March 19, 2018 § 5 Comments
I was sitting in the car trying to stay warm before the race began, wondering where our fearless leader G$ was. He always gets to races with plenty of time to warm up, but we had ten minutes to go and he was nowhere to be found.
Where he was, was racing madly across the frozen wastes of San Bernardino County, trying to make it to the race on time. He had whipped into a convenience store with all the time in the world to take care of his pre-race business, but clean heated bathrooms being clean heated bathrooms, and G$ being a man who likes to take his time, by the time he got through with the 400-yard roll of Charmin the race was about to begin.
This was the most important race of the century, the second 2018 edition of the Rosena Ranch Circuit Race, masters 55+ division (combined with the 60+), and the field was massive. I had given up on G$ and pushed my way through the pulsing, nervous throng, elbowing my way to the front. The six other riders in the race, three of whom were in my category, grudgingly let me through.
“Hope I make the top-ten,” one rider wisecracked.
“I got something for you after the race,” said my other teammate, Rob, who had fallen behind on his $2.99 blog subscription.
“I got something for you during the race,” said Hard Knocks with a snarl.
I knew it was going to be a tough, bitter day. As El Rey de San Bernardino, I had the record for most wins at the Rosena Ranch Circuit Race, and the citizens in the South Bay had been clamoring all year for me to bring the crown back home. Today’s race featured forty miles on the hilly course, with a howling 20-mph headwind in the finishing 500m. In order to beat the three other grandpas in my category, two of whom were on walkers, I’d need to ride the race of my life.
Cavalry to the rescue!
Just before they blew the whistle, G$ came sprunting to the line, a white tassel of Charmin stuck to the bottom of his cleat. I heaved a sigh of relief knowing that I’d have a teammate to help me in my bid to take home an unprecedented fourth win, as it had been G$ who had gifted me with my second Rosena Ranch victory back in 2015. I had no doubt that with a little begging and pleading, and a whole lot of luck, he might do it again.
The race began at about the pace you’d expect from a small group of timid old farts like us, only slower, and when we hit the howling wall of headwind, our slow hit the brakes and ratcheted us down to crawl.
I attacked from the front at a blazing 8 or 9 mph, but the field had its eyes on G$, knowing that as a member of Team Lizard Collectors it wouldn’t be long before he chased down his own teammate in the finest TLC tradition, dragging the field up to the breakaway.
I roared through the start/finish to cheers of “Go, Seth!” and “Are you fucking crazy?” and “Noooooooo!”
“What are they upset about?” I wondered. “This is easier than stealing dentures at a rest home.” For two laps I cruised, opening a bigger and bigger gap, and figuring that completing another eighteen 2-mile laps would be a cinch.
On the fourth lap it seemed like either the wind was stronger or I wasn’t quite as fresh. On the fifth it seemed like the hills were steeper or I was slower. At the turnaround I saw a streak of orange as G$ unleashed his patented “None Shall Follow” attack.
“This is awesome,” I thought. “Once G$ gets up here I can take a rest and beg for him to let me win while he does all the work. This solo shit is for the birds.”
Misery loves company
Rosena Ranch is an out-and-back course with two 180-degree turns, so you can see how much distance you have (or don’t have) twice a lap. My gap on the field had been pretty big, but imagine my surprise when I saw G$ had sprung free and was bringing Hard Knocks with him.
“WTF?” I wondered. “Hard Knocks is a fuggin’ sprunter and neither I nor G$ can sprunt for crap.”
A lap later and there were three of us. As they passed me in the howling headwind I thought I heard G$ say, “He’s going for first.”
“Of course he is,” I thought. “And of course you brought a sprinter up to the break. We’re the Lizard Collectors and chasing our teammates is what we DO!”
I sat on the back in disbelief as they did all the work. G$ of all people. The most selfless teammate alive. The guy who never brings company up to a break. The master solo bridge artist. And he dragged Hard Knocks up on this epic day when I was poised to set cycling history?
To make matters worse, Hard Knocks hit the stairstep climb on the backside of the course each lap with a vengeance, gapping us both out and seeming to get stronger every time. Ten laps in I couldn’t hold back my frustration any longer. I rolled up to G$. “He’s a sprinter, you know.”
“I know,” said G$.
“And you aren’t. And I’m not.”
He raised an eyebrow. “I know. I told you already.”
“I heard you. Why’d you bring a dude who’s going for first?”
“Yeah. That’s what you said.”
G$ laughed. “No, man, you know I’d never do that. I said ‘He’s good for third.'”
Punchin’ the clock
As soon as I heard that, a huge rush of power filled my legs. All was not lost! In a fit of enthusiasm and desire to help I took really short pulls, all on the downhill tailwind section, making sure to hit the wind only when we came in view of the announcer’s stand.
“Look at Davidson!” the announcer roared. “He’s been off the front from the beginning and hasn’t gotten off! A monster! A machine! A true strong man of the peloton!”
No sooner were we out of sight than I’d sneak to the back just in time for Hard Knocks to hit the hard section, and later to batter into the headwind. He didn’t seem to care. “Dude’s not getting tired,” I thought. And then it dawned on me. We’d fallen for the oldest trick in the book. Hard Knocks, sneaking up to the break, was going to drive the pace, wear us out, lap the field, and then once we reconnected with the pack (is four riders a pack?), attack and solo for the win.
The harder that G$ and Hard Knocks rode, the more I helped by pulling from the back and soft pedaling the front during the tailwind downhill section. Sure enough, with four laps to go we caught the beaten and flayed geriatric remnants who were spinning along with one foot in the crypt.
“Here it comes,” I thought, as Hard Knocks took another monster pull up the hill.
Shovel in the coal
With one lap to go, Hard Knocks pulled so hard that the pack detritus threw down their walkers and gave up. G$ and I hung on for dear life. “This is embarrassing,” I thought, wondering how I’d explain getting third to my tiny grandson.
Just then Hard Knocks eased up. “You ready?” he asked.
“For what?” I said suspiciously.
“I said I had something for you during the race,” he said.
“I hope it’s a lead-out.”
“In fact, it is.”
“Try not to do one of the lead-outs where you ride me off your wheel, dude.”
G$ ramped it up and swung over as we hit the wind wall one last time. Hard Knocks shoveled on the coal until steam started coming from the top of his helmet, timing himself to detonate almost exactly a hundred yards before the line.
“Here comes Davidson!” the announcer roared. “He’s been pulling the entire race and is still so strong he’s devastating his breakmates in the sprunt!”
The crowd of seven cheered somewhat wildly. My wife snapped more pictures. I tried to raise my hands in victory but a huge gust of wind caught my front wheel, almost hurling me to the pavement and forcing me to abort my raised hand salute so that it was more like a mini-gesture of terror.
I didn’t care. #fakewin or not, #giftwin or not, #grampswin or not … I’d won.
Epilogue 1: G$, Yasuko, and I went to celebrate at Panera, where we ate #fakebread and broke down the key elements of the race where G$ had done all the work and I’d done nothing. After 40 miles of windy, hilly nothing I was trashed. G$ finished his #fakebread and headed back to the race, where he did his second race of the day, a 50-miler, hauling teammate G3 to victory in the 50+ (G3 is NOT G$; it’s complicated), hauling teammate Ryan Dorris to victory in the 45+, and getting second himself. Just another day in the life of Santa Claus.
Epilogue 2: Team Lizard Collectors distinguished itself and broke its long history of chasing down teammates. In G$’s second race, Attila the Hun blocked and refused to bring back his own team’s break. In the Cat 3’s, once Wall Street was up the road, Baby Seal rode the front and blocked for fifty miles, ensuring a glorious silver medal for Wall Street on this toughest of toughguy/toughgal courses.
Kind of amazing that for all that superb bike racing I didn’t win enough money to retire on! But you can help me afford a luxury retirement cardboard box with a subscription to Cycling in the South Bay! Click here and select the “subscribe” link in the upper right-hand corner. Thank you!
February 19, 2018 § 1 Comment
I knew it was gonna be a great day at the CBR crit because when I peeled off my skinsuit in the port-a-dumpster, the right long sleeve slipped down behind me and dangled straight into the brown hole of death, but I was miraculously able to jerk it out before it touched any of the burrito/coffee/egg sandwich mixin’s stewing in the bottom of the tank.
It was obvious before the race started that it would end in a bunch sprunt, which was great because I’m still recovering from The Influence, and after so many years of doing this I have a sixth sense about when a race will end with a breakaway and when it will end in a mass gallop. My race plan was simple. Sit for forty minutes, race for ten.
As I rolled up to the line scanning my competition the only possible fly in my ointment was Thurlow Rogers a/k/a The Hand of God a/k/a THOG. Incredibly, there are still people, all newbies, who don’t know who Thurlow is. I explain it like this: “I first saw him destroy a pro-am race in 1983. He’s the best living active bike racer on earth.” If people don’t get that, after watching him race, they do.
Archibald & Rufus, CBR’s crack announcers, had warmed up the crowd with their unique blend of edutainment, teaching the audience about the race while also talking about their Valentine’s Day gift exchange of dead flowers, a roast dog, and several anonymous calls to Crime Stoppers naming the other as a felon. Anyone who thinks that it’s boring to watch a bunch of tired old farts in their underwear pedaling around an abandoned parking lot windswept with dirty diapers and used condoms has never listened to a race get lit up by Archie and Roof.
It’s money time
The race began rather animatedly, with Dandy Andy firing off the front. I sat comfortably in 67th place and sighed. “Hopeless. No break is going today.”
Sure enough, they brought him back.
Next went G$, stomping away from the field and opening up a healthy gap until the field realized that sitting out in the wind for 45 minutes was something that Money was not only willing to do, but that he had done countless times before … for the win. I sighed though. “Hopeless. No break is going today.”
Suddenly THOG shot out of the pack with a couple of riders in tow. This animated all the sitters, none of whom was interested in racing hard, but all of whom were interested in chasing THOG. There is a beauty in cycling because even though you may personally suck, with a little bit of effort you can ruin someone else’s day who is really good.
I sighed as I watched the hopeless move. “No break is going today.” It occurred to me that one reason I was so convinced no move was going today is because I was weak, tired, sick, and desperate to do a few parade laps then go home.
WTF? I said NO BREAK TODAY
Once the bunch was back together, G$ glanced around and kicked it. This time he opened up a small gap and three other riders bridged up, Dandy, Jaggs, and No Pull Dude. The field watched, everyone keying on THOG and waiting for him to do all the dirty work. THOG slunk to the middle of the field and the break really started to pull away.
I sighed. “Not today, wankers. No break is going today.”
I checked my watch and we were a mere 25 minutes into the 50-minute race. I still had fifteen minutes to sit, which was good, because I wasn’t feeling it. Suddenly the pack had slowed and my momentum carried me far towards the front. At about the same moment, THOG attacked.
When other people attack it’s sometimes unclear whether they’re attacking or whether they’re imitating a fully loaded city bus pulling away from the curb while dragging a building behind it. When THOG attacks it is pretty clear that the only thing worse than being a toilet roll in the CBR port-a-dumpster is being a crank or pedal on THOG’s bike. The viciousness of the smashing and the acceleration hurt to look at, and then you don’t have to look at it any more because he is gone.
After half a lap THOG was a tiny speck. For some silly reason I attacked, city bus style. The peloton yawned and hell began. I was a dangling worm on a hook, stuck between the group and THOG, which is like having your head crushed between a grand piano and a concrete wall, only worse.
Three laps passed, but after two I was a solid two hundred yards back from THOG and couldn’t make up an inch. It was a matter of minutes before I detonated and floated all the way back to the peloton. At that very moment my pals Archibald & Rufus screamed over the microphone, “Davidson is bridging to Thurlow!!”
“He is?” I thought, wondering who this Davidson guy was and watching Thurlow get smaller and smaller as smoke began issuing from the cracks of my everything.
What goes around
One thing I learned the hard way is that when you are in a break with Thurlow, you pull your fucking guts out. He is the greatest. You are shit. If you wind up on his wheel it means something epic is happening, and now isn’t the time to be clever or cutesie or calculating. It’s time to beat the pedals so fucking hard that you think your knees will come unhitched. The times I’ve been in a break with Thurlow he’s never had to say “take a pull” or “quit dicking off” or wheel-chopped me and sent me flying into the ditch.
Most importantly, when there’s prime money or a finish on the line, he has always dispatched me with the facility of a large hammer removing one’s front teeth. In other words, breakaway chum.
And when Thurlow heard the announcers say “Davidson is bridging!” he looked back, and what did he see? He saw chum. THOG chum. Tasty, fresh, bleeding THOG chum. So he eased off the pedals for a few seconds and waited. By the way, Thurlow never waits. If you are too weak to bridge, sucks to be you. But in my case, if you do bridge, then it really sucks to be you. I struggled onto his back wheel, and the beating commenced.
In a few moments I’d recovered and was able to pull, and that’s the beauty of being in a break with Thurlow. You go harder than you ever thought you could. Who cares if you get dropped, who cares if you lose, who cares if your feet fall off or you scrape a pedal and impale your head on a fire hydrant? The only thing that matters is DON’T BE A FLAILING WANKER.
With the added chum power, we pulled far away from the wankoton until they were invisible. All the while in the real race up ahead, G$ was tossing his breakmates into the paper shredder as they sat on his wheel begging for mercy. With a couple of laps to go the RuggedMAXX II kicked in and G$ left his unhappy companions to fight for scraps, but none of that mattered to me. I was covered in sheet snot and could care less about the race; I was barely even aware I was in one. All I knew is that we had two laps to go, and until the moment that Thurlow rode off I was all in.
We hit the next to last turn, uphill and into the wind, and I wound it up, sprinting from corner to corner, taking the final turn, and giving it a dozen final smashes. Then I sat up and Thurlow breezed by, hardly even pedaling, and frankly rather bored with the whole thing. Fifth for Thurlow is an embarrassment. Sixth for me is a tattoo on my forehead.
After the race my cheering section ran up. “Why did you quit sprinting?” they asked.
“That’s Thurlow,” I said. “If you’re not sprinting him for the win, you sit the fuck up and pay your respects.” Which I did.
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December 25, 2017 Comments Off on Greek mythology
My grandfather Jim, who lived to be 89, once told me that the hardest part about getting old was watching all your friends die.
Cycling is kind of the same way, in that people simply vanish from the scene. One day they’re there, present on every ride, never miss a throwdown, and suddenly they’re gone because they took up golf or had a fall or decided to build a house in Hawaii or got tired of riding in circles or decided that life was too short to go around in public with nothing on but your underwear while playing on a child’s toy.
And although sometimes they come back, generally once they’re gone, they’re gone.
The worst is when The Vanished is an icon, a person who stands out and defines an entire region. Stathis the Wily Greek was one such dude, and he followed the trajectory of many: Got his big toe wet, then jumped into the Kool-Aid vat head first. But unlike a lot of other adepts, Stathis got very fast very quickly.
In two years he went from being some dude who rode around in an all-pink Giro d’Italia custom underwear suit to some dude who rode everyone off his wheel. He quickly entered the Cat 1 ranks, and although he never made the mediocre big time in local SoCal semi-sort-kinda-sometimes pro-ish cycling, he left his mark on every single ride that had a bump in it. You know those smears in the road from dead skunks and raccoons? That was you after trying to follow Stathis on a climb.
And of all the climbs he owned, no one ever came close to owning the Donut like Stathis did. Various riders traded fake KOMs, but it was only Stathis who owned the ride, beating every other rider every week every time up every hill. And then, after taking possession of the Donut in fee simple, he brainstormed with G$ and G3 to add in the Domes after the Switchbacks, turning it into the hardest group ride in the country that it is today. It wasn’t simply the fact that he was the fastest, it was the fact that he made a point of no mercy.
No friendship, no teammate, no favor, no kind word would ever get you a free tow on his wheel or a gifted sprint at the end. If you sat on his wheel he eased up and attacked. If you attacked (I never did) he followed you, waited until you were winded, then countered. While the Donut Ride was putting a tramp-stamp on its ass in his image, he was collecting climbing scalps all over the South Bay and beyond.
You knew when he showed up that he was going to beat you. And he knew it. And then he did it. He brought this same clinical dissection to the Flog Ride. Every Thursday there was the workout that he did, and the workout for everyone else. When he stood on the pedals, your workout with him ended and you began doing something else. Your workout, for example. But not his.
Stathis’s relentlessness wore down so many people, simply because most riders have to have some vague hope or fantasy that they will be first in order to show up. For me I always took solace that I got to start with the best and get beaten by the best, and the one time I beat him to the Domes on the Donut I will forever remember, because with him there were never any gifts. You earned it or you lost. I never cared about getting beaten by someone that much better, I just cared about getting beaten, period, and Stathis was the perennial electric rabbit that the greyhounds, or in my case the slughound, was never going to catch.
So when he retired a lot of people rejoiced. Now they could contest the climbs. Now they could actually fake race. Now they could look around and see that they were riding with peers, and I guess that made them happier than having manure smeared in their face.
For me, I was sad when he hung it up. There’s nothing better and more invigorating than a good, old-fashioned beating, and the more vicious the smashdown the more enjoyable the bike ride.
This morning while Kristie and I were riding to the Donut we saw a dude on a bike. He was bone thin and wearing a nose ring, but I knew at a glance it was Stathis. “Dude!” I said. “You’re back!”
He laughed. It was the same old Stathis, but the new one, too. “Just want to be able to hang on,” he said. I could tell from his legs that he wasn’t kidding. He’d been off the bike for a couple of years and hadn’t had more than two full dinners in the interim.
The Donut Ride started, and it went out hot. Stathis was punched out the back before we got out of Malaga Cove and I never saw him again. After the ride I texted him. “How did you feel?”
“Awesome. So great to be riding with friends again.” Did you catch that? He called the people who left him “friends.” Now that, folks, is a cyclist.
Doesn’t his sentiment sum everything up? I think it does. It’s rare when The Vanished reappear, but when they do, it’s awesome. Especially if it takes them a few months to get fit before they start tearing your legs off again.
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November 27, 2017 Comments Off on “J.P.” means “Just Pound”
We had just finished the second climb on the Donut Ride up to the radar domes; J.P. had descended in disgust. I pulled up next to him at the water fountain, pretty pleased with myself. “Good riding,” I said.
He didn’t look at me. “How come you never took a pull?”
“Because I was trying to beat you. And I did.”
He looked up from filling his bottle. “I thought we were friends.”
“Is that what you were thinking the first time up, when you sat on my wheel while I pulled you up to the college, then attacked and dropped me on Crest?”
” … ”
“Or is it what you were thinking just now with me on your wheel, over-and-undering me all the way up to try and shell me?”
He grinned. “Aw, man, just having a little fun.”
“Yeah, the kind of fun that comes from beating my ass like a dusty carpet with a steel rug beater.”
“You could have come through at least once.”
“And given you the rest you needed to deliver another carpet beating.”
He started laughing. “I gotta do my best, man, I’m an old man, man.”
“Yep, and so do I, and so am I.”
“We’re still friends, right?”
“Only after the pedaling stops.” I was laughing, too.
J.P. pretends to be a nice guy, and off the bike he is, but stick a helmet and glasses on him and he is all business, the business of Beat Your Ass, LLC. And that’s the best thing about cycling, or one of the best. You give it everything you have to squash someone you actually like, and regardless of the outcome, after it finishes you are still friends, or at least on speaking terms even if it takes a year or so.
J.P. is fifty-eight in dog years, and he is no ballerina, which makes his exploits on the Donut even more impressive. His favorite tool for prying your lungs and heart loose from your legs is the ol’ over-and-under. It’s a tried and true method for dislodging wheel sucks on a climb, but it has its risks if you lack the legs to pull it off.
The over-and-under works like this: You have the wheel suck, usually several of them, and they are waiting for you to tow them until you tire so they can attack and drop you. These are usually your best friends, of course, and the outcome of their strategem, if successful, is horrible as you’ve essentially been ganged up on by your buddies and kicked to the curb like a dried piece of dung. Like I said, best friends.
With the ol’ over-and-under, while you’re still fresh, you do a hard jump and force the worthless wheelsucks to close the gap. Everyone’s heart rate shoots through the roof, including yours. Once they bridge, you stay on the gas for a few more pedal strokes so that everyone is good and gassed. That is the “over.”
Next, you ease off, way off. If they come by you to pull, then you grab the wheel and now you’re the one resting while someone else is doing all the work. If no one pulls through, (and if it’s me, I never will) then you keep decelerating until you’re at a nice, comfy recovery pace. You continue for a bit until everyone else has also gotten out of the red and they’re starting to think, “Hey, this isn’t so horrible. I can make it.” This is the “under.”
Next, you repeat the over.
Then, the under.
Then, the over.
Then, the under.
Then, the over.
Pretty soon you will be by yourself, either because you rode everyone off your wheel or because you blew yourself up with all that overing, including the part where you overestimated your ability to do them there repeated accelerations.
Generally, J.P. uses the ol’ over-and-under to great effect, especially on me, but yesterday I wasn’t having any of it, particularly after the rug beating he’d given me on the first climb, and because we are closely enough matched that I can usually hang on, especially if it’s the second climb. Another famed practitioner of the ol’ O-and-U is G$, who loves to take you up to 500 watts and back down to 50 watts until he’s done with you, which is quickly.
Of course when you’re the wheelsuck, the O-and-U also drains you mentally because you’re stuck there waiting for the piano to fall on your little toe, at the mercy of the front rider, not knowing when the Boesendorfer concert grand will come crashing down but knowing it will, your precious mental energy dissipating by the second as you await the preordained. So, like I was saying.
So much fun.
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November 20, 2017 Comments Off on Playin’ possum
I have been feeling kind of sorry for my ol’ buddy ol’ pal G$ lately. He has gotten super old. I think he’s at least 56 or a 100. I can tell because he doesn’t go that good on the climbs anymore. G$ used to be the fastest climber anywhere, but I have ridden with him a few times lately and he is over the hill.
It’s a sad thing to see, a good buddy who’s a darn good ath-a-lete, one day going gangbusters and the next day all creaky-kneed and slow and hobbling around on a walker drinking pumpkin spice latte. I felt extra sorry for my good ol’ buddy ol’ pal because today was the second leg in the Big Orange a/k/a Team Lizard Collectors First Ever Annual Forevermore Galactic Championships, an amazing competition modeled after a bad haircut that includes a 1k TT, a hillclimb up Latigo Canyon in Malibu, and ten laps around Telo.
Today was the Latigo stage and like I said, it was bittersweet to see ol’ G$ show up, a shadow of his former self but still high-fiving and backslapping and being full of good cheer, like an old dog licking its master’s hand right before you take it out and shoot it. Latigo Canyon is a 40-minute climb if you are really fast, and ol’ G$, my good ol’ buddy ol’ pal, still has top 6 on one of the segments; the overall is owned by “Cookies” Gaimon, who stole it away from Doper McDopeface Levi Leipheimer.
It was a mass start and the thirty or so starters were nervous as they should have been because I had some fiery good legs and was not going to be taking any prisoners. My plan was to start slowly and then gradually ramp it up until the searing pain inflicted by my tremendous power whittled the group down to five or six, including G$, my ol’ buddy ol’ pal. I didn’t want to drop him too quickly because if there’s one thing you learn over a lifetime of bike racing, it’s to show respect to your friends even when they are kind of broke down like one of Lee Iacocca’s K-Cars.
I had told Mrs. WM, who was traveling in the lead car to photo-document my impending victory, that I would be shattering the group at the ten-minute mark, so be ready.
The gun went off and Eric Bruins raced off the line like someone had stuck a string of lit Black Cats in his shorts. It was much faster than my plan stipulated, but I hopped on his wheel and waited. He is young and not too smart, so as soon as he blew up I would take over the pacemaking until the searing pain inflicted by my tremendous power whittled the group down to five or six, including G$, my ol’ buddy ol’ pal.
After a few minutes Eric got really tired, exhausted and on the verge of collapse, actually, but he is one of those guys who likes to try and fake you out with fake toughness so he didn’t slow down at all. Then at about the time I was ready to gradually ramp it up until the searing pain inflicted by my tremendous power whittled the group down to five or six, including G$, my ol’ buddy ol’ pal, my ol’ buddy ol’ pal G$ executed a silly, pointless, hopeless, very amateur, desperation attack.
It was everything he had (which wasn’t much), he went all out, which was kind of sad but I also respected it at the same time. He was going to splat but at least he would do it with panache. Eric hustled onto his wheel, still pretending not to be tired, and I hustled onto Eric’s wheel breathing kind of hard not because I was in the box but because I wanted them to know I wasn’t fooled. Behind me were four other riders, which meant seven, total.
I laughed to myself, because my plan had been to whittle it down to five or six, not six or seven, and we had one wanker too many. About this time poor old brokedown, creaky-kneed, a-little-bit-confused ol’ G$ did another fake attack, this one about as hopeless as the first one. I could see people get worried, but I didn’t get worried at all. I just figured I would let them all go and catch up to them later because I wasn’t quite ready to ramp up my tremendous power yet. Plus, it would make my ol’ buddy ol’ pal G$ feel good to have a little bit of a glory pull by himself with all those 20-and-30-year olds glued to his wheel with their faces all twisted and looking like they were giving a rectal childbirth.
About the time they all disappeared, if only for a moment, Mrs. WM came by with her camera. “Are you winning?” she asked and of course I nodded.
After what seemed like a few hours, along came Hiroyuki, Penta, and Maxson. They were going at a good clip because Hiroyuki was doing all the work while Penta and Maxson skulked at the back. I figured I would help them skulk so I jumped on. I would catch my breath before powering up to my ol’ buddy ol’ pal G$ and attacking him with my tremendous power.
For some reason, Hiroyuki decided not to slow down which made it very hard for me to gather my tremendous power. Penta and Maxson kept trying to skulk onto my wheel but I started playing possum, breathing like a dying man, wobbling, asking for my mother, and refusing to move so much as an inch towards that nasty and awful place filled with bad memories known as “the front.”
Penta and Maxson were not too pleased so they attacked me on the downhill, giving Hiroyuki a few moments’ rest and scaring the bejeezus out me. Hiroyuki then went back to the front and continued to stymie my tremendous power as I, Penta, and Maxson rolled over each others’ tongues, livers, and breakfast. Fortunately, about a quarter mile from the end I began to feel lively and fresh at just about the time that ol’ Penta and Maxson and Hiroyuki, tired from doing all the work, began to do the Bike Racer Arithmetic of “How do I not get last out of the grupetto?”
I jumped hard, throwing down a tremendous 200 watts or maybe 205 and sprunted past them, when up ahead of me, Ivan the Terrible, who had been dropped from the leaders way back in September, looked back and saw me coming on. No matter how tired he was, the thought of being pipped by cranky Gramps in the last hundred yards put the fear of dog into him and he took off like someone had put the other string of lit Black Cats in his shorts.
I almost caught him and would have if the road had been longer, which is Biker Speak for “he beat me,” and when I crossed the line, there he was, my ol’ buddy ol’ pal G$, having dropped everyone on the way to the top and completed the 40-minute climb in 37 minutes.
“Not bad for a guy who’s all washed up,” I said.
“Thanks, ol’ buddy ol’ pal,” he said. And he meant it.
Awesome photos courtesy of Geoff Loui and Yasuko Davidson.
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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April 20, 2015 § 18 Comments
I have to take my hat off to Sam Ames, the guy who promotes the annual district masters road race championships here in SoCal. He makes very difficult races, runs them well, and gets the predictable flak.
This year CHP advised that no follow cars would be allowed, so riders were told to pack a tube, lever, and CO2 cartridge. One rider called Sam to voice his displeasure. “No follow car? For the state championship? That’s unacceptable!”
“Look, Wankface,” said Sam. “Can I ask you a question?”
“How many races have you been in where you flatted, got a timely change from the follow car, chased back on, and won?”
Pause. “Well, never.”
“So be sure to bring a spare tube, okay?”
The 50+ race had a star-studded field of used-to-be’s and wish-I’d-been’s, but the only one who mattered, it turned out, was Thurlow. After 65 miles in the skin-sizzling heat, after 7,000 feet of climbing, and after all but ten riders had been ripped like a hangnail out of the lead group, BonkBreaker’s Zimmerman attacked over the last little hump. He opened a gap and Chris Walker bridged. Seeing the looks of grim desolation on the faces of the remnants, Thurlow launched and joined the leaders.
Zimmerman dropped a kidney, Thurlow attacked and soloed in, and Walker could do naught but pedal squares to the line.
Not that I saw any of it. I had been dispensed with many miles before, discarded with the disgust and finality of a used Kleenex. But like every other bicycle race it had started full of promise and hope.
We rolled out some thirty riders strong, powering into a unique air formation that proved to be a headwind going out, a headwind coming back, and an underwind-topdown wind everywhere else, with a dose of powerful sidewind, like gonorrhea. We hit the first climb and I hewed to my mantra: “Hide, cower, suck wheel. Save me, Father Carbon.”
Midway up it was clear that the prayer and the expensive wheel purchase and the monk-like existence of fasting, celibacy, sobriety, and 8:00 PM bedtimes was working. The only thing that gave me pause was the disclaimer on the flyer that said, as it always does, “Watch out for rattlesnakes, venomous spiders, scorpions, and attack bees.”
I wondered about that because we were passing a huge clump of roadside blooming weeds and they were covered in bees. “Are they attack bees?” I wondered. “What is an attack bee?” At that instant three of them flew into the large vents in my helmet. I am allergic to bee stings.
Ever since I was a small child I have been terrified of bees and wasps.When I was eight I kicked a wasp’s nest and got 35 stings, wound up in the hospital for a week, and almost died. The following summer I doused a beehive with lighter fluid and tried to burn it, but the fire didn’t take. The bees, however, did, and what they took to was me. Fifty stings and another hospital stay and lots of injections. When I was twelve my brother and I tried to eradicate all the yellow jacket nests in our neighborhood. We had a long stick with rags soaked in gasoline, and went from nest to nest incinerating them.
All went well until the fifth one. The rags came undone and fell onto my head, aflame. My hair caught fire and the wasps attacked. This time I had to get a bit of a skin graft, which got infected, and I simultaneously almost died from what the doctor said was a record, one hundred wasp stings.
I thought about all that as the attack bees crawled around on my scalp. I hoped that they would find the anterior wind vent and exit, but as I waited the first acceleration came. Several riders didn’t come with it, but I hid and cowered and survived. We made it to the turnaround and Jeff K. punched it over each of the short stabbing climbs we had descended into the little valley and now had to come out from.
More riders chose a different, more humane pace. I struggled, and straggled, and held on. The bees continued to crawl around my head. As we hit the long 4-mile headwind to complete our first 25-mile lap, Todd P. began castigating us for our slowness and laziness. “When are you guys gonna start racing?” he snapped, attacking off the front into the wind, where he was followed by G$. They vanished.
I thought about that question, “When are you guys gonna start racing?” and realized that if we hadn’t started yet, then I didn’t want to be — and plainly wouldn’t be — around when we did. We finished the first lap and several more riders chose a different pace; a couple even decided to unilaterally shorten their race from three laps to one, mortally wounded as they were by Proximity To The Car Fever and its attendant symptom, Common Sense.
Two of the bees flew out, so I was down to one. We started up the big climb again. Todd and G$ were thirty seconds ahead. Our designated rider, DJ, was going to need some help on this one. I always love it when a team leader needs a dutiful lieutenant to go jump on several dozen grenades, because that’s always my cue to cower and hide even more. Teammates are an abstraction in bike racing, because in reality everyone is your enemy and they must all be killed in order for you to prevail.
Alan F., who had been trading places with me at the rear, moved to the point to bring back G$ and Todd. Inexplicably I was on his wheel. Was it reflex? Bad judgment? A misguided attempt to help my teammate?
It was part of the Iron Rule of Bicycle Racing:
Throughout the race, people will behave irrationally, hopelessly, and with no clear objective other than self-defeat so that he who waits longest and does the least can pounce and win.
G$and Todd were deep in the throes of senselessness and as Alan dragged them back, my proximity to the front was wearing me out. What was I doing there? Why was I anywhere near the front? Didn’t I know that every square millimeter of wind exposure was the same as riding with a spinnaker when you are large and fat and slow and weak and tired?
When Alan sat up, Chris Walker pulled through hard, inflicting difficulty and little black spots on the weak and infirm. Alan and I tailed off. “Good work, guys,” DJ said as we imploded. We had pulled back 3.1 or perhaps 1.2929272028 seconds on G$ and Todd, who now instead of being tiny specks were more like smallish specks.
Alone again, naturally, I chased back on, got dropped again, hit the turnaround, passed the women’s field, then got passed by the women’s field, then settled into a rhythm of despair and self-loathing and full-body cramps, each racking shudder causing me to think “Wow, I didn’t know there was a muscle there.”
On the downhill I was overhauled by King Harold and Dandy. They were angry, breathing fire, and mostly intent on catching and dropping the women. I was now lodged in the Pincer Movement from Hell, having to choose between hanging onto their battering pulls into the under/top/side/headwind, or sitting up and never re-passing the women. The final lap was as terrible as childbirth when you are a human and the progeny is a grown and angry porcupine.
Dandy and King Harold pulled me around, waited for me on the climbs, and after a mere one hour and fifteen minutes of indescribable torment, their teamwork, assistance, and selfless work got us to the line, where, after resting for the entire final 25 miles, I dropped them both and sprinted for 17th place.
You know it was a difficult race when the finishers are rolling around in the dirt afterwards clenched up in various post-race cramp positions. Fortunately, the race turned out much more successfully for me than my 19th place might indicate. By spending about $1,500 on new wheels, I moved up ten places from the previous year. So with another $1,500 expenditure in 2016 I can expect a top-ten, and then a final $1,500 investment in 2017 should ensure a win. I probably won’t even have to show up and they can just mail me my medal. Right?
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