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.

Enter the Dragged On

October 1, 2012 § 11 Comments

“I’m really sorry, dude,” he said with an extremely apologetic and embarrassed tone of voice.

I looked at his sincere expression and was impressed with how badly he obviously felt. He was a young fellow, clearly nonplussed at the mix-up, and his first instinct was to do the right thing and apologize. I took all that into account, and with a polite nod I accepted his words in the spirit they were offered. Then I said, “Get off me you stupid fucktard,” and pushed him backwards by the throat.

With the other hand I shoved his chest, even as the cascade of idiots kept piling atop us, screaming, cursing, skidding, and clumping like a spaghetti bowl of arms, legs, helmets, bikes, cranks, chains, and wheels in a grimy sauce of sand.

First ‘cross race ever.

First lap.

First technical spot on the course.

And mowed down from the rear like fresh meat in a men’s prison.

Yesterday, Karma Bitch was just getting warmed up

I banged on the bars to straighten them, put the chain on, got the brakes working, and hopped on my bike. The last of the idiots from my Sub-wanker Cat 4 “C” group had just started to scale the sand wall at the end of the sand pit.

After a few pedal strokes I saw that the front derailleur no longer worked. At the bottom of the wall I dismounted, and this occurred to me: “What kind of fucking bike ride is it where you have to get off and scale a wall made of loose sand?”

I struggled up the sand wall, and this occurred to me: “What kind of fucking bike ride is it where you have to carry your bike while running uphill in loose sand?”

I tried to remount, smashed my shin against the pedal and racked my nuts on the sharp end of the saddle (MMX had warned me against trying the jump-remount technique), and this occurred to me: “What kind of fucking bike ride is it where you bloody your shins and bust your balls on the saddle?”

Then I tuned in to the fat bald guy at the top of the wall who was screaming so hard that his pale skull throbbed with purple, swollen veins, “Puke and spit ’til you shit blood, goddammit! Puke and spit! Catch those bastards! Puke and spit!”

Next to him was an even crazier fellow who was profoundly drunk even though we’d yet to crack the hour of eleven a.m. This gentleman had a giant black megaphone and it was stuck between his legs from the rear so that it looked like it was coming out of his ass. He had bent forward and, with his head between his knees, was mouthing huge farting sounds into the megaphone.

This occurred to me: “What kind of fucking bike ride is it where you’re exhorted to puke and spit and shit blood and be faux farted on by drunks?”

The answer occurred to me, finally: “It is cyclocross.” And the race wasn’t yet five minutes old.

Success in ‘cross is nine parts preparation, one part Preparation H

I had arrived early and ridden two laps around the course. Set in the middle of a dustbowl in Costa Mesa that serves as as BMX track and breeding ground for thorns, the racecourse started with a few turns in dirt and then went through the massive sandbox, up the wall, over a cement sidewalk lip that hit your rim so hard and so deep that your skull felt like it would rattle off your neckbone, through more dirt, up and over a tight mogul that accelerated into an off-camber mogul with a tiny chute off to the left that if you missed put you in the thorns but if you nailed tried to throw you over the bars, then along more dirt to a jerk-up dirt mound also with a narrow chute that you could either nail and coast over or miss and stall out on the steep top of the mound, and then sharply down into a high-speed right with more thorns and loose sand, a brief respite of more dirt and dust along a flat section, and then into the BMX bowl with a quick drop and climb, then down a head-first elevator drop, up along the edge, 180-degree pivot and down a second elevator shaft, around a couple of turns, and a fast drop and straightaway until you hit the grass, which was partly muddy, wending past trees that all shouted “Hit me!” and through more soggy shit and around a turn and then what-the-fuck-is-this-here where someone had placed a couple of barricades and you had to jump off and either time it perfectly or rack your shins and have the people behind you run you over, and of course there are tons of people camped out next to the barricades to watch you trip and hopefully hang your bike on the lip of the barricade so that you bellyflop into the mud, and then remount from a standstill if you’ve fucked it up while the gazelles leaped back on their saddles without ever breaking stride or spearing themselves in the balls, through more grass and sharp turns and bingo–you’ve completed one fucking lap and felt like you’d run a Paul Ryan marathon with ankleweights, all the while people calling you a slacker and a sub-wanker and ringing cowbells and laughing and enjoying the shit out of watching you dis-enjoy the shit out of riding your bike with only four or five or a thousand more laps to go.

This all seemed impossible at recon speed. Once the whistle blew it was ten times faster and a thousand times worse.

Taking Karma Bitch head-on

The rest of the race was as advertised: sheer dick-stomping agony at threshold, with trees, barriers, sand, moguls, drop-offs, and briar patches at every turn. My swollen and bruised ankle banged against the crank arm every few pedal strokes until it was a bloody, throbbing mess of flesh and pink sock and pain. I chased and passed wanker after wanker, but never caught the leaders, and never so much as caught sight of Jules, who had done on the ‘cross course what he does on the Switchbacks: Show up, nod, and ride the fuck off.

After what seemed like days I saw Hines on the sidelines and shouted out, “How many laps?”

“This is it!” he said.

I sliced through a few more turns, crossed the finish line, and left the course filthy, bleeding, drained, sore, gasping, and DNF’ed as my placing never showed up on the Sub-wanker Cat 4 result sheet which was posted, appropriately, on the back of the port-o-potties.

Five minutes later I was on the start line for the 45+ A race, which was easily the second toughest field of the day, sporting hammerheads like MMX, David Anderson, Victor Sheldon, John Hatchitt, and a sprinkling of other veteran badasses. MMX had summed it up when I told him I was doing the 45+ A’s immediately after the Sub-wanker race.

“Oh,” he said. “So you’ll be completely gassed before the race even starts.”

Victor helped get my chain onto the big ring, as I’d ridden the previous race in the small one. It’s nice to start your race knowing you’ll do the whole thing in the big ring, and having your fingers covered in black grease-and-sand tar.

The whistle blew and everyone rolled away. In the BMX bowl a kindly spectator shouted out, “Yo, Wanky! You’re dead fucking last! Do you hear me? DEAD FUCKING LAST! Get your ass up there!”

So I hammered until I caught the one gasping, gaffed fish who was dangling ahead, passed him, and, no longer last, set the needle at “cruise” for the rest of the race. I got passed by the 35+ B racers. Then the 45+ B racers. Then a pack of kids. Then a flock of starlings. Then by an empty oil drum. And finally by Jules. “What’s he doing out here again?” I wondered. “He’s already raced and won three times today. Isn’t it his bedtime?”

When MMX and the leaders lapped me, I was enjoying myself thoroughly. No longer compelled to dash crazily over the barriers, I daintily dismounted, stepped over each one, dusted the crud off my shoes, and remounted. No longer afraid of the sand pit, I coasted easily through it and walked–yes, walked–at a leisurely pace up the wall. Bald Dude and Farter looked on in disgust. “Aren’t you even gonna TRY?” asked Bald Dude.

“Yep,” I answered with a smile. “But not any more today.”

I know I really shouldn’t, but…(Part 2)

July 26, 2012 § 8 Comments

Spivey and I got the morning started off in his garage taking turns ripping our thumbs out of our palms. He had over-tightened the quick release on his front wheel, and by the fifth try we had wrapped a towel around our bleeding hands and were inventing new combinations of “motherfucker” and “shitfuck” and “goddamned cocksucker,” etc. This was the high point of our day.

We arrived in Encinitas and the SPY/Swamis participants on the Godfather’s 48th birthday celebration ride trickled in. They all had that gnarly, unpleasant, “Where’s my fucking coffee?” look that augurs ill for any bike ride.

MMX gave his customary speech, thanking everyone for coming and expressing his pleasure at the day’s route. We would do the Swamis ride through Elfin Forest to the church, then meander out up Summit to Bandy Canyon, back through Rancho, around by the lake and then home. It would be an “enjoyable” ride, according to the Godfather.

Those who knew him, which was most everyone, realized that it would be a crushing beatdown from hell. What better way to celebrate inching closer to death than with a punishing assault up and down the roads of North County?

The boys in yellow

In addition to the fifty-five riders from North County and environs, Alan Flores had made the drive down from Newport, Bill Holford from Long Beach, and Francois, Maxime, and Brieuc had rolled over from Annecy, France. They were part of the wheel engineering and marketing team for Mavic, who has just released the new C982X14.219 integrated hub-spoke-wheel-tire system. They’d come to California for the product roll-out, and also to kiss the signet ring of the Godfather. You can read about the whole thing here.

The Mavic wheel was fucking rad. The tubular and rim are seamless, so that when you rub your hand (or penis) along the rim up and over the tire there is literally no change in surface curve from the rim to the tire. It’s as if the tire and rim and molded in one piece. This reduces drag coefficient by 78.82 Å, but raises the drat coefficient by 17.8 Mofos, as changing the integrated tubular looks about as complicated as one of those charts that shows all the different parts of a woman’s reproductive organs.

When I asked Francois about changing the tire, he laughed. “It is so simple, in fact. We radio the neutral car and they simply come and replace the entire wheel.”

Of course. I’d forgotten that when you’re in charge of support for the Tour, mechanical problems are a cinch. We all got inordinate pleasure later on when Maxime needed to adjust his seat but didn’t have a wrench. I got to go around to everyone and say, “Hey, the Mavic neutral support guys need a hex wrench, 4mm. Anybody got one?” It was even more awesome when one of the guys did.

What was super cool about the Mavic guys was the way they “represented.” More than just engineers or marketing shills, these guys could ride. They took everything that the North County riders and roads could throw at them, and acquitted themselves more than honorably. It was cool to watch how smooth they were on the bike and how easily they fit into the peloton. I often got the feeling that they were taking it easy on us, in that golf-game kind of courtesy where it’s uncool to stomp the living shit out of the people you’re hoping to do business with.

Rolling with the rollers

Each time I’ve gone to North County for a ride, I’ve been crushed. The crushing hasn’t been administered solely by the heads of state, either. Chubby dudes on fixies. Girls on ‘cross bikes. Elderly gentlemen learning how to ride again after their triple bypass. No genera of rider has been unrepresented in the classification of “Stomping Wankmeister’s dick in North County.”

I’ve tried to figure out why that is, and after reviewing my past power files and carefully analyzing the Strava data, it’s pretty clear: I suck worse than they do. What else could explain getting dropped on Rancho by everyone, including that nice lady in the Seven jersey who just got into cycling in February? What else could explain having to lean up against Spivey’s car after the ride to keep from falling over after getting off my bike? What else could explain having the whole group wait half an hour for me to catch up?

Well, actually, there is a factor above and beyond my suckage. It’s the fault of the North County roads.

Unlike the South Bay, where you are either riding flat, doing huge climbs in the Santa Monica mountains, or doing steep medium-length climbs in PV, North County San Diego is just rolling. All routes. All the time.

When you roll out of Encinitas and start the Swamis loop it’s a series of short rollers. They’re hard because of the pace, but not steep. You can find a wheel and hunker down. Same for Elfin Forest–there are plenty of short zingers, but nothing to kick you out the back per se.

The problems start to accrue after about forty miles, when the incessant rollers have, like a frog in a slowly heated pot of water, gradually brought your muscles to a boil. You stand out of the saddle–perhaps on Summit, or perhaps on Bandy Canyon–and you realize that there’s nothing left. By the time the pack rolled away from me and Spivey on Rancho, even though we’d had a 20-minute break and a coke, we were at whatever level of flaildom comes after “Code 6 Wanker.”

The bikers who live and train in this shit all the time–the MMX’s, the David Andersons, the Victor Sheldons, the Erik Johnsons, the Ryan Dahls, the Stefanoviches, and all the other “gimme my fuckin’ coffee” wankers and wankettes–have no problem. For them it’s another easy or semi-challenging sixty miles in the saddle. For the Wankmeisters, Spiveys, and other poor bastards whose strength lies chiefly in their ability to imagine how great they are, it’s a total fucking beatdown.

How much of a beatdown? At the hip little breakfast joint afterwards, Spivey and I were so fucked up we couldn’t even mutter phrases of obscene admiration at the luscious cuties who brought us our oatmeal and burritos. Yep, that much of a beatdown.

Comparing apples to apples

Inquiring minds likely want to know how the North County Swamis-type ride stacks up against the local South Bay institution, the Donut Ride. Well, it doesn’t. Unlike the Donut, which lollygags all the way to the bottom of the Switchbacks unless there’s a Sergio or a Rudy or some other legit rider with a bug up his ass, our route started hard, was hard in the middle, and finished hard. On the other hand, North County visitors such as MMX and Stefanovich have showed up on the NPR and after a few hard efforts quickly realized the importance of having a large group within which to find shelter and relief. The key point is that although those guys can come up to LA and hang with our rides, I certainly can’t go down south and hang with theirs.

Maybe with a bit of practice that will change. Or not. Unfortunately, as soon as I hear the phrase “Let’s go down south to ride with the SPY guys!” that old desire to join the ride wells up again, just like my third grade desire to talk out of turn. Wish I could repress it, ’cause I know it’s gonna end badly.

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