March 31, 2015 § 17 Comments
The first time I saw Charon Smith in a race he was sitting down in the middle of the asphalt with a hundred bikes flying by, his shorts torn and his wheel ground down from where he’d rolled his tire.
“What a wanker,” I thought.
That was back in 2007, I think, at the El Dorado Tuesday night crit, and since then he’s won countless races, state titles, stood on the podium at nationals, and I’ve pretty much won nothing. So, we know who the wanker is.
This past weekend at San Dimas, however, Charon really and truly took it to a whole ‘nother level. The rap has always been “Yeah, but he’s just a sprinter,” as if beating out a hundred crazy people in a death rush to the line is, you know, a piece of cake. Funny thing about that rap, it’s been wrong from the beginning.
While it’s true that over the years Charon established himself as the fastest masters finisher in SoCal, he’s worked hard each and every year to add new weaponry to his arsenal. Last year saw him tackle the San Dimas stage race where he snagged the green jersey in a hilly, tough road race and then said “Adios” to all comers in the final day’s crit.
With another off season of focus and preparation on the non-sprinting aspects of his race game, Charon showed up to play consummate teammate at the hilly Boulevard RR, where his team efforts resulted in victory for their designated road guy, and he showed up again at San Dimas. This time, however, he raced with the kind of toughness and smarts that you only find in the most hardened of road racers.
When the winning break in the road race rolled up the road, Charon bridged solo to a field that included the Who’s Who of masters racing: Phil Tinstman, Rudy Napolitano, Mike Easter, Derek Brauch, and Mark Noble, to name a few. When the break came back, Charon continually found himself OTB on the climb, only to repeatedly claw his way back on.
With everyone melted from the speed and the day’s withering heat, the remains of the peloton hit the finishing stretch wrung out and beaten to a pulp. Charon reached down deep and kicked hard, so hard that with “only” 900 watts he cleared the line first. So much for the “He’s only a sprinter” thing.
True grit is more than what happens on the bike, though. A mentor to junior racers, Charon is vitally concerned with what happens to those coming up in the ranks. Showing young riders how to obtain good, credible results through hard work and dedication is something that he does as a matter of course.
And in cycling, as in life, it’s the little things that reveal the bigger ones. Charon’s inclusive — he brought Prez onto the team, for dog’s sake — he shares what he loves, and he’s got time for anyone who has time for him. Stands up when people introduce their wives or parents, and opens the door for you. Those little things, which really aren’t so little after all.
No wonder that he’s built a team of devoted and dedicated followers who are making competition miserable for everyone else.
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January 27, 2014 § 12 Comments
This weekend’s Big Bike Beatdown in Santa Barbara featured another two-day, two-wheeled brawl while grown men with nothing better to do risked life and limb on shitty roads as they dodged cracks, slammed into potholes, narrowly avoided oncoming traffic, wantonly broke sporadically enforced yellow-line rules, and shook their heads in fury while the braindead moto ref stopped the entire peloton three times for a “pee break.” After the dust settled, a few things were clear:
- 90% of the full-on, raging masters peloton would be completely burned out by the middle of March.
- 95% of the full-on, raging masters peloton had done enough races so far this year (four) to have a perfect excuse not to show up at Boulevard next weekend.
- You can’t make chicken salad out of …
While Facebook broke most of the Internet with repeated posts of race results (“Look! Freddy got 45th in the Cat 3’s! Good job!”), the first real race of the year revealed itself, and it’s a race that we’re going to keep seeing for the next eight months. Yes, the Fastest Legs in the West squarely beat the Best Bike Handler in the West. But it was close, and it promises to get better.
Tale of the tape
In this corner we have Charon (pronounced “faster than you”) Smith, the best crit racer in his 35+ age group. Charon wins more races in a season than most racers even enter. He combines dedicated training, natural speed, courage when things get gnarly, and a profound sense of fair play to produce winning results year in and year out on the SoCal crit scene. Despite the fact that he’s an easygoing guy, he’s a keen competitor, a leader, and great source of inspiration for a lot of people.
It wasn’t too long ago that Charon was essentially racing for himself, having to scrape out every single win singlehandedly. By racing consistently, fairly, and by always congratulating his opponents — win, lose, or draw — he has gathered a strong following of friends who gradually morphed into the best 35+ team in Southern California. No longer forced to race by himself or with one or two teammates, Charon is now backed with serious horsepower in the form of Kayle Leo Grande, John Wike, Ben Travis, Rob Kamppila, and the other first class racers who make up Surf City’s race team. More importantly, Charon’s optimistic attitude and positive message have helped create a team that firmly believes it’s on a mission to win, and win, and win.
With only a handful of races into the season in the bag, Charon’s team has far and away the most victories. Proving that it’s a team, Surf City is stacking podiums, stacking breakaways, and sharing the victories and placings among the teammates. But make no mistake about it: The team’s anchor is Charon, and when the heavy artillery starts firing in a field sprint, he’s the guy lobbing the 16-inch shells.
And in the other corner …
We have Aaron Wimberley, about as different from Charon as a cobra is from a tiger. First of all, the boy has a full head of hair, so you could say he’s won the battle right off the bat. But since it’s not a hair styling contest, we have to judge these two guys on their bikes. Where Charon is the quickest guy on two wheels, Aaron is the best bike handler. Only a few guys have Aaron’s skills — John Wike, the bike wizard who also rides for Charon, and Phil Tinstman come to mind. Aaron has rocketed up the ranks from lowly Cat 5 to getting a bronze medal at nationals on a fiendishly technical course.
He’s unbelievably quick and has off-the-chart race smarts. Scientific, methodical, and unwilling to count further down than first place, Aaron has been in the wilderness for the last couple of years riding with little support and lots of second-place finishes in a crit scene dominated by team efforts. This year, however, he’s moved over to SPY-Giant-RIDE, the best team in the galaxy. (Disclaimer: It really is.) Aaron rides like a gunslinger. Independent, self-reliant, takes no shit from anyone, and is more than happy to explain your shortcomings to you in colorful language. I will never forget the time he described my jumps as something akin to “watching a big blue bus go up a steep hill dragging a space shuttle.”
The question this year is whether Aaron’s new alliance with the best team in the galaxy will create the teamwork and support he needs to beat the Fastest Legs in the West (for an old dude). Judging from the finish at the Mothballs Crit this past Sunday, it could happen.
Roaring into the final 200 meters Charon had the help of Kayle Leo Grande, himself one of the fastest finishers in the 35’s, as a lead-out. Even against these two motors, Aaron managed a very respectable second, with Charon winning comfortably but not easily, but it’s my guess that Aaron’s not showing up in hopes of getting second. More organization and support from SPY-Giant-RIDE teammates could well prove to be the final push that Aaron needs to win against Charon in a drag race.
What to look for
SoCal has few crits that are technical enough to give Aaron a chance to use his bike handling edge. Most of the races are four-corners, wide, and they finish with a fast man throwdown. However, there are some exceptions. Look for Mike Hecker’s 805 Crit series to provide challenging courses, potentially huge crosswinds, and an arena where Charon’s flat-out speed may be offset by Aaron’s wizardry in the turns. The San Marcos Crit will also be a place to see bike handling and a slight bump take the sting out of a drag race finish.
And of course any given race has an amazing crop of first-class speedsters fully capable of winning. Danny Kam, Phil Tinstman, Mike Easter, Chris DeMarchi, Rudy Napolitano, John Abate, Michael Johnson, Randall Coxworth, Jamie Paolinetti, John Wike, Ivan Dominguez, Eric Anderson, Brian Cook, Josh Alverson, Patrick Caro, and Karl Bordine are all 35+ riders who stood on the top step in a crit in 2013. There’s no reason to think they won’t be going for the top step again this year.
Whatever happens … it’s gonna be fun to watch!
September 23, 2013 § 12 Comments
Lots has happened.
Julie Cutts, who rides for La Grange, won two world masters championships this weekend, one in the time trial and the other in the road race. More about this at a later date, but suffice it to say that this is staggeringly, incredibly, amazingly fantastic news. Julie was joined in Trento, Italy by Rudy Napolitano, Mike Easter, and Tony Restuccia, who all raced in the men’s 35-39 world championship. Although everyone can appreciate Julie’s two victories, not everyone can appreciate the men’s results — 15th, 19th, and 60th. Let me be the first to say that these results are extraordinary. Out of 101 finishers, these three racers performed exceptionally on a global stage, on a brutal course that ended with a 20km climb, in the epicenter of world cycling. Simply being invited to the biggest stage for masters racers is a tremendous accomplishment. Finishing as strongly as these guys did is testament to their toughness, ability, and racing skill.
Cyclocross is here
The 2013-2014 cyclocross season kicks off in Southern California next Sunday, September 29, at the historical downtown LA state park. Dorothy Wong brings cyclocross back for another year, only it’s bigger, better, and promises even more participation and excitement. Even as road and track racing stagnate in the state and nationwide, ‘cross continues to grow. Why? Because it’s audience-friendly. Road and track focus on the athletes, and with the exception of blowout races like Tulsa Tough, it’s unheard of in SoCal to see a road race, circuit race, or crit that’s packed with spectators.
Cyclocross brings people in to watch. The courses are exciting and spectators can put their tents right next to the most thrilling parts of the course. The racers go slower and they come by much more often, and spectators are encouraged to cheer, heckle, and give questionable hand-ups. ‘Cross courses are “parky,” so kids can run around. After racing, the athletes are often found under the tents drinking beer, hanging out, and enjoying the rest of the day. What’s also interesting is that, as far as I know, there’s little or no prize money — and the racers could care less. They’re energized by screaming fans and a fun time, not the illusory professionalism that comes from getting a “paycheck” of $25 and a box of Clif bars.
More PCH tomfoolery
I did another couple of Sunday rides on PCH, taking the lane all the way out to Cross Creek and back. The criticism of this approach was initially massive by the local cycling community, or at least among the people with whom I ride. Then, thanks to a video captured by a biker on Sunday, I saw an entire crew of “gutter bunnies,” 50 riders strong, taking the lane. So that’s awesome. One disappointment has been the almost complete absence of “take the lane” advocates, folks who are quite vocal about taking the lane and who spout lots of facts and figures regarding the merits of this method, but who can’t be bothered to actually do it on PCH. Maybe you don’t believe in your method quite as much as you say?
My kingdom for a stem
On the way to the ride this morning I ran into Mike Barraclough, who was sidelined just past Malaga Cove with a flat tire, a short stem, and no stem extender. My wheels are box rim aluminum Open Pros and so they take any length stem, no matter how short, but when I went to the bike shop to get a new tube the only ones they had in stock were the 60mm. It turned out that this was just the right length, so we swapped his spare 52mm for my 60mm, and we got underway. Dave Kramer, also en route to the ride, had also stopped to help. Pressed for time, we took the most direct route from Redondo to Manhattan Beach, which is PCH, and we took it at full speed. Mike and Dave had breathing problems along the way, and we had to back it off a notch to stay together. Then, once we turned on Gould and dropped down to Valley, Dave and Mike blew a stop sign that had a police cruiser parked off to the side, waiting for speeders. This was our lucky morning, though — I put a foot down for the first time in recent memory, and the cop just watched us pedal away. When we got to the start of the ride, Mike and Dave looked like they were on the finishing leg of RAAM. Ron Peterson looked up and laughed. “You were supposed to exercise the horses, son, but instead you done broke ’em!”
Can’t say enough about these shoes
I’ve been riding Bont shoes for about six months now. My first shoes were Detto Pietro. My second shoes were Marresi. My third shoes were the Sidi Revolution, the first shoe with a velcro strap. My fourth shoes were Duegi white patent leather track shoes with wooden soles … I used them on the road and almost died in them atop a high mountain pass in Japan, but that’s another story. My next shoes were Sidi, and I wore their various iterations for twenty years until two years ago I bought the Specialized S-Works under pressure from a local dealer. My feet eventually adapted to them, but the dials constantly wore out and it was frustrating and expensive to replace them. It also felt like a bit of planned obsolescence, so that I could keep spending money on the shoe. It rubbed me the wrong way.
I was given the Bont shoes as part of my team’s sponsorship package. Basically, they give me a bunch of world-class gear so that I can go place 57th in the local crits and DNF the occasional road race. I was skeptical about the Bont shoes because you have to put them in the oven. They are also flexible like well-cured concrete. And the road shoe looks a little boxcar-ish. Once I had cooked them and used them for a week, my feet molded perfectly to the interior of the shoe. Everyone loves to talk about their “stiff frame” and “stiff BB” and “stiff soles” and “stiff” whatever, but it’s a word I’ll use with care for the rest of my life after wearing the Bont.
So, how stiff are the Bont shoes? They are “sailor on shore leave” stiff. They are stiffer than a fused spine. Stiff like glass. When you push down on the pedals, the shoes are so stiff that, if your bottom bracket is sufficiently robust, the earth will flex on its axis before you’ll flex the soles on these beasts. The ‘cross version of the Bont Vaypor is just as good, with several modifications for the rigors of cyclocross. If you’re unhappy with the flexiness of your current shoes, consider the Bont.