One of the least talented athletes I ever knew was Roger Worthington. Zero cycling physique. Couldn’t climb. Couldn’t sprint. Couldn’t time trail. Lousy physio numbers, and he was whatever the opposite of an all-rounder is. An all-squarer.
But as a bike racer, he was one of the best. What he lacked in every other category, he made up for in the only one that mattered: Desire, or in bike racing terms, meanness. Roger didn’t hate to lose, he refused to accept it as an outcome. Roger had more desire than entire teams.
Time and time again he won races in impossible scenarios. Bitter climbing road races. State titles. Stage races. Track races. Crits galore. And even time trails. Roger won a couple of those out of sheer spite. To Roger, no pain was worse than the pain of defeat and he would endure any physical pain not to lose. The ability to endure longer than everyone else comes in pretty handy when you’re competing in an endurance sport.
One time, I think it was in 2007 shortly after Roger had his first hip replacement, he was mounting a comeback. We were doing a training ride in PV and it was a very unpleasant and nasty little lunchtime interlude that he, John Caron, and I did together. We had dropped John and were pounding up the reservoir climb on PV Drive. Roger was in a lot of pain because he hadn’t bothered to let the leg attachment surgery heal properly before throwing himself into a grueling ride regimen.
As we hammered up the climb we passed this old dude who was pretty small. He didn’t like being passed, and he hopped on our wheel, then passed us. We chased him down and he attacked. We chased again and he attacked again. After a third effort we gave up and he rode off. It was the only time I saw anyone out-mean Roger Worthington on a bike.
That day was our first encounter with Steve Hartt. Steve died the following year while descending into Friendship Park when he smacked a park truck head-on at what must have been 50 mph. If you’ve ever bothered to read the little brass plate up by the water fountain atop the Switchbacks, it has his name on it. A ferocious rider, he was a legend.
I sometimes think about Steve’s ferocity and the way he battered the snot out of us that day, and for some reason was thinking about him this morning on the Flog Ride. Some new dude had shown up and was putting the wood to us. We’d chase him down, drop him, he’d batter back, we’d drop him again, and he’d pass us, repeat. Just like that day Roger and I got worked over by Steve.
The first five laps we managed to dislodge the guy each lap before the regroup, but it was hard going.
On the sixth lap Adam Flores and I hit him hard, he hung on, but we dropped him over the last part of the climb. As we hurtled towards the bottom of La Cuesta, the 19% monster that we ascend on the last lap, I looked under my arm and saw the dude catching back on just as we hit the bottom of the wall.
Adam jumped away, the dude came by, just like Steve did that day ten years ago, hard, ferocious, annoyed. He caught me and dropped me but the road kicked up more and he slowed, then kicked and caught up to Adam. He was riding on something that burned pretty hot inside. The two of them locked in battle for a while until Adam faded. The dude passed him, then Adam caught a third or fourth wind and battled him around the turn where I lost sight of them.
I got to the top, gassed. “Great riding, man,” I said.
He grinned. “You, too.”
“What’s your name?”
“Hartt. With two ‘t’s.”
“You related to Steve Hartt?” I asked.
“He was my dad.”
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