In this, our fourth year, we have had more riders on the Flog than ever before. Used to be, ten was a huge turnout and five or six was often the norm. This past Thursday eighteen riders showed up, and it’s common that twenty or more cyclists appear at the Malaga Cove fountain every week at 6:35 AM to flog themselves around the golf course for six laps.
One guy who is there without fail is Luke. He and I battle it out quite a bit, with me usually dropping him up to the top of PV Drive North, and then him surging by and dropping me on the wall. About half the time I catch him and beat him to the top, and about half the time he beats me.
He is very tough. You have to be tough to do the Flog Ride. You have to be a lot of other things, too, none of which are very flattering.
This year a leaderboard was instituted. The person who got over the top first at the end of the climb got a point. “What about points for second and third?” a rider asked me.
“What are second and third?” I asked him back.
The last lap of the Flog continues past the golf club and ascends La Cuesta, which is an 89% grade and is roughly 12,000 miles long. The first one up La Cuesta gets two points; everyone else gets a selfie.
As you’d expect, the same riders collect all the points, week in and week out, and the rest of us get shelled and are non-first up the climb. Surfer Dan, Kyle, Adam, and a couple of other riders look down from the top of the leaderboard … way, way down.
And of course all the riders who have precious little chance, as in “zero,” of ever being first up the climb, let alone first up La Cuesta, have to settle for disappointment. And there is a lot of disappointment to go around each week, along with the faint glimmers of hope that show up each Thursday, only to be doused by the wattage rained down on them by the Cobleys, Jacksons, Floreses.
A boy can dream, can’t he?
This past Thursday the hitters overslept except for Kyle, who showed up in rare form. He took each point every lap, and he took them by a long, long way.
But after the fifth lap he didn’t stop in the parking lot to regroup, he kept on riding, and when Lap 6 began he hadn’t come back. We all looked at each other and it became instantly clear: Two magical points, the holy points up La Cuesta, were now on offer. You could feel the excitement.
In the past three Flog years, I’ve been first up La Cuesta less than five or six times. And the pattern in Year Four was painfully the same. I’d hit the bottom hard and get passed by Luke. Not passed by a little, passed by a lot. I was the tin can and he was the oncoming freight train. If I was gonna get those two points today, I’d have to beat Luke. And he wanted the points badly, desperately, because even though he is really good, he’s never been able to get a point.
I, on the other hand, through skulduggery, wheelsuckery, riding on blizzard/ice storm days when no one else shows up, and all manner of chicanery, had twelve points on the leaderboard. It would be a battle of ability and honor versus faithlessness and cunning.
Against the wind
Peter was the lead-out goat up to the top of PV Drive North. I was glued to Luke’s wheel as he sprinted over the top of the first climb and drilled it on the downhill and then all the way to the wall. Halfway up the wall I still hadn’t taken a pull, and as Luke slowed, Emily, and Ennis charged by with Lauren in the lead. Luke grabbed onto the back.
Reichmann caught us and sprinted by, cresting the climb and shooting down towards the base of La Cuesta. A few pedal strokes up La Cuesta and everyone fell away except Luke and I. He surged and immediately stuffed me into a place that made the hurt locker look like Club Med.
He wanted those two points so badly, but the knowledge of those points on offer somehow kept me from tailing off in the spots where I usually crumple and melt. We hit the final two hundred yards, which on La Cuesta, at 16 or 17%, feels like the face of a glacier by the time you get there. The cumulative sprinting and 5-minute intervals from the preceding five laps have worked your legs into putty, and there is nothing but pain.
With a hundred yards to go, all of my wheelsucking started to pay off. Luke began to go from smooth hammerstrokes to uneven jabs, his speed dropped, his head began to hang ever so slightly. He was digging down into a place where most people not only never go, they don’t even know it exists. It energized me too, in a different way. Something about the sight of raw meat gives a cyclist energy, like a jolt of caffeine injected into the base of your skull.
But then in a brief second I considered everything: He had pulled the whole way. He had zero points on the leaderboard. He had never won a lap. He was one of the ride’s most faithful, strongest, safest, and reliable riders. He was tough as nails. He was a good person. He had never said a cross word, never complained, never pulled a dick move, and every lap he rode his heart out.
I had twelve points. I’d won plenty of laps in years past. None of it made any difference anyway, and what kind of person was so selfish that he couldn’t sit up and let a pal have a taste of glory on a fabled South Bay climb? If there were ever a place for decency, I realized, this was it.
I hit the gas as hard as I could and sprinted to the top, the sound of his labored gasps echoing in my ears.
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