Race of the living dead, or, Torrance Crit 2013, 35+

August 13, 2013 § 15 Comments

The previous week we raced the Brentwood GP, set in the heart of glamorous West L.A., smack in the middle of the homes owned by the rich, the famous, the divorced, and those serving life sentences in Nevada. What could be better than a craft beer garden, silicone breasts galore, curbside cafes with froo-froo drinks and menu items that end in -eaux, -aises, and three digits to the left of the decimal?

Ah, Brentwood! Home to Brooke Shields, who swung by to check out the action, home to a fabled bike race intertwined with L.A.’s oldest and most respected cycle club and high-dollar payday for the fastest wheels in the West, all recorded with a Hollywood sound truck and 50-man crew from Time-Warner Cable.

But I digress …

Taking it down to the next level

This Sunday, with only a few races left on the 2013 road calendar, marked the running of the Torrance Crit, a race as different from Brentwood as a $5,000 hooker is from a jar of peanut butter. By the middle of August we were all completely exhausted and even sicker of bike racing than we were in January, which was very.

After seventeen races at which I spent an average of $75.00 per race (for a total of $1,275.00, plus $1,932.83 in equipment, clothing, beer, and lodging), I had already wasted — yes, wasted — $3,207.83 in order to garner an average race finish of 31.6th place. The good news was that after Brentwood I was clearly on an uptick in performance, having crossed the line in an almost impossibly good 19th place. If I could only keep doubling my results like that, I’d be winning in no time!

It would be the challenge of a lifetime to improve on the Brentwood finish here at Torrance, but I was up to it. At season’s end when others were running on fumes, I could feel victory, or at least 18th Place, coursing through my veins.

Killing for crumbs

As I looked around the starting line I realized what a profound mistake it had been not to sign up for the 45+ race in which I had a .000003% chance of winning instead of the 35+, in which my chance was zero. Around me the riders all looked youthful, strong, and fast, with the exception of Bart, who looked older than the rest of us put together but still beat me like a drum.

The only consolation I got was that they, like me, were sick to death of pedaling around ugly office parks with no hope of victory, and, like me, were here out of force of habit, like a heroin addict who inserts the needle with no hope of relief, but prays only for maintenance of low-level misery. Like me, they were desperately hoping and praying that now, at the end of the year, some miracle would occur that might deliver a victory — a moving van running amok on the course that ran over all the other riders, or a giant sinkhole that swallowed everyone but me, or, even more impossibly, a last-minute miscalculation by Charon, Hair, Wike, or the other habitual Alpha males of the SoCal crit scene. But the most hopeful omen of all was the absence of Tinstman and DiMarchi, who had gone off to Vietnam in order to test their intestines against the local cuisine, and their legs against that nation’s top riders.

Where Brentwood was tony and well-heeled, the Torrance crit was the impoverished cousin with the extra toe, a wind-swept, barren hellhole held on the Telo training crit course so infamous in the South Bay. The wind-tossed, pock-marked, rock-strewn frontside of the course was buffeted by the standard 25 mph headwind that blows off of the ocean every afternoon. The field had a meager 31 riders, meaning that the strategy of “hide, then hide some more” wouldn’t work.

The prize, though somewhat smaller than the $13,000 on offer at Brentwood, was still enough to make the racers willing to fight and kill for it. Such is the value of a tank of gas among the hopeless addicts of the Pro Masters Crit community. When our race began there was a collective sigh of relief as we all knew we were just a few minutes closer to the end of an already endless season, and therefore the chance of receiving a serious brain injury this year while riding through potholes at warp speed on skinny tires was ever so slightly reduced.

A recap almost as miserable as the ride

You know how, when you read a race recap, it’s filled with mindlessly boring descriptions of what various riders did throughout the entire fifty minutes, though it could and should best be summed up by William Stone’s immortal race reports, which are all the same? That is, “Someone won. The others did not.”

Well, this race report has two versions.

The Stonish version: Charon Smith won. The others did not.

The Wankmeister version: Grab yourself a beer. Settle into a comfy couch. Get ready for a long, boring, painful read.

Since it was going to be a long, miserable, windy, high-speed beatdown, my teammate Josh Alverson decided to play it conservatively by sitting in, resting, and hoarding his energies until the end of the first one hundred yards, at which point he attacked. Everyone was relieved to see him go, because of all the no-hope moves that anyone could have pulled, this was the no-hopiest.

Five laps later, Josh returned to the fold just in time for John Wike to attack. My game plan since the night before had been to sit in. Rest. Save everything for one hard attack with a couple of laps to go. Follow nothing. Try nothing. Remember that these were all young men and that I was a feeble and infirm elderly fellow with a leaky prostate, terrible vision, and a dislocated pancreas. Seek whatever shelter from the wind I could find. Stay far from the front. Never attack. Say “please” a lot.

So of course I jumped on Wike’s wheel, which is like saying, “I poked the guy in the eye who was wearing the hockey mask and carrying the chainsaw.” Wike’s an unusual fellow in that his ferocity has multiple sources. Most bike racers can only conjure up “the angry” from some early childhood beating, or having lost a thumb while cleaning the chain on a track bike, or getting beaten up and having their stamp collection taken away while walking home from Mrs. Broughton’s 4th Grade class at Braeburn Elementary in Houston.

Wike’s fury, though comes from the usual places plus his junkyard dog loyalty to his team. I overheard the whole team pre-race meeting. Charon and Wike and Special K were sitting under the tent.

Charon: What’s the plan today, boys?

Wike: You will win.

Charon: Okay, but what’s the plan?

Wike: I will chase down everything.

Special K: Dude, you can’t chase everything. We only have three guys. Nobody’s gonna help you.

Wike: Okay. I will chase almost everything. You chase the other one or two moves.

Charon: Sounds like a plan.

Fools rush in where Wike isn’t afraid to tread

Many people say that Wike has no fear, and they cite these two examples:

Example A: Wike set the downhill speed record for the Red Bull Challenge on Tuna Canyon in the Santa Monica Mountains, well in excess of 55 mph on a suicidal, twisting, gravelly, washed-out, off-camber descent of death, and he set it despite crashing, remounting, and hitting it full-gas all the way to the bottom.

Example B: Coming into the final 400 yards of a mass sprint that featured ex-Euro pros like Ivan Dominguez, Wike was glued to the wheel of the Cuban Missile. A young and hormone-crazed Cat 1 tried to bump Wike off the Missile’s wheel, at 35 mph. Wike casually looped his arm under the youngster’s, then hooked their two handlebars together as the speed increased. From six inches away, Wike looked coolly into the eyes of the terrified child. “If you try to take that wheel from me again … ” Wike paused for dramatic effect as the speed increased, the finish line approached, and the roar of crowd became deafening. ” … then we’re both going down.”

The punkster trembled, Wike unlocked arms and bars, and uncorked for the finish, which was so close they had to review it with a team of officials on video replay. The enormous clunk on the concrete when Wike got off his bike was the sound of his 300-lb. testicles, and they left a divot in the cement the size of a wrecking ball.

But he seemed like such a nice axe-murderer, Mommy

The thing about Wike, though, despite his fury and his rail-like cornering skills and his devastating sprint and his fearless approach, is this: As long as you don’t try to douchebag him, he is the fairest, most honest, cleanest rider around, kind of like an ethical Great White Shark with guns and nunchuks.

Now I was on his wheel, and what had started off as a bike race quickly became an advanced lesson in high-speed cornering. Whereas most crit riders set themselves up for a turn, and it’s fairly predictable how they intend to enter the corner, Wike seems to come at each turn straight up-and-down, as tightly inside as possible, with no angle or lean at all. It looks impossible until, at the last second, rather than gracefully swooping through the apex of the turn, he grabs his stupid fucking bike by the scruff of its neck, rubs its nose in the poop, and violently slings it through the corner.

The bike is too afraid to do anything except go, and Wike never misses a pedal stroke. I, on the other hand, am ten feet back and digging like a DitchWitch in a mud trench to get back on his wheel. By the time I’d latch back on, John would be gouging the pedals again, which meant that the “recovery” from “sitting on his wheel” was in theory only.

Josh to the rescue

Soon we had another rider, and our three-man break looked promising, except for the fact that I was barely hanging on and we were a mere ten minutes into the race. Fortunately, my teammate Josh pulled the entire pack up to our break, relieving me of the indignity of getting dropped and making sure there was no way I would get on the podium. A lot of people don’t understand the teamwork in bike racing, which is complicated and hard to explain, and frankly, neither do I.

Now that I had squandered what little reserves I’d begun with (did I mention that I did a “warm-up” 30-mile ride that morning around PV that included 4k of climbing?), I slunk to the rear and swore to hide until the finish. This was the exact same moment that Special K attacked, followed by searing jumps from Wike, Josh, Jolly Green Giant, and most of the CalPools team.

The wounded and bleeding flailers huddled in a small lump, looking at each other and wondering which of the following would happen:

  1. We’d play “Yugo! Uh-uh, YOU go!” until the pack went off and left us for good. Then we’d be able to go home and give our pals “kudos” on Strava and tote up our weekly mileage.
  2. Some idiot in our midst would tow us up to the peloton, thereby frying and dropping himself from the race.
  3. The pack would miraculously slow down.

We got lucky, and it was Door #3. The wind and the accelerations were so fierce that the pack had winded itself, kind of like a dog that mindlessly chases a stick over and over until it collapses in a heap, never really sure why it was chasing the stick in the first place, and resolving never to do it ever again as long as it lives, or at least until someone throws the stick again.

A big lob

Josh attacked again for the 357th time and was up the road with Ollie before the pack brought that stick back, too. As everyone caught their breath, I seized my chance and rolled off the front with six to go. After the race a dude came up to me and said, “Yo, Wanky. New nickname. After that Big Blue Bus on flat tires acceleration, we’re gonna start calling you ‘Dangle.'”

As I dangled, each time I came through Turn 5 a hopelessly besotted clot of drunks screamed my name. At first I thought they were my friends, because it sure looked like Hoof Fixer Dude, New Girl, Frenchy, Tumbleweed, G3, Surfer Dan, Francisco, Toronto, Shannon, and Peyton Place.

Then I realized that they were standing in the driveway of the Strand Brewery, a local beer maker with a 10,000 gallon brewing tank that sells growlers to the public on the weekend. Noting that it was a weekend, and noting that everyone was clenching a growler, I paid closer attention the next time I came through, this time with another rider in tow.

“Get off the front, you fucking idiot!” is what they seemed to be saying. I wondered if they meant me?

With three laps to go, I and CalPools Dude were joined by the Jolly Green Giant, only he was more like the Grumpy Green Giant than the jolly one. I didn’t care, as he pulled like a giant, and now the game plan began to coalesce. None of us could sprint, but I could sprint at least as less badly as the other two. Victory was entirely possible. Best of all, my two teammates, Josh and Eric, would be at the front slowing down the pack, soft pedaling through the turns, and messing up Wike’s inevitable chase of death.

Josh to the rescue, again!

Fortunately, with two laps to go, Josh did such a great job of blocking that he blocked the whole peloton right up to our breakaway, then attacked us. “C’mon!” he said. “Let’s go!”

I wasn’t sure what he meant, since the only place I knew to go to was the finish line, and I’d been trying like hell to get there for the last four laps. Now there was a small gap, and Grumpy looked at me. “Close that gap!” he ordered.

“But that’s my teammate. Why should I?”

“You moron,” Grumpy snarled. “You need to learn how to race your bike.”

“That’s true,” I said. “But I’m still not chasing down my teammate for you.”

Grumpy lumbered up, but by that time the peloton was together again.

Final lap fireworks

With one lap to go, Charon woke up. He went over to the wash basin, brushed his teeth, put in some menthol-flavored mouthwash, and adjusted his helmet. Then he stretched, and with a moderate yawn rolled up towards the front.

“Hey,” he said. “Which one of you babies has the candy?”

“I do!” yowled one baby.

“Me, too!” hollered another.

“Me, me, me! Me got candy!” shouted a chorus of others.

“Okay, then,” said Charon. “Hold your hands up real high so I can take it from you easier.”

With three hundred yards to go he stretched again, checked his mouth in his pocket mirror to make sure there weren’t any pieces of black pepper between his teeth, and put his hands on the drops. Now the others were sprinting at max speed, giving it everything they had.

Charon pulled the morning newspaper out of his jersey pocket to make sure that the 15% Off Sale at Bill’s Bible Store was still going on, carefully refolded it, and put it back in his pocket. With a hundred yards to go he checked his phone. There was a text message from his fan club. “Hey, Charon!” it said. “Now might be a good time to go.”

“All right, then,” he said, and pushed one of his legs down, hard.

The bike shot forward.

Then he pushed down his other leg, harder. The bike shot forward even more.

“Aw man,” he said, seeing Hair and Eric almost at the line. “Am I going to have to push down AGAIN?” He gave the pedal one more mighty push with his leg and passed the two leading riders by thirty feet. Both of them wobbled and almost smacked into the curb as the wall of wind, combined with the sonic boom, knocked them into each other.

Sure, those guys stood on the podium. Eric even clinched third place zero help from his teammates. But me? I finished 18th, one whole placing better than at Brentwood. If I can just squeeze in seventeen more races between now and August 31, well … you do the math.

Wankmeister cycling clinic #7: Help for your gonads

April 3, 2012 § 6 Comments

Dear Wankmeister:

I’m in my second full season as a Cat 4 here in SoCal, and things have been going really well. Top 10 at Ontario, made the break last weekend at the Torrance crit, and I’m finally confident enough to say I’ve “figured out” bike racing. It’s taken me a long time, though!!! I guess like my pap always said, “Son, you sure aren’t the sharpest tool in the shed.” But anyhoo, now that I’ve got a handle on it and training, my wife is clamoring for me to get a vasectomy. I’ve done some Internet research and so I understand like, what it’s all about, but I can’t really find anything on how vasectomies might affect bike racing, or actually, what I’m more concerned about, is training. I’m a pretty high volume guy and that’s pretty much the reason I’ve made such a big mark on the cycling scene (just a li’l bragging, but if you can do it, it ain’t bragging, right, WankY!!) and it would be a big wrench in the derailleur for something like this to sideline me for the better part of the season. News or views? Thanks!

Nuttily,
Donnie Deferens

Dear Donnie:

It’s not often that people ask me about the care and feeding of their testicles, but I’m glad you’ve put aside the public humiliation and ridicule sure to ensue once I post your email and real name in order to get answers to these very important questions. However, the easiest way to approach this is to understand that, whether you’re a bike racer or not (and as a second year Cat 4 you’re definitely “not”), you should never, ever get a vasectomy.

The Reasons You Should Never Ever Get a Vasectomy Or Even Think About It For A Nanosecond Not Even If You’re Promised All The Pussy In Hello Kittyland

1. They cut open your balls.

2. After #1 above, it should be over for any rational adult male. But there’s more.

3. It’s a semi-public EMBARRASSING procedure, with people kind of milling around, nurses and shit, casually paying attention while they saw open your nutsack with a rusty file.

4. The Latin root of the word “vasectomy” means “nutless dude who sings high-pitched songs for the king.”

5. You will never, ever, ever, ever, ever get even one extra throw as a result. Why? Because your balls have nothing to do with her headache.

6. If the world is attacked by alien mutants who kill all the men except you with a special death ray thingy, leaving millions of women needing fertilization in order to repopulate the human race, once you’ve had a vasectomy the human race will die out. And it will be all your fault.

7. Swollen balls. This one dude I know got the snip and his nuts swelled up like Valencia oranges. I suppose it kind of fills out your Speedo, but according to this guy it hurt like hell and was like having a pair of tits in your shorts, i.e. very hard to cross your legs without damaging the produce.

8. Other shit that you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. Okay, maybe your worst enemy. Such as? Such as:

Adrenal gland dysfunction
Atheosclerosis (hardening of the arteries leading to heart disease)
Autoimmune orchitis (degeneration of testicular tissues due to antibody action)
Chronic inflammation including the formation of sperm granulomas
Chronic testicular pain (Post-Vasectomy Pain Syndrome)
Circulatory problems including phlebitis
Congestive and infectious epididymitis
Decreased testicular function including changes in testosterone production
Diabetes
Erectile dysfunction/impotence
Gangrene of the scrotum and other serious infections
Generalized lymph node enlargement
Hypoglycemia
Life-long autoimmune (allergic) responses
Liver dysfunction
Loss of libido
Lung cancer
Lupus
Migraine and other related headaches
Multiple myeloma
Multiple sclerosis
Narcolepsy
Neuropathy (nerve pain and damage)
Non-Hodgkins lymphoma
Personality disturbances
Prostate cancer
Prostatitis
Pulmonary embolism
Rheumatoid arthritis
Scrotal and epididymal cyst formation including Spermatocele and Hydrocele cysts
Staph infections including infections of the heart valves
Testicular atrophy (shrinking of the testicles)
Testicular cancer
Urolithiasis (kidney stones).
Vasitis nodosa (chronic inflammation of the vas deferens)

Hope this helps.

Surgically,
Wankmeister

Ronde van Torrance

April 2, 2012 § 4 Comments

Sometimes even an important cycling blog like this doesn’t have anything interesting to say. So I will be concise and do this like rabbit droppings, you know, a little poop nugget here, a little poop nugget there.

Poop nugget one: Major Bob was a beast on Thursday’s NPR. He towed me all the way to the line in our trademark last-lap suicidal breakaway of death but I blew up, got caught by the pack, and finished behind the fat walrus guy with the backpack. Prez sank back to his usual wheelsuck and win-the-sprint M.O., but don’t laugh, as practice makes perfect and he won Sunday’s San Diego Cat 3 crit to ensure that he will remain aloft in the SoCal Sandbagger of the Year Competition.

Poop nugget two: Jack from Illinois( not his real name) joined Howard Hughes of the South Bay and me and the Chief, former master of all he surveyed, now confined to the miserable reservation of Saturday kiddie soccer games and delayed Sunday pedals so that his significant other gets in her Lululemon workout first, for a glorious coffee cruise. Chief began his comeback in earnest, which included pedaling the entire 250 yards from his house to CotKU, drinking a cup of coffee, and pedaling all the way back.

Poop nugget three: Friday night the world was in an addled state of consti-ticipation as each of the 125 million ticket holders gloriously made plans for spending his/her/its share of the Mega-Millions pot of gold.

“I’ll help ol’ Aunt Sukey by getting her a new house and a car and a 24-hour assisted care home nurse to pay her back for all those times she kept me out of juvenile prison.”

“I’ll start a foundation to provide a home for all the cats!”

“I’ll live quietly and modestly, keeping my wealth secret, while anonymously becoming an incredible donor to worthy causes everywhere!”

“I’ll fund a multi-million dollar ‘cross series to make it the biggest sport in America!!!”

“I’ll create trust funds for all of my cousins and nieces and nephews but set it up so that even though they’re rich they won’t be spoiled.”

“I’ll buy more hookers and blow than there are ‘fuggs’ in a captaintbag blog post.”

Frenziedly huddled around the computer screen, those same people who fall into the category of “voluntary taxpayers who don’t understand statistics or probability” looked grimly at the first few digits in the winning number, quickly scanning through each combination on their 73 separate tickets, numbly and dumbly acknowledging, gradually, that it really was true: Let’s say you know a Canadian. Then the names of every Canadian in Canada are put into a hat. You draw the name of the one person you know. There. Those were your odds of winning the lottery.

As the cold, hard numericity of statisticality and probabilityness sunk through the hardened outer core of almost impenetrable delusion, depression was quickly followed by beer, then tequila, then hatred for both Kentucky and Louisville, with the odd curse heaped on the heads of Tim Tebow and Kyle Busch. “Fucking stupid ass bullshit lottery fuckshit waste of money bullcrap shit. At least I’m still going riding tomorrow.”

Poop nugget four: “Tomorrow’s ride” was a semi-planned pedal arranged by Clodhopper, and joined in by Iron Mike, Jack from Illinois (not his real name), Howard Hughes of the South Bay (first group ride since 2006), New Girl, Pilot, Fussy, Hockeystick, Nancy, Guns, Knoll, Trixie, Junkyard, Tri-Dork, Toronto, Tumbleweed, Arkansas Traveler, Abercrombie & Fritch, and a bunch of other people who quit early because the day was a cold, rainy, miserable, nasty, cloudy, shitsoaked perfectly typical cycling day in Northern California, except we were in paradisiacal Southern California, where everyone is weak, spoiled, “soft around the edges and in the center,” and smart enough to choose hot coffee and a morning throw with the S.O. rather than six hours of slogging through shit on a bike.

By the time we reached Cross Creek all the riders with IQ’s higher than the ambient air temperature had packed it in, and our small cadre of idiots soldiered on towards Latigo. Nancy had kept going when we stopped at the Union 76 in order to get a head start on the inevitable droppage that awaited, and sure enough, even though I plowed so slowly up the infinite hell that is Latigo Canyon Rd., so slow in fact that Arkansas Traveler easily kept the pace and told me all the details of hairdressing in Appalachia during the days that it was still a hanging offense for men to be engaged in such occupations, we nevertheless caught and dropped Nancy as he crawled up the endless grade.

Upon arriving at the summit, we abandoned our “all for one, one for all” motto in favor of “all for one, one for all, except Nancy,” and bolted back home down Kanan Dume, a road favored by Junkyard so that he could get into a descender’s tuck and bomb the downhill in blinding rain and fog at 50 mph. I got home with 95 miles, more or less, and no Strava upload or WKO+ analysis to stand between me, the hot shower, the mountain of flapjacks, and bed.

Poop nugget five: While @mmaiko swooned over Fabs Cancellara and the Ronde van Vlaanderen in the most amazing Twitter twaddle ever, and while thousands more cycle fans followed the whole sorry mess of racing over the cobbled climbs of Flanders, MMX, Stormin Norman, I, and a small cadre of idiots joined up at CotKU for the Sunday Kettle ride. It was uneventful except for the brutal beatdown along PCH, and we returned to Catalina Coffee in Redondo Beach for a hearty breakfast. Fireman was lounging in one of the chairs and we all sat around and made fun of people who have turtle tattoos on their legs, generally agreeing that if you’re going to tattoo your legs it should be with a death’s head or a giant cock or lightning bolts or a spread-eagled nude…anything but a turtle.

Poop nugget six: With 80 solid miles of hard riding on our legs we pedaled over to the Torrance Crit, where I raced the 45+ in the team SPY colors, proving myself a douchebag traitor to the noble Ironfly brigade with whom I’d raced all year. As we rolled out, Johnny and Alan gave me my instructions, which went something like this: “Look, you suck and are a traitorous vermin and are of no benefit to anyone plus we don’t like you. However, if, at the end of the race, there’s a chance to sneak up the road, do that hopeless crazyfuck suicide move you always do that fails and make the pack chase. We’ll chill if you’ve got the legs to hold out for the vee, which no one in their right mind believes you do, and if they pull you back, which is a mathematical certainty, we’ll be fresh for the finish.” With three laps to go I hit the gas, flogged like a harpooned goat for what seemed like forever, got reeled in with half a lap to go, and watched as teammate Jimmy M. skidded across the asphalt on the next-to-last-turn, grating off more butt flesh than an angry dominatrix in a spanking video. Not that I’ve ever watched one of those. Johnny got third, T. Rex got fifth, and Alan got seventh.

Then, the most incredible thing that has ever happened to me in over 30 years of cycling happened: T. Rex came over and stuck a $20 bill in my jersey. “That’s your share, dude. Good work.” I fainted, of course, and when I came to, numerous people patted my hand and explained that, yes, it did happen that even worthless wankers received a part of the take in a well-run team combine. “Holy fuck,” I yelled. “If you subtract that from the $50 entry fee, I only lost thirty U.S. dollah!!!” Then I fainted again.

Off the grid

March 29, 2012 § 18 Comments

I used to be off the grid, you know, no speedometer or HRM and certainly no power meter, just riding in a fog on a steel bike pounding like an idiot until I couldn’t pound anymore and then slacking off until I could hear myself pant and then whaling away again at the pedals until I was gagging and crosseyed and had my face covered in the sheetsmear of snot and spit and then back it off until my eyes could focus again and then just pound and flail away to a fare-the-well. The thing about this methodology is that, often times, after a while there would only be one or two, or sometimes even no idiots left.

Other times, though, I’d just crack, fade, and watch the peloton whoosh away.

So I figured that I needed to take advantage of modern training methods, and along with a super pro doping regimen of corticosteroids, masking agents, blood boosters and coke and amphetamines and shit I would get a speedometer and a Garmin and a power meter and a copy of TrainingPeaks and then I’d read a bunch more shit and analyze my numbers and track my FTP and learn about my power-to-weight ratio and understand how many matches I could burn in a race and then periodize the whole shebang and, along with the drugs and the new carbon bike and the carbon wheels and the computer technology I would be bad ass, just like I imagined I used to be back in the day, when in fact I wasn’t really bad ass at all, and was pretty much just half-bad ass, or really mostly nice and obedient ass.

Problem is, I couldn’t afford the drugs or understand how to use them without killing myself or growing a third eye, and even the new bike and wheels took a one-year no-interest payment plan from Specialized, and by the time I’d added the power meter I was flat fucking broke-er than I’d ever been before and was having to seriously consider starting the year with something less than $900 in new kits designed by Joe Yule and StageOne.

Other problem was that after close to three years of data and power analysis, I still sucked. The numbers didn’t lie, and although they’d occasionally whisper sweet nothings in my ear (“Today’s 20-min power was the best in six months, you powerful cycling stud and overall sexy dog!”), those occasional sweet nothings were invariably drowned out by the raucous jeering of race day results: “YOU–YES, YOU!!–SUCK! Go home now! You’ve never been any good and you never will be!”

Strava to the rescue

Somewhere along the way I discovered Strava, which was kind of an antidote to race day suckage in that I could always go create a special segment that went from, say, from the garage’s electronic gate that no one can get behind without a buzzer, to the entrance by the apartment tennis courts, and then I could own the shit out of that segment. KOM all fucking day, poseurs. Eat my bytes.

That brief bit of consolation turned to gall and wormwood when GregBot sniffed out my KOM’s and one by one took them all away, often teaming up with Wankers Deluxe like Douggie and Fireman. And because GregBot has a Ph.D. in psychology he was even able to reprogram the garage’s electronic gate. The one segment I was sure I’d own until doomsday is now his. You can look it up if you don’t believe me: Lowridge Apartments Garage Gate to Tennis Courts, RPV, California. Eleven seconds. KOM: GregBot.

The final straw, though, was sixteen days ago. I’d forgotten my Garmin for the first time ever. It was the morning of the New Pier Ride, and without my computer I was lost. How many rpm’s was I doing? How close was I to my threshold? How fast was I going? What time was it? How many kilojoules had I expended? What was the current lap time, lap power, three-second power, and total elapsed time? What the fuck was I supposed to do?

As we hit Pershing I fell into the Old Way. The Way before power meters, before carbon wheelsets, before plastic bike frames, before brake lever shifters, before calculations and analysis and review and segments and training regimens and all that other shit.

The Old Way of Hammer

According to the Old Way of Hammer, one simply hammers without regard to anything other than how long one can continue hammering. The only limiter to the Old Way of Hammer is pain. You are not slowed down by wind, power, heart rate, spoke count, lack of aero equipment, hills, dirt, rain, gear ratios, strategy, distance, size or quality of field, red blood cells, glycogen, oxygen, water, time or space. You are only slowed by pain.

As I fell into the Old Way things felt suddenly better. It no longer mattered how many watts I wasn’t producing, because ultimately I would run out of oxygen, my legs would seize up, and I would spin off to the side like a jettisoned rocket booster. It no longer mattered how fast I was going because, until someone came by, I was going faster than everyone else. It no longer mattered how badly it hurt, because once I could no longer tolerate the pain I would stop, and then the pain would go away, and I could hammer again.

Many years ago my granny made me an Afghan blanket that says in the bottom left-hand corner in her neatly embroidered hand, “1974, For Seth With Love.”

Every time I pull that blanket over my knees, curling up to write nasty political diatribes to strangers on FB I feel all cozy and warm, from the soft texture of the wool yarn but also from the comfort of that familiar blanket. That’s how I felt rolling up Pershing in the Old Way, wrapped in a warm, familiar, sweat-soaked, snot-covered, heaving, choking blanket of pain. Welcome back, Kotter.

Moderation is a sign of instability

No matter the side of the fence you’re on, whether you’re Beachbody or ViSalus, Amway or HerbaLife, Ambulance Chaser or Insurance Whore, you’d better be all in. People who try to find the best out of various alternatives end up as appealing as a rum-soaked Christmas fruitcake with fifteen different kinds of dried fruit. Like Jesus? Spread the fucking word and don’t take “Sorry, I’m Jewish,” for an answer. Think Ron Paul is the answer to our problems? Tell the world, adorn your ass with his bumper stickers, and don’t be deterred by the fact that he’s a crazy, right-wing, mysogynistic, racist whackdoodle. As Mark Bixby said, “Go big or go home.”

So when I realized that the Old Way was really the best way for me, I sent TrainingPeaks to the recycle bin, then stripped off all the data measuring devices from my Specialized Scratch and retired them. PowerTap hub and Zipp 404’s to Ebay. Garmin to The Box Where Used Bike Parts Go To Die.

And the more I thought about it, the happier I became, which was almost reason to put them all back on again. The numbers never really told me anything anyway, at least nothing I could use. On the other hand, they constantly reminded me of how hopelessly out of reach true ability on the bike would always be. Cycling, the ultimate sport of fantasy, where everyone can be a winner if he just ignores all the people around him, had become like golf: cold, hard, numerical, unwinnable, and impregnable to the prodding penis of fantasy.

You know how no doctor has ever said, “Well, Joe, you should take up golf in order to get a handle on this high blood pressure”? That’s how biking had gradually begun to feel. It was like golf without Tiger’s tawdry tabloid stories, which frankly were the only thing that ever made golf seem remotely like an activity that might appeal to me.

Best of all, this newfound love of the oldfound way has allowed me to do the one thing that makes the entire cycling endeavor worthwhile: buy new stuff. Without the PowerTap Zipps I needed a new set of wheels, and it just so happened that the bike shop had a brand new pair of Mavic Open Pro 32-hole clinchers built up on–gasp, sweat, palpitate, throb, swoon–Chris King hubs. My very first day going commando on the new wheels in the Old Way, I got that rarest of rewards, an NPR vee thanks to a hard effort and an auspiciously timed red stoplight.

This weekend is the Torrance crit. I’ll be off the grid and, after a thorough Old Way flail, likely off the back. But I be listening to some liquid crystal display tell me how badly I suck. I’ll be listening to that mellifluous, deluded inner voice telling me I just won the Tour.

Year in review’s stellar performers: Greg Leibert

November 3, 2011 § 2 Comments

Okay, I admit it. I have a big ol’ crush on Greg. Man-crush, woman-crush, Orange Crush, whatever…he’s a titan of the South Bay, and while it’s sort of pointless to pick one particular year for his outstanding performances on the bike since he’s at the top of his game year in, year out, 2011 was nonetheless stellar. The fact that he didn’t smash half his ribs and waste half the season in traction didn’t hurt…

There are lots of guys who win bike races, but as with so many things in life it’s not simply the fact of the win, it’s the way of the win. Three characteristics typify G$’s racing: relentless attacking, sacrificial teamwork, and eagerly crawling into the pain cave.

Attack, attack, attack: At Boulevard this year he beat out two perennial champs, Rich Meeker and Roger Worthington, by simply attacking them into submission. Meeker and RGW scored victories over Big Red in other races, to be sure, but Boulevard was a classic case of the old Bernard Hinault maxim, “If I can breathe, I can attack.” G$’s solo victory after being marked the entire race by the entire field says it all.

There’s no “fuck you” in “team”: In the 2011 State Road Race category for Elderly Gentlemen Who Do Not Yet Have Prostate Problems Sufficient To Prevent Them From Racing, G$ played the loyal dog, snapping at the heels of the enemy, riding into the teeth of the wind, and fouling up the chase so that teammate Jeff Konsmo could line ‘em up and knock ‘em down in the sprint finale. How many riders out there of G$’s caliber are willing to play the selfless teammate when bragging rights for a state road title are on the line? Exactly.

It’s Only Pain (It Drives Me Crazy): In the 2011 State Individual Time Trial, Greg placed 4th with a time of 48:37, averaging more than 29.2 mph. How fast is that? Well, it’s pretty slow compared to a motorcycle, and it’s not even plodding along compared to a jet or the speed of light. But for a bicycle, when it’s just you, the road, the wind, and the clock? It’s blazing fast. Then when you figure that he’s almost fifty, and that he is factor in road races as well as crits, it gets kind of scary. If that’s not enough to give you stomach upset, take a look at some of his Strava times, especially the record he holds from Via del Monte up to Paseo del Sol…then you start to grasp, if only a little bit, how deeply G$ is able to crawl into the pain cave, roll a boulder in front of the entrance, assume the fetal position, and not come out until the job is done.

Honorable mentions: Greg delivered a thorough thrashing at the San Marcos Circuit race, where he dragged two hapless victims around the course for 35 minutes to win easily in a very tough field. He delivered a very large rolled-up newspaper to the pups’ butts at the Torrance crit as well, which this year was a glorified Telo and about as home turf for the man as it gets.

UP NEXT: I SAID HE’D KICK ASS IN 2011. HIS NAME IS CHARON. I WAS RIGHT.

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