It’s been a while since I’ve done NPR. This morning I got there and was met by Denis. “Dude!” he said. “I attacked early last week and put a 2-minute gap on the field!”
“That’s awesome,” I replied. “Did you win?”
“Evens and Rudy came by me and I didn’t know to get on.”
“Yeah, I have a similar problem with those guys, too. They come by and I know to get on, but don’t know how.”
Denis nodded. “Yeah.”
“Kind of like they came by and you melted like an old wad of chewing gum on a summer pavement?”
If at first you don’t succeed
We pulled out onto Vista del Mar and Denis took off. He was on fire to win the NPR which I sympathized with despite the fact that you technically can’t win a #fakerace. Fact is, the NPR has a generally agreed upon imaginary line on lap four where everyone, whether they hopped in, cut the course, or dropped in from outer space, is trying to get to first.
Less imaginary is the hardest fact of a #fakewin at NPR: The same people win it, more or less, every time. That’s because if it’s a slower day and ends in a bunch sprunt, the bunch sprunters, of which there are a small handful, always win.
If it’s a fast day and ends in a break, the breakaway riders, of which there are a small handful, always win.
If it’s an insane day and someone #fakewins solo, well, that basically narrows it down to two people, neither of which is you.
So the great unwashed raft of NPR baby seals has zero chance of ever scoring a #fakewin, no matter how eagerly they pound off the front, and it’s this rarity that makes the glory so alluring. Think about it: There are countless baby seals who have done the ride hundreds of time, some over decades, and never scored a #fakewin. And they never will.
“If only …!” and “What if … !” and “Maybe today …!” all crumple and fold in the end, but at least at the Manhattan Beach Pier every Tuesday and Thursday at 6:40 AM pointy-sharp there is hope, and on NPR, it springs eternal.
I don’t know how many times I’ve #fakewon the NPR, but it isn’t many, less than ten since 2006. Once in a sprunt, three times solo, and the other times out of a collapsing break. As I get older, the returns diminish, and the probability starts to look more and more like that of getting hit on the thumb by a green asteroid.
I watched Denis disappear, saw the peloton closing, and sped up. He got hung up at the light at Imperial, I caught him, and suddenly we had a two-man #fakeaway.
I didn’t get too excited by the time we hit Dr. Cziko’s videocam on Pershing, where, instead of joining in the tomfoolery, Gary sits above us and documents the ride from the window of his duplex. Denis, though, was excited. This was where he notched his “amazing” 2-minute gap last week. I thought about telling him to quit surging, but why? It would go in one ear and out the other.
After exiting World Way ramp we saw the peloton. Our gap was not sustainable, but it wasn’t dead yet. They were chasing hard but the group only had about thirty riders. I figured we’d keep pouring on coal and see where we were at the first turnaround. On Westchester Parkway we were met by a howling headwind, which was good because it would blunt the chase, but bad because it would blunt us, too.
At the first turnaround we were only barely ahead, and Denis’s enthusiasm had given way to somewhat squarish pedaling. “We aren’t caught yet,” I thought, and picked up the pace with what seemed like ever longer pulls and ever shorter rests.
Giving the gift
I’ve let someone beat me for an NPR #fakewin exactly once, the time I gave the vee to SB Baby Seal and chronicled it here, back in 2014.
As we hit lap three and our gap had increased ever so slightly, I began thinking about how to finish this one off. Denis had the passion. He wanted it so bad he could taste it, whereas I only wanted it so bad I could smell it.
He had won Wanker of the Year at the South Bay Cycling Awards in 2016, and since then had proven a deserving recipient. There was the one time he’d taken a good pull in our break on the Donut this year before self-immolating in Lunada Bay, and most importantly there was the huge cash sponsorship that his employer ponied up every year to support the mission of Team Lizard Collectors.
At that moment I made up my mind to give him the win if we didn’t get hauled back, fully aware that it would likely change his life forever, and not in a good way, since his poor wife would have to hear about every pedal stroke from now until his next #fakewin, which would be eternity.
We reached the final turnaround and Denis’s baby pulls, which had become infant pulls, became fetus pulls, concluding with “Does life begin before conception?” pulls. Our gap was healthy as I slid back and got on his wheel.
“You’re gonna have to dig,” I said.
And dig he did. So deep, in fact, that when we got to the top of the golf course he actually whimpered. “I can’t,” he mumbled.
I giggled, towed him up the final bump, told him he was gonna win, and watched the terror on his face when I told him “They’re coming!” even though they weren’t. The rest is history, including his query regarding the location of the finish line and his near-fatal “hands-up” victory wobble.
But even better than being history, it’s on video, too. And yes, those things on his jersey are … hams.
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