October 17, 2017 § 15 Comments
I’m not big on the Stravver, and not least of all because its welcome page says “Connecting the World’s Athletes.” Newsflash: I ain’t no athlete. I’m a creaky old profamateur masters bicycle delusioner.
Occasionally, however, I will be forced to participate in a KOM conversation, where someone who doesn’t have any KOMs is talking about KOMs, kind of like me talking about a full head of hair.
“I don’t have hardly any KOMs,” I will meekly say.
The person will look sadly at me. “That’s just because you don’t go after them,” he will answer, trying to make me feel better.
“No, it’s because I suck.”
“Aw, come on,” the person will whine, sensing a dose of reality in the offing. “You could get tons if you tried.”
“No, I couldn’t, because I’ve tried. Here in the South Bay there are no KOMs available to me. Lane, Spencer, Chris Tregillis … the KOMs are all theirs.”
However, I do have three KOMs on the Stravver. Two of them suck and you could take them with little effort. One of them is for the Wednesday Bro Ride, a loop that has a bunch of lights and stuff, and only twenty-five people have ever done it. The course record is 1:45 and some seconds. Lane/Spencer/Chris, you could snap up this KOM without hardly breaking a sweat.
The other one is the “neutral” on Western, the part of the Donut Ride that goes through San Pedro. It’s a more legit than the “brochelada” segment; the KOM is nine minutes flat and it has been stravvered by about 1,800 people. Lane/Spencer/Chris, you could take this one too–it’s got the word “neutral” in it, after all–but your legs are going to have to sting a little bit. So go ahead and grab it. Be my guest.
Then I’ve got one last KOM, and I think I’ll be hanging onto it for a little while longer. It’s on Vista del Mar, 2.1 miles, the segment rolling out on NPR. I share it with Eric Anderson, and the segment has been recorded on the Stravver 4,107 times. We set this in a seven-man rotation last January including Dave Ellis, Ramon Ramos, Peyton Cooke, Jon Paris, and Kristie Fox doing an alt-NPR ride called “The 6:50.” As is often the case, we had a tailwind. And we went pretty hard. Unlike my other KOMs on the Stravver, this leaderboard is littered with hitters. Lane/Spencer/Chris, you might not be able to take this one, but if you do, you’re going to need some help, and you’re going to have to like the taste of your own puke.
But none of those KOMs that I got on the Stravver compared to the one I got on Saturday, which was snatched away the moment that the other riders uploaded their data. This was on the Donut of All Donuts, which will be the subject of a future blog, and which occurred this past Saturday.
Every year when we have the South Bay Cycling Awards, which is on a Saturday, we also have the biggest Donut of the year. Last year some of the monsters from North County showed up–Josh Stockinger, Phil Tinstman, as well as a big contingent of West Side killers. I was dropped into the meat grinder and spit out pretty quickly.
This year Ryan Dahl, another North County tough guy, made the trek, and the full Santa Monica BMW/Helen’s squad showed up, led by Tony Manzella and “reinforced” by Alex Barnes, Matt Wikstrom, and the rest of their team. Diego Binatena, who holds the KOM on the Switchbacks was there, evergreen Rudy Napolitano, along with Derek Brauch and a bunch of other bad boys. For the first time in memory, maybe the first time ever, I didn’t even ride to the Domes on the first climb, quitting at the college after trying to follow a pace to the base of the Switchbacks that left me in tatters.
So you can imagine how my heart went pitter-patter the moment I uploaded my ride on the Stravver and saw a little crown for the 6:36 segment through San Pedro. Whaaaaat? A KOM on the hardest day of the year on one of the hardest Donuts ever stacked with the RuggedMaxx II wrecking crew? “It must be a mistake,” I thought, because although I remembered going balls out up Western, trading the front a couple of times with David Wells and everyone else just sitting on, I couldn’t have imagined it was a KOM effort. I’d been off the bike for two weeks, I have tendinitis, and it’s friggin’ October, fer fugg’s sake.
Well … as soon as the uploads started, it was gone as quickly as it had come. David Ellis sneaked by me a second or two, and a handful of other sitters equaled my faux KOM due to the way the Stravver works, which I don’t understand, but it has something to do with how if you start at the back and use the draft of the group to move up you somehow are going faster than the people who stay in the same place. Kind of makes sense but it really doesn’t, like why rednecks don’t want free healthcare. The Stravver is obviously flawed to begin with, putting me at the top of any leaderboard for any reason.
Getting that one faux KOM made my weekend, even though it’s all gone now. I got to brag about it all day and night at the Wankys, refusing to check my phone so I could honestly say “I have the KOM going through Pedro.” And I did. And at 53-almost-54 years of age, it may have been brief but I’ll take it.
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July 24, 2016 § 23 Comments
I’m a regular on the Donut Ride but hardly very good at it. Eventually the pace picks up and I get shelled. However it occurred to me that there are dozens and dozens of riders who have never even seen the front on the climb, much less struggled for a top-five placing.
So armed with a hand-me-down GoPro from Robert Efthimos, I shot yesterday’s ride so that everyone who’s only imagined what it’s like can see what they haven’t been missing.
Yesterday’s Donut Ride was small, probably 40 or 50 riders. Eighty or more aren’t uncommon. Small groups make it harder because there are fewer places to hide. A number of big progatonists were absent, but the presence of Diego Binatena (pro), Rudy Napolitano (ex-pro), and Dan Cobley (coulda been pro) meant that it would be plenty hard.
People actually get dropped on the first climb out of Malaga Cove, then a few more when we make the run through Lunada Bay. Below is a shot of Lane Reid, pushing the pace. Lane has more KOMs on Strava than pretty much anyone in the South Bay, but he always gets shelled early, which goes to show that being a champion on Strava and beating actual people are two wholly different endeavors. He’s plenty strong, though, but is displaying a key mistake of Donut Ride shellees: Spending energy early. It took me years to learn that every pedal stroke early in the ride will come back to haunt you when the ride tilts up.
He’s got forty riders strung out on his wheel. This is definitely a glory pull, because he’s going to get obliterated.
Now we’ve pedaled for a ways and are approaching the turn up the Switchbacks, the first climb of the day after several miles of undulating rollers that have taken the pop out your popper. In front are all the key players: Rudy, Diego, Dave Jaeger, Dan, and Garrett Bailey. Here’s another place that people make the big mistake of being too far back. The pace will increase on the Switchbacks and people will blow up, forcing you to close gaps.
Only a couple of such efforts and even though you’re with the leaders you will be in the red and unable to respond to their accelerations. I always tell people to pick a good wheel and follow it all the way to the bottom of the Switchbacks. Positioning isn’t that hard as there are lots of flailers, but if you’re inattentive you’ll be too far back at exactly the wrong time.
Here, I roll ahead of the group and actually lead out the climb. This is always unwise, but I’m just keeping momentum, not pushing the pedals. No matter how good you feel at the bottom, you will feel worse towards the top, so no matter how slow you have to go to get other riders to pass you, do so. Some people like to take a quick glance back here but I never do because it’s guaranteed that the hitters are still there and they are NOT pedaling hard. I roll for a little along the fog line giving the next rider plenty of room to come through.
In this case it’s Garrett Bailey, a super strong rider who doesn’t do the Donut often. He typically rides with the Dave Jaeger Morning Crew, but for some reason has decided to come do the Donut today. He’s a fantastic wheel for me. He’s about my height, about my size, and is a former Olympic rower from Georgetown, so he has a mighty engine. Part of surviving on the Donut when you are old and feeble as I am is to pick the right wheel.
Garrett is also a good wheel because he holds a perfectly straight line and when he blows he easily swings over; no crazy death wobbles or scary head-droops. He’s like a mule, steady and strong and I love his draft because I know he’ll never attack from the front, a move that always breaks my confidence.
Garrett has tired, or perhaps he’s realized that everyone is keyed on his wheel and it would be wiser to save energy. In any case, there’s a mini-swarm as all of the hitters push by. I haven’t looked back but there can’t be many riders left. Garret has kept the tempo pretty high so you know that anyone who was too far back is now done for the day. The mini-swarm provokes anxiety because the hitters are accelerating but they haven’t attacked yet. Here’s where you will regret having glory-pulled before the climb.
This is also a good point to take stock of who’s there because it’s essentially how your epitaph is going to be written. With Diego you know he will attack and drop you. With Rudy you know he will attack and probably drop you. If not he will sit up, attack again and certainly drop you. Cobley is a question mark. Sometimes he gives up and is nowhere to be seen, so even though he doesn’t have a super fast attack, which means you can sometimes latch on when he chases, you can’t always count on him to drag you back up to the leaders.
Jaeger has little acceleration on a climb, so he won’t go with the big attacks. But he has a massive motor and a high top end so if you plan on sitting on his wheel you need to be super tiny and be able to endure endless misery. He is relentless. You can also see that in a matter of minutes the entire group has been whittled down to six riders and no one has even attacked yet. Dave is now at the front and it’s punishing. Diego is queued up behind him and I’m on Diego’s wheel. This is problematic because Diego can easily attack from the front and Rudy, who’s behind me, can easily follow. The only thing I can easily do at this point is quit.
This next section is funny because even though he’s not the strongest rider, DJ hits the front hard and really pushes the pace. He is probably trying to get rid of me and Garrett, and maybe he’s testing Cobley to see if Dan is “on” or “off.” In any event, after an effort like that so early in the climb I would have been completely done for the day. Another difference between me and Dave … one of many …
Unexpectedly, Dan now attacks. No one responds in the first few seconds and he races away. For me it’s a no-brainer. Chasing will mean droppage, and it’s unlikely I can go with Diego or Rudy, the only two guys strong enough to chase him down. So I have to wait and see what my fate will be, like a lobster in a tank trying to figure out whether the customer has chosen me or my buddy.
These attacks don’t look like much, but in real life they happen more quickly than lightning. You’re already totally on the rivet, and a speed differential of even a couple of pedal strokes feels like the difference between strolling and running a 100m dash against Usain Bolt. Everyone struggles here, and the only thing that keeps me going is the knowledge that no matter how fit Dan is, he’s going to ease off soon. “Soon” being a relative term, unfortunately.
As expected, Diego counters and this isn’t one I can even think about following. It’s also disheartening. I know I’m pegged. I know that he’s light years better than I am. And he waltzes away with what seems like effortlessness. My momentum keeps me going, though, and suddenly I’m out ahead of the others; Diego’s acceleration has splintered the group.
This is utter hell because now I’m off a wheel. I’m not strong enough to ride by myself and mentally I’m too weak to push on and try to cover Diego. So I have to wait and play lobster again. Unfortunately the others are way back now, so I calculate that in a few seconds Rudy will come rocketing by (uncatchable) and then Dan/DJ/Garrett. My only hope is to soft pedal until they catch me and suck wheel some more. We’re not even halfway up the climb.
In a few seconds Rudy punches through and bridges to Diego. This is unthinkable and demoralizing. I watch them turn into pinpoints. My breath is pretty heavy about now.
About now is when you have to have a mental trick box. These are the tricks you use to fake your body into doing what it wouldn’t otherwise do. All your adrenaline has subsided and there’s nothing left but lactic acid and searing pain. “Why am I doing this?” “This is stupid.” “I’m too old,” etc.
Sure enough Garrett comes by and I latch on. My mental trick is simple. I call it “One equals ten.” This means I tell myself that for every pedal stroke I can hang on, the fuckers chasing have to do ten. It may not be true, but it works for me.
Garrett is steady and strong and although I don’t exactly get any recovery, my heart rate drops a couple of beats so that I can at least hear myself crying and convince myself that the worst is past even though I know that it’s really only just getting started.
Cobley is intent on catching Rudy and comes through hard, then attacks from the front. Diego has pulled over somewhere and is no longer in the picture, and Dan knows how demoralizing it is to attack someone from the front. He’s also under a little pressure here because he’s riding with the Depends contingent. Cobley is 35, DJ is 55, and Garrett is in his 40’s. I’m 52, so there’s no honor for Dan in smacking around a gang of geezers. He can’t just beat us, he has to leave us in tatters.
This is his second monster effort and I can’t imagine how he can do another one, which is okay because after towing us around like a ski boat hauling an inner tube we’re going to hit the wall on Crest and I won’t have to imagine how he’s going to conjure up another attack because he’s going show me.
A lot of the time I will see people pull this move on the wall and I’ve done it a zillion times myself. It almost always fails because it takes so much effort to go fast enough to drop your companions that when it flattens out you have to slow down and catch your breath. The droppees, however, not having gone completely into the red, peg you back and then with a slight counter they can dust you off. So 99% of the time it’s a bad move to attack hard here, unless of course you’re Dan, in which case you can punch it and then keep the gas on while the droppees wonder who switched out the lights.
I’ve run out of ways to describe pain by now, but we all stood up and nothing happened. In a little bit Dan had bridged to Rudy and we were fighting for old man scraps. I don’t have a lot of options here. I’m not strong enough to attack Garret and I’m sure as hell not strong enough to attack Dave, so I cast about for another wheel to suck. Happily, Garrett obliges for a bit and I get over the worst part of the wall and the subsequent gradient.
Somewhere along the way DJ gets it into his head that Garrett and I really suck and that what he wants to do is catch Dan and Rudy. This is a problem for me because if I follow Dave’s wheel I’m not going to get much of a draft, but if I follow Garrett’s wheel he’s going to blow and I’m going to have to close a nasty gap.
Choosing expediency over strategy, I hunker down behind Garrett and await the inevitable. Garrett works like a Trojan to stay on Dave’s wheel, but like Hector getting slain by Achilles, he’s no match for the Argonaut.
Garrett explodes gracefully, head bowed, hand waving me through, and I have to go bathyscaphe-deep to claw my way onto Jaeger’s wheel. Dave could drop me anytime now, but he settles in and begins banging away at every nerve in my body with a steady, relentless drilling. The thing that’s so awful about this is that even though I’m on his wheel and getting the benefit from his draft, mentally it is horrible to think that I’m completely pegged out and haven’t done a lick of work all day. DJ has attacked, covered, accelerated, and pulled, and he’s not done yet, while I’m younger, slower, weaker, and hanging on like one of those baby teeth about to come out but for a tiny string of fleshy pulp still holding it into the gum.
DJ also sees Dan and Rudy up ahead and they’re riding side by side, chatting. We’re all in simply to keep them in the viewfinder as they chattily discuss gear ratios and the silliness of old farts trying to keep up with young men. Then Cobley accelerates and they vanish.
Now my goal is simple: Don’t quit and let DJ drag me to the end. What could be easier? The hardest part is over! All I have to do is dig deeper and hold on! He’s older than I am! I’ve done nothing all day! I CAN DO THIS!
Except no, I can’t.
See? The Donut is the same for everyone, after all.
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June 23, 2016 § 16 Comments
It’s not because you don’t put out enough power, or don’t have a good enough bike, or don’t have the right coach, or aren’t on the right drugs.
It’s not because you have a job, because this is just a hobby, because you take your family obligations seriously, or because you can’t leave work early or start work late.
It’s not because your legs are too short, your tummy’s too round, your neck’s too stiff, or your body is better at “endurance” than “short” events.
It’s not because you drank too much beer the night before, or you had to service someone, or they served you gluten pancakes by mistake, or the ectrolytes in your bottle were frazzy raspberry instead of chunky chocolate.
It’s not because you’re mostly a climber, or mostly a rouleur, or mostly a time-trailer, or mostly a lead-out rider, or mostly a sprunter but only from 100-yards with a lead-out train.
It’s not because your FTP is low, your HR is high, your VO2 is average, or your prostate is prolapsed.
It’s none of those things.
It’s because you aren’t Aaron Fucking Wimberley. And guess what? You never will be.
Aaron is of course a metaphor, but he’s a metaphor writ large. He’s been off the bike since last summer, logs a hundred miles a week if that, works 50 hours a week, has an actual personal life, and when stuff gets busy, as it has for the last year, his bike sits in the corner and gathers dust.
But on race day, which yesterday was, when Aaron came out to the Telo crit, the famed crit that now offers a champion’s custom jersey and SEVEN WHOLE DAYS of undisputed bragging rights, when he showed up along with Jules Gilliam, Rudy Napolitano, David Wells, Josh Alverson, Jon Davy, Francis Hardiman (omit the “i” and you’ll know all you never need to know about that dude), Alex Barnes, James Doyle, Chainbreak, Casey Macguire, and an entire throng of pack fodder, with every single rider planning on getting that jersey, and Rudy launching artillery rounds every lap and Josh countering with bunker busters and Jules slashing everyone with a machete and the group gradually reducing to its barest essence like a fine French consomme, and the pace so torrid most of the time all you could do was grit your fuggin’ teeth and curse blood, and Aaron, the guy with the least miles and the least fitness, hiding, thinking, suffering, thinking, following, thinking, waiting, and thinking until all the body blows had been landed and all the howitzer shells had been spent and the machete blades had broken off and the last lap was tear-your-cheeks-off-fast and people crumpled and folded like bad origami and with a thousand long yards to go whenJules sprang free, he had it he had it he had it he had it until he didn’t, which was about the time that Aaron gave it one perfectly planned and immaculately thought out hard kick, the only kick he’d given all day because it was the only kick he had, and he’d been saving it like North Korea with its one functioning nuke, and the timing was perfect and the power was perfect and the line was perfect and the acceleration was perfect and all everyone else could do was slump and sigh and groan as their jersey dreams went up in a puff of smoke and bad bong water.
Because winning bike races takes legs, but what it really takes is brains.
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September 10, 2015 § 14 Comments
This Friday at 5:30 PM in downtown Ogden, Utah, the next-to-last day of the 2015 Old People’s Vanity Strut will take place, when the 40-44 age category lines up to decide who among them has most thoroughly avoided advancement at work (or any employment at all), skipped out on family obligations for at least one full year, hired the best Internet coach, spent the most money on equipment and supplements of every kind, lied about how “it’s only a hobby,” and, finally, crossed the finish line of a 75-minute crit ahead of everyone else.
Unlike some categories in the annual Old People’s Vanity Strut, where national champions are crowned despite lining up against exactly zero other riders, and despite the shaky and physiologically random assignment of riders into 5-year groupings (why not 3-year? 19.4-months? 25-year?), the 40-44 race, otherwise known as DON’T LET IT BOIL DOWN TO A SPRINT FINISH AGAINST CHARON SMITH, has the potential to be one of the best old person crits ever.
Consider this. At 75 minutes long, the riders won’t have fresh legs at the finish. More importantly, the BEAT CHARON strategy can only work with aggressive racing. Negative racing that leaves everyone together with 300 yards to the line will put Charon so far ahead in the final sprunt that the winning gap will be measured in aircraft carrier lengths.
The strategy will be to split the field, form a non-Charon break, and let the breakaway riders duke it out for the meaningless jersey that means everything. How it’s being strategized:
- Phil Tinstman, the strongest all around rider and the Next Fastest Sprinter Who Isn’t Charon, brings teammate Karl Bordine (just picked up silver in the ITT yesterday, thanks) to shred the field and power the non-Charon breakaway. He’s also rumored to have formed a midnight blood pact with Chris DiMarchi and Mike Easter, former teammates at Monster Media and future teammates for 2016. Chris and Mike, also former national champions in something bicycle related, may be there to work for Phil against Team Charon. If so, no break will roll or remain established without Phil.
- Charon is bringing teammates to help for the first time in his quest for a national championship. With super motor Pat Bos he’ll be able to keep tabs on all but the strongest breakaways, and with consummate teammate Derek Brauch nothing will go up the road without Surf City in it. Derek will also fire everything he’s got to bring back a break and, more importantly, to give Charon the leadout he won’t need if it boils down to a sprint.
- Matt Carinio, last year’s victor, got third in the ITT yesterday so it’s pretty safe to say he’s showing up fit. He won’t have the team firepower of Charon/Phil, but he may not need it. He’s a fine breakaway rider and no slouch in a sprint, though in a head-to-head against Tinstman it’s hard to see him winning. Still, he’ll be all in for the BEAT CHARON breakaway plan.
- Rudy Napolitano will have little or no team support, but guess what, folks, he doesn’t need it. With Rudy in the race there’s virtually no chance it will boil down to a field sprint, and Rudy has shown time and time again that he can establish a break, ride a break, and then attack the break to win solo. He will save his efforts for laser-like precision, and when he unleashes them they will count.
Of course these are simply the favorites that I know of; lots of butt-hurt riders on the East Coast and in Wyoming will wonder why they’re not listed here. Answer: Because I make this shit up at 5:00 AM.
In any event it will be an epic race. The winner will of course look forward to spending one full year trying to explain the world shaking importance to non-cyclists that he’s the 2015 masters national champion of 40-44-year-old males in criterium racing. I’ll give you a nickel for every person whose eyes don’t glaze over after the word “masters.”
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September 7, 2015 § 5 Comments
We dropped down off the Switchbacks in a line. Sweeping through the right-hander onto PV Drive South all of the familiar figures fell into place.
Charon, Rudy, Derek, Leadout, Michael, Cuttler, Stathis, X-Man, and Undercover formed the point while the rest of us jostled for protection on the screaming downhill followed by the punchy rollers through Portuguese Bend. Everyone knew what was coming and it was gonna fuggin’ hurt.
The scene of so much misery is called The Glass Church because, amazingly, it is a gradual roller that starts at the bottom of … guess what … a glass church. It’s not very long and it’s not very steep so it’s just the right distance for everyone to get in over his head.
Undercover pounded off the front in a hopeless kick destined for immolation and, always the one to pick the worst wheel at the worst time, I went with him. Chunks of sputum, toe jam, and tooth enamel began to bleed out of his eyes and after a couple hundred yards he began doing the Brad House arm flap. When he slowed to a pace that I could pass and maintain, I jumped past. The wankoton was well behind. I ground it halfway up the grade until I heard the telltale “whoosh, whoosh” of approaching carbon doom made of 100% full carbon.
It was Rudy. I grabbed on, then held on as he accelerated all the way up the roller and over the top. Derek was with him and we had a gap. I took something that looked like a pull, only it wasn’t. After a few rotations we were at the bottom of the little hill past Terranea. Rudy launched. Davy had bridged, somehow. Three-quarters of the way up the bump I punched it coming up the right-side gutter.
We flew down the short grade to the final uphill before the sprunt. Davy charged with X-Man, who had also come across, on his wheel. I faded backwards like the burnt out stage of a Saturn rocket.
We regrouped at the light and Rudy was grinning. “You hung on,” he said.
“Barely. There was that one point on the Glass Church when you came through and I had to bite down hard.”
“Those are always the moments when you either make the split or you don’t.”
“It felt like I was slowly chewing off my own tongue.”
“But then it lets up and you’ve made the split. Because everyone else backs off.”
“The taste of your own tongue isn’t very good,” I mused.
“I work with a lot of riders who are just starting out. They have that great ‘new’ fitness but the depth isn’t there yet, where they can max out and still bring their heart rate back down. They hit top gear and stay elevated.”
“There’s so much out there about how to train,” I said, “but I’m still waiting for someone to write a book about how to win.”
He laughed. “Yeah. Same as in poker. Cycling appears to be about training and fitness, or in poker it appears to be about luck, but in the final round it’s always the same five guys sitting at the table.”
“Because the guys who win have a playbook.”
He nodded. “And they follow it.”
“When are you publishing yours?”
We had hit the bottom of Via Zumaya and he glided away. “Someday!” he said.
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December 9, 2014 § 28 Comments
There is no greater fear than the Fear of Getting Dropped.
I used to think it was a function of cowardice, because everyone gets dropped, and people who avoid rides because they’re afraid of droppage, well, come on. Eddy got dropped. Lance got dropped. The fastest guy on your group ride got dropped. And of course you got dropped — repeatedly. It’s the nature of the beast.
Since droppage is inherent in cycling, i.e. there is always a point where, when people are going hard enough, you will get shelled, I’ve never understood why people avoid hard rides or hilly races because of their FOG’d. On reflection, though, it’s not about cowardice. For some it’s about the humiliating nature of reality. Getting shelled every time, every climb, or coming off the back early in the ride/race means you’re not very good. The people riding away from you? They are better than you, and all of the complex emotional defense mechanisms that we generate to “attaboy” ourselves crumble when the peloton rolls away.
But that’s not the main reason for FOG’d. The main reason is primordial and lies with the herd and the tribe. Whether it’s solitary confinement or lagging behind the other zebras because of an injured leg, being culled from the group speaks to our most primitive fear of defenselessness and death. When the tribe can no longer support you, you were either put on an ice floe or taken to Obasute-yama. When you could no longer keep up with the healthy herd you fell prey to the wolves who forever shadowed the group, waiting precisely for you to stumble or lag, and then pull you down, and then sink their fangs into your throat as they sunk their bloody snouts into your gore-soaked entrails.
Starting out with the group, getting popped, and flailing home alone has all of those connotations, not to mention mile after mile of cursing the sorry bastards who didn’t even have the common courtesy to wait.
When I heard about Tony Manzella’s new Dogtown Ride and glanced at the list of guys like Rudy Napolitano and Matt Cutler who were in attendance, I knew it would be a great ride. It would be great because, with 60 miles and 6k of climbing, it was going to be hilly and hard. I knew it would also be pitiless and therefore a small group. None of these guys were hand-holders. They might wait for a couple of minutes at the top of the first few climbs, but after a while if you couldn’t keep up you would suddenly remember a kiddie soccer game or a load of laundry or that this was December and not really part of your profamateur training plan.
The ride began at 8:00-ish at Dogtown Coffee on Main Street in Santa Monica. There were about 30 starters. After the first hour we were down to less than twenty. By the time we took our first rest stop at the bottom of Piuma there were about ten, and when we got back to Santa Monica there were perhaps eight riders left. I’m sure I’ve done harder rides with better riders, but I can’t really remember when.
And you know the funniest thing of all? At one point or another, almost everyone got dropped.
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October 5, 2014 § 11 Comments
I used to think I was smart. I used to think I was handsome. I used to think I was going to be rich. I used to think I was good in bed. I used to think I was going to have a good job. I used to think life was fair.
I used to think I was a climber.
I thought I was a climber because I could go uphill faster than most of the other people I rode with. No matter that I lived in Austin, where there weren’t any real climbs. At 135 pounds, I was a climber.
Then I met Marco. Marco wasn’t a climber. He weighed about 150, and was my height. He had won the Tour of the Netherlands, and had come to Texas to escape the cold Euro winter.
“You look like a climber,” I said.
“Me? I’m no climber.” And he meant it.
To myself I thought, “Good.” To him I said, “Let’s go up the back side of Jester.”
“Okay,” he cheerfully answered, never having gone up any side of Jester, front or back.
Jester was my domain because I was a climber. The back side of Jester was vicious and steep. In my memory it was a 45 percent grade, six miles long. In reality it was probably less.
We hit the bottom and I looked back at Marco, whose nickname was “The Lung.” Why hadn’t that nickname made an impression on me, I wondered later?
Marco, who would later do the Tour a couple of times racing for Chazal, easily and breezily pedaled by me. I gave it the best effort I’ve ever given anything, but he vanished rather quickly. We regrouped at the top.
“I thought you said you weren’t a climber,” I said.
“I’m not.” And he wasn’t. So what did that make me?
Luckily, I soon forgot about Marco and once he left Texas I became a climber again. Then I moved to Japan. I was the fastest guy up the climb in Shinrin Park, the course they later used for the World Championships in 1990. No one could hold my wheel because I was a climber.
I met a guy who ran a bike shop. He was very small, maybe 120 pounds. “You look like a climber,” I said to Wada-san.
“I’m no climber,” he said.
“Good,” I thought, and took him out to the Shinrin Park climb. We hit the bottom and he dusted me off rather easily.
“I thought you said you weren’t a climber,” I said to Wada-san.
“I’m not,” he said. And he wasn’t.
Fortunately, I forgot about Wada-san and became a climber again. I was a very good climber in Miami, Texas, where there are no people, and in Houston, where there are no hills. Then I came to California. On my first few rides in PV, everyone dropped me. My riding partner, Crabs, was a fat, hairy-legged sprunter who dumped me on every climb.
One day I was talking to Fukdude after we’d gone up Fernwood. He had dropped me early. “Fuck, dude,” said Fukdude. “You’re no climber.”
“Nah. You’re too fucking fat. And big. And tall.”
“You’re a great climber.”
“Me? Dude, I’m no climber. I’m just a tall dude. You should forget about climbing and focus on something that fits your cycling body type.”
“Fuck, dude, I dunno. Drinking, maybe?”
It only took 32 years, but I finally figured it out. I’m no climber. When you look at legit climbers when they’re on the bike, they seem to be sort of your size, but when they get off the bike they aren’t. They’re tiny, squnched up, newt-like mini-versions of real people, little bags of skin stretched around massive lung bags and bony, veiny, spidery legs. None of them have big tummies.
The Donut Ride started today, and after a while the climbers-plus-Davy rolled away. Rudy, Wily, and a couple of other newts vanished. We hit the Switchbacks and it separated out pretty quickly. Somehow I was still with the lead chase group, even though it had some really tiny people in it. “Fuggitaboutit,” I told myself. “You’re no climber.”
Tregillis and his 3-lb. bike faded. Chatty Cathy faded. Suddenly there was nothing left but three or four climbers and me.
We hit the ramp to the Domes and Sandoval punched it. Sandoval is five-foot-five and weighs less than Tregillis’s bike. I leaped onto his wheel, and it was just him and me.
One by one, we passed the suicides who’d started out with Rudy and Stathis the Wily Greek. I had given up all hope. Sandoval is 26, the same age as my eldest daughter. He attacked me a couple of times, displeased with the fat, tubby, wheezing lardball dangling on his wheel. Somehow I hung on.
With a quarter-mile to go, Sandoval got out of the saddle. I matched his pace for a while, and then I didn’t. He vanished around the turn and I got fourth. Which is pretty damned good for someone who isn’t a climber.
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