Velo Club La Grange has an annual mass start bike race called the Piuma Hill Climb. It’s a club race and there’s nothing on the line except bragging rights, which means everything is on the line.
Every bike club in America should emulate VCLG. There were ninety-nine starters, none of whom had any hope at all of doing anything other than getting their tender parts beaten into mush.
At the top of the climb, which was 8.1 miles long, La Grange and Helen’s Cycles had set up tents and CPR stations complete with defibrillators and Joe Pugliese. I’d call Joe the Annie Liebovitz of cycling photography but that’s a disservice to his amazing ability. Better to call Annie the Joe Pugliese of celeb photography.
Back in Santa Monica the club had catered a massive, all you can eat gourmet buffet by Rick Friedman. Rick is the Joe Pugliese of cycling food buffets, and my photo of the food, which is an awful picture, reflects my lack of camera prowess, not the presentation or taste. Need I say more?
The ride itself was an out-of-body experience. Piuma is a legendary Santa Monica climb. It starts with a vicious little wall, and today the starter was none other than Tony Manzella, who pegged the first few minutes at 500 watts to make sure that everyone was blown to bits at the gun. Which they were.
In general I hate Strava because people who tout their KOMs rarely have much prowess in real life, head-to-head competition. Tony is not that way. He’s a complete Strava dork and he backs it up with performances like he did today, shelling 90 people in the first hundred yards, towing the fastest riders up the hill like they were hooked to a ski rope, detonating halfway up, and still getting one of the fastest times of the day.
My ride was unexceptional except that it began with the typical delusions. “Today I’m going to hang with Tony and Chad and Matt,” and “Today I’m going to stomp the dicks off Jaycee and Cowan,” and “I’m just going to hang tough and suffer like a dog.”
The suffer part happened at least.
In the first fifty feet Matt Wikstrom, the relentless engine of pain and winner of the climb in some inhuman time or another, eased up next to me. “Let me in, buddy,” he said, motioning for Tony’s wheel. Interpretation: “I don’t want you to gap me out, wanker.”
I know my betters and slid back.
After a few minutes some kid named Sean attacked the lead group, and I stayed with the acceleration until I didn’t. Then I was alone. I looked back and in those first few minutes we had gone so fast that the road behind was completely empty, like my legs.
Jaycee Carey, who is older than last year’s carbon wheelset, blew past me, motioning me to get on his wheel. He is friendly that way, kind of like the guy in the sawmill who says, “Put your hand on this rotating blade that we use to saw through fat trees, you will like it.”
I followed him as he dragged me up and past a couple of other riders who had been puked out the back. We formed a small group, Jaycee caught his breath, then rode off. (Note: James Cowan, who I had vowed to bury, buried all but two or three other riders in another amazing performance by Head Down James.)
My foursome grupetto hung together until the top of Piuma, when Roberto and the dude who had done most of the work jumped away. The two dudes I was with looked like they were trying to swallow a shovelful of salt, and I’m not kidding, all the way up Piuma guys were actually moaning. Not grunting, moaning, like what you do when your thumb is caught in a sewing machine that is stuck on overlock. I heard more moaning going up that fucking hill than in a cheap porn flick.
Roberto and I were alone on Schueren until he dumped me on the last turn, which sort of made up for his whimpering. I straggled in for ninth place, 37:30, which involved more brutality and sadness than I can ever remember.
At the top of Scheuren we got our pictures taken by Joe, filled our water bottles, watched the other corpses stagger in on their hands and knees, and lied about how we did all the work, how we almost hung with Matt and Tony and Cowan, etc., and how next year instead of being older, slower, dumber, and uglier, we’ll really turn in a stellar performance.
The camaraderie was amazing and everyone was happy at having participated. There were no ridiculously overpriced entry fees, there was free food at the end, there was amazing sag at the top, there was amazing photography to commemorate our tummies (Dan Champan shot a ton of pixels as well), there was gorgeous weather, and it was all part of a normal Saturday on the bike–no need to drive out of town, get a room, or do anything other than show up, pin on a number, and get your dick pounded off.
I’m going back to Piuma tomorrow to see if I can find mine.
Thanks VC La Grange for a truly miserable morning of fun!
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