April 18, 2018 § 2 Comments
After having my timbers shivered on Sunday at the Belgian Waffle Ride, I decided to take the week off. More accurately, my legs decided for me.
It was angsty when 5:00 Tuesday rolled around. That’s when you pull on the clown suit and pedal down to Telo, where hell awaits. I got twitchy and it felt weird, compulsively feeling like I should be airing up tires or eating a handful of almonds.
Instead I went down to the race course, kind of like I do in the beer aisle now, wandering lustfully in front of the multi-colored cans and bottles that spell my doom. The race started and you know what? It looked so easy.
After a few laps people were obviously in trouble but it looked so easy. We stacked up in the corner to take photos with our phones and people buzzed through in full lean. But anyway, it looked so easy. You could feel the incredible howling headwind in the backstretch, but of course, it looked soooo easy.
Then we went over to the start/finish and the long tailwind section, where Evens Stievenart and Eric Anderson punished the peloton with a nasty two-man breakaway that stuck to the end. The field had a lot of horsepower but not enough to bring them back.
Why didn’t they JUST PEDAL HARDER? It looked so easy.
I got home and scrolled through the pictures taken by Yasuko. Then I zoomed up on the faces, mouths gaping like trophy bass. It didn’t look easy any more.
There’s a lesson here, about the difference between watching and doing.
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April 5, 2018 § 4 Comments
On Tuesday there was big Telo wind and a pretty good Telo turnout, with the most important factors being Frexit and Brexit, sworn cross-Channel enemies who would battle each other to the death.
The group stayed together for a while despite a series of attacks and breaks and accelerations. Baby Seal hit the gas a couple of times, NEVER SKIPPING PULLS, and Team Lizard Collector stalwarts such as Raul, Tom the Kid, Heavy D., Sulk, Dowdy, Son of Max, Ivan the Terrible, Foxy, Racooney, Sanch, and Patrick kept things lively. Dino rider Toronto had come out of the museum with the intention of riding himself into fitness, and where better to do that than Telo, where gale-force wind, face-flattening speed, mommy-and-kiddy gym traffic, and a healthy dose of shoutypantsing by other riders would stiffen the spine of anyone? Original Marco was there too, as was Honda Brandon, with Boozy P. and Mrs. WM shooting photos in the turns, a true All-Star Telo if there ever was one.
Eventually Frexit split the group and with me glued to his wheel and Hair glued to mine, he reeled in the small group off the front that included Brexit, and finally the outlier, Alx Bns. Alx was coming off a superb showing at the Donut Pissing Contest and, having urinated much longer and thicker streams than anyone else, was ready to make common cause with his British compatriot Brexit in order to stifle the dreams of the Gallic nation as embodied by Frexit.
With five riders in the break, one of whom were determined to do as little work as possible, I felt pretty sure that it was only a matter of time before Frexit, Brexit, and Alx would punch me out the back to the retirement home of the chase group. As the shoutypantsing began I marshaled a whole host of reasons why I should be allowed to SKIP PULLS, SIT IN, AND PRAY TO DOG.
- I was 12 years older than Brexit, 14 years older than Hair, 20 years older than Frexit, and 24 years older than Alx. Plus, it was Be Kind to Old Folks Week.
- I was no threat to anyone, except perhaps from passing out.
- They should take pity on me and be kind to an ol’ buddy, ol’ pal.
- I have a blog.
A truce was declared in which they would take turns attacking me, until finally Frexit rode off and won. Brexit, in solidarity with striking French railway workers, quit in disgust. Alx attacked me and Hair and pedaled off to a glorious second place.
Hair, who had ridden twice in the last month, dragged me around for five laps. As I got ready to dust him in the sprunt and claw my way onto the podium, the chasers hunted us down in the final turn and Dowdy, Ivan the Terrible, and a couple of others lunged for Hair’s wheel. Hair, exhausted, cramping, and tired from pulling for five laps, easily won the field sprunt, booting me off the podium and onto a disgraceful fourth place #fakefinish at the #fakerace.
There is always next week … I hope.
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June 23, 2016 § 16 Comments
It’s not because you don’t put out enough power, or don’t have a good enough bike, or don’t have the right coach, or aren’t on the right drugs.
It’s not because you have a job, because this is just a hobby, because you take your family obligations seriously, or because you can’t leave work early or start work late.
It’s not because your legs are too short, your tummy’s too round, your neck’s too stiff, or your body is better at “endurance” than “short” events.
It’s not because you drank too much beer the night before, or you had to service someone, or they served you gluten pancakes by mistake, or the ectrolytes in your bottle were frazzy raspberry instead of chunky chocolate.
It’s not because you’re mostly a climber, or mostly a rouleur, or mostly a time-trailer, or mostly a lead-out rider, or mostly a sprunter but only from 100-yards with a lead-out train.
It’s not because your FTP is low, your HR is high, your VO2 is average, or your prostate is prolapsed.
It’s none of those things.
It’s because you aren’t Aaron Fucking Wimberley. And guess what? You never will be.
Aaron is of course a metaphor, but he’s a metaphor writ large. He’s been off the bike since last summer, logs a hundred miles a week if that, works 50 hours a week, has an actual personal life, and when stuff gets busy, as it has for the last year, his bike sits in the corner and gathers dust.
But on race day, which yesterday was, when Aaron came out to the Telo crit, the famed crit that now offers a champion’s custom jersey and SEVEN WHOLE DAYS of undisputed bragging rights, when he showed up along with Jules Gilliam, Rudy Napolitano, David Wells, Josh Alverson, Jon Davy, Francis Hardiman (omit the “i” and you’ll know all you never need to know about that dude), Alex Barnes, James Doyle, Chainbreak, Casey Macguire, and an entire throng of pack fodder, with every single rider planning on getting that jersey, and Rudy launching artillery rounds every lap and Josh countering with bunker busters and Jules slashing everyone with a machete and the group gradually reducing to its barest essence like a fine French consomme, and the pace so torrid most of the time all you could do was grit your fuggin’ teeth and curse blood, and Aaron, the guy with the least miles and the least fitness, hiding, thinking, suffering, thinking, following, thinking, waiting, and thinking until all the body blows had been landed and all the howitzer shells had been spent and the machete blades had broken off and the last lap was tear-your-cheeks-off-fast and people crumpled and folded like bad origami and with a thousand long yards to go whenJules sprang free, he had it he had it he had it he had it until he didn’t, which was about the time that Aaron gave it one perfectly planned and immaculately thought out hard kick, the only kick he’d given all day because it was the only kick he had, and he’d been saving it like North Korea with its one functioning nuke, and the timing was perfect and the power was perfect and the line was perfect and the acceleration was perfect and all everyone else could do was slump and sigh and groan as their jersey dreams went up in a puff of smoke and bad bong water.
Because winning bike races takes legs, but what it really takes is brains.
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November 15, 2015 § 18 Comments
I stared at my giant bowl, sloshing to the brim with amazing chicken chili, the plate next to it runneth-ing over with chips, guac, salsa, goat cheese, giant shrimp pan-fried in ceviche sauce, a bowling ball rack of mini-cornbread, and a dessert plate groaning under two slabs of pecan pie towering with Antarctica glaciers of vanilla ice cream.
The ice cream was melting rapidly, and two thoughts occurred to me:
- “My legs feel like that soft puddle of melted ice cream.”
- “Historically they fed the lambs BEFORE the slaughter.”
Nice Michael Smith, the single nicest human being I’ve ever met through cycling, had invited a blood-soaked cadre of young assassins to his house for a Saturday “fun ride” through Orange County. The “fun ride” was to be followed by a glorious feast of food items that I normally could only gaze at from afar when trolling the oatmeal and peanut butter aisles at Safeway.
However, the night before the “fun ride” I took a look at the final start list and immediately ran to the potty. One name, writ large, Manzilla, was followed by a list of people whose only known function in life was to hurt other people. Smasher, Alx Bns, the Moldovan Murderer, Meatgrinder, Search, some Italian dude (what do they know about cycling?), All Stairs, Bo, and of course Nice Michael Smith himself.
I called up Nice Michael. “Dude,” I said, “I can’t make it tomorrow for the ride. Can I just come by afterwards and eat?”
“Sure,” he said, “what’s up?”
“I’m riding so incredibly well right now, clumbing and sprunting and time trailing and such, that I need to back it off for a week and looking at the start list you clowns are gonna throw down and I’m gonna get sucked in and go too hard and wind up hurt and overtrained which I pretty much already am here in early fuggin’ November.”
“Don’t worry, you can chill. Boozy P. and CEO will be there.”
“They will?” My fears evaporated.
Boozy P., who is normally pretty fierce on the bike, is only fit for six months every three years; the rest of the time he works on bikes between drinks. CEO is a great guy to ride with because he’s slower than a Tonka truck and super fun to talk with. In other words, I’d have company.
The morning of the “fun ride” I arrived, desperately searching for Boozy P. and CEO. Neither was there. “Yo, Michael,” I said, “where are my ride mates?”
“Oh, CEO changed his mind and decided to go to a kiddie soccer game, and I think Boozy P. forgot to set his alarm.”
On the way from Los Alamitos to our first obstacle, the San Joachim climb, we pushed along PCH, which from Long Beach is fifteen miles of road sliced by three hundred stop lights. The strong young people sat on the front and kept a steady, battering pace into the wind. Each time I got closer to the front we’d catch a light and I’d do my “whoops how do these pedal thingies work” trick and fumble with my pedal until the group was past, click in, and sneak up to the rear again. In this manner I avoided ever taking a pull.
At the launch site we paused while Nice Michael Smith explained the climb and administered last rites. “Grandpa here is riding super strong so he’ll see you all at the top,” Nice Michael said with cruel irony, and bam we were off. I hopped onto Manzilla’s wheel, grimly prepared to have my legs torn off and the dangling tendons wrapped around my nuts as Manzilla would tear off his own leg and beat me to death with it.
In 148 head-to-head match-ups, none of which Manzilla has ever been aware of, I have finished a climb ahead of him exactly twice, and both days have been circled on my calendar and turned into Davidson National Family Holidays. The first time I wept openly; the second time I slaughtered a goat and several virgins.
Today was apparently not going to be the third time because after a handful of minutes he pushed down on the pedals with such brute force that the spinning rear wheel left a three-inch divot in the asphalt. I attacked backwards as Smasher, Pink Sox, Nice Michael, Alx, and All Stairs pounded by, fighting each other for the honor of grabbing Manzilla’s rear wheel with much the same senselessness of kids playing “Kill the man with the ball,” where everyone chases after something, the attainment of which only results in getting your face beaten in.
Manzilla kicked it again and everyone decided that they had reached their training goals for the day except Smasher and Pink Sox, whose coaches had prescribed a few more kicks to the groin, which Manzilla dutifully delivered before soloing to the top. We gathered, one by one, piece by piece, quietly and gasping.
“How much more climbing is there?” I begged Nice Michael.
“Just one more.”
That was terrible news. If there were six more, they would be gentler. If there was only one more, it would be the Night of the Living Dead. We descended Newport Coast, rode into Laguna Beach, and passed a pretty high school as we began the climb. Smasher suddenly bolted ahead and the conversation silenced. None of us knew the road except Nice Michael, and I was now referring to him in my head as Sonofabitch Michael Bastardass.
The road went steeply up. “Manzilla is gonna bridge to Smasher now and I’m gonna follow him,” I thought to myself, and half of that was true.
I don’t know how steep or long the climb was, but it devastated everyone except Manzilla. Smasher lingered on his wheel for a while until, annoyed by the breathing and the smell of Smashers’ freshly upchucked lungs, he kicked it and vanished.
The whole climb was surreal, and not just because it was endless and mostly 18-percent. It was surreal because as we heroically battered our way to the top, driving wooden stakes into the entrails of our enemies, engaging in the fiercest hand-to-hand combat as we toiled to the top, the ferocity of competition and the viciousness of the climb created the expectation that the victors would scale the summit, a lonely and desolate peak occupied at most by a wizened wise man sitting in a cave dispensing The Truth, or perhaps there would be a cairn that had stood there for a thousand years and only those strong and valiant enough to survive the climb to this desolate peak would be allowed to scratch their names into the stone, perhaps with their fingernails or with the smushed testicles of the vanquished.
Instead, the top was populated by hundreds of nice people and tourists, and there was even a middle school a few yards from the top where you could hear someone saying, “Here you go, Jenny,” as they opened the car door for an elderly lady who was about to enjoy the same precious view as you with none of the entrails ejecta.
It felt like climbing to the top of Mt. Everest on your elbows and having to stand in line behind a dozen plump people in wheelchairs as you waited for your chance to sign the book.
We regrouped at the Starbucks in Laguna Beach and spent an hour or so looking at the beautiful ocean and making excuses for our weak performances, “I’m a grandpa,” I repeated seventy-five times.
“I just had shims put in my shoes,” excusified the Moldovan Murderer.
“I thought we were going easy,” said Search.
“It’s the off season,” everyone else echoed in chorus, except Manzilla, whose only seasons are Spring, Summer, Winter, Fall, and Kill, which runs concurrently with the other four.
Happily, our group got a bit separated after we climbed Newport Coast, and Manzilla stopped to fix a flat. “We’ll just roll ahead slow,” I said. Manzilla nodded and waved us on. As soon as we were a couple of hundred yards away I put it in the 53 and started sprunting.
With the tailwind we were soon doing mid-30’s. “Catch this, you bastard,” I said as our greased paceline rocketed through red lights, around terrified people trying to get into or out of their cars, past pedestrians innocently crossing the street, and over road detritus that no one pointed out to anyone else, hoping to achieve through flats, equipment failure, or crashing what couldn’t be done through strength.
By the time we got through Huntington Beach some of our crew were feeling the ill effects of the sustained effort, and after checking in with their Internet coaches determined that it was probably time to go easy. Everyone, that is, except Nice Michael, whose true character came to the fore as he battered his teammates and young friends off the back one by one until no one was left but Smasher.
We got back to Nice Michael’s and hurriedly changed so that when Manzilla arrived we could pretend we’d been there for an hour, rather than for five minutes as we knew that he’d single-handedly make up our entire 10-person advantage in very short order.
In addition to getting mostly last up both climbs and being shed rather quickly from the pace line, my body shivered and shook as I plowed through the diet-busting plates of food, all prepared by Nice Michael’s astonishingly beautiful wife, who was as expert a cook as she was lovely.
“I’m a grandpa, you know,” I said loudly to no one, hoping that some of the youngsters would drop a kernel of praise or two for my lackluster performance.
No one said a word.
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December 10, 2014 § 14 Comments
There are three kinds of people with racing licenses.
- Racers. They race pretty much every weekend.
- Sorta racers. They race a few races each year.
- Fakesters. They have all the stuff, but none of the “stuff.”
If you promote bicycle races, aside from your obviously miserable financial judgment, your need for public abuse, and the strange satisfaction you get out of dealing with angry/stupid/selfish people, you have one really big need on race day, and it’s that people show up and race. For the most part, we expect you, the promoter, to promote your race. We’ll come if we feel like it, maybe.
This is a stupid model. Sure, the promoter should do his best to get people to race. He’s a fuggin’ promoter, for fugg’s sake.
But full fields have as huge a benefit to bike racers as they do to promoters. Full fields increase prize money. They increase sponsorship. They increase spectatorship. And most importantly, they help the promoter turn a profit, which encourages him to keep living in a tent and to promote more races next year. It’s my belief that fuller fields rather than emptier ones can be accomplished by the bike racers themselves, and in 2015 I’ll be giving my theory a shot. Here it is:
People who fit into category #1 above are the backbone, the meat and potatoes of racing. Guys like Brauch, Tinstman, Wimberley, and Charon are just some of the riders who show up week in, week out, with no prodding or encouragement. They live to race. More about them later.
People who fit into category #3 we can forget. They will never race. It doesn’t matter why; the fact that they’re on a race team, that they have team race gear, that they love to talk and read about bike racing is irrelevant. They would rather do a hundred group rides, team training camps, and century rides, than sign up for a single 45-minute USA Cycling crit. Forget them.
People who fit into category #2 are the rest of us, and we hold the key to successful turnout on race day. Sorta racers make annual race calendars, target certain races, and do lots of actual training. Sorta racers are sorta fit in January and sorta wrecked by late April. Sorta racers have no trouble putting in 15-20 hours a week on the bike, but lots of trouble doing more than a handful of races. Sorta racers have detailed excuses for not racing on race day, even when they’ve planned to race. Sorta racers think a lot about racing early in the season, and focus on kiddie soccer games, “work,” honey-do’s, “the high cost of racing,” safety, and butt pimples as reasons to stop thinking about racing later in the season.
In short, we sorta racers are fence sitters. We wanna, but most of the time we don’t.
The difference between a felony conviction and staying at home is often the difference between a buddy saying “Let’s do it!” and not. Same goes for racing. As any salesman knows, the customer has to be asked to buy. And as any good salesman knows, “No, thanks” is simply an opportunity to ask again with greater skill and persuasiveness.
My best race in 2014 resulted from Derek B. asking me to go race with him. I didn’t really want to go, it was the last race of the season, I’m not good at crits, at age 50 I don’t belong in the 35+ superman category, I was tired from Saturday’s Donut Ride, I didn’t have a good set of race wheels, the entry fee was too high, the race was too short, and my butt pimples were suppurating.
All of those objections were overcome by the simple act of being asked because being asked to go race your bike with a friend is flattering, and it also puts you on the spot. The super excuse of butt pimples sounds awesome when you’re talking to yourself, but not so great when you have to mouth it to someone, especially someone you respect, as a reason for not lining up and actually using your $10k in gear and your 25 hours a week of profamateur preparation.
In short, the people who are committed to going to a race can boost race attendance by sending out three, or five, or ten emails, or even more outrageously by actually telephoning, or even more extremely by asking a pal face-to-face to sack up and go race together. If you’re one of the people who’s a dependable ironhead, make sure you ask a couple of other people to go race, and for dog’s sake don’t limit it to your teammates.
Why ask non-teammates to race? Because one of the reasons that guys who aren’t on big teams don’t race is because they hate rolling alone against the big teams and they need extra motivation to go out and get crushed. Again. Asking non-teammates shows that you value their presence, and it stimulates smaller teams to get their act together. A powerful motivator for people to race is having a rider complain to his teammates that he’s the only fuggin’ one in the race, so please come out and help.
Another reason that sorta racers don’t race is they simply forget. I’m going to this weekend’s CBR race because yesterday, on a training ride, I asked EA Sports, Inc. what he was doing this weekend. “I’m racing, dude. And so are you.” It wasn’t a question. It was an order, but it was also a reminder as I’d completely forgotten about the race.
If you’re one of the sorta racers who sorta races, on the days when you’re actually committed, make sure you ask several friends to go race with you. This locks YOU in when it comes time to scratch the b.p.’s and prevents you (hopefully) from bailing at the last minute, and it will encourage one or two other riders to join you. (Hint: Asking others to race with you can also involve sharing rides, splitting gas fees, and saving money!! If it’s a CBR race in LA, it means having someone to ride over to the race with.)
Finally, if you’re the leader of a team, have you reached out to every single rider via email and encouraged them to line up? Have you made two or twelve phone calls to the sorta racers who have hogged all your swag and been conspicuously absent on race days? No? Well, get callin’!
So, does it work? I think it does. I’ve sent out about ten emails and had one buddy confirm that he’s in. His comment? “I’m not very fit, but it’s been over a year since anyone asked me to go race, so, hell yeah.”
If you tell two friends, and he tells two friends, and he tells two friends, well, who knows? The “problem” of declining race participation might simply vanish.
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February 11, 2014 § 16 Comments
Some people climb the top step and the first thing they do is forget the people who helped them get there. For others, a sense of thanks is the thing they carry on their shoulders as long as they live.
When Rahsaan Bahati toed the line this Sunday at the Roger Millikan crit in Brea, he was looking forward to the throwdown. He was looking forward to it because Roger Millikan, an icon in SoCal cycling who affected the careers of countless cyclists before his early death due to cancer, was one of the first people at the velodrome who encouraged Rahsaan, a kid from the ‘hood who was destined to be one of the fastest racers in the American history of the sport.
Roger took Rahsaan under his wing even though his own son Chad was the best junior around, and even though everyone knew that if you wanted to win a junior race you had to beat Chad. Roger didn’t care that Rahsaan was gunning for his son, to the contrary, he accepted and embraced it as the apotheosis of sport. Rahsaan thought about all those things as he lined up with ninety other racers on a .6-mile course that would test the nerves, legs, and agility of every single racer who survived, from the fastest to the guy who crossed the line last.
As the pack rolled out, Rahsaan kept reminding himself not to miss the winning move, even though he doubted that anyone would be able to pull away from such a large, strong field on such a short, relatively unchallenging course. Staying attentive and watching the legs of his opponents was key, and he stayed in the front the first 15-20 minutes to see who was on fire and who riding with sand in their legs.
By the first ten laps it was clear. They were flying at 29 mph and A-Ray, David Santos, Michael Johnson, Tyler Locke, and a handful of others were clearly on form. They attacked, followed moves, responded to counterattacks, and showed that all pistons were firing. Still, the safe money said that the course would work to bring back even the strongest riders if they made a solo effort.
There were a couple of times when Rahsaan found himself far out of position, forty guys back and coming out of Turn 4 when a good move looked like it was coalescing all the way up in Turn 1, but nothing stuck. The pain and the speed and the jockeying for position were relentless. At times like this Rahsaan’s teammates in the race, Steven Salazar, Justin Savord, Christian Cognini, Bret Hoffer, and Arturo Anyna made their presence known by surveying the front, following moves, and motivating the field to follow.
In addition to a race victory that would pay homage to his mentor and friend Roger Millikan, Rahsaan’s family had packed the edges of the racecourse. With his wife, kids, nieces, and nephews all standing by and cheering him on, the pressure was high, especially since he’d placed fifth in two consecutive races and knew that his form was good enough to win.
Rahsaan also knew that the finish would be a battle of speed between him, Justin Williams, and Corey Williams. Between them these three rockets were marked in every single speed contest, and on a day like today when the course was tight, hectic, physical, and sure to end in a full-bore blast for the line, Rahsaan had no doubt that these two were his nemeses. As far as strategy went, it was simple: When the KHS p/b Maxxis guys went, Rahsaan had to be in their leadout train because they were the ones who would ramp it up to warp speed and set up the finishing explosion to the line.
The speeds were so high, though, that when the KHS team went to the front they would then sit up, which caused chaos as the charging field swarmed the slowing riders on the point. Rahsaan’s strategy got more complicated, because in order to avoid being swarmed he had to stay in the wind.
How did it feel?
“It hurt. It hurt bad.”
But he stayed with his nose in the wind and out of harm’s way, because it was the deceleration into the swarm that caused crashes, and suddenly it was five laps to go and all bets were off. SoCal Cycling threw its heavy artillery to the front and drilled like a sailor on shore leave for two full laps. With three to go, they swung off and the KHS team blew through. This was the moment.
Rahsaan jumped onto A-Ray’s wheel, the powerful rider on Hincapie Development. Now it was two laps to go, tucked behind the churning legs of A-Ray, and on the bell lap all hell broke loose. The KHS blue train hit the front with the force of a hurricane, and Rahsaan slipped into seventh wheel. At Turn 2 the blistering pace shed two KHS guys out of their own train, moving Rahsaan up to 5th wheel. This was perfect positioning because on the backside of the course, as the blue train notched it up another mph, another teammate exploded, leaving Rahsaan in 4th wheel and Corey Williams in 3rd.
Just before Turn 3, the cagey veteran Aaron Wimberley, riding for SPY-Giant-RIDE, threw his bike off the front, and the gap he opened up caught the KHS blue train completely off guard. Aaron was a closer and everyone knew it. By the time KHS closed the gap, they had sacrificed more riders, putting Rahsaan in 3rd position and Corey in 2nd. In the last turn Rahsaan gave Corey room and took a run, a hard one, with every muscle in his legs about to rip away from the bone.
Fearing a last minute move to the left that would box him in and give Corey the win, Rahsaan slung himself into the wall of onrushing wind and took the hard, stiff, unrelenting, in-your-face headwind approach around Corey’s right. The gamble paid as he shot to the line clearing Corey by a bike length. Justin, who had been slotted in behind Rahsaan, got boxed in as Corey shut down the left-handed alley approach.
This win wasn’t just for Rahsaan and his family. It was also for Roger.
January 27, 2014 § 12 Comments
This weekend’s Big Bike Beatdown in Santa Barbara featured another two-day, two-wheeled brawl while grown men with nothing better to do risked life and limb on shitty roads as they dodged cracks, slammed into potholes, narrowly avoided oncoming traffic, wantonly broke sporadically enforced yellow-line rules, and shook their heads in fury while the braindead moto ref stopped the entire peloton three times for a “pee break.” After the dust settled, a few things were clear:
- 90% of the full-on, raging masters peloton would be completely burned out by the middle of March.
- 95% of the full-on, raging masters peloton had done enough races so far this year (four) to have a perfect excuse not to show up at Boulevard next weekend.
- You can’t make chicken salad out of …
While Facebook broke most of the Internet with repeated posts of race results (“Look! Freddy got 45th in the Cat 3’s! Good job!”), the first real race of the year revealed itself, and it’s a race that we’re going to keep seeing for the next eight months. Yes, the Fastest Legs in the West squarely beat the Best Bike Handler in the West. But it was close, and it promises to get better.
Tale of the tape
In this corner we have Charon (pronounced “faster than you”) Smith, the best crit racer in his 35+ age group. Charon wins more races in a season than most racers even enter. He combines dedicated training, natural speed, courage when things get gnarly, and a profound sense of fair play to produce winning results year in and year out on the SoCal crit scene. Despite the fact that he’s an easygoing guy, he’s a keen competitor, a leader, and great source of inspiration for a lot of people.
It wasn’t too long ago that Charon was essentially racing for himself, having to scrape out every single win singlehandedly. By racing consistently, fairly, and by always congratulating his opponents — win, lose, or draw — he has gathered a strong following of friends who gradually morphed into the best 35+ team in Southern California. No longer forced to race by himself or with one or two teammates, Charon is now backed with serious horsepower in the form of Kayle Leo Grande, John Wike, Ben Travis, Rob Kamppila, and the other first class racers who make up Surf City’s race team. More importantly, Charon’s optimistic attitude and positive message have helped create a team that firmly believes it’s on a mission to win, and win, and win.
With only a handful of races into the season in the bag, Charon’s team has far and away the most victories. Proving that it’s a team, Surf City is stacking podiums, stacking breakaways, and sharing the victories and placings among the teammates. But make no mistake about it: The team’s anchor is Charon, and when the heavy artillery starts firing in a field sprint, he’s the guy lobbing the 16-inch shells.
And in the other corner …
We have Aaron Wimberley, about as different from Charon as a cobra is from a tiger. First of all, the boy has a full head of hair, so you could say he’s won the battle right off the bat. But since it’s not a hair styling contest, we have to judge these two guys on their bikes. Where Charon is the quickest guy on two wheels, Aaron is the best bike handler. Only a few guys have Aaron’s skills — John Wike, the bike wizard who also rides for Charon, and Phil Tinstman come to mind. Aaron has rocketed up the ranks from lowly Cat 5 to getting a bronze medal at nationals on a fiendishly technical course.
He’s unbelievably quick and has off-the-chart race smarts. Scientific, methodical, and unwilling to count further down than first place, Aaron has been in the wilderness for the last couple of years riding with little support and lots of second-place finishes in a crit scene dominated by team efforts. This year, however, he’s moved over to SPY-Giant-RIDE, the best team in the galaxy. (Disclaimer: It really is.) Aaron rides like a gunslinger. Independent, self-reliant, takes no shit from anyone, and is more than happy to explain your shortcomings to you in colorful language. I will never forget the time he described my jumps as something akin to “watching a big blue bus go up a steep hill dragging a space shuttle.”
The question this year is whether Aaron’s new alliance with the best team in the galaxy will create the teamwork and support he needs to beat the Fastest Legs in the West (for an old dude). Judging from the finish at the Mothballs Crit this past Sunday, it could happen.
Roaring into the final 200 meters Charon had the help of Kayle Leo Grande, himself one of the fastest finishers in the 35’s, as a lead-out. Even against these two motors, Aaron managed a very respectable second, with Charon winning comfortably but not easily, but it’s my guess that Aaron’s not showing up in hopes of getting second. More organization and support from SPY-Giant-RIDE teammates could well prove to be the final push that Aaron needs to win against Charon in a drag race.
What to look for
SoCal has few crits that are technical enough to give Aaron a chance to use his bike handling edge. Most of the races are four-corners, wide, and they finish with a fast man throwdown. However, there are some exceptions. Look for Mike Hecker’s 805 Crit series to provide challenging courses, potentially huge crosswinds, and an arena where Charon’s flat-out speed may be offset by Aaron’s wizardry in the turns. The San Marcos Crit will also be a place to see bike handling and a slight bump take the sting out of a drag race finish.
And of course any given race has an amazing crop of first-class speedsters fully capable of winning. Danny Kam, Phil Tinstman, Mike Easter, Chris DeMarchi, Rudy Napolitano, John Abate, Michael Johnson, Randall Coxworth, Jamie Paolinetti, John Wike, Ivan Dominguez, Eric Anderson, Brian Cook, Josh Alverson, Patrick Caro, and Karl Bordine are all 35+ riders who stood on the top step in a crit in 2013. There’s no reason to think they won’t be going for the top step again this year.
Whatever happens … it’s gonna be fun to watch!