January 8, 2015 § 25 Comments
After a brutal two weeks of winter here in Los Angeles, where we had to wear booties, thick gloves, scarves, thermal beanies, a thick underlayer, armwarmers, short-sleeved jersey, insulated jacket, legwarmers, and plenty of embro, the 55-degree morning temperatures finally ended and summer returned. Surfer Dan and I decided to celebrate the end of the cold and bitter half-month of December/January by putting in some hard training.
Before we could train, though, we decided to hit the DK Donut Shop in Santa Monica, and figured we should grab a big cup of coffee at Philz, and then maybe pedal back home for a nap so that we could really chart out a super tough training regimen for February or March. As we pedaled down the bike path we ran into G$, who was going in the opposite direction. He was looking for partners to join him in his super tough interval workout, and so when he found out we were going to the donut shop he was all in.
“Intervals are hard, but intervals after donuts are even harder,” he said.
“Maybe so, but there’s something harder than donuts and intervals,” I replied.
“Yeah. Mountain biking.”
Money made a face. “I never could get the hang of that.”
“Me, either,” I agreed. “Everyone always tells me how fun it is, though.”
“Yeah, it’s a lot of fun, I guess, after it’s over.”
Surfer Dan was listening to us, because he’s a big MTB addict and is always trying to get me to go ride off-road with him, which I have occasionally done, invariably to my own detriment.
“The thing I could never wrap my head around was how they always say … ”
“‘…speed is your friend,'” I finished for him.
“Yeah. Speed really isn’t my friend. We haven’t spoken for years.”
“And all that crap about ‘don’t use your brakes.'”
“I know. If there’s one thing that screams ‘brakes’ it’s falling off a cliff at 40 headed straight for a log at the bottom of a minefield covered with jagged rocks.”
“Or what about that ‘don’t grip your bars so tightly’ stuff?” I laughed.
“Yeah. Like how are you supposed to not grip your bars in a death clench when physics are about to ram your face into a big stone?”
“Yep,” I agreed. “It’s a sport where you can find impending death easier than finding an accordion on an East LA radio station. But you know it wouldn’t be so bad if MTB just meant getting out on some wide and mostly flat fire road where you could pedal along and not have to drop off cliffs and avoid death every twelve seconds.”
“Uh-huh,” Money said.
“That’s what I hate about riding with Surfer. You start off on a nice fire road, no cars, birds chirping, and then he says, ‘Turn left here,’ and ‘here’ is a two-inch trail going down the face of a cliff. One minute you’re all happy and comfortable and having a good time and the next minute it’s nothing but screaming, furious terror, rage, and if-I-live-through-this-I’ll-kill-that-s.o.b.”
“I know,” said Money.
“It’s probably like how women feel when they’re having sex.”
There was a brief pause. “How do you figure?”
“Well, there they are having a good time, feeling all good and stuff and then the guy makes a hard left left turn down a narrow alley and she’s like ‘What the hell are you doing?’ and he’s like ‘Aw it won’t hurt’ and she’s like ‘Get that thing outta there’ and he’s like ‘Let’s just do it once and see how you like it’ and she’s like ‘No way’ and pretty soon everybody’s hollering and yelling and after it’s finished everybody’s all covered in sweat and kinda sore and wondering what the hell happened.”
It got really quiet then. “Uh, I think I better pass on coffee,” said Money. “I’m, uh, late for work.”
“Yeah,” said Surfer. “Me, uh, too.”
I got most of the way through my fourth donut before I realized that Surfer doesn’t even have a job.
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December 24, 2014 § 19 Comments
The older I get, the more I appreciate people who aren’t sociopaths. Not that the SoCal Profamateur™ ranks are filled with them, but I do run across them from time to time. A sociopath, of course, is a person who reduces the entirety of human existence to “I am in the right.”
Here’s a quick quiz to find out if you are a cycling sociopath, but if you’re really a sociopath one of the key qualities is the inability to recognize it.
- I never caused a crash.
- I’ve had bad luck before, but never been beaten.
- I dope because everyone else dopes, so it’s not cheating.
- I cut the course because I had to.
- There’s nothing wrong with banditing a ride because the organizers plan for a certain level of banditing.
Of course cycling sociopaths, compared to the ones I run across in my day job, are pretty harmless. Whereas cycling sociopaths are trying to cheat you out of a pair of socks or a fistful of gels, litigation sociopaths are often trying to ruin a client’s life, and sometimes mine as well. But despite their relative harmlessness, their presence causes the good guys out there to shine even more brightly.
One of my favorite Old Fellow Leaky Prostate Cycling Stars is Greg Leibert, a/k/a G$ a/k/a G-Munnnnny. I can’t help rooting for him, even when he’s plucking out my legs like an evil little kid yanking off the twitching limbs of a helpless insect. I root for G$ because he rides with class, he wins graciously, and he loses with a smile and a congratulations for the winner. I root for G$ because when he wins, the good guy really does win. And of course I root for him in the hope that one day I’ll beat him, and therefore have beaten the very best.
The last two seasons G$ has had a rough go of it on the race course, so much so that it almost seemed like he might be done for good. The guy who soloed to victory at Boulevard a few years back, the guy who regularly stomped the dicks of the best leaky prostates on the toughest SoCal road courses, had been “relegated” to “only” one or two wins a season. The saddest moment of my old fellow cycling career was this year at Boulevard, when I punctured a few miles from the finish. The peloton whooshed by, and then a few minutes later along came Greg, who stopped to help change my flat.
“Are you okay?” I asked in disbelief.
Greg smiled. “I didn’t have it today. They went, and I didn’t.”
It was like learning that there is no Santa Claus, only worse, since I was raised an atheist and we kept getting Christmas swag even after figuring out that the old fat drunk in the mall was nothing more glamorous than an old fat drunk in the mall. So you can imagine how happy I was to hear through the grapevine that G$ was back on track for 2015.
I’d see him doing lonely big ring workouts on Via del Monte. I’d hear rumors about the gradually increasing fitness. Best of all — or worst — I’d pump him about his condition and he’s say with a smile, “It’s coming around.”
Last Saturday G$ showed up for the Donut Ride, which is rare because he only shows up to check his fitness. Unlike the other wankers who throw themselves headlong into their “base intensity” programs 12 months a year, G$ builds, tests, then goes back to work.
As we snaked through Portuguese Bend, there was the familiar sight of the Legs From Planet Zebulon, the slightly hunched back, the smooth cadence, and the sinewy strips of calf, ham, and quad popping out from the stretched skin. Best of all, though, was the hollering.
G$ will never pointlessly ride on the front — he’s too smart for that — but he loves it when you do, and he has a well-worn method for getting the idiots to pound themselves into oblivion. Here’s how he does it: Some maroon will take a dig, and a fellow maroon will follow through, and then the pace will slack. “Sixteen mph?” G$ will yell from five wheels back. “Are we riding our bikes or pushing a baby stroller?”
No one has the man parts to turn around and say, “Hey, wanker, if you want the speed to pick up, there’s plenty of room at the front to give us a demo.”
Instead, we hunker down, all butt-hurt and such, and then take turns killing ourselves in pointless efforts to show that WE AREN’T GONNA GO SIXTEEN. Then G$ will yell a little more until we’re totally pooped, we reach the climb, and he leaves us like we are chained to a liberal piece of legislation in the US Congress.
But on Saturday, I bided my time until we hit the Switchbacks, followed wheels, and before long had left the wankoton in the rear, latched onto the wheel of Boy Jules, who hates being shadowed by creaky old men. The impossible had happened — a fit-and-getting-fitter G$ had been shelled by Boy Jules and Creaky Wanky.
The euphoria was intense, followed by sadness (“If G$ can’t keep up with me, he really is finished,”) followed by an unspeakable beatdown. Half a mile from the end of the climb G$ hunted me down like an old tom closing in on a crippled rat. He roared by, I latched on (having shed Boy Jules at the wall), and G$ played his favorite role of train conductor. It goes like this:
G$: I see you are riding on the train.
Me: Yes, sir.
G$: May I see your ticket?
Me: I ain’t got no ticket.
G$: Well, son, no one rides for free.
Then he came out of the saddle, fired the pistons, and vanished around the bend. I deflated and crumpled as he put a couple of football fields between us in a matter of seconds. I was deflated, but elated. You know why?
Because Munnnnnnny is back.
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March 21, 2014 § 46 Comments
The most recent South Bay cycling kerfluffle and 24/7 Facebag drama was a beaut. The facts, such as they weren’t, went something like this: Gimme Mah Trinket, a super fast live-to-ride badass MTB racer showed up at the Third Annual Fredfest and Dorkathon Cross Country Bicycle Race in Scratchypits, CA. Having won the Leadville-qualifying Barburner, and having completed Leadville itself once and sort-of-but-perhaps-not-really completed it a second time, Gimme signed up for the beginners’ Cuddly Puppy Division race.
It was a full cuddly puppy field with six or seven riders, all of whom except for Gimme were excited to be racing their first ever, or second ever, or whatever MTB cross country race. Now I must insert here that I didn’t even know that you raced cross country on a bicycle. I thought cross country was a kind of foot race, so when I was told that the controversy occurred at a cycling cross country race my first reaction was “Fugg’ yeah, I bet those runners were sure pissed at getting beat by the bikers. I would be, too.”
The cuddly puppies lined up with battle-hardened, steely legged Gimme Mah Trinket and got devoured. How badly did they get devoured? Gimme stomped their dicks by seven minutes. She finished so far ahead of the puppies that race officials temporarily lost contact with her ACARS.
The cuddlies struggled in across the line, puppy butts covered in dirt and briars and brambles and sweat and gel packs that had exploded in their jerseys and drizzled down into their buttcracks. And they did what puppies do when they get their noses rubbed in their own shit. They whined. And the whine they whined was the greatest, most famous, most oft-repeated complaint ever made anywhere by any wanker in the history of the USCF: Gimme Mah Trinket is a SANDBAGGER!
Gimme didn’t really care. Her license listed her as a Cuddly Puppy despite being one of the strongest South Bay women on the road and in the dirt, she’d raced her category, and most importantly, she got her trinket. It was a beautiful, hand-carved, antique, hand-decorated water bottle from 1998 made during the Chee’ Pass Dynasty in China. Then she went to the official and upgraded to a Cat 1. Apparently you can go from a Cat 3 to a Cat 1 in MTB just by saying, “Gimme a one, please.”
Let the wailing begin
The cuddly puppies were outraged. They’d trained hard. They’d committed millions of dollars to this fine sport. They’d hired a coach, given up smoking meth, and told all their friends at work that they were going to do a “bicycle race.” How unfair that a pro, a superstar, a hard woman, a ruthless, toothy, shark-blooded killer with a zillion miles under her belt would sandbag the Cuddly Puppy division? At the Scratchypits race, no less! The outrage!
A measure of just how much of a beginners race it was bubbled to the surface merely by airing the “Sandbagger!” complaint. If USA Cycling were a book with a subtitle, it would be this: “USA Cycling: Sandbagging for Fun and Trinkets.”
The whole purpose of categories is to allow for organized sandbagging. If bikers wanted a real bike race, here’s how it would be run:
- Men, women, mutants, cuddly puppies, ex pros, current pros, leaky prostates, loose bowels, juniors, seniors, and almost-corpses would line up together.
- The ref would blow a whistle.
- The first person across the line would be declared the winner.
This would result in a genuine bike race with genuine results. The winner could say, “I was the best racer that day.” The down side is that races would have only thirty or forty riders, all of them would be in their late 20’s, and the same three people would win every single race. In other words, hardly anyone would get a trinket. The bigger down side is that USA Cycling and the various race promoters wouldn’t be able to promote races, because with entry fees from thirty riders you can’t cordon off a street, supply ambulances, promote the event, and hire a couple of cheap plywood boxes for a podium.
This is why cycling has zillions of categories, groupings, rankings, and divisions, so that no matter how weak, feeble, inexperienced, or strategically stupid you are, there is “some” chance that you’ll get a trinket. Trinkets get spread more democratically, race promoters get paid, and USA Cycling gets to send out another surly, obese, ill-tempered official to scream at you on a motorcycle.
Think of race categories for what they really are: Affirmative action for the weak, slow, and stupid. Without cycling’s affirmative action program, 99.999% of all racers would never experience the thrill of getting a $20 prime, or enjoy the glory of standing on a plywood box in the blazing sun, or posting their “results” on Facebag. Our society would be poorer as a result. Moreover, at least in the SoCal crit scene, without affirmative action no white people would ever win anything, and we can’t have that.
Do you really want a bike race?
The Scratchypits kerfluffle, if anything, proved that trinket racing really works, and it’s not the first time that a veteran sandbagger has been booted upstairs to a harder division due to whining cuddlies. The most famous sandbagging case in SoCal history was the Great Prez SoCal Cup Upgrade and Meltdown, where our hero sandbagged as a Cat 3 for several years. Just as he was on the cusp of winning the SoCal Cat 3 Cup, some cuddly puppy’s angry mom complained to the refs. “Prez is a sandbagger! Little Pookums can’t win anything! Upgrade him!”
Prez got force upgraded, and so emotionally destroyed that the trinket was so rudely snatched away despite being within inches of his sweaty grasp, that he dropped out of racing for an entire year. Worse, now that’s he’s back as a Cat 2, he is forced to race with the 35+ Masters division, the biggest category of sandbaggers in the entire sport. These are the guys who are for the most part Cat 1’s, Cat 2’s, and ex-pros, but who’d rather win most of the time than lose all of the time. However, unlike the Cat 3 races, riders like Prez go from winning sandbagger to pack meat, as it’s often difficult to finish and impossible to win. No more trinkets for Prez.
G$ tells a similar story about his own history of sandbagging. “When I was a Cat 3, I never wanted to upgrade. But after winning four out of sixty races, they force upgraded me. Some junior’s mom complained and said me and Roadchamp were dominating everything. Boom. Cuddly puppy upgrade. But I was like, dude, I’m forty years old. How’m I gonna race with the Cat 2’s? Their road races are a hundred miles long. I have a job, sort of. But they upgraded me anyway.”
G$ went on to collect plenty of trinkets, but only as a masters sandbagger. In sum, the category system is there for you to sandbag. You pick the race you think you have the best chance of winning, and the race you can most likely win is always the one against the weakest field. The weakest field is always the oldest or the slowest or the least experienced category. This is how trinkets are won, how juice boxes are collected, and how well-practiced podium poses are executed for the three adoring fans.
Any other system would result in a bike race, and no one in their right mind wants one of those.
Least of all the cuddly puppies.
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December 17, 2013 § 13 Comments
Sometimes the things he says take a bit of decoding, and sometimes the things he says leave you scratching your head, but sometimes my pal G$ will let a pearl of wisdom drop that is practically Buddha-like in its wisdom. So you gotta be on your toes and you gotta be patient, sometimes extra, extra patient, because when one of those nuggets plops down if you’re fiddling with your Garmin or yapping about your last indoor training session, you’re gonna miss it.
We were coming back from a sedate little pedal up Mandeville Canyon, and we had hit a traffic light, I think it was on San Vicente. When it comes to traffic signals I am like a Republican mom who’s got a double tall chai mocha soy latte in one hand, an outgoing text message on her iPhone in the other, three squalling kids in the back seat, all while running five minutes late for li’l Becky’s ballet lesson.
In other words, my preferred mode of travel when riding alone is to blow through anything that doesn’t have a cop or oncoming traffic. Red lights are suggestions, and stop signs are bad ideas that won’t be adopted in this draft of the presentation.
As I’ve gotten older and more concerned about the opinions and terror of others, though, I pretty much stop at red lights when I’m with a group, and I’ll even slow way down for a stop sign. It freaks people out too much otherwise.
So we came to that ol’ stop light and put our feet down. G$ looked over at me and grinned. He’d been talking about pole vaulters and how they were put together different from other track and field elite athletes, especially when it came to beer and curfews and careful dieting — that is, pole vaulters apparently didn’t believe in either. I was concentrating as hard as I could, trying to remember what pole vaulters did, and trying to follow the details of the bus ride back in 1983 from Kansas down to El Paso in which the pole vaulters had caught a skunk and fed it beer and then let it loose in the opposing team’s locker room.
I was trying might and main to wrap my brain around how you “caught a skunk,” much less “fed it beer,” into a reality framework, and it wasn’t happening, when G$ let drop a nugget. “You know,” he said, apropos of nothing, which is his finest contextual context when it comes to nuggets. “Stopping is good.” Of course, we were stopped.
My brain ground to a halt. He might as well have said “Wife beating is good,” or “Heroin injected through the tip of your penis is good,” or “Bat sandwiches are good.”
“Dude!” my brain screamed, but didn’t say. “Stopping is TERRIBLE! Stopping is the OPPOSITE OF WHAT WE DO! Stopping is to biking what books are to Kanye West!” But instead I just looked at him kind of mutton-headed and said, “Huh?”
“Yeah,” he said. “I used to want to go all the time. But now? Stopping is good. Every time I stop it’s like, you know, good.”
“Aw, you know. It just feels good.”
We waited for the light to change while he picked up the story where the skunk and the other team’s star miler found one another, but I had tuned out because I was focusing on my leg, the one that was anchored to the ground and not pedaling my bike. Then I focused on my other leg, which was also not pedaling my bike. All of the pedaling juice that had backed up inside my veins from the trip up Mandeville ebbed away as we stood there doing nothing.
My heartbeat tailed off. Everything relaxed. I looked to the left and smiled at the Brentwood mom and her double latte.
The light turned green and off we went. At the next stop light it happened again; we stopped and it was good. It wasn’t an annoyance or an obstruction or a deliberate plan by the auto-industrial-military-Republican-anti-Obamacare-complex to force me to carry a gun, it was … good. Stopping was so good in fact that, once I’d left the group and couldn’t be observed by anyone who knew me, I stopped for a stop sign.
Then I began to ponder the Oracle of the South Bay and the deeper meaning of his utterance. “Stopping is good.”
What if it wasn’t just about cycling?
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February 16, 2013 § 8 Comments
I’m a Cat 4 doing my first road race and I’m doing UCLA which is on the Punchbowl course and I hear its a pretty hard race but I’ve been ridding a lot of hills lately in PV and doing a couple of attacks on the NPR so how do you think I’ll do and is my preparation enough to at least get on the podium? How does this rode race compare to the Donut Ride?
Your preparation is perfect, but that’s because for a first time Cat 4 at UCLA Road Race 2013, any preparation is perfect. Sitting on the couch eating Cheez-its is perfect, because for you the result will be the same: By the end of Mile One you will get coughed out the back like a piece of gooey phlegm, and certainly annihilated no later than the middle of Mile Two. The Punchbowl course is to the Donut Ride as getting your nuts run through a meatgrinder is to flossing your teeth.
Deep dish or shallow rims? 54 or 53 teeth (I hear the downhill is blazing fast.) Rear cog–how big?
Deep dish if you want to get caught by the first big side gust of wind on the 50 mph descent and go sailing off into the barbed wire fence and from thence face-first into a pile of steaming cow turds. Run the 54 so you can fly on the downhill, then bog down in the rolling crosswind terrain, get blown out the back because you’re overgeared, and retire at the end of the first lap for apres-ski bon-bons and fifteen minutes of cool-down on the trainer. Nothing smaller than a 67 for the rear. There should be less than 1″ clearance between the biggest rear cog and the rails on your saddle.
What’s the typical tempo of this race? My plan is to sit in for the first three laps and then try to attack on the climb on the last lap and get away. What do you think?
I think you’re an idiot. Unless you consider “sitting in” being shoved into the gutter single file with your tongue wrapped around the spokes and bleeding from the eyes and throwing every ounce of life you’ve got into staying attached to the hairy dude in front of you who’s already gapping out as the leaders turn up the electric skillet to high less than a mile into the race, you’re in for the shock of you life. There’s no “sitting in” at UCLA unless you’ve got a lawn chair at the finish line and a cooler of beer. Or hot tea and a bonfire in the event it snows, hails, and then rains, like it did three years ago.
Dose of reality,
I’m not a good clumber, but I want to do UCLA RR to help my teammates. Good idea? Bad idea?
You want to help your teammates at UCLA but you can’t climb? There’s a place for dudes like you. It’s called the feed zone.
How would you rank the following riders (all have pre-registered) for the UCLA RR?
- Jeff K.
- John H.
- Mongo from Bako
Jimmy (the Greek)
- THOG: He will either win or get first.
- G$: He will either get second or be the runner-up.
- Jeff K.: Best man at the wedding. Again.
- Tri-Dork: He’s lost 49 pounds just by giving up butter (that he used to put in his beer). He got dropped twelve times at Boulevard and TIME TRIALED BACK ON EVERY TIME. Be afraid. Be very, very afraid.
- John H.: He is too nice, but he will still crush 95% of the field.
- Mongo from Bako: Mongo and I have been practicing synchronized ‘cross bike dancing. We will be the prettiest duo in the field (with matching ‘cross frames and cantilever brakes). See our video here.
- Kong: He will pound. Then flail. Then pound some more. Then flail. Then collect his prize for Largest Dude Who Belongs In A Crit And Ain’t Afraid Of No Damned Hilly Road Race.
- Bennydril: No team to help, except for Kong, who’ll be in a different orbit. He’ll be isolated and beaten by superior numbers.
How come Charon don’t do hilly road races?
I don’t know. How come Kobe doesn’t play offensive tackle?
Stupid questions get stupid answeringly,
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February 5, 2013 § 15 Comments
At the starting line we very old fellows staged behind the somewhat old fellows in the 35+ race. Stefanovich was there, and looked back at me.
“I made it!” he grinned.
“Sorry about that,” I replied.
“No, dude, I was inspired by your blog. This is gonna be awesome!”
Dandy Andy, whose four-foot handlebar mustache drooped down to his knees, nodded vigorously. “Yeah! We read it on the way down. Inspired!”
“Oh,” I said glumly. “Then you missed the point.”
“I did?” asked Stefanovich.
“Yes, it was supposed to be a demotivational piece, something to despire you from coming, not inspire you to show up.”
Stefanovich laughed. “Yeah, well we’re here now! So braaang it!”
The whistle sounded and off they went.
He’s got your whole world (in his hands)
When it came our turn, my only concern was whether I’d get dropped on the 10-mile twisting, tailwind descent. The ref sent us off with a warning. “Okay, guys, watch out for the turns on the descent. We’ve already lost seven or eight riders in high speed collisions, so I’m asking you to take it easy the first lap. After that you can do whatever you want.”
I wondered why our lives were precious on lap one, but worthless on laps two and three, until I realized the ref’s unspoken subtext: “Most of you wankers won’t be around for the second lap, so it will be safe to go full throttle.”
After cresting the first brief, gentle 2-mile climb, we hit the downhill. My 50 x 11 immediately spun out, but I was prepared for the acceleration and sprunted onto the end of the whip, letting the slipstream suck me along.
The down side to being on the end was simple: There were about fifteen wankers ahead of me who were scared shitless, and with good reason, as they were clueless about how to handle their bikes at 50 mph in a tight formation on a twisty road. I had a flashback to the year before, when Tree Perkins had lost control, crossed the center line, and leaped up into a fence, then a shrub, then climbed a tree with his bike.
The feeling of helplessness was complete. My life was wholly dependent on the flubs and flails of some Cat 4 wanker who had just turned 45 and decided to ride with the “safe” dudes rather than the suicidal Cat 4 field, not realizing that it was these very aged Cat 4 wankers who made our normally conservative old fellows’ category so deadly on a course like this.
As if on cue, Tri-Dork dropped back to a couple of wheels in front of me. Tri-Dork was the one wheel I wanted to avoid beyond all others, but like a moth drawn to a flame, could not. Tri-Dork’s bad bike handling skills, which had caused him to flub and crash on a dry road one morning with only one other rider and shatter his shoulder, were accentuated times a thousand by the speed and the turns.
Swooping through each curve, Tri-Dork wobbled, braked, gapped, accelerated, and slashed his way through the formation with terrifying abandon. Charging up through the field at just the moment he should have been slowing down, Tri-Dork got bumped and did the only thing you’d expect a recovering triathlete to do in a bike race: He panicked and shot for the center line.
If a car had been coming in the other direction this story would be an obituary extolling his bravery, instead, he regained control and charged back into the field. “Tri-Dork!” I shouted. “Get the fuck away from everyone! And stay out of the trees!”
The race in earnest
Today’s elderly fellow beatdown and prostate abuse ride would be dominated by Big Orange and Amgen. We turned off the downhill and began the climb up Las Posas, with Mike Hotten of Big Orange setting tempo on the front. His steady pace was the first phase of the Big O “softening up.”
A huge rivalry had shaped up between Big O and Amgen. Steve Klasna, who had ridden for Big O the year before and is one of the best racers in SoCal, now rode for Amgen and was looking for his first victory of the year. Thurlow Rogers a/k/a Turbo a/k/a The Hand of God a/k/a THOG had won Boulevard the year before, and as one of the the greatest American cyclists in history, as usual he had come to win. Backed by national champion and locomotive Malcolm Hill, Amgen was closely matched against Big O.
The race day favorite was Greg Leibert, whose teammate Jeff Konsmo could be expected to play his usual role of policeman/late attacker. New to the 45+ fold was John Hall, easily one of the top climbers in the South Bay and a guy who always kept a strong finishing kick for hilltop finishes. Former Boulevard vainquer Todd Darley would also play a key team role, with Tri-Dork flying the wild card colors in his 45+ debut. One of the biggest men to line up for Boulevard, Tri-Dork had proven the year before at the UCLA Punchbowl course that size was no limiter, as he’d ridden with the leaders for most of that hilly, attacking course.
Jessup Auto Plaza brought the heat with the Man Who Fears No Hill, Andy Jessup, easily the biggest dude in the field and also the gutsiest. Not content to do the flat crits, he was always pushing the pace in the races least suited for his build, uncowed by altitude or by the toothpick physiques of the likely podium contenders. Benny Parks, who had won for Jessup at P[e]CK[e]RR the week before, would be in the mix, and Jessup’s Brien Miller would play a key role in my own personal Boulevard saga.
Supermotor Jon Flagg, riding mateless for Surf City, tough guy Greg Fenton, and national champ Doug Pomerantz for UCC would round out the movers and shakers in the race. My own SPY-Giant-RIDE Cyclery team started with a solid contingent that included Alan Flores, John Hatchitt, Jon Geyer, and Andy Schmidt. As Alan would later remark after posting his best-ever Boulevard finish for 6th place, “We were just passengers today. It was a handful of other guys driving the bus.”
Lap One Climb: Devil take the hindmost
Klasna, Leibert, Konsmo, and THOG sprinted around the kicker that ended Las Posas and began the 4-mile climb up to the finish on Old Highway 80. The pace went from cool to warm to hot to full-fryalator. Midway up the climb the field had been reduced from about 70 to no more than 40 riders. Thankfully I’d started at the front, and as Konsmo and Co. turned up the screws and my legs seized up there were plenty of spaces to fall back without getting dropped completely.
The survivors were now in one nasty line, and as Leibert and THOG looked back to assess the damage, it occurred to them that, with the remainder of the field bleeding from the eye sockets, now would be a good time to ride in earnest. Their two-man attack left the rest of the field gasping and huddling for a rear wheel.
With about a mile to go the pack bunched up and I realized that today would be the first time in four attempts that I’d ever finished Boulevard with the lead group on the first lap. It was more than euphoria. It was victory, and it tasted sweet.
As we piled into the start/finish, however, the leaders ratcheted up the pace and blew out a handful of riders on the steep finish line pitch. My victory evaporated as I realized that my race was about to end at one lap. Fortunately, we crested the finishing hill with Amgen’s Robb Mesecher coming by, and by latching onto his wheel and double-wide draft was able to maintain contact with the group, which was now strung out in a mad chase to bring back G$ and THOG.
Once we hit the descent, the group had thinned considerably, but Tri-Dork was still very much there. G$ and THOG had returned to the fold, and Hotten again rode tempo on the green tennis court vomity stretch of Las Posas. We pushed up onto Old Highway 80, rolled slowly for a hundred yards or so, then exploded as Konsmo, G$, and THOG blew apart the group.
A few seconds before I popped we overtook Aaron Wimberley, a sprinter in the 35+ race and one of the few fast men with guts enough to take on a hilly killer like Boulevard, rather than hiding and waiting for the speedfest at the short, flat, fast crit the following day. “Go, Wanky!” he yelled as we flew by. I “went,” all right…straight off the back.
As I cratered, Brien Miller yelled at me. “Come on, wanker! Dig!”
“I’m digging!” I gasped. “My grave!”
My race had ended midway up the climb on the second lap as I watched the leaders ride off, then came detached from the chase group. I soft pedaled to catch my breath, well aware that the next lap and a half would be done alone, into the wind, slowly, with nothing left in the tank.
As I recounted to myself all the grand successes of the day (finished one lap with the leaders, got halfway up the second lap with the leaders, almost sort of kind of practically didn’t get dropped, etc.), I heard an awful noise behind me. It sounded like a large animal in its death throes, or like a giant engine with a major internal part broken and rattling loose, or like a one-eyed monster from the Black Lagoon coming up from behind to eat you.
I didn’t dare look back, and it’s a good thing I didn’t, because when the shadow of Malcolm Hill came by, it took everything I had to latch on. Powerful arms flexing, mighty legs pounding, bellows-sized lungs blowing like a racehorse, Malcolm had the chase group in his sights and he wasn’t slowing down.
Soon we’d overtaken Brien. “Dig!” I shouted as we went by.
He grinned and hopped on. Malcolm flicked me through with his elbow after a solid half-mile haul, but all I could do was fizzle and fade for a few strokes before Brien came through with a powerful surge. Between Malcolm and Brien, with me sitting on the back taking notes and adjusting my socks, we closed the gap to the chase group to within a hundred yards.
Suddenly my inner wanker blossomed, and the possibility of catching on spurred me to actually take a pull. I leaped forward, temporarily dropping the two mates who had done all of the work, latching onto the back of the chasers. Malcolm and Brien joined, and a quick glance proved that this was indeed the chase group to be in.
Get that Flagg, Darling, and put Pomegranate on it
Jon Flagg, Todd Darley, and Doug Pomerantz comprised the chasers, along with a couple of other horses, and the leaders were briefly in sight, though they vanished after the turn onto the descent. Whittled down to about ten expert riders and one Wankstar, these elderly fellows conducted a downhill clinic on the backside of the course.
I’ve never felt safer at 50 mph on a bike as Malcolm & Co. drilled us through the tight turns at max speed, max lean, and never so much as a waver or a wobble. With a few miles to go before the turn onto Vomit Road, Darley leaped off the front. The final effort to bring him back, just before the turn, revealed the incredible once we’d crossed the tracks: The leaders were right there.
As we steamrolled up to the leaders I spied a poor sod in a Swami’s kit flailing in the gravel off the road to let us by. He wasn’t pedaling squares, he was pedaling triangles. He had that Wankmeister look of dropdom that comes from having ridden alone, fried, cold, into the wind, by yourself, for most of the race. He was haggard and beaten and defeated and covered with the frozen crust of snot and spit and broken dreams.
It was Stefanovich.
“Come on, you fucking wanker!” I yelled as we roared by. “Get out of the fucking dirt and race your dogdamned bike!”
He looked up and smiled through the crusty snot.
A few hard turns and we’d reconnected. Todd paid for his efforts by slipping off the back, and Tri-Dork, who’d made an amazing reattachment, was likewise surgically removed. More incredibly, G$ and THOG were still there.
My one lap victory had now become the ride of my life: I was finishing the third lap at the head of the field, and in my excitement I surged to the front as we crested the first rise on Las Posas. G$ looked over and grinned. “Wanker! Hit it, buddy!”
I swelled up like a big old balloon, pounded hard for three strokes, then blew and got dropped. As my race ended yet again, I passed a Jessup wanker from the 35+ race. “Get your ass up there, you quitter!” he yelled.
Spurred by shame I dug and caught onto Malcolm’s wheel just as we flew over the cattle guard.
A few pedal strokes later I was rested and taking stock. There were fifteen riders left. Just then, G$ glanced over to the side and attacked. It was a thing of beauty. With fourteen riders keyed on this one guy, and with him already having ridden a 15-mile breakaway, he kicked it hard. No one could follow as he dangled just off the point. It was that moment in the race where everyone tried to rationalize the reason they weren’t chasing, while refusing to admit they were too tired and afraid and broken and chickenish and weak.
G$ dangled for a mile, getting slightly farther away as Konsmo and Hall kept the pace brisk enough to discourage any followers.
With the animal fury that’s his trademark, THOG ripped away from the peloton. “There,” we all thought, “goes the race. If I chase I’m doomed. I think I’ll just sit in and hope for third.”
By the time we hit the big climb for the final time, cat and mouse had begun. Only problem was, the cat and the mouse were up the road and out of sight. So it was more like roaches and Raid. Flagg attacked repeatedly but no one was letting him go anywhere. After the third surge, Konsmo rolled. The gap opened, and then he vanished.
“Well,” we all thought, “fourth is pretty respectable to brag to the GF about. I’ll fight for fourth.”
As we approached the start/finish, the hard attacks came for real. With a few hundred yards to go I had to choose between getting dropped and getting dropped, so I wisely chose to get dropped. “Fifteenth,” I told myself “is damned respectable in this race. And even if it isn’t, I’ll claim it is.”
G$ outlasted THOG for the win. I crept across the line significantly behind #14.
Big Orange took first,third, and fifth. Amgen walked away with second, ninth, and tenth.
But if you ask me, it was 325-lb. wobblywheels Tri-Dork, finishing 25th in his very first Boulevard outing who went home with the best ride of all.
Tune in tomorrow for Part 3, “Post-race analysis of why you’re a fucking wanker for not showing up”
February 3, 2013 § 8 Comments
Part I: The Venus fly-trap
I stood in the sunny parking area, having just arrived at Boulevard, and contemplated the only thing that a bike racer contemplates before registering and changing into his battle garb: Where are the port-o-potties?
Then I remembered that Boulevard had none. The smart money voided the chamber up at the Golden Acorn casino gang toilets; the dumb money drove down to the race site and used the quaint wooden latrines.
I peeked into the first one, which was easy to do because it had a large window with no glass in it, facing directly from the barbecue and parking area into the direct view of a toilet. On the down side, if you were scarfing a hot dog with chili and looked the wrong way, you’d catch a full frontal of someone grunting and straining away to make space for another round of wieners.
On the upside, if you were the one grunting and straining, you got to watch all your friends drink, eat, and be merry while you took a little sunbath and did your business.
I looked in and was greeted by G$, trousers around his ankles as he soaked in the scenery and the sunshine. “Yo!” he said. “Don’t be shy!”
I stuck my head further into the window and looked at the other two units. Using either would have required a hazmat suit, so I sauntered around the building and entered the other toilet. This one had no windows, was almost pitch black, and had a single unit stuck over in the corner. Spiders and roaches and a scorpion scurried off as I approached.
My eyes adjusted to the gloom, and indeed the unit was spotless. It’s amazing how clean a public pooper will remain, even in a barbecue venue frequented by tweekers and chili-dog aficionados, when it’s guarded by scorpions.
I brushed a couple off the rim and into what was sure to be a very unpleasant way to die, even for a scorpion, and settled in. I could hear footsteps outdoors and voices.
“That other place was out in the fucking open practically. I ain’t shitting there. Gotta have my privacy.”
The two speakers stepped into my domain and saw me over in the corner. “Oh, wow, dude, sorry.”
“No problem,” I said. “I’ll be done shortly. Just watch out for the scorpions.”
If it looks sunny and feels warm, put on an extra layer
After registration I got dressed. Thermal undershirt. Thermal arm warmers. Jersey. As I got ready to put on my thermal long-sleeve jersey, Quickie drove up. “Yo, dude!” he said. “I got 34th here last year!”
“That’s, uh, awesome.”
“You got 36th!”
“Yeah, you were behind me.”
“That makes sense, I guess, if you were 34th and I was 36th.”
“Yeah, you were 36th. I was almost 33rd.”
“Fucking pit bull chased me down on the final climb. I tried to sprint away but cramped.”
“Did you live? Or did he kill you?”
“I had to get off my bike and put the bike between me and him. I thought he was going to eat my fucking frame. That’s how come I got 34th.”
“Bummer. I mean, awesome.”
“You were behind me,” he reminded me again.
“Oh, yeah, well I was behind a lot of people.”
“Thirty-five of them, actually. You were 36th.”
This was getting repetitive, even for me. “Yeah, I guess so.”
“Hey, what’s with the long-sleeve jersey? It’s fucking 70 degrees out here.”
“Yes, it is.”
“You’ll broil in that thing. Stick a butter pat, some soy sauce and ketchup down your back after the first lap and the coyotes will be able to eat you barbecued. Don’t overdress, dude.”
“I won’t. But the wind is howling out on the course. And if you get dropped you won’t finish before five. And by then the shadows will be long. And the cold wind will cut to your core. And your sweat will freeze. And you will die if you’re lucky. The warm weather at the start lulls everyone into a false sense of security. Out on the course the helpless riders freeze and seize. It’s like a Venus fly-trap. Invites you in, then covers you in the toxic goo of your own sweat, spit, blood, and mucous, and kills you. That’s Boulevard.”
“You planning on getting dropped, then?”
“I always get dropped at Boulevard.”
“Yeah,” he said. “Me. too. But I was…”
“Thirty-fourth last year,” I finished.
“Yeah!” he brightened. “And you were 36th!”
Bike racing is a sport of tiny, incremental changes to maximize performance
Lauren and Ron Peterson have helped me immensely as I’ve become more focused on fine-tuning my bike fit. Last winter on a ride Ron said, “Hey, dumbass. Your saddle’s too low. Raise it.”
“Oh. How can you tell?”
“You knees are hitting your chin. Raise the danged saddle.”
“Start with two inches.”
So I did, and immediately noticed positive changes. The next time Ron dropped me on a ride, he said, “Another inch, wanker,” as he whizzed past.
Each time I went to the bike shop to get my saddle raised, the mechanic shook his head. “You can’t raise your saddle two inches at one time. That’s massive.”
“Oh. How much do most people raise it?”
“A giant lift is a centimeter. Usually it’s done in millimeters.”
“Make it three inches, then.”
Lauren had also helped me with my bike fit. “Yo, Wanky,” she said. “That bike posture where you’re all hunched like a dog going after a sofa cushion is robbing you of power. Not that you have any.”
“Fact. You need to find a balance between being squeezed over your bike like a pretzel and sitting up in the saddle like a windmill. Bump up your stem a fraction.”
So I threw away the whole stem and got one of those up-pointing dork stem things that raises your bars about a foot.
“You don’t do things by halves, do you?” she said as we walked over to the Boulevard Cafe to get a cup of coffee.
Victory and defeat are defined by the care one uses in choosing one’s equipment
A few days before the race I’d gotten tired of my road bike, and had taken it over to Luca Brazzi’s for him to part and sell on e-Bay. “Dude,” he said. “Glad to do it, but aren’t you racing Boulevard this weekend?”
“What are you gonna do for a bike?”
“I’ll ride my ‘cross bike.”
Luca looked at me for a minute, pausing politely for the punch line. None came. “Dude. You can’t race Boulevard on a ‘cross bike. You’ll get dropped on the first lap.”
“I always get dropped on the first lap.”
“Then you’ll get dropped in the parking lot.”
“So I’ll get home early.”
“What are you going to do for gearing?”
“What do you mean?”
“You know on the back side of the course where you spin out a 54 x 11?”
“What do you think is going to happen when you’re running a 50-tooth chain ring?”
“I, uh, hadn’t really thought about it.”
“Here’s what’s going to happen: Your fucking legs are going to come unhitched at the pelvis and you’re going to kill whoever’s next to you when they get speared by your bony fucking legs whistling through the air at 50 mph. Here. Take the bike back. We can part it and e-Bay it after the race.”
I had, however, made up my mind. “Nah,” I said. “My Giant ‘cross bike handles better than the Venge anyway. I’ll be fine.”
“You’re nuts,” he said.
Proper nutrition is the key to success
I was fanatical about proper eating prior to and during a race. That morning I’d had oatmeal, raisins, kimchi, eggs, sausage, yogurt, fruit, and coffee. The fartage alone would shell a dozen or so riders.
An hour before the race I carefully unwrapped my magic lunch. Quickie peeked in. “What the hell are you eating?”
“Before a race?”
“Yeah. But I’ve got coffee to wash it down with.”
He shook his head and went back to his car.
Humpster wandered over. He was doing Boulevard for the first time and wanted some advice from a seasoned wanker who’d been dropped every time on the first lap for four years in a row. “What are you doing for nutrition during the race?”
“I’m taking a small water bottle.”
“What are you putting in it?”
“Dude,” he said. “The race is almost seventy miles. You’ll die.”
I thought for a second. “You’re right. I’ll take two.”
He rolled his eyes. “What about food?”
“I don’t need food. I’m just taking a pocketful of these.” I showed him a handful of dates.
“Gross. What the fuck are those? Baby turds?”
“They’re medjool dates. Filled with, uh, energy stuff and things.”
Before I could warn him about the unbreakable granite pit in the center, he chomped hard. Shards of tooth went everywhere. “Dogfuckit!” he screamed. “My tooth!”
“I was gonna warn you,” I said. “About the pit. It’s really hard.”
He stanched the blood with his cycling glove and staggered back to his car. “Don’t worry!” I called after him. “It’s just one tooth! That’s why Dog gave you 32. Or was it 36?”
Quickie, who had only heard part of the conversation, shouted over, “You got 36th, dude! Thirty-sixth!”
Perfect preparation on the day before the race is the key
On Friday I’d ridden to work and then gone to the gym. Since I wasn’t riding hard, I figured it would be a great day to do some squats. I loaded up the bar with two massive five-pound plates on each end and went into a deep squat.
The giant muscled man with tattoos looked on in amazement. “Dude,” he said as I grunted and roared and strained and heaved and pushed and sweated and almost threw out my back as my legs straightened, “you’ve only got ten pounds on the bar.”
It took me a couple of minutes to catch my breath. “I know,” I said. “But today I’m going big, so get outta my way.”
As I finished off the set, a small group of hecklers gathered around the squat rack. “C’mon, Wankster! You can squat those ten pounds! Be the animal! Be the beast!”
“Let’s do it Wanky! Well, maybe you should replace the fives with 2.5’s. Just sayin’!”
After three sets my thighs were so wrecked that Tattoo Dude had to grab me by the armpits to lift me to a standing position. It briefly occurred to me that all this thigh work might not be such a great idea the day before a big race. “Fuggit,” I told myself, and moved over to the inclined leg press thingy.
Still delirious from the massive squattage, I accidentally put on the 45-lb. plates instead of the 25-lb. plates. When I released the switch control protector thingy, the entire contraption came crashing down like, well, a ton of steel plates, jamming my right knee hard into my rib cage. I felt a sharp pain and something under the skin went “pok-kee-t.”
I somehow got the weights back up to where I could engage the protector locking thingy, and tried to stand up. The sharp stabbing in my rib cage was so intense I could barely breathe. Tattoo Dude came over. “You fuck yourself up, Wankster?”
“Where does it hurt?”
I pointed to my rib. “Here…gasp…”
“Oh, you probably just bruised or broke a rib. Get back into the fucking leg press and finish your set. Just don’t hit your damned broken rib with your knee and you’ll be fine.”
He put me back into the leg press thingy and reduced the weight to an amount appropriate for a young elementary schoolgirl and watched as I completed the set. Between the pain in my rib and the pain in my throbbing thighs I could barely breathe.
Tattoo Dude then slapped on a couple of the giant plates, two per side. “Here you go. Now do some calf raises.”
When I finished he picked me up out of the thingy and carried me over to the leg extender. “You wanna go big? You wanna be big? You wanna flex and pop those veins? We’ll get you beefed up in no time.”
“But, Boulevard tomorrow…” I protested.
“Yeah, you can walk up and down the fuckin’ Boulevard tomorrow all day long, and all night, too. We’ll put legs on your skinny ass that will get you all the tricks you can handle.”
He plopped me down into the leg extender and loaded it up with a huge, unthinkable 60 pounds. “Hit it!” he yelled.
Out of fear I jerked my legs straight, each knee joint making creaks and pops and tearing noises that sounded like a wing separating from a fuselage in outer space, that hollow, empty rending sound of bone and muscle and gristle all twisting knotting and grinding. “More, you weakling!” he roared.
Three sets later I was in tears. He carried me out of the gym and set me gently on the curb. “Good job, weakling. You won’t be able to walk tomorrow, but that’s what it takes if you want to go big.”
“Walk tomorrow?” I thought. “I can’t even walk to the car.”
When it all comes together: Nutrition, equipment, adjustments, clothing, and pre-race preparation
Finally zipping up my jersey, I assembled my ‘cross bike. Now I was really wondering about the downhill. How windy would it be? What if I had the gears to hang on the climb, but got shelled on the damned downhill? How mortifying would that be?
I hopped on the bike to warm up, and my legs seized. The weights from the day before had completely destroyed what little musculature I had to begin with. Then I gasped from the sharp stab of the broken rib.
Had I done anything right?
I saw John Hall pedal by, and realized, “Yes, I have. I have the best-pinned on number in the whole damned race.”
John had failed his comprehensive exams in Basic Number Pinning On, and had left huge gaps in the tops of his numbers. Whether he thought he’d save weight on safety pins, or whether he was counting on the reverse sail effect of the billowing numbers to push him faster, or whether he was planning to psych out his competition with the constant whirr, buzz, flap, and chatter from the fluttering paper numbers, it worked, as he turned in one of the great rides of the day.
At the beginning, though, he sounded like a small helicopter. It gave me some measure of confidence. My numbers were perfectly placed so that I could access the dates in my rear pockets and so that the officials could easily read my number. Not that it’s hard to read a number when you’re the last guy crossing the line, alone…
Tune in tomorrow for Part II: The Vomilitious Road to Hell