Lucky Socks

Certain clothes make me want to ride harder. Team kit is the most obvious example, as I don't want to embarrass my team by appearing weak- even when I'm alone riding on a trainer in the garage. It's a mental trigger than I can't explain, but it works for me, so I just roll with it. Less-obvious inspirational items are my socks. I have a thing for Assos Spring/Fall socks, and I have a half dozen pairs. Over-priced and likely no better or worse than bargain bin socks, for some reason they provide a little lift. Again, I can't explain it, and I don't want to think too much about it lest I ruin the mojo.
This weekend was the annual Spring Stage Race, which is four races over 3 days. I usually do fairly well in it, because most riders are not on form yet and the points-based ranking system allows me to hide the fact that I can't climb and my TT skills are lacking. If the overall was based on cumulative time, I would be an epoch away from the podium. 

A mid-pack finish in the opening hill-climb (far behind the leaders) and a sub-par time trial put me in an underserved 4th place overall. Still, I was getting my lady parts stomped by my betters. Human lung Jens was methodically stripping the flesh from the field, despite doing a full pool workout before the time trial. If he wasn't such a nice guy, he'd be easy to hate for the amount of pain he inflicts.

Despite being a lot of points out of 3rd, a surprise finish in the criterium narrowed the gap considerably. I'm usually completely out of position for sprint finishes and rarely have the kick to do anything when I am. This time found me determined to defend my coveted just-off-the-podium position. There were 3 racers 1 point behind me in the standings, just itching to rob me of my anonymous glory.
I lost a couple points to one of those snarling dogs in the criterium's intermediate sprint, pushing me to 5th on the road. I knew I had to place well in the finish to keep my dreams of a fat ProTour contract alive. They regularly troll small, unsanctioned races for overweight old guys, don't they? I thought so.
Through the film of snot, sweat, and self loathing that covered my sunglasses, I saw the distinctive orange bike of Markus, undeniably the strongest sprinter among us geriatrics, come by. Despite having nothing left in the tank and a collection notice on the gas card, I jumped on his wheel and flailed as hard as I could. While I couldn't match the speed, the acceleration was just enough for me to edge Jens at the line and take the points for 2nd. My almost-doesn't-suck ranking was restored and shored up for the moment.
That brings us to the last stage and socks. I woke up feeling like someone had spent the night kicking me with steel-toed boots. Probably the baby. As I stumbled around cursing myself for ever taking up this pointless and painful sport, gathering my kit for the day's beat-down, I realized all of my magic socks were lying in a pile a fetid nastiness. It was not going to be a good day. Without them, it's like someone filled my tub of Chamois Butt'r with Kryptonite. So, not willing to risk foot amputation due to contact with whatever was growing in that pile, I grabbed a pair of the cycling sock world's equivalent of granny panties and braced myself for a beat down.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I must admit that 3rd place was occupied by a team mate. Craig had decided to skip the last stage and his shot at immortal greatness in favor of resting so he could perform well in a mountain bike race. Federal law prohibits me from questioning his lifestyle choices, but being a good team mate, I figured I would honor his sacrifice by bumping him off the podium. Seven points in the final race would tie him, and eight would make me the undisputed champion of douchebags.
With two intermediate sprints, I figured I'd go for a couple bonus points to allow some room for error at the finish. The first sprint found me out of position and unable to barge my way into the line, so I worked my way to the front and into a semi-drafted spot. When I thought the guy on the front was likely to pop and box me in, I launched a searing, 50 watt attack from much too far out and provided the perfect lead-out for everyone to pass me. Suitably blown, I tried to recover as multiple riders tried to punish those of us that had contested the sprint by increasing the pace. A lot of energy expended and no closer to the title.
The second sprint was on a short uphill, so I gave it my all and ended up with chest cramps and a single point. Again we were treated with a post-sprint surge, and I weighed the advantages of faking a mechanical problem and limping off into the bushes to die. My granny panty socks were obviously heavier and not as aero as the sleek Assos Spring/Falls, so my inability to dominate was easily explained.
Eventually I started to breathe normally again, and worked my way onto Jens' wheel. I protected that position like Gollum, hissing at anyone who tried to move me off of it. Jens was locked on Markus' wheel, who has a great nose for positioning in the final minutes of a race. The rest of us were just relying on his nose for the sprint, hoping to wheel suck our way to a respectable result.
Little cramp tingles started running up and down my calves, which is their way of indicating that they don't know what I'm thinking, but they're sure it's a bad idea. Markus opened the sprint, gapping Jens slightly. I surfed from Jens' wheel to Markus', which sounds effortless but actually hurts a lot. Lacking the sense to stick with a good thing, I pushed out of the draft and unleashed a sprint that can only be described by onlookers as pathetic. As we crossed the line, a localized headwind must have pushed Markus backwards, because I took the win by a half-wheel.
As I accepted the cool-down lap congratulations of my fellow competitors (we don't bother with awards ceremonies) for my master class in wheel-sucking douchebaggery, I remembered that I had achieved this startling (literally, nobody saw that coming) victory with the wrong socks.
Perhaps I should reconsider my choice of lucky socks.
Perhaps I should stop putting faith in inanimate objects and actually train.
Perhaps I should realize that this is a freak occurrence likely related to global warming.
Perhaps I should immediately start building a lead-out train worthy of Cipollini.
Perhaps I should just do some laundry.


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