No place for old men

April 20, 2015 § 18 Comments

I have to take my hat off to Sam Ames, the guy who promotes the annual district masters road race championships here in SoCal. He makes very difficult races, runs them well, and gets the predictable flak.

This year CHP advised that no follow cars would be allowed, so riders were told to pack a tube, lever, and CO2 cartridge. One rider called Sam to voice his displeasure. “No follow car? For the state championship? That’s unacceptable!”

“Look, Wankface,” said Sam. “Can I ask you a question?”

“Yeah. What?”

“How many races have you been in where you flatted, got a timely change from the follow car, chased back on, and won?”

Pause. “Well, never.”

“So be sure to bring a spare tube, okay?”

The 50+ race had a star-studded field of used-to-be’s and wish-I’d-been’s, but the only one who mattered, it turned out, was Thurlow. After 65 miles in the skin-sizzling heat, after 7,000 feet of climbing, and after all but ten riders had been ripped like a hangnail out of the lead group, BonkBreaker’s Zimmerman attacked over the last little hump. He opened a gap and Chris Walker bridged. Seeing the looks of grim desolation on the faces of the remnants, Thurlow launched and joined the leaders.

Zimmerman dropped a kidney, Thurlow attacked and soloed in, and Walker could do naught but pedal squares to the line.

Not that I saw any of it. I had been dispensed with many miles before, discarded with the disgust and finality of a used Kleenex. But like every other bicycle race it had started full of promise and hope.

We rolled out some thirty riders strong, powering into a unique air formation that proved to be a headwind going out, a headwind coming back, and an underwind-topdown wind everywhere else, with a dose of powerful sidewind, like gonorrhea. We hit the first climb and I hewed to my mantra: “Hide, cower, suck wheel. Save me, Father Carbon.”

Midway up it was clear that the prayer and the expensive wheel purchase and the monk-like existence of fasting, celibacy, sobriety, and 8:00 PM bedtimes was working. The only thing that gave me pause was the disclaimer on the flyer that said, as it always does, “Watch out for rattlesnakes, venomous spiders, scorpions, and attack bees.”

I wondered about that because we were passing a huge clump of roadside blooming weeds and they were covered in bees. “Are they attack bees?” I wondered. “What is an attack bee?” At that instant three of them flew into the large vents in my helmet. I am allergic to bee stings.

Ever since I was a small child I have been terrified of bees and wasps.When I was eight I kicked a wasp’s nest and got 35 stings, wound up in the hospital for a week, and almost died. The following summer I doused a beehive with lighter fluid and tried to burn it, but the fire didn’t take. The bees, however, did, and what they took to was me. Fifty stings and another hospital stay and lots of injections. When I was twelve my brother and I tried to eradicate all the yellow jacket nests in our neighborhood. We had a long stick with rags soaked in gasoline, and went from nest to nest incinerating them.

All went well until the fifth one. The rags came undone and fell onto my head, aflame. My hair caught fire and the wasps attacked. This time I had to get a bit of a skin graft, which got infected, and I simultaneously almost died from what the doctor said was a record, one hundred wasp stings.

I thought about all that as the attack bees crawled around on my scalp. I hoped that they would find the anterior wind vent and exit, but as I waited the first acceleration came. Several riders didn’t come with it, but I hid and cowered and survived. We made it to the turnaround and Jeff K. punched it over each of the short stabbing climbs we had descended into the little valley and now had to come out from.

More riders chose a different, more humane pace. I struggled, and straggled, and held on. The bees continued to crawl around my head. As we hit the long 4-mile headwind to complete our first 25-mile lap, Todd P. began castigating us for our slowness and laziness. “When are you guys gonna start racing?” he snapped, attacking off the front into the wind, where he was followed by G$. They vanished.

I thought about that question, “When are you guys gonna start racing?” and realized that if we hadn’t started yet, then I didn’t want to be — and plainly wouldn’t be — around when we did. We finished the first lap and several more riders chose a different pace; a couple even decided to unilaterally shorten their race from three laps to one, mortally wounded as they were by Proximity To The Car Fever and its attendant symptom, Common Sense.

Two of the bees flew out, so I was down to one. We started up the big climb again. Todd and G$ were thirty seconds ahead. Our designated rider, DJ, was going to need some help on this one. I always love it when a team leader needs a dutiful lieutenant to go jump on several dozen grenades, because that’s always my cue to cower and hide even more. Teammates are an abstraction in bike racing, because in reality everyone is your enemy and they must all be killed in order for you to prevail.

Alan F., who had been trading places with me at the rear, moved to the point to bring back G$ and Todd. Inexplicably I was on his wheel. Was it reflex? Bad judgment? A misguided attempt to help my teammate?

No!

It was part of the Iron Rule of Bicycle Racing:

Throughout the race, people will behave irrationally, hopelessly, and with no clear objective other than self-defeat so that he who waits longest and does the least can pounce and win.

G$and Todd were deep in the throes of senselessness and as Alan dragged them back, my proximity to the front was wearing me out. What was I doing there? Why was I anywhere near the front? Didn’t I know that every square millimeter of wind exposure was the same as riding with a spinnaker when you are large and fat and slow and weak and tired?

When Alan sat up, Chris Walker pulled through hard, inflicting difficulty and little black spots on the weak and infirm. Alan and I tailed off. “Good work, guys,” DJ said as we imploded. We had pulled back 3.1 or perhaps 1.2929272028 seconds on G$ and Todd, who now instead of being tiny specks were more like smallish specks.

Alone again, naturally, I chased back on, got dropped again, hit the turnaround, passed the women’s field, then got passed by the women’s field, then settled into a rhythm of despair and self-loathing and full-body cramps, each racking shudder causing me to think “Wow, I didn’t know there was a muscle there.”

On the downhill I was overhauled by King Harold and Dandy. They were angry, breathing fire, and mostly intent on catching and dropping the women. I was now lodged in the Pincer Movement from Hell, having to choose between hanging onto their battering pulls into the under/top/side/headwind, or sitting up and never re-passing the women. The final lap was as terrible as childbirth when you are a human and the progeny is a grown and angry porcupine.

Dandy and King Harold pulled me around, waited for me on the climbs, and after a mere one hour and fifteen minutes of indescribable torment, their teamwork, assistance, and selfless work got us to the line, where, after resting for the entire final 25 miles, I dropped them both and sprinted for 17th place.

You know it was a difficult race when the finishers are rolling around in the dirt afterwards clenched up in various post-race cramp positions. Fortunately, the race turned out much more successfully for me than my 19th place might indicate. By spending about $1,500 on new wheels, I moved up ten places from the previous year. So with another $1,500 expenditure in 2016 I can expect a top-ten, and then a final $1,500 investment in 2017 should ensure a win. I probably won’t even have to show up and they can just mail me my medal. Right?

END

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Sandbag while you can

March 23, 2015 § 28 Comments

Before the race I saw Dave happily siting on his top tube.

“You racing with us?” I asked.

“No,” he said firmly and happily. “Masters 35+ 4/5.” Dave had won the Masters 35+ 4/5 sandbagger race the week before in Merced and was licking his chops, noting that none of his competition came anywhere close to his 400 weekly training miles.

“When are you going to upgrade? You’re a beast.”

He looked at me very seriously. “Oh, no I’m not. I’m still learning so much about racing. And the 40+ group is way too fast.”

“Let me know when you’ve learned everything you need to know about racing,” I said.

Our race was going to be whatever is worse than terrible. You would think that a bicycle race where you had to be at least fifty years old to enter wouldn’t be that hard, but you would be wrong. On the start line were Thurlow a/k/a The Hand of God a/k/a THOG, Konsmo, the Parksie Twins, G$, Mark Noble, DQ Louie, Jaeger, Pomeranz, and a whole host of other guys I’d never beaten, and wasn’t going to beat today.

The course was a 27-mile out-and-back. We were supposed to it twice. The total elevation was about 5,500 feet. Going out, the course had a series of punchy rollers that led to the bottom of a 1-mile climb. After a 2-mile descent, the road continually ascends through a valley with a half-dozen short climbs and a few false flats until you reach the turnaround at the 13 Mile point.

Then the road descends into a headwind all the way to the base of the 2-mile climb, which pitches up, flattens briefly about 2/3 of the way up, then crests and drops you back to the base of the rollers. The race finishes on a 1-km climb with a moderately steep final 200 meter “sprint.”

Less than a mile into the race I was fully occupied with Mr. Crash Magnet. He’s the guy I get behind in every race and every race has one. Crash Magnet was so scared that his arms were shaking and his entire bike was wobbling. The smart thing in these cases is to get away from Crash Magnet ASAP, but he’s called “magnet” for a reason.

In the Wrinkly Prostate Division, although most of the riders aren’t good at holding their water, decades of racing have made them masters at avoiding crash magnets. So there is a race-within-a-race: Get away from the magnet. And since I’m the worst bike handler after whomever the crash magnet happens to be, everyone slides and jostles and positions so that I’m the one stuck on Crash Magnet’s wheel.

I dashed off to the left and got ahead of him, but to no avail. The deck reshuffled and there he was again. After the fourth reshuffle I resigned myself to the terrible accident in store if he hung around much longer. This is one of the great freeing experiences of bike racing. You are in destiny’s maw.

Robb came up next to me after we’d crossed the first four rollers. The bottom of the big climb lay ahead. “This is gonna hurt,” he said.

“Why,” I asked “are you using the future tense?”

About that time I edged around Crash Magnet just as he made a beeline for the shoulder, hit a rock, shimmied his handlebars, and launched himself headlong into a soft bed of cactus and ocotillo. As I sprinted away, wondering how badly he was hurt, I noted that THOG & The Co. from Hell had moved to the front. I slotted in behind him.

Now here is something that everyone who’s been dropped on a hard climb in a hard race surrounded by much better riders can relate to, but ordinary intelligent people who play golf and happily drink beer from the back of a golf cart cannot, and I call it the lighting of the fuse. It happens in stages.

  1. Terrible feeling of awful dread as you anticipate at the bottom of the climb.
  2. First acceleration at the bottom where you think, “I can do this.”
  3. Second acceleration shortly after the first where you think, “This is going to be hard.”
  4. Grit teeth as the pace settles in.
  5. Feeling begins somewhere in your calves, the feeling of give-up-and-quit.
  6. “I’m not quitting” + excessive teeth gritting. Brief look around to see that the group has halved.
  7. Third acceleration midway up the climb where you think, “Fuck you cocksuckers to hell.”
  8. Fuse burns up into lower quads. Pain however is no longer localized to legs and has spread to eyeballs.
  9. Fourth acceleration where the group halves again. Konsmo, who is leading the charge, is on the tops and doesn’t appear to be breathing. “Fuck you, Konsmo, if we ever stop I will kill you,” you think, or something like that.
  10. Almost at the top the fuse reaches the bomb and you explode. Body shudders, head droops, prostate deflates.
  11. “Quit gapping me out motherfucker!” is roared from behind.
  12. Race effectively ends.

When we reached Stage 11, I leaped onto the last rider’s wheel and latched on as we made it over the top. There was hardly anyone left. The pain immediately receded and all of my attention focused on why I’d chosen to try and ride with the leaders instead of doing the logical thing, which would have been following Crash Magnet face-first into the cactus bush.

At the bottom of the valley G$ took over. The pain returned and riders continued to pop off. At the base of each mini-peak G$ would punch it hard, but by now the people who had made it this far weren’t going to be dropped so easily. I looked up and saw the lights of the motorcycle that was following the 40+ field containing Mike Easter, Derek Brauch, Matt Carinio, Tony Manzella, Jon Flagg, and Chris DiMarchi. They had left five minutes earlier but the vicious climbing speed of Konsmo and G$ had devoured the time gap.

They were neutralized and we roared by, which led me to wonder this: Could someone please explain the biology behind how a group of riders, some of whom were in their mid-50’s, were riding faster than a group of men some of whom were fifteen years younger? Or maybe it was just mirrors and we had lighter wheels. But then I remembered that weight doesn’t really matter.

Whatever it was, we sped by with our teeth plastered to the stem as the 40+ pre-geezers stared over, insulted and slack-jawed. Shortly past the turnaround the butthurt 40+ field took matters into their own hands and came flying by us, proving the superiority of youth and better medical care. We never saw them again.

Before long our greatly reduced herd hit the base of the big climb. The fuse was re-lit, and burned all the way until shortly before the short flat. I was sitting on Mark Noble’s wheel making that last-gasp cry that lobsters make when you throw them into the boiling water, when I exploded for good. Race over.

With Chris Hahn, Scott McAfee, and Bald Tim on my wheel, we chased madly through the rollers, eventually picking up DQ Louie, who had inexplicably been shelled. After a few more miles of unutterable misery that left Scott and Bald Tim adrift, I dragged Chris and Louie back to the leaders. Of course we reattached at the bottom of the big climb, the fuse was lit, and it mercifully skipped Stages 2-11, going from Stage 1 to Stage 12 in about fifteen seconds. Louie and Chris happily pedaled away, the sorry bastards.

Left to wallow in my own misery, I slogged up the hill, was caught and dropped by teammate Andy Schmidt who had been stoned and chased out of the 40+ community, and was then overtaken by a mongrel group of 40+ and 50+ shellees including teammate John Hatchitt, and assassin/arch enemies Pomeranz and McAfee. I slunk to the back and struggled along to the turnaround, back down the valley, and to the bottom of the big climb.

This time I did something different, though. I put it into the small chain ring. Realizing that I’d been doing the massive climbs in my 53, it occurred to me that perhaps it would be easier if I used a smaller gear. Wow! Who knew???? Climbing is easier in a 39×28 instead of a 53×21. Gawrsh!

McAfee attacked and one by one our group reduced in size until there were only six of us. Hatchitt attacked, caught and dropped McAfee. Then after the false flat Pomeranz attacked, leaving me with a couple of 40+ racers who had no interest in or need to chase down guys who weren’t in their race.

With 1k to go I hunted down Hatchitt and McAfee. Hatchitt went early and blew. McAfee went a bit later, but I was able to sit on his wheel until the very end and throw myself across the line, beating out a couple of 40+ wankers and looking less like Mark Cavendish winning MSR and more like a fish whose bleeding mouth had been ripped from a hook and thrown mercilessly onto the rocks to flip, flop, gasp, and die.

After the race I saw Dave, who had sandbagged his way to another awesome win. “Good job,” I said, filled with bitterness and envy as I contemplated getting my downgrade for 2016.

Wankamodo snapped this immortal shot of my last-gasp lunge for a top-40 placing in our 40-man field.

Going 100%, pointlessly, against guys I'm not even racing against.

Going 100%, pointlessly, against guys I’m not even racing against.

50+ Leaky Prostate Category Race Notes:

Mark Noble played a smart waiting game, stayed out of the win, and smashed the four-man leading of group for the win, edging out Bennie Parks, Thurlow Rogers, and Jeff Konsmo. Race activator and head-banger Greg Leibert finished sixth behind Todd Parks, with SPY-Giant-RIDE p/b GQ6 teammate and 2014 winner David Jaeger coming in 8th.

My ride chauffeur, Derek Brauch, got second in the 40+ race behind winner Mike Easter. SPY-Giant-RIDE teammate Jon Flagg put on a display of incredible strength by bridging to the leaders and finishing fourth.

Emily Georgeson got a bronze medal in the women’s state championship road race, confirming again that this is her breakout season.

Other people in other races finished, or didn’t, with some going faster and others going slower.

END

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He’s baaaaaaack!!!!

February 4, 2015 § 66 Comments

The Facebag almost broke on Monday when someone posted a photo of the results in the 50+ masters race at the Red Trolley Crit. There atop the leaderboard sat Richard Meeker, returned from a 2-year doping ban and picking up where he left off: Making fools of the best old fart racers in the state, make that the nation, make that the world.

According to eyewitness accounts, Meeker the Beaker a/k/a Loose Leaf Powder a/k/a Mr. Kleen rabbit-punched breakaway companions Mark Hoffenberg and Thurlow Rogers with a finishing sprint so vicious that all they could do was loll their tongues and do the Harpooned Whale Bellyroll of Death as Sir Toxic blew across the line in a blur.

None of this should have been surprising. Rich doped (to no one’s surprise), was busted (to everyone’s surprise), mounted a pathetic tainted supplement defense (to everyone’s undying hilarity), and has now returned with a vengeance, which he will be serving up nice and cold. If you plan on racing in the 50+ category in SoCal this year, and you’re super fit and super fast and super good, I hope you like the sound of “second place,” because whether it’s a time trial, a hill climb, a crit, or a rolling, windy course, the unrepentant, proud owner of a two-year doping ban is going to stomp your nuts.

‘Cuz you know, when it comes to bike racing, Rich Meeker does it all.

What was surprising, nay, astounding, is that the Beaker signed up for the race under the banner of Surf City Cyclery. This is surprising because according to at least one rider, he wasn’t even on the team.

Despite strenuous politicking to be allowed to join, the members reportedly held a ballot and emphatically voted not to let Sir Toxic on the team. No matter to Rich, though. Despite the vote reportedly taking place a month ago, which means he would have been well aware that he wasn’t on the team, he is listed on his 2015 license as a Surf City rider, and he apparently rode the race in a Surf City club kit that’s for sale to the general public. After this horrendous wardrobe malfunction, I heard that he received a call from management and was told to cease and desist.

It will be entertaining to see whether he continues to show up claiming to ride for Surf City and whether he changes his license. Alternately, it will be fun to see which team he rides for next and to hear the pathetic excuses that people give for allowing this unrepentant leper to ride on their team. The fact that he still maintains his innocence and refuses to admit to wrongdoing puts him on a lower level than Lance & Co., who at least admitted what they’d done and are now suffering the consequences, however mild they may be.

As far as I’m concerned, I could care less whether the guy races, although there’s no shortage of people who wish he’d find a different sport to cheat at. He’s done his time, and the rules say that he’s allowed to return to the fray. It was heartening to see people on Facebag comment that the real first and second in that race were Hoffenberg and Thurlow, and it’s encouraging that there are teams who refuse to be associated with him. Perhaps his strategy of throwing Hammer Nutrition under the bus is making teams and sponsors and potential teammates wonder who he’ll point the finger at the next time USADA rolls into town.

But of course we always save the best for last. Rich and his wife have opened an organic drink bar in Corona del Mar, catering to the beautiful set’s desire for healthful, tasty nutrition. The name?

Sejuiced.

Some shit you just can’t make up.

END

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Pin to win

February 17, 2013 § 28 Comments

Some people leave their hearts in San Francisco. I leave mine a couple of times a year in Pearblossom, one of the great scenic wastelands of America.

I rode up to the race with John Hall. He had had a superlative race at Boulevard a couple of weeks back. I had, too, in my very dumbed-down definition of the word “superlative.”

Neither of us said it, but we both approached the UCLA 2013 Road Race with high expectations. One of us would be sorely disappointed. Both of us would be sore.

As I explained to John, a guy I’ve never beaten on a training ride, much less in a bike race, number pinning was the single most important detail of the race.

“It is?” he asked.

“Sure. You let your number flap and whizz like an oversized bra on a cheap hooker and no one respects you.”

“They don’t?”

“Nope. You want respect, you gotta pin your number on right.”

“Really?”

“Oh, sure. All the pros pin their numbers on with at least ten or twelve pins. That’s one reason they ride so fast. It creates a more perfect airfoil for the wind.”

John looked straight ahead. I don’t think he was laughing. Not at me, anyway. I’m pretty sure.

It took eleven pins, and a carefully folded right-hand corner to get the paper to bend with my armpit, and a few stabs that went to deep into my thigh and drew blood, and a couple of errant pricks that wound up pinning my jeans to my jersey, and a readjustment or two so that the bottom edge of the number wouldn’t interfere with removal of food from the pockets, but after about an hour the number was pinned perfectly. It looked like this. Feast your eyes.

All the other losers had just slapped on their numbers and spent the time warming up. John rolled by just as I was finishing what, by all accounts, was a superb job of number pinning.

“Aren’t you going to warm up?”

“Nah. These other losers don’t even have their numbers pinned on right. I got this one in the bag.”

John continued warming up.

Greg Leibert, vainquer at Boulevard, multiple winner at Punchbowl, superstar and awesome dude rolled up. “Dude,” he said, “race starts in five. Why aren’t you warming up?”

I raised a haughty eyebrow. “You should be asking ‘Why is my number not pinned on as well as Wankmesiter’s?”

“Huh?”

“Your number, dude. It’s not pinned on very well. It’s kind of crooked.”

He shook his head and left. Just then Tink came up. She’d just won her pro 1/2 race, had gotten second at Boulevard, and had outsprinted one of SoCal’s top women pros to win today after a 25-mile two-woman breakaway that beat the field by three minutes. “WM,” she said, “I’m really worried about your hydration and nutrition. What’s in the water bottle?”

“Water.”

“You need an electrolyte. You’ll dehydrate and die on this course.”

I shook my head. “Oh, Tink, Tink, Tink. You’re such an inexperience young thing. Behold!” I help up my perfectly pinned number.

“What?”

“What? The number. Look how nicely I’ve pinned it on. It’s the best-pinned number by far. It will frighten everyone when they see how detail oriented and meticulous I am. They will extrapolate from the number to my careful race preparation and training methods. They will be paralyzed with fear.”

“Maybe. Until they see you’ve only got one water bottle and it’s filled with water and you don’t have any food or gels. Then they’ll think you’re sloppy and ill-prepared and have no idea what you’re doing, which will negate the effect of your number. Which, I admit, is pretty tasteful and pro.”

I laughed. “You’ll see.”

Nothing trumps confidence

Today was my day and everyone knew it. I even took a picture in the car to memorialize the look of pre-victory. Feast your eyes.

The selection for this race started when you were born

People who do or don’t do the UCLA road race always talk about how it’s a “selective” course and how the “selection” comes early. In most amateur wanker  (redundant, I know) races where this kind of verbiage gets bandied about, it means that the chaff is separated from the wheat in the first few miles or so.

Punchbowl’s selection, however, begins at birth. If you are genetically predisposed to never exceed four feet in height and 57 pounds in weight, to have lungs that could double as flotation devices for an anchor, to have legs that terminate right below your neck, and to have the pain threshold of an anvil, you have made the selection of “possible Punchbowl winner.” All others are selected to be in the category of “loser” or “quitter” or “quitter and loser.”

The Punchbowl course features 15,000 feet of vertical climbing per meter, along with gale force winds. It begins at an elevation of about 5,000 feet, so unless your name is Oreamnos Americanus, the empty, rasping, dry, heaving sensation in your lungs (which quickly spreads to your other internal organs) begins the second you step out into the scorching heat.

The great thing about the Punchbowl course in February, though, is that it doesn’t always welcome you with scorching heat. With snow still on the mountains that separate this meth-infested shithole from the meth-infested shithole of Los Angeles, it sometimes welcomes you with snow, hail, ice, sleet, and freezing rain.

Canvassing people before and after they’ve raced the Punchbowl course covers the gamut in human excusifying. Here are some of the gems I overheard yesterday:

One-lap quitter: “I had terrible back spasms and my HR was at 150 going into the first climb. It was physically dangerous for me to continue.”

Translation: “I suck and am slow and wasn’t even remotely prepared for the brutality of the course and the onslaught of speed that begin in mile one of the first climb on the first lap, so, because I couldn’t endure the pain and wasn’t proud enough to guy it out, I gave up and quit.”

First-lap droppee and Cat 4 finisher: “I did the Cat 4 race because it’s harder than the 45+ race.”

Translation: “I’ve never heard of, let alone ridden with world champion Thurlow Rogers, state TT champ Greg Leibert, national road silver medalist Jeff Konsmo, et al.”

First-lap droppee and 45+ finisher: “This was the worst day I’ve ever had on a bike.”

Translation: “I’ve never done Punchbowl before.”

19th-placed Cat 4 finisher: “I had a great race!”

Translation: “I finished!”

First-lap shellee and quitter: “I actually made it up the first climb, but got dropped on the descent.”

Translation: “I was slow and out of gas and terrified of the 50mph+ speed so I pooped in my shorts and quit before the goo drizzled out my pants leg.”

Cat 3 Pack Meat: “Our team got third!”

Translation: “I personally got stomped!”

First-lap droppee and second-lap quitter (that would be me): “I have a vastly overrated opinion of my ability and when the going gets tough I squnch and splatter like a soft jelly-filled donut under the wheels of an onrushing freight train.”

Translation: “You are the 99.999999999%.” [Of bike racers.]

The path to victory is strewn with the bones of the poorly-pinned

One of the great things about having the best-pinned on number in the race and having eked out 15th place in an earlier race is that you become an instant expert on everything, especially race tactics. “Man,” I said to MMX before the race began, “Konsmo plays it too safe. If he attacked more, on a course like this no one could hold his wheel. He could shatter the entire field, sit up and wait for a handful of reinforcements, then decimate whatever was left in the sprint.”

One mile into the race Konsmo attacked on the course so that no one could hold his wheel. He shattered the entire field, sat up and waited for a handful of reinforcements, and then rode away. I was panting so hard that I couldn’t hear anything except the opening and shutting of my heart valves. My world had been reduced to the six inches of pavement in front of my wheel. I made the first turn, struggled along at the rear of the lead group for a minute or two, and then imploded.

However, I wasn’t worried. Konsmo’s number was askew and had been haphazardly attached with yucky spray stuff that would leave ugly marks on his jersey. He was coming back.

At that moment a pro rider who had missed his start came whizzing by with a grin. “Yo, Wankster!” he said. “Hop on!”

Sergio slowed down to a crawl, I attached, and he dragged me over the climb, where we picked up Tri-Dork, MMX, and a host of other droppees. Tri-Dork was having the ride of his life. Our reinforced group, driven by my awesomely pinned number, chased down the leaders.

I turned to MMX. “Poor bastards,” I said. “They don’t have a chance.” I slapped my number in confidence. MMX shook his head and moved up, clearly regretting the decision to let me wear the SPY-Giant-RIDE team outfit. We trolled along the crosswind and hit the right turn up the climb.

Leibert, who must have gotten a number adjustment along the way. Hit the first roller with a vengeance. “Thanks for the tow,” I muttered to Sergio.

“No problem,” he laughed. “You’re back in the mix now! Do it!”

So I did it. “It,” of course meaning that I sputtered. I coughed. I choked. I flailed. I got dropped.

Right there, my race hopes died, and things went from bad to worse. Tri-Dork passed me, and roared on to an incredible 12th place finish. At the end of the race there was a small de-naming ceremony where he was placed on the podium and the Poobah from Pearblossom waved his magic meth stick over Tri-Dork’s head and spake thus: “Oh, mighty Tri-Dork, eater of In ‘N Out, spreader of butter on his beer and ale, goofy bastard who is fain to hold a straight line at Boulevard and who descendeth Punchbowl with the ferocity of a Russian meteorite, he who lacketh the gene of Quit, who rolleth like thunder despite his inherent Tri-dorkiness, today we de-name you “Tri-Dork” and hereby christen you forever and henceforth “Anvil” for the crushing weight you drop on on your adversaries, and for the fatness of your own posterior which aids your descending and does not in the least impede your uphill skills against featherweight manorexics half your size.”

A quite graveside service

At the end of the second lap my dead hopes and dreams, bleeding and inert, were rudely shoveled off the racecourse and into the ignominy of the car, where I undressed, put on jeans, and sobbed quietly over my perfectly pinned on number. Little teardrops formed sad hearts and drippy unicorns as I cried and gently rent by breast.

Then I went back to the start/finish to cheer the racers and let the women feel my satiny skin while extolling the virtues of a kimchi-based diet. The women were impressed with my skin, but not so much with the kimchi. “I bet you fart all the time because of that stuff,” they said.

Now that you mention it…

The final shakedown

As I stood there cheering it occurred to me how much more awesome it was to stand on the roadside with a cold energy drink, snacking on Cheeto’s, and having cute girls feel my satiny skin was than pounding out a tattoo of death with angry, forceful, road warrior assassins hell-bent on inflicting misery and pain on wankers like me. I made a mental note of this.

On the final lap, Konsmo caught the three breakaways with 400m to go and left them like they were planted in cement. He roared to what can only be described as the most impressive victory for someone with a poorly sprayed-on number in the history of the sport.

Showing the grit, determination, and toughness that made them borderline mental cases for persevering in such a hopeless display of defeat and pain and misery and disappointment, the rest of the field dribbled in.

John had a great result, and we returned to Los Angeles enjoying an extended rehash of each and every move and countermove. I explained in great detail how Jay LaRiviere, with whom I’d had an Internet dust-up the year before, had caught me, dropped me, and ground me into dust. Revenge, as they say, is best served up cold, although in this case the extra flavoring of pain, altitude, endless climbing, and physical and mental collapse probably made it even better.

“Still,” I said, “he’d have done even better if his number had been pinned on straight.”

END

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This is gonna hurt: BWR preview 2013

February 10, 2013 § 17 Comments

Last night Spivey and I prepped for our first BWR recon ride of 2013 by eating sausage, noodles, cooked intestines, gristle, rice broth, kimchi, strips of fatty beef, cabbage, and miso. Yes, there was dessert. Yes, it involved ice cream. Yes, we shouldn’t have. No, we did. The result? 4:00 AM today came real fucking early.

We got to Encinitas a little after seven. It was cold. We had coffee at the Lofty Bean. Spivey had a triple organic chocolate fudge brownie cake croissant tart. “My lady love has me on a new healthy diet,” he said. “So I have to cheat like hell whenever I can. Want to grab a double-cheese stuffed pizza with sausage after the ride?”

“No,” I said. I was concentrating on a growler of oatmeal and coffee, topped off by more coffee with extra coffee on top.

The plan was to do the SPY slugfest from RIDE Cyclery, then regroup and tack on 50-60 miles of the Belgian Waffle Ride in order to review some of the new dirt/mud/water crossing sections that have been added for 2013. Spivey and I got to RIDE Cyclery and were joined by the usual collection of misfits, lardkettles, and doomed-to-a-nasty-shelling wankers who habitually show up for this weekly beatdown only to get, of course, beaten down.

In addition to the thick and sagging cannon fodder, there was a mighty contingent of heroes, listed below, with the tail-dragging, weakest wanker listed last.

  1. Thurlow Rogers a/k/a The Hand of God a/k/a THOG
  2. Michael Marckx a/k/a MMX a/k/a “Yes, sir.”
  3. Brian Zink
  4. Lars Finanger
  5. Erik Johnson
  6. Steven Davis
  7. David Anderson
  8. Ryan Dahl
  9. Caitlin Laroche
  10. Harold Martinez a/k/a King Harold
  11. Josh Alverson a/k/a Gearhead
  12. Kelsey Mullen
  13. Dave Gonyer
  14. Michael Williams
  15. Katja the Awesomeness
  16. Josh Goldman
  17. Anthony Vasilas
  18. Andy Schmidt
  19. Tait Campbell
  20. Brent Garrigus
  21. Paul Douville
  22. Jim Miller
  23. Jimmy, Dude in DDS Kit
  24. Marc Spivey
  25. Wind
  26. Road
  27. Mud
  28. Dirt
  29. Stabbing Rollers
  30. Wankmeister

Coming in hot

It seemed like a terrible idea, mostly for me, to start the recon with the weekly SPY Saturday beatdown ride. The reason? It’s really hard to have a good 50-60 mile recon ride after you’ve been shelled and shattered and mutilated and ground into powder on a 20-mile “warm up.”

We came up the first stabbing climb in the neighborhood so hard that about one-third of the wankoton evaporated in the first 300 yards. Spivey’s chocolate tart decided to lock horns with the pig intestines and the forty or so pounds of “cheating” that were still “hanging around,” and he kicked things in high reverse with the next acceleration of the group, not to be seen again for a few zip codes.

I’ve done this stupid ride several times now, and it always hurts worse than the time before, and I always swear I’ll never to it again. Today I faced the reality of getting dropped for good on the neighborhood climb, and just as I started explaining to myself how awesome it would be to grab Spivey, do a u-turn, fuck this stupid bicycle stuff, and go back to Lofty Bean for a second (and third) round of chocolate tarts, up came Caitlin.

“Hey, Wankster! Glad to see you!”

I cursed her silently. She wasn’t even breathing hard. Bitch. “Uh. Ugggh. Ahh,” I said.

“Glad you’re here to show me where the turns are! I don’t know the route!”

I wanted to tell her that I’d be happy to act as tour guide but she’d be doing it off the back, but at that moment the torrid pace relented, I caught my breath, then caught my legs, and somehow made it to the top of the climb. The group had crumbled into less than half of the eighty or so who rolled out.

Spivey caught us at the light, but the next push up Rancho Santa Fe spit him out the back again to do battle with the chocolate/intestine/noodle/Haagen-Dasz mixture that had become so toxic to the up-and-down motion of his legs.

Full gas ’til midnight

MMX, THOG, Lars, Brian, Ryan, and Erik kept pushing the pace up San Elijo to Elfin Forest Rd., with more little fritters wrapped in soft and chewy dough frying and popping in the heated oil, then bounding off the back where they were gobbled up and quickly digested by the twelve-headed beast known as Ego Devouring Reality.

I kept staring down at my legs, which did nothing but turn slowly and burn as if they were roasting on a spit, and then stare up at Caitlin and Katja, and curse them silently as they went easily with each and every hard surge. When we finally got onto Elfin Forest Rd. I sat up and drifted to the back for some additional wheelsucking and rest, when I discovered that I already was the back, “back” meaning “last fucking wanker in the slaughterhouse,” and it was only with great mashing of panicky pedals that I reattached.

Spivey was so far back now that he’d radioed ahead for coffee and donuts at the church a few miles up the road.

When we did reach the church I’d learned several secrets of the ride, the most important being that if you wanted to meet and greet and learn the names of the Swami’s dudes, you had to go to the back. Those wankers had such an allergy to the point that I thought they’d been imitating me. I mean, the back end of the peloton was pure Swami’s blue, with one lone SPY jersey (mine) to dishonor the otherwise manly and womanly work of the team.

At the church we regrouped and waited for the detritus while taking turns urinating in the parking lot, urinating by the dumpster, urinating in the bushes, urinating in plain view, urinating by the fence, and urinating over by the swingset, which was vacant, otherwise certain riders would now be wearing orange jumpsuits and frantically calling 1-800-BAIL-BND.

Spivey limped in ten minutes later looking like he’d finally come to terms with the chocolate and the intestines, but still had an outstanding issue or two with the noodles and the ice cream. His face was an odd shade of gray, somewhere between near-death and a two week-old corpse.

“Where’s the donut shop?” he asked.

I shrugged. “Back in Encinitas, maybe.”

Running on empty

I could tell from the minute we left the church parking lot that my ride was over. My legs stung with that leaden sensation on every little riser, and we were going slow. Brent came up to me. “That was fast. PR fast.”

I felt a little bit better about having been on the rivet from the beginning to the end, but worse as I contemplated doing the rest of the ride completely gassed.

We picked up the BWR route on Summit, which hurt beyond belief. It hurt me, anyway. Chris Williams laughed when he heard me wheezing. “Easy, hoss!” he said.

King Harold, who hadn’t cracked a sweat yet, tried to make small talk. “So you and Spivey had a big meal last night?”

I ignored him as we turned down the little dirt section before the climb up Bandy Canyon. Just the tiny undulations of the dirt sapped what little I had left. I sat up. Dave Gonyer slipped back to take my pulse.

“I’m done. Don’t wait for me,” I deja-vu’d him.

“Nah, I’m waiting.” Gonyer never leaves the corpse of a teammate on the field of battle.

I got surly. “No, dude, really, I’m done. Go on.” My speed had dropped to a few mph. He could see the prow of the bony ship settling beneath the waves.

“You know the way home?”

“Sort of. But I’m in my own private hell. Thanks for waiting, but get up there. I’m done.”

He nodded and rejoined the group as they pulled away. Spivey looked back, gleefully, then receded with the group. Revenge, as he well knew, is best served at the bottom of a steep canyon climb on blown legs miles and miles from home in a cold headwind on unknown roads.

New dirt, old dirt, new hell, old hell

The group proceeded to do the new dirt section at Little Dieguito River, and conquered the old dirt at Questhaven, with a few intrepid souls (including that bastard Spivey) manfully charging all the way up Double Peak as the others wisely opted to finish the ride without swallowing that final live scorpion in the tequila bottle.

But they did it all without me. I limped back to Encinitas as broken and slow and beatdown and crushed as I’ve been since…the last time I did a BWR recon ride. As I tried to determine the source of my collapse, I identified all the likely causes:

  1. Still hadn’t recovered from Boulevard the week before.
  2. I’m weak.
  3. Pace on the first part of the ride was too brutal.
  4. I’m slow.
  5. Night before gluttony had sapped me of the will to do battle.
  6. I’m not very good.
  7. Three hours of sleep had deprived me of recovery.
  8. I really suck.
  9. Etc.

Back at the car I rendezvoused with Paul and then Marc. Paul had been towed home by Tait. Marc had been shepherded by Jim, and was euphoric at my epic collapse. In the car ride back to LA he gloriously recounted his conquests to Dan Cobley, neglecting to mention any of the difficulties he’d encountered when the sledgehammer was applied to his nuts at the beginning of the ride

“That was kind of a one-sided recounting,” I said.

He grinned. “Everybody has an angle, buddy, and I have mine.”

“Is our next stop gonna involve a double-stuffed cheese pizza with sausage and Canadian bacon?” I asked.

“You know it!” he said.

And it did.

Celebrating the end of 2012 with a stomping

January 1, 2013 § 14 Comments

Tink’s mom looked at my car and wasn’t much reassured by the dented fender and legion of scrapes. “Where’s his bike rack?” she asked.

“Pretty sure he doesn’t have one.”

“How is he going to get both of your bikes down to North County?”

“I don’t know.”

They sat there and waited for me in the pitch dark. “I hope he has some way to carry your bike.”

“He said it would be no problem.”

“I really don’t want to drive you down to San Diego this morning for that bicycle ride.”

“He said there was room.”

Oh, ye of little faith

I appeared out of the 5:30 AM darkness. Tink had already unloaded her bike from her mom’s SUV. I laid my bike in the trunk, knocked down the back seats, threw down some towels, and laid Tink’s bike, wheelless, atop mine. Her bike was so small we could have tossed in a barbecue grill and still had room for the wheels.

Then we were off.

Tink has been in winter build and Strava stealth mode. Unlike the rest of the year, when it’s one epic crushing after another, she’s been quiet for months. This New Year’s Eve, SPY Optic and RIDE Cyclery were putting on an event to celebrate all the good things that had happened in 2012. Unlike the typical North County ride menu, this one was billed as “no hammering,” “anything but a race,” “good times for all” and encouraging “riders of all abilities.

What could possibly go wrong? I was already tired and needed an easy pedal to finish out my year.

What could possibly go wrong

The wise Marvin Campbell had tried to dissuade those lulled into a false sense of security by posting on FB these immortal words: “It’s a trap.”

The victim of several sorties down south, Marvin knew an ambush when he saw one. I, however, actually believed MMX. Again.

As we rolled out, there were all sorts of red flags waving–blowing–whipping–in the early morning chill. The red flags went by the names of Thurlow a/k/a The Hand of God, Tintsman, Hamasaki, Dahl, Gonyer, Johnson, Quick, Day, Pomerantz, and Shannon. In addition to these evil omens, there were another twenty to forty lean, sculpted pairs of legs that looked anything but “encouraging” or in the least bit interested in “good times.”

“Is this really going to be an easy ride?” Tink asked. She’d never ridden down south and was looking forward to a social pedal during which time she could meet this new cast of characters.

“Oh, yes,” I assured her. “MMX would never bill something as an easy ride, attract a ton of riders, and then tear their legs off. He’s just not cruel like that.”

I looked around at the estimated two hundred riders that were now swarming along the coast road and hoped I was right.

Hidden Valley, where all is revealed

At some point in the ride the throng had been reduced by half. One of the reductees was Paige DeVilbiss, who had hurried down from Fullerton, missed the pre-ride coffee chat, gotten shelled at mile four, chased back on, and then gotten kicked out the back for good at  mile eight. This was a classic North County welcome: “So glad you’re here, hope you enjoy this kick in the face and the solitary ride back to your car and the even more solitary ride back to your home.”

By the time we hit the bottom of the Hidden Valley climb, thanks to the “conversational pace” and “happy times,” Tink was the only woman left. If there were any conversations that took place the entire day, they turned out to be monosyllabic grunts and nods of the head interspersed with the random moan and plea for mercy.

Unaware of what lay ahead, Tink took an inopportune moment to start in on a candy bar just as the group hit the first climb. Her mouth full to prevent breathing and one-handed to prevent effective climbing, the road kicked up. Tink struggled at quarter power to get up the nasty climb. She wasn’t about to spit out and lose her precious riding fuel.

Those who were behind her, and there were many, were disturbed to see her easily power up the climb one-handed while chewing a mouthful of food.

A small contingent of nine riders crested the climb. I struggled over in tenth place many bike lengths between me and the leaders. After a few twists and turns, we regrouped, hit the short dirt section made famous by last year’s BWR, and climbed the back side of Summit.

This time I stayed on the wheel of The Hand of God, who cracked jokes all the way up the climb. “My coach told me not go any harder than I’m going now,” he said with laugh. Everyone else gasped and struggled and grunted.

Tink was just behind us, never in any trouble at all, easily pedaling among the leading ten or fifteen men. With the exception of me and MMX, none of the other riders knew her or had any inkling of what they were dealing with, and over the course of the morning her presence began to stand out more and more.

It slowly dawned on them. Tink wasn’t just the only woman left. She was out-riding most of the men who remained, and the men who remained were the good ones.

Going out in style

A solid 60 miles into the 67-mile ride, there were less than forty riders left. After a gradual uphill punctuated by a roller where MMX smashed the group, we got back together in time for a screaming flat, tailwind run-in to something. Not knowing the course, the only thing evident was that everyone knew what was going on except me.

The friendly “Sure, take that wheel, mate” instantly transformed into “That’s my wheel, fucker, and I’ll kill you if you try to get it.”

The survivors stretched out into one long, unbroken line of pain until whatever it was we were so desperately eager to get to was gotten to. Everyone sat up and stared at the road ahead. The back side of San Elijo marched off into the sky.

I looked at Tink. “We’re going up that bastard. Get on MMX’s wheel. Now.”

“I can’t hold his wheel!” she protested.

“Get the hell up there,” I grumbled. And she did.

Three quarters of the way up this miserable, endless, soul-crushing climb, the 40-strong pack was mostly together. MMX and The Hand of God rode tempo on the front, having commanded that “None shall pass, and neutral shall this climb remain.”

I swung over to the right-hand gutter and pushed through the front, sailing by The Hand of God and MMX.

Note to self: Never, ever, ever, simulate an acceleration or an attack in the presence of THOG.

See that slumbering bear? Why don’t you poke its eye with a stick?

The other wheelsuckers, seeing my effrontery, responded in kind. The peloton detonated and I was soon swarmed, and shortly thereafter dropped. As the heaving, gasping, grunting, groaning cadavers spiraled off the rear like a spent roman candle, one rider was having no difficulties at all.

It was Tink.

She shed the group and raced ahead to the leaders, who were being slowly roasted, then cannibalized, then dropped, by The Hand of God. As she passed me she rubbed salt in the wound by smiling. Then she rubbed arsenic into the salt by speaking. She said something that sounded like “Atalzchstsaek talk?”

But all I could respond with, and it was only in my head, was “How the fuck do you have breath to waste on talking?”

She sailed by MMX, sailed by the remaining human shrapnel, and easily crested the peak. Only a handful of the best riders in the state, and one of the greatest American bike racers of all time, were ahead of her.

That was the last climb of the day. I was toasted. She was warmed up and smiling.

“What a great climb! Are you okay?” she asked, unused as she was to seeing my bloodless lips and eyes hanging 3/4 out of the sockets.

“Tink,” I muttered, “if I keep riding with you in 2013…”

“Yes?”

“It’s going to be one long, miserable year.”

Humans have evolved, or something

July 21, 2012 § 8 Comments

This dude I’m not friends with on FB posted the results of the USCF national individual time trial championships from 1982. I was eighteen, had not yet started college, and had not yet bought my first road bike.

Scanning down the list was awesome. Names from the present were right up near the top–Thurlow Rogers, Steve Hegg–and other, less famous names of people I  knew well and/or raced against stared were there as well. Texans Stan Blanton, Terry Wittenberg, and Lone Star transplants Bob Lowe and Andy Coggan were all on the list. Each one of those guys was tough, and fast, and tough. Did I mention they were all really fucking tough?

It didn’t take long for my eye to wander over to the winning time, 55:10.52. In 2012 the USA Cycling national ITT winning ride was by Dave Zabriskie, 40:41.44 over a shorter 35k distance in a race that was contested by US professionals racing for UCI trade teams. Those 1982 guys included the top US amateurs, but no UCI professionals.

In thirty years the races couldn’t have become more different. That event in 1982 looked nothing like the one in 2012 in virtually any respect.

Compare that to the 10k distance in track. In 1982 Alberto Salazar held the American record in the 10k at 27:42. Today, the American record is held by Galen Rupp, at 26:48, a thirty-year improvement of less than four percent. Those apples can easily be compared to the apples of 1982.

My first contre-le-montre

In 1984 I did the Texas state ITT west of Houston, and turned a 1:04. I flew out into the tailwind, blew up after the first ten miles, then slogged back into the headwind, a textbook case of how not to ride a time trial. Even so, there were plenty of people who went a lot slower than that. I still remember the guys who could break an hour were demi-gods. A time trial bike meant one without water bottles in the cages, or 32 spokes instead of 36.

In 2005 I did another 40k ITT, this one also outside Houston, in Katy. I still had the same bike configuration from 1985, but everyone else rode full TT everything. I turned a 1:05 or maybe it was a 1:04. Compared to the people I was racing against this was so slow as to merit incredulity. It didn’t make any difference that in twenty years I’d not lost much, perhaps because there hadn’t been a lot to begin with.

I’m afraid it’s mostly about the bike

A winning state TT time over 40k these days can be expected to break 56 minutes. Although drugs unquestionably play a role, what remains to explain the newfound speed is aero technology. The cumulative effects of disc wheels, slippery clothing, helmets, shoe covers, tire technology, aerodynamic frames, and radically improved body position mean that people go faster today because they have, quite literally, purchased the speed to do so.

Of course the people who win still have to suffer like dogs.

Looking at those results from 1982 made me think that there is something more impressive about a 40k ITT with minimally aerodynamic equipment than going ten minutes faster with all the trick stuff. Andy Paulin smashing into the wind, all six feet five inches of him, without a helmet or disc to help with the effort…something about that makes you admire the man and covet his ability rather than making you want to purchase his rig and his wheelset.

Which, frankly, is how it ought to be.

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