How many times in your life do you get to compete for a championship? I’m not talking an NFL championship, or an NBA championship, or even an NHPA or an NTL championship. Those last two are National Horseshoe Pitching Association and the National Tiddlywinks League, and no, I don’t make this shit up. I make up other shit.
The fact is, you don’t often get to scrap for a championship, especially when you’re old, gizzardy, brokedown, brokebacked, when you piss too often, crap too seldom, are creaky in the morning and wore out by mid-afternoon. Nope, championships are generally for the young and the restless.
Once a year, though, if you are a bicyclist, you can compete for a state bicycling championship, where you pedal your bicycle as quickly as you can to win a prize. Then, if you win the prize, you can buy an even more special prize, to wit, a poorly made, ill fitting jersey in someone else’s size with a bad design that, ugly though it is and fitting as a potato sack though it may be, bears the words “State Champion” and the year of your championship.
This is a prize worth fighting for.
The course of snakes, stinging insects, drunk truckers, and champions
Today is Friday, June 1, 2012. It’s two days before the 45+ Elderly Fellows’ State Championship Road Race in Bakersfield, California. The race covers three 25-mile loops around a hilly course in the desert that has one moderately long climb and numerous short, punchy climbs designed to sap your legs, drain your fluids, and crush your will to survive. As I write this, a friend has Facebooked the current temp there, a moderately warm 105 degrees.
Although you would think that a desert course like this is destined to be hideously ugly, it isn’t. The hills are beautiful, and the desert has the rugged beauty of places where rain is scarce. The visual appeal of the course, however, can only be appreciated in a fast-moving car with the window rolled up and the air conditioner cranked up to “ten.”
Once you are pitched out from the cool security of the car like a fledgling forced to make its first flight, distanced from easy reach into the cooler and its mother lode of cold water, cold soda pop, and cold beer, the desert racecourse that has been designed by the Bakersfieldians is not beautiful at all. Its lack of beauty is only partially caused by the fact that the searing heat is so intense that your corneas begin to roast off the surface of the eyeball.
The true source of the course’s hideousness is the pounding sense of terror and desperation as you flail and pedal and struggle your way out, praying that you will make it back in. This isn’t a sprinter’s special, where well oiled, handsome, kitted up Adonises leisurely pedal for 54 minutes and pedal hard for one.
This is a course where the cowering starters start slowly, knowing that most will quit halfway through, and where the group will only pedal faster when some idiot attacks, or accelerates, or behaves like he’s in a bike race. The pain and torture of the heat, compounded by stinging flies, bee swarms, and poisonous snakes along the roadway to bite those unlucky enough to collapse from heat prostration make Bakersfield truly a place for others to call home.
The field will be half-filled with Big Orange, a smattering of SPY-Blue, and onesy-twosy riders from other teams. Although the bragging rights to the winner are galactic in scope, realistically hardly anyone has a chance of winning. Better to stay home and race another crit than suffer the expense, exhaustion, and humiliation of a beatdown so far from home.
What follows is a list of contenders, beginning with the odds-on favorite.
1. Wankmeister. Let’s face it, I’m the favorite here. First off, I grew up in Texas, so 105-degree heat is nothing. Average summer temperatures where I grew up were 140. At night. It’s true that I suffered a few issues at Punchbowl and got dropped rather quickly, finishing next to last. It’s also true that I got dropped on this same course a couple of months ago, finishing next to last. It’s also true that I’ve never even come close to winning a race in more than twenty years. However, I had Chinese food last night, and after the ER doc pumped my stomach I remembered that my fortune cookie had said this: “Time is a mirror of your desire.” So, that’s pretty clear. My jersey size is small. Thanks.
Pluses: Blogability. No one out-blogs the Wankmeister in a hilly road race. Plus I’ve got a cool helmet cam.
Minuses: Kind of lacking in the speed, strength, and endurance department. But I’ve got a day to come around.
2. DQ Louie: Unless he gets dq’d, which frankly is most of the time, there’s no one who can beat him in a hilly road race. Blazing speed. Relentless attacking. Strategic wheelsucking when necessary, full-on TT mode when he’s off the front. Always has a vicious kick at the end.
Pluses: Tininess. He’s got a drag coefficient of .00000002, which is about the same as a newt or a flea. His power-to-weight ratio is 3 gigawatts per kilo. So you’re basically fucked.
Minuses: Cheatyness. The officials love to dq DQ Louie. Why? He’s from Nevada, that’s why. The races are in California. He’s the dude on the freeway doing 80 who gets pulled over when everyone else is doing 100. Sorry, dude. But not really.
3. Roadchamp: He won last year, and he won two years before that, and he had a creditable showing at Vlees Huis even though they’d removed all twelve lower teeth for implant surgery the week before the race.
Pluses: He’s so skinny that he has to safety pin his socks to his calves. He’s focused. He’s all about winning. He hasn’t had sex in months, ergo mucho ferocityness.
Minuses: Everyone will be gunning for him; carries around old trophies from previous road victories as a talisman; has been known to crumple in the extreme heat. The pressure of not having won yet this year may be too much.
4. Invincible: He’s won this race before, he’s got national crit titles to his name, he sprunts, he climbs, he time trails, and he has more wins in the 45+ this year than everyone else combined.
Pluses: Dude always fucking wins. What more of a plus could you want? Best all around tactician in the game. Knows who to work with, how to control a break, how to kick out the shirkers, how and when to pull out all the stops.
Minuses: Sneakiness. He makes DQ Louie look positively forthright. Plus, he’ll be isolated in the race. THOG is recovering from a major injury. Glasship got his fill of Bako heat at Vlees Huis and is on sabbatical to the beer capital of Deschutes County. So, he’s by himself…yeah, I know. So what?
5. G$: This is one title that’s always eluded him, either due to bad luck, or poor luck, or inferior luck, or luck that wasn’t quite right, or fuckaluck. That’s too bad, because he’s one of the top guys in any category, and built to succeed on a course like this. He has specially prepared snake stomping boots that were made just for this race. With a huge B.O. contingent, he will likely let attrition do its nasty work, and only get to stomping dicks in earnest at the end, when they’ve all gone limp and stretched out from the heat.
Pluses: Time trails. Climbs. Attacks. Makes cool interview videos. Deep and wide team support to control the race or protect a break or send guys up the road. You know he’s got to be frothingly hungry for this jersey. He’s been tapering on the local rides, and has even cut back to five burgers ‘n fries a week. Serious shit.
Minuses: He’ll be dogged by Invincible and DQ Louie. If they get up the road with him, he’s got slim chance in a sprunt. Also, his team is so strong that Roadchamp, Kalashnikov, Capture the Flagg, Thing Two, Herndy Doo, or Hottie could wind up on the podium.
6. FTR DS Jaeger: The smartest rider in the bunch, always goes with the right move. Conserves when he has to, churns out the watts when it matters, never gets dropped on the hard climbs. Missed the vee at states by the narrowest of margins a couple of years ago, this could be his year.
Pluses: Savvy. Tenacious. Experienced. The best in the peloton at making up with savvy and smarts what he lacks in the legs, which frankly isn’t much.
Minuses: Can’t sprunt. Small team, and partially weighted by the anchor teammate from hell, a/k/a Wankmeister.
7. Kalashnikov: Super strong, fast, and clearly on form, Kalashnikov has the benefit of his Big Orange teammates to further strengthen his hand. He will likely play the role of agitator, forcing the other teams to waste valuable energy chasing, a strategy that has worked like a charm in the past.
Pluses: As stated above.
Minuses: If he has to go early, the bitterness of the course could spell doom.
8. Your name here. I’m sorry I left you off. You deserved to make the list, as you’ve got the right stuff, the training miles are there, and it’s finally your year. On the other hand, it’s almost 8:00 PM on a Friday night and I’m blogging about a stupid bike race for old men out in the fucking desert, for dog’s sake. This is enough, even for me.