October 17, 2017 § 15 Comments
I’m not big on the Stravver, and not least of all because its welcome page says “Connecting the World’s Athletes.” Newsflash: I ain’t no athlete. I’m a creaky old profamateur masters bicycle delusioner.
Occasionally, however, I will be forced to participate in a KOM conversation, where someone who doesn’t have any KOMs is talking about KOMs, kind of like me talking about a full head of hair.
“I don’t have hardly any KOMs,” I will meekly say.
The person will look sadly at me. “That’s just because you don’t go after them,” he will answer, trying to make me feel better.
“No, it’s because I suck.”
“Aw, come on,” the person will whine, sensing a dose of reality in the offing. “You could get tons if you tried.”
“No, I couldn’t, because I’ve tried. Here in the South Bay there are no KOMs available to me. Lane, Spencer, Chris Tregillis … the KOMs are all theirs.”
However, I do have three KOMs on the Stravver. Two of them suck and you could take them with little effort. One of them is for the Wednesday Bro Ride, a loop that has a bunch of lights and stuff, and only twenty-five people have ever done it. The course record is 1:45 and some seconds. Lane/Spencer/Chris, you could snap up this KOM without hardly breaking a sweat.
The other one is the “neutral” on Western, the part of the Donut Ride that goes through San Pedro. It’s a more legit than the “brochelada” segment; the KOM is nine minutes flat and it has been stravvered by about 1,800 people. Lane/Spencer/Chris, you could take this one too–it’s got the word “neutral” in it, after all–but your legs are going to have to sting a little bit. So go ahead and grab it. Be my guest.
Then I’ve got one last KOM, and I think I’ll be hanging onto it for a little while longer. It’s on Vista del Mar, 2.1 miles, the segment rolling out on NPR. I share it with Eric Anderson, and the segment has been recorded on the Stravver 4,107 times. We set this in a seven-man rotation last January including Dave Ellis, Ramon Ramos, Peyton Cooke, Jon Paris, and Kristie Fox doing an alt-NPR ride called “The 6:50.” As is often the case, we had a tailwind. And we went pretty hard. Unlike my other KOMs on the Stravver, this leaderboard is littered with hitters. Lane/Spencer/Chris, you might not be able to take this one, but if you do, you’re going to need some help, and you’re going to have to like the taste of your own puke.
But none of those KOMs that I got on the Stravver compared to the one I got on Saturday, which was snatched away the moment that the other riders uploaded their data. This was on the Donut of All Donuts, which will be the subject of a future blog, and which occurred this past Saturday.
Every year when we have the South Bay Cycling Awards, which is on a Saturday, we also have the biggest Donut of the year. Last year some of the monsters from North County showed up–Josh Stockinger, Phil Tinstman, as well as a big contingent of West Side killers. I was dropped into the meat grinder and spit out pretty quickly.
This year Ryan Dahl, another North County tough guy, made the trek, and the full Santa Monica BMW/Helen’s squad showed up, led by Tony Manzella and “reinforced” by Alex Barnes, Matt Wikstrom, and the rest of their team. Diego Binatena, who holds the KOM on the Switchbacks was there, evergreen Rudy Napolitano, along with Derek Brauch and a bunch of other bad boys. For the first time in memory, maybe the first time ever, I didn’t even ride to the Domes on the first climb, quitting at the college after trying to follow a pace to the base of the Switchbacks that left me in tatters.
So you can imagine how my heart went pitter-patter the moment I uploaded my ride on the Stravver and saw a little crown for the 6:36 segment through San Pedro. Whaaaaat? A KOM on the hardest day of the year on one of the hardest Donuts ever stacked with the RuggedMaxx II wrecking crew? “It must be a mistake,” I thought, because although I remembered going balls out up Western, trading the front a couple of times with David Wells and everyone else just sitting on, I couldn’t have imagined it was a KOM effort. I’d been off the bike for two weeks, I have tendinitis, and it’s friggin’ October, fer fugg’s sake.
Well … as soon as the uploads started, it was gone as quickly as it had come. David Ellis sneaked by me a second or two, and a handful of other sitters equaled my faux KOM due to the way the Stravver works, which I don’t understand, but it has something to do with how if you start at the back and use the draft of the group to move up you somehow are going faster than the people who stay in the same place. Kind of makes sense but it really doesn’t, like why rednecks don’t want free healthcare. The Stravver is obviously flawed to begin with, putting me at the top of any leaderboard for any reason.
Getting that one faux KOM made my weekend, even though it’s all gone now. I got to brag about it all day and night at the Wankys, refusing to check my phone so I could honestly say “I have the KOM going through Pedro.” And I did. And at 53-almost-54 years of age, it may have been brief but I’ll take it.
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March 31, 2013 § 9 Comments
This one had merit. Out of 14,304 times and more than 2,000 riders, he convincingly took the 1.2 mile KOM by three seconds. The segment is regularly ridden hard and the contingent yesterday, as it often does, contained continental pros, former pros, national champions, state champions, and some of the the best active racers in California.
Strava KOM-munism is mostly standing in front of a mirror admiring yourself. The rider picks a segment, hones the conditions, and repeatedly goes for it until the little crown pops up. The segments are mostly minor in terms of the number of riders and the number of times the segment has been ridden on Strava. KOM-munism is self-glory that is only rarely vindicated through actual racing.
Sometimes, though, the right rider on the right ride with the ride mix of fellow flailers pulls it all together. The result? A mass clubbing of baby seals and a new King Clubber.
That happened yesterday on the Donut. MMX came to town from North County San Diego, and the ride included Rudy Napolitano, Danny Heeley, some pro dude from Champion Systems, and a host of other hammerheads. Aaron Wimberley exploded out of Malaga Cove. MMX bridged up to him, followed by a tiny chick named Flavia. She was so small that hunch over as much as I might the only thing that got a decent draft were my knees.
Aaron kept the heat on until Flavia fried off the back, and I with her. As we rounded the bend, MMX hit the front with such power and abandon that Aaron, who had set the KOM-winning pace, was busted out the back. MMX pulled away, quickly becoming a tiny speck of churning, pounding pain levers. By the time he sat up there was nothing left of the 100+ wankoton, and he would find out at ride’s end that he was the new KOM of this segment: http://app.strava.com/segments/753144.
This, of course, is how it should be done. It should be done from the sharp end of the spear, not lollygagging in back and “making up time” by racing through the group to the front when the pace picks up. It should be done amidst a field thick with accomplished riders. It should be done convincingly and with strength, not by hanging onto the wheel of a breakaway and pushing through at the last second to snag the KOM by a wheel. Most of all, it should be done the way this one was done–not to get the KOM, but to break the legs and spirits of those behind, the KOM being a secondary reward that only came as surprise after the ride.
Hats, then, off!
September 13, 2012 § 53 Comments
Strava CEO Michael Horvath posted an entry on the company blog today about sportsmanship, competition, ethics, and a new focus on the social media site’s core users. “After doing a six-month analysis of rider usage patterns,” he wrote, “we were able to pinpoint the key characteristics of our avid regular users and of our paid ‘premium’ users. Our user review team has classified our customers as something known in the industry as ‘delusional assholes.'”
According to Horvath, Strava’s current KOM/QOM algorithm no longer correlates to the behavior of the web site’s most dedicated users. “KOM’s started out as virtual datapoints to mark your progress. Unfortunately, they’ve become real in the minds of countless users. People actually believe that because Strava describes them as a KOM, they are in fact the king of some mountain somewhere.”
Horvath relates the fistfight that broke out between cyclist Elmer Thudpucker and a local landowner when Thudpucker claimed feudal demesne rights to Pighumper Mountain in western Arkansas by virtue of his Strava KOM. “First they beat him senseless, then they tied him to a post, then they made him grunt like a pig. We decided something needed to be done.”
Too much of a bad thing?
Problems also arise when KOM holders interact with other actual cyclists and get their shit handed to them on a plate, according to Horvath. “The cognitive dissonance that arises when you think you are the king of a mountain, but then on a group ride you are the last person up the mountain you’re supposedly king of, creates so much depression, self-doubt, anger, and disillusionment that our most committed members are letting their memberships lapse,” he explains.
“We’ve decided to revamp the KOM algorithm so that all of our Strava users know exactly what their KOM’s really mean, and hence aren’t so dejected when they get crushed by the kid on restricted gears who hasn’t started shaving yet.”
Preview of the new, improved Strava rankings
“We’re in the process of gathering more personal data from our users in order to perfect the algorithms, but in a nutshell here they are. This entire system was dreamed up by Steven L. from San Diego, so we owe him a big debt of thanks even though he won’t see a dime from all his hard work, as we intend to pirate the shit out of his idea.”
COM: Chicken of the Mountain
Indicates that the rider never rides with others, and instead sets all of his best times alone.
FOM: Faker of the Mountain
Indicates that the rider never tells others he’s going for a particular segment, so they will do all the work as he moves from the back to the front of the group to collect the FOM.
POM: Peon of the Mountain
Idicates that the segment has been ridden less than 500 times, and the rider is literally a smallish-fish-in-the-tiniest-of-ponds.
WOM: Wanker of the Mountain
Indicates that the segment has never been ridden by a UCI pro or Cat 1 roadie.
Cit-OM: Citizen of the Mountain
Indicates that the rider doesn’t do road races.
FROM: Fraudster of the Mountain
Indicates that the rider is the one who created the segment.
SPROM: Sprunter of the Mountain
Indicates that the segment is less than 5k in length.
CHOM: Cheater of the Mountain
Indicates that the rider achieved the time with motor pacing or other pacing assistance.
EPOM: EPO of the Mountain
Indicates reliance on PED’s.
KOV: King of the Valley
Indicates net decrease in elevation, ergo it’s not a climb, stupid.
LOM: Lawsuit of the Mountain
Indicates idiot took outrageous risks on a descent or other twisty, dangerous road in order to score points on a stupid web site.
TOM: Triathlete of the Mountain
Indicates that the rider isn’t even a cyclist.
DOM: Delusional of the Mountain
Indicates that the rider thinks that his performance on Strava correlates to his racing ability.
“This is just the outline; we’re hoping to get it tweaked in the next couple of weeks,” writes Horvath. “Once we’ve gone through the AMA’s Index of Psychiatric Disorders to fully categorize our customers, we should be ready for launch.”
April 8, 2012 § 9 Comments
“King of the Mountains” used to only be a TdF designation. Now it’s Stravanese for “fastest dude on a particular stretch of road.” QOM, in obeisance to gender-equality-and-making-sure-women-have-a-reason-to-use-Strava, is “fastest chick on a particular stretch of road.”
But this leaves out the designation that most of us acknowledge as worthiest of all, the force of nature. The FON.
What’s a FON? A FON is a rider, not necessarily a physically gifted one, who dominates through sheer force of will. The FON doesn’t really care about anything except finding the most extreme edge of the hurt envelope, and pushing it until there’s no one left who can follow. Whatever else a FON is, they’re hard. They suffer, and they don’t give a rat’s ass about the weather or the seasons or the terrain.
A FON can be friendly, or not. What distinguishes them is that, once the race begins, they are pitiless. “Nichts wird geschenkt.” Sometimes masked with humility, sometimes dripping with arrogance, a FON will never show mercy, though he may shake your hand and congratulate you at the end on your impressive second place. Behind him.
Here’s my personal list, based on experience and observation:
1. Jeff Fields. No apparent physical aptitude for road racing. Won countless crits and road races over a twenty-year stretch through sheer force of will and refusal to countenance losing to his inferiors, which was everyone. Smart, canny, wrung blood from turnips, and was always unwilling to concede defeat, even when beaten. The first and toughest and bad-assedest FON I ever met.
2. Roger Worthington. Less apparent physical aptitude even than Fields. Unbelievable beast and hater of losing. Wins at all costs. Outsprints the faster guy, outclimbs the billygoat, out time-trials the specialist, chases down and crushes the starry-eyed youth even in the on-legged decrepitude of his dotage. Runs on venom and bile. Just when you think you have him in a choke hold, you realize he’s got you by the balls.
3. Thurlow Rogers. You’ll never get to know him on the bike because he rides everyone off his wheel. Decades of wins in every facet of road cycling. Rides his bike to annihilate and destroy. Doesn’t understand anything except “full throttle,” as in “throttle the competition.” If you’ve raced against him, he’s beaten you. If you’ve beaten him, chances are good there was a deal.
4. Scott Dickson. First American victor and record holder for number of Paris-Brest-Paris wins. If this doesn’t mean anything to you, Google it, fool. Scott is the quintessential hardman. Trains in Iowa. Year round. Talks cheerfully to you while he gradually whittles you down into a puddle of quivering meat. Pardons his victims, but only after they’re dead. Drinks his whiskey straight. Has ridden a hundred miles every day, rain, shine, or snow, since before your father was born.
5. Michael Marckx. Surfer-runner-triathlete-madman-cyclocrosser who believes that the only effort worth putting out is the total one. Despises all placings other than first. Doesn’t believe in “moral victories.” Pain is proof that whatever you’re doing is working. Excruciating pain is proof that everyone else has been dropped. Satisfied only when everything has been perfectly executed, or you’ve been ground down into slop.
6. Greg Leibert. Strangely happy and friendly guy who indiscriminately obliterates his competition. His only mode is attack. Solo wins. TT wins. Breakaway wins. Never takes the easy path, never calculates the safe route, hits and hits and hits and hits until the wall comes tumbling down. You’re the wall.
7. Old Dude Who I’ve Sworn Never to Mention by Name on my Blog. New to cycling, is a methodical killing machine. Listens, imitates, studies, learns. Cabinet full of trophies in his third year of racing. Not interested in your excuses, or more importantly, in his. First Supermaster ITT, silver. Relentless. Gets in your head. Friendly on the outside, black widow beneath the veneer.
8. John Morstead. Weird engineer dude who destroyed everyone in Texas in the 80’s and 90’s and rejected an offer from 7-11 because he thought cycling wasn’t as good a career as engineering. So in addition to being a FON he’s smart. Son was a kicker for the Saints. Picked up bike racing after a 20-year layoff, showed up on his steel steed and rode away from the field. FON + fuck you, posers.
9. Dean Buzbee. Words don’t do justice to this battle-axe. Cycling motto is “Just hammer.” Doesn’t care when, where, or with whom. Just hammers and wins. Terrain, weather, season, all irrelevant. Just hammers. Showed up at the Texas state time trial one year and won the whole shooting match without a shred of aero anything, anywhere.
10. Andy Coggan. Somewhat unhinged scientist power-geek who, when he races, wins. Just like that. Sets records. Shatters egos. Redefines an entire sport with his research on human performance. Dimly aware that the rest of the world regards him as a cross between Godzilla and Enrico Fermi. More interested in understanding performance than demonstrating it, thank Dog.
Who’d I leave off?
*Updated list…after receiving some suggestions and thinking about it a little more, I’ve added the following:
11. Rahsaan Bahati. I left him off the list the first time around because he has so much natural talent and, worse than that, because he’s such an incredibly nice guy. Then I considered that virtually everything he’s achieved, he’s done without the help of a team, on the pure force of his indomitable will to win…that he came from one of the toughest neighborhoods in America…and most of all, that when it comes to racing no one ever gives him so much as a millimeter…yeah, Force of Nature for sure.
12. Christian Walker. Left him off the list because he also seems like a guy who produces due to incredible natural ability. In the words of Knoll, “Chris Walker can put you in the snot bubble with him and park you in misery until something dies in you. He merits a mention.” Part of being a FON is having some quality that’s not explained by talent, skill, training, or hard work. It’s the unwillingness to concede defeat, and the character defect of hitting and hitting and hitting, no matter how big the odds, until you win. Knoll and G$ say he’s a Force of Nature? That’s good enough for me.
13. Kevin Phillips. Hammer? Yep. Winner? Yep. Won’t even consider putting you on his master’s pursuit team unless you’re willing to cough up blood and commit to making the top step? Yep. Spiritual leader of all that is cycling in the South Bay? Yep. All-round badass on the bike, friend, inventor of the Man Tour? Yep, yep, and yep. Force of Nature? Yep there, too.
14. John Wike. In many ways, John is the ultimate FON. Looks like he should be a doughnut salesman, not a bike racer. Has no particular suitability for cycling that anyone would recognize…until you see him ride. Takes huge risks and almost always pulls it off, i.e. has the biggest balls out there, nutsack covered with a layer of hair and hide that is thicker than an elephant’s ass. Holds the downhill speed record on Tuna Canyon. Bubbles inside with a thirst for conquest, rides with passion and panache, glory and guts.
15. Lance Armstrong. Uh, no. He’s a genetic freak. Ask Eddy Coyle, Ph.D.
16. Eddy Merckx. When you’re the greatest cyclist in the history of the sport, you don’t need to be on some stupid list dreamed up by a Cat 3 blogger. Same for anyone who’s ever won [insert name of badass European classic/stage race here].
January 30, 2011 § 5 Comments
Some of what is written below is potentially true. All errors, omissions, exaggerations, and falsifications become the property of the finder.
Pass the cyclonite, please
We sat there in the living room, awash in panic, anxiety, and the hormonal flood that comes from having suddenly assaulted our stomachs with the lard count of twelve delicious sausages, a plate of tasty bacon, half a loaf of a bread sopped in the Jaegers’ famous French toast dip, and a scalding cup of coffee. This was the briefing room of Dave Jaeger’s FTR, otherwise known as Mr. and Mrs. Jaeger’s bedroom, where seven of the day’s nineteen participants were hurriedly stripping, dashing into the bathroom, clogging the plumbing, and dashing back out to put on their cycling clothes. If you’ve ever wondered what a group of near-50-ish naked men looks like prancing around in a small bedroom together, you have problems. Plus, I can tell you that it isn’t very pretty.
The key characteristic of the morning was that it was flat fucking cold. Taking 43 degrees and subtracting 10 degrees for the wind chill, it meant that everyone was digging around in their duffel bags trying to find the leg warmers they’d left at home because the forecast said the high was going to be 63.
“Yeah, it’s going to be 63,” Jeff said with a laugh. “At 11 o’clock. So you’ll only have to freeze your balls off for about three hours.” Jeff had brought a plastic windbreaker, arm warmers, and leg warmers.
I, on the other hand, had eschewed the bulky choice of extra clothing in favor of an embrocation produced by a company called Mad Alchemy. I’d used it the day before for the first time, just a very slight amount on my legs, and it had heated them up for the entire 2-hour ride.
“Wanna try some of this?” I asked my semi-nude bedroom mates.
“Oh, hell yeah. Gimme some of that,” they more or less said in unison, scuffling to be the first to dip their fingers into the tawny red gel.
GFT DS Dave J. looked in. “What the fuck are you guys doing?”
“We’re putting on embrocation to keep our legs warm. Like the pros in Europe. That’s how they ride Paris-Roubaix without leg warmers.”
“Listen up, dumbshits. Don’t ever try new stuff on race day. What happens when you get an hour into the ride and find out you’re allergic to that crap, and you break out in hives? There ain’t no sag on this ride, remember?”
By this time everyone was ignoring him as hard as they could, and really ignoring the label on the Mad Alchemy tub that listed the active ingredient “rapeseed oil.” I don’t know what rapeseed is, but it sounds pretty hard core, so to speak.
MMX, whose motto is, “If the bottle says ‘take one’ always take six” was smearing on the Mad Alchemy like icing on a birthday cake. Bull, ever the competitor, saw how much MMX was using and doubled the application. SternO, who actually uses embrocation, carefully applied a very modest amount. The other nitwits smeared it on like putty.
This stuff is great man my legs are hot
When we rolled out of the driveway, the cold morning air hit us hard. Happily, those of us who’d been pro enough and smart enough to ignore Jaeger had toasty, pre-warmed legs which seemed to get warmer with every pedal stroke. Wind, schmind.
The only person having issues was MMX, who fidgeted and rotated around on his saddle in obvious discomfort. “You okay? You’re not cold, are you?” I asked.
“Nah, but I’m ah, warm in the wrong place.”
“What do you mean?”
MMX pointed at his crotch. Just before rolling out he’d dashed into the bathroom and grabbed his plumbing with the mitt he’d used to smear on the heat cream. He now had a fearsome case of hot dick, and since the embrocation is gradually absorbed by the skin over several hours, things were literally just heating up. Of course he couldn’t reach into his shorts and readjust his package because that would just smear more embrocation around the danger zone. All he could do was fidget, kind of like you’d do if someone made you set your balls on a hot skillet.
“How long does this shit last?” he asked.
“Well, I was talking to Patrick Brady about it yesterday, and he said that it will keep you warm for eight hours, no problem.”
Fillmore was a worthless president
After half an hour we hit the first small climb, with MMX and his fiery junk driving us to the top until JK sprang out from the back and summited far ahead of everyone else. We descended and began the short climb that screamingly descends to the city limit sign at Fillmore, for which there is a mad dash for the line.
I rode up next to G3, who was doing the FTR for the first time, and told him that whatever happened, he’d better not get separated on the descent. There’s a 3-mile run in on the flats to the city limit sign, and even if you’re just five or six bike lengths off on the downhill, you’ll never catch back on once the lead group hits the flats. We bombed the descent, and Alex, a young pro who rides for Team Type 1, came unhitched, wrongly figuring that he’d just catch back on at the bottom. He never did.
Harry turned on the flatback gas and started a whipping rotation with MMX, JK, G3, and Bull. With about half a mile to go a second group consisting of Napoleon, Hegg, DJ, and several others bridged up. The big, fat, green sprint sign sat in plain view and Napoleon attacked, smashed the group, and shelled himself out of his own breakaway. MMX took a huge pull, and JK found himself on the front and not at all displeased as he took out the big paddle and prepared to deliver a spanking.
He jumped, followed by Harry, with me locked on Harry’s wheel. The center line had these giant divots spaced at ten foot intervals so that if you hit one of them at speed you were going down. I charged Harry on the left and he eased me right up against the divots. I hit the gas again and shot clear, raising my arms in a victory salute to myself. Harry and JK rolled up after a while, as the finishing gap was big enough to park a semi in. Both looked sour. “I let you win,” Harry said. “Yeah, me too,” said JK, who had been even farther back than Harry. “I didn’t want to push you over the center line.”
What happens when Harry doesn’t let you win
The next section of highway was fast and long and tailwind. SternO, the next oldest participant after Gil at 60 years old, took a big gnarly pull up the long incline. Bull hit the front and kept the pace high. MMX and his hot balls continued the whipping pace he’d been setting all morning. Before long we reached the second sprint point at Santa Paula, which Alex took without even trying.
After meandering through Santa Paula we began the medium climb that would take us into Ojai. JK launched early, followed by DJ and Alex. I sat in the back, reasoning that I was going to need everything I had when we hit the climb to Casitas Lake in another half hour. MMX went to the front to organize the chase, but Napoleon elbowed him aside and set a phenomenal tempo all the way up the climb, such that by the time we crested we were not far at all from Jaeger and Alex.
Harry unleashed on the downhill, reeling in the two breakaways. JK was so far off the front that we couldn’t even see him on the long straight stretches, but with monster pull after monster pull by Harry, MMX, Bull, Alex, and Napoleon, we reeled him in just before the twisting descent into Ojai. We screamed down to the bottom, paused for a minute, and then I launched with Alex. We were quickly brought back, just in time for the little green city limit sign in Ojai.
I sat up and Harry hit the turbo, surprising everyone as it was still 600 or 700 meters to the line. They belatedly organized a chase, with Bull screaming through for the win…almost. Harry’s hand shot up at the sign, pipping Bull by the width of a tire.
My group, which rolled into Ojai several seconds behind the sprint group and with room for at least twelve semis, was bisected by an Elmo in a POS rusted out pickup who pulled out in front of us making a left turn onto the highway. As he piloted his craft to port, the giant plywood dresser in the bed of the pickup, which was filled with rags, dirty underwear, dirty magazines, tools, and credit card bills came flying out of the truck and smashing down into the middle of the road.
Like any good redneck who’s carting around crap from one mobile home to the next, he casually looked out the window, saw the massive wreckage, and just kept on driving. Welcome to Ojai, about as far from LA County as you can get without hardly leaving it.
Dialing up the heat
By now everyone was warmed up, the sun was doing its job, and it was another gorgeous day in sunny Ventura County, served up as ordered by DJ for the FTR. We stopped at the Chevron to void and load up, and several of my bedroom mates sidled up to me, twitching and looking kind of funny.
“Say, Seth,have you ever used this Mad Alchemy stuff before?” they asked.
“Well, man, like, um, how long does it last?” Awkward twist and shuffle.
“About eight or nine hours. Why?”
“My fucking legs are on fire. Feels like they’ve been dipped in hot chicken grease.”
“It should wear off by tonight. Just be sure not to touch your pecker when you pee.”
We remounted, wended our way along the highway and turned onto the climb to Casitas Lake. I had bitter memories of this climb from last year, when, hanging onto JK, G$, and Jaeger’s wheel for dear life, they had dumped me like so much refuse about a half kilometer to the summit. I had chased the entire rest of the way, catching them only after they’d stopped pedaling, just past the sprint for the Santa Barbara county line.
Evan D. sprang free past the lake, and JK dialed him into the cross hairs and slowly ramped up the pace. We passed him as our group dwindled to six, five, four, and then with the grenade blast of Alex coming unhitched, to three. JK pulled 80% of the way, with DJ doing monster efforts to keep the pace high and my confidence low.
They took turns looking back at me as I sucked wheel for all I was worth. A pull meant certain extermination. Wheel sucking meant almost certain extermination. What’s a gassed hacker to do? After DJ’s last hard pull, JK turned, saw me, and attacked again. I struggled to follow his acceleration, which kicked DJ out the back. This alone was sweet, because DJ had left me gasping and broken the year before.
JK paused, winded from his effort, and I jumped him. He latched on, waited until I faded, and countered. I held his wheel ever so tenuously as he took the KOM. We crested and as I rolled by him he said, “Hey, let’s wait for Jaeger.”
“Sure, I thought. In Santa Barbara.” I dropped it into the 11 and hammered as hard as I could, forcing my good friend, my generous and kind host, the guy I like and respect above all others, to chase his guts out and suffer like a dog. I’m not sure how much he suffered, but he caught us and we drilled it all the way to the county line, fully aware that Harry and Co. weren’t far behind.
DJ led out the sprint and JK accelerated hard, opening a gap as I tried to get his wheel. I finally got on top of the gear, but not soon enough nail him at the line. “Great sprint,” he said with a smile. “But I beat you.” I didn’t bother to tell him that I’d let him have it.
Moments later Harry, Napoleon, and Hegg came flying by. Hegg had whipped up the chase throughout the descent, and they nearly reeled us in. We took a brief break and waited while the pack regrouped. My legs ached. Incipient cramps had begun in my left leg. I’d burned most of my matchbook. And we were only halfway through the ride.
I’m not waiting on a lady…I’m just waiting on a friend
FTR confirms a universal truth among cyclists: you have no friends. Once astride your mount it’s combat, and the only meaningful outcome is the one in which you crush the other guy. We’d only had a couple of punctures, and coming out of Ventura I picked up a staple and flatted. Half the group waited. SternO, Jim B., Rod G., and the Long Beach contingent sprinted up the road.
Although it was a quick tire change with the aid of Harry, the others were long gone by the time I remounted. DJ started off the chain gang with a monster pull, followed by Harry, who had already towed the gang along the entire stretch of the 101 at 30+. Bull, MMX, JK…each guy in our crew pulled harder than the guy before, but we didn’t see the others again until Santa Paula.
“Thanks for waiting,” I said when we finally rejoined them.
“Oh, we were just cruising,” they answered. I noticed that they were all lathered in sweat.
At this point the Ogre of Ventura County loomed. Balcom Canyon Road is a short, one-mile climb with 21-22% pitches for most of the way. Ordinarily it would be a beast. But coming at the 100-mile mark after a battering day in the saddle it is your worst nightmare. Added to the difficulty of the climb there is a 2-mile run in up the canyon before you hit the climb itself. The run in is uphill, of course, and straight into a howling headwind that blows down out of the canyon.
My strategy was simple. There was no way I could beat JK in a one-on-one race to the top. He’s lighter, he’s stronger, he’s faster, he’s better. However, with a well-timed attack after a group roadside pee, I reasoned that a strong breakaway partner like MMX could get me to the base of the hill with enough time to take the KOM.
That pose is called Arching Cat with Shattered Spine
MMX’s motor only gets stronger the longer he rides. We hit the gas and held a hard, steady tempo until we picked up LRon, who had soft pedaled ahead of those who had stopped to pee. LRon jumped into our rotation, and at the turn into the canyon we overtook the group containing Jim B., he-who-always-goes-on-ahead, and SternO, he-who-everyone-waited-for-when-he-flatted-in-Ventura-but-who-charged-on-ahead-when-I-punctured-shortly-thereafter.
The battering headwind in the run-up hit us like a wall, but we forged ahead, slightly upping the pace and increasing our gap. A couple of minutes before we hit the canyon proper, I fell off my bike. The cramps were so sudden and so complete that I couldn’t even writhe. Instead, I leaned up against the guardrail, waiting for the most awful, horrific moment of my cycling existence…and I’m not talking about getting up Balcom Canyon with fully cramped quads, hams, and calves.
I grimaced, then wrested control of my face, legs sticking out unbent as rulers, and did my best May-I-please-have-a-cigarette-now-that-we’re-done-with-sex pose, trying to look as nonchalant and natural as I could, as if leaning against a hard piece of aluminum on a sweltering day at the bottom of a canyon in a howling headwind with rigor mortis legs was exactly where I had planned to be all along.
And then came the pain. JK’s group rounded the bend and the beams from their smiling faces were bright enough, and their malice-filled grins were cruel enough to easily slice through even my toughened exterior. All of their whining and complaining at having been dumped after the pee stop evaporated in a giant Kum-ba-ya of catcalls and mock sympathy.
“Which pilates pose is that?” hollered Napoleon.
“Good job holding up that guardrail!” snickered another.
And cruelest of all was DJ: “Anything I can do to help?”
I shouldered the abuse as they whizzed by, and they were soon followed by SternO’s grupetto. John W. and finally LRon came up. LRon dismounted, clapped me on the back, and smiled. “You gonna be able to pedal?” he asked.
“No,” I said. “But I don’t see any other way of getting up this bastard.”
The climb up the canyon was forgettable, except for the complete cramping that I pedaled through with each stroke. With my DFL finish, I reached the summit to a small knot of happy faces. “Good job, Seth,” someone piped up. Good job, indeed.
Home sweet home
Sixteen miles later we arrived at the Jaegers’ home, where they had prepared a feast of sandwiches, cold water, and beer for those who wanted it. Whatever humiliation I’d endured on the guardrail was but a tune-up for the barrage of laughter and whoops that kicked in once the beer began to flow.
G3 put his arm around me and thanked me. “You just gave me a lifetime’s worth of funny memories,” he said. “Thanks from the bottom of my heart.”
A couple of hours later I was back home, thoroughly pleased with the results of the best day I’ve ever had on a bike, and already looking forward to FTR 2012.
FTR 2011 Awards, in no particular order
1. Victor, Champion, and Overall Destroyer of Egos (especially mine) Award: Jeff K., who won a sprint, took the KOM at Lake Casitas, the KOM at Balcom Canyon, and who let me win a sprint.
2. Guy Who Everyone Hopes Doesn’t Lose Ten Pounds Award: MMX, who took second at Balcom, provided daylong horsepower, and whose fearless attack leading up to Balcom demonstrates his conviction to live by the words of Steve Prefontaine—“Most people race to see who’s fastest. I race to see who’s got the most guts.” On FTR 2011, buddy, that was you.
3. Horse of the Day Award: Harold M., who won the Ojai Sprint, got 2nd at Fillmore, reeled in the break after the Santa Paula climb, almost caught the break before the sprint at Santa Barbara, pulled the entire group at 30+ for ten miles along the 101, did the lion’s share of the work chasing the cheaters after Ventura, and still whipped most of the others up Balcom Canyon. Plus he let me win the sprint at Fillmore.
4. Best New FTR’er Award: Dan S., who took two second place sprint finishes, a fourth, and who spent more time at the front than most other riders, even after he’d pretty much hit the wall an hour or so before Balcom.
5. Guy Who Rode Through the Worst Pain Award: Rod G., who started cramping at the 66-mile mark, and gutted out the entire rest of the ride with nasty cramps.
6. Funniest FTR’er Award: Martin H., for his hilarious comments, his refusal to be the least bit intimidated by the ride, and his unforgettable crack about the pilates…not to mention his picture of Napoleon on a horse. Martin also spent a big chunk of the day on the point.
7. Godlike Icon Award: Steve H., who blazed up Balcom for third even though he tips the scales at 190+. A true monster in every way, and proof that they don’t hand out Olympic gold medals just for good looks.
8. Redemption Award: Alex B., “The Kid,” who came back after an epic FTR fail in 2009 to complete the ride, take the Santa Paula sprint, and ride tough from beginning to end.
9. Tough as Nails Award: Gil, who, at 65 years old, not only finished the ride in fine form but kicked my butt up Balcom and up the golf course.
10. I’m Not a Wussy Award: SternO, who proved what no one has ever seriously doubted, which is that he is tough as nails and broken glass. Plus, when he saw me flailing on Balcom, he didn’t laugh. “I really felt sorry for you,” he said, and he meant it.
11. It’s Only a Bike Ride Award: LRon, for his selfless effort in our doomed breakaway, and for actually stopping at the guardrail. He’s not just the best coach around, he’s a great humanitarian, too.
12. Most Lashing Pull Award: Jim B., for his herculean pull towards the end of the ride that was so hard it almost shelled me off the back. Thank goodness he doesn’t find his way to the front more often.
13. Fluffiest Saddle Award: G3, who hands-down had the cutest little orange puffball hanging from the back of his saddle. G3 also had the happiest demeanor, and of the first-timers did lots more time on the point than common sense should have dictated.
14. Best Perspective on Life Award: Doug P., who participated, enjoyed, but took the whole thing in stride, just happy to complete the ride without making it into a soap opera, unlike the writer of this blog.
15. Most Hopeless but Daring Attack Award: Evan D., for attacking Jeff K. on the climb to Casitas Lake. That took balls, son, but it looked like it might have cost a nut and a half, too.
16. Quietest Award: Gil’s son Wyatt, who did the entire ride without saying anything and without even breaking a sweat. With legs like that, on your next FTR you’ll be expected to be ladling out the pain soup.
17. Guy You Better Hope Doesn’t Get Race Fit Award: John W., best descender, toughest rider, and guy who by all rights shouldn’t have gotten past mile 70 but who nonetheless completed the whole damn ride in glorious style.
18. Guy Who Doesn’t Need an Award Award: GFT DS Dave Jaeger. Thanks and words won’t do it. You trolled the back to make sure no one got left behind, you hammered on the front to stamp your authority on the ride, you smiled from start to finish, and you’ve made each of our lives better and happier thanks to your selflessness.
19. People Who Made it All Possible Award: Mr. and Mrs. Jaeger, Lynn, Macey, and Carly. We’re in your debt. Again. You’re the best!
—Please note…this next part is NOT an award—
20. Clueless Bums Who Missed the Girl Scout Cookies Sign-Up Non-Award: In case you missed it, because it was hidden openly in the middle of the table between the beer and hot sauce on a giant white piece of paper with a pen next to it, there was a Girl Scout Cookies sign-up list. I was astounded to see that only a handful of you bums signed up. So the ride wasn’t worth four bucks for a box of cookies to help the girls who made your freaking breakfast?
Of course the real explanation is that you were so whacked by the FTR and so famished, and so enamored of the good beer and good food, and having so much fun at regaling each other with Seth on the Guardrail and Seth the Pilates Instructor jokes that you just overlooked it. Get it? That’s your excuse, bonehead, “I just overlooked it.” Now that it’s been pointed out, please contact DJ and order your danged cookies.
Ride data: 5:56, 116.4mi, 236wNP, 19.6mph, 6049ft, 156lb.