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.”


“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?”


“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?”


“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? 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.”



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§ 28 Responses to Pin to win

  • jack from illinois (not my real name) says:

    your number pinning is merely adequate. had you been paying attention to details, you would have used at least one more pin. It would come from inside the jersey, through the middle of the jersey and back down into the jersey. As pinned by you, your number acted as a gigantic parachute which caused all types of drag, power loss and general loser-ocity. Had you bothered to take one tiny extra step, your number would have been sleek and aero. it would generate negative drag at all possible angles and yaw. You would have won this race and caused leibert at konsmo to crap in each others pants.

  • Albacore says:

    Everything Fireman and I do at work is prefaced again and again with the words, “Safety first.” Well, us being dumb, wannabe bike racers, our wanker mentality permeates every aspect of our life. So we came up with our own rules:

    1. Have Fun. This first rule can be debated as to how much it applies to the self-abusing suffering that is itself bike racing. But, we all at least started riding bikes because it was fun. Then, in a show of the obvious lack of sound reasoning, we decided to pin numbers on and “compete” with other like minded mental deficients.

    2. Look Good doing it. This may be the most important rule. It is easily swapped for number 1. This is why we meticulously pin on numbers, why we buy Dogmas and have an anal, washed up albeit superior, bike mechanic build it, and why we match kits — both clothes and bike (gruppo). Interval training, diet, watt analysis? Psst, how tan are my shaved legs and does my jersey exactly match my bibs? Did I wash this jersey 54 times and my bibs 46 so now the jersey is 100nm lighter than the bibs? Photos out on the course don’t give place rankings. The viewer just sees it and says, “Damn, he looks fucking good. Must be pro/fast/bitchin.”

    3. Safety Third. Our lawyers made us put in there somewhere.

    • Admin says:

      I didn’t start riding for fun. I started riding because I had to get to school, and it was faster than walking.

  • craig b. hummer says:

    damn you Wankmeister! ‘Tri-Dork”s moniker allowed me SO many avenues of ridicule on my many leg-numbing rides with him…now, ‘Anvil’ intimidates me to no end…i curse you back to the bowels from which the original ‘Oreamnos Americanus’ was spawned…i may forever leave bike riding, become a shepherd, and cruise the internet for Suduku challenges worthy of my mental capacity (‘zero’)…

    • Admin says:

      I’m hoping that with the name change he’ll at least nod politely as he rides me off his wheel.

  • JP says:

    lol! Awesome post. I also “had a great race” because despite being pushed out the back like a kimchi shit, I finished!

  • Tri says:

    Anvil sounds like a promotion. Was kinda getting comfortable with the other name. Funny stuff!

    • Admin says:

      Well, the de-naming committee can always reverse its decision and re-re-name you a Tri-Dork. It certainly stands out. Only problem is, it’s hard to really get fired up calling someone a “dork” when they’re tearing up the race course. In your case, though, we can make an exception since you insist. It will also make Hummer feel better.

  • dan martin says:

    Since I actually make a living with one..Anvil should contact me and learn the training secrets of lifting one and incorporating a deep squatting motion. Such targeted excercise has been proven to make wankers into winners. I just havent done it enough yet.

  • I got dq’d at the start line once for folding my number …the grinches who were officiating that day ‘required’ that numbers be whole and unfolded….
    the race was in LA and I was in San Diego….It was a long drive home

    • Admin says:


    • steven says:

      I have to call BS on this one. The Rulebook says you cannot fold, spindle, mutilate, etc. your number. This is THE USAC RULEBOOK, not the local grinches.

      (Rule 1J7)

      The numbers need to be intact so the judges can SEE it so they can PLACE the riders. You probably think the number is visible just the same without the white background surrounding it. It is not. You probably also think you are faster with the number all folded up like that. Hey, maybe you are. If you really are faster with your number folded, you are cheating.

      Rule 1J5(b)


      The correct Official’s response is to make the rider UNFOLD the number and then pin it on again. Unlike his Wanky-ness, you and I can get this done in 30-60 seconds. Numbers were being re-pinned, and starts were even being slightly postponed so numbers could be made more visible at EACH of the following races. Note that these are just the ones that I saw:

      1/13 Ontario (QUITE A FEW)
      1/20 CBR (uhhhh…LOTTS!)
      2/2 Boulevard (LOTS!)
      2/3 Red Trolley (EVEN MORE!)
      2/16 UCLA/Juniper Hills (Yep… LOTS!)
      2/17 CBR again. One guy was even picked out of the starting lineup by one of the officials and shown to all of the riders queued up for the Cat 5 race as an example of HOW TO PIN IT ON CORRECTLY.

      NOBODY was sent home at any of these races due to any number problems. Anybody who was at any of these races saw the officials checking riders’ numbers before each race and helping them fix them.

      Somehow, WM got that superbly pinned number to pass muster though. It looks like the FOLDS are less than optimum. The center of the folds should be highest, and the edges lower. Fold vertically first, number side to the outside. Then FLATTEN and fold horizontally, number side out. Separate folds, WM!! I mean, what is a Stradivarius pin job without a Guarnieri fold first?

      • Admin says:

        I know a good therapist. Not good enough for whatever ails you, though!

        Nice post. Detailed. Insane. Scary,

        My number had only one tiny fold at the armpit. What “folds” are you referring to? Are you not wearing SPY Rx lenses?

      • steven says:

        Nice product placement, WM! VERY pro!! And you are sooooo right…I could see better if I could locate my SpyOptics Rhett glasses in Tiger Tortoise with optional Rx lenses and even more optional anti-reflective coating…Oh, there they are…

        I meant the quartering folds…the bisecting creases. You are making the edges catch the wind, man! Not referring to that stylish corner delete…

        And…uhhhh…thanks for the therapist referral. Long ago it was a choice between a lifetime of painful therapy and grad school. Turns out that neither one helped.

        • Admin says:

          Yes, the folds were a flail. I had to jam it in my pocket after registration and chose to fold (bad) rather than crumple (death penalty).

          Grad school IS therapy!

      • steven…don’t know how old you are…but this was 1974, and it was the Acton Road Race, and there wasn’t a USAC then…in fact…I think it was the ABL (which was before the USCF), and the SCCF was then called the SCCA, before they got (threatened to be) sued by the Sports Car Club of America, which didn’t like the SoCal Cycling Assn. using their abbreviation, or whatever. And the rule book took me 3 months to get, AFTER I mailed in the 75 cent check for it (Alright, that amount might be BS, but it did take a looong time to come). So I raise your BS call by one old school, and rest fairly sure that my 1969 ABL Junior license (still in the scrapbook) probably trumps your post.
        Notes (you will love this shit):
        1) Back then ONLY white socks (no logos) could be worn. White socks or NO socks could be worn (or not worn) on the track.
        2) The District Rep (Robert Enright) went to virtually every race, and had a ruler which he would use to measure the lettering on your shorts and jersey to make sure it was rule worthy.
        3) Almost every race had an equipment check where a trained gorilla
        tried to roll your tires in an attempt to make sure they were glued on correctly (and nobody rode clinchers).
        4. Cat 5 was still a wet dream in Ernie Seubert’s twisted mind.
        5. Eddy B was a mechanic for the Polish National B team.
        6. Looking cool was warming up with your “Danish Racing Helmet” (Patent leather hair net) perched ‘just so’ over your stem.
        7. The widest and deepest bars available were Cinelli Model 66-42 cm.
        8. No hand slings in Madisons.

      • steven says:

        WM, can you keep a secret? Didn’t think so. Anywho, I have been told that the wrinkled number death penalty, although still on the books, has been rescinded. NO FOLDING still, but wrinkle away! If you should be caught or killed, I will disavow any knowledge, etc.

        Cowboy, I stand corrected. In 1974 that may very well have been the standard. Ya got me, pardner…my 1974 SCCA license totally trumps your ABL ducat, though. Maybe. Yes, the TR3 that died very often, but kept being fixable.

        The thing that really trumps my post bigtime is that you are still bitter after almost 40 years. Acton. 1974. Those bastards!!

        • Admin says:

          Bitter is the only taste that we learn to love in old age. And it’s the most subtle, sophisticated, longest-lasting taste of all.

      • steven says:

        …and bitter, once fully embraced, has a curiously addicting effect for which there is no substitute!

  • Drew Carlson says:

    Been following your posts for only a couple of months, and they are hilarious! I’m now ready to try a kimchi-based diet…

  • […] Imagine my surprise to also find out that I’m not the worst USAC-ranked Time Trialist in the country, nor even the state. Somehow I’ve acheived all of this without a pointy helmet or disc wheels. I only purchased my clip-on bars, aka ‘The Couch’, as a way to take pressure off my wrists/hips on centuries. I don’t even have them tuned to a mathematically-precise configuration tested for hours in the wind tunnel. I think I also may have had my numbers loosely pinned. […]

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