My plan was simple. Our race went off at 10:35. There was a Firestone beer tent in the middle of the esplanade that opened at 11:00. I would pedal at the back for twenty-five minutes, quit, and go over to the beer tent and quaff craft brews while the other idiots pummeled each other into submission.
This race had everything that SoCal bike racers loathe. It had a turn that required some skill to negotiate. It had a howling wind for a long stretch that crushed your will to live. It had a slight incline that prevented you from gaily sucking wheel until the last lap. Worst of all, it had blistering dry heat that seared the inside of your lungs into sandpaper, and the harder you breathed the worse it hurt. As if the demanding course weren’t enough, the 45+ Elderly Gentlemen With Prostate Issues category was stacked: Thurlow, Hill, Strickler, Flores, Clare, Hatchitt, Rahm, Arellano, and a host of other tough guys toed the line, which meant that any kind of decent result would be legitimate indeed.
Fun for the whole family (if your family is wholly brainless)
No man who races bikes and doesn’t have fundamentalist Islam-type control over his wife ever shows up with his lady in tow if they’ve been married for more than six months. This is because the wife figures out after the first two races that a) All office parks are ugly, hot, nasty places to spend a day, and b) Her husband always finishes 45th or lower, or crashes out, or both.
However, the 805 Series promised to be different. It was in Santa Barbara County, a place that Angelenos love to visit on the weekend so that they can pay $10 for a cup of coffee and sit in five hours of traffic on Sunday evening on the drive back home. Santa Barbara also conjures up images of beautiful scenery and countless small wineries where, under the guise of being an oenophile, you can stagger from tasting room to tasting room so thoroughly drunk that you’d be unable to differentiate a Cabernet from a glass of the finest 2013 Pennzoil 10w/40.
Santa Barbara is one of the few places that the tight-fisted, selfish bike racer can coax his wife to visit by promising winery tours and a romantic dinner, then doing the last-minute bait-and-switch by saying, “Fuck, honey, I’m wasted from the race. Let’s go back to the Motel 6, watch some porn and drain a case of Coors Light.”
I had cornered Mrs. Wankmeister into a negotiated truce. “You’ll love it up there, honey,” I promised. “Beautiful scenery, wine tasting tours, and a change of pace.”
“Onna last trip onna Palm Springs inna summer my butt was bakin off. It’s like a Palm Springs, huh?”
“Oh, no! They don’t let meth heads into Santa Barbara County unless they’re affiliated with the university. We’ll be up by Solvang, a cute little Danish town with windmills and such. It’s so picturesque with wine tasting tours and tours where you can taste wine and wineries where you can enjoy wine tasting of wine.”
“Why’s a Denmark gonna know about making onna wine? Denmark’s a place onna codfish and porky salt and whiskey I thought. I never heard on no Danishmark wine.”
“Well, the wine’s not Danish, it’s the little town. It’s very cute with windmills and such.”
“It’s soundin like onna Palm Spring. All they had onna Palm Spring was a big Marilyn whore and a boys and men looking up onna her skirt. And you was lookin so hard onna up her skirt you got the neck strain and we drove all around tryin to find you onna aspirin.”
“It was just a statue, honey.”
“I know it was onna statute honey and you know it was a statute honey. So why you was standin onna her skirt tryin to look onna her clamparts? Alla clamparts you’re looking onna Internets, what you thinkin on seein on her clamparts? You seen one clamparts you seen a million.”
It was touch and go to get her off the clamparts discussion, but I finally prevailed. She wasn’t very happy about it, but at least she’d agreed to go.
Plan the work, then work the plan
Before the race started, we had a team meeting. Our leader, Flamethrower Flores, gathered us around. The cool thing about being part of a big team like SPY-Giant-RIDE is that everyone has a role to play. We can do things together that no one of us can do alone. When everyone is part of a bigger plan, it makes you feel worthwhile and gives you a sense of mission. That’s why I love this team.
“Andy, set the pace from the gun. Make it fierce enough to sap the will of the cannon fodder so they won’t try to follow a break.”
“Hatchetman, stay towards the front and roll with any breaks. If one leaves without me, I’ll bridge and you’ll be there to help.”
“T-Rex, if a break gets up the road without any of our guys, go to the front and bring it back, or at least get us close enough to bridge. Obviously, if it boils down to a bunch sprint, we’re leading you out.”
“Lupus and Jimbo, cover moves and if we get someone up the road, go to the front and clog the chase. If it’s a bunch sprint, you boys are first and second in the leadout train.”
They nodded. “Okay, guys,” Flamethrower said. “Let’s roll.”
“Uh, hey, man,” I said. Everyone turned and looked. “What about me?”
“Oh, yeah, Wanky, uh, do your usual thing. You know, go to the back and don’t get near any of your teammates.”
“Oh,” I said. “What about, like, if there’s a break? Should I block?”
Hatchetman leaned over. “Let me make it real fucking clear: You get anywhere near any of us and I’m putting your ass into the barriers. Last week you damned near crashed out the entire team. If you want to help, get your ass to the back, do your usual full brake flail through the turns, swing wide, cut inside, and scare the crap out of everyone behind you. But don’t get near any of us. And that’s an order.”
“Got it, buddy!” I said, thrilled to have a clear mission and the total support of all my teammates who all agreed on my very important role.
Rubbing shoulders with the big boys
In addition to being part of such a cool team, the other great thing about racing is getting to hang with the legends of the sport. My favorite part is the warm-up around the course, where I get to shoot the breeze with the really good racers. Of course, they know who I am and we always get to share thoughts about racing, one man to another as it were, peers.
As I cruised through Turn One I came up next to Stricky. “Hey dude,” I nodded. “Good course, huh?”
“Get the fuck away from me, you goddamned kook. You almost fucking took out my front wheel on the last lap in Ladera Ranch.”
“Got it, bro. Have a good race!” Next I pulled up alongside Thurlow. “Hey, dude,” I said.
He didn’t say anything, but he wasn’t ignoring me. He’s just quiet like that. “How’re the legs, man?” I asked.
He still didn’t say anything, but I know he heard me. He’s like that, you know, even when he likes you a lot and thinks you’re a cool dude too, he sometimes just doesn’t say anything. It’s his way of saying something without really saying anything. “Have a good race, dude,” I said.
He answered by not replying, which was cool. Some people are just intense that way. As I started to pass him he glanced at me. “Don’t pass me,” he said.
“You heard me.” Then he glided on through the turn. He wasn’t being hostile or anything, he actually likes me a lot and really respects my riding. There was just that thing at CBR where I accidentally almost took out four dudes in the warm-up lap and maybe he was just jittery or something.
I finished my lap knowing I had the full support of my teammates and the respect of my adversaries. We lined up. The ref read us our last rites and fired the gun, and we were off.
There is a moment in every bike race, if it’s any kind of bike race at all, when, after chewing the enamel off your stem, pounding so hard you want to vomit, surging and jumping with such ferocity that your knee joints ooze blood, draining the last drop of sugar goop out of your fourth bottle, and shooting every last bullet in your magazine, you realize that there are still 55 minutes left to go in the 60-minute race. For me, that moment had arrived in the town of Buellton. I knew that the smart thing to do was quit while I was behind, but if I were wedded to smart things I wouldn’t have been in a bike race to begin with.
I’d spent the first few laps careening wildly through the turns, and I knew I was doing my job because every few seconds some poor sap behind me would let out a scream, followed by the sound of a bike hitting the curb and flipping over into the barricades. It didn’t take long before I had thinned the field considerably and was the very last guy in the group.
The course was brutal, and the slight climb, the searing dry heat, and the industrial blow-drier hot wind had shredded the pack. Andy had set a nasty pace, with Lupus and Jim pounding the whimpering remnants into submission. Finally Flamethrower launched and dangled off the front for six miserable laps. When Amgen brought him back, he countered and a split formed with him, Thurlow, Hatchetman, Gentleman John Slover, and Mark Noble.
This was the moment the entire pack was waiting for: The moment when the real racers could speed off and flog their demons in the teeth of a relentless headwind and the rest of the wankoton could sit up, plan for dinner and tea, and “help the team” by “blocking.” In reality, we were all so beat to shit that it wouldn’t have mattered who was in the break. We went from a long, thin line to a fat amorphous lump as soon as the breakaway rode clear.
My mission accomplished for the day, at 11:00 sharp I sneaked out the back and rolled straight into the beer garden. I can tell you that the Firestone 805 is lighter and tastier than the Firestone DBA, but the difference isn’t really clear until you’ve had five or six apiece in order to properly tease out the flavors. From some foggy and slurred place I watched Flamethrower outsprint Thurlow and Mark Noble. Another awesome team victory that I could notch on the stock of my gun. They couldn’t have done it without me, and the only thing I really wondered was “How much will my cut be?”
Burrito love and the tattoo of death
The next shellacking on offer was the 35+ race. A handful of 45ers had lined up, wrongly thinking that they’d get in a little “extra training.” What they were really about to get was an unforgettable beating.
The temperature had soared to 105, the wind had cranked up another 5mph, and the fierce looks of fresh riders like Full Gas Phil, Vampire, and the Italian Stallion telegraphed their intent to rip it from the gun.
I wandered into the Mexican food joint that sat on the third turn, a super fast left-handed sweeper whose curb was so close to the restaurant window that you could see the spaces between the teeth of the racers as they railed the first lap mouths open, tongues lolling, and flecks of spit already clogging the corners of their mouths.
I thought momentarily about going out into the blistering heat to cheer but the waitress arrived with a four-pound verde burrito with cheese and covered in cheese on top of several layers of cheese. I sank my teeth into the cheese as two riders came through on Lap Two.
It was Full Gas Phil Tinstman on the point with Vampire on his wheel and some poor bastard trying to twist sideways and also hunch down in order to get the slightest bit of a sliver of a draft from Vampire, the only rider who can stand next to Full Gas and make him look morbidly obese.
They hit the convection oven headwind heat blast and Poor Bastard melted and dripped through the oven rack a completely destroyed piece of meat. Full Gas hit it harder and as the pack came through single file the numbers had already thinned.
The Italian Stallion tried repeatedly to get away but each effort was marked by an already wasted peloton that was strong enough to mark moves but too weak to bridge or bring back the break. After thirty minutes of the seventy-minute race had passed, the field was whittled down to thirty riders. Sixty had started.
The remaining flailers looked wild-eyed and crazed from heatstroke as Full Gas and Vampire widened their lead. From time to time I considered cheering them on, but the burrito was still mostly there and the sun’s glare looked so uninviting. By race’s end a mere twenty desperate riders were left. Full Gas dumped Vampire coming out of the last turn like a redneck emptying his ashtray out the window while blowing down the Interstate at 90. The finishers all had a whipped and ruined look that reminded me of someone with food poisoning, a bad hangover, and Montezuma’s Revenge.
I finished my burrito and walked to the beer garden.