2012 South Bay “Hammer and Sexy Pop Star Award”

October 14, 2012 § 2 Comments

This year’s recipient of the South By Hammer and Sexy Pop Star Award goes to Rudy Napolitano. There’s just no one on the scene except Rudy who can hammer like a madman during the day, and make the teenyboppers swoon in his apres-bike skinny jeans and fashionable t-shirt by night. Except Noel O’Malley. And he’s in a different age category.

Briefly, Rudy had (another) incredible year racing his bicycle. National road champion, beating a stacked 35+ field that included the-dude-who-eats-nails-for-breakfast, Karl Bordine. Third overall at the Tour of the Gila, a stage race so brutal that participants brag about not dying. Second at the Glencoe Grand Prix, one of the country’s premiere crits.

“Yeah, yeah, whatever,” you’re saying. “We want to know about the Sexy Pop Star part.”

The Sexy Pop Star Part

Unlike Justin Timberbieber, Rudy did not get his start on the Micky Mouse Club. He got his start in the pain cave. After college, where he was a lacrosse standout, he migrated north to play semi-pro box lacrosse for the Akwasasne Lightning.

Unlike field lacrosse, where pampered white college boys gingerly run up and down a manicured field engaging in gentle physical contact, box lacrosse is typically played by Native Americans on an ice hockey rink, minus the ice. In other words, they play on a concrete slab with walls. In other words, it’s cage fighting with big wooden sticks.

Whereas the college boy version involved lots of faux toughness, the Indian version involved beating the living shit out of each other by grown, angry men who had been on the warpath against marauding white people for about 300 years. When Rudy showed up, they took one look at his equipment and scoffed. “You gonna get broke in half, boy,” Spiking Bad Mallet told him. Spiking Bad Mallet was the coach and goalie.

During his first match against the Kahnawake Mohawks, Rudy had three ribs broken by No Scalp Down, one of the most fearsome defenders in the league. As he was writhing in pain, Spiking Bad Mallet leaned over him. “What you pissing about, white boy? You said you wanna play Indian lacrosse. Get you pussy off the concrete and run it off. Only broke rib, maybe.”

Rudy staggered to his feet and limped up and down the field for the remaining five minutes of the match. Then he collapsed. “You do not so bad for little pussy white boy,” Spiking Bad Mallet said. “So we gonna get him a big penalty.” He pointed over at No Scalp Down.

“Penalty? The game’s fucking over,” said Rudy.

Spiking Bad Mallet looked at Rudy and shook his head. “In Indian country,” he said, “Game is never fucking over.”

That night they all drove to Ginch’s Likker Den in Ontario where No Scalp Down was drinking with his buddies. The team rushed the bar and beat everyone up with sticks, fists, broken bottles, and knives. After they got out of jail, Spiking Bad Mallet said “Him get big-ass penalty in hospital now with broken head and split liver. Maybe six month.”

After two seasons Rudy decided that he’d had enough, and moved to Manhattan to work at the American Stock Exchange, where the people were lots more brutal and vicious, but didn’t use fists or knives or lacrosse sticks.

Have some Coke and a smile

Working his way up from coffee runner to trading clerk on the electronic trading floor, Rudy learned everything there was to know about trading on Wall Street from his mentor, Buzz Dicer.

His first day on the job, Buzz took him aside. “Son, what are you good at?”

“I played pro box lacrosse for a couple of years.”

“What the fuck is that? No, don’t tell me, I don’t give a fuck. Let me tell you what you need to be able to do make it on the Street, okay?”


“Ah, fuck it, let’s go get high,” Buzz said, and staggered off to the men’s room to do a few lines of coke. “Okay, so where the fuck were we?” Buzz asked.

“You were going to tell me what I need to know to make it on the Street.”

“Oh, yeah. Fuck, I’ll say anything when I’m not high, huh? Yeah. Well, here’s the rules: One–Do lots of coke. Two–Screw everybody. Three–Do more coke.”

Unfortunately, the excitingness and funness and wowness of Wall Street was inversely proportional to the intensity of one’s coke addiction, so for a sober clerk like Rudy it just didn’t have the charm that it had, say, for a coke-crazed sociopath on his fifth marriage at age thirty like Buzz. Plus, Buzz died of a heroin overdose shortly after taking Rudy under his wing, and thirty just seemed like such a young age to have to die at.

California dreamin’

Rather than choosing death, Rudy chose the next best thing and moved to Hermosa Beach, where he found that his experience with psychopathically violent lacrosse wifebeaters and sociopathic Wall Street narcissists had conditioned him to instantly be able to relate to bike racers.

After getting his Cat 2 upgrade, Rudy moved to Belgium, where he raced for a few months with the Kingsnorth International Wheelers. Shortly upon arrival in Kortrijk, he met with the team boss, Herndy van Hooydonck. “So you American boy want to race Belgian and be de nexte Lance, eh?”

“Uh, well…”

“I’n gonna tell to you about de how is racing in Belgie, Junior Lance. On de first, you get on de fiets.”

“The what?”

“De fiets. You get on de fiets and you pedal de fiets like a fucker. Dat’s how you race in de Belgie.”

“How many guys are on the team?”

“You don’t need to know de team, just ride de fiets. Because you gonna pop offa de back real soon. Just hammer on de fiets, Lance Junior.”

Hammering on de fiets

Thanks to lots of hammering on de fiets, Rudy got noticed by Rock Racing and picked up a two-year contract with Michael Ball’s outfit. He got to do lots of big races with big names in the sport, and got to witness lots of drama, most of which happened every time that Ball opened his mouth.

Rudy kept racing after Ball fired everyone and decided to make Rock and Republic famous in bankruptcy court, and a few years and a few teams later Rudy’s still racing and paying his bills with his bike.

Rudy’s currently riding for Time Factory Team, but will be racing with Stage 17 in 2013 as well. The teams share bike a sponsor, Time, so it will be a seamless arrangement. What makes him happy? “Getting to race a shit ton.”

“How much is a ‘shit ton’?” I asked.

“It’s approximately three fuckloads.”

As everyone in the South Bay knows, Rudy likes to train a lot and he likes to train with people who like to train a lot. Unfortunately, there are only one or two people in Southern California who can do the requisite miles for someone with a “shit ton” of racing on his calendar.

Those people include Katie “Three Run Single Donovan,” Nick “The Dentist” Pollack, and Surfer Dan.

Look for even more awesome results for Rudy in 2013. Look for chronic fatigue, lactic acidosis, and physical collapse in his training partners. Trust me on that.

Don’t cry for me

October 11, 2012 § 18 Comments

I looked at the picture of Patrick, chunks of his face torn off, blood clotted and sprayed and spread all over, and am ashamed to say my first thought was, “Goddamn I’m glad that isn’t me.”

That instinctive millisecond of selfish self-loving self preservation passed, just like it does in a race when your buddy hits the deck and you shudder with relief that you were spared. Then humanity kicked in. “What a terrible crash; hope he’s okay; hope his neck and spine are okay; hope he doesn’t have a closed head injury; hope he’s not hurt nearly as bad as he looks…”

Yeah, and like the idiot biker friends everywhere…”Hope his bike’s okay.”

As New Girl said in a terse and choked up text, “This is what I HATE about cycling.”

Don’t we all?

Forget the “if.” Accept the “when.”

Getting smashed isn’t part of the sport. It’s part of life. That hard landing when shit goes sideways and suddenly you’re taut and bracing and, depending on how quickly the trauma reaches up and grabs you, wondering how bad it’s gonna hurt and if you’re going to survive it and BAM.

We’ve all felt the BAM, even those of us who’ve never ridden a bike.

Life is punctuated by BAM’s.

Patrick’s latest BAM happened today on Tuna Canyon. Tuna’s a one-way mountain road that, along with its treacherous neighbor Las Flores, has taken lives and cracked many a bone. If there’s a more difficult descent in LA County, I don’t know what it is. John Wike holds the downhill speed record, well over 55 mph, which, on a twisting descent on a bike, is faster than NASCAR. He set it in a full facemask and body armor.

And although you don’t need to know anything more about Tuna than that it can put you in a can, quickly, you do need to know that Patrick is intimately familiar with the road’s every twist. For him it’s a road that holds no surprises except, of course, for the surprises. The new crack in the pavement or the bit of cliff that’s now laying in the road or the slick spot or the…whatever.

Whatever it was that caught him out happened on the last turn, and by the next frame he was skidding on his face in soft dirt at speed. You might not think he was lucky, but then again, I haven’t yet told you that he missed a giant log by a couple of feet. If he’d hit it, we’d be planning a funeral right now.


Crashes aren’t as bad as “crashes”

Patrick crashed, but he didn’t “crash.” He knew what he was getting into. He’s a skilled descender who few riders can follow in the Santa Monicas. More than anyone, he knew the consequences of riding a bike fast downhill.

He wasn’t taken out by a car, or a drunk, or some wanker in a pack, or by a defectively manufactured product, or because he wasn’t paying attention, or because someone talked him into something he shouldn’t have been doing. In fact, we can probably attribute the “thank dog” aspects of his injuries (thank dog no broken neck, thank dog no broken spine, thank dog no brain injury) to his superior skills. The consequences of his crash were likely mitigated by some last split-second instinctive movement on his part that meant the difference between plastic surgery, a few dental implants, or operating a wheelchair the rest of his life with his tongue.

After the fact he’ll try to piece it all together and reconstruct what happened. He may never know. The last few seconds before catastrophe are often deleted from memory.

Without question, though, this much happened: Patrick went down because he’s a writer, a writer who graduated from the school of “do.” If you’re not doing it, you lose the right to write about it. Out on the edge of the envelope marked “Possible Total Destruction: Handle with Care and Adrenaline and Fear” he was hanging his ass out, full throttle, because to do anything less might still qualify him as a rider, but never as a writer.

To thine own self be true, and he was. I just hope he stocked up on the fucking Tegaderm, and that he heals up soon.

It could have been you, it could have been me. BAM.

Brain pace

October 10, 2012 § 8 Comments

I finished work in Santa Barbara today around 3:30 and figured that this would put me back in LA at just the wrong time, so rather than rush back to sit in traffic I tossed my briefcase in the car and took a walk.

Before I could toss the briefcase, though, I had to walk more than half a mile to where my car was parked. There was plenty of parking near Carrillo and Garden, but of late I’ve taken distance parking to a whole new level.

For example, rather than park near the courthouse in downtown LA, I’ll park a mile or so away and walk. It adds time, and it makes me all sweaty and greasy, but parking goes from $9 to free and you always get to see some interesting stuff and you get to run the gauntlet of street people. Plus, you get to learn a new set of city blocks every time you go downtown.

And it’s exercise, the old-fashioned way. On foot. The way nature meant for people to move.

Walk a mile in your own shoes

It’s funny how perfectly adapted our brains are to walking speed. You can see everything: The tiny edges of the grate holes in the street drains, the new plaster covering the old stone walls of the presidio, the steel interior of the crazy dude’s car that has anti-prison slogans painted on it, the details of the pine bark on the massive trees near the Santa Barbara Bowl, and of course the gruppo on the rusting MTB resting against an old barbecue grill on someone’s dilapidated porch.

Thoughts move more smoothly on foot, swirling over the knots and rocks and bumps that make up the problems in our lives, covering them up or dissolving them or wearing them down with the effortless force of the mind going at its most efficient speed, which is to say the contemplative one.

The eye and the mind coordinate naturally with your gait, which is the gait you were born with and will have all your life, the gait you acquired without a computerized fit or a coach or a hex wrench stuck in your back pocket for endless micro-adjustments on the fly. The motion? It’s yours. It’s perfect, and can’t be fixed.

Speed kills

Everything becomes a tunnel compared to walking. Whether you’re blasting on a motor, cruising at 65 in your car, pedaling at 20, or even running, your brain shifts from observation and reflection to data intake, predict the next point, react, and repeat. Ideas come briefly and are immediately swallowed up in the moment. If the speed is high enough, or the exertion intense enough, your brain switches to glide, a continual conveyor belt of motion and action almost wholly devoid of reflective thought.

It’s one reason that, after finishing a bike ride, we feel so clean and refreshed. Our brains have been put on pause.

While strolling, it occurred to me that…

  • It’s astonishing how many people use cycling to effectively cope with the strains, struggles, addictions, pain, loneliness, sickness, disappointment, and unhappiness in their lives. The act of riding a bike isn’t so much a gateway to happiness, it’s a gateway of happiness.
  • Who is Peter Gabriel? Should I Google him? He’s playing at the Santa Barbara Bowl tonight, so he’s either not very famous or past his prime. Or both.
  • Nothing is more fulfilling and happiness-inducing as the camaraderie on all of our rides, with people calling you by your name, and encouraging you, and even giving you a push when you need it.
  • Clodhopper may blab about every car he’s ever owned, may remind you in copious detail of every race he’s ever won, but if there’s a more generous friend in my life, I’m not sure who it is, because he gave me a half-gallon of his homemade spaghetti sauce last week. I’d give it its own blog, but how much more can you say about something than “foodgasm”? Oh, and that one other detail…he always, always, always goes to the front.
  • Newly-minted Cat 2 and Everest race winner Stathis the Wily Greek cadged 50,000 feet of total vertical last week. Radar Domes sit 1,500′ above sea level. Mt. Ventoux is 6,000′ above sea level. The Cornice at Mammoth is 11,000′ above sea level. Maybe you can comprehend Stathis’s feat. I can’t even wrap my head around it, much less my legs.
  • I’m now too injured to ride my bike thanks to the pulled muscle from last weekend’s ‘cross race. That’s only the fourth time in thirty years of cycling that a bike-related injury has kept me from riding. Obviously, I should do more ‘cross races to see if I can increase the number and severity of injuries.
  • Everyone says Santa Barbara is a really cool place. All I saw were restaurants, coffee shops, bars, and hippies in Range Rovers. It reminded me of downtown Austin with twice the class and three times the pretentiousness.

Boy, for a contemplative walk those are some pretty slim pickings. Can’t wait to go out and get on my bike again, and switch into glide.

Rider of the year: Suze Sonye

October 9, 2012 § 10 Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

And you’d pretty much be right.

Save your Cat 5 tricks for the Cat 5’s

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

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

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

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

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

The Cold War

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

Arab Spring

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

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

It was Suze.

Best rider in 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

Teaching through kicking your ass

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

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

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

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

Learning through getting her own ass kicked

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

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

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

When the ranks close

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

Except when it’s not.

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

In doing so, he broke the Rule of Davy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bicycle cage fighting

October 8, 2012 § 14 Comments

I stood in the dirt up against the barriers, watching Mike Hines power by, blood gushing from two large gashes in his arm, and his left leg raspy and raw from what was obviously a hard fall at high speed. “Go, Mike!” I yelled. “Have fun! Good luck!”

After the race I asked him “How’d you fall?”

“I passed a guy on the third lap. He got pissed and came up behind me. As he passed he completely buried his shoulder into my side. I never knew what hit me.”

“You’re joking.”

“No. I hit so hard, never saw it coming. When I stood up he had ducked off the course and quit. I would have chased him but I wanted to win. But I made up some time and got third. Never could catch the leader.”

Round Two of the Bicycle Cage Fighting Series a/k/a SoCal Prestige Cross Series had begun in earnest.

Would you please hurry up there?

Standing in the long line waiting to repair the mistakes made in pre-reg, the numbskulls around me were hopping mad. “This is so fucked up!” said Numbie One.

“Fucking bullshit!” said Numbie Two.

“We’re standing out in the fucking sun! It’s so fucking hot! This is such bullshit!” said Numbie Three.

“This heat is draining!” said Numbie One.

Numbies Two and Three sighed and stamped their feet and rolled their eyes in agreement. Numbie One looked at me. “Fucking bullshit, huh?”

“You think the race will be much harder than standing in line for a few minutes?” I asked, nicely, with a smile.

They stamped some more and rolled their eyes some more until we got up to the sign-in table. The harried dude at the table was drenched in sweat, paper flying everywhere, with five or six other volunteers who had no idea what to do peppering him with questions. He was gentle with everyone. “Hi, there,” he said to Numbie One.

“This is ridiculous,” Numbie One answered with a snarl.

Harried Dude stopped. “What is?”

Numbie One waved his hand. “This. I’ve never seen such disorganization.”

Before Harried Dude pulled out his .357, I tapped Numbie on the shoulder. “Hey dude,” I said. “This guy here with the papers, you know what his name is?”

Harried Dude looked at me, wondering how I knew him. “No,” said Numbie.

“His name is Volunteer. Bill Volunteer. He does this shit for free because he’s a nice guy so douchnozzles like you can ride for a lap and crash into the barricades. So you might want to lighten up.”

We all got signed in without further ado.

Don’t ever say “crash” before a race

This course was completely different from last week’s course in Costa Mesa. Whereas Costa Mesa had been narrow, dangerous, dusty, terrifying, technical, impossible, and short, the Downtown LA course was narrow, dangerous, dusty, terrifying, technical, impossible, and long.

The night before, a group of merry pranksters had dropped acid and built a giant wooden bridge that we would have to ride over and then drop down off the face of into a sand trap, followed by a tight, narrow left turn. Ha, ha, ho, ho, merry pranksters are we.

Then there were some stairs. Then there were some barriers. Then there were some mini-barriers on a short run-up. Then there were several thousand acres of wood chips. Then there was mud. Then there were more sandy, twisty, tight turns. Then there were bumps and ruts and holes and muddy tracks that ensnared the tires of the unwary. Then there was a howling headwind.

“This will be a good course for you, dude,” said Hatchitt. “It’s fast. Just like a road race.” I looked at him like he was crazy.

“This course is terrible for me. I’ll be lucky not to die. Plus, every time people tell me that a course is ‘good for me’ it’s my worst fucking nightmare. Fukdude told me ‘This is a good course for you’ the first time I did Punchbowl. I got dropped on the first climb of the first lap.”

Practice makes overconfident makes injuries to your parts

I learned the week before that ‘cross requires “skills.” This means that when you come to an obstacle, you must smoothly dismount, get over the obstacle, remount, and resume pedaling in one smooth motion. I learned all this from last week’s heckling.

“Hey, Wankmeister, you’ve come to a complete stop you jackass!”

“Hey, Wankmeister! You look like you’re fucking a pig when you remount!”

“Hey, pink socks dude! You’ll go faster if you quit falling down!”

And my favorite: “You suuuuuuuuuck!!!!!”

In order to live the ‘cross maxim of “going fast by going smooth” I had gone down to the neighborhood kiddie soccer field yesterday to practice my dismounts and remounts. There on the smooth, flat, slightly damp grass I totally became SuperPro. Sure, I took out a kid or two, but that’s the price of perfectionism.

I couldn’t wait to use my polished skills on this course, and so we did a practice lap. I noted that it had nothing in common with the soccer field. Atop the first run-up I confidently leaped onto my saddle. Somehow, though, my left foot whacked the ground, hard. There was a grinding and a ripping noise inside my thigh, and I was sure I’d torn my epiglottis or perhaps even sheared off a hypotenuse.

I staggered around the course, with my hamstrings screaming as if they’d been charleyhorsed with a brick.

Skills. Some folks have ’em. Other folks never will.

Huddling for shelter

It was another SoCal Belgian wintry day. High 90’s, smog thick enough to eat with a fork, choking dust everywhere, and three stunted trees near the staging area. Elbows flew as riders tried to hog shade while waiting for the call-up.

I’d already seen what happened to those who braved the course. Bruce got pummeled in his race. Natty Hnatiuk had been dismembered. Hines had been gored. Chris D. had quit. Gangsta Chick had been swallowed in a sandstorm but somehow stormed back. Hazelblind had staggered across the finish missing an arm. Dutch had thrown a rod. Tiff had been plowed under, but came out from the grave to claim fourth. Emily had suffered like a dog despite her great result. What hope was there for me?


Fortunately, prospects were much brighter for my team. MMX had a chance to advance in the overall. Chef Boyardee, same. Hatchitt was going to bury the hatchet…in someone’s head. Bako Jim was looking for revenge after last week’s mechanical meltdown. Bill and Randy were ready to have a go, and our 35+ team looked even better. Dave McNeal would try to replicate last week’s win, and Garnet Vertigo would try to better his third place standing.

Before I could remind everyone to be nice and not go to hard, the whistle blew, the cowbells rang, the hecklers heckled, and a few of us dropped a bit of chocolate in our chamois in the hustle and pandemonium off the line.

This was definitely not a good course for me

Like pigs in a slaughterhouse, we raced full tilt down a straight chute and then made a hard, sandy left across the remains of an exploded minefield. It didn’t take long before the peloton was smashed into bits. The turns that had seemed somehow doable at a slow and careful pace were suicidal, insane at race speed.

Gagging on the sand, panting from exhaustion, front tire ripping and jumping and kicking and straining to flop over onto its side or to throw me over the bars, I realized that a ‘cross race is truly lost in the first two minutes…and for me, those were the two minutes after getting out of bed this morning.

MMX was already locked in a duel to the death with Backbreaker Mac and some other evil rival, while Chef Boyardee, Hatchetman, and the rest of the SPY-Giant crew swarmed the front.

After half a lap there was only one other rider visible, a Sho-Air wanker who was as frightened and bad at bike handling as I was, only marginally less so. I finally chased him down, and then passed a huge lummox in green who appeared to be having a cardiac event. There. I was no longer last, or even next-to-last. I was now officially next-to-next-to-last. Take that, fuckers!

Just as I flushed with the thrill of Less Than Utter Defeat, though, I hit a turn in full granny mode, but even that was too fast for my sloppy skills. Over I flopped, banging my leg again and getting gummed up in the sand and muck. This, sports fans, is how you get sand wedged up your butthole in ‘cross.

Sho-Wank bunny hopped my head, and I watched in one of those “I’m glad this isn’t me” out-of-body moments as the gear teeth on his big ring slowly spun about an inch away from my upturned eyes, nose, and chin. Then, as the sawteeth slowly passed, here came the spinning tire, so low that there was no way it was going to avoid skidding atop my face and grinding my nose down to the roots. But it didn’t.

I disengaged from the mudpit and then put into effect my kiddie soccer field remount. Wham! Nuts on the top tube! No sex this trimester! Fortunately, a roaming beautiful camera lovely from Cycling Illustrated had her 1000mm Canon lens trained squarely on my twisted face as the nutsack smacked the carbon. Timing, as they say, is everything.

Although it took a lap, I reclaimed my position as next-to-next-to-last from Sho-Wank.

Hey, Wanky, let’s go!

Coming through the pit area, Bako Jim was exiting after getting a wheel change. Texas Randy had already flatted and quit, MMX was battling with the leaders, and the rest of the field was spread far and wide.

As Bako Jim came up behind me, he hollered. “Yo, Wanky! Let’s go! Let’s reel that dude in!”

There was another floundering lummox about 200 yards ahead of us. I grimaced and latched onto Bako’s wheel. Jim had no fear. He had skills. He was in a flat fucking hurry.

We went through a couple of turns at angles that I know, mathematically, do not work. Shortly we had Lummox No. 2 in our sights. Lummox looked back and saw Bako Jim bearing down. This was sweet. I’d actually get to pass another rider!

The sight of a hard-charing Bakersfield crazy, however, was too much. Lummox leaped off his bike and crawled under the barrier rope. Bako Jim powered away.

It’s great being famous

Each time through the barriers, up the two run-ups, and through the shaded areas, I got heckled.

“Go to the front, dumbshit!”

“You can catch them! You’re only two minutes down!”

“Pedal harder!”

“Go, Wankster!”

But it all melded into one stream of noise that sounded like “Mmmmgggargghpfllggtheppp!”

Like a root canal, the race finally ended. Our 45+A team had held its ground, placing 4-5-6, and Dave McNealy had won again in the 35+.

My hamstring charleyhorse was so bad I couldn’t straighten my leg. My right knee throbbed from all the jumping and running. My neck hurt from last week’s crash. I was covered in filth and had sand in my shorts. My bike was a mess. I’d finished DFL, after the minister officiated at a graveside service for Sho-Wank.

MMX ambled up. “So you’re you liking ‘cross?”

“Fucking love it, dude.”

“Yeah,” he nodded. “I know.”

Have fun and good luck

October 7, 2012 § 5 Comments

Before a race people often say to me, “Have fun!” and “Good luck!” Sometimes the same person will say both. Although I’ve never, ever, ever told someone to have fun at a bike race, I do sometimes wish them good luck, which is stupid and insulting and absurd.

Bike racing isn’t fun

The theory of bike racing, however, is. A bunch of people get together on the weekend. They generally know each other as they all attend the same races, so it’s fun to see friends. They enjoy healthy competition doing what they love, i.e. racing bikes. They enjoy friendly banter beforehand, and discuss the post-race over a friendly beer. They leave satisfied, exercised, and ready to get on with the rest of their weekend.

The reality of bike racing is different.

Before the race you’re tense and focused if you plan on winning. Pre-race small talk is for losers. Show the game face. Smile out of politeness if you must, but be sure and show the fangs.

Pre-race encounters are of three types:

  1. Encounters with teammates. Seriously discuss some faux plan that no one will stick to while you try to gain confidence from the similarity in uniforms.
  2. Encounters with other entrants in your race. Show a steely mien or curtly nod at them. This is more serious than death and taxes combined.
  3. Encounters with everyone else. Ignore their fucking existence. If you wanted to talk to friends you’d go to a bar.

Bike racing still isn’t fun

So you can see that there’s nothing fun about the pre-race if you’re planning to win, but there’s nothing fun about it if you’re planning to lose, either. The entire time you’re wondering, “Why the fuck am I here?” and “What a colossal waste of time and money,” and “I hope I don’t die or break my dick in four places.”

Post-race is no fun, either. If you win, everyone hates your stinking guts, especially the people who bother to congratulate you. If you lose, which you will, you will be plunged into depression, anger, or amazement that you did this of your own free will. The fun post-race analysis with “friends” will be a series of bitter recriminations and accusations.

  1. Why the fuck did you attack me after I towed you for six laps, you douchenozzle?
  2. You chopped my wheel, you stinktard.
  3. Those guys are all dopers.

You can forget “enjoying the race atmosphere,” too. What’s to enjoy when you’re consumed with anxiety, filled with despair, riven with regret, despised by everyone, or covered with road rash?

Don’t you ever, ever, ever fucking wish me good luck

Luck is what you find in casinos, and it’s uniformly bad. Sure, every once in a while someone will stupid into a million dollars or win a lottery ticket or learn that they’ve inherited something they neither deserved nor knew about.

That shit is luck.

Luck is a serial non-attendee at bike races. “Huhhhh?” you wail. “There’s all kinds of unlucky stuff happens at bike races!”

Before you list them, let me preempt this loser line of discussion.

  1. If you crash it’s your fault. What’s that? You were crashed out by a dork? Then what the fuck were you doing riding near him or in his category, you sandbagger.
  2. If you crash often it’s because you aren’t a very good bike rider. That isn’t luck. It’s lack of skill.
  3. If you roll a tire it’s because you didn’t glue it on properly.
  4. If you have a mechanical it’s because your equipment wasn’t cleaned, checked, and in excellent condition before the race started.
  5. If you flat and get dropped out of the break it’s because you didn’t put a spare in the follow car or were too weak to bridge after the wheel change.
  6. If you miss the break it’s because you’re too weak to bridge, or you were inattentive, or your positioning sucked.
  7. If you get hacked in the sprunt it’s because you’re following the wrong wheel.
  8. Etc.

There’s another reason luck has nothing to do with it, and it’s this: The same people win all the time. They’re not “lucky.” They’re better than you. It’s the same reason that any fool can win at slots, but no fool ever beat a grand master at chess. Luck doesn’t live there any more, and really, never did.

Which leads to the obvious question…

If it’s joyless and there’s a mathematical certainty that you’ll lose, why the fuck are you doing it?

Because it’s fun, and with a little luck, I just might win.

Any questions?

October 6, 2012 § 33 Comments

Below are the interim results of my de-ostrichization program, which was specifically begun to remove the plumpy cummerbund of adipose straddling my waist.

The first picture is from the time that Jack from Illinois (not his real name) was here, about the first week of August. The second one was taken today.

No jokes about the boxer shorts, please.

Yes, those are long johns from Academy.

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