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.”
“Nope. You want respect, you gotta pin your number on right.”
“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?”
“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?”
“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? 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.”
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February 10, 2013 § 17 Comments
Last night Spivey and I prepped for our first BWR recon ride of 2013 by eating sausage, noodles, cooked intestines, gristle, rice broth, kimchi, strips of fatty beef, cabbage, and miso. Yes, there was dessert. Yes, it involved ice cream. Yes, we shouldn’t have. No, we did. The result? 4:00 AM today came real fucking early.
We got to Encinitas a little after seven. It was cold. We had coffee at the Lofty Bean. Spivey had a triple organic chocolate fudge brownie cake croissant tart. “My lady love has me on a new healthy diet,” he said. “So I have to cheat like hell whenever I can. Want to grab a double-cheese stuffed pizza with sausage after the ride?”
“No,” I said. I was concentrating on a growler of oatmeal and coffee, topped off by more coffee with extra coffee on top.
The plan was to do the SPY slugfest from RIDE Cyclery, then regroup and tack on 50-60 miles of the Belgian Waffle Ride in order to review some of the new dirt/mud/water crossing sections that have been added for 2013. Spivey and I got to RIDE Cyclery and were joined by the usual collection of misfits, lardkettles, and doomed-to-a-nasty-shelling wankers who habitually show up for this weekly beatdown only to get, of course, beaten down.
In addition to the thick and sagging cannon fodder, there was a mighty contingent of heroes, listed below, with the tail-dragging, weakest wanker listed last.
- Thurlow Rogers a/k/a The Hand of God a/k/a THOG
- Michael Marckx a/k/a MMX a/k/a “Yes, sir.”
- Brian Zink
- Lars Finanger
- Erik Johnson
- Steven Davis
- David Anderson
- Ryan Dahl
- Caitlin Laroche
- Harold Martinez a/k/a King Harold
- Josh Alverson a/k/a Gearhead
- Kelsey Mullen
- Dave Gonyer
- Michael Williams
- Katja the Awesomeness
- Josh Goldman
- Anthony Vasilas
- Andy Schmidt
- Tait Campbell
- Brent Garrigus
- Paul Douville
- Jim Miller
- Jimmy, Dude in DDS Kit
- Marc Spivey
- Stabbing Rollers
Coming in hot
It seemed like a terrible idea, mostly for me, to start the recon with the weekly SPY Saturday beatdown ride. The reason? It’s really hard to have a good 50-60 mile recon ride after you’ve been shelled and shattered and mutilated and ground into powder on a 20-mile “warm up.”
We came up the first stabbing climb in the neighborhood so hard that about one-third of the wankoton evaporated in the first 300 yards. Spivey’s chocolate tart decided to lock horns with the pig intestines and the forty or so pounds of “cheating” that were still “hanging around,” and he kicked things in high reverse with the next acceleration of the group, not to be seen again for a few zip codes.
I’ve done this stupid ride several times now, and it always hurts worse than the time before, and I always swear I’ll never to it again. Today I faced the reality of getting dropped for good on the neighborhood climb, and just as I started explaining to myself how awesome it would be to grab Spivey, do a u-turn, fuck this stupid bicycle stuff, and go back to Lofty Bean for a second (and third) round of chocolate tarts, up came Caitlin.
“Hey, Wankster! Glad to see you!”
I cursed her silently. She wasn’t even breathing hard. Bitch. “Uh. Ugggh. Ahh,” I said.
“Glad you’re here to show me where the turns are! I don’t know the route!”
I wanted to tell her that I’d be happy to act as tour guide but she’d be doing it off the back, but at that moment the torrid pace relented, I caught my breath, then caught my legs, and somehow made it to the top of the climb. The group had crumbled into less than half of the eighty or so who rolled out.
Spivey caught us at the light, but the next push up Rancho Santa Fe spit him out the back again to do battle with the chocolate/intestine/noodle/Haagen-Dasz mixture that had become so toxic to the up-and-down motion of his legs.
Full gas ’til midnight
MMX, THOG, Lars, Brian, Ryan, and Erik kept pushing the pace up San Elijo to Elfin Forest Rd., with more little fritters wrapped in soft and chewy dough frying and popping in the heated oil, then bounding off the back where they were gobbled up and quickly digested by the twelve-headed beast known as Ego Devouring Reality.
I kept staring down at my legs, which did nothing but turn slowly and burn as if they were roasting on a spit, and then stare up at Caitlin and Katja, and curse them silently as they went easily with each and every hard surge. When we finally got onto Elfin Forest Rd. I sat up and drifted to the back for some additional wheelsucking and rest, when I discovered that I already was the back, “back” meaning “last fucking wanker in the slaughterhouse,” and it was only with great mashing of panicky pedals that I reattached.
Spivey was so far back now that he’d radioed ahead for coffee and donuts at the church a few miles up the road.
When we did reach the church I’d learned several secrets of the ride, the most important being that if you wanted to meet and greet and learn the names of the Swami’s dudes, you had to go to the back. Those wankers had such an allergy to the point that I thought they’d been imitating me. I mean, the back end of the peloton was pure Swami’s blue, with one lone SPY jersey (mine) to dishonor the otherwise manly and womanly work of the team.
At the church we regrouped and waited for the detritus while taking turns urinating in the parking lot, urinating by the dumpster, urinating in the bushes, urinating in plain view, urinating by the fence, and urinating over by the swingset, which was vacant, otherwise certain riders would now be wearing orange jumpsuits and frantically calling 1-800-BAIL-BND.
Spivey limped in ten minutes later looking like he’d finally come to terms with the chocolate and the intestines, but still had an outstanding issue or two with the noodles and the ice cream. His face was an odd shade of gray, somewhere between near-death and a two week-old corpse.
“Where’s the donut shop?” he asked.
I shrugged. “Back in Encinitas, maybe.”
Running on empty
I could tell from the minute we left the church parking lot that my ride was over. My legs stung with that leaden sensation on every little riser, and we were going slow. Brent came up to me. “That was fast. PR fast.”
I felt a little bit better about having been on the rivet from the beginning to the end, but worse as I contemplated doing the rest of the ride completely gassed.
We picked up the BWR route on Summit, which hurt beyond belief. It hurt me, anyway. Chris Williams laughed when he heard me wheezing. “Easy, hoss!” he said.
King Harold, who hadn’t cracked a sweat yet, tried to make small talk. “So you and Spivey had a big meal last night?”
I ignored him as we turned down the little dirt section before the climb up Bandy Canyon. Just the tiny undulations of the dirt sapped what little I had left. I sat up. Dave Gonyer slipped back to take my pulse.
“I’m done. Don’t wait for me,” I deja-vu’d him.
“Nah, I’m waiting.” Gonyer never leaves the corpse of a teammate on the field of battle.
I got surly. “No, dude, really, I’m done. Go on.” My speed had dropped to a few mph. He could see the prow of the bony ship settling beneath the waves.
“You know the way home?”
“Sort of. But I’m in my own private hell. Thanks for waiting, but get up there. I’m done.”
He nodded and rejoined the group as they pulled away. Spivey looked back, gleefully, then receded with the group. Revenge, as he well knew, is best served at the bottom of a steep canyon climb on blown legs miles and miles from home in a cold headwind on unknown roads.
New dirt, old dirt, new hell, old hell
The group proceeded to do the new dirt section at Little Dieguito River, and conquered the old dirt at Questhaven, with a few intrepid souls (including that bastard Spivey) manfully charging all the way up Double Peak as the others wisely opted to finish the ride without swallowing that final live scorpion in the tequila bottle.
But they did it all without me. I limped back to Encinitas as broken and slow and beatdown and crushed as I’ve been since…the last time I did a BWR recon ride. As I tried to determine the source of my collapse, I identified all the likely causes:
- Still hadn’t recovered from Boulevard the week before.
- I’m weak.
- Pace on the first part of the ride was too brutal.
- I’m slow.
- Night before gluttony had sapped me of the will to do battle.
- I’m not very good.
- Three hours of sleep had deprived me of recovery.
- I really suck.
Back at the car I rendezvoused with Paul and then Marc. Paul had been towed home by Tait. Marc had been shepherded by Jim, and was euphoric at my epic collapse. In the car ride back to LA he gloriously recounted his conquests to Dan Cobley, neglecting to mention any of the difficulties he’d encountered when the sledgehammer was applied to his nuts at the beginning of the ride
“That was kind of a one-sided recounting,” I said.
He grinned. “Everybody has an angle, buddy, and I have mine.”
“Is our next stop gonna involve a double-stuffed cheese pizza with sausage and Canadian bacon?” I asked.
“You know it!” he said.
And it did.
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…”
“It’s going to be one long, miserable year.”
July 21, 2012 § 8 Comments
This dude I’m not friends with on FB posted the results of the USCF national individual time trial championships from 1982. I was eighteen, had not yet started college, and had not yet bought my first road bike.
Scanning down the list was awesome. Names from the present were right up near the top–Thurlow Rogers, Steve Hegg–and other, less famous names of people I knew well and/or raced against stared were there as well. Texans Stan Blanton, Terry Wittenberg, and Lone Star transplants Bob Lowe and Andy Coggan were all on the list. Each one of those guys was tough, and fast, and tough. Did I mention they were all really fucking tough?
It didn’t take long for my eye to wander over to the winning time, 55:10.52. In 2012 the USA Cycling national ITT winning ride was by Dave Zabriskie, 40:41.44 over a shorter 35k distance in a race that was contested by US professionals racing for UCI trade teams. Those 1982 guys included the top US amateurs, but no UCI professionals.
In thirty years the races couldn’t have become more different. That event in 1982 looked nothing like the one in 2012 in virtually any respect.
Compare that to the 10k distance in track. In 1982 Alberto Salazar held the American record in the 10k at 27:42. Today, the American record is held by Galen Rupp, at 26:48, a thirty-year improvement of less than four percent. Those apples can easily be compared to the apples of 1982.
My first contre-le-montre
In 1984 I did the Texas state ITT west of Houston, and turned a 1:04. I flew out into the tailwind, blew up after the first ten miles, then slogged back into the headwind, a textbook case of how not to ride a time trial. Even so, there were plenty of people who went a lot slower than that. I still remember the guys who could break an hour were demi-gods. A time trial bike meant one without water bottles in the cages, or 32 spokes instead of 36.
In 2005 I did another 40k ITT, this one also outside Houston, in Katy. I still had the same bike configuration from 1985, but everyone else rode full TT everything. I turned a 1:05 or maybe it was a 1:04. Compared to the people I was racing against this was so slow as to merit incredulity. It didn’t make any difference that in twenty years I’d not lost much, perhaps because there hadn’t been a lot to begin with.
I’m afraid it’s mostly about the bike
A winning state TT time over 40k these days can be expected to break 56 minutes. Although drugs unquestionably play a role, what remains to explain the newfound speed is aero technology. The cumulative effects of disc wheels, slippery clothing, helmets, shoe covers, tire technology, aerodynamic frames, and radically improved body position mean that people go faster today because they have, quite literally, purchased the speed to do so.
Of course the people who win still have to suffer like dogs.
Looking at those results from 1982 made me think that there is something more impressive about a 40k ITT with minimally aerodynamic equipment than going ten minutes faster with all the trick stuff. Andy Paulin smashing into the wind, all six feet five inches of him, without a helmet or disc to help with the effort…something about that makes you admire the man and covet his ability rather than making you want to purchase his rig and his wheelset.
Which, frankly, is how it ought to be.
July 11, 2012 § 7 Comments
Upcoming event for SoCal racers: The First Annual Pose Training Camp for Bike Racers
Where: CBR Dominguez Hills Crit Course
Time: 8:00 AM – Noon
Instructors: Charon Smith, Rahsaan Bahati, Rich Meeker, Cory Williams, Dave Perez, Justin Williams, Greg Leibert, Thurlow Rogers
Participant Ability Level: Pretty low
What You’ll Learn: Nothing is more important than the pose you strike when crossing the finish line. Whether it’s a first place finish or a well-earned 48th, friends, family, and the event photographer will be on hand to watch you conquer that 45-minute (or less) epic battle with fate. Tired of scrolling through those event photos only to find pictures of yourself with your head drooped over the bars, tongue lolling out, eyes crossed, and shoulders hunched in defeat? This training camp will help you find the best pose for your scrapbook so that you’ll look striking and stunning and championish after you’ve Photoshopped out the fifty or sixty people in front of you. You’ll leave this seminar able to do all of the following poses:
“The Godzilla”–Charon Smith will arc his massive arms and show you how to growl as if you were actually good enough to leave the competition snarling and snapping for second…without falling down!
“The Vaporglide”–Rahsaan Bahati will help you master the look of crossing the finish line at 50 mph while stifling a yawn (even though you’ll only be doing about 18 and weaving your way around that ten-man Cat 5 pile-up)…”Yo, was that the line? Shoot, I was just gettin’ ready to sprint…guess I didn’t really need to.”
“The Bricklayer”–Rich Meeker will demonstrate how to make your finish line pose look like the gnarliest manual labor since Dog invented the post-hole digger. Rough, serviceable, workmanlike, this is the look for every wanker who’s wanted to outclimb, outsprint, out time-trial, and outsmart the competition just like Rich…but simply can’t.
“The Jet Set”–Cory Williams will lay down the pose that made horizontal, black-striped socks famous. This is the pose when you want everyone to not just marvel at the fifteen bike lengths between you and second place, but at your sockwear as well. You’ll still look stupid in your Texas flag socks, but with your legs at the right angle you might look 1/10,000,000 as cool as Cory. Might.
“Rican Pride”–Dave Perez will illustrate the color-coordinated finish line pose that blends together terribly ugly colors that only look good when they’re going so fast you can’t see them. As an added bonus, he’ll teach you how to tell the barista your name is “Rico Suave” after ordering your double-white chocolate-soy-milk-decaf-raspberry-herbal-tea-frappucino.
“I Don’t Think He’s at this Race”–Justin Williams will provide participants with multiple ways to cross the line in such a way that people won’t even know you were at the race because you’re moving too fast to see. Wait, this might not be the pose for you because, you know, you’re so fucking slow that you got dropped by that fat dude with the triple chin.
“Happy You’re Dead”–Greg Leibert will introduce the smiling finish pose where everyone will think you’re a nice guy even though you just decimated the best racers in the state and gave them a dick stomping they’ll never forget. You’ll learn to say “Good job!” to the catatonic wanker who missed the last turn and launched headfirst into the fry-0-later inside Pepe’s Burrito Wagon.
“Wake Me When It’s Over”–Thurlow Rogers won’t teach you shit, other than to get the fuck out of his way. He doesn’t give a good goddamn how he looks crossing the line…as long as he’s first. Which, by the way, he always is. The take-home from your session with THOG is this: First place always looks good.
Bonus instructional: Learn why bright colors on your shorts (white, red, yellow, green) create highlights along the contours of your dingaling so that everyone can see each bump, ridge, and vein in that shrimpy li’l feller, and why black-colored shorts do a great job of hiding lots more than road grime.
February 13, 2012 § Leave a comment
I’m 40 now and thinking about upgrading but am afraid that it will be too hard and I won’t get a lot of podiums in the 3’s like I do now. Should I stay Cat 4 or should I go?
Upgrading is a serious step, and you should carefully weigh the pros and cons before rashly leaving the safety of the 4’s. I’m assuming, of course, that your idea of “safety” is to be surrounded on all sides by crashing idiots who think it’s normal to fall down heavily on the concrete every three or four races. Once you leave the 4’s, it’s a whole new ballgame: think Quidditch + pole dancing. The pressure in the 3’s is immense. You’re surrounded by athletes of the very highest caliber who, like you, have lofty goals. The commitment level is much higher. To really “make it” as a “pro” Cat 3 will require the hard sacrifices that come from hundreds of hours in the gym, 300-400 miles per week on the bike, serious weight loss and nutrition management, a (more expensive) personal coach, fully integrated power training techniques, and the investment in a bike “arsenal” that will allow you to select the optimal $15,000 rig for each race. You’ll also need to have a heart-to-heart discussion with your employer so that he/she knows your new priority is success as a “pro” Cat 3. You’ll have to get your significant other on the same page, too. For a few years, indeed, the foreseeable future, he/she and your children will have to accept that they’ll be seeing less of you. Much less. Which might be a good thing.
I just turned 45 and am really looking forward to racing in the 45+ category. It’s been rough sledding in the 5’s and I’m looking forward to kicking butt in some of those old man races. Any tips?
These races are very easy to win. There is an old fellow named Thurlow Rogers who typically shows up for these races. Just hop on his wheel and do whatever he does. Then at the end, pedal very hard until you go flying past him. You’ll win every race!
Ever since I started racing masters 35+ I can’t seem to frickin win anything. There’s this black dude who wins all the races. What’s up with that? I’m not a racist or anything, but how come he gets to win all the time? Can I downgrade or something? This frickin sucks.
That “black dude” is named Charon Smith. Don’t feel bad. White people can be successful, too. Sometimes. But there are barriers and obstacles they must first overcome. In your case, you must overcome the fact that you are slow and he is fast. For a wanker such as yourself, I recommend a lot of drugs and maybe a leg transplant. Next, you must overcome the fact that he is tough and savvy and you are pussy-ish and stupid. Finally, you must change the fact that you are are usually late for work due to hitting “snooze” four dozen times, whereas he’s usually up at 5:00 a.m. doing workouts in PV, up and down the Switchbacks. Plus you have to stop beating off so much.
I’m considering switching from Oakley’s top of the line Dorkus Buttscratcher frames to SPY Optic’s uber-rad Diablo performance cycling sunglasses. Thoughts?
SPY is to Oakley what Scott Dickson is to a first-time century rider.
I want to upgrade to Cat 2 so I can race against that Bahati guy. I’ve heard he’s not really that fast.
You don’t need to upgrade to test your legs against Rahsaan. Just show up on the Pier Ride and let him feel the sting of your Cat 3 legs. And you’re right. He’s not really that fast. He can be easily beaten by almost any stock unmodified motorcycle.
February 5, 2012 § 9 Comments
Everything was going fine. There we were, whizzing along at 46 mph in a tightly grouped bunch of grizzled codgers, when we rounded a modestly tight bend. Zing! Perky floated across the center line (bad), locked up the brakes (worse), and went flying headfirst into a tree (worstest).
A collective “Thank God it’s not me” shuddered through the peloton, as some of his Big Orange teammates looked caringly, with great briefness, in the direction of his crumpled body.
Suddenly, things no longer seemed fine, and a concatenation of worries flashed across my mind. “What am I doing here? Why are elderly men with prostate issues crashing their bikes into trees at just under 50 miles per hour? How am I going to get that embrocation off my balls?”
Then I realized: weird shit always happens at the Boulevard Social Hour.
Take a chance on me
The race stages a mile or so down the hill from the Golden Acorn Casino, which is a good name to symbolize the opportunities that await at the road race. The acorn is a tiny little booger, and even if it were solid gold would barely be worth a couple hundred bucks–about the prize money you could expect to win for one of the road race events if you took all top ten placings. And of course, for most of the 70 some-odd idiots who signed up for the 45+ race, the chance of winning was slimmer than getting a $25 payout at the Golden Acorn.
Unlike last year, where I planned a convincing win but instead got dropped halfway up the four-mile climb on the first lap, my goals for 2012 were more modest: finish the first lap with the leaders. Everything else would be gravy. And after watching Perky climb that tree on his bike, I added “finish without hitting a tree” to the list.
In the staging area, wedged between the double-wides and the single toilet for all 300 racers that had a 30-minute wait and a 2-year smell coming out of it, I took stock of the competition. There was the short fat guy in the painted on skinsuit. “What the fuck is that wanker doing here? Didn’t he get the memo about the 6-mile climb followed by the 4-mile climb followed by the paramedic tent? Idiot.”
There was the big, tall, fat guy lathered in tattoos and wearing a half-polka dotted maroon kit from Team Dude Chick. “Did he take a wrong turn looking for the transvestite bar? This is a fucking road race. A hard one. For hard men. Jesus.”
Over there was a gnome with crooked legs and triple-bent spine. “Fuck. The nursing home is back in El Cajon. Maybe they let him out of the Alzheimer’s ward for the day to play the slots and he wandered down here by mistake.”
These few minutes of rolling around in the bright sunshine reminded me that, sunshine or not we were still at 4,000 feet and it wouldn’t take much for the 60-degree weather to drop. Something like, say, a howling wind. Which there was.
The roar of a hundred men
Moments before the gun sounded, a Breakaway from Cancer rider shouted to us. “Hey! Listen up! Today is Glass Hip’s birthday! Let’s sing him a chorus of ‘Happy Birthday!'”
At first everyone thought it was a joke, and then the wisecracks started. “What about a chorus of ‘Hungry Like the Wolf” or “Nasty by Janet Jackson?”
After the jeers subsided, the 70 raspy voices broke into a half-hearted rendition of the birthday classic. Glass Hip, touched all the way down to his artificial joint, allowed as how he’d “never been more prettily serenaded by an uglier group of post-menopausal men.”
And off we went, about 30 of us to a bike race, another 39 of us to a one-or-two lap beatdown, and me to my doom.
A note to the makers of BonkBreaker
When we hit the bottom of the long climb on the first lap my legs felt great. A nasty acceleration at the front strung us out and summarily dropped everyone who hadn’t already quit or run into a tree. I smiled to myself. “Is this the best these alleged national and former world champions have? Puh-leeze.”
Halfway up the climb, almost exactly where I’d come off the year before, a rather unpleasant sensation began building up in my legs. In seconds it had spread to my lungs, throat, head, and finally my eyes. In a few more seconds I watched the lead group ride away.
It came to my attention that, without the shelter of the group, there was a vicious, horribly cold headwind. I crumpled as the long line of shellees pushed on by. After the world’s longest mile we reattached to the lead, and I remembered that part of my pre-game nutrition plan had been to eat one peanut butter BonkBreaker per lap.
The pace had slowed and I reached into my jersey and fished one out. I’m not sure why, but they are housed in ceramic-titanium wrapping, which is easy to open with a blowtorch, but impossible to tear into with your teeth.
Starving, terrified that a bonk was near, and too tightly wedged into the pack to take both hands off the bars (I could see the headline now: Cat 4 Wanker Loses Control of Bike Trying to Open Candy Wrapper, Kills Great American Cycling God Thurlow Rogers) I began to wrestle with the packaging.
The harder I bit and pulled, the more it didn’t open, until in desperation I was jerking so hard that I could feel my back molars start to give in their sockets. This headline wasn’t much better: 45+ Wanker Pulls All Rear Teeth Out of Gums in Epic Battle for Lump of Peanut Butter.
All this pulling with my teeth meant that no air had been getting to my lungs. Now it was either open the package or pass out. Miraculously the wrapper tore and in a flash I had half the thick, dry, lumpy treat in my mouth. A simultaneously massive inhalation almost rammed it down my windpipe, but at the last second I wrestled it over to the side of my mouth with my tongue.
The oxygen debt from the wrapper battle was huge, and I began gasping as I tried to gulp down enough air. Unable to chew, the spit soaked the brown lump and dissolved part of it. Before I could swallow the liquified part of the goop we hit the sharp climb through the aptly named “feed zone.”
Now on the tail of the lead and coming unhitched, it was impossible to do anything but gasp for air. Having gone to this much effort to get the BonkBreaker into my mouth, I wasn’t about to spit it out. Instead, the violent exhalations forced the dark brown spitgoop out of my mouth, along my cheeks and down my chin.
Thrust up against the line of shouting spectators, each person saw me from mere inches as I labored by. “Oh my God,” I heard one horrified woman say. “He’s vomiting up his own shit!”
The people in front of her on the hill looked as I came by, my face contorted in pain. A little boy looked, fascinated and happy, as the brown chunks began to spill out. “And he’s trying to swallow it back down, too!” This was perhaps the grimmest headline of all: 45+ Wanker Pukes up Own Feces, Re-Eats it to Survive Mindlessly Hard Road Race.”
That’s Mr. Gnome to you, Wanky
At the top of the feed zone the pack had left me. Again. And unlike last year, when I’d had a few dropaway companions to slog along with, this time I was alone with 42 miles to go and an impossibly freezing headwind to contend with. Suddenly, who should whiz by but the wizened gnome from the staging area. He was on a mission, and unbeknownst to him, part of his mission was about to include me.
I hopped onto his wheel and he lit into the downhill. The leaders were in sight and he was determined to catch. We raced into the stretch where the road began to rise again and there on the side of the road was a poor hapless sod from Big Orange, JF, changing a rear wheel on the side of the road. “Poor bastard,”I thought. “Gonna be flailing by himself the rest of the race. He’s never catching us.”
Mr. Gnomes railed us to within a couple of hundred yards of the pack and then swung over for me to close the last bit of pavement. I pulled heroically for a few seconds before my legs returned to their former rubbery state. He came through and charged as hard as he could, then popped, and the leaders vanished ’round the bend.
It was going to be a very long day, and I started thinking about starting up a conversation with Mr. Gnomes. Just as I’d hit upon an icebreaker, I heard the sound of whizzing carbon rims. In a flash we were passed by JF. I leaped for his wheel, realizing that he, too was on a mission, and it too, if properly utilized, could include me. Mr. Gnomes, after nobly helping me this far and sacrificing himself for a complete stranger, was left pitilessly behind.
We made it!
JF was going fast when he came by, but upon hitting the downhill he opened up the jets. Occasionally looking back to see if I would help with the effort, he soon realized that he was carrying the deadest of deadwood. Somehow Mr. Gnomes time trialed back on, and the two of them smashed and bashed and beat the pedals to a fare-thee-well, while I thanked them from the bottom of my heart.
After a couple of miles we started seeing the taillights from the motor just around the next curve, and another mile later the entire 45+ field was right there. A more beautiful sight I have never seen, and to make matters sweeter I had been dragged back up without having to do a lick of work. Mr. Gnomes was starting to pedal squares, but I figured I’d wait until they were proper triangles before relieving him.
We caught just at the railroad tracks, and the final effort up that sharp bump was too much for Mr. Gnomes, who shattered and fell back, never to see the leaders again. I felt deeply for him as I straggled onto the rear. Poor Mr. Gnomes. He was such a good fellow. And a hard worker. To be dumped mercilessly by a freeloading freddie just at the moment of success…it was almost too much for me to think about. So I didn’t.
A few seconds passed and the road began the first rise. The Tragedy of Gnomes evaporated from my mind and the Execution of Wanky, Act II, came to the fore. JF had caught his breath and then shot to the front. “That,” I said, “is exactly what I must do. Shoot to the front. Because it’s dangerous back here.”
I shot to the front, and relaxed in safety amongst the rainbow jersey and red-white-blue collars and sleeves. The road rose slightly. With a power and speed that amazed even me, I shot backwards again. And kept shooting, all the way out the back. For good. The pack rolled away.
Pleased to make your acquaintance
In the next few miles I became acquainted with a kindly gentleman who by day is a sociologist and statistician. We exchanged pleasantries before he dropped me and rode away. Two other riders came by. I tried to engage them in conversation, but they had better places to be than a windswept, barren desert climb with the sun quickly going down and hypothermia in the offing. On the long climb I was even passed by Ol’ Grizzles, the aged, mustachioed chap with densely furred legs. He encouraged me with a “Come on, buddy!” but he would have gotten a better reaction from one of the large boulders on the side of the road.
Back in the feed zone people eyed me strangely. I crested the hill and by came Mr. Gnomes. “Fuck this shit,” he said. “I’m done.”
With one whole lap to go, I was next passed by the leaders in the pro-1-2 field. Going up the next grade, the referee slowed down his motor. “The 1-2 field is coming.”
“Am I the last 45+?”
“What number is that? 500’s? Nah, they’re all over the course behind you.”
This was the shot in the arm that would get me around the course. With a hard enough effort I might place 26th! I sprinted up the climb and dropped into the long downhill. Along came the 1-2 field and the follow motor. Behind the follow motor was the short fat guy with the painted on skinsuit. I hopped on. We drafted the motor as long as we could, which wasn’t nearly long enough.
We crossed the railroad tracks and the fat guy dropped me. Next to come along was the tattooed rider from Team Dude Chick. He was in dude mode. Although he looked too big to get up the grade without a helium balloon, he was amazingly fast. Or I was amazingly slow. Or both. He, too, left me by myself before we could get a good lively conversation going. Quite unfriendly of him, it seemed.
About a thousand years later I finished. Incredibly, there were eight people slower and dumber than I. By now I was frozen to the bone, but not too frozen to stop and ask Glass Hip, who was changing a flat on his car, about the race that I had been in but not really been in.
Thurlow had won. G$ second. Glass Hip destroyed the remnants for third. JF got 8th. Glass Hip looked fresh and happy and relaxed, not like someone who’d just been to hell and decided to live there. “You okay, buddy? What’s that brown stuff all over your face? You need a doctor?”
“I’ll be fine. Thanks.” The temperature had fallen into the 30’s with the wind chill. It was almost dark. I stripped down in front of a double-wide then hopped into the car, cranking the heater full blast. I’d taken my two chances in the race, Mr. Slim and Mr. None, and wound up with the latter. I took that as an omen and rolled on past the Golden Acorn, sorely tempted as I was to try my luck there. It was a long drive home.