2016 Rockwell Relay Race Report, Part 3: Isolation and Timely Assistance

06.26.2016 | 9:29 pm

I had been keeping my eye on the ball. No question about it. Indeed, since I had been hyper-aware that the ball the had been keeping its eye on me (in this metaphor, “the ball” is the RX7 teams, and thus the ball has eyes, for some reason), I had been keeping my eye on that ball (you know, the one with eyes) even more vigilantly.

My problem was that I had mistaken a cycling race for a ball game.

Seeing Red

I’d like you to take a look at this blurry photo. Not because it’s an impressionistic masterwork (I call it “Water Lillies on a Bicycle on a Warm Summer’s Morn”), but because it’s the only photo taken of me that illustrates my point.

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If you’ll look past the blur, you’ll note that there is a white-on-red race number pinned to my back. This race color identifies me as being part of a competitive coed team.

There weren’t a ton of these white-on-red numbers in front of me during the first leg of the race. Indeed, after Billy notified me that Marci and Mary were far off the back, I had assumed that there were exactly zero white-on-red bibs in front of me.

But you know what they say about the word “assume.” Specifically, that whenever people use that stupid “make an ass of “u” and “me” phrase, that it’s perfectly acceptable to punch them in the throat. 

What I’m trying to say is that as the front group winnowed down to fewer and fewer people, I realized that there was another guy wearing a white-on-red number. I then realized that I had seen that guy’s number many times during the leg thus far, but hadn’t connected the dots.

Now, though, it finally occurred to me: this guy was on a coed team, he was riding at the front like it was nothing, and I had no idea who he was.

Time to find out.

Meet the Mini-Beast

I should probably note at this point three very important facts:

  1. The rumors about Yann being a full-on cycling monster-man are fully accurate. He was killing it out there. 
  2. The wind was strong, hot, and directly in my face.
  3. I was suffering. I could tell I was suffering because I was experiencing what I like to call my “internal tell:” the thought process I start having whenever I’m about to have a Massive Discombobulating Cycling Event (MDCE): I start mentally composing the story of how I bonked and why it was completely justified — and quite possibly heroic. (“I had given it my all, and likely more. My legs cramped, my heart screamed, sweat streamed into my eyes, and my lungs actually ignited.”)

All of this leads to a fact so important that I didn’t even include it in the above list: even working my way forward to this mystery coed was not a simple thing for me. Dropping him was out of the question.

Still, I managed to (casually, hopefully) introduce myself. “So it looks like you’re my competition for the day. What’s your name?”

He said his name was Nate, he was with the team called “Beauties and the Beasts.” He was the “mini-beast,” and the other man was the real beast. Like, a body-builder beast who’d be crushing leg three of the race.

Nate proclaimed was an analyst and so he felt no shame in having researched my team and the ZZRZ teams. 

“You’re certainly a strong cyclist,” I said, obviously and without irony.

“I just wish everyone would stop going half-gas,” he replied, also without irony.

I did not reply that I knew of at least one person (hint: me) who was not going half-gas.

Then the wind picked up, at about the same time we began a big climb. Nate, along with one other very strong rider on a different team…well, he stopped going half-gas.

What was left of the front group exploded. I stood and did my best to stay with Nate’s group, hoping Yann would be there too.

And I held on. For a few minutes, I held on. And then I was no longer holding on. I was, instead, sliding off the back of this very fast group. 

The thread snapped, and I was on my own. 

Some kind soul dropped back and helped me bridge back. But it didn’t matter; I couldn’t — and didn’t — hold on.

I slipped back, behind the lead group, but far enough ahead of the chasers that I wasn’t sure whether I should sit up and wait. 

Nate and his group rapidly disappeared off the front. I didn’t dare look back, out of fear I’d see Marci and Mary (and Billy) barreling toward me at an uncatchable pace.

My team rode by, parked, and set up for a bottle hand-up. (That’s The Hammer on the side of the road in this picture; I had just tossed my empty bottle before I got to her. The bottle I am holding in this photo is the one she just handed me.)

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“How far back is Yann?” I yelled.

“Really far back,” they yelled back. Not the answer I wanted. 

I was on my own.


Now solo, in a hot headwind, overextended after riding above my ability for many long minutes (I have to use vague terms like “many” because I really have no idea how many — fewer than it felt like, I’m sure, but it felt like a long time).

I slogged along, despairing. Nate — my competition in this race — was obliterating me. “We are going to lose this race today, against a team I didn’t know exists until half an hour ago,” I thought to myself. “And when we lose, it’s going to be because of me.”

I despaired because of the wind. I despaired because of the heat.

I despaired because I wasn’t as fast as I needed to be.

And more than anything, I despaired because I had made a massive tactical error: after going out of my way to forge an alliance with Yann for this race, I had managed to separate us just when it would have been smart to stay together.

I had — as is my way — let my ambition overrule my brain. And now I was paying for it.

Kindness from People I Thought Were Strangers, But Aren’t

Then, as I rode in my small ring on the flats (really!), completely shattered, two different people from different teams were awesome to me.

First, a guy on the side of the road yelled at me (easy to hear him because I was downwind from him), “Want water on your head?”

“YES,” I yelled with all my might, wanting to be sure he heard me.

He ran alongside me, emptying a full bottle of cold water onto my head and back.


Later, when I finished the leg, the guy who did that, came over and said, “I’m the guy who asked you why you were slow at True Grit.” Sounding apologetic as he said it.

“No, you’re the guy who brought my core temp down when I really really needed it at the Rockwell Relay,” I replied. Because that’s who he is. Plus, as it turns out, his question at True Grit was a good one. I am slower than I was last year. (And the reason is: I’m heavier, thanks to stress-eating and a lack of discipline and motivation this year.)

Then someone handed me a little can of Coke, ice cold. It looked like Big D from last year, but that didn’t make sense to me. Shouldn’t he be racing?

Yeah, I was really that addle-brained. I fumbled with the Coke, too, having a rough time opening it, and then dribbling most of it down my face, chest, and leg.

Even so: delicious doesn’t even come close to describing that Coke. I truly and sincerely believe that the single best flavor in the entire world is cold Coke on a hot day during a long cycling effort. 

It’s just unbelievable.

Here Comes the Cavalry

My team had gone on ahead to get Lindsey ready for her leg of the race. I, meanwhile, soldiered on, with about eight of the 54-ish miles left of this leg of the race to ride.

I was moving so slowly, however, that they had plenty of time to pose for cute group photos at the exchange:

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To be honest, I was moving slowly enough they probably had time to write and direct a feature film.

I kept going, though. Not giving up. But feeling like I didn’t have it in me to do any better. I was just twisting in the wind. 

And then, I heard a voice behind me. 

“Hey, Fatty.”

Yann. Yann. And he was riding in a group of three or four (I can’t remember which, honestly) riders in a neat rotating paceline.

I would never have expected I’d ever be so grateful to be swept up. 

I grabbed on to the back of the train. They let me stay there for a couple minutes and pull myself together. Then I was able to take my place in the rotation.

I tell you, being able to work with people in a race can be such an enormous advantage.


We rode the final eight or so miles together, much faster than I had been going before, and sweeping up a couple of other riders who had been left out to ride as human windsocks in much the same way I had.

Finally, we got close to the exchange. I’m pretty sure I’ve never been so happy to finish a leg in this race. And I’m certain I’ve never been so smoked after a single leg of the Rockwell Relay.

I saw Lindsey and braked to a stop, putting my timing chip leg down as I got behind her:

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Ben then pulled the chip off my leg…

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…and moved the chip over to Lindsey…

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…and then she was off

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And that was it for me. I had survived it. The Hammer gave me a hug, telling me she was proud of me for time-trialling for so long in that brutal headwind.

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And I got a cold Coke (so good), and a photo with Yann, where I tried to express how I currently felt: 

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I was glad to have finished, I suppose, and I was trying to be proud of my effort: I had given it my all.

But the fact is, I had just lost badly to a coed team that had completely blindsided us, then crushed us.

Saying I had lost “badly” to Nate doesn’t even cover it, really. 

Because in the first leg of this race, I had put our team an incredible eighteen minutes behind who I was a thousand percent certain was going to be the new coed team champion at the Rockwell Relay.

My only hope was that the rest of my team could make up for what I was confident would be an enormous deficit I’d rack up every time I rode against Nate. But eighteen minutes is a lot. a whole lot to ask. 

Too much to ask, really.

On the other hand, Lindsey, Ben, and The Hammer are pretty darned strong. And Lindsey had started the leg with a good-sized group of riders. So it’s possible that — with eleven more legs and about 470 miles left in this race — we shouldn’t count ourselves out just yet.

And that’s where we’ll pick up in the next episode of this story.


  1. Comment by Tom in Albany | 06.27.2016 | 5:29 am

    Yay!!! RRRR!!!! Yay!!!

    I’ve kept myself from looking at results and staying off of the twitter so, I can’t wait to find out what happens next!!

  2. Comment by Anonymous | 06.27.2016 | 8:33 am

    Wow. Excellent write-up. Well done.


  3. Comment by Vince | 06.27.2016 | 9:19 am

    Big D and I are often confused, he’s 6′8″ and I’m 6′5″. It helps in road race tactics.

  4. Comment by BostonCarlos | 06.27.2016 | 11:32 am

    11 legs remain, and the first just took 3 posts to get through. We’re in for a long one here, folks! :-P

  5. Comment by Brian | 06.27.2016 | 11:58 am

    “But you know what they say about the word “assume.” Specifically, that whenever people use that stupid “make an ass of “u” and “me” phrase, that it’s perfectly acceptable to punch them in the throat. ”


  6. Comment by leroy | 06.27.2016 | 12:02 pm

    Eleven legs to go, three posts to get through the first?

    And no hint of how those helmets got crushed?

    I’d let my dog walk and feed himself while I wait for the next installment, but somehow that always involves him inviting his friends over, borrowing my bike, and leaving a bunch of empty pizza boxes on the couch.

  7. Comment by Ian | 06.27.2016 | 6:12 pm

    So, correct me if I’m wrong. In the second picture (the one where the Hammer’s just handed off a drink bottle). Is there are car in this picture wearing a Canadian Mountie’s hat, 3 sizes too large?

  8. Comment by davidh-marin,ca | 06.27.2016 | 9:44 pm

    They tend to run large

  9. Comment by Corrine | 06.27.2016 | 10:50 pm

    Hurry and get to the point about the broken helmets. The suspense is killing me! This story is going to take a month to tell. NOOOO!!!

  10. Comment by davidh-marin,ca | 06.28.2016 | 1:47 am

    It’s summer vacation!
    I’ve heard rumors that it’s being added to the New York Times Summer Reading List.

  11. Comment by davidh-marin,ca | 06.28.2016 | 12:51 pm

    Now that I’ve finally ‘read’ the story(doesn’t everyone comment first and read later?) I feel your pain.

    As someone sized like an America’s Cup spinnaker, undisciplined, weakly motivated, and by the way, old, I often find myself out there, alone, in the wind.

    Everytime I encounter that afternoon headwind coming through the Golden Gate I think of Fatty’s stories, sit up, slow down, and wonder how he does it.

    Love this installment. Not a ‘cliffhanger’, per se, but definitely a great chapter in this summer reading forum.

    Hope to see you at the Crushar, I’m bringing a couple of new victims.

  12. Comment by miles archer | 06.28.2016 | 2:55 pm

    Headwind on the GG bridge? wouldn’t that be a crosswind? Or is one of those cross winds that’s really a headwind in both directions?

  13. Comment by davidh-marin,ca | 06.28.2016 | 3:12 pm

    It’s the few miles to the bridge where the wind is funneled right at you. The crosswind on the bridge is seen as a relief.


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