The Atheist Training Bible for Old Bicycle Racers, Chapter 16: Assume the position

February 11, 2016 § 14 Comments

It’s been proven time and time again that if you want to rise to the top as a SoCal masters profamateur leaky prostate underwear racer, the best thing you can do is go full carbon with 100% carbon items made of guaranteed unadulterated carbon.

After that your best bet is a motor in the seat tube and plenty of drugs.

However, if you can’t afford a good EPO program or a secret motor, there are ways to do better without spending more money, although frankly, what fun is that?

One of the least-explored aspects of not getting killed while racing, and not getting dropped right off the bat, is positioning. Every peloton has three anatomical parts: The head, the tummy, and the butt.

The head is where the thinking occurs, where the racing occurs, and where the race gets won. This is where you want to always be, and where I never am except for those races I target because there are only one or two other participants.

The tummy is the middle of the pack, bulgy and comfy but mostly concerned with flabbing around and wondering why the belt feels so tight. Much carbon is digested in the middle of the pack, because this is most often where bicycle-falling-off-incidents occur, and expensive pieces of bicycle toy are quickly reduced to odd-shaped carbon splinters and twisted pieces of soft metal and skin chunks and howling fellows who don’t have health insurance so they refuse the ambulance ride and bleed out in the back of a buddy’s Corolla.

The butt is a necessary place because that’s where the useless bits get pooped out after having had all the nutrients and utility stripped out of them. Lots of stuff goes from the head to the butt, but nothing good ever goes the other way. So if you find yourself there, you are in the wrong place unless you’re Kent Bostic, who used to tailgun every crit until the last lap, when he would magically move up 100 places and win.

Please remember: You’re not the Bostisaurus.

There are a few simple reasons you wind up in the tummy and butt.

  1. You let other people get ahead of you because you are weak and fearful.
  2. You drift to the back because you are weak and fearful.
  3. You’re hanging onto the end because you’re weak, and probably fearful too.

In order to position yourself so that you’re always in the head you must push down hard on the pedals and not let others in front of you. Try sticking out your elbows, or if you have big, droopy love handles, wiggling them. If the riders you just passed get back in front of you, you must push down hard on the pedals again and get back in front of them.

After a while someone will get tired of this and move down the digestive tract and get dropped off at the pool. Don’t let it be you.

END

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This is going to hurt me more than it’s going to hurt you

February 8, 2016 § 21 Comments

I hate getting beat and since there were only six people in the Tuttle Creek Road Race yesterday my prospects were good to avoid the single biggest thing I wanted to avoid, which was getting second again.

I got second.

My teammate Attila picked me up at 7:00 AM pointy-sharp. The first time I ever met him I wondered, “Who the fuck names their kid ‘Attila?'” Then it turned out that he was Hungarian, and if you lopped off the “garian” he truly was Attila the Hun.

His job at Tuttle Creek was simple. “Look, fucker, you’re working for me.”

“Okay!” he said.

“I got second in this lousy stinking no-good far-ass road race last year when there were only two entrants, and this year I’m here to win.”

“Okay!” he said.

“So do what I tell you and don’t fuck up.”

“Okay!” he said happily. He didn’t sound very Hun-like for somebody with such a ferocious name.

Before the race Wide-Eyed Cat 5 Josh came up to us. “Any advice?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said sternly. “The race has so few riders that Steve will start us all together. That means we’ll begin with the P/1/2 guys, who will be disgusted at having to ride within scent of the Leaky Prostate and Wide-Eyed Wanker categories. So they will drop everyone in the first two minutes of the race.”

“How?” asked Josh.

“By pedaling harder than the rest of us.”

“Will this happen on a climb?”

“Yes. The first one, which is where the race starts. It will be the hardest thing you’ve ever done in your life and within 30 seconds you’ll be buried in the red and trying to puke up your testes.”

“But I like to climb,” he protested.

“Let me put it this way: They will drop everyone in the first two minutes of the race.”

“Everyone?” he said, but what he meant was “Me, too?”

“Yes,” I said. “Everyone. You, too.”

The race began and two minutes in, the P/1/2 racers had dropped everyone. Attila and I were in the second group, if two is a group. Everyone else was alone and wondering what part of their Internet training plan had gone wrong, and why the leaders weren’t staying within what Coach had told them was their maximum prescribed heartrate for the day.

Tuttle Creek is is the hardest road race on the calendar by far. It begins with a 12-minute climb that has about 30 short, hilly, 100%-effort accelerations. After those twelve minutes there is a 3-mile false flat that is only false if you are a complete idiot, as you can see it gradually rising up beneath you and you’re pedaling in your weenie gear, unable to breathe and in great pain.

Then the course gets really hard because you turn right and go up another gradual incline whose purpose is to remind you only of this: At 5,700 feet there is no oxygen, especially in your lungs. The Hun and I shared the work evenly. I would count off three minutes for each one of his pulls and shout, “Ease up, wanker!”

Then he would swing over and I would come through at about half his speed and pull for 30 seconds. The plan was to tire him out so that he would do all the work and I could drop him on the last lap. It became apparent soon that he wasn’t properly up to speed on the plan, because he pulled so long and went so fast that he not only caught one of the Cat 1 riders who had gotten shelled out of the leading break, but my legs and vision began to fail.

The second time through the punchy (as in rabbit punch) section he never bothered to swing over while Cat 1 and I desperately clung to his wheel. Cat 1 did some work on the downhill while I shouted instructions from the back.

On the third lap Cat 1, who had recovered somewhat, ripped it so hard through Rabbit Punch Canyon that I repeatedly got dropped and had to claw back on with abnormal pedaling motions and odd sounds that you typically only hear from small animals in mortal distress. Attila sipped from his water bottle and occasionally looked back, shouting encouragement. “C’mon, Wanky,” he’d say. “Don’t drop your eyeballs out of the sockets like that.”

Having sat in the entire race and not having done a lick of work we approached the final lap and suddenly I was feeling pretty good. “Okay, Attila,” I said, sternly. “Although you owe me this win because I’m older than you and I got second last year and it’s somebody’s kid’s birthday somewhere and I came up with the winning plan and I helped you by pushing from the rear and frankly if it comes down to a sprunt you don’t have a chance, we’re gonna race this out.”

“Really? You mean like, race? You and me?” Suddenly his face went from friendly to, well, different. “I thought I was racing for you, man.”

“You tried your best, and before I crush you like a fucking gnat I want to at least give you a chance.”

“I really don’t care if you win. Especially after last year and everything. You’re my friend, man.”

“Nope,” I said. “There are no friends in bike racing. And no gifts. If you want this you’re gonna have to earn it like a man. I may have done all the work the whole race but I’m at least gonna give you a chance.”

“Okay,” he said. “If that’s what you want to do. Thanks, man.” His face then changed from friendly to, well, Hun-like. It was still a smile, but with a few brushstrokes you could easily imagine a bloody club in one hand, a battle-axe in the other, and a few dozen enemy heads stuck on a pike.

At that moment we entered Rabbit Punch Canyon. Attila stood on the pedals, hard, and the next time I saw him was at the finish. He was really happy. Wide-Eyed Cat 5 Josh, of course, won his race too.

On the plus side, I won $20. If Steve’s check doesn’t bounce, that is.

tuttle_creek_payday

tuttle_creek_rock_podium

Yes, that’s a rock podium.

team_lizard_collector

Team Lizard Collector!

END

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How to beat the best

February 5, 2016 § 22 Comments

You’ve done your intervals and you’ve dieted and you’ve tacked on another $5k in aero stuff to the Visa card and you’ve gotten a good night’s sleep and you’ve consulted with your coach on strategy and you’ve reviewed the course and paid particular attention to the wind and you’re going pretty darn good, until the next morning, which is race day.

Yep, you’re going super extra champion good until you get to the parking lot, whip in, and see defeat painted on the sign of another team’s van–maybe it says “Surf City Cyclery” (you’re not beating Charon in a crit today, sorry) or maybe it says “Monster Media” (you’re not beating Phil Tinstman in a road race today, sorry) but whatever it says, it’s the end of your race before it even begins.

Why?

Because bike racing is like WWII air-to-air combat. There are aces and turkeys, only, and the turkeys outnumber the aces by a hundred to one. And you’re a turkey.

In other words, my coach always tells me that if I really want to win, I need to make sure that no one who can beat me shows up. “How the hell am I supposed to arrange that?”

“You can’t.”

The absence of competition is the surest avenue to victory, and the presence of competition is the surest guarantee of defeat, and if you doubt me I point only to Brad House, who has more California state road titles than anyone in history.

If you’ve seen Brad get dropped on the climbs, dropped on the flats, outsprunted by dead people, run over by trucks in Portuguese Bend, and generally give up when the going is still hundreds of miles from “tough,” you may wonder how he got all those titles. Answer: He raced in events that were so sparsely attended that he could beat everyone, even when everyone was only one other person, or none at all.

When I first started following advice from strangers on the Internet, my mentor was Coach Cap Taintbag. Coach Cap Taintbag gave me a winning strategy, which I refused to follow. “Go to a race where you’re guaranteed victory. Somewhere far, inconvenient, in a district with hardly any racers. Go there. Sign up. Beat the other guy. Win.”

“That’s fucked up,” I said. “Why would I want to beat one other person? That’s not racing.”

“Of course it is,” said Taintbag. “And it’s winning. The only way to learn to win is to be number one. Until you’ve won you’ll never learn how to win.”

“That seems like a Catch-22,” I said.

“No, because there are races out there you can win. The mixed-man-woman-tandem-6km-TT-combined-age-150-and-over. On the track.”

I never took his advice and of course never won a race. But I started looking around and noticed that he was right. You can’t beat the aces if you’re a turkey. When you hit the parking lot, most of the time your race is done. Even Derek the Destroyer only got his amazing victory at Boulevard last year because Tinstman was sick and decided not to ride.

But I have too much pride for seeking out cupcake events, or I used to until last year when I got second place at the Tuttle Creek Road Race in the eastern Sierras. It is far away and the weather is horrible and it is hilly and brutal and lonely and filled with pain.

I got second because there were only two of us in the masters race. It’s not often you get a podium spot and a DFL in the same race.

And it gave me hope. Hope that at Tuttle Creek in 2016, where morning temps are in the 20’s and freezing rain is likely, I could do a tiny little bit better, even if it’s just one small placing up.

END

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Blame the customer

February 2, 2016 § 28 Comments

I went to a road race on Saturday with a barely-mended cracked pelvis. It was pouring when we arrived, and raining when the race started. The field had 70 riders, the roads were slick with mud, the race started with two fast downhills, and the back side of the course was on badly paved road that sported lots of potholes.

And, I was scared.

Let me repeat that: I was scared.

And lest anyone misunderstand, I am scared pretty much every time I race my bike. Why? Because bike racing is scary.

It is fun and exhilarating and challenging, but especially it is scary.

Some people aren’t scared by bike racing. They are easily categorized:

  1. Monumental idiots.
  2. Young people (often same as #1).
  3. People with no dependents and seasonal employment (often same as #1 and #2).

Everyone else finds the act of getting on a bike and scrumming, bar-to-bar, with highly excitable people possessing questionable skills at high speeds, frightening. In fact, most people find it so frightening that they never race. Others only toe the lie after great internal struggles and psychological battles of the worst sort. No one races, year in and year out, without repeatedly questioning whether it’s worth the risk, and upon concluding “No way,” shrugging and racing anyway.

I say all of this because after Saturday’s fright fest there was a crit on Sunday. The weather forecast was a 100% chance of rain. The TV weather maps showed an angry red colossus sweeping everything in its path. If you raced on Sunday you were going to get wet.

This caused a lot of people to stay home because they were afraid. Why were they afraid? Because when you race 100% of the time in sunny Southern California on dry roads, going really fast on wet ones that are often coated with oil takes the normal amount of anxiety and ramps it up to “unbearable” on the Scare-dee-Meter. In other words, it’s not fun.

There’s another reason people stayed home. Bicycles nowadays are rather expensive. One fall that busts your wheels is an easy $2k. Frame, $3-4k. Helmet, $250. Most racers don’t like to trash their equipment, and even if you don’t crash it, filthy wet races leave you with a nasty, dreckish bike that takes time and effort to clean. What a fun way to spend Sunday evening after sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the 101 …

So I was a bit surprised to read a nasty takedown on Facegag today by a guy in the 65+ category (really), sneering at all the masters pansies and weaklings who got scared off by a little rain. Several other idiots chimed in, lamenting how weak and cowardly the profamateur SoCal masters racers are. And then of course there was the criticism about “not supporting the promoter,” because everyone who chose to stay home was somehow an enemy of amateur bike racing.

Of course this particular critic was also saying “Look at me and how tough I am.” And I kind of disagree. If you’re 65 years old and still trying to prove that you’re tough, you’re about as weak and insecure as they come. The schoolyard taunt of “chicken” loses its jab for most people by about age 15. Any time some wrinkled “master” in his underwear is calling a bunch of other wrinkled masters in their underwear “cowards,” well, we have the subject of a funny SNL skit.

The fact is that the older you get the more carefully you weigh risk and count nickels. For a lot of people, especially those who slogged through Saturday’s shit fest, a Sunday spent pretending that we’re all 20-something Belgian pros just didn’t match up against the risk of spending a Sunday afternoon in the ER getting a new roll of Tegaderm and neck x-rays from three angles.

You may not like it, but masters racers are customers. If you think that calling them names and abusing them and treating them like shit will make them want to show up and race the next go ’round when the weather is nicer, you may be in for a surprise.

END

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Swallow the manure

January 31, 2016 § 11 Comments

The Hungarian picked me up at 5:15 AM. We drove over to the Ex-Military, who wasn’t offended at all by my previous rantings about the USMC’s asinine confiscation of bikes at Air Station Miramar.

Next we picked up Fireman.

Then we had to pick up Sandy Bagger. “Where are we getting him?” asked Major, who was driving the new Mercedes Sprinter van with leather captain’s seats that he’d just bought.

I checked my phone. “Says to pick him up at the Culver exit off the 405.”

“Yeah, but where? He’s not gonna be standing at the fuggin’ exit ramp.”

“Well, no. It says here he’ll be standing at the entrance ramp.”

There were no further directions so we got on the world’s gnarliest freeway and exited at Culver Blvd. Sure enough, there stood Sandy Bagger with his bike and his knapsack and his steel cup of coffee and his Spanish bible, perched on the curb, mere inches away from the 18-wheelers, drunks, and insane people entering the freeway quickly.

“What’s with the fuggin’ bible?” I asked. “The only foreign language you understand is British.”

“It’s from my bike mechanic.”

“He fixes your bike with prayers? Remind me to never get behind you.”

“No, he repairs bikes in that tent behind that shack next to the entrance ramp and his wife sells Spanish language bibles. I buy a couple a week to help them out.”

“What do you do with the bibles?”

“Leave ’em in the Starbucks.”

“Kind of a Gideon’s Bible program for Spanish-speaking coffee addicts?”

“You could say that.”

Four hours later we reached Santa Maria, which is an agricultural town in Santa Barbara County, not to be confused with any of the nice places in Santa Barbara County such as Santa Barbara.

Santa Maria’s chief feature is the cow shit that gets dropped out of the cow shit trucks which ply the various ag fields. The other chief feature for today was rain. It was pouring. The rain mixed with the oil on the road and the cow shit so that Major’s new white Mercedes was soon covered with a thick layer of shit sludge.

Thankfully we had all cleaned our bikes the night before. We parked by registration, covered the soles of our shoes with mud and cowshit, then lined up for the port-o-potty and covered our soles again with human excrement and fresh urine and toilet paper all of which we tracked into Major’s new van which formerly had white leather seats.

As we waited in the rain at the starting line, the women’s Cat 4 race finished with a huge crash. Bodies and bikes flew everywhere and women bounced and slid through the cowshit, peeling off prodigious amounts of skin but no one died even though they bled a lot and howled in pain and said, “Is my bike okay?”

Our race started and there were 70 riders and we were all terrified. No one’s carbon brakes worked on the 100% carbon wheels made all of carbon and the race started with two screaming descents and the rear tires were machine gunning shit spray until we were covered in it and blind and gagging. Three riders attacked about four miles in and that was the winning break.

We hit the back side of the course which was filled with more liquid shit and giant crevasses and chug holes. People flatted and skidded but no one fell off his bicycle. I sat at the back and quivered in fear, adding my own blend of shit to the mix. We hit the first and only real climb which was only a few minutes long.

The strong guys at the front were stretching their legs but at the back it was mayhem. Big fat dudes and tall dudes and dudes with all the wrong muscles and dudes who had drunk one mouthful too much of shit spray were lunging for wheels and choking and swerving and roaring backwards. Andy Jessup was there, making a return after a bad crash three years ago at Redlands where he had severed a femoral artery and almost bled out. The moral of that story is that after you almost die racing your bike it’s best to make your comeback in a wet shitstorm with screaming downhills and no brakes.

We crested the climb and a bunch of people were shelled for good. The break was a hundred yards ahead and three riders went across. I straggled at the back and watched the action as if it were a different race on a different planet, which it sort of was.

So far I’d completely fucked up my coach’s instructions, which were simple: 1) Stay in the first eight or ten wheels to mark any dangerous moves or bridges. 2) Start the climb forward so if the pace is hard you can float back.

Instead I’d missed the break, missed the bridge, and almost gotten shelled behind the Chee-toh riders.

The next lap was better because the shit had dried out a bit and wasn’t as slick. More people flatted in the Valley of Cracks, and the second time up the climb more people contemplated the evils of snack foods in lieu of asceticism and hard training.

On the third lap we hit the back side and the terrible pavement and I rolled up to my teammate, Chuck. My legs felt good despite the fractured pelvis and shooting pains up and down my nutsack and hands. “Hey, man,” I said. “Want to roll to the front and try to bring back the break?”

It was *only* three minutes up the road, but before he could say, “You’re insane,” I hit a gash in the asphalt and flatted. Everyone rode away. I reflected that this was better than my finish in 2015, when my saddle fell off and I had to ride five miles to the finish with a carbon post stuck up my butt.

I pulled over to the side of the road and tried to flag a vehicle. No one stopped but lots of drivers did scowl at me. The wind picked up and I shivered inside my soaking wet clothing. Finally a pickup stopped. I explained my plight and the driver had that “I don’t want that soaking wet bundle of shit-sopped rags in my cab” look.

“No hablo Ingles,” he said.

So I busted out my Grade-A Spanish and begged for a ride. “Sorry, man,” he said in perfect English. “I’m late for work.”

A sag wagon eventually came and took me back to the start/finish, where I learned that Major had flatted, Fireman had flatted, teammate Robert Itoh had flatted, and those who didn’t flat had finished as 94% lean ground pack meat.

We drove home and spent four hours discussing and critiquing everything that happened, including why our team jerseys were so ugly even without the patina of cow shit, oil, and mud. Some of the most insightful comments were:

  1. You guys are a bunch of idiots.
  2. I’ve never seen such a crappy bunch of racing.
  3. You missed the break. You missed the bridge. You were too weak to chase. You suck.
  4. It’s not a win just because you didn’t crash.
  5. Please wipe the shit off of my new seats.

In other words, it was a great start to the road race season. Especially if you like shit.

END

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Keep your happy

January 26, 2016 § 33 Comments

There are a lot of dicks in the world. It’s hard to define exactly what makes someone a dick, but here’s a definition that comes close: They try to take your happy.

One of the great things about bicycling, whether you race or whether you group ride or whether you pedal your rusted out clunker to the medical pot shop, is that it makes you happy. I know so many people who have found their happy on bicycles.

Sometimes it’s a happy from alcoholism, from a lost loved one, from a divorce, from an illness, or maybe a plain old lousy job. But the people I hang around with have bike happy in common.

So I take a dim view of people who try to take other people’s happy. For instance, the dick who came up to me after yesterday’s race and chastised me for my crummy tactics. He was right, I am pretty lousy at it. But in all the races I’ve done since 1984, no one has ever come up to me after a race and yelled at me because of that.

So I nicely told the dick to please stop yelling at me, the race had just ended, and after we’d cooled down we could go over to the team tent and he could explain my failings. I’d be more receptive–there would at least not be an inch of sheet snot hanging over my face–and he might be less angry and might choose nicer words. In fact, it was entirely possible that after a few minutes the most important thing that had ever happened in the history of the earth might not be the events of this 45+ old fellows bicycle race and splatting contest, and it was even more possible that whatever had happened in this incredibly important sporting event might not even be worth shouting about. Weirder still, with a few moments of rest and reflection, I might be able to even talk back rather than gasp.

He continued yelling at me and called me a tool, another true statement perhaps, but it made me wonder what kind of tool. A crescent wrench? One of those funny things you stick on the end of a cassette to remove the lockring?

A buddy came up and tried to calm him down but it didn’t work. I slowed to a super crawl and he rode off, haranguing and yelling and complaining about something that everyone already knows: I’m not very good at racing my bike.

Then in an unrelated happening, Friend told me today about a Significant Other who was on the I Hate Your Cycling warpath. Even though Friend doesn’t ride that much, and only does it when S/O is at work or otherwise engaged, S/O constantly rages about cycling. S/O is very miserable at S/O’s job and takes it out on Friend, ostensibly because Friend rides too much, but actually because S/O would like to be doing something else.

Friend’s significant other and the After Race Yeller-Atter have this in common: They are both trying to take someone else’s happy.

And I told Friend the same thing I told myself as I pedaled over to the tent after the race, musing about the miserable little turd who had rubbed some of his stink off on me. “Don’t let anyone take your happy. We get one trip down the path and there are no do-overs.”

When you think about it that way, it makes you determined to hang onto your happy pretty hard. And it makes you unsympathetic towards those trying to take it away.

END

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It’s not for everyone

January 25, 2016 § 18 Comments

Fear. If you want to see it in its natural state, gaze along the starting ranks of any Cat 5 men’s race or Cat 4 women’s race. You’ll spot the one or two faces that are frozen with it, the most horrible of all human emotions.

I have a friend whose head is harder than a block of concrete. It is impermeable to reason and utterly advice-resistant when it has to do with anything related to cycling. “You need to do more group rides so that you won’t kill everyone with your terrible bike handling,” I told her after she had almost killed everyone with her terrible bike handling. So she did more solo rides.

“If you want to not get dropped on the NPR you need to do fast flat rides more. Like, say, the NPR.” She went out and did hills for a month.

Most dreadful of all was when she asked me to be her coach. “Why?” I asked. “I know nothing and you listen to no one. What a colossal waste of time.”

But she insisted, so I drew up a training plan for her. It went like this:

Monday: Don’t ride your bike.

Tuesday: Ride your bike.

Wednesday: Ride your bike.

Thursday: Ride your bike.

Friday: Ride your bike.

Saturday: Ride your bike.

Sunday: Ride your bike.

“That’s bullshit!” she said. “That’s not a training plan.”

“Of course it is,” I said. “You just don’t like it.”

“That’s dumb,” she said, and promptly went off and rode three times a week, ran four times a week, and made sure that she was so exhausted that she eventually got sick and had to stay home for ten days straight.

“You need a bike fit,” I told her.

“What’s that?”

“It’s a thing where someone sets up your bike so that your ass gets closer to your hands.”

“Okay,” she said, “where should I go to do that?”

“I don’t know. I’ve never had one. That’s why my position is so bad.”

“You fucking hypocrite,” she said.

“Yes,” I agreed.

Then one day she said, “I want to do a race.”

“Fine,” I said. “Do one.”

“Which one should I do?”

“CBR. First one of the season.”

“What is it?”

“A flat, four-corner crit, 40 minutes long and  a ten-minute drive from home.”

“I hate flats,” she said, so so she signed up for Tuttle Creek, a mountainous, horrible, challenging road race located 5 hours away in the Sierras and subject to high wind, snow, and freezing rain.

Yesterday morning I raced CBR and she was there spectating with her kids. She was fuming. “What’s up?” I said.

“This race,” she said. “I can’t stand it.”

“Can’t stand what?”

“Watching. I hate watching.”

“So pin on a fucking number,” I said. She spun on her heel and went over to the registration desk.

An hour later she was standing in the staging area with her number pinned on. She was deathly pale and clenched up tighter than an oyster. Her lips were frozen in place and she was punching out sharp, stuttering breaths. I walked over. “Hey,” I said. “Relax.” I put my arm on her shoulder. She is slim but incredibly muscular, and it was like touching Charon’s thigh or a boulder, rock hard. Not that I’ve ever touched Charon’s thigh, but you can tell by looking.

“I’m so fucking scared,” she said.

“I know. You look like someone just told you that Santa Claus is coming down the chimney.”

“Santa Claus?”

“With an axe and a bag full of human heads.”

She laughed, a little. “I’m so fucking scared.”

“Look,” I said. “Relax. Just now. For ten seconds. Then you can tense all up again because the other women are going to beat your ass. Or you can quit.”

The thing about my friend I forgot to tell you is that she hates to lose and that she is a former champion figure skater and that she is the single most competitive person I have ever met, ever. “What did you say?”

“Quit. Just walk away. It’s a stupid bike race. There’s nothing wrong with being a give-up chicken quitter who is so easily intimidated that you can’t even start a wanker-filled Cat 4 women’s bike race in an empty parking lot. Lots of people are chicken that way.”

“You are such an asshole.” But my hand was still on her shoulder and I felt it relax like butter, and her eyes flashed.

“Just trying to help.”

She clipped in and rode to the start. The gun went off and she was nowhere to be seen for the entire race, hanging at the back and trying not to fall off her bicycle as she navigated turns that were wide enough to drive a space shuttle through.

Then on the last lap coming out the last turn, where she was dead last and 500 yards from the line, she jumped out of her saddle, passed the entire field one-by-one, and got fourth. It was like watching Secretariat without the midget and the whip.

I came up to her after the race. “That was awesome!” I said.

She looked at me defiantly, and she wasn’t afraid anymore. “I could have won.” And yes, her eyes were flashing.

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