The amazing race (805 Criterium Weekend, Part 1)

July 2, 2013 § 4 Comments

With only a handful of minutes to recap this fantastic weekend, I’m going to be succinct because there’s so much to say.

– Thanks to Mike Hecker for putting together an event that will surely grow to be the best bike racing in Southern California.

– Thanks to the City of Buellton. You have a lovely town, friendly people, and an egg-frying dry heat that will separate the wheat from the chaff in one or two laps.

– Thanks to the City of Lompoc. You too have a lovely town, friendly people, and a challenging course that is hard and safe and windy enough to blow a fleet of tall ships all the way to Japan.

– Thanks to Gordie and to Steve Hegg. You guys are a ton of fun and great announcers.

– Thanks to the Firestone Walker Brewery. You make great beer, and the beer garden added a wonderful relaxing touch that just drew people in. The location in the heart of each crit course made it spectacular.

– “Tough guy” / “Tough gal” bike racers who missed this event: You’re not that tough. This was real bike racing on brutally hard but short courses that included wind, heat, slight elevation, and something more complex than four turns around a square. The crowds were enthusiastic, the prize money amazing, the ambiance of the host towns fun beyond belief…this is what bike racing is supposed to be. Show up next year and show us what you’ve got.

– Thanks again to Mike Hecker for putting together two fast, hard, safe courses. There wasn’t a single crash in two full days of racing.

– Thanks to the myriad sponsors who kicked in cash and prizes. Legit prize list for the pros on Saturday? $7,500. Compare that to the nickels and warm spit you’ll win in Ontario’s pro race.

–Props to Alan Flores, my SPY-Giant-RIDE teammate who dismantled the field in the 45+ Old Dudes’ Race. Props to John Hatchitt for playing henchman, and to teammates Taylor Fenstermacher, Andy Schmidt, Bill Lupo, and Jimbo for coming out and busting things up.

–Hats off to Thurlow Rogers and Mark Noble, two hellacious bike racers who proved their mettle over two hard days of racing.

–Kudos to Phil Tinstman and Chris Walker who busted loose on Lap 2 of the 35+ and held it for 70 minutes. Only 20 riders finished their race, so viciously hard was the course and the competition.

–Hats off to Rudy Napolitano, general buttwhomper, winner of the 35+ race on Sunday and 3rd Place finisher on Saturday after attacking 10,000 times and generally shredding the field.

–Props to Surf City Cyclery racer John Slover who made the split and the podium on Saturday, and rode two great races on Sunday as well. Props also to Charon Smith, the man who’s not afraid to go out and compete even when the cards are stacked against him. I wish every bike racer had that guy’s guts, kindness, and good grace. He’s as honorable and friendly in defeat as he is in victory.

–Ben Jacques-Mayne thrashed the field on Saturday and won the pro race on Sunday by lapping the field. Amazing rides by Mr. Forbes from Arizona, Brandon Gritters, and a host of other pros.

–Super performance in the 35+ by Derek Brauch, the dude who does a little bit of everything. He rode off with the split and stayed with the leaders until the very end, when a devastating Rudy Napolitano Tailwind Acceleration peeled the skin off of his face and relegated him to a still-impressive 6th Place.

–Knife fight in the mud between Aaron Wimberley and Mike Easter for ascendancy in the SoCal Cup. Aaron had difficulties reading his gas gauge on the way up Saturday and ran out of fuel, thereby missing the Saturday 35+ race and ceding points to his rival. However, on Sunday he dogged Easter’s every move and wrapped it up with a slim one-point lead. Don’t think Easter is going to let it go as easily as all that…

– Big win on Sunday in the 45+ race by big German Armin Rahm. Armin got away with the elite break that included Thurlow, Brett Clare, Slover, Steve Gregarios, and another rider or two, then smoked the breakaway in the sprint.

– John Abate won the “mismatched kit and bike award,” riding now for SPY-Giant-RIDE but still pedaling the green Masi of his former team. The color clash must have added fuel to the pistons, because he finished the 35+ race on Sunday with an awesome 4th Place. He bridged the gap from hell, leaping out of the charging field to finally hook up with the loaded break that included Rudy et al.

– Chris DeMarchi showed his impeccable form and strength on Saturday and Sunday, finishing solo between the break and the field on Saturday, and riding herd on the pack as he blocked for his teammates in the break on Sunday.

– Suze Sonye…wow! Third in the pro race on Saturday, top step on Sunday. If she’s not the best racer to come out of SoCal, who is?

– Michelle Ignash scored third for Helen’s on Saturday in the women’s 3-4 and won the same event on Sunday.

– The list goes on and on of all the racers who rode hard and did well, and by failing to list them all here I’m sure I’ll offend those who performed valiant deeds of glory only to go ignored or unnoticed in this blog which, on a good day, may have as many as three readers.

– Hats off as well to the flailers and wankers who got shelled, quit, gave up, collapsed from heat stroke, or bailed out early so they could swap the pain for the good, cold beer.

Hope you’ll put this race series on your calendar next year. It’s a winner.

Rider of the year: Suze Sonye

October 9, 2012 § 10 Comments

I can say anything I want about Suze because we once had a big ol’ fight and talked more trash about each other than two rednecks getting divorced and arguing over who gets the half of the trailer with the leaky waterbed and broken TV, and who gets the set of false teeth.

Our spat happened like this. It was on the Pier Ride. The Old Pier Ride. Every single time I’d run the red lights going out on Admiralty, Suze would yell at me, which would make me run more lights, which would make her yell at me more. You get the picture.

This particular day, after running all the red lights and dragging the peloton along with me, we were half-pedaling up Pacific and I saw her out of the corner of my eye and gradually kind of half-chopped her wheel. Just a little bit. Enough to say, “Fuck you,” and enough so that if she hadn’t been paying attention she might have found herself in difficulty.

“Wow, what an asshole!” you might say.

“Are you fucking kidding me? You douchenozzle!” you might say.

“What a despicable, walking, talking, sack of human excrement you are!” you might say.

And you’d pretty much be right.

Save your Cat 5 tricks for the Cat 5’s

One thing about Suze is that she’s always on guard. That’s because people have been taking cheap shots at her for decades, especially lame-ass guys who are mortified at getting their dicks stomped by a biker chick.

Suze saw my cheap shot long before it got anywhere near her front wheel, and easily slid off to the side with nary a ruffled feather, but now she was pissed. For the rest of the ride she stuck to my wheel, and I got the message. “You’re never getting rid of me now, wanker.”

So when we hit the Parkway I made up my mind to get rid of her. Gave it everything I had…no luck. Hit the turnaround and drove her over to the curb…yawn. Sprunted out of the saddle to dust her on the rise…nuh-uh…there was the shadow of her little pigtail, bobbing along right in my draft.

Slow down, speed up, jump off to the left, hug the curb to the right, thread spaces that didn’t exist, open up every jet I had, scrub her off by attacking up the gutter, pull every lame move I knew short of slamming on the brakes.

Nope, nope, nope, and nope. She tailed me all the way to the finish, and made sure I knew it as she whizzed off to the right on Pershing at the end of the ride.

The Cold War

From that point on we behaved as enemies. She defriended me. I talked trash. She ignored me. I ground all the enamel off my teeth. She commented that I was a stupid lawyer. Everyone agreed (me, too, actually).

Arab Spring

Somehow, we started talking to each other again. Then chatting. Then smiling. Then one day, when I had swung off, gassed, rocketing backwards and about to get dropped on the climb up to Trump, I felt a strong hand on my ass and heard a little “Umph” sound. It was a track throw, strong, straight, and powerful enough to sling me back onto the tail end of the snake.

I glanced back at the rider who’d pushed me, and who was now dropped from that last full-on effort to help a struggling rider.

It was Suze.

Best rider in 2012

Suzanne is the South Bay Rider of the Year for lots of reasons. First, she won the poll unanimously. I was the only voter, and frankly, she was the only candidate. It was one of those Soviet-era elections, where the winner, again by a 100% majority, is Joe Stalin, and if you don’t fucking like it, you’ll be taken out, lined up against a wall, and blogged about.

Suze isn’t a recent convert to cycling who just happens to be talented and fast. She’s been racing for 31 years and has raced against and raced for some of the greatest cyclists in the history of the sport. The pinnacle of her pro career was racing three years for Saturn, the #1 UCI-ranked team in the world.

Think about that the next time you’re polishing your third-place trophy in the Men’s 45+B cyclocross race.

At Saturn she learned from the best on the global stage. Ina-Yoko Teutenburg, Judith Arndt, Clara Hughes, Petra Rossner, Anna Wilson, Cathrine Marsal, Dede Demet, Nicole Reinhart, and Suzie Pryde were just a few of the racers with whom she trained and raced. She learned to ride out of her skin for her teammates, and found out that even though she wasn’t the most talented or deserving rider on the team, she earned her slot and she earned the right to keep it.

If you’ve ever watched Suze race, or watched her maneuver on the NPR, you’ll instantly recognize where she gets her world-class skills. Bumping and positioning among men twice her size and half her age, she’s always perfectly positioned, always knows the right wheel, and is always in the mix.

How many other 49 year-old riders, men or women, can say that?

Teaching through kicking your ass

If some people have a hard time getting along with Suze, it’s for this reason: Ask her a question, and she’ll tell you what she thinks. Or this reason: Do something stupid, and she’ll tell you what she thinks. Or this reason: Exist, and she’ll tell you what she thinks.

Suze has been with Helens Cycles for sixteen years, and  2012 is a fitting year to name her South Bay Rider of the Year because in addition to a string of impressive wins, it was her first full year running the Helen’s women’s program.

Working to achieve the goal of a strong women’s team is tough. Someone always wants to win, but in a highly individualized sport like road racing, the more competitive the race the more essential it is that riders work together.

Highlights in 2012 included winning the Brentwood Grand Prix at 49 freaking years old; placing 3rd overall at the Tour de Murrieta; watching teammate Shelby Reynolds win the Manhattan Beach Grand Prix; and most of all, being part of a team where people trust each other 100%. In 2013 the team will add Priscilla Calderon, and leg-breaker Emily Georgeson will graduate from the 3-4 team to the P/1/2 squad.

Learning through getting her own ass kicked

There are only a handful of South Bay women who can hang with the masters men racers when they’re going at speed. Suze is one of them.

In 2010, after returning to LA, Suze was dragging in the fitness and confidence departments. She didn’t believe that a return to the glory days was possible. With help and encouragement from wankers like Aaron, Victor, Rudy, Mike, Jay, Brenda, and most of all her mom, who kept asking people, “What’s wrong with her?” she found her legs again. And even though there’s the occasional lamefuck who tries to chop her wheel just to make a point, Suze will tell you that there are plenty of guys on the rides who push her to ride harder because they’re her friends.

I’ve learned first hand that underneath the toughness and the mad bike skills there’s a sweetheart of a girl. Lots of others have learned it, too.

When the ranks close

Of course it wouldn’t be cycling, and it sure wouldn’t be cycling in the South Bay, if there weren’t drama. People get mad, make up, then go off and get mad at someone else. And make up. It’s part of the scene. And it’s all good.

Except when it’s not.

One day on the Donut we were rolling up past Portuguese Bend. Some dude who no one knew was getting very attitude-ish. He was fit, fast, and had the best painted-on suntan in the peloton. As we rolled along the false flat he decided to move up. Suze was in his path. So he did what any jerkoff would do: He gave her a hard check, pushed her off her line, and told her to get out of the way.

In doing so, he broke the Rule of Davy.

This is the rule of the peloton that says “Thou shalt piss off anyone in the bunch as long as it’s not Davy.” The corollary to the Rule of Davy is the Rule of the Slowest Fuse, which says “Davy has the slowest fuse of any human alive and is therefore is almost impossible to piss off.”

Unless, of course, you fuck with Suze, with our Suze, in which case the slowest fuse in the peloton becomes a mildly excited 220-pound slab of chiseled steel. Davy never gets angry, but on this day he did get mildly excited.

Bullyprick suddenly found himself in the shadow of the man mountain, whose left arm lazily draped around Bullyprick’s shoulder. It was an arm larger than the trunk of a redwood, and adorned with a tattoo of a skull being pierced with a harpoon while being thrown to a shark in a volcano on top of a mushroom cloud.

“Dude,” Davy said. “If you do anything like that again you will not live to regret it. Because you will not live.”

Bullyprick stared several feet up at the somewhat smiling face of the man mountain and felt the forearm curling around his neck with the conviction of an iron noose. “But…ah…okay…sorry…” was all he could gurgle. And to his credit, it is awfully hard to argue your point when your trachea has been pinned shut.

We never saw Bullyprick again, and Bullyprick never saw Suze, because shortly thereafter she attacked and dropped him on the climb.

So the next time you see her, even though it’ll probably be as she recedes in the distance, take a minute to congratulate her on this coveted award. She’s earned it the hard way.

I used to race

September 6, 2012 § 20 Comments

Yesterday night I was dragging ass through the parking garage and this dude said, “Good ride?”

“Yep. I’m pretty whipped, though.”

“Where’d you go?”

“I did the race out at Eldo.”

“Oh, a race? I used to race.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, back when they had the Olympic village, I was a track monster. Raced the old velodrome.”

He didn’t look very monsterish. “Ever try the new one in Carson?”

“No, I just lost interest. I used to be an animal, though.”

I couldn’t help thinking about Paul Ryan and how he, too, had been fast when he was young. Yeah.

The main two reasons people quit racing or never start

Aside from the fact that it’s pretty stupid, the main reason is fear of crashing. All it takes is one good crash to make you realize that the risk-benefit analysis is all whomperjawed over on the side of risk, and not much more than $25 or $30 in race “winnings” on the side of benefit.

Crashing and getting hurt is scary, and it’s a given that if you race, you’re going to crash. So, like, I get that.

The other reason people quit racing is because they are afraid of losing. They’ve built themselves up so much on Strava, or on their solo rides, or on their beatdowns with their fellow wankers, that it’s too intimidating to actually go toe-to-toe with people who don’t give a rat’s ass about your motor-assisted KOM and who will happily pound you into oblivion.

It’s better to stay comfortable as a coulda-been contender than a real-life lump of pack fodder.

There are a whole bunch of other reasons that people don’t race, and they’re all valid, but Fear of Crashing and Fear of Losing are far and away the top two.

My best three races of 2012

On the flip side, there is really only one significant reason that people do race: They’re idiots.

As my road racing season mercifully came to a close yesterday, I’m happy to say that it couldn’t possibly have ended any better. On Sunday I raced the 45+ Elderly Gentlemen’s Tender Prostate Category at Dominguez Hills. The field of 54 riders was greatly reduced from the first crits of the year, which were often at or near the 100-idiot limit. Many of the heaviest hitters were out replenishing the Depends, or getting their dentures refitted, but a healthy contingent including national and state champion Rich Meeker showed up to fight for the day’s honors.

In typical fashion, a few laps into the race the winning break rolled up the road. I was mid-pack, marveling at all the bicycles and how they never seemed to crash even though they were all so close together. I think about this often. All those moving parts! Each bike guided by a separate idiot of highly questionable handling skills! Yet through each turn they swoop and swerve and curve and slow and speed, always within a few inches, and hardly ever bounce along the pavement in a shower of carbon scraps and shredded skin.

It’s generally at these times, when I’m wondering if this kind of mass communication is what happens when flocks of shorebirds fly in tight formation at astounding speeds on moonlit nights, that something significant in the race happens, like a break, which it did. Of course, I had no idea, because what goes on “Up there” has nothing in common with what’s happening “Back here.”

When the lead shorebird squawks

As I was wondering about Western Sandpipers, a dude in a SPY-Blue kit came whizzing up on the left. It was my teammate, Johnny Walsh. “C’mon, Zeth!” he yelled.

“Wonder why he’s yelling at me? And ‘come on’ where? And why?” It was quite cozy back there in mid-shorebirdville, and the nasty pace at which he passed me suggested lots of un-shorebirdy pain.

Then I noted that on his wheel was Alan Flores, our team leader and Dude Who Doesn’t Do Stupid Shit in Races. I’m still unsure why, but I hopped on his wheel. The next time I looked back, we were clear of the field. “Where are we going?” I wondered. Then I looked up. Around the bend was a break. “Wow!” I thought. “I wonder if we’ll bridge?”

Johnny just went harder, and my legs just hurt more. When he sat up, we were on the back of the break. He nodded, legs blown, and drifted back to the field. “Wow!” I thought. “So that’s how you do it! What happens now?”

What’s with all these colorful sleeves?

My temporary joy at being in the break was immediately muted as I took roll. There was a dude with a stars-and-stripes thingy on his sleeve. That meant he was a national champion in something; probably not chess. There was another dude with a stars-and-stripes thingy…another non-chess national champion. There was a dude who looked a hell of a lot like Brett Clare, the dude who passed me in San Marcos like he was a Ferrari and I was a lamppost. Out of us eleven, there was only one complete flailer, and it was me. Everyone else looked pissed off and ready to go even faster.

Despite trying a series of moves that would later be described as “the silliest in the 2012 annals of SoCal crit racing,” I miraculously didn’t get dropped from the break and finished eleventh, my best placing of the year by far. Was it worth the $1,590.33 in entry fees? Yes. The $527.12 in gas? Yes. The risk to life and limb? Yes. The $15,982.12 in equipment/clothing/accessory purchases? Yes. The admission of personal failure every night when I looked in the mirror and said to myself, “Self, you’re almost fifty but are still fascinated by riding a bicycle.” Ummm, well, mostly yes.

Awesome race result #2

The following morning I celebrated Labor Day with two hundred other cyclists, many of whom appeared to be be on what was at least their second or even third full day after having learned how to ride. If this ride didn’t frighten you, you were beyond hope, because it was terrifying.

Usually, in order to steer clear of the fat dude with the dangling buttcrack, or to avoid the yackety chick who thinks that the center of a fast-moving foolfest is the perfect place to turn her head to the side for minutes at a time, or to keep from getting rear-ended by the neo-neo-neo racer pro kid who’s picked today to show off the $10k wheels with lightly glued tubulars, usually, I say, in order to avoid the certain death and injury resulting from riding near these knuckleheads and their next of kin, you have to get up to the top 20 or 30 riders and stay there.

Not on Monday.

No, sir, on Monday, the crazies had all gotten the Wankmeister memo that said, “Go to the Front!” and so, like crazies, they all went to the front. At the same time. Constantly.

The wankoton looked like the beach on a huge surf day, with massive swirls of raging dorkbreak foaming up to the front, followed by another series of churning idiots pushing up behind them, but the bozos in front, unable to drift back, created a fredtide, which ripped backwards through the wankoton, sucking the unwary back with them into the deathly perilous undertow, where victims such as Old George were crashed out and run over by people who didn’t even know the thing they were rolling over was a live person.

Don’t they know they belong in back?

I got to the front, the absolute front, and ran as many lights as I could, hoping that the bait of a speeding leader would draw at least a few of the worst wankers out into the intersection where they would be crushed and mutilated by speeding cross-traffic.

It didn’t work, however, as the number of idiots careening down Mt. Chevron on Vista del Mar was so great that it clogged both lanes and spilled out into opposing traffic as well. Drivers were petrified and simply stopped, and who wouldn’t if your windshield suddenly filled with a bearded, pony-tailed idiot wearing a vomit-spray jersey, gangly hairy legs poking out at right angles from the bike, spit and snot spewing from his face, and a barely-in-control-bike swerving crazily in and out of the lane?

This, of course, is the huge difference between racing and dorking: In a race, we wankers know that we belong in back. Our chance of winning isn’t even mathematical, so the only reason to be in front is to either suffer more (not good), crash out the dudes who can actually ride (worse), or have one of the ride bosses push us into the curb (worst).

On a fredfest, without this natural policing of the weak and feeble, those who don’t belong don’t know that they don’t belong, so they charge pell-mell to the front and create unforgettable mental tableaux such as when Ponytail Boy whipped a 30mph beeline for the curb at the bridge for the Marina bike path with Eddie W. on his wheel, only to decide at the very last second that nah, that ol’ curb is too big to hop, so he veered off to the right, braking hard, and sending Eddie into one of his finest string of oaths, a string so foul that even the wankers fishing off the bridge were taken aback at the new and inventive string of expletives.

They mysteries of the universe

It was at San Vicente that Chaos Theory gave way to Hammer Theory. Somehow, the freaks and freds who laboriously pounded all the way to San Vicente began to thin out as the road, like the pace, tilted up. By the end of the first mile we had lost between fifty and a hundred idiots.

At the turn onto Mandeville, another huge contingent had vanished, and by the end of the climb it was a small group of fifty or so out of the original 200+ horde.

Where did they all go? Did they fall by the wayside, dead? Did they drag themselves, mostly lifeless, to the doors of the angry, cyclist-hating Mandeville residents, and beg for shelter or for a quick gunshot to the head to end their misery? Did they swerve into a bike shop and sell all their gear? Or were they simply vaporized by the pace?

In any event, on the non-race race to the top of Mandeville Canyon, I got fourth going up the climb, which is almost a best ever, and even managed to get it on video. Once this gets published, Jonathan Vaughters will likely be sending me my contract.

The lost city of El Dorado

After this signal accomplishment, on Tuesday I went over to Long Beach for the year’s final running of the El Dorado crit series, which was held in honor of Mark Whitehead, the legendary Olympian, keirin pro, and track coach who died last summer at nationals in Frisco. Anything done in honor of “Meathead” is required to have, whatever else is on offer, the following three items:

  1. Cash prizes (to fight over in the parking lot after the race)
  2. Beer (to quickly stimulate the fighting)
  3. Controversy (to justfy #1 and #2)

A four-man breakaway left early in the race and collected the $100 cash primes on offer, cleverly working a combine to work together and share the loot. It would later turn out that in the chaos of the post-race awards ceremony someone claimed the money who allegedly wasn’t in the break, a perfect controversy that Meathead would have met with both fists and a gang fistfight.

With three laps to go, Rahsaan Bahati took the reins in hand and closed down the 30-second gap in half a lap, bringing the bunch together for the finale.

Throughout the race there was a dude without a number who was constantly pissing me off with his numberlessness. He sure as hell could ride a bike, though, and each time the pack surged he easily kept the pace. The longer the race lasted, and the longer he lasted, the more pissed off I got. “Who does he think he is, crashing our race?”

Each time I thought that, he would put on another display of bike magic, squelching my urge to ride up and say something to him. “Dude can fucking ride a bike, sure enough.”

With half a lap to go, all hell broke loose, with the wheelsuckers charging freshly to the fore, the fried wankers giving it their all to keep from getting dropped, the canny sprinters slotting into position, and the handful of spectators screaming what sounded like “Ugghhgooattlexphlllmzxooooo!” as we shot by at warp speed.

The magical moment when the wheels come off the cart

It’s in these final moments of a bike race that you are living on the razor’s edge of insanity, alone, but separated from the idiots all ’round you by nothing more than chance. It’s shorebirdy, almost, with nothing making sense, yelling, grunting, hands pushing people out of the way, hunched shoulders squeezing wide bars between too-narrow gaps, narrow rubber strips of rubber slinging from side to side, and everyone thinking the same thing: “Don’t fucking crash, but for fuck’s sake hold the wheel, don’t gap out, and go faster!”

The union of opposites, where the fear of catastrophe is perfectly blended with the thirst for meaningless glory, cancels out the risk of death with the benefit of knowing you’ve gone as hard as your spindly legs will carry you.

Then it was over, like sex, and I was shuddering across the line, cruising along as my lungs and legs and brain caught up with my heart, eventually pointing my bike into the parking lot where the banter had already begun: Who did what when to whom and man, that was HARD.

The dude without the number was laughing and backslapping with Steve Hegg and Johnny Walsh and Suze Sonye and Rahsaan, and I felt pretty stupid when I realized it, and felt even happier at having kept my stupid mouth shut: Nelson Vails don’t need no fucking number.

How to beat Rich

August 5, 2012 § Leave a comment

Every pre-race team meeting this year by every team in Southern California began with the same question. “How’re we gonna beat Meeker?”

Everyone would then kind of stand around and draw circles in the dust with their big toe. “Uh, let’s attack him early and win out of a break.”

“He always marks those.”

“Let’s take him with us in the break, then.”

“He can outsprint anyone in the break.”

“Let’s chase all the breaks, including his, and lead our guy out for a field sprint.”

“He always wins the field sprint, remember? He’s the fastest guy in the nation for his age group in the crit.”

“Well, let’s let him dangle off the front, then run him down towards the end when he’s all tired from working in the break, and then we’ll crush him in the sprint.”

“We tried that at the states road race, remember? He was off the front for 45 miles, we brought him back, and he still won the sprint.”

“Hey, I’ve got an idea! Let’s send him to London for a few weeks!”

So Rich went off to London to watch the Olympics with his pal Chris Horner, and while he was gone other good riders got to shine. Then he came back.

The secret to beating Rich Meeker in a crit

Today we learned that the secret weapon in stopping Rich from winning is by getting to the guy who glues on his front tire. If you can get to that guy, you’ve suddenly got a chance.

The Brentwood Grand Prix takes place in the global center of hot chicks, fake boobs, guys in Ferraris, Schwarzeneggers, OJ Simpson (before he got life without parole), and the full on West LA vibe. Is your region’s signature event in a place called Hooterville? Is your best crit of the year in an office park?

Brentwood GP happens along a tight, technical little course with a couple of grinding bumps, fast tailwind, hard headwind, and oh-fuckit turns that test your ability to actually handle a bike. Of course, there’s always at least one guy in any crit who is so terrible, jerky, sketchy, twitchy, and unable to control his bike that I’m terrified shitless throughout the race. To make matters worse, that guy is invariably me.

John Hatchitt, our strategy guru, chaired the team pre-race planning session. “We got seven guys. Alan won San Marcos last weekend convincingly. If we play our cards right we can win this one, too.”

“What about Meeker?” I asked.

“Here’s the plan. Wanky, you will get dropped after the first couple of laps, then pulled. So we need to make maximal use of your 150-watts of incredible power. When the gun goes off, hit the front and string it out.”

“Then what?”

“It will give you a chance to crash on the first or second turn before people have gotten too tired to avoid you. Rondash, Frias, Harry, and I will stay towards the front, cover any moves, and keep Alan in position in case Meeker rolls off.”

“How’s he gonna beat Meeker?” I asked.

Several dudes glowered at me. “Then, with two or three to go, we’ll get Taylor up into position for the finish, along with Alan if he’s not off the front.”

“But what about…”

I never finished the question, as my teammates sped off to the line.

Breaking bad. Really, really bad.

The race started at a torrid pace, with everyone hustling to get to the first turn, a 180-degree pivot that went up a little bump and then dove down through a chicane and onto a wide straightaway. As we went through the first turn I heard behind me the grinding, skidding, cursing, smashing, banging, whanging, panic-inducing sound of some wanker falling on his ass.

The sound scared me so badly I jumped hard and raced away, dragging the pack behind me for a solid forty or fifty amazing yards. As I swung over, Meeker came through breathing fire and hand grenades at a speed normally reserved for things with large internal combustion engines.

Fifteen minutes into the 50-minute event I was hauling through the start-finish with Hatchitt in hot pursuit of a $150 prime. Steve Klasna, who needed gas money just as badly as I did, powered by with a hard surge. “Fuck,” I thought. “He can have the money, because I got cheered by Christine Reilly, who distinctly yelled ‘Dig deep, Wanky!’ as I zipped through the turn before the finish.”

I had wanted to tell her that if I dug any deeper I’d be in China, but the recent shortage of oxygen in the Brentwood area made that impossible.

The peloton paused after Klasna took the prime, and I rocketed 75 slots back to check on some of my good friends and make sure they were okay. One of them was a dude in a black kit with a giant red license tag hanging from his seat rails that said “Handicapped.” Some shit even I can’t make up.

Meeker then “rolled off the front,” which is what people say when someone jacks away from the wankoton so hot and hard that you couldn’t catch them with 200-lb. test and a fishhook prime of hookers and blow. It was classic Meeker: you take the prime, I’ll take the vee.

They don’t make Yugos any more

This was the critical moment in every race where the contenders, the wannabes, the couldbeens, the oughtahaves, the shouldacouldas had to either man up, put their heads down, and close the gap in the teeth of a headwind or do what bike racers do best: look at each other and say, “You go!”

To which the other dude says, “Fuck that. You go.”

By which time the 30mph gap means you will have to go 32mph without the cozy protection of all the people whose wheels you’ve been sucking for the entirety of the race.

Alan, never a fan of the Yugo, instead hopped into his Igo, and bridged. Klasna tried, but was winded from his gas money effort. Various other riders tried, but in a flash Hatchitt and Meeker’s teammate Roger Worthington came to the front and began doing “efforts” that were just slower than the break, allowing their teammates to establish and then build on their lead, but going fast enough that no one wanted to chase.

Although the gap yo-yoed, at one point getting down to ten seconds when Frank Schroeder and his merry band of assassins tried to close the gap, the constant teamwork of SPY and Amgen, and the iron legs of Flores and Meeker, meant that the break succeeded.

With five laps to go I knew it was my turn to move to the front so I could help with a last lap lead-out. I sprinted down the straightaway as hard as I could, using my last ounce of power, and in a flash had moved up from 76th to 73rd. So much for that. The only thing that remained was for Meeker to beat Alan in the sprint and for someone else to close the field sprint clusterfuck.

When tires go bad

On the bell lap, however, a miracle happened. The closer, the state road champ, the state crit champ, the national crit champ, the badass who doesn’t just bring home the bacon but brings home the entire pig, Rich Meeker himself came red-hot into the next to last turn and rolled a tire.

Fortunately, although Rich is now five pounds lighter from skin loss, he wasn’t badly hurt. Even more fortunately for team SPY, it meant that our closer, Alan Flores, got to roll across the start-finish first, hands held high for a zillion meters.

Race notes:

1. Suze Sonye cracked out an impressive win in the Pro/1/2/3 race, capping her season with win number 389. Apparently all those beatdowns on the NPR are paying off. Oh, waitaminnit. She’s been one of the winningest chick bike racers in SoCal since she was in kindergarten.

2. Emily Georgeson nailed down an awesome win in the women’s Cat 3 race. What a badass. And a cuteass.

3. Shai Oved, the La Grange dude who discovered all those flying snakes in Austin, got 2nd in his Cat 4 race for two weeks in a row. Props!

4. There’s some club called FFKR Architects Racing. Like, how do they pronounce that? “Yo, we ride for fucker archictets,” or something?

5. Rider Unknown took first in the Cat 3 race. Way to go, Rider!

6. Teammate Tait Campbell got second behind Rider. Nice weekend for SPY!

7. Monster Media snagged four out of the top ten in the 35+. I watched it for a couple of laps but it made me ill to watch, they were going so fast. My buddy Aaron Wimberley got eleventh, after telling me on Thursday, “Dude, your attacks are like watching a big blue bus leave the bus stop. They’re slow as shit and everybody’s on it, including the fat guy with a walker. You need to learn how to accelerate.”

8. My other buddy, Josh Alverson, who normally rides for Bike Palace, raced the 35+ event for team Poor Number Placement. I hope they have a good bro deal or something.

9. Amy Hutner gave me an awesome hug after my race. It’s so wrong that bigamy is illegal in California.

10. Pischon Jones was one of the few big boy sprinters to gut out this tough course in the Cat 3 race. Nice job, even though you were cramping like a dog.

11. Tink learned that when you have no teammates, and the course is relatively flat, you can’t ride fifty good racers off your wheel. She did, however, put on a toughness clinic.

12. Today’s race was marked by the absence of Greg Leibert. If he’d been in the 45+ race, there’s no doubt that he or Klasna would have made the break with Rich and Alan.

13. Greg St. Johns showed up and shot photos. This is like having Picasso show up and sketch the fruitbowl on your dining room table.

14. CyclingIllustrated.com was there in force and with live HD streaming of the race. This will become a standard before long. JB is always on the cutting edge, and not happy unless it’s the best.

15. The people and machines who put on the BWGP did a phenomenal job. If every crit were like this–challenging course, beautiful little village with restaurants and shops so that people could watch the action up close while eating a hamburger gut bomb–cycling would p*wn NASCAR like pole dancing p*wns curling.

Glory roll call

July 17, 2012 § 5 Comments

Notes from the Bay

Will he bring it home?
Last year’s 45+ state road champ and this year’s runner up, Jeff Konsmo, is gunning for national glory in Bend this year. Spotted atop Via del Monte this morning at 6:00 AM, he’s in climbing mode and looking for a stars-and-stripes jersey to join his Vlees Huis butcher knife on the mantel. We’ve got our fingers crossed!

Will HE bring it home?
Charon Smith celebrated his 12th win on Sunday, handily smacking the shit out of a stacked field of contenders. Is there anyone in the country who can beat him? We’ll find out at nationals, when Charon heads north to put together all the moving parts of what has so far been a fantastic 2012 campaign.

Emissary from the Clan of the Swamis
Stephen Lavery got up in San Marcos at 4:00 AM, left at 4:30, and joined us for this morning’s NPR at 6:40 sharp. He promised to take word back south confirming that our little morning beatdown is in fact a beatdown. He made an honorable showing on behalf of the smurfs–noted! He also extended an invitation for a cultural exchange program, whereby emissaries from the South Bay travel to North County to partake of their Tues/Thurs rites. The offer has been accepted. Details to follow.

The pros are different from you and me
Jelly Belly pro Sergio Hernandez has been in town this week, and in addition to stomping dicks at the P/1/2/3 race in Carson on Sunday, he showed up on the NPR and blistered everyone’s balls, even the girls’. Then, because he is a cool dude, he hung out on the bricks, drank coffee, and signed autographs. Wish you’d come back to the South Bay, Sergio!

Heal up, guys!
Local tough guy Mike Davis, Sr., down in a crit when a wanker who wasn’t even supposed to be in the race smashed into him from the rear (head down sprint style), leaving Mike with road rash and a busted frame. Heal up! Rahsaan Bahati, recovering from a procedure that sounded gnarly in the extreme. Heal up! Heal up! Dave W., recovering from tough neck surgery that’s going to have him back at 100% and Going to the Front!

Super tough gal of the week
Suze Sonye throws down with the P/1/2 race in Carson on Sunday, all 80 minutes of it. How impressive is that? She never missed a beat, except for the couple of times she drifted back to the rear to encourage me. Same props to the other couple of chicks in that race. Guys were frying and popping off the back right and left…not Suze! Oh, and to the douchebag who told her to “get out of the way”: you are a douchebag. Just sayin’.

Some people
Rich Meeker won another state title on Sunday, another crit, and put on another clinic of “how to ride against 100 wankers and win.” I need to FB him and find out how many races he’s won this year. He’s a lock for nationals, crit, or the road. You heard here first what everyone already knows. Oh, and Rich was very cool when I mixed up him and Malcolm Hill in a photo caption, but hey, it’s not my fault. I’ve never actually seen either of those guys, or anyone from Amgen, from the front.

Hero in our midst
Chilling at the back of the 45+ wankoton I got to work on my taxes and chat with Keith Ketterer. If you’re in SoCal you probably know that he recently set the hour record for his age category. The hour record…incredible. But he’s still modest and nice enough to chat with a wanker who mistakenly called him “Roger.” Story coming soon on this amazing athlete and all-round good guy.

Me, my brother, and my bike

June 27, 2012 § 22 Comments

Yesterday’s New Pier Ride was dedicated to my brother, who took his life on June 16, 2012. Slightly more than seventy people rolled out from the Manhattan Beach Pier at 6:40 AM. By the time we turned onto Westchester Parkway, the peloton was easily a hundred strong.

Christine Reilly, Stella Tong, Greg Leibert, Lauren Mulwitz, Joe Yule, Vickie VanOs Castaldi, Izzie VanOs Castaldi, Chris Gregory, Tink, Suze Sonye,  Jay Yoshizumi, Brian Perkins, Gus Bayle, Rahsaan Bahati, Cary Alpert, Sarah Mattes, Greg Seyranian, Dara Richman, and David Perez brainstormed and got the word out so that people were at the Pier well in advance of the start time. Vickie and Greg took the sixty-five handmade armbands, beautifully lettered by Izzie with “R.I.P. Ian, ’62-’12” and tied one to each person’s arm. Then Dave Kramer introduced Greg, who made a short, moving, and beautiful speech about my brother, someone he had never met.

I then clipped in and led us out onto the bike path. Once I pulled off and floated to the back, I was overcome by the sight of the countless yellow armbands fluttering in the breeze. My friends had done this for me, as well as people I’d never even met, like Emily and her boyfriend Chris, who came over from the west side just to be there. Others who couldn’t make it like Dara and Laurie were there in spirit, and still others showed up at TELO in the evening and shared their sympathies and condolence. I’ll never be able to repay any of them.

It’s a very good debt to owe, forever.

Girls and bikes

I got into cycling as a result of my brother, indirectly. His second year of high school he got in a horrific fight with my mom about the car. Our parents had divorced a couple of years before, and it was the kind of hateful, acrimonious, bitter divorce that paralyzes the kids and poisons your life for the next few decades, like battery acid in the ice cream. Ian was tired of fighting over the car and one day he went out and bought a black

Fuji touring bike. It cost $300, an incomprehensible amount of money.

Going from a Jeep Golden Eagle Cherokee to a bicycle? I had one conclusion: “Dork.”

Within a couple of weeks, though, I discovered the source of his inspiration. His girlfriend was a cyclist, and they biked everywhere together. “Whatever,” I thought. “He’s still a dork.”

Then a couple of weeks after that I began to hear moaning and groaning coming out of his bedroom. This was way before Internet porn. This was awesome, and he was a dork no more. “What a stud!” I thought. “That bike deal is pretty cool!”

Buses and bikes

Although I didn’t rush out and get a bike to aid in the quick dispatch of my virginity, the idea remained that bikes were cool. This was partly because Ian had let me test ride his Fuji a few times, and it was so different from the rusted out Murray that I’d used for three years to commute to Jane Long Junior High that it hardly felt like a bicycle.

My freshman year in college at the University of Texas, 1982, my parents refused to let me have a car. I lived in the Village Glen Apartments out on Burton, six or seven miles from campus, and had to take the shuttle bus, which in those days was run by union-busting Laidlaw. They employed only hippy stoners from the 60’s and 70’s to drive the buses, and paid just enough to keep the hippies in weed, ensuring that there would never be any unionizing.

The Village Glen was one of the last bus stops on the Riverside Route before getting on I-35 and going to campus, so in the morning the buses were often full. That meant having to get out to the bus stop extra early, as the first bus or two rarely had room for even one more passenger. One morning in October I was standing in the rain waiting for the bus. The first one passed me and splashed me. The second one passed me. The third one roared by with an “Out of Service” sign on the front.

I screamed at the driver and flipped him off. He braked. I’d never seen a whole bus go sideways. Out bounded the raging hippy, fists balled and murder in his eyes. If I hadn’t been so tiny and petrified he would have killed me. Instead he screamed. “How about I beat you into a fucking pulp you snotnosed little fuck?” he roared.

“Uh, I, I, I’m really sorry. Please don’t kill me!” I begged.

“You ever fucking give me any attitude on a bus I’m driving I’ll break you in half you little prick. They don’t pay me enough in this shit job to put up with bullshit from spoiled little assholes like you!”

“Yes, sir,” I mumbled.

[To crack dealer] “So, should I start using crack?”

I had to wait another twenty minutes in the cold, pelting rain. During those twenty minutes I went from being grateful that I’d get to school with all of my teeth to angry at being a bus sheep. My resentment built throughout morning classes and exploded in an epiphany when my last course finished at noon. “I’m gonna buy a fucking bike, just like my brother did! Fuck Laidlaw! Fuck that hippy stoner fucker! Fuck the rain!”

I practically ran down 24th Street to Freewheeling Bicycles and Crackhouse, where I realized something else after walking the aisle. “Fuck, I’m broke!”

Fortunately, Uncle Phil Tomlin had just the bike for me, a Nishiki International with Suntour derailleurs, Dia Compe brakes, and Sugino cranks. At a paltry $375.00, I’d be able to easily afford it as long as I didn’t eat in November. Food or bike? It was an easy choice, especially with Uncle Phil kindly and professionally assisting me with my first bikecrack purchase.

The rest is history, and a year later I’d already been voted “Most Likely to be Killed by a Car or Truck” by my riding buddies. 1984 was my breakout year, when I dominated the Bloor Road to Blue Bluff Time Trial and won a coveted Laverne and Shirley board game for first place. The thirty years after buying that first bike have flown by, and somehow I’m still riding with the same happiness and joy as the day I pedaled that Nishiki out of the Freewheeling parking lot.

This is gonna hurt me and it’s gonna hurt you

So this thing that has given me more joy and happiness, this thing that has surrounded me with friends who are often closer than family, is a gift from my brother. I thought about that while Greg spoke. He paid me the ultimate compliment in the process, saying that they had come to honor my brother because without him, I wouldn’t be part of their community.

There’s no other way to say this than to say I felt more loved than I have ever felt in my life. Sweaty, muscled men threw their arms around me, and sweaty, muscled, beautiful women did, too, each one saying something that sounded like love, regardless of the words. And as proof that these weren’t just empty phrases, when we hit the bottom of Pershing they went so hard so fast that I was almost blinded by the pain.

“This one,” Jaeger said as he came by with the ferocity of a jungle beast, “is for Ian.”

There’s a place for gentleness and for camaraderie; it’s called the bricks on the Manhattan Beach Starbucks after the ride. The New Pier Ride itself is a place for the unbridled beatdown, the relentless attacking into the wind, the crushing of the weak by the strong.

“Memorial lap in silence?”

“Fuck you, dude.”

“Give ol’ Wankmeister the win?”

“Over my dead body. He wouldn’t want it and I wouldn’t give it.”

Suffice it to say that today I was the weak, and others were the strong, and the law of the jungle prevailed, as it always should. But even though I was the weak and struggled at the end, I didn’t get crushed. I got carried along by the unlikeliest thing of all, a raft of soft yellow ribbons floating in the breeze.

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