Let's talk about the one that got away. Yes, Labor added four more golds to it's trophy cabinet. And it was great-we all laughed, and celebrated, and danced our little jigs, as our worthy adversaries muttered curses or pretended not to care. But if there was a machine that rated the intensity of emotion, the levels Labor hit when we won were not nearly as strong as those when we lost. But before MKA dwells on the low lights, let's spotlight a few highlights.
** The San Luis Rican Revolution. If the eyes are the window to the soul, anyone could see that this young rebel was, dare I say, del fuego. Head down, legs churning, do-rag dangling, nostrils flaring, ears pinned back, eyes fixed on the prize, relentlessly pursuing. Did I see fear? Maybe, but not a wet-my-pants-I'm-going-to-die scared, but a catch-me-if-you-can-Muther-F'ers-I'm-strong as-a-bull, fast-as-a-falcon and madder'n-a-hornet scared. Charging, pushing, every pedal stroke the difference between victory and epic victory, as death or capture were no longer options. Like Ernesto "Che" Guevara, dashing over the Cuban mountains with Batista's army of CIA-trained mercenaries on his heels-it's not enough to simply remain alive. The only way out, forever, is to show your enemy that you will not stop, that you are invincible, and that their pathetic chase is futile.
We call it converting the bitterness, much like Che once did, before he was eventually caught, tortured and executed years after Fidel assumed control. Che without knowing it set the standard for great bike racers to come. He demanded loyalty, he would push his men beyond their limits, he would nurse them when they suffered valiantly, off them when they flailed terminally, and he knew that winning required a lust for the blood of his hunters. "Bitterness*," he said, "is an element of struggle, relentless bitterness towards the enemy that impels us over and beyond the natural limitations of man and transforms us into effective, violent, selective and cold killing machines. Our soldiers must be thus; a people without bitterness cannot vanquish a brutal enemy." (*translated into Laborspeak).
It helps to have a brutal First Lieutenant, like Genghis Hahn. Genghis had no qualms ordering the infantry to storm the machine gun bunker at the top of the first climb. Chickenlegs and Shimano Mike responded cheerfully, taking comfort in knowing that their bullet-riddled corpses would serve as a launching pad for Labor's lethal weapon. After Rican attacked, never to be seen again, Genghis crawled inside the tortured skulls of the chasers, tormenting them, scorning them, laughing at them. It was savage-and very effective. Genghis later sauntered in for second, some 7.5 minutes behind the Rican, who never let up, and was seen just minutes after the race picking a fight with an inconsiderate Hell's Angel who apparently tossed a beer can on the ground.
Remember Shimano Mike? The bullet-riddled drone? He rose again, because it takes more than kevlar-piercing hot metal to kill a Laborite. He ramped home in 4th, exhausted, then turned around and rocketed down the hill to retrieve his fallen comrade, Chickenboy. Chicken also would've been in the money except at the bottom of the last climb he had to fend off a hungry coyote. He didn't finish, but he did manage to rip out the throat of his attacker, which isn't easy to do with a beak.
**Jack This! A few months ago, Agrobat's brother Yatzeck was carjacked on the streets of Warsaw, kidnaped and ransomed. Agrobat, if you don't know, is a terminally cheerful polish native who spends about 10 hours a day kneading the balls of fat insulating his pork chop-chomping diet-pill popping clientele at the Bellagio in Vegas. His nose has been assaulted by more deadly fumes and pathogens emanating from the folds and holes of the morbidly obese than a Red Army grunt decontaminating stockpiles of stinkbombs at a depot in the Dead Sea. Yet he is blissfully grateful for the freedom he has in the U.S, and no matter how crazy or dark life gets, for Agrobat, "itz all good in zeh naybo-hood." When he heard that his brother had spent several hours with a snubnose revolver pressed against his temple, Agrobat set about rescuing his brother from the mafia-controlled chaos in Poland and bringing him to the mafia-controlled order of Las Vegas.
The morning of the San Luis race, Agrobat greeted MKA with his usual jovial bear hug but this time his toothy grin was even broader. "Look who I brought," he proudly announced, like Bert Parks ushering in the new Miss America. No, to my dismay, it wasn't , a bikini clad Playboy bombshell, instead it was Yatzek, safe and sound, and by the looks of the ketchup and mustard stains on his white t-shirt, well on his way to becoming another satisfied customer. We speak often of "converting the bitterness." On this day, Agrobat showed us that "joy d'vivre" works just as well. He went on in the 45 plus road race to outfox and outmuscle a talented but alas traumatically splintered Soylent Green team (viz., McPherson, Mike Brimstone Martin, Ross Chicken Fried, He Who Can't be Named and the right righteous Holy Kal-who had been putting in the 600 mile weeks, tapering, loading, leaning and peaking for this career capper) for the silver, behind Mike "The Iron Horse" Mueller.
**Genghis Hahn's Coldly Calculated Pinch, Drive, Attack 'n Smack. Last year Genghis won the 35 plus Barrio Logan criterium, with a lot of help from his teammates. This year proved no different. As we carefully plotted with the chalk, the gameplan was for Labor's ramp-rabbits to redline the pel's collective lactic acid threshold, allowing Genghis to get away late, hopefully with either Furrball, L.Ron or Hover. Sure enough, after prolonged torquing, the head of the snake snapped. Genghis pinched off with L.Ron, along with Dr. Brick S-House of Flailer Made, Roman Polanski of KB Homes and another large and aspiring alpha male, who regrettably has no name.
With a lap and one-half to go, after driving the break, Genghis pulled the trigger-a bold and brave move if it worked, but an idiotic move if he flailed. Genghis, we know, don't flail. He soloed in for his second straight vee, explaining afterwards: "I knew that Agro soloed 6 laps in the 40 plus, so to make the Board I'd have to do something epic. I compared my chase group's average speed with Agro's, the respective time gaps, and our respective average speeds during the solo, then multiplied the difference by an age-graded coefficient, and it turns out that my 1.5 lap solo was actually more epic than his, unless you subtract the boost I got from popping three tabs of soy/sensamilla extract which research indicates actually reverse aging and burn fat and boost energy while I do nothing."
**Butch Bellys Up As Per. First, in the 50 plus (yes, can you believe it? Butch Cass has been kicking, crushing and stompin' for half a decade), Butch takes the Vee without about as much trouble as a one-armed bandit taking quarters in Reno. Then an hour later he orchestrates a precision lead out for the pack sprint in the 40 plus crit, getting second. And then, finally, in the 35 plus, in a field of 100 riders (minus the 5 in the break), he manages to move to the front, hold his position, and then successfully lead out another ruddy, freckled, slightly puffy Irishman, Labor's very own Psycho Wiko. On the day, Butch won two field sprints and handed a third to his teammate. Which begs the question: if you're blond, bronzed, and blue-eyed, and if your body fat is below 8%, and most fundamentally, if you're not Irish, do you have a chance to win a field sprint in this town?
***Holster that Weapon Private! In the 40 plus criterium, MKA was throttlin' off the front with six to go, scraping and clawing for every micro-second, when old-time newcomer Fred the Hobbit makes an appearance on the front. So far so good-Labor is supposed to clog the point and deter all chasers. But, by all accounts, he was not breaking in the turns, no-he was accelerating. He's... chasing! So Hover mounts his steed, rides up next to The Hobbit, and politely asks him to kindly remove his ass from the nose to the rear, there's a teammate up the road. The Hobbit, mortally embarrassed at his woeful transgression, retreated to Bag End, where he was of more help to his fellow Laborites supping comfortably on pastries, salted meats and warm beer. It was later mentioned that the Hobbit was merely suggesting to the Orcs, Trolls, Demons and Ogres that if they were so inclined to chase, so as to actually make a race of this spectacle, then this might be how they would go about it. Despite the charity pull, MKA managed to hold on for the win.
***Glory's Where You Make It. In the 50 plus road race, Labor's Rev. Billy Stone found himself drifting off the back where he soon settled in with a flotilla of similarly beat up old body parts like the rusted out Buicks you see littering the junkyards at the outskirts of town. Billy looked around and said, hey, I'm not ready to be melted down for scrap, I don't care if we are sprinting for 16th, the tiger in my tank may be greybearded, toothless and pot-bellied but by gawd he can still growl. So Billy breaks out the hot wax, scrapes off the rust, and attacks on the last climb, feeling fresh and invigorated, only to be berated by the junkers-"Hey, we're all dropped, let's stick together, you can't just leave now, we're like wounded soldiers, brothers really, each with his own defect; Jim's got goiter, Wilford's got angina, Rumford has the rheumatism and I've got chronic shingles so get off your high horse young Buck and come back to the Reeks and Wrecks like a good boy..." Billy kept going, and would've raised his arms at the line for that 16th, but a pack of lady-type racers were fanned across the road "sun-dialing" at about 8 mph so Billy was forced to celebrate his glory in silence. They paid to 15th.
Man Eating Tiger Feasts on the Fat of Labor. Which brings us to the lowlight-the 40 plus San Luis Rey Road.
Hover and MKA decided in advance to chase everything and form a break. We didn't foresee that on the long steep decline on the first lap Labor's sprint Demon Butch Cassidy would sail off the front at about 60 mph, but at the time, it looked good, and why not? At the bottom an unknown rider shot by the pack like a bullet and MKA did not even consider chasing. There was 45 miles to go and Labor had a man up the road.
It turns out that the ghost rider was Tony the Crouching Tiger. MKA didn't learn this until 10 minutes after the race, after the Tiger had soloed off the front with a two minute advantage at the finish line. Who was this stealthy wayfarer? Whence the power? We caught up with him. He was on the side of the road holding a Bic lighter under his left wrist. His flesh was bubbling and smoking. Doesn't that hurt? No, Tony said with a smile, I have learned to block out the pain, plus the less I think about my shoulder, the better I feel (pointing to a grossly disfigured Quasimodo-like hump). He jerked his head and a loud pop! indicated that he had snapped the ball of his humerus back into his shoulder socket.
The details are sketchy, but it turns out Crouching Tiger works in the basement of a stark grey government building and reports to a man who wears a black trenchcoat and is fond of Camels. When he's not at the office, he's in Sierra Leone, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Sri Lanka or Colombia purportedly on behalf of McDonald's Corp. searching for retail space in suburban shopping malls. Nothing exciting, he says, but now and again he admits to having to shift a few skinny idiots who refuse to negotiate in good faith. He doesn't like to stay long wherever he goes. "My wife gets worried. She won't even let me ride on the roads in Orange County, too dangerous. So I get up at 3:30 am and spend 3 to 4 hours on the turbo trainer."
Is there shame in losing to a freak (and I mean "freak" in its honorific sense)? If there is, Labor doesn't feel any pain. First, Labor don't chase its own. Eventually, we sent Stanky Mike up the road to join Butch, who was hemorrhaging after the Tiger had torn off his left buttock. The field however never took the bait. They never chased. They sensed a trap, and cowered at the prospect of "helping" Labor. But wasn't the race up the road? Wasn't the object to catch the leader? And if so, was the burden solely on Labor's shoulders to chase it down?
It became clear that the pack was playing grift, graft and draft. The strategy degenerated into this: whatever disgusts Labor pleases us. To be sure, there were isolated instances when Ratfink, Benny the Spasmanian Dust Devil, and Mark Full Fennel Jacket showed an interest in burning off the barnacles. But you can't underestimate the tenacity of a drowing man to cling to whatever happens to be floating by. And so can MKA fault the likes of itinerant 12k dreamer Evander Bloated Balls Teske for chasing down every attack? Chasing MKA down and then waiting for the flailing field to catch, with no thought of a counter? Is "negativo" racing still "racing"? Some will say certainly-a sprinter should chase and sit, as it's the climber's burden to drop the dingleberries. But is the chronic chase 'n squatter "racing" if after a few laps he simply drops out? Well, yes, if he has teammates, or friends, for whom he is sacrificing himself. Ok, fine, but what if said spoiler has neither teammates nor friends?
Then what? Answer: then we have a typical bullshit 40 plus road race where the penalty for entering is having to ferry around a gaggle of gutless lickspittles who are either too weak to race with passion or too apathetic to race with pain. MKA tried to be cagey. MKA tried to be calm. But, finally, like a compulsive overreater who just ate a crate of Big Macs and needs to go but has discovered that his anus has been surgically sewn shut, MKA couldn't take it anymore and just blew. MKA started attacking insanely, in hindsight more to punish himself than anyone else. Eventually with a few clicks to go, Labor let Benny Spasmos roll off the front. Why not? The pack conceded the win on mile 2 of the 48 mile race.
Can you tell how Labor did now? Naturally, when Labor pounds, it was the greatest race ever, complete with thrills, spills and brilliant tactics. But when we don't, when we flail (defined as finishing less than first), there is much cursing and despair. As the perceptive Tiger observed, in a post-race condolence that is at once sincere and strategic:
"Obviously Labor was anguished after gang-banging the pooch in the 40+ on Sunday. Declined to even attend awards and collect cash... Assume Labor felt cheap, used, dirty. Cash on the dresser would only make it worse. Pow Wow observed from distance. Much tearing of hair, gnashing of teeth, wailing, sobbing. Best give Labor time to heal..."
Well said. Labor will return, with a vengeance as yet undreamed of, or rated for the viewing public.