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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She told two friends, and she told two friends, and …

December 10, 2014 § 14 Comments

There are three kinds of people with racing licenses.

  1. Racers. They race pretty much every weekend.
  2. Sorta racers. They race a few races each year.
  3. Fakesters. They have all the stuff, but none of the “stuff.”

If you promote bicycle races, aside from your obviously miserable financial judgment, your need for public abuse, and the strange satisfaction you get out of dealing with angry/stupid/selfish people, you have one really big need on race day, and it’s that people show up and race. For the most part, we expect you, the promoter, to promote your race. We’ll come if we feel like it, maybe.

This is a stupid model. Sure, the promoter should do his best to get people to race. He’s a fuggin’ promoter, for fugg’s sake.

But full fields have as huge a benefit to bike racers as they do to promoters. Full fields increase prize money. They increase sponsorship. They increase spectatorship. And most importantly, they help the promoter turn a profit, which encourages him to keep living in a tent and to promote more races next year. It’s my belief that fuller fields rather than emptier ones can be accomplished by the bike racers themselves, and in 2015 I’ll be giving my theory a shot. Here it is:

People who fit into category #1 above are the backbone, the meat and potatoes of racing. Guys like Brauch, Tinstman, Wimberley, and Charon are just some of the riders who show up week in, week out, with no prodding or encouragement. They live to race. More about them later.

People who fit into category #3 we can forget. They will never race. It doesn’t matter why; the fact that they’re on a race team, that they have team race gear, that they love to talk and read about bike racing is irrelevant. They would rather do a hundred group rides, team training camps, and century rides, than sign up for a single 45-minute USA Cycling crit. Forget them.

People who fit into category #2 are the rest of us, and we hold the key to successful turnout on race day. Sorta racers make annual race calendars, target certain races, and do lots of actual training. Sorta racers are sorta fit in January and sorta wrecked by late April. Sorta racers have no trouble putting in 15-20 hours a week on the bike, but lots of trouble doing more than a handful of races. Sorta racers have detailed excuses for not racing on race day, even when they’ve planned to race. Sorta racers think a lot about racing early in the season, and focus on kiddie soccer games, “work,” honey-do’s, “the high cost of racing,” safety, and butt pimples as reasons to stop thinking about racing later in the season.

In short, we sorta racers are fence sitters. We wanna, but most of the time we don’t.

The difference between a felony conviction and staying at home is often the difference between a buddy saying “Let’s do it!” and not. Same goes for racing. As any salesman knows, the customer has to be asked to buy. And as any good salesman knows, “No, thanks” is simply an opportunity to ask again with greater skill and persuasiveness.

My best race in 2014 resulted from Derek B. asking me to go race with him. I didn’t really want to go, it was the last race of the season, I’m not good at crits, at age 50 I don’t belong in the 35+ superman category, I was tired from Saturday’s Donut Ride, I didn’t have a good set of race wheels, the entry fee was too high, the race was too short, and my butt pimples were suppurating.

All of those objections were overcome by the simple act of being asked because being asked to go race your bike with a friend is flattering, and it also puts you on the spot. The super excuse of butt pimples sounds awesome when you’re talking to yourself, but not so great when you have to mouth it to someone, especially someone you respect, as a reason for not lining up and actually using your $10k in gear and your 25 hours a week of profamateur preparation.

In short, the people who are committed to going to a race can boost race attendance by sending out three, or five, or ten emails, or even more outrageously by actually telephoning, or even more extremely by asking a pal face-to-face to sack up and go race together. If you’re one of the people who’s a dependable ironhead, make sure you ask a couple of other people to go race, and for dog’s sake don’t limit it to your teammates.

Why ask non-teammates to race? Because one of the reasons that guys who aren’t on big teams don’t race is because they hate rolling alone against the big teams and they need extra motivation to go out and get crushed. Again. Asking non-teammates shows that you value their presence, and it stimulates smaller teams to get their act together. A powerful motivator for people to race is having a rider complain to his teammates that he’s the only fuggin’ one in the race, so please come out and help.

Another reason that sorta racers don’t race is they simply forget. I’m going to this weekend’s CBR race because yesterday, on a training ride, I asked EA Sports, Inc. what he was doing this weekend. “I’m racing, dude. And so are you.” It wasn’t a question. It was an order, but it was also a reminder as I’d completely forgotten about the race.

If you’re one of the sorta racers who sorta races, on the days when you’re actually committed, make sure you ask several friends to go race with you. This locks YOU in when it comes time to scratch the b.p.’s and prevents you (hopefully) from bailing at the last minute, and it will encourage one or two other riders to join you. (Hint: Asking others to race with you can also involve sharing rides, splitting gas fees, and saving money!! If it’s a CBR race in LA, it means having someone to ride over to the race with.)

Finally, if you’re the leader of a team, have you reached out to every single rider via email and encouraged them to line up? Have you made two or twelve phone calls to the sorta racers who have hogged all your swag and been conspicuously absent on race days? No? Well, get callin’!

So, does it work? I think it does. I’ve sent out about ten emails and had one buddy confirm that he’s in. His comment? “I’m not very fit, but it’s been over a year since anyone asked me to go race, so, hell yeah.”

If you tell two friends, and he tells two friends, and he tells two friends, well, who knows? The “problem” of declining race participation might simply vanish.

END

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Flying the friendly skies

May 23, 2014 § 26 Comments

As we waited to board I looked at the 300-lb. hippo sucking on a 32-oz. Coke and stuffing the extra large fries and Big Mac down his throat and I knew that on this full flight to Philly I would be seated next to him. How did I know? This was my fate. He would require three seatbelt extenders and would piss into his barf bag. He would sweat on me and fart in my general direction. My only consolations were that I was on an airplane rather than a Conestoga wagon and that I wouldn’t be murdered by Indians.

They were small consolations.

Mrs. WM and I got separated as we boarded. It was Southwest’s free-for-all. She got a choice seat, somehow. I waded to the back, the last of the C-boarders, knowing that the only slot remaining would be next to the Human Big Mac.

Towards the tail I saw the last open seat. I hung my head in defeat, knowing what awaited, when what to my eyes should appear but a vacant middle seat next to a smoking hot, 20-something woman. I eased in. To the seat.

The plane took off. I glanced at her out of the corner of my eye. She had already glanced at me, and accurately sized me up: Old. Bearded. Skinny. Wrinkly. Likely to embark on a tale about “When I was a young man.” She pointedly looked out the window.

Once we were at cruising altitude and the captain had told us to take off our pants I removed the Southwest in-flight magazine. I flipped through it. It was stupid and filled with restaurants I’d never visit and casinos I was too broke to become even more broke at. Then I saw him. The man. The myth. The 35+ Masters studmuffins.

I saw Charon Smith.

There he was in a full-color ad, staring out at me from the page of a magazine that had more readers in a month than the New York Times. I don’t remember what he was hawking, some recovery juice or another, but there he was, massive arms flexed, Surf City team kit perfectly reproduced in a full-color ad, handsome face hidden behind the (lame) Oakley shades, and legs cut up better than a slice of tuna at a sushi shop.

I nudged Miss Hotness next to me. “See this guy?” I said, pointing at the ad.

“Yeah?”

“I know that dude.”

She perked up, taking in Charon’s studly arms and studly legs. “Really? How?”

It all happened so quickly! Here’s what I wanted to say:

Charon isn’t the team captain, he’s the general of the peloton. He has class, he’s humble in victory and congratulatory in defeat, he races clean, he trains hard, and every year he gets better and better and better. He’s admired by many, respected by all, and mentors new riders whether they’re on his team or not. He gives you a push when you’re gassed even if you’re on the other team, and he beats you fair and square. If everyone in the world were like Charon, the world would be a better place.

But instead, I said “I’m his coach.”

Now Miss Hotnesss was really interested. “Really? You’re a cycling coach?”

“Yeah. This guy is Charon Smith. He’s one of the top pros in Europe. It’s like being an F-1 driver, only cooler.”

Miss Hotness was really interested as she checked out Charon’s hunky arms and legs. “Wow. And you’re his coach?”

“Oh, sure. I discovered him when he was a teenager. He was a skinny little punk trying to gain weight in a gym. I used to be a bodybuilder.”

She looked at my narrow arms and narrower neck. “Really? You don’t look like one.”

“I lost all that weight. But I met Charon and taught him how to lift, how to put on muscle, and most importantly how to race his bike. He’s the fastest sprinter in Europe and the US. Hits 60 miles per hour. On his bike.”

Miss Hotpants was really ogling the photo. “That’s incredible.”

“Yep,” I said. “Taught him everything he knows.”

“I like to ride my bicycle,” she said shyly.

“Really? You live in Philly?”

“No, I live in LA. I’m just going to Philly to visit my parents.”

“Well, as a professional cycling coach I’d be glad to help you get to the next level. I’m not bragging, but Charon is going to be riding the Tour de France this year thanks to my coaching, and I’d be happy to, you know, show you a few tricks.”

“That would be awesome!” She was looking at me with a mixture of admiration and respect and trembling fear.

“Oh, it’s no big deal.”

“What’s your name?” she asked, almost timidly.

“David,” I said. “David Perez.”

“How can I get hold of you?”

“Friend me on Facebook. I’m the only David Perez in San Pedro.”

“Okay,” she said, glowing. “I will.”

 

Bring lawyers, guns, and money. And beer. Don’t forget the fuggin’ beer.

May 6, 2014 § 13 Comments

This Sunday is a special day for mothers. It is a time when some of the biggest advertising firms in America urge us to display our love for our mothers, for example, by reserving tables at fancy restaurants. There is nothing that says “I love you” more than another charge on your credit card that you can’t afford, and there is nothing more memorable than mediocre food at a crowded eatery where you’re served by an overworked and pissed-off waiter.

I’ve never done well with days of remembrance. Take birthdays, for example. My idea of a great celebration for Mrs. WM’s 47th was dinner at the All Indian Sweets and Snacks carry-out buffet. We went formal and ate in the shop, jammed next to the buckets of ghee and some sweaty Pakistani dude with bad breath, but no one can deny that it is the very finest and most delectable Indian food you can get anywhere for $4.95.

I thought she’d be thrilled that I managed to take five people out for dinner for less than $35. She wasn’t. In fact, she still isn’t, and hints have been placed that Mother’s Day had better be a blowout of love. There had better be some dogdamned love shown, some appreciation trotted out, and some words of adulation bandied about, or else. You can probably even add a “fucking else” and it wouldn’t be an overstatement.

Buttercup, why do you build me up?

I can tell you right now that Mother’s Day is going to be a big disappointment, at least for her. Why? Because it’s on the same day as the 805 Series crit in Lompoc, and I’ve pitched in to rent an RV, reserved a keg, and made plans to spend the three-day weekend racing my bike.

There are gonna be three guys with their three wives in an RV for three days in Lompoc, along with a keg of IPA. Now tell me again why I’m supposed to give a crap about Mother’s Day? I mean, she’s not even my mom.

Race of the century

If you’re looking for a great way to climb into the doghouse for the next year and peg the door shut with a nail gun, you should be at the 805 Series, too. Pre-reg is already 60% full, and it’s going to be a fantastic weekend.

Tons of credit goes to woodchopper and local madman Mike Hecker, who, in a wildly delusional state, thought it would be great to bring a big, legit bike race to the Santa Ynez Valley, even though no one knows how to spell “Ynez.” Yet as with all delusional bike crazies, their delusions are built on the hallucinations of the madmen who went before them.

In this case, Mike owes a huge debt to Roger Worthington and the Dana Point Grand Prix. Dana Point was the first race on the calendar to bring huge quantities of beer, entertainment for kids, prize checks that cleared, and a festival atmosphere to local SoCal crit racing. Each year Dana Point has set the high watermark for a professionally run, all-in, big-name crit that everyone wants to win or at least finish or at least come home in a neck brace from.

Mike has taken the cue, broken it over the head of USA Cycling’s traditional model of “bike racing = Ontario” and put on an event that in its first year qualified it as the best crit series in California. This year there will be three days of racing rather than two, and Friday’s biggest races will take place at night. Just so you know, I plan to take Charon in the twilight crit. Hopefully it will end in a straight-up drag race, so he can taste the fury of my mad finishing kick.

The beer garden will be back, the prize list will be more veiny and swollen, and hopefully the weather will repeat last year’s trick of 100-degrees-plus with a searing hot headwind. Nothing is more fun than a technical course and unendurable heat, if only to watch the racers melt into puddles and stick to the pavement while you’re under a shaded tent sipping Firestone IPA.

See you there. Really looking forward to celebrating Mother’s Day with you.

END

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Everything is true except the parts I made up.

Everything is true except the parts I made up.

First trimester summary

March 24, 2014 § 3 Comments

In SoCal, the road racing season starts Jan. 12 with the Ontario Shitfest Grand Prix, and ends September 7 with the Droopy Breasts and Leaky Prostate Old Persons’ National Championships. That’s nine months of racing, about the same amount of time it takes to gestate a baby.

We’re fast approaching the end of the first trimester, so I thought it would be a great time to do a mid-season analysis of who’s doing what, when, how, where, and why, and maybe even make a few predictions for the rest of the season. It’s the time of year that you start to hear the rumbling and grumbling of “Are WE the next Labor Power?” And it’s as good a time as any to say, “No, you aren’t. You are to Labor Power what a dingleberry is to a dinosaur turd.”

To be clear, the bar set by Labor Power is unattainable, so quit trying to be its heir. What do I mean?

  • Labor Power rode the ugliest kits ever. No matter how stupid and repulsive your outfit is, Labor Power’s was worse. If Roger and Chris couldn’t sublimate an abortion, no one could.
  • Labor Power was the cheapest team ever. Your team spends more on water bottles than Roger spent on his team car, race entries, and kits. Labor Power was so tight with money that even bike racers considered them cheap.
  • Labor Power won more races in a season than most teams today even enter. In 2002 they had 110 first place finishes in everything from crits to road races to stage races to track events to circle jerks. They were so dominant that if you finished 2nd or 3rd no one cared. At all.
  • In 2003 they only won 103 races. Get it? “Only” 103. So quit bragging about your string of ten wins.
  • In 2004, they won the ELITE men’s national championships with Chris Walker putting everyone to the sword. This isn’t the shrunken and leaky prostate division, folks, it’s the full-sized, covered-with-dog-hair testicle race. And Labor Power won it.
  • From 2005 to 2007, the year that Roger imploded with a full brain-and-hip replacement, no one from Labor Power wound up in prison.

So just in case you’re wondering whether your string of seven or eight victories puts you in the “Labor” class, the answer is “No. It doesn’t. Not even close.”

Is there any hope for this younger, weaker generation?

Yes! Great things have been accomplished so far in 2014. Let me tell you about them.

  1. Jessica Cerra is the best all-around racer in SoCal, if not the USA. She wins hilly, windy, brutal road races. She wins four-corner crits. She time trials. Best of all, she’s always ready with a smile and encouragement before she tears your ego out and pops it in the shredder. Plus, she makes a mean Harmony Bar. Word on the street is that sooner rather than later she’ll be snatched up by a pro team.
  2. Rahsaan Bahati has confirmed (again) that he’s the fastest and best crit racer in America. 2014 has seen Rahsaan absolutely tear things up in the pro crits, and the only people who’ve been able to give him a consistent run for his money are Corey and Justin Williams. Over the last decade Rahsaan has remained the single best crit racer in America. And he still shows up on the local Tues/Thurs NPR in L.A. to smack down the locals. Sometimes, literally.
  3. Charon Smith’s legend keeps growing. What began as a wanker who couldn’t glue on a tire (crashing at Eldo thanks to a rolled front tire on the last lap) has metamorphosed into the most consistent winning masters racer in SoCal. Charon’s always there to encourage, to lift up, and to laugh — unless you’re muscling for the sprint, in which case you’re going to learn the disappointment of second place.
  4. Surf City Cyclery has put together premier masters crit racing club. Along with Charon we’ve seen Kayle Leogrande, Ben Travis, and other SCC riders keep a stranglehold on the SoCal crit circuit. Will they ever venture out from the safety of four corner crits? I’m guessing … no.
  5. Kings of the road? That title goes to Monster Media and the Troublesome Trio of Phil Tinstman, Gary Douville, and Chris DeMarchi. These three musketeers have dominated in the hardest, most grueling masters’ road races that SoCal has to offer, taking impressive wins at Boulevard, Punchbowl, and Castaic. If you plan to win a 35+ road race, take a ticket and stand in line. A long line.
  6. Biggest contingent of women racers? That’s Monster Media again, with Emily Georgeson, Patricia Calderon, Suzanne Sonye, Shelby Reynolds, and a host of other strong women riders taking wins and letting promoters know that women race and they race in numbers.
  7. Best all-around team? That’s SPY-Giant-RIDE, of course. Not just one-trick crit ponies, the SPY team has won races in every division from women’s to extremely old and mostly brokedown 50+ geezers. (That’s you, DJ.) With two big wins against the Surf City machine — Derek Brauch and Aaron Wimberley — SPY has also taken stage race victories in the 45+ division with Greg Lonergan, as well as stage wins with Kyle Bausch. However, SPY’s strongest division is the pack-fodder category, topped by Wankmeister, who is able to convincingly defend 52nd place against all comers. SPY’s dominance in ‘cross is also unparalleled, and SPY promises to again put riders in the top-1o of the hardest road event in America: The SPY Belgian Waffle Ride.
  8. The top of the mark in the Pro/1/2 division seems pretty much occupied by the Jakroo/Maxxis team. However, since they’re all under the age of 40 I don’t really pay much attention to them and assume that the weakest rider in that category is faster than me by a factor of ten.
  9. You’d be crazy not to acknowledge that the one team that is over-the-top in terms of filling categories with its riders and therefore PROMOTING the sport of bike racing is Big Orange. This South Bay conglomeration of wankers packs the fields in every division. Hats off to a club whose emphasis isn’t just on racing, but on encouraging people to get out there and have a go.
  10. Young punk getting outta town? That would be Diego Binatena, who, after an early season of consistent top-10 finishes and a few key victories has been invited by Team USA to storm the beaches of Normandy for a Euro campaign.
  11. The Ageless One: That would be Thurlow, still ripping the legs off of young, snot-nosed punks in the 45+ division. Rumor has it that The Hand of God a/k/a THOG is going to celebrate his 400th birthday this year, but we know that’s a lie. He’s older than that.

Did I leave you out or forget to mention you? Better fill out a “Hurt Butt Report” and submit it to Chris Lotts for public comment and review.

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Clash of the titans

January 27, 2014 § 12 Comments

This weekend’s Big Bike Beatdown in Santa Barbara featured another two-day, two-wheeled brawl while grown men with nothing better to do risked life and limb on shitty roads as they dodged cracks, slammed into potholes, narrowly avoided oncoming traffic, wantonly broke sporadically enforced yellow-line rules, and shook their heads in fury while the braindead moto ref stopped the entire peloton three times for a “pee break.” After the dust settled, a few things were clear:

  1. 90% of the full-on, raging masters peloton would be completely burned out by the middle of March.
  2. 95% of the full-on, raging masters peloton had done enough races so far this year (four) to have a perfect excuse not to show up at Boulevard next weekend.
  3. You can’t make chicken salad out of …

While Facebook broke most of the Internet with repeated posts of race results (“Look! Freddy got 45th in the Cat 3’s! Good job!”), the first real race of the year revealed itself, and it’s a race that we’re going to keep seeing for the next eight months. Yes, the Fastest Legs in the West squarely beat the Best Bike Handler in the West. But it was close, and it promises to get better.

Tale of the tape

In this corner we have Charon (pronounced “faster than you”) Smith, the best crit racer in his 35+ age group. Charon wins more races in a season than most racers even enter. He combines dedicated training, natural speed, courage when things get gnarly, and a profound sense of fair play to produce winning results year in and year out on the SoCal crit scene. Despite the fact that he’s an easygoing guy, he’s a keen competitor, a leader, and great source of inspiration for a lot of people.

It wasn’t too long ago that Charon was essentially racing for himself, having to scrape out every single win singlehandedly. By racing consistently, fairly, and by always congratulating his opponents — win, lose, or draw — he has gathered a strong following of friends who gradually morphed into the best 35+ team in Southern California. No longer forced to race by himself or with one or two teammates, Charon is now backed with serious horsepower in the form of Kayle Leo Grande, John Wike, Ben Travis, Rob Kamppila, and the other first class racers who make up Surf City’s race team. More importantly, Charon’s optimistic attitude and positive message have helped create a team that firmly believes it’s on a mission to win, and win, and win.

With only a handful of races into the season in the bag, Charon’s team has far and away the most victories. Proving that it’s a team, Surf City is stacking podiums, stacking breakaways, and sharing the victories and placings among the teammates. But make no mistake about it: The team’s anchor is Charon, and when the heavy artillery starts firing in a field sprint, he’s the guy lobbing the 16-inch shells.

And in the other corner …

We have Aaron Wimberley, about as different from Charon as a cobra is from a tiger. First of all, the boy has a full head of hair, so you could say he’s won the battle right off the bat. But since it’s not a hair styling contest, we have to judge these two guys on their bikes. Where Charon is the quickest guy on two wheels, Aaron is the best bike handler. Only a few guys have Aaron’s skills — John Wike, the bike wizard who also rides for Charon, and Phil Tinstman come to mind. Aaron has rocketed up the ranks from lowly Cat 5 to getting a bronze medal at nationals on a fiendishly technical course.

He’s unbelievably quick and has off-the-chart race smarts. Scientific, methodical, and unwilling to count further down than first place, Aaron has been in the wilderness for the last couple of years riding with little support and lots of second-place finishes in a crit scene dominated by team efforts. This year, however, he’s moved over to SPY-Giant-RIDE, the best team in the galaxy. (Disclaimer: It really is.) Aaron rides like a gunslinger. Independent, self-reliant, takes no shit from anyone, and is more than happy to explain your shortcomings to you in colorful language. I will never forget the time he described my jumps as something akin to “watching a big blue bus go up a steep hill dragging a space shuttle.”

The question this year is whether Aaron’s new alliance with the best team in the galaxy will create the teamwork and support he needs to beat the Fastest Legs in the West (for an old dude). Judging from the finish at the Mothballs Crit this past Sunday, it could happen.

Roaring into the final 200 meters Charon had the help of Kayle Leo Grande, himself one of the fastest finishers in the 35’s, as a lead-out. Even against these two motors, Aaron managed a very respectable second, with Charon winning comfortably but not easily, but it’s my guess that Aaron’s not showing up in hopes of getting second. More organization and support from SPY-Giant-RIDE teammates could well prove to be the final push that Aaron needs to win against Charon in a drag race.

What to look for

SoCal has few crits that are technical enough to give Aaron a chance to use his bike handling edge. Most of the races are four-corners, wide, and they finish with a fast man throwdown. However, there are some exceptions. Look for Mike Hecker’s 805 Crit series to provide challenging courses, potentially huge crosswinds, and an arena where Charon’s flat-out speed may be offset by Aaron’s wizardry in the turns. The San Marcos Crit will also be a place to see bike handling and a slight bump take the sting out of a drag race finish.

And of course any given race has an amazing crop of first-class speedsters fully capable of winning. Danny Kam, Phil Tinstman, Mike Easter, Chris DeMarchi, Rudy Napolitano, John Abate, Michael Johnson, Randall Coxworth, Jamie Paolinetti, John Wike, Ivan Dominguez, Eric Anderson, Brian Cook, Josh Alverson, Patrick Caro, and Karl Bordine are all 35+ riders who stood on the top step in a crit in 2013. There’s no reason to think they won’t be going for the top step again this year.

Whatever happens … it’s gonna be fun to watch!

Race of the living dead, or, Torrance Crit 2013, 35+

August 13, 2013 § 15 Comments

The previous week we raced the Brentwood GP, set in the heart of glamorous West L.A., smack in the middle of the homes owned by the rich, the famous, the divorced, and those serving life sentences in Nevada. What could be better than a craft beer garden, silicone breasts galore, curbside cafes with froo-froo drinks and menu items that end in -eaux, -aises, and three digits to the left of the decimal?

Ah, Brentwood! Home to Brooke Shields, who swung by to check out the action, home to a fabled bike race intertwined with L.A.’s oldest and most respected cycle club and high-dollar payday for the fastest wheels in the West, all recorded with a Hollywood sound truck and 50-man crew from Time-Warner Cable.

But I digress …

Taking it down to the next level

This Sunday, with only a few races left on the 2013 road calendar, marked the running of the Torrance Crit, a race as different from Brentwood as a $5,000 hooker is from a jar of peanut butter. By the middle of August we were all completely exhausted and even sicker of bike racing than we were in January, which was very.

After seventeen races at which I spent an average of $75.00 per race (for a total of $1,275.00, plus $1,932.83 in equipment, clothing, beer, and lodging), I had already wasted — yes, wasted — $3,207.83 in order to garner an average race finish of 31.6th place. The good news was that after Brentwood I was clearly on an uptick in performance, having crossed the line in an almost impossibly good 19th place. If I could only keep doubling my results like that, I’d be winning in no time!

It would be the challenge of a lifetime to improve on the Brentwood finish here at Torrance, but I was up to it. At season’s end when others were running on fumes, I could feel victory, or at least 18th Place, coursing through my veins.

Killing for crumbs

As I looked around the starting line I realized what a profound mistake it had been not to sign up for the 45+ race in which I had a .000003% chance of winning instead of the 35+, in which my chance was zero. Around me the riders all looked youthful, strong, and fast, with the exception of Bart, who looked older than the rest of us put together but still beat me like a drum.

The only consolation I got was that they, like me, were sick to death of pedaling around ugly office parks with no hope of victory, and, like me, were here out of force of habit, like a heroin addict who inserts the needle with no hope of relief, but prays only for maintenance of low-level misery. Like me, they were desperately hoping and praying that now, at the end of the year, some miracle would occur that might deliver a victory — a moving van running amok on the course that ran over all the other riders, or a giant sinkhole that swallowed everyone but me, or, even more impossibly, a last-minute miscalculation by Charon, Hair, Wike, or the other habitual Alpha males of the SoCal crit scene. But the most hopeful omen of all was the absence of Tinstman and DiMarchi, who had gone off to Vietnam in order to test their intestines against the local cuisine, and their legs against that nation’s top riders.

Where Brentwood was tony and well-heeled, the Torrance crit was the impoverished cousin with the extra toe, a wind-swept, barren hellhole held on the Telo training crit course so infamous in the South Bay. The wind-tossed, pock-marked, rock-strewn frontside of the course was buffeted by the standard 25 mph headwind that blows off of the ocean every afternoon. The field had a meager 31 riders, meaning that the strategy of “hide, then hide some more” wouldn’t work.

The prize, though somewhat smaller than the $13,000 on offer at Brentwood, was still enough to make the racers willing to fight and kill for it. Such is the value of a tank of gas among the hopeless addicts of the Pro Masters Crit community. When our race began there was a collective sigh of relief as we all knew we were just a few minutes closer to the end of an already endless season, and therefore the chance of receiving a serious brain injury this year while riding through potholes at warp speed on skinny tires was ever so slightly reduced.

A recap almost as miserable as the ride

You know how, when you read a race recap, it’s filled with mindlessly boring descriptions of what various riders did throughout the entire fifty minutes, though it could and should best be summed up by William Stone’s immortal race reports, which are all the same? That is, “Someone won. The others did not.”

Well, this race report has two versions.

The Stonish version: Charon Smith won. The others did not.

The Wankmeister version: Grab yourself a beer. Settle into a comfy couch. Get ready for a long, boring, painful read.

Since it was going to be a long, miserable, windy, high-speed beatdown, my teammate Josh Alverson decided to play it conservatively by sitting in, resting, and hoarding his energies until the end of the first one hundred yards, at which point he attacked. Everyone was relieved to see him go, because of all the no-hope moves that anyone could have pulled, this was the no-hopiest.

Five laps later, Josh returned to the fold just in time for John Wike to attack. My game plan since the night before had been to sit in. Rest. Save everything for one hard attack with a couple of laps to go. Follow nothing. Try nothing. Remember that these were all young men and that I was a feeble and infirm elderly fellow with a leaky prostate, terrible vision, and a dislocated pancreas. Seek whatever shelter from the wind I could find. Stay far from the front. Never attack. Say “please” a lot.

So of course I jumped on Wike’s wheel, which is like saying, “I poked the guy in the eye who was wearing the hockey mask and carrying the chainsaw.” Wike’s an unusual fellow in that his ferocity has multiple sources. Most bike racers can only conjure up “the angry” from some early childhood beating, or having lost a thumb while cleaning the chain on a track bike, or getting beaten up and having their stamp collection taken away while walking home from Mrs. Broughton’s 4th Grade class at Braeburn Elementary in Houston.

Wike’s fury, though comes from the usual places plus his junkyard dog loyalty to his team. I overheard the whole team pre-race meeting. Charon and Wike and Special K were sitting under the tent.

Charon: What’s the plan today, boys?

Wike: You will win.

Charon: Okay, but what’s the plan?

Wike: I will chase down everything.

Special K: Dude, you can’t chase everything. We only have three guys. Nobody’s gonna help you.

Wike: Okay. I will chase almost everything. You chase the other one or two moves.

Charon: Sounds like a plan.

Fools rush in where Wike isn’t afraid to tread

Many people say that Wike has no fear, and they cite these two examples:

Example A: Wike set the downhill speed record for the Red Bull Challenge on Tuna Canyon in the Santa Monica Mountains, well in excess of 55 mph on a suicidal, twisting, gravelly, washed-out, off-camber descent of death, and he set it despite crashing, remounting, and hitting it full-gas all the way to the bottom.

Example B: Coming into the final 400 yards of a mass sprint that featured ex-Euro pros like Ivan Dominguez, Wike was glued to the wheel of the Cuban Missile. A young and hormone-crazed Cat 1 tried to bump Wike off the Missile’s wheel, at 35 mph. Wike casually looped his arm under the youngster’s, then hooked their two handlebars together as the speed increased. From six inches away, Wike looked coolly into the eyes of the terrified child. “If you try to take that wheel from me again … ” Wike paused for dramatic effect as the speed increased, the finish line approached, and the roar of crowd became deafening. ” … then we’re both going down.”

The punkster trembled, Wike unlocked arms and bars, and uncorked for the finish, which was so close they had to review it with a team of officials on video replay. The enormous clunk on the concrete when Wike got off his bike was the sound of his 300-lb. testicles, and they left a divot in the cement the size of a wrecking ball.

But he seemed like such a nice axe-murderer, Mommy

The thing about Wike, though, despite his fury and his rail-like cornering skills and his devastating sprint and his fearless approach, is this: As long as you don’t try to douchebag him, he is the fairest, most honest, cleanest rider around, kind of like an ethical Great White Shark with guns and nunchuks.

Now I was on his wheel, and what had started off as a bike race quickly became an advanced lesson in high-speed cornering. Whereas most crit riders set themselves up for a turn, and it’s fairly predictable how they intend to enter the corner, Wike seems to come at each turn straight up-and-down, as tightly inside as possible, with no angle or lean at all. It looks impossible until, at the last second, rather than gracefully swooping through the apex of the turn, he grabs his stupid fucking bike by the scruff of its neck, rubs its nose in the poop, and violently slings it through the corner.

The bike is too afraid to do anything except go, and Wike never misses a pedal stroke. I, on the other hand, am ten feet back and digging like a DitchWitch in a mud trench to get back on his wheel. By the time I’d latch back on, John would be gouging the pedals again, which meant that the “recovery” from “sitting on his wheel” was in theory only.

Josh to the rescue

Soon we had another rider, and our three-man break looked promising, except for the fact that I was barely hanging on and we were a mere ten minutes into the race. Fortunately, my teammate Josh pulled the entire pack up to our break, relieving me of the indignity of getting dropped and making sure there was no way I would get on the podium. A lot of people don’t understand the teamwork in bike racing, which is complicated and hard to explain, and frankly, neither do I.

Now that I had squandered what little reserves I’d begun with (did I mention that I did a “warm-up” 30-mile ride that morning around PV that included 4k of climbing?), I slunk to the rear and swore to hide until the finish. This was the exact same moment that Special K attacked, followed by searing jumps from Wike, Josh, Jolly Green Giant, and most of the CalPools team.

The wounded and bleeding flailers huddled in a small lump, looking at each other and wondering which of the following would happen:

  1. We’d play “Yugo! Uh-uh, YOU go!” until the pack went off and left us for good. Then we’d be able to go home and give our pals “kudos” on Strava and tote up our weekly mileage.
  2. Some idiot in our midst would tow us up to the peloton, thereby frying and dropping himself from the race.
  3. The pack would miraculously slow down.

We got lucky, and it was Door #3. The wind and the accelerations were so fierce that the pack had winded itself, kind of like a dog that mindlessly chases a stick over and over until it collapses in a heap, never really sure why it was chasing the stick in the first place, and resolving never to do it ever again as long as it lives, or at least until someone throws the stick again.

A big lob

Josh attacked again for the 357th time and was up the road with Ollie before the pack brought that stick back, too. As everyone caught their breath, I seized my chance and rolled off the front with six to go. After the race a dude came up to me and said, “Yo, Wanky. New nickname. After that Big Blue Bus on flat tires acceleration, we’re gonna start calling you ‘Dangle.'”

As I dangled, each time I came through Turn 5 a hopelessly besotted clot of drunks screamed my name. At first I thought they were my friends, because it sure looked like Hoof Fixer Dude, New Girl, Frenchy, Tumbleweed, G3, Surfer Dan, Francisco, Toronto, Shannon, and Peyton Place.

Then I realized that they were standing in the driveway of the Strand Brewery, a local beer maker with a 10,000 gallon brewing tank that sells growlers to the public on the weekend. Noting that it was a weekend, and noting that everyone was clenching a growler, I paid closer attention the next time I came through, this time with another rider in tow.

“Get off the front, you fucking idiot!” is what they seemed to be saying. I wondered if they meant me?

With three laps to go, I and CalPools Dude were joined by the Jolly Green Giant, only he was more like the Grumpy Green Giant than the jolly one. I didn’t care, as he pulled like a giant, and now the game plan began to coalesce. None of us could sprint, but I could sprint at least as less badly as the other two. Victory was entirely possible. Best of all, my two teammates, Josh and Eric, would be at the front slowing down the pack, soft pedaling through the turns, and messing up Wike’s inevitable chase of death.

Josh to the rescue, again!

Fortunately, with two laps to go, Josh did such a great job of blocking that he blocked the whole peloton right up to our breakaway, then attacked us. “C’mon!” he said. “Let’s go!”

I wasn’t sure what he meant, since the only place I knew to go to was the finish line, and I’d been trying like hell to get there for the last four laps. Now there was a small gap, and Grumpy looked at me. “Close that gap!” he ordered.

“But that’s my teammate. Why should I?”

“You moron,” Grumpy snarled. “You need to learn how to race your bike.”

“That’s true,” I said. “But I’m still not chasing down my teammate for you.”

Grumpy lumbered up, but by that time the peloton was together again.

Final lap fireworks

With one lap to go, Charon woke up. He went over to the wash basin, brushed his teeth, put in some menthol-flavored mouthwash, and adjusted his helmet. Then he stretched, and with a moderate yawn rolled up towards the front.

“Hey,” he said. “Which one of you babies has the candy?”

“I do!” yowled one baby.

“Me, too!” hollered another.

“Me, me, me! Me got candy!” shouted a chorus of others.

“Okay, then,” said Charon. “Hold your hands up real high so I can take it from you easier.”

With three hundred yards to go he stretched again, checked his mouth in his pocket mirror to make sure there weren’t any pieces of black pepper between his teeth, and put his hands on the drops. Now the others were sprinting at max speed, giving it everything they had.

Charon pulled the morning newspaper out of his jersey pocket to make sure that the 15% Off Sale at Bill’s Bible Store was still going on, carefully refolded it, and put it back in his pocket. With a hundred yards to go he checked his phone. There was a text message from his fan club. “Hey, Charon!” it said. “Now might be a good time to go.”

“All right, then,” he said, and pushed one of his legs down, hard.

The bike shot forward.

Then he pushed down his other leg, harder. The bike shot forward even more.

“Aw man,” he said, seeing Hair and Eric almost at the line. “Am I going to have to push down AGAIN?” He gave the pedal one more mighty push with his leg and passed the two leading riders by thirty feet. Both of them wobbled and almost smacked into the curb as the wall of wind, combined with the sonic boom, knocked them into each other.

Sure, those guys stood on the podium. Eric even clinched third place zero help from his teammates. But me? I finished 18th, one whole placing better than at Brentwood. If I can just squeeze in seventeen more races between now and August 31, well … you do the math.

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