Boulevard road race and tragedy, Part 2

February 5, 2013 § 15 Comments

At the starting line we very old fellows staged behind the somewhat old fellows in the 35+ race. Stefanovich was there, and looked back at me.

“I made it!” he grinned.

“Sorry about that,” I replied.

“No, dude, I was inspired by your blog. This is gonna be awesome!”

“Inspired?”

Dandy Andy, whose four-foot handlebar mustache drooped down to his knees, nodded vigorously. “Yeah! We read it on the way down. Inspired!”

“Oh,” I said glumly. “Then you missed the point.”

“I did?” asked Stefanovich.

“Yes, it was supposed to be a demotivational piece, something to despire you from coming, not inspire you to show up.”

Stefanovich laughed. “Yeah, well we’re here now! So braaang it!”

The whistle sounded and off they went.

He’s got your whole world (in his hands)

When it came our turn, my only concern was whether I’d get dropped on the 10-mile twisting, tailwind descent. The ref sent us off with a warning. “Okay, guys, watch out for the turns on the descent. We’ve already lost seven or eight riders in high speed collisions, so I’m asking you to take it easy the first lap. After that you can do whatever you want.”

I wondered why our lives were precious on lap one, but worthless on laps two and three, until I realized the ref’s unspoken subtext: “Most of you wankers won’t be around for the second lap, so it will be safe to go full throttle.”

Ulp.

After cresting the first brief, gentle 2-mile climb, we hit the downhill. My 50 x 11 immediately spun out, but I was prepared for the acceleration and sprunted onto the end of the whip, letting the slipstream suck me along.

The down side to being on the end was simple: There were about fifteen wankers ahead of me who were scared shitless, and with good reason, as they were clueless about how to handle their bikes at 50 mph in a tight formation on a twisty road. I had a flashback to the year before, when Tree Perkins had lost control, crossed the center line, and leaped up into a fence, then a shrub, then climbed a tree with his bike.

The feeling of helplessness was complete. My life was wholly dependent on the flubs and flails of some Cat 4 wanker who had just turned 45 and decided to ride with the “safe” dudes rather than the suicidal Cat 4 field, not realizing that it was these very aged Cat 4 wankers who made our normally conservative old fellows’ category so deadly on a course like this.

As if on cue, Tri-Dork dropped back to a couple of wheels in front of me. Tri-Dork was the one wheel I wanted to avoid beyond all others, but like a moth drawn to a flame, could not. Tri-Dork’s bad bike handling skills, which had caused him to flub and crash on a dry road one morning with only one other rider and shatter his shoulder, were accentuated times a thousand by the speed and the turns.

Swooping through each curve, Tri-Dork wobbled, braked, gapped, accelerated, and slashed his way through the formation with terrifying abandon. Charging up through the field at just the moment he should have been slowing down, Tri-Dork got bumped and did the only thing you’d expect a recovering triathlete to do in a bike race: He panicked and shot for the center line.

If a car had been coming in the other direction this story would be an obituary extolling his bravery, instead, he regained control and charged back into the field. “Tri-Dork!” I shouted. “Get the fuck away from everyone! And stay out of the trees!”

The race in earnest

Today’s elderly fellow beatdown and prostate abuse ride would be dominated by Big Orange and Amgen. We turned off the downhill and began the climb up Las Posas, with Mike Hotten of Big Orange setting tempo on the front. His steady pace was the first phase of the Big O “softening up.”

A huge rivalry had shaped up between Big O and Amgen. Steve Klasna, who had ridden for Big O the year before and is one of the best racers in SoCal, now rode for Amgen and was looking for his first victory of the year. Thurlow Rogers a/k/a Turbo a/k/a The Hand of God a/k/a THOG had won Boulevard the year before, and as one of the the greatest American cyclists in history, as usual he had come to win. Backed by national champion and locomotive Malcolm Hill, Amgen was closely matched against Big O.

The race day favorite was Greg Leibert, whose teammate Jeff Konsmo could be expected to play his usual role of policeman/late attacker. New to the 45+ fold was John Hall, easily one of the top climbers in the South Bay and a guy who always kept a strong finishing kick for hilltop finishes. Former Boulevard vainquer Todd Darley would also play a key team role, with Tri-Dork flying the wild card colors in his 45+ debut. One of the biggest men to line up for Boulevard, Tri-Dork had proven the year before at the UCLA Punchbowl course that size was no limiter, as he’d ridden with the leaders for most of that hilly, attacking course.

Jessup Auto Plaza brought the heat with the Man Who Fears No Hill, Andy Jessup, easily the biggest dude in the field and also the gutsiest. Not content to do the flat crits, he was always pushing the pace in the races least suited for his build, uncowed by altitude or by the toothpick physiques of the likely podium contenders. Benny Parks, who had won for Jessup at P[e]CK[e]RR the week before, would be in the mix, and Jessup’s Brien Miller would play a key role in my own personal Boulevard saga.

Supermotor Jon Flagg, riding mateless for Surf City, tough guy Greg Fenton, and national champ Doug Pomerantz for UCC would round out the movers and shakers in the race. My own SPY-Giant-RIDE Cyclery team started with a solid contingent that included Alan Flores, John Hatchitt, Jon Geyer, and Andy Schmidt. As Alan would later remark after posting his best-ever Boulevard finish for 6th place, “We were just passengers today. It was a handful of other guys driving the bus.”

Lap One Climb: Devil take the hindmost

Klasna, Leibert, Konsmo, and THOG sprinted around the kicker that ended Las Posas and began the 4-mile climb up to the finish on Old Highway 80. The pace went from cool to warm to hot to full-fryalator. Midway up the climb the field had been reduced from about 70 to no more than 40 riders. Thankfully I’d started at the front, and as Konsmo and Co. turned up the screws and my legs seized up there were plenty of spaces to fall back without getting dropped completely.

The survivors were now in one nasty line, and as Leibert and THOG looked back to assess the damage, it occurred to them that, with the remainder of the field bleeding from the eye sockets, now would be a good time to ride in earnest. Their two-man attack left the rest of the field gasping and huddling for a rear wheel.

With about a mile to go the pack bunched up and I realized that today would be the first time in four attempts that I’d ever finished Boulevard with the lead group on the first lap. It was more than euphoria. It was victory, and it tasted sweet.

As we piled into the start/finish, however, the leaders ratcheted up the pace and blew out a handful of riders on the steep finish line pitch. My victory evaporated as I realized that my race was about to end at one lap. Fortunately, we crested the finishing hill with Amgen’s Robb Mesecher coming by, and by latching onto his wheel and double-wide draft was able to maintain contact with the group, which was now strung out in a mad chase to bring back G$ and THOG.

Once we hit the descent, the group had thinned considerably, but Tri-Dork was still very much there. G$ and THOG had returned to the fold, and Hotten again rode tempo on the green tennis court vomity stretch of Las Posas. We pushed up onto Old Highway 80, rolled slowly for a hundred yards or so, then exploded as Konsmo, G$, and THOG blew apart the group.

A few seconds before I popped we overtook Aaron Wimberley, a sprinter in the 35+ race and one of the few fast men with guts enough to take on a hilly killer like Boulevard, rather than hiding and waiting for the speedfest at the short, flat, fast crit the following day. “Go, Wanky!” he yelled as we flew by. I “went,” all right…straight off the back.

As I cratered, Brien Miller yelled at me. “Come on, wanker! Dig!”

“I’m digging!” I gasped. “My grave!”

My race had ended midway up the climb on the second lap as I watched the leaders ride off, then came detached from the chase group. I soft pedaled to catch my breath, well aware that the next lap and a half would be done alone, into the wind, slowly, with nothing left in the tank.

As I recounted to myself all the grand successes of the day (finished one lap with the leaders, got halfway up the second lap with the leaders, almost sort of kind of practically didn’t get dropped, etc.), I heard an awful noise behind me. It sounded like a large animal in its death throes, or like a giant engine with a major internal part broken and rattling loose, or like a one-eyed monster from the Black Lagoon coming up from behind to eat you.

I didn’t dare look back, and it’s a good thing I didn’t, because when the shadow of Malcolm Hill came by, it took everything I had to latch on. Powerful arms flexing, mighty legs pounding, bellows-sized lungs blowing like a racehorse, Malcolm had the chase group in his sights and he wasn’t slowing down.

Soon we’d overtaken Brien. “Dig!” I shouted as we went by.

He grinned and hopped on. Malcolm flicked me through with his elbow after a solid half-mile haul, but all I could do was fizzle and fade for a few strokes before Brien came through with a powerful surge. Between Malcolm and Brien, with me sitting on the back taking notes and adjusting my socks, we closed the gap to the chase group to within a hundred yards.

Suddenly my inner wanker blossomed, and the possibility of catching on spurred me to actually take a pull. I leaped forward, temporarily dropping the two mates who had done all of the work, latching onto the back of the chasers. Malcolm and Brien joined, and a quick glance proved that this was indeed the chase group to be in.

Get that Flagg, Darling, and put Pomegranate on it

Jon Flagg, Todd Darley, and Doug Pomerantz comprised the chasers, along with a couple of other horses, and the leaders were briefly in sight, though they vanished after the turn onto the descent. Whittled down to about ten expert riders and one Wankstar, these elderly fellows conducted a downhill clinic on the backside of the course.

I’ve never felt safer at 50 mph on a bike as Malcolm & Co. drilled us through the tight turns at max speed, max lean, and never so much as a waver or a wobble. With a few miles to go before the turn onto Vomit Road, Darley leaped off the front. The final effort to bring him back, just before the turn, revealed the incredible once we’d crossed the tracks: The leaders were right there.

As we steamrolled up to the leaders I spied a poor sod in a Swami’s kit flailing in the gravel off the road to let us by. He wasn’t pedaling squares, he was pedaling triangles. He had that Wankmeister look of dropdom that comes from having ridden alone, fried, cold, into the wind, by yourself, for most of the race. He was haggard and beaten and defeated and covered with the frozen crust of snot and spit and broken dreams.

It was Stefanovich.

“Come on, you fucking wanker!” I yelled as we roared by. “Get out of the fucking dirt and race your dogdamned bike!”

He looked up and smiled through the crusty snot.

A few hard turns and we’d reconnected. Todd paid for his efforts by slipping off the back, and Tri-Dork, who’d made an amazing reattachment, was likewise surgically removed. More incredibly, G$ and THOG were still there.

My one lap victory had now become the ride of my life: I was finishing the third lap at the head of the field, and in my excitement I surged to the front as we crested the first rise on Las Posas. G$ looked over and grinned. “Wanker! Hit it, buddy!”

I swelled up like a big old balloon, pounded hard for three strokes, then blew and got dropped. As my race ended yet again, I passed a Jessup wanker from the 35+ race. “Get your ass up there, you quitter!” he yelled.

Spurred by shame I dug and caught onto Malcolm’s wheel just as we flew over the cattle guard.

A few pedal strokes later I was rested and taking stock. There were fifteen riders left. Just then, G$ glanced over to the side and attacked. It was a thing of beauty. With fourteen riders keyed on this one guy, and with him already having ridden a 15-mile breakaway, he kicked it hard. No one could follow as he dangled just off the point. It was that moment in the race where everyone tried to rationalize the reason they weren’t chasing, while refusing to admit they were too tired and afraid and broken and chickenish and weak.

G$ dangled for a mile, getting slightly farther away as Konsmo and Hall kept the pace brisk enough to discourage any followers.

Except one.

With the animal fury that’s his trademark, THOG ripped away from the peloton. “There,” we all thought, “goes the race. If I chase I’m doomed. I think I’ll just sit in and hope for third.”

By the time we hit the big climb for the final time, cat and mouse had begun. Only problem was, the cat and the mouse were up the road and out of sight. So it was more like roaches and Raid. Flagg attacked repeatedly but no one was letting him go anywhere. After the third surge, Konsmo rolled. The gap opened, and then he vanished.

“Well,” we all thought, “fourth is pretty respectable to brag to the GF about. I’ll fight for fourth.”

As we approached the start/finish, the hard attacks came for real. With a few hundred yards to go I had to choose between getting dropped and getting dropped, so I wisely chose to get dropped. “Fifteenth,” I told myself “is damned respectable in this race. And even if it isn’t, I’ll claim it is.”

G$ outlasted THOG for the win. I crept across the line significantly behind #14.

Big Orange took first,third, and fifth. Amgen walked away with second, ninth, and tenth.

But if you ask me, it was 325-lb. wobblywheels Tri-Dork, finishing 25th in his very first Boulevard outing who went home with the best ride of all.

Tune in tomorrow for Part 3, “Post-race analysis of why you’re a fucking wanker for not showing up”

A matter of manners

October 30, 2012 § 14 Comments

Some things are simple, like manners. Biking makes these simple things even simpler.

Clawing my way up Latigo yesterday I passed a woman and her boyfriend. “Hey, guys,” I said.

“Hey,” said the dude.

“Nice socks!” said the chick, admiring my pink unicorn Gnarlube calf-high stockings.

A couple of minutes later the dude had caught up to me. “You didn’t think I was going to let you just ride away as easy as that, did you?” he said, rudely, challenging.

“I’m just riding tempo by myself today,” was what I said.

What I thought was, “Fuck you, asshole.” Predictably, things went from tempo to threshold. Then I was by myself again.

What kind of dude drops his girlfriend to chase down a pair of chickenlegs in pink socks? Answer: Someone with very bad manners.

What happens to rude cyclists? Answer: They get shelled. Unceremoniously.

Mind if I leech?

After Latigo I headed north on PCH and met up with the Big Orange contingent a few miles after the Ventura County line. They were coming back from the Rock at Point Mugu. I u-turned and sat in for a few miles, chatting with Ron and Tink until a mechanical caused the group to stop.

I continued on with Robert Ephthamos, a dude with a terribly hard name to pronounce, much less spell, all dressed up in a Garmin kit. “I gotta get home,” he half-apologized as he picked up the pace. I could tell after a few moments that he was a relatively new rider, but game and ready to work.

We rode a hard tempo, easing up while passing under Cher’s compound in Malibu Colony. At Cross Creek we lifted the pace again after the stoplight. A group of four or five wankers saw this as their opportunity for a free ride, and hitched on.

Robert was lathered up, and so was I. After four miles the leeches hadn’t made the slightest effort to come through. “Robert,” I said as he rotated off of a particularly long pull, “make the fuckers pull through.”

My next pull was brief, and Robert had gone all the way to the back. The next guy in line put his hands on the tops as I slowed and swung over. “I can’t pull through!” he shouted.

–Next Line Is Absolutely True–

“I’m not strong enough!” he wailed.

–End Of Absolutely True Line–

I thought he was going to cry, like the time I told my dad “I can’t do word problems!” while struggling over  Fourth Grade math.

“I don’t give a fuck,” I said. “If you’re strong enough to suck wheel, you’re strong enough to pull through. This isn’t a charity ride with you as the beneficiary. Get your saggy ass up here and take a pull.”

By now I’d slowed down so much that he could have easily come through, but the belief in his own mind that he couldn’t was so great that he just stopped pedaling. Robert roared by and I followed.

One of the wankers stayed with us, and after Robert and I took our turns he eased up next to me. “Do you want me to take a pull?”

“When you go to someone’s house for dinner, do you ask if they want you to refrain from pissing all over the toilet seat?” I asked. “Hell yes I want you to take a fucking pull!”

He pulled through. Rather large, and rather offended, and very well rested, he began winding up the speed until we were going well over thirty. Robert and I tucked behind the Cadillac draft as I counted strokes. At pedal stroke sixty, his shoulders started to sag and wobble a little bit. Then the speed started to drop. Then his pedal strokes changed from circles to squares to raggedy triangles.

This, of course, was the teachable moment. He’d overcome his inclination to suck wheel and, with a little prodding, had done the right thing, obeying the imperative of the paceline: He’d gone to the front.

Moreover, he’d put in a big effort. He’d behaved in a way worthy of redemption and forgiveness, such that if I now came through steadily and not too fast he could latch on, recover, and perhaps help out a few miles later. He would learn a valuable lesson about sharing the work, and more importantly, about the bonds of friendship that are built between strangers as they toil into the wind at their physical limits, sharing the work each according to his ability.

So I did the only respectable thing that I could do, both as a representative of cycling in the South Bay, as an older and experienced rider, and as someone who understands and profoundly respects what road cycling is all about, which is to say I attacked him so fucking hard that I thought I’d puke.

When my eyes refocused, Robert was pulling through at full throttle, a long string of drool splattered along his face. I jumped on his wheel and glanced back to confirm that our good friend was dropped and a receding speck in the distance.

Just before we settled back into a rhythm of dull, aching pain, Robert asked “Were you trying to teach that guy a lesson?”

“No,” I said. “The lesson was for you.”

He grinned and let the big meat sing.

New kits and a new set of teeth

October 17, 2012 § 6 Comments

I knew the NPR was going to be a smashfest this morning when, before we’d done half a lap on the Parkway, someone groused “We’re going as fast as if it were January.”

But this isn’t about Prez’s amazing jam 400m from the line, or about Erik the Red’s devastating smackdown in the sprunt, or about Davy Dawg’s pain-laced wind-up, or about USC John’s bitchslap pull up to the bridge on the last lap.

Nope. It’s about the clash of the new kits.

Bull and I had just dropped down off the Hill, joining with G$ and Mighty Mouse as we pedaled from Redondo to Manhattan Beach. Suddenly, from out of the darkness, Roadchamp appeared.

“Check it out!” he said, maw gaping like a bass going after a worm.

“Check what out?” I asked.

“Teeth, dude! I got teeth!”

Indeed he did. The half-year process of ripping out his corroded teeth and nailing posts into his jaw was now complete. Roadchamp would no longer talk or look like a biker from a Red State. But Roadchamp’s new teeth weren’t the only new thing on the NPR.

Young bucks from Trojan U. model their new StageOne kit

Once we were joined by the mob on Pershing, one thing stood out: The kids from USC were sporting their new kit, just as the ride’s regulars had unveiled their new NPR kits the week before. Although both were stylishly designed by Joe Yule, it became obvious after a few pedal strokes that it would be a contest of fashion on today’s ride.

No quarter would be given as wearers of the new kits dared each other to outstyle the other. A flurry of NPR kit attacks came early, even as last-year’s-kit-wearers from Big Orange and SPY vainly tried to keep up with the torrid pace. With each powerful surge of the Euro-cool outfit, the pack got thinner.

On the second lap, after biding their time, the attractive USC kits made their move with a series of searing fashion attacks. John Tomlinson’s perfectly tailored fit, followed by Ben Rudolph’s snappy thigh panels, laid waste to the peloton. Even the USC wanker dude who always makes a valiant stab before getting clubbed like a baby seal was pushed far forward, almost to the front, by the natty design of his new outfit.

Sterno-O flails with the all-black get-up

Down from the goat shacks of New Mexico to enjoy some SoCal sunshine, Stern-O, the one and only Stern-O, the legendary Stern-O, the man, the myth, the goatshack refugee, Stern-O himself showed up for his inaugural NPR.

Twice, or in some cases three times the age of other riders, Stern-O immediately showed that even though he was older than the hills, older than dirt, older than DOS even, he wouldn’t be caught dead hanging out in the back. Pounding off the front a couple of times and never hesitating to test his legs in the wind, Stern-O embarrassed all the wankers who, after more than a year of NPR’s have never made it to the front one single time.

Unfortunately, his escapades were accomplished wearing an all-black kit, and this year’s cycling fashion ensemble, although heavy on the black, requires certain bright colors in order to really contend for the fashion sprunt.

The bitter fashion pace sheared away a chasing wankoton composed of riders wearing clothing from 2011, 2010, and the few hapless sods whose gloves and socks didn’t have the same logo. Phlegmy O’Donnell, who, in the morning rush, had put a Big Orange jersey over an SBW pair of bibs, was pushed into a curb and left for dead.

The one fashion design you never can beat

In the end, the NPR kits ruled the day, even though the official sprunt finish was taken by Erik in a very last-year SPY kit. Davy Dawg’s wind-up was greatly hampered by his last-season Ironfly ensemble, and Big Steve, fresh from major back surgery, simply couldn’t contend with the amazing design sensibilities expressed by the NPR kit.

Several riders could be seen banging their bars in frustration at the slowness of their clothing, and Gimpy Sloots went so far as to dial up his team’s designer after the finish. “Mostly black with a dash of color, you hear me, dogdammit!” he screamed into his dumbphone.

Even though the USC outfit rode strong, in the end all were vanquished by the one quality of the new NPR kits that blew away the field: Their incredible tummy and butt-slimming effect. Numerous NPR regulars who had heretofore been known as “Cadillac draft,” “Barn door,” “Vacuum party,” and “Dallas-sized Ass” appeared, simply by pulling on an NPR kit, to be svelte, narrow hipped, and 30 pounds lighter.

NPR riders who were already narrow across the gunwales looked Schleck-thin. Roadchamp was barred from donning an NPR kit because of the general fear that its slimming properties would make him disappear altogether.

Unfortunately, Joe has saved his most devastating fashion release for last: The 2013 SPY-Giant kit, recently modeled by MMX on Facebook. Possessing roughly double the thinning properties of the NPR kit, and splashed with just enough color to make it stand out in the crowd, this is the outfit that could lay fashion waste to the field for the entirety of 2013.

Tune in next Tuesday to find out how the Battle of the Bike Kits goes down!

Crown Jules

July 22, 2012 § 6 Comments

All year I’ve been hearing about Jules. It usually goes like this.

Wanker: Some little kid showed up on the Donut and kicked everyone’s ass.

WM: Huh?

Wanker: Yeah. Little 12 or 13 year-old kid. Rode everyone off his wheel.

WM: Yeah, right.

Wanker: I’m serious.

WM: Twelve years old? No way.

Wanker: That’s what we thought. No way a little kid would have the lungs for that kind of sustained effort.

WM: Not possible.

Wanker: Why don’t you come out and see for yourself?

WM: I’m busy that week.

The overture

I rolled out this morning flanked by Charon Smith and Tony Sells. The sunny weather and beautiful skies meant a huge turnout for the world famous South Bay Donut Ride, although some of the key assassins such as Miles Jr. and Tink were cavorting up the slopes of the Santa Monica mountains with Jeff Konsmo and his merry band of pain merchants. Dan Cobley, John Hall, Paul Che, Derek Brauch, and a couple of other hard hitters were there, though, so it was going to be hard.

“Hey Charon, see that kid?”

“What kid?”

Jules is so short that he was almost invisible off on the edge of the peloton. “That one up there with the national champion shorts.”

“Yeah. What about him? What’s he doing here?”

“He’s going to ride away from everyone in this hundred-man group on the Switchbacks with the exception of about seven dudes. Everyone else will be put to the sword. You, Tony, me; we’re all going to go home today and say ‘I got my ass handed to me by a 13 year-old.'”

Charon gave me that look as if to say, “You ain’t fooling me with your foolishness.”

“I know it sounds crazy, Charon. Just watch. He’s gonna run a hot poker up the middle of every tender, middle-aged ego out here. You’ll see.”

Up, down, and around the bend

I watched Jules for a couple of minutes, marveling. He navigated the pack with ease and skill. Giant men on giant bikes bounded by him, around him, and in front of him with all the kookish, wankerish bike moves that infest the Donut at every turn of the pedal once you get more than about ten wheels back. Jules expertly avoided the freds and then hit the edge of the road, rocketing up into a solid position as we climbed out of Malaga Cove.

I wondered why no one was talking to him. Here’s a kid with the confidence, skills, and proven ability to go out on a big boy’s ride and smash people’s heads in. This isn’t just precocious, it’s pre-precocious. Maybe you wankers should talk to him and get to know him now, before he starts peering out at you from magazine covers.

“Hey, man, what’s your name?” I asked.

“Jules,” he said. Totally cool. Totally grown up.

“I’m Seth. Nice to meet you.”

Brief smile. “Yeah.”

He told me about his recent trip to Trexlertown, where he scored some impressive results on the track. That explained his great bike handling. A bit of later research showed that Jules is an omnivorous cyclist: he races track, crits, road, time trials, and ‘cross…and is good in every single discipline. His long string of firsts and seconds from 2011 have been depressed as he’s moved up into the next age bracket, but his winning trajectory being what it is, that should take care of itself in the next year or two

Calm before the storm

No one wanted a hard run-up to the Switchbacks this morning, so it was one big, lummoxing group as we rolled up Lunada Bay and on to Portuguese Bend. At the beach club, where the pace is often single file, the ride continued its leisurely pace. I heard chatting behind me, a giveaway for the difficulty of the ride.

Of course, an easy run-up to the Switchbacks just means that the actual climb will be exponentially faster, as people will have fresh legs when the climb starts. A couple of attacks went just past the beach club, but it wasn’t until Paul Che opened up the throttle that the ride began in earnest.

Paul dragged a small contingent of seven riders all the way to the base of the climb, then swung over. The pack was a tiny speck. Just before cresting the first level spot, shortly after beginning the climb, I blew. The six riders in the break rolled off. As I dropped back into a rhythm, I heard the sound of an approaching bike.

It was Jules.

Do you have an ego? Are you a grown man? Do you consider yourself fit? Have you ever thought that “but for” you’d have been a pro? Is your weekly slugfest a validation of your ability and strength? If you’ve answered “yes” to any of these questions, then the realization that you’re hanging for dear life onto the wheel of a barely-turned-thirteen-year-old child will devastate you.

Though he provided precious little draft, it was enough to latch on, and this kid proceeded to take out his bullwhip, inspect the tip to make sure the knot was properly tied, and beat the shit out of me with it. He had his eyes glued on the break, and would periodically get out of the saddle to jam it even harder. I know that my exhalations, both the sound waves and the bursts of air, were pushing him on somewhat. So, as Knoll would say, “There’s that.”

We overtook a dude from Big Orange, who jumped on my wheel. I blew after the first hairpin as Jules got out the saddle again and just lit it up. The other grown man and experienced racer hunkered down and let Jules pull him for quite a way until he could recover, then he attacked the kid and dropped him. Nice.

I kept Jules in sight until the final turn, and then he was just flat out gone. By the time I rounded it, he had already reached the top of the hill and I never saw him again. Of course the short tow I’d gotten from this dynamo had put me so far ahead of the chasing peloton that I’d overhauled my bottom bracket by the time the next shattered group rolled up.

So if, a few years from now, you hear the name “Jules,” and it’s spoken with a trembling voice, in fear and awe, don’t say you weren’t warned.

And for those of you who think I’m blowing smoke, here’s the video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=quvjpPVv1zY

From the mouths of babes

June 6, 2012 § 9 Comments

For those of you who’ve yet to go climbing with Kristabel Doebel-Hickock, all I can say is…don’t. Unless, of course, you want to have your ego smushed into a gooey paste and force-fed down your throat. Kristabel represented her Big Orange team with a successful foray at the Bakersfieldstate road championships a/k/a district road race, picking up her first jersey in her first try with the Cat 3/4 women, and then getting 7th in the 1/2/3 group the following day. If she’d been a better descender she would have won. That day is not far off.

Kristabel kindly sent me a race report, which I’ve chopped up and then translated for you.

KDH: “Objective: learn from the top ladies, see what goes down in a Cat 1/2/3 race and what I need to work on, stay upright, have fun.”
Translation: Tink is gonna rip the legs off these bitches, enjoy it, and make it the most miserable fucking day of their lives.

KDH: “Looking at the start list and knowing very few of the riders, it seemed like there were at least 7 ladies that would be really strong and in any lead pack. So, I figured if the race split up, I wanted to attempt to go with the lead group…I was here to watch, play, and learn.”
Translation: Have you ever seen seasoned killer whales hunt sea lion pups? That’s what Tink means by ‘watch, play, and learn.’

KDH: “[After yesterday’s hard race]…I decided goal #1 was to stay upright and this meant my main plan was to sit in and take the descents slow and steady.”
Translation: Bitches don’t get rid of Tink on the descent she’s going to make them wish they’d never been born.

KDH: “[Lap One] I too am dropped. After the short descent, we both fight to get back on and happily rejoin the pack. [At the turnaround] the girls form a single file line. What???? What is this single file business about? …and they attack. Crap. So I fight to get back on and on the next little climb we are again one happy group.”
Translation: Bitches are working might and main to shell Tink from the group because they’re scared out of their minds. They dump her on the descent but she just mashes the pedals a bit harder and, easy as falling off a log, she’s back on. Bitches are pissed. ‘How we’re gonna dump that skinny little bitch?’ they’re wondering.

KDH: “And then more descending, more getting dropped, more climbing, and more catching back on…and so goes Lap One. Oh, the puncher climb at the end of Lap One sucked because they attacked coming out of it and again after the u-turn…and I slowed a lot to get my bottles and to make the turn. ”
Translation: Bitches so desperate they’re drilling Tink at every opportunity. Every time she gets dropped she just mashes the pedals and gets back on, easy as spitting. Know how fucking hard that is? I do. Bitches know she’s sketchy on the turnaround because she does that dorky thing where she unclips, so they drill her there, too. NBD. She just reloads with water and a 12-calorie snack to get her through the next 25 miles and 3k feet of climbing and hops back on, after all, it’s only a quarter-mile gap to close going into a 30-mph headwind.

KDH: “Eventually about five girls start a rotating paceline [and] for some reason that I still can’t come up with [I] decide to take part in while the whole rest of the field sits on the back of us…they yell at me to take steady pulls…[then] I heard someone in the pack sitting on us say ‘Just sit on them.’ I thought they were using us…can’t really remember what she said, but I think she was encouraging me to keep pulling.”
Translation: Even after getting dropped and chasing on repeatedly for 25 miles she’s frisky as shit. Bitches try to crack her in a rotation, so she just matches pulls until their eyes start to bug out of their heads. They change their tune pretty fucking quick, as she’s busting through hard enough to put them on the rivet and keep ’em stuck there with superglue. Bitches start whining that ‘steady pull’ bullshit like the sausages who Tink regularly works over on PCH. Bitches throw in the towel and start sucking wheel.

KDH: “Anyways, we get to the main climb and I am at the front…I think I am being nice going up front, but she kindly tells me to ease up on the pace…so I do, don’t feel like pissing off any of these girls who I am still certain could crush me at any moment.”
Translation: Tink’s pulling so fucking hard, bitches’ sports bras are coming off. Bitches start begging for mercy, so she eases off. For now.

KDH: “We all climb together and catch the two that had taken off earlier in the lap. Descent, this is never good…dropped, climb and get back on, more riders falling off and fewer joining back on…corkscrew descent headed back I get dropped really bad from what is now a group of nine and I don’t want to take any risks on the turns so the gap gets really big…It takes a long time to catch them, and I am into a strong headwind, and I am dehydrated, and my legs hurt…I catch them totally exhausted, get semi-dropped again on a little descent and catch back on to climb with them up to the second feedzone.”
Translation: Tink just rode the equivalent of this race twice. Bitches doing everything they can to dump her. She’s descending like a fred at 12mph with one foot down in the turns and still able to reel them back in. But she’s finally a little tired. Only nine bitches left and they all have that rat-with-its-head-in-the-trap look.

KDH: “I am at the back of the pack, know I need more water, know they like to attack coming out of the feed zone, and my dad is at the end of the zone, so when I see a Cynergy guy with an extra water bottle I am like ‘Water!’ and grab it…Thanks Cynergy dude!”
Translation: You know how you had twelve blueberry pancakes, three eggs, a pound of bacon, and grits for breakfast? Tink did this whole fucking race on two water bottles and a diet Gu.

KDH: “[I] and a couple others get gapped as the pack takes off….crap…I go, and [when we catch back on] we are again one group of eight (one rider got a solo breakaway on a little climb and held it to the end)…we start a rotating paceline and I actually am feeling pretty good and taking my full pulls…I end up 6th out of our group of eight and 7th overall, totally honored to be in with those ladies…So much to learn, so happy.”
Translation: Bitches did everything they could working together to beat her and they did beat her because she can’t descend and because she tired her ass out from chasing back on a zillion times, which meant she let the one bitch get away for the win, and then it came down to a fucking sprunt and she’s totally lame at that, but, bitches all looked like they’d just come off a vacation holiday from the Bataan Death March and it was Tink’s second race in two days and next time she finishes this fucking race, when she crosses the line there won’t be anyone else in the photograph, I can guaranfuckingtee you that.

END

Bakersfield, home of the gods of bad gas

June 1, 2012 § 2 Comments

How many times in your life do you get to compete for a championship? I’m not talking an NFL championship, or an NBA championship, or even an NHPA or an NTL championship. Those last two are National Horseshoe Pitching Association and the National Tiddlywinks League, and no, I don’t make this shit up. I make up other shit.

The fact is, you don’t often get to scrap for a championship, especially when you’re old, gizzardy, brokedown, brokebacked, when you piss too often, crap too seldom, are creaky in the morning and wore out by mid-afternoon. Nope, championships are generally for the young and the restless.

Once a year, though, if you are a bicyclist, you can compete for a state bicycling championship, where you pedal your bicycle as quickly as you can to win a prize. Then, if you win the prize, you can buy an even more special prize, to wit, a poorly made, ill fitting jersey in someone else’s size with a bad design that, ugly though it is and fitting as a potato sack though it may be, bears the words “State Champion” and the year of your championship.

This is a prize worth fighting for.

The course of snakes, stinging insects, drunk truckers, and champions

Today is Friday, June 1, 2012. It’s two days before the 45+ Elderly Fellows’ State Championship Road Race in Bakersfield, California. The race covers three 25-mile loops around a hilly course in the desert that has one moderately long climb and numerous short, punchy climbs designed to sap your legs, drain your fluids, and crush your will to survive. As I write this, a friend has Facebooked the current temp there, a moderately warm 105 degrees.

Although you would think that a desert course like this is destined to be hideously ugly, it isn’t. The hills are beautiful, and the desert has the rugged beauty of places where rain is scarce. The visual appeal of the course, however, can only be appreciated in a fast-moving car with the window rolled up and the air conditioner cranked up to “ten.”

Once you are pitched out from the cool security of the car like a fledgling forced to make its first flight, distanced from easy reach into the cooler and its mother lode of cold water, cold soda pop, and cold beer, the desert racecourse that has been designed by the Bakersfieldians is not beautiful at all. Its lack of beauty is only partially caused by the fact that the searing heat is so intense that your corneas begin to roast off the surface of the eyeball.

The true source of the course’s hideousness is the pounding sense of terror and desperation as you flail and pedal and struggle your way out, praying that you will make it back in. This isn’t a sprinter’s special, where well oiled, handsome, kitted up Adonises leisurely pedal for 54 minutes and pedal hard for one.

No.

This is a course where the cowering starters start slowly, knowing that most will quit halfway through, and where the group will only pedal faster when some idiot attacks, or accelerates, or behaves like he’s in a bike race. The pain and torture of the heat, compounded by stinging flies, bee swarms, and poisonous snakes along the roadway to bite those unlucky enough to collapse from heat prostration make Bakersfield truly a place for others to call home.

The contenders

The field will be half-filled with Big Orange, a smattering of SPY-Blue, and onesy-twosy riders from other teams. Although the bragging rights to the winner are galactic in scope, realistically hardly anyone has a chance of winning. Better to stay home and race another crit than suffer the expense, exhaustion, and humiliation of a beatdown so far from home.

What follows is a list of contenders, beginning with the odds-on favorite.

1. Wankmeister. Let’s face it, I’m the favorite here. First off, I grew up in Texas, so 105-degree heat is nothing. Average summer temperatures where I grew up were 140. At night. It’s true that I suffered a few issues at Punchbowl and got dropped rather quickly, finishing next to last. It’s also true that I got dropped on this same course a couple of months ago, finishing next to last. It’s also true that I’ve never even come close to winning a race in more than twenty years. However, I had Chinese food last night, and after the ER doc pumped my stomach I remembered that my fortune cookie had said this: “Time is a mirror of your desire.” So, that’s pretty clear. My jersey size is small. Thanks.

Pluses: Blogability. No one out-blogs the Wankmeister in a hilly road race. Plus I’ve got a cool helmet cam.
Minuses: Kind of lacking in the speed, strength, and endurance department. But I’ve got a day to come around.

2. DQ Louie: Unless he gets dq’d, which frankly is most of the time, there’s no one who can beat him in a hilly road race. Blazing speed. Relentless attacking. Strategic wheelsucking when necessary, full-on TT mode when he’s off the front. Always has a vicious kick at the end.
Pluses: Tininess. He’s got a drag coefficient of .00000002, which is about the same as a newt or a flea. His power-to-weight ratio is 3 gigawatts per kilo. So you’re basically fucked.
Minuses: Cheatyness. The officials love to dq DQ Louie. Why? He’s from Nevada, that’s why. The races are in California. He’s the dude on the freeway doing 80 who gets pulled over when everyone else is doing 100. Sorry, dude. But not really.

3. Roadchamp: He won last year, and he won two years before that, and he had a creditable showing at Vlees Huis even though they’d removed all twelve lower teeth for implant surgery the week before the race.
Pluses: He’s so skinny that he has to safety pin his socks to his calves. He’s focused. He’s all about winning. He hasn’t had sex in months, ergo mucho ferocityness.
Minuses: Everyone will be gunning for him; carries around old trophies from previous road victories as a talisman; has been known to crumple in the extreme heat. The pressure of not having won yet this year may be too much.

4. Invincible: He’s won this race before, he’s got national crit titles to his name, he sprunts, he climbs, he time trails, and he has more wins in the 45+ this year than everyone else combined.
Pluses: Dude always fucking wins. What more of a plus could you want? Best all around tactician in the game. Knows who to work with, how to control a break, how to kick out the shirkers, how and when to pull out all the stops.
Minuses: Sneakiness. He makes DQ Louie look positively forthright. Plus, he’ll be isolated in the race. THOG is recovering from a major injury. Glasship got his fill of Bako heat at Vlees Huis and is on sabbatical to the beer capital of Deschutes County. So, he’s by himself…yeah, I know. So what?

5. G$: This is one title that’s always eluded him, either due to bad luck, or poor luck, or inferior luck, or luck that wasn’t quite right, or fuckaluck. That’s too bad, because he’s one of the top guys in any category, and built to succeed on a course like this. He has specially prepared snake stomping boots that were made just for this race. With a huge B.O. contingent, he will likely let attrition do its nasty work, and only get to stomping dicks in earnest at the end, when they’ve all gone limp and stretched out from the heat.
Pluses: Time trails. Climbs. Attacks. Makes cool interview videos. Deep and wide team support to control the race or protect a break or send guys up the road. You know he’s got to be frothingly hungry for this jersey. He’s been tapering on the local rides, and has even cut back to five burgers ‘n fries a week. Serious shit.
Minuses: He’ll be dogged by Invincible and DQ Louie. If they get up the road with him, he’s got slim chance in a sprunt. Also, his team is so strong that Roadchamp, Kalashnikov, Capture the Flagg, Thing Two, Herndy Doo, or Hottie could wind up on the podium.

6. FTR DS Jaeger: The smartest rider in the bunch, always goes with the right move. Conserves when he has to, churns out the watts when it matters, never gets dropped on the hard climbs. Missed the vee at states by the narrowest of margins a couple of years ago, this could be his year.
Pluses: Savvy. Tenacious. Experienced. The best in the peloton at making up with savvy and smarts what he lacks in the legs, which frankly isn’t much.
Minuses: Can’t sprunt. Small team, and partially weighted by the anchor teammate from hell, a/k/a Wankmeister.

7. Kalashnikov: Super strong, fast, and clearly on form, Kalashnikov has the benefit of his Big Orange teammates to further strengthen his hand. He will likely play the role of agitator, forcing the other teams to waste valuable energy chasing, a strategy that has worked like a charm in the past.
Pluses: As stated above.
Minuses: If he has to go early, the bitterness of the course could spell doom.

8. Your name here. I’m sorry I left you off. You deserved to make the list, as you’ve got the right stuff, the training miles are there, and it’s finally your year. On the other hand, it’s almost 8:00 PM on a Friday night and I’m blogging about a stupid bike race for old men out in the fucking desert, for dog’s sake. This is enough, even for me.

Foundational excusifying

May 31, 2012 § 29 Comments

The state road race championship is on Sunday, so now’s the time to begin properly building your foundation for excuses as to why you got dropped and quit. Don’t wait ’til race day to trot out your lame reason for imploding before the race got hard. Begin today with a series of well-placed and well-timed comments to let everyone know that except for * and *, or * and *, you would be standing on the top step.

1. Illness. “I’ve had something in my chest the last couple of weeks that I can’t shake. Gonna give it my best shot, but my power’s down 30-40w. That’s the margin of victory.”

2. Weather. “Fuckin’ Bakersfield. It’s too hot there to race. We prepare the whole year in reasonable temperatures, and then they do the biggest race of the year in a fuckin’ sauna. That’s bullshit. I’m just not good in the heat.” [Be ready to steer quickly away from questions about why you didn’t do the states race in NorCal.]

3. Gear. “I’m just not adapted to this new Specialized Wankster. The seat tube angle is a little off, fucks up my body geometry when I climb.” [Don’t mention that you still have your old frame which was such a “perfect” fit that you got dropped on lap one of Punchbowl, etc.]

4. Nutrition. “I ran out of the Uber-Goo Triple Espresso with Spirochetes. They’re on back order. There’s no way I can do well in a hot race without that stuff. The spirochetes are the bomb.”

5. Hydration. “I can’t get anyone to give me hand-ups. The deck’s stacked against you in that race without hand-ups.”

6. Low quality help. “I’ve got someone for hand-ups, but he/she sucks at it. If I miss my hand-up I’m done.”

7. Training cycles. “Fuck! I peaked last Thursday! 450w FTP! Now I can barely get out of fuckin’ bed.”

8. Team tactics: “It’s going to be total bullshit. Big Orange has thirty guys entered. It will just be negative racing.”

9. Individual tactics: “My whole team worked against me, gave it away to the opportunists who didn’t even have any teammates in the race.”

10. Time. “Ah, fuck, there was no way I could log the training miles for that race. I’ve got a real job and a family, dude.”

11. Doping. “Those other 87 dudes in the 55+? ‘Course they beat me. They all dope.”

12. Misjudgment. “I was so on form, best of my life. Then like an idiot I went out and hammered on the Pier Ride. Totally blew my form.”

13. Kids. “Hey, I spent last week helping Billy on his algebra. Priorities.”

14. Wife. “Cowbella won’t let me train. Total bullshit. If I could just bump it up from 350 to 450 a week I’d have won in a solo breakaway.”

15. Priorities. “It’s a stupid fucking bike race, okay? Who gives a shit?”

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