I was struggling with a terrible addiction that almost destroyed my life and that had reduced me to an inhuman, contemptible, despicable pile of dung. With the encouragement of friends, caring family, and fellow addicts who have successfully kicked the habit, last November I was able to sell my knobby-tire bike and forever abandon the horrid lifestyle of a cyclocross addict.
At the same time, I also gave up the much less destructive habit of drinking, and embarked on a lifetime commitment to road bikes and the consumption of craft water.
Last night I went to a thank-you party for national champion Daniel Holloway, held at the South Bay dive bar of Naja’s. As Mrs. WM and I stood at the counter waiting to order our cheeseburgers, my eyes gazed lovingly at the giant menu and fastened on Russian River Blind Pig, my all time favorite beer. “I think I’ll have one of those!” I told myself. “But not until after I’ve had my cheeseburger.”
The party got going, people started getting hammered, and I found myself in the unusual position of being the guy with the cup of water. A very pretty woman was saying, “So my friend Bitsy claims she had a nine-minute orgasm. Do you think that’s possible?”
I couldn’t understand why she was asking the guys, and neither could they. “Well,” I said, “certainly not with her husband.”
“Maybe it wasn’t really an orgasm,” offered Bubba.
“What was it, then?” asked the pretty woman.
“Studies show that the female orgasm doesn’t really exist,” said Bubba. “It’s a made up event.”
Everyone was now so drunk that the opinions really began to fly. I looked at my cup of craft water when the pro-orgasmers raised the issue of squirters as irrefutable evidence. “Time to go get that pint of Blind Pig,” I said to myself. “Just as soon as I finish this water.”
Holloway looked over at me. “Isn’t it your bedtime, cowboy? You have a race tomorrow.”
It was already ten o’clock, and he was right. We had ridden together earlier in the day and he had laid out a path to victory for me, one that didn’t include Blind Pig or squirters. “Look, dude,” he said. “You gotta show up planning to win.”
“But I never win,” I protested.
“Okay, I haven’t won in a while.”
I thought for a minute. “1985. Tour de Georgetown, just north of Austin. I was a Cat 2 then.”
“Hmmm,” he said. “Two years before I was born. Okay, so it has been a while. Still, you won. How did you do it?”
“It was a stage race. I got 7th in the time trial and put a bunch of time on everyone in a break in the road race, where I moved into third overall. Then the last day I attacked and lapped the field in the crit and the two guys ahead of me on GC were caught out.”
“Think back to how awesome that felt. Can you visualize it?”
“What I can visualize is my burned balls. I didn’t even know I had won. I was sitting in the back of Matt McSuccess’s Suburban putting on my underwear after the race and he came running up, ‘Dude, you won!’ I dropped my undies and my nuts dropped down onto the bumper, which had been sitting out in the 107-degree sun all day. It wasn’t exciting at all, just searing pain followed by scalded sack. I didn’t really get excited until I got home, put some aloe on my nuts, and opened my prize winnings — a brand new water bottle and package of socks.”
Holloway shook his head. “Look. You gotta show up planning to win, and you gotta have a plan to win. So here’s what you do.”
“First, don’t attack from the gun. That is stupid. Only stupid people do that. Are you stupid?”
“Well, actually, yes.”
“No. You’re not stupid. You’re stubborn. There’s a difference.”
“What is it?”
He ignored me. “Next: after you don’t attack from the gun, implement Phase II.”
“What’s Phase II?”
“It’s where you don’t attack some more. A lot more.”
“So, the game plan is to first not attack and then not attack again?”
“How hard should I not attack?”
“With everything you don’t have. Give it everything except your all.”
“I can do that.”
“Good. Then, Phase III.”
“I don’t attack?”
“Check. Then what?”
“You wait until the end of the fourth lap. That’s the halfway mark.”
“And I attack?”
“No. The laps begin on a climb, where there’s a gnarly headwind. You can’t get away there.”
“So I don’t attack again?”
“This is pretty boring.”
“Just wait. You hit the turnaround, which is a downhill tailwind. And you … ”
“Sit in because there’s no way I can get away from the field on a fast downhill?”
“No. You attack. The field will do two things. First, they will sit up because they’re tired from the hill and the headwind. Second, they will see it’s you and say, ‘That wanker couldn’t break away from a crippled goat.’ They will let you go.”
“Then I ride as hard as I can to victory?”
“No. You establish a gap, back off, and see if anyone is stupid enough to bridge. If they are you work with them. If no one bridges you drift back because you are too weak to hold off a herd of stampeding bison by yourself.”
“There is no ‘then what.’ If you even accomplish Phase I it will be the greatest achievement of your career since 1985.”
“It doesn’t sound like a plan to win. More like a plan to get 34th.”
“Be patient, grasshopper,” he said with a smile.
Feels like Money
G$ wheeled up to the curb the next morning at 7:30 sharp, tossed my bike on the back of the Prius, and off we sped. An hour and a half later we were at the Rosena Ranch race course. “I think it’s windy,” Money said. The flags were whipping so violently at the subdivision’s sales office that the lawn crew had started taking them down. One guy’s lawmower blew over.
I cracked my window and a gust of wind blasted in so hard that it ripped my hat off my head. “Dude,” I said, “the wind blew off my hat inside the fuggin’ car. I’m doomed.”
“Now look,” said Money, who has won over 4,989.23 races in his career, most of them solo into the teeth of 100-mph winds or greater. “That’s loser talk. You’re here today to win. And I’m gonna help you.”
“Money,” I said, “that’s nice of you to say, but there’s no way I can win here today. It’s not possible.”
He got angry. “It is too possible.”
“Fine,” I said. “Give me three situations in which I could win today.”
He thought for a minute, which stretched into a half hour of silence. Then his face brightened. “Okay,” he said, “I’ve got it.”
“First scenario: there’s a terrorist attack and everyone is killed except you and the official responsible for certifying the results.”
“Second scenario: African sleeping sickness. Everyone gets trypanosomiasis and they all become too frail to finish and you out-sprint them.”
“Less likely, but okay, it’s possible, even though I’m not sure where the tsetse flies would come from. Last scenario?”
“Third scenario: aliens. Aliens come down from outer space and declare you the winner. Or zombies. Who’s gonna argue with alien zombies?”
“Fuggin’-A. So, let’s do this!”
The Rocky theme song began playing in the background as we pinned on our numbers and ran to pick up our bikes, which had been blown a few hundred yards by the gale force wind out into a pile of ash, creosote bush, sand, and the uranium mill tailings which make up the more scenic aspects of Riverside County.
You gotta be warm not to be cold
“Okay,” said Money, who knows a lot about winning races. “We gotta warm up.”
“We do? Won’t it make us tired?”
“Nah. I mean, yeah, but you need to have a little effort pre-race to open up your legs.”
We turned onto Lytle Canyon Road directly into the howling headwind. I decelerated to 4 mph as the wind pushed us off the road, off the shoulder, and into a sand bog. We pedaled for another twenty minutes at threshold, and managed to get a hundred yards up the road. “Okay,” said Money, “see that big thing about 200 yards off that looks like a giant horse carcass?”
“Yeah,” I gasped as the wind tore the words out of my mouth.
“We’re gonna do a hard surge and let up there. Don’t go all out.”
I had already gone all out, and when Money “surged” it felt like having my teeth pulled through hyperspace while the rest of me stayed home. We got to the giant lump, which was in fact a large horse carcass, and it stank.
Money caught his breath and I caught mine plus about a hundred others. “Okay, see that shack that looks like a meth lab? This time we’ll surge until halfway there and then sprint to that other lump.”
“The one that looks like a pile of radioactive waste?”
“Yep.” We finished the effort. “Now your legs should be good and opened up,” he said. “Let’s go race.”
Something was opened up, but it felt like my intestines. This wasn’t going to end well.
Guppy in a shark tank
At the line I looked around at the killers, murderers, felons, thugs, and merciless assassins who constituted the 45+ race. There was Tommy Robles, 46 years old and not even at male menopause, a guy who can sprunt, ride a break, climb, leap tall buildings in a single bound, and crack prison rockpiles with his teeth. He was the captain of Team Amgen, and his two loyal henchmen, Gentleman John and Dogg were salivating at the start. Next to them was Shreddumup Schroeder, the man who made scrap iron out of opponents and then sold their remains at a healthy profit.
Team Escaped Felons from Las Vegas had brought a full squad. I didn’t know any of the riders but it didn’t matter. They were covered with badly healed knife wounds and ugly tattoos made out of chickenwire and Sharpie ink.
My own teammates, who I was planning to work for by making sure the back of the peloton was well protected, sat manfully at the line: King Harold of the monstrous flatback, and Jumpin’ Jon Nist, who had the most neatly trimmed goatee in the bunch. The referee read us our last rites and we were off.
Money had not gotten Holloway’s “do not attack memo” and he leaped away with a vicious surge, following Marvin Gunwales who was even ahead of him.
The course started uphill into a fierce 58-mph headwind, with a small pillbox at the top strafing the bunch with heavy .50-mm machine-gun fire and mortars. “Over the top!” roared Money as the hapless new recruits followed him to the summit, only to be mowed down by an oxygen-depleting device that weirdly sucked away all their breath.
We went through the u-turn and whipped down the high-speed crosswind descent that forced everyone against the edge of the road, where the enemy had spiked the gutter with rocks, thorns, gravel, IED’s, IUD’s, and old condoms that got stuck in your spokes and make that flapping sound like baseball cards. At the bottom the road kicked up again, this time into an even more bitter crosswind. Money attacked and broke the field as howitzers lobbed 8-inch shells into our midst.
The rider next to me suffered a direct it and his head was torn from his neck. Behind me a luckless rider caught a mortar in his gut and was smeared across the road. We hit the other course turnaround and found ourselves in another cross-tailwind downhill. Money attacked again, along with Tommy and one of the giant baby lummoxes from Las Vegas. The field chased like mad on the uphill. Medics were dragging the dead and wounded off the battlefield in heaps, and at the end of the first lap the lead group was reduced to about twenty riders.
Money looked around and fished into his jersey. He had already used the iron maiden, the thumbscrews, the rack, the Chinese water torture plank, and the eyelid peelers. Then he filched out the NPR penis pounder, a well-worn and time-honored tool used to castrate and skin baby seals. With another series of expert whacks, penises throughout the peloton shriveled and were stomped to a gruesome mush.
The entire time I put in non-attack after non-attack. It was un-exhausting beyond belief. At the first turnaround on Lap 5, one of the giant baby lummoxes from Las Vegas attacked on the downhill, exactly where Holloway had told me to go. I bridged up to him, barely.
His name was Terry, and he was the most incredible specimen of Baby Lummox I had ever seen. Massively chiseled legs, the best chickenwire tattoo ever, and the strength of a thousand angry ovulating hippos. It was like sitting behind Jim Kjar, only wider, and 30-mph faster.
Baby Lummox towed me around as I remembered Holloway’s command: “Never be the strongest guy in the break. Be the second strongest, but never the strongest.” As Baby Lummox continued to hammer and pound, it became clear that out of the two of us I was clearly going to be the third strongest one in the break. I peeked out and took a couple of weak pulls that only slowed us down.
At each turnaround I could see the wankoton getting closer, and this was going to have the same ending as all my other hopeless breakaways: Bitter defeat, a crushed dream, and a 40-minute explanation with a chart, pictures, and Facebag posts to explain to Mrs. WM why I’d spent $60 to go get annihilated.
Then three miracles happened.
Miracle One: the sympathy Oscar
At each turnaround it became obvious that despite the huge pulls of Baby Lummox and my constant refining of Coach Holloway’s advice so that I had become the fourth, fifth, and finally sixth-strongest man in the two-man break, the peloton was still gaining.
I could see King Harold and Jumpin’ Jon clogging the chase like phlegm in the movement of a fine Swiss watch, but there was too much horsepower for them to singlehandedly stop the pursuers. The key to the race was Money, and each time he came to the front, instead of pulling out the dick stomper and bridging to our group, he swung over. Robles was not happy. “Dude!” he said. “Let’s go! You don’t have any teammates off the front!”
Money turned and grinned. “No, I don’t,” he said. “But that scraggly bearded, hairy legged, shoulder weaving wanker up there is my boy. And the Money Train don’t stop at his station.”
Robles then turned to his two mighty henchmen, Gentleman John and Dogg. “Get your furry asses up here!” he roared. “That creaky old turd is on his last legs! He’s only ten seconds up! Let’s go, men!”
Gentleman John, who has beaten me in the last forty races we’ve done together, drew circles in the sand with his big toe. “Uh, I can’t, Captain Robles,” he said.
“Why the fuck not?” roared the chief.
“I, uh, have a toothache.”
“Dogg!” shouted the commander. “Let’s go!”
Dogg, who still had tons of ammo left in his clip, shook his head. “Can’t, boss. My, uh, front anterior cruciate anhydrous dimers are broken.”
Shreddumup Schroeder, who has brought back more breaks by himself more times than Prez has fallen off his bicycle, also shook his head. “It’s Wanky,” he said. “I ain’t chasin’.”
In short, the sentimental Oscar favorite, though easily reeled back in by the field, was given a pass to fight it out to the end with Baby Lummox. And Baby Lummox was a cage fighter with brace of pistols, a blackjack, and legs of steel.
Miracle Two: the confused Baby Lummox
As soon as I had hitched onto Baby Lummox’s comfy wheel, he looked back. “Man, am I glad to see one of you SPY guys. You’re Phil Tinstman, right?”
“Uh, right,” I said.
He looked again. “You’re a friggin’ legend in Nevada. But somehow I thought you had more tattoos?”
“Oh, yeah, they’re, uh, mostly on my scrotum.”
Baby Lummox shrugged. “Right on. So anyway, what’s the game plan? I’ve never been in a winning break before.”
I couldn’t believe my luck. I had not only escaped at the right time on the right course, but my breakaway partner was the only person in the field who was dumber than me. “Well, last year when I won Tulsa Tough and the district road race and about forty other races, the winning strategy was simple.”
“Yeah?” said Baby Lummox.
“Yeah. The winning strategy for the other guy, I mean.”
“Oh. What is it?”
“See, you gotta hammer really hard. Then at the end I will give you a little tow up the last hill and then help you get to the finish.”
“Cool, dude. But don’t you want to win?”
“Nah,” I said. “You can have this one. I win all the time anyway.”
As we crossed the line with one lap to go I stood on the pedals and helped Baby Lummox as hard as I could. I helped him so hard I thought my head was going to explode. Pretty soon his shadow was gone, and my helping was complete. I flipped the turnaround and started to hammer. “If Baby Lummox catches me now he’s gonna die a thousand deaths.”
Then I settled into the hurt locker. However, the Wanky Hurt Locker isn’t quite as tiny and uncomfortable as your typical hurt locker. Mine had a big sofa, a plasma TV, a box of cigars, and room service. It was more like a mildly uncomfortable lounge than a pain cave.
No human has ever gone so fast on a bike, and I laughed to myself thinking about how Baby Lummox had been put to the sword. He couldn’t even catch me on a motorcycle, that’s how fast I went.
Then, just as the road kicked up, I saw the fatal shadow again on my wheel. Baby Lummox had battled back.
“Now what do I do?” I wondered. Coach Holloway had said to have a plan to win, but hadn’t bothered to give me one. Then I thought about Money’s three scenarios. I glanced around, wildly hoping to see a group of terrorists, or a swarm of tsetse flies, or some alien zombies. No luck.
Then I asked myself, “What would Money do?” With each passing second Baby Lummox was recovering from his hard chase. Then it hit me! I didn’t have to think of what Money “would” do, all I had to do was remember what he had already done! The three times on training rides that I had clawed my way back to his wheel, what had he done?
He’d stood on the pedals and dingleberried me.
So I stood on the pedals. Baby Lummox swayed. He heaved. He groaned. And then, as the cold bite of the harpoon’s steel tip sank pitilessly through his heart, gore spewing forth upon the seas, Baby Lummox rolled over, shuddered, and died. I hit the final turnaround and sped to victory.
Miracle Three: the tire that wouldn’t flat
A crushing swarm of two people ran up to congratulate me, but one of them wasn’t Baby Lummox. Instead, he rolled up with a funny look. “Hey, you’re not Phil Tinstman, are you?”
“Uh, well, you see … no.”
“You’re that blogger dude aren’t you?”
“Uh, well, I mean, uh … yes.”
“So I just got beat by the worst bicycle racer in the history of the sport? You’re a lying, conniving, dishonest sack of shit.”
“Aw, thanks,” I said, unaccustomed to such praise.
Then another guy came up. “Hey, are you Wanky?”
He stuck out his hand. “I just want to shake your hand. It was amazing to watch you out there, buddy. You’re proof that people can win a masters race in SoCal without doping.”
I drew back, appalled. “You don’t even know me, man. How do you know I’m not doping? Dude, do you have any idea how many years I’ve worked hard at this sport to finally be in a position where people can call me a doper? And you’re going to ruin it just like that? Get away from me. Next thing you’ll be asking me to wear a ‘Dopers Suck’ jersey or some bullshit like that.”
At that moment I looked down and saw my front tire was flat. It had waited until three minutes after the race to expire, giving me a perfect excuse to ride away before Baby Lummox and my former fan made creamed hash out of my face.
Coach Holloway was waiting for me at his truck. He didn’t say anything besides, “Where’s my cut of the payday?” I counted out his fourteen dollars and forked it over. “So,” he said, “what did you learn about winning?”
Here’s what I learned:
- Quit cyclocross.
- Sell your ‘cross bike.
- Drink craft water instead of craft beer.
- Always get in a breakaway with Baby Lummox.
- Get coached by the 4-time elite men’s national champion.
- Follow his advice.
- Have all your teammates sacrifice for you.
- Have all your non-teammates sacrifice for you.
- Tell people you’re Phil Tinstman.
- Stab your opponent in the back when he least expects it.
So there you have it, folks. Since I only have to win once every 30 years, I’ll see you again in 2045.
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