So there I was, with a game plan. Sort of.
I had met up at 5:40 AM with Jack from Illinois (not his real name), and we did a couple thousand feet of climbing along with a couple thousand more feet of lying about our fitness, and then gave up the whole charade at the Sea Bean and Olde Larde Shoppe at Terranea. After three rounds of coffee and sugary honey buns, I checked my watch.
“Shit! I’m gonna be late for the race!”
Jack nodded sympathetically, the way people do who recognize profound mental illness in a friend but nonetheless tolerate it. “You better get going, then.”
“Yeah!” I answered, seeing the opportunity to dash off and stick him with the check, which I did.
I sped by San Pedro and its Memorial Day weekend hookers, then Torrance and its Republicans who love Medicare, and over to the race course at Dominguez Hills. My race started at 9:00, and I was just in the nick of time. “Yo, Vera!” I shouted to the organizer and money collector and Boss of the Race. “Give me a number and pin me up! I’ll pay you later!”
“You’ve got plenty of time,” she said.
“My race starts in five minutes!”
“The 50+ Elderly Gentleman With Incipient Prostate Issues Race! Hurry!”
“They went off at 8:00. Slowly. You missed the start. The 45+ Not Quite So Old Gentleman Who Still Enjoy Regular Erections Race goes at 10:30, if you want to do that one.”
I didn’t really want to do that one
The 45+ race is filled with fast youngsters, and I don’t like racing against them because they always trounce me. Left with no alternative, I drew up my battle plan and lined up.
- Sit in.
- Sit in a lot.
- Sit in the whole race.
- Wait until the last lap.
- Get a double-double cheeseburger with bacon and extra lard at the Five Guys in Carson.
- Roll home. Literally.
- Explain to Mrs. WM how I’d almost won.
The race began and a pair of wankers got off the front. A couple of laps later they came back. The peloton slowed to a crawl as the riders thought about the Barry Wolfe crit beatdown on Sunday, the state TTT beatdown on Saturday, the uber-beatdown ITT the week before, the impending beatdown of death in Bakersfield on tap the following weekend, and about how they’d really prefer to chill for 45 minutes and sprunt at the end, all things being equal.
Stick to the plan, man
As soon as the peloton slowed, I attacked with my signature Giant Red Bus Loaded With Passengers Going Up A 25-Percent Muddy Slope attack, and caught everyone off guard. They apparently thought I had a mechanical.
A few pedal strokes later and my effort had succeeded. One passenger tagged along, a guy with as little tactical sense as me, or less, Tony from Pinnaclife.
We traded pulls, with him throwing down Fabianesque efforts that immediately put the field out of sight. “This,” I laughed to myself, “has got the smell of victory.”
Two laps later, Tony swung over. “I’m done, dude.”
I sniffed, sensing the all-too-familiar reek of total defeat. “You fucking kidding me? We’ve got forty minutes to go.”
“Sorry,” he said as giant plumes of flail poured out of his ears, nose, eyes, mouth, and butt.
“Shit,” I said. “Just sit on my wheel, rest, and come through when you can. We’re screwed.”
Keep your head up
Of all the disciplines I’m not known for, the one I’m most not known for the least is time trailing. Every couple of laps Tony would come through, but after a few pedal strokes he would do the Gasket Droop, which happens when you’ve blown a head gasket and your head starts to droop as you look stupidly at your Garmin and think “Wow this is slow but why’s it so painful?” and then your head droops some more as you stare at your thighs and think “Wow this is so painful where is all this pain coming from and why am I here?” and then your head sags so that your eyes are gazing at your navel and you hit a manhole cover at speed even though Lotts has painted it electric green and you crash out the dude behind you and flip yourself over the curb and into the blanket with the nice lady and three kids who are eating peanut butter sandwiches which is now smeared all over your face and derailleur.
“Keep your head up, stupid!” I’d shout, and Tony would jerk his head up for a few strokes, only to let it start to sag again.
There is an art to keeping your head up when you’re gassed and miserable and hopeless and mashing in a two-up flailaway that’s doomed to be caught and shelled, and Tony hadn’t mastered it, so each time he came through, and it wasn’t very often, I yelled at him to keep his head up in a cheerful and supportive way, using friendly modifiers like “fucking” and “dogdammit” and other terms of encouragement.
Save it for the end
During our doomed expedition, the announcers called two primes, one for a bucket of Cytomax Pomegranate and Liver Flavored Decovery Drink, and another for a bag of coffee. Tony let me have both primes, clearly unaware that they were the first primes I’d won in 30 years of bike racing (except for the used water bottle with mold stains that I won at a Tom Boyden race outside Dallas in ’84), and with these two primes alone I’d notched more glory than in any bike race, ever.
Bored with our slowing flailaway, and with the pack now in sight, the announcer announced a “field prime” to hurry up the chasers and put us out of our misery and them out of theirs, because in the world of stupidly, incomprehensibly, unenduringly boring things there is nothing more numbingly dull and untertaining than watching a slow breakaway in a slothlike Old Folks Crit. Coming out of Turn Three, national champion and General Hero from the Planet Zetron-X, Steve Strickler, launched an attack to bridge to our flailaway.
With him was Gary Wall, who zoomed by me in search of the field prime. What Gary didn’t know is that I had heard that this prime was for a free CBR race entry ticket, i.e. something that would actually save me money, so I stomped after Gary had sat up and pipped him for the incredible, unbelievable, almost inhuman record of collecting three primes in one race. In those few seconds I began to think about doing drugs and turning pro, or at least doing drugs.
When the force be’s with you
Our little sprunt + acceleration had gapped the field, and another Pinnaclife flailer joined us with a La Grange gentleman of the brain-dead variety. We now had a new Breakaway of the Hopeless, and we gunned it. The peloton receded again, and a quick time check after two more laps showed that we had less than ten minutes to race.
Suddenly, fourth place looked possible. As I rotated off and slid to the back, I checked over my shoulder and saw the awful sight from Hell, otherwise known as the Surf City Cyclery Bridge of Death.
Strickler was towing his minions to our flailaway. With him was Kenny Rogers, fresh off his triple platinum recording of The Gambler, and, worst of all, was Smilin’ John Slover.
They caught us, hammered through, and instantly transformed our weak and tattered flailaway into that magical, mythical thing of beauty, an actual breakaway. I now had instantly transformed a nondescript fourth place finish into seventh. Rad!
Strickler, Wall, and Rogers pounded on the front, and I stupidly got into the rotation, occasionally looking back at Smilin’ John, who refused to do a lick of work. “Why doesn’t he pull through?” I wondered. “If he sits in like that all day and lets his teammates do the work, he’s going to win. Idiot.”
Finally, exasperated, I started to whimper. “Hey, John, why don’t you take a pull? It’s fun up here! Really!”
Smilin’ John just smiled as Strickler and Rogers drilled and grilled with such fierce nastiness that now I was the only other idiot rotating through with them.
The man, the myth
Slover isn’t just one of the strongest and fastest riders in SoCal; he’s one of the most experienced and one of the best workhorses. He’s been racing for decades, and when he races in the 35+ crits he’s the go-to guy for bridging, riding the break, and leading out whips like Charon Smith. Sitting pretty in the break, with two of the biggest motors gaining more and more real estate from the field, he’d grin at me each I came through, the grin of a shark about to munch on a plump, tender little baby seal.
On the final lap, with Strickler hammering into the headwind and Slover shouting at him in third wheel, “Faster! Faster!” it was an out-of-body experience. They were going to kick my ass.
“Wait,” I told myself. “They’re already kicking my ass.”
Strickler’s pull was so long and my fourth wheel slot afforded me so much rest that when we whipped through the third turn I’d recovered, and so I dove tight into the turn and made my bid for glory. Three strokes into it, I realized that perhaps I hadn’t really recovered after all.
Kenny jumped hard far over to the right side, which was actually the longer line, and in moment of stupid decisiveness, poor judgment, and lack of confidence, I drove back to the other side of the street and latched onto Slover.
This was like latching onto a rocket just before liftoff, because when we hit Turn Four, Slover was just flat fucking gone. My legs and arms were dismembered at the joints, but I now at least had second place down cold because Kenny was fading.
Like any good thoroughbred, though, once he’d launched his teammate to victory, Kenny heard me panting, gasping, thrashing, and flailing to come by. He put his head down and gave one more huge effort, easily besting me at the line for the giant tub of Gizzard Flavored Cytomax and a $35 check.
Smilin’ John rolled over and clapped me on the back. “Good race, dude!”
I stuffed my tongue back into my head. “Thanks. Urgle. Gurp.”
He did the next race, rode the break and got on the podium.
I went to Five Guys and drowned my happiness in cow parts. Praise be to cows. Oh, and I’ve got a nice tub of Pomegranate and Liver decovery drink for sale. Cheap.