I had to choose between doing the Torrance Crit and going to my daughter’s law school graduation. She made law review, completed law school in two years, made the dean’s list, was a dean’s fellow, and received a full scholarship. So it was go and celebrate her accomplishments or hustle down to the Telo office park and see if I could win twenty bucks or not crash.
I didn’t tell family about the bike race. Relatives and friends had come from far away to celebrate my daughter. We went to commencement Sunday morning and it was awesome. Then it finished around noon. I still didn’t say a word about the crit. We ate lunch. Everyone was tired and wanted to go home or back to the hotel and nap.
I got home just before three. The race started at four. “Where are you going?” Mrs. WM asked.
“Just out for a little pedal.”
“Be home in time to leave for the graduation dinner at 6:10.”
“No problem,” I said, realizing that it would take a miracle to get me home in time. I sauntered out, leaped out my bike and sprinted to the office park. The leaky prostate division had drained off hours ago and the only race left was the Fakepro-1-2-3 race. I hadn’t done one of those in a couple of decades. “How hard can it be?” I asked myself. “Plus, it’s 75 minutes, which is more racing!”
I watched the racers warm up. They had smooth skin and no fat and their faces were filled with hope and no one had told them what a terrible waste of life bike racing was and they all looked younger than my kids. That’s because they were.
Still, I had been killing it on the NPR and the Donut Ride, and that’s pretty much the same as doing a Fakepro-1-2-3 race, right? Right?
Wily Greek rolled up next to me at the start. “This is gonna fuggin’ hurt.”
I blinked big watery cow eyes. I’ve never seen Wily in even mild discomfort. “Oh, no,” I thought as Robert Pellegrin blew the whistle.
The young fellows were in a big hurry. They were in such a hurry that instead of waiting until five minutes before the finish to attack like us elderly gentlemen always do, they waited four or five seconds before the first turn to attack into the chicane and into the headwind, which they followed with another faster attack into the headwind and through the right-hander which was followed by two more attacks, each attack faster than the one before.
Since I was already going as fast as I had ever gone in my life after the first attack, when we hit the tailwind stretch I got ready for a bit of relief, but that never came because the attacks in the tailwind made everything else look slow in comparison. Unlike the leaky prostate division, where there are three attacks, a break rolls off, and everyone sits up and finishes reading the paper, in the Fakepro-1-2-3 division everyone keeps attacking until no one can attack anymore except the people who haven’t yet attacked who are actually the true strongmen, and then they take turns attacking while the tired attackers are resting at the back and then when the strongmen roll off the front the rested primary attackers re-attack until they chase down the strongmen who have seen the chase coming and thus slowed a touch so that when they are reeled in they can attack the attackers who were attacking them for having attacked.
Somewhere in there the race went from being Fakepro-1-2-3 to Fakepro-1-2, and the seventy or so starters became forty or fifty gaspers and ten people actually racing to win.
Fortunately every time I whizzed through Beer Corner my trusty mechanic Boozy P., who had re-twisted my derailleur hanger a few minutes before the race with a monkey wrench and a beer can so that I could keep ‘er in the 11 and not have to worry about my chain skipping into those wussy gears, along with Hooffixerman & his hot wife, New Girl, Frenchy & Frenchymom, Canyon Bob, Strava Reid, Fintech Quant, Tyler, Mr. Rubdown, and the usual gang of Strand Brewery drunks hollered and screamed encouragement at me each time I bounced over the pavement and within inches of death up against the curb.
“You suck, Wanky!”
“Go to the front!”
“Get off the front!”
“Close the gap!”
“Get off your brakes!”
“Roll your tongue back in!”
And other helpful bits of coaching were offered each lap.
In addition to being very afraid of all the bicycle riders who whizzed by me brushing my bars and hips, I was being “that guy” who, clearly out of his league and even more out of breath, would dash towards the front, hit the turn at Mach 12, clench the brakes with max panic grab, and listen to all the Fakepro-1-2’s scream, curse, and grind to a halt behind me, then be forced to accelerate from 1 mph back up to 35 after passing me in the corner.
They all appeared very tired out from this, and also somewhat sad.
Unfortunately for them, as soon as they passed me I would “do the Derek” which is racetalk for “pass every rider once.” With this logic you eventually win. However, in order to pass anyone there were only three options. Option 1 was to thread my way through the pack while getting completely protected from the wind, but I was too afraid to do this.
Option 2 was to rocket up the gutter in the leeward draft, but I was too afraid to do this either because the gutter is just a few inches wide and filled with death.
Option 3 was to go up along the safe edge of the peloton into the wind, which takes about 1300 or a million watts to move six places. Eventually I would get up to the first few wheels and then hit another turn, come flaming in hot, burn off a few centimeters of brake pad, turn the face of the guy behind me black from carbon brake dust, lose 49 places, crash out a few hapless sods, and start all over again.
It was very tiring, but soon we were on the bell lap. I could tell this because up until then we had been going so fast that time had come to a standstill (it’s a relativity thing), but now the pack briefly bunched up. I saw my final opportunity to launch a searing attack up the side, catch the field unawares, get a gap, and win.
I punched the pedals with everything I had, just at the moment when the pack punched it with about 20% of what it had, and I found out that on the bell lap my 100% was about half of their 20%. I latched onto the end of the train and at that moment Wily came up and tapped me on the hip. “Yo, Wanky,” he said. “Better give yourself a couple of bike lengths, just to be safe. You aren’t winning today, you know.”
I looked at the 48 riders ahead of me, calculated the 1300 watts I didn’t have times eight, and eased off. We hit the straightaway and a trio of riders, locked in a death struggle for the honor of 29th place, touched wheels and hit the pavement with amazing violence and bounciness. Their bikes broke into pieces, blood and skin and helmet pieces flew everywhere, and the air was rent with moans and screams and one of my SPY teammates who wailed as I rode by, “Why do they let these fuggin’ Cat 3 idiots into these races?”
I crossed the line and realized that I only had twenty minutes to make the 35-minute ride home. Fortunately, EA Sports, Inc., was outside his house as I rode by. I explained my predicament, he tossed me into the back of his pickup, put my bike up front, and drove me home. I walked in the door at 6:09.
“How was your ride?” she asked.
I shrugged. “Uneventful, and therefore okay.”
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