January 16, 2018 Comments Off on Here comes the Hun
There is a nasty part of every day recently, and by recently I mean since about 2011, when it dawns on me that I have to sit down at the computer and write something that will offend enough people to get them to read the first paragraph, but not so many that I will be beaten to a pulp the next time I show up at a bike race or group ride or social mixer, raging inside at not being able to douse my soul in suds but insanely proud at resisting the call of the demon drink, like water torture infused with cocaine.
Today I pretty much knew what I was going to write about, which is a way of saying I had no fucking idea what I was going to write about because I am possessed by a mean bastard who waits until I hammer out the slug and then rips up the rails and sends me down a blind, bleeding, raucous, raw rabbit hole filled with mines, razors, concertina wire, and chocolate. I can handle everything except the fucking chocolate.
It was a simple story, really, about a bike racer whose nickname is “the Hun” not because he is an invading, one-man-horde of death and ruination, but because he is a Magyar, an Eastern European man born and raised in the Kingdom of Hungary, from whence the Huns originally were spawned and issued forth to ransack, pillage, burn, and upturn the citadel of Rome before giving into the weather, the art, the women, the boys, the poetry, and the wine, especially the wine, which, once hooked upon, turned them into the same soft and easily eaten cronuts of the emperors they’d only recently disemboweled and whose heads they’d set tastefully on bloody pikes.
I was going to talk about Attila the Hun and what a badass he is, and it was going to be complimentary and kind and a gentle revelation of a decent father and son, but what is the fun in that? Who wants a fucking fairy tale on the eve of MLK Day, when our Racist-in-Chief is celebrating the enslavement of a race by whacking golf balls, way over par and tipped in at the last minute by his lying henchmen who have stolen our national wealth and sold our fake democracy to the Russians? Who wants a happy ending, well, everyone who hasn’t been to China recently, I guess, and hasn’t seen that the iron fist of George Orwell has been increased 5,000% in size through daily workouts at Gold’s Gym and clothed in lululemon yoga gloves to make the rusty nails protruding from the knuckles look sexier, that’s who.
So, no happy story with a pretty ending for you today. It’s Tuesday and the job is in full meatgrinder mode, and even if you can’t keep your fingers clear, try not to stick your tongue into it.
This morning’s Tuesday Horror Story started on Sunday at noon at Telo, the world’s worst training crit ever. Even if you like wind and pain, even if you get wet and weak inside when you think about having someone stand on your left eye, nah, even then it was a shitty day. The whole idea behind moving Telo from Tuesday to Sunday was a stupid idea; “On Sunday there’s no traffic,” “We need a training crit between January and March, when Telo is SUPPOSED to start up,” and the dumbest fucking lie ever told, “It will be fun.”
Newsflash: Bike racing isn’t fun unless you’re doing the fake old supermaster jagoff World Championship 70+ ITT where you compete against one other idiot so that you can scurry home and brag that:
a. I’M A WORLD CHAMPION JUST LIKE PETER SAGAN and
b. I’M GOING TO PUT WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP STRIPES ON MY BUSINESS CARDS
For everyone else, bike racing is a nasty, painful, disappointing, sadistic exercise in masochism and deflation and delusion that runs aground on physics, physiology, and mental decrepitude, and nowhere are the shoals as sharp and shark-ridden as Telo.
On Sunday it was a horrible contingent of actual bike racers. Not fake-fuck posers who buy all the fancy shit and wear all the fancy clothes and wouldn’t get near a number and a safety pin for all the trinkets on Strava, but actual people who raced actual bikes against actual other people for no other reason than the misery and disappointment of physical and mental collapse.
Prime among this tribe of angry people was Attila (his real name), “the Hun,” (not). With a paltry field, we started, took the first lap easy, and began attacking. After thirty-five minutes everyone was ready to call it a day, a week, a lifetime, anything but “not over,” yet for all that it was not over. Jon Davy seized the exhausted moment, kicked it hard in its tender private parts, and Attila followed. By then the minuscule field of a dozen had dwindled to six, with various collapsed and beaten competitors doing lackluster laps, randomly hopping in and out, unsure why they were there or what they were doing.
Dog knows I don’t know.
After a couple more laps Derek Brauch sprang free, Greg Leibert followed, and as I waited for Josh Alverson to do something, anything, they rode away and that was that. Derek was finally dumped, Greg bridged to Jon and Attila, and they took turns attacking Jon. Attila got free and soloed for an ugly win, not as ugly as the wreckage and destruction that the Huns had visited on Rome, but close.
Afterwards everyone sat around in the heat, dehydrated, sunstroked, in shock at having done something so hard and stupid when, for a mere $45, we could have spent six hours on I-10 doing a real 60-minute race in Ontario with racers who were not only more real than we but also way smarter. The Hun didn’t care. As he has done so many times past, in road races and in crits, he came, he smashed, he won ten dollars and a loaf of bread, and he went home happy, the skins and heads of his victims stapled to his jerkin.
No one is sure if Sunday Telo will ever happen again. I hope it doesn’t. But in the meantime, the demon has let me out of his clutches and this particular post is done.
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About SouthBayCycling.com: This the all-things-cycling blog about cycling in the South Bay and cycling in Los Angeles, maintained and authored by me, Seth Davidson, Torrance-based bicycle lawyer, bike racer, and personal injury attorney.
April 28, 2017 § 5 Comments
Telo is pretty much a fake race, but it’s so gnarly, and such a good lab for learning how badly you suck that it deserves its own fake race report.
A really good race report needs to be simple. This one sure is: “Josh Alverson countered on Lap Two and soloed for the last 40 minutes.”
In between the start and the finish there were some teachable moments. One of them was that people don’t like wind very much. It was howling. It was so awful that only about fifteen people showed up.
So, top twenty!!!!
I think racing in the wind makes you better. You either get stronger by fighting the wind, or you get smarter by hiding from it and metering your efforts, or you improve your echelon/paceline skills. Sometimes all of these happen.
Josh had two breakmates at different times, but he rode them both off his wheel. I ended up in the first chase group with Aaron, Eric, and Dan Cobley. Dan was the strongest guy by far and he got us within twelve seconds before Josh nailed the coffin lid shut and pulled away.
Aaron rode the smartest, because he is the smartest. With a teammate up the road he rotated through and immediately swung over. If the three of us could bring back his teammate Josh, fine with him; he’d wax us in the finish. Which he did.
With five laps to go it became clear that we weren’t catching Josh. Dan and I are teammates but we didn’t ride that way. Eric and Aaron are both very fast so our only hope would have been to start attacking them and hope to get away. Instead we kept hammering at a pretty steady pace.
Funny how guys can be too tired to pull hard but when you round that final corner they catch a second wind. Good bike racing is always strategic. I love racing with guys who can think and race simultaneously. It’s very hard to do and I wish I could.
I got fourth for the second time in two weeks. Forever Fourth, or something like that.
David Wells and Emily did the best recap of all, which describes every Telo I’ve ever done, and none more so than this past Tuesday. I now share with you below:
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April 14, 2017 § 10 Comments
Another frustrating Telo Tuesday. Not that that’s unusual. They have been consecutively frustrating now for about ten years. Not much reason for that to change.
Evens Stievenart, our adopted French hammer, is one of the best riders in California and one of the top marathon-endurance riders in the world. He won the 24 Hours of LeMans last year, bike version, and has his sights trained on 2017, too. Glad I’m not the target.
He showed up at Telo, our Tuesday night worlds, and said he was very tired. “I’m very tired,” he said. That didn’t mean anyone else had a chance of winning, it meant he would win with different tactics.
His usual tactic is to attack into the wind each lap. Finally people get tired of riding in the gutter and they give up. Then he rides off by himself or with one or two others. Then he beats them in the sprint.
My problem is that I’m not fast enough to follow the crazy hard attacks when the good guys are fresh, and I’m not strong enough to break them when they’re tired. My bandwidth is straight up mediocre.
Derek Brauch was there; he’s never an instigator, that’s not his style. Instead he’s a conservative. He doesn’t waste energy, reads the race, and invariably goes with the winning move. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him miss it at Telo except for one race last year when he said, “Go with Cowan if he attacks from the gun.”
Cowan attacked from the gun, I didn’t go with him, and “Head Down James” stayed away solo for the entire sixty minutes. The races are always harder and better when Velo Club LaGrange shows up, that’s for sure.
Last week I had followed every one of Evens’s attacks, about twelve of them. He finally got tired of me shadowing him, sat up and drifted to the back. Then he attacked on the final turn and smoked everybody in the finish, everyone who hadn’t crashed, that is. Afterwards he texted me, “You followed me so much I almost called the police for stalking.”
He has a good sense of humor.
This week I had crazy good legs, which is always a bad sign. It means I will squander them in pointless attacks, which I did, starting with an attack in the neutral zone with Michael Smith. We got caught after a few laps, then he broke a seatpost and was done.
I kept attacking but Evens and Derek were filing their nails. When I sat up for a second, after about thirty minutes, Evens attacked and took Derek with him. We never saw them again. Evens did most of the work then outsmarted and outsprinted Derek in the finish. I don’t know how you outsmart Derek. He’s the savviest guy out there, period.
No one wanted to chase because, I don’t know. Aaron Wimberley was there and he had a teammate up the road. Eric Anderson was there but he wasn’t going to chase the break so Aaron could sprint him fresh. Josh Alverson would normally have bridged solo but not today. In most races you know when the winning move goes because everyone kind of heaves a collective sigh. The fight goes out of the group.
With four laps to go I thought we had three so I figured I could at least give my teammates a three-lap leadout. I wondered at the end of lap three why no one was coming around. “Dang, maybe they can’t.”
But of course they could. I saw Emily holding the one-to-go card and was gassed. I probably made a d’oh-ing sound. They kicked me out the back on the headwind section and I finished last. I learned again that if I have good legs I should ride at 80 percent and wait.
It also occurred to me that if you have to learn the same lesson over and over and over, maybe you aren’t really learning.
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June 23, 2016 § 16 Comments
It’s not because you don’t put out enough power, or don’t have a good enough bike, or don’t have the right coach, or aren’t on the right drugs.
It’s not because you have a job, because this is just a hobby, because you take your family obligations seriously, or because you can’t leave work early or start work late.
It’s not because your legs are too short, your tummy’s too round, your neck’s too stiff, or your body is better at “endurance” than “short” events.
It’s not because you drank too much beer the night before, or you had to service someone, or they served you gluten pancakes by mistake, or the ectrolytes in your bottle were frazzy raspberry instead of chunky chocolate.
It’s not because you’re mostly a climber, or mostly a rouleur, or mostly a time-trailer, or mostly a lead-out rider, or mostly a sprunter but only from 100-yards with a lead-out train.
It’s not because your FTP is low, your HR is high, your VO2 is average, or your prostate is prolapsed.
It’s none of those things.
It’s because you aren’t Aaron Fucking Wimberley. And guess what? You never will be.
Aaron is of course a metaphor, but he’s a metaphor writ large. He’s been off the bike since last summer, logs a hundred miles a week if that, works 50 hours a week, has an actual personal life, and when stuff gets busy, as it has for the last year, his bike sits in the corner and gathers dust.
But on race day, which yesterday was, when Aaron came out to the Telo crit, the famed crit that now offers a champion’s custom jersey and SEVEN WHOLE DAYS of undisputed bragging rights, when he showed up along with Jules Gilliam, Rudy Napolitano, David Wells, Josh Alverson, Jon Davy, Francis Hardiman (omit the “i” and you’ll know all you never need to know about that dude), Alex Barnes, James Doyle, Chainbreak, Casey Macguire, and an entire throng of pack fodder, with every single rider planning on getting that jersey, and Rudy launching artillery rounds every lap and Josh countering with bunker busters and Jules slashing everyone with a machete and the group gradually reducing to its barest essence like a fine French consomme, and the pace so torrid most of the time all you could do was grit your fuggin’ teeth and curse blood, and Aaron, the guy with the least miles and the least fitness, hiding, thinking, suffering, thinking, following, thinking, waiting, and thinking until all the body blows had been landed and all the howitzer shells had been spent and the machete blades had broken off and the last lap was tear-your-cheeks-off-fast and people crumpled and folded like bad origami and with a thousand long yards to go whenJules sprang free, he had it he had it he had it he had it until he didn’t, which was about the time that Aaron gave it one perfectly planned and immaculately thought out hard kick, the only kick he’d given all day because it was the only kick he had, and he’d been saving it like North Korea with its one functioning nuke, and the timing was perfect and the power was perfect and the line was perfect and the acceleration was perfect and all everyone else could do was slump and sigh and groan as their jersey dreams went up in a puff of smoke and bad bong water.
Because winning bike races takes legs, but what it really takes is brains.
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May 25, 2016 § 11 Comments
When your face is mashed against the stem and there is a 33-mph sweep up the left side and you’re already pegged trying to close a 3-foot gap just to get up to a wobbly, about-to-detonate wheel so you can (with much prayer) leapfrog over the next gap that is going from a bike length to a football field, when the pain is shooting up your legs into your lungs and rasping like a giant file on a block of concrete, when you’re at that point in the race when you have found THE WORD and THE WORD is “QUIT!” and you’re already making up reasons why QUIT is brilliant and clever and CONTINUE is for insecure insane people because WHAT DO I HAVE TO PROVE and HOW AM I GOING TO PROVE IT OUT HERE are the dominant models in your mind’s dialectical discourse re: the philosophy of not giving up, when all that is happening it is hard to feel fun, much less see it.
That was my Telo last night, a huge turnout with mighty hammers of enraged wrath swinging in the fists of Evens Stievenart, Josh Alverson, Evan Stade, Sam Warford, Dan Cobley, Garrett Olsen, Peyton Cooke, Dave Wells, and a host of other characters who found the front for long enough to dump a bucket of boiling pain down the throats of the suffering convicts who were chained in hell to the unrelenting single-file line of pain.
But one rider stood out, even among that throng of ill-tempered criminals. He was slight, he was small, he was young, he hadn’t really learned how to ride in a straight line or how to keep his head up when sprinting full bore in the middle of a pack, but he had this: He had the magic.
This kid went with every surge, attempted every breakaway, tried to bridge to every move, bounced around in the pack like a ping-pong ball, tore at his pedals to not get dropped in the back straight, launched off the front fearlessly in the draft of the big fast men, pushed his way to the point only to get batted to the back, surged, blew, attacked, blew, followed, blew, sprinted, blew, launched, blew, blew, blew, blew, recovered, hit the gas as hard as he could and did it all over again.
Bader the Bad made his mark not only with his tenacity, but with the effect he had on the aged, the grizzled, the cynical, the broken, the jaded, and the crusty old farts trying to decide whether it was worth hanging on. In sixty minutes this kid showed us why we first raced: For the abandon and complete immersion into the moment, where age doesn’t matter, gender is irrelevant, name/rank/serial number/national origin/sexual orientation all blend into the necessity of the moment, “Can you hang, and if so can you WIN?”
Bader didn’t win, but on the last lap with the pack in tatters and even the iron-legged titans feeling the burn, he leaped, he attacked, he gave it his all for the hundredth time, and he didn’t stop pedaling until he had crossed the line.
He he gave us hope, he gave us a bike race, he made us hurt, and best of all, after the gasping was done, he made us smile.
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March 31, 2016 § 22 Comments
We have a training crit called Telo. No one is sure what it trains anyone for, but on Tuesday at 6:00 PM we do it anyway.
Telo, pronounced “this really fuggin’ sucks,” has one main feature, wind. Huge buckets of it sweep off the coast every afternoon without exception. Yesterday the buckets were Rubbermaid Industrial Sized; I’m guessing 25 mph.
The course is a long tailwind section, a short right-hander, then a long headwind section, a chicane, more headwind, another right-hander, and back to the tailwind part. You would think that the headwind section is the worst part and you would be right.
One of the great things about the Internet and being really famous is that when you announce you’re going to be at Telo a ton of people show up. So I announced my presence and got to see what kind of weight I pull in the South Bay as a tiny group of maybe twenty-five riders appeared.
The only thing that makes Telo harder than huge wind buckets is a small field. Yesterday the field included Evens, Smasher, Fireman, Destroyer, Surfer Dan, SB Baby Seal, Hair, and Family Jules. Clearly the worst thing to do would be to attack from the gun. All I had to do was mark Destroyer and I’d make the split, which is exactly like the old Aesops’ fable of Belling the Cat. All the mice have to do to stop the cat from eating them is put a big bell around his neck. Yep, that’s all.
Junkyard, who showed up to flash lap cards, waved us off. By refusing to participate, he once again proved himself the wisest person there, although as he scampered back and forth across the course with riders whizzing by he almost achieved the Trifecta of Bike Crashes: Falling on the Road, Falling on the Track, and Getting Run Over at a Bike Race While Not Even Riding.
I attacked from the gun, if “attack” is what you call dangling 50 yards ahead of everyone on the neutral lap. However, it served its purpose, which was to make sure I felt droopy and lacticky when the real attacks began, of which there was only one, and which came from Evens, and which was into the headwind, and which everyone could simply look at and drool hangdoggedly “You go.” “Nuh-uh. You go.” “Fugg tha, you go.”
The field had about fifteen people left and they all appeared to be small and thin and useless for my purposes, which was finding a good wheel to gasp onto.
I followed a couple of hapless moves and never slipped back more than fourth wheel, all the while wondering “Where are Destroyer and Smasher? Where are Smasher and Destroyer?” Nothing would happen without them, except what had happened, which was that the winning break of one had morphed into the winning group of five and I wasn’t in it.
Fireman, though, was. He had told me before the race, “Just follow my wheel and you’ll make the split.” So I followed several other wheels while he made the split and I didn’t.
As I took a few ineffectual pulls I kept wondering, “Where are Destroyer and Smasher? Gee I’m tired and exhausted and tasting that salty sour bitter stuff in the back of my throat and my legs have that ‘stop’ feeling but where are they? What are they doing? Smasher is always patient and waits until the first 30 seconds to attack but not today. Is he tired? Weak? Sick? Too much Cal-Mex queso before the ride?”
Of course I could have looked, but it’s hard to turn your head when you’re rollicking through massive pavement cracks dodging oncoming angry cagers and delivery trucks whipping out of industrial park driveways and 25-mph gusts that stand you up when you slam from the sheltered short top section into the wind and your eyes have switched sockets.
If I had looked back I would have seen D&S chillily sitting in the back not having yet pedaled. Which would have been a bad thing to see.
“When are they going to attack and bridge?” I wondered. So I slipped back and got on Smasher’s wheel, who was on Destroyer’s wheel. “Okay fuckers,” I said. “Do your worst and drag me up to the break.”
On cue, Destroyer hopped hard on his pedals and Smasher hopped with him. Surfer Dan slotted in ahead of me and it was just the four of us. First we went fast. Then faster. Then really fast. Once we hit the apex of this-hurts-so-bad-if-we-go-any-faster-my-face-will-come-off, Destroyer started going fast.
Surfer gapped, which was great because now I had an excuse. IF ONLY HE HADN’T GAPPED ME OUT I WOULD HAVE MADE IT. REALLY, MOM!!!
I watched the two of them pedal merrily off, satisfied that I now had an excuse and, since we’d slowed down, could breathe again and uncross my kidneys.
Ten riders came up to us. Everyone else who hadn’t already been dropped got dropped.
We rode the next forty minutes in a single line. Each time you got within three riders of the front the pain was unendurable. My pulls went from weak and ineffectual to lightning-brief cameos where my pull consisted of one pedal stroke, a 5-mph decrease in speed, and a wildly flapping elbow.
One by one the group shrank. Every couple of laps someone shuddered and quit. 11. 10. 9. 8. 7. 6.
This is what it must have been like to be stuck in a life raft with nothing to eat but each other, and nothing to drink but blood, salt water, and urine. When SB Baby Seal melted into a wet stain and slithered off the back with only a couple of laps to go I knew things were bad. With Hair, Boozy P., Jay L., and Surfer Dan the only people left in our pitiful chase group that wasn’t really a chase group so much as it was a don’t-get-lapped group, and with us all broken the only thing left of the glorious dreams from 60 minutes earlier, we each struggled across the line, downcast, downtrodden, filled with futility, defeat, and the reality that no matter how bad you are on a bike, racing will make you worse.
Up ahead the shenanigans had been vicious. Heavy D. and Brokeback Brokeleg had been ridden out of the break. Fireman had been worked over. Family Jules had been denied his second Telo victory despite cagey wheelsucking, sagging, pull skipping, and work avoidance of every kind. Evens had ground everyone up into fine powder. Destroyer and Smasher had attacked every lap the last five laps until one of them beat everyone else.
However, I finally realized that I had gotten it all wrong. Telo isn’t a training race. It’s a funeral train. And you’re the guest of honor.
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August 13, 2013 § 15 Comments
The previous week we raced the Brentwood GP, set in the heart of glamorous West L.A., smack in the middle of the homes owned by the rich, the famous, the divorced, and those serving life sentences in Nevada. What could be better than a craft beer garden, silicone breasts galore, curbside cafes with froo-froo drinks and menu items that end in -eaux, -aises, and three digits to the left of the decimal?
Ah, Brentwood! Home to Brooke Shields, who swung by to check out the action, home to a fabled bike race intertwined with L.A.’s oldest and most respected cycle club and high-dollar payday for the fastest wheels in the West, all recorded with a Hollywood sound truck and 50-man crew from Time-Warner Cable.
But I digress …
Taking it down to the next level
This Sunday, with only a few races left on the 2013 road calendar, marked the running of the Torrance Crit, a race as different from Brentwood as a $5,000 hooker is from a jar of peanut butter. By the middle of August we were all completely exhausted and even sicker of bike racing than we were in January, which was very.
After seventeen races at which I spent an average of $75.00 per race (for a total of $1,275.00, plus $1,932.83 in equipment, clothing, beer, and lodging), I had already wasted — yes, wasted — $3,207.83 in order to garner an average race finish of 31.6th place. The good news was that after Brentwood I was clearly on an uptick in performance, having crossed the line in an almost impossibly good 19th place. If I could only keep doubling my results like that, I’d be winning in no time!
It would be the challenge of a lifetime to improve on the Brentwood finish here at Torrance, but I was up to it. At season’s end when others were running on fumes, I could feel victory, or at least 18th Place, coursing through my veins.
Killing for crumbs
As I looked around the starting line I realized what a profound mistake it had been not to sign up for the 45+ race in which I had a .000003% chance of winning instead of the 35+, in which my chance was zero. Around me the riders all looked youthful, strong, and fast, with the exception of Bart, who looked older than the rest of us put together but still beat me like a drum.
The only consolation I got was that they, like me, were sick to death of pedaling around ugly office parks with no hope of victory, and, like me, were here out of force of habit, like a heroin addict who inserts the needle with no hope of relief, but prays only for maintenance of low-level misery. Like me, they were desperately hoping and praying that now, at the end of the year, some miracle would occur that might deliver a victory — a moving van running amok on the course that ran over all the other riders, or a giant sinkhole that swallowed everyone but me, or, even more impossibly, a last-minute miscalculation by Charon, Hair, Wike, or the other habitual Alpha males of the SoCal crit scene. But the most hopeful omen of all was the absence of Tinstman and DiMarchi, who had gone off to Vietnam in order to test their intestines against the local cuisine, and their legs against that nation’s top riders.
Where Brentwood was tony and well-heeled, the Torrance crit was the impoverished cousin with the extra toe, a wind-swept, barren hellhole held on the Telo training crit course so infamous in the South Bay. The wind-tossed, pock-marked, rock-strewn frontside of the course was buffeted by the standard 25 mph headwind that blows off of the ocean every afternoon. The field had a meager 31 riders, meaning that the strategy of “hide, then hide some more” wouldn’t work.
The prize, though somewhat smaller than the $13,000 on offer at Brentwood, was still enough to make the racers willing to fight and kill for it. Such is the value of a tank of gas among the hopeless addicts of the Pro Masters Crit community. When our race began there was a collective sigh of relief as we all knew we were just a few minutes closer to the end of an already endless season, and therefore the chance of receiving a serious brain injury this year while riding through potholes at warp speed on skinny tires was ever so slightly reduced.
A recap almost as miserable as the ride
You know how, when you read a race recap, it’s filled with mindlessly boring descriptions of what various riders did throughout the entire fifty minutes, though it could and should best be summed up by William Stone’s immortal race reports, which are all the same? That is, “Someone won. The others did not.”
Well, this race report has two versions.
The Stonish version: Charon Smith won. The others did not.
The Wankmeister version: Grab yourself a beer. Settle into a comfy couch. Get ready for a long, boring, painful read.
Since it was going to be a long, miserable, windy, high-speed beatdown, my teammate Josh Alverson decided to play it conservatively by sitting in, resting, and hoarding his energies until the end of the first one hundred yards, at which point he attacked. Everyone was relieved to see him go, because of all the no-hope moves that anyone could have pulled, this was the no-hopiest.
Five laps later, Josh returned to the fold just in time for John Wike to attack. My game plan since the night before had been to sit in. Rest. Save everything for one hard attack with a couple of laps to go. Follow nothing. Try nothing. Remember that these were all young men and that I was a feeble and infirm elderly fellow with a leaky prostate, terrible vision, and a dislocated pancreas. Seek whatever shelter from the wind I could find. Stay far from the front. Never attack. Say “please” a lot.
So of course I jumped on Wike’s wheel, which is like saying, “I poked the guy in the eye who was wearing the hockey mask and carrying the chainsaw.” Wike’s an unusual fellow in that his ferocity has multiple sources. Most bike racers can only conjure up “the angry” from some early childhood beating, or having lost a thumb while cleaning the chain on a track bike, or getting beaten up and having their stamp collection taken away while walking home from Mrs. Broughton’s 4th Grade class at Braeburn Elementary in Houston.
Wike’s fury, though comes from the usual places plus his junkyard dog loyalty to his team. I overheard the whole team pre-race meeting. Charon and Wike and Special K were sitting under the tent.
Charon: What’s the plan today, boys?
Wike: You will win.
Charon: Okay, but what’s the plan?
Wike: I will chase down everything.
Special K: Dude, you can’t chase everything. We only have three guys. Nobody’s gonna help you.
Wike: Okay. I will chase almost everything. You chase the other one or two moves.
Charon: Sounds like a plan.
Fools rush in where Wike isn’t afraid to tread
Many people say that Wike has no fear, and they cite these two examples:
Example A: Wike set the downhill speed record for the Red Bull Challenge on Tuna Canyon in the Santa Monica Mountains, well in excess of 55 mph on a suicidal, twisting, gravelly, washed-out, off-camber descent of death, and he set it despite crashing, remounting, and hitting it full-gas all the way to the bottom.
Example B: Coming into the final 400 yards of a mass sprint that featured ex-Euro pros like Ivan Dominguez, Wike was glued to the wheel of the Cuban Missile. A young and hormone-crazed Cat 1 tried to bump Wike off the Missile’s wheel, at 35 mph. Wike casually looped his arm under the youngster’s, then hooked their two handlebars together as the speed increased. From six inches away, Wike looked coolly into the eyes of the terrified child. “If you try to take that wheel from me again … ” Wike paused for dramatic effect as the speed increased, the finish line approached, and the roar of crowd became deafening. ” … then we’re both going down.”
The punkster trembled, Wike unlocked arms and bars, and uncorked for the finish, which was so close they had to review it with a team of officials on video replay. The enormous clunk on the concrete when Wike got off his bike was the sound of his 300-lb. testicles, and they left a divot in the cement the size of a wrecking ball.
But he seemed like such a nice axe-murderer, Mommy
The thing about Wike, though, despite his fury and his rail-like cornering skills and his devastating sprint and his fearless approach, is this: As long as you don’t try to douchebag him, he is the fairest, most honest, cleanest rider around, kind of like an ethical Great White Shark with guns and nunchuks.
Now I was on his wheel, and what had started off as a bike race quickly became an advanced lesson in high-speed cornering. Whereas most crit riders set themselves up for a turn, and it’s fairly predictable how they intend to enter the corner, Wike seems to come at each turn straight up-and-down, as tightly inside as possible, with no angle or lean at all. It looks impossible until, at the last second, rather than gracefully swooping through the apex of the turn, he grabs his stupid fucking bike by the scruff of its neck, rubs its nose in the poop, and violently slings it through the corner.
The bike is too afraid to do anything except go, and Wike never misses a pedal stroke. I, on the other hand, am ten feet back and digging like a DitchWitch in a mud trench to get back on his wheel. By the time I’d latch back on, John would be gouging the pedals again, which meant that the “recovery” from “sitting on his wheel” was in theory only.
Josh to the rescue
Soon we had another rider, and our three-man break looked promising, except for the fact that I was barely hanging on and we were a mere ten minutes into the race. Fortunately, my teammate Josh pulled the entire pack up to our break, relieving me of the indignity of getting dropped and making sure there was no way I would get on the podium. A lot of people don’t understand the teamwork in bike racing, which is complicated and hard to explain, and frankly, neither do I.
Now that I had squandered what little reserves I’d begun with (did I mention that I did a “warm-up” 30-mile ride that morning around PV that included 4k of climbing?), I slunk to the rear and swore to hide until the finish. This was the exact same moment that Special K attacked, followed by searing jumps from Wike, Josh, Jolly Green Giant, and most of the CalPools team.
The wounded and bleeding flailers huddled in a small lump, looking at each other and wondering which of the following would happen:
- We’d play “Yugo! Uh-uh, YOU go!” until the pack went off and left us for good. Then we’d be able to go home and give our pals “kudos” on Strava and tote up our weekly mileage.
- Some idiot in our midst would tow us up to the peloton, thereby frying and dropping himself from the race.
- The pack would miraculously slow down.
We got lucky, and it was Door #3. The wind and the accelerations were so fierce that the pack had winded itself, kind of like a dog that mindlessly chases a stick over and over until it collapses in a heap, never really sure why it was chasing the stick in the first place, and resolving never to do it ever again as long as it lives, or at least until someone throws the stick again.
A big lob
Josh attacked again for the 357th time and was up the road with Ollie before the pack brought that stick back, too. As everyone caught their breath, I seized my chance and rolled off the front with six to go. After the race a dude came up to me and said, “Yo, Wanky. New nickname. After that Big Blue Bus on flat tires acceleration, we’re gonna start calling you ‘Dangle.'”
As I dangled, each time I came through Turn 5 a hopelessly besotted clot of drunks screamed my name. At first I thought they were my friends, because it sure looked like Hoof Fixer Dude, New Girl, Frenchy, Tumbleweed, G3, Surfer Dan, Francisco, Toronto, Shannon, and Peyton Place.
Then I realized that they were standing in the driveway of the Strand Brewery, a local beer maker with a 10,000 gallon brewing tank that sells growlers to the public on the weekend. Noting that it was a weekend, and noting that everyone was clenching a growler, I paid closer attention the next time I came through, this time with another rider in tow.
“Get off the front, you fucking idiot!” is what they seemed to be saying. I wondered if they meant me?
With three laps to go, I and CalPools Dude were joined by the Jolly Green Giant, only he was more like the Grumpy Green Giant than the jolly one. I didn’t care, as he pulled like a giant, and now the game plan began to coalesce. None of us could sprint, but I could sprint at least as less badly as the other two. Victory was entirely possible. Best of all, my two teammates, Josh and Eric, would be at the front slowing down the pack, soft pedaling through the turns, and messing up Wike’s inevitable chase of death.
Josh to the rescue, again!
Fortunately, with two laps to go, Josh did such a great job of blocking that he blocked the whole peloton right up to our breakaway, then attacked us. “C’mon!” he said. “Let’s go!”
I wasn’t sure what he meant, since the only place I knew to go to was the finish line, and I’d been trying like hell to get there for the last four laps. Now there was a small gap, and Grumpy looked at me. “Close that gap!” he ordered.
“But that’s my teammate. Why should I?”
“You moron,” Grumpy snarled. “You need to learn how to race your bike.”
“That’s true,” I said. “But I’m still not chasing down my teammate for you.”
Grumpy lumbered up, but by that time the peloton was together again.
Final lap fireworks
With one lap to go, Charon woke up. He went over to the wash basin, brushed his teeth, put in some menthol-flavored mouthwash, and adjusted his helmet. Then he stretched, and with a moderate yawn rolled up towards the front.
“Hey,” he said. “Which one of you babies has the candy?”
“I do!” yowled one baby.
“Me, too!” hollered another.
“Me, me, me! Me got candy!” shouted a chorus of others.
“Okay, then,” said Charon. “Hold your hands up real high so I can take it from you easier.”
With three hundred yards to go he stretched again, checked his mouth in his pocket mirror to make sure there weren’t any pieces of black pepper between his teeth, and put his hands on the drops. Now the others were sprinting at max speed, giving it everything they had.
Charon pulled the morning newspaper out of his jersey pocket to make sure that the 15% Off Sale at Bill’s Bible Store was still going on, carefully refolded it, and put it back in his pocket. With a hundred yards to go he checked his phone. There was a text message from his fan club. “Hey, Charon!” it said. “Now might be a good time to go.”
“All right, then,” he said, and pushed one of his legs down, hard.
The bike shot forward.
Then he pushed down his other leg, harder. The bike shot forward even more.
“Aw man,” he said, seeing Hair and Eric almost at the line. “Am I going to have to push down AGAIN?” He gave the pedal one more mighty push with his leg and passed the two leading riders by thirty feet. Both of them wobbled and almost smacked into the curb as the wall of wind, combined with the sonic boom, knocked them into each other.
Sure, those guys stood on the podium. Eric even clinched third place zero help from his teammates. But me? I finished 18th, one whole placing better than at Brentwood. If I can just squeeze in seventeen more races between now and August 31, well … you do the math.