I stood in the dirt up against the barriers, watching Mike Hines power by, blood gushing from two large gashes in his arm, and his left leg raspy and raw from what was obviously a hard fall at high speed. “Go, Mike!” I yelled. “Have fun! Good luck!”
After the race I asked him “How’d you fall?”
“I passed a guy on the third lap. He got pissed and came up behind me. As he passed he completely buried his shoulder into my side. I never knew what hit me.”
“No. I hit so hard, never saw it coming. When I stood up he had ducked off the course and quit. I would have chased him but I wanted to win. But I made up some time and got third. Never could catch the leader.”
Round Two of the Bicycle Cage Fighting Series a/k/a SoCal Prestige Cross Series had begun in earnest.
Would you please hurry up there?
Standing in the long line waiting to repair the mistakes made in pre-reg, the numbskulls around me were hopping mad. “This is so fucked up!” said Numbie One.
“Fucking bullshit!” said Numbie Two.
“We’re standing out in the fucking sun! It’s so fucking hot! This is such bullshit!” said Numbie Three.
“This heat is draining!” said Numbie One.
Numbies Two and Three sighed and stamped their feet and rolled their eyes in agreement. Numbie One looked at me. “Fucking bullshit, huh?”
“You think the race will be much harder than standing in line for a few minutes?” I asked, nicely, with a smile.
They stamped some more and rolled their eyes some more until we got up to the sign-in table. The harried dude at the table was drenched in sweat, paper flying everywhere, with five or six other volunteers who had no idea what to do peppering him with questions. He was gentle with everyone. “Hi, there,” he said to Numbie One.
“This is ridiculous,” Numbie One answered with a snarl.
Harried Dude stopped. “What is?”
Numbie One waved his hand. “This. I’ve never seen such disorganization.”
Before Harried Dude pulled out his .357, I tapped Numbie on the shoulder. “Hey dude,” I said. “This guy here with the papers, you know what his name is?”
Harried Dude looked at me, wondering how I knew him. “No,” said Numbie.
“His name is Volunteer. Bill Volunteer. He does this shit for free because he’s a nice guy so douchnozzles like you can ride for a lap and crash into the barricades. So you might want to lighten up.”
We all got signed in without further ado.
Don’t ever say “crash” before a race
This course was completely different from last week’s course in Costa Mesa. Whereas Costa Mesa had been narrow, dangerous, dusty, terrifying, technical, impossible, and short, the Downtown LA course was narrow, dangerous, dusty, terrifying, technical, impossible, and long.
The night before, a group of merry pranksters had dropped acid and built a giant wooden bridge that we would have to ride over and then drop down off the face of into a sand trap, followed by a tight, narrow left turn. Ha, ha, ho, ho, merry pranksters are we.
Then there were some stairs. Then there were some barriers. Then there were some mini-barriers on a short run-up. Then there were several thousand acres of wood chips. Then there was mud. Then there were more sandy, twisty, tight turns. Then there were bumps and ruts and holes and muddy tracks that ensnared the tires of the unwary. Then there was a howling headwind.
“This will be a good course for you, dude,” said Hatchitt. “It’s fast. Just like a road race.” I looked at him like he was crazy.
“This course is terrible for me. I’ll be lucky not to die. Plus, every time people tell me that a course is ‘good for me’ it’s my worst fucking nightmare. Fukdude told me ‘This is a good course for you’ the first time I did Punchbowl. I got dropped on the first climb of the first lap.”
Practice makes overconfident makes injuries to your parts
I learned the week before that ‘cross requires “skills.” This means that when you come to an obstacle, you must smoothly dismount, get over the obstacle, remount, and resume pedaling in one smooth motion. I learned all this from last week’s heckling.
“Hey, Wankmeister, you’ve come to a complete stop you jackass!”
“Hey, Wankmeister! You look like you’re fucking a pig when you remount!”
“Hey, pink socks dude! You’ll go faster if you quit falling down!”
And my favorite: “You suuuuuuuuuck!!!!!”
In order to live the ‘cross maxim of “going fast by going smooth” I had gone down to the neighborhood kiddie soccer field yesterday to practice my dismounts and remounts. There on the smooth, flat, slightly damp grass I totally became SuperPro. Sure, I took out a kid or two, but that’s the price of perfectionism.
I couldn’t wait to use my polished skills on this course, and so we did a practice lap. I noted that it had nothing in common with the soccer field. Atop the first run-up I confidently leaped onto my saddle. Somehow, though, my left foot whacked the ground, hard. There was a grinding and a ripping noise inside my thigh, and I was sure I’d torn my epiglottis or perhaps even sheared off a hypotenuse.
I staggered around the course, with my hamstrings screaming as if they’d been charleyhorsed with a brick.
Skills. Some folks have ’em. Other folks never will.
Huddling for shelter
It was another SoCal Belgian wintry day. High 90’s, smog thick enough to eat with a fork, choking dust everywhere, and three stunted trees near the staging area. Elbows flew as riders tried to hog shade while waiting for the call-up.
I’d already seen what happened to those who braved the course. Bruce got pummeled in his race. Natty Hnatiuk had been dismembered. Hines had been gored. Chris D. had quit. Gangsta Chick had been swallowed in a sandstorm but somehow stormed back. Hazelblind had staggered across the finish missing an arm. Dutch had thrown a rod. Tiff had been plowed under, but came out from the grave to claim fourth. Emily had suffered like a dog despite her great result. What hope was there for me?
Fortunately, prospects were much brighter for my team. MMX had a chance to advance in the overall. Chef Boyardee, same. Hatchitt was going to bury the hatchet…in someone’s head. Bako Jim was looking for revenge after last week’s mechanical meltdown. Bill and Randy were ready to have a go, and our 35+ team looked even better. Dave McNeal would try to replicate last week’s win, and Garnet Vertigo would try to better his third place standing.
Before I could remind everyone to be nice and not go to hard, the whistle blew, the cowbells rang, the hecklers heckled, and a few of us dropped a bit of chocolate in our chamois in the hustle and pandemonium off the line.
This was definitely not a good course for me
Like pigs in a slaughterhouse, we raced full tilt down a straight chute and then made a hard, sandy left across the remains of an exploded minefield. It didn’t take long before the peloton was smashed into bits. The turns that had seemed somehow doable at a slow and careful pace were suicidal, insane at race speed.
Gagging on the sand, panting from exhaustion, front tire ripping and jumping and kicking and straining to flop over onto its side or to throw me over the bars, I realized that a ‘cross race is truly lost in the first two minutes…and for me, those were the two minutes after getting out of bed this morning.
MMX was already locked in a duel to the death with Backbreaker Mac and some other evil rival, while Chef Boyardee, Hatchetman, and the rest of the SPY-Giant crew swarmed the front.
After half a lap there was only one other rider visible, a Sho-Air wanker who was as frightened and bad at bike handling as I was, only marginally less so. I finally chased him down, and then passed a huge lummox in green who appeared to be having a cardiac event. There. I was no longer last, or even next-to-last. I was now officially next-to-next-to-last. Take that, fuckers!
Just as I flushed with the thrill of Less Than Utter Defeat, though, I hit a turn in full granny mode, but even that was too fast for my sloppy skills. Over I flopped, banging my leg again and getting gummed up in the sand and muck. This, sports fans, is how you get sand wedged up your butthole in ‘cross.
Sho-Wank bunny hopped my head, and I watched in one of those “I’m glad this isn’t me” out-of-body moments as the gear teeth on his big ring slowly spun about an inch away from my upturned eyes, nose, and chin. Then, as the sawteeth slowly passed, here came the spinning tire, so low that there was no way it was going to avoid skidding atop my face and grinding my nose down to the roots. But it didn’t.
I disengaged from the mudpit and then put into effect my kiddie soccer field remount. Wham! Nuts on the top tube! No sex this trimester! Fortunately, a roaming beautiful camera lovely from Cycling Illustrated had her 1000mm Canon lens trained squarely on my twisted face as the nutsack smacked the carbon. Timing, as they say, is everything.
Although it took a lap, I reclaimed my position as next-to-next-to-last from Sho-Wank.
Hey, Wanky, let’s go!
Coming through the pit area, Bako Jim was exiting after getting a wheel change. Texas Randy had already flatted and quit, MMX was battling with the leaders, and the rest of the field was spread far and wide.
As Bako Jim came up behind me, he hollered. “Yo, Wanky! Let’s go! Let’s reel that dude in!”
There was another floundering lummox about 200 yards ahead of us. I grimaced and latched onto Bako’s wheel. Jim had no fear. He had skills. He was in a flat fucking hurry.
We went through a couple of turns at angles that I know, mathematically, do not work. Shortly we had Lummox No. 2 in our sights. Lummox looked back and saw Bako Jim bearing down. This was sweet. I’d actually get to pass another rider!
The sight of a hard-charing Bakersfield crazy, however, was too much. Lummox leaped off his bike and crawled under the barrier rope. Bako Jim powered away.
It’s great being famous
Each time through the barriers, up the two run-ups, and through the shaded areas, I got heckled.
“Go to the front, dumbshit!”
“You can catch them! You’re only two minutes down!”
But it all melded into one stream of noise that sounded like “Mmmmgggargghpfllggtheppp!”
Like a root canal, the race finally ended. Our 45+A team had held its ground, placing 4-5-6, and Dave McNealy had won again in the 35+.
My hamstring charleyhorse was so bad I couldn’t straighten my leg. My right knee throbbed from all the jumping and running. My neck hurt from last week’s crash. I was covered in filth and had sand in my shorts. My bike was a mess. I’d finished DFL, after the minister officiated at a graveside service for Sho-Wank.
MMX ambled up. “So you’re you liking ‘cross?”
“Fucking love it, dude.”
“Yeah,” he nodded. “I know.”