February 9, 2015 § 23 Comments
I showed up for the Sunday Wheatgrass Ride. There were a lot of people, and I was tired. When we hit the bottom of the reservoir climb Dutchie attacked and then shelled himself. Chatty Cathy took a hard pull. Uglyfoot took a hard pull. Aston Martin took a hard pull. I sucked wheel and suffered.
We crested the climb and not many people were left. We descended and then started the Better Homes climb. Aston Martin hit it again, followed by Uglyfoot, who was raging. I sucked some more wheel, along with Strava Jr., who’d also been sucking wheel the whole time, but unlike me he was waiting to pounce.
He did and shed everyone except for me and Uglyfoot. They took turns beating me up, then flicking me to come through, but I refused. Before the final bend up to the Domes I cracked. My legs really hurt.
Instead of waiting for the wankoton I descended and headed home. I was too tired for coffee and it was a cold, overcast morning, very humid and gray.
Up the bump past Terranea a tri-dork sprunted by me, then melted. I passed him out of pride, pedaling harder than I wanted to pedal. I turned right at Hawthorne, hoping he wouldn’t follow me. The last thing I wanted was a 2-mile uphill battle. I wanted to go easy and finish the ride.
Hawthorne is long but not too steep except for a brief bump at the beginning, after which it becomes a false flat, and then a steep wall section. After the short wall it turns into an easier grade, but you’ve been climbing for a long way so it doesn’t seem that much easier.
As I hit the false flat I saw a guy some way up ahead. “I won’t even have to speed up to catch him,” I told myself as I slightly sped up. I admit I was going slow and I was tired.
He got closer, but after a while I realized that he was going at a pretty fast pace, so I upped it a bit. And sure, it was not very fast. But still … About a hundred yards or so before we hit the wall he had ten seconds on me. Not like I was timing him or anything.
Ahead of him was a rider in a blue jersey, flappy pants, and tri-bars. The guy I was chasing — Andrew was his name as I found out later — pulled away from me as the road kicked up. I couldn’t believe it.
Then, he overtook Flappy Pants and blew by him. My jaw was scraping the pavement.
I got out of the saddle and started pushing it. He had eighteen seconds on me now, and at the next checkpoint he had twenty-five. He’d opened the gap easier than a can of beer. Sure, I was tired, and sure, I wasn’t going very fast, but still … are you kidding me?
I flew by Flappy Pants and rounded the curve, stomped the pedals over the last part of the little wall and hit the rolling section. Now that I had a head of steam going and the wall was past there was no way that Andrew would hold me off. I slammed it into the big ring and chased him down, chewing up the gap in no time at all.
I pulled up next to him, breathing hard. “Dude,” I said, “that’s the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen. I’ve been chasing you for over a mile.”
He smiled. “Practice, he said.” He was breathing hard, his arms swinging easily and efficiently by his side, but he never slowed his powerful stride as his running shoes kept up their relentless tattoo on the asphalt.
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February 5, 2015 § 20 Comments
Jessica Cerra is one of those riders who has earned her spot in the peloton through skill, toughness, resilience, and force of will. She came to road racing via triathlon and MTB, and burst onto the local North County San Diego scene a couple of years ago as she was recovering from surgery to correct a severe case of iliac artery compression syndrome in her right leg.
By the time she had healed, she was thrashing men on the group rides, and from there it was a short hop to dominating the local road races, riding as the marquee women’s racer for SPY-Giant-RIDE. With powerful performances on the national stage, notably at Redlands in 2014, Jess was picked up for the 2015 season by Twenty16 p/b ShoAir.
It will be her first full year with a professional women’s team, and although she had calendared an ambitious season, a few weeks ago she learned that she was also suffering from iliac compression syndrome in her left leg. She’s had the surgery and is expected to make a full recovery, though she’ll have an obviously different racing schedule. Jess was kind enough to talk with me about a whole host of topics related to racing. Enjoy!
CitSB: What are your goals for 2015?
Jessica Cerra: My biggest goal was a stage win at Redlands and a top-3 GC finish. I don’t know that that’s a reality anymore [due to surgery — ed.]. An NRC stage win, a podium at nationals, definitely a podium at Winston-Salem or in Philly. Qualifying for the road world championship team, I guess that’s the biggest goal that I have overall.
CitSB: What kind of mental prep goes into a shot at making the road team for worlds?
JC: The more I try to hold back expectations the worse things go. The more I go in relaxed, remembering that I’m here because I like to race my bike, then the more instinctual decisions I make and things turn out better. This year I planned to go in being the strongest, most durable, fittest person out there because in those situations you can think more clearly; you’re not hanging on, you’re affecting the race. That’s how I want to race this year. I put in a huge base this year, 2,000 miles just in December, and I took good care of my body, got consistent massages, and have been working with a coach now, documenting sleep and weight, and taking a more professional approach. But my coach also likes me just being me; I like numbers and knowing my power but I also like doing the group ride with Thurlow on the front just killing it, and putting myself on the front, in the wind, so I know what my body can do in those super tough scenarios and then I can rely on those things to get me ready for racing, where those super hard moments happen all over again. Since I don’t have a lot of experience as a racer, the group rides are a huge part of my training.
CitSB: How does it feel to be the only woman in the first 25 wheels or on the entire ride when Thurlow and company are drilling it?
JC: It’s my favorite part about riding my bike. It’s pretty cool! After a while I don’t even feel any different from anyone else. I compare myself exactly to the peers I’m riding with. I’m hard on myself, too, I only see my weaknesses.
CitSB: What’s the hardest thing for women throwing their hat in the ring on the hard group rides?
JC: A lot of women are intimidated. There’s the fear of getting dropped, that everyone will notice, and it’s so embarrassing. I always try to encourage other women and make sure to compliment them when they do well or make it to certain points in the ride. I remember being nervous going to the Swami’s Ride, feeling exactly like I was going to a race! It’s intimidating and you don’t want to do something goofy and be “that person,” and you’re obsessed about training and don’t want to ruin your training by getting dropped. I encourage every woman to get out there. It’s the reason I’ve gotten as strong as I am; I’ve put myself in situations that are harder than what I have the strength for. You learn so much about racing and handling when you’re over your limit. It’s true, too, guys have better bike handling skills. You learn so much by racing with guys in a crit, about the lines that they take, and you start to see things, like how they can squeak through the inside of corners. It’s faster and more aggressive so there’s less time to think about what you’re doing. Most of the riders have the fitness to race but a lot of it is, “Why am I getting dropped when there’s five laps to go?” The more you do it, you realize it’s not fitness, it’s efficiency and awareness. You keep putting yourself in those situations, and it’s scary and you just do it. That’s how I learned.
CitSB: Now you’re a fixture on the North County rides and guys know that you can grind them up into little chunks of meat and they fear you. How does that feel?
JC: I don’t know if I look at it like that. I’m so focused on my own internal fears of what’s going to happen when I get to the power climb, and I know the women’s pro field is so strong and they know what they’re doing and are so good. NRC races are so different from local ones. I was supposed to go with the national team to do the spring classics which I’m not doing now, but I think of those situations on the local rides getting me prepared to be in those types of pelotons. When you don’t have a ton of experience in these races but you live in a place where there are 150 people on a group ride, you can apply the same things you know are going to happen in a race. If you want to be part of a race, then I go into a group ride practicing rotating through in the first 10 or 15 positions, gauging the effort to pull through, really what I’m doing is preparing myself to have to do those things in the peloton. It’s nice to ride with the guys; it used to be fun but now it’s more about completing a job. I expect them to make it hard and I expect them to look at me like I’m one of the people up there where it’s windy and not to make it easy because I’m a girl.
CitSB: Do you feel guys cut you slack? Or do they try to slaughter you like everyone else?
JC: They treat me like everyone else.
CitSB: How do you make the jump from racing Boulevard to the national or international level?
JC: Without my mountain biking background it would have been harder. I have lots of natural positional awareness and muscle memory where things happen in a race and I can read where to be, how to navigate through tricky situations, and how to feel confident about how I ride my bike. That’s huge. The second you don’t have confidence it’s going to be the worst day. When you’re riding scared nothing goes smooth. You bobble and crash, and it’s the same in the peloton. Confidence is so huge. You take control and put yourself where you need to be. Combined with my fitness, I was lucky. I went into pro racing and figured I can handle a bike and am one of the best descenders, I’m fit enough to see what’s going on, to read how the lead-out will go, so in a lot of races I could freelance and observe and notice, and you know, I could also be focused on what I was bad at–I tried to practice those situations to get better because I didn’t have a lot of racing experience. I think the biggest thing about the transition was positioning and being efficient, and that same transition happens going from the national to the international peloton. It’s a whole different level. The courses are harder, the conditions are worse, the fight for position is constant, you have to keep putting yourself in position over and over and over again. I also learned that every time at end of a race when I decided to think through what was happening, I got my face kicked in, zero results. When I just “did” it rather than think it, something inside told me what to do and it seemed to work. It takes time to trust that inner feeling. I also didn’t feel I belonged. I was stoked with a top 20 at Redlands, and had no idea about my potential. I figured out that I was more prepped than I thought I was. It’s a hard balance, though. You can’t let it go to your head but you still have to be confident enough to trust your instincts to put yourself where you need to be.
CitSB: How are things going with Harmony Bar?
JC: We had a setback with the name. We filed for a trademark and then a couple of other companies filed for the same name and our application was denied. So now we’ve filed for a new name and have been in a year of a holding pattern because we can’t make our packaging and take the next step; without the name and the brand it’s hard to move forward. The good news is that we’re still consistently selling all of our inventory online and in the bike shops we work with. There’s no marketing except word of mouth. People say it’s the best they’ve ever had and they tell our story. The next couple of months will be quiet because we’re sorting out the name. We also signed up with SmartStop, which is a big opportunity for us. By Tour of California time we’ll be with SmartStop and ready with our new name, branding, and packaging.
CitSB: For someone not familiar with Harmony Bar, how is it different from the zillions of other energy foods out there?
JC: It’s unique because I never made it to market and sell. I made it because I have a master’s degree in exercise physiology, I was in the kitchen with ingredients, paper, and pen, and mixed them a hundred times over, over, and over until I got a bar that tasted like a cookie and had all the macro nutrients that I wanted for my training. This was something I was making for myself. I knew the research was there showing that bars higher in fat were good for endurance athletes. So basically, I wanted to eat cookies on the bike! I love food and eat a ton of calories on the bike and wanted to eat things that tasted good and were like real food. Everyone said “Holy crap, this tastes like a cookie and works so well and can I buy some?” It got popular on its own because, you know, athletes out there like cookies and like to eat!
CitSB: Do you see yourself as a role model for other cyclists?
JC: I’m starting to. Unfortunately, as much as we’re trying to grow the sport of women’s cycling, coming from triathlon and MTB, I can say that road racing is by far the most intimidating to get into. Its very clique-ish, the teams and their kits and the people keep to themselves. I remember feeling like “Whoa! This isn’t like mountain biking where we finish a race and all have a beer together!” It’s hard to feel like you have a place in it. For me it’s important to change that atmosphere and for women to feel like the sport is approachable, the people are approachable, that I’m approachable. People come up after a race and they’re intimidated and I don’t like that. I’m open to talking to everyone. Lots of people are continually asking for advice about food and particular race courses and I spend lots of time answering questions on Facebook and getting to know people. I’m genuinely interested in people and their goals. After having my setbacks, the biggest joy for me is seeing others succeed. I gave a girl my racing clothes from SPY because she didn’t have any; the team kits weren’t ready yet. There’s more I can do than just racing and trying to win.
CitSB: How do you help people break into the secret society of road racing? How do you get them to take the step to enter a race?
JC: Maybe it’s different for women? I just go up to women and tell them how well they’re riding. For women it’s different. A lot of people wlll approach me and say, “My friend said you’d be on the ride,” and it’s someone new or who’s not in a club and I’ll be cool and tell them to keep coming out, and find out what they like, do they like climbing or sprinting, and the more you start hanging around the more you’ll learn. It’s in my nature to help. When I started cycling in grad school I was a a Fred, or a Frieda, I didn’t have any money for equipment and cool, nice people helped and supported and gave me pedals, for example, and had that never happened I would have never gotten to the point I’m at now. I want cycling to grow, and rides to grow, and races to grow, and people who complain about prize money or promoters are missing the fun–it’s about knowing people and being excited about seeing people you know, not avoiding the race because you don’t fit in and aren’t going to beat Monster Media and Surf City and SPY and not get a result. I try to imagine if I were a Cat 5 dude how tough that would be and how intimidating. But there are enough people who are cool and who have the same perspective that I do, who want to help. We want local racing and good group rides and an atmosphere of mutual respect. There are a lot of really good people on SPY, the team I rode with last year, people who are great riders and humble and who want to help. Without the opportunities given me by SPY and Michael Marckx I wouldn’t have ever gotten to race Redlands and then gotten the call-up to the pro ranks. MMX knew I wouldn’t be at SPY in the long run but he saw the potential and the opportunity to help grow and launch an athlete. He really put his faith in me and I couldn’t have done it without him and the support–the financial support, the logistical support of getting to races, and just a group of people who were always so cool and who believed in me.
CitSB: Tell me about your new team.
JC: The new team is amazing! It’s called Twenty16 p/b ShoAir, and we’re a UCI team this year. The director is Mari Holden and the GM/owner is Nicola Cranmer. They appraoched me and had watched my racing earlier and saw something they liked and it seemed like a great match. We’re a unique team. We have a lot of team goals and do a lot of big races but we also emphasize individual goals like doing ‘cross or track or the national team and racing in Europe. The theme of the team is “Women that race with continued education.” They encourage college and want us to have things off the bike to contribute and bring to the team as well. I’m 32, I did the reverse — went to school first and then found pro cycling!
CitSB: How many teammates live in SD?
JC: Only me. A couple live in Orange County, but we’re from all over the place.
CitSB: Has the team targeted any races this year?
JC: Redlands, which is big for women, and this year TTT nationals is a good one for us because it will be good prep for TTT worlds, which is in the USA in Richmond. One of the big sponsors is SRAM so having them support the TOC women’s race is a huge addition to our calendar and something we’ll focus on. Tour of the Gila is UCI for women this year, so it’s a focus for all of the teams, as well as Winston-Salem and the Philly race, and Philly is a world cup event. All the races are around the same time as nationals, which will be key racing for our team.
CitSB: Anything you want to add?
JC: The team has been really supportive so it’s scary being the new person on the team and I’ve been waking up every morning with photos and texts from team camp. It’s a pretty good feeling to not have really met teammates and already be included. They truly have my best interests at heart! I know that it’s going to be a good season this year–a bunch of bad-ass women with a lot of horsepower on this team!
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January 31, 2015 § 18 Comments
The hotel clerk looked at me and then at my traveling companion, who, like me, was smelly and unshaven.
“Would you like two queens or a king?”
“Two queens,” we said together.
Fireman and I had spent the day at our profamateur team training camp listening to an extensive and detailed series of presentations on the importance of careful nutrition prior to important races. After finishing a huge meal at Denny’s, we waddled over to the hotel.
It had been a tiring day. All 80 team members had showed up to collect their racing glasses, team uniforms, nutritional supplements, and team burritos. Since the biggest and toughest road race of the year was the following morning, we did a casual leg-loosening 50-mile spin that required sustained 350-watt efforts just to stay on a wheel.
After the lectures broke up I ended up standing next to a very pretty young racer on our women’s team. One of the crusty old fellows on the 85-plus masters team was trying to chat her up with this winning icebreaker.
“So,” he said, “I just bought a new set of full carbon wheels, which are full carbon.”
She smiled politely, wondering why she was spending Friday afternoon in a nursing home.
I decided to take a stab. “Hi, I don’t think we’ve met. I’m Seth.”
She shrank back, which was a bad sign. “Are you that Wanky bogging dude?”
I looked around for King Harold, hoping I could blame it on him, but he was arm wrestling Bull for the last of the cheese scrapings in the bottom of the nacho tray. “Um, yes,” I said.
“You almost killed me, dude.” She wasn’t smiling.
“I’m sorry.” What else could I say?
“I’m from New York.” Her blazing eyes were drilling into the back of my skull, which was actually awesome because she was so hot.
“I moved out to California five years ago and got into cycling and decided to do my first race.”
“That’s awesome,” I said, wondering from which direction the haymaker was going to come.
“And my first race was Devil’s Punchbowl.”
“Oh,” I said. “I guess not so awesome, then.” Punchbowl is the root canal-plus-rectal-drilling of all races in SoCal.
“I was really pumped and fit for that race. I didn’t know anything about cycling or racing or the races or anything, and a friend sent me a link to your blog about Punchbowl.”
Now I knew where she was going, and it was along a mined road that was going to end in a plunge off a cliff. “Oh?”
“Yeah. I thought it was serious, you know, like how to do well at that race. You remember what you wrote about aspirin?”
“Aspirin. You said that because of the altitude a rider should eat half a bottle of aspirin to ‘thin the blood.'”
“I said that?”
“You said that.”
“But surely no one would have been stupid enough to eat an entire half bottle of aspirin before a bike race. I mean, how could you even do it.”
“I crushed it into powder and dissolved it into my water bottle. Then I drank it.”
“Wow,” I said noting that she had ignored the first part of my observation. “Then what happened?”
“I won in a solo break on last lap.”
“Then I began vomiting uncontrollably, spitting up blood, ruptured an artery in my throat and almost bled to death.”
“Yeah,” I said, “but you won!”
I was so excited for her that I missed the haymaker, which came from the left.
Back at the hotel I called up G$, the guy who had told me so many years ago about taking two aspirin the morning of the race. “Dude,” I said. “You know how you told me to take two aspirins before high altitude races like Punchbowl?”
“We gotta up the dosage.”
January 27, 2015 § 46 Comments
Last July I realized that my racing season, which was almost over, hadn’t gone so well. I had a bunch of DNF’s and 47th’s, which in and of itself was a step up from the year before, but I could tell that my power had dropped.
Since I don’t use a power meter except for my right lung and left lung, I noticed that they would quickly start to burn and hurt relatively early in the race, usually around sign-in. I checked the Internet to find out the best way to increase my power and every road seemed to lead here:
However, after doing a bit more research I learned that in order to properly dope you would have to have a training plan, and what’s worse, you’d have to follow it. For someone who has trouble remembering to put water in his bottle, the thought of all those needles, pills, feeding tubes, home transfusion kits, and cranial catheters was a bit overwhelming.
So I kept cruising the Internet and I found this:
Yep, it struck me that every time I’d ever seen Marco Pantani climbing, he did it on the drops. So on a fateful day in July I tried it out myself, and learned a lot, which I’m going to share with you now.
- First, when you climb in the drops you are effectively yanking up on the bars. This up-yanking engages your arms, even when they are skinny, tweezly little twigs like mine and Marco’s.
- Second, when you are hunched over like that you can’t breathe, which can be problematic since breathing is somewhat important for bicycle riders and people in general who are not dead.
- Third, by hunching over the bars and up yanking, it pretty much tears out all of the muscles, ligaments, tendons, discs, carbon spacers, and labia in your lower back so that when you get off your bike you can’t walk upright anymore.
- Fourth, you eventually flummox back onto your seat with a weighty thud because it’s impossible to hold yourself in that position for more than about two minutes.
When I got out of bed after that ride a few days later, I realized that this technique had real potential aside from the excruciating pain, breathing obstructions, and inability to hold the pose. If it was good enough for Marco Pantani, a disgraced drug cheat who died alone in a filthy hotel room surrounded by empty syringes, it was certainly good enough for me.
My new Up Yanking Addendum to the Wanky Training Plan (UYAttWTP, pronounced “You a Twip”) had begun. Every time I came to an incline I got out of the saddle in the drops. At first I could only do it for a few minutes, but as my arms got stronger and the labia in my back got clenchier, I could hold the position for longer. By late August I was able to do the entire Latigo climb in the drops — it’s a 41-minute climb that I can cram into an hour or so.
The benefits to up yanking have been huge. By throwing most of my weight over the front wheel, the bike becomes quite unstable and frightens people, which is a plus. More importantly, when you grip tightly on the bars you can really feel the extra power in the downstroke, as well as the rapid exhaustion and collapse of your arms and shoulders from squeezing so hard.
The real benefit to climbing in the drops is that you get to leverage the weight of your entire upper body over the pedal, and when you’re hunched over like Marco you are creating a very low aero profile as opposed to climbing while standing and gripping the hoods. In that position you are standing upright, creating the aero profile of a sail or, if you’re one of the guys I ride with, a hippo.
Anyway, I hope you will integrate up yanking into your training plans. It may turn you too into the next Marco Pantani, minus the hotel room and used syringes.
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January 25, 2015 § 29 Comments
Imagine someone you hate. Imagine someone you so deeply despise that the mere sight of their face or sound of their voice sets off something so primal within you that, were it not for orange jumpsuits and all that unprotected anal sex, you would gladly push them off a cliff and consider it the perfect start to a day.
Now imagine that this person you detest is a cowardly, sniveling, weak, unathletic simp who folds under duress like outdoor lawn furniture.
Next, imagine that you are able to perform the most astounding acts of athletic amazingness, and then, to complete the picture, imagine that this person who you loathe above all others suddenly falls completely within your power for two hours.
How would you this worthless consumer of oxygen suffer the most hideous torture possible? What would you make him endure to crush, abuse, and humiliate him before finally snuffing out his miserable life?
Okay, I know it’s obvious, but I’ll say it anyway: You’d take him mountain biking.
Manslaughter had been trying for years to get me on a mountain bike, but I had always refused. At age 51, I know mostly what I like, and I know definitively what I detest. I detest television, I detest religion, I detest war, and most of all I detest mountain biking.
One time I bought a mountain bike. It was in 1988. I lived in Austin, and I rode it along a trail called the Greenbelt. On a scale of MTB difficulty from 1 to 12 million, it rated a 2 or a 3. It was flat, it had some grass, it had some rocks, it had a creek, and it had a hill. My hatred of mountain biking coalesced on my first ride, when I fell off my bicycle and got a scratch.
The next day I was talking with the guys at the shop and they asked how my ride had gone. I told them that I had fallen off and gotten a scratch. I showed them the scratch and they all shrugged. “It’s not a good mountain bike ride if you don’t fall off and bleed,” they said. They were serious.
By 1988 I had already been riding a bicycle for most of my life, having started at age four or five, and the one thing I knew, if I knew anything, was that falling off a bicycle and bleeding was bad. If I’d had two columns in my life, one for “good” and one for “bad,” falling off and bleeding would have been at the top of the “bad” column.
On successive rides I learned that MTB people are all liars. Many of them fell off their bikes, bled, and went to the hospital, at which point even they admitted that shattered femurs were not “good.” I also discovered they were lying when they said “speed is your friend” every time I slowed, put down a foot, or sobbed. Speed is your enemy and it will kill you.
They tried to blame the “bad” on trees, giant stones, and sheer drop-offs. “The speed doesn’t hurt you, it’s the sudden stop,” they said, as if the two weren’t integrally linked, kind of like looking at 2+2=4 and saying it’s not the 2+2 that kills you, it’s the 4.
Twenty-eight years after what I swore was my last MTB ride, there was a knock on my door. It was Manslaughter, who had come by for our morning ride. I was ready to go, and when I opened the door he was standing there with two mountain bikes. The cheap one cost more than all of the cars in my apartment complex, together. He gave me the nice one.
“What is this?” I asked, staring with loathing at the bikes.
“We’re going mountain biking.”
“Okay,” I said. “Let me go wake up Mrs. WM. I didn’t know she rode.”
“No, wanker,” he said. “It’s for you. I’m taking you out on a cupcake trail. I’m going to show you what mountain biking is really like.”
“Why do you hate me?”
“I don’t hate you. You have a bunch of fucked up opinions about something you don’t know anything about. This will be fun, and easy, and safe.”
“Why are you such a liar? And not even a very good one?”
“I’m not lying. Now shut up and put on these shoes. I borrowed them from Tri-Dork.”
I looked at the shoes. “I’m not touching anything that Tri-Dork has sweated in.” The shoes were mauled beyond recognition, and I reflected on the countless mornings that I’d been leaving for a ride only to happen upon Tri-Dork, Manslaughter, Toy Boy, Dutchie, and Natty Yuck emerging from a trail, covered in filth from head to toe, blood caked or freshly oozing out of their legs, their faces plastered with the stupid, satisfied grins of Mongol warriors returning from having just butchered a village of women and children.
“Put on the fuggin’ shoes,” Manslaughter commanded. I did.
“Look, fucker,” I said. “This better be a fire road big enough to land an aircraft carrier on.”
“I think you mean ‘wide as an aircraft carrier to land a plane on.’ Aircraft carriers don’t land on things.”
“I think you better listen to me more carefully because I said what I meant the first time.”
“Don’t be such a sniveling little turd. I love you, I would never hurt you, and I’m going to take you on the most fun and bucolic bike ride of your life.”
“You are a piece of shit liar and you hate me.”
Manslaughter began showing me the fiddle sticks on the handlebars. “This is to lower your seat,” he explained.
“The seat height is fine.”
“No, stupid, it’s for when you’re going downhill, this lowers the seat.”
I had no idea what he was talking about so ignored him. We set off. It was amazing what a soft, spongy ride it was. “This sucks,” I said. “It’s like riding in an old Cadillac with more springs than a broken bed in a bad whorehouse.”
“We’re on asphalt.”
“You’ll see.” As we left the road and entered the soft grassy path that led to the trail I immediately felt the bike absorb what should have been a rough surface.
“Wow!” I said. “This sure is smooth!”
“It’s grass. It’s supposed to be smooth.”
At that moment a bike appeared at the trailhead. It was Jon F., covered in dust, his tongue hanging out, and sporting the stupid smile of a mass murderer that all MTB’ers seem to have. “Hey guys!” he chirped. “Have a good ride!” Then he recognized me. “Wanky! I didn’t know you did dirt!”
I was going to say something, but couldn’t. The grass gave way to a narrow trail that plunged off the side of a cliff. I’m not kidding. Manslaughter was already two hundred yards away, and with Dog as my copilot I realized that Gravity was the pilot, and he was insane and trying to kill me.
The bike absorbed everything on the trail except my abject terror and I got to the bottom alive. Manslaughter had been there for some time, say half an hour. “The worst is over!” he said, noting my white face and knuckles. “You can relax from here!” Then he fell off another precipice where I was expected to follow.
That was the precise moment, in fact, that my mountain bike ride became a mountain bike walk. “Fuck you,” I muttered, dismounting. “You aren’t going to kill me today.” Then I learned that walking isn’t much of an alternative in MTB shoes. The grade was so steep that I slipped and fell, rolling off the edge of the trail with the bike on top of me. The chain ring punched into my calf and out spurted the blood. Manslaughter came back to inspect.
“I guess it’s a good ride now?” I asked.
He shook his head. “It doesn’t really count since you didn’t actually fall off,” he advised. “But I won’t tell anyone that you fell down while walking.” He helped me remount at the bottom of a ravine that started at the bottom of a 20% wall.
Once I had hiked to the top, carrying the bike, we got ready to continue. “That really was the worst part,” he said. “It’s all pancake flat from here.” I’m glad I’ve never had one of his pancakes. The road plunged some more, went up some more steep walls, and branched off into more mountain bike hiking singletrack.
The high point of the ride was having Manslaughter scream, “Go faster!” as I madly braked for a turn and then flipped over the bars into a thorn bush. “That’s where Gussy fell the other day!” he crowed, as if falling with Gussy, a guy who I have never seen even wobble on his road bike, was a mark of distinction.
An hour later we reached the fire road, which was wide, yes, but straight up for the next four miles. We got to the top after being run off the road by a horse, a county Jeep, the game warden in a pickup, and several old people who glared at us as their pit bulls snarled and strained at the leash.
“Pretty peaceful up here, huh?” said Manslaughter.
“No. It isn’t peaceful.”
“Well, now you see what an easy pedal with someone who knows what he’s doing is like. What do you think?”
“Fuck you,” I said, stanching the blood with my lycra beanie.
“We’re going again on Thursday,” he said. “The guys would love to have you come along. You didn’t do completely terribly,” he said.
I didn’t answer. I didn’t have to.
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January 22, 2015 § 24 Comments
I go to bike races because they are weird. Daily life for most people isn’t very weird, unless of course you’re The Sherri Foxworthy. For some reason weird follows her around like bad tattoos at a meth convention, but for everyone else life is generally ordinary.
You get up, have some coffee, watch something stupid on TV, check Facebag, brush your teeth unless you’re from Texas, drive to work, come home, watch some more TV-Facebag, eat dinner, go to bed. Then on weekends from August to February you watch the football game thingy they play with the bats and saucers.
Bike races, though, are like a grand buffet of weird. This past Sunday, after getting stomped in a three-man breakaway by Frank Schroeder and Steve Gregarios, I was standing around marveling at being on the podium twice in two days. Then up came my buddy and said, “Hey, could you help out a fellow racer?”
Of course the answer to that is always “No,” or “Fuck, no.” It’s a good answer for life in general, and it’s why I go out of my way to be selfish, stingy, and unwilling to lend a hand unless it’s someone else’s. Being nice is its own kind of hell, and once people find out that you’re a soft touch you might as well give them your credit card, checkbook, key to the house and exact hours that your wife is home in bed alone.
The way I keep from ever being asked to help is by scowling. I’ve learned that if you scowl all the time people will leave you alone, especially when they need money. Problem is that a few people know the scowl is a ruse, and I’m not very good at turning down requests once they’re actually asked.
So when my pal asked if I could help a fellow racer, I wanted to say, “Fuck, no, I hate bike racers,” but instead I said, “What’s up?” hoping that in a few seconds I’d gather the confidence to utter the “Fuck, no” I really wanted to say.
“Pooky McGillicuddy fell in Turn 4.”
“He was sprunting for 45th place in the Cat 5 race with his head down and he fell off his bicycle.”
“Is he hurt?” I tried to look like I cared.
“Yeah, the meatwagon has already taken him off.”
“That’s too bad,” I said, marveling that everyone in the Cat 5 race hadn’t been carted away.
“Anyway, he came here alone and he’s not on a team and we’re trying to find someone who can drive his truck and bike back to his house for him and since you rode your bike to the race maybe you could … ”
“Drive his car home for him?”
“Sure, I’d be glad to,” I said, feeling something very opposite to glad and very close to miserable. “Where does he live?”
“Pedro. It’s not too far from your place.”
My buddy handed me the keys and a scrap of paper with Pooky’s address and phone number. “You can just park it outside his house and give him a call when you get there to let him know you’ve dropped it off.”
“No prob,” I said, thinking “Major prob because I don’t have my phone.”
His truck had a rack in the bed. Someone had mounted his bike on the rack and locked it with a very flimsy locking thingy. I took off my new rad FastForward full carbon front wheel which is made of full carbon and leaned it against the truck. Then I put my bike in the rack and hopped in.
I hate driving other people’s cars. It is like fucking someone else’s wife. The seat feels different, the knobs are different, it moves different, it sounds different when it’s running hot, it even feels different when you put your key in the hole and have to jiggle it.
I backed up and ran over my brand new FastForward full carbon front wheel which is made of full carbon and has incredible lateral stiffness except not as much as a 2,000-pound truck. Now I know that in addition to making a really cool “whoosh, whoosh” sound when they are flying downhill, they also make a really horrible “crunch, crunch” sound when you run over them with a truck. I will, however, return it with a request for a full warranty.
Inside Pooky’s truck were the accoutrements of someone who lived in a high crime area; locks and bolts and security thingies everywhere. As I started driving I knew I had made a mistake. I didn’t know if the car was insured but was afraid to open the glove box because it was probably filled with heroin and when I got pulled over I’d get busted for that, too. Then I started worrying about dropping off the car with its 10k of bike in the back, secured with a padlock you could bust off with a strong bean fart.
If I left the rig on the street in Pedro it would be stripped cleaner than a pole dancer’s ass at ten minutes before closing, and then Pooky would file a police report and name me as the suspect. Great. So now I was going to have to sit outside his house until he got back from the hospital around midnight.
As I cruised through his neighborhood, a miracle happened. He lived in a gated compound with security guards who wouldn’t even let me in.
“Am I glad to see you,” I said, realizing that it wasn’t mutual. “This is gonna sound weird but this isn’t my truck or bike, well one of ‘em is, and I need to drop this off but I’ll leave it here so you guys can watch it.”
They looked at me suspiciously. “We recognize the truck. Where’s Mr. McGillicuddy?”
“Hospital. Long story.” I flipped them the keys and started to take out my bike. Then I realized that I didn’t have a front wheel, but no problem. I could borrow Pooky’s. He wouldn’t be riding for a while anyway, and he had a pretty fancy wheelset with new tires to boot.
I scribbled a note and left it on the dash: “Yo, Pooky, I took your wheel but will return it. Wanky.”
I pedaled home, a mere hour away. It was, as they say, win-win. And when you count Saturday’s race, it was win-win-win.
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January 15, 2015 § 26 Comments
I was slowly grinding up Silver Spur on the way home. Magyar and I had finished the NPR, grabbed coffee at the Center of the Known Universe, and sneaked in a few extra miles on the way home. He’s a single dad with a 10-year-old daughter, works two jobs, and is able to get away for a morning weekday ride once every couple of months, max.
Magyar is one of those guys with a lot of talent who discovered bikes late in the game. He’s one of the few for whom “no time to train” isn’t just an excuse for average results, it’s the truth. Sometimes I run into him at the tail end of a 70-hour week and I wonder how he can even pedal down the bike path.
“How’s the little girl?” I asked him.
“Oh, she’s doing good, real good,” he said. “We’re going to do some running together this week. She’s pretty quick on her feet.”
“Is that so?”
“Yeah, she’s very quick. I think she can be a good runner. But that’s not the main focus.”
“For her it’s about making good grades and reading books. That’s what is going to make a difference in her life.”
I thought about that for a second, and how different it was from parents whose biggest dreams for their kids involved hitting a ball, scoring a touchdown, crossing a finish line. “How do you figure?” I probed.
“She was having some trouble in 3rd Grade with math and reading. Then I sat down with her and I said, ‘Honey, let’s talk about school.’ ‘Okay,’ she said, and I said ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ and she said ‘I want to be a lawyer like my Auntie or really I want to be a doctor.'”
“That’s pretty cool,” I said.
“Yeah, but I asked her how she was going to do that because if you want to be a lawyer you have to write and read a lot and if you want to be a doctor you gotta do the mathematics and science.”
“What did she say?”
“She said she didn’t know. So I told her we were gonna work on math homework every day for an hour and she was gonna read books every day for thirty minutes. That was at the beginning of the school year.”
“She’s a straight-A student now. She loves reading, too. After she got her report card with an A in math, you know what she said?”
“She said, ‘I like math. Math is easy. And books are fun!’ Just her and me sitting down together every night, you know? Even though a lot of the time I fall asleep, I’m so damn tired.”
I got chills thinking about my buddy, busting his butt seven days a week at two grueling jobs, neither of which pays enough, and coming home every day to do homework with his daughter. I thought about him slumping over, asleep, but then pulling it together to go ride his bike and even make plans to go running with his kid.
“I wish I hadn’t gotten into cycling so late,” he said.
“I wouldn’t worry about it,” I replied.
“Because you made it in time for life. For hers.”
We pedaled the rest of the way up the hill and didn’t say anything more. We didn’t need to.
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