There are gamblers who want credit if the horse they back wins. They want to believe that they influenced the outcome. Through sheer genius. As if they were tapped into a special life force, some conduit to the future that only they could see. And there are those who might believe that this gambler has a gift. They may call him a prophet. Me -- when I back a horse, I look at his legs. Are they lean? Do they turn over effortlessly? The fingers. Is he all grippy and knuckly? When he bears down, does his face tighten? The lips. Are they loose or stretched thin like rubber bands about to snap. His jaw -- is it clenched? Are there sounds, like grunts, or wheezes, or gasps? The head -- does he turn back desperately, in need of a lifeline? Does he twitch nervously, as if he wants to look back but is afraid to commit to a full head turn as it may belie his neediness. Or does the face remain unfazed, perhaps slightly bored? -- while your own legs wobble, your lungs burn and your head hangs heavy?
Signs. You read them. If you pay attention. Saturday morning Fred Park ride. From the coffee shop Labor and Soylents throttle down. Hoverbrother pulling through with ease, extending his pull, head on a tight rope, carotids stable, legs turning over precisely and smoothly -- with a crispness that MKA had not seen before. Added to which the next day we were facing a criterium on the side of a mountain famous for its landslides and ocean views and for several weeks now Hover has been babbling about a stage race in "Quebec..Quebec..Quebec" like there was gold in them hills except when I looked at the map the race HQ was about 20 miles from the township of Asbestos which is a vent from Hell that to this day continues to spew the wicked white powder into the faces of children everywhere and sorry brother but I'm not going to cross three time zones to join you on that unholy death march with the e coli in every cup especially when Labor has unfinished business here in the industrial parks with the local puddin'heads. . .
The signs indicated that something good was about to happen.
Another factor: Mike "Brimstone" Martin. He wears Soylent colors but he's made of the stuff of Labor. Rangy, sinewy, long and lean with a blue collar work ethic that makes Danny Labor look like a lazy half-stepper. And of course the High Freak Factor (HFF). After two recent long, hard and hot weekend rides I've collected the following data: (1) he does not drink fluids, and (2) at the conclusion of the ride when he removes his helmet his hair pops up, totally dry and bouncy. Contrast: I've drained two 24 ounce bottles (and I'm still parched) and at the ride's end my hair (what's left of it) is matted down, wet, sticky and altogether un-coiffured. Conclusion: Brimstone was sired by a camel and has the sweat glans of an iguana. On top of which he climbs like a rocket and time trials like a satellite. Added to which at age 45 he's old school.
So, Labor is guessing that a break inevitably will form fueled by Brimstone and Hover. This is not brain surgery. You measure the players against the playing field, and then set about enabling the contenders, flushing the pretenders, and executing the annoying tag-alongs.
Palos Verdes Criterium. The course: 1.1 mile 4 corner loop with a steep climb through the start finish, a false summit between turns 1 and 2 (with a nagging head wind), a screaming descent into turn 3 and a slight uphill ripper to the final corner. A Cool breeze, the Big Blue tranquil and peaceful, a rock band belting out vintage Stones, a whiff of ganja in the air, scantily clad mermaids sunning on the rocks, philanthropists in Royces agog as the bikie vermin move in with their penises uncoiled urinating perfunctorily on the precious orchids and petunias.
70 hamsters. 22 Laps. We've got Captain Kruegger in his state champion whites (congrats on winning the TT), Stan Bunghole with the testosterone oozing, a whole flock of Soylent Greenies, including back to back RR victor Ricky le Virus, and the usual gang of Labor Nogoodnicks, including Ghengis Hahn, whose darling wife charitably released him from the Dog House in which he had been incarcerated for sins committed last week when he slammed his in-law's SUV into a parked state trooper ("nobody hurt, nobody hurt" --keep repeating this). Ghengis was on his way to a race. Labor tends to ramp it prematurely. This is not always a bad thing.
From the gun Ghengis the jailbird goes berserker -- I'm Free, I'm Free, Thank God I'm Free at last! -- and clearly shows that he intends to make the most of his repreive. A break forms on the first half lap with Ricky Le Vee, Pterodacto Edwards, Ghengis and MKA. After a few circuits confusion sets in and the Vee and MKA shred the carbuncles. We are working together, like old times, sharing the load, knowing that we will get caught but bygawd we're sending a message, message goes something like: "See this? See what two motivated Euro-dreamers can do with a half-a-brain between us, 12 cups of espresso, a rock band, and a steep climb tailor-made for calf-flexing, teeth grinding and forearm snapping? I"m thinking maybe if I can induce a little more sweat to run down into my eye sockets I can remove my Spy wrap arounds and relocate same on the top of my helmet like all the pretty Euros do except I can't figure out the mechanics.
About 16 to go and we get caught. At the top Brimstone says "giddyup" and starts to pull away. Hover is next to me, looking fresh, and I beseech: "Go" (like, there's your golden doubloon, what're you waiting for?). Hover breaks through the box and latches. Ferris Buhl sees the Pony Express leaving the station and charges across: "Hey, guys, wait up, you forgot a Cozzdink sprinter wheelsuck-yuck-nuck!" He wolverines across. And, for several laps, he avoids the trademark team leech technique (to his credit).
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the lone riders are about used up. Jay Waggoff has emptied his guns. A Dare here, a Zombie there -- reduced to ashes. But something far more sinister is afoot: the Scumdinks are now acting like the race isover. If legs could speak, they would be saying: "Okeedokee doggie daddies, we got three in the break, there's 15 laps to go, let's sit up, smell the Barbeque, flail about and sprint." But Labor is here to race. Labor starts attacking. Soylent has the same plan. Every time we form a break, Stanbagger is there, sitting on contentedly, polluting the effort.
Good. Now Labor has two more reasons to race hard: (1) we can further splinter the dwindling pelaton, and (2) we can shed the free-loaders, the blue-bloods, the self-possessed, self-impressed sprint demi-gods who confuse a criterium course with a two up match sprint on a velodrome. Butch, will you please explain the difference to your thickheaded teamate? Numerous attacks commence. Finally, after much bloodletting, MM Hackenflack, racing on pure muscle memory and bitterness, attacks at the summit after Stanbagger has just taken a hard pull. Pterodacto, who is riding with authority, joins. MKA sees the beauty unfold and sprints across. Mission Accomplished. We are now thundering forward, liberated from the clutches of jackbooted tyranny.
With about 10 to go, we see the pack closing and Pterodacto ramps it hard up the climb. MM Hack falls off. Now its MKA and Pterodacto. The MC tells us we are 20 seconds behind the leaders. We're clicking along, chasing. Pterodacto is riding strong, too strong. More worrisome is his expert bike handling. He's peddling into the downhill turn and shaving the apex cleanly while MKA is taking a soft and breaky line. Haunted by visions of tires rolling off the rim. Don't know why. Sometimes at high speeds phantoms invade the braincase. I would concoct a potion that deadens the fear instinct, but fear has an upside. So this is a phantom MKA will just have to bury through brute will (or buy off somehow). On another day.
Up ahead we see Buhl falling off the break. The issue now is do we maintain speed and catch him in due course -- with the risk that he will be able to latch on to us -- or do we let him linger and wait for the climb where we can ramp it so fast he won't be able to sink his hooks in? Jimbo conceives the plan and executes it like a master. We wait for the turn uphill and Jimbo unloads with such fury MKA is having trouble holding on. The good news is Buhl never has a chance. The bad news is MKA is faltering and it looks like Jimbo's got untapped reservoirs of power. Could this be the day where the fullback-cum-raptor finally breaks the curse of the perpetual booby prize and busts MKA in the choppers?
One thing's for certain: we are not catching Hover and Brimstone. To the untrained eye, it might have looked like Labor was chasing down it's own. But let's go back to the paranormal gambler with the portal to the future. Labor knew Brimstone and Hover had the wings and the hollow bones and the bird beaks. They were gone. That was fait accompli. Labor's mission was simple: race hard, pick up what's left, make the effort, put yourself in a position to clean house. With about three to go, Pterodacto and MKA engage the cruise control. MKA looks back anticipating the chase group. Nothing. Pterodactyl is ratcheting down -- hey, he's on to something. MKA detects an unfamiliar caginess, like maybe he's plotting a bust out through his numbskull stereotype. Pay attention.
One to go. MKA gets on the point. Figure if I'm going down to the dinosaur bird, I'm going down flacking in a hail of feathers. We go through the start/finish. Over the summit. MKA suspects Pterodacto will dive down into dead man's corner and come out smoking. But he waits, patiently. Before entering the turn, I look back reflexively -- yes! here comes Genghis, down low, like a spider, all elbows, kneecaps and pointed chin, and he is ripping. I throttle back. Jimbo senses the danger. We swing out of the turn. Jimbo finally looks back, sees Genghis advancing like a one man army and is left with no choice but to BOLT. MKA leaps for the wheel at about the same time our fire breathing Hun storms up. This is not a time for lawyers to negotiate but ferchrist Gengy do I have to spell it out? You have just pulled a one lap flyer and you're wheezing in a shrill tone that could only please a tobacco CEO -- in a word, you are in no condition to sprint. But you've done you're part, you've forced the Bully Bird to fly his coop.
Bully Bird takes a very clean line into the final turn. MKA swings wide, as per, and loses the Bird's wing. So it's wing-to-wing combat, uphill, with huge cash prizes on the line. I keep hearing the racket of a busted chain saw rubbing the salt in my wounds. Not today. MKA taps into his own bottomless well of bitterness, converts the nectar into beetlejuice and manages to squeak Pterodacto by a beak. Feathers ruffled, but in tact. Thank you Genghis, you have spared me the thousand insults that I so justly deserve.
Meanwhile, who won?
The Board of Righteous Indignation.
1. Hoodee HoverHawkstar - Labor Flyer
2. Mike "Brimstone" Martini - stirred, not shaken - Soylent Labor
3. Max Kash Viagro - Labor Phlame-Thrower
4. Professor Jimbo T. Dacto - Soylent Musclehead
5. Ghengis Hahn - State Trooper Blooper - Labor Power
6. StanBagger - Cuzdinks Mental Patient
7. Ricky La Vee - Soylent Fire 'n Ice
8. Jesse James - Labor Studmuffin at 6'2'' 2-fiddy
9. Mighty Joe Davis - Zombie
ps- Large kudos to Brad "In-The" House for pulling off a serious ROCK N ROLL event. Man, it was like Woodstock at the Getty Center.