Thursday, June 16, 2011

No chance when conditions are "perfect." Perfect conditions means that the fastest guyz win!!! Whatz with that??? Thatz Not Fair!!!

Paradoxically, “perfect conditions” spells trouble for me. For an aging, unwieldy man that relies upon Bell’s Kalamazoo Stout for the majority of his daily sustenance and convoluted walks with his Man-dog, Loki, for exercise; a perfect day out for a bicycle race means that external factors are all but eliminated and therefore I have no chance for a top 5 finish.

On a brutally cold day, the ones with nary an extra ounce of body fat suffer badly, ride below their abilities, and many even quit. In contrast, fat men with alcohol in their veins thrive in cold weather...On dayz with tempest winds, there is safety in numbers and thus no one (even the clear favorite) dares to attempt a break-way... On courses with long climbs and corresponding long scary descents, the heavier weaker ones, (if they can just hold on going up) can fly going down as their weight allows them to catch back up with the featherweights... On courses with sketchy terrain, rock-gremlins jump up and rip derailleurs off of fast guyz, fast guyz get flats when they hit boulders on wet clay, and fast guyz on fast carbon frames think twice before that tear down into a soaked culvert covered in long grass and the like. In bad conditions, people work together, both the weak and the able seek to help each other in mutually beneficial ways. There develops a sense of teamwork and even stewardship, a sense of commonality. But on a race day with perfect conditions there is nothing but talent on display. On a perfect day for racing the guyz that are suppose to win, well…they win!

Such were the circumstances surrounding the West Dirty Benjamin 100 mile Gravel Road Race. It was a perfect day for racing…and while I knew going into it such fine conditions would mean trouble for me, I still had a great time…

The pace started off pretty fast for a 100 mile gravel race, but the temperature was perfect, the wind was not a problem, and so the guyz pushing the pace seemed to know that it was the kind of day to not hold back. In an attempt to minimize my chances of getting caught up in some kind of frenzied crash right out of the blocks, as usual, I made a concerted effort to stay up front. My favorite position of late has been to try and hug big Jason Buffington wheel and thus this effort was no different. We flew along at a high pace and immediately I started to worry that I was not long for this world. Several guyz, including amicable co-owner Ben Doom and veteran fast guy and all around gentleman Jim Bell, were wearing the stylish and yet unpretentious Revolution Cycle & Ski kit
( if in Saint Cloud stop by and visit, tell'em Charlie sent ya!), so I knew that these guyz were not just pretending, but seriously contending. Although the pace was fast, at least in my world, the group was very friendly and seemed to accept me, and all my shortcomings, without judgment or ridicule. But I also knew that on a perfect day, men have no reason to be compassionate or empathetic towards fellow men.

So a kind of rhythm developed whereby the top 10 or so guyz would take a pull, then drop back, and then rotate through again. As implied above the pace was hard for me to hold and my pulls were quick and far from inspired, but I attempted to console myself with the thought that once the pack began to shrink a bit the pace would ease and I would then be able to contribute to the overall effort. Instead at about the forty mile mark, the pace increased to the point that many simply and truly could not keep up. There was no planned attack, no aggression, no concerted efforts by roadie-conspirators to leave the rest of us behind…but there was also no mercy...such are the rules on a perfect day!

Simply and coldly, but without malice or ill-will, the guy leading the group increased his pace just a little, tiny bit, then the next guy did the same thing, pushed it just a little bit harder, then the next guy did the same, until when it came time for Buff and then me to lead out and take our positions at the front, we could not stay up, we could barely hold the cadence, and so we were quickly passed over by the stronger ones. I felt like I was going to have a heart-attack, so I abruptly fell back and then desperately tried to hold on to the last guy, which was Buffington (who was also in a world of hurt). On a perfect race day, a man trying to hold on to the tail of a fast moving pack is a man without honor or courage, he is a reduced, forlorn man that knows for sure that his time is up in the very near future…unless…unless a miracle occurs and the pack inexplicably, mercifully slows.

On this day, a perfect day, the pack did not slow! Buff fell off into The Abyss of Lonely Nothingness, I saw him go, my dear friend, and yet I felt nothing—for a man about to be dropped by the pack, in such conditions, is incapable of feelings. I followed shortly behind him, cast away as if “dust in the wind.” The nine leaders never even said, “Good Bye, Friend” or “You’ll Be Missed!” or “Good luck Old Man!” such is the stoic game of cycling when the conditions are sublime!

Yet, all was not lost as there had developed a fairly motivated chase group that acceptingly enveloped both the Great Buff and I as we fell off, giving us renewed hope for transcendence and rejuvenation. Heading up this group was the always charismatic Hollywood Henderson (of Hollywood Cycles, located in Burnsville), the pioneer cyclist and CRC adherent Hurl von Evertone, and the highly motivated and talented single-speeder, Jeff Greenwood. My spirits soared, for perhaps there remained a chance? Once Brave Buffington regained his composure, his fight would return with vigor, his will would come to the fore, his never, ever say “die” would return and conquer, and then he would champion our return and lead us back to the front, in even these most perfect of conditions! We settled in to our new “digs” and took turns at the front, putting together a concerted chase effort. Then suddenly I heard that all too common, albeit disconcerting sound of the unnatural, violent, and dramatic intermingling of muscle, sinew, bone, metal, rubber, and gravel.

A four car pile up on gravel at good speed is never a happy outcome. Buffington took the worst of it. Broken spokes in both wheels, wheels thus way out of true, bent brakes, handlebar bent, seatpost out of whack, bruised knees and elbows, plus a host of other physical and mechanical maladies meant that Buffington, the Brave Buffington, the run away winner of both Tuscobia 150 and Royal 162, was now in it to simply finish and nothing more. Most would have quit, but that concept is foreign to this MAN! His body broken, his bike in disrepair, but not is DBD spirit! Again when I heard the rumors of his premature demise I felt only narcissistic sadness and self-pity for me for I now knew that our plan to bolt through the check point whilst the others reloaded was not going to happen. I knew that my dream of drafting him back up to the lead group was a lost cause. Such is the self-absorbed nature of cycling. A friend is important only to the extent to which he can help when conditions are perfect. Once he is no longer able to contribute he is forgotten, such is the Darwinian rule of cycling! Oh the shame of it all.

With Buffington out, “I” knew that I must rely on the others. The plan to “try something” solo at the 60 mile checkpoint was folly for a man of my abilities. Yet, I did try to get away with the hope that I may be able catch up to what I figured would have to be two or three guyz that would inevitably get dropped by Bell, Krumrich, Rients, and Koeneman, all of whom I knew were very very capable of riding the course in under six hours. I was thinking that a single speeder was up front (I was wrong) and I was also thinking that Ben Doom, Dan Glisczinski, Doug Nixon, and maybe one other might be up front and yet in between me and the four really fast guyz mentioned above. The thought was that if five guyz are up there spread out, maybe one or two might be going slow enough for me to catch them. So I pushed it hard as I headed out of the checkpoint/resupply area. I did not have to stop as I had brought enough fluids, etc. from the get-go. So whilst the others dismounted and made for their cached bottles and the like, I hastened my pace as I rode through some thrilling single-track. Upon re-entering a road, I spied a leader working on his bike. I smiled at his bad luck....for there is no honor, no integrity in this velo-game on such a day as this!!! Oh the shame of it all!!!!

I was cruising along pretty well on an old railroad grade when suddenly a rogue bee or a malcontented hornet somehow got into the front part of my helmet and, with malice, stung me right between the eyes! The effect was immediate and it momentarily hurt me to my core and I took it extremely personal, as a personal affront on my character, but the effect was not long lasting and the big red welt made for a funny story at the post-race party.

I was able to stay away from the Hollywood/Greenwood/Hurl chase group for perhaps ten miles, but they finally reeled me in and I was glad to be back with the group. At around Mile 85, I remember conveying my surprise to Hurl that we had not been able to catch up any stragglers off the lead group. He said, “itz still early.” Then just as he said that, we came around a corner and spied Dan Glisczinski, and Doug Nixon, both with ties to Duluth. It was a fine addition to the group as both of these guyz were still strong, able, and took many pulls at the front.

Well as it came to pass, we would not come close to the four leaders (Bell won in a three way sprint), yet we all, in the chase group, instinctually picked up the pace with about 5 miles out; Dan Glisczinski, Doug Nixon, Hurl, and I were able to establish about a minute on Hollywood and his very talented wife going into the final stretch. There was some maneuvering among the four of us, but all was civil, fun, exciting, and it was Doug Nixon that beat the rest of us to the finish line in a powerful sprint to the line. I had a blast…even though the conditions were TOO PERFECT for me...


  1. so did the bee sting improve your looks? :-)

  2. The sting did little for his already dashing looks, but given the size, did improve his aerodynamics.

    That crash was the only way I could let go the pace and still save face. It still felt better than the 'Revolution' hurt!