November 1, 2014 § 11 Comments
Both cycling enthusiasts poured out into the streets of Hohenems, Austria, to celebrate the accomplishment of local-boy-made-good Matthias Brändle, who crushed the hour record set on September 18 by Jens Voigt. “I never thought I would be able to set the record in such a dominating fashion,” said Brändle. “Usually you think perhaps you can take a win like this by a few ten-billionths of an angstrom, or perhaps a hundred-billionth, but to destroy the record by a full .18 billionth of an angstrom, that’s a record I can be proud of.”
The record was confirmed by the UCI through X-ray diffraction. By applying the present best value for a a, a = 543.102 0504(89) × 10−12 m, corresponding to a resolution of ΔL/L ≈ 3 × 10−10. This measurement allowed the calibration of the UCI’s official electron microscopes, extending measurement capabilities. For non-relativistic electrons in an electron microscope, the de Broglie wavelength is:
Voigt, reached at his doping center in Belgium, concurred. “My math isn’t so great, but that’s a record that will stand for a long time, or at least until somebody learns how to use a calculator.”
Brian Cookson, head of the UCI who spearheaded the effort to allow hour record attempts with modern equipment, was euphoric. “This is what we were hoping for. The most exciting event in all of cycling, a lone anorexic pedaling mindlessly in circles for an hour covered in sputum, setting new records of human performance that require a Ph.D. in mathematics to appreciate. You know that video, ‘Jizz in my Pants‘? That’s how I feel right now.”
Local residents of Brändle’s blonde-haired, blue-eyed hometown were even more ecstatic. “In the past we have always been a rather rustic part of western Austria, a very small town,” said Burgermeister Adolf Reltih. “Our town’s deportation of the Jews to concentration camps was really the only thing we were known for, aside from converting their historic synagogue into a fire station after the war, and, you know, completely erasing all evidence of their existence and their significant contributions to our town and its history. Did you know that one of the greatest writers of the 20th Century, Stefan Zweig, had his family roots here before we deported them? But now we will be known for this amazing accomplishment. It will be years, decades even, before anyone goes a billionth of an angstrom farther than Matthias.”
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October 7, 2014 § 12 Comments
Now that the ‘cross season is underway, we need to take a moment to do a sack check of who’s doing what to whom.
- The ‘cross stage is set for October 12, when the first SPY Cyclocross beatdown of 2014 will take place in Chino, which promises to be blistering hot, challenging, and the best excuse we’ve had all year to hang out with friends and drink copious quantities of liquid sandwiches. The SPY Cyclocross series is sanctioned by USA Cycling, which means that riders can earn points that let them stage towards the front of the field at nationals, rather than having to sink down to their necks in the mud and muck of 155th place at the starting line.
- You can’t talk about cyclocross in SoCal without talking about Ryan Dahl. He’ll be on hand at the SPY race in Chino, ready to dole out a major serving of whup-ass to anyone in the 35+ A category. He’ll be joined by David MacNeal and Garnet Vertican, two cyclocrossers who have been on exceptionally good form. However well any of these wankers do, I plan to drink them under the flyover afterwards.
- Talk of cyclocross naturally leads to conversations of insanity, poor judgment, and the 2015 most-likely-to-die-on-a-bike award. This, in turn, leads to discussions about the recent KOM set by the Wily Greek on Tuna Canyon. For those who aren’t “in the know,” Tuna Canyon is a very long, exceedingly steep death-climb in the Santa Monica Mountains that can only be climbed on a narrow, twisting road while salmoning. Half the achievement is doing the climb, the other half is not getting splatted by terrified motorists in full sphincter-clench mode who see bicyclists going the wrong way up the one-way road. Anyway, it’s a legendary climb and Wily has carved his initials on that particular mule’s behind.
- Local South Bay wanker Carey Downs a/k/a Tumbleweed pulled off his first ‘cross win of the year last weekend in Long Beach, beating a field of dead people in the 55+ category. He received the much sought after Long Beach victory cup, a chalice filled with mercury, cadmium, and a choice selection of other minerals found in the local water supply.
- No South Bay form report would be complete without an update on the status of Prez, recently returned from a grueling work schedule just in time to miss all the races and begin training for the high point of his year: The off-season of 2014. He’s already begun gym workouts, track sessions, and 140-mile fatburner days in the big ring, and judging from the 347.9 donuts he was carrying in his skinsuit when I saw him on Sunday, he’ll need every one of those miles and then some. Of course it has been a sad and boring year on the local group rides without Prez to run into the occasional parked car, but his return will keep everyone on their toes. Welcome back!!
PS: Don’t miss any of the races in the SPYclocross Series — details below.
September 24, 2014 § 14 Comments
The pro peloton was rocked today with news that the beloved Tour of Beijing will likely end after 2014. “This was one of the best races on the calendar,” said Serge Dumoulin, noted domestique for Continental III-level pro team Buster’s Bunion Buster Orthotic Shoe Implants p/b Carburetor Kleen. “It was an epic race.”
Praise for the race was unanimous. In its first three years, the Tour of Beijing a/k/a Race for the Cinders, was hailed as one of the toughest and most challenging events on the pro calendar. “Sure, the stages were all pretty much short and flat,” said Pepe Contreras of Team Barnacle, “but to pedal even a hundred meters in that stinking, smog-filled shit hole of Beijing, I rate it as my greatest accomplishment ever.”
Team doctors from Trek, Cannondale, Katusha, and Tinkoff-Saxodope all agreed. “This race presented the most incredible challenges of our collective medical careers: how to inhale vast quantities of mercury, lead, cadmium, and airborne clenbuterol without either dying or testing positive. This was our greatest achievement.”
Pierre du Fromage-et-vins-du-Sucre, one of the few riders to complete all three editions, waxed nostalgic. “It’s not often you get to support, through your athletic participation, a nation that not only represses human rights but that also pollutes the globe on a massive scale. I’ll miss that. Plus all the teenagers we had sex with for, like, six bucks.”
Brian Cookson, head of the UCI and uncharacteristically sober at 9:00 AM British time, was more sanguine. “The Tour of Beijing served its purpose, to reach out to the growing population of Chinese sporting enthusiasts and expand awareness of our sport, but let’s be honest here. When has anyone ever gone to China and not gotten fucked? Making money off of the Chinese is harder than taking a full bottle of rye whiskey away from a thirsty Irishman. Not that there’s any other kind.”
Although the Tour of Beijing provided a last-stop Pro Tour race for riders still looking for a win and Andy Schleck, Cookson believes that other opportunities are in the offing. “I was recently contacted by a gentleman, Mr. Abdul Abdullah-Masoud al-Qaeda who would like to unveil a premiere stage race in the northern part of what was, formerly, I believe, known as Iraq. We are still working out the details, and would of course require that none of the riders be decapitated, and I believe they may be flexible on that point as long as everyone wears a bedsheet. With the UCI, rider safety is our paramount concern.”
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September 2, 2014 § 19 Comments
Derek had been cajoling me to do the last CBR crit of the season for over a week. “C’mon, dude,” he said. “The field will be easy. All the fast guys will be at nationals or tapering for it.” And then the biggest lie of all: “It’ll be fun!”
When you are old and slow and tactically stupid and racing your bike on the fumes of dead dreams, you are vulnerable. “Okay,” I groused. “But I’m not shaving my legs. I’m done with that shit.”
Derek smiled. “No problem.”
I met him at the corner of Anza and Carson at 11:25. The race started at 12:35, and it was a forty-minute pedal if you caught all the lights, which never happens. This gave us a very comfy 40-minute safety buffer. We chatted and pedaled along the mostly empty Sunday streets of Torrance until the street became not-quite-so-empty, then pretty-trafficked, and finally stopped-completely-dead-in-a-sea-of-cars.
We threaded the lanes until we got to the source of the problem: The world’s longest freight train. “What the hell is this?” Derek asked.
“They run the really long ones through town on Sundays to minimize traffic disruption.”
“Crap,” he said, looking at his watch. “How long does it take?”
“I’ve never been stopped at one for more than thirty minutes.”
As the endless train endlessly rolled by at a whopping 5 mph, we sat stewing in the heat. The plus side was that if it lasted much longer we’d miss the race, which was fine with me because I didn’t want to do the 35+ category anyway. If it was hopeless racing with my own leaky prostate peers in the 50+, throwing down with the snotnoses was something much worse than hopeless. The last two 35+ races I’d entered I hadn’t even finished.
Still, the fast guys wouldn’t be there …
“Let’s go!” Derek said as the caboose rolled by. We were now touch-and-go for making the race, and the pre-race race began. Plowing into a nasty headwind and catching every single red light on Carson, we time-trailed to the race course moments before liftoff.
As we hurried to the sign-in tent, I saw that Derek had lied and lied well. There was Pat Bos, a guy I’ve never beaten. There was Dan Reback, a guy I’ve never even thought about beating. There was Michael Johnson, a guy that almost nobody has ever beaten. And there was Kayle LeoGrande, the guy who ritually beats everyone else.
The field was tiny and the course was windy, with a small bump leading up to Turn 4. The good thing about the small size of the field was that the race would start slow. I knew this from decades of experience — no one, no matter how good they are, wants to batter for a full fifty minutes in a race with no shelter.
Just before we started, Bart came up to me. “What the hell are you doing racing with these punks?” Bart had gotten third in the Old Farts’ Category earlier in the day.
“Funny, I was asking myself that same question.”
Armin the Great came over and clapped my shoulder, which hurt. “Don’t worry. You will do fine.”
I wanted to believe Armin, but when the gun sounded, his prediction sounded insanely optimistic. At Turn 1 Kayle jumped away from the field with Derek and two others in tow. The pain shot from my legs to my bowels to my eyes as the guillotine edge of reality made itself clear. This was going to be another day of “moral victories.” I already had them classified:
- Moral Victory #1: Getting out of bed and riding to the race.
- Moral Victory #2: Starting the race.
- Moral Victory #3: Finishing the first lap.
- Moral Victory #4: Beer.
As we finished the first lap the breakaway looked like it was gone and gone forever. Kayle had already kicked two of the breakaway companions out of the lead and they rocketed backwards, shattered, like pieces of a Morton-Thiokol booster rocket spiraling away from the Challenger space shuttle.
Then I heard the churning, whirring sound of accelerating carbon, and without bothering to look I sprunted hard. MJ came tearing through with Kayle’s teammate, Pat Bos, on his wheel. I latched onto Pat. MJ was flying solo and wasn’t about to let Kayle ride off the front like that.
The speed and wind and misery were so intense that I recounted my four moral victories and decided that now, as we finished Lap 2, was the perfect time to quit. I looked up and saw that MJ had reeled in the break, which contained Kayle and Derek. Everyone sat up except for Mario of Cal Pools, who attacked on the little riser. Derek and Rodrigo Flores went with him, and they pedaled away.
Then Dan Reback jumped and I went with him. A lap later we had bridged, leaving fistfuls of IQ points and galaxies of pointlessness scattered in our wake. We waited for Kayle or MJ or Pat to bridge, but somehow our ragtag group stayed off until, with fifteen minutes to go, we saw that miraculous sight of all miraculous sights: The remnants of the field that we were about to lap.
I have only lapped a field once. It was in 1985, at the crit at the Tour of Georgetown. There is nothing quite like it — it feels like a combination of having unprotected sex while mowing down your opposition on a battlefield with a machine gun. Only better.
We went around in circles for a few more laps. Teammate Eric Anderson set up Derek with the perfect leadout, and Derek responded with an amazing front-tire blowout as he railed through the final turn. I wound up fourth, losing to all my breakaway companions (including the one with a blowout) except for Mario, who sat up in Turn 3 and didn’t even try.
Still, lapping the field? (Yes, it was tiny.) Finishing ahead of two national champions who are contenders for a national championship next week? (No, this wasn’t a very important race for them.) Not getting immediately dropped and flayed by a field 15 years younger than my proper age category? (Dang, I’m old.)
I’m calling this one Moral Victory #5.
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August 20, 2014 § 4 Comments
For a long time I have been telling LA and Orange County wankers to get off their asses and go do the Swami’s Ride, which leaves every Saturday from RIDE Cyclery in Encinitas at 8:05 AM. Finally, a whole bunch of them listened, and last Saturday night as I watched one of the fastest masters racers in America do backflips off a cliff into a swimming pool wearing a thong while a 200-lb. long-haired pig rooted around the pool area and people started taking off most of their clothes and jumping into the pool after drinking a keg of Lost Abbey BWR Ale … what was I saying?
Oh, yeah. So, there I was at Phil’s 40th birthday bash and it turned out that many of the attendees had also taken the Swami’s Challenge and done the ride. Here’s what they had to say:
“Very hard ride.”
“Hardest group ride ever.”
“Hard. That was a hard ride.”
“Man, that was hard.”
And of course, my favorite comment, “Hard.”
So now that everyone from outside North County San Diego agrees with me that yes, the Swami’s Ride is hard, it’s time for me to introduce two painful punches, an old friend and a new one.
The old friend is the SPY Holiday Ride. I blather about it all the time because it, too, is a very hard ride. That’s “hard” as in “very painful and difficult.” As in “You will get shelled.” As in “Not easy.” The next SPY Holiday Ride is on Labor Day. It leaves at 8:00 AM from RIDE Cyclery. There are lots of good reasons to do this ride, but the best one is that most of the fastest riders will be at masters nationals, which means you might not get dropped immediately.
The next-to-best reason is that this ride symbolizes grass roots riding at its best. Beer primes are given away (a case per prime), and it’s the result of a company — SPY Optic — supporting bicycle riding on a community level. You don’t have to race or have a license, just a bike, a pair of legs, and the desire to shrink your ego down a few dozen sizes.
The second punch, and by far the more painful one, is the SPYclocross Series. The series starts on September 20 and has six races. In past years, SoCal cross series races have not qualified for USA Cycling upgrade points, starting positions at nationals, or juice boxes because, money. SPY has stepped up (*note to self: let’s find a better verb. “Jumped up.” “Drunkenly staggered up.” “Raged to the fore like a crazy man with aliens in his undergarments.”) and donated the extortionate, ridiculous, bullshit fees that USAC demands in order to ensure that the grass roots are not only mown as short as possible, but dug up as well.
Whatever. Thanks to SPY the series now “counts,” which is kind of a bummer because I always used the “no staging points for nationals” as my excuse for not going.
The series has everything that the road season doesn’t. Great and exciting venues. Spectators. A minimum of shattered braincases or the likelihood thereof. And although it is not allowed and I will personally report anyone caught drinking it, beer. Fortunately, since there are no craft breweries in San Diego (the site of the first race), sobriety should not be a problem.
Cyclocross is a growing sport, in part because studies show that if you are crappy as a road racer, you will redefine suckery in ‘cross. However, it allows the purchase of new equipment, you never get pulled, it sounds vaguely hipster, and if you take it seriously and train for it you will get to say things like “Ryan Dahl only lapped me twice.”
Swami’s Ride? Holiday Ride? SPYclocross Series? Pick yer poison.
August 15, 2014 § 35 Comments
Word on the street is that USA Cycling has become very concerned about the precipitous drop-off in the number of idiots who participate in masters racing, and they are going to convene some kind of meeting to identify the problems and propose solutions.
That’s too bad. They should have just called me. But since they didn’t, I’ve written this very helpful little post to guide them on their way.
First, let’s understand the landscape of masters racing: It is dead and, like T-rex, is never coming back. Rather, it is laying in a big heap and decomposing while those who can stand the stench still saddle up and pedal around the rotting corpse.
What killed masters racing?
- De-innovation. The only difference between bike racing today and bike racing in 1984 is … nothing. Imagine a business model that is the same today, with the identical approach to the customer, service, product, and cost, as it was in 1984. There’s a way to spell the name of companies like that: “b-a-n-k-r-u-p-t.”
- Taxation. While the promoters’ and riders’ costs rose, USA Cycling continued to take larger and larger pieces of the pie. That USA Cycling officials are paid even a penny is a sorry joke. They should volunteer and do it for the love of the sport or get the hell out. Oh, wait a minute … what love of the sport? Many of them don’t even ride.
- Cost. In 1984 you could race the best equipment for the equivalent of about $4,000 in 2014 dollars — including kit, shoes, spare wheels, and a bike that was essentially unbreakable, with wheels that were likewise difficult to damage. A top race bike now retails for about $9k. Kit and shoes another $1k. Oh, and it’s all disposable and very easily broken. Dog forbid you crash, because those Zipp 808’s retail for about $3k. And let’s not forget tires, which can cost more than new tires for a car and last for a fraction of the time. What business model triples the cost and actually lowers the value to the consumer?
- Poverty. In 1984, a solid middle class income was $27,393. In 2014 dollars, that’s $63,019. Today’s middle class income in that same bracket? $64,582. Yep. In thirty years the biggest consumer for bike racing has seen his income go up less than $1,500, while the cost of bike crap has gone up (conservatively) $6,000. Let’s see. Should I pay for food, rent, healthcare, education, or … bike racing? Tough decision for a few. But only a few.
- Buzzkill. The professionalization of masters racing has made it very serious. Serious people like to yell and shout and create heaps of drama at races. Not-so-serious people, which is pretty much everyone else, don’t really like spending their weekend getting yelled at or abused. So they stay home while a few self-important pricks strut around as if what they did in a Sunday crit really mattered.
- Hopelessness. In the 1/2/3/4/5 categories, there’s always a shuffle. Someone younger is always coming up through the ranks and knocking off the older riders. It’s the cycle of life. But not in masters racing. Once you race an age category, the same people who win will always be the same people who win — from age 35 to age 75 — so you have forty years of getting beaten by the same people over and over and over and over again. Good times!
- Time. We have less of it, bike racing requires more. Why do we have less time? Because of poverty. We’re working more to pay for essentials, and masters bike racing isn’t an essential.
- Rewards. What are they, again? There’s no money. There are no trophies. No one gets a juice box. It’s just the “fun” of competition. Well, that works for two kinds of people: the perennial winners who like staving everyone else’s head in, and the perennial losers who don’t mind losing. That’s a customer base of about 12 people, by the way.
- Cheating. Masters racers cheat, and promoters, who are taxed to the teeth by USA Cycling, and struggling under huge operating costs, can’t afford drug testing. So the cheaters get away with it, and the non-cheaters blame everyone who wins on “doping.”
- Safety. USA Cycling races are horribly dangerous compared to other leisure activities available to elderly men with leaky prostates. USA Cycling encourages risky behavior when its PAID officials fail to aggressively enforce rules against chopping, dive-bombing, elbow throwing, bar banging, post-race face-punching, etc.
However much all of these factors have brought low the mighty dinosaur, none has inflicted the mortal wound. The true killer not just of masters racing, but of bike racing in general, is Strava. And folks, Strava is here to stay.
Strava offers everything to the competitive cyclist except reality. It is free. It rewards you. It lets you set up special courses and categories that YOU can win, or at least get “on the leader board.” It is safe. Unlike USA Cycling, whose officials in SoCal don’t do squat for race safety, Strava bans segments that are reported as dangerous.
Plus, with Strava you don’t have to travel, and every day is a bike race. Strava lets you brag to your friends, compete with little “I stole your KOM” tits-for-tats, and doesn’t require any bike handling skills. On Strava, everybody’s a Cat 1.
The only downside to Strava, of course, is that it’s completely fake and that it eliminates the one thing that makes a bike race a true competition: Everyone has to race at the same day on the same course at the same time. But it’s the virtual, inauthentic nature of Strava that real bike racing can’t compete with.
And the icing on the cake? When’s the last time your wife ever complained about you going out to take someone’s KOM?
RIP, masters racing. It was sort of nice known’ ya.
Additional participants in the mercy killing:
11. Cost Plus. In addition to the cost of a road bike, you now also need a time trial bike if you’re going to do 3-day races with a TT. Add $10k. Also, you will need a power meter ($1k – $4k), a computer ($500), and a set of race wheels to go with your training wheels ($2k). And a coach, because you can’t beat guys who train 30 hours a week just by riding hard. Trust me on that last one.
12. “The Competition.” In addition to Strava, whose value proposition overwhelms yours, in the last 30 years there has been an incredible proliferation of fun, challenging, “non-race” rides that are effectively unsanctioned races. In LA alone you can do the NPR on Tuesday morning (always race pace), the Major Motion ride on Tuesday evening (always race pace), the Amalfi Ride on Thursday morning (race pace, but with stops), the Rose Bowl Ride (pure race), the M500 (pure race), the Donut Ride (race), the Montrose Ride (race with stoplights) … and that doesn’t even count the Grand Fondos, century rides, and countless other road rides where you can mix it up without paying a fortune, driving across the country, and paying a fortune. Did I mention paying a fortune?
13. “The Competition” v. 2. Other types of racing have increased in popularity and they compete with USAC road events. That’s cyclocross and mountain bike racing. They have a better vibe. More interesting venues. More spectators. Better officiating. Safe courses. They’re cheaper and closer to home and at least for ‘cross the equipment is a lot cheaper and there’s less of it.
14. Pain. Road racing is too hard. People on training rides cut the ride, do a “B” ride, refuse to do new challenging additions. Why? Because they are weak and lazy and entitled and they don’t want to get their nuts pounded off with the handle of a chisel. The San Marcos crit (35 starters in the 35+, 19 finishers), was so miserably awful that I contemplated quitting every lap. And I was in the 45+. Road racing is worse and harder. It’s grueling and it goes on for hours. People don’t want that anymore. They want something that hurts a little bit, but not too much — certainly they don’t want to submit to 30-degree sleet at Devil’s Punchbowl for 2.5 hours, with 6k of elevation per lap, riding alone. The most important thing is that they look good, don’t wind up in the ICU or a wheelchair, and that for dog’s sake they don’t break their equipment. Because unlike brains and body parts, an expensive bike nowadays can’t be replaced.
August 12, 2014 § 19 Comments
I hadn’t raced my bike since late May. The plan was to take a month off and then pick back up in July. A solid month of rest and beer would rejuvenate my legs, refresh my mind, and restore the killer competitive spirit that had led to so many 57th and lower placings over the first part of a very successful road season.
In July, however, a strange thing happened. Instead of jumping back into racing with a vengeance, I found myself discovering ever more first-rate reasons not to race. I couldn’t do the Manhattan Beach Grand Prix because it wasn’t technical enough for a pro bike handler like me, and plus, it was too dangerous. Way too many crashes, and anyway I’m so over racing crits.
Ontario the following week was a non-starter as well. It’s not too far, but the afternoon return traffic on the 10 is just not how I plan to spend my Sunday. The prize list sucks balls too, especially once you get down into 50th place and lower. And it’s another boring crit. If I’m going to race my bike, I need a real challenge.
Sherman Pass Road Race looked good on paper, but frankly it was too far away and had too much climbing. Fifty-three miles with 8,700 feet of elevation? Are you kidding? That’s a race for pure climbers, not all-around journeymen like me. Also, road races just don’t have enough riders in my age category, so they’re more like time trials, and I’m not driving all day out to the Sierras to do a time trial.
The Carlsbad Grand Prix was a pretty solid crit, slightly technical, not too far, solid field, and one of the most important races for my team sponsor, SPY Optic. But that course is occasionally susceptible to strong headwinds on the back side of the course. I am more of a tactical rider rather than the kind of guy who can charge into the wind off the front for 45 minutes. Pass.
The CBR crit the following weekend was too close to home. I get tired of seeing the same old faces. Plus, the course is too easy and my race goes off too early, before the wind kicks up. I prefer a race that has some tough challenges, that require you to fight the elements, not just tactically sit around all day.
The following weekend I was tempted to go to the Death Valley Omnium, but at this time of year, and with global heating, it’s too hot. Plus, omniums are no good. It should be a stage race. I’m really more of a stage racer, a GC kind of rider than anything else.
Brentwood Grand Prix was one that I had circled on my calendar because it really caters to all my strengths. It’s close to home, but not too close. The course is technical but not dangerous. There are opportunities for a smart breakaway tactician like me, and it has a slight bump before the finish which really suits my powerful seated accelerations. But the morning of the race it was misty and I didn’t want to race on a course where it had been damp several hours before my event.
So now it was mid-August and there was one race left on the calendar, the San Marcos crit. Fortunately, it is the perfect course for me and one I have excelled on in the past. Last year’s 49th placing was a huge step up, and the year before I finished the 45-plus race and the 35-plus race.
The only down side was that out of 42 riders our squad only had about ten guys, so even though we were short on manpower we’d have to figure something out. Before the race Mike and I were warming up. “How’re the legs?” I asked.
“Haven’t been training too much since my injury, but I’ll do the 45+ and the 35+ for the fitness.”
“The only time I did the 45+ and the 35+ races it felt like getting circumcised with a rusty file,” I advised.
Our team strategy was simple: pedal faster than everyone else. The only problem was that “everyone else” included Thurlow Rogers a/k/a The Hand of God a/k/a THOG, and Mark Noble. Check his race results this year on the USAC web site and cringe.
The San Marcos course is a simple four-corner crit with a dogleg. On the first lap we made the first turn and flew down the long downhill, which funnels through a bottleneck turn lined with cones on the left that separate idiot bicycle racers going way too fast from idiot motorists who are also going way too fast. I watched in terror as everyone scrunched up their brakes and threaded the narrow turn.
Those of us at the back then accelerated from zero back up to 37 and whipped along the flat crosswind section in a single file until we hit turn three, another accordion turn that shunts a wide, fast moving peloton into two narrow lanes also marked with cones on the left and death on the right. Poor positioning again meant another 0-30 acceleration, but at least it was with a tailwind.
Finally we hit turn four, a wider, safer turn that goes bolt-uphill. If you’re well positioned towards the front, the momentum of the pack will carry you halfway up the incline, but if you’re flogging in the rear, decelerating at the turn due to the clogstacles in front of you, it takes a 1500-watt effort to make it up the little hill. Or a 1200-watt effort if that’s all you have. Or, yes, 750.
Then the road flattens and does a little chicane and then goes up again. This is the part where, if you’ve played it right, you still have to dig deep to roll over the top. If you’ve played it wrong, or in the key of B, it’s the worst nightmare imaginable of all sharps and flats.
Since I had felt great on the starting line, the place where I typically do my best work, I was amazed at the sensations in my legs after one measly lap, sensations that corresponded perfectly to the quit gene. “No problem,” i said to myself. “I’ll feel better on the next lap.”
I did in fact feel better, but only because I didn’t follow the guy in front of me too closely. On the downhill screamer his rear wheel hit the manhole cover and slipped. He over-corrected and shot out between the cones into traffic. If he’d been going any faster he would have high-sided into a solemn graveside service.
I looked over at Mike. “Still thinking about that 35+ race in a couple of hours?”
“No,” he said.
We finished the second lap and the quit gene hadn’t stopped screaming. On the third lap the winning breakaway went. Shockingly and against all predictions, it was THOG and Noble. Since we comprised 1/4 of the field, it was a matter of course that we had a teammate in the break.
I dashed to the front and slowed the pack to a crawl. Using my patented Chicken Little cornering technique, for two laps I went so slowly through each turn that every Garmin in the peloton began to emit “rider paused” warning beeps. Finally, confident that the invisible break had enough pavement to hold their gap, I rolled back into the field. My work was done.
King Harold came up to me. “Dude,” he said. “What the fuck were you doing?”
“Blocking,” I said, filling with satisfaction of a job well done.
“Well great fucking job, wanker. We don’t have anyone in the friggin’ break. You just gave the two fastest guys in California an additional forty-five seconds. Not like they need it.”
“Oh, yeah, tough guy?” I said. “Then maybe you should just go chase them yourself.”
King Harold shook his head and leaped out of the pack. Since it was a 23-mph headwind and we had just started up the impossible hill, no one even thought about following. With THOG and Noble going as hard as they could, King Harold donated a lung and a kidney to the crit deities, put his head down, and crossed over the forty-five second gap.
Although the timers only had the gap at 45 seconds, the person bridging had to calculate the gap based on Einstein’s theory of special relativity, which meant that, out in the wind, alone, sad, missing his mommy, and knowing that his entire team was tucked cozily on the wheel of everyone else, it felt like about twelve thousand millenia.
Somehow, bending the rules of space and time, King Harold bridged across after two-and-a-half laps of incomprehensible, childbirth-like suffering. He didn’t win (who “wins” against THOG and Noble?), but he salvaged the team’s reputation enough so that post-race we could all sit around at the team beer tent and tell him how we would have gone with him if we’d been in a better position.
“Dude,” I said. “I so wish I had been with you to help.”
“Man,” said DJ. “I was too far back to follow when you jumped. Wish I could have helped.”
“Idiots,” said a bystander. “You had ten out of 40 riders. How did you not win this race?”
“Gentlemen,” said MMX. “Have another fine brew from Lost Abbey.”
While the other teams, resplendent in victory, posed for photos on unstable Tinkertoy podium blocks, we enjoyed even more fermented farm products. They were covered in sweat and glory, but we were covered in the rosy, hops-infused glow of not giving a flying fuck. Now that is “winning.”
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