October 17, 2017 § 15 Comments
I’m not big on the Stravver, and not least of all because its welcome page says “Connecting the World’s Athletes.” Newsflash: I ain’t no athlete. I’m a creaky old profamateur masters bicycle delusioner.
Occasionally, however, I will be forced to participate in a KOM conversation, where someone who doesn’t have any KOMs is talking about KOMs, kind of like me talking about a full head of hair.
“I don’t have hardly any KOMs,” I will meekly say.
The person will look sadly at me. “That’s just because you don’t go after them,” he will answer, trying to make me feel better.
“No, it’s because I suck.”
“Aw, come on,” the person will whine, sensing a dose of reality in the offing. “You could get tons if you tried.”
“No, I couldn’t, because I’ve tried. Here in the South Bay there are no KOMs available to me. Lane, Spencer, Chris Tregillis … the KOMs are all theirs.”
However, I do have three KOMs on the Stravver. Two of them suck and you could take them with little effort. One of them is for the Wednesday Bro Ride, a loop that has a bunch of lights and stuff, and only twenty-five people have ever done it. The course record is 1:45 and some seconds. Lane/Spencer/Chris, you could snap up this KOM without hardly breaking a sweat.
The other one is the “neutral” on Western, the part of the Donut Ride that goes through San Pedro. It’s a more legit than the “brochelada” segment; the KOM is nine minutes flat and it has been stravvered by about 1,800 people. Lane/Spencer/Chris, you could take this one too–it’s got the word “neutral” in it, after all–but your legs are going to have to sting a little bit. So go ahead and grab it. Be my guest.
Then I’ve got one last KOM, and I think I’ll be hanging onto it for a little while longer. It’s on Vista del Mar, 2.1 miles, the segment rolling out on NPR. I share it with Eric Anderson, and the segment has been recorded on the Stravver 4,107 times. We set this in a seven-man rotation last January including Dave Ellis, Ramon Ramos, Peyton Cooke, Jon Paris, and Kristie Fox doing an alt-NPR ride called “The 6:50.” As is often the case, we had a tailwind. And we went pretty hard. Unlike my other KOMs on the Stravver, this leaderboard is littered with hitters. Lane/Spencer/Chris, you might not be able to take this one, but if you do, you’re going to need some help, and you’re going to have to like the taste of your own puke.
But none of those KOMs that I got on the Stravver compared to the one I got on Saturday, which was snatched away the moment that the other riders uploaded their data. This was on the Donut of All Donuts, which will be the subject of a future blog, and which occurred this past Saturday.
Every year when we have the South Bay Cycling Awards, which is on a Saturday, we also have the biggest Donut of the year. Last year some of the monsters from North County showed up–Josh Stockinger, Phil Tinstman, as well as a big contingent of West Side killers. I was dropped into the meat grinder and spit out pretty quickly.
This year Ryan Dahl, another North County tough guy, made the trek, and the full Santa Monica BMW/Helen’s squad showed up, led by Tony Manzella and “reinforced” by Alex Barnes, Matt Wikstrom, and the rest of their team. Diego Binatena, who holds the KOM on the Switchbacks was there, evergreen Rudy Napolitano, along with Derek Brauch and a bunch of other bad boys. For the first time in memory, maybe the first time ever, I didn’t even ride to the Domes on the first climb, quitting at the college after trying to follow a pace to the base of the Switchbacks that left me in tatters.
So you can imagine how my heart went pitter-patter the moment I uploaded my ride on the Stravver and saw a little crown for the 6:36 segment through San Pedro. Whaaaaat? A KOM on the hardest day of the year on one of the hardest Donuts ever stacked with the RuggedMaxx II wrecking crew? “It must be a mistake,” I thought, because although I remembered going balls out up Western, trading the front a couple of times with David Wells and everyone else just sitting on, I couldn’t have imagined it was a KOM effort. I’d been off the bike for two weeks, I have tendinitis, and it’s friggin’ October, fer fugg’s sake.
Well … as soon as the uploads started, it was gone as quickly as it had come. David Ellis sneaked by me a second or two, and a handful of other sitters equaled my faux KOM due to the way the Stravver works, which I don’t understand, but it has something to do with how if you start at the back and use the draft of the group to move up you somehow are going faster than the people who stay in the same place. Kind of makes sense but it really doesn’t, like why rednecks don’t want free healthcare. The Stravver is obviously flawed to begin with, putting me at the top of any leaderboard for any reason.
Getting that one faux KOM made my weekend, even though it’s all gone now. I got to brag about it all day and night at the Wankys, refusing to check my phone so I could honestly say “I have the KOM going through Pedro.” And I did. And at 53-almost-54 years of age, it may have been brief but I’ll take it.
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September 30, 2017 § 6 Comments
It’s the weekend. Time for another podcast, directly from my bed.
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PS: Don’t forget the Wanky’s. As if you could. And I may have forgotten to mention that there is free food and beer for the first 300 guests, so get there early.
March 26, 2017 § 18 Comments
The best way to win the Donut Ride is to wait until a big race that attracts all the hitters. To quote Derek the Destroyer’s “First Maxim for Winning”: Your results are predetermined by who shows up.
The San Dimas Stage Robbery had started on Friday, and the usual complement of legit racers was, quite literally, off to the races. Leaky and creaky, I never have a chance to make it first to the top of the radar domes, but today, well, there was at least a chance.
At the bottom of the Switchbacks the group of twelve riders broke apart and by the first turn it was me, Tasker, Roberto, and Marco C., with Marco sitting on the front and churning out the watts. I sat on his wheel for a bit but he’s been in training and is now tipping the scales at 118, a weight that makes Strava Junior look like a fatty.
I dropped back to suck wheel behind Roberto while Tasker had the unenviable task of sitting behind the wraith. Marco dragged us all the way to the college, where Roberto pulled off, and then Marco dragged us all the way to the domes. I planned a sneak attack at the end to punish him for doing all the work, but well before my treachery he simply accelerated and pedaled away from us.
I surged by Tasker and elbowed him into the cones to keep him from getting fake second in our fake race.
Marco is fast and tough and has been around forever, one of the mainstays of the South Bay, but now that he’s on the air and water diet he’s simply leaving behind those of us who enjoy chocolate and donuts (not to mention chocolate donuts). Which got me to thinking about peak performance vs. mediocrity.
There are a lot of superlative riders in the South Bay, but many of them peak and valley. The peaks don’t usually last for long, a season is rare, two seasons Bachmann’s warbler rare … and the valleys can go on for years. In fact, some riders hit an extended peak and you never hear from them again.
On the other hand, there is a whole gaggle of hackers who never hit peak anything. As I like to say, my athletic profile is “slightly better than half-assed.” We mediocre riders never peak, but we never valley, either. Where we were last week is pretty much where we’ll be next week.
I’ve wondered why peak performance riding is so often correlated with extended disappearances. Part of it is the difficulty of achieving “race weight.” The other part is the awful horrible terribleness of FTP workouts, metering your farts on TrainingPeaks, and of course the bane of the non-insane, intervals. It takes so much to be your best. The other other part is that once you enjoy the rarefied air of putting everyone to the sword, it sucks to droop to the back of the bus, hanging on for dear life at the mercy of whoever the latest Peak Performance Flavor of the Month happens to be.
It’s why Eddy Merckx doesn’t fly over from Belgium every Tuesday for Telo, I guess. In his (limited) worldview, competing in our local training crit isn’t as impressive as winning five Tours and setting an hour record.
But to be your most mediocre? That takes considerably less than your best and it leaves room for chocolate donuts. It’s damned hard to do 3 x 20s, whereas it’s darned easy to ride with Gussy and have a croissant … and which person do you think is smiling at the end of the ride? Hint: It’s not the guy who just eked out another .01 w/kg and is going home to a dinner of one boiled egg and a sprig of raw kale.
Put another way, mediocrity is a long-haul tool; excellence is a roman candle. Both have their place, and the life of the ascetic sure looks enviable when it’s dragging you around with your tongue in the spokes.
But man, that chocolate donut …
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March 18, 2017 § 45 Comments
If you ever meet someone who claims to know what’s up in the South Bay, you can ask this simple question. “Do you know Shirtless Keith?”
The answer will tell you all you need to know.
Shirtless Keith isn’t legendary or even mythical. He’s way beyond that. He is the Holy Grail in bicycling.
Shirtless Keith rides (you’ll never guess) without a shirt. And instead of girlish Italian cycling shoes with fancy clip-in pedals, he rides with boots. Big, heavy boots. Boots that you can use for pedaling a bike or for walking 10 miles one-way to the brewery. Yep, he did that. And after having a few beers, he walked home.
When it comes to nutrition, Shirtless Keith don’t need no fancy-shmancy biker Barbie food. “Cyclists” carefully consume properly balanced foodstuffs made by elves who grew each organic ingredient on a small plot of earth farmed by earthworms and hippies from the 60’s. When Keith starts running low on fuel, you know what he eats?
Yep. You heard me right. And when he gets a hankering for a Pop-Tart he doesn’t reach into his jersey pocket because, shirtless, he don’t wear no stinkin’ jersey. Instead he pulls over, unstraps the bungee cord on his rack that holds down the Pop-Tarts, and eats it on the spot. And Shirtless Keith don’t need no water bottle. When he gets thirsty he rides over to a water fountain and drinks.
You think I’m joking? That’s okay, you’re just proving that you don’t know squat about the South Bay.
Keith rides an old cromoly Raleigh with knobby tires and a steering tube that’s longer than a fishing pole. Keith don’t need no carbon and no 25mm tires. All Keith needs is a 55-tooth chain ring, and that’s all he’s got. If the 55 is too big that just means he has to pedal harder.
And Keith don’t need no Internet coach. He rides 48 miles a day, seven days a week. But his favorite day is Saturday because that’s when the Donut Ride goes off. Keith rides around until the group comes barreling up to the Domes and he hops in with the leaders, goes to the front, drops a couple of people (usually me), then swings off and finishes the climb by himself.
Keith’s signature move is to troll for wankers. It never takes long to hook some mid-40s dude on a $15,000 rig. The dude takes one look at Keith’s boots, 40-lb. bike and shirtless back, rolls his eyes, puts the hammer down, and blows by. Dude looks back and sees that yeah, he passed Shirtless Keith, but now Shirtless Keith is passing him. Fast. Dude hops onto Keith’s wheel and pretty soon he’s stuffed into the pain burrito as Keith gets the 55 rolling.
Then Keith stands up and starts pounding like the world’s biggest mashed potato maker, and pretty soon the dude is gazing down at his $5,000 power meter which is telling him that he left his FTP back in Portuguese Bend and it’s exactly fifteen seconds to detonation time.
Shirtless Keith rides away.
If you talk to him he is humble and polite and the friendliest guy on the Hill. One time he hopped in with the Aussie women’s national team and rode with them around the peninsula. Like the classy guy he is, he asked if he could join before hopping in.
The funny people are the ones who tell him to “get a road bike” because he’ll “be a beast.” These are always people he’s shelled, by the way, like a rotten pecan.
Keith don’t wanna be no roadie. Keith don’t want no road bike and no fancy outfit. Keith wants to ride his bike, troll for wankers, hop in on the Donut every now and again, and enjoy cycling his way, on his terms, not yours. One Shirtless Keith is better than all the Velominati put together.
Like I said, the Holy Grail.
July 24, 2016 § 23 Comments
I’m a regular on the Donut Ride but hardly very good at it. Eventually the pace picks up and I get shelled. However it occurred to me that there are dozens and dozens of riders who have never even seen the front on the climb, much less struggled for a top-five placing.
So armed with a hand-me-down GoPro from Robert Efthimos, I shot yesterday’s ride so that everyone who’s only imagined what it’s like can see what they haven’t been missing.
Yesterday’s Donut Ride was small, probably 40 or 50 riders. Eighty or more aren’t uncommon. Small groups make it harder because there are fewer places to hide. A number of big progatonists were absent, but the presence of Diego Binatena (pro), Rudy Napolitano (ex-pro), and Dan Cobley (coulda been pro) meant that it would be plenty hard.
People actually get dropped on the first climb out of Malaga Cove, then a few more when we make the run through Lunada Bay. Below is a shot of Lane Reid, pushing the pace. Lane has more KOMs on Strava than pretty much anyone in the South Bay, but he always gets shelled early, which goes to show that being a champion on Strava and beating actual people are two wholly different endeavors. He’s plenty strong, though, but is displaying a key mistake of Donut Ride shellees: Spending energy early. It took me years to learn that every pedal stroke early in the ride will come back to haunt you when the ride tilts up.
He’s got forty riders strung out on his wheel. This is definitely a glory pull, because he’s going to get obliterated.
Now we’ve pedaled for a ways and are approaching the turn up the Switchbacks, the first climb of the day after several miles of undulating rollers that have taken the pop out your popper. In front are all the key players: Rudy, Diego, Dave Jaeger, Dan, and Garrett Bailey. Here’s another place that people make the big mistake of being too far back. The pace will increase on the Switchbacks and people will blow up, forcing you to close gaps.
Only a couple of such efforts and even though you’re with the leaders you will be in the red and unable to respond to their accelerations. I always tell people to pick a good wheel and follow it all the way to the bottom of the Switchbacks. Positioning isn’t that hard as there are lots of flailers, but if you’re inattentive you’ll be too far back at exactly the wrong time.
Here, I roll ahead of the group and actually lead out the climb. This is always unwise, but I’m just keeping momentum, not pushing the pedals. No matter how good you feel at the bottom, you will feel worse towards the top, so no matter how slow you have to go to get other riders to pass you, do so. Some people like to take a quick glance back here but I never do because it’s guaranteed that the hitters are still there and they are NOT pedaling hard. I roll for a little along the fog line giving the next rider plenty of room to come through.
In this case it’s Garrett Bailey, a super strong rider who doesn’t do the Donut often. He typically rides with the Dave Jaeger Morning Crew, but for some reason has decided to come do the Donut today. He’s a fantastic wheel for me. He’s about my height, about my size, and is a former Olympic rower from Georgetown, so he has a mighty engine. Part of surviving on the Donut when you are old and feeble as I am is to pick the right wheel.
Garrett is also a good wheel because he holds a perfectly straight line and when he blows he easily swings over; no crazy death wobbles or scary head-droops. He’s like a mule, steady and strong and I love his draft because I know he’ll never attack from the front, a move that always breaks my confidence.
Garrett has tired, or perhaps he’s realized that everyone is keyed on his wheel and it would be wiser to save energy. In any case, there’s a mini-swarm as all of the hitters push by. I haven’t looked back but there can’t be many riders left. Garret has kept the tempo pretty high so you know that anyone who was too far back is now done for the day. The mini-swarm provokes anxiety because the hitters are accelerating but they haven’t attacked yet. Here’s where you will regret having glory-pulled before the climb.
This is also a good point to take stock of who’s there because it’s essentially how your epitaph is going to be written. With Diego you know he will attack and drop you. With Rudy you know he will attack and probably drop you. If not he will sit up, attack again and certainly drop you. Cobley is a question mark. Sometimes he gives up and is nowhere to be seen, so even though he doesn’t have a super fast attack, which means you can sometimes latch on when he chases, you can’t always count on him to drag you back up to the leaders.
Jaeger has little acceleration on a climb, so he won’t go with the big attacks. But he has a massive motor and a high top end so if you plan on sitting on his wheel you need to be super tiny and be able to endure endless misery. He is relentless. You can also see that in a matter of minutes the entire group has been whittled down to six riders and no one has even attacked yet. Dave is now at the front and it’s punishing. Diego is queued up behind him and I’m on Diego’s wheel. This is problematic because Diego can easily attack from the front and Rudy, who’s behind me, can easily follow. The only thing I can easily do at this point is quit.
This next section is funny because even though he’s not the strongest rider, DJ hits the front hard and really pushes the pace. He is probably trying to get rid of me and Garrett, and maybe he’s testing Cobley to see if Dan is “on” or “off.” In any event, after an effort like that so early in the climb I would have been completely done for the day. Another difference between me and Dave … one of many …
Unexpectedly, Dan now attacks. No one responds in the first few seconds and he races away. For me it’s a no-brainer. Chasing will mean droppage, and it’s unlikely I can go with Diego or Rudy, the only two guys strong enough to chase him down. So I have to wait and see what my fate will be, like a lobster in a tank trying to figure out whether the customer has chosen me or my buddy.
These attacks don’t look like much, but in real life they happen more quickly than lightning. You’re already totally on the rivet, and a speed differential of even a couple of pedal strokes feels like the difference between strolling and running a 100m dash against Usain Bolt. Everyone struggles here, and the only thing that keeps me going is the knowledge that no matter how fit Dan is, he’s going to ease off soon. “Soon” being a relative term, unfortunately.
As expected, Diego counters and this isn’t one I can even think about following. It’s also disheartening. I know I’m pegged. I know that he’s light years better than I am. And he waltzes away with what seems like effortlessness. My momentum keeps me going, though, and suddenly I’m out ahead of the others; Diego’s acceleration has splintered the group.
This is utter hell because now I’m off a wheel. I’m not strong enough to ride by myself and mentally I’m too weak to push on and try to cover Diego. So I have to wait and play lobster again. Unfortunately the others are way back now, so I calculate that in a few seconds Rudy will come rocketing by (uncatchable) and then Dan/DJ/Garrett. My only hope is to soft pedal until they catch me and suck wheel some more. We’re not even halfway up the climb.
In a few seconds Rudy punches through and bridges to Diego. This is unthinkable and demoralizing. I watch them turn into pinpoints. My breath is pretty heavy about now.
About now is when you have to have a mental trick box. These are the tricks you use to fake your body into doing what it wouldn’t otherwise do. All your adrenaline has subsided and there’s nothing left but lactic acid and searing pain. “Why am I doing this?” “This is stupid.” “I’m too old,” etc.
Sure enough Garrett comes by and I latch on. My mental trick is simple. I call it “One equals ten.” This means I tell myself that for every pedal stroke I can hang on, the fuckers chasing have to do ten. It may not be true, but it works for me.
Garrett is steady and strong and although I don’t exactly get any recovery, my heart rate drops a couple of beats so that I can at least hear myself crying and convince myself that the worst is past even though I know that it’s really only just getting started.
Cobley is intent on catching Rudy and comes through hard, then attacks from the front. Diego has pulled over somewhere and is no longer in the picture, and Dan knows how demoralizing it is to attack someone from the front. He’s also under a little pressure here because he’s riding with the Depends contingent. Cobley is 35, DJ is 55, and Garrett is in his 40’s. I’m 52, so there’s no honor for Dan in smacking around a gang of geezers. He can’t just beat us, he has to leave us in tatters.
This is his second monster effort and I can’t imagine how he can do another one, which is okay because after towing us around like a ski boat hauling an inner tube we’re going to hit the wall on Crest and I won’t have to imagine how he’s going to conjure up another attack because he’s going show me.
A lot of the time I will see people pull this move on the wall and I’ve done it a zillion times myself. It almost always fails because it takes so much effort to go fast enough to drop your companions that when it flattens out you have to slow down and catch your breath. The droppees, however, not having gone completely into the red, peg you back and then with a slight counter they can dust you off. So 99% of the time it’s a bad move to attack hard here, unless of course you’re Dan, in which case you can punch it and then keep the gas on while the droppees wonder who switched out the lights.
I’ve run out of ways to describe pain by now, but we all stood up and nothing happened. In a little bit Dan had bridged to Rudy and we were fighting for old man scraps. I don’t have a lot of options here. I’m not strong enough to attack Garret and I’m sure as hell not strong enough to attack Dave, so I cast about for another wheel to suck. Happily, Garrett obliges for a bit and I get over the worst part of the wall and the subsequent gradient.
Somewhere along the way DJ gets it into his head that Garrett and I really suck and that what he wants to do is catch Dan and Rudy. This is a problem for me because if I follow Dave’s wheel I’m not going to get much of a draft, but if I follow Garrett’s wheel he’s going to blow and I’m going to have to close a nasty gap.
Choosing expediency over strategy, I hunker down behind Garrett and await the inevitable. Garrett works like a Trojan to stay on Dave’s wheel, but like Hector getting slain by Achilles, he’s no match for the Argonaut.
Garrett explodes gracefully, head bowed, hand waving me through, and I have to go bathyscaphe-deep to claw my way onto Jaeger’s wheel. Dave could drop me anytime now, but he settles in and begins banging away at every nerve in my body with a steady, relentless drilling. The thing that’s so awful about this is that even though I’m on his wheel and getting the benefit from his draft, mentally it is horrible to think that I’m completely pegged out and haven’t done a lick of work all day. DJ has attacked, covered, accelerated, and pulled, and he’s not done yet, while I’m younger, slower, weaker, and hanging on like one of those baby teeth about to come out but for a tiny string of fleshy pulp still holding it into the gum.
DJ also sees Dan and Rudy up ahead and they’re riding side by side, chatting. We’re all in simply to keep them in the viewfinder as they chattily discuss gear ratios and the silliness of old farts trying to keep up with young men. Then Cobley accelerates and they vanish.
Now my goal is simple: Don’t quit and let DJ drag me to the end. What could be easier? The hardest part is over! All I have to do is dig deeper and hold on! He’s older than I am! I’ve done nothing all day! I CAN DO THIS!
Except no, I can’t.
See? The Donut is the same for everyone, after all.
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May 3, 2016 § 26 Comments
Sometimes you see things that you don’t think you saw until somebody comes up to you afterwards and says, “Did you see that?”
This happened on the Donut Ride a couple of weeks ago. We had come out of Lunada Bay pretty hard and it was strung out in a line, with clumps of wankage already getting pinched off and flushed out of the bump past the elementary school. I was gritting my teeth and sitting about sixth wheel up against the right-hand curb.
I heard the whoosh-whoosh of full carbon that I’m pretty sure was 100% carbon and it was whooshing good except it was whooshing on the wrong side, my right, where there wasn’t but a handlebar-width between me and the curb. I moved over a fraction and sure enough, through came a pair of handlebars as smooth as a Brazilian wax job and the dude’s body language was “There’s plenty of room, plenty of room” which there was but only in retrospect and only because he had skilZ with a capital “Suicide.”
He passed me easy as butter and then moved over to the left and I opened up some space for him to slot in but the guy in front of him had started drifting back and the guy on his left, whose rear wheel he was now overlapping, hadn’t budged so that his front wheel was boxed in on either side.
Dude could have pedaled less hard and drifted back so that his wheel was clear but there was a super narrow gap he’d wedged into already and he decided that where he wanted to be was more ahead rather than more behind so he reached out to the guy on his left and gave him a pretty violent hip-shove in the universal bikespeak of “Move the fuck over now.”
Problems with this move:
- I was behind him starting to dribble poop because when this went south I was going to go south along with it.
- He was pushing on the wrong hip.
Wrong Hip happened to be Frenchy the Axe, an MTB phenom who absolutely shreds on the climbs. Wrong Hip, who would be my second oldest kid age-wise, has always been nice to me and let me sit on his wheel when he’s blowing people’s knees out on the Donut Ride. He sets it at tempo and you’re going along encouraging yourself, “I can DO it, I can DO it, I can DO it,” and then suddenly it’s, “No, fuck this I’m done,” and then you’re spiraling backwards hoping your eyes will come into focus before you veer into oncoming traffic.
The whole thing unfolded in an amazing dance of daring. Wrong Hip felt the hard push but he didn’t do what I would have done, which is roll over like a servile cur and give up the space. Nah, this was the world famous Donut Ride where every foot is fought for like it was real estate between enemy trenches at Verdun. You want to be where I am? Then you better not push and you better not shove.
Wrong Hip never glanced back. Ever so casually he reached back and grabbed Pushy McPusher’s left brake hood with his fist. Now, when the dude in front of you has his fingers wrapped around your hood, you are officially fucked. It’s like having your nuts in a pair of eunuch pincers and a 300-lb. bruiser getting ready to stand on the handles.
There was a massive clenching of sphincters because everyone saw the move and what had led up to it and now the only question was how many dozen people were going to chew a few plugs of asphalt tabacco. Then the magic unfolded. Wrong Hip slung the brake hood backwards, but Pushy didn’t do what everyone else would have done, which is a sideways flip-launch.
Instead, anticipating the push, he leaned slightly left so that his entire bike slid back about two feet, clearing the two overlapped wheels. We adjusted as he moved back.
Wrong Hip never even bothered to see who the poor slob was that he’d just owned in fee simple. And as awesome as the hood-check was, Pushy’s cool acceptance of the rear-shove and his casual readjustment was (maybe) even more amazing. Unfortunately, the testosterone was about to spill over and I saw Pushy get out of the saddle as he prepared to have words with Wrong Hip, words, I was pretty sure, that would be hard to take back.
I grabbed his jersey. He jerked his head around. “Easy, pal,” I said, “it’s only the Donut Ride.”
He looked at me for a second before deciding not to punch me out. “Yeah,” he said. “Right.”
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October 23, 2015 § 19 Comments
His head was tilted to one side, he was slurring his words and gesticulating.
So I stood there in my tuxedo and listened.
“Ya see,” he said, “There’s a bigger chain ring they’re gonna make for me, see? Now I’ve only got fifty teeth, ya see? But the new one, it’s gonna have fifty-four or five or six, ya see?” He shaped the bigger chain rings with his hands.
“Yes, I see.”
“And they’re gonna put that on my bike, ya see?”
“Yes, I see.”
“And then you know what I’m gonna do?”
“Pay for it?”
“No,” he said. “I mean of course I’ll pay for it, but you know what I’m gonna DO?”
“I’m gonna beat the head Donut guy.” He paused for effect. “Ya see?”
I didn’t see at all. Not even a little bit. “How? I mean, the way things stand you can’t even beat Prez.”
“The head Donut guy, ya see, I can’t catch him on the flats. He’s got me there. But with this bigger chain ring, ya see, I’m gonna catch him on the flats. I can already beat the head Donut guy on the hill, don’t worry about that, I can beat him there.”
I wasn’t worried at all, but I was curious. “So who’s the head Donut guy?”
The slightly unusual fellow who had walked from San Pedro to the Wanky Awards in North Torrance, an eight-mile slog one-way, and who was going to walk all the way back, cocked his head a bit more. “The head Donut guy? He’s the guy always wins the Donut race. Don’t you know him?”
“But the first rider up the hill every Saturday is different a lot of the time. There’s not really any one head Donut guy.”
He shook his head vigorously, then nodded vigorously. “Oh yes there is and I’m gonna beat him at the race next Saturday.” The head Donut guy was apparently an apparition, or a symbol, or a metaphor. Or maybe he couldn’t tell us apart because of our glasses and helmets. Or maybe he just meant Wily.
This fellow was well known around the peninsula for riding a 40-pound MTB, shirtless, in baggy shorts, and sporting giant clodhopper work boots. He was a seal clubber of sorts. Despite his appearance he was viciously strong and loved nothing more than trolling for kitted out baby seals. He’d approach them slowly, out of the saddle, then pass them slowly.
Outraged, they’d give chase on their $10k rigs and he’d dangle. After a minute or so they’d be on the rivet and he’d pull away, leaving their self image in ruins.
But he couldn’t hang with “the Donut race” so he’d hop in with various shellees ascending the Switchbacks, pound for a while, and get dropped.
“The head Donut guy,” he repeated. “I’m gonna beat him. You’ll see.” He wandered off. Wearing a shirt and long pants he looked halfway normal.
But what weird ideas he had bouncing around in his head! What strange fixations were propelling him around the hill, driving him to walk sixteen miles in a single evening just to tell me his strategy against the head Donut guy, whoever that was! He was ricocheting around in an alternate universe, delusional, trying madly to find a wormhole back to reality.
Just like me.
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September 27, 2015 § 16 Comments
Every Saturday morning the best riders in the South Bay assemble to contest the legendary Donut Ride. They are young, they are shaven, they are tiny, they climb very fast. And they are wearing their finest clown underwear, except for Wily, who showed up this morning in culottes and a tank top.
Ostensibly the goal of the Donut Ride is to be the first rider to reach the radar domes. But roiling beneath the stated objective is a deeper, more fundamental objective, one driven by horror and terror and the fear of humiliation: Don’t get beaten by the creaky old wanker with hairy legs.
No one has ever said it to me directly, but they don’t have to. Being ridden off my wheel is the most demoralizing thing that can ever happen to a cyclist because it means you really aren’t very good, and it can destroy the future dreams of an aspiring young athlete. Therefore, it is with especial relish that I target the young, the bright, and the upcoming.
For them it is lose-lose. No possible excuse can make up for getting stomped by a wrinkled prune who is old enough to be the father of most, the grandfather of many, and almost the great-grandfather of one or two. “It’s the off season,” “I’m going easy today,” “My coach told me to keep it in Zone 3,” … at the end of the day getting whipped by a senior citizen on a challenging climb is simply a deal-ender.
For me of course it is win-win. As soon as I’m shelled I can chalk it up to biology. “I’m almost 52, he’s 25. I was lucky to stick around for as long as I did.”
And of course by simply hanging around and hanging around, once in an incredibly rare while I actually pick off one of the targets on my list. I still remember and savor the day a couple of years ago when I caught and dropped Wily. The afterglow from that is as strong and fresh and warm as peeing in the shower.
And who can forget the time (singular) that I shelled Ponytail, a 25-year-old climbing phenom with the draft of a knitting needle? And how the wonderfulness of the victory was punctuated by his comment that he thought I was in my 20’s, and how crestfallen he was to learn I had an AARP card.
Then of course there was the time I scampered away and beat Derek the Destroyer, an accomplishment so drenched in fantasticity that I didn’t ride for a month afterwards. In my checklist there is even a mark next to Tony Manzella’s name. One mark, one time, to be savored each night with incense before I go to bed. That’s kind of my scorecard, after about 450 Donut Rides, with an asterisk for the time in 2008 that Rudy dragged me up to the Domes on my steel Eddy Merckx and intentionally didn’t drop me.
One of the unstated rules every week is “Drop Wanky.” I’ve seen guys take years off their lives rather than have me beat them. I’ve seen riders spent, dead, and ready for the retort when, looking back and seeing me, they come back to life like the undead and sprint away from the embarrassment of getting wankied.
But for the last three years there has been a very rare bird I’ve been trying to tick off my list, a kind of California Clapper Rail that has been elusive, cagey, and hell bent on thwarting me. He has beaten me in every possible configuration, and has beaten me when I’m riding my best and he’s riding his worst. And he’s always done it by generous margins. No bike throws, no last-second surges, just a smooth swing of the executioner’s axe and bam, he’s gone and I’m tied up in knots going backwards.
I’d go so far as to say he’s sworn a blood oath and it looks like this: That repulsive old faker will never finish anywhere near me.
And I never have, until today, of course.
Julien had sandblasted the pack of about twenty that still remained at the bottom of the Switchbacks into a small group of seven. My quarry had attacked hard just before we hit the wall on Crest, headed to the radar domes. Julien pulled him back and only Wily, Ponytail, Strava Junior, my quarry, and I remained.
Julien turned the screws and I popped. Strava Junior must have come off before then, because I was alone as my quarry and the three others pedaled away. Just before the turn to flat spot there was another flurry of attacks, and my quarry blew. He was within range. I pulled him back then came around him hard, listening for the telltale signs of having someone on my wheel. It was dead silent.
When I finished, the only three riders ahead were all younger than my children.
I hurried home and made a tick mark on my checklist. Then I logged onto eBay and put everything up for sale, because that’s as good as it’s ever going to get.
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September 19, 2015 § 8 Comments
Rolling out of Redondo this morning I was talking to this dude. “What’s your name?” I asked.
“Roberto,” he said, then he paused. “I pay you.”
I loves me a blog subscriber! Instead of insulting him as I’d planned, I patted him on the back, asked about his wife and children, and exchanged pleasantries. “Another day, another Donut, same old, same old.”
“No,” he said. “The rides, they are all different.”
“Yes,” he said. “You just have to do them enough to find out the differences.”
I tried to count how many times I’d done the Donut Ride. “After five hundred times, this still seems like a ride where one guy climbs up to the top faster than anyone else.”
“But it is a different guy, eh?”
“Yeah. Sometimes it’s Stathis, sometimes it’s Sakellariadis, sometimes it’s the Greek, sometimes it’s Wily, sometimes it’s Dr. Swerve.”
I looked around, but didn’t: the Greek was down for the count after slamming into the front of the guy behind him on the NPR. “Hmmm,” I thought to myself. “Maybe this really will be different.”
Without Wily to attack from the gun and make everyone chase until they vomit and quit, it was leisurely. Hoofixerman scampered away with Roberto the German with the Spanish Name, then later Rico went, and eventually the pack started to chase. We all came back together at Terranea, but no one was tired.
An Airgas Safeway pro from from Santa Barbara had rolled out with us, and notice therof was duly taken. Surfer started surging in Portuguese Bend, and some new skinny kid from Norcal named Sean began taking digs, and Les Deux Frenchies began stretching the rope.
I cowered and hid, trying as best I could to tuck behind Jules. At age 16 he’s one of the top prospects in America, and recently added three more national track titles to his sagging trophy shelf. Jules began dropping pretty much everyone on the switchbacks when he was 13 and hasn’t let up since.
We hit the bottom of the Switchbacks with a massive pack of about thirty riders, testament to how slow it had been–this point of the ride rarely has more than ten riders in the lead group. The down side to a slow start is that once the climb starts, it goes very fast.
Surfer Dan ramped it up, and then the Airgas-Safeway pro hit the front. The group immediately snapped in half, and after a couple of minutes there were only eight riders left, Les Deux Frenchies, Derek, Surfer Dan, Norcal, Strava Junior, and Jules. We got to the top of the Switchbacks and Airgas was gassed; he hadn’t known that the ride continued up the wall to the radar domes. Course knowledge is key …
Surfer Dan took the bit and charged up the wall. We all hung on. Frenchy Sr. kept pulling through, but everyone else hunkered down and rubbed their rosary beads. For me this was all miraculous. Not being a climber, and not being very fast, and not being very smart, it was shocking to think that I’d survived so much misery so far with so much cruel, pitiless talent. Before I knew it, the final curve was in sight.
No chance at a sprunt.
No chance with an attack.
So I jumped, shook free, and eased off the gas, hoping to latch onto whomever came by.
As luck would have it, the bad kind, Jules rocketed up the right-hand gutter. I could have easily gotten his wheel if I’d been on a motorcycle. Otherwise, no bueno.
Frenchy Sr. and Derek came by, then caught and dropped Jules. I looked back and the broken pieces were strewn way out behind me. I crossed the imaginary finish line marking the end of the imaginary race, and thought about all the beer I hadn’t drunk in order to reach this imaginary level of success.
“Roberto was right,” I thought. “They are all different.” Followed by “Shit, I’m thirsty.”
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