Sandbag while you can

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.

  1. Terrible feeling of awful dread as you anticipate at the bottom of the climb.
  2. First acceleration at the bottom where you think, “I can do this.”
  3. Second acceleration shortly after the first where you think, “This is going to be hard.”
  4. Grit teeth as the pace settles in.
  5. Feeling begins somewhere in your calves, the feeling of give-up-and-quit.
  6. “I’m not quitting” + excessive teeth gritting. Brief look around to see that the group has halved.
  7. Third acceleration midway up the climb where you think, “Fuck you cocksuckers to hell.”
  8. Fuse burns up into lower quads. Pain however is no longer localized to legs and has spread to eyeballs.
  9. 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.
  10. Almost at the top the fuse reaches the bomb and you explode. Body shudders, head droops, prostate deflates.
  11. “Quit gapping me out motherfucker!” is roared from behind.
  12. 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.

Going 100%, pointlessly, against guys I'm not even racing against.

Going 100%, pointlessly, against guys I’m not even racing against.

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.

END

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The Naked and the Wished-I-were-dead

June 3, 2012 § 14 Comments

When Norman Mailer wrote the WW II novel that catapulted him to fame as a serious writer, thereby ensuring that no one outside of a college English class would ever read his work, he was criticized for the long, slogging, endless, mired-in-mud style that characterized long parts of the book.

Mailer replied: “Yes, those passages are long, hard to get through, miserable, and they leave you with a feeling of having given much to accomplish nothing. That’s what it was like in the infantry.”

Okay, he never said that, but this blog post is gonna be exactly like the Bakersfield state championship road race. Long. Miserable. Not fun. Not funny. And most of you will quit long before it finishes.

Chester Karrass ain’t got nothin’ on Mrs. WM

Mrs. WM accompanied me to the race as my watergirl. “Oh, you have such a great wife,” you’re thinking. “Mine would never do that.”

Neither would Mrs. WM. This was the result of a hard fought negotiation in which Mrs. WM extracted maximum value for the sacrifice she was about to make. “Okay, I will go and do a terrible bike race that is no fun and I hate it but you have to take me somewhere nice.”

“Okay. Lunch in Oildale after the race?”

“Somewhere with a hotel and a spa where we can stay overnight with a nice pool and no bicycle and a nice restaurant with shopping.”

“Del Amo Mall and the Hybrid Hotel in Torrance?”

“No. I want Palm Springs and you have to get a new car. I hate your car with the ugly bump in the rear.”

In negotiating, this is called “tossing in the hookers,” and is a ploy where you put something in play that will ultimately get stricken from the deal while still leaving you with what you really want. So I signed the 12-page contract for the Palm Springs weekend, and off we went to Bakersfield.

That poop is too nasty for my butthole to look at

Ms. WM’s race day got off to a bad start when she had to visit the port-o-potties. I was pinning on my number when she returned, looking kind of green.

“Are you okay?”

“That was awful!”

“What? The toilets? They’re pretty good actually. Kind of that rose-and-pinesol-with-chemical-strawberry-car-freshener scent. It’s almost stronger than the poop. Of course it’s early in the day. By noon they’ll have to haul those things off with a hazmat team.”

“It was gross!”

“Gross? It’s a friggin’ port-o-potty, not an aromatherapy boutique.”

“I’ve been to many public events before. People don’t usually poop so much! It’s the bike racers! They are extra poopers!”

She did have a point. How many times do you go to a Dodgers game and get things started off by unloading a four-pound, corn-studded bowl breaker? At a bike race, by the time you’ve driven from the hotel to the sign-in, the Denny’s Grand Slam and quart of hot coffee have pretty much raced through the tunnel and are peeking at the door, which explains the ratio of solids to liquids at a bike race port-o-potty and that funny dance everyone’s doing as they wait for a vacant seat.

“Can’t you just breathe through your mouth and get your business done? It’s not like you have to carry out an inspection or anything.”

“It was too disgusting for my butt!”

“What?”

“It was so nasty I couldn’t sit down on the seat and have my butt facing all that stuff.”

“You’re kidding, right?”

Mrs. WM never kids when it comes to poop.

“No I am not kidding!”

“So what’d you do?”

“I took many of the paper seat covers and dropped them down in there to make a paper cover for the poop so my butt wouldn’t have to look at it.”

That detail taken care of, I went off to race.

It is better to try and fail than fail to try

This applies to everything in life except bike racing. With bike racing, most of the time it’s much better to fail to try. I’ve put together a little graph that helps explain.

FAIL TO TRY TRY AND FAIL
Barbie Food during race: $0.00 Barbie Food during race: $17.72
Gas: $0.00 Gas: $49.82 [$132.90 in Konsmo’s Blingmobile]
Dinner in Bako: $0.00 Dinner in Bako at Padre Hotel: $141.29
Doubletree Bako: $0.00 Doubletree Bako: $77.00 [w/Family Discount]
Condoms: $0.00 Condoms: $7.32
Case of water: $0.00 Case of water: $4.68
Breakfast at Denny’s: $0.00 Breakfast at Denny’s: $17.29
Entry fee: $0.00 Entry fee: $35.00
Post-race meal at In ‘N Out: $0.00 Post-race meal at In ‘N Out: $12.22
Weekend in Palm Springs: $0.00 Weekend in Palm Springs: $500.00 MINIMUM
Possible purchase of replacement vehicle for fucked up Camry: $0.00 Possible purchase of replacement vehicle for fucked up Camry: $25,892.12
TOTAL: $0.00 TOTAL: $26,754.46

Even though I was a history major, it seems clear that fail to try is definitely the way to go on this one.

Even though fail to try is a winner, you still don’t get to call yourself a bike racer by bailing on this event

The Bakersfield race is one of the few real bike races in Southern California. The vast majority of bike races here are circle jerks. You go round for 55 minutes and the best sprinter wins. Don’t get me wrong. Winning these events takes balls of steel and the speed of a rocket. I couldn’t win one on a Vespa. But they lack the key elements that are required for bike racing.

Those elements are:

  1. Weather. If you’re not fighting the elements, you’re not bike racing. Heat, cold, wind, rain, snow, hail, ice, etc. are prerequisites.
  2. Hills. If you don’t have elevation changes of some sort, you’re not bike racing.
  3. Distance. If your body doesn’t have to go into reserves that test your endurance, you’re not bike racing.
  4. Varied terrain. If you don’t have to use a variety of bike handling techniques, you’re not bike racing.
  5. Tactics. If the conclusion is virtually always determined by a bunch sprint, you’re not bike racing.

It is a sad testament to the lameness of the SoCal cycling scene that the 45+ field, a group that can easily pull in 100 riders in an early season crit, barely had thirty racers toe the line. As far as I know, not a single field came anywhere close to reaching its limit, and the majority of them appeared to have half or less of the number of racers who show up to preen and primp and strut and flex at the crits.

What’s up with that?

What’s up with that

Bakersfield has put on a phenomenal race, slightly different from De Vleeshuis Ronde in that there is less climbing with more distance, but identical in its challenging nature and superb organization. A giant tent with chairs and bike racks was erected at the start/finish so riders could stage without frying their brains out, and so that they could sit in the shade and relax after the race while eating the excellent food prepared on site.

The difference between this race and the innumerable local crits, though, is this: you’re going suffer like a motherfucker if you finish this race. Today never got above the low 90’s, but Saturday’s events approached 100 degrees. The wind blew hot and hard both days. The long climb was shortened, but the three loops around the shorter, punchy climbs were devastating.

This was a race where you had to hydrate properly, have the right nutrition, ride smart, and meter your efforts in order to get shelled out the back and spend the rest of the fucking day battering into a merciless hot headwind by yourself. If you wanted to actually finish with the group, or dog forbid, in a breakaway, you needed all of the above plus you needed to be one hard, tough, fit, canny bastard [in the interest of equal treatment, the word “bastard” refers to men and to women].

This is another way of saying that many of the soft, marshmallowy wankers who comprise the cannon fodder–and often the podium–of the local crit scene didn’t stand a chance in hell of placing in this race. Rather than coming out to Bako, having their balls beaten with a tire iron, getting crushed on the climbs, and flailing in a wanketto for a couple of hours, they chose to stay home and do something else. [See graph above for financial analysis of that choice.]

There’s more to it than money, honey

Nothing comes close to approaching the satisfaction of finishing a hardass beatdown in a challenging road race. If you’re too scared of failure and pain to show up and race, you’ll never know how good it feels to cross the line. I’d also argue that you’ve never raced your bike.

In our race, I got kicked out the back on the second lap, one punchy climb before we hit the long highway downhill. I never got back on, and was eventually shelled from my five-man chase group. Before coming off, though, I got to witness selfless heroics on the part of teammate Harold Martinez, a flatland crit dude, who singlehandedly pulled back a deadly break that was almost a minute up the road by stringing the whole field out into the gutter for the better part of five miles.

That’s the kind of stuff that earns respect from friends and adversaries alike. It’s the kind of stuff that real bike racing consists of: people with varying talents using those abilities to try and benefit the team rather than sitting home and cherry-picking the next race that you think is most “suited” to your talents.

I got to watch non-teammates like Bart Clifford, new addition to Big Orange, follow a break and fry himself to make sure a teammate had some help in an early move. I got to watch the power, speed, and athleticism of guys like Dave Jaeger, John Hatchitt, Jeff Konsmo, Richard Meeker, Todd Parks, Greg Leibert, Steve Klasna, Louie Amelburu, Mark Noble, Jon Flagg, and several others as they manhandled a brutal course and reduced the already small field to a handful of survivors.

More importantly, even though I flailed, a number of people proved themselves worthy of this challenging course. They did more than prove themselves worthy: they raced their bikes.

Great stories

Our own South Bay rider Kristabel Doebel-Hickock won her women’s race yesterday with the 3/4’s, and placed seventh today with the 1/2’s. Her performance deserves a write-up of its own. She’s amazing.

Richard Meeker won the 45+ race, displaying all the skills that make him the best all around road racer in Southern California and one of the best in the nation.

Jeff Konsmo pulled a huge second place out of his hat, taking second to Richard in a reversal of 2011. Jeff rode strongly and tactically for every bit of the race, forcing the pace on lap two and finishing with his signature kick.

Kevin Phillips got fourth in the 35+ despite being swarmed by Monster Media, even though most of his training lately has been on the track. Kevin pulled some astounding numbers: 1-minute power 748 watts. 10-minute power 366 watts. All in a day’s work for this South Bay phenom.

Trudi Schindler got 2nd in the women’s Cat 4, and 5th overall in the Cat 3/4. Great job!

Strongman Phil Tintsman showed his versatility–again–with a silver medal in the tough, tough 35+ race. Great work, Phil.

See you next year?

If for no other reason than to show your support for the people in Bakersfield who’ve done so much to create a fantastic venue for bike racing, you should put this race and De Vleeshuis Ronde on your calendar for 2013. Come on out and get your dick stomped into a flatworm. You’ll be glad you did.

Really.

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