An Attack on Hammer Hill: Dumb and Dumber
Occasionally I like to spice up my usual training loop from home by challenging some out-of-towner in an impromptu race. There are lots of cycling tourists where I live, and my usual training loop is particularly popular with vacationing riders and racers.
This spring, I had a really good battle with a super fit dude. I caught up to the guy and jumped into his draft as we were leaving the outskirts of downtown—headed out towards my loop. When I got on his wheel, he gave me a look and shifted up a couple gears as we hit the first hill. It was at that moment that I knew the race was on!!
Since I’d just started pedaling and wasn’t warmed up yet, I let him go—I knew I could reel him in on the following descent, which I have one of the top Strava times on. A couple minutes later, my combatant saw a girl he knew and stopped to say hi. As I rolled by, I jokingly told him “I like the color of your bike” as he had the same blaze-orange color bike I was on. The girl thought I was talking to her and replied “Oh, thanks!” Even though her bike was some ugly black thing. Awkward! Anyway, I glanced over my shoulder and saw him remounting to resume the battle.
On the next descent, I didn’t push too hard, because I wanted to give the guy a chance to catch up, which took a while. We got into the best part of the ride, which is very twisty, and despite his efforts, he couldn’t quite catch on. He was kinda stuck about 5 seconds back for a long time.
When the road flattened out, it was windy, and I hate the wind, so he was eventually able to bridge the gap. But instead of just catching on, he counter-attacked like crazy! But I’d been saving some energy for just this move, so I (just barely) was able to get back on his wheel.
This dude was super strong. The next mile of slight uphill, he just rode harder and Harder, and HARDER! But I was feeling great (those FRS drinks work!!). He was not going to beat me on my loop. Not today.
We make the right turn back toward town and “Hammer Hill” which starts out easy but gets really steep and I’m hanging tough on the first bit, but by the time we hit the steeps, its a knock-down, drag-out fight. It’s like the summit of L’Alpe D’Huez and I’m Lance trying to hold Pantani’s wheel. And just when it gets super-duper hard, and I’m starting to yo-yo off this guy’s wheel, the craziest thing happens: he pops a wheelie and accelerates again in a wheelie!
I was so surprised that I lost focus and he opened a gap. Which didn’t matter in the end because right after, he turned off of my loop into some neighborhood. So in reality, I won the race by default. But that dude was crazy!!
With a big International race in town for the weekend, I knew this guy must have been a Real Hitter. Maybe a World Champion, or at least a National Champion. Later, when I got home, I looked up the “Giant Factory Off-Road Team” that was printed across the back of his jersey. Turns out he’s some guy named Carl Decker. Never heard of him, but still, he’s a Factory sponsored Pro, so I felt good about beating him on my loop.
A couple of years ago at Sea Otter, I needed a recovery ride between races, and since the Giant Team was encamped at the mouth of Carmel Valley, I headed for a spin out 17 Mile Drive, the scenic route past Pebble Beach, the Lone Cypress, and some of the ritziest homes you’ll ever see.
After a 10 minute meander through Carmel, I coasted past the gate that separates merely expensive Carmel from ludicrously extravagant Pebble.
And that’s when I notice some random dude has jumped onto my rear wheel.
Which is always a bit surprising. I’m not angry or anything, but it’s awkward. If the guy had introduced himself and asked to “sit in” I’d have happily conversed with him for the length of the ride, maybe even riding easier or harder than I’d intended at the outset—just to facilitate some fleeting 12-mile-long impromptu friendship. But he doesn’t ask to sit in, and apparently, I’m petty. So I decide the easiest thing to do is just stand on the pedals for a minute.
So I do. I accelerate away from the guy over a rise in the road and drop him pretty much immediately, and without much effort. And for a couple minutes, I’m alone again, spinning easy, and everything is right as rain. But then, I see a young couple ahead of me, on this steep bit just before the beach access road intersects 17. The dude is pushing too big of a gear, and wobbling away from his girlfriend, who can’t keep on top of her little/little gear combo and begins walking. Seeing that they’re beginner riders, I stop and help her out, lifting the rear of her bike and pedaling it for her while I instruct her on which lever to push.
And this dude catches up. Which is fine. And he excitedly says “I love the color of your bike!” to me as he passes. And I know he’s talking to me, because his Trek is the same neon orange hue as my Giant TCR. But the girl thinks he is talking to her, and replies “Thanks!”, despite her bike being black. Which is not a color, really at all. Which made me laugh under my breath, as I bade this girl good luck and remounted.
So I get on 17 Mile Drive, and of course, the Klingon is ahead of me again. So I dawdle a bit, and look at the mansions and admire the coastline, but eventually, I can’t take going slower than “recovery” pace, and I have to pass him. As the road begins to parallel the beach, there’s a headwind, so I figure I’ll just blow by him there and be done with it, same as before. And I do blow by him, because now, I’m becoming annoyed. After 30 more seconds of firm pedaling, I figure I’ve done enough to impress/discourage this dude—but when I steal a glance through my armpit, this guy’s on my wheel again! Oh for Pete’s sake.
Now I’m a little turnt up. I’m not riding all-out or anything (yet), but this is not recovery pace. And some lowly part of me (surprisingly) demands that I save face, and pretend that the pace I passed this guy at is just my pace—not an attack on him. So I’m riding kinda hard into the wind now and this dude is on my wheel, but I know that I’ll soon get to a junction where 17 mile continues left and I’ll turn right, back toward the hotel—and hopefully be alone again.
I make the right, and of course, Klingon turns right too, and now I’m in deep with this guy. I want to talk to him even less now than I did 20 minutes ago, when I first saw him. Of course, I could just pull over and stop and pee or something, but then he’d continue on and think he’d cracked me—which is now unacceptable to me (I realize this is a person I don’t know, who I will likely never meet, and it doesn’t matter) or maybe he’ll just stop to pee with me! Well, that sounds even worse.
So now I’m getting tired from pulling this dude around. We approach another hill, and I decide—despite my desire to just spin my goddamned legs out today— I’ll ride a little harder to finally break him off. So I wind it up a gear. But he doesn’t come off. And I’m at a loss. And pretty gassed, actually—I’m nearly at race pace. So I do the one thing that de-motivates my competition the most in actual races: I rock up into a wheelie, and continue to ride hard—in a wheelie.
And it works. I can no longer hear Klingon breathing down my neck. And a hundred yards later, at the next intersection, I take a right down a dead-end neighborhood road. A road that I JUST PRAY TO EFFING GOD THIS GUY DOESN’T LIVE ON. And I go down there and hide and catch my breath, and wait for him to pass by and to go far, far away.
And he does. And I soft-pedal home.
It’s not a day I’m proud of.
But it wasn’t a win for the Klingon either.
At least I have that.