Clash of the titans

January 27, 2014 § 12 Comments

This weekend’s Big Bike Beatdown in Santa Barbara featured another two-day, two-wheeled brawl while grown men with nothing better to do risked life and limb on shitty roads as they dodged cracks, slammed into potholes, narrowly avoided oncoming traffic, wantonly broke sporadically enforced yellow-line rules, and shook their heads in fury while the braindead moto ref stopped the entire peloton three times for a “pee break.” After the dust settled, a few things were clear:

  1. 90% of the full-on, raging masters peloton would be completely burned out by the middle of March.
  2. 95% of the full-on, raging masters peloton had done enough races so far this year (four) to have a perfect excuse not to show up at Boulevard next weekend.
  3. You can’t make chicken salad out of …

While Facebook broke most of the Internet with repeated posts of race results (“Look! Freddy got 45th in the Cat 3’s! Good job!”), the first real race of the year revealed itself, and it’s a race that we’re going to keep seeing for the next eight months. Yes, the Fastest Legs in the West squarely beat the Best Bike Handler in the West. But it was close, and it promises to get better.

Tale of the tape

In this corner we have Charon (pronounced “faster than you”) Smith, the best crit racer in his 35+ age group. Charon wins more races in a season than most racers even enter. He combines dedicated training, natural speed, courage when things get gnarly, and a profound sense of fair play to produce winning results year in and year out on the SoCal crit scene. Despite the fact that he’s an easygoing guy, he’s a keen competitor, a leader, and great source of inspiration for a lot of people.

It wasn’t too long ago that Charon was essentially racing for himself, having to scrape out every single win singlehandedly. By racing consistently, fairly, and by always congratulating his opponents — win, lose, or draw — he has gathered a strong following of friends who gradually morphed into the best 35+ team in Southern California. No longer forced to race by himself or with one or two teammates, Charon is now backed with serious horsepower in the form of Kayle Leo Grande, John Wike, Ben Travis, Rob Kamppila, and the other first class racers who make up Surf City’s race team. More importantly, Charon’s optimistic attitude and positive message have helped create a team that firmly believes it’s on a mission to win, and win, and win.

With only a handful of races into the season in the bag, Charon’s team has far and away the most victories. Proving that it’s a team, Surf City is stacking podiums, stacking breakaways, and sharing the victories and placings among the teammates. But make no mistake about it: The team’s anchor is Charon, and when the heavy artillery starts firing in a field sprint, he’s the guy lobbing the 16-inch shells.

And in the other corner …

We have Aaron Wimberley, about as different from Charon as a cobra is from a tiger. First of all, the boy has a full head of hair, so you could say he’s won the battle right off the bat. But since it’s not a hair styling contest, we have to judge these two guys on their bikes. Where Charon is the quickest guy on two wheels, Aaron is the best bike handler. Only a few guys have Aaron’s skills — John Wike, the bike wizard who also rides for Charon, and Phil Tinstman come to mind. Aaron has rocketed up the ranks from lowly Cat 5 to getting a bronze medal at nationals on a fiendishly technical course.

He’s unbelievably quick and has off-the-chart race smarts. Scientific, methodical, and unwilling to count further down than first place, Aaron has been in the wilderness for the last couple of years riding with little support and lots of second-place finishes in a crit scene dominated by team efforts. This year, however, he’s moved over to SPY-Giant-RIDE, the best team in the galaxy. (Disclaimer: It really is.) Aaron rides like a gunslinger. Independent, self-reliant, takes no shit from anyone, and is more than happy to explain your shortcomings to you in colorful language. I will never forget the time he described my jumps as something akin to “watching a big blue bus go up a steep hill dragging a space shuttle.”

The question this year is whether Aaron’s new alliance with the best team in the galaxy will create the teamwork and support he needs to beat the Fastest Legs in the West (for an old dude). Judging from the finish at the Mothballs Crit this past Sunday, it could happen.

Roaring into the final 200 meters Charon had the help of Kayle Leo Grande, himself one of the fastest finishers in the 35’s, as a lead-out. Even against these two motors, Aaron managed a very respectable second, with Charon winning comfortably but not easily, but it’s my guess that Aaron’s not showing up in hopes of getting second. More organization and support from SPY-Giant-RIDE teammates could well prove to be the final push that Aaron needs to win against Charon in a drag race.

What to look for

SoCal has few crits that are technical enough to give Aaron a chance to use his bike handling edge. Most of the races are four-corners, wide, and they finish with a fast man throwdown. However, there are some exceptions. Look for Mike Hecker’s 805 Crit series to provide challenging courses, potentially huge crosswinds, and an arena where Charon’s flat-out speed may be offset by Aaron’s wizardry in the turns. The San Marcos Crit will also be a place to see bike handling and a slight bump take the sting out of a drag race finish.

And of course any given race has an amazing crop of first-class speedsters fully capable of winning. Danny Kam, Phil Tinstman, Mike Easter, Chris DeMarchi, Rudy Napolitano, John Abate, Michael Johnson, Randall Coxworth, Jamie Paolinetti, John Wike, Ivan Dominguez, Eric Anderson, Brian Cook, Josh Alverson, Patrick Caro, and Karl Bordine are all 35+ riders who stood on the top step in a crit in 2013. There’s no reason to think they won’t be going for the top step again this year.

Whatever happens … it’s gonna be fun to watch!

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§ 12 Responses to Clash of the titans

  • I’m rooting for John Abate. Go John Go!

  • Sr Geezer Johan says:

    Officially it’s the “center line rule” (3B1) not “yellow-line” since not all roads are striped down the middle. A common mistake is to think you’re good as long as you don’t cross the implied or actual line(i.e. ride on it). The rule states one must keep to the right of the line. So now you can impress the officials by using the correct term to plead a hopeless case…unless you were about to be shelled and had “nothing to loose”.

    Personally I never wanted to be the last rider furthest to the left of the center line. Somehow this weird group think mentality helped me see myself as a smarter less egregious rule breaker/cheater than the poor guy further over the line. Well, until a teammate died 20 years ago when he had nowhere to go while racing left of center when an oncoming vehicle entered the scene…

  • kidalv says:

    A couple of questons and a comment:

    1. I thought Charon was the guy who took the dead to across the river Styx to Hades. Coincidence?

    2. From reading the blog and the book I KNOW that their author never sniffs the front of crit finishes, so on what first-hand information do you base this entry?

    3. Kayle Leogrande — ugh…

    • fsethd says:

      There was a cool photo on FB of the three-up finish. However, I was later advised by actual witnesses that it wasn’t very close.

      Like I say, it’s all true except for the parts I make up.

    • Winemaker says:

      @kidalv – I agree. It is an odd tag to put on a baby boy …”Charon”. Hmmm.
      Everyone should read Dante’s Inferno…lots to learn there if you can afford the time to think about what’s being read. Then you can ‘graduate to Purgatorio and Paradiso. I found a brass plaque at an old marine store which hangs above our front door…”Abandon hope all ye who enter here.”…although the real quote is “Abandon all hope, you who enter here.”

      Bodes true for anyone ever to push on the pedals with fury and anger.

      I have always seen correlation between Dante’s journey with Virgil through the nine circles of Hell (Earth) and bike racing. Both are a wide wonder of suffering.

  • gustavo cinci says:

    Hi Seth, good job. Been reading your indignations for a while. Look, if you’re charging folks for words, might as well offer other goodies. T-shirts, socks, etc. Would love to endorse your rage here on the East Coast (that is, whenever it pops above arctic temps).

  • Darwin says:

    Yes I need a wanker shirt with a bike on it.

  • johnny says:

    i thought you were jesus but you are really just a loser

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