The 2013 Poor College Kids Road Race started fast, downhill and into a crosswind. The bunch was nervous. Maybe eighty idiots rolled out; less than half would finish.
It was impossible to move up, so tightly were we packed together. Everyone felt feisty and strong and ready for the challenge at hand: Fifty-six miles of road racing in Santa Barbara County on rolling terrain with one moderate five or six-minute climb.
In the beginning, before we all hated one another so intensely, there was much pointing out of obstacles, especially the first triple set of road dots that caused lots of skittering and whoa-ing and rear wheel sliding. Then we roared through the first gravelly turn with a couple of riders going sideways but not falling down, and then the pace went full-gas into the tailwind which soon became another crosswind.
The next time someone says bike racing is “fun,” I will vomit on them personally.
We hid behind one another as much as possible until the climb approached. A mile or so out there was the familiar groaning and scraping and crunching and disharmony of Idiot A’s front wheel lurching into the rear derailleur of Idiot B and both grinding into a massive twisted morass of broken carbon frames and smashed wheels and curses and cries and blood and minced flesh and the ultimate terror (“Fuck, how’m I gonna ‘splain this to my wife?”) but the second I heard the first tiny little squeak presaging the crash I stomped on the pedals and shot ahead, never looking back to see who had fallen and caring only about saving myself.
We went up and over the climb, a few lumbering stragglers getting popped at this test-em-out, totally doable pace, and then went through the rollers and roared down into the start finish and began the second of four laps.
It slices, it dices
On this second lap the pace ratcheted up so suddenly that we were all forced into the gutter, hiding from the crosswind but too stupid to form three or four echelons. We hated each other too much to form echelons. Better to force our rims up against the edge of catastrophe and batter into the sliver of slipstream than go wide, provide a full-lane echelon, and take turns.
Echelons are for wind-savvy Flandrians. Sun-soaked saps from SoCal just ride in the gutter and suffer like idiots, drooling blood and spit onto their bars and shrieking “Fuck this hurts fuck this hurts fuck when is this gonna end fuck I’m quitting after this lap fuck why doesn’t that asshole give me another inch of pavement fuck I hate bike racing!”
Through the gravelly turn again there “warn’t near as many as there was a while ago,” and some sadist at the front began pounding again so that by the time we hit the crosswind it was almost unendurable. A break of seven or eight pinched off and rolled up the road, the guttered peloton unable to chase because the break was riding in an echelon but the group was a single file pushed up against the yellow line, smashing the BOTS dots with bone-jarring contact bam-bam-bam-bam-fuckwhenisthisgonnaend-bam-bam-bam-bam-fuckgivemejustaninchyoubastard-bam-bam-bam-bam.
MMX, stuck in the front of the chase bus, launched to join SPY-Giant-RIDE teammate Alan Flores, who had already spent the first lap in a leg stretching solo attack and was now part of what would be the day’s winning move. MMX clawed his way across the gap, mashing and battering and forcing himself onto the tail of the break as we left-behinds regrouped, with the more adventurous pushing the pace until the break was all but caught.
Don’t sit up before the catch
Team Helen’s and the handful of other poor sods who’d worn themselves out on the BOTS dots because they were too selfish and mean and stupid to echelon and who now didn’t have anyone in the break, brought the pack to within perhaps fifty yards of the breakaway, then sat up without closing the gap. At that moment we hit the climb.
The break dangled, got even closer, then crested the climb and was gone.
We never saw them again. Greg Leibert from Big Orange, Benny Parks from Jessup Chevrolet, Flores and Marckx were all there, as well as Chris Hahn the loner, back from his exile in the land of mesothelioma fundraising to the only home he ever knew: Racing bikes for $50 and a water bottle prime, sucking wheels, screaming orders, riding randomly, surging, opening gaps, and infuriating his breakaway mates.
After one outburst, Flores finally rode up to him. “Dude,” he said. “Shut your fucking mouth and ride your goddamned bike. It’s a race, not a fucking debating contest.”
The third lap was more terrible for the left-behinds than the second, if such a thing could be, and it was. The left-behinds with no one in the break gnashed their teeth and ground their gears at the front, destroying the weak of spirit, the jiggly of flesh, and the spindly of leg. We tore down the crosswind section, again stupidly in the gutter, raced through the tailwind, then guttered out against the BOTS dots, bam-bam-bam-fuckthissucks-bam-bam-bam-givemeaninchyoucock-bam-bam-bam, too stupid and cruel and mean and stingy to follow King Harold’s lead as he tried in vain to show the idiots the palliative effects of forming an echelon.
Hell ends in one more lap
The fourth lap was the easiest, as the left behinds had nothing left, the sun was going down, a bitter cold was setting in, exhaustion, bonk, hopelessness, and the dull emptiness of a lost battle in which all was sacrificed for no good reason slowly sank in. Andy Jessup flailed up the last climb, dropping the left behinds briefly, only to be reeled in a mile from the finish. In the insane downhill leadout to the line, where grown men with jobs, families, assets, and social standing flew headfirst to the finish at 40 mph, risking everything for 8th place in a 45+ older gentlemen’s prostate contest, some wanker who had a lock on 26th got chopped and landed on his head.
As he lay writhing and screaming in agony, blood everywhere, bike parts scattered like a swap meet after a tornado, flopping and moaning and crying, I pulled over to help drag his carcass out of the way so that the heroes charging in for 30th and 31st, heads down, didn’t t-bone what was left of his battered and bleeding body.
In the final tally Benny Parks took overall prostate honors, followed by someone else, followed by Chris Hahn, who had committed all manner of sins against His Leibertness in terms of wheelsuckery and other assorted violations of the Code Of Honor Among Wankers, followed by His Leibertness, followed by somebody, followed by MMX, who had destroyed the little band of brothers with a fratricidal attack in the closing kilometers, followed by He Of The Iron Nutsack Alan Flores, then a dribble and a drabble, and finally a surging field sprunt win by Aron “Gaudy” Gadhia, nipping Big Steve Gregorios at the line, who, along with Dave Gonyer, won the award for Most Gigantic Mountain of Human Flesh to Make it Over that Fucking Climb Four Times with the Field.
Mongo just pawn in game of life
Mongo Pappe and I had driven up together; he’d done the race on his ‘cross bike and I’d done the race on bile and spittle and chunks of lung. Whereas Hatchitt and Taylor and Gonyer and King Harold and the other teammates had done yeoman’s work controlling the front, Mongo and I had skulked at the back, cursing the gutter and getting as tiny as we could and trying to park behind the biggest butt we could find.
We listened briefly while DS Hatchitt debriefed the team on our combined fledgling tactics. “Wankster,” he said. “Where the fuck were you? I thought you’d been dropped.”
“I was back there, uh, conserving.”
“Conserving for what? You should have been chasing the wankers who were trying to bridge.”
“Oh. Well, I uh, was…”
“The only time you stuck your nose out in the wind was when you dashed up the hill with KK and almost dragged him up to your own teammates in the damned break.”
“Well, I was, uh, trying to sort of be a, like, you know, a decoy.”
“It was stupid. Don’t do it again.”
“And Mongo!” said the DS.
“Yeah?” Mongo answered in his tiniest voice.
“What the fuck you doing riding back there with that slacker Wankmeister?”
“I was trying to, er, help, uh, the team, you know…”
“I do fucking know. You were shirking back there with Wanky sucking wheel on the fat guys while the rest of your mates were up here busting their balls. Next time follow the First Rule of the Peloton, okay?”
“Sure,” said Mongo. “Uh, what’s that?”
“If you’re anywhere near Wanky, YOU’RE FUCKING OFF!”
Before returning to the car. Mongo looked at me. “Was that race as much fun for you as it was for me?”
I looked around to make sure no one could hear. “Hell, yeah!”
We laughed, high-fived, and headed back to the hotel.