July 10, 2017 § 20 Comments
The sidewalk was hot enough to fry the frying pan after incinerating the eggs. There was a nasty crosswind howling across the desolate course, which was strewn with construction equipment and port-a-potties, doors ajar as they wafted their sweet aroma through the spectators’ area. The final turn led to an impossibly bitter finishing climb that topped out at 6% at the line, where the sweltering audience would be able to inspect the bits of puke dribbling down the racers’ chins.
To quote a famous bike racing film: “Dozens of spectators. Hundreds of dollars on the line. And the stakes? Medium.”
It was Mike Hecker’s and Tom Fitzgibbon’s 805 Criterium, a labor of love that showed the depravity of older men. I took one look at the course and the boiling, stretched, agonized grimaces of the riders toiling up the grade a mere five laps into their race and knew it was going to be a day of bliss.
The race was held a half-block or so from the Amgen Campus in Thousand Oaks; so in addition to the complimentary wheel pit, the wrench services by sponsor Win’s Wheels, and the crack bike injury lawyer services offered by Derryl Halpern, there was also a special EPO pit where I could drop off my syringes in the event I started running low on oxygen uptake receptors mid-race.
Before the race began I carefully reviewed Steve Tilford’s racing principles, thoughtfully taped to my top tube. I only needed to review Rule 1: Don’t Fuggin’ Pull. Before the race I had spoken with Head Down James, who had relentlessly attacked but was never able to make it stick. “No breakaways,” he said. “The group’s momentum on the downhill will peg you back.”
“Then why did you keep attacking?”
Head Down James looked at me blankly. “Dude,” he said. “Because it is fun!”
The 45+ Leaky Prostate Profamateur Full Carbon Made of 100% Carbon race went off, shortened from 50 to 40 minutes due to a terrible accident a couple of races earlier. I sprinted to the back and began fighting aggressively for last place with another fat, slow, and stupid looking racer who looked a lot like Anthony Reguero. It took a while for me to establish my dominance at the end of the chain.
A long way ahead in a galaxy far, far away, Off the Front Wars were taking place as Pat Bos, Tony Brady, and countless other real bike racers ripped away from the field with incredible displays of amazing power. All I noted was that Matt Carinio, that dude who won that national crit title that one time, was fighting hard for next-to-last place and wasn’t interested in the heroics up ahead.
Before the race I had felt him out for his condition. “How’re the legs?”
“Just trying to find some form,” he egregiously lied with a straight face.
“Really? Because judging from your legs you can probably stop looking.”
He laughed. “No, I’m riding for fitness. Hopefully I can come around later in the season.”
The great thing about bike racers is the way they shamelessly lie in the face of indisputable facts. First, it was already later in the season. Second, he was obviously in peak form. Third, no one “rides for fitness” in a steel smelter. Whatevs.
With two and a half laps to go, one of the hopeless breakaways got caught immediately before the final turn leading up to Barfnpuke Hill. I had done nothing the entire race. My legs felt great. The hill had taken nothing out of my legs. The field was looking at each other, calculating the math for “When do I start moving up without getting stuck too far forward?”
I hit it hard. With five or six Big Orange teammates back in the field, I knew it would have to be decisive in order for them not to chase me down, as our key team tactic at Team Lizard Collectors is “Never chase anything but orange!”
My strategem worked. As I flew away from the tired, wrinkled, sad, scabby, pickle-faced old men, Rahsaan Bahati and Tom Fitzgibbon in the announcer’s booth began screaming something that sounded incredibly similar to “Wanky wins the $50 cash prime!”
I caught sight of Ms. WM on the sidelines, who was swooning as she realized that after more than thirty years her husband was, instead of worn-out excuses, finally going to bring home actual cash from a bike race. The gap was huge, it was now two laps to go, and the only way they would bring me back was with an organized team effort. Since Team Lizard Collectors had inexplicably decided not to chase, the work was left to Pat Bos and Team Don’t Fuck This Up Bart Clifford.
With one lap to go I was still clear and the five or six fans paying attention were cheering wildly, or at least somewhat lukewarmedly. With a final shuddering push, Pat and his henchmen hunted me down like a mangy cur, put the bootheel on my neck, and listened to the popping and cracking sound of my cervical vertebrae as the life and fight slowly seeped away.
Unhappily for them, instead of having sat up and gifting me the awesome victory, they were now left in the sad situation of having brought Matt Carinio, fully rested national champion who’d been at the back all day, Dave Holland, fully rested Big Orange Lizard Collector who has a massively fast finish, and one other fully rested dude to the bottom of the hill.
Carinio put away his nail file, folded the Sunday paper back into his jersey pocket, adjusted his glasses, did a couple of mini post-up practices, unclipped the leash and let go with what is often referred to as a “sprint.” Brian Davis got second, Dave got third, and Team Don’t Fuck This Up Bart Clifford watched as Bart, totally gassed from his team’s chase, kicked hard for fifth. Moral to the story: It’s better to get beaten by a national champion than a worn-out, broken down, wheelsucky, desperation-move Wanky.
After the race Ms. WM, recovered from the shock of winning fifty whole cash U.S. dollars, propped me up beneath the tent, doused my head with cold Gatorade, and firmly instructed me rest.
“Rest? We’re going home.”
“No,” she said. “You gonna race the 35 little boy race.”
“Like fuck I am,” I said. “It’s not for four hours, it’s already 100 degrees, and they’ll all be fresh. Fuck that.”
“You gonna go out there and get onna more fifty dollars. Thatsa good bike racin.”
“Honey, I won my first $50 cash prime in 33 years. Lightning won’t strike again today. Trust me.”
Four hours later I was lined up with a smaller field. A younger field. A fresher field. An angrier field. Fortunately, the wind was blowing lots harder and it was now 105 degrees. “Don’t worry,” I told Holland. “A break won’t stick. All we have to do is suck wheel and when they get pissed, flash our AARP cards. I’ll lead you out and you can show Charon and Bahati what the word ‘sprint’ means.”
Holland rolled his eyes. “Please don’t get anywhere near me in the sprint,” he begged.
The whistle blew, the race started, and coming up the hill on Lap 1 Charon and two dudes attacked. “Don’t worry,” I told Holland. “It’s way too early. They’ll be coming back.”
Charon and his breakmates then put a minute on the field and Charon won the race by six furlongs.
Twenty minutes in, things were getting desperate. A chase group of five was up the road, including John Abate. Another group of about fifteen riders was also up the road. In the far back were Holland, I, and fifteen other idiots all wondering why it was so hot, why our lungs were on fire, and whether anyone would notice if we sat out ten or eleven laps and then hopped back in.
As we hit the bottom of Barfnpuke Hill I knew it was now or never, and most likely never. Somehow I got across to the chase group. Holland made it too, but later realized that he had a dentist’s appointment and was not seen again. Everyone in the third chase group got a case of acute reality poisoning as the facts indicated the race for them was over, and if they stayed they would feel terrible and be ridiculed by their wives for finishing 20th, or ridiculed by their wives if they gave up and quit. So most of them quit.
Now I was with Rahsaan, Brandon Gritters, and a large person in an orange outfit (not with Team Lizard Collectors) who was delusional enough to think that we could catch the break. He began shouting at me to pull through, not realizing that he was large, young, and a perfect draft, and that the only way I would pull through is if he had compromising photos of me and someone’s pet goat.
“Pull through!” he yelled, breaking the rule of Don’t Talk. I silently hunkered down, enjoying his width.
Soon other unhappy bicyclists, all twenty years my junior, joined the chorus. “Pull through!” they yelled, treating a tired grandfather like some stupid draft animal. I hunkered some more.
As we hit the bottom of the hill, the one person who had not broken the rule of Don’t Talk, Rahsaan, downshifted and accelerated hard. I hopped on his wheel as he dragged me out of the trench, through the concertina wire, through the mortars, past the bayonets, through the mustard gas, into the barrels of the .50mm Brownings, and somehow, miraculously, onto the tail of the second chase group.
Orange Shoutypants Dude learned two vital lessons: (1) Save your air for pedaling, not bicycle racing instruction. (2) Wanky don’t pull.
No one else made it across except for Eamon O’Reilly and Gritters. Now there were three up the road and about nine riders. Everyone else in the bike race had quit in disgust or was flailing, lonely and in pain, around the windswept hellhole of a course. We were only halfway through. And if you want to know what makes people in a 35+ bike race angry, it’s having a 53-year-old hairy-legged old fellow tagging along. It’s very hard for 35_ fellows to convince themselves that they’re any good when they’re riding with someone who isn’t, especially since every time through the start-finish the announcers would shout, “There’s Wanky, somehow hanging on by a meat thread! Boy, these guys must suck if they can’t get rid of that worn out old shoe!”
The obvious solution to this shameful disgrace was to begin attacking the elderly, which they did. However, a lifetime of wheelsuckery and general meanness somehow allowed me to hang on, even as the group got smaller. With a few laps to go all pretense of pride vanished and the young, strong, handsome, fast young fellows submitted to the incredible humiliation of having me pull them around the course.
“This is all being caught on camera,” I told them as they refused to rotate through. “Rahsaan, they’re going to take away your national champion jerseys when this video gets out,” I added.
Finally, Rahsaan and Gritters, after resting comfortably for a while, responded to my last-ditch attack with a hard counter at one lap to go. I was left with four other riders, none of whom felt inclined to pull. Why should they? We were probably the last five riders in the race. Rather than fighting for a shred of self-respect they would be duking it out for, uh, sixth. Somehow, that’s better than last.
With a few hundred yards to go they all found legs and a new lease on life. I got tenth out of the eighteen corpses who finished the race, the only wanker to have completed two full races on a punishing, miserable, excruciating, stupid, meaningless, regret-and-invective-filled day. Everyone else had quit.
My best race ever, or at least since Telo.
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June 22, 2015 § 23 Comments
I attended Saturday’s Avenue of the Flags Criterium in Buellton. It was the best crit of the year by far. We can leave aside the prize money for now, which was substantial — $32,000 in cash prizes for three days of racing.
The course is the most challenging crit course in SoCal. It isn’t super technical, but it’s technical enough that you must be able to corner well or the accelerations out of the turns will devour you. The wind is a huge factor; it’s mostly a strong crosswind that ensures you will get no respite on the two long straightaways. There is also a significant finishing gradient, which guarantees that your legs will be toast when it’s time to sprint.
Buellton has resurfaced the entire course since last year so the paving is smooth, grippy, and very fast. The infield between the two straightaways is lined with booths, food vendors, and spectators. The races go off on time, and if you’ve traveled with an S/O, as soon as the race finishes you can jaunt off to any of the numerous wineries — or the legendary Firestone Brewery — that are minutes away. And if jaunting away isn’t your style, you can belly up in the beer garden right across from the announcer’s stand.
And did I mention prize money?
I got more finishing sixth place in the masters 50+ category than is on offer to win many crits. Top finishers got lots more, and those who won their category for the 3-day omnium received $1,000+ paydays. Oh, and he weather was beautiful.
You would think that with a great, safe course, huge payday, professional execution, and lots of other activities for fellow travelers, fantastic vibe, and classy central coast scenery, the fields would be full to busting. You’d think that a race like this would fill up online and waitlisted riders would be standing around on race day, trying to buy slots off racers who had pre-registered, or wheedling the promoter for a special favor.
But, well, nope.
Only 18 riders showed for the final day in the 50+, 23 riders in the 40+, and 36 riders in the P/1/2 field with thousands and thosands of dollars on offer. The promoter, Mike Hecker, was rewarded for putting on an incredible event, huge prizes, and great courses with a collective yawn from the amateur “racers” here in SoCal. Entire teams that sport about town in wrapped team vehicles and the trickest equipment were absent; other clubs that have hundreds of members showed up with one or two racers, max.
Whether Hecker will put on the event next year is open to question, and if he doesn’t all the people who didn’t bother to show up will bitch and whine about how “there aren’t any good races anymore.”
That’s right, dumbshits, BECAUSE PEOPLE LIKE YOU DON’T SHOW UP.
However, it’s easy to blame all the lazy, hypocritical, whiny, spoiled, frosted-cupcake race poodles who parade at the coffee shop but are always “otherwise engaged” on race day. And it’s easy to be sympathetic to Mike, who is a promoter’s promoter — puts his heart and soul into it, does a superlative job, and at the end of the day loses money.
What’s harder is to figure out the problem, and harder still to solve it.
The reason licensed racers don’t show up to races is because we don’t know why licensed racers don’t show up races. That’s right … we have no data. We know how many people hold licenses, we know how many events are held annually, and we know attendance numbers. But we don’t have the data that matters, i.e. the customer feedback about why they don’t race, and more specifically, why they didn’t show up for this race.
In other words, race promoters for the most part are running a business that depends on customer satisfaction without knowing what satisfies their customers. And when we do know what satisfies customers, because occasionally they tell us, we still don’t know if their answers are representative of others, and crucially, we have no idea whether they’re representative of the customers who have licenses and who never show up.
I don’t think that Toyota works that way. I think that before they roll out a new product, they find out what their potential customers think about it. Everyone with a racing license is a potential customer, but with a few exceptions we don’t know what makes them decide to race or stay home except on an anecdotal basis.
And here’s where everyone has an opinion: Some say it’s cost, or training time, equipment, the fact that it’s a dirty sport, danger, distance, time away from family, the list is endless. But until we can rank the reasons that people stay home, and as importantly, rank the reasons that they show up, superb events like the 805 Crit Series will struggle.
SCNCA of course has the resources to do this type of outreach, and of the 18 “services” they claim to provide, only two bullet points address member growth and retention, and they’re buried in the list. Can you imagine Toyota putting “customer growth and retention” in between “maintaining the web site” and “maintaining a presence on Facebook”?
I’d argue that nothing SCNCA does is even remotely as important as customer growth and retention, with the possible exception of “increasing race participation” which, of course, they don’t even bother to list as a goal. And why should they? SCNCA is primarily funded by licenses, not race participation. As long as you have a license, SCNCA gets funded.
Individual clubs could really help out here, but they won’t. All it would take is an email survey of members to find out answers to these questions:
- Do you race?
- Why or why not?
- Do you want to race?
- Why or why not?
- How many races do you do each year?
- How many have you done in the last five years?
- How many would you like to do next year if you could?
- How many years have you held a racing license?
- How important are these things to you in deciding whether or not to race:
- Distance from home
- Cost of equipment
- Hours of training required per week
- Entry fee
- Risk of crashing
- Prize money
- Course difficulty
- Course distance
- Technical nature of course
- Race reimbursements by your club
- Field size
- Type of race–crit, road, TT, SR, omnium
- Category upgrade points
- How often does your club send out race information?
- How easy is it to find another racer with whom to carpool?
- Do others on your team encourage you to race?
If ten clubs did this and aggregated the results, it would certainly be a start, and we wouldn’t be guessing quite as blindly. If the top 50 clubs did it we would be on our way to a real database. Ultimately, we desperately need promoters like Mike Hecker and events like the 805 Series. But if we can’t even be bothered to find out why our peers are staying home and why the’re making the effort to race, well, this is another great event that people will look back on fondly and say, “Remember when … ”
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June 13, 2015 § 4 Comments
The best race series in SoCal happens every year in the vacation resort cities of Buellton and Lompoc, nestled cozily in the Santa Ynez Valley of Santa Barbara County. The 805 Series is promoted by bike racer and all-round good guy Mike Hecker, and as with most bike races that are put on by actual bike racers, it’s a good one, and that doesn’t even get to the more than $38,000 on offer in cash prizes, plus over $7,000 in merchandise.
I’ve done the series the last two years and can vouch for the following:
- There will be wind.
- The races will run on time.
- The prize money is great.
- The vibe is even greater.
The 805 is run as an omnium and racers can compete all three days, one day, or two days. The last two years, the second day of racing has been run on the Avenue of the Flags in Buellton. It’s a breakaway course with a long finishing straight and is just moments from the Firestone Brewery, on of California’s best.
The third day’s course is in downtown Lompoc, a very cool little town that really supports this event. The course is technical compared to the typical four-corner crit, but by no means screamingly so. As with the races on Friday and Saturday, wind is always a factor.
Last year after the Saturday race I stopped into a shop for some coffee in Buellton and remarked to the clerk about how windy it was.
“Windy?” she said. “This ain’t windy.”
Maybe not, I thought, but it was blowing at a solid 20 mph.
The small town vibe is enhanced by the beer garden and wine garden that are usually set up across from the finish line in Buellton. From a racing perspective, the races are a fantastic change of venue from the usual, and the fact that the event is run as an omnium makes the racing especially fun.
Pre-registration closes Wednesday night. Don’t miss it!
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May 14, 2014 § 8 Comments
The big weekend has come and gone. Three days of racing, big prizes, bigger wind, and top shelf competition have left their mark on the SoCal racing season. In many ways, it’s been a great mark. In others, not so much.
- SCNCA sucks. Why the fuck was this race on Mother’s Day weekend? Answer: because the best dates were “taken.” Mike Hecker puts his heart, soul, tree stumps, and the kitchen sink into this race series. This is precisely the kind of grass roots development that has the potential to build the grass roots. Better, he does it out in bumfuck nowheresville, one of the windiest damned places in California. This race is the only legitimate hardman crit in Southern California; to win it — hell, to finish it — you’d better be made of some stern stuff. It’s a premier race with premier prizes serving a premier purpose and attracting premier talent. SCNCA should be licking the sweat off of Hecker’s balls to get him to do this race. Instead they offer up the one weekend that, if you attend, will result in 51 weeks of Doghouse Hell because you spent Mother’s Day RACING YER FUGGIN BIKE.
- Daniel Holloway is a bike racers’ bike racer. Sleeps on couches. Tells funny stories. Congratulates the (few) people who beat him. Listens to Wankmeister’s tales of 50+ crit podiums. Whacks the snot out of all comers at the 805 Crit Series, Athens Twilight Criterium, and every other race you line him up at. We saw him take the Friday night event by the testicles, give them a squeeze, then fly down the lane to win with the same élan he showed at Dana Point et al. On Saturday he missed the break, but no problem. Sunday he made up for it by a tour de force win against Kyle and Brandon Gritters, shelling Kyle from the three-up break on the last lap, riding tempo all the way to the final turn, then leaving Brandon as if he’d been tied to a stump. And Gritters Bros. are badasses with an extra helping of whupass sauce.
- Monster Media is the master of disaster. I raced (sort of) the 35+ masters events and couldn’t believe how thoroughly they obliterated the competition. Meatballs DeMarchi finished the first day in second place overall and the team played its cards on Sat/Sun in such a way as to earn overall victory. Their cards were “hammer” and “crush.” The Monster MO was to send off Michael Johnson in a break with Kayle Leogrande and Rudy Napolitano that was so hard, so fast, and so nasty that anyone who chased would be assured of either leaving a liver on the pavement or a DNF. At the end of the day, Kayle had the win and MJ finished first among the omnium participants. This meant that Day 3, Sunday, would be a fight to get MJ or Chris DeMarchi to the line ahead of SPY-Giant-RIDE p/b MRI’s leader, John Abate. The Monster train started that Sunday race, which took place in a 25mph howling crosswind, so fast and so hard that of the 40 some-odd starters only 22 finished. Taking turns at the front to whittle down and crush the field, the teamwork of MJ, DeMarchi, Gary Douville, Scott Cochran, Shane Lawlor, and Bart Clifford absolutely demolished the wankers sitting at the back hoping to ride their coattails to the finish. The remaining corpses who survived the Monster Media a-bomb had nothing in their legs to either attack off the front or contest the sprint. Consummate riding by Surf City and their star sprinter-turned-leadout-man Charon Smith put Kayle Leogrande across the line again first, but since Kayle had missed the Friday race due to traffic he wasn’t in contention for the omnium. Note: Most terrifying item of the Monster Media mop-up is that their best racer, Phil Tinstman, wasn’t even there.
- This is how bike racing should always be. The events were well attended, the money was good, the courses were over-the-top challenging, there was a beer garden, the announcers were fantastic, everyone was in a great mood, and the cities of Lompoc and Buellton got to showcase their best side to a large contingent of out-of-towners. There were multiple levels of competition. You could race for the day or you could race for the series or you could drink Firestone beer and lie in the gutter for three days. I hope that next year the series is held on a better weekend, and that even more riders make the trip to experience such an intense and fun weekend of bike racing.
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May 6, 2014 § 13 Comments
This Sunday is a special day for mothers. It is a time when some of the biggest advertising firms in America urge us to display our love for our mothers, for example, by reserving tables at fancy restaurants. There is nothing that says “I love you” more than another charge on your credit card that you can’t afford, and there is nothing more memorable than mediocre food at a crowded eatery where you’re served by an overworked and pissed-off waiter.
I’ve never done well with days of remembrance. Take birthdays, for example. My idea of a great celebration for Mrs. WM’s 47th was dinner at the All Indian Sweets and Snacks carry-out buffet. We went formal and ate in the shop, jammed next to the buckets of ghee and some sweaty Pakistani dude with bad breath, but no one can deny that it is the very finest and most delectable Indian food you can get anywhere for $4.95.
I thought she’d be thrilled that I managed to take five people out for dinner for less than $35. She wasn’t. In fact, she still isn’t, and hints have been placed that Mother’s Day had better be a blowout of love. There had better be some dogdamned love shown, some appreciation trotted out, and some words of adulation bandied about, or else. You can probably even add a “fucking else” and it wouldn’t be an overstatement.
Buttercup, why do you build me up?
I can tell you right now that Mother’s Day is going to be a big disappointment, at least for her. Why? Because it’s on the same day as the 805 Series crit in Lompoc, and I’ve pitched in to rent an RV, reserved a keg, and made plans to spend the three-day weekend racing my bike.
There are gonna be three guys with their three wives in an RV for three days in Lompoc, along with a keg of IPA. Now tell me again why I’m supposed to give a crap about Mother’s Day? I mean, she’s not even my mom.
Race of the century
If you’re looking for a great way to climb into the doghouse for the next year and peg the door shut with a nail gun, you should be at the 805 Series, too. Pre-reg is already 60% full, and it’s going to be a fantastic weekend.
Tons of credit goes to woodchopper and local madman Mike Hecker, who, in a wildly delusional state, thought it would be great to bring a big, legit bike race to the Santa Ynez Valley, even though no one knows how to spell “Ynez.” Yet as with all delusional bike crazies, their delusions are built on the hallucinations of the madmen who went before them.
In this case, Mike owes a huge debt to Roger Worthington and the Dana Point Grand Prix. Dana Point was the first race on the calendar to bring huge quantities of beer, entertainment for kids, prize checks that cleared, and a festival atmosphere to local SoCal crit racing. Each year Dana Point has set the high watermark for a professionally run, all-in, big-name crit that everyone wants to win or at least finish or at least come home in a neck brace from.
Mike has taken the cue, broken it over the head of USA Cycling’s traditional model of “bike racing = Ontario” and put on an event that in its first year qualified it as the best crit series in California. This year there will be three days of racing rather than two, and Friday’s biggest races will take place at night. Just so you know, I plan to take Charon in the twilight crit. Hopefully it will end in a straight-up drag race, so he can taste the fury of my mad finishing kick.
The beer garden will be back, the prize list will be more veiny and swollen, and hopefully the weather will repeat last year’s trick of 100-degrees-plus with a searing hot headwind. Nothing is more fun than a technical course and unendurable heat, if only to watch the racers melt into puddles and stick to the pavement while you’re under a shaded tent sipping Firestone IPA.
See you there. Really looking forward to celebrating Mother’s Day with you.
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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!
November 8, 2013 § 41 Comments
Dear Southern California/Nevada Cycling Association:
Thank you for making Ontario the site of the 2014 masters state criterium championships. I know you had a chance to also designate the 805 Crit in Santa Barbara County, but that course blows.
Ontario is the crit course that masters love best and you guys “get it.” For starters, Ontario is biker heaven. Some folks call it a shit hole covered in puke, but they are just jealous. Four-turn biz park courses with huge turns that are big enough to pilot a small naval warship through are the true test of crit skills. Whiny bitches say “it’s too easy for a championship” and “it’s not a crit, it’s a yawnfest,” but who cares what they say?
Real crit racers know that the best test of crit skills is a course so stupidly easy that you can sail through the turns with your eyes closed. You guys get that. Respect.
Also, the 805 Crit is put on by Mike Hecker and fuck that dude. In 2013 his race was a total joke. It only had 10k in prize money and the races were so fuggin hard that no one could do more than one race. Who wants a hard race? Bike racing is for showboating and not cracking a sweat. If you have to bleed sperm out of your eyeballs in order to win, what’s the point?
Also, that Hecker Wanker dude fugged the pooch because he put his races in downtown Lompoc/Buellton. The Ontario race is in a cool office park where you can look at really awesome square buildings filled with angry managers who fondle their secretaries and then get sued. That’s America, and SCNCA gets it!
Plus, Hecker Wanker got a fuggin beer company to put up beer tents. That really sucked. When I sit outside all day to watch idiots race their bikes in blindingly hot weather, I want to drink a glass of toasty warm mik. Cold beer by Firestone Brewery is so lame. At Ontario you can also top off your day by driving home on the 10. That rocks, whereas in Santa Barbara you have to fuggin stay overnight and then take your old lady to some froo-froo winery. Fugg that shit.
The other thing that sucks about Hecker Wanker’s races is that people actually enjoy them. Bike racing is about making people miserable, and Ontario’s crit course is the most miserable place west of the Mississippi, except for Lubbock. More mad respect. I hope they triple the entry fees because if it’s not a complete rip-off then it’s not worth doing.
But best of all, by putting masters states at Ontario you telegraph that guys like Hecker Wanker don’t matter. Who gives a rat’s ass if he’s promoting the sport in far-flung communities by putting the race down-fucking-town, in areas where SoCal racing is usually absent? Fugg that dude for being so ballsy. He needs to get in line and wait his fuggin turn. I propose taking a serious look at the 805 Crit in 2052. Seriously.
Finally, and I know that you guys get this, the worst place to ever put a big race is in the middle of a downtown. If you do that, ordinary people learn about bike racing, and as USA Cycling always says, FUGG THAT! Bike racing is for fancy rich awesome middle-aged douchefarts, not for regular people. If you put races in small town downtowns, then small town kids will get interested in racing bikes. FUGG THAT! Bike racing is for old people, for sure.
Anyway, good job, SCNCA. Keep putting our marquee races in Ontario. That place is the kind of shit hole that bike racers love best. Hidden from ordinary people. Keep the control in the hands of the old boy network. Water bottle primes. You fuggin get it.