FTR 2012: What should I wear?

January 16, 2012 § 3 Comments

The pain, almost unendurable. The stabbing throbs, radiating out from my core and spreading throughout my entire body. Everything stretched to its absolute limit, feeling as if the tissue would tear apart and spill my innards.

Pre-game face game face

This is what the FTR 2012 felt like, and that was just my stomach after pounding down the twelve pieces of French toast and matching sausage logs. It was destined to become a day in infamy, but hours before the first slab of syrup-coated, egg-battered toast slithered down my throat, I had to make some important decisions, and none more important than this: What should I wear?

The choice of clothing was crucial. FTR 2012 was contested by five major teams, and two odd, all-black fashion mistakes from Santa Fe and from Manhattan Beach. The teams were SPY Optic, Big Orange, Ironfly, Helen’s, and the we-can’t-afford-a-final-coat-so-we’re-stopping-with-the-primer-gray outfits of Team LBF (Long Beach Freddies).

I stared hard at my cycling fall fashion collection. If I chose SPY, I would be honoring my comrade-in-arms from FTR 2011’s heroic pee-stop breakaway, MMX. However, a SPY kit would mark me as a teammate of FTR DS Jaeger, King Harold, Dogg, T-Rex, and that outcast homewrecker, Toronto–all foes I had sworn to destroy. Moreover, I had flown the SPY colors the previous week at the Nichols Canyon beatdown, despite being surrounded by my Ironfly teammates.

On the other hand, if I wore my Ironfly kit, word would eventually get back to the Fireman, who would berate me for my non-Fly attire. But if I failed to wear the SPY kit I wouldn’t have a Red Kite’s prayer of ever being able to face MMX again. It would be as traitorous as if I were to write a positive review of Assos Zeghole cycling glasses.

Caught in the dilemma, I resolved it the usual way: grabbed what was closest, and said, “Fuggit.”

Load ‘em up!

Apparently, I wasn’t the only person who had the SPY Optic/Ironfly clothing dilemma. Unbeknownst to me, Toronto had been tormented by the choice and had called StageOne at 3:00 a.m. in a frenzy before the ride. “Dude, what should I wear?”

“Huh? Who is this?”

“It’s me, Toronto. I can’t decide which kit to wear!”

“What the fuck are you talking about? Wear whatever’s been washed. That’ll sure narrow it down. It’s fucking three a.m.”

“I want to wear my SPY kit, but what if Fukdude gets pissed?”

“Fukdude is asleep. He’s not doing the ride. He wouldn’t care even if he was.”

“I’m going with SPY then.” Toronto plunged immediately to sleep, while StageOne had to toss and turn, as he’d been mercilessly ripped from REM and couldn’t get back.

Redondo rendezvous

I had agreed to meet StageOne at the corporate world HQ in Redondo, where we would be picked up by T-Rex and Toronto. My initial plan had been to simply ride there, but a little angel on my right shoulder said, “Are you fucking out of your mind? After FTR you’ll be too tired to lift your weenie, much less pull yourself back up to the top of PV.” So I chose the less green alternative, loaded up the Scratch, and drove to the HQ.

T-Rex picked us up and we made a beeline for the Starbucks, where we re-rendezvoused with Stern-O and Major Bob. Stern-O and StageOne had gone through a bitter divorce in 2011, and although there hadn’t been any children, and although Stern-O had kept all the assets, and although no spousal support had been ordered, there was still the lingering bitterness from the end of a long and loving relationship. Stern-O ignored StageOne, but, ever the gentleman, StageOne said, “How you doing?”

“I’ve got shingles, that’s how!” snapped Stern-O. “Which comes from stress!”

We parted them with a crowbar and got back into the truck. As Major Bob raced ahead, we noticed his bike on the rack, while Stern-O’s $44,929.19 Look full-carbon, monococque Triumph with internal disc brakes and hybrid transmission (hasn’t been released in the US yet; Serial No. 000001) was carefully stowed in a bike bag and placed inside the car.

Ride with your legs, win with your head

As we rolled out to the cheering of six wildly enthusiastic supporters, I knew that this FTR would be different. No more pointless hammering at the front. No bait-taking on the descent and run-in to Fillmore. No stroke-for-stroke shows of strength on the climb into Ojai. I would chill at the back and save the only two bullets I had: one for Casitas Lake, and one for Balcom.

The amazement rippled through the peloton as I took up my seat at the back of the bus. Where was Wanky? We’d already done 1.2 miles and he hadn’t attacked, or gone to the front for a senseless pull, or scampered up some slight rise. Looks of amazement shot my way as various riders dropped back to compliment me on my restraint.

On the first climb Roadchamp strung it out and sprinted away for the KOM. I happily chilled in the GdW (Grupetto de Wank) and advised Hockeystick of the sharp downhill turn coming up. We reattached and the group split again on the next rise. Mystery Rider rolled off the point and began the long climb before the descent into Fillmore. FTR DS marshaled his SPY unit and chased, but to no avail: MR nailed the KOM and was far down the descent before our chase group crested the top. I’d been doing 350 watts just sitting on a wheel for much of the climb, and was thrilled that FTR DS was willing to fire the bullets in his clip.

On the descent I got stuck behind Roadchamp and Dogg, both of whom are massively chicken descenders. UbeRfRed sped away and at the bottom it was just me sitting on Roadchamp’s wheel. He turned on the muscle once we hit the flats, and over the course of the next mile brought us to within 200m of the lead chase. MR was in sight. He flicked his elbow for me to close the final gap, but I did the unthinkable: laughed and refused.

Unfortunately, my teammate Polly had latched on, and rather than forcing Roadchamp to do a little extra work, he launched and dragged us up to the breakaway, which contained King Harold and Hair, and now Roadchamp. We overhauled MR, and one of the day’s many revelations began to make itself known: G3 attacked, taking UbeRfRed with him. They flailed valiantly in the vicious headwind for a few minutes as the gas slowly escaped from their egos with each pedal stroke.

Here, however, was a new G3: gone was the wheelsucking, cautious, gas-saving, calculating viper of sneakdom, replaced by the G3 I feared more than any other–the attacking, risk-taking hammer who was now blending panache into his well polished arsenal of strategic conservation. Although this attempt failed, it marked the beginning of a very ugly and ultimately successful pattern.

With three hundred meters to go before the Fillmore sprint, Hair hit the jets. It was a nice little clinic on the difference between road racers and road sprinters. He cleared the sign by so much that it took the light several seconds to travel the distance from his rear wheel to our retinas. Score: Roadchamp 1, Hair 1, Wankers 0.

Don’t poke the gorilla

Our gap on the GdW was immense, and I pulled over in a driveway off the main road to relieve myself. As I fumbled with my parts a group of chickens dashed out from the bushes, surprised at the early morning shower. Unfortunately, they were accompanied by a rooster, who was prepared to defend his hens. He had giant spurs and was advancing menacingly towards me. You may not think chickens are scary, but when you’ve got one leg still over your top tube, the other leg awkwardly balanced in loose gravel, your hand on your dick and the other hand trying to keep your bike from sliding out from under you, and a big ass rooster with a huge beak and spurs sharp enough to cut sheet metal, well, it’s unnerving at best.

At the same time, I heard commotion in the little rental cottages behind me, and realized with a glance that whoever was looking out the kitchen window was likely wondering why the skinny guy was peeing on their chickens. My Spanish isn’t great, but I heard something that sounded like, “I think I can shoot it off from here,” and then the familiar noise of shells spilling out on the kitchen counter.

It was going to be hard to explain to the guys how I’d been neutered from 200 yards and then scratched up by an angry rooster, and even though it would easily top the Balcom flail from 2011 for its bloggability, I holstered up and scampered back to the roadway.

We regrouped; StageOne had flatted, and as we got going McRibs lost his iPod Shuffle at 35mph. It was unthinkable that he could complete the ride without listening to the endless loop of Chrissy Hines and “Back on the Chain Gang,” so we stopped while he collected his hardware. A few minutes later, Turtle got what would the second and last flat of the day.

As we churned towards Santa Paula with a whipping tailwind, Roadchamp decided to take the sprint, a move that poked Hair right in the eye. As Roadchamp raised his arms just before crossing the line, Hair pipped him at the finish. Erik Zabel knows about this, I think. So as we turned onto the road towards Ojai, it was Road champ 1, Hair 2, Wankers 0.

Up the bump, then hit “thrust”

We began the climb that lies between Santa Paula and Ojai. The leaders quickly pulled away as I sat patiently in the GdW. The road rolls by several small goat and llama ranches, and the cute little lambs there all shouted at us as we rolled by, chorusing “Meee-meee-meee” as they vied for our attention.

MR took the KOM with ease, and two miles before the Ojai sprint, G3 again showed his “new man” colors and took a flyer. This time, instead of being chased down by his own teammates, he rolled freely up the road, not to be seen again until the first official rest stop. Although the SPY chase was fast and furious, it failed to bring back the valiant charge of the man in orange. Ironfly blue was nowhere in the hunt, flailing, flogging, and wanking at maximum capacity. We gassed up, and soldiered on. It was now Roadchamp 1, Hair 2, G3 1, MR 1.

Firing the first bullet

As we began the climb up from Lake Casitas, I chambered the first round and pointed it squarely at the heads of Roadchamp, MR, FTR DS, and G3. The road tilted up, they pushed the pace, and then out of the group leaped King Harold at the very moment a motorcycle was passing on the left. He grabbed onto the seat of the motor and was gone, and all the screams and curses couldn’t bring him back.

After a few more moments it was a select group of six, also including Yoda of the Long Beach crew. I pointed the gun and pulled the trigger. Expecting a huge recoil from the massive slug I’d fired, I was surprised at the tiny dribbling BB that plooked out the end of the barrel. However, I glanced down at my watt meter, which read “480.” That was an unusually high number, and it corresponded with a searing, frying burn accompanied by a lacerating pop, huge black spots in front of my eyes, a wavering front wheel, and the receding figures of the leading five.

Until you’ve been sitting on Roadchamp’s wheel and had him accelerate away from you on a long climb at over 500 watts, you don’t know helplessness or despair. But that’s what he did. Now it was back to my usual Plan B, which was “Don’t get caught by the wankers in the rear!” I got a few fistfuls of air and spun for a few seconds, and then shifted into my big chain ring.

Here came King Harold, finally dislodged from his motorbike. Next came Yoda, with a strange, twisted look of un-wisdom plastered across his face. Just ahead of me was G3, but his rapidly pumping legs telegraphed “Give up, Wanky. I’m much faster than you. Quit now while you’re behind.” Just ahead I could see the fireworks as Roadchamp crushed the life out of FTR DS, who was now unhitched and flailing in between the leaders and G3.

I slogged over the first peak and pedaled hard. At less than halfway the effort had already initiated miniature, pre-cramp twinges in my legs. This far from Balcom and cramps already setting in? It was ugly and about to get uglier. G3 stayed in my sights all the way to the second Casitas peak, and I could even see the threesome of Roadchamp, MR, and FTR DS, and just before the top I had closed to within 200 meters of G3, but the second he hit the downhill it was game over. He literally vanished, so hard and fast did he hit the downhill.

In the real race ahead, Roadhchamp and FTR DS dropped Mystery Rider on the second peak, leaving him to flail and chase all the way to the next huge sprint at the Santa Barbara County Line. Just as the leaders were sure they had buried their best friend, beloved teammate, and person they’d do anything for, he appeared out of nowhere, chasing down the leaders and blazing for the sign. FTR DS was having none of it, and opened up with the sprint for which he’s not really famous, in fact, for which he’s not really ever been known to have, a sprint so tiny and small and hard to observe that you generally need a large magnifying glass to see it.

Not so today! FTR DS, raging at the Casitas climb debacle, blew by Roadchamp even as MR turned on the Come-Around-From-Dog jets to no avail. Shortly after flailing by the sign on my own I was overtaken by the charging paceline of T-Rex, Polly, and Yoda, confirming several other key points of this year’s FTR: 1) Polly had climbing legs 2) Yoda had only cracked the lid of his can of whupass 3) T-Rex was in for the long haul.

New adjusted score: Roadchamp 2, Hair 2, G3 1, MR 1, FTR DS 1. Everyone else: flail and flog.

It’s a long way (to Tipperary), It’s a long way (to home)

As we regrouped several other truths became self evident, among them Hockeystick’s serious road skills. After all the jokes and hilarity and rude comments about his eminent unsuitability for this particular hammerfest, he looked fresh as a daisy and was riding like a champ. And despite all the love and support heaped upon the head of StageOne, he looked like he’d been forced to swallow a grenade and then chase it with a bunker buster. “Dude,” King Harold said. “You okay?”

“Urrble gmelszx prrp,” was all StageOne could answer. Which was too bad. Because the second we hit the 101, King Harold twisted the throttle clean off the handlebar. The acceleration was nasty beyond belief, so sudden did it rain down upon our heads. Sitting second wheel as the pavement flashed by, so many thoughts went through my head.

1. Wow, my legs feel great. I should save it for Balcom.
2. Man, now is the time to show how much I’ve learned. Just chill and save it for Balcom.
3. We’re barely halfway. Let King Harold administer the beatdown. Save it for Balcom.
4. You’ve only got one bullet left. Save it for Balcom.
5. Tuck in. Save it for Balcom.

Harry swung over, and Turtle matched the pull with a monster effort. A quick glance back saw the group strung out in a thin, long, narrow line of grimacing pain. The siren called. Turtle swung over. The siren called louder. I flung myself willingly into her waiting arms.

I can’t tell you much about the next six or seven miles except that our group got a lot smaller. Everyone stopped pulling except for MR. Hockeystick stuck his nose up into the wind for two solid pulls, Turtle took another hit or two, but everyone else just cowered or cracked. Roadchamp rocketed off the back to “help StageOne,” and presumably to also help his own legs avoid the brutal battering on the point.

At one point Hair rotated through and advised me to “stop surging,” which we all know is bikespeak for “please slow down because I’m cracking like a whimpering cur,” and which we also know does nothing but encourage the surger. Which it did. By the time we’d whittled down to a small group I swung off as we approached a heretofore unknown “sprint” at Faria Beach. King Harold zinged by, raised his hands, and everyone heaved a sigh of relief–rather than pound out the remaining six miles until everyone was hamburger meat, we sat up and were rejoined by the flotsam and jetsam created by King H.

Iron Mike had closed one particularly nasty gap, and everyone had a survival story to tell, particularly StageOne, who had devoted an entire Biblical psalm to Roadchamp for dropping back to help. The new score was Roadchamp 2, Hair 2, G3 1, MR 1, FTR DS 1, and King Harold 1.

The joy of sugar-covered donuts, Dr. Pepper, and a handful of nuts

At the Circle K in Ventura we ate, sneaked into the off-limits bathroom, and sat on the curb while our legs stiffened like quick-curing concrete. Several riders looked remarkably fresh. There was Toronto, who’d been following wheels and riding smart. There was UbeRfrEd, who’d done not a lick of work since his attack into Fillmore and looked like he could retrace the route, twice. There was Stern-O, older than dirt and looking fresh as a daisy. There was Douggie, hardly covered with more than an inch of crusty salt. Hockeystick? Looking great. Becker Bob? Looking like a cadaver. Dogg? What long bike ride? Major Bob? Peaked, but surviving. Elron? Flogging but happy. McRibs? Refused to get off his bike at the Circle K and rode around in circles to stave off the Balcom cramps. Iron Mike? Refused to even stop, and soldiered on with StageOne, fearing that once off his bike he’d never remount. Yoda? Scary good. Big Bowles? Fine ‘n dandy.

As I stood in line with my Dr. Pepper, a roll of powdered sugar donuts called sweetly to me, proving an axiom of long hammerfests: the harder you ride, the worse your nutrition becomes. I couldn’t resist, and bought the pretty little package. Out on the curb, the donuts were so sweet that they made the DP taste less than sugary. Before I’d had so much as an opportunity to nap, FTR DS was herding us back onto our bikes.

“Want some of these?” MR asked. He held out a giant bag of nuts.

“Fuck yeah. Sugar donuts, espresso GU, Dr. Pepper, a bonk breaker, and salty nuts. What could possibly go wrong?”

Two minutes later, as we began struggling up the sharp climb out of Ventura, everything went wrong. Legs refused to work. Brain began sending distress signals to heart and lungs. Bowels tried to void.

The only remaining bullet I’d had was fired pointlessly on the 101. Everyone now looked terrible, the brave facades from a few minutes before erased like a blow to the face with a hammer. We still had 38 horrific miles until we could collapse in the Jaegers’ front yard. So there was only one rational choice, and I made it.

Attack.

A few quick jolts on the pedals and I was gone. A look back, and they were gone. A second look back, and I had company. Mystery Rider. The one guy above all others you want in a breakaway. Stronger than fifteen draft horses. The heart of a thousand warriors. Legs of steel. Perpetually burning inside with the fire to crush and destroy. Lover of attacks, initiator of breaks, climber of legend, relentless machine…so off we went.

The gap grew and grew until even the impossible began to look like it could happen–if we made Santa Paula we’d be able to take advantage of traffic and spring out onto the road leading to Balcom with a huge, perhaps insurmountable advantage. Cramps and collapse be damned, we were all in. Until, of course, we weren’t.

As we hit the big sweeping left I looked down at my watt meter. We’d gone from a steady 290-300 watts to 230. “I’m unraveling, dude,” MR muttered.

“That’s okay,” I said. “I’ve already unraveled.”

And there to reel in the yarn was the steady, tempo-pounding beasts from SPY, hauling us gradually back into the fold. “Nice try,” said UbeRfrEd, “but really pointless.”

The tamer of beasts

When we turned off onto Death Alley, a few guys stopped to pee and Stern-O, StageOne, and Major Bob dashed off ahead in a replay of last year’s infamous pee attack. The rest of us pedaled slowly, feeling every muscle tense as we awaited Balcom. I’d spoken with Iron Mike before the ride and he’d asked, “Is it as hard as Santa Cruz?” referring to the wall we’d had to climb in 2010’s leg of death on the Man Tour. “It’s about the same,” I’d said.

He would later gently chide me. “Balcom Canyon Road and the climb to Santa Cruz,” he would say, “are not the same.”

And indeed they are not. We made the fatal right hand turn and passed by the Guardrail d’Cramp. FTR DS hollered out from the front, “Wankmeister! There’s your guardrail!” A few riders chuckled, but not too many and not too loudly, because about that time the giant thorn of Balcom came into view, gashing the skyline with an ugliness and ferocity that made the prospect of cramping on a guardrail seem very, very real.

We hit the bottom and Hockeystick rode away from me. Stern-O, defying every truth known to carbon dating, flew up the hill. I focused on the pavement three inches before my front wheel and refused to look one inch further. I knew what was coming.

Roadchamp raced to the top, beating out the sensational and impressive G3, followed by FTR DS. And then, propelled by smart riding, extensive wheelsucking, great base miles, and the advantages of being one tough sonofabitch, Douggie crossed the line fourth, followed by Yoda. UbeRfrEd flew his colors and raced in shortly after MR, with Dogg and Polly in hot pursuit.

Inch by inch I overtook Hockystick, who nonetheless put in the ride of all rides, and I even got to enjoy the misery of Stern-O as he suffered the worst possible mechanical at the worst possible time: his $7,599 brand new Campy Electro gruppo (Serial No. 00001) didn’t function with quite the same precision as our cheapass mechanical Dura-Ace, and his chain slipped catastrophically off his 25-tooth cog onto his 23.

Going from a 25 to a 23 on the steepest part of Balcom is kind of like having your triple-wrap condom tear while you’re in a Calcutta brothel. Aside from the physical implications, mentally it just takes all the wind out of your sails (I’m told). Moreover, I’d done Balcom with a 23 the previous two years, and how Stern-O didn’t tilt over and fall I’ll never know. Wait a minute, I do know…he’s tough as a boot, that’s how. I passed him, and then Turtle, and then Toronto, and finally Hair, and it was over.

Except it wasn’t.

At the base of the climb StageOne had simply done what any intelligent person would have done when faced with that monstrosity of a climb. He had gotten off his bike and walked, and in the beginning he was walking faster than Iron Mike and Major Bob were climbing. But that didn’t last.

Just as things looked bleakest, a small white pickup filled with laborers, tools, ladders, chickens, a banty rooster, and one small goat came by. “You okay, man?” the driver asked.

“No, not really.”

“We give you a pull up this hill? This is one steep hill, man.”

“Yes,” StageOne agreed. “It is.”

“How long you been riding your bike, man?”

“I’m not really sure.”

“Where you going?”

“Uh, I think to…no, it’s…uh…up there?”

“All right, man, just hang on. We’ll give you a tow.”

So from atop Balcom we watched the little white engine that could, loaded down with the goat, chickens, the banty rooster, the leaf blowers, the mower, the ladder, the rakes, the gas can, and the one flat-ass, tired-ass, whupped-ass, beat down, run down, smacked down, knocked down but not out, one and only StageOne. He made it to the top and we all cheered. He staggered over to the guardrail. Several hours later, in the ride home, he looked over at me. “Where the hell am I? What just happened? And who the fuck are you?” We tucked him into bed with Zeke as he gave praise to dog, but that’s another story.

The score (not that anyone’s keeping it): Roadchamp 3, Hair 2, G3 1, MR 1, FTR DS 1, King Harold 1,

Meanwhile back at the ranch

We returned triumphantly to Camarillo, with Roadchamp mashing up golf course hill first, followed by Douggie and MR, and Big Bowles doing his best to dust me and flailing. Final score: Roadchamp 4, Hair 2, G3 1, MR 1, FTR DS 1, and King Harold 1.

The Jaegers had mountains of sandwiches, chips, salsa, and cold beer, but before we started eating there was a fight to the death between Douggie and Stern-O to see who would get to shower first. Stern-O won out, having successfully clogged the Jaeger family plumbing the year before, as his theory is that no asshole can be properly dubbed “clean” until you’ve scrubbed it with a full roll of toilet paper and clogged your host’s pipes for a month.

A person with those standards isn’t about to step into a shower that’s been defiled by the sweat of Douggie, and Douggie wasn’t about to take a shower after Hockeystick. I couldn’t have cared less, and was happy to sit in my stinking muck and dried sweat for the next few hours, if only to remind me of how lucky I was to be off the bike.

When I entered the bedroom where my street clothes were, UbeRfrEd was just getting out of the shower. Now I’m not the kind of guy who just sits around and stares at naked men, but the thing UbeRfrEd had hanging down to his ankles looked like a prop from G3’s video collection. At first I thought I was hallucinating due to the beatdown and exhaustion of the ride, but a second look convinced me that I was in the presence of Dog. And the more I thought about it, the more awed I became: he had hauled that 47-pound fire hose all the way up Balcom? Impressed as I had been with Roadchamp’s exploits on Casitas and the climb of death, they paled in comparison to this. It was like marching over Everest with a pet giant anaconda tied to your waist.

Oopsy!

I staggered back out into the front yard, partially blinded by what I’d seen, and stumbled upon Roadchamp’s bib shorts, which he’d left out to dry. Unfortunately, in his anxiety on the 101 about holding onto my fiery tempo, he’d suffered from a bit of nerves, and the result, photographed here by Toronto, was, er, toxic.

T-Rex, Toronto, StageOne and I bundled ourselves into T-Rex’s truck after enjoying the lunch and the incomparable Miss Jaegers’ cupcakes. For the awards presentation, SPY Optic had donated an awesome pair of performance wear to the person who suffered the most, displayed the greatest courage, did most of the work, and exhibited the truest qualities of determination, fitness, strategic thinking, teamwork, strength, endurance, and overall attitude. Of course they could therefore be awarded to no one but FTR DS’s wife, Lynn, for putting up with all this nonsense for so many years…so they were.

As we sat in the truck, comfortably cruising home with T-Rex at the helm, a message came in from MMX over the Internets: something was in the offing…SPY Optic was on the verge of doing something so extraordinary as to make all that had come before it pale in comparison. What in the name of Dog? We looked at each other in fear and disbelief at the mysterious closing: “On Tuesday, all will be revealed.”

The day of reckoning was almost at hand.

Pedals of anger and love

January 8, 2012 § 2 Comments

“You up for the La Grange ride? It’s fuckin rad, dude. You’ll fuckin love it. It’ll be your new favorite ride.” Fukdude was amped and up as we massed at the Center of the Known Universe for the Sunday Kettle Ride.

“I feel like shit. I’m still trashed from yesterday. I’m flailing. FTR is next Saturday and I’m already overtrained and cracked.”

“So you’re coming, right?”

The choices were bad and awful. I could go with Fukdude and the mixed-Ironfly contingent of Toronto, JDawg, Vegemite, Newlywed, Gonzo, M8, Danc, and Becker Bob, and get thrashed into a pulp on the La Grange Ride, or I could roll north with Roadchamp, G$, McRibs, and TF, and get squished and smeared along the roadway up Latigo.

I ended up going with my team, as I suppose it’s better to get your beatdown surrounded by friends, and the La Grange Ride is one of the most famous rides I’ve never done. As usual, Fukdude had a plan. “You’re going to get on my fuckin wheel, dude, and I’m going to drag you over the wall. Once you’re over the wall just grit your teeth and hang on. It’s all mental after the wall.

“You’ll be rolling out looking at all these fuckin dudes and thinking ‘Fuck, who are all these fuckin dudes ’cause you won’t fuckin know any of them because they don’t race but they’re strong as shit and this is their race. It’s a fuckin beatdown, dude. You’l love it. Just hang on.”

From paradise to Tin Pan Alley

We sheared off from the Kettle Ride at Marina del Rey and headed to West L.A. It was nasty and gnarly, and went down roads that, six and 3/4 days out of seven, were choked with cars. At the rendezvous point, the corner of Westwood and La Grange Avenue, riders began showing up in dribs and drabs until there were about eighty of us. The La Grange cycling club has a description of the ride on its web site which is a masterful expression of understatement and non-disclosure.

The first part of the ride is described as “purely conversational” as we started off by slogging  through what seem like dozens of traffic signals, and continue navigating potholes, avoiding treacherous splits in the asphalt that run parallel with your tire, and staying far enough forward that the guys flaunting hairy buttcracks were behind us, not in front. The “conversation” is a variety of “fucks,” “shits,” “whatthehells,” and “oh-oh-oh-oh-heyfuckitHOLE!” as the menagerie bumps, whacks, brakes, stops-and-starts its way to the throwdown.

I turn to JDawg. “When does this fucking ride get hard?”

He looks and grins. “Oh, about…now.”

We begin rolling up Nichols Canyon, the road kicks straight up, Danc spins off the front, and I’m fifth wheel, tucked behind Fukdude per the plan. A few minutes into the climb I’m laughing to myself. “This is nothing.” The group is strung out single file, I’ve got my high cadence on, and Danc is playing rabbit just up the road. The climb continues. What could be easier than this?

We hit a couple of turns and the guy on the front pulls back Danc and it’s full throttle. The easy climb that was perfectly suited to my cadence goes from totally doable to on-the-fucking-rivet-holy-mother-of-Dog-I’m-gonna vomit. Danc latches on, I struggle for another minute, the oxygen debt becomes an oxygen Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing, all power to the engines is instantaneously lost, and it’s Teblow Time.

Flail and flog

JDawg whips by me. “Spin, buddy,” he says. I try to focus on the blur as it races past, and try even harder to decipher his words. “Spin.” I know that word. “Buddy.” I’ve heard that before. What can he mean? Who is he talking to? Where am I? What am I doing? What is this hand grenade that has detonated in my chest?

Then there’s a hand on my left leg as Danc gives me a huge push. “Just a couple more minutes, buddy,” he urges. “Minutes.” I know what those are. One minute on Nichols Canyon at full throttle is a time interval equivalent to a billion years. Two minutes is twelve billion years. I gasp, choke, drop my head, and shoot off the back.

The second group comes by. I struggle on as the road continues up, up, up. A few seconds’ rest and we hit the Wall. This is the part of the ride that Fukdude described thus: “We’re gonna hit this fuckin wall, dude, it’s like straight fuckin up and you’re gonna already be on the fuckin rivet and you’ll come off a little but you’ll have to give just that extra bit beyond what you’ve got and then you’ll hitch back on and can just suffer the rest of the way. It’ll just be a few dudes and if you don’t hook on there you’ll be flailing by yourself the rest of the ride.”

He was right about the “on the rivet” part, but he was way wrong about that “extra bit” part. I would have needed a new set of legs and a hoist to close the 50 or 60 yards that now separated Group Flail from Group One. They crested and were gone.

My group of wankers included Newlywed and Vegemite, the 17 year-old team vegan who, like me, was doing the ride for the first time. The other six guys were La Grange, and they punished us mercilessly until Newlywed curled up in a fetal ball and launched back to the next chase group. Vegemite put in one good attack, then melted down into a puddle, but manfully hung on.

Adding to the fun of having your heart up in your throat for about 40 solid minutes with zero recovery was the thrill of trying to hang onto the wheels of the guys who knew the route, a fair chunk of which involved shooting through stone red lights, drilling through narrow corridors of cars at 40 mph, blasting into the middle of high speed intersections, and my personal favorite, doing it all while navigating massive potholes big enough to swallow you whole, jumping giant road cracks, edging through piled up rocks and gravel in the gutter, and stomping full power on the pedals with each punishing roller.

I flogged and flailed as two of the Mexican La Grange guys discussed the sprint finish strategy. “Hay un semaforo, y despues, los mailboxes y el sprint finish.” From my college Spanish, I knew that “semaforo” meant “fat older sister,” and “despues” meant sitting. So the one guy’s sister was sitting on the mailboxes to cheer us for the sprint finish. I was onto their strategy now.

Ahead of us, Fukdude, JDawg, and Danc had three Grangerites in their breakaway. In a well-timed urination on La Grange’s home fire hydrant, Fukdude nailed the sprint, with JDawg taking second. In Group Flail, I waited until the slight rise that presaged the mailboxes atop which the sister would be sitting. I saw the mailboxes, but no sister–and by the time I realized my error the Grangerites had sneaked by, narrowly beating me to the line by a hundred yards or so. Vegemite crept in slightly OTB, and Group Flog, containing Toronto and Newlywed, arrived in the next wave looking quite fresh, strong, healthy, fit, and fast. Had we done the same ride? I staggered over to the bushes at the Skirball and assisted with some emergency shrubbery hydration while all the Grangerites stood around and looked daggers at Fukdude, JDawg, and Danc.

Pedals of love

After fueling up at the CotKU with coffee and a chicken sandwich, I headed for the Hill and for home. In Redondo I was passed by Don and Dustin Webb. Dustin sits in the front of his dad’s customized rig, carefully belted in and wearing a very cool Livestrong helmet as Don does the tough work of pedaling the bike and his 115-lb. son up and around the hills of the peninsula.

As we hit the steep part of the pitch coming out of Redondo, Dustin looked back at his dad in pure happiness as Don cranked the bike up the hill. “He loves it when I suffer,” Don laughed. The customized fairing kept the headwind from chilling Dustin, who was warmly dressed in long-sleeved jersey and tights. As we crested the hill, Don took out Dustin’s water bottle and helped his son have a drink.

We chatted about gearing and about upcoming plans to convert the sturdy but heavy rig into a carbon fiber frame, all the while enjoying the sunlight and the beautiful view as we rolled out atop the Cove. Watching Don’s smooth, almost effortless power as he propelled his customized assistive cycle up the slope, I reflected for a moment on the morning I’d just spent smashing and bashing up Nichols Canyon, and compared that effort to the lifetime that Don has devoted to caring for, and enjoying the time with his son Dustin. My efforts felt small compared to their companionship and love.

We parted at Coronel, and I hit the climb up Via Zurita with a vigor and strength and freshness and happiness that I hadn’t had before.

The B Team

December 26, 2011 § 4 Comments

No Sergio. No Rahsaan. No G$. No Fukdude. No Jdawg. No Brauch. No DJ. No King Harold. No Charon. No Brian-guy-from-Helen’s who beat Talking Legs for second on Thanksgiving. No Talking Legs. MMX made an appearance, but it was with a fractured vertebrae, so he was only good for about half the climb.

Instead, today’s Holiday Ride was populated by the B team: G3, Corncob, Stormin Norman, and JB, as well as Wankmeister, who got a temporary promotion from the B-minus team, or maybe from the C+ team.

For everyone used to the 28mph death roll up San Vicente that happens every time Rahsaan or Sergio shows up, it was a pleasant, chatty cakewalk. Left at the light, down the hill, right turn, and stop at the Mandeville light. Tandem Brad scoots through the yellow and takes off hell for leather. Everyone else patiently waits.

The light turns green, but no massive surge of Freds to the fore, ginning out top speed for a quarter-mile until they blow. Just a moderate pace for the first short bit, almost conversational. G3 takes a hard pull. Boeinboing takes a somewhat hard pull. Wankmeister refuses to pull. Corncob flips the “on” switch and turns on the power drill.

Wanky keeps the pressure on, then falls back a few wheels just in time to hear a shouting match between Saturn and Divepro about which one gets to sit on his wheel. Before they come to blows Wanky hits the gas, and there’s Saturn’s ponytail, tucked into the slipstream. Divepro is apparently diving down, or back, quickly.

JB throws down and after a few minutes it’s just five: Corncob, G3, Stormin Norman, JB, and Wankmeister. Looks like another win for Big Orange, as all but Ironfly Wanky ride for B.O., and a couple of them ride with B.O.

Fully expecting them to take turns attacking, Wankmeister waits for the inevitable beatdown. JB, however, begins laboring like a beached whale as the sound of a collapsed lung and fluid dripping from his ears signal a core meltdown. Not a good sign for an impending attack by JB. G3 spins through, barely, but can’t accelerate. Corncob gets dropped on one of Wanky’s milquetoast accelerations, but grinds back on. Only Stormin Norman seems to be biding his time.

On his fifth attack Wankmeister gets pulled back, although “attack” is probably not the best word to describe a slow, panting, heaving, mild increase in speed of less than .5mph. Perhaps they were “detacks,” or “nontacks,” or “flogtacks.”

As Wanky slides over to the gutter, Stormin Norman launches what would properly be called an attack. It was 5 mph faster than the current speed of the group. It came out on the far left as Wankmeister was decelerating on the far right. It began three wheels back. It created a small sonic boom. Yep, that was an attack.

Happily, the vacuum created by the sudden jump sucked Wanky into it, kind of like a deep ocean waterspout, and when Wankster finally looked up it was Just the Two of Us (we can make it if we try) Just the Two of Us (you and I).

“Yo, Stormalong,” Wank wheezed. “That gap is bigger than Dallas. You’ve been dicking off the whole climb, I’m gassed like a gasbag, pretty please let me just sit on your nice, cozy wheel and it’s all yours, buddy.”

He nodded and churned.

However, unbeknownst to him, his team leader, G3, was implementing Big Orange Team Tactic No. 348.9(b)ii. This is a standard part of their manual, and it goes like this: when you have a teammate up the road with someone from another team, and your teammate is stronger, faster, better, handsomer, quicker, jumpyer, sprintyer, climbyer, and younger by 10 years than the elderly, beaten down, achey, dispirited, grindalong, limpalong, wheezealong, C+ upgraded wanker with whom he’s away, you should chase down your teammate, drop him on the wall at the end of the climb, and make sure that the win goes to the teammate who got shelled a few miles back.

This teaches several key racing principles. One, you learn that your teammates will shaft you when you’re most vulnerable. Two, you’ll learn that even when you’re in a breakaway with a proven loser like Wanky, you still can’t be trusted to pull out the win. Three, you’ll learn that life’s a bitch. Especially that life’s a bitch.

As the final pitch came into view, G3, having successfully chased down his teammate, latched onto Wanky’s wheel. Wankmeister spun furiously until the final kick for no good reason, as he should have sat up and grabbed a wheel to recover, however, it’s common knowledge that he’s an idiot and will churn along pointlessly until he gets bitchslapped by everyone, including the 13 year-old on her fourth bike ride ever, when at that moment Corncob left everyone in his wake, followed by G3, Stormin, and JB.

I suppose you can bitch and moan as much as you want, but when Big O makes it first place, second place, third place, and fourth place…they’re doing something right.

Clash of the titans

December 22, 2011 § 3 Comments

As we prepared to prepare to get ready for the world famous Ironfly club ITT that had become the less world famous but still nationally renowned  TTT, Mel pointed to the pleasant looking if somewhat bleary young man sitting on a chair with a clipboard.

Team Flail, Hockeypuck & Mel. All race photos lifted from SPY-v-Photos without permission.

“That’s Hockeystick’s son,” she said. “He came out to watch his dad race and to time the splits. Hockeypuck, this is Wanky.”

There’s an unwritten rule about meeting the adult and semi-adult progeny of bike racers: You’re obligated to say something flattering about the parent. “Your dad sure is tough,” or “Your mom is tougher than most of the guys,” or “I can barely hang onto your dad’s wheel.” Whatever, as long as it builds up the parent in the eyes of the child.

I looked at Hockeypuck. “Your old man’s a fucking wanker,” I said. “Plus he’s fat and slow.”

“Wanky!!” Mel scolded. “It’s his son!!”

“Oh, shit, I’m sorry. He’s not a fucking wanker. He’s a total fucking wanker. And I’m going to kick his ass today. Glad you’ll be here to see it.”

“Wankmeister!”

“Aw fuck, Mel, I’m not telling him anything he doesn’t already know. What, do I have to pretend the kid’s blind and doesn’t see Hockeystick swilling beer, stuffing his gut on pizza, and heading off for a hard day at the office at the crack of noon?”

Hockeystick adjusting rig with donut tool

Hockeystick, who was standing nearby, looked up and smiled as he adjusted the airfoil on his $15,000 time trail bike. He, Canyon Bob, Toronto, and Boeingboing were raring to go. Each had brought a full time trail rig, except for Canyon Bob, who had slapped some TT bars on his vintage Trek. They had the full battle regalia: aero helmets, disc wheels, skinsuits, shoe covers, and enough attitude to beat down a rapper with a murder conviction.

Fukdude’s aero rig

Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it

Thankfully, I have a short memory and never hold a grudge, with the exception of the things I always remember and the grudges I’ll be taking with me to my grave. This time last year the world famous Ironfly club ITT had confirmed my talent and ability as the fastest non-aero time trailist in a field of seven, including one elderly gentleman in his early 80’s. The club race last year had been broken down into Merckx and aero categories.

Pointy headed Canyon Bob, ready to rumble

I had devastated Canyon Bob by a full 21 seconds over the 20km course, even though he’d been riding aero bars. Take that, dog! Toronto, who had opted for the full aero bike with disc wheel, had still only managed to take a handful of seconds out of me, but even though he was in the aero category and cheating the wind he nonetheless took every opportunity to rub salt into the non-wound. He got particular pleasure out of the photo on his FB page that shows him passing me as my tongue appears to dangle in the spokes. Hockeystick had been lapped and peed on the previous year and was spoiling for a rematch.

Throughout 2011, last year’s wankers plotted their revenge. The first step was to make the race a team time trail rather than an individual event. This would play to Hockeystick’s strength of putting together teams where he is the slowest member, gets dropped in the first ten yards, but nevertheless collects the palmares, jersey, and chintzy medal to hang in the 10′ by 75′ trophy case that occupies the entire third floor of his home. This also played to Toronto’s strong suit, which is photography. He’d wind up with some great pictures, and with Canyon Bob on the team would only have hang on for dear life and rotate through briefly. Very briefly.

The only problem was that despite Canyon Bob’s legendary ability to flail and flog, there was no way that he alone could win the TTT with Toronto and Hockeystick sucking wheel for dear life and avoiding the front like a Mississippian avoids the dentist’s chair. The other problem is that the one other team would have Fukdude on it. Fukdude won a national championship this year. Fukdude won the aero category of the club TT in 2010 by almost a full lunar month. None of them had ever beaten Fukdude at anything. Ever.

Hockeystick, though, went to work, doing what he does best–finding the talent, and signing ‘em up. And he had Boeingboing in his sights.

Boeingboing rides for Southbay Wheelmen. Although he was pretty much a flailer when he raced with the 45+ masters, as soon as he hit 50 he started whupping ass. In 2010 he brought home numerous top ten finishes, and he’s known far and wide for his time trailing. So between him and Canyon Bob, with Toronto and Hockeystick doing cameo rotations to give the other two a respite, they had the makings of a team. Not a very good one, but a team at least.

“Why did I get up early for this?”

Flailers’ futile challenge to the Heroes

From the beginning, Hockeystick’s ragtag assortment that made up Team Flail was doomed to fail. Not only was the Heroes team led by Fukdude, but it included Jdawg, a monstrous pain addict who provides a draft for those in his wake comparable to that of a fast-moving barn. Although not necessarily known for his time trailing prowess, the Hero contingent also included Fireman, something of a time trail wanker but also the man with the widest elbows in the business. He could always be counted on to suffer and to drink everyone else under the table at the club party later in the day, including Hockeystick.

Pre-race lard loading

Finally, of course, the Heroes included me. In addition to my non-aero victory the year before, my amazing performance in the state’s 45+ non-prostate elderly men’s TTT with Mel’s tiny bar extenders, and my incredible blogging efforts, there was simply no way we were going to lose for one simple reason: technology.

The thing that bothered me most was how everyone would be aero except me. So I decided to do what every masters racer eventually decides to do when he races more than two time trails in a year’s time: go out and buy some more speed.

All I really needed to get aero was a pair of clip-on bars and some shoe covers. $538.88 later I returned home knowing that in addition to greater natural ability, a superior training regimen, and my matchless ability to suffer, I now had shoe covers that matched my bike. I immediately sat down and penned the entry to my victory blog, which began like this: “O, ye simpering wretches…”

Breakfast and a few text messages

I awoke bright and early on Sunday, brewed a cup of coffee, and made some oatmeal. By six o’clock the text messages started rolling in. New Girl bailed because VV bailed.  Skimpy couldn’t make it because he’d stayed out too late the night before. Loopy and Dinky had to cancel because they always cancel. Etcetera.

I fired off a quick text message to Fireman, who answered promptly, confirming our team’s 8:00 rendezvous at Catalina Coffee. When I arrived, Jdawg was already there, along with Fukdude. Neither had aero bars. Or discs. Or aero helmets.

“What’s with the non-aero shit?” I asked.

“Fuck, dude, we’re going Merckx style. It’s just Hockeystick.”

“But they’ll all have full TT rigs.”

JDawg looked over our bikes. “Well, we’ve got aero bars, I’ve got Zipp 808’s, and Fukdude’s legs, so between the three of us we’ve got one aero racer at least.”

“Where’s Fireman?” I asked.

We went into the coffee shop. There, indeed, was Fireman. In the Barcalounger. Wearing a pair of beach shorts. And sandals. And next to him was his youngest kid.

“What the fuck?” I asked. “Where’s your shit?”

“You blew it for me, dude,” he said. “That text message you sent. My wife saw it and was like, ‘You didn’t tell me you were going bike racing today’ and I was like ‘I was going to tell you’ and she was like ‘Yeah when two minutes before you left?’ and I was like ‘No five’ and she was like ‘I’m going to the gym and you’ve got the kids’ so that’s that.”

We all looked at each other. “Looks like your four-man team will be three-man,” Fireman laughed. “Fuck it, don’t worry. It’s just Hockeystick and Toronto. By the time Hockeystick gets his stomach over the top tube you guys’ll be done. Plus, how embarrassing would it be to show up with a bunch of TT shit just to beat Hockeystick? If the three of you wearing football uniforms and riding skateboards can’t beat those guys in full aero, you don’t deserve to win anyway.”

“Just smile, dude, and people will think you won.”

Beating up the blind senior citizen

As we pedaled out to Carson, we mulled over our predicament, which was not unlike accepting a challenge to fistfight a blind old woman in a wheelchair. If you won, you earned the world’s contempt by stooping to the challenge. If you lost, well, you got to spend the rest of your life known as the guy who got beaten up by the octogenarian granny.

Thankfully, by the time we reached the course Mel had arrived with several boxes of donuts. All athletic endeavors are enhanced by donuts, so I had four or five. The sugar and grease act as a kind of emulsifying agent for the oatmeal, which speeds the passage of blood through midway through the event, when it begins to pour out of your eyes.

Boeingboing had set up his trainer in a parking lot and was all lathered up. Toronto, who had been showing up on all the group rides for the past two weeks on his TT rig, was riding in circles and shouting, “Wankmeister, I’m going to stomp your head in!”

Canyon Bob glanced over at Team Heroes and decided he didn’t even need to warm up, so he climbed back into his car for a few extra minutes of shut-eye. Hockeystick made some final adjustments to the computer tracking system for his bike’s ailerons, and then brought out a wondrous thing that looked like a combo tire jack-and-forklift. Through a complex system of pulleys, levers, and hydraulic pumps, he raised his frontal portion up over the top tube and then easily swung his leg over the bike. Game fuckin’ on.

This isn't me. I'm not here.

This isn’t me. I’m not here. Please no photos.

The agony of my feet. And legs.

We launched first. Team Flail went second. They beat us handily, by 21 seconds. Hockeystick’s son sat incredulously as he tallied up the result. Shaking his head, he said to his dad, “How did the old guys beat the young guys?”

First to chime in was Toronto. “We were gritty!”

Second to chime in was Hockeystick: “We suffered more1″

Third to chime in was Canyon Bob: “That was stupid!”

Fourth to chime in was Fussy via Facebook: “There were only three of them, and you goofs were full aero.”

Fifth to chime in was Fireman via text: “They BEAT you? Haaahaahahaaaaha!”

Boeingboing had already packed and left, afraid perhaps that he’d seen and photographed at this event of ignominy.

Kissing and making up

Even though we’d been completely pwned, there was a club party that afternoon where we’d get to laugh it up while secretly feeling humiliated (losing team) and not so secretly feeling prideful and happy and euphoric and master-of-the-universe-like (winning team). Team Losers would clap Team Winners on the shoulder and say “Good ride!” and “You guys were flying!” while secretly thinking “You sorry fucks couldn’t win a wheelchair race on a bet, and the only reason you beat us is because (—–insert multiple excuses here——-), and Team Winners would laugh somewhat modestly and say “It was only 21 seconds,” or “Well, we were full aero,” or “Heck, you only had three guys,” while secretly thinking “You sorry fucks think you’re so fucking good but we thrashed the shit out of you and there were really only two of us even doing anything.”

That was the plan, anyway.

What actually happened was that, as we left, me an the old lady got into a shouting match over a lost shipment of $6.00 Capo tall white socks. “What do you mean you didn’t pick it up? UPS left the fucking tag!”

“I did too go to pick it up they gave me the wrong box. It was some purple froofy underwear thing with a yellow wig.”

“Well shit, why didn’t you take it back and get the right box?”

“I did!! They lost it!! It’s not my job! And quit yelling! And if you care so much about your stupid cycling socks you should get them yourself!”

By the time we hit the club party it was World War Twelve, such is the power of a shipment of Christmastime, specially-priced Capo tall white socks, engineered to bring happiness through a brutal spousal hollerfest. As we exited the Pimpmoprius, up pulled Canyon Bob and his lovely wife. “Hey, Bob,” I said.

“Hey, Wanky. How’s it going?”

“We’re fighting!” my old lady said.

“Other than that, though, things are great,” I added.

The joy of sox

If you’ve ever gone to a party in the middle of an intraspousal feud, you know that there are only two possible outcomes. One is that the angry partners will bottle it up and put on polite pretenses ostensibly to avoid wrecking the mood for everyone else, but in actuality because they don’t want other people to see that their marriage is just as pedestrian as everyone else’s. The other outcome is that the presence of others will act as a kind of audience catalyst, in which the performers, stimulated by the spectators, will rise to the occasion and let the whole ugly thing roll out on the carpet, kind of like a big turd in the middle of a ballroom dance, with everyone trying not to step in it all the while unable to look away while still trying to keep time to the waltz.

We chose the latter, of course, and after a few moments of pleasantries went storming out like a typhoon. Fortunately, cooler heads eventually prevailed and after eight or nine days we began speaking again once UPS found and delivered the lost socks. So happy was I to have new, tall white socks that I even sort of admitted that maybe it hadn’t been her fault and that perhaps next time I shouldn’t throw a tantrum like a three year-old. Perhaps.

Epilogue

Team Flail now reigns for all of 2012 until the next iteration of the club’s team time trail. Hockeystick has ordered a new set of pulleys and cables for his GAD (Gut Assist Device), and formed a track pursuit team with its sights set on a national pursuit title for 50+ tarck wankers. Canyon Bob has decided to up his training regiment to four hours per week. Toronto now has two time trail victories against Wankmeister, precious, secret victories that he takes out and strokes when he thinks no one’s watching, and laughs to himself when he thinks of how good it’s going to feel when he gets number three. Boeingboing has constructed an elaborate story of plausible deniability to de-confirm that he even knows, much less races with, his teammates.

And me? I’m left with a year of gall and wormwood, the bitter taste of defeat left in my mouth permanently, or at least until…next year.

Year in review’s stellar performers: Kevin Phillips

November 16, 2011 § 4 Comments

It was a pretty good year for KP. Elite track nationals? Fifth place, team pursuit. Master’s track nationals? Stars and stripes jersey in the team pursuit. Silver medal in the individual pursuit. Bronze in the points race and scratch race. State champion in the individual and team pursuits. In addition to his state and national titles, KP had some excellent results on the road as well. And he achieved all of this before he discovered the Tug-Toner, so he should really blow doors in 2012.

But who really cares about that national champion stuff?

I don’t. Because the most important result for KP in 2011 was first floated as a mere idea on Wednesday, June 8, when I received a phone call. “Hey, dude. Wanna do the state team time trial?”

“I dunno. When is it?”

“Saturday. It’ll be fuckin rad, dude.”

“Saturday? That’s three days away.”

“Yeah. You ever done one?”

“No.”

“Got an aero rig?”

“No.”

“Got some aero wheels at least?”

“Just my 404’s. But I wouldn’t use them because my PowerTap’s on my training wheels.”

“Yeah. Fuck, dude. Ever use TT bars?”

“No. Look, I don’t think I’m your guy. Who else is on the team?” I figured if he was calling me, he had three people and was scraping the bottom of the barrel.

“Canyon Bob and Hockey Stick. You’re the last choice, dude.”

“I didn’t know Bob had a TT bike.”

“He doesn’t just his old road bike he’s kind of converted over.”

“But his current road bike is, like 15 years old. He’s going to be using something older than that?”

“Yeah. We’ll look like a bunch of dorks.”

“And I thought Hockey Stick was, like, a 2k pursuiter. Since when did he start doing 40k road time trials?”

“Fuck, dude, he just wants a medal. We only have to finish with three dudes. He’ll flail for the first three or four miles and get shelled.”

“What about me? I’ll flail for the first mile and get shelled.”

“Fuck dude, you’ll do fine. You’re a hammer. You know Canyon Bob goes good. He likes pain. Long as you don’t fucking crash us out on the TT bars.”

“I don’t have any TT bars, I told you.”

“No prob, dude. You can use Mel’s. I got a couple of extenders we can screw on before the start. Just don’t fuckin crash us out.”

“Are we going to practice?”

“Bob’s got a job, dude. Hockey Stick would practice but he’s fucking hittin the beer by 2 p.m. and you have to work. I’m swamped anyway. You’ll do fine. Don’t fuckin worry. We’ll get there early so you can practice.”

“Why’s Hockey Stick so sure we’ll get a medal?”

“Fuck dude, there’s only gonna be two teams show up. Only team registered now is Big Orange.”

“Big Orange? You’re joking. Don’t tell me G$ is doing it.”

“Him and Hottie and Weninger and Rob Mesecher. Don’t fuckin worry, dude.”

“Worry? They’ll crush us.”

“So you’re in?”

“No, I’m not in. I’m not paying an entry fee to race against those guys. That’s crazy.”

“Ironfly’s paying the entry fee, dude. Hockey Stick’s got the van and a bitchin four-bike rack. Swing by my place at 5 on Saturday. I’m gonna fuckin send you a TTT how-to email. It’ll be rad.” Click.

How to do a TTT in 73 easy steps

Sure enough, that evening I had a how-to TTT email waiting for me when I got home from work. And I somewhat quote:

“Don’t worry about being a dork, you’re pretty much a dork anyway but you can still get a medal because there are only two teams. Even you guys can’t fuck this up. So here’s how you do it, don’t worry, you’ll be fine, maybe.

“Your pull is NOT over when you pull off, your pull is over when you are back on a wheel at the back of the train. How many times have you taken your pull and thought you were fucking Eddy Merckx because you pulled off without puking, then somehow by the time you got to the back of the paceline you are blown and out of the saddle sprinting like a dork to get on a wheel only to get dropped like a fuckin wanker? Keep this in mind tomorrow and don’t be a fucking dork and drop yourself. Your pull’s not over until you’re back on the train.

“We are going to ride in the following formation: Me< Canyon Bob < Hockey Stick < Wankmeister. I will lead us out and get us up to speed, fast but not too intense and then Canyon Bob will carry on, etc. If we come out of the chute too hot we’ll blow and you can’t recover, it’s a matter of pacing. So don’t be a fucking dork and act like you’re sprinting for the chance to spend a night with a hooker and a baggie full of coke, just keep it under your threshold whatever you do.

“This will allow Bob to follow me, because he’s a smooth wheel, and allow me to follow Wankmeister so I can yell at him as necessary because he will probably be hammering like an idiot and drop us and then drop himself unless he’s wobbling like a madfuck because he’s never ridden TT bars so just pray he doesn’t crash us out. Hockey Stick will get to ride behind Bob, the most steady guy, so he can save the most energy so as not to get dropped, which is fucking hopeless because he’s going to get fucking shelled no matter what but at least hang on for five miles and give us a little break.

“Everyone should use his Garmin, just tape the damn thing on your aero bar with packing tape if you need to, I will have tape with me. Don’t worry about your rig looking stupid, you’ll all look like dorks no matter what. I will set the speed of our effort, you guys will simply maintain the speed. If I have us doing 28.5 mph, then you should pull through at the same speed. Remember, the key is to get quickly up to speed without overdoing it.

“If we are going too quick/slow I will yell at you to quit being an idiot and to pick it up or slow it down. This means adjust the speed by ½ mph, do NOT sit up and jam on your brakes, just roll back the effort 5-10 watts. Going fast in a TTT is all about efficiency and spending our resources wisely, if we do this correctly we can actually not be totally embarrassed, maybe.

“Going from 29 to 30mph takes a lot more power than going from 28 to 29mph, drag is not linear. Any time spent going over the average speed of a section is wasted energy, we need to ride as steady as we can and make adjustments slowly. We are going to time our pulls using crank revolutions, so count your right leg doing a full revolution as one tick. We are each going to start off doing pulls of the following length: Me, 30; Bob, 25; Hockey Stick, 10; Wankmeister, 30. Don’t be a dork and suddenly forget how to count it’s the same fucking shit you learned in kindergarten, except Hockey Stick, who probably didn’t learn it til fifth grade.

“I want Bob to have a bit left for the final push, his physiology is pretty adapted to an end effort. Wanky and I can both go full gas from the start and suck it up at the end when Bob comes around. Hockey Stick, don’t be a flailing flogfuck, you need to make the distance, at least five miles, ten would be optimum.

“I will continually ask how you’re doing when I am falling back, just give me a quick ‘Okay’ or ‘Hurting’ or ‘I am fucked’ or whatever. I won’t fucking pay attention unless you say you’re okay, this is going to hurt, it’s a fucking time trial. Remember: WE HAVE TO FINISH WITH 3 GUYS. If we are down to three guys we can’t torch anyone. The first five minutes we will feel as if we are going too slow, this is normal. Just chill and roll into the effort, we are going to be riding for ~50 minutes. The big time losses will come in the final six-mile stretch, we need to be able to ride that part fast, like our dicks are caught in a fucking vice and somebody’s fucking beating it with a hammer.

“Exactly halfway through we have a short hill, so go big ring and aero, but it is a 25-second incline that breaks the rhythm a bit. Let’s try and keep it together if possible. Hockey Stick, I want you to take shorter pulls for the two miles before the hill, we need to be able to get you and your big fucking beer belly over the climb without losing pace, no one needs to be a hero. Pay attention to where I put us on the road and the the side I pull off on, we will adjust this on different parts of the course depending on the wind, which is going to be howling worse than a fucking Gozilla shitstorm, headwind or crosswind for 3/4 of the course.

“If you are pulling through one of the four turns on the course be aware you have three other idiots behind you, don’t attack out of it or go through it so fast someone gets gapped off and is chasing. If one person goes in the red too early they will not recover, you will be hopelessly fucked and quit. We will all be riding near the edge for the entire time, and Hockey Stick you’ll be going faster than you’ve ever gone on something two-wheeled that doesn’t have a fucking motor.

“Shorter pulls will keep our speed up, long thrashing pulls slow us down. If you are all feeling good after the first five miles then we can pick up the pace but keep short pulls. We need to average over 28mph for the race, that will put us on schedule to do 50 minutes flat, that is our goal. Remember: three guys finish, short pulls, don’t go out too hard, and don’t be a fucking dork.”

5 a.m. was not really all that rad

Canyon Bob and I got to KP’s house at 5:00 a.m. and lightly rapped on the door. Nothing. Then we knocked a bit louder. Nada. Finally we started pounding. Eventually the door opened. KP stood there in his underwear, blinking as if he’d just been rousted from R.E.M., which he had.

“Fuck, dude. I slept through the alarm. Be ready in a minute.”

Shortly he reappeared and we loaded the bikes into his van. Hockey Stick lives in Manhattan Beach, and when we got there the light in his garage was on and he was sipping on a cup of coffee. We transferred the bikes from the van to the rack, climbed in, and headed out. Hockey Stick drives crazy fast, which I guess is fine if you’re steering a high performance sports car, but a Honda van stuffed with people, gear, and dangling four bikes on the back end makes for a pretty frightful ride.

The benefit was that we got to glorious Lake Los Angeles so early that we’d have plenty of time to register, set up our bikes, and warm up. Having the extra time, we stopped in for a snack and a dump at the McDonald’s. Both took longer than planned. For some reason we all decided to stand in the registration line together, further chewing up time, although one person could have registered us all.

It turned out that there were five teams total, and with the exception of ours, they were all on badass TT rigs, team kits, aero helmets, and had obviously practiced together. Hockey Stick had a $15,000 Specialized Widowmaker TT ride with a rear disc, three spoke HED in front, internal cables, electronic shifting, custom molded aero helmet, wind-slick skinsuit with shoe covers, and a fully integrated internal power meter.

Canyon Bob’s rig was an antique Trek 5500, state of the art from 1992 but state of collapse in 2011, tricked out with TT bars. “Here, dude,” said KP, flipping me a pair of tiny, 225mm bar extensions. “These’ll fuckin make you aero.”

It took me a while to get them on. By the time they were secured, and I had my kit on, we only had fifteen minutes to our start time. “Fuck, dude, better try those fuckin things out before we start so you don’t fuckin crash us out.”

I hopped aboard, got going, and immediately ran into several mission critical issues. The first was steering. The extenders totally changed the weight and handling of the front end of the bike. The second problem was steering. Stretched out on the bars I could no longer make quick corrections to my line. The third problem, even bigger than the first two, was steering. The bars were tiny, and obviously made for someone who didn’t have 36″ inch inseams on his forearms. The midget bar ends stopped halfway down my forearm, leaving the rest of the bone and my hands to flop freely off the ends of the bars. The fourth, and biggest problem, was steering. No brakes or shift levers meant that the whole bike wobbled when my unpracticed hands moved back to the hoods.

After 100 yards of practice, I turned around, nearly crashing out into the ditch. The wind was howling. “We’re gonna fuckin miss our start!” KP shouted. “Let’s go!”

Hockey Stick hadn’t even gotten his helmet on. None of us had ridden more than 100 yards. We were the second team to go off, with Big Orange behind us. They were warmed up, fierce looking, color-coordinated, and licking their chops. The studly team in front of us roared away.

Suddenly, total panic kicked in. Through the pounding of my heart and sensation of icy cold legs I heard the ref counting down “3-2-1″ followed by the clicking and clacking of shoes into pedals and the blur of KP blasting down the road, Bob and Hockey Stick in tow.

Getting up to speed gradually, kind of like the space shuttle

Within seconds I was in full sprint mode trying to catch on to Hockey Stick. By the time I caught up we were going absolutely full fucking bore at 33mph. I hit the front, pulled for a few seconds, swung off and barely latched back on. Before I’d had time to grab my breath I was at the head again, unable to stay there for more than about five pedal revolutions. It was more pain, and more intense pain, than I’d thought possible. And we were only a minute into it.

KP had come off the line so fast that we were all completely blown less than a mile in. When I rotated back to latch on after my third pull there was nothing where Hockey Stick was supposed to be except air. He’d been blasted out the back and was a receding speck in the distance. KP and Bob were taking huge pulls, with me simply rotating through, gasping, and lunging to catch on the back. This, unfortunately, was the “easy” tailwind section.

We hit the crosswind and I was almost blown off the road. Unable to control the bike, but buffeted like a spinnaker whenever I tried to ride on the drops, all I could feel was the kind of numbing, stupid pain mixed with sharp spikes of stinging agony that comes from dental surgery, childbirth, or arguments with a bank’s customer service rep. Each time KP rotated back he’d say, “You okay?” and I’d try to nod through the snot and spit, and they would just keep battering away.

51:03 later we finished. I could barely dismount. Hockey Stick had driven the van to the finish, was nattily attired in his apres-TTT outfit and sipping on an energy drink. Incredibly, we had almost caught the team in front of us, and had avoided, if only barely, being devoured whole by Big Orange, who won the race. “We got a silver medal!” Hockey Stick chirped. All I could do was groan as my legs cramped and I lay in the back of the van. The final ten miles my legs had kind of come around, and the final three miles I’d wielded the whip and thrashed it like a madman.

“Fuckin rad, dude,” said KP as we headed home. “Not bad for a bunch of dorks, huh? You know those other guys on the tricked out rigs felt pretty stupid, huh, getting beat by a bunch of dorks like you. I sure would. Good job!”

So I can attest to it, as I was there–stellar performance in the TTT by KP, a hero among men…or at least among dorks. Best of all, I learned something important about doing a team time trail properly: Whatever you do, don’t start out hot.

Happy little fingers

October 31, 2011 § Leave a comment

This morning was a beautiful thing. For starters, the half-clothed person nearest me wasn’t Jekyll in his raggedy t-shirt and dirty underwear. And the first thought that raced through my head (with apologies to Dom, who thinks I have a cursing problem) was, “I’m so  motherfucking glad I don’t have to ride my fucking bike another hundred fucking miles.”

Following that glorious thought was the smell of fresh coffee wafting into the bedroom. But best of all? Knowing that I wouldn’t have to tap out another 2,000-word blog on the touch pad of an iPhone. Steve Jobs, you are dead, so I won’t speak ill of you. Your sorry fucking iPhone touchpad, on the other hand, sucks ass.

You gotta keep eating if you want to keep going

In my joy at being done with MT4, though, I neglected to write up Day Five, which was a momentous day in the annals of the tour. It started with M8 gazing in horror at his breakfast burrito. “I can’t eat this. I’m not even hungry,” he moaned.

“Listen, you sniveling pussy,” I gently advised. “ManTour means food. Your body is being torn down, destroyed, beaten to shit day in day out. It’s crying for protein, fat, carbs, salt, caffeine, vitamins, minerals, beer. You gotta eat til you fucking want to puke.”

“But I already want to puke.”

“That’s because you haven’t eaten enough, dipshit. Once you finish that burrito you’ll stop wanting to puke. Then I’ll feed you a stack of flapjacks with three ice cream scoops of butter and you’ll want to barf every time you open your mouth. That’s when you’ll know you’re ready to ride.”

Breathanarian, our little 17 year-old, was sitting at the table in shock. He’d been subsisting the entire tour on paltry servings of vegetables, water, and long rides in the paddywagon alternating with violent headaches, stomach cramps, and vomiting. I looked at him. “You want to grow up and be a pussy like your old man, who can’t even nut up enough to come with you? Keep eating that shit, then. Men eat things that used to bleed. You want to ride like a man? Learn to eat like one.”

The waitress then brought him his meatless burrito (that’s kind of like a celibate hooker) and a big plate of hash browns all running wet with grease. “Were those cooked in bacon grease, honey?” I asked. She nodded. “Well, then, get to it, sonny.”

Brethanarian looked on in horror. “Shit, son, that’s good old-fashioned bacon lard. From pigs. Hate the fucking taste? That’s why God invented ketchup.” I shoved him the bottle.

He cautiously dribbled on a few glorps. “Dammit, boy, is there a war ration for ketchup going on? Gimme that fucking thing.” I splooged out half the bottle until his patty of hashbrowns looked like the morning of Saturday the 14th. “Now eat the fuck up.”

He and M8 began plodding through their meals. Their half-assed, dainty bites were painful to watch. The gal brought my bacon/sausage/chorizo double-wide burrito with a side of six blueberry pancakes and a tub of butter. I slathered the whole thing up with a container of maple syrup and washed it down with six cups of hot coffee, sopping up six large paper napkins in the process with drippings, spillings, poolings, and dribblings off my chin. Breathanarian was holding back tears. M8 quietly sobbed into his napkin.

“Gimme that, you pussies,” I said, taking what was left of M8’s burrito and the boy’s unfinished patty of potato-ketchup mush, mixing them in with my pancakes, dumping on some leftover salsa, and polishing it off with a tall glass of water. “Now, then. Let’s go ride our fucking bikes.”

Who wins the ManTour?

No one, you idiot. It’s a tour. However, ManTour does contain several discrete points, victory at which allow you infinite bragging rights–except that on ManTour it’s terrible form to brag. It doesn’t matter how you cross the line, either–you can cheatfully sneak away for the big prize at the L.A. County line on PCH like Knoll did two years ago at the Rock while everyone was stopped to change a tire and pee, or you can do it in a manly breakaway with a fierce sprint to the death as occurred in 2010.

The manner is irrelevant: only the result counts. Winning by strength, strategy, cunning, and strong legs are accorded the same respect as leaving early, sneaking off, cheating, lying, skulking, and batfucking your buddies when they expect it least.

On MT4 the first point was scored at the top of Page Mill Road on the way to Santa Cruz by Pretty Boy. The second point was scored at the Santa Cruz city limit sign by Coolhand. The third point was scored by Wankmeister in Big Sur. The fourth point was taken by Jens, who cheated his way into Ragged Point by leaving early and missing the construction stops: and what’s instructive here is that despite his low-lifing thievery, he still got the point, the sorry turd, as he beat me by a handful of seconds. The fifth point was taken by Wankmeister at the city limit sign for Morro Bay despite a long-range attack from the back launched by Bluebeard. The sixth point was likewise harvested by Wanky at the city limit sign in Lompoc. The seventh point was taken by Fireman at the Hollister exit on the 101.

But the eighth sprint point for the L.A. County line? The crowning sprint finish that the winner gets to tattoo on his forehead? The way this battle was won was one for the ages.

It ‘piers to me…

After a couple of hours’ riding, the Ironfly blue train reached Ventura Pier, we peeled off our armwarmers, Gu-ed up, drained our collective lizards, snapped some glory photos, and soaked in the beautiful morning sun. Twenty minutes later we rolled at a snail’s pace all the way to and through Oxnard. Once we hit Port Hueneme Road, the group rolled a bit more briskly, as the ag fields out past the last stoplight are the place where the attacks usually begin. From there to the county line sprint is about 15 miles.

Fireman busted away. I followed. Jekyll followed. After a couple more surges the group included Woodenhead, Hourrecord, Fireman, Jekyll, Fishnchips, Rocky, Coupe DeVille, and me. A few miles before the Rock we overtook a trio of Bicycle Bob wankers, who were thrilled to have a train. They hopped in, but after a few pulls the grease began to sizzle, and then they stopped taking pulls, and then Jekyll hit the eject button. Woodenhead was riding like a man possessed.

Jekyll took a couple of flyers, was brought back, and in the process we lost Fishnchips and Rocky. On the final roller before the flat 1k finish to the county line, Jekyll jumped, I covered and countered, and then Fireman blew past everyone. I barely latched onto his wheel and he towed me to the line, gifting me the eternal glory, money, and fame that come with such a prestigious finish.

A short time later we reached the Starbucks in Trancas, where the group, which had swollen to about 20 riders, stopped for coffee and lunch. There, sitting at a table, was M8, taking sips from an iced coffee and then upchucking bits of breakfast burrito into a plastic bag. There, lounging outside, was Tom Collins, chin sunken on his bony chest, eyes glazed over and unseeing. Somewhere even farther down PCH was Breathanarian, still fueled by the jet-fueled bacon grease.

The three hero-idiots had slunk off at the Ventura Pier and made a mad, pell-mell dash for the county line. The only problem was that they didn’t know where it was, as the sign had been stolen earlier this year and the only way to know it was by the change in pavement color. M8 and Tom Collins thought it was at Trancas, some five miles on down the road, and poor Breathanarian thought it was farther away still.

Since they hadn’t known where the line was, they couldn’t say who crossed it first–so none of the three could properly claim the win. When I asked M8 how he felt, he said “As long as I stop tasting this fucking burrito by tomorrow, I’ll be fine.”

Spoken, and eaten, like a man.

MT4 Day Five: The end of innocence

October 16, 2011 § Leave a comment

By day five, if we were tomatoes in the produce department, we would be bruised, spoiled, and after the briefest inspection by the produce boy, tossed in the dumpster. Sunrise, heralded by Hallmark cards as “The first day of the rest of your life,” rings in a dull, aching misery for what you can only hope will be the last day you ever, ever, ever see a bicycle.

The clever roomie with whom you so gaily chatted on Day 1 is a boring, grating twit whose every utterance unleashes a barely restrained, primal urge to strangle. The lovely scenery of California, so awe-inspiring in Carmel and Big Sur, has become a blurred, hostile moonscape of asphalt, road striping, and flat tires changed at inopportune times. The bravado and heroic imagery of the Man Tour has had its chintzy veneer stripped away, revealing what everyone else saw from the beginning: a creaky bunch of saggy, wrinkly, balding, ill-tempered, pot-bellied drunks who are too cheap to vacation in Italy.

And a hundred nasty miles still await.

Making matters worse, the biggest prize of the entire tour, the one that carries bragging rights, eternal glory, and spiteful resentment from everyone else until next year, sits at the sixty-mile mark: the L.A. County Line on PCH. There will be a fierce attack somewhere in SLO, perhaps earlier, where the group shatters and a breakaway emerges. From the entrance onto PCH, past the Rock at Pt. Mugu, and all the way to the county line there will be a surging, pounding, frenetic race between a handful of wrung out, surly survivors.

However, a nasty surprise awaits those who aren’t following this blog: the county line sign has been stolen, and all that remains is the wooden post itself. The only way to recognize the finish line is by the abrupt change in pavement color, where it shifts from the thrifty Ventura County road department’s hot mix of dirt, holes, straw, glass, nails, and warm tar into the firm, dark, hardened paving of Manly Los Angeles County. The canny victor in 2011 will be the one who lunges for the line while the other peckerheads are sitting back, craning their necks to the side in vain to spy the nonexistent green sign. Will the Wankmeister claim his second consecutive victory, or will the Fireman douse his parade with the Lethal Hose of Sprint Fury?

Come on pretty boy, gonna make you a man

The group of weary warriors regroups for lunch at Trancas and then pushes on towards home. The familiar landmarks become sharper–the funny bump in Malibu just past Cross Creek; the big cracks in the road near Moonshadows; the nasty bump in the road just over the hill past the Getty; the grate on the shoulder at the last light before Temescal…and with each landmark the exhaustion fades and the singularity of the accomplishment begins to sink in and rejuvenate tired legs, except for Woodenhead, whose wife has been calling every thirty minutes for the last two days telling him that he’d better quit fucking off and get home and help change the poopy diapers.

Suddenly it’s a victory parade all the way to the Ironfly World Headquarters. Friendships re-blossom. Well-wishers like G$ meet us on PCH or at Will Rogers and escort us back through the Center of the Known Universe and on to WHQ. Knoll tips a cup of Peets in our direction. Lies that, a few hours ago were mere middle of the road whoppers become full-blown fields of bullshit. The longing for beer wells up in the back of one’s throat again, and it’s just in the nick of time, as Mel has tapped a fresh one at the World HQ. The arthritis, achey prostates, and Ben Gay joint rubs are an ancient memory, at least until we get home. MT4…in the books!

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