I was sitting in the car trying to stay warm before the race began, wondering where our fearless leader G$ was. He always gets to races with plenty of time to warm up, but we had ten minutes to go and he was nowhere to be found.
Where he was, was racing madly across the frozen wastes of San Bernardino County, trying to make it to the race on time. He had whipped into a convenience store with all the time in the world to take care of his pre-race business, but clean heated bathrooms being clean heated bathrooms, and G$ being a man who likes to take his time, by the time he got through with the 400-yard roll of Charmin the race was about to begin.
This was the most important race of the century, the second 2018 edition of the Rosena Ranch Circuit Race, masters 55+ division (combined with the 60+), and the field was massive. I had given up on G$ and pushed my way through the pulsing, nervous throng, elbowing my way to the front. The six other riders in the race, three of whom were in my category, grudgingly let me through.
“Hope I make the top-ten,” one rider wisecracked.
“I got something for you after the race,” said my other teammate, Rob, who had fallen behind on his $2.99 blog subscription.
“I got something for you during the race,” said Hard Knocks with a snarl.
I knew it was going to be a tough, bitter day. As El Rey de San Bernardino, I had the record for most wins at the Rosena Ranch Circuit Race, and the citizens in the South Bay had been clamoring all year for me to bring the crown back home. Today’s race featured forty miles on the hilly course, with a howling 20-mph headwind in the finishing 500m. In order to beat the three other grandpas in my category, two of whom were on walkers, I’d need to ride the race of my life.
Cavalry to the rescue!
Just before they blew the whistle, G$ came sprunting to the line, a white tassel of Charmin stuck to the bottom of his cleat. I heaved a sigh of relief knowing that I’d have a teammate to help me in my bid to take home an unprecedented fourth win, as it had been G$ who had gifted me with my second Rosena Ranch victory back in 2015. I had no doubt that with a little begging and pleading, and a whole lot of luck, he might do it again.
The race began at about the pace you’d expect from a small group of timid old farts like us, only slower, and when we hit the howling wall of headwind, our slow hit the brakes and ratcheted us down to crawl.
I attacked from the front at a blazing 8 or 9 mph, but the field had its eyes on G$, knowing that as a member of Team Lizard Collectors it wouldn’t be long before he chased down his own teammate in the finest TLC tradition, dragging the field up to the breakaway.
I roared through the start/finish to cheers of “Go, Seth!” and “Are you fucking crazy?” and “Noooooooo!”
“What are they upset about?” I wondered. “This is easier than stealing dentures at a rest home.” For two laps I cruised, opening a bigger and bigger gap, and figuring that completing another eighteen 2-mile laps would be a cinch.
On the fourth lap it seemed like either the wind was stronger or I wasn’t quite as fresh. On the fifth it seemed like the hills were steeper or I was slower. At the turnaround I saw a streak of orange as G$ unleashed his patented “None Shall Follow” attack.
“This is awesome,” I thought. “Once G$ gets up here I can take a rest and beg for him to let me win while he does all the work. This solo shit is for the birds.”
Misery loves company
Rosena Ranch is an out-and-back course with two 180-degree turns, so you can see how much distance you have (or don’t have) twice a lap. My gap on the field had been pretty big, but imagine my surprise when I saw G$ had sprung free and was bringing Hard Knocks with him.
“WTF?” I wondered. “Hard Knocks is a fuggin’ sprunter and neither I nor G$ can sprunt for crap.”
A lap later and there were three of us. As they passed me in the howling headwind I thought I heard G$ say, “He’s going for first.”
“Of course he is,” I thought. “And of course you brought a sprinter up to the break. We’re the Lizard Collectors and chasing our teammates is what we DO!”
I sat on the back in disbelief as they did all the work. G$ of all people. The most selfless teammate alive. The guy who never brings company up to a break. The master solo bridge artist. And he dragged Hard Knocks up on this epic day when I was poised to set cycling history?
To make matters worse, Hard Knocks hit the stairstep climb on the backside of the course each lap with a vengeance, gapping us both out and seeming to get stronger every time. Ten laps in I couldn’t hold back my frustration any longer. I rolled up to G$. “He’s a sprinter, you know.”
“I know,” said G$.
“And you aren’t. And I’m not.”
He raised an eyebrow. “I know. I told you already.”
“I heard you. Why’d you bring a dude who’s going for first?”
“Yeah. That’s what you said.”
G$ laughed. “No, man, you know I’d never do that. I said ‘He’s good for third.'”
Punchin’ the clock
As soon as I heard that, a huge rush of power filled my legs. All was not lost! In a fit of enthusiasm and desire to help I took really short pulls, all on the downhill tailwind section, making sure to hit the wind only when we came in view of the announcer’s stand.
“Look at Davidson!” the announcer roared. “He’s been off the front from the beginning and hasn’t gotten off! A monster! A machine! A true strong man of the peloton!”
No sooner were we out of sight than I’d sneak to the back just in time for Hard Knocks to hit the hard section, and later to batter into the headwind. He didn’t seem to care. “Dude’s not getting tired,” I thought. And then it dawned on me. We’d fallen for the oldest trick in the book. Hard Knocks, sneaking up to the break, was going to drive the pace, wear us out, lap the field, and then once we reconnected with the pack (is four riders a pack?), attack and solo for the win.
The harder that G$ and Hard Knocks rode, the more I helped by pulling from the back and soft pedaling the front during the tailwind downhill section. Sure enough, with four laps to go we caught the beaten and flayed geriatric remnants who were spinning along with one foot in the crypt.
“Here it comes,” I thought, as Hard Knocks took another monster pull up the hill.
Shovel in the coal
With one lap to go, Hard Knocks pulled so hard that the pack detritus threw down their walkers and gave up. G$ and I hung on for dear life. “This is embarrassing,” I thought, wondering how I’d explain getting third to my tiny grandson.
Just then Hard Knocks eased up. “You ready?” he asked.
“For what?” I said suspiciously.
“I said I had something for you during the race,” he said.
“I hope it’s a lead-out.”
“In fact, it is.”
“Try not to do one of the lead-outs where you ride me off your wheel, dude.”
G$ ramped it up and swung over as we hit the wind wall one last time. Hard Knocks shoveled on the coal until steam started coming from the top of his helmet, timing himself to detonate almost exactly a hundred yards before the line.
“Here comes Davidson!” the announcer roared. “He’s been pulling the entire race and is still so strong he’s devastating his breakmates in the sprunt!”
The crowd of seven cheered somewhat wildly. My wife snapped more pictures. I tried to raise my hands in victory but a huge gust of wind caught my front wheel, almost hurling me to the pavement and forcing me to abort my raised hand salute so that it was more like a mini-gesture of terror.
I didn’t care. #fakewin or not, #giftwin or not, #grampswin or not … I’d won.
Epilogue 1: G$, Yasuko, and I went to celebrate at Panera, where we ate #fakebread and broke down the key elements of the race where G$ had done all the work and I’d done nothing. After 40 miles of windy, hilly nothing I was trashed. G$ finished his #fakebread and headed back to the race, where he did his second race of the day, a 50-miler, hauling teammate G3 to victory in the 50+ (G3 is NOT G$; it’s complicated), hauling teammate Ryan Dorris to victory in the 45+, and getting second himself. Just another day in the life of Santa Claus.
Epilogue 2: Team Lizard Collectors distinguished itself and broke its long history of chasing down teammates. In G$’s second race, Attila the Hun blocked and refused to bring back his own team’s break. In the Cat 3’s, once Wall Street was up the road, Baby Seal rode the front and blocked for fifty miles, ensuring a glorious silver medal for Wall Street on this toughest of toughguy/toughgal courses.
Kind of amazing that for all that superb bike racing I didn’t win enough money to retire on! But you can help me afford a luxury retirement cardboard box with a subscription to Cycling in the South Bay! Click here and select the “subscribe” link in the upper right-hand corner. Thank you!