July 20, 2016 § 21 Comments
There is a new poison in the herbicide arsenal, stronger than Roundup, Banish, Barren, and TK-10 all lumped together, one so nasty and lethal that where it is poured nothing will thrive, nothing will grow, nothing will live.
We started Telo last night with our eyes glued to the fancy winner’s jersey plastered on the back of Smasher, knowing that whatever else happened, it was going to hurt us more than it hurt him, and it would be unendurable. Smasher’s race plan was simple: Smash.
His ultimate goal? Get the winner’s jersey for his teammate Derek the Destroyer, who a couple of weeks ago had officially retired as a profamateur, gained ten pounds, quit training, and places top-five now in every race he enters.
My plan was simple. Follow Smasher’s wheel, also known as Belling the Cat. Destroyer opened Lap 3 with a fierce attack, which I easily followed. All I had to do was go harder than I’ve ever gone in my life, then add ten percent. We were quickly reabsorbed. After following Destroyer around for another lap or so it seemed wise to slip farther back.
We had a large field of broken and hopeless wankers, none of whom had the slightest chance of surviving the carnage that was about to be unleashed. In a flash, just as I had settled back to check my phone and see how much money I’d lost for the day on Chinese real estate stocks, Destroyer went again and took six riders with him.
Being at the back when the winning break rolls is the stupidest feeling in the world. You watch it happen from afar, slack-jawed at your bad judgment, while all of the idiots around you either don’t know what’s happening, don’t care what’s happening, or, like me, pray to dog that someone will take the bit between his teeth and do all of the nasty work dragging you up to the split.
Then I spied Smasher, who was cheerily pedaling along, not the least concerned. “That wanker,” I said to myself. “He totally missed the split.” So I got on his wheel while a few panicked riders took turns trying to organize a chase.
[*Note to non-racers: “Organize a chase” is a fantasy concept that exists in the minds of people who think that a group of people who hate each other will work together for a common cause, cf. Republican National Convention in Cleveland.]
As we rounded Turn 4, I saw Smasher, who is British, arch his lower back slightly, tighten his grip on the drops, and push down harder on the pedals. “This is it, here comes Brexit!” I laughed to myself, jumping hard on the pedals so that I’d already have a head of steam when Smasher launched his bridge.
When Brexit came I was already accelerating, already committed, already fully prepared to follow Nigel Farrage in his destruction of the common European weal–except that I wasn’t. Smasher opened up a bike length, then two, then five, then ten, and then he was a tiny speck far, far ahead as I sagged in no-person’s-land. I don’t know how many watts he expended, but Strava says I was at my max of 253 watts, so he was putting out at least 14,000 or so.
There is a moment in every race that is decisive, which is another way of saying there is a moment in every race when everyone gives up hope, digs into their suitcase of excuses, tries several on until finding one that fits, and then takes comfort in finishing with the other losers in the fourth chase group. I slunk to the back and congratulated myself on having had the wisdom to miss the split and to choose the Wheel That Shall Not Be Followed.
However, the Brexit plot thickened. The other losers back in the EU chase group were unwilling to be losers just yet, and the breakaway lost steam as Scotland insisted it would Screxit from the UK and Scrontinue with the EU. After an eternity of riding at ridiculous speeds through cracks in turns, lapping gassed riders who would jump in, gap me out, then re-explode, after battering into the headwind where each pedal stroke felt like algebra, the incredible happened: Smasher and Boozy P. came back. Brexit was going to be put to a re-vote.
The losers took heart; the remnants of Destroyer’s break were a mere 200 yards away! They had been caught!
Except, since they were still 200 hundred yards away, they hadn’t been.
They shed a couple more riders.
They were just within reach, kind of like good interest rates in someone else’s mythical portfolio.
Then, at the key moment in the race, I did what I’m known far and wide for: I cowered and hoped someone else would do for me what I was too lazy to do for myself.
No one did, and the 200 turned to 300. Fortunately, Smasher was still with us, until, of course, he wasn’t. He leaped across the windy gap in Brexit II, caught Destroyer and Steinhafel, and the three of them immediately put an entire half-lap on the twenty remaining losers, all of whom lost.
There was some sprunting for scraps, but I couldn’t be bothered to watch Destroyer pull on his first ever victory tunic, which of course he’d won in retirement. With the Union shattered and the cycling grass roots poisoned with buckets of all-kill herbicide, it was a great way to end the day. The only thing that would have made it better would have been having my new Leather Volt break down, which happily it did.
At least I’m not bitter.
Photos courtesy of Joe Yule!
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March 30, 2016 § 27 Comments
I was riding along, minding my own business, trying to look like a very excellent profamateur. The four riders in front of me were all very excellent profamateurs and one of them was actually a professional.
I was feeling highly excellent, as this was my second Donut Ride back after my terrible bicycle-falling-off-incident in which I tumbled off the bicycle and broke my left nutsack. We were on PV Drive North and, as I believe I have already mentioned, I was doing very excellently.
Suddenly my profamateur suplesse was shattered by a horrible grinding and clunking and thunking and greenking and scranking noise that leapt up from the throat of my rear wheel like a terrible, garlic-and-onion-and-pizza-infused beer belch that will not be denied. “Here I go again,” I panickedly thought as I stopped pedaling with excellence and my face froze in a rictus of terror as I contemplated falling off my bicycle again and re-cracking my barely healed nutsack.
The others looked back to see why I had suddenly decided to set off a string of firecrackers and I coasted to a halt. I gingerly put my foot down and saw my chain hanging limply, with pieces of my SRAM Red derailleur cage attached. I was shaking, so certain had I been that a falling-off-incident was imminent.
Destroyer began examining the expired derailleur as Holloway went back to collect the shards of derailleur. Charon somehow had an extra plastic baggie and put the pieces inside. Destroyer called Uber and in a few minutes I was on my way home.
That afternoon I got a call from French Toast Ride Director Sportif Dave Jaeger. “Dude,” he said. “I heard you broke a derailleur.”
“Word travels fast.”
“I got a brand new SRAM Red 10-speed still in the box. It’s yours. Come and get it.”
“Really? How much? I’ll need to check behind the couch cushions.”
“It’s yours. I upgraded to 11-speed and don’t want or need it. If you can warranty the broken one, I’ll take it, but if you can’t, no worries.”
I got the new derailleur and went over to Boozy P.’s. “Dude,” he said. “What happened?”
“Obviously, the SRAM Red 10-speed is highly defective.”
“Yeah. I’ve only had it for about five years and it’s only got about 65,000 miles on it. It’s practically new.”
“Of course it is,” Boozy P. said, putting down his morning beer. “But isn’t that the same derailleur you crashed on in November and ground half of the derailleur body off when you slid across the road?” He had emptied the plastic baggie and was looking at the mangled parts.
“Yes, but it’s still clearly defective. Plus, all the stuff that got ground off was non-essential vitamins and minerals.”
“All vitamins are essential, Wanky.”
Boozy P. slurped down a few more essential vitamins, then slapped on the new derailleur and handed me back the baggie. He paused for a second. “Wasn’t this also the same derailleur that King Harold had to disassemble for you on the Donut a few months ago because you’d been trying to adjust it with Old. No. 72?”
“Coincidence,” I snapped.
“Be careful out there.”
I got home and took out a padded envelope, addressed it to RIDE Cyclery in Encinitas, and penned this short letter.
“Hi, Brent. I bought this new in 2012 and it appears to either be defective or I crashed the shit out of it and destroyed it. Most likely the latter. I know it’s a long shot, but could you send it back to SRAM and see if they will warranty it for its defective failure not to withstand sliding 100-yards across the pavement at 30 mph?”
A couple of days later Brent sent me a terse text message. “Lovely package received. On it.”
A couple of weeks later a nice brown unmarked box not filled with a bag of dicks arrived at my office. Brand new derailleur.
So when people tell me that the Internet is killing their bike shop, I think about Brent and his shop that is doing so well in Encinitas that he opened another one in Carlsbad. Off the hook service is his standard, and standing behind what he sells is a principle, not a slogan. And when I think about standing behind their product and giving the customer the benefit of the doubt I think of SRAM.
Maybe Internet bike shops aren’t so invincible after all.
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February 14, 2016 § 16 Comments
Team Lizard Collectors rolled up to the start of the UCLA Road Race in our pimping Bonk Breaker Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Van and Hotel and Restaurant. G3 and I had argued the entire 1.5 hour drive to the McDonald’s toilet about race strategy.
“The Cat 3 race is harder than the Leaky Prostate 45-plus Profamateur race,” he said.
“You are insane,” I diplomatically replied. “Our field is stacked with THOG, the desert rat brothers, Roadchamp, Capture the Flagg, Strava Jr., and a host of other mutants. They will kill it from the gun and we’ll all be dropped. We’ll never make it over the first climb.”
“Yes, we will,” said G3. “We’ll do them just like in the Cat 3’s.”
“Oh, brother,” I said. “How is that?”
“We’ll roll up to the front and ride tempo.”
“Great. Until the desert rats and Roadchamp and Strava Jr. hit the gas and drop you like Chinese egg soup.”
“Nope. I’ll chat them up and make small talk, ask about the kids and stuff. By the time they get through telling me about their new chain lube and Strava Jr.’s 1-oz. derailleur we’ll be through most of the climb and you won’t get shelled.”
“That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.”
“Works every time in the Cat 3’s.”
“This ain’t the Cat 3’s.”
The race started, G3 rolled to the front, and holding a steady tempo began chatting with the rat brothers about the carpet cleaning business, the pool cleaning business, and whether they thought it would rain in the desert anytime soon.
Even at tempo half the field was shelled, and when we made the first turn by the blowing trash and the flimsy gates that only barely restrained a rabid Rottweiler and a foaming pit bull who thought we had come to raid the meth lab, the hitters realized they’d been tricked and three of them scampered away.
“You did it!” I exulted to G3. Making it over the first climb was the hardest part of the race; even though we had four laps the remaining times around would be easy in comparison.
Since we were there to sacrifice all for our team leader G$ (easily confused with G3, at least on paper), and since we still had seven riders in the lead group, we all slunk to the back to let G$ do the hard work of reeling in the break, which he did. Once he made the catch, G3 yelled, “Come on guys, let’s get to the front and bring back the break!”
“They’re already back,” we said from the back.
Now that the hard part was over, all we had to do was continue lurking and shirking while the peloton dragged us to the finish, where we would gloriously win the first seven places, and maybe G$ would get eighth.
However, as we started the climb for the second time, the group seemed to shrink and Team Lizard Collectors suffered a major reduction of its core members, including Dr. Whaaat?, who was experimenting on a hot and hilly road race with a new homemade energy drink made of pickle juice and salt. Just as we approached the rabid dog gate, one of the pre-race favorites, Strava Jr., rode straight into the back of G$’s rear wheel and fell off his bicycle.
The leaders, realizing that one of their chief competitors was down, stomped on the pedals, shredding the group. Strava Jr. lay writhing in not really pain, and after determining that his handlebars were twisted 5-degrees he declared his day over and went home to collect some more KOM’s. In the meantime, our valiant team leader G$ had pulled over to check the wheel that Strava Jr. had smashed into. As the sole remaining member of Team Lizard Collectors near the leaders, I considered my options:
- Stop and help my team leader with his repair, give him a wheel if necessary, help him remount, get him speedily on his way, and tow my heart out so he could rejoin the leaders and win the race.
- Pretend I didn’t see him, pedal blindly by, and try to catch back onto the group I had no hope of staying with so I could possibly get 14th.
It’s not often that life presents such easy choices, so I left him at the side of the road and tried to rejoin the leaders.
However, G$ fixed his bike, remounted, and with no assistance powered across a hilly windswept stairstep to close a 30-second gap and rejoin the front group. I was soon caught by a rather hopeless and dispirited group of people who once resembled cyclists but now looked a lot like homeless desert people on bikes. They dropped me after a few miles.
One by one, everyone remaining in the race passed me except for one fellow who was afterwards declared retroactively dead. I sensed that he was a real threat to the leaders and even though we were 40 minutes back I knew it would take a lot of skill to keep him from going across to G$, who eventually attacked the lead group and won the race.
Fortunately, Mr. Corpse was unable to execute his plan and I kept him blocked safely in 39th place, just out of reach of G$, who was mostly in another county. It was a super valiant team effort and I was humbly honored to play such an important role in G$’s win.
Thanks to my hard work, I demanded that G$ buy the whole team lunch with his $80 in winnings. He agreed and we went to the Hungarian Sausage and Meat Company, located back in Pearblossom between the bail bondsman, the liquor shop, and the Baptist church. Since we had Attila the Hungarian with us, we figured he would appreciate some of his native food.
Inside the shop, he went to the counter. “Anyone here speak Hungarian?” he asked.
The young lady shook her head. “No. What makes you think they would?”
“Well,” said Attila, “the sign says Hungarian Sausage, so I thought maybe someone here was Hungarian.”
The woman made a complicated look with her face, straining muscles that seemed attached to her brain, but that hadn’t been exercised much in the last few years. “No,” she said. “We only speak American here.”
Attila looked at the menu. “I’ll have the Hungarian sausage sandwich,” he said.
The woman scowled. “That takes twenty-five minutes. You’ll have to wait twenty-five minutes. It’s a twenty-five minute wait.”
“Then I’ll have something quicker. What do you recommend?”
“The summer smoked Polish blood sausage with spicy entrails.”
“I’ll have that, then,” said Attila. We all ordered the same thing.
Twenty-five minutes later our food came. I don’t know if it was good or we were ravenous, but it was gone in seconds. At lunch we were joined by Derek the Destroyer, who had gotten second place in the much easier 35+ race against a very weak field.
“Second is okay,” I said. “But 38th in the 45+ race was a lot harder.”
“Really?” he said. “Because we had Tony Manzella, Kirk Bausch, Gary Douville, and a few other guys who go pretty good.”
“Pffft,” I said. “They would have gotten 39-41 in our race.”
“But I think we almost lapped you,” he said.
“That’s because I was blocking. We had a dead guy who was trying to bridge and if he’d gotten across G$ wouldn’t have won.”
Derek munched on his sandwich thoughtfully. “I see,” he said.
On the way back we dissected the race. “Good job, G$,” I said. “I think I could have won but I had the wrong gearing.”
“I could have won, too,” said Attila, “if the race had stopped after the first lap.”
“I could definitely have won,” said G3, “if I hadn’t ridden tempo for Wanky in the beginning. And Dr. Whaaat? was on the podium for sure if it hadn’t been for the pickle juice and salt.”
“I was really surprised that I won,” said G$, who has only won the race five times previously. “I guess I just got lucky.”
No one said anything.
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February 5, 2016 § 22 Comments
You’ve done your intervals and you’ve dieted and you’ve tacked on another $5k in aero stuff to the Visa card and you’ve gotten a good night’s sleep and you’ve consulted with your coach on strategy and you’ve reviewed the course and paid particular attention to the wind and you’re going pretty darn good, until the next morning, which is race day.
Yep, you’re going super extra champion good until you get to the parking lot, whip in, and see defeat painted on the sign of another team’s van–maybe it says “Surf City Cyclery” (you’re not beating Charon in a crit today, sorry) or maybe it says “Monster Media” (you’re not beating Phil Tinstman in a road race today, sorry) but whatever it says, it’s the end of your race before it even begins.
Because bike racing is like WWII air-to-air combat. There are aces and turkeys, only, and the turkeys outnumber the aces by a hundred to one. And you’re a turkey.
In other words, my coach always tells me that if I really want to win, I need to make sure that no one who can beat me shows up. “How the hell am I supposed to arrange that?”
The absence of competition is the surest avenue to victory, and the presence of competition is the surest guarantee of defeat, and if you doubt me I point only to Brad House, who has more California state road titles than anyone in history.
If you’ve seen Brad get dropped on the climbs, dropped on the flats, outsprunted by dead people, run over by trucks in Portuguese Bend, and generally give up when the going is still hundreds of miles from “tough,” you may wonder how he got all those titles. Answer: He raced in events that were so sparsely attended that he could beat everyone, even when everyone was only one other person, or none at all.
When I first started following advice from strangers on the Internet, my mentor was Coach Cap Taintbag. Coach Cap Taintbag gave me a winning strategy, which I refused to follow. “Go to a race where you’re guaranteed victory. Somewhere far, inconvenient, in a district with hardly any racers. Go there. Sign up. Beat the other guy. Win.”
“That’s fucked up,” I said. “Why would I want to beat one other person? That’s not racing.”
“Of course it is,” said Taintbag. “And it’s winning. The only way to learn to win is to be number one. Until you’ve won you’ll never learn how to win.”
“That seems like a Catch-22,” I said.
“No, because there are races out there you can win. The mixed-man-woman-tandem-6km-TT-combined-age-150-and-over. On the track.”
I never took his advice and of course never won a race. But I started looking around and noticed that he was right. You can’t beat the aces if you’re a turkey. When you hit the parking lot, most of the time your race is done. Even Derek the Destroyer only got his amazing victory at Boulevard last year because Tinstman was sick and decided not to ride.
But I have too much pride for seeking out cupcake events, or I used to until last year when I got second place at the Tuttle Creek Road Race in the eastern Sierras. It is far away and the weather is horrible and it is hilly and brutal and lonely and filled with pain.
I got second because there were only two of us in the masters race. It’s not often you get a podium spot and a DFL in the same race.
And it gave me hope. Hope that at Tuttle Creek in 2016, where morning temps are in the 20’s and freezing rain is likely, I could do a tiny little bit better, even if it’s just one small placing up.
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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.
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?”
“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.
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September 27, 2013 § 65 Comments
There is a Strava segment outside my apartment. I made it. Until a few days ago, only three people had ever ridden it, and two of those rides were before it became a segment.
Let’s get this straight. There is no reason for anyone to ride up the street, Ravenspur. It parallels Hawthorne and doesn’t go anywhere except to my apartment. It is steep as snot, but there are fifty dozen better climbs within a half-mile that can logically be incorporated into your ride. Among its other drawbacks, once you reach the end you have to make a left onto crazy-busy Hawthorne across four lanes of speeding traffic.
Why segmentize it? Because I don’t ride with a Garmin and I wanted to know how fast I could go up it. Oh, and to also sneak myself a little KOM-action, because I hardly have any left. “What the heck,” I thought. “No one ever rides up this street. It’ll be a nice little vanity-KOM that I can take out, polish, and caress for a few months, maybe longer.”
Uh-oh, looks like YOU SUCK!
So you can imagine my chagrin when, four days ago, I got the dreaded message. “Uh-oh! Your KOM was recently devoured whole by Spencer! Enjoy the rest of the day, gnawing on your own liver!”
If it had been anyone else I would have felt sad, despondent, and very blue. This is because I’ve never retaken a lost KOM. But to have it taken away by Spencer, a dude with eight entire pages of KOM’s, was infinitely worse. Why? Because one of the best Strava riders in our neighborhood had targeted me and my piddly KOM. It was important enough for him to track my activities, drill down to my rides, and wrench the precious little KOM from my soft, chubby hands.
I’m sure the moment he took it, the elaborately programmed disco ball in his living room went off, the stereo began playing “We are the Champions” by Queen, and he threw on his ermine robes and tinsel crown as he paraded naked in front of the mirror.
My sad face transformed into one of violent rage, and I set out to reclaim what was rightfully mine.
The devil is in the details
One of the things that was going to make my retake so hard was the very nature of the street. Coming home from work I’m headed uphill, and have to turn left across two lanes of fast, oncoming traffic in order to begin the short but steep climb. This means that when I set the KOM, I did it from an extremely slow starting speed. Spencer’s time was twenty-two seconds, one second faster than mine, and I knew that in order to claw back two seconds over a .1-mile segment it would take everything I had.
As I approached the left hand turn I slowed, hoping for a break in traffic so that I wouldn’t have to unclip before hitting Ravenspur. Sure enough, the timing was good and I slid through. The bump is quite steep, so I had it in my 39 x 25 and instantly ramped it up to max rpm. By the time I hit the finish, I could barely see. I got off my bike and, unable to stand, had to lean on the top tube to keep from falling down.
But I smiled. “Take that, Spencer.”
Imagine my shock when I uploaded my iPhone data and saw that not only was Spencer still the owner of my own little personal front-door segment, but my hardest effort ever was a full second slower than my earlier best time of 23 seconds. Now the devastation was complete, and a part of me died that day. I wiped away the tears and ambled to the dinner table while my family consoled me.
“It’s okay, you don’t suck at everything!” said Mrs. Wankmeister.
“I’m proud of you, Dad, because you’re helping me learn through failure,” said my supportive 15-year-old.
The spirit of a warrior
The next day I woke grim and determined. The day flew by, and I hastened it by leaving the office an hour early. My legs felt light, strong, powerful, rested. I warmed up on the ride home, doing quick bursts on Anza and two steady efforts on Via Valmonte and Silver Spur.
When I moved into the left-hand turn lane, I was going a solid ten miles per hour. Magically, a breach appeared in the oncoming traffic. Perfectly geared in my 53 x 21, I launched up Ravenspur. This time there was no question. I raced to the top, collapsing as I had the day before, but secure in the knowledge that I’d reclaimed my KOM.
As I whipped out my iPhone I crowed to Mrs. Wankmeister. “Finally put ol’ Snotnose back where he belongs!” She had no idea what I was talking about, but nodded and smiled.
What happened next was too terrible for words, and I collapsed in a heap, sobbing. My “record time” was a full second slower than the day before, which was already a second slower than my all-time best. The better I rode, the slower I went. A couple of hours later, after I’d stopped crying, I called Derek the Destroyer. Through chokes and half-sobs I explained my problem.
“Dude,” he said. “You’re never gonna get that KOM back.”
“These Strava geeks grab the segments strategically.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“The two biggest factors are temperature and wind. Go back and look at the time of day he took it. It was in the morning, when it’s cooler. You’re always going up that thing at the end of the day, when it’s hot. What were you wearing today?”
“I had on my long-sleeve winter jersey from my morning commute into work. I was sweating like crazy.”
“Your body won’t produce the same wattage when it’s 80 degrees as it will when it’s 70, or 60, or 50.”
“No, I’m not. That’s why you never see any of the Strava geeks take the hard climbs during a group ride. Do you actually know this guy?”
“I’ve never seen him, in fact.”
“It’s not that they’re stronger riders, it’s that they’re better Strava riders. Also, go back and look at your segment. Is there only one approach?”
“What do you mean?”
“You’re coming at it uphill, right?”
“Yeah. It’s a ball-breaker.”
“Is it possible to hit it by coming down Hawthorne and turning right? You’d have a huge head of steam there, wouldn’t you?”
“Oh, come on. There’s no way Spencer would do that. It’s a completely different attempt, doing a standing start up a 13 percent grade versus hitting the climb after a 25 mph sweeping turn. Nobody’s a big enough wanker to coordinate temperature, wind, and a downhill just to rob me of my one silly KOM.”
Derek laughed. “If you say so.”
The terrible team of titans
I opened up Strava, unwilling to believe what I’d just heard, and there it was. Spencer had hit the Lungpopper segment on the Hawthorne downhill, after dropping off Highridge. A more evil, sneaky, dastardly, unsportsmanlike thing I couldn’t imagine.
This morning after the NPR I was rolling around the Hill with Manslaughter, the Destroyer, Jake, and Whatshisname. They were very curious about the segment. As we discussed the awfulness of the whole thing, a gleam appeared in Manslaughter’s eye. “Whattaya say we go and ‘pay Spencer a visit’?”
Soon enough we were charging up Via del Monte. When we turned left on Hawthorne and hit the downhill the speed ratcheted up. I signaled the turn and one by one we swooped through it, then jumped as hard as we could, scattered across the road.
When Spencer checks his email later today, he’s gonna have to go looking for six spare seconds, because that’s how many he now needs to climb back atop the leaderboard. The Destroyer, Jake, and Manslaughter are ahead of him, too. And my front-door segment KOM? It’s back where it belongs. And just in case you’re thinking about coming out and taking it away, I’ll tell you right now: I have a car, and I’m not afraid to use it.