTR And Not Require Medical Intervention, Bowles pounded, hammered, got dropped, latched back on, and achieved the ultimate goal in his storied FTR career: Dropped Yuletide again on Golf Course Hill. Always glad to be part of the circus, and never the last elephant in the parade, he acquitted himself honorably again, and it was with an honorableness that will only increase as he keeps showing up.

Gil: Showing up…showing up…rings a bell…Even Superman has to show up when he signs on the dotted line. We were all disappointed and surprised that you joined the LB contingent of night before bailer and quitter. Damn.

Major Bob: You and Frias are the lucky ones. I’m too dogdamned tired to write anymore, and can’t imagine that anyone is still reading, except Harold and Leonard, who are wondering when I’m going to sing the praises of King Harry. Major Bob wrote his name large again in the storied history of the FTR. He came. He saw. He ate four helpings of French toast and enough bacon to make a Denny’s patron blush. And he charged all the climbs, bombed all the descents, spent time on the front, and was cracking jokes and grinning up to the bitter end.

Frias: Frias ground out yet another FTR. He wasn’t the first, but was by no means the last. Dude, I’m all typed out.

King Harold: Won the Best Pre-Ride Smacktalk Email Award of 2013. Whereas other smacktalking greats like Uberfred and Bull were strangely silent, King Harold unleashed a pair of disses that were truly wankworthy. Our time together on this year’s FTR was limited to the second bump, when Harry threw a chain and I made the horrible mistake of dropping back to help, like I know anything about chains other than “Don’t wrap them around the outside of the pulley-wheel cage,” and like I could help him bridge in the middle of a climb when the main group was sprinting away. What was I thinking? I know what I was thinking: King Harold is one of the best guys with one of the biggest hearts I’ve ever met, and I figured I’d rather flail alone into the wind with Harry for 100 miles than spend the next six hours curled up in a fetal ball of pain trying to follow MMX or G$. This of course was a terrible decision as we wound up in another OTB two-man flail of death, where Harry’s effort to get us back to the group was so ugly that neither of us had the legs to do anything besides pant and pray for the rest of the climb. Incredibly, he didn’t crush and drop me on the climbs. Perhaps it was his fear of the kimchee gas? We’ll never know…

Wankmeister: I sucked. Surprised? And it had nothing to do with the fact that I did the ride on two cups of gas station coffee, half a bottle of water, some dates, almonds, and a PBS.

Get your application in for 2014!

With the fame of the FTR having spread far and wide, and numerous friendships having been sundered due to one person getting in and the other not getting invited, and with much mystery surrounding the selection process, I’ve posted the guidelines below so that you can be guaranteed a spot in 2014.

  1. Receive an invitation from the previous year. This is the simplest, quickest, most generally successful way to get invited. Oh…you’ve never been invited? Hmmm, you might be hosed. But read on.
  2. Meet up with the early morning Manhattan Beach crew on Tuesday and Thursday mornings at CotKU for the better part of a year. Become friends with DJ, ingratiate yourself with him, demonstrate your prowess on the bike, be generous and safe, don’t act like a prick, and know your place in the group, which is above that of a germ but below that of a dingleberry, and listen to his same twelve stories over and over but pretend that it’s the first time every time. They leave at 5:30 AM. Oh…you don’t like riding that early? You live too far away? Hmmmm, you might be hosed. But read on.
  3. Ride somewhat regularly with DJ throughout the year at the NPR or Donut Ride, or race against him. Demonstrate your skills without being a tool. At the same time, ingratiate yourself with an FTR multi-year participant. Then, a couple of weeks before the ride, whose date is kept secret, find out through the grapevine if there have been any cancellations. On pain of permanent rejection til the end of days, never ever ever ask DJ directly if you can do the ride. Have your “connection” ask for you. The answer will always be “Hell no.” However, the following year the answer will be “No way.” Third year, “Maybe.” Fourth year “I’ll think about it if we have mass cancellations by the Long Beach Freddies.” Fifth year (reluctantly), “Okay, that wanker’s in.” Oh…you don’t want to wait five years? Hmmmm, have you considered the Solvang Century? No? Okay, read on.
  4. Send DJ a large suitcase stuffed with cash. You’re in like Flynn.

Celebrating the end of 2012 with a stomping

January 1, 2013 § 14 Comments

Tink’s mom looked at my car and wasn’t much reassured by the dented fender and legion of scrapes. “Where’s his bike rack?” she asked.

“Pretty sure he doesn’t have one.”

“How is he going to get both of your bikes down to North County?”

“I don’t know.”

They sat there and waited for me in the pitch dark. “I hope he has some way to carry your bike.”

“He said it would be no problem.”

“I really don’t want to drive you down to San Diego this morning for that bicycle ride.”

“He said there was room.”

Oh, ye of little faith

I appeared out of the 5:30 AM darkness. Tink had already unloaded her bike from her mom’s SUV. I laid my bike in the trunk, knocked down the back seats, threw down some towels, and laid Tink’s bike, wheelless, atop mine. Her bike was so small we could have tossed in a barbecue grill and still had room for the wheels.

Then we were off.

Tink has been in winter build and Strava stealth mode. Unlike the rest of the year, when it’s one epic crushing after another, she’s been quiet for months. This New Year’s Eve, SPY Optic and RIDE Cyclery were putting on an event to celebrate all the good things that had happened in 2012. Unlike the typical North County ride menu, this one was billed as “no hammering,” “anything but a race,” “good times for all” and encouraging “riders of all abilities.

What could possibly go wrong? I was already tired and needed an easy pedal to finish out my year.

What could possibly go wrong

The wise Marvin Campbell had tried to dissuade those lulled into a false sense of security by posting on FB these immortal words: “It’s a trap.”

The victim of several sorties down south, Marvin knew an ambush when he saw one. I, however, actually believed MMX. Again.

As we rolled out, there were all sorts of red flags waving–blowing–whipping–in the early morning chill. The red flags went by the names of Thurlow a/k/a The Hand of God, Tintsman, Hamasaki, Dahl, Gonyer, Johnson, Quick, Day, Pomerantz, and Shannon. In addition to these evil omens, there were another twenty to forty lean, sculpted pairs of legs that looked anything but “encouraging” or in the least bit interested in “good times.”

“Is this really going to be an easy ride?” Tink asked. She’d never ridden down south and was looking forward to a social pedal during which time she could meet this new cast of characters.

“Oh, yes,” I assured her. “MMX would never bill something as an easy ride, attract a ton of riders, and then tear their legs off. He’s just not cruel like that.”

I looked around at the estimated two hundred riders that were now swarming along the coast road and hoped I was right.

Hidden Valley, where all is revealed

At some point in the ride the throng had been reduced by half. One of the reductees was Paige DeVilbiss, who had hurried down from Fullerton, missed the pre-ride coffee chat, gotten shelled at mile four, chased back on, and then gotten kicked out the back for good at  mile eight. This was a classic North County welcome: “So glad you’re here, hope you enjoy this kick in the face and the solitary ride back to your car and the even more solitary ride back to your home.”

By the time we hit the bottom of the Hidden Valley climb, thanks to the “conversational pace” and “happy times,” Tink was the only woman left. If there were any conversations that took place the entire day, they turned out to be monosyllabic grunts and nods of the head interspersed with the random moan and plea for mercy.

Unaware of what lay ahead, Tink took an inopportune moment to start in on a candy bar just as the group hit the first climb. Her mouth full to prevent breathing and one-handed to prevent effective climbing, the road kicked up. Tink struggled at quarter power to get up the nasty climb. She wasn’t about to spit out and lose her precious riding fuel.

Those who were behind her, and there were many, were disturbed to see her easily power up the climb one-handed while chewing a mouthful of food.

A small contingent of nine riders crested the climb. I struggled over in tenth place many bike lengths between me and the leaders. After a few twists and turns, we regrouped, hit the short dirt section made famous by last year’s BWR, and climbed the back side of Summit.

This time I stayed on the wheel of The Hand of God, who cracked jokes all the way up the climb. “My coach told me not go any harder than I’m going now,” he said with laugh. Everyone else gasped and struggled and grunted.

Tink was just behind us, never in any trouble at all, easily pedaling among the leading ten or fifteen men. With the exception of me and MMX, none of the other riders knew her or had any inkling of what they were dealing with, and over the course of the morning her presence began to stand out more and more.

It slowly dawned on them. Tink wasn’t just the only woman left. She was out-riding most of the men who remained, and the men who remained were the good ones.

Going out in style

A solid 60 miles into the 67-mile ride, there were less than forty riders left. After a gradual uphill punctuated by a roller where MMX smashed the group, we got back together in time for a screaming flat, tailwind run-in to something. Not knowing the course, the only thing evident was that everyone knew what was going on except me.

The friendly “Sure, take that wheel, mate” instantly transformed into “That’s my wheel, fucker, and I’ll kill you if you try to get it.”

The survivors stretched out into one long, unbroken line of pain until whatever it was we were so desperately eager to get to was gotten to. Everyone sat up and stared at the road ahead. The back side of San Elijo marched off into the sky.

I looked at Tink. “We’re going up that bastard. Get on MMX’s wheel. Now.”

“I can’t hold his wheel!” she protested.

“Get the hell up there,” I grumbled. And she did.

Three quarters of the way up this miserable, endless, soul-crushing climb, the 40-strong pack was mostly together. MMX and The Hand of God rode tempo on the front, having commanded that “None shall pass, and neutral shall this climb remain.”

I swung over to the right-hand gutter and pushed through the front, sailing by The Hand of God and MMX.

Note to self: Never, ever, ever, simulate an acceleration or an attack in the presence of THOG.

See that slumbering bear? Why don’t you poke its eye with a stick?

The other wheelsuckers, seeing my effrontery, responded in kind. The peloton detonated and I was soon swarmed, and shortly thereafter dropped. As the heaving, gasping, grunting, groaning cadavers spiraled off the rear like a spent roman candle, one rider was having no difficulties at all.

It was Tink.

She shed the group and raced ahead to the leaders, who were being slowly roasted, then cannibalized, then dropped, by The Hand of God. As she passed me she rubbed salt in the wound by smiling. Then she rubbed arsenic into the salt by speaking. She said something that sounded like “Atalzchstsaek talk?”

But all I could respond with, and it was only in my head, was “How the fuck do you have breath to waste on talking?”

She sailed by MMX, sailed by the remaining human shrapnel, and easily crested the peak. Only a handful of the best riders in the state, and one of the greatest American bike racers of all time, were ahead of her.

That was the last climb of the day. I was toasted. She was warmed up and smiling.

“What a great climb! Are you okay?” she asked, unused as she was to seeing my bloodless lips and eyes hanging 3/4 out of the sockets.

“Tink,” I muttered, “if I keep riding with you in 2013…”

“Yes?”

“It’s going to be one long, miserable year.”

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