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.
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.
October 5, 2015 § 20 Comments
I used to live in the northern part of the Texas Panhandle, up by the Canadian River breaks in the town of Miami, population 588, largest and only town in a county of more than a thousand square miles. The country was rugged and its beauty took getting used to, and I suppose some people never got used to it, including some of those who had lived there for generations.
The people were inward looking, they stuck together, they suffered strangers when it suited them, and there was no problem they couldn’t blame on the government or cure through prayer. Yet they had a hard humanity about them too, and would help you whether you deserved it or not because you were a person and they knew that sooner or later every human gets in a bind and needs a hand.
The bike rides up there were the loneliest I have ever done. The minimal distance was 25 miles, a big square from Miami south up the big hill, out of the breaks and onto the plains, then after six ramrod straight miles a left, then after another six straight miles another left, and then you’d drop back down into the breaks and make another left onto the highway, and it was six miles back to town.
It was lonely out there and not just because in twenty-five miles you’d see one car, sometimes less. There were a handful of old barns stuck out on the plains, collapsing wooden ghosts moored to the earth, reminders of things that had begun big and gradually been worn into defeat by time and money and the wind.
And nothing was lonelier than that prairie wind. It rarely blew less than twenty miles an hour, and big winds of thirty or forty weren’t rare; those were the days that you just stayed indoors. By yourself, the occasional hawk seated high on a utility pole, the ferocious wind trying to blow you to a standstill, no cars, no people, pushing the pedals as hard as you could to make it to the turn where you’d at least have a vicious crosswind rather than a headwind … those were hard and lonely rides.
For variety it only got worse. You could cut over to Old Mobeetie and come back via Canadian, a solid seventy miles of solitude, or you could go north through the breaks and circle back through Pampa for a similar distance that was slower because of the hills. I often believed that nothing good ever came out of any of those rides. No good friendships, no good experiences, no good memories, nothing but wind and heat, or wind and biting cold, numb slogs that gave nothing, left nothing, meant nothing.
One hot summer day before I left to do the Pampa loop the first time, my neighbor rolled down the window in his air-conditioned pickup. “It’s too hot for that,” he said.
“You’re probably right.”
“And you ain’t got near enough water.”
“I have two bottles,” I replied, pointing to the bike.
“I got eyes, but you ain’t getting to Pampa on no two water bottles, and there ain’t a drop in between here and there.”
“Have a good day, Clyde,” I said.
He nodded and rolled up the window; I rode off.
Twenty-five miles in I was out of water and it was over a hundred degrees. I hit a sublime level of thirst, desert thirst. I passed a stock tank with cattle crowded around it and thought about trekking the two hundred yards into the field, but it would be filled with goatheads, the water wouldn’t be potable, and the bulls might gore me.
I pedaled on, ten miles to go before I hit the outskirts of Pampa. The wind was hot and relentless and in my face, sucking me completely and terminally dry. Not a car passed, not a truck, and nothing but fields.
After forever I saw a farm house. It was at the end of a drive that was itself about a quarter mile long. I pedaled down it, caked in dust and dirt and my tongue swollen like a giant bone-dry pickle. There was a truck at the end of the drive, so I dismounted and knocked on the door.
An old boy opened it and looked through the screen as if every afternoon a cyclist stopped by out here in a part of the world where I’d never even seen another bicycle. “Yes?” he asked.
“Could I get some water from your hose?”
“I suppose so,” he said.
I walked over to the side of the house where the green hose was perfectly coiled. I turned on the tap and out spurted a jet of boiling hot water. I let the hot water run out and waited a few seconds until it turned from hot to ice cold. Then I turned the nozzle into my mouth and drank from it, deeply.
No draught of water ever tasted that good before. Or since.
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August 29, 2015 § 10 Comments
The South Bay Cycling Awards are fast approaching, and a number of questions are begging to be answered.
Question: Where do I vote?
Who said anything about voting?
Question: What are the rules for selection of finalists?
All questions regarding all procedures can be found by clicking on this link, which takes you to the South Bay Cycling Awards Rule Book.
Question: There were, like, a zillion nominees. Are they all contenders for a Wanky in their category?
No. Three finalists have been selected from each category.
Question: How will we find out who the finalists are?
Check your mailbox every three hours. Notifications were mailed out today.
Question: I am pretty sure I am a finalist and am going to win but I have my second cousin’s wedding in Lancaster that’s on the same day as the awards. I’ll still get my Wanky, right?
Question: By riding 30,000 feet up Scheuren Rd. today in 17:45:56 hours, is Head Down James going to get some special kind of award?
That depends on what you mean by “award.”
Question: I heard that there is a secret committee comprised of Brauch, Martin, and Spivey. What kind of bullshit is that?
Complete, fresh, stinking, steaming bullshit. With flies on top.
Question: I crashed all year plus I’m the best male racer and the most fun to ride with and I’m a great advocate. There’s not a limit to how many Wankys I can win, is there?
One Wanky per wanker.
Question: That’s total bullshit. Where is that in the rules?
In the Rule Book.
Question: I told all my friends and club members and FB friends and Twitterati to email you votes for me and my club and tell you cool shit about me so I can win, plus I’ve been giving you hints and making suggestions to you on rides and on Facebag. Does that help or hurt my chances?
A billion times zero is still zero.
Question: Who’s paying for all this?
Have you ever wondered who’s responsible for all those Nigerian prince emails?
Question: Will there be food?
There will be food trucks, with a $5 discount for the first 500 guests.
Question: Will there be beer?
At the Strand Brewing Co.’s new 34,000 square-foot brewery? No, definitely not.
Question: Who is Steve Tilford, why is he the guest speaker, and why should I give a shit?
He is a curmudgeon, Eddy Merckx was busy, Google him.
Question: I’m not a bike racer. Can I still come?
Question: I hate bicycles and drive everywhere but I like beer. Can I still come?
Yes. But you might want to Uber home.
Question: I heard there is also going to a South Bay Cycling Hall of Fame. WTF is that?
Ask Brauch. It was his idea.
Question: Who’s going to be inducted into the Hall?
Nelson Vails, Marilyn Sonye, Ted Ernst, and Tony Cruz.
Question: Who are those wankers?
Question: Is Martin making those incredible, bad-ass horseshit trophies again?
They are horseshoes, not horseshit. And yes, they’re bad-ass, and yes, he’s making them again.
Question: I heard there was going to be a really crazy, off-the-hook trophy for the Crashtacular Fred trophy. Is that true?
Let’s just say, “J. Marvin Campbell” and that should answer your question.
Question: Can I get one of those cool Wanky Awards t-shirts designed by Joe Yule?
Question: Can I get one for free because we’re pals?
Question: What is a fucking jar?
You’ll find out on October 17.
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April 25, 2015 § 39 Comments
Today is supposed to be a happy day, as 800+ bicycle riders try to come up with reasonable-sounding excuses as to why they can’t actually participate in tomorrow’s Belgian Waffle Ride despite having paid the $136 entry fee, purchased $3,402.71 in new cycling equipment, and retained the services of a professional coach.
But for me, even though I’m going down to San Diego in an hour or so to help mark the course and pick up my number, it’s not really all that happy. I can’t stop thinking about the refugees from Syria and Somalia who are drowning as they try to cross the Mediterranean from Libya in dinghies, rubber rafts, and leaky vessels, all in order to reach Western Europe.
The US State Department in Washington, and refugee agencies were all aware of the situation.
[The owners of the boats] knew even before the [boats] sailed that its passengers might have trouble disembarking in [Europe].
The voyage[s] of the [refugees] attracted a great deal of media attention. Right-wing [European] newspapers deplored its impending arrival and demanded that the government cease admitting [the] refugees. Indeed, the passengers became victims of bitter infighting within the government [s].
Many [Europeans] resented the relatively large number of refugees whom the government had already admitted into the country, because they appeared to be competitors for scarce jobs. Hostility toward immigrants fueled both [anti-Mulsim sentiment] and xenophobia.
This is not an edited clip from a newspaper describing the refugee crisis in Europe. It’s an edited clip taken directly from the online story on the website of the U.S. Holocaust Museum about the voyage of the St. Louis, a German ship filled with Jewish refugees who in 1939 were refused entry to Cuba and to the United States as they fled Hitler’s campaign to exterminate European Jewry, a campaign whose earnestness was shown to all who cared to look in the Kristallnacht attacks of 1938.
Most oblivious to the historical implications of denying entry to refugees are the Australians, who have advised the EU to deal with refugee boats the same way that they do, by simply telling would-be immigrants that they will never set foot on Australian shores, that they will be turned away by military vessels, that no aid will be given, and that if their boats are not seaworthy, they will drown under the watchful eye of the Australian coast guard.
Australia touts the effectiveness of the program. Before implementation, over 1,200 people drowned trying to reach the continent. Today no one dies at sea because the PR campaign has effectively discouraged people from trying. Instead, refugees flee to New Guinea, Cambodia, and other places where the Australian government pays those governments to take in refugees. The governmental payees pocket the money and let the refugees try to “find a better life” in the squalor and poverty of some of the world’s worst slums. “There is lots of work in Cambodia,” one Aussie official was quoted as saying.
But at least the refugees aren’t dirtying up the streets of Sydney, stealing the jobs of white Australians and contributing to crime and unemployment. As in America, white Australians are apparently falling all over themselves to do the brutal, back breaking jobs typically done by immigrants.
As I was doing a BWR prep ride with a small group a couple of months ago, I chatted with a fellow rider about the failure of Congress to pass the Dream Act, which would have given amnesty to undocumented immigrant children brought to this country by their parents and who, through no fault of their own, quite literally live in the shadows.
“Well,” he said, “those kids … that was me.”
“What?” I stared in disbelief.
“Yeah. I didn’t have a green card until I was eighteen. I lived my entire childhood as an illegal, and it wasn’t until the amnesty of 1986 that I stopped living in daily fear of arrest and deportation.”
There we were, riding bikes, getting ready for the ultimate expression of privileged, middle aged faux athleticism, chatting about wives, kids, and the “travails” of white-collar jobs. We were both productive members of society–sort of–,responsible husbands and fathers–sort–of, and the beneficiaries of limitless opportunity, but one of us could only have gotten where he was by the stroke of a legislative pen.
And here we’re about to go ride our bikes again as thousands of others are about to embark on a deadly venture across the open sea, ruled by cut-throats, smugglers, and gangs, risking starvation, disease, and death because every one of those outcomes is better than what awaits them if they remain at home.
The Belgian Waffle Ride is about to happen with its supposed hardness, toughness, and difficulty … indeed.
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February 26, 2015 § 31 Comments
I can see Roger Worthington now, seated atop a golden throne which is itself perched atop a mountain of tightly bound thousand-dollar bills, staring out the giant plate glass window of his mansion in Bend.
As he casts his lonely eye upon the surrounding valley shrouded in snow, he cannot focus his attention on his immeasurable wealth, on his palatial eco-home that houses three people and has a carbon footprint the size of Beijing, or on his empire of craft beer, retail pizza establishments, and hundreds of thousands of acres of genetically modified hops.
Instead, as he scrolls through his Facebag timeline and sees the racing exploits of Charon, of G$, and of lowly Wanky himself, he can only grunt in discontent and snarl thusly on his feed: “Facebag, Facebag on the wall. Who’s the greatest masters team of all?”
In 2015, everyone seems to be vying for the title of America’s Greatest Profamateur Masters Racing Team. Is it Surf City Cyclery with its cadre of hardened killers, customized bike stands, personal masseuses and wrapped RV? Is it Monster Media with its gnarled and vicious national champions, its color-coordinated team bikes and its capacious custom canopy? Is it SPY-Giant-RIDE with its 80-man team, each rider armed with his own personal collection of fancy sunglasses, and its omnipresent armada of rolling wrapped team vehicles?
Alas and alack, it is none of these. The greatest masters racing team of all time was Labor Power. Driven by the power hungry and depraved mind of Max Kash Agro, this collection of weird, antisocial, and utterly bizarre misfits created the mold for the modern profamateur masters team and then smashed it, along with Max’s hip, irrevocably in 2006 — never to be recreated or even vaguely approached.
The story began in 1983 or 1984 as I was pedaling around the track at Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas, when I first met Roger. He had an orange Viner. He raced a bit but aside from being reputedly “mean as a rattlesnake” there was little to suggest that less than a decade later he would burst onto the scene as the millionaire financier of Labor Power.
By the time he had been evicted from Texas and relocated to his Shangri-La in San Juan Capistrano, he had already invented the key elements of the profamateur masters bike team: Fancy Euro car with a decal, garish team clothing, “deals” for the team members, and teamwork that even today few teams can begin to approach.
In keeping with Roger’s ethos of “winning isn’t the only thing, it’s what I pay you to do,” Labor Power put together a cadre of racers who still make themselves known as the elite of the leaky prostates. Chris Walker, Louie Amelburu, Chris Hahn, and Greg Leibert are just three of the old Labor Power crew who still dominate when they show up to race.
Others have gone on to their reward or faded from view: Chris Hipp dead, Dave Worthington retired, Mark Scott mostly retired, and Chris Hahn still racing but only when he feels like it. Among them, the stalwarts of Labor Power amassed a record that is truly beyond compare, and what’s more incredible, they did it without any real suspicion of doping.
Consider this: In 1999 the team scored 40 wins and 78 podiums, including two state crit titles and a silver medal on the road. The next year Labor Power upped their tally to 42 wins and 95 podiums including state TT and road titles, wins at the Cascade Classic, and victories in every marquee masters event in California. In 2001 the team notched 42 wins, a world masters road title in Austria, and a gold medal at the Pan-Am masters championships. In 2002 Butch Stinson alone earned 31 victories as the team rolled up a mind-boggling total of 120 wins for the year. With 103 victories in 2003, the team had nothing left to win. So, dropping down to a “mere” 37 first place finishes in 2004, Labor Power masters racer Chris Walker won the elite men’s national road race at age 42.
By 2005 the team was falling apart, and so was team leader Roger Worthington’s hip. Labor Power officially disbanded in 2006.
What possibly explains this run of dominance, stretching from roughly 1995 to 2005? First of all, Labor Power’s guiding motto was “Win.” The team would block and sacrifice if it had a rider in the break, but that rider knew that 2nd place was unacceptable. There were no glory breakaways with Labor Power, where a rider finished sixth out of six riders as his team sacrificed in the rear. If you were going to ride the break you’d better not only have a plan to win, you’d better execute it to perfection. The fear of failure was driven by the manic despotism of MKA, and it worked.
Second, Labor Power, with one or two glaring exceptions, didn’t take wankers. If you were a proven winner you might get a ride with Labor Power. There were no bro deals. If you rode on Labor Power it was because you were either a closer or you were a closer. People weren’t recruited because of their ability to help, or work, or fetch water bottles. They got a ride because they knew how to cross the line first.
Third, Labor Power intimidated. They invented the cycling blog when things were still done on paper. The created the first mad-man race reports. The fecund and off-the-reservation mind of Roger Worthington made fun of everything, lampooned the enemy, lauded himself, and backed it up with vicious-but-fair, take-no-prisoners race strategy.
Fourth, Labor Power was ugly. Their uniforms were designed by Chris Hipp, a guy who had zero artistic talent and several galaxies’ worth of racing ability. Matching Hipp’s bad art with MKA’s bad taste, Labor Power designed jerseys that are notable even today for their garish ugliness and brashly bad mixture of offending colors. Yet the ugliness had an effect: When you lined up against the twisted minds of Labor Power you not only had to deal with the yelling, the intimidation, the race savvy, the steely legs and the cunning minds, but you also had to try and un-see the awful combination of colors that makes Monster Media’s kits look almost attractive.
Fifth, Labor Power had fun. It wasn’t the fun of “we gave it our best,” it was the fun of a gang of blood-soaked Mongol warriors, dripping in gore and sated from the spoils of razing a village, beheading the elderly, and selling everyone else off into slavery.
Sixth, Labor Power had money. Roger, despite being one of the cheapest, most tight-fisted people on earth, knew that to run a masters bike team it would cost money, and to that effect he made sure that at the end of each year his racers received the tiny pittance in shared winnings that are enough to keep an elite old bike racer cozy and warm in a cardboard box. For the amount of money that masters teams spend today, Labor Power could have outfitted a small country of bike racers.
So the next time you’re feeling good about your race results, or you’re thinking that the team is on its way to a winning season, take a moment to peruse the details of what is unquestionably the weirdest, whackiest, winningest masters racing team of all time: Labor.
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February 7, 2015 § 27 Comments
When I started junior high it was much, much too far to walk to school. “How’m I supposed to get to school?” I asked my dad.
“Ride your bike,” he said.
I had an old gray Murray 10-speed with lazy brakes and stem shifters. It had been brand new two years before, in 1974, so by that time it was merely new, as we hadn’t discovered disposable bicycles yet. I saved up five dollars mowing the lawn and squirreling away my weekly fifty-cent allowance, then went down to the Eagle Supermarket on Bissonnet and bought a bike lock in the hardware section.
The problem with riding to Jane Long Junior High School was that I had to go the other way down the street from the way I had gone to get to Braeburn Elementary, which meant that every morning I’d have to ride by Mrs. Dargabble’s house. Because school was such a long way off I had to leave early, which was an even bigger problem because it was usually in the early morning that Mrs. Dargabble would be up in the big oak tree, although sometimes she was up there late at night.
In the mornings, unlike the night, she didn’t cry or sing or howl. Instead, she would shinny up the bole of that ancient post oak and trot out onto the biggest limb, a limb so big and fat and thick and long that it stretched halfway across the street. It was pretty scary having to start your morning pedaling underneath that crazy old scowling owl looking down at you with her long, stringy hair and her shabby nightgown over which she’d thrown a sweater or a long-sleeved shirt, socks up to her knees and a baseball cap or a wool hat or a big floppy thing with a straw brim jammed down on her head.
Mrs. Dargabble was fifty or so and that was so old to a 12-year-old boy that she might as well have been dead. You would have thought her children, who were grown, would do something about her tree-climbing, actually it was more like tree-perching, or that her husband, Mr. Dargabble, would forbid her from sitting out on that limb, but no one ever did anything.
All I can tell you is that it scared the hell out me.
She lived two houses down and the first day I had to ride to school I looked down the street and sure enough, there she was, those long stockinged legs draped over the bough. She saw me, too, as I pushed that big Murray down the drive — I got on it like a man did in those days, left foot on the left pedal, pushing off with the right foot and then throwing the right leg over the saddle.
Our driveway was long and had a steep drop down to the street so that you always had a good head of steam going when you hit the street, leaned hard right, and sprinted away, using every ounce of momentum to carry you pell-mell under that branch with crazy old Mrs. Dargabble dangling up there in the tree glaring furiously at the world.
Of course it was the South and I was a little kid, and crazy or not she was an adult so as I pumped those pedals, my knapsack jumping all over my back like it was plugged into an electrical socket I’d still have to look up and say, “Good morning, Mrs. Dargabble!” as I slammed the pedals like hell to get past. She never said a word, just glowered at me.
This went on for the first week of school. Then on the Monday of the second week of school as I roared past, shouting my greeting, I noticed that she wasn’t wearing a hat, or a cap, or even the old dishrag she sometimes tied around her head.
On Tuesday I sprinted by. She wasn’t wearing a shirt or a sweater, just the old threadbare nightgown and of course no bra, and with the hot and sticky Houston weather you could see her droopy breasts pointed down so straight they looked like the would bore into the center of the earth.
On Wednesday she had dispensed with the stockings and I had to grit my teeth as I looked up, because sure enough her legs splayed on that branch showing her thick cotton granny panties all bunched up and her nightgown raised up to her knees.
I got up on Thursday and knew what was coming. “Hey, dad,” I said.
“What?” He put down the paper.
“Would you give me a ride to school?”
“I’m feeling kind of sick. It’s such a long way. I think I’m gonna throw up.”
Dad put down his paper. “Let me tell you something,” he said. “When I was your age I lived on a ranch. It was a two-mile walk from the house to the front gate. And you know what I had waiting for me when I got to the front gate?”
“Yes, sir,” I said. It was one of those old, much hated stories that every kid despises every time he hears it, but eventually cherishes when he’s old enough that he doesn’t get to hear it anymore.
“I had another three miles to get to the schoolhouse. And you know what I did when it rained?”
“I walked. And you know what I did when it snowed?”
“I walked. And you know what I did when it hailed, or when it was 105 degrees, or when it was flooding, or when the snow had turned to ice, or when the road was churned up into a mud pit two feet deep, or when I was sick, or when I didn’t feel like going to school, or when I’d forgotten my homework, or when I knew that Gus Tumpkins was laying for me past the creek?”
“I did the same damn thing. I walked.”
He picked up his newspaper and went back to it. “You don’t look sick anyhow,” he added for punctuation.
“Yes, sir.” I wondered if he’d ever had to walk underneath a crazy lady who didn’t have any shorts on.
My heart was pounding as I rolled the Murray out of the garage. I couldn’t bear to check down the street; I didn’t have to. I knew she was there. I shoved off with my right foot like I was trying to push off an aircraft carrier, and I got the biggest head of steam I ever had. The rubber whined as I careened into the quiet suburban street, the sun barely up, and I mashed the pedals with the power spawned by fear.
I looked up. She was perched on the branch, stark naked, legs spread open, the tuft of red hair thick and wiry looking and glorious, and she was smiling at me. It was the first time in the seven years I’d lived on the street that I’d ever seen her smile.
On Friday morning dad put down his paper. “You want a ride today?”
“No, sir,” I said.
He looked surprised. “Okay.”
I casually rolled the bike out and cruised slowly down the drive. I looked up, but she wasn’t there. And she never was again.
One day, some thirty-five years later, I returned to that street. Most of the old houses had been torn down and replaced by McMansions. The giant oaks that formed a massive arbor over the street remained, having grown more beautiful with time. Our old house was still there, and so was Mrs. Dargabble’s, the only two on the block that were left from my childhood.
Starting at my driveway, I drove the entire route from my house to my old junior high school. I was surprised at how near it was.
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January 17, 2015 § 10 Comments
My buddy Winemaker raced in Europe in the 1980’s. He occasionally sends me his reminiscences. Here’s one from Span. Enjoy!
Independence Day, Spain, 1987
“How came that blood on the point of your knife? My son, come tell to me.”
According Mr. Wondra, my tenth grade English teacher said, fratricide was a nasty action which has been the mainspring for much great literature. This story is about fratricide, and it was done to me.
I really liked Mr. Wondra. He taught me the structure of writing, and I still use it. He retired and moved to Morro Bay. This last weekend was a pair of road races around Zaragoza. I blame my friend Vierra, or KV, for it, as his distant relatives got me interested in this whole Spanish cycling thing to begin with.
KV did the introduction to his immediate relatives, who were intrigued by the idea of an American and his Irish buddies even trying to keep pace up the cols with the veined-out, speed-addled, underfed, poverty-stricken stick figures who made up the amateur racers in northern Spain.
Bike racing was weird, but getting to the bike races was weirder. Getting home, in comparison was always anticlimactic. We had flown to Madrid on the night of July 3, last Friday, got into the Holiday-effing Inn via the most rickety shuttle bus ever on a road, fand flopped into our beds at 11:30 PM. We got up the next morning because Brian, Graeme and I had to catch a train from Madrid to Zaragoza, which is a couple hours northeast of Madrid. The road race started at 1 PM, which seemed like a decent hour, but more on that later.
We piled all the bags and bikes into a van for a cab ride to the train station. It was 8 AM and we had been up since seven, eating eggs and bread and washing it down with bottled water, having learned that nothing else but wine and coffee were safe to drink in Spain. We schlepped all the stuff onto the train. The baggage went below and we sat up high, so as to have a lovely‘view of the parched wasteland that passed for the countryside.
We rode and slept for an hour or so and got out at the station in Zaragoza, gathered up the gear, and pumped up the tires. The plan was to ride about five klicks to the hotel, check in, drop the gear, dress, eat, and pedal over to the start. We walked out of the station and got hit with a wall of heat. It reminded me of that Grateful Dead line: Leaving Texas, fourth day of July, sun so hot, clouds so low, the eagles filled the sky.
I was made acutely aware of the transition from 60 degrees to 100. I hadn’t seen heat like that since last summer, and my body was almost instantly in revolt, telling me that this just was not a good thing, and ordering me to get my ass back in the shade, pronto!
We rode to the hotel. I was soaked with sweat and close to puking. We checked in and of course the room was not air conditioned, so we knew that night would be really, really fun. We dressed. Check. We ate. Check. We rode the 10k over to the start with 20 minutes to spare. Check.
Some lizard posing as the local race official blew his whistle, and we started, 85 madmen in 100 degrees out for a cute little 150k road race. The race started slow, a very casual 20-22 mph pace for the first hour and a half. Suddenly, and I mean, like in the space of five seconds, the whole group went gonzo crazy and hit it hard.
I became the gutter bunny caboose, jumping from wheel to wheel of the soon to be dropped emaciated locals, essentially doing sprint intervals every minute to stay on the back of this trail of ants winding its way to the death volcano which must have lain at the turnaround point. Yes, this road race was 75k out, 75k back, same road, same climbs, just in reverse.
I told myself that I would pay attention to the road on the descents on the way out, so that I would know the route on the way back. Right. That plan got canned about 13 seconds into hammertime. This road had exactly zero total elevation gain but over a million rolling hills that never stopped, up, down, up, down. The Spaniards couldn’t descend for shit, because they all weighed less than 130 pounds, and I could tuck and coast my way up to and off the front on every descent, and that was the only time my sorry rear end saw the front.
We turned around at the top of a particularly nasty climb, and some little dude attacked on the descent. I jumped on his wheel (we were going downhill, remember?) and 2 km later, after pulling through on a flat section, I noticed that we were now in a break of six. Yay for me!
Exactly ten seconds after that silent jubilation, we hit one of the rollers and I was spit out the back of this break like a booger from a redneck’s truck window in Oklahoma. I mean, I was on the rivet, and there was no coal in the furnace.
They rode away from me like I was sitting at a bus stop reading the newspaper. I pedaled on, convinced that I would just jump into the group when it rolled up, except that there was no group. There were collections of 2 to 5 riders all struggling to breathe. Remember that 1 PM start? Well, it was 3 PM now, and it was so hot and there was no wind, and I was about finished with my second bottle of water, and life was about to change. A Spanish guy rode up and haned me a full bottle of coke. He smiled, pulled off the road, and stopped. He was quitting the race, and I was about to find out why.
Like Kafka’s chrysalis, I entered the pain room, stayed there for two hours, and only finished 18 minutes down. And I was 20th out of 85, and there were 24 official finishers. The smart locals just quit after giving their bottles away to the idiots from Ireland. I was afraid to even ask for a scale because I was sure I had lost 20 pounds.
I mumbled something about needing water and food and lotion and sleep (sounds like, “Urgle,” the same in every language, and managed to pedal back to the hotel, clean up, and eat. That Spanish guy who gave me the bottle of coke knew I was going to finish, and he figured he might as well give me some sugar and caffeine, to soften my descent into sure death. He might as well have stabbed me with a sharp knife.
I couldn’t really remember the rest of the weekend, but then, it is only Tuesday now, and I am joyfully back in Kill, where it is raining and 58 degrees. I am pretty sure that I will have a good recollection of Sunday’s race by this Thursday, but for now, there is nothing there, like waking up from a coma. I did lose 12 pounds over the weekend. And, my resting pulse is now 60, where it used to be 45. So, the voodoo medical sense in me says I am probably sick or overtrained, or both.
That Spanish bike racing shore is fun, ain’t it?
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