Best. Coach. Ever.

January 24, 2016 § 13 Comments

My coach, who didn’t know he was my coach, had sat up and was drifting back. I had been dropped on the very first section of the Switchbacks after Charon, Prez, and Bruins had split the huge field into fragments going through Portuguese Bend. They spun out the back like used rocket stages, but the damage had been done.

The lead group had about twenty riders and they pedaled away.

When Canyon Bob came by and motioned me to get on his wheel, it seemed like a good idea. I temporarily forgot about my [insert sympathy-getting excuse here] broken pelvis and focused instead on how happy I was to be on my bike.

Bob quickly brought me back into the way-too-red zone, and then I was alone again. Up ahead was Coach. I call him Coach because he once gave me some advice. “Don’t be the strongest guy in the break,” he had said.

Lots of people give me advice, of course. “Sit in.”

“Don’t pull.”

“Conserve.”

“Don’t move around on your bike so much.”

“Quit being such a dick.”

Etc.

However, none of them won 26 pro races last year, have a fistful of national pro crit titles, or are considered the best bike racer in America.

Also, Coach became my coach because he hardly ever talks to me. I hate it when people tell me stuff. I am stubborn and dislike advice, especially when it’s unsolicited and free, and even more so when it’s paid for and requested. I once paid a woman $10,000 to not teach me how to pass the bar exam. That’s a true story, and I passed.

Ron Peterson, one of the top coaches in the business, has a word for people like me: “Uncoachable.”

Anyway, Coach has never given me any training advice. He doesn’t care about how I ride, when I ride, what gears I ride in, what equipment I ride on, what my schedule, diet, power numbers, heart rate, or what race calendar is. “You can find someone to advise you about all that on the Internet,” he’s fond of saying.

“Only thing I can help you with is, you know, actually winning a race.”

At first I thought he was kidding until, following his advice, I won my first two races since 1986. Do you know how hard it is to win a bicycle race, even a creaky-kneed, leaky prostate one? Let me tell you: It’s very hard. Very, very, very hard.

And it’s harder the older you get because there’s no churn. There are no younger guys coming up displacing the old guys. As you get older, so does your competition. They age grade right along next to you. The guys who were beating you in ’88 keep beating you in ’98, then in ’08, and soon enough in ’18. In math terms, they’re always doing calculus, you’re still struggling with arithmetic.

Coach is awesome because he fills in the huge void of ignorance that I live in, the ignorance of strategy. And the strategy itself isn’t difficult, but then again neither was sailing to America for the first time as long as you knew the earth was round.

So Coach drifted back. “Get on my wheel,” he said. I did, panting so hard it hurt almost as bad as my broken nutsack and fractured childbearing pelvis.

After a few seconds, you know, those really, really long ones that other people call “minutes,” normal breathing resumed. “Okay,” I said. “I can go faster.”

But coach didn’t go any faster. He kept me in this strange zone that said “I am doing a lot but I can do more.” My instinct, of course, was to do more. Isn’t that how you beat people?

Pretty soon we caught and dropped Canyon Bob, who I never catch and never drop. Then we got passed by a mini-three-man-train. Coach let them go. “They’re dropping us!” I wailed.

Coach looked back. “The climb’s not over yet.”

This bizarre purgatory of pain but not unendurable pain continued to ratchet up. We caught the mini-train. Where the climb jerks up for 200 yards they splintered and we left them for good without ever accelerating.

“Steep walls have a speed limit,” said Coach. “It requires exponentially more energy to accelerate on them and if you kick it there you have nothing left for the longer, easier grade where you can make time.”

We made time and picked off other riders, guys who are lots fitter and faster and younger and richer have prettier mistresses. They were not happy to get passed by Ol’ Gimpy Busted Nutsack latched onto the wheel of reigning national champ a/k/a Coach.

Now what had seemed like steady but endurable pain became suddenly awful. This corresponded with the short flat spot on the way to the Domes, where Coach sped up. I popped, he slowed, and I got back on, settling into purgatory again.

We caught and shed several more riders.

Afterwards he explained it. “Don’t ride in the red.”

“Okay,” I gasped.

I thought about that, and it prompted a billion questions until I reminded myself that one fool can keep a hundred wise men busy for a thousand years.

Then I pondered that out of that entire gaggle of idiots, only 11 had finished ahead of me, none was my age, none had a broken ballsack, and we’d picked off about half of the initial lead group.

“Hey, Coach!” I shouted. But like Racer X, he was gone.

END

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Pecan pie and milk to calm the nerves

January 9, 2016 § 17 Comments

I got the pre-ride queasies, and I never get the pre-ride queasies.

Seven weeks ago tomorrow I was hurrying to the Donut Ride, all fit and feeling great and shit, and I fell off my bicycle and fractured my hipbone, which is connected to my nutsackbone, which fuggin’ hurts when you mash it between the pavement and the steel rails on your saddle.

Now, though, I’m 100% healed up minus about forty percent, but it’s the forty percent that doesn’t matter so I’m headed off tomorrow for the Donut Ride to fulfill my date with destiny. Only thing is, chances are good that it will be a real loser of a date, where the other person is missing a lip, has a death’s head tattoo and a pierced tongue, and is dragging a duffel bag filled with shrunken heads and dynamite.

Usually I love going to the Donut but tomorrow I’m scared. Ever since I fell off my bicycle I have been scared. Scared of falling off again and re-breaking the crack that isn’t healed. Scared of falling off and whacking my head. Scared of getting smacked by a car.

But worse than all that is my fear of droppage. Usually on the Donut I get dropped but not until a bunch of other people have been carved up into bite-sized pieces and fed to the Destroyer or Surfer Traitor or Smasher Traitor or the G-Money or the Strava, Jr. or the Jules or the Frenchy or the Pony Girl.

Tomorrow though I’m going to be the chum. That’s how it is when you have more excuses than training miles. Here’s how it will go:

  1. Man, this hurts but I’m near the front.
  2. Man, this is awful but I’m not too far from the front.
  3. Man, I can’t stand this anymore I hope someone closes that gap.
  4. Man, I hope I can hang onto this fourth chase group.
  5. Man, I hate riding alone.
  6. I wonder if I beat that little kid who started with us on a mountain bike?

Yeah, it’s gonna suck and when I heard that Manzella and his West Side wrecking crew are coming I knew it was going to suck times a thousand. If you don’t know Tony, he is a very nice fellow.

Except he’s an absolute bastard the way he grinds you up into pulp and is then nice to you afterwards. It would feel better if he’d spit and curse a little bit but I’ve never even heard him say “fuck.” I don’t think he knows any dirty words and dog knows I’ve tried to teach him.

I also hope he doesn’t bring that other nice bastard Michael Smith. He is a wheelsucking bastard until he stops wheelsucking and rides away from you and then congratulates you at the top even though he weighs 250-lbs. and you’ve been dieting your way down to 135, that bastard.

The best policy tomorrow would be to stay home and ride the trainer and do Zwift. Do you know Zwift? A buddy in Japan sent me a link to it. It is the apotheosis of stupid. You get on your trainer and pretend you are racing people on a video screen.

I can pretend a lot of shit. I can pretend I’m president of the galaxy or that I’m fucking a movie star, for example. But I can’t pretend I’m racing an animated character on a screen. Oh, and I forgot to mention that on Zwift you pay money to race the fake cartoon characters.Why not just pay your wife to get on a trainer next to you and race her? Afterwards if you let her win you might at least get laid.

Like, I know bicycle people are maroons, but are they so stupid that they can pretend they’re racing Tom and Jerry? I guess the answer is “yes.” And please don’t send me some whiny-ass email about how it’s snowing in Bismarck or some shit. Put on another layer and go ride, you big pansy.

But back to the Donut, where I’m gonna get smeared. It’s going to be humiliating. How humiliating? There’s a 1-in-10 chance that I will get beat by Prez. All these wankers are going to blow by me and some of them will probably pat me on the back and say “Good job!” which in cycling means “Fuck you, loser.” Usually they just snarl at me, which in cycling means “You are awesome, dude.”

Prez has never beaten me on a climb because he is so fucking slow. One time I did the Donut after a lung transplant and I still beat his ass up the Switchbacks. That dude climbs slower than a vine in winter. But tomorrow he might whip my ass. You know how that’s going to hurt? I can see it now. “Wanky passed by Prez, who pats him on the back and says ‘Good job!'”

That fucker.

They say you have to get back on the horse but why, especially if the horse is nasty and has kicked your head in already? Can’t you just poison the sonofabitch, or shoot him?

Anyway I better go to bed but not before I have some milk and pie to calm my nerves.

END

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What I would have done

December 13, 2015 § 18 Comments

It was a huge bummer to learn that Charon brought his whole Surf City team to the Donut Ride today, knowing he did that because he knew I was on the injured reserve disabled got a boo-boo list. That is pretty much the only way those guys were going to have a chance, was by making sure I was down for the count.

I called four or seven buddies after the ride and got the lowdown on how it went down and it was exactly what I expected, a bunch of fakers who did good because the real hammer was back at home locked up in the toolbox.

So I put all their stories together and applied the principle of equal lying, which says that even when someone is lying and bikers don’t do nothing but lie the only liars who lie worse are surfers and the way the principle works is this. If somebody lies about how hard he went, which is pretty much all they do, then you compare the lie (450 watts) with what you know from having stomped their dicks regularly (180 watts) and get the differential of 270 watts as how much they are lying by.

Then you apply that which is about 2.5 to everything they say in reverse in other words they say “I was tenth on the climb” you know that’s a 2.5-times lie so you bump it down to 25th place. So I figured out how the ride really went and then it was easy for me to figure out what I would have done if had been there which is to stomp everyone’s dick pretty good.

First Tatty-poo takes a flyer out of Malaga Cove and Smasher goes with him. I would have started the attack and dropped everybody if I had been there. Then Frenchy Number Un sneaks up to their rear wheel and doesn’t take a pull because he’s sneaky French which is saying the same thing twice.

I would have stomped so hard I would have rode away from them right there.

Then Smasher and Tatty-poo tow Frenchy Number Un to the bottom of the Switchbacks and they kick it hard. That is where I would have stomped double extra hard and dropped them hard, right there. They would have been crying to mommy and begging for mercy but I would have mercied them with a swift stomp to the gonads. Just rode away. Boom-boom-boom. Suckers.

Then they hammered some more and dropped Frenchy Number Un and got a little ways up and then boom! They got the bum’s rush by the Destroyer, Wily, G$, Strava Jr., Ponygirl, and Junior Jr. If I had been with Smasher and Tatty-poo which I wouldn’t have been because I would have stomped their dicks a long time ago, but if I was I would have jumped in with Destroyer & Co. and then smashed them all.

I would have done it with my tremendous power and ridden away all by myself.

But then they were all together to the top of the Switchbacks and they punched it on the little wall and off came Tatty-poo and Wily and pretty soon Smasher and Junior Jr. That’s where I would have smashed everyone super hard.

If I was back with Smasher and Junior Jr. which I wouldn’t have been I would have taken a deep breath and smashed it hard until I caught the leaders and then I would have double-smashed them and rode off.

Then it was just Ponygirl and Strava Jr. and G$ because they dropped Destroyer using their tremendous power. I would have used my tremendous power which is way more tremendous than theirs combined and would have smashed them.

Then at the end Strava Jr. rode away from G$ and Ponygirl and won the whole giant prize. I would have totally smashed him. I would have attacked and jumped and sprinted super hard like a rocket ship they wouldn’t have even seen me I would have gone so fast.

That’s what I would have done.

END

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When baby seals rebel

December 6, 2015 § 19 Comments

Dear Baby Seal and Surfer Dan:

I’m still in a state of shock to hear that you, Baby Seal, have swum off to join a different pack of pinnipeds. And I’m still in shock that you, Surfer Dan, have caught the La Grunge wave and taken the innocent, young, and as-yet-unwise-to-the-ways-of-the-world Baby Seal with you.

How could you?

I thought we were a team, and there is no “I” in team, although if you rearrange the letters there’s a “meat,” “mate,” “tame,” “eat,” “met,” and “meta,” to name a few. But you guys can be frank with me. What was it that made you leave Team Big Orange Lizard Club for Velo Club La Grunge?

Don’t tell me it was their dirty little bribe of free tires and race reimbursements. You got that from us, not to mention our sweet bike deals and the new Crash Fund Replacement Program, which will add up to big savings for you two bicycle falling off veterans. That turn on the bike path isn’t called Cobley Corner for nothing.

And don’t tell me it was our ugly bicycle outfits. Sure, word on the street has it that we are the ugliest. Period. No one even close. But it’s always been that way. Just because 2016 is ushering in a new combo of Calvin Wearing Hobbes, not to mention the ‘cross kit Vomit Specials, that can’t be the motivation.

The Big O Lizard Club has always prided itself on having the ugliest kits in America, outside of the ones designed for the 1008 Poot’n Parkway Century, where the promoter had his 13-year-old kid design the jerseys in Photoshop. And lest we forget, La Grunge used to have those green Herbalife kits, and the red slashed/polka dotted ones, yeah, we haven’t forgotten, not to mention a host of other ugly outfits that were cringeworthy even after a case of good beer.

So what’s changed?

Don’t tell me you got your panties askew because of team sponsor Brad House and Back on Track Productions. Sure, he’s been vocal on Facegag about gun rights and one of his race co-sponsors last year was a crazy gun organization. But you’ve known that about him for years.

I don’t know why you’re trying to spare my feelings. But Baby Seal, you’re a SUBSCRIBER. $2.99 a month. How could you? Don’t you remember the time that I was taking off my jacket on NPR at the light at the alley and it was raining like crazy and everyone rode away and YOU stayed back for me?

Then you towed me at 29 mph into a cross wind all the way down Vista del Mar and up Pershing to where we were 300 yards from the group, and I sprinted around you, bridged, dropped you, and left you to ride the rest of the way by yourself in the rain? Have you forgotten that?

Or the time that we were in a 2-man NPR breakaway and I gave you the win? I, who don’t even give money to Bernie Sanders or Planned Parenthood? I, who wouldn’t push a struggling teammate six inches to help him stay on? I, who would gladly slit my grandmother’s throat for the chance to have an option at possibly being in the mix for a water bottle prime?

Oh, and that is THE ONLY TIME YOU’VE WON THE NPR. And now you’re leaving Team Lizard Collectors and going over to the smooth and supple and well-kitted arch enemy? Why, Baby Seal, why? Are their Cannondales really that much better?

But you, Surfer Dan, who aren’t even a subscriber for $2.99 a month, you! How could you?

If there was one rider who personified Team Lizard Collectors, it was you. Always ready to help. Always ready to put together a five-year training plan for a new Cat 5. Always the first one to clear the last bits of rubble off the chafing trays at the club’s year-end party. Always the first one to show up and eat all the food in my fridge.

But that’s meaningless. Have you forgotten who made you who you are? Others may have forgotten the creaky Look bike, the goofy pedal stroke, and the goofier smile that first appeared in the South Bay bike scene six years ago, but I haven’t.

Remember our first ride, when I dropped you on the Switchbacks? Remember our first three Donuts together, when I dropped you every single time? Remember how after a few rides I started to let you drop me, and then I started to let you finish a few minutes ahead of me, and then I let you start winning a bunch of races I wasn’t in?

Who was it who taught you to attack at the start of the ride and don’t look back until everyone had given up, quit, died, or gone back to pet their lizards?

Who was the ONLY OTHER IDIOT who would join you in Riviera Village breakaways?

And now, because Sausage is buying a new Mercedes Sprunter van (you can’t even sprunt!), you’ve not only refused to sign up for $2.99 per month as severance penalty pay, but you’ve taken the young, innocent, wide-eyed Baby Seal with you.

All of which I could live with. Team Lizard Eaters is strong and we will endure. We still have Dr. Whaaaat? to analyze our power data and post kudos on Facegag and Strive. We still have G3 to organize 300-mile noodle rides for mid-season fitness. We still have G$ to drop everyone else on the team. And this year we have Wike to tell us what to do and then sob hysterically when he sees how incapable we are of doing it.

But how will you ever live with yourself, after all the work I did to get Smasher on the team, not to mention his associates? Smasher doesn’t belong with Team Lizard Lickers, you know that. He’s too good, too smart, too pointlessly strong, and too darned contrarian to ever sit down with his fellow lizard aficionados and discuss the finer points of lizard mating.

He joined Team Lizard Copulators for one reason: You. I told him that since you’re 35 he’d now have a real teammate, and not just that, but the best teammate. Now look at him. He’s so sad that he came over last night and ate all my Shoo Fly Pie, which is essentially a baked tin of flour, shortening, and molasses. That’s some sad shit and he gained five pounds in one sitting.

Well, I hope you guys are pleased with yourself. I hope that you find love and meaning over there at Velo Club La Grunge. I hope you enjoy the fancy Beverly Hills restaurants (pro tip: you’ll both need to bathe once a month now whether you need it or not), the overpriced burger shops, and the sinking feeling of stepping into Sausage’s house and realizing that his foyer is bigger and cost more than your apartment complex.

I hope you’re happy, and please don’t send me one of those “Let’s still be friends” bullshit text messages. You’ve treated me like a wingless fly at the annual Team Lizard  Collectors Annual Lizard Feeding Contest.

I may be crippled. I may be slow. I may be old. I may not be any good. But I never, ever, ever forget, and I certainly don’t forgive, unless of course your subscriptions are current. And yours, Surfer Dan, is not.

END

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The right way

November 4, 2015 § 20 Comments

The path of truth is straight, but lined with razors and thorns.

Reading about George Hincapie got me thinking about Steve Tilford. You couldn’t pick two people who are more different. One is quiet, dishonest, and makes his living on the back of ill-gotten gains that he earned through a career of cheating.

The other is garrulous, honest, and makes his living by playing fair and giving it his all. I’ve been meaning to do a write-up of Steve’s visit to the South Bay a few weeks ago, when he flew in from Kansas to give the keynote speech at the 3rd Annual South Bay Cycling Awards.

Copyright Phil Beckman, PB Creative. Used with permission.

Copyright Phil Beckman, PB Creative. Used with permission.

But I haven’t been able to do it because each time I sat down to type, the job seemed too immense. This evening it seems even more impossible, and not just because there’s a pot of Cajun beans and pork bubbling on the stove, infusing the room with a smell that screams “Eat me now!” without pause.

Big job or not, here goes.

Steve flew out and we met him at the Hotel Shade in Manhattan Beach. I didn’t know what to expect. I’ve ridden with lots of pros and cycling icons, and for the most part they are really disappointing in terms of personality. Something about endless miles seems to make the top tier of riders mute, or stupid, or bland, or some tasteless combination of all three.

Not Steve. From the minute we started pedaling, he was talking. Friendly, funny, and more stories than you could ever remember. Riding next to him was like leaping off into a bottomless pool of anecdotes and cycling history. If we had been expecting a bitter old curmudgeon, we would have been sadly surprised. As Steve said, “I’m not anti-doping, I’m pro-cycling. And that means I reject cheating in all its forms.”

Surrounded by us, the clueless clods of the South Bay, Steve never missed a beat, never looked down his nose at anybody, and politely followed the etiquette of the ride–an etiquette that ended with him stomping the collective dicks of some of SoCal’s strongest riders. Smiling, game for a hard ride, happy to cruise, he made us all feel like champions even though the real champion was he.

It’s impressive to watch great athletes do their thing, but the beauty of cycling is that you can sometimes participate, however briefly, in the performance. Finishing a hundred yards back from Steve the first time up to the Domes and right behind him the second time was better than any masters race, even though he was obviously going at quarter-throttle. Later in the ride, when he pulled out the stops going up Via Zumaya, no one could hold his wheel. No one. And where we were all wrecked after the ride, he had coffee and then went out for another “easy” 30 miles.

But his athletic performance was nothing compared to his keynote speech at our award ceremony. He literally graced us with his presence, speaking with conviction, with passion, with honesty, and with hail-fellow-well-met good cheer that turned a special night into an unforgettable one. Sincere, funny, and happy to hang out with the crowd after speaking and knock back a few beers … this is what every champion should be, but hardly any of them are.

The path of truth may be a hard one, but seeing people like Steve Tilford should give everyone hope and inspiration that it’s not simply a path we can take, but one that we should.

The head Donut guy

October 23, 2015 § 19 Comments

His head was tilted to one side, he was slurring his words and gesticulating.

So I stood there in my tuxedo and listened.

“Ya see,” he said, “There’s a bigger chain ring they’re gonna make for me, see? Now I’ve only got fifty teeth, ya see? But the new one, it’s gonna have fifty-four or five or six, ya see?” He shaped the bigger chain rings with his hands.

“Yes, I see.”

“And they’re gonna put that on my bike, ya see?”

“Yes, I see.”

“And then you know what I’m gonna do?”

“Pay for it?”

“No,” he said. “I mean of course I’ll pay for it, but you know what I’m gonna DO?”

“What’s that?”

“I’m gonna beat the head Donut guy.” He paused for effect. “Ya see?”

I didn’t see at all. Not even a little bit. “How? I mean, the way things stand you can’t even beat Prez.”

“The head Donut guy, ya see, I can’t catch him on the flats. He’s got me there. But with this bigger chain ring, ya see, I’m gonna catch him on the flats. I can already beat the head Donut guy on the hill, don’t worry about that, I can beat him there.”

I wasn’t worried at all, but I was curious. “So who’s the head Donut guy?”

The slightly unusual fellow who had walked from San Pedro to the Wanky Awards in North Torrance, an eight-mile slog one-way, and who was going to walk all the way back, cocked his head a bit more. “The head Donut guy? He’s the guy always wins the Donut race. Don’t you know him?”

“But the first rider up the hill every Saturday is different a lot of the time. There’s not really any one head Donut guy.”

He shook his head vigorously, then nodded vigorously. “Oh yes there is and I’m gonna beat him at the race next Saturday.” The head Donut guy was apparently an apparition, or a symbol, or a metaphor. Or maybe he couldn’t tell us apart because of our glasses and helmets. Or maybe he just meant Wily.

This fellow was well known around the peninsula for riding a 40-pound MTB, shirtless, in baggy shorts, and sporting giant clodhopper work boots. He was a seal clubber of sorts. Despite his appearance he was viciously strong and loved nothing more than trolling for kitted out baby seals. He’d approach them slowly, out of the saddle, then pass them slowly.

Outraged, they’d give chase on their $10k rigs and he’d dangle. After a minute or so they’d be on the rivet and he’d pull away, leaving their self image in ruins.

But he couldn’t hang with “the Donut race” so he’d hop in with various shellees ascending the Switchbacks, pound for a while, and get dropped.

“The head Donut guy,” he repeated. “I’m gonna beat him. You’ll see.” He wandered off. Wearing a shirt and long pants he looked halfway normal.

But what weird ideas he had bouncing around in his head! What strange fixations were propelling him around the hill, driving him to walk sixteen miles in a single evening just to tell me his strategy against the head Donut guy, whoever that was! He was ricocheting around in an alternate universe, delusional, trying madly to find a wormhole back to reality.

Just like me.

END

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The horror

September 27, 2015 § 16 Comments

Every Saturday morning the best riders in the South Bay assemble to contest the legendary Donut Ride. They are young, they are shaven, they are tiny, they climb very fast. And they are wearing their finest clown underwear, except for Wily, who showed up this morning in culottes and a tank top.

Ostensibly the goal of the Donut Ride is to be the first rider to reach the radar domes. But roiling beneath the stated objective is a deeper, more fundamental objective, one driven by horror and terror and the fear of humiliation: Don’t get beaten by the creaky old wanker with hairy legs.

No one has ever said it to me directly, but they don’t have to. Being ridden off my wheel is the most demoralizing thing that can ever happen to a cyclist because it means you really aren’t very good, and it can destroy the future dreams of an aspiring young athlete. Therefore, it is with especial relish that I target the young, the bright, and the upcoming.

For them it is lose-lose. No possible excuse can make up for getting stomped by a wrinkled prune who is old enough to be the father of most, the grandfather of many, and almost the great-grandfather of one or two. “It’s the off season,” “I’m going easy today,” “My coach told me to keep it in Zone 3,” … at the end of the day getting whipped by a senior citizen on a challenging climb is simply a deal-ender.

For me of course it is win-win. As soon as I’m shelled I can chalk it up to biology. “I’m almost 52, he’s 25. I was lucky to stick around for as long as I did.”

And of course by simply hanging around and hanging around, once in an incredibly rare while I actually pick off one of the targets on my list. I still remember and savor the day a couple of years ago when I caught and dropped Wily. The afterglow from that is as strong and fresh and warm as peeing in the shower.

And who can forget the time (singular) that I shelled Ponytail, a 25-year-old climbing phenom with the draft of a knitting needle? And how the wonderfulness of the victory was punctuated by his comment that he thought I was in my 20’s, and how crestfallen he was to learn I had an AARP card.

Then of course there was the time I scampered away and beat Derek the Destroyer, an accomplishment so drenched in fantasticity that I didn’t ride for a month afterwards. In my checklist there is even a mark next to Tony Manzella’s name. One mark, one time, to be savored each night with incense before I go to bed. That’s kind of my scorecard, after about 450 Donut Rides, with an asterisk for the time in 2008 that Rudy dragged me up to the Domes on my steel Eddy Merckx and intentionally didn’t drop me.

One of the unstated rules every week is “Drop Wanky.” I’ve seen guys take years off their lives rather than have me beat them. I’ve seen riders spent, dead, and ready for the retort when, looking back and seeing me, they come back to life like the undead and sprint away from the embarrassment of getting wankied.

But for the last three years there has been a very rare bird I’ve been trying to tick off my list, a kind of California Clapper Rail that has been elusive, cagey, and hell bent on thwarting me. He has beaten me in every possible configuration, and has beaten me when I’m riding my best and he’s riding his worst. And he’s always done it by generous margins. No bike throws, no last-second surges, just a smooth swing of the executioner’s axe and bam, he’s gone and I’m tied up in knots going backwards.

I’d go so far as to say he’s sworn a blood oath and it looks like this: That repulsive old faker will never finish anywhere near me.

And I never have, until today, of course.

Julien had sandblasted the pack of about twenty that still remained at the bottom of the Switchbacks into a small group of seven. My quarry had attacked hard just before we hit the wall on Crest, headed to the radar domes. Julien pulled him back and only Wily, Ponytail, Strava Junior, my quarry, and I remained.

Julien turned the screws and I popped. Strava Junior must have come off before then, because I was alone as my quarry and the three others pedaled away. Just before the turn to flat spot there was another flurry of attacks, and my quarry blew. He was within range. I pulled him back then came around him hard, listening for the telltale signs of having someone on my wheel. It was dead silent.

When I finished, the only three riders ahead were all younger than my children.

I hurried home and made a tick mark on my checklist. Then I logged onto eBay and put everything up for sale, because that’s as good as it’s ever going to get.

END

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