Part I: The Venus fly-trap
I stood in the sunny parking area, having just arrived at Boulevard, and contemplated the only thing that a bike racer contemplates before registering and changing into his battle garb: Where are the port-o-potties?
Then I remembered that Boulevard had none. The smart money voided the chamber up at the Golden Acorn casino gang toilets; the dumb money drove down to the race site and used the quaint wooden latrines.
I peeked into the first one, which was easy to do because it had a large window with no glass in it, facing directly from the barbecue and parking area into the direct view of a toilet. On the down side, if you were scarfing a hot dog with chili and looked the wrong way, you’d catch a full frontal of someone grunting and straining away to make space for another round of wieners.
On the upside, if you were the one grunting and straining, you got to watch all your friends drink, eat, and be merry while you took a little sunbath and did your business.
I looked in and was greeted by G$, trousers around his ankles as he soaked in the scenery and the sunshine. “Yo!” he said. “Don’t be shy!”
I stuck my head further into the window and looked at the other two units. Using either would have required a hazmat suit, so I sauntered around the building and entered the other toilet. This one had no windows, was almost pitch black, and had a single unit stuck over in the corner. Spiders and roaches and a scorpion scurried off as I approached.
My eyes adjusted to the gloom, and indeed the unit was spotless. It’s amazing how clean a public pooper will remain, even in a barbecue venue frequented by tweekers and chili-dog aficionados, when it’s guarded by scorpions.
I brushed a couple off the rim and into what was sure to be a very unpleasant way to die, even for a scorpion, and settled in. I could hear footsteps outdoors and voices.
“That other place was out in the fucking open practically. I ain’t shitting there. Gotta have my privacy.”
The two speakers stepped into my domain and saw me over in the corner. “Oh, wow, dude, sorry.”
“No problem,” I said. “I’ll be done shortly. Just watch out for the scorpions.”
If it looks sunny and feels warm, put on an extra layer
After registration I got dressed. Thermal undershirt. Thermal arm warmers. Jersey. As I got ready to put on my thermal long-sleeve jersey, Quickie drove up. “Yo, dude!” he said. “I got 34th here last year!”
“That’s, uh, awesome.”
“You got 36th!”
“Yeah, you were behind me.”
“That makes sense, I guess, if you were 34th and I was 36th.”
“Yeah, you were 36th. I was almost 33rd.”
“Fucking pit bull chased me down on the final climb. I tried to sprint away but cramped.”
“Did you live? Or did he kill you?”
“I had to get off my bike and put the bike between me and him. I thought he was going to eat my fucking frame. That’s how come I got 34th.”
“Bummer. I mean, awesome.”
“You were behind me,” he reminded me again.
“Oh, yeah, well I was behind a lot of people.”
“Thirty-five of them, actually. You were 36th.”
This was getting repetitive, even for me. “Yeah, I guess so.”
“Hey, what’s with the long-sleeve jersey? It’s fucking 70 degrees out here.”
“Yes, it is.”
“You’ll broil in that thing. Stick a butter pat, some soy sauce and ketchup down your back after the first lap and the coyotes will be able to eat you barbecued. Don’t overdress, dude.”
“I won’t. But the wind is howling out on the course. And if you get dropped you won’t finish before five. And by then the shadows will be long. And the cold wind will cut to your core. And your sweat will freeze. And you will die if you’re lucky. The warm weather at the start lulls everyone into a false sense of security. Out on the course the helpless riders freeze and seize. It’s like a Venus fly-trap. Invites you in, then covers you in the toxic goo of your own sweat, spit, blood, and mucous, and kills you. That’s Boulevard.”
“You planning on getting dropped, then?”
“I always get dropped at Boulevard.”
“Yeah,” he said. “Me. too. But I was…”
“Thirty-fourth last year,” I finished.
“Yeah!” he brightened. “And you were 36th!”
Bike racing is a sport of tiny, incremental changes to maximize performance
Lauren and Ron Peterson have helped me immensely as I’ve become more focused on fine-tuning my bike fit. Last winter on a ride Ron said, “Hey, dumbass. Your saddle’s too low. Raise it.”
“Oh. How can you tell?”
“You knees are hitting your chin. Raise the danged saddle.”
“Start with two inches.”
So I did, and immediately noticed positive changes. The next time Ron dropped me on a ride, he said, “Another inch, wanker,” as he whizzed past.
Each time I went to the bike shop to get my saddle raised, the mechanic shook his head. “You can’t raise your saddle two inches at one time. That’s massive.”
“Oh. How much do most people raise it?”
“A giant lift is a centimeter. Usually it’s done in millimeters.”
“Make it three inches, then.”
Lauren had also helped me with my bike fit. “Yo, Wanky,” she said. “That bike posture where you’re all hunched like a dog going after a sofa cushion is robbing you of power. Not that you have any.”
“Fact. You need to find a balance between being squeezed over your bike like a pretzel and sitting up in the saddle like a windmill. Bump up your stem a fraction.”
So I threw away the whole stem and got one of those up-pointing dork stem things that raises your bars about a foot.
“You don’t do things by halves, do you?” she said as we walked over to the Boulevard Cafe to get a cup of coffee.
Victory and defeat are defined by the care one uses in choosing one’s equipment
A few days before the race I’d gotten tired of my road bike, and had taken it over to Luca Brazzi’s for him to part and sell on e-Bay. “Dude,” he said. “Glad to do it, but aren’t you racing Boulevard this weekend?”
“What are you gonna do for a bike?”
“I’ll ride my ‘cross bike.”
Luca looked at me for a minute, pausing politely for the punch line. None came. “Dude. You can’t race Boulevard on a ‘cross bike. You’ll get dropped on the first lap.”
“I always get dropped on the first lap.”
“Then you’ll get dropped in the parking lot.”
“So I’ll get home early.”
“What are you going to do for gearing?”
“What do you mean?”
“You know on the back side of the course where you spin out a 54 x 11?”
“What do you think is going to happen when you’re running a 50-tooth chain ring?”
“I, uh, hadn’t really thought about it.”
“Here’s what’s going to happen: Your fucking legs are going to come unhitched at the pelvis and you’re going to kill whoever’s next to you when they get speared by your bony fucking legs whistling through the air at 50 mph. Here. Take the bike back. We can part it and e-Bay it after the race.”
I had, however, made up my mind. “Nah,” I said. “My Giant ‘cross bike handles better than the Venge anyway. I’ll be fine.”
“You’re nuts,” he said.
Proper nutrition is the key to success
I was fanatical about proper eating prior to and during a race. That morning I’d had oatmeal, raisins, kimchi, eggs, sausage, yogurt, fruit, and coffee. The fartage alone would shell a dozen or so riders.
An hour before the race I carefully unwrapped my magic lunch. Quickie peeked in. “What the hell are you eating?”
“Before a race?”
“Yeah. But I’ve got coffee to wash it down with.”
He shook his head and went back to his car.
Humpster wandered over. He was doing Boulevard for the first time and wanted some advice from a seasoned wanker who’d been dropped every time on the first lap for four years in a row. “What are you doing for nutrition during the race?”
“I’m taking a small water bottle.”
“What are you putting in it?”
“Dude,” he said. “The race is almost seventy miles. You’ll die.”
I thought for a second. “You’re right. I’ll take two.”
He rolled his eyes. “What about food?”
“I don’t need food. I’m just taking a pocketful of these.” I showed him a handful of dates.
“Gross. What the fuck are those? Baby turds?”
“They’re medjool dates. Filled with, uh, energy stuff and things.”
Before I could warn him about the unbreakable granite pit in the center, he chomped hard. Shards of tooth went everywhere. “Dogfuckit!” he screamed. “My tooth!”
“I was gonna warn you,” I said. “About the pit. It’s really hard.”
He stanched the blood with his cycling glove and staggered back to his car. “Don’t worry!” I called after him. “It’s just one tooth! That’s why Dog gave you 32. Or was it 36?”
Quickie, who had only heard part of the conversation, shouted over, “You got 36th, dude! Thirty-sixth!”
Perfect preparation on the day before the race is the key
On Friday I’d ridden to work and then gone to the gym. Since I wasn’t riding hard, I figured it would be a great day to do some squats. I loaded up the bar with two massive five-pound plates on each end and went into a deep squat.
The giant muscled man with tattoos looked on in amazement. “Dude,” he said as I grunted and roared and strained and heaved and pushed and sweated and almost threw out my back as my legs straightened, “you’ve only got ten pounds on the bar.”
It took me a couple of minutes to catch my breath. “I know,” I said. “But today I’m going big, so get outta my way.”
As I finished off the set, a small group of hecklers gathered around the squat rack. “C’mon, Wankster! You can squat those ten pounds! Be the animal! Be the beast!”
“Let’s do it Wanky! Well, maybe you should replace the fives with 2.5’s. Just sayin’!”
After three sets my thighs were so wrecked that Tattoo Dude had to grab me by the armpits to lift me to a standing position. It briefly occurred to me that all this thigh work might not be such a great idea the day before a big race. “Fuggit,” I told myself, and moved over to the inclined leg press thingy.
Still delirious from the massive squattage, I accidentally put on the 45-lb. plates instead of the 25-lb. plates. When I released the switch control protector thingy, the entire contraption came crashing down like, well, a ton of steel plates, jamming my right knee hard into my rib cage. I felt a sharp pain and something under the skin went “pok-kee-t.”
I somehow got the weights back up to where I could engage the protector locking thingy, and tried to stand up. The sharp stabbing in my rib cage was so intense I could barely breathe. Tattoo Dude came over. “You fuck yourself up, Wankster?”
“Where does it hurt?”
I pointed to my rib. “Here…gasp…”
“Oh, you probably just bruised or broke a rib. Get back into the fucking leg press and finish your set. Just don’t hit your damned broken rib with your knee and you’ll be fine.”
He put me back into the leg press thingy and reduced the weight to an amount appropriate for a young elementary schoolgirl and watched as I completed the set. Between the pain in my rib and the pain in my throbbing thighs I could barely breathe.
Tattoo Dude then slapped on a couple of the giant plates, two per side. “Here you go. Now do some calf raises.”
When I finished he picked me up out of the thingy and carried me over to the leg extender. “You wanna go big? You wanna be big? You wanna flex and pop those veins? We’ll get you beefed up in no time.”
“But, Boulevard tomorrow…” I protested.
“Yeah, you can walk up and down the fuckin’ Boulevard tomorrow all day long, and all night, too. We’ll put legs on your skinny ass that will get you all the tricks you can handle.”
He plopped me down into the leg extender and loaded it up with a huge, unthinkable 60 pounds. “Hit it!” he yelled.
Out of fear I jerked my legs straight, each knee joint making creaks and pops and tearing noises that sounded like a wing separating from a fuselage in outer space, that hollow, empty rending sound of bone and muscle and gristle all twisting knotting and grinding. “More, you weakling!” he roared.
Three sets later I was in tears. He carried me out of the gym and set me gently on the curb. “Good job, weakling. You won’t be able to walk tomorrow, but that’s what it takes if you want to go big.”
“Walk tomorrow?” I thought. “I can’t even walk to the car.”
When it all comes together: Nutrition, equipment, adjustments, clothing, and pre-race preparation
Finally zipping up my jersey, I assembled my ‘cross bike. Now I was really wondering about the downhill. How windy would it be? What if I had the gears to hang on the climb, but got shelled on the damned downhill? How mortifying would that be?
I hopped on the bike to warm up, and my legs seized. The weights from the day before had completely destroyed what little musculature I had to begin with. Then I gasped from the sharp stab of the broken rib.
Had I done anything right?
I saw John Hall pedal by, and realized, “Yes, I have. I have the best-pinned on number in the whole damned race.”
John had failed his comprehensive exams in Basic Number Pinning On, and had left huge gaps in the tops of his numbers. Whether he thought he’d save weight on safety pins, or whether he was counting on the reverse sail effect of the billowing numbers to push him faster, or whether he was planning to psych out his competition with the constant whirr, buzz, flap, and chatter from the fluttering paper numbers, it worked, as he turned in one of the great rides of the day.
At the beginning, though, he sounded like a small helicopter. It gave me some measure of confidence. My numbers were perfectly placed so that I could access the dates in my rear pockets and so that the officials could easily read my number. Not that it’s hard to read a number when you’re the last guy crossing the line, alone…
Tune in tomorrow for Part II: The Vomilitious Road to Hell