Every Saturday morning the best riders in the South Bay assemble to contest the legendary Donut Ride. They are young, they are shaven, they are tiny, they climb very fast. And they are wearing their finest clown underwear, except for Wily, who showed up this morning in culottes and a tank top.
Ostensibly the goal of the Donut Ride is to be the first rider to reach the radar domes. But roiling beneath the stated objective is a deeper, more fundamental objective, one driven by horror and terror and the fear of humiliation: Don’t get beaten by the creaky old wanker with hairy legs.
No one has ever said it to me directly, but they don’t have to. Being ridden off my wheel is the most demoralizing thing that can ever happen to a cyclist because it means you really aren’t very good, and it can destroy the future dreams of an aspiring young athlete. Therefore, it is with especial relish that I target the young, the bright, and the upcoming.
For them it is lose-lose. No possible excuse can make up for getting stomped by a wrinkled prune who is old enough to be the father of most, the grandfather of many, and almost the great-grandfather of one or two. “It’s the off season,” “I’m going easy today,” “My coach told me to keep it in Zone 3,” … at the end of the day getting whipped by a senior citizen on a challenging climb is simply a deal-ender.
For me of course it is win-win. As soon as I’m shelled I can chalk it up to biology. “I’m almost 52, he’s 25. I was lucky to stick around for as long as I did.”
And of course by simply hanging around and hanging around, once in an incredibly rare while I actually pick off one of the targets on my list. I still remember and savor the day a couple of years ago when I caught and dropped Wily. The afterglow from that is as strong and fresh and warm as peeing in the shower.
And who can forget the time (singular) that I shelled Ponytail, a 25-year-old climbing phenom with the draft of a knitting needle? And how the wonderfulness of the victory was punctuated by his comment that he thought I was in my 20’s, and how crestfallen he was to learn I had an AARP card.
Then of course there was the time I scampered away and beat Derek the Destroyer, an accomplishment so drenched in fantasticity that I didn’t ride for a month afterwards. In my checklist there is even a mark next to Tony Manzella’s name. One mark, one time, to be savored each night with incense before I go to bed. That’s kind of my scorecard, after about 450 Donut Rides, with an asterisk for the time in 2008 that Rudy dragged me up to the Domes on my steel Eddy Merckx and intentionally didn’t drop me.
One of the unstated rules every week is “Drop Wanky.” I’ve seen guys take years off their lives rather than have me beat them. I’ve seen riders spent, dead, and ready for the retort when, looking back and seeing me, they come back to life like the undead and sprint away from the embarrassment of getting wankied.
But for the last three years there has been a very rare bird I’ve been trying to tick off my list, a kind of California Clapper Rail that has been elusive, cagey, and hell bent on thwarting me. He has beaten me in every possible configuration, and has beaten me when I’m riding my best and he’s riding his worst. And he’s always done it by generous margins. No bike throws, no last-second surges, just a smooth swing of the executioner’s axe and bam, he’s gone and I’m tied up in knots going backwards.
I’d go so far as to say he’s sworn a blood oath and it looks like this: That repulsive old faker will never finish anywhere near me.
And I never have, until today, of course.
Julien had sandblasted the pack of about twenty that still remained at the bottom of the Switchbacks into a small group of seven. My quarry had attacked hard just before we hit the wall on Crest, headed to the radar domes. Julien pulled him back and only Wily, Ponytail, Strava Junior, my quarry, and I remained.
Julien turned the screws and I popped. Strava Junior must have come off before then, because I was alone as my quarry and the three others pedaled away. Just before the turn to flat spot there was another flurry of attacks, and my quarry blew. He was within range. I pulled him back then came around him hard, listening for the telltale signs of having someone on my wheel. It was dead silent.
When I finished, the only three riders ahead were all younger than my children.
I hurried home and made a tick mark on my checklist. Then I logged onto eBay and put everything up for sale, because that’s as good as it’s ever going to get.
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