Heartbreak Hotel

August 9, 2017 § 38 Comments

With one lap to go I was a few minutes from achieving the only thing I have ever desired in life, that is a victory at our local training crit a/k/a Telo.

The field was a mishmash of gizzards, car parts, tree roots, defective Morton-Thiokol O-rings, broken razor blades, bald tires, and sunken galleons on the Spanish Main, as the pack had disintegrated shortly after re-entry, leaving only Frexit, Head Down James, Hair, and me in three-man-one-robot breakaway.

With seven laps to go, Frexit had urged me “Easy, easy!” as we came through Turn 4, which in bikeracespeak means “Ouchy!” So I waited a lap and attacked, shedding my unwelcome partners in an honest effort to toss them onto the garbage pile of discarded racers.

My hands were tied. If I sat in the break until the finish I would certainly get fourth. If I attacked I would [certainly – .0000001%] get fourth. So I had to go with the percentage shot.

Five laps to go and the gap held steady.

Four laps to go and I started pulling away.

Three laps to go and they clawed some of it back.

Two laps to go and it held at ten seconds.

One lap to go they were eight seconds back. Dreams of victory danced through my windshield. A lifetime of groveling was about to be rewarded with a few seconds swallowing a deep draught of the elixir of victory. Repeated beatings at the hands of unpleasant people was about to result in the bootheel landing on their neck instead of mine. Revenge would be sweeter than a diabetic dessert.

I rehearsed my victory speech, remembering to thank the little people who had made me who I am, thanking my parents, my deceased dog Fletcher, Phil who sold me my first bike, Fields, and then moving on to my wife, children, and a brief explanation of the dedication and hard work it had taken to reach what to the casual observer looked like an overnight success.

My speech, however, failed to account for the bitter hatred that Head Down James felt deep within his soul. Even though I had mentored him as a beginning cyclist by shouting epithets at him, screaming at him to lift up his fucking head, and trying to intimidate him at every turn, he apparently had forgotten all those little kindnesses and was now hell bent on revenge.

With Head Down James preferring to drag Frexit and Hair up to me so they could smear him in the sprunt rather than seeing me walk off with a glorious, life-altering victory that I would mockingly hold over his head for all time, he buried himself and closed the gap with only a few hundred yards left to go. Head Down James knew that the ignominy of being dropped out of his own breakaway and then beaten by a solo move at the hands of the leakiest, braggiest, un-cagiest racer in America would put paid to his professional athletic career. Frexit also knew that a Wanky defeat before his assault on the 24 Hours of Le Mans Velo would cause an emotional collapse from which he might never recover. Hair didn’t care; he wasn’t getting higher than second no matter what and he knew it.

Head Down James’s effort was enough. Aaron and Frexit buried him, and worse, they buried me. I praised them insincerely afterwards, congratulated them while secretly wishing that each were slowly beheaded by a rusty table saw, and pedaled home, crushed.

And although you may not give a damn, my dear, tomorrow is another day.

END

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French beast connection

August 7, 2017 § 18 Comments

A great way to become a better rider is to ride with people who are better than you. It won’t make you faster or stronger or smarter or more successful in racing. However, with the clever use of an iPhone or GoPro you will be able to snap pics and show them to your friends on Facegag, upload them to The Stravver and etcetera, proving that you are heroic and tough enough to ride with Titanic Crusher ergo you are almost as good as Titanic and if you only had more hours to train and dope to ingest and motors to install you would be as good as he.

It’s important that the footage not show how Titanic Crusher is barely breathing whereas you sound like a medicinal advertisement for sleep apnea.

The first time I saw Frexit was on the New Pier Ride. He was humbly pedaling along in an ugly bicycle outfit trying to fit in among all of the perfectly attired, matchy-match profamateurs on the Tuesday morning preenfest. He was doing a terrible job of it because despite his ugly outfit he had a smooth pedal stroke, a relaxed demeanor despite being squeezed in the middle of an idiot sandwich, and worst of all, he was smiling as if a morning ride with friends was for enjoyment rather than for huge expressions of serious seriousness topped off with seriousity.

Before we hit Pershing, the life and death battle had begun as the idiots jostled for position, which in the South Bay does not only means “place where you can be nearest the front with the smallest risk of having to be on it,” but also “place from which you can solicit new riders to join your fake race clubteam.”

Velo Club LaGrange, a historically fake clubteam, had won the last several recruitment contests, and even as they jockeyed for position I came up hard on the inside, threw an elbow, and began the finishing sign-up sprint.

“What’s your name?”

“Evens.”

“That’s weird. Did someone add an ‘s’ by mistake when you were born?”

“No, I am French.”

“What’s your last name?”

“Stievenart,” he said.

“Oh,” I nodded. “So you’re actually Belgian.”

He laughed as we hit the bottom of Pershing. “You should join Big Orange,” I said. “We are a bunch of dorks also know as Team Lizard Collectors or The Asphalt Magnet Gang, but we will reimburse your entry … ” I couldn’t finish because he rode away. And away. And away.

At the end of the ride I offered to wash his bike if he would join Team Lizard Collectors, and he agreed. Thus began Frexit’s association with a club that would be shameful for him but glorious for us.

It turned out that Frexit had won a bunch of French national time trial championships, and had won a big stage race several times called Tour Encaisseur des Lézards and was training for the 24 Hours of Le Mans bike race. Frexit won that race last year, by the way, destroying his competition by a huge margin as he came in first among over 3,800 insane people.

In the process, Frexit became known as a terror on two wheels, riding crazy distances at crazy speeds, and more importantly, showing up at our local training crit to give us all a chance to take selfies with him and sit on his wheel for half a lap or so. In 2017 he returns to Le Mans as defending insane person and with the twin goals of winning again and cracking the mythical 900km mark over a twenty-four hour period. Naturally, we’ve been helping him at Telo by offering up copious quantities of fresh seal pelts for repeated clubbing.

Best of all, you can be part of Evens’s 2017 Le Mans quest on Wednesday, August 16, when he will be out at Westchester Parkway doing a tune-up ride from 6:00 AM until about 5:00 PM. In order to simulate the attacks and surges of the race, Frexit has kindly invited other cyclists to come out for any period of time to ride with him and spice things up. It should be about as fun as having rusty nails pounded up into your gums, maybe more.

But as long as you get a few selfies to show to your friends, it will all be worth it. See you there. Briefly.

END

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Idiot gets ticket punched

August 2, 2017 § 26 Comments

Almost two months ago I wrote about James Doyle, local buffoon, jerk, kook, pinhead, fool, tool, dunderhead, tosser, wanker, clod, goof, whackjob, lameass, numbskull, numbnuts, jackass, and all-round horrible person, and I wrote about him here.

James knocked down John Walsh in a bike race. John got badly hurt. A video camera captured James’s maneuver. A hue-and-cry ensued. And yesterday USAC suspended Doyle for one year and put him on the Bad Boy List. This basically means that if he pulls this crap again he can have his license revoked, even if it happens in a non-competitive venue.

Since I know the victim personally it feels really good to learn that the aggressor got punished. A lot of people think the punishment wasn’t nearly stiff enough, and they’re right. I was suspended for a year back in 1986 for simply cursing out the officials and writing mean letters to the USCF protesting my punishment. If you could get a year’s suspension for causing butthurt, you should be able to get a lifetime ban for almost killing someone.

Still, it’s progress after a fashion. Who can forget the way that USAC has historically ignored this type of attack? In 2011, Rahsaan Bahati was deliberately crashed out at the Dana Point Grand Prix. The video is breathtaking. After being knocked down, Bahati, the victim, was fined and suspended for throwing his glasses at the pack in anger. Rest assured that USAC didn’t take two months to render its decision.

The rider who crashed Bahati out received no penalty at all, even though the whole thing was on video and is one of the most brazen examples of evil and malicious bike riding I had ever seen prior to the Doyle takedown. Check the video here if you don’t believe me. Seconds 39-42 are unbelievable, but not as unbelievable as the fact that the rider who got punished was Bahati.

 

In any event, it’s encouraging to see that USAC is finally willing to take some responsibility for policing the hostile and dangerous riders in its ranks; what’s discouraging is that there is hardly anyone left anymore in the ranks. The Doyle-Walsh takedown sent a loud message to racers, and a screamingly loud message to their significant others: It’s not worth it. Doyle may have a year off the bike, but Walsh has injuries that will take a very long time to heal.

Those grand fondues and fun rides keep looking better. And better. And better.

END

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Smashing success!

July 31, 2017 § 12 Comments

Call it whatever you want, but I’m going to call it marinated beef tacos cooked on a grill and offered up by the cycling dogs at Velo Club LaGrange. There I was, watching people hurl themselves at incredible speed within inches of steel death, and all I could think about were the smells of tacos and grilled onions wafting across the course.

Since it was a special Paleo Keto diet day, I had resolved to only eat what a caveman would have eaten, so when they handed me my plate, towering as it was with beef tacos, I manfully resolved not to put any cilantro on top. No caveman would have ever eaten cilanatro. Two plates later, I was wasting away in Lowerdigestivetractville, and noticed that wherever I went there was magically a wide berth around me.

This was the Manhattan Beach Grand Prix, formerly known as a place where your chances of falling and breaking your everything were 1 out of 2, magically transformed into a race where the whole day long only three people jumped off their bikes and flung themselves onto the pavement. This at an event where three bicycle falling off incidents per race used to be the norm. Since one of the riders was from Team Lizard Collectors, where we sometimes forget to take the asphalt magnets out of our jersey pockets, one of the bicycle falling off incidents doesn’t even count.

Why the change? After 55 years of sending the pack downhill at 40 into an off-camber, declining radius turn 200m before the finish, the organizers simply did what works in lots of situations: They ran the course backwards, just like we used to do with records.

Of all the races, some said that the toughest was the Pro 1/2 race, won by Cory Williams in a one-hour, gritty breakaway. Some said it was Charon Smith’s come from behind finish in the Master’s 40+ race. But as an expert analyst of the SoCal amateur bike racing scene for years, I can tell you without doubt that the toughest, most hard fought win of the day was in the Age 3 girls’ kiddie race.

The field was stacked with little Suzie Plimpton, Carmen Gonzales, and tiny terror Jo Anne Liu. Their fathers and mothers, working the pit, had tuned up the girls’ race machines making sure that the pink streamers were combed, the purple pedals were washed, and the orange training wheels were properly lubed. The competitors, champing at the bit, had to ride an entire 200 meters into a bitter headwind, and when the chief South Bay Wheelmen referee sounded the whistle, the three girls raced off the line at a furious pace.

Pretty soon Carmen had spun out of her 23 x 15 single speed, and as she carved a gradual 90-degree sweep to the left, little Suzie charged hard, her streamers flying out straight behind the bars. The audience went wild, with several parents proudly activating their $30,000 streaming videography equipment while synching with Strava and YouTube.

Just when it looked like little Suzie would take the win, she had to stop for a rest, at which time she spotted a shiny dime on the pavement and dismounted to pick it up. Carmen had righted the ship and was now heading not necessarily in the wrong direction back towards the starting line but generally towards the finish. The crowd went wilder, but when it looked like Carmen would overtake little Suzie, tiny terror Jo Ann Liu surged hard after having stopped to eat a cookie and have her dad adjust her electronic derailleur and disc brakes.

Jo Ann flew. Little Suzie flew. Carmen flew. All three crossed the finish line in something approximating a similar time, the parents all celebrated, the audience cheered louder than they had for any of the other races, and everybody got a ribbon.

Which is exactly how it should be.

 

END

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The heart of rock and roll is still beating

July 29, 2017 § 6 Comments

It was either Huey Lewis and the News pounding out a gnarly backbeat or it was my heart; if the former, the heart of rock and roll was still in fact beating as I labored up the awful Piuma climb, hanging by a meat thread onto the wheel of someone much faster, better looking, and more nicely clad than I. If the latter, my ticker wasn’t going to keep beating much longer. A heart has a finite number of beats and a finite number of beats per minute. Both appeared close to being reached.

When I got gapped out, I mean when I was in the wrong gear, I mean when it was only a club race, I mean when I’d already achieved my Strava result on a segment back there, I mean when my power meter said to ease off, I slid out the back and plodded for a while. Tony Manzella, Chad Moston, Matt Wikstrom, and Drew Kogon vanished in the twinkling of my bloodshot eye.

Then Jaycee Carey came by and dropped me, followed by Roberto Hegeler. I finished faster than some people, slower than others. Atop the climb there were tents from Helen’s Cycles and Velo Club LaGrange, sponsors of the Piuma Hillclimb and the LaGrange Cup. Finishers staggered onto a stage and were strobe-blinded by a camera rig set up by Joe Pugliese.

Yes, that Joe Pugliese.

It’s not often that a bad beating on a long hill adds up to wonderfulness, but this third informal bike race was part of the LaGrange Cup, a three-race series that club members are eligible to race. You can do one, two, or all three events. You don’t need a USAC license or any race experience at all.

Marco Fantone, the eminence gris who takes care of the gris with copious doses of Grecian Forumula, is the mastermind behind this annual club event. It’s a phenomenal amount of work, not only because all 400 members send him multiple emails like “What was the start time again?” and “Do I have to pay?” and “What gearing do you suggest?” and most of all “Do I need a track bike to ride on the track?”

That last one seems obvious, but isn’t. The answer is “no.” The LG Cup’s first event is a 500-meter sprunt on the Encino Velodrome and you can do it on your road bike. The second event is a 20k time trail on PCH. The third is the epic, 3-mile Piuma hill climb, and making reality stranger than the ultimate bike racing stereotype, in 2017 the prize for each event is actually a pair of socks.

But this isn’t a paeon to the LaGrange Cup or to Marco’s email answering prowess.

It’s a model for amazing bike racing in an era when USAC-sanctioned events are dropping faster than a Baby Boomer at a rave. In 2002, LaGrange club member Bryan McMahon put on the event as a way to give everyone in the club a chance to race, whether or not they held a USAC license. The result has been a massive success. The LG Cup is the signal event of the year and is followed by an amazing picnic blowout after the Piuma hill climb.

Every club, whether purely recreational or genuinely fake profamateur, should put on an event like this. It gets everyone excited. It promotes racing. It allows cross pollination between wannabe-but-too-scared racers with completely fake profamateur dreamers. It brings out extraordinary competition. Who thought anyone would try to kill him/herself for a pair of socks? It sharpens the club’s mission and makes for a damned good time.

And whether it’s rock and roll or not, it keeps the heart beating.

END

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Ol’ No. 56

July 27, 2017 § 12 Comments

The Manhattan Beach Grand Prix takes place this Sunday, July 30.

This year is the 56th edition, so long ago that when it first ran in 1962 iOS hadn’t been updated yet. There are two one-day races in the U.S. that are older, the Pipsqueak Dashnpuke held in Olde Towne Gaitersburg, and the Run for ‘Roids that goes through a suburban drug dealing park in Hooterville, Indiana.

The Manhattan Beach Grand Prix has been on the same course every year, but for 2017 it will run race counter-clockwise for the first time ever, avoiding the 200m sprint coming out of the final, decreasing radius turn that in the past has led to so many NASCAR incidents. Rubbing may be racing, but on bikes it also means falling. Running the race counter clockwise will provide a full kilometer after the last turn, giving racers the chance to organize their leadout trains, which is another way of saying “pretend to help teammates while trying desperately to come around your designated sprunter at the line.”

The race is organized by the South Bay Wheelmen and for the last couple of decades Chevron has been the major sponsor and uses the race as part of its public relations efforts in the South Bay. I will personally never forgive them for refusing to even acknowledge being a nominee and potential winner at the Wanky awards. If a major oil company can’t be a Wanker of the Year, no one can. For fuck’s sake.

Primes for the race make the event similar to buying lottery tickets where every fourth one is a winner, and the primes range from cash to awesome cycling products. Everyone needs a fifth pair of ugly socks!

Chevron also provides the purses for the Pro Men’s and Pro Women’s races which are $8000.00 each and go twenty deep as long as there are sixty or more entrants. It’s fantastic to see a race with significant prize money that also commits equally to men and women racers.

Manhattan Beach Grand Prix has never been regarded as a tough race. It is, however, technical due to the narrow roads, sharp turns at either end of the course, and in years past, massive fields. The race almost always ends in a sprint finish, and the key to doing well is sitting in and fighting like hell for good position on the last two laps. If you have an appetite for intense racing, MBGP is for you.

The other unique feature is the race’s setting in the center of the lily-white, absurdly affluent community of Manhattan Beach. There are few races left that can organize the permits or overcome the rabid opposition of lazy residents to wall off a few streets for a few hours every year just so that a handful of idiots can crash their bikes onto their front lawns. Weird. But South Bay Wheelmen manages to pull it off, and if you live anywhere in LA and pretend to race bikes, there’s no remotely good reason not to show up and race.

With USAC-sanctioned races disappearing locally and nationally, this one soldiers on. Ted Ernst, the race’s founder and continuing member of the organizing committee, was inducted into the South Bay Cycling Hall of Fame in 2015, and feted as a conquering and enduring hero in front of several dozen sloppily drunk cyclists who cheered him on. Or maybe they were cheering the World Series, idk.

In any event, whether you race or show up to spectate, you’re in for a good time. Pictures don’t lie. Except when they do.

END

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Simple Simon

July 26, 2017 § 18 Comments

Tuesday is the holy day of the bike racing week and I was praying, nose mashed against the stem, body swaying from side to side like a tree in a hurricane, and great oaths, curses, imprecations, and foul utterances doing everything they could to exit my mouth hole if only I would stop breathing so hard and groaning.

Frexit and Peachfuzz had caught me and Attila the Hun, but what momentarily looked like the champion’s breakaway from Telo had got pulled back by the pack. Thankfully I had a bunch of Team Lizard Collectors teammates in the chase and they had worked mightily to bring back our breakaway, which contained three of their teammates.

I had countered at the catch, gotten free with Frexit on my wheel, and then sat for a lap while he ground out another fearsome gap which, thankfully, wasn’t so great that my fake teammates couldn’t close it down. Two seconds before the actual catch I sat up in defeat and despair, perfectly marking the difference between winners and  losers: That’s the moment at which Frexit made one more giant effort.

Team Lizard Collectors and the slobbering chase group, satisfied at having caught the minnow, sat up and watched the whale swim away. I drifted to the back and tried to collect my broken bits of self-respect which, in truth, I’d had none of to start with.

At that moment it became clear to me: Life is really pretty simple. All it takes to make a Frenchman who is already insanely strong, insanely stronger, is to put him in a foreign land and offer him good, homemade bread.

Because that’s exactly what Ms. WM had done, and we all suffered the consequences. My wife, you see, bakes bread. Her repertoire is narrow; she bakes round loaves, always the same ingredients, always the same shape, and always the same taste.

Those who have eaten it are never the same because bread goes so incredibly deep in our human consciousness. It is the staff of life. It is the thing we earn. It is magical when fresh, durable and sustaining when old. It pairs with every food imaginable, or goes the distance solo, with nothing alongside it at all.

The taste of fresh bread well made, not the unbaked mush sold in plastic bags at Safeway, has no peer, or even anything else in its category. It sits alone atop the food pyramid, King Tutankhamun gazing down at the minions of flesh, vegetables, and other lesser comestibles.

And what is bread? Flour, water, yeast, salt. That, plus the magic sauce of the hands that knead, watch, rise, and bake, and in my home those magic hands have come up with bread perfection. My poor son-in-law is reduced to groveling when it comes off the cooling board. Visitors hang their heads in a spent, abject foodgasm when it crosses their lips. Pot luck party hosts whisper in muted tones of sad begging, “Would you mind asking Yasuko to bake a loaf of bread?”

That is how supremely her bread reigns among those who know, and woe was unto us on Tuesday because she had said that morning, “I’m onna bake some bread and give a bread prize onna Telo champion.”

“No,” I said. “Your bread will not be wasted on those terrible people. It will be wasted on me.”

“You onna just as terrible as they is.”

I couldn’t think of anything to say, except “Okay, but please bake two loaves and leave one here. Please?”

She did, and when word went out on Facebag that Mrs. WM’s Magic Bread would be offered up to the Telo winner, we had a true lineup of hitters, and all the pain I was feeling mid-race was due to the Frexit frenzy of getting a shot at bread he hadn’t eaten since the last time he was home in France.

The fight for second was vicious. Davy Dawg led it out with Hair on his wheel and with me on Hair. Peachfuzz was slotted in behind Pooh Bear ATX, who in the final turn made a power move by slamming his inside pedal against the pavement, causing me to shit a blue streak in fear as this is exactly where Hair had come up on the inside and thrown himself onto the asphalt a few months ago, with me on his wheel. I swung wide to let those willing to die do so, and Hair flew to the finish for a glorious podium finish as everyone else fought viciously for whatever scraps you call the scraps after the first set of scraps.

As expected, Frexit won despite an eleven, then ten, then nine, then eight, then seven, then six-person rotation spilling their guts, lunch, and spittle in a failed attempt to chase him down.

You want to make a French bike champion go even harder? Bread, baby, bread.

END

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