Cyclists, start your engines!

June 10, 2019 § 14 Comments

If you have ever thought that there was more to bike racing than brainless, wide, right-hand turns in an industrial office park, being fleeced by the promoter and shrieked at by Donald Trump … you were right!

Velo Club LaGrange brought to life something that is almost impossible to imagine in SoCal, that is, a bike race with right AND left turns on THE SAME COURSE. Oh, but there was more, so much more.

Of course there was some history here. LaGrange for years put on the Brentwood Grand Prix, the best crit on the SoCal circuit, technical but not dangerous, great downtown setting that was spectator-friendly, lots of prize money, and most of all, fun.

It took year of wheeling and dealing for LaGrange’s Daddy Warbucks to hammer out a five-year agreement with Porsche USA to allow a bike race on Porsche’s brand new, crazy good driving/testing track. The pavement? Perfect. The shoulders? No unpadded light poles here to kill and maim unlucky riders. Instead, the course had wide grassy shoulders that were forgiving and safe and that, several times, allowed riders to avoid collisions, shoot off into the grass, then re-enter the course and chase back on.

The course? It was technical, fast, and challenging not simply to win, but for many, to finish. With sweeping turns and a short straightaway, moving took skill and, if you didn’t do it just right, it burned through many a match to boot. Forget the masters teams with ten riders lined up with one lap to go, neatly delivering their guy to the line.

This was a race where leadout trains were almost impossible to establish, and even if lined up, they were quickly broken up in the run-in to the line. But there’s more …

Instead of having Donald Trump howl and yowl silly nothings, there were measured, intelligent announcers who told you what was going on, and better yet, a high observation hill from which you could overlook the entire course and see every move, every attack, every mix-up, in realtime. With a pair of binoculars it would have been even better. What differentiated this crit from virtually all others in SoCal was the visual of an entire peloton in a single file for the entire race, as opposed to a giant blob of riders, 99% of whom were sitting in for the sprunt while a handful either drove the pace of tried to get away.

To top it off, there was no extortion in the finishing area, where the promoter charged outrageous fees for clubs to set up their tents. Have a tent? Set it up, bro. No problem!

This event, with its five-year guarantee, will swell to mammoth proportions in the coming years because it delivers so much more than the hack offerings synonymous with many other crits. When racers have a convenient and safe venue, a challenging race course, the cachet of a major brand, the backing of one of the country’s oldest and most respected bike clubs, deep prize lists that put real money in riders’ pockets, respect for the participants and the spectators, great announcing, and a welcoming vibe, racers will sign up.

And … they did!

The women’s pro field boasted two UCI pros coming off the Tour of California, Krista Doebel-Hickock and Amber Neben. The other women’s fields had deep turnout as well, and to top it off, the promoters made junior racing a centerpiece rather than an afterthought.

Of course none of this happened by waving a magic wand. Porsche was initially far from certain that opening up its facility to a bunch of bike racers was going to be a good idea, but the marketing certainly made sense: A percentage of riders on nice bikes are also in the market for luxury cars, and what better way to show them what Porsche has to offer?

One of the funniest objections was Porsche’s initial concern that the bike tires could potentially damage its pristine, multi-million dollar test track. At first blush it sounds silly. How could a bike tire do what a car tire can’t? But then I thought about it like this: What would I do if a bunch of bike racers came up and asked to use my multi-million dollar facility with the blithe assurance that “It’ll be fine, dude, trust me.”

I’d run, that’s what.

But after analysis and discussion, the scales tilted in favor of the bike tires, and then it simply boiled down to this: Could the bike racers show up and not make total jackasses of themselves? Turns out they not only could … but they did.

A more polite, respectful, rule-following crowd I have never seen. Not a scrap of litter, not a single broken rule (don’t walk out onto the track or past the barriers), and no James Doyle-type antics. The consequence was bitterly hard racing and what I hope were enough sales leads to make Porsche think that there may be the basis for solid synergy between bikes and Porsche.

Huge kudos to everyone on VC LaGrange who pulled it off, from the negotiators, to the board that supported the race, to the volunteers who manned the event, and to the LaGrange racers, who, from the looks of it, outnumbered every other club on a day when clubs were out in force.

Here’s to 2020.

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The heart of rock and roll is still beating

July 29, 2017 § 6 Comments

It was either Huey Lewis and the News pounding out a gnarly backbeat or it was my heart; if the former, the heart of rock and roll was still in fact beating as I labored up the awful Piuma climb, hanging by a meat thread onto the wheel of someone much faster, better looking, and more nicely clad than I. If the latter, my ticker wasn’t going to keep beating much longer. A heart has a finite number of beats and a finite number of beats per minute. Both appeared close to being reached.

When I got gapped out, I mean when I was in the wrong gear, I mean when it was only a club race, I mean when I’d already achieved my Strava result on a segment back there, I mean when my power meter said to ease off, I slid out the back and plodded for a while. Tony Manzella, Chad Moston, Matt Wikstrom, and Drew Kogon vanished in the twinkling of my bloodshot eye.

Then Jaycee Carey came by and dropped me, followed by Roberto Hegeler. I finished faster than some people, slower than others. Atop the climb there were tents from Helen’s Cycles and Velo Club LaGrange, sponsors of the Piuma Hillclimb and the LaGrange Cup. Finishers staggered onto a stage and were strobe-blinded by a camera rig set up by Joe Pugliese.

Yes, that Joe Pugliese.

It’s not often that a bad beating on a long hill adds up to wonderfulness, but this third informal bike race was part of the LaGrange Cup, a three-race series that club members are eligible to race. You can do one, two, or all three events. You don’t need a USAC license or any race experience at all.

Marco Fantone, the eminence gris who takes care of the gris with copious doses of Grecian Forumula, is the mastermind behind this annual club event. It’s a phenomenal amount of work, not only because all 400 members send him multiple emails like “What was the start time again?” and “Do I have to pay?” and “What gearing do you suggest?” and most of all “Do I need a track bike to ride on the track?”

That last one seems obvious, but isn’t. The answer is “no.” The LG Cup’s first event is a 500-meter sprunt on the Encino Velodrome and you can do it on your road bike. The second event is a 20k time trail on PCH. The third is the epic, 3-mile Piuma hill climb, and making reality stranger than the ultimate bike racing stereotype, in 2017 the prize for each event is actually a pair of socks.

But this isn’t a paeon to the LaGrange Cup or to Marco’s email answering prowess.

It’s a model for amazing bike racing in an era when USAC-sanctioned events are dropping faster than a Baby Boomer at a rave. In 2002, LaGrange club member Bryan McMahon put on the event as a way to give everyone in the club a chance to race, whether or not they held a USAC license. The result has been a massive success. The LG Cup is the signal event of the year and is followed by an amazing picnic blowout after the Piuma hill climb.

Every club, whether purely recreational or genuinely fake profamateur, should put on an event like this. It gets everyone excited. It promotes racing. It allows cross pollination between wannabe-but-too-scared racers with completely fake profamateur dreamers. It brings out extraordinary competition. Who thought anyone would try to kill him/herself for a pair of socks? It sharpens the club’s mission and makes for a damned good time.

And whether it’s rock and roll or not, it keeps the heart beating.

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Injury dehabilitation

January 13, 2016 § 34 Comments

The average time that it takes a 1mm fracture in your pelvis to completely heal is 5-6 months. During that time it is important to exercise in such a way as to bring increased blood circulation to the fracture site, yet not to “overdo it” such that the soft tissue around the fracture becomes inflamed.

The best thing to do is to let pain be your guide as to any rehab program. Moderate pain is to be expected, whereas severe or excruciating pain likely indicates further damage or re-injury of the fracture.

Full resumption of pre-fracture, intense activities should not be resumed until at least five, preferably six months after the injury.

I had all this in mind as I rode to the NPR this morning, fully aware that I was merely seven weeks into the Wanky Rehab Plan. Then I became even more fully aware as the ride kicked up Pershing and gravity plus wind resistance plus speed forced me to the tail end of the 80-plus gaggle of flailing idiots.

As we made the sweeping turn for our first lap on Westchester Krapway, a place where I am accustomed to land the first blow, I grit my teeth firmly around my small intestine, hanging by a thread to the wheel of Scrubby Carbuncle, a poor fellow who, resplendent in his new 2016 team kit, had failed to adequately prepare for the physical stresses about to be placed on the fabric when it almost ripped after Scrubby doubled to his normal size by enormous gasps, and as a result began to gap me out as the massive, spiked Baby Seal Club of Turncoat Cobley swung a mighty blow across Scrubby’s tiny seal testicles.

The gap widened and there was nothing I could do. Slow of leg, weak of spirit, and fractured of pelvis I watched the gap widen as this–MY HOME RIDE–punched me in the kidney and prepared to drop me on the first acceleration of the very first lap.

Fate intervened, though, which was bad, because the brief stop at the first red light allowed me to catch back on, something as happy as, saying, getting the opportunity to ram your dangling, bloody stump back into the garbage disposal a second time.

I skittered briefly off the front only to hear the whooshing of The Club, this time being swung by the mighty G$. It cracked me across the nape of the neck and sent me hurtling to the back, where, instead of dying on the wheel of Scrubby, who had been skinned and had his bloody carcass dripping with entrails tossed into the maw of the rear-pack sharks who gnawed his guts while spinning in the slipstream of the mighty clubbers on the point.

Now my savior was the rear wheel of Daisy O’Doodle, a nice enough person who was suffering the slings and arrows of an outrageous clubbing by Benedict Alverson, Sausage, and the gore-soaked South Bay Baby Seal, who had graduated from the ranks of the skinned into the ranks of the dickstompers.

Daisy’s skull split with the first whack of The Club, and as she sank to floor of the ice floe I felt huge shooting pains fire up into my crack, the tender fibers of barely knitted bone infused with the unholy fire of nerves being stimulated with red-hot coals. My tender nutsack, barely joined to my pelvic crack, dangled and jangled with each blow of the The Club as I shuddered and swayed, pushing harder than hard to close the four-foot gap which threatened to mushroom into a solid quarter mile.

By the final lap the monsters of the deep had taken over, with the Williams brothers, national clubber Holloway, Nutjob Pedalbeater, Dawg, Benedict Smasher, Baby Seal, Turncoat Cobley, and a host of murderers forming a final arrow that flew from the bowstring directly through the throats of all pretenders. I finished so far back I had to read about the sprunt in the newspaper.

At the post-coital lie and whopper exchange at CotKU, I required three people to help me dismount. After coffee I pedaled home at record slow pace, my tightened and aching bones barely able to turn the pedals.

Later that morning I had my first appointment with Dr. Patchumup, the bone guy who had diagnosed my strained nutsack as a broken pelvis.

“How are you feeling?” he asked.

“Great,” I lied.

“What kind of activities are you doing now to help with your rehab?”

“Oh, just the usual.”

“What’s that?”

“You know, walking slowly in a heated pool. Stretching on my bed in the mornings. Trying not to move too quickly or to overstress anything.”

“Good,” he said. “Keep it up and you’ll be back on your bike by June at the latest.”

“Okay, doc,” I said obediently. “I will.”

END

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