March 23, 2015 § 28 Comments
Before the race I saw Dave happily siting on his top tube.
“You racing with us?” I asked.
“No,” he said firmly and happily. “Masters 35+ 4/5.” Dave had won the Masters 35+ 4/5 sandbagger race the week before in Merced and was licking his chops, noting that none of his competition came anywhere close to his 400 weekly training miles.
“When are you going to upgrade? You’re a beast.”
He looked at me very seriously. “Oh, no I’m not. I’m still learning so much about racing. And the 40+ group is way too fast.”
“Let me know when you’ve learned everything you need to know about racing,” I said.
Our race was going to be whatever is worse than terrible. You would think that a bicycle race where you had to be at least fifty years old to enter wouldn’t be that hard, but you would be wrong. On the start line were Thurlow a/k/a The Hand of God a/k/a THOG, Konsmo, the Parksie Twins, G$, Mark Noble, DQ Louie, Jaeger, Pomeranz, and a whole host of other guys I’d never beaten, and wasn’t going to beat today.
The course was a 27-mile out-and-back. We were supposed to it twice. The total elevation was about 5,500 feet. Going out, the course had a series of punchy rollers that led to the bottom of a 1-mile climb. After a 2-mile descent, the road continually ascends through a valley with a half-dozen short climbs and a few false flats until you reach the turnaround at the 13 Mile point.
Then the road descends into a headwind all the way to the base of the 2-mile climb, which pitches up, flattens briefly about 2/3 of the way up, then crests and drops you back to the base of the rollers. The race finishes on a 1-km climb with a moderately steep final 200 meter “sprint.”
Less than a mile into the race I was fully occupied with Mr. Crash Magnet. He’s the guy I get behind in every race and every race has one. Crash Magnet was so scared that his arms were shaking and his entire bike was wobbling. The smart thing in these cases is to get away from Crash Magnet ASAP, but he’s called “magnet” for a reason.
In the Wrinkly Prostate Division, although most of the riders aren’t good at holding their water, decades of racing have made them masters at avoiding crash magnets. So there is a race-within-a-race: Get away from the magnet. And since I’m the worst bike handler after whomever the crash magnet happens to be, everyone slides and jostles and positions so that I’m the one stuck on Crash Magnet’s wheel.
I dashed off to the left and got ahead of him, but to no avail. The deck reshuffled and there he was again. After the fourth reshuffle I resigned myself to the terrible accident in store if he hung around much longer. This is one of the great freeing experiences of bike racing. You are in destiny’s maw.
Robb came up next to me after we’d crossed the first four rollers. The bottom of the big climb lay ahead. “This is gonna hurt,” he said.
“Why,” I asked “are you using the future tense?”
About that time I edged around Crash Magnet just as he made a beeline for the shoulder, hit a rock, shimmied his handlebars, and launched himself headlong into a soft bed of cactus and ocotillo. As I sprinted away, wondering how badly he was hurt, I noted that THOG & The Co. from Hell had moved to the front. I slotted in behind him.
Now here is something that everyone who’s been dropped on a hard climb in a hard race surrounded by much better riders can relate to, but ordinary intelligent people who play golf and happily drink beer from the back of a golf cart cannot, and I call it the lighting of the fuse. It happens in stages.
- Terrible feeling of awful dread as you anticipate at the bottom of the climb.
- First acceleration at the bottom where you think, “I can do this.”
- Second acceleration shortly after the first where you think, “This is going to be hard.”
- Grit teeth as the pace settles in.
- Feeling begins somewhere in your calves, the feeling of give-up-and-quit.
- “I’m not quitting” + excessive teeth gritting. Brief look around to see that the group has halved.
- Third acceleration midway up the climb where you think, “Fuck you cocksuckers to hell.”
- Fuse burns up into lower quads. Pain however is no longer localized to legs and has spread to eyeballs.
- Fourth acceleration where the group halves again. Konsmo, who is leading the charge, is on the tops and doesn’t appear to be breathing. “Fuck you, Konsmo, if we ever stop I will kill you,” you think, or something like that.
- Almost at the top the fuse reaches the bomb and you explode. Body shudders, head droops, prostate deflates.
- “Quit gapping me out motherfucker!” is roared from behind.
- Race effectively ends.
When we reached Stage 11, I leaped onto the last rider’s wheel and latched on as we made it over the top. There was hardly anyone left. The pain immediately receded and all of my attention focused on why I’d chosen to try and ride with the leaders instead of doing the logical thing, which would have been following Crash Magnet face-first into the cactus bush.
At the bottom of the valley G$ took over. The pain returned and riders continued to pop off. At the base of each mini-peak G$ would punch it hard, but by now the people who had made it this far weren’t going to be dropped so easily. I looked up and saw the lights of the motorcycle that was following the 40+ field containing Mike Easter, Derek Brauch, Matt Carinio, Tony Manzella, Jon Flagg, and Chris DiMarchi. They had left five minutes earlier but the vicious climbing speed of Konsmo and G$ had devoured the time gap.
They were neutralized and we roared by, which led me to wonder this: Could someone please explain the biology behind how a group of riders, some of whom were in their mid-50’s, were riding faster than a group of men some of whom were fifteen years younger? Or maybe it was just mirrors and we had lighter wheels. But then I remembered that weight doesn’t really matter.
Whatever it was, we sped by with our teeth plastered to the stem as the 40+ pre-geezers stared over, insulted and slack-jawed. Shortly past the turnaround the butthurt 40+ field took matters into their own hands and came flying by us, proving the superiority of youth and better medical care. We never saw them again.
Before long our greatly reduced herd hit the base of the big climb. The fuse was re-lit, and burned all the way until shortly before the short flat. I was sitting on Mark Noble’s wheel making that last-gasp cry that lobsters make when you throw them into the boiling water, when I exploded for good. Race over.
With Chris Hahn, Scott McAfee, and Bald Tim on my wheel, we chased madly through the rollers, eventually picking up DQ Louie, who had inexplicably been shelled. After a few more miles of unutterable misery that left Scott and Bald Tim adrift, I dragged Chris and Louie back to the leaders. Of course we reattached at the bottom of the big climb, the fuse was lit, and it mercifully skipped Stages 2-11, going from Stage 1 to Stage 12 in about fifteen seconds. Louie and Chris happily pedaled away, the sorry bastards.
Left to wallow in my own misery, I slogged up the hill, was caught and dropped by teammate Andy Schmidt who had been stoned and chased out of the 40+ community, and was then overtaken by a mongrel group of 40+ and 50+ shellees including teammate John Hatchitt, and assassin/arch enemies Pomeranz and McAfee. I slunk to the back and struggled along to the turnaround, back down the valley, and to the bottom of the big climb.
This time I did something different, though. I put it into the small chain ring. Realizing that I’d been doing the massive climbs in my 53, it occurred to me that perhaps it would be easier if I used a smaller gear. Wow! Who knew???? Climbing is easier in a 39×28 instead of a 53×21. Gawrsh!
McAfee attacked and one by one our group reduced in size until there were only six of us. Hatchitt attacked, caught and dropped McAfee. Then after the false flat Pomeranz attacked, leaving me with a couple of 40+ racers who had no interest in or need to chase down guys who weren’t in their race.
With 1k to go I hunted down Hatchitt and McAfee. Hatchitt went early and blew. McAfee went a bit later, but I was able to sit on his wheel until the very end and throw myself across the line, beating out a couple of 40+ wankers and looking less like Mark Cavendish winning MSR and more like a fish whose bleeding mouth had been ripped from a hook and thrown mercilessly onto the rocks to flip, flop, gasp, and die.
After the race I saw Dave, who had sandbagged his way to another awesome win. “Good job,” I said, filled with bitterness and envy as I contemplated getting my downgrade for 2016.
Wankamodo snapped this immortal shot of my last-gasp lunge for a top-40 placing in our 40-man field.
50+ Leaky Prostate Category Race Notes:
Mark Noble played a smart waiting game, stayed out of the win, and smashed the four-man leading of group for the win, edging out Bennie Parks, Thurlow Rogers, and Jeff Konsmo. Race activator and head-banger Greg Leibert finished sixth behind Todd Parks, with SPY-Giant-RIDE p/b GQ6 teammate and 2014 winner David Jaeger coming in 8th.
My ride chauffeur, Derek Brauch, got second in the 40+ race behind winner Mike Easter. SPY-Giant-RIDE teammate Jon Flagg put on a display of incredible strength by bridging to the leaders and finishing fourth.
Emily Georgeson got a bronze medal in the women’s state championship road race, confirming again that this is her breakout season.
Other people in other races finished, or didn’t, with some going faster and others going slower.
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February 23, 2015 § 60 Comments
After the CBR crit last week I was rolling around with G$. He had fired a thousand artillery shells and I’d fired a hundred mortar rounds in our vain attempts to get away. Robb M., who had fired a dribble from his tiny squirt gun, came by as we were chatting. “Are you guys dating?” he snarked as he passed.
The following week was Rosena Ranch, a nasty, hilly, miserable little 2.7-mile circuit with two stinging climbs and two ripping downhills. I looked around at the start line. G$ was there, but Robb was apparently busy that weekend.
G$ broke away on the fourth of eleven laps with Jaycee Cary of LaGrange. I clawed onto their rear wheel as teammates Alan Flores, Harold Martinez, Dave Jaeger, Jon Edwards, and Jon Nist clogged the front like avocado pits in a garbage disposal.
After a couple of laps Jaycee sat up, brains oozing from his knees and a soft moaning sound emanating from his armpits. It was just me and Greg. I thought briefly about Coach Holloway’s two injunctions:
- Always be the second strongest guy in the break.
- Have a plan to win.
The first injunction was easy. G$ ripped through each lap like a sailor on shore leave rips through a whorehouse. I did my share of the work, and Greg did the other 99%. But the “have a plan to win” part wasn’t turning out so well.
As G$’s efforts put more and more time on the subdued and demoralized field, it was simultaneously subduing and demoralizing me. But at the beginning of our breakaway how different it all had been!
For years I had fantasized about riding a break with Greg. How good it would be, just him and me as we punched our way to victory. And now here I was, having finally taken all the clothes off that cute girl in high school I’d been dreaming about. She was right there in front of me, buck naked, offering up her soft yet firm breasts as her erect nipples stood to attention under the gentle caresses of my tongue.
I pressed myself on top of her as she spread her legs, trembling with excitement as I hovered on the verge of plunging myself into that hot and welcoming refuge of ecstasy.
But then, WHAM! She was pounding my nuts with a hammer.
Then, WHAM! She was stomping my dick with giant hob-nailed boots.
Then, WHAM! She was beating my teeth out with a brick.
Then, WHAM! She was stuffing a roll of barbed wire up my butt.
How could something that had begun so right be going so wrong? In the midst of my agony, as G$ wasn’t even breathing, he turned back to me and smiled. “Dude,” he said, “if we stick this out to the line, this win is yours.”
Anyone else would have understood this as the perfect winning plan. But I had a much worse one, so I shook my head. “Fuck you,” I said. “I don’t want any gifts. No gifts!” I had forgotten that you’re only supposed to proudly repudiate gifted wins a-la Pantani on Ventoux after you cross the line.
G$ shrugged as we hit the bottom of the climb. “If you say so.” He punched it so hard that all of the other beatings seemed like loving caresses. I fell off the back then clawed my way back to his wheel, gasping.
He looked back as we hit the turnaround and attacked again. I flailed as hard as I could and reattached to his rear wheel. “Hey, man,” I said. “You know how you were saying about me winning? Is that deal still on the table?”
He answered with another punch to the gonads, then settled into a pace that was harder than a fourth-grade word problem.
On the bell lap we crested the final climb before the roaring descent, which turned into a gentle kicker to the line. G$ looked over at me. Then he reached down and slowly took out his water bottle, smiling.
“What the fuck is he doing that for? GO NOW!” I shouted to me, and go I did. Full gas. Nothing held back. The gap was instantaneous and big, but somehow he closed it with 200m to the line.
“Sprunt!” I shrieked to myself, cranking out the massive 450-watt finishing effort that has made me a watchword the world over. “I’m winning!” I continued to yell internally. Somehow, G$ wasn’t coming around! I was beating him! I was awesome! I was the greatest! I had done it!
The line flashed by, and you know what? A picture is worth a thousand words. Oh, and a question: If his hands are off the bars, does that mean he wasn’t really sprinting?
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February 18, 2015 § 31 Comments
Scattered observations on a Tuesday afternoon, scattered because earlier today Outlook slammed shut and the .pst data file got corrupted. That’s okay! It’s only 15-gigs and it only has 99,000 files!
Fortunately, MicroStupid has the Outlook Inbox Repair Tool and his name is Bill Gates. You turn on the repair tool and it scans the .pst file, except the word “scan” doesn’t quite fit. When I was kid I learned that “scan” meant to quickly look over something, but in MicroStupidese “scan” means “pull out the Sunday Times or Thomas Mann’s ‘Magic Mountain’ in German because it’s gonna take a while.”
After scanning, or shall we say trundling, the Tool indicated that my file was corrupted. Was I surprised to learn that something associated with me is corrupt? No. So I hit the “repair now” button and it did what MicroStupid is famous for: Hanging.
“Perhaps there’s a repair tool for the repair tool?” I wondered. So I googled “repair tool repair tool” and it took me to http://www.bighairytools.com. I won’t hyperlink; you’ll have to find that fifty-first shade of grey on your own.
Like an idiot I then reinstalled MS Office and since we apparently have the Cox Discount Internet Package, where electrons are hand-carried over to my apartment one by one in a wheelbarrow, it’s going to take a while. And we won’t mention the unhappy fact that after it’s reinstalled, the .pst file will still be corrupt.
Chasing the money
On Sunday I was scattered, too. Scattered from chasing Greg Leibert a/k/a G$ as he attacked nonstop for fifty minutes at the CBR Crit #2 over in Carson. Greg didn’t win but he rode a real bike race while almost all of the eighty other riders in the field hunkered down, did nothing, and waited for the sprunt.
The mere act of following G$’s attacks makes you feel like you did something worthwhile, even though all it got me was worn out. And in their defense, the reason that most of the other wankers didn’t attack is because they couldn’t.
This is gonna be gnarly
Lots of social media howler monkeys have shrieked with glee upon hearing the news that Drugstrong got popped for a cool $10m when he lost his “I perjured myself like a fugger but a crooked deal’s a deal” defense at the SCA arbitration. He’s also being sued for the balance in state court, and the Feds + Floyd are about to give him the Sodom + Gomorrah treatment in the whistleblower suit as they seek $300m in damages. With an estimated net worth of $125m, Drugstrong is going to look back on 2015 as the year he moved back in with his mom.
I know that gives a lot of people pleasure. It’s fun to watch rude and mean people get hammered, I suppose. I have to confess that when he first got dethroned I thought he was going to make a clean breast of things and that he would take the noble route and be a noble guy. Color me garishly stupid. But none of it makes me particularly happy, any more than it makes me happy when a convicted killer gets life without parole. Mostly I just feel sad. Sad for the victims, sad for the perp, and sad for Betsy.
Bikes still make kids happy
On a super happy note, Matt Smith’s appeal on this wankerish blog netted a bunch of free bikes for his high school’s new MTB team, as well as clothing, equipment, and donations. What a wonderful bunch of people you are. You’ve made a difference in the lives of these kids. They’ll remember what you did long after you’ve forgotten. Too bad you have such lousy taste in reading material.
Tri-dorks heart Bike scum
Speaking of lousy reading material, I was blown away that my tongue-in-cheek rant about triathletes and bike weight got posted in the biggest tri-dork chat forum, Slowtwitch. Not surprised that they picked it up, but surprised that a bunch of them made friendly comments. Most of the time when something I write winds up on a forum it gets burned to the ground because apparently a lot of people think that I write news, or that I report facts, or that I really think I know anything about the subjects I write about.
Anyway, thanks to all you tri-dorks you got the joke, even if it was a pretty lame one. And thanks as well to the one tri-dork on the forum who took it all very seriously and was outraged that I’d be so outrageous and that I was also wrong and a hypocrite. That dude spends way too much time on my sister publication, Red Kite Bore.
Golf is “Flog” spelled backwards
Mega-props to Emily Georgeson, the “sprinter” who got 2nd at Punchbowl behind Katie Donovan, the quintessential twiggy climber type who sprints like a battleship, corners like a city bus, but climbs like blood pressure at the Heart Attack Cafe. Emily’s success is down to hard work, smart riding, and a great coach-riding partner in Aaron Wimberley, but the meat and potatoes of her climbing prowess is our Thursday Flog Ride around the Golf Course.
That ride turns everyone into shrapnel. It’s tactical, there’s nowhere to hide, there are no stoplights, and it’s flat fuggin hard.
Speaking of hard, Robert Efthimos took a nasty tumble leading out the Cat 3 sprunt at CBR on Sunday and separated his shoulder. What’s worse, he also separated his carbon seat stays which are full carbon. Heal up, Sausage! And the next time you get the bright idea to do anything in a Cat 3 race other than NOT SIGN UP, don’t do it!
For those who don’t know it, Robert is the president-elect of La Grange, one of the oldest and most venerated racing clubs in the U.S. He is doing everything right to refocus the club back on racing, and his efforts have resulted in a strong La Grange presence at races. Guys like Robert and Greg Seyranian, who have an open door policy and who emphasize racing for people who JOIN A FUGGIN BIKE RACING CLUB are the key to the grass roots development that saw such amazing turnout at the races on Sunday. Hats off, Sausage. Hope you’re herding the frogs there for years to come.
The eyes have it
On a related note, Ronnie Toth called me the other day to talk about his MB Grand Prix crash that I’d written up several months ago. I expected a tongue lashing but got nothing of the sort. He was funny, polite, intelligent, and slightly butthurt (his words), and in the end we saw eye to eye regarding his terrible accident and the danger of the ubiquitous steel barriers.
Had Ronnie not been wearing his SPY shades he would have lost an eye, perhaps both. He’s had titanium reconstruction on part of his skull, and his nose was rebuilt with bone and cartilage from a rib. It’s amazing that he’s recovered so quickly, and when he told SPY about the sight-saving effect of the glasses, they gave him glasses … for life. Lots of reasons I support SPY, but nothing exemplifies it like this kind of stuff.
Huge props to Ronnie for getting back on the bike.
My good friend Michelle L. did her first bike race on Sunday. She’s one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet, on the bike or off, and before she got into cycling she ran a lot and she ran fast. Michelle took the plunge and had a blast. She had a lot of encouragement which outweighed all the wankers who said “WHY DO YOU WANT TO DO SOMETHING LIKE THAT????”
Answer: Because it’s thrilling and kind of dangerous and hard as hell and fun. Michelle rode towards the front and then rode AT the front for the last five laps and still snagged seventh. Welcome to the sorority, Michelle! [Note: Michelle is also one of the riders who does the Flog Ride, and there’s no way any crit is as miserable as that.]
SPY Optic is having its grand opening on Friday, Feb. 20, from 10:00 AM to whenever at their full service retail outlet in Leucadia, located on the 101. There will be a happy hour and live music and male strippers and female porn stars and President Clinton and celebrity cyclists such as Greg LeMond, Sean Kelly, Jacques Anquetil, and Pee Wee Herman. So don’t miss it.
Rosena Ranch Circuit Race is this Saturday. It’s the best, most awesome, challenging, technical, impressive, wonderful, and truly incredible race course in the history of the sport even though it’s in San Bernardino. Cycling fans will recall Rosena Ranch as the place where I broke my 30-year jinx and rode to solo victory against a field of midgets and a corpse. However, a win is a win, and if I can win there, so can you. Plus, there is lots to do in the surrounding areas, like meth and stuff.
Okay, looks like Orifice has been reinstalled, and as expected the .pst file is still corrupt. Time to plunk down $199.95 for DataNumen Outlook Repair. I’m sure everything will be fine.
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February 3, 2014 § 56 Comments
Every dog has his day. Saturday was mine.
This race that had bedeviled me, humiliated me, broken me, and told me loud and clear so many times that I’d never be a road racer was lying at my feet. After making it up the climb with the leaders the second time around I asked myself a question I’d never asked before: How was I going to win this race?
My legs felt great despite having started the race in a snow flurry. I’d been in zero difficulty as the big guns had carved the field down into a final mass of about twenty-five riders, and while the better, stronger, faster, skinnier guys had attacked, surged, and shredded with abandon the only thing I’d done was sit at the tail end of the field, doing nothing. That too was a first.
I thought about following wheels all the way to the finish. That would be hard, to put it mildly. Konsmo, Thurlow, Flagg, Pomeranz, Slover, and several other guys remained in the field, guys who would break me like a dry twig on the final 3-mile climb to the finish. On the other hand, my legs felt so good that maybe they wouldn’t. Maybe I could follow wheels and sprint for the win. Maybe I could also grow a third leg.
Then my mind went back to the Cyclovets Omnium Road Race in 2010. The remnants of the field were about 200 yards from the top of the first peak of the infamous green road, and I had hit the jets as hard as I could. The pack didn’t respond, and as I leaped out of the field my Big Orange teammates had yelled at me. “Ease up!” they had shouted. Confused, because it seemed like the winning move, I had eased up. Teammate Dave Worthington had gone on for the win, but I’d never really understood why I had been shut down, except for the obvious fact that no one had had confidence that I’d be able to hold it to the line.
As we flew down the winding, 50 mph descent, I made up my mind. If the lead group was was dragging ass at the top of the green road, I’d hit it. There was a long way to go from there, but my legs felt good and I had a better chance to win out of a breakaway than I did in a sprint finish.
We crossed the railroad tracks and started the first climb. People were laboring, gronking, and struggling on this third effort up the back side of Boulevard. Todd Parks dangled a few hundred yards in front, about to be sucked back after a hopeless attack on the downhill. Teammate Andy Schmidt bulled at the front, with John Hatchitt working to pull Parks back into the fold. Out of the nine SPY-Giant-RIDE teammates who had toed the line, only four of us remained. Amgen still had a beefy contingent to contend with.
Once we hit the green road, the peloton begin to sag. People were gassed. Thurlow had made multiple all-out efforts to split the field. Leibert had covered countless moves. Konsmo had driven the pace like a madman up the climbs. Everyone was hurting, and my legs felt New In Box. I attacked.
This was the moment I’d waited almost thirty years for. In 1986, with John Morstead and Mike Adams up the road in the state championships outside of San Antonio, I’d hit the jets on the rollers when the remaining group containing Mark Switzer, Fields, Rob DiAntromond, and a couple of other riders who were clearly on the ropes. I’d rolled away for good.
Today was that day, only better. No one answered the attack except for a dude on an aluminum bike with a down tube shifter for his front chain ring. We crested the hill and were gone. I never bothered to look back, assuming that the leaders were hot on my heels only a few seconds behind. My companion took a couple of ineffectual pulls but I didn’t care; they were enough to give me the brief respite I needed to renew the charge. The peloton would certainly catch me on the final big climb up Highway 80, and now I was going to grill and drill to the bitter end.
Two days before I had prepared for every eventuality. I’d cleaned my bike. Lubed the chain. Most importantly I’d put on two brand new Gatorskin 25 cm tires, bulletproof and built to withstand the cattle guards, road detritus, and sketchy conditions of the lousy roads in eastern San Diego County.
The combination of adrenaline and good legs propelled me along. In a couple of minutes I’d be at the highway climb. “It’s been fun,” I thought. “They’re gonna reel me in any second now.”
As my breakaway companion swung over, I pushed harder on the pedals. The final climb loomed. And then? A deafening blast lifted my rear wheel as my the back tire blew off the rim. “Oh, no!” said Aluminum Bike Dude.
I laughed to myself and came to a halt. For the first time I looked back, expecting to see the charging peloton, but there was no one. A few seconds went by and two riders came through, including Jonathan Flagg, perennial strongman and the guy who would stick it all the way to the finish for the win.
But where was the peloton? “Surely they’re hot on my heels?” I thought. I checked my watch in disbelief that that the attack had put any significant time into the field. A full minute later they rolled by in full chase mode.
“Wow,” I thought. “Could I have stuck it out to the end?”
Later still, Greg Leibert pedaled by and stopped. He’s the best guy in the world, and having won The Monument multiple times, he and Todd Darley preferred to stop for a friend rather than pedal insanely by for 25th place. Better yet, he called Lauren, who picked me up as I pedaled along on my blown out rear wheel.
“What happened?” she asked. I told her. “Oh, no! What a bummer! That’s terrible!”
I smiled at her. “Second best race ever.”
“Really?” she said.
“Yeah. You don’t always have to be first in order to win.”
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February 17, 2013 § 28 Comments
Some people leave their hearts in San Francisco. I leave mine a couple of times a year in Pearblossom, one of the great scenic wastelands of America.
I rode up to the race with John Hall. He had had a superlative race at Boulevard a couple of weeks back. I had, too, in my very dumbed-down definition of the word “superlative.”
Neither of us said it, but we both approached the UCLA 2013 Road Race with high expectations. One of us would be sorely disappointed. Both of us would be sore.
As I explained to John, a guy I’ve never beaten on a training ride, much less in a bike race, number pinning was the single most important detail of the race.
“It is?” he asked.
“Sure. You let your number flap and whizz like an oversized bra on a cheap hooker and no one respects you.”
“Nope. You want respect, you gotta pin your number on right.”
“Oh, sure. All the pros pin their numbers on with at least ten or twelve pins. That’s one reason they ride so fast. It creates a more perfect airfoil for the wind.”
John looked straight ahead. I don’t think he was laughing. Not at me, anyway. I’m pretty sure.
It took eleven pins, and a carefully folded right-hand corner to get the paper to bend with my armpit, and a few stabs that went to deep into my thigh and drew blood, and a couple of errant pricks that wound up pinning my jeans to my jersey, and a readjustment or two so that the bottom edge of the number wouldn’t interfere with removal of food from the pockets, but after about an hour the number was pinned perfectly. It looked like this. Feast your eyes.
All the other losers had just slapped on their numbers and spent the time warming up. John rolled by just as I was finishing what, by all accounts, was a superb job of number pinning.
“Aren’t you going to warm up?”
“Nah. These other losers don’t even have their numbers pinned on right. I got this one in the bag.”
John continued warming up.
Greg Leibert, vainquer at Boulevard, multiple winner at Punchbowl, superstar and awesome dude rolled up. “Dude,” he said, “race starts in five. Why aren’t you warming up?”
I raised a haughty eyebrow. “You should be asking ‘Why is my number not pinned on as well as Wankmesiter’s?”
“Your number, dude. It’s not pinned on very well. It’s kind of crooked.”
He shook his head and left. Just then Tink came up. She’d just won her pro 1/2 race, had gotten second at Boulevard, and had outsprinted one of SoCal’s top women pros to win today after a 25-mile two-woman breakaway that beat the field by three minutes. “WM,” she said, “I’m really worried about your hydration and nutrition. What’s in the water bottle?”
“You need an electrolyte. You’ll dehydrate and die on this course.”
I shook my head. “Oh, Tink, Tink, Tink. You’re such an inexperience young thing. Behold!” I help up my perfectly pinned number.
“What? The number. Look how nicely I’ve pinned it on. It’s the best-pinned number by far. It will frighten everyone when they see how detail oriented and meticulous I am. They will extrapolate from the number to my careful race preparation and training methods. They will be paralyzed with fear.”
“Maybe. Until they see you’ve only got one water bottle and it’s filled with water and you don’t have any food or gels. Then they’ll think you’re sloppy and ill-prepared and have no idea what you’re doing, which will negate the effect of your number. Which, I admit, is pretty tasteful and pro.”
I laughed. “You’ll see.”
Nothing trumps confidence
Today was my day and everyone knew it. I even took a picture in the car to memorialize the look of pre-victory. Feast your eyes.
The selection for this race started when you were born
People who do or don’t do the UCLA road race always talk about how it’s a “selective” course and how the “selection” comes early. In most amateur wanker (redundant, I know) races where this kind of verbiage gets bandied about, it means that the chaff is separated from the wheat in the first few miles or so.
Punchbowl’s selection, however, begins at birth. If you are genetically predisposed to never exceed four feet in height and 57 pounds in weight, to have lungs that could double as flotation devices for an anchor, to have legs that terminate right below your neck, and to have the pain threshold of an anvil, you have made the selection of “possible Punchbowl winner.” All others are selected to be in the category of “loser” or “quitter” or “quitter and loser.”
The Punchbowl course features 15,000 feet of vertical climbing per meter, along with gale force winds. It begins at an elevation of about 5,000 feet, so unless your name is Oreamnos Americanus, the empty, rasping, dry, heaving sensation in your lungs (which quickly spreads to your other internal organs) begins the second you step out into the scorching heat.
The great thing about the Punchbowl course in February, though, is that it doesn’t always welcome you with scorching heat. With snow still on the mountains that separate this meth-infested shithole from the meth-infested shithole of Los Angeles, it sometimes welcomes you with snow, hail, ice, sleet, and freezing rain.
Canvassing people before and after they’ve raced the Punchbowl course covers the gamut in human excusifying. Here are some of the gems I overheard yesterday:
One-lap quitter: “I had terrible back spasms and my HR was at 150 going into the first climb. It was physically dangerous for me to continue.”
Translation: “I suck and am slow and wasn’t even remotely prepared for the brutality of the course and the onslaught of speed that begin in mile one of the first climb on the first lap, so, because I couldn’t endure the pain and wasn’t proud enough to guy it out, I gave up and quit.”
First-lap droppee and Cat 4 finisher: “I did the Cat 4 race because it’s harder than the 45+ race.”
Translation: “I’ve never heard of, let alone ridden with world champion Thurlow Rogers, state TT champ Greg Leibert, national road silver medalist Jeff Konsmo, et al.”
First-lap droppee and 45+ finisher: “This was the worst day I’ve ever had on a bike.”
Translation: “I’ve never done Punchbowl before.”
19th-placed Cat 4 finisher: “I had a great race!”
Translation: “I finished!”
First-lap shellee and quitter: “I actually made it up the first climb, but got dropped on the descent.”
Translation: “I was slow and out of gas and terrified of the 50mph+ speed so I pooped in my shorts and quit before the goo drizzled out my pants leg.”
Cat 3 Pack Meat: “Our team got third!”
Translation: “I personally got stomped!”
First-lap droppee and second-lap quitter (that would be me): “I have a vastly overrated opinion of my ability and when the going gets tough I squnch and splatter like a soft jelly-filled donut under the wheels of an onrushing freight train.”
Translation: “You are the 99.999999999%.” [Of bike racers.]
The path to victory is strewn with the bones of the poorly-pinned
One of the great things about having the best-pinned on number in the race and having eked out 15th place in an earlier race is that you become an instant expert on everything, especially race tactics. “Man,” I said to MMX before the race began, “Konsmo plays it too safe. If he attacked more, on a course like this no one could hold his wheel. He could shatter the entire field, sit up and wait for a handful of reinforcements, then decimate whatever was left in the sprint.”
One mile into the race Konsmo attacked on the course so that no one could hold his wheel. He shattered the entire field, sat up and waited for a handful of reinforcements, and then rode away. I was panting so hard that I couldn’t hear anything except the opening and shutting of my heart valves. My world had been reduced to the six inches of pavement in front of my wheel. I made the first turn, struggled along at the rear of the lead group for a minute or two, and then imploded.
However, I wasn’t worried. Konsmo’s number was askew and had been haphazardly attached with yucky spray stuff that would leave ugly marks on his jersey. He was coming back.
At that moment a pro rider who had missed his start came whizzing by with a grin. “Yo, Wankster!” he said. “Hop on!”
Sergio slowed down to a crawl, I attached, and he dragged me over the climb, where we picked up Tri-Dork, MMX, and a host of other droppees. Tri-Dork was having the ride of his life. Our reinforced group, driven by my awesomely pinned number, chased down the leaders.
I turned to MMX. “Poor bastards,” I said. “They don’t have a chance.” I slapped my number in confidence. MMX shook his head and moved up, clearly regretting the decision to let me wear the SPY-Giant-RIDE team outfit. We trolled along the crosswind and hit the right turn up the climb.
Leibert, who must have gotten a number adjustment along the way. Hit the first roller with a vengeance. “Thanks for the tow,” I muttered to Sergio.
“No problem,” he laughed. “You’re back in the mix now! Do it!”
So I did it. “It,” of course meaning that I sputtered. I coughed. I choked. I flailed. I got dropped.
Right there, my race hopes died, and things went from bad to worse. Tri-Dork passed me, and roared on to an incredible 12th place finish. At the end of the race there was a small de-naming ceremony where he was placed on the podium and the Poobah from Pearblossom waved his magic meth stick over Tri-Dork’s head and spake thus: “Oh, mighty Tri-Dork, eater of In ‘N Out, spreader of butter on his beer and ale, goofy bastard who is fain to hold a straight line at Boulevard and who descendeth Punchbowl with the ferocity of a Russian meteorite, he who lacketh the gene of Quit, who rolleth like thunder despite his inherent Tri-dorkiness, today we de-name you “Tri-Dork” and hereby christen you forever and henceforth “Anvil” for the crushing weight you drop on on your adversaries, and for the fatness of your own posterior which aids your descending and does not in the least impede your uphill skills against featherweight manorexics half your size.”
A quite graveside service
At the end of the second lap my dead hopes and dreams, bleeding and inert, were rudely shoveled off the racecourse and into the ignominy of the car, where I undressed, put on jeans, and sobbed quietly over my perfectly pinned on number. Little teardrops formed sad hearts and drippy unicorns as I cried and gently rent by breast.
Then I went back to the start/finish to cheer the racers and let the women feel my satiny skin while extolling the virtues of a kimchi-based diet. The women were impressed with my skin, but not so much with the kimchi. “I bet you fart all the time because of that stuff,” they said.
Now that you mention it…
The final shakedown
As I stood there cheering it occurred to me how much more awesome it was to stand on the roadside with a cold energy drink, snacking on Cheeto’s, and having cute girls feel my satiny skin was than pounding out a tattoo of death with angry, forceful, road warrior assassins hell-bent on inflicting misery and pain on wankers like me. I made a mental note of this.
On the final lap, Konsmo caught the three breakaways with 400m to go and left them like they were planted in cement. He roared to what can only be described as the most impressive victory for someone with a poorly sprayed-on number in the history of the sport.
Showing the grit, determination, and toughness that made them borderline mental cases for persevering in such a hopeless display of defeat and pain and misery and disappointment, the rest of the field dribbled in.
John had a great result, and we returned to Los Angeles enjoying an extended rehash of each and every move and countermove. I explained in great detail how Jay LaRiviere, with whom I’d had an Internet dust-up the year before, had caught me, dropped me, and ground me into dust. Revenge, as they say, is best served up cold, although in this case the extra flavoring of pain, altitude, endless climbing, and physical and mental collapse probably made it even better.
“Still,” I said, “he’d have done even better if his number had been pinned on straight.”
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November 24, 2012 § 19 Comments
In 2009, every Donut Ride ended like this: I would be pinned, or near pinned, two-thirds of the way up the Switchbacks. The wankoton would have been blown to smithereens. The only wheels left would be John Hall, Kevin Phillips, Greg Leibert, Craig Leeuwenburgh, and a handful of others.
The old Craig would look back at me, always back at me, and stand on the pedals, and that would be it. One or two others would be able to match his pace. The rest of us would detonate in the attempt.
I wish you knew how hard I tried to go with the old Craig. I tried everything. I tried counting matches and holding a few bullets in reserve until the Switchbacks. That didn’t work. I tried gluing myself to his wheel and following his every move. That didn’t work. I tried attacking in Malaga Cove. That never came close to working. I tried stringing it out in Portuguese Bend. That never worked, either.
Whatever poison I tried, the old Craig had the antidote. He’d look back, stand on the pedals, and bust loose.
Through the sweat and pain and curses and gasps, it was quite beautiful, really. Smooth, effortless, his face set grimly to the tune of “It’s time, children,” the old Craig would look back and then glide away, twisting that enormous uphill gear like it was a piece of soft taffy. It always made me think of that gnarly, raspy, guttural refrain of John Lee Hooker’s: “Boom, boom, boom, boom.”
And then the old Craig died
I can’t put a date on it, but one day the old Craig was no longer there. He was always there, or mostly there, but he wasn’t really there anymore. The big push would come, and I’d whip by him quicker than a twig in front of a 5-hp leaf blower.
People’s lives change, of course. They get busy, or they shift priorities, or they endure tragedy, or they run out of mental fuel, or they just move on. Craig was still around, and always looked fit and fast, but the old Craig was gone.
It would almost make me sad to blast by him on the climbs, if dropping someone can make you sad, which, of course, it can’t, especially someone who has driven so many nails into your coffin, long nails with rusty ends that jab you in the eyes as he pounds them in. There he would go, kicked without mercy out the back, swirling and spinning and sucking down the drainpipe along with all the others. It was weird to see, and unsettling, and somehow it was wrong.
It was wrong because Craig was already in an elite group of athletes for whom the bike was a tiny part of a rather big picture. Craig flies huge airplanes filled with living, breathing people, and his decisions, his actions, his approach each day in his life carries with it the consequences of immediate life or death for tens of thousands of people every year.
The magnitude of that responsibility is one thing, but his behavior on the bike, even after the old Craig had given up the ghost, never varied. When someone flatted, he was the one who pulled over to make sure the tire got properly fixed. Sometimes he could tow the rider back to the group–often as not someone he’d never met before and would never meet again–other times his group ride ended right there on some windy stretch of PCH, left alone to bull into the wind for a few hours.
In addition to always being there for others, with the exception of that harsh, cruel moment when the old Craig would look back and lower the sharpened blade, his kindness was without limit. Gentle, soft-spoken, funny, empathetic, and solid as bedrock…those things never changed despite the early passing of the old Craig.
Crushing that guy and spitting him out the back, rolling over his carcass with a hard kick of the pedals, always felt wrong, even though to do otherwise on the Switchbacks would have broken the code, the law, the iron mandate of the Church of the Spinning Wheel: “Crush today if you can, for tomorrow it will be you.”
How soon we forget
Throughout 2010, 2011, and 2012, the old Craig became a distant memory. He had a new place in the wankoton, and we forgot he’d ever had any other: The new Craig was pack meat.
Today there had been a furious run-up to the Switchbacks. Vince DiMeglio had burned holes in the carpet from the bottom of Trump National, leaving what was left of the hundred-plus holiday pack to consider alternate training methods.
Mark Alvarado jumped hard just after Trump, taking a handful with him. Chain locked onto his big ring, he shot up the first ramp of the Switchbacks, then accelerated all the way to the first turn. I don’t know how many were left; stuck on his wheel I could only count three or four shadows behind me.
We soft pedaled to the second turn and Mark went again after the bend. I took a pull and swung over after the third turn. Jake Sorosky plowed forward. A few kernels in the pan popped, Mark among them, as I gathered what little I had left to hold Jake’s crazy, wobbling, swerving, back-and-forth, uneven wheel.
After the fourth turn, a solid two-thirds of the way up, I stood up and shed Jake, spinning hard, pinned. Then I heard a whining wheel, the sound of accelerating rubber.
It was Craig. He passed me slowly, giving me a half-second to get on. Then he looked back.
It was brief.
It was grim.
It was the old Craig, with vengeance. He kicked so hard I couldn’t have followed without a motorized assist. Then he vanished, vapor, spinning that soft taffy without stress or strain.
I blew and swirled down the drainpipe. There was no other detritus to swirl with.
If you can pin bike blow, I pinned the smear and held it all the way to the top. Steven Ruiz made a come-around attempt, but I fended him off, somehow.
At the summit I only had one breath left. “Good to see you back, Craig.”
He smiled, gently. “Nice job, buddy. It’s been a while.”
July 15, 2012 § 16 Comments
Dorky Sock Dude didn’t know his socks were dorky. What he did know as he raced along the bike path was that he loved the neon yellow jersey with bright purple sleeves that went flashing by in the opposite direction.
“That,” said Dorky Sock Dude to himself, “is the raddest thing I have ever seen. Where can I get one?”
DSD had been cycling for about a year and he was pretty proud of himself. He had a brand new Cannondale. It was bright silver. He had some super rad shifter stuff, Shimano 105 it was called. He had an ultra rad helmet with a little plastic visor that jutted out from it, very pro. And to make it all hang together he had gone out shopping for the best pair of socks he could find, until he found them.
The green and red slashing thunderbolts with orange flames had a black and purple background with some yellow asteroids raining down from the top of the cuff. They made him happy every time he pulled them on. They were tall, they were comfy, they were rad, and they were very, very pro.
Welcome to the friendly cycling community
DSD found out that this rad and uber-hip neon yellow, purple sleeved jersey was worn by a certain South Bay cycling club. It was the biggest club. It was the oldest club. It was the legit-est club. DSD didn’t know or care about any of that, though. He just wanted the jersey, and he wanted to be teammates with the dudes and chicks who wore that cool jersey.
Why? Because biking was fun, because he’d been doing it for a year now and thought he was getting pretty fit, and because anybody who had a jersey that rad must be a pretty cool anybody.
DSD sent in his membership application and before long he got his jersey. He was one happy dude. He laid it out on the bed next to his shorts and socks and gloves and shoes and helmet, with his bike off to the side, and admired the ensemble. Dorky Sock Dude had done sports in college, and he missed being on a team. He felt lucky to have discovered cycling, and even luckier to have learned that there were teams where people could get together to ride and have a good time, and, luckiest of all, that anybody could join.
The next morning he got up, ate breakfast, and put on his biking duds. He looked at himself in the mirror. He didn’t shave his legs like lots of the other bikers he saw, but that’s because he didn’t really understand why shaved legs had anything to do with riding a bike.
DSD had learned that there was a club ride that morning, meeting at 6:30 AM at the Pier. He left his house extra early so he wouldn’t be late. It was a great feeling, and exciting, too. He’d get to meet all of his new teammates and they would show him some cool biking stuff and workout tips and answer some questions that had been bouncing around in his head about cycling and training and fitness and stuff. Mostly stuff.
Nice to see you. Not.
When DSD rolled up to the Pier, there were five or six of his teammates draped nonchalantly on their top tubes, chatting with each other. Dorky Sock Dude was so happy he didn’t know what to do. They looked like they were talking in earnest, so he figured he’d just circle around and then introduce himself. He was wearing the team jersey, and there was no one else in sight, so any minute now they’d nod to him and he’d get to meet his mates.
Nobody said a word to him or even made eye contact. “Wow,” thought DSD “they must be talking about some serious cycling stuff.”
Then, without a word, they clicked in and rolled out. DSD hopped on behind the group, hoping someone would say something, but not knowing how to introduce himself he just sat awkwardly on the back. They were now rolling at a good clip, and occasionally one of the other riders would glance back to see if he was still there.
An unspoken signal was passed, and the riders dropped into single file. Dorky Sock Dude was at the end, and the pace became brutally hard. He knew it was brutally hard because the other guys were breathing loudly, and their bikes seemed to wobble. “This is cool!” thought DSD to himself. “I guess we’re doing intervals now! This is kind of like what we did on the track team in college!”
DSD moved up in the paceline, and when it was his turn he thought, “I better do my turn so they don’t think I’m slacking!” Within seconds the following riders swarmed around him, saying nothing, panting hard, beating furiously at the pedals.
“Wow!” thought DSD. “This is hard! This is great!” He hopped on the end of the train, which only had three of the original six riders left. With each surge DSD came through, got swarmed, sat on, then came through again. Soon there was no one left but DSD and one other guy, lathered in sweat and gagging on his own tongue.
Dorky Sock Dude took one final pull. “I’m pretty darn whipped, but I’ll do this last one if I can.” When he pulled over there was no one behind him. A very small group of five riders was far back in the distance, working together as hard as they could even while DSD continued to pull away. “Shoot!” he said to himself. “I lost my buddies! NOT COOL!”
Your buddies will be happy you waited
The group caught up to Dorky Sock Dude, but no one said a word. Thinking he’d tired, they began the paceline anew. Within minutes DSD was off by himself. “Crap!” he said to himself, doubly angry because he didn’t like to curse, even silently, “I lost my buddies! NOT COOL!”
By the third act in this often-seen play, the teammates gave up. Dorky Sock Dude had legs of steel, and was easily the match, and then some, of their combined efforts. The head rider came up to him. “That Shimano 105 stuff is total crap,” he said.
DSD didn’t know what to say. The next rider pedaled by. “And those socks are dork city. Get some new socks, dude.”
It washed over him. These weren’t his buddies. They’d been trying to ride away from him, but they couldn’t. So now the best they could do was to make fun of his socks and his bike.
To the extent that any of this ever happened, and I can assure that all of the true parts really did, it all took place in the late 1990’s. And if you’ve ridden at all in the South Bay, you’ve met Dorky Sock Dude, otherwise known as Greg Leibert. He’s the one who greets every newcomer with a smile, who encourages every rider regardless of ability, who stops to help you change your flat, who paces you back up to the group, and who, if you race against, almost always finishes in front of you. He’s the guy that everyone else wants to be like, even while he’s tearing you a new asshole.
He’s also the guy who wears tall white socks with the horizontal blue stripes. And the only thing people ask about his footwear nowadays is “Hey, Greg, where can I get a rad pair of socks like that?”