Some people are amazing. Some people are fuggin’ amazing. Some people defy belief.
And then there’s Head Down James.
His story is brief. He showed up on the NPR a few years back, fresh from Jolly Colde England, and went to the front. That was when “Go to the front!” was in fashion and imprinted on the bib shorts of the NPR kit, which was seen predominantly at the back.
Head Down James would pull hard, blow up, and then get yelled at. “Dude! You pulled too hard!”
He would listen carefully, recover, and go back to the front. Pull hard. Blow up. Get yelled at. Repeat.
If he ever won the NPR #fakerace in those early years, I never saw it.
Drummed out of the Flog
Head Down James started coming to the Flog and dropping everyone except the Wily Greek. “Dude!” I would yell. “Quit bombing the descents! You are gonna fall and get hurt!”
HDJ never fell and never got hurt, but other people chasing him did.
One day after promising to go slow on the hairpins, he didn’t. I yelled at him some more. “Dude!” I said, using lots of ugly words, “you were bombing the fucking hairpins again!”
HDJ listened to the tirade. Then he answered quietly. “I wasn’t actually bombing it. I was only doing 34.”
Head Down James never came back.
Out in the canyons
Over the years, Head Down James earned a reputation none could match, like the time he rode to Laguna Seca, raced, then rode home. Or the time he did a 300-mile ride just for “fun.” Or the way he made Las Flores a regular morning leg stretcher. Or the way he did all that and raced USA Cycling events as well. Or placed in the top five of the BWR.
People still lectured him about “going too hard” and “needing rest” and “conserving energy,” but the lectures were always from way, way back. Waaaaay back.
Conventional wisdom says you can’t just keep pounding. You gotta conserve.
On Saturday Head Down James stopped at the bottom of the 30-mile climb to pee. The leaders raced on. He put his head down and chased. “My only goal for the day,” he told me later, “was to ride with the split.”
He caught the split after a 7-mile chase, took a deep breath, then got dropped. The leaders were 20 years younger and most of them rode for a living, or close to it.
Head Down James put his head back down, chased for seven more miles and caught back on. A minute later he was OTB.
“Why am I riding with these guys?” Head Down James wondered. “They are better than I am.”
Before long his head was down, and far ahead he saw a lone rider who had been shelled from the split. “If I can just catch that guy I’ll be done for the day. All I wanted to do was ride in the split, and that dude was in the split, so that’s kind of like riding in the split.”
Head Down James caught the split-ee, dropped him, and rode some more.
Over the top of the climb the road turned into hard rollers. The split only had about five guys in it now, and James passed two of them, who had flatted. He put his head down and kept smashing. “It’s only 95 miles and 9,000 feet for the day,” he told himself.
Before long, far ahead, he saw two riders, tiny specks. “I couldn’t catch them,” he admitted. “One of them was hammering it on the uphill and the other on the downhill, and it was just me chasing. Hopeless.”
“Well,” I said, “fourth is pretty amazing given the caliber of the field.”
“Yeah,” he said. “It took me thirty minutes, you know, turning myself inside out before I caught them.”
“So you caught them?”
“I put my head down, you know, and got second overall. It was like a dream.”
Conventional wisdom. So wise.
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