Saturday, bloody Saturday
February 11, 2017 § 20 Comments
I love racing against Jeff Konsmo, and have raced against him countless times. Jeff has never raced against me. Whatever Jeff does in a race affects me profoundly. Whatever I do in a race doesn’t affect him at all, except for that moment when he looks over his shoulder and sees a tiny dot in the distance.
That’s me, Jeff!
My favorite race to race against Jeff where he isn’t racing against me is the UCLA Road Race. I love this race because it is very predictable and at my advanced age I do not like surprises.
Here’s what always happens. I ride my bicycle very earnestly in November, December, and January. During that time I gain lots of confidence because, group ride.
Then I show up for the UCLA Road Race, which is the hardest race on the calendar and the hardest race in the galaxy of leaky prostate races. I warm up, chit-chat with friends who are going to tear my legs off, preen a bit, and do a book signing or two. (This really happened. An awesome dude named George came up to me on the start line and asked me to autograph my world-famous book, “Cycling in the South Bay.” I blushed, and it’s that slight diversion of crucial blood flow that partially explains what happened next.)
Then the race starts and Jeff Konsmo goes to the front. Jeff is beautiful. He has no spare anything. Every part of his body is perfectly joined together to do one thing: Ride bicycle uphill fast.
When Jeff gets to the front, which he does after the first 100 yards, he coasts because the first 300 yards are downhill. Then the road begins to go up and Jeff begins to pedal. The more the road goes uphill, which it does for the next five miles, the more he pedals. Suddenly the happy old oysters are not happy anymore.
There’s no more conversation.
The clump becomes a bit streamlined.
Then it becomes single file.
Then holes begin to appear as if mortars had fallen into the ranks and scored a direct hit.
Then the universe becomes a black pinhole of the rubber in front of you, washed over by the roar of your own gasps.
This is when I look up and see that Jeff is still on the front and I am what is affectionately known as “off the back” followed by “way off the back” followed by “time to re-analyze my winter preparation, especially the part where I insert the delusion of not getting dropped into my race plans.”
This year, however, was gonna be different. I had trimmed my riding schedule down to four days a week. I had reduced my tummy rolls from four to two. I had won the NPR last Tuesday when no one else showed up.
THIS YEAR AT UCLA WAS GOING TO BE MY YEAR.
Then the race started and Jeff went to the front and it was Wanky redux all over again. Less than ten minutes into the race my heart rate had been jacked up to 220 and I’d been mercilessly smashed out the back. So much for reducing my training to improve my fitness. But this year something different happened. After getting shelled by Jeff’s torrid pace, a group of other shellees came by. I latched on and they dragged me over the climb and then flew down the descent at speeds so insane that the post-ride ritual of checking one’s skidmarks revealed some impressive stripes.
And hallelujah! We made the right turn and reattached to the small band of leaders. Unlike years past, where reattachment was simply a preamble to permanent disjunction, I hung on and hung on and hung on.
Through the start/finish climb I hung on.
Up the climb the second time I hung on.
Through the start/finish climb I hung on.
Up the climb the third time I hung on.
Through the start/finish climb I hung on.
Then as we began the final climb on the final lap it became real. I was going to finish the race with the lead group for the first time ever. All the DNFs, the 38th place from last year, the litany of bitter defeats were going to be made up for on this glorious day. All I had to do was make it up one last time.
The course goes up for a couple of miles and then makes a right turn, where there’s an endless stairstep ascent to the top. That right turn is crucial because if you make it there, it’s followed by a brief downhill where you can catch your breath and get ready for the final five minutes of being completely pinned.
I saw the right turn, put my head down, and flailed for what seemed like a minute or two, hanging on like one of those tiny little meat strings that attach a baby tooth to the gum right before the tooth is ripped mercilessly out by a piece of twine that your brother has tied to the door. As the meat string stretched I looked up and saw in horror that after pedaling for so long we had only moved a few yards, which either meant that I was in so much pain my brain had begun distorting time and distance, or that we were moving at .00000002 miles per hour.
I put my head down again and pedaled for an hour, the meat string twisting and twisting as it yanked on the shrieking nerve. I looked up and saw we had moved ahead another ten feet.
After a couple of days I reached the right turn. The stairstep loomed. But Jeff, who had sat on the front for two solid hours, pounding the field into shredded meat strings until only a handful of mauled riders remained, was out of accelerations. There was zero chance that he would put in one of the vicious little kicks at the end designed to snap the meat strings and further cull the herd.
As we approached the top I finally knew what it felt like to be in the running, theoretically at least, for a podium spot at the hardest race I’d ever done. After years of trying, years of failure, years of gnashed teeth, and years of broken meat strings I was going to crest the climb, bomb the descent, pedal along the rollers sucking wheel at every opportunity, and then unleash my tremendous 165 watts of seated sprinting power on the unsuspecting suckers who had dragged me along for the entire day.
Two hundred yards was far but the top was right there and nothing was going to dislodge me, especially because I knew that if I got gapped out here I’d never reconnect with the pack once the crested the climb.
Then I noticed something troubling. That something was named Thurlow, and Thurlow had looked back and surveyed the situation.
If you don’t know Thurlow, don’t worry. He doesn’t know you either. I’m sure that in his normal life he is a kind fellow, a gray-haired, avuncular old chap who says “thank you” and “please” and offers his seat to pregnant women on the bus.
But on a bicycle he doesn’t do any of those things. On a bicycle he is simply the greatest road racer in this country’s history. Olympics, check. La Vie Claire, check. Won every major U.S. race ever, check. Kept winning at the local pro level, check. Kept winning at the masters level, check. Still wins more races than he actually participates in, check. Terrifies other riders by looking at them. Speaks only when necessary, and it’s never necessary.
And the sad news is that Thurlow is a moving, living lesson in how to race a bike and you are the blackboard on which the lessons are going to be written. With a knife. Expressionless, taking in all of the peloton’s motions with the lifeless eyes of a shark, Thurlow sees all, knows all, understands all. And when the eye of Thurlow alights on the cockroach hiding at the back of the group, the cockroach who has never done a thing all day except gasp while waiting to sneak into the kitchen and steal some crumbs in the darkness, Thurlow only has one reaction. Stomp the roach until its yellow guts are forced from its very eyes. And stomp it now.
As Thurlow stomped, the remaining riders avoided getting shelled as they struggled to match his acceleration, which was vicious, and after a few seconds of disarray each rider found a wheel, gasping, and they labored together over the top of the climb in a ragged file of grim desperation, after which they all raced together to the finish.
All but one, of course.
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You almost make it sound heroic, this smiting of souls and fissuration of organs.
I might just have to have a go one time.
Losingerdom is the new winningerness.
“I had won the NPR last Tuesday when no one else showed up.”… well, you looked regardless and beat a ton of fast guys too!
There’s a silver lining to every black plague of death.
it will be a Cockroach that survives the Nuclear War. Hang in There. On to ’18. (from the sound of it, you still have ‘training days of the week’ to shave off your schedule)
Hilaurious. Captures so many elements of a bike race.
Thurlow is still alive??? I was a Cat 1 in the late 90’s/early 2000’s and he was already old then. And still strong too. Ouch.
No one has confirmed whether he’s still alive but he still wins bike races.
Only race I saw him loose was as a junior when he won of course, but had senior gearing and was relegated. He had won the senior race the day by the way.
The only guy who wins even when he loses.
I think there’s no hyperboleeee here … except for that HR 220 part … we old farts just can’t do that anymore … among other vascular limitations.
All true except the parts I made up.
If this is how Thurlow treats you after you say all those nice things about him, maybe it’s time to switch to expletives?
You’d think he’d tow me to the line this once.
Tremendous post Wanker – made even better by the fact that I had this vicious live version of Iron Maiden’s “Powerslave” as a fitting soundtrack to you having the balls to fight your way out of the pain closet only to take the big thumbs down in the finale https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p_bSXXK5nPs. Count yourself lucky to be in the action. As an endurance mtb racer who’s been mending a shattered collarbone, I was so fucking bored today (wife and daughter flew off to Disneyland for the weekend) that I actually drove 45 minutes to watch a bunch of leaky prostate road racers ride around the only closed loop of asphalt to be found in the Phoenix metro area today. Apparently they’re putting in last minute preparations to deal with you SOCAL proamateurs at VOS next weekend. Same weekend I was supposed to be racing solo at the 24HOP. Actually kind’ve glad I’ll be missing this year as I’m not sure how many “on your lefts” I could have taken from the likes of LA and his cronies
Thanks and heal up!!!
So poetic and so true. I’m proud to be a cockroach to Thurlow and Jeff’s shoe. But we cockroaches never give up!
And we do ultimately get leave little poop pills in their cereal box!
A man is described as “avuncular” when he stops looking like a sexual entity and … gotten so avuncular, chicks think I’m there to look for my runaway daughter.
No wonder I keep my thoughts to myself. While you were focused on Konsmo , Tony Brady was 2 minutes up the road.
Hahaha! I think I saw him once. After we started. For a minute. I have difficulty focusing on invisible vapor anyway.