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.

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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