I hate getting beat and since there were only six people in the Tuttle Creek Road Race yesterday my prospects were good to avoid the single biggest thing I wanted to avoid, which was getting second again.
I got second.
My teammate Attila picked me up at 7:00 AM pointy-sharp. The first time I ever met him I wondered, “Who the fuck names their kid ‘Attila?'” Then it turned out that he was Hungarian, and if you lopped off the “garian” he truly was Attila the Hun.
His job at Tuttle Creek was simple. “Look, fucker, you’re working for me.”
“Okay!” he said.
“I got second in this lousy stinking no-good far-ass road race last year when there were only two entrants, and this year I’m here to win.”
“Okay!” he said.
“So do what I tell you and don’t fuck up.”
“Okay!” he said happily. He didn’t sound very Hun-like for somebody with such a ferocious name.
Before the race Wide-Eyed Cat 5 Josh came up to us. “Any advice?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said sternly. “The race has so few riders that Steve will start us all together. That means we’ll begin with the P/1/2 guys, who will be disgusted at having to ride within scent of the Leaky Prostate and Wide-Eyed Wanker categories. So they will drop everyone in the first two minutes of the race.”
“How?” asked Josh.
“By pedaling harder than the rest of us.”
“Will this happen on a climb?”
“Yes. The first one, which is where the race starts. It will be the hardest thing you’ve ever done in your life and within 30 seconds you’ll be buried in the red and trying to puke up your testes.”
“But I like to climb,” he protested.
“Let me put it this way: They will drop everyone in the first two minutes of the race.”
“Everyone?” he said, but what he meant was “Me, too?”
“Yes,” I said. “Everyone. You, too.”
The race began and two minutes in, the P/1/2 racers had dropped everyone. Attila and I were in the second group, if two is a group. Everyone else was alone and wondering what part of their Internet training plan had gone wrong, and why the leaders weren’t staying within what Coach had told them was their maximum prescribed heartrate for the day.
Tuttle Creek is is the hardest road race on the calendar by far. It begins with a 12-minute climb that has about 30 short, hilly, 100%-effort accelerations. After those twelve minutes there is a 3-mile false flat that is only false if you are a complete idiot, as you can see it gradually rising up beneath you and you’re pedaling in your weenie gear, unable to breathe and in great pain.
Then the course gets really hard because you turn right and go up another gradual incline whose purpose is to remind you only of this: At 5,700 feet there is no oxygen, especially in your lungs. The Hun and I shared the work evenly. I would count off three minutes for each one of his pulls and shout, “Ease up, wanker!”
Then he would swing over and I would come through at about half his speed and pull for 30 seconds. The plan was to tire him out so that he would do all the work and I could drop him on the last lap. It became apparent soon that he wasn’t properly up to speed on the plan, because he pulled so long and went so fast that he not only caught one of the Cat 1 riders who had gotten shelled out of the leading break, but my legs and vision began to fail.
The second time through the punchy (as in rabbit punch) section he never bothered to swing over while Cat 1 and I desperately clung to his wheel. Cat 1 did some work on the downhill while I shouted instructions from the back.
On the third lap Cat 1, who had recovered somewhat, ripped it so hard through Rabbit Punch Canyon that I repeatedly got dropped and had to claw back on with abnormal pedaling motions and odd sounds that you typically only hear from small animals in mortal distress. Attila sipped from his water bottle and occasionally looked back, shouting encouragement. “C’mon, Wanky,” he’d say. “Don’t drop your eyeballs out of the sockets like that.”
Having sat in the entire race and not having done a lick of work we approached the final lap and suddenly I was feeling pretty good. “Okay, Attila,” I said, sternly. “Although you owe me this win because I’m older than you and I got second last year and it’s somebody’s kid’s birthday somewhere and I came up with the winning plan and I helped you by pushing from the rear and frankly if it comes down to a sprunt you don’t have a chance, we’re gonna race this out.”
“Really? You mean like, race? You and me?” Suddenly his face went from friendly to, well, different. “I thought I was racing for you, man.”
“You tried your best, and before I crush you like a fucking gnat I want to at least give you a chance.”
“I really don’t care if you win. Especially after last year and everything. You’re my friend, man.”
“Nope,” I said. “There are no friends in bike racing. And no gifts. If you want this you’re gonna have to earn it like a man. I may have done all the work the whole race but I’m at least gonna give you a chance.”
“Okay,” he said. “If that’s what you want to do. Thanks, man.” His face then changed from friendly to, well, Hun-like. It was still a smile, but with a few brushstrokes you could easily imagine a bloody club in one hand, a battle-axe in the other, and a few dozen enemy heads stuck on a pike.
At that moment we entered Rabbit Punch Canyon. Attila stood on the pedals, hard, and the next time I saw him was at the finish. He was really happy. Wide-Eyed Cat 5 Josh, of course, won his race too.
On the plus side, I won $20. If Steve’s check doesn’t bounce, that is.
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