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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September 23, 2013 § 12 Comments
Lots has happened.
Julie Cutts, who rides for La Grange, won two world masters championships this weekend, one in the time trial and the other in the road race. More about this at a later date, but suffice it to say that this is staggeringly, incredibly, amazingly fantastic news. Julie was joined in Trento, Italy by Rudy Napolitano, Mike Easter, and Tony Restuccia, who all raced in the men’s 35-39 world championship. Although everyone can appreciate Julie’s two victories, not everyone can appreciate the men’s results — 15th, 19th, and 60th. Let me be the first to say that these results are extraordinary. Out of 101 finishers, these three racers performed exceptionally on a global stage, on a brutal course that ended with a 20km climb, in the epicenter of world cycling. Simply being invited to the biggest stage for masters racers is a tremendous accomplishment. Finishing as strongly as these guys did is testament to their toughness, ability, and racing skill.
Cyclocross is here
The 2013-2014 cyclocross season kicks off in Southern California next Sunday, September 29, at the historical downtown LA state park. Dorothy Wong brings cyclocross back for another year, only it’s bigger, better, and promises even more participation and excitement. Even as road and track racing stagnate in the state and nationwide, ‘cross continues to grow. Why? Because it’s audience-friendly. Road and track focus on the athletes, and with the exception of blowout races like Tulsa Tough, it’s unheard of in SoCal to see a road race, circuit race, or crit that’s packed with spectators.
Cyclocross brings people in to watch. The courses are exciting and spectators can put their tents right next to the most thrilling parts of the course. The racers go slower and they come by much more often, and spectators are encouraged to cheer, heckle, and give questionable hand-ups. ‘Cross courses are “parky,” so kids can run around. After racing, the athletes are often found under the tents drinking beer, hanging out, and enjoying the rest of the day. What’s also interesting is that, as far as I know, there’s little or no prize money — and the racers could care less. They’re energized by screaming fans and a fun time, not the illusory professionalism that comes from getting a “paycheck” of $25 and a box of Clif bars.
More PCH tomfoolery
I did another couple of Sunday rides on PCH, taking the lane all the way out to Cross Creek and back. The criticism of this approach was initially massive by the local cycling community, or at least among the people with whom I ride. Then, thanks to a video captured by a biker on Sunday, I saw an entire crew of “gutter bunnies,” 50 riders strong, taking the lane. So that’s awesome. One disappointment has been the almost complete absence of “take the lane” advocates, folks who are quite vocal about taking the lane and who spout lots of facts and figures regarding the merits of this method, but who can’t be bothered to actually do it on PCH. Maybe you don’t believe in your method quite as much as you say?
My kingdom for a stem
On the way to the ride this morning I ran into Mike Barraclough, who was sidelined just past Malaga Cove with a flat tire, a short stem, and no stem extender. My wheels are box rim aluminum Open Pros and so they take any length stem, no matter how short, but when I went to the bike shop to get a new tube the only ones they had in stock were the 60mm. It turned out that this was just the right length, so we swapped his spare 52mm for my 60mm, and we got underway. Dave Kramer, also en route to the ride, had also stopped to help. Pressed for time, we took the most direct route from Redondo to Manhattan Beach, which is PCH, and we took it at full speed. Mike and Dave had breathing problems along the way, and we had to back it off a notch to stay together. Then, once we turned on Gould and dropped down to Valley, Dave and Mike blew a stop sign that had a police cruiser parked off to the side, waiting for speeders. This was our lucky morning, though — I put a foot down for the first time in recent memory, and the cop just watched us pedal away. When we got to the start of the ride, Mike and Dave looked like they were on the finishing leg of RAAM. Ron Peterson looked up and laughed. “You were supposed to exercise the horses, son, but instead you done broke ’em!”
Can’t say enough about these shoes
I’ve been riding Bont shoes for about six months now. My first shoes were Detto Pietro. My second shoes were Marresi. My third shoes were the Sidi Revolution, the first shoe with a velcro strap. My fourth shoes were Duegi white patent leather track shoes with wooden soles … I used them on the road and almost died in them atop a high mountain pass in Japan, but that’s another story. My next shoes were Sidi, and I wore their various iterations for twenty years until two years ago I bought the Specialized S-Works under pressure from a local dealer. My feet eventually adapted to them, but the dials constantly wore out and it was frustrating and expensive to replace them. It also felt like a bit of planned obsolescence, so that I could keep spending money on the shoe. It rubbed me the wrong way.
I was given the Bont shoes as part of my team’s sponsorship package. Basically, they give me a bunch of world-class gear so that I can go place 57th in the local crits and DNF the occasional road race. I was skeptical about the Bont shoes because you have to put them in the oven. They are also flexible like well-cured concrete. And the road shoe looks a little boxcar-ish. Once I had cooked them and used them for a week, my feet molded perfectly to the interior of the shoe. Everyone loves to talk about their “stiff frame” and “stiff BB” and “stiff soles” and “stiff” whatever, but it’s a word I’ll use with care for the rest of my life after wearing the Bont.
So, how stiff are the Bont shoes? They are “sailor on shore leave” stiff. They are stiffer than a fused spine. Stiff like glass. When you push down on the pedals, the shoes are so stiff that, if your bottom bracket is sufficiently robust, the earth will flex on its axis before you’ll flex the soles on these beasts. The ‘cross version of the Bont Vaypor is just as good, with several modifications for the rigors of cyclocross. If you’re unhappy with the flexiness of your current shoes, consider the Bont.
September 16, 2013 § 22 Comments
I was pedaling up Western Avenue with Rudy Napolitano on Saturday. I never pedal anywhere with Rudy except to the extent that he is a small speck receding, quickly, in the distance.
“What’s going on with you this weekend?”
“I’m leaving Sunday for Trento, Italy,” he said.
“Trento, Trento, Trento,” I thought to myself. The name rung a bell. “Vacation?” I asked. The road season had ended the week before at nationals in Bend, Oregon.
“No. Headed off to world’s with Mike Easter.”
“Worlds?” I asked. “World championships?”
“Yeah,” he said.
“Like, rainbow jersey worlds?”
“Where if you win you’re, like, the champion of the whole world?”
He looked over and grinned. “That one. For masters racers.”
“What’s the course?”
“It’s the same one they’re using for the UCI pro worlds. We do one lap. 110 k or thereabouts, with a 20k climb at the end.”
“You’re fuggin’ kidding me, right?”
Again, the grin. “No. For real.”
“Is it like masters nationals? Any wanker with a license and an entry fee can enter?”
“Umm,” he said. “It’s a little different. You have to qualify.”
“They have a list of Grand Fondos that are qualifiers. They want to make sure you can handle Dolomite-type climbs. Grand Fondos are huge in Europe.”
“Dang. So which one did you qualify at?”
Again, the self-deprecating grin. “I didn’t, exactly.”
“So how did you qualify?”
“I got an invitation.”
The sound of my jaw hitting my top tube must have surprised him. “An invitation? Like the FB invitation I send out to my South Bay Year-End Drunkfest?”
“Yeah. Same deal.”
“Holy shit. What did it say?”
“Oh, you know, the usual. ‘We heard you were killing it every weekend on the Donut Ride and figured you could handle worlds.'” Now he was laughing. At me. A little bit. Maybe.
“So what’s the game plan?” I was already trying to figure out what my tattoo was going to say. “I rode the Donut with World Champion Rudy,” probably. The only question was whether I’d put it on my — or on my —.
“There’s a flat section where we might try to get away. It’s Europe, so the climbers are real climbers. Little dudes. 130 pounds, you know? They fly uphill. Maybe steal a march on the climbers and then have an advantage when we hit the climb.”
“And in between now and the race? What kind of training?”
“The hardest thing when you taper, you know, is not eating four bags of donuts and three pizzas every single day. Right?”
I didn’t say anything, having eaten four bags of donuts and two pizzas the day before despite not being on a taper. “Uh, right.” I thought about Mrs. WM’s daily freshly baked hot loaves of bread and the slabs of butter I slayed them with. “You gotta, uh, watch those calories.” My tummy jiggled a bit as we went over a bump.
“Yeah,” Rudy said. Then we hit Better Homes and he pedaled off, hopefully to a pizza-free taper, and even more hopefully, to a great race next weekend in Trento. When he wins, remember that it was me who gave him all that great advice about pizza and donuts. Right?
July 3, 2013 § 14 Comments
My plan was simple. Our race went off at 10:35. There was a Firestone beer tent in the middle of the esplanade that opened at 11:00. I would pedal at the back for twenty-five minutes, quit, and go over to the beer tent and quaff craft brews while the other idiots pummeled each other into submission.
This race had everything that SoCal bike racers loathe. It had a turn that required some skill to negotiate. It had a howling wind for a long stretch that crushed your will to live. It had a slight incline that prevented you from gaily sucking wheel until the last lap. Worst of all, it had blistering dry heat that seared the inside of your lungs into sandpaper, and the harder you breathed the worse it hurt. As if the demanding course weren’t enough, the 45+ Elderly Gentlemen With Prostate Issues category was stacked: Thurlow, Hill, Strickler, Flores, Clare, Hatchitt, Rahm, Arellano, and a host of other tough guys toed the line, which meant that any kind of decent result would be legitimate indeed.
Fun for the whole family (if your family is wholly brainless)
No man who races bikes and doesn’t have fundamentalist Islam-type control over his wife ever shows up with his lady in tow if they’ve been married for more than six months. This is because the wife figures out after the first two races that a) All office parks are ugly, hot, nasty places to spend a day, and b) Her husband always finishes 45th or lower, or crashes out, or both.
However, the 805 Series promised to be different. It was in Santa Barbara County, a place that Angelenos love to visit on the weekend so that they can pay $10 for a cup of coffee and sit in five hours of traffic on Sunday evening on the drive back home. Santa Barbara also conjures up images of beautiful scenery and countless small wineries where, under the guise of being an oenophile, you can stagger from tasting room to tasting room so thoroughly drunk that you’d be unable to differentiate a Cabernet from a glass of the finest 2013 Pennzoil 10w/40.
Santa Barbara is one of the few places that the tight-fisted, selfish bike racer can coax his wife to visit by promising winery tours and a romantic dinner, then doing the last-minute bait-and-switch by saying, “Fuck, honey, I’m wasted from the race. Let’s go back to the Motel 6, watch some porn and drain a case of Coors Light.”
I had cornered Mrs. Wankmeister into a negotiated truce. “You’ll love it up there, honey,” I promised. “Beautiful scenery, wine tasting tours, and a change of pace.”
“Onna last trip onna Palm Springs inna summer my butt was bakin off. It’s like a Palm Springs, huh?”
“Oh, no! They don’t let meth heads into Santa Barbara County unless they’re affiliated with the university. We’ll be up by Solvang, a cute little Danish town with windmills and such. It’s so picturesque with wine tasting tours and tours where you can taste wine and wineries where you can enjoy wine tasting of wine.”
“Why’s a Denmark gonna know about making onna wine? Denmark’s a place onna codfish and porky salt and whiskey I thought. I never heard on no Danishmark wine.”
“Well, the wine’s not Danish, it’s the little town. It’s very cute with windmills and such.”
“It’s soundin like onna Palm Spring. All they had onna Palm Spring was a big Marilyn whore and a boys and men looking up onna her skirt. And you was lookin so hard onna up her skirt you got the neck strain and we drove all around tryin to find you onna aspirin.”
“It was just a statue, honey.”
“I know it was onna statute honey and you know it was a statute honey. So why you was standin onna her skirt tryin to look onna her clamparts? Alla clamparts you’re looking onna Internets, what you thinkin on seein on her clamparts? You seen one clamparts you seen a million.”
It was touch and go to get her off the clamparts discussion, but I finally prevailed. She wasn’t very happy about it, but at least she’d agreed to go.
Plan the work, then work the plan
Before the race started, we had a team meeting. Our leader, Flamethrower Flores, gathered us around. The cool thing about being part of a big team like SPY-Giant-RIDE is that everyone has a role to play. We can do things together that no one of us can do alone. When everyone is part of a bigger plan, it makes you feel worthwhile and gives you a sense of mission. That’s why I love this team.
“Andy, set the pace from the gun. Make it fierce enough to sap the will of the cannon fodder so they won’t try to follow a break.”
“Hatchetman, stay towards the front and roll with any breaks. If one leaves without me, I’ll bridge and you’ll be there to help.”
“T-Rex, if a break gets up the road without any of our guys, go to the front and bring it back, or at least get us close enough to bridge. Obviously, if it boils down to a bunch sprint, we’re leading you out.”
“Lupus and Jimbo, cover moves and if we get someone up the road, go to the front and clog the chase. If it’s a bunch sprint, you boys are first and second in the leadout train.”
They nodded. “Okay, guys,” Flamethrower said. “Let’s roll.”
“Uh, hey, man,” I said. Everyone turned and looked. “What about me?”
“Oh, yeah, Wanky, uh, do your usual thing. You know, go to the back and don’t get near any of your teammates.”
“Oh,” I said. “What about, like, if there’s a break? Should I block?”
Hatchetman leaned over. “Let me make it real fucking clear: You get anywhere near any of us and I’m putting your ass into the barriers. Last week you damned near crashed out the entire team. If you want to help, get your ass to the back, do your usual full brake flail through the turns, swing wide, cut inside, and scare the crap out of everyone behind you. But don’t get near any of us. And that’s an order.”
“Got it, buddy!” I said, thrilled to have a clear mission and the total support of all my teammates who all agreed on my very important role.
Rubbing shoulders with the big boys
In addition to being part of such a cool team, the other great thing about racing is getting to hang with the legends of the sport. My favorite part is the warm-up around the course, where I get to shoot the breeze with the really good racers. Of course, they know who I am and we always get to share thoughts about racing, one man to another as it were, peers.
As I cruised through Turn One I came up next to Stricky. “Hey dude,” I nodded. “Good course, huh?”
“Get the fuck away from me, you goddamned kook. You almost fucking took out my front wheel on the last lap in Ladera Ranch.”
“Got it, bro. Have a good race!” Next I pulled up alongside Thurlow. “Hey, dude,” I said.
He didn’t say anything, but he wasn’t ignoring me. He’s just quiet like that. “How’re the legs, man?” I asked.
He still didn’t say anything, but I know he heard me. He’s like that, you know, even when he likes you a lot and thinks you’re a cool dude too, he sometimes just doesn’t say anything. It’s his way of saying something without really saying anything. “Have a good race, dude,” I said.
He answered by not replying, which was cool. Some people are just intense that way. As I started to pass him he glanced at me. “Don’t pass me,” he said.
“You heard me.” Then he glided on through the turn. He wasn’t being hostile or anything, he actually likes me a lot and really respects my riding. There was just that thing at CBR where I accidentally almost took out four dudes in the warm-up lap and maybe he was just jittery or something.
I finished my lap knowing I had the full support of my teammates and the respect of my adversaries. We lined up. The ref read us our last rites and fired the gun, and we were off.
There is a moment in every bike race, if it’s any kind of bike race at all, when, after chewing the enamel off your stem, pounding so hard you want to vomit, surging and jumping with such ferocity that your knee joints ooze blood, draining the last drop of sugar goop out of your fourth bottle, and shooting every last bullet in your magazine, you realize that there are still 55 minutes left to go in the 60-minute race. For me, that moment had arrived in the town of Buellton. I knew that the smart thing to do was quit while I was behind, but if I were wedded to smart things I wouldn’t have been in a bike race to begin with.
I’d spent the first few laps careening wildly through the turns, and I knew I was doing my job because every few seconds some poor sap behind me would let out a scream, followed by the sound of a bike hitting the curb and flipping over into the barricades. It didn’t take long before I had thinned the field considerably and was the very last guy in the group.
The course was brutal, and the slight climb, the searing dry heat, and the industrial blow-drier hot wind had shredded the pack. Andy had set a nasty pace, with Lupus and Jim pounding the whimpering remnants into submission. Finally Flamethrower launched and dangled off the front for six miserable laps. When Amgen brought him back, he countered and a split formed with him, Thurlow, Hatchetman, Gentleman John Slover, and Mark Noble.
This was the moment the entire pack was waiting for: The moment when the real racers could speed off and flog their demons in the teeth of a relentless headwind and the rest of the wankoton could sit up, plan for dinner and tea, and “help the team” by “blocking.” In reality, we were all so beat to shit that it wouldn’t have mattered who was in the break. We went from a long, thin line to a fat amorphous lump as soon as the breakaway rode clear.
My mission accomplished for the day, at 11:00 sharp I sneaked out the back and rolled straight into the beer garden. I can tell you that the Firestone 805 is lighter and tastier than the Firestone DBA, but the difference isn’t really clear until you’ve had five or six apiece in order to properly tease out the flavors. From some foggy and slurred place I watched Flamethrower outsprint Thurlow and Mark Noble. Another awesome team victory that I could notch on the stock of my gun. They couldn’t have done it without me, and the only thing I really wondered was “How much will my cut be?”
Burrito love and the tattoo of death
The next shellacking on offer was the 35+ race. A handful of 45ers had lined up, wrongly thinking that they’d get in a little “extra training.” What they were really about to get was an unforgettable beating.
The temperature had soared to 105, the wind had cranked up another 5mph, and the fierce looks of fresh riders like Full Gas Phil, Vampire, and the Italian Stallion telegraphed their intent to rip it from the gun.
I wandered into the Mexican food joint that sat on the third turn, a super fast left-handed sweeper whose curb was so close to the restaurant window that you could see the spaces between the teeth of the racers as they railed the first lap mouths open, tongues lolling, and flecks of spit already clogging the corners of their mouths.
I thought momentarily about going out into the blistering heat to cheer but the waitress arrived with a four-pound verde burrito with cheese and covered in cheese on top of several layers of cheese. I sank my teeth into the cheese as two riders came through on Lap Two.
It was Full Gas Phil Tinstman on the point with Vampire on his wheel and some poor bastard trying to twist sideways and also hunch down in order to get the slightest bit of a sliver of a draft from Vampire, the only rider who can stand next to Full Gas and make him look morbidly obese.
They hit the convection oven headwind heat blast and Poor Bastard melted and dripped through the oven rack a completely destroyed piece of meat. Full Gas hit it harder and as the pack came through single file the numbers had already thinned.
The Italian Stallion tried repeatedly to get away but each effort was marked by an already wasted peloton that was strong enough to mark moves but too weak to bridge or bring back the break. After thirty minutes of the seventy-minute race had passed, the field was whittled down to thirty riders. Sixty had started.
The remaining flailers looked wild-eyed and crazed from heatstroke as Full Gas and Vampire widened their lead. From time to time I considered cheering them on, but the burrito was still mostly there and the sun’s glare looked so uninviting. By race’s end a mere twenty desperate riders were left. Full Gas dumped Vampire coming out of the last turn like a redneck emptying his ashtray out the window while blowing down the Interstate at 90. The finishers all had a whipped and ruined look that reminded me of someone with food poisoning, a bad hangover, and Montezuma’s Revenge.
I finished my burrito and walked to the beer garden.