Some things are simple, like manners. Biking makes these simple things even simpler.
Clawing my way up Latigo yesterday I passed a woman and her boyfriend. “Hey, guys,” I said.
“Hey,” said the dude.
“Nice socks!” said the chick, admiring my pink unicorn Gnarlube calf-high stockings.
A couple of minutes later the dude had caught up to me. “You didn’t think I was going to let you just ride away as easy as that, did you?” he said, rudely, challenging.
“I’m just riding tempo by myself today,” was what I said.
What I thought was, “Fuck you, asshole.” Predictably, things went from tempo to threshold. Then I was by myself again.
What kind of dude drops his girlfriend to chase down a pair of chickenlegs in pink socks? Answer: Someone with very bad manners.
What happens to rude cyclists? Answer: They get shelled. Unceremoniously.
Mind if I leech?
After Latigo I headed north on PCH and met up with the Big Orange contingent a few miles after the Ventura County line. They were coming back from the Rock at Point Mugu. I u-turned and sat in for a few miles, chatting with Ron and Tink until a mechanical caused the group to stop.
I continued on with Robert Ephthamos, a dude with a terribly hard name to pronounce, much less spell, all dressed up in a Garmin kit. “I gotta get home,” he half-apologized as he picked up the pace. I could tell after a few moments that he was a relatively new rider, but game and ready to work.
We rode a hard tempo, easing up while passing under Cher’s compound in Malibu Colony. At Cross Creek we lifted the pace again after the stoplight. A group of four or five wankers saw this as their opportunity for a free ride, and hitched on.
Robert was lathered up, and so was I. After four miles the leeches hadn’t made the slightest effort to come through. “Robert,” I said as he rotated off of a particularly long pull, “make the fuckers pull through.”
My next pull was brief, and Robert had gone all the way to the back. The next guy in line put his hands on the tops as I slowed and swung over. “I can’t pull through!” he shouted.
–Next Line Is Absolutely True–
“I’m not strong enough!” he wailed.
–End Of Absolutely True Line–
I thought he was going to cry, like the time I told my dad “I can’t do word problems!” while struggling over Fourth Grade math.
“I don’t give a fuck,” I said. “If you’re strong enough to suck wheel, you’re strong enough to pull through. This isn’t a charity ride with you as the beneficiary. Get your saggy ass up here and take a pull.”
By now I’d slowed down so much that he could have easily come through, but the belief in his own mind that he couldn’t was so great that he just stopped pedaling. Robert roared by and I followed.
One of the wankers stayed with us, and after Robert and I took our turns he eased up next to me. “Do you want me to take a pull?”
“When you go to someone’s house for dinner, do you ask if they want you to refrain from pissing all over the toilet seat?” I asked. “Hell yes I want you to take a fucking pull!”
He pulled through. Rather large, and rather offended, and very well rested, he began winding up the speed until we were going well over thirty. Robert and I tucked behind the Cadillac draft as I counted strokes. At pedal stroke sixty, his shoulders started to sag and wobble a little bit. Then the speed started to drop. Then his pedal strokes changed from circles to squares to raggedy triangles.
This, of course, was the teachable moment. He’d overcome his inclination to suck wheel and, with a little prodding, had done the right thing, obeying the imperative of the paceline: He’d gone to the front.
Moreover, he’d put in a big effort. He’d behaved in a way worthy of redemption and forgiveness, such that if I now came through steadily and not too fast he could latch on, recover, and perhaps help out a few miles later. He would learn a valuable lesson about sharing the work, and more importantly, about the bonds of friendship that are built between strangers as they toil into the wind at their physical limits, sharing the work each according to his ability.
So I did the only respectable thing that I could do, both as a representative of cycling in the South Bay, as an older and experienced rider, and as someone who understands and profoundly respects what road cycling is all about, which is to say I attacked him so fucking hard that I thought I’d puke.
When my eyes refocused, Robert was pulling through at full throttle, a long string of drool splattered along his face. I jumped on his wheel and glanced back to confirm that our good friend was dropped and a receding speck in the distance.
Just before we settled back into a rhythm of dull, aching pain, Robert asked “Were you trying to teach that guy a lesson?”
“No,” I said. “The lesson was for you.”
He grinned and let the big meat sing.