Schooling the big dudes

December 10, 2012 § 29 Comments

Dave Gonyer. The name even sounds big. And it is. Two hundred pounds of big. “Gonyer.” Makes me think of a huge dump truck loaded with slabs of rebar.

“Hey, bubba. Back up the Gonyer a couple more feet so we can unload the concrete.”

“I almost got run off the fuckin’ road by a Gonyer. Damn operator didn’t even see me.”

Gonyer. It’s actually an Americanization of the French surname “Gagne.” But lest you think it’s French as in “Those wusses who drink lattes and discuss poetry on the Left Bank,”…nuh-uh.

The Gagne clan are from the Central Massif Departement of France, which means “Region of Massive Testicles.” They worked for generations in the mines, where their hereditary occupation was “prendre le merdre pendeleuse,” or “carrying heavy shit.”

The Gonyers are big people. Heavy people. Stoic draggers of useless things without complaint.

How’d our roles get reversed?

I had driven down to North County San Diego for the Swami’s Poker Ride. It’s a 51-mile, four-person team time trial. You get the time of your slowest rider. The only other rule is that there are no rules.

Over the last year or so I’ve developed a love-hate relationship with North County, but haven’t yet discovered the “love” part of the equation. My trips there follow a pattern.

Good buddy MMX: “Hey WM, why don’t you come down to North County next weekend? We’re having the [insert name of awful-sounding ride] and you could ride with us. It will be fun.”

Me: “Uh, okay. Sure. Thanks for the invitation.”

Once I get there I find out that the “fun” consists of MMX and the other North County zombies tearing my legs off, shelling me forty miles from home, and leaving me adrift in a sea of endless, stabbing rollers.

This time, though I’d been put on the Team from Hell with MMX and David Anderson, I was relieved to see that there was another rider on our team, Gonyer, clearly unfit for duty and in comparison with whom I would appear fit and fast, for a change.

Before the ride started, Jim Miller came up to me. “How you feeling, WM?”

“Great,” I said. “We might actually have a shot at winning this if it weren’t for the weak link.”

“Oh?”

I nodded over at Gonyer.

Jim looked at me quizzically. “Gonyer? He’ll do fine.”

I shook my head. “Not with this crowd. MMX is loaded for bear. David is coming off a state win in ‘cross. I’m as lean as I’ve ever been. Dude’s going to peg out on the climbs, and since our time is based on the slowest rider, Team Nemesis will beat us. Looks like I’ll be dragging weak link’s ass all over San Diego County.”

Jim laughed. “You’ve got it all figured out, don’t you, buddy? Ride safe.”

Warming up, then getting into a rhythm

We were the next-to-last-team to start, just in front of Team Nemesis, which consisted of Slasher, Assassin, The Hand of God, and Dandy. We rolled out and MMX slowly brought up the pace so that we had a chance to get good and warmed up.

Then, after those first 200 yards were completed, he sprinted away. One after another we clawed our way to his wheel as he continually looked back to see if Team Nemesis was gaining.

By the end of Mile One we’d overhauled Team Stefanovich. MMX and David took turns attacking the group. By the end of Mile Two I was done, hardly able to hold a wheel. Gonyer was gassed, too.

By Mile Ten we’d shed Team Stefanovich and passed Team Nemesis, who had taken a shortcut to get ahead of us but had gotten three flats courtesy of Karma, who is a bitch.

After the first checkpoint, at Mile Fifteen, I was unable to pull through. It had become clear that although Gonyer was equally gassed, his ample width meant that getting on his wheel was the Cadillac draft. “What the hell,” I thought. “He can tow me for a while. I’ll be towing him soon enough.”

Sharing the work by not working

Now my three teammates were doing all the work, and as we whizzed down one long descent Gonyer, who wasn’t very good at pointing shit out, rolled over a manhole cover. The civil engineers in North County had all decided that the best place to put big manholes with 2-inch lips was in the middle of the bike lane, so when Gonyer hit this one, his rear bottle popped out of the cage and exploded.

Karma Bitch paid me for my suckery when the contents of the bottle coated me from helmet to foot. This was the bottle in which Gonyer had put his triple-thick mixture of Fanta grape soda pop, with a viscosity of approximately 250 Pa·s, the same as peanut butter.

My glasses were immediately coated with grape goop, and long sticky goopcicles hung from my nose and helmet and chin. Everyone thought it was hilarious, but I was having a hard time getting the joke, so I figured if I sat in some more I would perhaps understand it better.

TTT tactics for people who hate TTT’s

Although we were nominally called “Team MMX,” in reality we were doing ITT MMX. As we rolled up one long climb, popping Gonyer off the back, I remarked to MMX, “You dropped Gonyer.”

MMX shrugged. “He knows how to chase.”

“But we’re only as fast as our slowest guy.”

“He’d better hurry, then.”

Unlike other teams, whose strategy revolved around sheltering the weak in order to maintain the highest average speed by keeping the group together and benefiting from the draft, MMX’s strategy was to destroy his teammates and make them go faster through fear, humiliation, and pain.

Gonyer caught back on. It was working.

Somewhat disappointed that his own team was still together, despite chasing down and dropping half a dozen of the teams in front of us, MMX gave the next set of death commands. “We will take the dirt.”

The ride had a “dirt” option where you could get an extra card for your poker hand by taking a “short” and “easy” off road section. At the Thirty Mile checkpoint we got our card plus an extra card for the dirt, and pounded on.

MMX and David shot off down the dirt trail, which was studded with boulders, gravel, a creek sporting 2-feet of soft mud on either bank, steep successions of sandy walls, plunging descents through off-camber corners with sheer drops and mined with sharp stones and numerous other “interesting features.” We passed countless dead and wounded Swamis in various states of bike carrying, bike dragging, flat repairing, or just holding each other and sobbing.

Before vanishing, David had admonished Gonyer to “ride lightly in the saddle” as he wasn’t a ‘crosser.

“WTF?” he said. “Two hundred pounds don’t ride anything light.”

I felt sorry for him, briefly, until my own self-preservation needs took over.

The last thing I heard him say, just before plunging into the mud pit, was “What the…..?”

Bring out your dead

Thankfully, MMX had flatted at the end of the dirt road. I staggered over to a fence and peed. Rummaging through my jersey pocket I pulled out a handful of GU gels and crammed them down my throat. We still had fifteen miles to go and I was done. Dead. Bonked. Cratered. Finished. Waxed.

“Where’s Gonyer?” asked David.

“Hell if I know. A long ass way back.”

“No he isn’t,” said Dave. “There he is!”

Gonyer whipped off the dirt just as MMX finished changing the flat. The other four-man SPY-Giant team was there too, and we left together.

“How you doing?” asked MMX. He had a thin smile cut across his face that said many things, but of all the things it said, none of them was “I hope you’re doing okay and if not I will help you.”

“I’m done,” I said.

“No, you’re not. Just one more climb and then you’re done. Questhaven.”

He punched ahead as the other riders accelerated up a short roller.

At the mention of Questhaven, my legs seized. Just one more climb. Questhaven. That’s like saying “Just one more island to hop: Iwo Jima. Oh, and you’ll be landing in the first wave. With a bow and arrow.”

Gonyer came undone ahead of me and I toiled up to his rear wheel. In more than thirty years of cycling I’ve never been so undone so far from the car. This was a level of emptiness, of bonk, of mental and physical collapse that could only be explained by the fact that I had been eating a diet to sustain a squirrel while making the physiological demands of a professional rock climber. I wasn’t going to make it.

“You okay, buddy?” asked Gonyer.

“No.”

“Just sit on, then.”

I nodded, licking the strings of grape shrapnel from my face, thankful for the carbs.

The tow truck

Gonyer proceeded to haul me up hill, down dale, and along straightaways at blistering speeds. Never flicking an elbow for me to come through, easing up each of the several dozen times I came off, waiting for me atop every climb, patiently signaling the turns and coaxing me along, he showed more grit and teamwork and camaraderie in those fifteen miles than I’d shown since 1982.

Somehow I got over Questhaven. “It’s all downhill from here,” he said. “Sit tight.”

Momentarily elated, I soon realized that in North County when they say “downhill” they also mean “uphill.” Dropped, reattached, repeat…

As we got close to the barn, he turned to me. “You just having a bad day?”

“No.”

“Did you do a lot of high intensity miles this week?”

“No.”

“Just getting back on the bike?”

“No.”

“What’s the problem, then?”

“I’m…just…not…very…good.”

Gonyer shook his head. “Well, good effort, anyway. If you have four dudes, someone’s got to be the weak link. No shame in that.”

No shame, indeed.

Trench report

October 28, 2012 § 3 Comments

The latest edition of the SoCal Prestige cyclocross race took place in San Diego and it was hellish. Temperatures in the 90’s added misery to a dry and dusty course carved out of a hillside and merged with the San Diego velodrome. The course had so many twists and turns that there was nowhere to get a head of steam up. Instead, it was all finesse and bike handling to keep the highest average speed without plummeting to a stop and then spiking with huge accelerations, which soon led to moderately big accelerations, followed by smallish accelerations, concluding with no accelerations at all but rather a slow, resigned, plodding flail around a random course in the grass and dirt for no particular reason while people made fun of you for being so stupid and slow.

The mill of the gods grinds slowly, but it grinds exceedingly fine. The mill of the dogs, however, is fast as snot and you needn’t wait long for your comeuppance.

Before my race began, I sat comfortably in the shade with Emily and Chris, perfectly positioned to make fun of the hapless sods who came limping over the barriers, around the turn, and smack into the sand pit where they either tumped over or struggled slowly to the other side, faces painted with strain and pain. One young girl in her first ever race walked over the barriers and never remounted.

“Get back on!” Emily shouted encouragingly. “You can do it!”

The young lady looked hopefully at us. “I’m afraid I’ll fall off!”

“You can DO it!” Emily said with a big smile.

The girl got back on just before the sand pit. “You can’t do it!” I hollered. “You’re going to crash!”

She got off her bike in terror. “Don’t listen to him!” shouted Emily. “He’s a wanker! Get back on!”

“I’m a wanker but you’re even more hopeless than me! Give up! Quit! Have a beer and come snuggle under the tent!”

The woman looked ready to cry. About that time she hit the sand pit and fell over in slow motion. “See?” I yelled. “It’s hopeless! All is lost!”

“Get up!” said Emily. “You CAN do it!”

Emily’s encouragement won the day. The girl got up with grit, both the metaphysical kind and the nasty, grimy kind that stuck awkwardly between her teeth, remounted, and forged ahead.

“When it’s your turn we’ll encourage you, too!” Emily said with a laugh.

Experience counts

My first season of ‘cross had been a steady trajectory of improvement. The last race I hadn’t even crashed, and had scored an amazing 11th place, which in my mind was like winning, or better. I’d reconned today’s course. It didn’t seem to have any areas where you could really go fast, filled as it was with turns and barriers and sand pits and dry, loose dirt and one loamy corner with a treacherous approach that everyone seemed to fall over in.

No matter. I was ready.

The whistle blew. I surged hard. Everyone else surged harder. I was in my familiar spot, the very back, with eight laps to chase.

Unlike the recon laps, the course at race pace might as well have been a completely different course on a completely different planet. MMX, Victor, Todd Stephenson, JM Hatchitt, and the usual cast of winners sprinted away.

When we exited the velodrome I barely made the turn and almost shot off the embankment into a thicket of thorns. I’d deflated my tires to 20 psi, which made for good grippiness, but also made for bad rimminess, as each large rock and edge of pavement went straight to the rim, up my spine, and stopped with a massive rattle in my braincase.

For a while it looked like I would catch up and start picking people off, but at the loamy section even that silly fantasy exploded. I half-walked through the turn, scraped my ankle on the crank, bruised my calf with the pedal, and lumbered on.

This was going to be a long forty-five minutes.

“Here he comes again!”

I’d been working on my dismounts and remounts, so even though I was the last guy in the race, I was pleased at the large crowd standing around the barriers. Employing a move I call the “Baryshnikov,” I gracefully came off the bike, made two very pretty springs into the air, and with a third leap gracefully remounted without ever racking my nuts.

I’ve never heard so many people laugh at the barriers; they must have seen something really funny but I was too busy careening towards the sand pit to pay attention. Emily & Co. were ready: “You’re winning, Wanky! Just forty-three more positions to advance and you’ll be in first place!”

When I rolled through the start-finish to complete my first lap, it seemed like I’d already done a thousand laps. By the middle of the next circuit I’d been caught and passed by the next two groups. Coming to the barriers I noticed a visible amount of commotion. “Here he comes again!” several people shouted.

“Who the hell are they talking about?” I wondered, looking back. I did another Baryshnikov, this time leaping so high in the air that if I’d had a basketball attached to my head I could have dunked it.

One guy with a camera, who was laughing very hard at something, changed his tune pretty quickly, as my landing zone was about three inches away from his head and camera. He scrambled, I did a perfect three-point, narrowly avoided posting up against a tree, and motored towards the sand pit.

“You’re still almost winning! Don’t give up!” Emily called out.

So I gave up.

But the team sure didn’t

Finishing DFL is not usually something to celebrate, but in my case it wasn’t so bad, as the leaders lapped me with less than 100 yards to go, which meant that I didn’t have to complete another circuit on the course. Victor had scored 2nd, MMX 4th, JM 6th, and other teammates in other races had won or done exceedingly well. Lars, Garnet, and Logan had all won their events, and SPY closed out the podium in the 3’s race.

The price of victory had been high, however, as the heat had taken its toll. A more wearied and dispirited group of people I’ve never seen, except perhaps at a funeral where the guest of honor had left his fortune to the cat.

That’s the thing about ‘cross racing. It’s touted as “fun,” but it’s only fun if you’re not doing it while sitting in a shady tent drinking beer and heckling flailing barrier ballerinas. If you have to actually race, it’s sheer hell. Just as Broken Seat Dude, who did the entire last half of the race without a a seat.

“Great job, Vic!” I said enthusiastically.

“Thanks,” he mumbled.

“Way to go, Michael!” I enthused.

“I almost had third,” he said dejectedly.

“Nice racing, JM!” I said to John.

“Thanks, buddy,” he said. “How’d you do?”

“DFL.” He looked at me as if I’d said, “I have leprosy. May I shake your hand?”

“Oh, wow, that sucks. Sorry, man!”

The only person in a remotely good mood was the other hopeless wanker, Jim, who had flogged and flailed around the course just like I had. “Good ride, Wanky!” he said.

“Yeah, I suck!”

“You sure do! Me, too! Want a beer?”

“Nah, gotta drive home.”

“No prob. See you tomorrow?”

“Yep!”

“Right on! Thanks for coming out and racing!”

“I’m not sure I’d call that ‘racing.'”

“Yeah, I wouldn’t either. I was just trying to be nice.”

“Gotcha. See you tomorrow!”

If the alarm goes off, that is…

New kits and a new set of teeth

October 17, 2012 § 6 Comments

I knew the NPR was going to be a smashfest this morning when, before we’d done half a lap on the Parkway, someone groused “We’re going as fast as if it were January.”

But this isn’t about Prez’s amazing jam 400m from the line, or about Erik the Red’s devastating smackdown in the sprunt, or about Davy Dawg’s pain-laced wind-up, or about USC John’s bitchslap pull up to the bridge on the last lap.

Nope. It’s about the clash of the new kits.

Bull and I had just dropped down off the Hill, joining with G$ and Mighty Mouse as we pedaled from Redondo to Manhattan Beach. Suddenly, from out of the darkness, Roadchamp appeared.

“Check it out!” he said, maw gaping like a bass going after a worm.

“Check what out?” I asked.

“Teeth, dude! I got teeth!”

Indeed he did. The half-year process of ripping out his corroded teeth and nailing posts into his jaw was now complete. Roadchamp would no longer talk or look like a biker from a Red State. But Roadchamp’s new teeth weren’t the only new thing on the NPR.

Young bucks from Trojan U. model their new StageOne kit

Once we were joined by the mob on Pershing, one thing stood out: The kids from USC were sporting their new kit, just as the ride’s regulars had unveiled their new NPR kits the week before. Although both were stylishly designed by Joe Yule, it became obvious after a few pedal strokes that it would be a contest of fashion on today’s ride.

No quarter would be given as wearers of the new kits dared each other to outstyle the other. A flurry of NPR kit attacks came early, even as last-year’s-kit-wearers from Big Orange and SPY vainly tried to keep up with the torrid pace. With each powerful surge of the Euro-cool outfit, the pack got thinner.

On the second lap, after biding their time, the attractive USC kits made their move with a series of searing fashion attacks. John Tomlinson’s perfectly tailored fit, followed by Ben Rudolph’s snappy thigh panels, laid waste to the peloton. Even the USC wanker dude who always makes a valiant stab before getting clubbed like a baby seal was pushed far forward, almost to the front, by the natty design of his new outfit.

Sterno-O flails with the all-black get-up

Down from the goat shacks of New Mexico to enjoy some SoCal sunshine, Stern-O, the one and only Stern-O, the legendary Stern-O, the man, the myth, the goatshack refugee, Stern-O himself showed up for his inaugural NPR.

Twice, or in some cases three times the age of other riders, Stern-O immediately showed that even though he was older than the hills, older than dirt, older than DOS even, he wouldn’t be caught dead hanging out in the back. Pounding off the front a couple of times and never hesitating to test his legs in the wind, Stern-O embarrassed all the wankers who, after more than a year of NPR’s have never made it to the front one single time.

Unfortunately, his escapades were accomplished wearing an all-black kit, and this year’s cycling fashion ensemble, although heavy on the black, requires certain bright colors in order to really contend for the fashion sprunt.

The bitter fashion pace sheared away a chasing wankoton composed of riders wearing clothing from 2011, 2010, and the few hapless sods whose gloves and socks didn’t have the same logo. Phlegmy O’Donnell, who, in the morning rush, had put a Big Orange jersey over an SBW pair of bibs, was pushed into a curb and left for dead.

The one fashion design you never can beat

In the end, the NPR kits ruled the day, even though the official sprunt finish was taken by Erik in a very last-year SPY kit. Davy Dawg’s wind-up was greatly hampered by his last-season Ironfly ensemble, and Big Steve, fresh from major back surgery, simply couldn’t contend with the amazing design sensibilities expressed by the NPR kit.

Several riders could be seen banging their bars in frustration at the slowness of their clothing, and Gimpy Sloots went so far as to dial up his team’s designer after the finish. “Mostly black with a dash of color, you hear me, dogdammit!” he screamed into his dumbphone.

Even though the USC outfit rode strong, in the end all were vanquished by the one quality of the new NPR kits that blew away the field: Their incredible tummy and butt-slimming effect. Numerous NPR regulars who had heretofore been known as “Cadillac draft,” “Barn door,” “Vacuum party,” and “Dallas-sized Ass” appeared, simply by pulling on an NPR kit, to be svelte, narrow hipped, and 30 pounds lighter.

NPR riders who were already narrow across the gunwales looked Schleck-thin. Roadchamp was barred from donning an NPR kit because of the general fear that its slimming properties would make him disappear altogether.

Unfortunately, Joe has saved his most devastating fashion release for last: The 2013 SPY-Giant kit, recently modeled by MMX on Facebook. Possessing roughly double the thinning properties of the NPR kit, and splashed with just enough color to make it stand out in the crowd, this is the outfit that could lay fashion waste to the field for the entirety of 2013.

Tune in next Tuesday to find out how the Battle of the Bike Kits goes down!

Bicycle cage fighting

October 8, 2012 § 14 Comments

I stood in the dirt up against the barriers, watching Mike Hines power by, blood gushing from two large gashes in his arm, and his left leg raspy and raw from what was obviously a hard fall at high speed. “Go, Mike!” I yelled. “Have fun! Good luck!”

After the race I asked him “How’d you fall?”

“I passed a guy on the third lap. He got pissed and came up behind me. As he passed he completely buried his shoulder into my side. I never knew what hit me.”

“You’re joking.”

“No. I hit so hard, never saw it coming. When I stood up he had ducked off the course and quit. I would have chased him but I wanted to win. But I made up some time and got third. Never could catch the leader.”

Round Two of the Bicycle Cage Fighting Series a/k/a SoCal Prestige Cross Series had begun in earnest.

Would you please hurry up there?

Standing in the long line waiting to repair the mistakes made in pre-reg, the numbskulls around me were hopping mad. “This is so fucked up!” said Numbie One.

“Fucking bullshit!” said Numbie Two.

“We’re standing out in the fucking sun! It’s so fucking hot! This is such bullshit!” said Numbie Three.

“This heat is draining!” said Numbie One.

Numbies Two and Three sighed and stamped their feet and rolled their eyes in agreement. Numbie One looked at me. “Fucking bullshit, huh?”

“You think the race will be much harder than standing in line for a few minutes?” I asked, nicely, with a smile.

They stamped some more and rolled their eyes some more until we got up to the sign-in table. The harried dude at the table was drenched in sweat, paper flying everywhere, with five or six other volunteers who had no idea what to do peppering him with questions. He was gentle with everyone. “Hi, there,” he said to Numbie One.

“This is ridiculous,” Numbie One answered with a snarl.

Harried Dude stopped. “What is?”

Numbie One waved his hand. “This. I’ve never seen such disorganization.”

Before Harried Dude pulled out his .357, I tapped Numbie on the shoulder. “Hey dude,” I said. “This guy here with the papers, you know what his name is?”

Harried Dude looked at me, wondering how I knew him. “No,” said Numbie.

“His name is Volunteer. Bill Volunteer. He does this shit for free because he’s a nice guy so douchnozzles like you can ride for a lap and crash into the barricades. So you might want to lighten up.”

We all got signed in without further ado.

Don’t ever say “crash” before a race

This course was completely different from last week’s course in Costa Mesa. Whereas Costa Mesa had been narrow, dangerous, dusty, terrifying, technical, impossible, and short, the Downtown LA course was narrow, dangerous, dusty, terrifying, technical, impossible, and long.

The night before, a group of merry pranksters had dropped acid and built a giant wooden bridge that we would have to ride over and then drop down off the face of into a sand trap, followed by a tight, narrow left turn. Ha, ha, ho, ho, merry pranksters are we.

Then there were some stairs. Then there were some barriers. Then there were some mini-barriers on a short run-up. Then there were several thousand acres of wood chips. Then there was mud. Then there were more sandy, twisty, tight turns. Then there were bumps and ruts and holes and muddy tracks that ensnared the tires of the unwary. Then there was a howling headwind.

“This will be a good course for you, dude,” said Hatchitt. “It’s fast. Just like a road race.” I looked at him like he was crazy.

“This course is terrible for me. I’ll be lucky not to die. Plus, every time people tell me that a course is ‘good for me’ it’s my worst fucking nightmare. Fukdude told me ‘This is a good course for you’ the first time I did Punchbowl. I got dropped on the first climb of the first lap.”

Practice makes overconfident makes injuries to your parts

I learned the week before that ‘cross requires “skills.” This means that when you come to an obstacle, you must smoothly dismount, get over the obstacle, remount, and resume pedaling in one smooth motion. I learned all this from last week’s heckling.

“Hey, Wankmeister, you’ve come to a complete stop you jackass!”

“Hey, Wankmeister! You look like you’re fucking a pig when you remount!”

“Hey, pink socks dude! You’ll go faster if you quit falling down!”

And my favorite: “You suuuuuuuuuck!!!!!”

In order to live the ‘cross maxim of “going fast by going smooth” I had gone down to the neighborhood kiddie soccer field yesterday to practice my dismounts and remounts. There on the smooth, flat, slightly damp grass I totally became SuperPro. Sure, I took out a kid or two, but that’s the price of perfectionism.

I couldn’t wait to use my polished skills on this course, and so we did a practice lap. I noted that it had nothing in common with the soccer field. Atop the first run-up I confidently leaped onto my saddle. Somehow, though, my left foot whacked the ground, hard. There was a grinding and a ripping noise inside my thigh, and I was sure I’d torn my epiglottis or perhaps even sheared off a hypotenuse.

I staggered around the course, with my hamstrings screaming as if they’d been charleyhorsed with a brick.

Skills. Some folks have ‘em. Other folks never will.

Huddling for shelter

It was another SoCal Belgian wintry day. High 90’s, smog thick enough to eat with a fork, choking dust everywhere, and three stunted trees near the staging area. Elbows flew as riders tried to hog shade while waiting for the call-up.

I’d already seen what happened to those who braved the course. Bruce got pummeled in his race. Natty Hnatiuk had been dismembered. Hines had been gored. Chris D. had quit. Gangsta Chick had been swallowed in a sandstorm but somehow stormed back. Hazelblind had staggered across the finish missing an arm. Dutch had thrown a rod. Tiff had been plowed under, but came out from the grave to claim fourth. Emily had suffered like a dog despite her great result. What hope was there for me?

None.

Fortunately, prospects were much brighter for my team. MMX had a chance to advance in the overall. Chef Boyardee, same. Hatchitt was going to bury the hatchet…in someone’s head. Bako Jim was looking for revenge after last week’s mechanical meltdown. Bill and Randy were ready to have a go, and our 35+ team looked even better. Dave McNeal would try to replicate last week’s win, and Garnet Vertigo would try to better his third place standing.

Before I could remind everyone to be nice and not go to hard, the whistle blew, the cowbells rang, the hecklers heckled, and a few of us dropped a bit of chocolate in our chamois in the hustle and pandemonium off the line.

This was definitely not a good course for me

Like pigs in a slaughterhouse, we raced full tilt down a straight chute and then made a hard, sandy left across the remains of an exploded minefield. It didn’t take long before the peloton was smashed into bits. The turns that had seemed somehow doable at a slow and careful pace were suicidal, insane at race speed.

Gagging on the sand, panting from exhaustion, front tire ripping and jumping and kicking and straining to flop over onto its side or to throw me over the bars, I realized that a ‘cross race is truly lost in the first two minutes…and for me, those were the two minutes after getting out of bed this morning.

MMX was already locked in a duel to the death with Backbreaker Mac and some other evil rival, while Chef Boyardee, Hatchetman, and the rest of the SPY-Giant crew swarmed the front.

After half a lap there was only one other rider visible, a Sho-Air wanker who was as frightened and bad at bike handling as I was, only marginally less so. I finally chased him down, and then passed a huge lummox in green who appeared to be having a cardiac event. There. I was no longer last, or even next-to-last. I was now officially next-to-next-to-last. Take that, fuckers!

Just as I flushed with the thrill of Less Than Utter Defeat, though, I hit a turn in full granny mode, but even that was too fast for my sloppy skills. Over I flopped, banging my leg again and getting gummed up in the sand and muck. This, sports fans, is how you get sand wedged up your butthole in ‘cross.

Sho-Wank bunny hopped my head, and I watched in one of those “I’m glad this isn’t me” out-of-body moments as the gear teeth on his big ring slowly spun about an inch away from my upturned eyes, nose, and chin. Then, as the sawteeth slowly passed, here came the spinning tire, so low that there was no way it was going to avoid skidding atop my face and grinding my nose down to the roots. But it didn’t.

I disengaged from the mudpit and then put into effect my kiddie soccer field remount. Wham! Nuts on the top tube! No sex this trimester! Fortunately, a roaming beautiful camera lovely from Cycling Illustrated had her 1000mm Canon lens trained squarely on my twisted face as the nutsack smacked the carbon. Timing, as they say, is everything.

Although it took a lap, I reclaimed my position as next-to-next-to-last from Sho-Wank.

Hey, Wanky, let’s go!

Coming through the pit area, Bako Jim was exiting after getting a wheel change. Texas Randy had already flatted and quit, MMX was battling with the leaders, and the rest of the field was spread far and wide.

As Bako Jim came up behind me, he hollered. “Yo, Wanky! Let’s go! Let’s reel that dude in!”

There was another floundering lummox about 200 yards ahead of us. I grimaced and latched onto Bako’s wheel. Jim had no fear. He had skills. He was in a flat fucking hurry.

We went through a couple of turns at angles that I know, mathematically, do not work. Shortly we had Lummox No. 2 in our sights. Lummox looked back and saw Bako Jim bearing down. This was sweet. I’d actually get to pass another rider!

The sight of a hard-charing Bakersfield crazy, however, was too much. Lummox leaped off his bike and crawled under the barrier rope. Bako Jim powered away.

It’s great being famous

Each time through the barriers, up the two run-ups, and through the shaded areas, I got heckled.

“Go to the front, dumbshit!”

“You can catch them! You’re only two minutes down!”

“Pedal harder!”

“Go, Wankster!”

But it all melded into one stream of noise that sounded like “Mmmmgggargghpfllggtheppp!”

Like a root canal, the race finally ended. Our 45+A team had held its ground, placing 4-5-6, and Dave McNealy had won again in the 35+.

My hamstring charleyhorse was so bad I couldn’t straighten my leg. My right knee throbbed from all the jumping and running. My neck hurt from last week’s crash. I was covered in filth and had sand in my shorts. My bike was a mess. I’d finished DFL, after the minister officiated at a graveside service for Sho-Wank.

MMX ambled up. “So you’re you liking ‘cross?”

“Fucking love it, dude.”

“Yeah,” he nodded. “I know.”

On your Marckx!

October 4, 2012 § Leave a comment

Michael Marckx is one of the top 45+ cyclocross racers in the state. He also takes this shit way too seriously, which apparently is just the right amount. He gently encouraged me to give the sport a try, and I’ve almost forgiven him. Although we both started the same race this past weekend in Costa Mesa, he remained at the front, I at the back. What was it like up there? What really happened?

Rather than a narrative, I’ve bulleted it, as it was sort-of-but-not-really retold to me by him.

  • The season opener was held on dirt and grass in 90-degree weather. ‘Cross should be in some mud, grass, and should feature sand and a bridge, and it should be dreary, cold, rainy—typical fall weather in Belgium. So while waiting for Belgian weather to start up in SoCal, the race got underway.
  • Last year the 35+ and 45+ A races went off together. This let the leaders rail it, rather than making the old fucks start behind the young fucks and then spend the rest of the race trying get around them.
  • Last year, sending the categories off together ensured that the job of weeding through all the lapped flailers happened later in the race when it was all strung out and the leaders could navigate through the detritus of the field’s rear end one wanker at time.
  • When sent off at two-minute intervals, though, the faster old dudes had to filter through multiple clumps of flailers; dangerous on a narrow course like this one, and it artificially depressed the speed, letting slower riders who would otherwise be shelled rally back up towards the front.
  • The Costa Mesa half-grass/half-BMX track served as the season opener, replete with jumps, whoops, a dangerous downhill sand section, a clogged run-up, and single track that made passing impossible. This was hardly a real ‘cross course, and one that catered to racers with experience racing dirt bikes. It was a course for them to lose.
  • At the start, someone had already pushed the dysfunctional chaos button. “Chaos precedes great changes,” so the saying goes, but also precedes great clusterfucks. Behind schedule. Revised schedule. Not enough timing chips. There was a deep field of riders, both 35+ and 45+. In the 45’s there were multiple state champions including Lance Voyles, Jim Pappe, Mike McMahon, and Johnny Dalton, just to name a few.
  • Jeff Sanford, a guy with a strong moto background, lined up fit and ready to rumble. Victor Sheldon was also racing in 45+ A’s this year instead of sandbagging in the B’s. Victor had spent all summer racing his MTB and was in the best form of his bike racing career. With his moto background, he joined Sanford as the other favorite.
  • The series promoter changed things up on the starting line, opting to let the 35’s go in front of the 45’s. This became a huge factor, as the old dudes, on the whole, are faster than the 35’s, meaning the 45 leaders would eventually have to thread the needle through the anus of the 35’s on a course as wide at times as a string bean.
  • The 45’s finally took off, sprinted the first turn, settled into a line for the next two right turns and entered the dirt with Voyles, Sanford, MMX, and McMahon in the lead while Anderson, Hatchitt, Pappe, Sheldon, Stephenson and the rest chased.
  • The BMX section was a breeze for Sanford, so the power section of the grass was the only place MMX could do any damage. Unfortunately, his whole game plan was about to change.
  • On the second lap they hit the crazy downhill sand section and its chicanes at the bottom, which then led to the dismount and run-up. Sanford neatly scooted around an entire gaggle of flailing 35’s, with the leading 45’s now gapped by Sanford and at a standstill as the 35’s fumbled their way through the chicanes and run-up, blocking the course like a clogged artery.
  • Behind the wall of wankers, Sanford made good his escape. MMX then got taken out by a knucklehead (this happens a lot in ‘cross, apparently), and broke his right pedal. Now Voyles had passed him along with an entire group of 35/45 riders. MMX settled into the awkward motion of pedaling with his heel for the rest of the race, at a disadvantage throughout the numerous sections where the riders were airborne or close to it.
  • Anderson and Sheldon rejoined to make a SPY-GIANT threesome, along with Voyles. Sanford was gone with the wind, while the chasers ripped through the body parts and dangling participles of the wretched shellees.
  • Anderson put in a monstrous two-lap tow, with Voyles in the easy chair while SPY did his work for him. Who said there’s no hiding in ‘cross? Oh…MMX did.
  • Anderson sat up, and Sheldon attacked, leaving Voyles with the devil’s dilemma of towing the other two riders up to their teammate or watching second place ride up the road. On the dirt section, Sheldon was in his element, and he tightened the screws.
  • The chasers slowly pedaled away from the hapless finishers littering the course like bodies after an “Over the top!” trench charge in WW I. MMX capped off his race on the last 180-degree turn by sliding out and crashing, giving the hecklers plenty to laugh and heckle about in between swizzles and swozzles on their beer nozzles.
  • McMahon finished 30 seconds behind MMX, followed by SPY rider Hatchitt, and the rest of the field trickled in looking even sorrier than they’d placed. SPY rider Wankmeister held the distinction of being the only rider to actually be lapped by everyone at least once, including the nice old lady in the lawn chair drinking tequila shots.
  • Pappe had a mechanical and DNF’ed; otherwise he would certainly have had a strong race. SPY had three of the top five spots and four of the top seven. In the 35’s, SPY missed a 1-2 finish when Ryan Dahl rolled a tire.

That’s pretty much it. I know because I was there, even though I wasn’t really, you know, “there.” Tune in next week for Round 2.

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