April 21, 2012 § Leave a comment
This is a re-print from the UCLA 45+ Road Race in 2010. I had an archive of stories on FB and WordPress before deleting them all in a mad frenzy. My buddies on Big Orange posted this to their page in 2010, where it remains.
Feed the beast
The most important part of a bike race is pre-race nutrition. Before we arrived at the race course, Mrs. Wankmeister wanted to stop and sample the barbecue at Charlie Brown’s in Littlerock. It was only 10:30, but we went in. The thought of barbecue was appealing, though eating it in combination with a tough, hilly, windy road race was not. But the flesh is weak, and the smell of barbecue was strong. We both ordered brisket sandwiches with beans and cole slaw.
My sandwich was heaped with slabs of greasy meat and giant slivers of pure fat. The whole thing dripped sugary, oily barbecue sauce, and the chunks of meat and fat were so tender they slid down my throat without even needing a chew. After each bite I tried to stop, telling myself that the race would be unforgiving, but I couldn’t. There was so much grease around my mouth after finishing that it took two napkins to mop up; both looked like they’d been dipped in a deep fryer after I was done.
The gnome’s revenge
The snarling, amped up gang of elderly racers toed the line at the infamous Punchbowl race course, primed for a slugfest that would pit the entire Big Orange road crew against DQ Louie. The laps had been shortened so that we would be climbing the big hill four times rather than three.
I was already traumatized by my experience at Punchbowl two years ago, when I was shelled like a bad pecan on the first lap of the first climb, and spent the entire race crawling and cramping with Polly for what seemed like a month. Whereas others in the relatively small field of about 30 dreamed of victory, my goal was simple and carved in stark relief: don’t get blasted out the back on the first lap.
We started at a reasonable pace, nothing like the Punchbowl of 2008, where the pack had split in two before the left turn, and into shards and fragments by the first hill, and into a final winning group by the end of the stairstep. Nonetheless, it was plenty hard, and I concentrated on staying low and staying out of the wind.
We hit the downhill section and immediately got blown from side to side by a howling crosswind that blew my tightly cinched helmet onto the back of my head. We reached the bottom and turned right, when DQ Louie drove to the center and strung everyone out into a single line, unable to echelon because of the center line rule. I didn’t see a single rider cross the yellow line, with the exception of DQ.
After about a mile he rolled off the front with G$, and before they’d gone fifty yards the ref’s follow car came roaring up with a tiny, bearded gnome screeching and screaming in such a hysterical panic that I could only think, “My God, the Japanese must have bombed Pearl Harbor again.”
Then the unthinkable happened. Mr. Gnomes commanded the entire peloton to stop and dismount. He got out of the car, pulled on a shiny pair of knee-high jackboots, adjusted his armband and Obersturmfuehrer cap, took out his riding crop, and went on a rant that left us all slackjawed.
“Ve haf ways of making you talk!” he screeched.
“Talk about what?” we asked.
“Ze yellow line! You haf all crossed ze yellow line!” He whacked one of the poor Cal Pools guys with his riding crop and made him clean the lint off his boot. “If you cross ze yellow line again, all riders vill be kaputt! Disqualifiziert!”
“Yo, numbnuts!” said one of the Big Orange heroes. “Are you going to admonish the breakaway? There are two guys up the road who have been pedaling full bore while we’ve been sitting here listening to your screed.”
Mr. Gnomes looked nonplussed, then hopped in the car and sped off. “You are all being vatched!” he hissed. Needless to say, we never saw G$ or DQ Louie again, and Mr. Gnomes’s antics had neutralized our best weapon, which was having the break in striking range for Thing 2, who could have bridged and combined with G$ to put DQ in difficulty. In theory, anyway.
In fact, though, we got going again with Steve, Bill, Todd, and other Big Orange riders patrolling the front to make sure that no chase effort developed. This controlled pace was the only way I made it over the hill on the second lap. Towards the top, however, the first big surge of Charlie Brown’s barbecue fought its way up to the lower reaches of my throat. Brisket doesn’t taste better the second time around.
Midway through the stairstep, Thing 2 hit the gas with a guy in the ugliest kit of the day, a green concoction that must have been modeled after a late night sidewalk splat found outside of a bar in Hermosa Beach. They pedaled off.
You can’t have your brisket and eat it, too
Thing 2 and Fugly Jersey couldn’t hold off the chasing pack on the descent, as they were hitting speeds of well over 50mph, and by the turn they had been brought back. As we turned onto the gentle up-tilt towards the finish line, a thick worm of fat chugged up into the back of my mouth, all rubbery and greasy and eager to be free. I swallowed hard just as we began climbing the big hill for the third time.
Either the race was really slow, or there really is a god, or barbecue is the secret food of champions, because I somehow made it up a third time. DQ Louie and G$ were so far ahead that no matter what happened, they would have had time to complete a coif, cuticle treatment, and pedicure by the time the pack crossed the line. We turned right after the downhill and I rolled away from the pack with a Cal Pools guy. Thing 2 bridged up to us and pretty soon the baked beans kicked in.
Cal Pools began to whimper and apologize for not pulling through, which only invited the eleven. The break established, I was totally psyched. The worst I could do was fifth. My secret barbecue weapon, which had been tweaked with a mug of thick coffee sludge fifteen minutes before the gun, had turned out to be the perfect race nutrition.
We turned again onto the road leading to the start finish, and as I swung off, the cole slaw blindsided me with a vicious attack. My right leg shot straight out and went into rigor mortis. Thing 2 and Cal Pools looked at me, and were gone. The pack came by, I struggled on the back, and we began our last time up the big hill.
A few hundred yards before the turn to the stairstep, the cole slaw attacked again, crushing the beans and overpowering the last chunks of grease. Purple Parks and I came unhitched. As we watched the pack roll away on the stairstep, he grinned and let loose with a one-liner that almost made me fall of my bike. “You think they’ll wait for us?” he cracked.
It’s not over till the fat lady cramps
We turned onto the stairstep, I put my head down and somehow bridged back up to the group. What seemed like a good idea at the time seemed like a bad idea a few moments later, as Veins began drilling it into the brutal wind all along the stairstep. It was nastier than a dirty movie with a hairy woman. At the top, Veins sat up, my beans and brisket counterattacked the cole slaw, and I readied for the finale.
At about that time one of the guys in our group who must have been at least a hundred, and who had spent big chunks of the race on the point, attacked on the downhill. In addition to being older than dirt, he was big. He passed us like we were standing still, seated on the top tube and ready to risk death and destruction. No one had the legs to follow.
We turned right at the bottom of the descent and echeloned as Veins strung it out in an attempt to bring back Methuselah. He swung over for me to pull through, and the cole slaw, which had made a secret deal with the one remaining chunk of pure fat, came roaring up the side of the brisket in the form of two simultaneous, full leg cramps. I dropped off and got off my bike, a feat in itself because neither leg would bend.
Crying and moaning and promising not to eat any more brisket sandwiches finally did the trick. I remounted just in time for Purple Parks to come blazing by. I labored in for thirteenth. You might think this sucks, and you’re probably right, but I’m pretty pleased just the same.
Thing 2 crushed the two riders who had bridged up to him for third. G$ was outkicked by DQ Louie, earning another great placing for a year that has so far been packed with palmares for Big Orange, and proving the wisdom of Mr. Gnomes’s canny bit of officiating wisdom: if you can’t beat `em, cheat `em. Had Thing 2 been at G$’s side, one of them would surely have put DQ in second, or, as they like to say in Texas, “If grandma had balls she’d be grandpa.”
Punchbowl’s only three weeks away. I’m already preparing my excuse for why I won’t be racing it.
December 4, 2011 § 7 Comments
7:50 p.m.: Air up brand new Continental Hardshell bulletproof tires. Marvel at how beautiful and new and un-flattable they look. Fill water bottle. Charge Garmin. Lube chain.
8:28 p.m.: Go to bed.
1:00 a.m.: Wake up and wonder when it’s going to be 5:30.
5:30 a.m.: Why the fuck is it 5:30 a.m. already?
5:35 a.m.: Slather on Mad Alchemy embro. Fumes make me gag and wake up the old lady. Old lady highly unhappy. Says to “get that smelly crap out of the bedroom.” Accidentally get a dab on the chamois and dance around for a few minutes until I can wipe it off with soap and cold water. Hoo-hah. Wide awake now, yes, sir!
5:45 a.m.: First hot bolt of coffee begins coursing through Wankmeister’s veins. Oh, yeah! Where’s my testosterone gel and super-oxygenated blood bag with IV needle?
6:00 a.m.: Make list of excuses for upcoming flail. 1–Rode too far the day before (117 miles, 4k feet of vertical). 2–It’s the off season and I’m still in build mode. 3–Don’t want to whip everyone on their home turf and make enemies.
6:30 a.m.: Begin drive to Tustin Market Place. Stylin in the Prius Pimpmobile with the scarface gash on the right door so they know I’m for real and don’t give a rat’s ass about purdy. Uh-huh.
7:25 a.m.: Arrive at Tustin Market Place. “The ride starts at Tustin Market Place” is about as precise a location as “the ride starts in Texas.” This place is huge. All this asphalt just so OC bimbos can buy shoes and edible thongs. Jeez, what a waste. Well, the shoes anyway.
7:30 a.m.: Spy a few SUV’s with open rear cargo doors parked in the corner of a lot. That smells like cyclists. Drive over and confirm; it’s the Monster Media team. Goodness. Those gentlemen look fit. And tan. And ready to rumble. Feel a bit of quakey bowels.
7:35 a.m.: Hit the Panera for another cup of coffee and a deposit in their porcelain facility.
7:45 a.m.: Suit up in SPY Optic team kit. Realize it’s still fricking cold and I don’t have any shoecovers.
7:47 a.m.: KB, Labor Power legend and 2011 dominator at Dana Point and Tour de Murrieta, is fishing for a valve extender. I lend him one hoping that he’ll have mercy when the whip comes down. He thanks me. I realize my selfish altruism isn’t going to help me at all. These guys look like they had rusty nails and glass for breakfast. Try to look tough but my fucking knees keep knocking together.
8:00 a.m.: We join the 150+ idiots who have massed along Jamboree for Roger’s Cup, run concurrently with the Sunday Como Street ride out of Tustin without the inconveniences of that silly insurance, or having any of those unnecessary ambulances and EMT’s on standby.
8:10 a.m.: Drift back through the swelling throng, feeling like a fat tasty mackerel in a school of hungry sharks. There’s Critchamp, there’s Glass Hip, there’s Thing Two, RB, MJ, RM, and about a dozen other people with stars and stripes on their sleeves or state champ jerseys. “Como Street virgin?” asks Glass Hip.
8:12 a.m.: AF comes up and says, “Hi, teammate,” because I’m wearing SPY. “What’s your name, buddy?” I have to admit I’m just a poser, wearing a gift kit, gift specs, and that although he doesn’t know me, I remember him from De Vlees Huis RR, where he towed me around for a lap before dropping me, and from Ontario in 2008, when he dragged me around in a breakway that stuck ’til the end. He shrugs like he just touched someone else’s booger and pedals off.
8:30 a.m.: Glass Hip gives me the course rundown. “Hairy descent after the neighborhood. Lots of cracks, good place to go down hard and have 200 idiots run over your dick.” Feel overwhelming urge to piss. And cry. And go home. And crawl back under my warm blanky. In no particular order.
8:45 a.m.: MJ warns me about the descent. Sit on his wheel for a way, marveling at all that muscle squeezed into those Assos shorts, and how much it’s going to hurt when they flex. All the other sharks get out of the king shark’s way when he cuts through the school. Think I will tag along for a bit.
8:53 a.m.: Group stops to hear a little speech about Roger’s Cup. Thirty bladder-bursting bikers jump off their bikes and rush to the hedge, which is only knee-high. More sausage on display for the passing cars than a pepperoni pizza cook-off in Chicago.
8:54 a.m.: Glass Hip comes pedaling by howling at the top of his lungs, “Who wants this baby? Who WANTS it?” He’s holding the massive trophy. It’s bigger than America’s Cup, although it has a tad more plastic. I’m impressed that Glass Hip doesn’t tip over.
8:55 a.m.: Chit-chat with Thing 2, who’s wearing the pink jersey of “Lider” given to the winner of the 2011 edition of the Tour of Guadalahara. He’s a fricking beast.
8:57 a.m.: Speaker speaks about the race and the cup and the felled cyclist for whom it is named. Husband of a recently killed cyclist gives a short speech but begins calling us all sinners and telling us to repent and that this should remind us that the hour of judgment is near and that we must accept Jesus as our savior. A couple of people say “I’m not a sinner!” and the Jewish/Buddhist/Muslim/Atheists among us kind of feel uncomfortable.
8:59 a.m.: We remount, and it’s game on. Quick flurry as riders shuffle to the front, and a few guys launch, including Herndy-Doo from Big Orange.
9:00 a.m.: I find a stars-and-stripes wheel and edge towards the front as we begin speeding up Santa Margarita Parkway. “Hmm…windy up here.”
9:00:30 a.m.: “Hmm…painful up here.”
9:01:00 a.m.: “Hmm…really windy and painful and fast up here.”
9:01:45 a.m.: “Holy fucking shit this fucking hurts!”
9:02 a.m.: “I’m gonna…get off…this…wheel…and go…a little farther…back…”
9:03 a.m.: Massive whack and smack as my rear wheel rolls over a small boulder. I pray for a catastrophic rear wheel failure, or at least a flat.
9:04 a.m.: Pain gets worse despite dropping back to the shelter of the group.
9:05 a.m.: 405 watts, now sustained for about a mile. Speed 16.5 mph. Pain has gone well into the intolerable zone.
9:05:14 a.m.: Realize I can’t hang on anymore.
9:05:15 a.m.: Realize this is only the first climb of the ride.
9:05:16 a.m.: Realize this isn’t even a climb.
9:05:17 a.m.: Realize how much I hate racing.
9:05:18 a.m.: Realize how much I hate cycling.
9:05:19 a.m.: Realize how much I hate Orange County.
9:06:00 a.m.: Somehow make it over the first hump.
9:06:01 a.m.: Start to think that OC isn’t so bad.
9:06:02 a.m.: Start to think cycling isn’t so bad.
9:06:03 a.m.: Start to like cycling again, a little.
9:07 a.m.: Rear tire begins to feel soft. Yes! A flat!!! I fucking love this sport!
9:07:02 a.m.: Raise right hand and slowly angle to edge of field. Entire group of 10,000 idiots comes flying by. Very awesome because they all see I have a flat tire. Ironclad excuse to claim that I woulda coulda shoulda mighta oughta was gonna if not for that darned flat.
9:08 a.m.: Stop for a leisurely tire change, planning to make sure enough time goes by that there’s no way in hell I could justify chasing. Labor Power team car stops to ask if I need help. “No, thanks! Got it! All cool here! Hurry up there where you’re needed! Have a nice day!”
9:20 a.m.: Complete tire change, but flail with CO2 cartridge so only get the tire about halfway inflated. Realize I have no fucking idea where the route goes or how to get home.
9:22 a.m.: Flag down rider from Coates Cyclery. Kindly offers me a cartridge, tells me the route. Resume riding.
9:32 a.m.: Hit the dangerous descent that Glass Hip and MJ warned me about. Learn that at the bottom, at the bridge, long after the danger had passed, some knucklehead attacked the pavement with his forehead and took down four other riders. Frame snapped in half, body flung onto the guardrail…ah, the joys of rogue racing.
9:33 a.m.: Wending my way through the beautiful oaks on Trabuco. Stop to bleed the lizard just off Hunky Dory Road. Yep, Hunky Dory road. Urinate under a tree where someone has discarded a black Halloween mask and has half-buried several beer bottles. Smells like teen spirit. Keep an eye out for used condoms. Hate to track one of those back home on the heel of my cycling shoe. Worse than toilet tissue.
9:41 a.m.: Turn off onto Santiago Canyon Rd.,and eventually overtake a wanker in a neon yellow windbreaker. Wanker sits about thirty yards off my wheel for a long time. I “practice my spin.”
10:00 a.m.: Wanker evaporates somewhere in the canyon. Far ahead I see another wanker and try to spin my way up to him.
10:10 a.m.: Wanker in the distance is fucking hammering. Or, I’m a bigger wanker than he is. I choose the former explanation.
10: 30 a.m.: I prepare to pass Irvine Lake. Am very excited to finally see a lake in Southern California.
10:31 a.m.: I pass a dirty puddle with a small dock and some sickly birds floating in the muck. This must be the wetlands before you get to the lake.
10:31:30 a.m.: I see a sign proclaiming the tiny mudpit as “Lake Irvine.”
10:36 a.m.: I catch and pass my wanker carrot on the hill leading up to the 241. He weighs 300 pounds and is going about 2 mph.
10:58 a.m.: I pull back into the Market Place parking lot. The Monster Media guys have showered, shaved, changed, and completed the last three chapters of their novel.
10:59 a.m.: “I saw you flat back there,” says KB. Yessss!!!
11:00 a.m.: I get the rundown on the race. Final group of 30-40 make it to the end. No one can escape in the canyon due to the headwind. Meeker smokes everyone in the sprint. Again.
11:05 a.m.: Head back home to L.A. County, polishing and staring fondly at my perfect, shiny little excuse for not finishing with the group.
11:06 a.m.: Reflect on this, the definition of a perfect bike race: 1) No entry fee. 2) Don’t crash. 3) Mechanical that takes me out of the race before getting dropped. 4) Minimal pain. 5) Beautiful weather. 6) Home in time to take the wife for an afternoon coffee overlooking the ocean.