Inbound to the Sun

February 2, 2015 § 19 Comments

I’m an idiot. I know this because I subscribe to Science, a magazine that makes me feel silly, innumerate, and illiterate every time it arrives in the mailbox. Since I can’t understand anything in it, when I read an article I play a game called “Name that acronym.” Here’s how it works:

Each Science article is chock-full of acronyms, for example TCRs, MHC, CEBAF, and “the EMC effect.” Since I’ll never understand any of it no matter how much time I spend on Wikipedia, I content myself with memorizing what the acronym stands for. So, each time I see the acronym in the article, I repeat to myself the fully spelled-out word. T-Cell Receptor. Major Histocompatibility Complex. Continuous Electron Beam Accelerator Facility. The European Muon Collaboration Effect.

What the fugg does any of it mean? No idea. But at the end of each article instead of feeling like a complete moron, I just feel like an idiot.

At our SPY-Giant-RIDE p/b GQ-6 profamateur Team Camp and Poser Assembly the day before the Boulevard Road Race I was listening to one of the presentations about energy drinks when I happened to notice that in one of the slides, in super tiny print, someone had written a paragraph that mentioned “mTOR.”

I jumped out of my chair. “Mechanistic target of rapamycin!” I yelled. Everyone stared.

“Excuse me?” said the presenter.

“Mechanistic target of rapamycin! It says it right there!”

“What are you talking about, dude? And could you please quit shouting? And sit down?”

I did as he said and he continued with the slide. King Harold tapped me on the shoulder. “What the fugg did you just say?”

“Mechanistic target of rapamycin,” I whispered breathlessly, pointing at the slide. “Right there! mTOR is the abbreviation for mechanistic target of rapamycin.”

“Okay, okay,” he said, patting me. “Just calm down and tell me what the hell it means. Can you use it in a sentence?”

“No,” I said. “I only memorized it from the acronym.”

“You’re a complete idiot,” he said.

Derek is not an idiot

This year I had decided to race the 40+ masters category at Boulevard because it was 22 miles longer than the 44-mile race for the 50+ leaky prostate category. My reasoning was simple: Since I had no chance of doing well in the 2-lap race with people my own age, perhaps I could do better in a 3-lap race with people who were much younger and faster and better than all of the people in the 50+ race put together.

In other words, it was an idiotic plan.

My friend Derek, however, who is ten years younger and who is easily one of the best road racers in his age class, had a very good plan. In order to win the season opening, most prestigious race of the year he would have his whole team line up to support him (except for Prez, who would spend the day drinking coffee with his feet up on the table). Even the sprinter dudes who could generally be expected to explode into tiny flecks of muscle and mush after the first climb were there to help.

There when you need him!

There when you need him!

With his full team at the race (except for Prez, who would spend the day drinking coffee with his feet up on the table), Derek’s team would send off bulletproof sprinter “Red Bull” Wike to cover any early moves. Team Captain Charon Smith would then ride the front to keep the field in check by threatening to knock down anyone who tried to pass by flexing his massive calves, which are wider than most mobile homes.

Rob the Blob would follow potential threats and neutralize them with stories of the hundreds of races he has won since 1996, one or two of which might actually have happened. Finally, team assassin Shawn van Gassen would mark potential attacks to make sure that SCC would have a man in any bridge move.

Next, Derek the Destroyer would either wait for or initiate a move on the third lap, crack the field with his wicked acceleration, and either time trial to victory or outsprunt his breakaway companions at the line.

In order to properly set the chessboard for this Sicilian Dragon opening, only one key move was left: Prevent “Full Gas” Phil Tinstman from pinning on a number, since he was the previous winner of the race in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014, as well as the holder of a string of victories from 1897-1956. Phil’s exclusion was achieved thanks to a terrible case of intestinal rumblings that left him standing on the sidelines, never more than two quick steps from the port-o-potties and two fistfuls of toilet paper.

As the race began I knew that I was a guppy in a shark tank. We shot through the first long downhill section, and as the speeds hit 55 mph on the turns, a massive cloudburst unleashed. Several riders skidded off the road, tattooing the asphalt with sheets of skin and copious quantities of bright red ink. We were very worried about them, but not really.

As the race unfolded, Derek’s team hewed to the plan. Red Bull Wike went with Crafty Coxworth in the early move and then detonated, sending Lycra and carbon shrapnel for miles into the air. Charon clogged the lane and prevented attacks by periodic calf flexes. Assassin van Gassen cut the heads off of would-be pursuers. The torrid pace continued as we hit the first long climb on the Green Road, with tattered and broken posers coming off the back in droves.

My personal race summary is as follows:

Lap 1: I felt like Eddy.

Lap 2: I was dropped, unlike Eddy.

Lap 3: I chased back on and was then throttled at the railroad tracks, struggling in alone for a pathetic 34th place.

Race day is payday, baby

For Derek the Destroyer, however, it was a tour de force. At the top of the brutal climb on Lap 2, Easter Egg ripped away from the tattered peloton like a giant piece of Velcro. Derek, Ollie, and Some English Dude on Vacation in California Who Showed Up out of the Blue followed the ripping attack of Easter Egg.

Now I don’t know about you, but when a 6′ 4″ dude who always carries a gun because he’s in the FBI and whose primary assignment is the liquidation of high value targets decides to ride away from you, I think that generally you should let him go.

But they didn’t. After a pulverizing four-man TT to establish the break the leaders eventually fell victim to Spontaneous Breakaway Degeneration Disease, an illness that strikes riders who aren’t close enough to the line to go it alone but who don’t want to work any more in order to be fresh for the sprunt.

As they turned onto the final 4-mile climb, the Destroyer turned to Easter Egg. “You gonna pull?”

“I didn’t race at all last year. I’m not going so well.”

“Is it your kid’s birthday?”

“No.”

“Are you gonna sprint at the end?”

“It’s a bike race.”

“Thanks,” said the Destroyer. “That’s all I need to know.”

And then as they started up the climb, the Destroyer asked himself “WWFGD?”

What would Full Gas do?

Full Gas Phil would, of course, attack, and he would attack so hard that if you were still hanging around you would decide that second place was infinitely preferable to the stroke you would suffer if you tried to chase.

And so the Destroyer attacked. The other breakaway riders crumpled like tin cans beneath the wheel of a fully loaded, onrushing 18-wheeler. The Destroyer twisted the dial up to 300 watts and held it all the way to the line–a team win if there ever was one.

I dragged myself across the line a very, very, very, very long time later. My buddies Jan, Dean, and Honey were waiting for me with hot coffee, a towel, and lots of great excuses mixed with fake praise. “You looked good out there.”

“It was a fast pace today.”

“You finished before midnight.” Etc.

Then Derek walked over with his smoking hot wife and his hand on an envelope. He was nattily attired in the fanciest apres-ski cycling apparel, which generally means a clean t-shirt and pants. “How’d you do?” I asked.

“I won,” he said. “Thanks to the team.”

“And Prez,” I added. “You couldn’t have done it without Prez.”

Derek handed me the envelope. “Here’s some cash for your blog, man. I don’t do PayPal.”

“You don’t have to do that,” I said, thinking guiltily about the similarly generous gift that Dandy Andy had handed me the day before and that I’d immediately cashed and spent on craft water. “But if you insist … ”

“I do,” he said.

And suddenly, although I still felt like an idiot, I didn’t exactly feel like a loser any more.

END

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Down on the Boulevard (they take it hard) They look at life (with such disregard)

January 30, 2015 § 42 Comments

This is the toughest weekend of the year. All winter SoCal profamateur masters racers have trained like Olympians so that they can be fit and fast enough to completely crush the season on Facebook. Ever since September, legs have gotten leaner, veins poppier, guts have retracted, and WKO+ TSS scores have gone through the roof.

KOM’s on Strava have fallen like dominoes and sure enough, by the first week of January the top teams were going at it mano-a-mano, sparing no effort in the battle to see who had the coolest profamateur lycra underwear outfit. Wheelsets were bought, the mandatory full carbon quiver of wheels for TT’s, climbing, crits, and for sticking on the roof rack and cruising slowly through Manhattan Beach.

But none of the bulk protein drink purchases, 5-year gym memberships, incredible Instagrams of endless stair workouts, or gaudy finery of cross-posted Garmin files even begins to compare with the hardest, nastiest, toughest, gnarliest task that is staring us in the face a mere 24 hours hence: Of course I’m referring to the effort that’s going to be expended in coming up with excuses for not doing the Boulevard Road Race.

In the last few days I’ve heard everything from the imaginative to the awful. Here’s a sampling:

  1. I have a dinner date that night. (So reschedule.)
  2. My in-laws are going to be in town. (Drown them.)
  3. I’ve decided to focus on my work because that’s what pays the bills. (You are unemployed, remember?)
  4. The drive is too far. (Your team has a custom wrapped van, masseuse, and lounge chairs with your fuggin’ name embroidered on the back.)
  5. I heard it might rain. (Pack a raincoat and a clean diaper.)

Basically, an entire winter’s worth of training has dissolved into a lukewarm puddle of pee at the mere mention of “Boulevard.” You can’t talk to a crit racer for more than twelve seconds lately without hearing the phrase “I’m a crit racer.”

And that’s without you even mentioning the dreaded word.

There’s good reason to be afraid of Boulevard. It’s not the hardest road race of the year, so you can’t claim that it’s a climber’s race. The climbs are hard, but they don’t have the steepness or the viciousness of Punchbowl that allow you to get shelled on the first lap and then shrug, point at your beer gut and say, “This ain’t no race for Clydesdales.” [Note: Quit calling yourself a Clydesdale unless you’re strong enough to haul a 2,000-lb. dray of coal through the Ardennes.]

Nope, Boulevard is the bane of the profamateur masters class because it’s not so hard to be the exclusive domain of the twig-men, but it’s gnarly enough to strip bare your pretensions and leave you, beaten and crushed, three miles from the Mexican border where vultures and coyotes are waiting to gnaw off your quivering face after first picking the clumps of Clif Bar from the gaps in your teeth and shitting down your throat.

Boulevard has all of the terrible things you’d expect from a bad bike race — broke down trailer homes at the start-finish, toilets infested with vermin, and worst of all a very long drive during which you contemplate, mile after mile, all of the horrific things that are going to happen.

Will you careen off the road at 50 like Tree did that year, and wind up wrapped in a tight bundle of rusty barbed wire? Will you flip onto your head on the downhill, tear an artery, and come within seconds of bleeding out but for the dumb luck of an emergency room MD stopping to save your life like that year Mr. Chevy almost met his maker?

Or will something infinitely worse happen, like training crazily all winter only to be puked out the back on the first acceleration of the first climb, and left to stumble the remaining 40 miles alone, cold, wet, miserable, shivering?

The horror of Boulevard is that you have so much time to contemplate these and a thousand other miseries all the way there, and what’s worse, to contemplate them again all the way back: the missed winning break; the mechanical at just the wrong moment; the tactical superiority of another team; or, most likely, the galling truth that after all’s said and done, you simply suck.

What a bitter tonic, to parade around in front of your wife with shaved legs, to prance before the coffee shop windows in your tight little underwear outfit, to model your pretty bike to all the admirers only to have the whole charade popped quicker than a cherry at a frat party!

This is Boulevard, the Cinderella Ball where the dancers are tatted-up killers, where the belle of the ball is 6.0 watts/kg, and where the coach that brings you home won’t turn into a pumpkin, but rather a hearse.

Ready…set…excuses!

END

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Healing

December 24, 2014 § 19 Comments

The older I get, the more I appreciate people who aren’t sociopaths. Not that the SoCal Profamateur™ ranks are filled with them, but I do run across them from time to time. A sociopath, of course, is a person who reduces the entirety of human existence to “I am in the right.”

Here’s a quick quiz to find out if you are a cycling sociopath, but if you’re really a sociopath one of the key qualities is the inability to recognize it.

  1. I never caused a crash.
  2. I’ve had bad luck before, but never been beaten.
  3. I dope because everyone else dopes, so it’s not cheating.
  4. I cut the course because I had to.
  5. There’s nothing wrong with banditing a ride because the organizers plan for a certain level of banditing.

Of course cycling sociopaths, compared to the ones I run across in my day job, are pretty harmless. Whereas cycling sociopaths are trying to cheat you out of a pair of socks or a fistful of gels, litigation sociopaths are often trying to ruin a client’s life, and sometimes mine as well. But despite their relative harmlessness, their presence causes the good guys out there to shine even more brightly.

One of my favorite Old Fellow Leaky Prostate Cycling Stars is Greg Leibert, a/k/a G$ a/k/a G-Munnnnny. I can’t help rooting for him, even when he’s plucking out my legs like an evil little kid yanking off the twitching limbs of a helpless insect. I root for G$ because he rides with class, he wins graciously, and he loses with a smile and a congratulations for the winner. I root for G$ because when he wins, the good guy really does win. And of course I root for him in the hope that one day I’ll beat him, and therefore have beaten the very best.

The last two seasons G$ has had a rough go of it on the race course, so much so that it almost seemed like he might be done for good. The guy who soloed to victory at Boulevard a few years back, the guy who regularly stomped the dicks of the best leaky prostates on the toughest SoCal road courses, had been “relegated” to “only” one or two wins a season. The saddest moment of my old fellow cycling career was this year at Boulevard, when I punctured a few miles from the finish. The peloton whooshed by, and then a few minutes later along came Greg, who stopped to help change my flat.

“Are you okay?” I asked in disbelief.

Greg smiled. “I didn’t have it today. They went, and I didn’t.”

It was like learning that there is no Santa Claus, only worse, since I was raised an atheist and we kept getting Christmas swag even after figuring out that the old fat drunk in the mall was nothing more glamorous than an old fat drunk in the mall. So you can imagine how happy I was to hear through the grapevine that G$ was back on track for 2015.

I’d see him doing lonely big ring workouts on Via del Monte. I’d hear rumors about the gradually increasing fitness. Best of all — or worst — I’d pump him about his condition and he’s say with a smile, “It’s coming around.”

Last Saturday G$ showed up for the Donut Ride, which is rare because he only shows up to check his fitness. Unlike the other wankers who throw themselves headlong into their “base intensity” programs 12 months a year, G$ builds, tests, then goes back to work.

As we snaked through Portuguese Bend, there was the familiar sight of the Legs From Planet Zebulon, the slightly hunched back, the smooth cadence, and the sinewy strips of calf, ham, and quad popping out from the stretched skin. Best of all, though, was the hollering.

G$ will never pointlessly ride on the front — he’s too smart for that — but he loves it when you do, and he has a well-worn method for getting the idiots to pound themselves into oblivion. Here’s how he does it: Some maroon will take a dig, and a fellow maroon will follow through, and then the pace will slack. “Sixteen mph?” G$ will yell from five wheels back. “Are we riding our bikes or pushing a baby stroller?”

No one has the man parts to turn around and say, “Hey, wanker, if you want the speed to pick up, there’s plenty of room at the front to give us a demo.”

Instead, we hunker down, all butt-hurt and such, and then take turns killing ourselves in pointless efforts to show that WE AREN’T GONNA GO SIXTEEN. Then G$ will yell a little more until we’re totally pooped, we reach the climb, and he leaves us like we are chained to a liberal piece of legislation in the US Congress.

But on Saturday, I bided my time until we hit the Switchbacks, followed wheels, and before long had left the wankoton in the rear, latched onto the wheel of Boy Jules, who hates being shadowed by creaky old men. The impossible had happened — a fit-and-getting-fitter G$ had been shelled by Boy Jules and Creaky Wanky.

The euphoria was intense, followed by sadness (“If G$ can’t keep up with me, he really is finished,”) followed by an unspeakable beatdown. Half a mile from the end of the climb G$ hunted me down like an old tom closing in on a crippled rat. He roared by, I latched on (having shed Boy Jules at the wall), and G$ played his favorite role of train conductor. It goes like this:

G$: I see you are riding on the train.

Me: Yes, sir.

G$: May I see your ticket?

Me: I ain’t got no ticket.

G$: Well, son, no one rides for free.

Then he came out of the saddle, fired the pistons, and vanished around the bend. I deflated and crumpled as he put a couple of football fields between us in a matter of seconds. I was deflated, but elated. You know why?

Because Munnnnnnny is back.

END

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Two for two

February 15, 2014 § 2 Comments

The 35+ race at Boulevard was relatively uneventful unless you were one of the riders who got shelled on the very first lap. Or the second lap. Or the third.

It was the first tough road race with all the major players except for Chris DeMarchi, who’s still recovering from a broken femur that he sustained in an MTB accident. Without Chris the race would be slightly different, as his trademark “bring the pain and thin the herd” brand of killing accelerations would be absent.

The riders didn’t know where they stood fitness wise, so there was a lot of watching and waiting, but only up to a point. It was Boulevard after all, a race of attrition that eventually was going to wear you down whether you waited or not. The general pattern in the 35+ race is this:  If the race stays together, only shedding the lame and infirm, the big explosion happens halfway through the last lap. The start of the race was freezing and two minutes into the race it began to snow. There were also a couple of new faces, which is always a troubling question mark. It’s the new faces that can completely screw up a well-planned race.

The 2014 edition played according to formula, with Mike Sayers and Marco Arocha putting in huge attacks that did damage but failed to shatter the group. Marco launched halfway into the race, but that’s a long, lonely distance to hold off a super field like this one over such a demanding course. He was  brought back on the downhill, where a solo rider has difficulty keeping ahead of a peloton that can easily hit 50 mph.

While Marco was away Monster Media strongman Karl Bordine set tempo up the big climb and made sure Arocha’s advantage didn’t extend too far. By keeping the gap in check on the second lap, Bordine’s solid tempo prevented the dangerous move by Arocha from suddenly turning into a  3 or 4 minute breakaway. That would have forced the Monster Media team to organize a chase, waste valuable energy, and take away their ability to keep team boss Tinstman safe and out of the wind. It was Bordine’s tempo that allowed the group to bring Arocha back and then set up Gary Douville for the big move on the last lap.

When the remnants of the field turned onto La Posta, Gary Douville and Phil Tinstman went to the front, attacking just over the railroad tracks and whittling it down to five riders, later joined by two others.  Tony Restuccia, Tinstman, Douville, Derek Brauch, Sayers, Paul Vaccari, and Randall Coxworth made up the final selection. The two who bridged, Vaccari and Coxworth, made it across at just the time the break briefly slowed.

From that point the break drilled up La Posta and put a big gap on the field, a gap that no one would be able to close once the breakaway hit the frontage road and began the final three-mile climb to the finish line. Sayers was the biggest threat to the Monster Media machine, which had four of the seven riders in the break. Sayers coaches the USA U-23 team and in addition to being a great coach is also a beast of a rider. Sayers attacked the break a couple of times but was countered by Tinstman and Douville.

This is the point in Boulevard where things come unraveled. The break was on the rivet and Tinstman was still feeling good. With teammates Restuccia, Douville, and Coxworth covering the SPY-Giant-RIDE duo of Brauch and Vaccari, Sayers put in a huge attack and, taking Tinstman with him, opened up a 20-second gap on the chasers. With Sayers urging Tinstman to pull through, the Monster Media rider declined the invitation. The math was simple: Better to get pulled back to the group, where there was a 4-to-7 advantage and where Tinstman was confident of winning the field sprint, than to trade pulls with Sayers and lower his chance of winning to 50 percent.

Once the Sayers-Tinstman duo was back with the chasers, Coxworth unleashed a flurry of attacks, swinging off with 250 meters to the line. Sayers was now out in the wind and had no choice but to go, and he gave it everything he had, but 250 meters out at Boulevard is like a kilometer anywhere else because the race finishes on a hard pitch after a long climb. With Sayers firing his final volley too early, Vaccari then jumped with Tinstman on his wheel. At the last minute Tinstman hit the wind and passed the SPY rider with room to spare. Vaccari got second and Brauch got third, making a good podium haul for the SPY-Giant-RIDE p/b MRI team, especially considering the quality and quantity of Monster Media riders at the finish.

Teamwork

This was a classic example of a road race going according to plan. It was simple in theory: Keep Tinstman out of the wind as much as possible and save it for the end. Although he was feeling good, the fact that his teammates were doing such a great job increased his pressure to close the deal as they sacrificed everything to put him in position for the win. Having raced together for a couple of seasons the Monster Media team has reached a point where the riders can communicate in key moments without talking because they know what the other guy’s thinking and what they’re going to do. This is the kind of clockwork teamwork that only comes from lots of races.

Tinstman’s secret? There are none, other than the things that all successful athletes have in common, such as maximal preparation. Spare wheels in the car, food, bottles, clothing, then double check everything. Reassured that the prep was done, the victory was going to depend on using the least amount of energy and conserving until the end. By being alert and continually reading the race, Tinstman made sure that every second in the race he had a reason for what he was doing doing. Whether watching a guy, resting, or chasing, it was the continual mental alertness and rational planning that brought the victory to bear.

Saturday helped Sunday

Tinstman followed up his hardman win at Boulevard with an equally impressive win the following day at the SPY Red Trolley Crit in San Diego. Much of Sunday’s victory was the result of how well the team kept him fresh on Saturday. He wasn’t wrecked on Sunday because he hadn’t had to do the lion’s share of the work the day before.

Unlike the other dominant SoCal 35+ crit team, Surf City Cyclery, the Monster Media team never wants the race to end in a field sprint. 2013 was an extended clinic of breakaway crit victories by DeMarchi and Tinstman, and although SCC was absent from this year’s edition of Red Trolley, the plan was still to avoid a field sprint.

On the other hand, with accomplished finishers like Coxworth, Tinstman, and Danny Kam, if it came down to a sprint, there were options there as well. Coxworth had just finished second in the 45+ race after getting nipped at the line due to a premature victory salute, and felt like the snap was gone from his legs. He therefore volunteered to be the guy who would position Tinstman if it came down to a field sprint. In the last two laps he placed his team leader into position with laser precision.

With a tailwind on the climb and a headwind on the downhill it was going to be a hard course on which to establish a winning break because it was easy for the swollen pack to sit and then charge full bore up he hill. The Monster Media team attacked repeatedly with the SPY riders, trying to make things happen, but the field wouldn’t split. In the final laps SPY went to the front, with Tinstman on Coxworth’s wheel. A couple of intense efforts towards the very end even looked like they might create a winning move.

Everything came back together for the finale, however, so with Coxworth on the SPY train and Tinstman slotted in behind his pilot fish, the two Monster Media riders came around SPY’s Eric Anderson and locked in first and second place.

On February 15, Tinstman and the Monster Media tribe will have a go at the second hardman event on the SoCal calendar, the UCLA Punchbowl road race. If Boulevard and Red Trolley are any indication, they will be tough to beat. Very, very tough.

Winning

February 3, 2014 § 56 Comments

Every dog has his day. Saturday was mine.

This race that had bedeviled me, humiliated me, broken me, and told me loud and clear so many times that I’d never be a road racer was lying at my feet. After making it up the climb with the leaders the second time around I asked myself a question I’d never asked before: How was I going to win this race?

My legs felt great despite having started the race in a snow flurry. I’d been in zero difficulty as the big guns had carved the field down into a final mass of about twenty-five riders, and while the better, stronger, faster, skinnier guys had attacked, surged, and shredded with abandon the only thing I’d done was sit at the tail end of the field, doing nothing. That too was a first.

I thought about following wheels all the way to the finish. That would be hard, to put it mildly. Konsmo, Thurlow, Flagg, Pomeranz, Slover, and several other guys remained in the field, guys who would break me like a dry twig on the final 3-mile climb to the finish. On the other hand, my legs felt so good that maybe they wouldn’t. Maybe I could follow wheels and sprint for the win. Maybe I could also grow a third leg.

Then my mind went back to the Cyclovets Omnium Road Race in 2010. The remnants of the field were about 200 yards from the top of the first peak of the infamous green road, and I had hit the jets as hard as I could. The pack didn’t respond, and as I leaped out of the field my Big Orange teammates had yelled at me. “Ease up!” they had shouted. Confused, because it seemed like the winning move, I had eased up. Teammate Dave Worthington had gone on for the win, but I’d never really understood why I had been shut down, except for the obvious fact that no one had had confidence that I’d be able to hold it to the line.

As we flew down the winding, 50 mph descent, I made up my mind. If the lead group was was dragging ass at the top of the green road, I’d hit it. There was a long way to go from there, but my legs felt good and I had a better chance to win out of a breakaway than I did in a sprint finish.

We crossed the railroad tracks and started the first climb. People were laboring, gronking, and struggling on this third effort up the back side of Boulevard. Todd Parks dangled a few hundred yards in front, about to be sucked back after a hopeless attack on the downhill. Teammate Andy Schmidt bulled at the front, with John Hatchitt working to pull Parks back into the fold. Out of the nine SPY-Giant-RIDE teammates who had toed the line, only four of us remained. Amgen still had a beefy contingent to contend with.

Once we hit the green road, the peloton begin to sag. People were gassed. Thurlow had made multiple all-out efforts to split the field. Leibert had covered countless moves. Konsmo had driven the pace like a madman up the climbs. Everyone was hurting, and my legs felt New In Box. I attacked.

This was the moment I’d waited almost thirty years for. In 1986, with John Morstead and Mike Adams up the road in the state championships outside of San Antonio, I’d hit the jets on the rollers when the remaining group containing Mark Switzer, Fields, Rob DiAntromond, and a couple of other riders who were clearly on the ropes. I’d rolled away for good.

Today was that day, only better. No one answered the attack except for a dude on an aluminum bike with a down tube shifter for his front chain ring. We crested the hill and were gone. I never bothered to look back, assuming that the leaders were hot on my heels only a few seconds behind. My companion took a couple of ineffectual pulls but I didn’t care; they were enough to give me the brief respite I needed to renew the charge. The peloton would certainly catch me on the final big climb up Highway 80, and now I was going to grill and drill to the bitter end.

Two days before I had prepared for every eventuality. I’d cleaned my bike. Lubed the chain. Most importantly I’d put on two brand new Gatorskin 25 cm tires, bulletproof and built to withstand the cattle guards, road detritus, and sketchy conditions of the lousy roads in eastern San Diego County.

The combination of adrenaline and good legs propelled me along. In a couple of minutes I’d be at the highway climb. “It’s been fun,” I thought. “They’re gonna reel me in any second now.”

As my breakaway companion swung over, I pushed harder on the pedals. The final climb loomed. And then? A deafening blast lifted my rear wheel as my the back tire blew off the rim. “Oh, no!” said Aluminum Bike Dude.

I laughed to myself and came to a halt. For the first time I looked back, expecting to see the charging peloton, but there was no one. A few seconds went by and two riders came through, including Jonathan Flagg, perennial strongman and the guy who would stick it all the way to the finish for the win.

But where was the peloton? “Surely they’re hot on my heels?” I thought. I checked my watch in disbelief that that the attack had put any significant time into the field. A full minute later they rolled by in full chase mode.

“Wow,” I thought. “Could I have stuck it out to the end?”

Later still, Greg Leibert pedaled by and stopped. He’s the best guy in the world, and having won The Monument multiple times, he and Todd Darley preferred to stop for a friend rather than pedal insanely by for 25th place. Better yet, he called Lauren, who picked me up as I pedaled along on my blown out rear wheel.

“What happened?” she asked. I told her. “Oh, no! What a bummer! That’s terrible!”

I smiled at her. “Second best race ever.”

“Really?” she said.

“Yeah. You don’t always have to be first in order to win.”

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The monument

January 22, 2014 § 19 Comments

The Boulevard road race is perhaps our only monument in Southern California. It’s got two modes, “up” and “down.” Those who win it cross a terrible no-person’s-land to do so. Those who finish it do, too. Those who quit plan for next year or focus on crits.

I could tell you all the terrible things that await when you line up at Boulevard. I could tell you about starting at 5,000 feet. I could tell you about the howling descent that goes on forever. I could tell you about the unforgiving climb that pinches off riders in bunches and singly until only the hardiest remain. I could tell you about the green road, or the lonesome desolation of the Mexican border, or the freezing winds when the sun drops, or the icy rain that falls in bad years, or the inhuman pounding that your body takes simply to finish.

But I won’t, because none of those things make Boulevard a monument. They just make it a bike race.

The seed of fear

A monument frightens you, and it frightens you early. It’s not the nervousness that precedes a race, or butterflies while you’re crumping a hairy beet in the port-o-let, or the anxious chatter you expel on the drive up. A monument scares you long before it ever happens. It gets inside your head, and outside it, too. The external world becomes a series of ominous warnings, of suggestively bad outcomes, of predictions that all end in “failure” and “pain.”

Boulevard stands at the head of the line because of its relentless climbing and because it’s the first major road race of the season. Some would say it’s the only major one, although those who say so haven’t raced Devil’s Punchbowl in the snow of Vlees Huis in the 100-degree heat.

With run-ups like Poor College Kids, and follow-ons like UCLA Punchbowl and San Luis Rey, Boulevard is at the head of the class. If you sign up for it, you’re afraid. If you don’t sign up for it, it’s because you’re afraid.

What’s in a bike race?

There’s no such thing as an easy one if you want to cross the line first. Think four-corner crits are easy? Well, perhaps they are if you just want to finish. But any event that requires you to pin on a number will take you to the limit if you want to win it.

As a monument, Boulevard takes you to the limit and then, if you’ve got your eyes on winning, takes you beyond. Boulevard is one of the few races in SoCal you’ll ever do that conveys a measure of respect simply by being able to say, “I finished.” If, like Greg Leibert, you’ve won it multiple times, it conveys more than respect. It conveys greatness.

My record with the beast

2010, DNF. 2011, 27th place. 2012, 39th place. 2013, 15th place. These are not numbers to be proud of, but they’re numbers I’m inordinately proud of, especially 2010, when I was lucky enough to flat on the first lap after being soaked to the skin in freezing rain that pelted us from the beginning of the race. Last year I got what Jack from Illinois (not his real name) would call “Enough of a result to further the delusion that next year it will be better.”

In short, 2014 is my year. The magical combination of experience, beer, homemade bread, butter, and high-rpm training practically dictates that this is the year I stand on the podium. And if I don’t, so what? At least I rode the monument, and with fortitude and luck, maybe I also finished.

I hope you’ll be there, if only so that you can say you’ve ridden a monument.

2013 Boulevard road race post-coital analysis

February 7, 2013 § 37 Comments

Before Lance, before Labor Power, before the ’84 Olympics, and long before anyone had even dared imagine the idea of a professional masters bike racer, there was Fields.

Jeffrey K. Fields.

The long-retired bike racer, beer swilling bankruptcy lawyer from Tipton, Iowa.

The one. The only. The immortal.

I thought about Fields leading up to Boulevard. I thought about him intermittently during the race, and I thought a lot about him this week.

Fields taught me everything I know about bike racing, which is to say he was either a lousy teacher or I was a horrible pupil. You might say he was a lousy teacher and I was a horrible pupil were it not for the countless legends in the sport who learned at his knee, or the countless others who raced against him and respected his prowess on the bike, or the nameless wankers who he ground into dust year after year, race after race after race…

Race what you got

One of Fields’s first rules was this: Race what you got. This meant that you didn’t ever forgo a race because you lacked the “proper” equipment. According to Fields, you had a right equipment and a left equipment that were used to push the pedals. Everything else was optional. It’s one of the reasons that Fields won so much and so convincingly. Although he paid fanatical attention to his equipment, right down to the white patent leather Duegi track shoes with wooden soles, and always tried to race on the best stuff he could wring out of his stingy sponsors, he toed the line no matter what.

“Race what you got,” according to Fields, meant more than equipment. It also meant you raced regardless of your conditioning. However you felt on race day, that was how you were going to start the race. I don’t think he ever blew off a race because he was sick, or was recovering from sickness, or had been “off form,” or any of the other myriad excuses pro masters racers now use to avoid events that may turn out badly for them.

Fields knew that every bike race always turned out badly for almost everyone, and if you were afraid of bad results, this wasn’t the sport for you.

On race day, you raced. If you were fat, or weak, or couldn’t climb, or your sprunt was off, well, it was going to suck to be you. Fields was also enough of a bike racer to know that sometimes you got the best results in races where you started off feeling like shit, and other times you flailed despite beginning with wings on your legs. And Fields never failed to drill in the Results Corollary: You lose 100% of the races you don’t start.

Leave the cherry picking to agricultural workers

“Race what you got,” according to Fields, meant above all, this: Race the hard races as well as the easy ones and for Dog’s sake don’t cherry pick your events. If it’s not “your” race, give some thought to how you can benefit those people you train with, hang out with, and who turn themselves inside out for you when the course suits you. You know, those people called “teammates.”

Fields was short. Fields was wide. Fields was preeminently suited to track events and crits, which he did, and which he was almost impossible to beat at. Fields’s strength and power over short distances was legendary. Combined with uncanny pack smarts, magician-like handling skills, and the ability to always find the right wheel in the final 500 yards, he was virtually impossible to beat in a local crit.

Yet he never considered himself a sprinter. He considered himself a bike racer, which was something considerably broader. To Fields, a bike racer was an impoverished idiot living a hopeless fantasy while scrounging out an existence in a cheap apartment who showed up to race regardless of the event.

If the event required a fast finish, you’d better be able to sprint. If it was hilly, you’d better have a plan to get over the climbs. If it was a timed event, you’d better be good against the clock.

Fields raced in the rain. Fields raced in the scorching heat. Fields raced in the lung-breaking hills. Fields raced on the flats. Fields raced time trials. Fields raced the track. Fields waited for the sprint when it was going to be a bunch finish. Fields initiated the break when the peloton was too tentative. Fields bridged when a good break looked like it would stick. Fields always took his pulls. Fields never, ever avoided a race he was destined to lose. And he thereby won a lot of races.

Every face is game face

Because Fields rode to win, even when he knew he’d likely lose, and because he rode whatever was on the calendar, he created a bike racing culture in Texas that is not only alive and well and thriving today, but that gave rise to the environment that produced Lance Armstrong. I’m not talking about Lance the cheater and Lance the doper, I’m talking about Lance the bike racer.

Lance would never have appeared on the scene without Richardson Bike Mart. Richardson Bike Mart owed its racing roots to the culture of the 1980’s that was created by Fields and his North Texas proteges Chris Hipp, Mark Switzer, and a number of the early strongmen who rode for Richardson’s Matrix team. These and a number of other damned good riders who still win races lined up every week with a single goal: Beat Fields. When they succeeded, it typically took their entire team to pull it off.

Fields also created the bike racing culture in Austin where Roger Worthington first raced. Roger was the creator of Labor Power before being evicted from Texas and moving the whole shebang to California, where Labor became one of the first masters pro teams, and certainly its brashest: Team car, team bikes, team kits, aggressive recruitment of the best old guys, and most importantly, a mandate to win races along with rude race reports. No masters team so totally dominated the California racing scene before or since.

The next time you see a team filled with old guys riding $10k bikes and wearing pro kits and driving around in a wrapped team van…that culture originated with Fields, which is funny because I don’t think he ever even considered racing a masters event, and certainly never showed up at a race in a team van. He quit wasting his life on the bike at the ripe, ancient, hoary, and grizzled age of 35 or so.

Hipp and Worthington always said “Stooopid sport,” a line they got from Fields, but unlike them, he actually believed it and one day just walked away.

The point is that the Fieldsian culture was the culture of the game face. Fields believed that you contended for races based on skill and fitness, but that you won races based on your desire. In our hyper-scientific world of power meters and heart rate monitors and online daily training logs and private coaching, it’s funny to see that the fastest finisher alive and the man who will soon have won more Tour stages than anyone in history is Fieldsian in the extreme: Mark Cavendish could give a rat’s ass about wattage, weight, and power-based metrics. He believes that the victory goes to the guy who wants it most, which is Mark Cavendish, and his book “Boy Racer” showers nothing but contempt on the “science” of cycling.

Fields’s game face approach to bike racing showed itself in the races he showed up for, whether it was Het Volk after the winter he raced and trained in Belgium with legends like Jan Raas and Johan van der Velde, whether it was the 120-mile, hill-filled, sun-baked districts elite men’s championship, or whether it was the local weekend crit.

What it meant for Boulevard 2013

The 2013 edition of Boulevard was pretty much what it’s like every year. Dozens of masters racers who are strong, successful, and totally immersed in the Kool-Aid failed to show up, just like the handful of skinny, elite masters road racers who studiously avoid the weekend crits.

Fields would have been at Boulevard for a simple reason: It’s on the fucking calendar. That, and the fact that if you’re going to call yourself a bike racer, you’d better go out and race your bike.

In this vein, there were a number of riders who showed up to do battle for their teammates as long as they could. In my race Jeff Bryant for Big Orange, Andy Jessup for Jessup Chevrolet, Robb Mesecher for Breakaway from Cancer; in the 35+ race Aaron Wimberley for Helen’s; in the women’s race Suze Sonye, also for Helen’s, showed up to race their bikes along with numerous others who were there because it’s a bike race and they’re bike racers. Their chances of victory or a place on the podium? Snowball in hell type chances.

None of this means that Boulevard showcased the “real” racers and the absentees were “fakers.” Unless you’re getting paid to race your bike and have your name at the bottom of a contract, you’re just playing. I’m just playing. We’re just playing.

But just so you know, the playing would have been more exciting, more challenging, and just a bit more epic if more people had dared to show up. Would Fields have raced Boulevard? Hell, yes, he would have. And it would have taken every bullet in your magazine and your entire team to beat him.

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