On the rivet: Interview with Jessica Cerra

February 5, 2015 § 20 Comments

Jessica Cerra is one of those riders who has earned her spot in the peloton through skill, toughness, resilience, and force of will. She came to road racing via triathlon and MTB, and burst onto the local North County San Diego scene a couple of years ago as she was recovering from surgery to correct a severe case of iliac artery compression syndrome in her right leg.

By the time she had healed, she was thrashing men on the group rides, and from there it was a short hop to dominating the local road races, riding as the marquee women’s racer for SPY-Giant-RIDE. With powerful performances on the national stage, notably at Redlands in 2014, Jess was picked up for the 2015 season by Twenty16 p/b ShoAir.

It will be her first full year with a professional women’s team, and although she had calendared an ambitious season, a few weeks ago she learned that she was also suffering from iliac compression syndrome in her left leg. She’s had the surgery and is expected to make a full recovery, though she’ll have an obviously different racing schedule. Jess was kind enough to talk with me about a whole host of topics related to racing. Enjoy!

CitSB: What are your goals for 2015?

Jessica Cerra: My biggest goal was a stage win at Redlands and a top-3 GC finish. I don’t know that that’s a reality anymore [due to surgery — ed.]. An NRC stage win, a podium at nationals, definitely a podium at Winston-Salem or in Philly. Qualifying for the road world championship team, I guess that’s the biggest goal that I have overall.

CitSB: What kind of mental prep goes into a shot at making the road team for worlds?

JC: The more I try to hold back expectations the worse things go. The more I go in relaxed, remembering that I’m here because I like to race my bike, then the more instinctual decisions I make and things turn out better. This year I planned to go in being the strongest, most durable, fittest person out there because in those situations you can think more clearly; you’re not hanging on, you’re affecting the race. That’s how I want to race this year. I put in a huge base this year, 2,000 miles just in December, and I took good care of my body, got consistent massages, and have been working with a coach now, documenting sleep and weight, and taking a more professional approach. But my coach also likes me just being me; I like numbers and knowing my power but I also like doing the group ride with Thurlow on the front just killing it, and putting myself on the front, in the wind, so I know what my body can do in those super tough scenarios and then I can rely on those things to get me ready for racing, where those super hard moments happen all over again. Since I don’t have a lot of experience as a racer, the group rides are a huge part of my training.

CitSB: How does it feel to be the only woman in the first 25 wheels or on the entire ride when Thurlow and company are drilling it?

JC: It’s my favorite part about riding my bike. It’s pretty cool! After a while I don’t even feel any different from anyone else. I compare myself exactly to the peers I’m riding with. I’m hard on myself, too, I only see my weaknesses.

CitSB: What’s the hardest thing for women throwing their hat in the ring on the hard group rides?

JC: A lot of women are intimidated. There’s the fear of getting dropped, that everyone will notice, and it’s so embarrassing. I always try to encourage other women and make sure to compliment them when they do well or make it to certain points in the ride. I remember being nervous going to the Swami’s Ride, feeling exactly like I was going to a race! It’s intimidating and you don’t want to do something goofy and be “that person,” and you’re obsessed about training and don’t want to ruin your training by getting dropped. I encourage every woman to get out there. It’s the reason I’ve gotten as strong as I am; I’ve put myself in situations that are harder than what I have the strength for. You learn so much about racing and handling when you’re over your limit. It’s true, too, guys have better bike handling skills. You learn so much by racing with guys in a crit, about the lines that they take, and you start to see things, like how they can squeak through the inside of corners. It’s faster and more aggressive so there’s less time to think about what you’re doing. Most of the riders have the fitness to race but a lot of it is, “Why am I getting dropped when there’s five laps to go?” The more you do it, you realize it’s not fitness, it’s efficiency and awareness. You keep putting yourself in those situations, and it’s scary and you just do it. That’s how I learned.

CitSB: Now you’re a fixture on the North County rides and guys know that you can grind them up into little chunks of meat and they fear you. How does that feel?

JC: I don’t know if I look at it like that. I’m so focused on my own internal fears of what’s going to happen when I get to the power climb, and I know the women’s pro field is so strong and they know what they’re doing and are so good. NRC races are so different from local ones. I was supposed to go with the national team to do the spring classics which I’m not doing now, but I think of those situations on the local rides getting me prepared to be in those types of pelotons. When you don’t have a ton of experience in these races but you live in a place where there are 150 people on a group ride, you can apply the same things you know are going to happen in a race. If you want to be part of a race, then I go into a group ride practicing rotating through in the first 10 or 15 positions, gauging the effort to pull through, really what I’m doing is preparing myself to have to do those things in the peloton. It’s nice to ride with the guys; it used to be fun but now it’s more about completing a job. I expect them to make it hard and I expect them to look at me like I’m one of the people up there where it’s windy and not to make it easy because I’m a girl.

CitSB: Do you feel guys cut you slack? Or do they try to slaughter you like everyone else?

JC: They treat me like everyone else.

CitSB: How do you make the jump from racing Boulevard to the national or international level?

JC: Without my mountain biking background it would have been harder. I have lots of natural positional awareness and muscle memory where things happen in a race and I can read where to be, how to navigate through tricky situations, and how to feel confident about how I ride my bike. That’s huge. The second you don’t have confidence it’s going to be the worst day. When you’re riding scared nothing goes smooth.  You bobble and crash, and it’s the same in the peloton. Confidence is so huge. You take control and put yourself where you need to be. Combined with my fitness, I was lucky. I went into pro racing and figured I can handle a bike and am one of the best descenders, I’m fit enough to see what’s going on, to read how the lead-out will go, so in a lot of races I could freelance and observe and notice, and you know, I could also be focused on what I was bad at–I tried to practice those situations to get better because I didn’t have a lot of racing experience. I think the biggest thing about the transition was positioning and being efficient, and that same transition happens going from the national to the international peloton. It’s a whole different level. The courses are harder, the conditions are worse, the fight for position is constant, you have to keep putting yourself in position over and over and over again. I also learned that every time at end of a race when I decided to think through what was happening, I got my face kicked in, zero results. When I just “did” it rather than think it, something inside told me what to do and it seemed to work. It takes time to trust that inner feeling. I also didn’t feel I belonged. I was stoked with a top 20 at Redlands, and had no idea about my potential. I figured out that I was more prepped than I thought I was. It’s a hard balance, though. You can’t let it go to your head but you still have to be confident enough to trust your instincts to put yourself where you need to be.

CitSB: How are things going with Harmony Bar?

JC: We had a setback with the name. We filed for a trademark and then a couple of other companies filed for the same name and our application was denied. So now we’ve filed for a new name and have been in a year of a holding pattern because we can’t make our packaging and take the next step; without the name and the brand it’s hard to move forward. The good news is that we’re still consistently selling all of our inventory online and in the bike shops we work with. There’s no marketing except word of mouth. People say it’s the best they’ve ever had and they tell our story. The next couple of months will be quiet because we’re sorting out the name. We also signed up with SmartStop, which is a big opportunity for us. By Tour of California time we’ll be with SmartStop and ready with our new name, branding, and packaging.

CitSB: For someone not familiar with Harmony Bar, how is it different from the zillions of other energy foods out there?

JC: It’s unique because I never made it to market and sell. I made it because I have a master’s degree in exercise physiology, I was in the kitchen with ingredients, paper, and pen, and mixed them a hundred times over, over, and over until I got a bar that tasted like a cookie and had all the macro nutrients that I wanted for my training. This was something I was making for myself. I knew the research was there showing that bars higher in fat were good for endurance athletes. So basically, I wanted to eat cookies on the bike! I love food and eat a ton of calories on the bike and wanted to eat things that tasted good and were like real food. Everyone said “Holy crap, this tastes like a cookie and works so well and can I buy some?” It got popular on its own because, you know, athletes out there like cookies and like to eat!

CitSB: Do you see yourself as a role model for other cyclists?

JC: I’m starting to. Unfortunately, as much as we’re trying to grow the sport of women’s cycling, coming from triathlon and MTB, I can say that road racing is by far the most intimidating to get into. Its very clique-ish, the teams and their kits and the people keep to themselves. I remember feeling like “Whoa! This isn’t like mountain biking where we finish a race and all have a beer together!” It’s hard to feel like you have a place in it. For me it’s important to change that atmosphere and for women to feel like the sport is approachable, the people are approachable, that I’m approachable. People come up after a race and they’re intimidated and I don’t like that. I’m open to talking to everyone. Lots of people are continually asking for advice about food and particular race courses and I spend lots of time answering questions on Facebook and getting to know people. I’m genuinely interested in people and their goals. After having my setbacks, the biggest joy for me is seeing others succeed. I gave a girl my racing clothes from SPY because she didn’t have any; the team kits weren’t ready yet. There’s more I can do than just racing and trying to win.

CitSB: How do you help people break into the secret society of road racing? How do you get them to take the step to enter a race?

JC: Maybe it’s different for women? I just go up to women and tell them how well they’re riding. For women it’s different. A lot of people wlll approach me and say, “My friend said you’d be on the ride,” and it’s someone new or who’s not in a club and I’ll be cool and tell them to keep coming out, and find out what they like, do they like climbing or sprinting, and the more you start hanging around the more you’ll learn. It’s in my nature to help. When I started cycling in grad school I was a a Fred, or a Frieda, I didn’t have any money for equipment and cool, nice people helped and supported and gave me pedals, for example, and had that never happened I would have never gotten to the point I’m at now. I want cycling to grow, and rides to grow, and races to grow, and people who complain about prize money or promoters are missing the fun–it’s about knowing people and being excited about seeing people you know, not avoiding the race because you don’t fit in and aren’t going to beat Monster Media and Surf City and SPY and not get a result. I try to imagine if I were a Cat 5 dude how tough that would be and how intimidating. But there are enough people who are cool and who have the same perspective that I do, who want to help. We want local racing and good group rides and an atmosphere of mutual respect. There are a lot of really good people on SPY, the team I rode with last year, people who are great riders and humble and who want to help. Without the opportunities given me by SPY and Michael Marckx I wouldn’t have ever gotten to race Redlands and then gotten the call-up to the pro ranks. MMX knew I wouldn’t be at SPY in the long run but he saw the potential and the opportunity to help grow and launch an athlete. He really put his faith in me and I couldn’t have done it without him and the support–the financial support, the logistical support of getting to races, and just a group of people who were always so cool and who believed in me.

CitSB: Tell me about your new team.

JC: The new team is amazing! It’s called Twenty16 p/b ShoAir, and we’re a UCI team this year. The director is Mari Holden and the GM/owner is Nicola Cranmer. They appraoched me and had watched my racing earlier and saw something they liked and it seemed like a great match. We’re a unique team. We have a lot of team goals and do a lot of big races but we also emphasize individual goals like doing ‘cross or track or the national team and racing in Europe. The theme of the team is “Women that race with continued education.” They encourage college and want us to have things off the bike to contribute and bring to the team as well. I’m 32, I did the reverse — went to school first and then found pro cycling!

CitSB: How many teammates live in SD?

JC: Only me. A couple live in Orange County, but we’re from all over the place.

CitSB: Has the team targeted any races this year?

JC: Redlands, which is big for women, and this year TTT nationals is a good one for us because it will be good prep for TTT worlds, which is in the USA in Richmond. One of the big sponsors is SRAM so having them support the TOC women’s race is a huge addition to our calendar and something we’ll focus on. Tour of the Gila is UCI for women this year, so it’s a focus for all of the teams, as well as Winston-Salem and the Philly race, and Philly is a world cup event. All the races are around the same time as nationals, which will be key racing for our team.

CitSB: Anything you want to add?

JC: The team has been really supportive so it’s scary being the new person on the team and I’ve been waking up every morning with photos and texts from team camp. It’s a pretty good feeling to not have really met teammates and already be included. They truly have my best interests at heart! I know that it’s going to be a good season this year–a bunch of bad-ass women with a lot of horsepower on this team!

END

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The pigs’ revenge

January 11, 2015 § 37 Comments

It began like any other Saturday morning. There we were, twenty-five old fellows, buck naked in the bedroom of a someone’s parents, discreetly eyeing each others’ wrinkled junk as we slathered goop on our legs and put on stretch underwear. Was it a bad home video with distasteful subject matter? No. It was the 17th Annual French Toast Ride, and we were kitting up for the big showdown.

We had already scarfed down the finest breakfast in America: French toast, hot coffee, muffins, fresh fruit, and two delicious kinds of pork — sausage and bacon. As we gratefully devoured the incomparable meal prepared by Cindi, Gina, Lynn, Nancy, Jim, and Steve Jaeger, little did we know that the porcine gods were frowning on our consumption of their brethren.

Instead, we gaily prepped for what promised to be another edition of the most amazing bike ride in America: 117 lethal miles of Ventura County torture, capped by the steeps of Balcom Canyon and terminated at Mile 115 by the stabbing, punch-em-up Golf Course Climb. As King Harold put on his leg warmers, his arm warmers, his two undershirts, his long-sleeve jersey, his shoe covers, his long-fingered gloves, and his headwrap, the other riders chortled.

“Planning for a snowstorm, Harry?”

“Gearing up for the Iditarod?”

King Harold merely smiled as he glanced out the window. “Maybe you wankers didn’t notice that it’s raining.”

“Rain, schmain!” the chorus shouted back. “The forecast says 5% chance of rain and overcast skies.”

“Well, it’s half right,” he said.

“Anyway,” said Bull, “this is SoCal, and it’s always perfect weather for the FTR, and we’re in the middle of the worst drought in recorded history. This sprinkle will be gone before we get to Fillmore.”

On cue a bolt of lightning hit the house across the street, a peal of thunder ripped across the sky, and the light drizzle picked up ever so slightly.

I thought back to 5:30 that morning, when Mrs. Wankmeister had driven me over to Clodhopper’s. He had generously offered to drive me, Surfer Dan, and Toronto up to Camarillo, and we had accepted because Clodhopper, in addition to being the world’s most prepared man, always travels in style.

“Honey, let’s go,” I said as I roused her out of bed.

“You goin’ onna French cupcake ride? It’s gonna rain onna dogs.”

“Toast, not cupcake. And we aren’t cupcakes, honey, we’re hard men. And there’s only a 5% chance of rain.”

“It’s gonna rain onna cats so don’t call me up because you’re crashing onna slickery street.” She didn’t seem too happy about the early departure, but she drove me down to Clodhopper’s anyway.

As I arrived Clodhopper was putting the finishing touches on his brand new Xyplonk bike rack.

“Like it?” he asked.

It was the most amazing bike rack I’d ever seen, and obviously cost more than my Prius. “That’s incredible,” I said.

“Yep. Xyplonk is handmade in Finnland by artisan bike rack makers. Each one is made from hand-mined bauxite and assembled by 9th generation bike rack makers.”

“Wow,” I said.

“Yep. They’re a bit pricey; this one set me back six grand. But that’s less than the cost of the bike, right?”

He wasn’t kidding. Clodhopper’s bike cost $15k, plus $9k for the handmade wheels, which are made from virtually unobtainable profamatanium. I put my bike on the rack and we got ready to go. “Where’s your bike?” I asked.

“In the back of the Avalanche. I’d never put my bike on a rack. What if some knucklehead rear-ends me, or I rip the rack off by going up a driveway that’s too steep?”

“Good point,” I said. “But if you’re never going to use it, why go to all the expense?”

Clodhopper looked at me. “If I was going to use a bike rack, I’d use the best one I could buy. And in my world, you take as good care of your friends’ stuff as you would with your own.”

“Well, if it was me you’d be getting one of those aluminum jobs with fabric straps that hang onto the rain gutter.”

“I know,” he said. “That’s why I’m driving. Let’s go.”

Clodhopper sent off  two text messages to Surfer and Toronto to let them know we were en route. “I drafted the texts last night and put them in the queue. Be prepared. That’s my motto.”

I’d rather be wet than cold: dash to the Fillmore sprunt

Our resplendent group of 25 riders rolled out in the drizzle that had turned to moderately pounding rain, and our immaculate bikes were almost immediately covered in dreck. Manslaughter turned to me as we went from damp to wet to soaked. “It’s not a cold rain at least,” he said.

“Nope,” I said.

“And I’d rather be wet than cold,” he said.

“Yep.” We both looked at King Harold, who was dry as a bone and quite cozy in his Iditarod get-up, and we wondered the same thing: “What if we end up wet and cold?”

We needn’t have wondered …

The first tiny climb, which was so small and brief and easy that I hardly inhaled, was soon past. At the next little bump we had a flat, and Manslaughter leaned over to me as we waited. “Hey, Wanky,” he said.

“Yeah?”

“Is it a bad sign if those first two little non-climbs really hurt?”

I looked at him and thought briefly about telling the truth. “Nah,” I said. “Those are just warm-up pangs. Everybody’s hurting.” He knew I was lying, but just hearing my blatant dishonesty said with such kindness and sincerity made him smile. The group continued on, pushing up and over the first rated climb of the day, the Fillmore Hump. I skittered to the front in order to take the descent first. I’m a terrible descender, and my full-carbon wheels, which are made completely of carbon, don’t stop at all when they’re wet, although they make a very cool full-carbon “sheeeeee” sound when you squeeze on the brakes that don’t stop, which is cooler than the “shirrrrrr” sound they make when they brake dry and do stop.

I figured that since I couldn’t stop and would likely crash, better to take out as many people as possible by riding at the front. The minute the steep, hairy-pinned descent commenced, we all noticed giant puddles of fresh motor oil in the middle of the road. Bikes began twitching sideways, sphincters began clenching (then, unfortunately, unclenching), oaths were shouted, and Hair bombed the descent with Dally Rumple at full speed. With no one able to catch them, Hair blitzed across the Fillmore city limit sign to collect the first scalp of the day.

We had a couple more flats, and raced on towards Santa Paula. Hair took that sprunt, too.

Super boring bike stuff

[This next section details the blow-by-blow of the Ojai climb, the run across the valley, the descent, and the sprunt into Ojai. It is incredibly boring and filled with mindless cycling details that are numbingly inane unless you were one of the people involved. Others may skip to the next section, “Slip sliding away.”]

A couple of miles after leaving Santa Paula the climb began. How long was it? I don’t know. How steep was it? I don’t know. But I do know this: at some point we went from twenty-five riders to seven. The rain began to pour down with personal animosity until we had all reached the level of wetness that lets you know you’re totally drenched: our balls were soaked.

Riding behind someone with soaked balls is a bummer because when they press down with one leg it squeezes the ball sauce out of the chamois and onto the saddle, from whence it drips onto the back tire and is then violently flung up into your face, imparting a light flavor of oil, hints of grease, oaked flavors of dirt, big and fruit-forward essences of transmission fluid from the asphalt, and a velvety-with-salt-and-sweat finish.

G$ pushed to the front and began shedding deadwood. I started at the back and leapfrogged from shattering grupetto to shattering grupetto. There was Bull, regretting (but not really) all those chili-cheese burritos. There was Aston Martin, looking for a replacement piston. There was Dream Crusher, finding out what it was like to be the crushee. There was Clodhopper, speed-dialing Uber. And there, just ahead, were the leaders — Roadchamp, Full Gas Phil, G$, Hair, Dally Rumple, FTR DS Jaeger, and Marmaluke.

I latched onto the rear like a sucker-fish. Roadchamp attacked and Full Gas Phil followed. G$ repeatedly attacked to try and bridge the gap before settling down to set a searing tempo. Stern-O, arguably the toughest old boot on the ride at 65 years old, had set out ahead of the group and yelled encouragement as we flew by.

We crested the climb and Marmaluke bridged us to Roadchamp and Full Gas Phil. Now we had an 8-man flailaway and the pace went from torrid to unbearable. The rain beat down, washing my sulfuric acid-based sunscreen into my eyes, blinding me so badly that I could only crack my left eye. Sitting two inches off a wheel, eyes burning, the sheets of rain making everything invisible, I feebly rotated through, easily the weakest in the group.

Hair, the supposed sprinter, was again showing his toughness as he hung with the climbers, poured on the coal along the flats, and hung back to give me a break when I started to drift off the last wheel. We hit the long, fast, soaking, twisty descent and everyone sat up except for Phil, Hair, G$, and me. Our bikes were slithering in the turns, and when we hit the flat 3-mile run-in to Ojai, Full Gas Phil opened it up full throttle. As we hit the outskirts of town Hair leaped away, Full Gas followed, and someone won the sprunt. G$ and I just gasped, relieved that it was over.

Slip sliding away

One by one the riders straggled into the Ojai Chevron, wet and frozen to the core. Instead of the usual convenience store fare of cokes and candy bars, Toronto and Surfer scarfed two large cups of instant ramen, a cup of chicken noodle soup, and an extra-large cup of hot cocoa. One rider bought two large cups of coffee, drank one, and poured the other one into his shoes.

“What the fuck are you doing?” we asked.

“Thawing my feet. Hopefully they’ll absorb some caffeine, too.”

I immediately noticed a selection of longshoreman knit caps on a rack and bought one. My helmet sat on it like a cherry atop a scoop of ice cream, but I didn’t care. We stood in a circle under the store’s heating vent, dripping filthy water onto the floor and shivering uncontrollably.

“Well, boys,” DJ said. “I think we should shorten the ride. What’s your vote?”

Various wankers nodded in agreement. We were fifty miles in, and we’d have a hundred hard, miserable miles even with the 17-mile shortcut. One rider protested. “But we’d be missing the epic Lake Casitas climb, the county line sprunt, and more of the general beatdown.”

Another chimed in. “FTR has never been truncated. Ever.”

King Harold spoke up. “What kind of wussy talk is this? Let’s do the friggin’ ride. It ain’t the French Cupcake Ride, is it?”

I thought of Mrs. WM. “Guys,” I said, “this is about pride. Honor. Manliness. Are we hardmen, or are we soggy cupcakes? What’s 17 extra miles with a touch of climbing? Who’s afraid of hypothermia and a slow, agonizing death? Do we want to go home like cowards and pantywaists, or with our heads held high? Whattaya say? Are you with me, men?”

They looked at me like I was insane. “Hey, Wanky,” Manslaughter piped up. “You can go do whatever the fugg you want. We’re frozen. We’re soaking wet. We’re under dressed. We have prostate issues and incipient pneumonia. Iron Mike is curled up in a fetal ball and begging someone to pour boiling water down his shorts. Zero fucks are given whether we do 100 miles or 117. The fact that we’ve even gone this far makes us immortally stupid. So no, we’re not only not with you, we don’t even know you.”

The group nodded in unison and we reluctantly faced the rain again, whose intensity had increased to that of a large-diameter fire hose.

A few miles later, disaster struck. On the outskirts of Ventura we were crossing a particularly slick section of road when Dream Crusher, who was just behind me, took the opportunity to jerk his wheel and go splattering across the pavement. I didn’t look back but could hear the hideous sound of crunching carbon and thunking meat as it hit. I immediately began composing my noble speech.

“Guys, as much as I’d like to complete this FTR, I hereby volunteer to ride back with Dream Crusher in the heated ambulance. Carry on without me, and Mr. EMS dude, please give me another blanket.”

Dream Crusher was dragged onto the pavement where, unfortunately, his bike was fine and he only had two tiny scratches on his leg. “Don’t feel bad, wanker,” said Manslaughter. “That was a tricky section right there. Only a highly skilled rider could have successfully navigated it.”

At that moment a 75-year-old man on a tricycle hauling a steel wagon filled with burritos came whipping through the same section, bunny-hopped the curb with the wagon, sailed off the far curb and careened the trike onto two wheels as he swerved through the street. “Get that guy’s phone number,” Bull said, “and sign Dream Crusher up for some lessons.”

Circle K for “killer”

[More tedious bike crap. General interest readers may skip to “Shitfaced.”]

In Ventura we turned left at the Circle K and began the long climb out of town, which began the 20-mile undulating road back to Santa Paula, and from there to the dreaded Balcom Canyon.

MMX, who had been idling is engine for most of the ride, roared to the fore and immediately distanced the group. Dogg and Dally Rumple charged for a while, then MMX surged again, his tequila-fueled legs beating the pedals with a mad fury. This time, the punch was followed by a stinging counter unleashed by Full Gas Phil. The twosome rode off, with Hair, me, Surfer Dan, and Marmaluke trailing in the fumes.

Marmaluke bridged the gap, and we settled into a terrible six-man paceline where Full Gas, Marmaluke, and MMX relentlessly crushed it. The only rider to never skip a pull besides Full Gas was Hair, who again showed incredible mettle and tenacity. Phil kept the pace bleedlingly fast, with MMX smashing through each time so hard that I finally gave up pulling and hung on for dear life.

We knew the wankoton, which included G$, Roadchamp, FTR DS, King Harold, Dally Rumple, and Clodhopper would be chasing their brains out, not that they had many. Fearing the chase we drove on even harder until I was reduced to a sobbing puddle of spaghetti legs and melted ego. However, far from chasing, the wankoton had flatted twice just past the Circle K, and they were lollygagging along, wholly unconcerned with our heroics.

By the time we reached Santa Paula, Hair was mush. “Hey, guys,” he pleaded, “shouldn’t we wait for the group? Jaeger will be upset.” This was code speak for “Can I crawl off into this gutter and quit?”

Since he’s one of our best friends, and had done a lot of work, and had never skipped a pull, we accelerated, dropped him, and left him to fend for himself. By now all pretense of warm, hard rain had stopped and we were slogging through a frozen, complete deluge.

When the wankoton got into Santa Paula, King Harold, who was the designated sweeper, was facing a scenario unlike any other in the history of the FTR. Various riders had simply disappeared. G3, Stern-O, Manslaughter, and Toronto were nowhere to be found. And instead of plowing through Santa Paula, the wankoton wobbled to a feeble stop in front of a gas station.

Iron Mike was groaning in a language he didn’t even speak, and Bull, who is very careful with his equipment, flung his $7k bike down into a puddle of mud and rocks. “Bull need cheese,” he grunted.

A line of filthy, soaked, frozen, angry, and demented old fellows followed him into the convenience mart, where they bought the entire kettle of scalding coffee and took turns pouring it onto their feet. Bull grabbed a large styrofoam bowl and heaped it high with chili-cheese burritos, melted quesadilla cheese, and four cheese-covered wieners. Using a plastic knife and his fingers, he ground it up into a slurry, added some hot coffee, water, and Gatorade, and drank it. Two other riders simply stood on the curb and urinated in their shorts, hoping the pee would at least clean them up a little bit, and if nothing else warm their refrigerated junk.

Shitfaced, or, The pigs strike back

Marmaluke, MMX, Full Gas, and I knew nothing of this as we motored through the veil of cold, pounding rain to Balcom Canyon. I had gone from taking no pulls at all to simply whimpering. “Hey fellas, don’t drop me, okay?” I begged.

“HTFU,” said MMX.

“STFU,” said FG Phil.

“It’ll cost you fifty bucks,” said Marmaluke.

“Done,” I said.

We turned up the road leading to Balcom, and a mile in I cracked and fell off the back. Balcom is steep, and this time the right-hand gutter was filled with a raging torrent, whereas the surface of the road was slapping back at my front wheel with cascading sheets of water.

Up ahead Marmaluke broke like a stick in Stern-O’s rear triangle as MMX paperboyed up the climb. Full Gas Phil distanced the duo and claimed his first ever Balcom Canyon FTR KOM … or so he thought. Impossibly, they waited for me. I got to the top; the view to the bottom of the canyon was visible in between the alternating strength of the downpour, but we saw no one.

“Should we wait for those wankers?” said Full Gas.

“I’m frozen,” said MMX.

“If we stop much longer I won’t be able to restart,” said Marmaluke.

“Urgle,” I said.

We hopped on our bikes and slid down the other side of the canyon. MMX now rolled to the fore and stayed there. My punishment for asking to be allowed to stay was being allowed to stay. Marmaluke occasionally showed a glimmer of humanity and towed me back up as MMX and Full Gas took turns smashing it into the rain and grime.

Only, as we turned onto the final stretch of highway leading to the feared Golf Course climb, I noticed that we weren’t riding through grime anymore. Instead, we were riding through a thick, light brown sludge that had the suspicious smell, look, and consistency of pig shit. All of the manure from the pig trucks had turned into semi-liquid from the rain and was now being showered into our faces.

I don’t know if you’ve ever eaten a gallon of pig shit before, but it doesn’t taste very good. Perhaps it’s the Hepatitis C, or the lethal piggi shitti killimus bacteria, or maybe it’s the clumps of raw pig sewage mixed with the detritus of the road, but whatever the reason, smearing your face, lips, and tongue with clods of pork poop tastes downright awful.

On cue, cars passed us at 80, showering our sides with more of the lovely piggy perfume. In moments we had gone from filthy, grimy black to shimmering poopy brown. The only thing that would have been worse would have been getting dropped, so I hunkered down, swallowed my portion as it spewed down my throat from Marmaluke’s rear wheel, and pounded on.

At the golf course MMX and Full Gas Phil kicked it one last time, and Marmaluke crumpled like piece of tinfoil. I had crumpled long ago, but struggled up to his rear wheel and made sure that my front wheel was 1mm ahead of his at the summit because, bike racer. And wanker.

MMX and FGP had attacked over the top, determined to gloriously ride in covered in pig shit without us in tow. That was fine, except that since I’d only been to the Jaegers’ home about ten times, I got lost. Somewhere in Camarillo Marmaluke whipped out his cell phone. “I got their address, dude, no worries.”

However, there actually were worries, and the biggest one was that the rain kept pounding his cell phone, which as a result gave us perfect directions to downtown Shanghai, then Kinshasa, then Bobodelasso, then Prague, but couldn’t find the Jagers’. Now the prospects were dire and I thought about how I’d complained about shortening the ride. Marmaluke, who had bragged about his Chicago origins and his imperviousness to this wimpy SoCal weather, was shuddering and shaking so badly that he could barely hold his phone.

“We gotta keep moving,” I said, feeling the hypothermia ratchet up a notch. After five pointless minutes wandering through a neighborhood, we saw a postal truck. “Excuse me,” I chattered, “where is West Kensington Lane?”

The driver wrinkled his forehead. “There’s no street in Camarillo by that name.”

“Yes there is. I’ve been there numerous times. It’s right around here somewhere.”

“I’ve been delivering mail here for thirty years,” replied, “but good luck.”

Just before we decided to throw our bikes on a lawn and let them be washed by the torrent down to the Pacific, Marmaluke spied a school. “Let’s go there and see if we can dry out the phone,” he said.

“Are you sure you’re allowed to go within 150 feet of a school?” I asked. “Plus, how are you going to dry it out? We’re wet from head to balls to toe.”

Marmaluke pulled under an awning and took out his phone. Then he carefully unpacked a small tool bag, which was drenched. Out of the bag he took a piece of paper, which was drenched. He unfolded the paper and inside it was the world’s tiniest plastic bag. He opened the micro-bag and took out a lone, bone dry piece of tissue paper.

“What in the world are you carrying around a dry piece of paper for?” I asked in amazement.

“For something like this,” he said, and proceeded to wipe dry the phone screen, which buzzed to life and mapped us instantly to West Kensington Lane, a mere 3-minute pedal away.

We swooped up the driveway and spied the bikes of MMX and Full Gas Phil, along with the rigs of Surfer and the others who had given up on Balcom and taken a shortcut home.

Cindi, Gina, and Lynn stood in the garage smiling at us. “You made it!” they cheered, draping us in towels. We wiped off the mess and tiptoed into the shower, where the day ended pretty much the same way it had started, with slightly older, infinitely more tired, and much more wrinkled old men standing around naked, except this time doing it together in a shower.

All hail the conquering heroes

One by one the broken and weary riders came in. All were frozen to the core except for Clodhopper and King Harold, who were still toasty and mostly dry. The Jaegers then fed us with Round Two, which consisted of delicious sandwiches on the freshest buns, mounds of cookies, gallons of very hot coffee, and cold beer for those who could ingest anything modified by the word “cold.”

It was the first time in history that the FTR had gone less than the full 117 miles, but had it gone even fifty yards further there were riders like me who would have finished not with a sandwich but with a solemn graveside service. It was still a full hundred miles of suffering hell, of misery beyond compare, of danger, collapse, fear, regret, a ride whose awfulness was encapsulated by the words of Full Gas Phil as we plowed through the pig poop — “Okay. I’m not having fun now.”

In other words, it was the very best FTR ever. Thank you Dave Jaeger, and thank you to the Jaeger family for the gift. My eyes are swollen shut this morning as a result of the bacterial infection from the pig stuff, and later in the afternoon I’ll get my blood tested for hepatitis, but it was worth every terrible turn of the pedal, not least of all because everyone made it home alive.

END

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My associates

October 17, 2014 § 7 Comments

The alarm went off at 4:00 AM. I had barely recovered from the NPR thrashing of the day before, and hurriedly gulped my coffee in order to make the 6:30 start time of the Thursday SPY ride in Encinitas. In addition to my busy pro masters off-season  group ride schedule, which would be a big part of my resume for the coming year, I also had some serious business matters to attend to regarding a couple of employees who live and work for my firm in North County San Diego.

The ride started gently but finished like every grisly airplane accident: Body parts strewn about the asphalt, muffled groans of the survivors, and horrified looks of impending death carved into the ghoulish faces of the dead. The raging attacks of Abate, Full-Gas Phil, Dandy, Stefanovich, MMX, and Smasher reduced the 50-strong group to less than ten riders at the end.

After the ride, Abate, Smasher, and I pedaled around aimlessly until we found donuts. A fat, greasy, sugary bag of dough later we pedaled some more and said good-bye. I still had my serious business matter on my mind, and it wasn’t going to be pleasant. My associates had frankly been under-performing in some key metrics. Although we’d had a number of performance reviews, nothing changed.

Oliver would always say, “Yes, sir, I understand, I’ll start doing [ —- ] right away,” but he never did.

Stanley, on the other hand, would want to debate things. “That’s not how it happened,” or “You need to take into consideration the fact that … ”

It was very frustrating to have these guys collecting a paycheck and refusing to do what they were told. Very frustrating. And since they’d been with me for a couple of years, and I’d invested considerably in their training, it was going to be hard to let them go.

“What should I do?” I asked Smasher.

“You should have a beer.”

“It’s 8:45 AM.”

“Okay, then you should have two.”

“Only a terrible alcoholic would have beer before nine o’clock, and only a hideously terrible alcoholic would know where to find any.”

“There’s a little cafe near my place,” he said. “They serve great breakfasts and cold beer.”

We went to the cafe and ordered. The “breakfast” was a scrambled egg in a paper cup and a piece of cardboard painted to look like toast. The beer, on the other hand, was tap-fresh Stone IPA served in iced glasses. After a couple, the employee problem didn’t look so bad.

“Look,” said Smasher, who shares an apartment with my associates. “They aren’t bad, they just aren’t super motivated. Some things they do well, other things, not so much. Focus on their attributes, try to see it from their perspective.”

We had two more pints, then another two, then threw away the cardboard and eggs. “Let’s walk over to your place,” I said. “Now’s as good a time as any to have the talk.”

“Agreed,” he said. Through the fog I could see three or four other early morning customers washing down their AM beer with cardboard.

“What a bunch of drunks,” I said disgustedly to Smasher.

We reached Smasher’s place and the associates were there. They knew I meant business, but no matter how much they wagged their tails I didn’t crack so much as a smile.

We sat down on the couch. “Look, guys,” I said. Then I faltered. “I’m gonna take a quick nap and then we’re going to have to talk business.”

I stretched out on the couch and fell asleep for thirty minutes or four hours. As I lay there I could feel the warm furry little bodies of Oliver and Stanley curled up around my feet, which went from cold to toasty. They snuggled against my leg, repositioning only to increase the toasty-leg-factor.

When I awoke they opened their eyes, then came over to lick my nose. “Let’s get to work guys, shall we?” I said.

They nodded and bounded downstairs. All good.

END

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Last rites and such: final BWR advisement

April 18, 2014 § 28 Comments

The big day for the 3rd SPY Belgian Waffle Ride is almost upon us. I did a final recon ride on Tuesday with MMX, who is not used to waiting for slow people, but since he was stuck with me for the balance of the day he ended up having to do a lot of waiting. Usually by the time I crested a climb he would be answering work emails or putting the finishing touches on a complex annual report, but at one point in the ride he got so far ahead that when I passed him he was sound asleep underneath a shade tree. I’ve now done the entire course, and he’s slept through most of it, and I can confirm that it’s doable. Sort of. Here are some details that I hope you will find useful if you’re lining up simply to enjoy the day and be able to brag that you finished. If you’re racing it, or trying to win one of the jerseys, dog help you. I can’t.

  1. Despite its rugged profile and challenging route, this, the toughest edition yet of the BWR, is completely doable. But you have to avoid going out hard, and you have to avoid pushing it on the climbs, and then, once you hit the midway point, you have to really start saving energy. A good rule of thumb that you can use throughout the ride is to ask yourself, “Am I pushing myself?” If the answer is “Yes,” then throttle back, although by then it’s probably too late.
  2. If you keep a steady, never-uncomfortable pace, you can expect this to take 8.5 – 9.5 hours. The beer may be gone by the time you finish, and the award ceremony which is scheduled for 5:30 will certainly have concluded, but it will have been worth it because the alternative is a catastrophic collapse somewhere around Black Canyon and perhaps a search-and-rescue party as well. More about that below.
  3. You won’t have a good idea of how you’re feeling until you summit Black Canyon. It’s a 3-mile dirt climb followed by a 2- or 3-mile dirt descent followed by a 1- or 2-mile dirt climb up to Sutherland Dam followed by another two miles or so of climbing on an asphalt road. This road really is a mother. If you’re in the pack fill category along with me, don’t dare push it up this thing, because even though it’s long and hard, it only marks the halfway point in the ride.
  4. The worst has been saved for last. After Black Canyon there’s a long easy descent all the way to the Bandyweg sand section. Bandyweg is about five miles long and saps the hell out of you. It’s not technical, just soft enough and narrow enough to keep draining away your precious bodily fluids. Once off the Bandyweg trail you have to climb Bandy Canyon, which is not long or very steep, but at this point in the ride everything feels harder, steeper, tougher.
  5. The final run-in is where you will have to fire off everything you’ve been hoarding the entire day. You’ll do the Mule Trail in reverse, you’ll climb the Rock Garden in reverse, you’ll climb up out of Lake Hodges, you’ll climb dirt Questhaven, you’ll climb San Elijo, and you’ll really, really, really climb Double Peak with its 20% pitches up to the top of North County San Diego. Putting this much dirt and elevation in the final 30 miles will be the test of whether you husbanded your awesome sauce or squandered it early on, say, in the first 5 miles out along PCH.
  6. For my final practice run I again set out with three PB&J halves on dense wheat bread. Barbie food won’t get you through this ride. Bring something substantial — ham hocks, for example. Eat steadily and stay hydrated. Chances are it will be hot on the 27th and you don’t want to run out of water halfway up Black Canyon. Another Black Canyon note: TURN RIGHT AT THE BRIDGE. If you bear to the left you will be lost forever in the scorching, desolate hills on a dirt track that goes all the way to Zihuatanejo, or to Saskatchewan. Likewise for Bandyweg, watch for the left turn back up onto the main road or you will descend off into an endless network of dirt horse trails that are patrolled by hungry cougars. Not the lipstick-wearing kind, either.
  7. Lots of people have asked about tires, and my final setup will be on 28mm Continental touring tires at about 80psi. These performed beautifully. The were thick enough and had enough tread on the sides to grip the sand, and they had a smooth enough center so that it didn’t feel like I was riding on tank tread. There’s no question that a road bike can handle this route, and a sturdy 25mm tire will probably work fine. Where my ‘cross bike made the difference was comfort.
  8. Celebrate the night before, but don’t over celebrate … unless you want to have a really, really interesting day.

END

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And now a word FOR our sponsors

August 10, 2013 § 4 Comments

You can’t be a pro masters racer in SoCal without sponsors. You know, they’re the people who spend money on you for no obvious reason. The people who donate clothes, equipment, and services so that you can live the dream, and boy, is it ever a dream, if not a full-blown fantasy psychosis.

Our team, SPY-Giant-RIDE, bends over backwards to make us think we’re special and to treat us like we matter, even though I’ve shown at 35 races this year that I’m not and I don’t. It has made for a tremendous couple of years as we’ve benefited from the perfect formula for happiness, which is: Swag + Bikes + Racing + Fun + Friends = Happiness.

Here’s what some of the SPY-Giant-RIDE athletes have to say about the gear and services they use.

  1. Ryan Dahl: I can’t thank MMX and SPY-Giant-RIDE enough for all that they have done for the team. It really is a privilege to be a member. Every rider on the team is an exceptional athlete and person, and I’m proud to be able to call each and everyone of them my friend. On top of the great friendships, we have been fortunate enough to wear and ride the best equipment made. Of course, MMX has good taste and a focus on quality products, and we all reap the benefit of that. SPY: They really are the best eyewear company out there. The designs are fresh, the optics are crisp, and the SPY brand is one that I am so proud to represent. GIANT: You know you have a good bike when you polish it to a shine every night. I love this bike. BONT: I’ve always known Bonts were the best so when I found out they were going to be sponsoring us I was really stoked. They are raw performance; nothing else compares. ZIPP: I polish these every night, too. These wheels are so fast, and perfect in every way. But everyone knows that, too!
  2. Garnet Vertican: When I think back to last CX season, one of the products that stands out as having helped me land on the podium twelves times was my GIRO helmet. It performed flawlessly in every condition and situation, it weighs almost nothing, and stays in position no matter how rough the course is. The comfort and style of this helmet was top notch. Lots of riders focus on bikes and other components, which are really important, but the comfort and stability of your helmet is important as well. Giro fits perfectly, super, super product. SPY: Love my glasses, especially when the mud and dirt get flying!
  3. Steven DavisGIANT: I have been fortunate enough to have ridden some of what the industry might consider the best bike frames on the market, but I’m certain that there is only one “best” of anything. That for me is the Giant TCR road frame. When racing and training, my enjoyment comes during the climbing phases. My excitement and appreciation comes from the way the Giant responds. Stiff, light, aero, and compact would be a few key descriptions of what it provides for me. The Giant is uber responsive to those fast accelerations or attacks on steep grades, then once unattached and free to fly, my Giant allows me the speed necessary to stay away via its aero-prowess. One of a kind technology! BRL Nutrition: I have been traveling on the road, racing since the first of June at multiple stage races across the U.S., and what BRL has provided me with is the ability to recover and maintain optimal health, and to keep my immune system strong so that I don’t succumb to illness. With travel, six-day stage races, different time zones, altitude, and everything else that comes with racing the circuit, stress can saturate your system. With BRL supplements and performance-oriented nutrition, I have been able to push my physical limits and maintain my health. BRL allows me to continue moving forward by taking care of a huge aspect of this sport–health via nutrition. SPY: The frames are light, compact, and so easy to wear. The lenses are crisp, sleek, and most certainly stylish. The company and its employees are irreverent badasses and technological innovators. I am lucky to be an ambassador for such a gnarly group of against-the-grain, unsatisfied with the status-quo, avant-garde trendsetters! BONT: “Performance machine” is how I would describe their shoes. The technology is in place for a cycling shoe that is created for one reason and one reason only: Optimum performance at the highest level of the sport. STAGE ONE APPAREL: Joe Yule, the designer for our team kits, has an eye for the fashionably sensible yet eye-catching in a crowded peloton filled with flashy colors. He’s just got a nose for what will look good, an ear for staying on top of the industry’s needs, a feel that makes the user comfortable, and a taste for what works.
  4. Damian Stevens: The support from SPY has been tremendous. They’re the key sponsor and everyone they’ve put together from their internal operations to fellow partners/sponsors has been insane. There is nothing but support.  No egos, and no BS, except for Seth, but that’s because he’s mostly drunk.  Straight-up, solid people who offer the best gear known to any cyclist out there. We’re eternally fortunate and beyond. I’ve never had this kind of experience on a team. To sum it up? Gratitude, and peace.
  5. Logan Fiedler: This has been an amazing year full of happy moments that have been shared with some of the nicest/strongest guys I know. The bar is set high when you’re representing the lightest, stiffest bike on the market, and if you don’t believe me, test ride one. I had my last “race” bike sold within two weeks of riding my Giant. Having the SPY logo on your jersey has been something to be proud of. No one puts on an event like the Belgian Waffle Ride, no one supports the sport of cycling more than SPY, no one cares more about their racers than SPY and NO other company has a CEO who will make you ride home with your tail between your legs after he rides you off his wheel. Notes from the year: Our SQUADRA kits are badass and better than those worn by most pro teams. Our BONT shoes make our legs an extension that connects to the pedal with the stiffness and lightness of our bikes. They are molded and they fit like a glove. SRAM is just badass and hasn’t mis-shifted or jumped a gear all year.
  6. Erick SobeyGIANT: This bike just feels “tight.” When I mount up, the SLR becomes a part of me. ZIPP: My new ZIPP gear bag is my new life bag. BONT: A great way to surgically attach your legs to your pedals. I don’t even remember which sunglasses I used to wear, and now, I don’t even remember that I’m wearing sunglasses because SPY are the lightest, most secure, and most advanced lenses I’ve ever experienced. No sweat marks EVER!! Oh, and they will make you look great!
  7. Josh Goldman: GIANT: The TCR has been a simply amazing frame. Coming off a Specialized S-Works SL4 in 2012, I was skeptical after being very satisfied with that bike, but the TCR did not disappoint. It is extremely light, dives into corners with ease and confidence, climbs better than any bike I’ve ever ridden, and makes the rider feel very connected to the road by way of the integrated seat post. Thanks for a great season Giant! SPY: Are there any other glasses on the market, seriously? I cannot say enough about the amazing people, products, and community support from SPY. SPY is truly a world class organization committed to its customers and to being the best. After many years with a competitor, I was truly blown away, I was HAPPY with the perfect lens combinations and performance of the SPY Screw! Their lifestyle optics are second to none and everyone in my family loves them! BRL: I am very picky about my nutrition, its ingredients and quality. Endurafuel was there for me every hard ride, race, and final effort, efforts that were so hard almost everyone got shelled. I experienced a substantial advantage with Endurafuel in my bottle and am confident my performance could not have been what it was without it!
  8. Eric AndersonSPY: The Cutters are by far the coolest and yes most functional performance glasses I have ever worn. I’ve never worn another pair of glass that have generated so much attention. “Wow, those are cool,” “Wow, those look like my grandpa’s glasses,” and “Those don’t look like other cycling glasses!” To which I respond, “Yes they are cool, yes your grandpa is cool, and these really are great performance glasses.” To be honest, my Screws and Quantas have been collecting lately, that’s how much I love the Cutters. BONT/GIANT: This combination is the sprinter’s delight. I can’t imagine a stiffer combination of frame and shoe. Without any actual data to verify this claim I’ll go out on a limb and say 99.9% of your effort gets transferred to the pavement when you clip into a Giant TCR Advanced SL with Bont Vaypors. One note about Bont sizing, if you use their online measurement method they come in exactly as they say!
  9. Oliver Stanley: Let’s crush some motherfuckers on Sunday! This is our course! I know we can do this, WM, even though you’re a flailing wanker! SPY: Sweet styles, multiple lens options, and perfectly clear vision with these things. My biggest problem with the SPY glasses is deciding which ones to wear! Favorite right now? Black Cutters with the Happy Lens. They make me happy, as advertised! GIANT: Where do I start? This TCR Advanced SL is an absolute weapon. Compact, light, aero, and responsive. This bike will make any wheel sucking tosser feel like a pro. I climb onto the TCR and I’m ready to smash the pedals like a hammer on a nailhead. It just feels right, every time. BONT: Yup, these are the shoes for me. Little bit of heat forming in the old kitchen oven and they fit like ass-kicking slippers. I came over to Bont from another high end shoe company, and there’s no going back for me. These Bonts are solid; they’re lightweight, super stiff, and mad stylish. I could wear my Bonts all the time. Maybe I’ll get another pair for lounging around the house and heading out to the bars. The chicks dig them. ZIPP: Speed weaponry, indeed. I’m rolling on a set of 404 tubular Zipp wheels and they just work! Great ride quality, super light, yet stiff and responsive. A set of Zipp wheels will give any bicycle that badass look. Don’t believe me? (I’m talking to you here, Wanky!) Pop some 303’s into your bike, stand back, and feel like a badass. Even YOU will go faster. Okay, maybe not you, WM. These tubular 404 Zipp wheels have given me the confidence to get out there and make the break, or jump across that gap and chase down the leaders. I’m not much of a sprunter, but with my 404’s I’m ready to go head-to-head with anyone. The product line doesn’t stop at wheels and tires. My carbon Zipp handlebars are the best I have ever ridden.  Great ergonomics, light as a feather and zero flex. GIRO: I love my Giro helmet. Ventilation is second to none. Stylish, yet fully functional design. I really can’t tell that I’m even wearing a helmet most of the time because it’s so light and comfortable, but I’m glad it’s there to keep me safe and hold my SPY sunglasses in place! SQUADRA: All cycling kits are the same, UNTIL you’ve worn Squadra. Oh my, what a difference. The SPY-Giant-RIDE Pro Issue bib is perfect. The cut is supreme, holding everything in place without being too smothering. I’m not just talking about the business parts, either. The relatively low waist band allows free breathing and stays cool in warmer conditions. The pad/chamois offers a comfortable ride for hours and hours, and those long leg bands keep a firm but even pressure on the quads. The Pro Issue jersey is the best jersey in the business. Slightly longer sleeves keep my arms just that little bit more protected and stop the dreaded sleeve roll into the armpit. The material breathes and contours to the body. On race day I bust out the aerodynamic Squadra Speed Suit. It fits like nothing else except maybe a great condom, gives me that all important aero advantage and to be quite honest, it makes me feel like a bad bitch. I would wear it every day, but I don’t think I could quite pull that one off. I’m not Stathis. STAGE ONE: I don’t know how these guys do it, but oh wait, that’s because IT’S JUST ONE GUY AND HE’S A GENIUS. Every season, when you think you have the coolest looking gear, the new Stage One kits just blow the old stuff out of the water. It just doesn’t make sense. I was so stoked on my 2012 SPY kit, hand washing it instantly after each ride so I could wear it again. Until…BOOM! The 2013 kit arrives and I’m all 2013 clad. Poor old 2012, he never stood a chance. Thanks to every sponsor and every single person that has a hand in building and supporting our racing team. I feel so lucky to be surrounded by such a positive and friendly crew. To those I have met, and more importantly, the folks behind the scenes that I have not yet had a chance to meet, thank you so very much!
  10. Jim MillerRIDE Cyclery: The best bike shop I’ve ever had the pleasure of patronizing. Service is done quickly, accurately and with a smile by Blaize, the best damn mechanic anywhere. Aside from being a cool kid, Dillon is super friendly and exceedingly knowledgeable about the products in the store, and he’s always willing to help you find something or explain the finer technical details. Of course it all starts at the top with Brent! He’s put his heart and soul into his business and it shows in everything this amazing crew does. GIANT: The best bike I have ever ridden. Period. The experience is made even better by getting to work with the Giant team, which has gone out of its way to get us their great bikes and help us promote the team in a way that leaves a big impact. GIRO: They have been amazingly generous in providing us with the best fitting helmet on the market. BRL Labs: Their products, EPO Boost and Endurafuel, work very well. Bob Gentile is a great ambassador for their brand and I’ve enjoyed working with him. SPY: Hey, we make the best eyewear anywhere, and we’re not owned by some big Italian conglomerate. Okay?
  11. Chris Nesbitt: As soon as I could start riding again, RIDE had my GIANT bike ready to go. My TCR had only suffered a few scuffs and scratches despite a wreck at speed north of 35 mph with multiple rollovers, a testament to this bike’s build quality. Furthermore, SPY had already arranged a replacement kit, helmet and shades, as all had been destroyed, so I could resume training immediately! While I missed the balance of the 2013 season recovering physically, I am excited to enter 2014 and begin to contribute. With this kind of support and equipment behind me, it’s humbling to say the least. I am proud to represent SPY-Giant-RIDE on the road!
  12. Harold Martinez a/k/a Critboss a/k/a King Harold: SPY: Best casual and sport eyewear I have ever worn. I’ve never looked cooler in a race or at a rave. Put these bad puppies on when me and the missus get down and it’s a whole ‘nother ballgame. BHL: EPO Boost is an amazing product. Not only does the powdered drink mix taste good but it keeps me riding stronger with less fatigue and a shorter recovery. RIDE Cyclery: What can I say?  First Class Operation. Excellent support, great prices, top team of mechanics, and that’s coming from a wanker engineer. STAGE ONE APPAREL: Designer of the finest cycling kits in North America, okay, the galaxy. If your kit is not being designed by Stage One, stay home or hide in the pack  because chances are it was designed by some junior high school punk with a pirated copy of Photoshop. StageOne is pro from top to bottom, and Joe Yule is the world’s foremost cycling kit designer, which is kind of like being the world’s most famous snake charmer. SQUADRA: Most comfortable chamois I have ever saddled up in, and after 30 years of racing, the twins have been rubbed and chafed by more chamois than I care to remember. I can ride for days in Squadra bibs. The twins love them, and when I peel them off, the missus is ready for a whole new ballgame. GIANT Bicycles: Hands down the best bicycle in the world, okay, the universe. It’s like cheating a little bit every pedal stroke. When I hop off this bad boy after a hard ride and the missus sees me all covered in sweat, well, it’s a whole new ballgame. SOCK GUY: Best cycling socks for my feet! Cool and comfy all day long. I even wear them off the bike, but not in bed. Usually. GIRO: Lightest and best looking helmet on the market. Fits my melon just right!
  13. Derek Oldfield: For 2013, I’ll be entering into my second year as a SPY-Giant-RIDE cyclocross rider. My 2012 and 2013 experience with SPY-Giant-RIDE has been nothing but frills and good times with strong athletes who push my limits and make me a better cyclist. I really appreciate having the opportunity to be part of this grassroots team and am excited to see the ‘cross season approaching! It feels great when you have the backing of companies that are really involved in competitive cycling. The equipment is the best! Awesome SPY eyewear, killer kits from STAGE ONE and a fast GIANT TCX bike that has made a world of difference at my races! RIDE Cyclery has been amazing as well! Thanks to Brent, Blaize, and Dillon, as they all contributed to helping me figure out the logistics to building the right bike for me! RIDE has great customer service and it’s been awesome working with them!
  14. Lars Finanger: The one piece of equipment I never leave the house without are my SPY shades. Whether it’s an early morning triathlon (yup, I’m a tri- geek) or a late afternoon crit, their lineup has an excellent variety of frames and lenses that keep my eyes protected and happy. My favorite model is the Daft, in large part because I ride my time-trial bike three days each week. It’s the lightest pair of sunglasses I’ve ever used and the biggest advantage is not having to get disoriented from staring at a frame like you end up doing with other manufacturers’ so-called offerings.
  15. David Anderson: Last year had so many highlights, but the thing that stood out the most was capturing the Bear. Our equipment makes a difference in performance. If you don’t have it, you don’t win.The EPO Boost by BHL  had me floating around the state championship course for 45 minutes and it felt like a mere ten. Performance eyewear rarely works well for racing ‘cross, and I’ve tossed quite a few optics off my face just so I could see what was happening around me. Then came along the SPY Screw (under lens). No fogging, no sweat streaks, no glasses bouncing off my face, just pure clarity. If you don’t think seeing makes a difference between winning and losing on a ‘cross course, well … Wearing SPY was one less thing to worry about, plus they look so damn good. I praise my GIANT bike to anybody that will listen. I always lay out that I’ve ridden quite a few ‘cross bikes in my day and my Giant is by far the best bike I’ve ever ridden. The confidence that I have when lining up for a race took me to a number of podiums this year. The stability and tracking is what slows things down in a very fast and hectic environment. I was taught years ago that you need to go slower to go faster in this discipline. When you;re stomping the pedals after the hundredth hairpin the bike just jumps with every pedal turn. What a joy. Thank you sponsors for all that you’ve given!!!
  16. Andy SchmidtI have an extremely flat foot that prevents me from wearing shoes with any type of arch support. In the past I have relied on shoes with zero arch and zero support for riding.  Most of the time it felt like I was standing directly on an oversized pedal.  My foot would basically slide around if I left the top straps too loose, or they would cramp and go numb from over-tightened straps. Every ride would end in sore tired feet. BONT Vaypors are amazing because of the Super Mold Technology.  Stick the shoe in the oven for 20 minutes, then put your foot into the warm shoe and feel it mold. The instructions are simple, and I was a little skeptical of the promised outcome. I followed the instructions and spent extra time pushing the arch down, and didn’t pay attention to the molding that was going on around the rest of my foot. So, off I go on my first significant ride in the Bont Vaypors.  What I immediately noticed was that my foot was a single unit with the pedal. I rode and didn’t feel my foot sliding around inside the shoe and I didn’t even have to crank the top straps.  More importantly, it felt like my foot was a part of the bike rather than two separate units. In one single ride the Bont took me one hundred miles and 10,000 vertical feet. For the first time ever, I didn’t experience any cramps, soreness, or fatigue in my feet. The shoe has perfect power transfer.  That is what makes the Bont so fabulous. SPY: Best eyewear ever. You gotta see if you want to ride well, and SPY lets you see and it protects your eyes. SPY put the other eyewear companies to shame. The quality is the best and the grassroots support for our support makes you appreciate the company even more.
  17. Wankmeister: Fuggit, I love all this shit. This team is so awesome, and the attitude of “strength through destruction” comes from the top down. My SPY eyewear never leaves my face. Ever. Think about that for a minute. My Giant bikes, I sleep with. Yeah, I got grease marks in funny places. My  Squadra kit fits like a tailored tuxedo. StageOne makes me look like a gigolo on a bike. RIDE Cyclery makes sure my bikes and wheels are running perfectly. Lost Abbey keeps me drunk. But most of all, it’s the people. A better group of wankers I’ve never run across, nor hope to.
  18. Alan Flores: It goes without saying that SPY eyewear is the best I’ve ever worn. Not much to add except that their glasses are great on the bike or off. I was starstruck the first time I threw a leg over my GIANT Advanced TCR ISP.  The balance of stiffness, from the 1 ¼ – inch steer tube and massive carbon stem was matched by the smooth transfer of power to the drivetrain, so that all my energy was used to push the bike forward. I raced my new GIANT that following weekend, winning easily. I am not a strong time trial rider, but by taking a long shot attack off the front of the race I was able to maintain a large gap on the field for much longer than I ever have before. That move drew out the best riders in the field to join me the breakaway. The conclusion of the race came down to a six-man sprint finish, in which my GIANT proved  superior by taking me to victory. Simply put, the GIANT Advanced TCR is “superbly responsive.”
  19. David McNeal: Two years ago when I was new to California and to the race scene, and not knowing a sou,l I approached MMX during ‘cross season about racing on the Masters 35+ SPY team with the promise to put the best eyewear in the world on the podium in CX. With an open heart and an open mind, MMX threw me a kit and some SPY Alpha’s without any questions, and thanks to the team’s support I was able to get 3rd in the Master 35+ overall series, as well as win in the Masters 35+ SoCal CX series. I couldn’t have done it without the awesome support from SPY, GIANT, and RIDE Cyclery. Of course, getting to pedal in the SQUADRA kits designed by Joe Yule at STAGE ONE SPORTS made a difference as well. Light-as-air GIRO helmets, BHL supplements, and the best ‘cross footwear on the market made by BONT made me feel like I was a UCI pro racing in Europe. Most of all, though, I’m profoundly grateful to the SPY-GIANT-RIDE team that has helped me make Southern California my new home, and to my teammates who have made me part of their SGR family. And thanks as well to Seth for his write-ups and most of all for the post-race beer hand-ups. I couldn’t be prouder to be an ambassador for this team.
  20. John Hatchitt: It’s impossible to single one of our amazing sponsors as the best. They’ve all had a huge impact on my racing this year. My SPY performance eyewear has come through again and again, helping me see better, protecting my eyes, and helping me look good on the bike! The first time I used my ZIPP 303’s, I was rolling down the hill from my house and thought, “Wow! These are the real deal!” They are fast, light, and amazingly smooth. I got them with the intention of using them only for ‘cross, and rode them to numerous podiums as well as my biggest ‘cross victory to date, the top step in the  “UCI Cross After Dark.” Once the road season started I pulled off the knobbies and glued on road tires. They have been my go-to race wheels all season, with never a creak or an out-of-true wheel to date. My GIANT TCX ‘cross bike was incredible, and of course I love my STAGE ONE kits. Most of all, I love the team. It’s been a blast, and the only thing that’s going to be better is 2014!

Be careful what you ask for

August 7, 2013 § 15 Comments

That’s what I was thinking as Punkin moved aggressively to take Zink’s wheel. Punkin had been pedaling madly and never spent a second at the front. Now, just before the launch up the first nasty roller, he had decided that what he wanted was the Cadillac draft: Zink, he figured, was big, strong, and able to tow him to the promised land.

I let him in. “You want Zink’s wheel, Punkin?” I thought. “Okay. Let me know how that works out for you.”

Punkin grabbed The Wheel, and The Wheel surged up the hill with the ferocity that only Zink seems to have in these situations. Punkin pedaled hard, then harder, then started trying to find the right gear, something in between an 18 and a 19, say, an 18-1/2 or perhaps an 18-3/4.

Smoke began pouring out of his ass. His head drooped. Zink beat the pedals even harder and Punkin rolled out of the formation, his left engine hit, his right engine in flames, and the nose already pointing downwards as he began spiraling out of control. We didn’t see him again.

Be prepared

This day had started like every other Big Ride Day. The night before I’d laid everything out, packed my bag, ground the coffee, charged my lights, and set the alarm for 3:45 and then again for 4:00 AM to make sure I would be able to wake up and be out the door on time at five.

And like every other cyclist since the beginning of time who has prepared the night before, I was late. I continually woke up all night, anxiously awaiting the alarm, but it wasn’t until 3:30 that I fell into the sleep of the dead so that when the clock went off fifteen minutes later I was in the profound REM sleep of someone who’s been up all night.

I snoozed the alarm until four, staggered up, fixed the coffee, put on my kit, drank my coffee, and checked email. The next time I looked up I only had five minutes before departure. No problem. I got up and remembered I hadn’t aired up my tires. No problem. Aired ’em up. Then I noticed my taillight wasn’t affixed. Ran into the bedroom. Couldn’t find it. Began hollering. Woke up the household. Finally found it, amazingly, where I’d left it the night before.

Went to put it on. The velcro strap came loose. Dashed back into the bedroom. Wife now livid. Turned on the light. Wife started throwing ashtrays. Ran to the drawer where I kept random bike shit that doesn’t go in the toolbox but can’t be tossed because you might need it someday. Dumped out the drawer and began feverishly looking through spare helmet pads, extra GoPro sticky pad thingies, spare bolts and washers, extra tire levers, and a stack of decals. Where was the fucking extra velcro strap?

There!

Now my five minutes were long gone. Ran to the bike. Strapped on the velcro. Hooked on the light. Stumbled out to the car. Forgot my coffee. Ran back up three flights of stairs. Got the coffee. Ran back to the car. Got the bike and bag into the car. Now I was fifteen minutes down. The drive to North County would be insane, and it was.

First, my son, ye shall have communion at the holy Leucadia Donut Shoppe

I got to Leucadia with fifteen minutes to spare and hit the donut shop. Then I sped over to the Starbucks where the ride started. I scarfed the donuts, drained a coffee mug, and hopped on my bike just as the ride rolled out.

All of the other riders had ridden there and were warmed up. I was colder than a math teacher.

We set a wonderful, leisurely pace for the first hundred yards. Then Lars the Viking gently increased the speed to thirty-five. Zink came through at 36. Nails came through at 37. Ryan came through at 37.5. Everyone else got kicked out the back, reducing our starting group of forty to about five riders.

We regrouped at a light, if “regrouped” is what you call a gaggle of gagging, gasping bicycle riders whose tongues are stuck in their forks. Zink whipped it up again on PCH as he, Dahl, Viking, Sobey, and a handful of other SPY riders pushed it all the way to Carlsbad. The ragtag group of wheelsucks wouldn’t, or couldn’t take a pull, with the exceptions of Stefanovich and Jim, who both found the front just long enough to remember why they’d been in the back.

“Gee, I’d love to, but … “

As we hit the first nasty roller I thought about all the people who had told me how much they’d “love” to come do this ride. None had made it. I appreciated their wisdom.

One flailer who appeared to be on life support rolled up and patted me condescendingly on the head. “You’re doing better!” he said. Zink kicked it up another gear, I followed, and Headpat disappeared into oblivion. I love riding people off my wheel after they compliment me.

After the endless series of rollers, each of which permanently shed another fistful of gasping wheelsucks, we finally eased off. “This one’s tempo,” said MMX.

Viking, Zink, Dahl, and Sobey didn’t get the email, though, as they stomped off with the enthusiasm of a newly licensed executioner trying out a new Zwilling blade. MMX, Dandy Andy and I were gapped out. MMX mashed away for as long as he could, doing 23 rpm in his trademark meatgrinder pedalstroke, then ceded the front to Dandy Andy. Dandy flogged it like a monkey trying to write kanji and somehow closed the gap. I spit up an appendix and part of my shoe, then caught my breath with a 7/0 treble hook on 400-lb. test line and a Daiwa Dendoh Marine power assist reel.

Thanks to the “tempo” climb and the robotic thumping of MMX, Zink and Viking, MMX closed out the day with thirteen KOM’s and a new course record. I finished with a migraine and a sense of astonishment that on a 29-mile ride there could be over three hundred Strava segments. Dahl gave me a funny look at the end.

“Dude,” he said. “When you were eating  the kimchi diet and the vegan thing and no gluten and no beer and only masturbating biannually you were slower than an IRS refund. Now that you’ve switched to beer and donuts you’re actually keeping up. What’s that all about?”

“I dunno,” I said. Then I hopped into my car, dashed onto the freeway, drove like mad to the McDonald’s in San Clemente, inhaled a Big Mac, and fell asleep in the parking lot.

Go big or go home? I had gone big AND was going home. And the next time you get a hankering to find out how tough your local Tuesday morning ride actually is, give me a call. The passenger seat’s always empty.

Big C, Part Five: The best bath is a spit bath

July 29, 2013 § 4 Comments

How did I get into this? I’m already at Part Five and haven’t even finished boring you with the group ride. It’s Sunday at 8:40 PM. I spent the entire day at the San Marcos crit getting dragged around the windy, hilly course by sadists. Now I have no idea how I will finish this stupid blog. Oh, I know! Bullets! Or better yet, finish the group ride saga with a numbered list!

  1. Dropped on the climb up Lake Hodges.
  2. Flailed with Dandy Andy and Hatchetman.
  3. Laughed at by Surfer Dan as we hit the sand trail because I veered off the trail a bit.
  4. Laughed at Surfer Dan a few miles later when he launched off the sand trail and into the bushes.
  5. Obliterated by Stinger, Lars, Ryan, MMX, Zink, THOG, and everyone on the rock garden trail.
  6. Obliterated by same up sandy wall Questhaven climb.
  7. Obliterated by Josh, Alan, Lars et al. on the run-in to Encinitas.
  8. Swore to never return to North County ever again.

Make it to the church on time

My LAX flight left at 4:30. It was a long way from San Diego County but doable unless the traffic was bad. The weekend traffic in the afternoon from San Diego to LA is always bad.

We got back to Encinitas at 12:30. My bike was covered in dirt and sand and gunk and filth. So was I. There was no time or place to bathe before I had to swap out my kit for jeans and a t-shirt so that I could go straight to boarding when I got to the airport.

I stripped on the sidewalk wrapped in a towel. I grimaced at the thought of how the sand and dirt were going to feel trapped inside my jeans on a 2-hour drive and 6-hour flight.

Then I noticed gushing rivers of sweat pouring off my body. I slipped on my underwear. I took off the towel. I used the streaming rivulets of sweat to wet the towel and scrubbed.

Sweat is a great cleaner. It kept pouring off my skin until the towel was a soaked sweat rag. Pretty soon I’d wiped off all the grime so that I was sparkly clean with a twinkly shiny layer of sparkly sweat. There was a clot of sand between my toes that I couldn’t clean with the sweat, so I worked up a good gob of spit and drooled on my foot. Then I toweled the hell out of it.

I suppose the nice families sitting outdoors at the Lofty Bean coffee shop didn’t often see a grown man standing on the sidewalk in his underwear spitting on his feet. Perhaps that is why they stared, but I left before the police arrived.

Next issue: Surfer Dan and Wankmeister swear a pact to never eat any junk food ever again, not even if they happen to pass by a 5 Guys burger joint while ravenously hungry after the hardest bike ride of their lives, and they especially swear not to do such a thing if it would make them miss a very important flight that they were already cutting way too close anyway.

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