February 11, 2017 § 20 Comments
I love racing against Jeff Konsmo, and have raced against him countless times. Jeff has never raced against me. Whatever Jeff does in a race affects me profoundly. Whatever I do in a race doesn’t affect him at all, except for that moment when he looks over his shoulder and sees a tiny dot in the distance.
That’s me, Jeff!
My favorite race to race against Jeff where he isn’t racing against me is the UCLA Road Race. I love this race because it is very predictable and at my advanced age I do not like surprises.
Here’s what always happens. I ride my bicycle very earnestly in November, December, and January. During that time I gain lots of confidence because, group ride.
Then I show up for the UCLA Road Race, which is the hardest race on the calendar and the hardest race in the galaxy of leaky prostate races. I warm up, chit-chat with friends who are going to tear my legs off, preen a bit, and do a book signing or two. (This really happened. An awesome dude named George came up to me on the start line and asked me to autograph my world-famous book, “Cycling in the South Bay.” I blushed, and it’s that slight diversion of crucial blood flow that partially explains what happened next.)
Then the race starts and Jeff Konsmo goes to the front. Jeff is beautiful. He has no spare anything. Every part of his body is perfectly joined together to do one thing: Ride bicycle uphill fast.
When Jeff gets to the front, which he does after the first 100 yards, he coasts because the first 300 yards are downhill. Then the road begins to go up and Jeff begins to pedal. The more the road goes uphill, which it does for the next five miles, the more he pedals. Suddenly the happy old oysters are not happy anymore.
There’s no more conversation.
The clump becomes a bit streamlined.
Then it becomes single file.
Then holes begin to appear as if mortars had fallen into the ranks and scored a direct hit.
Then the universe becomes a black pinhole of the rubber in front of you, washed over by the roar of your own gasps.
This is when I look up and see that Jeff is still on the front and I am what is affectionately known as “off the back” followed by “way off the back” followed by “time to re-analyze my winter preparation, especially the part where I insert the delusion of not getting dropped into my race plans.”
This year, however, was gonna be different. I had trimmed my riding schedule down to four days a week. I had reduced my tummy rolls from four to two. I had won the NPR last Tuesday when no one else showed up.
THIS YEAR AT UCLA WAS GOING TO BE MY YEAR.
Then the race started and Jeff went to the front and it was Wanky redux all over again. Less than ten minutes into the race my heart rate had been jacked up to 220 and I’d been mercilessly smashed out the back. So much for reducing my training to improve my fitness. But this year something different happened. After getting shelled by Jeff’s torrid pace, a group of other shellees came by. I latched on and they dragged me over the climb and then flew down the descent at speeds so insane that the post-ride ritual of checking one’s skidmarks revealed some impressive stripes.
And hallelujah! We made the right turn and reattached to the small band of leaders. Unlike years past, where reattachment was simply a preamble to permanent disjunction, I hung on and hung on and hung on.
Through the start/finish climb I hung on.
Up the climb the second time I hung on.
Through the start/finish climb I hung on.
Up the climb the third time I hung on.
Through the start/finish climb I hung on.
Then as we began the final climb on the final lap it became real. I was going to finish the race with the lead group for the first time ever. All the DNFs, the 38th place from last year, the litany of bitter defeats were going to be made up for on this glorious day. All I had to do was make it up one last time.
The course goes up for a couple of miles and then makes a right turn, where there’s an endless stairstep ascent to the top. That right turn is crucial because if you make it there, it’s followed by a brief downhill where you can catch your breath and get ready for the final five minutes of being completely pinned.
I saw the right turn, put my head down, and flailed for what seemed like a minute or two, hanging on like one of those tiny little meat strings that attach a baby tooth to the gum right before the tooth is ripped mercilessly out by a piece of twine that your brother has tied to the door. As the meat string stretched I looked up and saw in horror that after pedaling for so long we had only moved a few yards, which either meant that I was in so much pain my brain had begun distorting time and distance, or that we were moving at .00000002 miles per hour.
I put my head down again and pedaled for an hour, the meat string twisting and twisting as it yanked on the shrieking nerve. I looked up and saw we had moved ahead another ten feet.
After a couple of days I reached the right turn. The stairstep loomed. But Jeff, who had sat on the front for two solid hours, pounding the field into shredded meat strings until only a handful of mauled riders remained, was out of accelerations. There was zero chance that he would put in one of the vicious little kicks at the end designed to snap the meat strings and further cull the herd.
As we approached the top I finally knew what it felt like to be in the running, theoretically at least, for a podium spot at the hardest race I’d ever done. After years of trying, years of failure, years of gnashed teeth, and years of broken meat strings I was going to crest the climb, bomb the descent, pedal along the rollers sucking wheel at every opportunity, and then unleash my tremendous 165 watts of seated sprinting power on the unsuspecting suckers who had dragged me along for the entire day.
Two hundred yards was far but the top was right there and nothing was going to dislodge me, especially because I knew that if I got gapped out here I’d never reconnect with the pack once the crested the climb.
Then I noticed something troubling. That something was named Thurlow, and Thurlow had looked back and surveyed the situation.
If you don’t know Thurlow, don’t worry. He doesn’t know you either. I’m sure that in his normal life he is a kind fellow, a gray-haired, avuncular old chap who says “thank you” and “please” and offers his seat to pregnant women on the bus.
But on a bicycle he doesn’t do any of those things. On a bicycle he is simply the greatest road racer in this country’s history. Olympics, check. La Vie Claire, check. Won every major U.S. race ever, check. Kept winning at the local pro level, check. Kept winning at the masters level, check. Still wins more races than he actually participates in, check. Terrifies other riders by looking at them. Speaks only when necessary, and it’s never necessary.
And the sad news is that Thurlow is a moving, living lesson in how to race a bike and you are the blackboard on which the lessons are going to be written. With a knife. Expressionless, taking in all of the peloton’s motions with the lifeless eyes of a shark, Thurlow sees all, knows all, understands all. And when the eye of Thurlow alights on the cockroach hiding at the back of the group, the cockroach who has never done a thing all day except gasp while waiting to sneak into the kitchen and steal some crumbs in the darkness, Thurlow only has one reaction. Stomp the roach until its yellow guts are forced from its very eyes. And stomp it now.
As Thurlow stomped, the remaining riders avoided getting shelled as they struggled to match his acceleration, which was vicious, and after a few seconds of disarray each rider found a wheel, gasping, and they labored together over the top of the climb in a ragged file of grim desperation, after which they all raced together to the finish.
All but one, of course.
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February 14, 2016 § 16 Comments
Team Lizard Collectors rolled up to the start of the UCLA Road Race in our pimping Bonk Breaker Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Van and Hotel and Restaurant. G3 and I had argued the entire 1.5 hour drive to the McDonald’s toilet about race strategy.
“The Cat 3 race is harder than the Leaky Prostate 45-plus Profamateur race,” he said.
“You are insane,” I diplomatically replied. “Our field is stacked with THOG, the desert rat brothers, Roadchamp, Capture the Flagg, Strava Jr., and a host of other mutants. They will kill it from the gun and we’ll all be dropped. We’ll never make it over the first climb.”
“Yes, we will,” said G3. “We’ll do them just like in the Cat 3’s.”
“Oh, brother,” I said. “How is that?”
“We’ll roll up to the front and ride tempo.”
“Great. Until the desert rats and Roadchamp and Strava Jr. hit the gas and drop you like Chinese egg soup.”
“Nope. I’ll chat them up and make small talk, ask about the kids and stuff. By the time they get through telling me about their new chain lube and Strava Jr.’s 1-oz. derailleur we’ll be through most of the climb and you won’t get shelled.”
“That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.”
“Works every time in the Cat 3’s.”
“This ain’t the Cat 3’s.”
The race started, G3 rolled to the front, and holding a steady tempo began chatting with the rat brothers about the carpet cleaning business, the pool cleaning business, and whether they thought it would rain in the desert anytime soon.
Even at tempo half the field was shelled, and when we made the first turn by the blowing trash and the flimsy gates that only barely restrained a rabid Rottweiler and a foaming pit bull who thought we had come to raid the meth lab, the hitters realized they’d been tricked and three of them scampered away.
“You did it!” I exulted to G3. Making it over the first climb was the hardest part of the race; even though we had four laps the remaining times around would be easy in comparison.
Since we were there to sacrifice all for our team leader G$ (easily confused with G3, at least on paper), and since we still had seven riders in the lead group, we all slunk to the back to let G$ do the hard work of reeling in the break, which he did. Once he made the catch, G3 yelled, “Come on guys, let’s get to the front and bring back the break!”
“They’re already back,” we said from the back.
Now that the hard part was over, all we had to do was continue lurking and shirking while the peloton dragged us to the finish, where we would gloriously win the first seven places, and maybe G$ would get eighth.
However, as we started the climb for the second time, the group seemed to shrink and Team Lizard Collectors suffered a major reduction of its core members, including Dr. Whaaat?, who was experimenting on a hot and hilly road race with a new homemade energy drink made of pickle juice and salt. Just as we approached the rabid dog gate, one of the pre-race favorites, Strava Jr., rode straight into the back of G$’s rear wheel and fell off his bicycle.
The leaders, realizing that one of their chief competitors was down, stomped on the pedals, shredding the group. Strava Jr. lay writhing in not really pain, and after determining that his handlebars were twisted 5-degrees he declared his day over and went home to collect some more KOM’s. In the meantime, our valiant team leader G$ had pulled over to check the wheel that Strava Jr. had smashed into. As the sole remaining member of Team Lizard Collectors near the leaders, I considered my options:
- Stop and help my team leader with his repair, give him a wheel if necessary, help him remount, get him speedily on his way, and tow my heart out so he could rejoin the leaders and win the race.
- Pretend I didn’t see him, pedal blindly by, and try to catch back onto the group I had no hope of staying with so I could possibly get 14th.
It’s not often that life presents such easy choices, so I left him at the side of the road and tried to rejoin the leaders.
However, G$ fixed his bike, remounted, and with no assistance powered across a hilly windswept stairstep to close a 30-second gap and rejoin the front group. I was soon caught by a rather hopeless and dispirited group of people who once resembled cyclists but now looked a lot like homeless desert people on bikes. They dropped me after a few miles.
One by one, everyone remaining in the race passed me except for one fellow who was afterwards declared retroactively dead. I sensed that he was a real threat to the leaders and even though we were 40 minutes back I knew it would take a lot of skill to keep him from going across to G$, who eventually attacked the lead group and won the race.
Fortunately, Mr. Corpse was unable to execute his plan and I kept him blocked safely in 39th place, just out of reach of G$, who was mostly in another county. It was a super valiant team effort and I was humbly honored to play such an important role in G$’s win.
Thanks to my hard work, I demanded that G$ buy the whole team lunch with his $80 in winnings. He agreed and we went to the Hungarian Sausage and Meat Company, located back in Pearblossom between the bail bondsman, the liquor shop, and the Baptist church. Since we had Attila the Hungarian with us, we figured he would appreciate some of his native food.
Inside the shop, he went to the counter. “Anyone here speak Hungarian?” he asked.
The young lady shook her head. “No. What makes you think they would?”
“Well,” said Attila, “the sign says Hungarian Sausage, so I thought maybe someone here was Hungarian.”
The woman made a complicated look with her face, straining muscles that seemed attached to her brain, but that hadn’t been exercised much in the last few years. “No,” she said. “We only speak American here.”
Attila looked at the menu. “I’ll have the Hungarian sausage sandwich,” he said.
The woman scowled. “That takes twenty-five minutes. You’ll have to wait twenty-five minutes. It’s a twenty-five minute wait.”
“Then I’ll have something quicker. What do you recommend?”
“The summer smoked Polish blood sausage with spicy entrails.”
“I’ll have that, then,” said Attila. We all ordered the same thing.
Twenty-five minutes later our food came. I don’t know if it was good or we were ravenous, but it was gone in seconds. At lunch we were joined by Derek the Destroyer, who had gotten second place in the much easier 35+ race against a very weak field.
“Second is okay,” I said. “But 38th in the 45+ race was a lot harder.”
“Really?” he said. “Because we had Tony Manzella, Kirk Bausch, Gary Douville, and a few other guys who go pretty good.”
“Pffft,” I said. “They would have gotten 39-41 in our race.”
“But I think we almost lapped you,” he said.
“That’s because I was blocking. We had a dead guy who was trying to bridge and if he’d gotten across G$ wouldn’t have won.”
Derek munched on his sandwich thoughtfully. “I see,” he said.
On the way back we dissected the race. “Good job, G$,” I said. “I think I could have won but I had the wrong gearing.”
“I could have won, too,” said Attila, “if the race had stopped after the first lap.”
“I could definitely have won,” said G3, “if I hadn’t ridden tempo for Wanky in the beginning. And Dr. Whaaat? was on the podium for sure if it hadn’t been for the pickle juice and salt.”
“I was really surprised that I won,” said G$, who has only won the race five times previously. “I guess I just got lucky.”
No one said anything.
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February 12, 2014 § 30 Comments
Trust me, you have something better to do. Training. Facebook. Prayer group. Leisurely review of all the glam photos from the local 4-corner crit.
What you don’t want to do is sign up for this race, because it will strip you of your ego and reduce you to an off-the-back has-been on the very first lap. Who wants to pay $35, drive out to the Meth Capital of LA County, and be instantaneously downgraded to Category W … for “wanker”?
This weekend’s menu offers up a foul smelling, bad tasting bicycle race called Punchbowl, and pretty boys and pretty girls need not apply, because this punch bowl will be filled with chunks of diarrhea, razor blades, and arsenic, and you’ll have your face shoved in all the way to the bottom. If all it took were a fancy kit, a lead-out train, and some bar-banging intimidation to get you to the finish you’d be in the mix. But it doesn’t, and you wouldn’t. “Why is that?” you ask.
Because, silly rabbit, to win this puppy you have to actually race your bike.
For many years now there has been the most false of dichotomies in SoCal bike racing. Someone came up with the idea that there were “crit racers” and “road racers.” But that’s wrong. The discipline is called “road racing,” and crits are one of the types of races that road racers do, along with time trials and, yes, road races. There’s no discipline on your license for “crit racing.” If you really are a road racer, you do it all, not just the crits and the namby-pamby road races where there’s zero danger of getting shelled. Road racing, when done properly and against people of your own caliber, guarantees that you will lose far more often than you win … if you ever win. But road racers don’t cherry pick. They show up when it’s “their” course, and they show up when it isn’t.
The “crit racer” v. “road racer” thing is there for one reason and one reason only: To save your ego from being savaged.
This weekend’s course is brutal beyond belief. Unlike Boulevard (another race on the calendar that finds so many “road racers” busy doing besides doing a road race), UCLA Punchbowl throws a rabbit punch to the medulla from the first hundred yards of the race. You can’t muscle your way up because people fear you, you can’t get dragged over the climb by your minions who sacrifice for you, and you sure as hell can’t brag your way up the bitter pill of that first relentless stair step hill.
The only way you can stay in contention at Punchbowl is to have the right mixture of grit, lungs, and legs, which is why the masters field on Saturday will be lacking so many of the industrial park heroes and weekend pack fill. It’s easy to race when you have a chance of winning. It’s a bit harder to look yourself in the mirror when you’re guaranteed to be spit out the back, puked on, and forced to struggle through fifty nasty miles of hills, headwind, and anonymity. You really think Jesus loves you? Not at UCLA Punchbowl. He thinks you’re a fuggin chump.
Categories of fear
Everyone who races conquers fear. The fear categories are:
- Fear of crashing.
- Fear of sucking.
It’s the fear of crashing that keeps most people off the starting line of most crits. Riders who win crits overcome this fear and then take it to a completely new level by putting themselves in the deadliest and hairiest few seconds of what is already sketchy as hell, a/k/a the Sprint Finish.
But it’s the fear of sucking that keeps riders away from Punchbowl. It’s easy to tell yourself you’re good when you finish mid-pack in a crit. “I didn’t want to risk going down in the sprint. Not worth it.” Of course the reality is that even if you’d clawed your way to the very front you’d still have been smoked by the high speed specialists, but you don’t ever have to admit that to yourself, and you certainly don’t have to admit it to your wife/girlfriend/co-workers.
Tough road races are different in this regard. They will present you with irrefutable proof that you suck. You will give it everything you have, train as hard as you want, buy the fanciest equipment, wear the prettiest clothing, and you will get annihilated at the very beginning of the race by some scroungy dude who doesn’t have a job and who lives in a cardboard box. Not only will you get annihilated, but it will be painful annihilation. That’s because UCLA Punchbowl selects three types of people: Contenders, dreamers, and fools. The ones who win are a combination of all three. The ones who stay home? They’re the ones who can’t stand to see their carefully cultivated images smeared into an unrecognizable paste of collapse, inferiority, and abject defeat.
I’ve finished the Punchbowl race course in its UCLA or its longer course version only three times out of eight tries. Once I quit on the third lap during a snowstorm. Other times I got dropped immediately and gave up after a couple of hours of flogging. The closest I ever came to burning my bike was at Punchbowl, where I got caught, then dropped, by Brad House. Yeah. That Brad House.
Two years ago I didn’t get shelled until the very end. In every case I’ve gone home completely wrecked, exhausted, legs drained, mental state destroyed. Contrast that with most crits, where, a few seconds after it’s over, you’re ready to either do another one or go on a bike ride.
UCLA Punchbowl demands road racers, not scaredy cats who poop in their shorts when the road tilts up. Mike Easter. Jeff Konsmo. Chris DeMarchi. Mauricio Prado. Phil Tinstman. Roger and David Fucking Worthington. These are the hard men, bad ass, real deal road racers who cross the line first on this course. And guess what? Most of them race and win crits as well.
So tell me again about how you’re a road racer. I’ll check your results at Punchbowl.
May 1, 2012 § 4 Comments
Meanwhile, back at the race…
Steelhead had died 999 deaths in the suicide breakaway, but not 1,000 deaths because he’d already died once two years ago at Boulevard when he rode up to G$ and said, “Hey, dude, I finally made it over the first climb with you!” then hit a rock, splatted on his head and would have bled out except that STEEL DON’T BLEED.
After getting kicked out of the break, Steelhead took a breather, and with no teammates in the break drilled his brains out to bring back the two leaders, who came into sight just about the time that Steelhead threwsa rod, seized up, and was forced to put in an order for an all-new engine from Jessup Chevrolet. However, he also had to pay the extra $582.22 towage fee, as his carcass was dragged around the rest of the course in a more or less completely broken down state.
Purple Parks and Axena were finally brought back on the last climb up the big hill, and the tired remnants of the lead group slowly trimmed itself down to six. The heads of the snake were G$, DQ Louie, Jack Benny, Purple Parks, Ignoble, and Axena. Axena made a final attack with another rider in a one last bid for glory, getting a small lead on the rest of the lead group.
You’re my friend and I respect you that’s why I completely lied and stabbed you in the nuts
With Ignoble gassing it through the sandy, off-camber turn of death, the group chased up to Axena and his fellow traveler. G$ countered, gapping the group and taking DQ Louie with him. That’s when the hijinks began.
G$: “Pull through, bro. I need help.”
DQ Louie: “I’m done, man.”
G$: [to himself] “Done? That must mean he’s going to be content with second and give me the win. He’s an honest rider and would never trick me. Plus, he’s probably forgotten about UCLA.”
DQ: [to himself] “Does that sorry cocksucker think I’ve forgotten about UCLA and the way I hooked Axena, Big Orange protested, I got relegated, and Glass Hip was given the win? Fuck him.”
G$: [to himself] “Yeah, we’ve raced together for years. He’s a class act. Not like a lot of these other douchebaguettes who will lie and cheat and fake it and then whack you at the line.”
DQ: [to himself] “I can’t believe it. G$ is going to tow me to the line! What a sucker! I’m so gonna whack his ass at the line.”
G$: [to himself] “If it was anybody else, there’s no way I’d tow them to the line. Especially not a good field sprunter like DQ. But he said he was done, and he’s no liar. Okay, legs, uncork!”
With a mile to go, G$ switched into glide. The leaders were left to choke out their death rattle on his fumes. And then, as the line approached, DQ Louie hit the jets and took the win.
G$ couldn’t believe it at first. Then, little by little, he began to taste it. Devil’s Pukebowl. Hopes dashed. The taste of bitter.
After the dramatic stab-from-behind victory of DQ Louie in the 45+, Wankmeister patrolled the crowd and spoke with various participants. Their comments are below.
WM: How was the race?
Roxy [Bike Palace]: It went well. But it was hard. Really hard. I think I almost broke my hoo-ha.
WM: How was the race?
Mighty Mouse [Unattached]: It sucked.
Mighty Mouse: This highly experienced racer dude who’s been coaching me and is a Pukebowl veteran gave me the wrong starting time, so I missed my race.
WM: And who is this highly experienced dude?
MM: Do you know G$?
WM: You were depending on G$ to get you to the race on time?
MM: Yeah. Why?
WM: How was the race?
Tink [Big Orange]: It went great! Thanks, Wanky! I followed your advice!
WM [nervously]: Uh, what advice?
Tink: Where you told me to suck wheel and never work in the break! They kept prodding me to go to the front, but I refused, and then finally I only took weak, slug-like, ineffective 10-second pulls! It was awesome! I got third!
WM: Uh, there’s a group of chicks coming our way with clubs and a pitchfork. Why don’t you crawl under my car for a few minutes?
WM: So, when does your 40+ race go off?
Fireman [warming up on trainer]: Ten minutes.
WM: Are you ready?
Fireman: Yeah. You got any food?
WM: Uh, sure. Here’s part of a half-eaten BonkBreaker from my last race.
Fireman: Fuck. Thanks, dude. I’ll take it.
WM: Good luck.
Fireman: Hey, could you do me a favor?
Fireman: Give me your rear tire, wouldja? Mine has a blister on the sidewall and is about to pop.
WM: My rear tire?
Fireman: Yeah. I’ll put your good tire on my wheel, and this fucked up one on yours.
WM: This bad one that’s about to pop?
Fireman: Yeah. Is that a problem?
WM: Uh, I guess not.
…after Fireman’s race, via text message…
Fireman: Fuck, dude. That was a 48-mile time trail.
WM: How’d the tire hold out?
Fireman: It was too heavy. That’s why I got dropped.
WM: Oh. Sorry. At least you didn’t flat.
Fireman: Yeah, a flat would have been great.
WM: How was the race?
G3 [Big Orange Cat 3, not to be confused with G$]: Fucking sucked. My tactics sucked.
WM: How so?
G3: Typical negative Cat 3 bullshit. I fucking hate racing with the 3’s. What a bunch of wankers.
WM: Why don’t you race 45+?
G3: Uh, no.
April 29, 2012 Comments Off on The taste of bitter, Devil’s Punchbowl 2012, Part 2
“Beauty is only skin deep, but ugly is to the bone. Beauty soon fades away, but ugly holds its own.”
In nature, few things seem to have been as graced with beauty as the blossom of the pear. In the Golden State, few places look as if they have been repeatedly shot with a large caliber shit pistol so repeatedly as Pearblossom, CA. Studies confirm that few places outside of Lubbock are as pitilessly ugly as Pearblossom.
The name came from the multitude of local pear farms along the southern ridge of the Antelope Valley. A few still exist today, but most of those farms are now abandoned and have returned to the snake-infested desert landscape or have been overridden by tract housing developments, most of which are rotting and empty after the mortgage meltdown.
Perhaps it’s the first big sign that greets you when you turn onto Pearblossom Highway that says “Dumpsters for Rent!” Perhaps it’s the giant billboard in Little Rock that says “We Get You Off!” and shows a picture of a traffic citation with a red strike through it. Perhaps it’s the sign announcing a “Gentleman’s Club, Opening Soon!” or the paralegal services office in a broken down shack with burglar bars, or the billboard that says “Animals Are Children, Too. Don’t Abandon Them!” The children? The animals? (PS: No, Pearblossomites, animals are not children.)
Maybe it’s the signboard for the “opening soon” Pearblossom Fitness Club, or for the torque converters, or the flags of all nations (“Hey, Mom! Let’s stop in and get a flag of North Korea!”), signs for used tires, a psychic reader, a thrift store…all the things that are “coming” and “opening soon” juxtaposed with the filthy, broken down, impoverished, trash-strewn, meth-addled community fixtures that have already come and opened long ago to the apparent benefit of no one.
Team Helen’s Dev Chicks and Occupy Pearblossom
Fact is, Wankmeister showed up to this nasty little hell-hole to win a bicycle race. His form had been confirmed at Vlees Huis RR the week before by none other than Glass Hip, Roadchamp, and G$, each of whom pulled him aside and said, “Yo, Wanky, you almost didn’t suck today. Good job!”
That day, that epic, unforgettable day in the anus of the Central Valley, Wankmeister had had golden legs, or, as Jack from Illinois (not his real name) suggested, “A good enough day of racing to fuel the delusion for another fifteen years that you’ll win something.”
Wankmeister’s system was coursing with the three bottles of aspirin he’d taken that morning to thin his blood. His veins were chock full of sausage, pancakes, butter, and heavy cream. The stool he had whipped up and deposited in the porta-potty was not only aesthetically perfect, consisting of a gigantic two-foot long curling brown slug coiled in a nice tight pile and topped with a curly-poop at the end, but its fumes were lethal enough to overwhelm the three gallons of Blue tumped in the bottom of the turdbox.
It was showtime, and Wankmeister was the show.
And then the Team Helen’s Dev Chicks showed up, and all heck broke loose.
Fifteen minutes before my race began, an out of control black SUV careened down to the Positively No Cars Allowed area and tried to run over the sheriff’s deputy. “Get your car out of here!” the frightened officer roared.
The Dev Chicks, assuming that they could just drive to the front and get the car valet parked like they did at the Springsteen concert, were surprised, but not for long. Gangstachick did a u-turn, ran over $30k worth of bikes, knocked over a portapotty, and squeezed the SUV into a tiny gravel spot hardly big enough for a Prius.
I pretended not to know them and continued warming up. With ten minutes to go, Irish Lassie flagged me down. “Oh, dear sweet Wankmeister! We have a mechanical problem. Could you help?”
Wankmeister was amazed. Not known for his mechanical aptitude, this chick might as well have been asking him to help with her orgasm, another area where he’d been known to clumsily fumble around unsuccessfully trying to properly adjust tiny, hard-to-see parts to the mutual frustration of all parties concerned. “Uh, sure. I guess. What’s wrong?”
“My chain fell off.”
“Well, fuck, that’s easy. Here, let’s put the motherfucker back on. I gotta race in five minutes so let’s hurry.”
Gangstachick paused to watch the proceedings as she pinned on C.U. Tomorrow’s number upside down. “Upsidedown, rightside up, who gives a fuck? It’s not my jersey,” she said.
Soon, however, Irish Lassie’s chaindrop problem became more complex, same as with the female orgasm. “What the fuck did you do? Put the goddamn bike upside down on the bike rack and drive it for 300 miles over cattle guards?” The chain had done the impossible–it had fallen off the chain and then somehow fallen through the chain guard. Now the chain guard was blocking it from being put back up on the small ring.
Fortunately, Irish Lassie kept her bike well maintained by dousing the chain in two quarts of motor oil before each race. Within seconds, Wankmeister’s dainty fingers, and soon his nicely turned wrists, were covered in thick black oil and protective sand. And no matter how many times he shouted “You sorry motherfucker chain guard piece of shit,” the chain wouldn’t come back on.
Irish Lassie made helpful suggestions such as “I hope this doesn’t make you late for your race. You can chase on, though, can’t you?” and “Have you ever done this before?” and my personal favorite, “Why don’t you push it the other way?”
Wanky finally gave up, but not before Gangstachick gave him a moving blanket that she keeps in the back of her SUV next to some pillows for, uh, moving, and he vainly tried to rub off the filthy, oily slime. Suddenly, Irish Lassie cried out “I think I got it!” Wankmeister turned just in time to see the chain hovering exactly in the perfect position to get under the guard.
“Don’t fucking touch it!” he yelled. With a few gentle, careful, tender, loving touches, each one gradually increasing in emotion and intensity, the chain finally slipped with a crescendo back under the chain guard and onto the chainring.
Irish Lassie wilted, and Gangaschick wiggled her cute butt in appreciation.
Wankmeister raced to the line, his heart pumping, his hands covered in grease, and ready to tear some legs off. Game fuckin’ on!
[Tune in tomorrow for “Ol’ Gizzards and Fatty Throw Down at Pukebowl]
April 28, 2012 § 2 Comments
Humans receive tastes through sensory organs called taste buds, concentrated on the top of the tongue. There are about 100,000 of
them. According to Wikipedia, the sensation of taste can be categorized into five basic tastes: sweet, bitter, sour, salty, and umami. “Umami” is originally the Japanese word for “meaty” or “savory,” or more commonly, “vagina.”
Cycling in general, and bike racing in particular, are filled from top to bottom with bitter. Occasionally, after a hard race in some godforsaken shithole that is strewn with blowing trash and meth whores, a rider will describe the event as “bittersweet.” This is because he got second when he could have won, or almost didn’t get dropped on the climb when he got dropped on the climb, etc. However, mostly all the time it’s just plain old bitter.
“How’d you do?” “Bitter.”
“How was the Bakersfield course?” “Bitter.”
“What does your wife think about all the time and money you spend training that supposedly makes you fit but in reality makes you too tired to have sex on the rare occasions when she wants it?” “Bitter.”
Sometimes, but not often, cycling actually tastes like “umami,” or “vagina”
My buddy Filds once went to race in Belgium for a while. His Iowan parents didn’t quite understand. When the locals back in Tipton asked “So what’s Filds up to?” his mom would say, “Oh, he’s riding his bicycle around Europe.”
Yeah, he was just riding his bike around good ol’ Europe on little ol’ group rides like Het Volk.
What’s more to the point, though, is that before doing the Spring classics, he spent the winter training with locals who rode out of Ghent, characters such as Johann van der Velde and Jan Raas. Whatever you do, pretend you know who they are.
The winter Filds spent in Ghent he was accompanied by his girlfriend, who stayed back in the flat during the long hours that Filds rode in the cold, wet, Belgium winter. The Belgians and Dutch thought it was funny that a guy would bring his girlfriend to Europe while he trained to race. It was a sign of weakness, as if Filds couldn’t endure the hardness without having a woman back home so that he could “lick de pussy” as they said in their broken, laughing, heckling English.
When the whip comes down
One day in early January Filds met up with his training partners, including Raas. It was just above freezing. A hard rain was pelting down. The cobbled roads were treacherously slick. The wind was blowing at gale force. No one said a thing as they rode out of Ghent. As they completed a loop back into Ghent, a loop containing 80 of the hardest, coldest, wettest, most miserable miles that Filds had ever endured, all he could think of was his heated flat, something hot to drink, hot food, warm clothes, and the hours it was going to take to thaw out his broken and frozen body.
Filds was counting the pedal strokes until he could turn down his street. He moved over to the left as he saw his turn up ahead. “Wat you doing?” asked Raas.
Filds looked over. “I live over there. My apartment is over there.”
“I know dat,” said Raas. “So wat? We going make anudder loop.”
“Another loop? Are you kidding?” No sooner had he said it than he saw that no one was kidding. The hard part hadn’t even begun.
“Ja, you wanna ride bike in Belgie or you wanna go back to de house to lick de pussy?”
The other guys started to laugh. “I can’t, Jan. I’m completely done. Completely. I can’t go any farther.”
Raas turned to the bunch. “He’s going back to de house to lick de pussy!” They all howled. “American boy going back to de house to lick de pussy!”
Filds slunk home in shame. He was broken, frozen, exhausted, defeated, and crushed by the knowledge that the outer limit of his physical and mental endurance was barely half that of the men against whom he would have to race in a few weeks’ time. Whether or not he went home and licked de pussy is unknown. But it is certain that the aftertaste of the ride was bitter mixed with umami.
[Tune in tomorrow for “Wanky Eats Sand and Thinks It’s Bitter, but Not As Bitter As Drinking from the Pukebowl”]
Don’t want your panties in a wad? Take off your damn panties. Devil’s Pukebowl race prep for chicks, Part 2
April 27, 2012 § 4 Comments
Okay, listen up, girls. Yesterday we sort of reviewed the “Whazzup?” aspect of Pukebowl. Today, Wankmeister is going to offer some straightforward advice, from one girl to another, about how to conquer this monument of the SoCal cycling calendar.
1. Aspirin: Take two tablets daily in the week leading up to the race. “WTF?” you’re saying. “It’s already Friday!” Sorry. At least you’ll be ready for next year. But whatever you do, don’t take fourteen pills the night before the race. “How’d she do at Pukebowl?” “She died of a nosebleed.” Uncool. One champ who has won the shit out of Pukebowl swears by aspirin. So I did some research on Al Gore’s Internets, and a dude whose handle is Fukn Danger Beast on the Bike Nutz forum says that aspirin “thins your blood” which “helps you fukkin hammer at alatude.” Can’t get more scientific than that.
2. Hydration: Pukebowl can be devastatingly hot, but the forecast looks good. Remember how they predicted rain all week here in LA and it was totally sunny? Like I said, the forecast looks good. The chick races go off at 10:00 and 10:05, so it will probably start in the 60’s and finish in the 80’s. Subtract ten degrees for the wind chill and you’ll probably be good with an undershirt and armwarmers. And shorts. Don’t forget your shorts. Even if the heat from hell doesn’t materialize, the altitude and desert will dry you out much more quickly than the bar you spend most of your time lying about your age at, so hydrate like hell and take two water bottles.
3. Warming up: The terrible thing about Devil’s Pukebowl is that it starts in the middle of a climb, follows a false flat for a short way, and then juts upward into a nasty punch in the breast. Before you know it, you’ll be sucking wind, and just when you think you’re over the hump you’ll turn right and face an endless stairstep climb for another couple of miles, usually into the wind. It fucking sucks. I always get shelled before we turn onto the stairstep. You will, too. The main reason for the droppage is our suckage. However, the other factor that will cause you to come unhitched quickly is muscular stiffage, because the race starts full bore. You don’t get a 5-mile warm-up like at Vlees Huis. No, this fucker demands that your legs, arteries, lungs, and heart be completely lubed and defibrillated and ready to hammer from the gun. If you don’t have rollers, make sure you’ve done a solid 20-minute warm-up on the road, finishing as close to the starting time as possible. Doing a great warm-up and then sitting in the back of the car checking porn sites for an hour won’t get you there. Well, it may get you “there,” but not there.
4. Turn off the “Stupid” switch: This is the switch that controls impulses like “attack,” “hammer,” and “pull the group.” As a pre-ordained flailer, your goal is to survive with the lead group to the end. That’s highly unlikely, as your true destiny is to get shelled and then struggle miserably around the windy, mountainous course by yourself, but success becomes mathematically impossible if you launch an attack early or midway through the race. Suck wheel, conserve, and then, when you’ve husbanded as much energy as possible, suck wheel some more. If you’re with the leaders at the finish, which you won’t be, and you’re not confident of your sprunt, hit the gas midway up the last hill. If your fellow survivors look like cadavers covered in salt stains, drill ’em in the final 200 meters.
5. Practice saying “Okay!”: If you’re hanging midway through the race, and even more incredibly, find yourself in a small breakaway, the more experienced bitches will tell you all kinds of shit. “Work with us to stay away!” or “Pull through!” or “If you help, we won’t sprunt you at the finish!” You should say “Okay!” with an enthusiastic smile no matter how much ridiculous, self-serving pabulum they come up with. But don’t pull through. Don’t help. Don’t lift a finger. When they say, “You fucking bitch! You better work!” just say, “Okay!” and hunker down. If they offer you a “deal,” just say “Okay!” and kick their asses at the line. You won’t go to hell for being a lying, conniving little bitch, because you’re already there.
Don’t want your panties in a wad? Take off your damn panties. Devil’s Pukebowl race prep for chicks, Part 1
April 26, 2012 § 11 Comments
If you are a chick biker you have been thinking, “Shit, with all the training I’ve been doing, I ought to try and race Devil’s Pukebowl this Saturday.” Then, after thinking that for a few seconds, you follow it up with, “Who am I kidding?”
Then maybe you pull on your biker outfit and go stand in the mirror and say some shit to yourself like, “God, these make my ass look big,” or “I wonder if this jersey makes my boobs look [too small/too big].”
Well, before going any farther, here’s some facts. Fact 1: Mirrors exist to make people feel like shit. So stop looking in ’em. Fact 2: Chicks on bikes in tight shorts look smokin’ hot and most of the guys pedaling behind you would have a boner if they weren’t gay or all the blood hadn’t rushed to their ankles. Fact 3: No matter how your boobs look, Devil’s Pukebowl is gonna kick your ass.
Only two kinds of people ride Devil’s Punchbowl: Winners and flailers. Since you’re a first-timer, you’re going to get lumped into the flailer category. “But how can you be sure I’m a flailer? I’m a good climber!!” is the kind of crazytalk you’re likely saying to yourself, followed by “What if I win!!??” You know, the same thing you said when you spent $50 on those Powerball tickets, uh, investment.
But Wankmeister is still glad you asked. Here’s a self-evaluation quiz to see if you’re going to flail on your virgin Pukebowl outing:
- This is my first time to race Devil’s Pukebowl. [YES/NO]
- I’m a very good climber. [YES/NO]
- I generally do better on the flats. [YES/NO]
- I can climb Latigo in under 40 minutes. [YES/NO]
- My training tends to be flatter/more rolling than climbing. [YES/NO]
Did you answer any of these questions “YES” or “NO”? Then you’re going to flail like that crazy fat dude with the hairy belly outside the MB Starbucks who screams obscenities at the passersby until the cops pick him up and take him up to Hermosa, where he blends in better and frankly kind of looks like the mayor. Only a total cheapskate flailing wankette consumed by self-doubt while desperately looking for last-minute free tips instead of hiring a legit coach in order to avoid crushing defeat would bother reading this crap.
Now that we know you’re going to flail, let’s analyze the course
Pukebowl poses unique challenges among all the races on the SoCal cycling calendar. Each challenge is designed so that you will crack, crater, and go home feeling worthless and defeated. This has been written to help biker chicks everywhere, even in Lubbock. Well, okay. Maybe not in Lubbock.
- Altitude. Devil’s Pukebowl starts at 5,000 feet and goes up from there to about 72,000.98 miles. This is not far from the moon, or Jupiter. Since you live in the LA Basin, which is the moral and altitudinal equivalent of hell, your brain and heart simply cannot adjust to the radical atmospheric swing from the high pressure in hell to the low pressure at the top of the first climb. You will get horrible headaches, in addition to the migraines and PMS and other head-related shit that you pretend to have in order to avoid having sex. Except it will be for real.
- Wind. The only time wind is a factor is on the downhill. You’re going about 60 mph. The wind is blowing about 40 mph. From the side. Even an idiot knows that 60 + 40 = 6040. Which is fucking fast. Now I know, some sausage told you that those deep profile Zipp wheels would make you go faster. This is the same person who told you to eat salt and prunes before your first century ride. Remember that ride? You shit for twelve hours before the start and cramped in the first mile and nearly died from dehydration. The only difference is that when the wind catches those 808’s and lifts you off the road and deposits you into a barbed wire fence you won’t “nearly die.” You’ll just plain old die.
- Pain. You know how when you were a little girl and you asked your granny how childbirth felt, and she chewed the stub of her corncob pipe for a few minutes, farted, furrowed her forehead, looked out at you from under those bushy eyebrows, gave Ol’ Yaller a pat on the head, and then said, “Well, sweetie, I reckon it feels ’bout like shittin’ a watermelon.” That’s how Pukebowl feels. Except the watermelon is filled with nails and explodes when it gets halfway out.
[Tune in tomorrow for “Beating the Odds: How You Can Go from Wankette to Winner on Your First Trip to the Pukebowl”]
April 21, 2012 Comments Off on You’re totally screwed now, Charlie Brown
This is a re-print from the UCLA 45+ Road Race in 2010. I had an archive of stories on FB and WordPress before deleting them all in a mad frenzy. My buddies on Big Orange posted this to their page in 2010, where it remains.
Feed the beast
The most important part of a bike race is pre-race nutrition. Before we arrived at the race course, Mrs. Wankmeister wanted to stop and sample the barbecue at Charlie Brown’s in Littlerock. It was only 10:30, but we went in. The thought of barbecue was appealing, though eating it in combination with a tough, hilly, windy road race was not. But the flesh is weak, and the smell of barbecue was strong. We both ordered brisket sandwiches with beans and cole slaw.
My sandwich was heaped with slabs of greasy meat and giant slivers of pure fat. The whole thing dripped sugary, oily barbecue sauce, and the chunks of meat and fat were so tender they slid down my throat without even needing a chew. After each bite I tried to stop, telling myself that the race would be unforgiving, but I couldn’t. There was so much grease around my mouth after finishing that it took two napkins to mop up; both looked like they’d been dipped in a deep fryer after I was done.
The gnome’s revenge
The snarling, amped up gang of elderly racers toed the line at the infamous Punchbowl race course, primed for a slugfest that would pit the entire Big Orange road crew against DQ Louie. The laps had been shortened so that we would be climbing the big hill four times rather than three.
I was already traumatized by my experience at Punchbowl two years ago, when I was shelled like a bad pecan on the first lap of the first climb, and spent the entire race crawling and cramping with Polly for what seemed like a month. Whereas others in the relatively small field of about 30 dreamed of victory, my goal was simple and carved in stark relief: don’t get blasted out the back on the first lap.
We started at a reasonable pace, nothing like the Punchbowl of 2008, where the pack had split in two before the left turn, and into shards and fragments by the first hill, and into a final winning group by the end of the stairstep. Nonetheless, it was plenty hard, and I concentrated on staying low and staying out of the wind.
We hit the downhill section and immediately got blown from side to side by a howling crosswind that blew my tightly cinched helmet onto the back of my head. We reached the bottom and turned right, when DQ Louie drove to the center and strung everyone out into a single line, unable to echelon because of the center line rule. I didn’t see a single rider cross the yellow line, with the exception of DQ.
After about a mile he rolled off the front with G$, and before they’d gone fifty yards the ref’s follow car came roaring up with a tiny, bearded gnome screeching and screaming in such a hysterical panic that I could only think, “My God, the Japanese must have bombed Pearl Harbor again.”
Then the unthinkable happened. Mr. Gnomes commanded the entire peloton to stop and dismount. He got out of the car, pulled on a shiny pair of knee-high jackboots, adjusted his armband and Obersturmfuehrer cap, took out his riding crop, and went on a rant that left us all slackjawed.
“Ve haf ways of making you talk!” he screeched.
“Talk about what?” we asked.
“Ze yellow line! You haf all crossed ze yellow line!” He whacked one of the poor Cal Pools guys with his riding crop and made him clean the lint off his boot. “If you cross ze yellow line again, all riders vill be kaputt! Disqualifiziert!”
“Yo, numbnuts!” said one of the Big Orange heroes. “Are you going to admonish the breakaway? There are two guys up the road who have been pedaling full bore while we’ve been sitting here listening to your screed.”
Mr. Gnomes looked nonplussed, then hopped in the car and sped off. “You are all being vatched!” he hissed. Needless to say, we never saw G$ or DQ Louie again, and Mr. Gnomes’s antics had neutralized our best weapon, which was having the break in striking range for Thing 2, who could have bridged and combined with G$ to put DQ in difficulty. In theory, anyway.
In fact, though, we got going again with Steve, Bill, Todd, and other Big Orange riders patrolling the front to make sure that no chase effort developed. This controlled pace was the only way I made it over the hill on the second lap. Towards the top, however, the first big surge of Charlie Brown’s barbecue fought its way up to the lower reaches of my throat. Brisket doesn’t taste better the second time around.
Midway through the stairstep, Thing 2 hit the gas with a guy in the ugliest kit of the day, a green concoction that must have been modeled after a late night sidewalk splat found outside of a bar in Hermosa Beach. They pedaled off.
You can’t have your brisket and eat it, too
Thing 2 and Fugly Jersey couldn’t hold off the chasing pack on the descent, as they were hitting speeds of well over 50mph, and by the turn they had been brought back. As we turned onto the gentle up-tilt towards the finish line, a thick worm of fat chugged up into the back of my mouth, all rubbery and greasy and eager to be free. I swallowed hard just as we began climbing the big hill for the third time.
Either the race was really slow, or there really is a god, or barbecue is the secret food of champions, because I somehow made it up a third time. DQ Louie and G$ were so far ahead that no matter what happened, they would have had time to complete a coif, cuticle treatment, and pedicure by the time the pack crossed the line. We turned right after the downhill and I rolled away from the pack with a Cal Pools guy. Thing 2 bridged up to us and pretty soon the baked beans kicked in.
Cal Pools began to whimper and apologize for not pulling through, which only invited the eleven. The break established, I was totally psyched. The worst I could do was fifth. My secret barbecue weapon, which had been tweaked with a mug of thick coffee sludge fifteen minutes before the gun, had turned out to be the perfect race nutrition.
We turned again onto the road leading to the start finish, and as I swung off, the cole slaw blindsided me with a vicious attack. My right leg shot straight out and went into rigor mortis. Thing 2 and Cal Pools looked at me, and were gone. The pack came by, I struggled on the back, and we began our last time up the big hill.
A few hundred yards before the turn to the stairstep, the cole slaw attacked again, crushing the beans and overpowering the last chunks of grease. Purple Parks and I came unhitched. As we watched the pack roll away on the stairstep, he grinned and let loose with a one-liner that almost made me fall of my bike. “You think they’ll wait for us?” he cracked.
It’s not over till the fat lady cramps
We turned onto the stairstep, I put my head down and somehow bridged back up to the group. What seemed like a good idea at the time seemed like a bad idea a few moments later, as Veins began drilling it into the brutal wind all along the stairstep. It was nastier than a dirty movie with a hairy woman. At the top, Veins sat up, my beans and brisket counterattacked the cole slaw, and I readied for the finale.
At about that time one of the guys in our group who must have been at least a hundred, and who had spent big chunks of the race on the point, attacked on the downhill. In addition to being older than dirt, he was big. He passed us like we were standing still, seated on the top tube and ready to risk death and destruction. No one had the legs to follow.
We turned right at the bottom of the descent and echeloned as Veins strung it out in an attempt to bring back Methuselah. He swung over for me to pull through, and the cole slaw, which had made a secret deal with the one remaining chunk of pure fat, came roaring up the side of the brisket in the form of two simultaneous, full leg cramps. I dropped off and got off my bike, a feat in itself because neither leg would bend.
Crying and moaning and promising not to eat any more brisket sandwiches finally did the trick. I remounted just in time for Purple Parks to come blazing by. I labored in for thirteenth. You might think this sucks, and you’re probably right, but I’m pretty pleased just the same.
Thing 2 crushed the two riders who had bridged up to him for third. G$ was outkicked by DQ Louie, earning another great placing for a year that has so far been packed with palmares for Big Orange, and proving the wisdom of Mr. Gnomes’s canny bit of officiating wisdom: if you can’t beat `em, cheat `em. Had Thing 2 been at G$’s side, one of them would surely have put DQ in second, or, as they like to say in Texas, “If grandma had balls she’d be grandpa.”
Punchbowl’s only three weeks away. I’m already preparing my excuse for why I won’t be racing it.
February 19, 2012 § 6 Comments
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting a different result. The definition of bike racing is getting beat down over and over again, and doing it over and over again.
The UCLA Road Race holds its annual road race on the Devil’s Punchbowl course, far from all those Asians in the library whose parents come and do their laundry. In fact, Punchbowl was recently rated the Least Asian-friendly Road Race Course in America, beating out Gruene, Texas, and Bakersfield, California, by a wide margin. You can listen to the UCLA Road Race Asian Theme Song here.
This was my fifth run at a race held on the infamous Devil’s Pukebowl course, a windblown, trash-strewn, barren wasteland of cactus, rusting trailer homes, sand, grit, meth incubators, and bad memories. I knew it was going to be bad this year, too, because the most famous UCLA bike racing Asian, Kwaan Lu, had graduated and wouldn’t be there to laugh as the howling wind picked up and blew away the sign-in tent. UCLA Road Race without Asians? Whaaaaa?
I also knew it was going to be bad because none of my teammates would ride to the race with me. Bike racers, in addition to their generally unscientific approach to racing (“I heard this beta carotene will stop cramps,”) are terribly superstitious. Once word gets out that you’re a bad luck racer, even your teammates will stop offering you rides. In my case it had gotten so bad that the entire Ironfly contingent refused to attend the race. “Dude, you’re fucking snakebit. The blogging shit is funny and all, but you’re fucking rat poison in the birthday cake. We’re gonna ride the track and go drink some beers.”
Tri-Dork to the rescue
Fortunately Tri-Dork knew nothing of this, and since, like most triathletes, he doesn’t do great with long words and has therefore never read this blog, he agreed to give me a ride. It was his first road race and in exchange for taking me to the race I promised to advise him on tactics.
As we got underway I began with Rule 1: Proper nutrition. “You had lunch, dude?”
“Isn’t it kind of early? It’s only ten and we don’t start until 1:30.”
“Dude, it’s probably too late. A triple cheeseburger and fries take almost four hours to properly digest.”
He laughed nervously. “You’re joking right?”
“Yeah. Two hours is plenty.”
“We never ate cheeseburgers before triathlons.”
“And how many did you win?”
“Only a couple, actually.”
“There you have it. Hey perfect timing. There’s an In-N-Out.” He still thought I might be joking. “Stop the fucking car!” I ordered. Tri-Dork swung into the parking lot. Now he was scared.
As we sat down to our triple meat with onions and large Coke, I explained. “Look, dude, you have zero chance in this race. You weigh 191 pounds, not counting the five you’re about to add. This fucking race has 6,000 feet of climbing over a 50-mile course and the next heaviest guy in the race is me at 165.
“Glass Hip is here. 150. G$. 155. Baby ‘DQ’ Louie. 125. You are going to get dropped immediately, even faster than me. You’re probably not even going to finish once you’re out their flogging by yourself up the face of a cliff in a howling sandstorm. So, knowing that it’s hopeless and that you suck, your only recourse is to drown your sorrow in greasy food. Chow down.”
Rule 2: Proper race psychology
As Tri-Dork guided the fully loaded Prius and the even more fully loaded us onto the highway, he asked me about race wheels. “These new Ksyriums are really light. I’m hoping they’ll make a difference on the climb.”
“Dude, that triple cheeseburger you just ate weighed more than your frame. If you want to do well in this race, which is impossible, you need to have the proper mental preparation.”
Tri-Dork smiled. “I’m pretty good in that area. The year I got fifth at Kona I did an entire course on race psychology.”
“Look, Kona is for pussies. It’s a fucking coffee blend, for Dog’s sake. Triathlon has all the strategy of beating off: start out easy, build up gradually, and make sure you save the final spurt for the end. Any fifteen year-old can figure that shit out.
“But you’re bike racing now, Dorky. The mental aspect is completely different.” I could tell the analogy had hit home.
“Okay. So what should I do?”
The bike-rama sutra
“If triathlon strategy is wanking, then bike racing strategy is sex. Which means a couple of simple things. First, you gotta have the right equipment. Second, what you do depends on what the other person does. Third, you have options: suck wheel, pound from the front, come from behind…it’s complicated. Takes practice. Sometimes you think you can shoot through the hole, but you have pull back and go for a different opening.
“You also need to get in the right frame of mind by distrusting everyone in the race. Just like casual sex. Assume your partner has every disease in the book.”
“Even my teammates?”
“Especially them. Your only possible role on a team is to work for the riders who are better than you. Which is all of them.”
“Okay. So then what?”
“Once you recognize that the world is your enemy you must never take a pull. Ever. Sit on wheels. Hide from the front. Save everything for the two big moments of the race.”
“What are those?”
“The first is when you get dropped. Save all your energy for making a lunge to close the gap.”
“So I can get back on?”
“No. You’ll never get back on. When they accelerate at the top of the climb physics will overcome fantasy and you will become a giant millstone heaved off into a very deep lake.”
“So why do I need to save my effort for that if I’m just going to get dropped?”
“So you can tell me after the race how close you were to hanging on. ‘I was THIS close!! Just a bike length!!’ By the way, ‘just a bike length’ when getting dropped on a climb is approximately equal to the distance that light travels in one year. Just so you know.”
“This is pretty complicated. What’s the second big moment?”
“The finish, where you put yourself through agonies unimaginable to the average 45 year-old gentleman as you risk life, limb, and fifteen thousand dollars in race equipment to beat out some other wanker for 47th place.”
Ol’ Gizzards and Comeback
We pawed the dirt at the starting line as I surveyed the competition. Glass Hip, looking relaxed, fit, and intimidating with his new death row crew-cut. The more he smiled and smalltalked with Baby ‘DQ’ Louie the more I realized how bitter this beatdown was going to be. G$ casually straddled his top tube, looking like a giant heart and lung with two long legs attached as an afterthought. Klasna sat calmly, fresh blood from the roadkill he’d just eaten still dripping from his fangs. Fatty Flagg, who at 170 pounds was the true beast of the race, looked coolly at the race official.
Then I pinched myself. These guys weren’t my competition. My competition was Bumblebee, the newt in a black and yellow-striped Halloween costume. My competition was Ol’ Gizzards, the stringy, misshapen wanker who kept falling off his bike at the start line. My competition was Comeback, the 52 year-old who’d had a run of Cat 3 wins back in ’79 and wanted to resurrect the glories of his racing career. These were the losers I’d get to know intimately over the course of the day.
Our field had 53 riders, including Skankdaddy, a twiglike specimen doomed to flail, who bulled his way up the middle of the group, elbowing Herndy-Doo in the process. I shook my head. Why would anyone try to pass Herndy-Doo in the first minute of the race? Herndy always makes the split and he benches 350.
We climbed up the first couple of miles to the right turn that leads to the infamous “Punchbowl Staircase.” This is a series of three climbs, each followed by a brief plateau. Like a staircase, you can see each section stretch endlessly off in front of you, and also like a staircase, it hurts like a motherfucker when you get thrown off it.
By the turn I was redlining, Comeback had gone back, Ol’ Gizzards was frying in the pan, and Skankdaddy was now trying to tweezle his way across the gap between him and us. Tri-Dork looked great, which was troubling.
There were less than thirty of us left at the top of the Staircase, and we pointed our bikes down the screaming crosswind descent. After the race everyone lied about how fast we went, with the biggest whopper coming from DQ Louie, who claimed he’d hit 60. Even so, it was a solid 45-50 for the entire 5-mile descent.
I almost didn’t get dropped
After the descent there’s a rolling 3-mile stretch before making a sharp right and doing the climb again. As the climb began I felt great. Thirty seconds in I felt not so great. Forty seconds in, the entire group detonated as G$, DQ Louie, Fatty Flagg, and Glass Hip crushed it. I would have stayed with them if I hadn’t gotten dropped, no question about it.
As I settled back with Gilligan, the Skipper, and the other castaways, I watched the leaders pull away. Tucked safely in their midst was Tri-Dork. All 191 pounds of him.
[Insert incredibly stupid, boring, “I”-centered recount of every dumb move, every retarded struggle, every adjective designed to impress readers with how tough it was, every reference to grit and power and climbing and hammering for every bump, climb, descent, pull, flail, and flog of the remaining 38 miles.]
At the end of the third lap we overhauled Tri-Dork, as he, Veins, and I dropped our contingent of wankers on the last time up the big climb. We hit the downhill and Tri-Dork demonstrated his mastery of the Egg. This is where you sit on the top tube, put your hands on tops of the bars, curve your spine, and tuck your head. When you’re almost 200 pounds it means that you easily go 55 mph.
It also means that your nuts are smashed flat on the top tube, a minor point, and that you lose 95% control of your bike, a major point. This is no problem when you’re a triathlete, and blunt trauma force to the head leaves the internal cement undamaged, but when you’re a nerdy bike blogger it’s kind of a different deal, and rather worrisome. All this was going through my mind as a big farm truck with a trailer full of unused IQ points flipped on its blinker and made as if to cut across our path, with Tri-Dork in full tuck, and Veins and I cowering in his draft.
Thanks to dumb luck we avoided the side of the trailer, and thanks to the Egg we caught what was left of the main field, which consisted of the saddest, fucked-overest, tiredest, beatdownest, sad-sackest bunch of wrinkled old shits you’ve ever seen. And they were the fresh ones, everyone else having quit, except for Tree, who had dropped his chain at .5 mile into the race and rode the rest of the race alone.
The race for first
We found out after the race that Glass Hip, Klasna, Baby Louie, Fatty Flagg, and G$ had shellacked the field at the turn onto the Stairstep on the second lap. You’d think that with three Big O riders represented in the group it would be an easy win, but the Orangemen were able, just in time, to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
Unfortunately for them, Glass Hip was on form. That means something different than it does for most people. When he rode for the U.S. Olympic team, Glass Hip was tested along with the other elite racers. In every parameter he failed miserably. His VO2 max was 19.5 ml/kg/min. His functional threshold power was 185 watts. His torso measured twice the length of his longest leg, which was six inches longer than the other one, such that neither foot could reach the ground without a short stepladder.
However, in one critical parameter, he outscored everyone ever tested at the U.S. Olympic Center, except for Hacksaw Jim Duggan, in the category of “Hammer Thumb.” This is a test where they tie your hand onto a board and the tester smacks the shit out of your biggest digit with a ball-peen hammer. Electrodes are wired to your brain to record your ability to withstand pain, but are rarely used because after the first whack the testee usually shrieks in agony, and after the second one passes out.
They not only hammered Glass Hip’s thumb, but they hammered all his fingers and toes as well, culminating with a four-minute session on the end of his pecker. The tester finally passed out from sympathetic pain sensations, kind of like guys who go into labor when their wives get pregnant. When they read the computer print-out after scanning his brain, it said, “No brain detected. No brain, no pain.”
In short, no matter what they threw at him, and they threw it all, Glass Hip took it on the chin, shook it off, and braced himself for the next blow. Pretty soon, like the testers at the Olympic Training Center, his adversaries found themselves in a weakened and addled and terrified state. As the five heroes approached the line, Glass Hip bent over, gently took the candy from the babies, and rocketed across the line effortlessly.
Baby “DQ” Louie opened up his sprint for second close to the gutter, then came all the way across to the center line, shutting the door on Klasna and earning himself yet another yellow card, relegation to fifth, and a note that he had to take home and get his mother to sign acknowledging his bad behavior.
The race for fifteenth
Tri-Dork and I, locked in mortal combat, engaged in a battle for the ages. He, doing his first road race on a course suited for tiny bony people, was matched against me, a tiny bony person who had done about a thousand hilly road races. It was only by using every ounce of cunning, skill, strength, ability, tactics, and him throwing a chain at the bottom of the climb that I was able to claim the coveted spot of Number 15.
On the way home we re-hashed the race. “At first I thought you were bullshitting me about the hamburger and fries. But that shit really works. Thanks, Wankmeister.”
I, for once, didn’t know what to say.