Before the race I saw Dave happily siting on his top tube.
“You racing with us?” I asked.
“No,” he said firmly and happily. “Masters 35+ 4/5.” Dave had won the Masters 35+ 4/5 sandbagger race the week before in Merced and was licking his chops, noting that none of his competition came anywhere close to his 400 weekly training miles.
“When are you going to upgrade? You’re a beast.”
He looked at me very seriously. “Oh, no I’m not. I’m still learning so much about racing. And the 40+ group is way too fast.”
“Let me know when you’ve learned everything you need to know about racing,” I said.
Our race was going to be whatever is worse than terrible. You would think that a bicycle race where you had to be at least fifty years old to enter wouldn’t be that hard, but you would be wrong. On the start line were Thurlow a/k/a The Hand of God a/k/a THOG, Konsmo, the Parksie Twins, G$, Mark Noble, DQ Louie, Jaeger, Pomeranz, and a whole host of other guys I’d never beaten, and wasn’t going to beat today.
The course was a 27-mile out-and-back. We were supposed to it twice. The total elevation was about 5,500 feet. Going out, the course had a series of punchy rollers that led to the bottom of a 1-mile climb. After a 2-mile descent, the road continually ascends through a valley with a half-dozen short climbs and a few false flats until you reach the turnaround at the 13 Mile point.
Then the road descends into a headwind all the way to the base of the 2-mile climb, which pitches up, flattens briefly about 2/3 of the way up, then crests and drops you back to the base of the rollers. The race finishes on a 1-km climb with a moderately steep final 200 meter “sprint.”
Less than a mile into the race I was fully occupied with Mr. Crash Magnet. He’s the guy I get behind in every race and every race has one. Crash Magnet was so scared that his arms were shaking and his entire bike was wobbling. The smart thing in these cases is to get away from Crash Magnet ASAP, but he’s called “magnet” for a reason.
In the Wrinkly Prostate Division, although most of the riders aren’t good at holding their water, decades of racing have made them masters at avoiding crash magnets. So there is a race-within-a-race: Get away from the magnet. And since I’m the worst bike handler after whomever the crash magnet happens to be, everyone slides and jostles and positions so that I’m the one stuck on Crash Magnet’s wheel.
I dashed off to the left and got ahead of him, but to no avail. The deck reshuffled and there he was again. After the fourth reshuffle I resigned myself to the terrible bicycle falling off incident in store if he hung around much longer. This is one of the great freeing experiences of bike racing. You are in destiny’s maw.
Robb came up next to me after we’d crossed the first four rollers. The bottom of the big climb lay ahead. “This is gonna hurt,” he said.
“Why,” I asked “are you using the future tense?”
About that time I edged around Crash Magnet just as he made a beeline for the shoulder, hit a rock, shimmied his handlebars, and launched himself headlong into a soft bed of cactus and ocotillo. As I sprinted away, wondering how badly he was hurt, I noted that THOG & The Co. from Hell had moved to the front. I slotted in behind him.
Now here is something that everyone who’s been dropped on a hard climb in a hard race surrounded by much better riders can relate to, but ordinary intelligent people who play golf and happily drink beer from the back of a golf cart cannot, and I call it the lighting of the fuse. It happens in stages.
- Terrible feeling of awful dread as you anticipate at the bottom of the climb.
- First acceleration at the bottom where you think, “I can do this.”
- Second acceleration shortly after the first where you think, “This is going to be hard.”
- Grit teeth as the pace settles in.
- Feeling begins somewhere in your calves, the feeling of give-up-and-quit.
- “I’m not quitting” + excessive teeth gritting. Brief look around to see that the group has halved.
- Third acceleration midway up the climb where you think, “Fuck you cocksuckers to hell.”
- Fuse burns up into lower quads. Pain however is no longer localized to legs and has spread to eyeballs.
- Fourth acceleration where the group halves again. Konsmo, who is leading the charge, is on the tops and doesn’t appear to be breathing. “Fuck you, Konsmo, if we ever stop I will kill you,” you think, or something like that.
- Almost at the top the fuse reaches the bomb and you explode. Body shudders, head droops, prostate deflates.
- “Quit gapping me out motherfucker!” is roared from behind.
- Race effectively ends.
When we reached Stage 11, I leaped onto the last rider’s wheel and latched on as we made it over the top. There was hardly anyone left. The pain immediately receded and all of my attention focused on why I’d chosen to try and ride with the leaders instead of doing the logical thing, which would have been following Crash Magnet face-first into the cactus bush.
At the bottom of the valley G$ took over. The pain returned and riders continued to pop off. At the base of each mini-peak G$ would punch it hard, but by now the people who had made it this far weren’t going to be dropped so easily. I looked up and saw the lights of the motorcycle that was following the 40+ field containing Mike Easter, Derek Brauch, Matt Carinio, Tony Manzella, Jon Flagg, and Chris DiMarchi. They had left five minutes earlier but the vicious climbing speed of Konsmo and G$ had devoured the time gap.
They were neutralized and we roared by, which led me to wonder this: Could someone please explain the biology behind how a group of riders, some of whom were in their mid-50’s, were riding faster than a group of men some of whom were fifteen years younger? Or maybe it was just mirrors and we had lighter wheels. But then I remembered that weight doesn’t really matter.
Whatever it was, we sped by with our teeth plastered to the stem as the 40+ pre-geezers stared over, insulted and slack-jawed. Shortly past the turnaround the butthurt 40+ field took matters into their own hands and came flying by us, proving the superiority of youth and better medical care. We never saw them again.
Before long our greatly reduced herd hit the base of the big climb. The fuse was re-lit, and burned all the way until shortly before the short flat. I was sitting on Mark Noble’s wheel making that last-gasp cry that lobsters make when you throw them into the boiling water, when I exploded for good. Race over.
With Chris Hahn, Scott McAfee, and Bald Tim on my wheel, we chased madly through the rollers, eventually picking up DQ Louie, who had inexplicably been shelled. After a few more miles of unutterable misery that left Scott and Bald Tim adrift, I dragged Chris and Louie back to the leaders. Of course we reattached at the bottom of the big climb, the fuse was lit, and it mercifully skipped Stages 2-11, going from Stage 1 to Stage 12 in about fifteen seconds. Louie and Chris happily pedaled away, the sorry bastards.
Left to wallow in my own misery, I slogged up the hill, was caught and dropped by teammate Andy Schmidt who had been stoned and chased out of the 40+ community, and was then overtaken by a mongrel group of 40+ and 50+ shellees including teammate John Hatchitt, and assassin/arch enemies Pomeranz and McAfee. I slunk to the back and struggled along to the turnaround, back down the valley, and to the bottom of the big climb.
This time I did something different, though. I put it into the small chain ring. Realizing that I’d been doing the massive climbs in my 53, it occurred to me that perhaps it would be easier if I used a smaller gear. Wow! Who knew???? Climbing is easier in a 39×28 instead of a 53×21. Gawrsh!
McAfee attacked and one by one our group reduced in size until there were only six of us. Hatchitt attacked, caught and dropped McAfee. Then after the false flat Pomeranz attacked, leaving me with a couple of 40+ racers who had no interest in or need to chase down guys who weren’t in their race.
With 1k to go I hunted down Hatchitt and McAfee. Hatchitt went early and blew. McAfee went a bit later, but I was able to sit on his wheel until the very end and throw myself across the line, beating out a couple of 40+ wankers and looking less like Mark Cavendish winning MSR and more like a fish whose bleeding mouth had been ripped from a hook and thrown mercilessly onto the rocks to flip, flop, gasp, and die.
After the race I saw Dave, who had sandbagged his way to another awesome win. “Good job,” I said, filled with bitterness and envy as I contemplated getting my downgrade for 2016.
Wankamodo snapped this immortal shot of my last-gasp lunge for a top-40 placing in our 40-man field.
50+ Leaky Prostate Category Race Notes:
Mark Noble played a smart waiting game, stayed out of the win, and smashed the four-man leading of group for the win, edging out Bennie Parks, Thurlow Rogers, and Jeff Konsmo. Race activator and head-banger Greg Leibert finished sixth behind Todd Parks, with SPY-Giant-RIDE p/b GQ6 teammate and 2014 winner David Jaeger coming in 8th.
My ride chauffeur, Derek Brauch, got second in the 40+ race behind winner Mike Easter. SPY-Giant-RIDE teammate Jon Flagg put on a display of incredible strength by bridging to the leaders and finishing fourth.
Emily Georgeson got a bronze medal in the women’s state championship road race, confirming again that this is her breakout season.
Other people in other races finished, or didn’t, with some going faster and others going slower.
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