The phone rang. It was Fukdude. “You wanna do the 35+ race on Saturday? 87 miles. 5,000 feet of climbing.”
“Where is it?”
“Santa Barbara. It’s an easy race, but it’ll be a beatdown for you. Probably won’t finish. Four hours in the saddle. Davy Dawg’s going.”
“What about Fireman?”
“Nah. He got dropped on the first climb last year. It’s not even a climb.”
“Santa Barbara? That’s all day. Plus gas money, food, entry fee, coffee, more food, Advil. Almost a hundred bucks to go get my head staved in?”
“Fuck yeah, dude. You in?”
Fukdude only speaks the truth
I showed up at his place at 7:15. He ushered me in, poured me a cup of coffee and seated me at the breakfast table. Chloe jumped up, landed on my nuts, and shed four coats of fur in my lap. “Get down Chloe, fucking dog. Hey dude, something unfucking believably good is going to happen to you today.”
I perked up. I’ve been training hard and my legs are starting to come around. “Yeah?” I tried not to look too eager.
“Fuck yeah, dude. Homemade baked chocolate donuts. The fucking bomb.” He pulled a fresh donut out of the oven and slathered it with a 2-inch layer of chocolate frosting. “Fucking eat that, dude. Best thing that’s going to happen to you today. Unless you have another one. It’s all fucking downhill from there.”
I ate the donut. Then another. We polished off an even dozen and emptied the can of frosting. “Fucking rad shit, huh? Okay dude, let’s go fucking race.”
Race with your legs, win with your head
“This race is a fucking joke,” Fukdude said after we’d picked up his dad, who was going to recover from last week’s major surgery by standing in the 90-degree heat for four hours to hand us up water bottles. “The break goes in the first five miles. Then the pack just stands on its dick at 13mph the rest of the day. Same thing every fucking year.”
Dawg nodded. “It’s pretty easy. The lane is super narrow and the centerline rule is enforced, so after the break goes the lane clogs and you can’t advance. It’s a clusterfuck. Super lame layout. Last year it finished in a huge downhill that guaranteed mass crashes. What do you expect from something designed by college kids?”
“So here’s the fucking plan, dude. There’s only three Ironfly so we’re like total non-factors. The break will go pretty quick. Cover the first break, and when it comes back the second guy goes with the counter. If that comes back, the third guy goes with that counter. Just don’t tard out and miss the fucking break. Stage up front and stay up front. Ride aggressive and hammer but don’t be a dork and pull the whole field up with you. It’s like this every year, dude.”
“Wasn’t it shorter last year?” I asked.
“Yeah, it was only 58 miles last year. And this year Thurlow, Meeker, Glasship, a couple of other national champions and ex-pros will be racing it. So it could be a beatdown for you. Probably will be, I mean.”
Timing is everything
“How much farther?” asked Dawg, after we’d been in the car for a very long time.
“40 miles it looks like.”
“But our race starts in an hour and we’re only going 50.”
“Fuck dude, I’ve never missed a race start in twenty years. Came close, though. Me and Vince and Fireman and some other dude wound up at the wrong place one time, twenty miles away, and we all had to piss like crazy but we didn’t have time so we just passed around an empty plastic jug and Vince was the last pisser, fucking jug was sloshing with a half gallon of warm piss and this old guy steps off the curb in front of the van just when Vince is in full dam release mode and I hit the fucking brakes and he drops the jug and the fucking van is bam! Filled with piss and it was just fucking nasty. I had to pull over I was laughing so fucking hard. Plus our kits and shoes and helmets all got soaked. But we made the fucking start.”
We got there, signed in, got our numbers, and lined up. Ten minutes to spare.
I looked at the starters and realized that of the ones I recognized, they all had something in common: I’d never beaten any of them in a race.
I also realized the difference between a road race and a crit. In a crit you have the illusion that you have a chance of winning. Everyone finishes together, and you can’t get dropped unless you try to really hard. Even Chris Lotts could finish a crit when he was pushing 300, and once he slimmed down to 250 he was winning.
At a long, hot road race with hills there is no illusion. If you are a fat sprinter you will get dropped. Once you get dropped you will flail by yourself until you quit or you experience systemic organ failure. Your chance of winning is zero. Zero. This is the reason that lots of hacker road racers do crits, sucked in by the false illusion that they might somehow win, but the vast majority of crit fodder–and a good number of crit champs–never pin on a number at a hard, hilly road race: there is no chance of winning, and worse, not even the illusion that it’s possible. And worstest, they tack on DNF next to your name.
Few of the tender egos that populate crit racing can contend with coming home to the wife and kids by confessing, “I was such a pussy I couldn’t even finish.”
Blessed as I am with an overly active fantasy life, I can imagine victory in even the most completely hopeless situations, which this would quickly turn out to be. Moreover, I don’t have to come home and explain anything, because it always goes like this.
“Hi, honey, I’m home.”
“You look awful. Get beaten again and give up?”
“You never learn. Take a shower and I’ll have your dinner ready in a few minutes. The pacifier is in its usual place.”
Executing the strategy
Three minutes into the 87-mile deathfest, a LaGrange wanker attacked. Fukdude went with him. I was in the front row while the field led a steady tempo chase. As we crested the first non-hill that had shredded Fireman and Vince the year before, I was at 600 watts and seeing triple. This was the easy part.
We bombed the descent and the peloton reeled in the Fukbreak. A couple of counterattacks followed. I went with each one and tasted the howling headwind and stabbing leg pains that accompanied each for the handful of seconds we were free. My legs felt great…but this didn’t really seem much like the race Fukdude had described. I’d already hit 1041 watts following one counterattack. No break had stuck for more than a few minutes, and we were fifteen miles into the race.
Since the race was out and back on Foxen Canyon Road, every couple of minutes we were buffeted by a huge clump of racers going the opposite direction, many of whom were often over the centerline with their heads down, which created lots of excitement with our cyclists who were over the centerline with their heads down.
In addition, the road was packed with regular car traffic going to and from the various wineries in the area, so half of them were drunk, and the remaining vehicles were farm trucks or duallies hauling extra wide trailers filled with pipes that projected over the sides.
The turnaround was a super tight u-turn in the already narrow road that funnels 75 flailing racers into a tiny chute, so unless you were in the top five you had to unclip or risk tipping over or whacking into the bike in front.
After the u-turn there came a mad acceleration back up to speed and a furious flurry of attacks that launched the winning break. What with the jumps and the wind and the fighting for position, by the time we hit the only Fukdude Certified Climb, my legs were shot.
Time for Plan B (as in “beatdown”)
As the real racers stretched their legs on the short but steep climb, the detritus in the rear looked like it was being mowed down by a perfectly positioned marksman with a Gatling gun. Riders flailed off to the edge of the road. Shoulders heaved. Heads slumped. Strange body positions erupted as wankers with redlined heart rates found new contorted ways to thrash and beat and flog the pedals.
I got shelled, let my wattage drop back down to 320, crested the top, and then chased like a madman. A huge group of Harleys had come up from the rear along with several farm trucks, and I flew along at 45, weaving and dodging and drafting my way back up to the lead group, choking on diesel and gasoline exhaust as my bike skittered on the loose gravel and my body shook from the jarring hits on the potholes and cracked pavement. I thanked Dog that this was an easy race.
At the feed zone, which the dumb college kids had put right at the new uphill finish, I slowed to get water and then got dropped by the accelerating pack. I chased on just in time to go up the Fukdude Certified Nonhill, barely making it over with the pack. Having given up any hope of placing or being a factor, and recalibrating my goal to “just fucking finish,” I slid to the back and tried to sit in.
Until that point I’d been fighting to hold position and fighting to advance through the bar-to-bar knot, and in addition to being stuck on the edge of the group, I was always catching wind, my hands aching from the constant braking, and I was at wit’s end from the exhaustion of trying to advance.
Once at the rear it was peaceful. The pace had dropped considerably, and it had fallen to a leisurely crawl except for the horrific moment when we overtook the entire 45+ field (imagine two beginner marching bands, one composed of nothing but tubas, and the other composed of extension ladders and grappling hooks, overtaking each other at full tilt).
I thought of Fukdude’s contempt for this lame pace, and could only disagree with him. This was awesome. Unfortunately, as we slowed down, the overtaken 45+ field ramped it up, and the tuba-ladder band thing happened again, with a couple of our tubas mixing with their ladders and splattering riders all over the pavement.
As the 45+ field shattered and passed, Brad House came lummoxing by, flailing, alone, for what looked like was going to be a very solo effort. Perhaps he was trying to redeem himself for having crossed the centerline in the mass gallop last year and getting DQ’d. Or perhaps he was just being Brad.
Different strokes for different folks
Just before the turnaround midway through the second lap, Glasship floated to the back. “Hey, Wankmeister,” he said with a grin. “How’s it going?”
Before I could answer, he said, “Is this a lameass race or what? If it were any easier I’d have brought my grandmother along.”
At that exact moment I felt like I was at the bottom of the Marianas Trench, with ten thousand tons of deep-sea manganese nodules pressing down on my head, legs, and balls. “Uh, I’m wrecked, dude. I don’t know if I’m going to finish.”
He laughed. “Ever the the comedian!” and easily pedaled back up to the front.
On the second time up the steep hill, the Gatling gunner had been replaced by men with large clubs. Every few riders they would select a victim, bash in his head and leave him where he fell without even the courtesy of a common grave and a sack of quick lime. The carnage was unbelievable.
Team Helen’s, which had shown up in full force with their A Team, fully equipped with new rigs and Di2 shifters, lost riders left and right. As I came unhitched again I dropped into the 320’s and passed CJ. I’ve never passed CJ. He looked like he’d just finished a bad Scientology session with Tom Cruise. He’s not on my team, but he’s a great guy and I’ll never forget the time we broke away at Lunada Bay on the Donut and he towed me to the college, waving me ahead in the last few meters for the win.
“Get on my wheel, buddy,” I urged.
He gurgled something, latched on, and I dragged him over the top. Then it was a repeat of lap one: full-on chase. This time we overtook Davy Dawg, who was flailing like a lost puppy on the descent. He hopped on, took a deep breath, and then singlehandedly dragged us the remaining three miles back up to the main group.
When we hit the feed zone, CJ crumbled like a cookie baked with too much flour and not enough milk, wobbling off the course and out of the race. It looked like a perfect move, and the group had dropped me again in the feed zone, so I too made a beeline for the Give Up and Shamelessly Quit Zone.
Just as I tried to exit, Walshy, who was sitting on the side of the road, yelled at me. “C’mon, Wanky! You can catch them!”
Too embarrassed to quit, I made the u-turn and chased. And chased. And chased.
The charge of the Wanker Brigade
After several thousand hours I overhauled Davy Dawg, who had gotten shelled again, and we picked up the stragglers, the wounded, the beaten, the dropped and the Left Behinds, and formed a rag-tag wanker brigade. Two miles up the road there was the lead group of perhaps thirty riders, followed by six of us and one droppee from the 45+ Elderly Gentlemen’s race.
When we hit the bottom of the hill for the last time everyone was fried. Granted, we were the Wanker Brigade. Granted, we were now fighting for the best of the final six, which is to say the worst of everyone else. Granted, no one cared. Granted, the only thing anyone wanted was to finish.
When you’re the Wankmeister, though, and you’ve paid a bunch of money, and you’ve traveled all day, and you’re dehydrated, and you have a pounding headache, and you’re fifteen years older than the next youngest guy, and you’re used to getting dropped and riding by yourself, and you’re in the incredible position of actually, possibly finishing a 35+ leg-breaking road race…it matters.
So I attacked at the bottom of the hill and gloriously soloed in for my close-to-bottom-of-the-barrel-placing. Hardest race I can remember having finished. Best placing I can reasonably expect in this lifetime.
For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction
The kidneys serve essential regulatory roles in the urinary system and also serve homeostatic functions such as the regulation of electrolytes, regulation of blood pressure filtration of the blood, removal of wastes, and the reabsorption of water, glucose, and amino acids.
Symptoms of renal failure, which results in death, include vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, weight loss, dark colored urine, blood in the urine, difficulty urinating, itching, bone damage, muscle cramps, hypocalcaemia, abnormal heart rhythms, muscle paralysis, swelling of the extremities, shortness of breath, as well as pain in the back and sides.
When I got off my bike I experienced all of these symptoms, plus a grinding headache so intense that I would have done anything to make it go away, including another lap around the course.
Fukdude and Davy Dawg, although tired, were jocular. “You’re looking kind of pale, Wanky. Let’s get you a cheeseburger and some beer.”
Soon enough we were at at the Firestone Brewery, seated with G$ and his lovely parents from North Carolina. I introduced myself with a brief story about my great-great grandfather from Wilmington and the mule he was given by Robert E. Lee at Appomattox, then collapsed with my face in the patty melt.
Mrs. G$ looked at her son. “Does he do this often?”
“Talk about his great-grandfather? Nope, that’s the first time I’ve heard that story. But he does tend to look like this after most bike races.”
Dawg chimed in. “This is actually pretty perky for him.” He snapped a photo and posted it on Facebook. “He usually collapses before we get to the restaurant.”
Back in the van I napped for a couple of hours and nursed a couple of gels given to me by G$. In time, I rallied.
“Dude, that was a fucking hard race,” said Fukdude.
“Yeah, that was a fucking beatdown,” added Dawg.
I thought about the morning’s baked donuts. “You were right, Kev.” A long pause. “We doing Boulevard?”