A touch o’ wind

March 20, 2017 § 24 Comments

Before the race G3, who won it the year before, told me that “It’s the hardest race you’ll ever do.”

The Hun, who was driving, nodded savagely. “Absolute fucking hardest,” he said.

When two good friends, experienced road racers, and all-round tough guys tell you that it’s the hardest race you’ll ever do, my (obvious) reaction was to discount everything they said because they were such soft little cream-filled cupcakes.

“So what’s so hard about it?” I asked, bored and hoping they would fill the rest of the 2-hour drive to Desertmethtrailerville with epic lies about their awesomeness and somewhere along the way I could pick up some good intel that would help me attack my teammates and cover myself in glory at their expense.

“Wind,” said G3.

“Fucking wind,” said the Hun.

“Incredible wind,” said G3.

“Wind so fucking bad you gonna cry your mommy,” cursed the Hun.

“The wind is so ferocious it will destroy everyone who doesn’t have a wheel the entire race.”

“Fucking wind gonna break your balls and you gonna quit right away you don’t ride smart.” He cast a sideways glance indicating that “ride smart” wasn’t something he necessarily credited me with.

We got to the course outside Lancaster, which is part of California, but not the good part. I had made sure to fuel up on a Burger King double bacon cheeseburger and fries when we stopped for gas, so although I was properly nutritionized I was not prepared for …

The wind.

On the course, way over in a field, four Big Orange teammates were fighting with a team canopy that had blown several hundred yards into the middle of someone’s dirt and plastic trash orchard, where this year’s crop also included used syringes and not-brand-new condoms.

By the start-finish, all the port-a-potties were lying on their side.

The paperwork at registration was on the ground, weighted by thirty-pound rocks.

Everyone was covered in sand, grit, and anger. Lots of anger.

I got on my bike to warm up and unwisely pointed it with the tailwind. Without pedaling I quickly hit 30 mph, then 35, then with a pedal stroke or two was doing 40. By the time I turned around I had gone so far that returning to base camp took almost thirty minutes and I was already tasting bacon.

Head Down James had just finished racing. “How’d it go?”

“Breezy,” he said.

“How was the climb?’

“Headwind. Three miles. Not too steep. You’ll do fine. But watch the downhill.”

“Sketchy?”

“Straight as an arrow with a couple of gentle curves you can hit without touching your brakes. You’ll easily hit 55. Watch out for the potholes and cracks, and big pieces of cactus blown onto the course, and of course the trash and there’s one place where a load of logs spills out into the road. If you hit one of those at speed it won’t be good.”

“No,” I agreed.

“One guy in our race did and took down five other people.”

“Is that what those five ambulances were for?”

“Yes. No one died though.”

“That’s good.”

“Yeah, and watch out for the puppies. There are so many puppies and people have all driven up from LA to photograph them. Gets dicey at 55 with people running back and forth across the highway and pulling over.”

“Puppies?”

“Yeah. They’re gorgeous but watch out.”

“How’d you La Grange guys do?”

“We swept the podium.”

At that moment a blast of sand swept in and covered us, sticking to James’s sweaty face and my sunscreened one.

Our race began straight into the headwind up the 3-mile climb, with about twenty very old, very tired, and very apprehensive fellows engaged in a fierce competition to do nothing but hide. Contemptuously I went to the front half a dozen times and tried to up the pace.

G3 pedaled up alongside. “Dude,” he whispered. “Hide. You don’t know what you’re doing.” I spat in reply.

We crested the climb, having culled a few of the weak, sick, and mentally infirm, did a short easy downhill, and then made an easy right-hander. In front was a short 200-meter bump. This was the bump where G3 had warned me to “Be at the front because it’s short and easy but they will race over it and if you have even two bike lengths between you and the group you will never see them again because the second they crest it they will be going 60 with a huge tailwind and your day will be over.”

“More silly exaggeration,” I had thought as I saw the leaders begin to accelerate. “But just in case …”

Horribly positioned at the very back I sprinted with everything I had, which wasn’t much, and just latched on as the leaders crested the bump. The four riders who were a few wheels back were never seen again. It was that instantaneous.

The fear was awful, the chug holes in the road were abysses, and everyone except me seemed fine with the idea of dying, if that’s what it took, to get to the bottom quickly. Before long we began rocketing through corridors of cars and SUVs parked on the road side, with city folks wandering randomly across the road.

“The fucking puppies,” I thought. “The puppies. Where are the puppies? All I see are giant orange fields of poppies.” Then it dawned on me. “Puppies. Poppies.”

Tucked into the back of the group we made a right turn into the worst cross-wind in history. The leaders punched it hard. If you were in the first six wheels you had a draft; everyone else was shoved against the double yellow line in a vicious echelon with no shelter.

The moto ref helpfully yelled and honked at us to “get off the yellow line,” which only made us move farther to the left such that the giant mirrors of pickups passing in the opposite direction at 75 came within inches of our heads. Gaps opened and I began having to close them.

If you’ve never had to close a gap in an echelon with a howling cross-wind, it is like being Sisyphus but instead of pushing a giant rock up a hill you are pushing a giant rock off your head only to have it fall back and spatter more brains when the next gap opens.

I closed four gaps and then almost ran over the red cones before the next turn, a right-hander that went straight into the wind, back through the start-finish and up the climb. After two minutes of sitting at the back cursing the dirt, the puppies, the poppies, G3 and the Hun for telling the truth, the wind, the tumped-over toilets, and praying the moto ref would DQ me, I gave up.

One lap, quit, wobbled into the start-finish area where I was cheered by no one except my good friend Kristie. “What are you quitting for?” she said. “Finish the race!”

“I double flatted,” I said.

“Oh my dog! That’s terrible!”

“Yeah,” I said.

She looked at my tires. “Your tires are fine, Seth.”

“Yeah, but it was a right flat and a left flat.”

Two small children who were there to watch their dad race quizzed me in great detail about my weakness, why I had quit, why I had come if I only rode one lap, whether I usually quit, whether my kids also quit, whether quitting was okay (their teacher said never quit), did I like  quitting, did my dad know I had quit, did I know their dad wasn’t gonna quit, had I ever beaten their dad and if so how come I had quit and couldn’t beat him today, and did I want to try and beat them playing Gorgonzola Space Destruction Zombie Catchers.

Next, I got to sit on the side of the road for another hour and a half and watch the miserable faces of the racers come by in gradually reduced numbers until they slow-motion sprunted across the line, faces caked in salt and grit and misery. “One lap to go!” I shouted as they finished, Cruelty Thy Name Is Bicycle Racing.

G3 got second and the Hun got third, which was awesome because before they even dismounted I demanded my share of their winnings. “You couldn’t have done it without all that work I did on the first lap.”

Too tired to resist, they staggered to the car and deflated, thousand-yard stares pasted on their drawn faces while the wind howled and moaned.

END

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Mostly free bike racing

March 17, 2017 § 2 Comments

With Daylight Saving Time comes a reset of your body clock, free weekday bike racing, and apparently for some, death. Whether in traffic collisions, workplace injuries, heart attacks, or the receipt of illegal doping shipments for your drug-free bike racing team, the time change can be hazardous to your health and job security.

And rather than being a victim of circumstance, helplessly awaiting the call from USADA, the tightening of the chest, the rear-ender on the 405, or someone dropping a forklift on your foot, I recommend that you proactively select your hazard, which in this case is free bike racing.

Two best free bike races after the Daylight Hazard Time change:

Telo Street Fake Crit: Pay no money, pound your legs and brains into mush for 60 minutes, watch Grandpa Joe show up late, watch the enthusiastic group of 40 get whittled down to a sad-faced group of 20, then 10, then 3, dodge oncoming cars, idling 18-wheelers, antsy moms in SUVs offloading kids at gymnastic class, celebrate Evens Stievenart’s devastating win accompanied by Colin Croston and Shon Holderbaum, watch Grandpa Joe forget to have ordered the awesome winner’s jerseys, go over to Boozy P.’s place for the party that Grandpa Joe arranged, watch the party disintegrate because Grandpa Joe forgot to arrange it, watch 40 thirsty bikers fight to the death over the four beers in Boozy P.’s fridge, and best of all check the winner’s corner on the Telo World Championship’s TWC page on Facebag where Grandpa Joe still slings the best artwork and graphic design on the Internet.

Eldorado Park Free Fake Crit With Surcharge: Pay a little money, zoom around in circles without having to dodge cars a-la-Telo, and best of all watch Gil Dodson, Dave Wehrley, and a host of other kind people donate free entry fees to junior racers, watch kids who come from rough circumstances race their bikes and experience the joy of flying on two wheels in a pack of nutjobs defying death and calamitous injury as they vie for glory, in other words, nirvana.

telo_winners_1_2017

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British Cycling and Team Sky reveal undoped rider to Parliament

March 3, 2017 § 2 Comments

By Patrick Smithers and Fiona Toolsly (CitSB)
Updated 03:00 AM, GMT

London–After an investigation was ordered into possible doping violations by British Cycling and Team Sky, chief sporting director David Brailsford sought to refute allegations of organized team doping by introducing what he referred to as “a positively undoped rider, pure as the driven snow” to a Select Committee of Parliament.

The rider, Mr. Samuel Muffington-Baggs, was presented to British Members of Parliament in a charm offensive designed to show that Team Sky and British Cycling remain committed to clean sport, marginal gains, and plenty of Fluimucil.

“Now this here fellow,” said Brailsford, “Muffington-Baggs, or just ‘Baggins’ as we calls him, ain’t never touched a needle in all his born days. Has you, Baggins?”

Mr. Muffington-Baggs, wearing his Team Sky kit, seemed at ease with a variety of pointed questions from the MPs, although his answers were difficult to understand. “I’m telling you boys,” said Brailsford, “ol’ Baggins here is as clean as a fresh bedsheet. Ain’t you, Baggins?”

At one point in the conversation Mr. Muffington-Baggs appeared uncomfortable, but he recovered nicely after being burped. After about half an hour of questioning, a strong smell quickly dispersed the crowd and the interview came to an end. “Heh, heh, good ol’ Baggins,” said Brailsford at the conclusion of the meeting, before adding rather curtly to a soigneur, “somebody want to get ‘im a damned clean diaper?”

END

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Head hopping

February 25, 2017 § 18 Comments

We pulled up at the world infamous Rosena Ranch race course, where teammate Dave Ellis had just finished racing. “How’d it go?” I asked.

“Great,” he said. “I was in a good position the whole race, stayed out of the wind, and didn’t kill that guy.”

“What guy?”

“The guy who fell down in front of me.”

“What happened?”

“Dude had a bicycle falling off incident and put his head in front of my front wheel going 35. I had to bunnyhop it.

“What happened after that?”

“I’m not sure. I think the other riders all ran him over.”

“Oh yeah, I think I saw the emergency medical services U-Haul rental pickup.”

“The one with the hay bales in back and the loose bottle of cheap tequila bouncing around in the bed?”

“That one,” I said.

Major Bob, Surfer Dan, Baby Seal, Congressional Quarterly, the Hun and I had driven up in Major’s unmarked Mercedes van. We were champing at the bit to race our bicycles and hopefully not fall off of them.

My race, the combined 45+/50+ leaky prostate division (raced together, scored separately), went off at a torrid pace, so torrid in fact that after my first fruitless flail I fell back into the pack, caught my breath, and then moved back up by conveniently hopping over the bright yellow line.

I think that even may have been the yellow line we were advised about by the moto ref prior to the start. “Gentlemen [lie], do not cross the yellow line or you will be immediately dq’ed. No exceptions. This means YOU.”

No sooner had I moved over the yellow line and advanced fifty places than the moto ref came up next to me and screamed, pointed, and sent me to the back without any supper. Was I dq’ed? Who knew? What I knew was that Klasna, Kirk Bausch, and the Hun were dashing up the road in the first serious move of the day, and it was time to chase after them.

Soon enough we had a break of nine, including Major Bob, which was fortunate because it meant that he now had a reason not to drive home without us. We lost a rider, and after much pedaling Klasna and KB pedaled harder than we did and pedaled away up a hill and around a corner and they were not seen again until many laps later, a/k/a after the race finished.

However, unlike other sports where the first person across the line is the winner and everyone who is not the first person across the line is a loser, leaky prostate bicycle racing has a number of clever conventions to make sure that many people can be winners even if they technically are losers. The most perfect of the conventions is the “raced together, scored separately” convention.

This means (and you will need a notebook here) that if you have a 45+ and a 50+ race together, some people will register as 45+ and others as 50+, and the first person in each of those categories is the winner, in other words, you could have a situation where you had, for example, a breakaway of eight people, and seven of them were 45+, and they all finished ahead of the 50+ entrant, but since the 50+ entrant was the first 50+ entrant he would be declared the winner of his race and get fame, acclaim, worship, and the $45 winner’s check while the 45+ riders who finished in places 2-7 would all be losers even though they finished ahead of the 50+ winner.

If this seems simple, there is something wrong with you (number one), and you should get a job as a bike race official (number two) because a scrum of people rushing past is hard enough to score in the proper finishing order, much less the proper age category. This is actually great because it allows for the second great thing about leaky prostate bicycle racing, which is known as the “results protest.” Experienced masters racers always bring extra wheels, gasoline, and a pitchfork. More about that later after you wake up.

Anyway, there I was in a chase group of six while Klasna, who is over the age of 50, and KB, who is older than 45 but less than 50, were up the road. So it seemed like the best I could hope for was 2nd place in the 50+ category, since everyone else in the chase group was in the 45+ category.

However, another great thing about leaky prostate bicycle racing, in addition to its multiple opportunities to declare yourself the victor, is the odd fact that you will occasionally have a rider who is over 50 and racing in a combined 45+/50+ field, but who has registered as a “45+” rider. So just because a rider is over fifty and riding in the 45+/50+ race, it doesn’t necessarily mean he has registered for the 50+ category, since by definition anyone who is over 50 is also over 45 and can therefore choose either category.

So why would an older rider choose a younger category? Can you say “vanity”? The answer is simple: To the leaky prostate racer himself, there appears to be a huge difference in age between 45 and 50, and even though the rest of the world simply sees a bunch of wrinkly old balls going slowly around in circles, the wrinkly old balls would rather be 45+ than 50+ because it seems younger and not quite as wrinkly and potentially in need of fewer illegal testosterone supplements.

Therefore, the only way to tell whether a particular racer is 45+ wrinkly balls or 50+ wrinkly balls is by looking at his race number, since the clever race officials give a different number series to the 45+ to distinguish them from the 50+. In our race the 45+ number series began with prime numbers divisible by seven, and increased in half-integers up to the square root of pi. The 50+ numbers all began with the number 8 billion. So it was pretty easy to tell the difference if you were paying attention and had an advanced degree in math.

Unhappily, when Klasna and KB rolled I neglected to look at Klasna’s number, but rightly assumed that he was an aged 50+ wrinkly balls like me and therefore he would win and I would get second, since all the remaining numbers in the chase were prime numbers divisible by seven. We continued to race, which is another way of saying that everyone screamed at everyone else to “work together,” invoking the spirit of Jack from Illinois (not his real name) as no one worked, and certainly not together.

I finished the race and went over to Klasna to congratulate him on his win, only to notice that his number was a prime number divisible by seven, which meant that I, who had finished last in the chase group, was the only rider who had a number that began with 8 billion, making me the winner of the 50+ race. It was a glorious if complicated victory indeed and I savored the thought of how I would spend my $45, minus the $35 entry fee, minus the $15 fee for the second race, minus the $15,000 in gear.

So I sauntered over to the stinky toilets, which was appropriately where they posted the race results, and saw that I was nowhere on the result sheet, and that Dandy Andy, who had finished in the second chase group, had been declared the glorious winner and was entitled to the $45 emoluments appertaining to race victor.

Now the real race began, otherwise known as the “results protest.” I and fifteen other disappointed riders went over to the officials’ station to complain about having been left off, misplaced, or given 56th place instead of 57 1/2. Many tantrums were thrown, grown men challenged one another to duels, statements were made about various people’s mothers, and the obligatory money changed hands in order to make sure that the integrity of the process was properly respected.

In other words, I was crowned 8th place finisher champion winner, given the $45, and went proudly back to Major Bob’s van only to see that in his race Surfer had experienced a bicycle falling off incident so severe that it left his 100% carbon bicycle, made of pure carbon, broken into fifteen pieces, seven of which were the fork alone.

Much sadness and gnashing of teeth were had, particularly since all agreed that the shards and remnants qualified as “Even Fireman Can’t Tape That Back Together And Resell It On Craigslist As Like New.”

Eventually someone asked Surfer Dan how he was, and of course he was fine since he only landed on his head at about 40 mph. Baby Seal’s race had been uneventful, and Congressional Quarterly had decided after eight laps that he should probably return to the van and check to make sure his coffee thermos was still there, which thankfully it was.

Happy and brimming with confidence at my eighth place championship victory I started the 35+ race and immediately made my mark by quitting some few hundred yards after the starting line. It was just as well, since Karl Bordine was feeling particularly ill-tempered and rode by himself for 15 laps until he won and everyone else did not.

I returned to the stinky toilets and took the obligatory podium photo with Dandy Andy, who is also a strict adherent of “Don’t Raise Your Arms On The Podium Unless You’re Holding A Bouquet And Are Surrounded By 100,000 Screaming Fans On The Champs-Elysees After Winning The Tour.”

We piled back into Major Bob’s van, promised to send him gas money through PayPal, never did, and got home tired and hungry and happy, except for Surfer Dan, who had agreed to list the bike’s condition as “Fair” after he got it back from Fireman.

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END

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B(u)RP

February 21, 2017 § 12 Comments

It is pretty easy to complain about the state of road racing, which is why I enjoy doing it so much. Complaining doesn’t require any research (my forte) and can be done based exclusively on personal experience.

Although I often want to say good things about the state of road racing, the effort it requires is so monumental that I just go over to Cyclingnews.com and scan the latest podcast of Lance & Co. explaining how “he wouldn’t go back and change things,” which is really nice of him not to do that.

Problem is, when good news appears it always requires work to verify facts, get names spelled correctly, and make sure that I didn’t give Willy Walleye a shout-out for getting 27th in the 55+ men’s race when it should have been for Timmy Tosser instead. So when a buddy pointed out that the Beginning Racer Program that started this year at our local CBR crit series was overflowing with riders, I shrugged because, well, work, and also because there were some things I wanted to complain about, such as how Lance ruined my childhood dreams.

Then this afternoon I was talking with Jeff Prinz, the CBR race promoter, about the racing this past weekend, and he spewed forth an incredible number of facts about the B(u)RP program and how it has really taken off. Sensing an opportunity for someone else to do the work, I hurriedly took notes, okay, I didn’t take any notes, but am pretty sure he said this:

  1. B(u)RP participation sessions both maxed out at 50 riders each, and the first one began at 6:00 AM. Riders were queuing up at 5:30 to register.
  2. After B(u)RP-ing, every single B(u)RPee raced, except for those who couldn’t because the Cat 5 races sold out. Sold out. Does that mean anything to you race promoters out there? Did I mention the races sold out?
  3. Feedback was incredibly positive. Good coaching, an explanation of the fundamentals, and a welcoming atmosphere made the program a success.
  4. The program will be continued for the remaining four CBR races on the calendar, and will be greatly expanded for the April race.

Participants said mainly that they wanted to race but were intimidated by the “throw ’em to the dogs” approach for which cycling is famous. I still remember asking Fields if there were anything I should know before my first race. “Don’t fall down,” he advised.

Of course that’s still good advice, but the execution can be tricky, and trickier still when it’s your first race and it’s everyone else’s first race too, and there just happens to be that one person in the race who upsets the apple cart, a/k/a Mr. Physics. It turns out that the B(u)RP has been around in SoCal since 2015, and in NorCal for THE LAST THIRTY YEARS, but it is a long way from here to Fresno and you have to get past all those hog farms and etcetera so that’s why it’s taken so long. I mean the Donner Party died that time coming down Hog Farm Pass from Fresno to SoCal.

What’s more interesting is the fact that every single crit in SoCal doesn’t put one of these clinics on. It’s weird because you’ll see a scraggly field of masters racers–sorry, make that four different master’s category races in a single event–and not one single B(u)RP for new racers to learn about and get enthused about the sport. It’s weird because it seems like if you were a promoter you’d be really stoked to have new young racers filling up their fields and advancing through the lower categories and paying entry fees much more than you’d be stoked about having to spend half an hour arguing with some 57-year-old stockbroker who harangued your wife about why she overcharged him five dollars at the registration table.

But I progress.

The things you’ll learn as a B(u)RP participant are:

  • Basic Pack Skills – Protecting Your Front Wheel. This is the single most important aspect of racing, and BRP coaches will teach you how to headbutt, hook bars, and discuss the anatomy of someone’s mother as you viciously fight to the death for the best starting place ten rows back in the field of 100.
  • Cornering – Choosing and Holding Your Line. Cornering is misunderstood by almost everyone except the spectators who pile up in the corners in bloodthirsty anticipation of watching a whole bunch of sausage get shoved into the casing on a fast, downhill, off-camber, slightly wet hairpin that narrows into a cattle chute.
  • Pack Awareness & Skills — This also known as “effective cursing” and “screaming at max heart rate.”
  • Sprinting Basics — Where you learn the cardinal rule of sprinting: Don’t.
  • Bringing it All Together — This part of the session is most important for the longevity of your career, as it involves techniques for explaining to your family that you really did “win” even though you got 89th place because you were on the front a bunch and I know I spent $400 to go race for fifty minutes but it’s cheaper than a crack habit (actually, it isn’t).

Anyway, hats off to CBR and the the Beginning Racer Program. We need more of it. And next time I promise I’ll include some facts.

END

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The Atheist Training Bible for Old Bicycle Racers, Chapter 24: Recovery tips

February 12, 2017 § 4 Comments

Well, the accolades have been pouring in after yesterday’s tour de force at the UCLA Road Race, like this one:

“Great job out there Wanky, your 12th place out of 22 riders makes it an almost-top ten, and a solid top 5% of all participants (Trump math). As your fan out here in Ittoqqortoormiit, I was wondering if you could share some Wanky Post-Race Recovery Tips for those of us who are wondering what the Complete Wanky Racing Package looks like?”

Thanks for the subtle inquiry, but there’s only one person who gets to gaze admiringly at the Wanky package, and it isn’t anyone in Ittoqqortoormiit, sir. Or any sir, for that matter.

With regard to recovery, however, I’m super glad to give you some tips, tips that, if assiduously followed, will one day allow you to get some great Top Five Percent Trump Math results in your local bicycle race and underwear contest.

  1. Facebag stretches. First step to restoring health and vascular vitality after a hard race is checking out all the people who might have posted pictures of you struggling off the back or other glory shots. Solid 3-4 hours of Facebagging, minimum.
  2. Jaw limbering. Call up a friend who didn’t do the race and gently exercise out all the kinks in your jaw by telling them every detail about the race. Bonus points if they’re engaged in a family activity or standing in line at Disneyland with a screaming kid in one hand and a diaper bomb in the other. Gold stars if you can use the words “super hard,” “incredibly hard,” “so fuggin’ hard,” and “dude, unbelievably hard” in every sentence.
  3. Bounceback calories. You probably burned 1,00o to 1,500 hundred calories in the race, so here’s the replenishment math: book1
  4. Carbon massage. If you didn’t win, you clearly need more equipment. If you won, you clearly need to reward yourself with more equipment. Post-race you must dedicate a couple of hours to shopping for new full carbon doodads that are 100% carbon and made exclusively of carbon and also contain 100% aero.
  5. Hasthtag push-ups. Since you’re a profamateur it is crucial that you say nice things about the products and services you don’t deserve and may not even actually use. This will relax your wallet and allow much new swag to enter your garage/man cave/bedroom.
  6. Calendar pilates. Now that you’ve done one race you can brag for the rest of the season that you are a bike racer. No recovery is complete without a search of all 2017 upcoming races and finding excuses not to go to any of them.
  7. Obligatory lunch out. In order for your muscles to recuperate from the stress of racing, it is imperative to take your S/O out for lunch so that she/he will let you go do the same thing next week. [Practice notes: Refrain from any race recaps or mention of anything pertaining to bikes. Refrain from complaining about how you can’t “lose that last five pounds” even though the waitress keeps asking if you’d like an extra basket of bread. DO ask her how her day was. DO pretend to listen. DON’T suggest she take it easy on the extra bread. DO try to lock her into permission for the next race when the check comes, but do it nonchalantly: “Wow, that’s an expensive lunch. McDonalds has gone through the roof!! But you are worth it times a million, honey! By the way, I’m doing the Fifteen Days of Meat Strings starting next Friday and will be gone for a month at the altitude training camp in Italy. Is that okay, honey-buns?”

END

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Saturday, bloody Saturday

February 11, 2017 § 20 Comments

I love racing against Jeff Konsmo, and have raced against him countless times. Jeff has never raced against me. Whatever Jeff does in a race affects me profoundly. Whatever I do in a race doesn’t affect him at all, except for that moment when he looks over his shoulder and sees a tiny dot in the distance.

That’s me, Jeff!

My favorite race to race against Jeff where he isn’t racing against me is the UCLA Road Race. I love this race because it is very predictable and at my advanced age I do not like surprises.

Here’s what always happens. I ride my bicycle very earnestly in November, December, and January. During that time I gain lots of confidence because, group ride.

Then I show up for the UCLA Road Race, which is the hardest race on the calendar and the hardest race in the galaxy of leaky prostate races. I warm up, chit-chat with friends who are going to tear my legs off, preen a bit, and do a book signing or two. (This really happened. An awesome dude named George came up to me on the start line and asked me to autograph my world-famous book, “Cycling in the South Bay.” I blushed, and it’s that slight diversion of crucial blood flow that partially explains what happened next.)

Then the race starts and Jeff Konsmo goes to the front. Jeff is beautiful. He has no spare anything. Every part of his body is perfectly joined together to do one thing: Ride bicycle uphill fast.

When Jeff gets to the front, which he does after the first 100 yards, he coasts because the first 300 yards are downhill. Then the road begins to go up and Jeff begins to pedal. The more the road goes uphill, which it does for the next five miles, the more he pedals. Suddenly the happy old oysters are not happy anymore.

There’s no more conversation.

The clump becomes a bit streamlined.

Then it becomes single file.

Then holes begin to appear as if mortars had fallen into the ranks and scored a direct hit.

Then the universe becomes a black pinhole of the rubber in front of you, washed over by the roar of your own gasps.

This is when I look up and see that Jeff is still on the front and I am what is affectionately known as “off the back” followed by “way off the back” followed by “time to re-analyze my winter preparation, especially the part where I insert the delusion of not getting dropped into my race plans.”

This year, however, was gonna be different. I had trimmed my riding schedule down to four days a week. I had reduced my tummy rolls from four to two. I had won the NPR last Tuesday when no one else showed up.

THIS YEAR AT UCLA WAS GOING TO BE MY YEAR.

Then the race started and Jeff went to the front and it was Wanky redux all over again. Less than ten minutes into the race my heart rate had been jacked up to 220 and I’d been mercilessly smashed out the back. So much for reducing my training to improve my fitness. But this year something different happened. After getting shelled by Jeff’s torrid pace, a group of other shellees came by. I latched on and they dragged me over the climb and then flew down the descent at speeds so insane that the post-ride ritual of checking one’s skidmarks revealed some impressive stripes.

And hallelujah! We made the right turn and reattached to the small band of leaders. Unlike years past, where reattachment was simply a preamble to permanent disjunction, I hung on and hung on and hung on.

Through the start/finish climb I hung on.

Up the climb the second time I hung on.

Through the start/finish climb I hung on.

Up the climb the third time I hung on.

Through the start/finish climb I hung on.

Then as we began the final climb on the final lap it became real. I was going to finish the race with the lead group for the first time ever. All the DNFs, the 38th place from last year, the litany of bitter defeats were going to be made up for on this glorious day. All I had to do was make it up one last time.

The course goes up for a couple of miles and then makes a right turn, where there’s an endless stairstep ascent to the top. That right turn is crucial because if you make it there, it’s followed by a brief downhill where you can catch your breath and get ready for the final five minutes of being completely pinned.

I saw the right turn, put my head down, and flailed for what seemed like a minute or two, hanging on like one of those tiny little meat strings that attach a baby tooth to the gum right before the tooth is ripped mercilessly out by a piece of twine that your brother has tied to the door. As the meat string stretched I looked up and saw in horror that after pedaling for so long we had only moved a few yards, which either meant that I was in so much pain my brain had begun distorting time and distance, or that we were moving at .00000002 miles per hour.

I put my head down again and pedaled for an hour, the meat string twisting and twisting as it yanked on the shrieking nerve. I looked up and saw we had moved ahead another ten feet.

After a couple of days I reached the right turn. The stairstep loomed. But Jeff, who had sat on the front for two solid hours, pounding the field into shredded meat strings until only a handful of mauled riders remained, was out of accelerations. There was zero chance that he would put in one of the vicious little kicks at the end designed to snap the meat strings and further cull the herd.

As we approached the top I finally knew what it felt like to be in the running, theoretically at least, for a podium spot at the hardest race I’d ever done. After years of trying, years of failure, years of gnashed teeth, and years of broken meat strings I was going to crest the climb, bomb the descent, pedal along the rollers sucking wheel at every opportunity, and then unleash my tremendous 165 watts of seated sprinting power on the unsuspecting suckers who had dragged me along for the entire day.

Two hundred yards was far but the top was right there and nothing was going to dislodge me, especially because I knew that if I got gapped out here I’d never reconnect with the pack once the crested the climb.

Then I noticed something troubling. That something was named Thurlow, and Thurlow had looked back and surveyed the situation.

If you don’t know Thurlow, don’t worry. He doesn’t know you either. I’m sure that in his normal life he is a kind fellow, a gray-haired, avuncular old chap who says “thank you” and “please” and offers his seat to pregnant women on the bus.

But on a bicycle he doesn’t do any of those things. On a bicycle he is simply the greatest road racer in this country’s history. Olympics, check. La Vie Claire, check. Won every major U.S. race ever, check. Kept winning at the local pro level, check. Kept winning at the masters level, check. Still wins more races than he actually participates in, check. Terrifies other riders by looking at them. Speaks only when necessary, and it’s never necessary.

And the sad news is that Thurlow is a moving, living lesson in how to race a bike and you are the blackboard on which the lessons are going to be written. With a knife. Expressionless, taking in all of the peloton’s motions with the lifeless eyes of a shark, Thurlow sees all, knows all, understands all. And when the eye of Thurlow alights on the cockroach hiding at the back of the group, the cockroach who has never done a thing all day except gasp while waiting to sneak into the kitchen and steal some crumbs in the darkness, Thurlow only has one reaction. Stomp the roach until its yellow guts are forced from its very eyes. And stomp it now.

As Thurlow stomped, the remaining riders avoided getting shelled as they struggled to match his acceleration, which was vicious, and after a few seconds of disarray each rider found a wheel, gasping, and they labored together over the top of the climb in a ragged file of grim desperation, after which they all raced together to the finish.

All but one, of course.

END

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