There is no injunction more deeply carved for a bicyclist than this one: thou shalt not ride on the freeway.
But there I was, 115-ish miles in, 80-ish to go, launching down the on-ramp for Interstate 5 at Oceanside, destination Los Angeles. The Marine Corps doesn’t easily let you ride through Camp Pendleton anymore, so if you don’t have a special pass to ride through the base, CalTrans allows you to make the seven miles from Oceanside to Las Pulgas on the freeway.
It is fun, getting passed by 18-wheelers doing 75. However, I had a huge tailwind, most of the freeway was gently downhill, the shoulder was mostly clean, and there was tons of space between me and the traffic.
When I pulled off the freeway to continue along the bike path, heart still pounding, it was as if I’d been dropped off into a cocoon of silence. The path was empty, the day was well on its way to ending, and I still had a big chunk of riding to get home, notching what would be just under a 200-mile day.
The biggest part of the day, though, was the Peter Sagan Gran Roadie-Oh, a 90-mile fondo starring none other than … Peter Sagan.
As Dandy said while we were waiting to roll out, “Gonna be a lot of jock sniffing today.”
To which I said, “Thank dog I’ve got a big nose.”
I could tell you about this epic grand fondue which creator MMX has gone to great pains to NOT call a grand fondue. I could tell you about the start, which was exactly like a ProTour road race in its intensity + Cat 4s.
I could tell you about the bicycle falling off incident in Cousar Canyon, where the leaders all looked like they’d been victims at the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre but only had road rash and a broken collarbone.
I could tell you about the VIP Event I wasn’t at or about the amazing night hosted by Bill Walton which I also wasn’t at or bowling with Sags, which I also wasn’t at.
I could tell you about the food, which was amazing, the venue, which was amazing-er, the studly moto antics of Ryan Dahl and Phil Tinstman, or the celeb photo shoot by Brian Hodes.
I could tell you about the perfect weather, the exciting vibe, the immaculate course, or even about Fortress Sags, where PS was holed up in a giant mobile luxury apartment bus in between autograph signings and selfies with fans.
Or I could tell you about getting shelled early, chasing all day, and finally catching the Sags group at a rest stop where they’d been filing their nails and translating War and Peace into Slovak.
I could tell you about riding with Sags and chatting with him for a good 20 minutes, about how his English is better than my Slovak, about his secret tips for how to become a champion masters racer, about his hometown of Zilina (where I almost went once), and about how he pulled over to the side of the road and took a whizz, not to mention getting dropped on the last climb up San Elijo.
And of course I could tell you about riding PCH home on Sunday night and the charms of bumper-to-bumper traffic from Dana Point to Huntington Beach.
But I won’t.
What I’m going to tell you about is excellence, the excellence that was on display at this event, and how it all came from mind to execution by Michael Marckx. It seems like only yesterday, when in fact it was 2012, that Michael left LA for San Diego. He got there unknown and not especially respected–such was (is?) the clannishness of the San Diego roadie scene.
A mere eight years later, he has indelibly branded “MMX” on road cycling in San Diego, in California, and I’d venture to say, in the U.S. What it took to partner up with Sagan on a few months’ notice, pull together the permits, and devise events to make it a three-day show are all impressive. Yet none of those things is as impressive as the vision, because vision is the yin to execution’s yang.
As with every other driven, high-performing mind, working in tandem with Michael isn’t easy, and I’m being nice. This makes it all the more extraordinary, because the team of people who made the event happen couldn’t have been more diverse in temperament, from happy volunteers, to grim number-crunchers, to exhausted t-shirt sales people, to Shelby Reynolds, who personally registered 59,285 people and did every single one with a smile while answering questions like, “Will there be a place to pee?” and “Can I have an xtra small t-shirt with an XXL collar?”
I could go on but should probably focus my admiration instead on the real proof of Michael’s genius: Sags was damned happy with the event. Like any other superstar, he’s been promised the moon often enough to rightly expect stinky cheese when the deliverables roll in. Can anyone say Tinkoff?
But this event really set a standard. Like every course MMX will ever design, this one, a pure-roadie only course, even had one tiny section of sand. You can put the boy in the bathtub, but you can’t get the grit out of his jockstrap. And the course was something that only Michael could’ve designed, calling upon what is unquestionably the most detailed, intricate knowledge of North County roads that any cyclist has ever had. Michael knows the roads turn by turn, how they affect the flow of a ride, where they provide vistas, where they plunge into tree-lined country lanes, where they are conducive to sprints, how much climb is too much, and how to leave you beat to shit at the end even if you just tried to “chill.”
You could tell how happy people were at every stage of the event. Unlike many grand fondues, populated by dour and vaguely dissatisfied old fellows grumbling over the entry fee and contents of the swag bag, the post-ride luncheon was like one big happy party. People got their money’s worth, and more importantly, they got their ride’s worth.
Whether they got their Sags groupie photo by hanging out at the bus, snapping it at one of the parties, or whether they did it the ultimate way, sucking the wheel of the greatest rider of his generation, you couldn’t help feeling like YOU’D gotten a tiny slice of getting to hang with a bona-fide superstar.
And it happened because Michael made it happen.
I asked Sags if he was coming back next year, and he said he would like to, which I suppose is Sags-speak for “it depends.” After this event he was flying to Cartagena for his second big fondo, in Colombia. “After I retire from racing I will have more time for these,” he said. Of course I am already circling the month of November for next year. Knowing Michael, the 2020 event will exceed 2019 by orders of magnitude.
And as for Sags having more time in the future? Maybe. When you’re personable, popular, and able to piss on the side of the road into the lens of 30 cameras, you might find out that in retirement you’re even more popular than you were in your prime, Peter.
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