February 23, 2016 § 30 Comments
This is the hardest single-malt climb, aged 35 years, in the LA area. Feel free to disagree, but you will be wrong.
One of my buddies has a passion for things that don’t make sense, and he has this in common with a billion other cyclists. He texted me the other day. “What are you doing on Sunday?”
“I’m doing the hardest climb in the LA area. Single malt, aged 35 years.”
“Lots harder than Deer Creek.”
There was a pause because everyone knows there isn’t anything harder than Deer Creek.
“Santa Monica Mountains?”
More silence. “Where?”
“In Team Helen’s back yard. And hardly any of them have ever done it.”
I could hear his jaw flex through the text. “Really, now?”
“So how hard is hard?”
“It’s 30 percent for .1 mile. The total climb is about fifteen minutes.”
“How would you know that? You don’t use Strava.”
“I’m just making it up. But it’s still the hardest climb and none of your boys have still ever done it and it’s still on their porch stoop.”
“I’m in,” he said.
“I knew you would be the minute I said ‘hard.'”
“Can I bring people?”
“Instead of worrying about bringing people, you should worry about bringing gears.”
“Check,” he said.
On Sunday he showed up with a cadre of climbers. Although Michael is a big boy, he climbs like crazy, and he was surrounded by tiny people who climbed even crazier. Holloway, Jeff Mayhem, Strava Jr., a couple of juniors on the Specialized Euro squad; they were all there.
We turned up Topanga from PCH and the questions came rapid-fire. “Where is it? What’s the name of the road?”
“It can’t be here! I know all these roads.”
As we got halfway up Topanga I broke the bad news. “Boys, we’re going up Observation.”
The conversation ended as each rider contemplated his rear cog. Some had heard of it, none had done it. We turned left onto Grand View and then onto Observation, which goes down at first, which is nice, and then up, which isn’t.
A couple of guys got lost, breaking the rule of “If you don’t know the way, wait for the guy who does, even if he’s old and slow and has a leaky prostate.” We regrouped at the top, if “regroup” is what you call a bunch of broken people who aren’t ever again going to be un-broke.
Nobody said anything but they didn’t have to. When I got back home it had been memorialized as a segment called “Seth’s Hell.” Even though I was last.
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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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November 6, 2015 § 12 Comments
I decided to write down everything I know about performance cycling.
There. That sure was quick.
Then I decided to write down the things that, although inappropriate for others or unorthodox, have helped me achieve competitive success on the bike.
So that leaves me with my observations, and the problem with those is that they’re filtered through a brain that is politely described as “eccentric” and clinically described as “in need of strong medication.” But I regress.
The performance cycling pie has three equally sized slices. Well, they should be equally sized but they aren’t.
I. The training slice.
This is the one that in most pies covers 90% of the plate. I won’t tell you about training because you already know everything there is to know about it, which is why you won Paris-Roubaix last year. But I will tell you about my training slice for 2016 because it meets the only two criteria for a training plan that matter: It’s simple and I can do it.
- Don’t tire myself out. For decades I slogged and flogged, never passing up a long ride, never refusing an offer to take an interminable, stupid pull, never hesitating to follow up one hard workout with another, and then after that, another. But no mas. My new rule? If my legs feel flat I’m not riding. Why? Because I am old and wear out quickly, and if you’re over 40, so do you. You know how steel will wear out eventually? We’re not steel.
- Two hard efforts a week. Or less.
- Avoid any training regimen that involves data, or worse, social media, or worst, data and social media.
- Keep my weight at 150.
- Study Chinese more.
- Continue to finish each day with several tall, cold glasses of un-drunk beer. Recently I’ve been super enjoying not drinking Racer 6 IPA.
II. The aero slice.
This is the piece that some people focus on, but typically only as it concerns equipment. The current battle for “Most Aero” is being viciously fought between Strava Jr. and Sausage. The one ground down his carbon stem (full carbon, that is) so that the bolts no longer protrude. The other booked a room in the Specialized wind tunnel for his tenth wedding anniversary.
Fully 1/3 of your performance pie should be devoted to aerodynamics. The easy part is buying shit and loading up on 100% carbon components that are full carbon and taking your wife to the wind tunnel. The hard part is riding aero (and ever getting laid again).
Riding aero differs from buying aero, and as an inveterate cheapskate I’ve failed at both. In addition to a lifetime devoted to poor training habits, I’ve also developed bad positioning into an art form. The idiot out on the edge of the peloton, catching all the wind? Me.
The dolt riding three bike lengths behind the last rider? Me.
The clod who’s always on the wrong side of the echelon? Me again.
Unsurprisingly, stupid training and bad positioning go together. The bulk of your aero efforts should be comprised of wheelsucking, something that most cyclists gravitate towards naturally, and selective drafting, something that few riders excel at. None, it should be noted, surpass Vinny D.
Selective drafting is like having to sample fifteen wines before you pick one to drink. You don’t guzzle the whole tasting glass, just like you don’t commit to Twitch Thudpucker’s wheel for half the race. You put a little in your mouth, swish it around, then spit it out. Same with drafting. The wheel you suck should itself be well positioned. It should be ridden by someone who typically makes the split. And it should feature a big old ass, one that is wide and with overtones of blackberry, perhaps even including a tart yet buttery finish that goes well with fish. The rear panel should not be beyond its expiration date a-la-Brad House. And if Kjar isn’t around, you must learn to never follow riders who are smaller than you.
This can be a challenge, because little people are often the best racers. No matter. Spit them out and ride behind the bigger butt.
One difficulty I have always had in wheel selection is the delusion that I am small. Because I sometimes end up with the climbers, I mistakenly assume that I’m like them. I’m not. They are tiny and delicate and cute and you want to cuddle them and hook them up to a cheeseburger I.V. bag. But I am not. I am long and stretched out and a kind of elongated wind sail. So sitting behind tiny people doesn’t work for me, and henceforth I will not sit behind them. You shouldn’t either. What you will find, however, is that tiny people are constantly sitting on YOU. Use this to your advantage by throwing back your rear wheel, veering unpredictably, or stopping for no reason. Think PREZ.
The final piece of aero riding is navigating within the pack. This isn’t that hard (I’m told), but it is terrifying. The lugs who occupy the middle of the pack are using 78.3% less energy than I am as I slog over on the side in the wind, but they are scary because they have head tattoos, pierced teeth, facial scars, jangling ear dangles made of brass that play jingle bells against their top tubes, and they don’t cry when their bars bump. If you can develop the steel nerves to sit in this viper’s den of angry killers, you will arrive at the finish fresh and rested. Good luck with that.
III. The strategy slice.
For a very few riders, this is 90% of the pie, and they always win a few races a year. Do you know Gibby Hatton? He shows up to races with no teammates, not very fit, and always wins a few. Why? Because he has perfected aero pack riding and because he knows exactly when to pedal hard–once, in the last 200 meters, sitting fourth or fifth wheel in the last turn.
The rest of us had strategiotomies at an early age and are more or less profoundly stupid and incapable of thinking during a race. That’s too bad (for us, not Gibby) because it means that at no time in the race do we actually try to answer this question: “How am I going to win today?” [Note: “Go from the gun and solo the whole race” is not a strategy, just like “Be president of the United States” is not a career plan.]
Why are we so stupid? Because strategy involves constantly evaluating your “plan to win” against what’s happening on the ground. It’s a great idea to attack on the final climb unless there’s already a break three minutes up the road. It’s a great idea to come around Charon at the finish but 30 other people have the exact same plan and most of them believe in open carry. It’s a great idea to splat on your face in the last ten meters but Prez already has that sewn up. Plus, it’s not really a good idea.
Although dynamically strategic thinking is impossible for me, it is possible to pick one concept and stick to it. For example, “Don’t be the strongest one in the break.” Or “Don’t lead out the sprunt.” Or “Pay off the best rider.” That last one generally works very well.
So that’s it. Go forth and win. And remember who taught you how.
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